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Happy Birthday

Last year on my birthday, I had just gotten out of surgery. Shortly after that, my eldest cat passed away from lung cancer. This year, at a hotel in Texas, i watched a small yellow bird fly into a glass wall and die. Right in front of me.

If i were a superstitious person, I’d probably be feeling worried. If I were a metaphorical person, I’d probably be wondering what my place is in the world. But as a rational person, I think the answer is far more simple.

There comes a point in every life where things shift. Where things stop building up and start falling away. Where death is no longer a mysterious villain hiding in the shadows. There comes a point in life where it starts to stand a little closer, hides a little less. Starts to look vaguely familiar. There comes a point in life where the world you have built around you starts to flake and peel. And I think there comes a point in life where you feel yourself slowly begin to disintegrate alongside it. And I think with every passing birthday, you feel this especially keenly. After all, the average life is full of dead birds. Most of them we eat.

The death of that little yellow creature today? That was just damn bad luck. Bad luck for the bird. Bad luck for me, who happened to walk outside just as she came in for her final landing. Bad luck for the elderly groundskeeper I found  around the corner, who helped me take her out of the rain.

A few hours later, I saw that same groundskeeper walking through the lobby and our eyes met. And that look he gave me… was welcoming. An old person nearing the end of his life looking at a young person nearing the end of the beginning of her life and between our mutual gaze, all those years in between.

I treated myself to an omelet and mimosa for breakfast. Because it’s my birthday and because a fella deserves eggs and alcohol for breakfast on her birthday.

Robert Frost once said that he could sum up life in three words. It goes on. Robert Frost is dead now. And that should probably depress me but you know something? It doesn’t. I chose to find it hilarious. Because it’s my birthday.

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The Art of Revenge (Alternate Working Title: F-U Sun Tzu)

Do any of you know anything about hedgehogs? Hedgehogs are amazing animals. When you disturb them, their cute little harmless raccoon faces ball up into their little house of spines. Those spines are sharp and pretty much impenetrable to anything less destructive than a nuclear bomb. And people look at a balled up hedgehog and think to themselves “How cute is this? Li’l fella can turn into an urchin when disaster strikes. D’awww… Cute little coward. Just runs and hides. He’s a good hider, that cute little coward. Awww..”

But hedgehogs have another defense.

They are immune to snake poison.

Most people don’t know that hedgehogs more or less eat snake poison like most Americans eat Fruit Loops. Pretty much any snake poison you can think of. That shit is like candy to those little bastards. And every once in awhile, the hedgehog decides “Hell man, I feel like fucking with a snake today because fuck snakes. Snakes suck. They slither through the grass fucking with everybody.

Not today, asshole. Not. Fucking. Today.”

A hedgehog has been known to engage in the sport hunting of snakes. Sometimes it eats the snake it kills but mostly it just slaughters them in cold blood and moves on.

Because fuck snakes.

Salman Rushdie said this once: “I didn’t want to become some embittered old hack getting his revenge for the rest of my life. But I didn’t want to become some scared creature cowering in a corner either. I remember telling myself not to carry the hatred around so i put it away, although I know where it is. I have it in a trunk in storage.”

Never underestimate my ability to haul that dirty bitch out any time i want.

If you want to get into the philosophy regarding the quality of revenge, then there is some valuable truth in the old saying that living well is the best revenge. This old gem isn’t suggesting that you fuck over everything that moves in a desperate and myopic journey to becoming drunk with power so that you can puke the contents of its hangover all over your childhood tormentors. Besides, the whole ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” style of revenge is played out. Romantic, yes but impractical in today’s world and even more than that, a badge to just how much his nemesis had controlled him all of those years. Sure. He became an artistically skilled fencer. Sure. He made some great friends along the way. Sure. Eventually he killed the six fingered man. And i’m sure that it felt good. Why wouldn’t it feel good to kill the object of a lifelong obsession? He had to kill him, not because the six fingered man had once killed his father but because Montoya’s obsession with that dirty rat-bastard was the only driving force in his life. And what did he get for his happy ending? A sobering realization that he now had no idea what to do with his life.

And all the six fingered man had to say to him? “Oh yeah… I think i remember you…  I wanna say…Ted right? You seriously spent your whole life plotting my revenge? Dude…”

Classical revenge is a selfish activity necessitated by nothing more than pampering a narcissistic wound. And any narcissistic wound means that your tormentor has already won. Whether you get your revenge or not. Knowing that you ruined someone’s life is power. The ultimate power. More power than your revenge can ever take away.

Before you destroy someone who has done harm, you need to analyze it objectively. Will the world be a better place if this person didn’t function as a part of it? Are you serving your own needs by eliminating this presence? Or are you truly and honestly making the world a better place?

Repayment of a slight is revenge. But removal of a cancer is justice. Put away your hatred until you know for sure which category it’s in.

Once you’ve decided you’re dealing with a cancer, planning is everything. You need to think in terms of risk assessment. There is a graph of damage dealt (hit points) and there is a graph of damage received (health) and the point at which the two meet is your sweet spot. So some research is needed. You need to know your enemy. Your resources. Yourself. The many confines and loopholes of the law. Don’t eat poison and expect your enemy to die. That just doesn’t work (i mean.. unless you’re a hedgehog. And if you’re planning your life around the whole What Would a Hedgehog Do strategy, I recommend you consider a different strategy as there are almost zero points of intersect that can be identified between your resources and those of the average hedgehog.)

Knowing your enemy is the best place to start. What are his strengths? His weaknesses? His vices? And more importantly, how does that intelligence measure up against those same metrics you identify with regards to yourself?

The most important thing to understand when you are tallying up the weaknesses of your enemy is that the measure of his greatest strength is his ability to make his weaknesses look like strengths. What is an animal doing when it bristles its fur? It is giving you a sure signal that your size intimidates it. A cat never hisses and arches its back at a mouse. Why should it bother? The mouse is a fraction of its size. It saves this technique for dogs. The ability to feel bigger is not a cat’s strength. it’s the ability to make you feel relatively smaller that makes that cat intimidating. Your enemy’s ability to make its fear look like bravado is the key to exploiting that fear.

Revenge is serious business and if you’re going into it without knowing as much as you can about everything in that list, you are sure to bungle the thing badly. Never put yourself in a position where you could wind up in prison. The nice thing is that the law is ugly. There are LOTS of legal provisions for those who feel they have been wronged. There are lots of actions a person can take against someone who consciously chose to harm them that are perfectly legal and beautifully devastating. Do your research. Don’t get caught up in the temptation to fantasize about the ideal world. Keep your energy focused on the world that is. This is the most important thing. For the love of god, keep it within the confines of any legal loophole at your disposal. This is the science of revenge.

And take your time. Take your good, sweet, patient  time. Crushing the complacency of someone who has done you harm before you wield the ax is what makes revenge not only fitting, but sweet.

This is the art of revenge.

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Heroics

The principal problem i have with most religions is not what they believe as far as the universe as a whole is concerned. The universe is a big place and not really my business to comment on at this point in my life. My principal problem with religion is that it does not often cultivate good. It merely cultivates karma.

I’m not a religious person. I’m not an atheist either. I guess really? I just don’t know and maybe more importantly than that, I don’t care. But certain dynamics do catch my fancy from time to time and one such dynamic is this idea people have about what makes a person good. And it turns out that, if you take most religions at their word, not much does. That if you take most religions at their word, the default state of humans is not that nice, however well-meaning most of them might be. If you take most religions at their word it is more about the relative forgiveness of whatever deity you believe in and less about the ability to achieve ‘goodness’ in the average human lifetime. 

Throughout history, religion and spirituality have operated on a slick barter-exchange philosophy. If you do good, good things will come your way. This has some rational basis in reality. If you do something nice for someone, the likelihood that they will return the favour increases. If you are known for being a nice person, the likelihood that people in general will treat you well also increases. (This is not to be confused with being a passive doormat – which does nobody any good whatsoever) It follows logically that if you’re a jackass, people will tend to treat you like one. Let your asshole do the talking and you’ll become, essentially, a giant asshole with a mouth (read Burrough’s story about the man who taught his asshole to talk for more information on the subject.)

Karma is one of those nasty things, like money, sex or controlled substances that you need to sort of understand to have any control over. Imagine you live in a village of 100 people. One morning you wake up pissed off and angry at the world, ready for a fight. And you pick a fight with someone.. anyone.. for any little transgression not because they’ve pissed you off all that badly but mostly because you’re just in a toxic mood. That person now has been loaded up with the overflow of your nasty mood. He, in turn, takes that overflow and turns it on someone. Either someone else, or himself. This negativity slowly snakes throughout the community of only 100 people as hurt individuals pay it forward relentlessly. And eventually makes it’s way back to you. Except that by the time it reaches you again, it has grown and festered and been blown to such an unnecessary proportion that you’ll often get back three times what you originally dished out.

There are only two ways to stop this overflow. Either it reaches a wise and serene person who merely absorbs it and converts it to some kind of empathy and softness. Or YOU must become that wise person who absorbs it and converts it to some kind of empathy or softness.

Religious people TEND to want to stop this vicious cycle of abuse. Their hearts are sort of in the right place. They are of the (not incorrect) belief that they can cultivate their sense of filial love of their fellow man into a sort of karma-killing machine. That they can harness and neutralize negativity and sadness, manufacture it into empathy, and turn it back out as compassion. This is a noble thing. But not as easy to achieve as many would have us believe.

There are several sects of Buddhism that talk about attachment. But I personally believe many of the scholars of attachment misunderstand. They talk about the road to enlightened serenity beginning with the vague idea of “giving up attachments” and many of them often talk of money. The trouble is.. they, and their followers take words like “money” literally. They talk earnestly about giving up the need for material possessions, forgetting in their zealous sense of self-sacrifice that karma itself is a material possession. Or at the very least, our desire for it is the same as our desire for, say, a Bentley. When the great scholars and philosophers spoke of the attachment to money, what they were really trying to say is we have an attachment to expectation. Give and you receive in kind. Give kindness and you will receive something good. Or at the very least, something good will happen.

This is a problem because the two things sort of cancel each other out. If you do good to be recognized as a good person, are you really doing good? Or merely trading in some sort of karmic stock exchange? That may or may not even exist? And more importantly, if you doing good results in your own suffering, are you still willing to do good? Or is your good contingent on what it can buy you? Whether it be heaven, praise? Love? Enlightenment? More good? A perfect world? A longer life or a healthier body?

This is what all religions were trying to get at with the idea of noble suffering i think. The idea of penance or whatever you want to call it. A lot of them are on the right track with anonymous charity or dying for sins or whatever.. but even that is false. Because you’re still getting something out of it. You’re still getting the smug feeling of having been very magnanimous and dedicated to what you believe in. And this is a kind of karma.

The zen buddhists also have this nice idea (from what i can tell) that there is simply NOTHING. That a true buddha is free of karma. That there is nothing the self can gain or lose from doing wrong or right but that they are done because it is the buddha-nature. There is nothing else except that. This idea is even closer to what you’re wanting to strive for but even this is false. Because the hope of attaining emancipation through enlightenment is a kind of karma-exchange. So you are not really free of anything yet.

I think love.. real love.. has something to do with the idea that if you carry the fire inside, you will help keep the fire burning inside humanity. For every hero that sacrifices without thinking, many people will come away from his story with hope for themselves. Their light will burn a little brighter. They’ll wake up ready to face at least one more day with the knowledge that maybe humanity ISN’T just a steaming pile of jackasses. That maybe they’re willing to, if nothing else, continue to attempt to deal in karma which, while not a perfect system, isn’t bad for the average person. And perhaps it’s best if the hero is totally unaware that he has done this. And that the world is totally unaware of who he is. And things continue pretty much the same for everybody.. but the light is just a little brighter. And sometimes the light doesn’t get any brighter. Sometimes the sky still stays dark no matter how much compassion you pump out. Sometimes you start the fight knowing you will lose. But you begin anyway. Because it is your nature.

I read a story a year or so ago about a man who was driving on the highway and saw an overturned oil tanker. The driver of the tanker had been doused in boiling tar. And without thinking, the man pulled over, thrust his arms and half his torso into the tar and saved the driver’s life. Then he ran away. That man lost the use of both of his arms. He refuses to talk about it and nobody knows who he is. He has suffered terribly and will never be the same. But that driver of the oil tanker is alive today because of that one man’s truly and totally selfless action. He didn’t do it for recognition or even because he couldn’t stand to see another man suffer. He did it for the same reason that a bird builds a nest. It was simply his nature. That man is my hero. Whoever he is.

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Everyone at Columbine was Stupid

I was watching intervention today. They did one on this ex-columbine student who apparently wound up on the white hat list (which has since been claimed to have been an urban legend) This kid came away from a terrible trauma and the only way he could keep the memories quiet was to drug them out of existence.

I get that. I mean.. I kind of get that. i have never experienced a school shooting. I have never myself held a gun to anybody’s head.

But I have had one held to my head.

I would like to pepper you with the details of a dramatic story – preferably one with international espionage where I emerged the clear and present victor, maybe clad in an LBD and armed with a sweet catch phrase. I suppose sometimes I like to think (You know.. if i had been cooler) that my catch phrase would have been something like “You just checked out”. The whole thing took place in a cheap motel room. It would have been appropriate. Hell, it would have been the stuff great movies are made of.

But that would be a lie. The truth is.. I had a gun held to my head once because I tried to take something away from somebody. The person overreacted. It is the oldest and most mediocre story in the calendar. Just with guns. It is the stupidest story ever told. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the story that is never told. Because this kind of thing happens every day. Just not to writers. It is the nexus of where foolishness meets thoughtlessness. And, at least for today, it is a story that I would rather not tell. I had no fancy catch phrase. As far as I can recall, I begged for my life, like any other fool would have done. I cried. I blew snot everywhere. Mostly all over myself. I kept that snot-covered t-shirt for about four years. Never washed it.

I finally burned it.  And that was probably the most dramatic moment of the entire story. Because with that shirt, I burned my whole life. It was my baptism by fire. It was the day I decided that the past was dead. The future was now. And the present was the only opportunity I had to let the dead lie dead. This wasn’t a story that made me stronger. I wasn’t kidnapped for being awesome, for standing up for my vague and mutable beliefs or for trying to help my fellow man. I did something selfish and despicable and almost paid the debt with my life. This was a sad, washed-up story of two assholes in a room together. Nothing more. Or less.

It is unlikely my aggressor would even recognize me today. I mean Jesus.. I barely recognize myself and for that I am eternally grateful.  Truth be told and for all intents and purposes, every single protagonist and antagonist in that story has died. They did not die a hero’s death or a villain’s death. They did not go supernova in the writer’s wet dream of a great ball of fire. They simply faded away and became nothing. That day, from beginning to end, simply ceased to exist as a reality and became an anecdote that would wait in the wings until I was ready to tell it.

I am still not ready to tell it.

And yet, I still dream of it. I think about it. I still shudder when I see a firearm. That little girl still looks at me, when I lobby against gun control, and says “If i weren’t long dead and gone, I’d slap the living fuck out of you. Guns are bad, right? Right? We hate guns, don’t we? I mean.. aren’t you still scared?? Did I almost die for nothing?”

I don’t know what to tell her.

The only thing noteworthy about any of this is that this, this moment right now, is the first time I have ever talked about it. Before today, I never told anybody that somebody almost put a bullet in my head. I have never reached out to friends, family, counselors. I don’t have any fancy names for it. PTSD.. shoot. To me, that’s just medical-speak for “I got help and feel empowered because I can now use a genuine and documented acronym as a badge for all my subsequent lack of coping skills.”

I’m not saying there is no such thing as shell-shock. Quite the opposite. It is very real. It is prominent and stands out like a pulled muscle. It’s a tiny part of your anatomy and yet it’s all you can think about. You never realize how much you use a muscle until you pull it. And then every moment reminds you of what you did. Of what happened to you. Moreso for those who aren’t in the business of pulling muscles. I wasn’t in the business of pulling muscles. I wasn’t a gang banger. I didn’t run with addicts or fall in love with sociopaths or wind up on a tour of duty in Iraq. I was in the wrong place at exactly the right time. People like that.. we’re not used to having guns held to our heads. I had no strategy in my lexicon of coping skills to overcome what had happened to me. Being in a shitty motel room facing the barrel of a pistol was never part of a normal day for me. There is no way to rationalize something like that. There is no way to trick yourself into making something like that a part of normal life experience.

I think to some extent my mind still refuses to acknowledge it even happened at all.

And yet the dreams keep coming.

But my point is not to talk about a fury-crazed person holding a gun (a pistol, actually) to my fool head. That isn’t the point of any of this. My point is that even after all the miles, the years, the fire, I am no stranger to spending late nights awake. The person who tried to hurt me is long gone. It is the person living inside me I don’t trust because she was a very, very  selfish individual and always had a way of getting what she wanted. I am afraid of her finding me again. I am afraid of her coming back. Sometimes I see her out of the corner of my eye, peeking at me when she thinks i’m not looking. And I suppose that’s why I don’t want to get over the trauma of that day because you guys? That trauma keeps her away. It keeps her submissively hiding in the shadows, afraid to come out. We live in the society of others in spite of our OWN faults, not theirs. We create our own realities. At least in this country. And the fact that I wound up with a gun pointed at me does not deify me. I am not so delusional as to nail myself to a cross. I did the wrong thing, at the wrong time to the wrong person.

So to make a short story long, yeah. Ok? I get it.

Because I never told anybody about it, I never got help. I buried it. Deep within the depths of who I am today. I never learned to live with a near-death experience. I learned, painfully in some cases, to simply live around it. When I examine my life today, I feel like I have done this successfully.

And yet the dreams keep coming.

Yesterday I became somebody’s fiancee. Somebody who has no idea that once, long ago, in a dismal room in the middle of nowhere, a crazy person with a gun tried to kill me. I love him but I haven’t told him. Or perhaps, more accurately, it’s BECAUSE I love him that I haven’t told him.

For someone who claims she is here to talk about Columbine, the abstract, and not her own personal experience with having a gun shoved up her eye socket, I feel like I have ignored the actual issue for long enough. I saw this video on youtube and even though it was a random episode of intervention, naturally everyone in the comments area wanted to talk about Columbine. At first I had tried to avoid the comments section because i mean, duh. I saw that coming. But trauma has a funny way of making a fella both wise and arrogant at the same time. At first I didn’t look at the comments. Not at first. But over the next couple of days, I found myself drifting back to that video, again and again. I would watch it and rewatch it.. convincing myself that I had no interest in reading the comments until I had no other excuse for being there and decided it was as good a time as any to scroll down.

Know this right now. There are two situations that a person can NEVER understand fully until they’ve been there. Having a gun held to their head. And holding a gun to someone else’s head. And as I had suspected, all manner of people with zero experience with either one of these anomalies had an opinion and had openly, and vocally shared it.

Surprisingly, it came in at about 50/50. 50% of people identified with the victims, their families and friends, the kids in the school. I actually expected that number to be higher but (and i read all the comments and, like the geek I am, did the math) only about half the comments expressed any sort of anger toward the shooters. The other 50% were on the side of the shooters. Saying that they were bullied, tormented, terrorized and tortured and expressing complete and objective empathy (yes, such a thing exists) for a person who would want, and try, to kill someone like that.

At first, I wasn’t going to say anything. I mean, who am I to say anything? Who was I to even be reading the comments on this video? Who was I to feel that I had any jurisdiction here? Someone who has been at the receiving end of a gun? Lots of people have been where I had been that day and have come out the other side of it no worse for the wear but no better either. Who never learn, who never grow and continue to find themselves at the edge of existence, over and over again

But honestly.. I was tired of people going on an on about the “Mystery” of columbine. There is no mystery. There is no victim and there is no predator. There is, quite simply, no one to blame. I was alive. Alive  and aware. Aware of the danger of wrath. Aware of the danger of complacency. Aware of the arrogance of victimization and aware of the pain that we cause people when we don’t even realize we do it. Aware of how, a lot of the time, we don’t even realize that when we do harm to another human being, we are doing harm to another human being. 

And, over a series of character-limited comments, and well against my better judgment, I wrote this.

I can’t say which side of that whole columbine thing is stupider.. the shooters or the targets. Maybe everyone was stupid when it came to Columbine. Maybe that’s the whole point of what we’re supposed to take away from this. Lord knows no one ever will because most people are too emotional to realize that sometimes there is no one to really blame, in the grand scheme of things.

If you fuck with someone, eventually, they’ll fuck back. That’s a fact of life no matter who you’re picking on. They WILL get, or at least try to get, their revenge. And probably at the moment when you don’t see it coming. And they WILL fuck back harder probably than you originally fucked with them. Shit has a way of building up quickly. And then you’ll stand there, crying.. bewildered, not sure what happened exactly but knowing deep down that, yeah.. you were sort of partially to blame. That if you hadn’t been a giant dick or stayed quiet when giant dicks were fucking pussies left and right, there would have been that much less motivation for them to target anyone, especially not you. That bullies expect their targets to just take the abuse without question is a fatal mistake.

Of course, where do you draw the line? Do you shoot someone who tries to kill you? Do you shoot someone who constantly batters and assaults you? If someone calls you a fag for three years straight, is shooting them an acceptable reaction? Do you gun down the guy who gave that great job to someone else? Do you shoot your wife and kids because they talked back? Are there no other acceptable coping skills in your lexicon? No punishment that fits a transgression against you other than murder? 

Life is full of assholes. You can’t kill them all. You don’t want to. You really don’t.

Owell.. the good thing is, everyone just blamed Marilyn Manson and went on with their lives. By the saving grace of monumental stupidity and shortsightedness, a group of people has once again silenced their consciences with regards to any possible wrongdoing on their part.

The fact that anyone finds columbine a mystery at all is himself monumentally stupid and shortsighted. They’ve pumped so much money into finding out why, Why, WHY.. when the answer is clear. Its just.. accepting that answer means accepting that neither those two boys, nor their tormentors, nor violent music, video games, tv, movies… are entirely to blame here. That the bullies aren’t entirely to blame. That no one is entirely to blame. That everyone is entirely to blame.

i know a girl who was bullied in high school. Severely. She decided when the time was right, she would exact her revenge. She waited many, many years until finally she found her old nemesis’s Achilles heel.. Her revenge was to sleep with, and become the mistress of, the husband of her former bully. She successfully destroyed her old bully’s life. (Who has since become a raging alcoholic) but she also destroyed the lives of her spouse (who is not entirely without fault himself) and their two children who are clearly at no fault.

She didn’t make this distinction. She saw a unit of people that had sprung up out of a wellspring of evil. She sought, consciously sought, to destroy them all, to purge two generations of torment.

Who’s the bad guy here? Both? Neither? There is no answer. But to this victim of many years ago, that day was HER day of reckoning. HER Columbine. It was her chance to wield the gun on her tormentor and to harm her so profoundly that not only her, but anyone who supported her right to happiness, would suffer strong and swift consequence. Part of me thinks “What a stinker” and chuckles to hide that i’m a little proud of her. Part of me finds her disgusting and petty and wants nothing more to do with her.

So.. its hard to say, isn’t it? I mean.. it’s not easy. Especially when you see people who have gone through hardship and as a result, show extreme gratitude to the important things in their lives. I mean not once did those two kids say to themselves “If those idiots liked us, we NEVER would have become friends with each other”.

A lot of people don’t see the good in being tormented by idiots. But the reality is that an idiot doles out one hell of a first-class education. You owe idiots for making their idiocy clear to you. You owe them for showing you the kindness of being such an obvious predator. You owe them for being a sort of matrix of what makes people suck. So the only people left are people who probably don’t suck, or at least suck in a way that is tolerable to your own personal compass of sucking. You would never have found them in a mess of that idiot friendship stock exchange called Being Popular. I would think you dodged a bullet, no pun intended.

The second you decide to murder, all bets are off. The second you decide to take a person’s life from them is the second you consciously decide that you no longer wish to be heard.

What happened to those two boys is inexcusable. But the second they pulled the trigger, an entire generation of tormentors because a generation of victims. And two boys who desperately deserved help became mass murderers. Kids today that are tormented cannot even TALK about how angry it makes them without being seen as criminal-level mental-health risks. Anger, in any form, has become unacceptable. In order for a bullied child to be heard, he or she must use the art of pathos, to give up his or her dignity. The first angry outburst will classify that child in the Harris/Klebold spectrum.

The trendy reaction to bullying now is to turn that violence inward. To cut, to become addicted. To commit suicide. The second that a bullied child tries to, God fucking forbid, turn the tables on their psychotic tormentors is the second that child feels the swift and cold wrath of justice. Thanks to the events of this monumentally stupid day, the only voice a bullied child has is the voice of a pathetic victim. Any other voice, ANY other voice, is the voice of a mentally unstable predator.

This is what OUR stupidity has done to OUR kids

This is how history will choose to remember. This stupid day at this stupid school has created a pop culture pigeonhole that states, quite clearly, that the profile of a bullied child is either pathetically meek or completely psychotic.

What happened that day was all for nothing. Nobody learned anything. Not a goddamn thing.

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Jumping off the High Dive

The scariest moment is when you’ve just lunged toward the water. Your toes are still on the diving board and give you this useless illusion of safety But you’re at this crazy angle and your center of mass is somewhere five feet in front of where it should be and there’s just no going back. You HAVE to jump. And i don’t think you realize you’re there until you HAVE to jump. And then you just jump.

It’s a long fall, that descent from the high dive. When you’re in free fall from a safe perch, time dilates. It slows down. Five seconds feels like five minutes. You discover you have some time to Think Things Over. You reflect fondly on the faces of your family and friends. You quantify, then qualify your various regrets (such as jumping off the high dive) You anticipate hitting the water and try to calculate, from your current position in space, how much the landing will hurt. 

But most importantly you realize that your fall is no longer any of your business. That you can try to stick it, you can try to soften the impact. If you’re the hero type you can even try to do some funky midair showboating. But at the end of the day, you are at the mercy of gravity and buoyancy. There are not many choices left to you. And so you fall. Because you have to.

And then, suddenly, The Impact.  it either happens naturally (because your body and mind know what to do) or it doesn’t happen naturally at all.. and you do a giant belly flop. And it hurts. And people laugh and sometimes your top falls off. But then it’s over. And you’re still alive. And when your head finally breaks the surface of the water, you have resurfaced a bigger person. Because you jumped.

5

Wrecking Ball Feminism

About a decade ago, low-brow, middle aged profiteers were feeling concerned about the sudden, strong mistrust surrounding the Sex Sells cultural giant. Suddenly, people were starting to realize that degrading young women for profit was flat-out unacceptable. People were starting to demand SUBSTANCE and INTELLIGENCE from the female protagonists in their lives. Whatever was a cheap entertainment industry that, itself, had neither substance nor intelligence, to do?

So after what I’m sure were dozens of late night emergency brainstorms over cold Thai food, these same low-brow, middle aged profiteers  decided that, rather than fight the inevitable, this “cute little feminist trend” would be a fabulous thing to exploit and a marketing master plan was born. Female empowerment did not have to be the enemy of entertainment if they could just subtly and cleverly shift the definition of empowerment to mean the exact opposite of what it was supposed to.

Welcome to Wrecking Ball Feminism. Where women who are tired of being treated like sandwich-making, beer-getting, bitch-slapped prostitutes are convinced by a series of very clever male-centric marketing ploys, that being treated like a prostitute is empowering.

This is not to be confused with the very substantial truth that assault is assault and abuse is abuse, no matter how a woman (or man) chooses to dress. A miniskirt is not an invitation for sexual assault or even sexual insult. Unless your knuckles drag when you walk, this is something that should be well understood in today’s culture. The right to dress in a way that makes you comfortable is not the issue here. Women and a good deal of the men who love them were already up in arms about this truism. Hell, they were angry enough to stage parades. The idea that clothing does not imply consent was a topic on fire, and rightly so. But my oh my, what a great place to start from a creepy, misogynistic marketing perspective!

And this is where the beast would sink its teeth. They already had a firm support base of well-meaning individuals and those individuals seemed to hold some semblance of cultural influence. The entire marketing base was ready-made and waiting for them. All they had to do was exploit it.

Women are more objectified in today’s media than ever before. We are more degraded, more two dimensional, more foolish. But we have been told that, hey, it’s ok. A woman should be able to be a “slut” if she really wants to. (And fuck am I getting sick and tired of that word…) That to even suggest that someone is trying to harm her or to pimp her is now somehow anti-feminist. “Miley Cyrus is a strong, empowered young woman and that’s why she is a model for today’s strong, empowered young women! You can tell how empowered and strong she is by how she allowed a pack of 40 year old profiteers to convince her that being naked on a wrecking ball was empowering.”

Marketing like this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As someone who cut her teeth in the marketing world, this is sleazy marketing 101. Take something that is important to your target demographic and change its definition to suit your agenda.

This is nothing new. Look at how religion has been warped and twisted over the years by this very same technique. You think major world religions started off as hateful excuses for carnage, death and subjugation? Absolutely not. They started off as a peaceful means of protest against hateful excuses for carnage, death and subjugation.

We humans are terrible at learning from our mistakes, mostly because we still don’t quite understand them.

The worst thing about all this is that it is a blow, a MAJORLY POWERFUL and TARGETED blow, for feminism. There is a group of creepy little men out there that are successfully convincing the average mind that feminism is not real feminism unless the woman is being objectified in the process, to the extent that those who speak against this monster are now being accused of misogyny.

Being used and abused is not a form of self-empowerment, even if you think it’s what you want. And quite frankly, I find the trend of saying it is to be profoundly disturbing. There is a world of ruling class douchebags who will subtly tell you to dance for their nickels and make you really, really believe that it was your choice all along. And worse than that, they will make you believe that by objectifying yourself for their amusement, you are somehow empowering yourself and the people you feel you represent. To the point where you will accuse those of trying to return you to your true self-empowerment of keeping you back, holding you down. It is reminiscent of the “black tv shows” of the early to mid 1990s that the average white guy believed empowered black people by slamming their two dimensional stereotypes on network television as a cheap laugh for the honkys. We know this now, we’ve finally figured it out. That wasn’t cool. At all. But to have brought this up in the 90s was about as good an idea as branding your forehead with a swastika. To speak out against network racism was racist.

Marketing 101.

You have been brainwashed into supporting the very culture of hate and abuse you claim to despise.

There is no “right” way to be an empowered female other than to live your life the way you feel comfortable living your life. If all women could do that, there would be no need for feminism in the first place. We need to stop allowing men to define feminism.

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Lonely

Flying frequently has taught me something. I don’t like it. And that’s putting it mildly. I’m absolutely, unapologetically terrified of every aspect of it. I’ve tried everything. Hypnosis, shrinks, those little blue pills that make you feel like you don’t exist. I’ve even tried this thing called Timeline Therapy. Nothing worked. Booze works passably if I’m willing to get drunk. And when i say drunk, I mean the “very” variety of drunk. And normally before that can happen, the poor flight attendant has to cut me off because… well.. Add alcohol to fear and nine times out of ten you get belligerence. I hate to admit it. And honestly I never remember it that way but I rarely travel alone and this is pretty much the par-for-the-course story everybody tells me later when they’re no longer afraid of me punching the living daylights out of them in a boozy, fear-induced rampage. Oh they sugar coat it. I am “hilarious”, “hardcore”, “off the hook”, “Sassy” (I like that one. I’m a sassy drunk.) but unless someone specifically says “Dude, you don’t seem drunk at all.” assume that you not only seem drunk, you’re probably really annoying about it to boot. It’s pretty much a fact of adult life that the only person who enjoys a drunk is another drunk.

It’s pretty embarrassing. Especially when it gets to the point when you need to enter an airport already staggering with a doctor’s note pinned to your chest saying “Prescription drunk”. Yes this is a thing and Yes I have that note. It is framed on my bathroom wall alongside a note from a Ferrari owner who felt insulted because I had the audacity to park my shitbox VW next to him at a fair. It may very well be the best example of New Money I have ever seen.

People will say all kinds of weird shit to you when you’re afraid. I remember once sitting next to a pilot who told me that the statistics on plane crashes are lower than the statistics of winning the lottery. I said I didn’t care what the statistics were. And anyway, I ride the mothership of statistically improbable events (including but not limited to actually winning a thousand dollar lottery prize at the age of seven and randomly running into a childhood friend while traveling in Turkey) He went on to assure me that if i just understood how planes worked… I told him I understood perfectly the physics of flight. After all, I once tried to become a pilot. I just don’t like it.

The best people to sit with on scary flights are religious professionals. At least for me. Because I understand the science behind it and I am still not reassured, I’m pretty much ready to give myself over to the Almighty at this point, drunk-for-Jesus style. I am not a religious person but I’m not an atheist either. The truth is that I am ready-made for purgatory. Don’t worry, religious people, I’ve made peace with this. And I know when my number is finally called, regardless of what the universe has in store for me next, I’ll be babbling to some random deity to take pity on my asshole self and not send me into a pit of fire (or worse, make me do THIS shit all over again). My religious professionals of choice are Buddhists. They’re rare to find on a flight in North America but my shitting christ do they ever make you feel better. They don’t even try to tell you everything will be ok. They just tell you everything is irrelevant. Nothing matters, yes. Very reassuring. Best part? They don’t even believe in purgatory or, perhaps more accurately, they think we’re already there. So no harm, no foul in their minds. Fear makes a person very open to suggestion. So does alcohol. It’s really the perfect situation.

I used to think i was just afraid of the state of being airborne. That the idea of a wingless human body being aloft being somehow just simply intellectually obscene is a nice excuse for fear. I’d like to tell you that’s why I hate flying. I’d like to tell you that it’s nothing more than a simple fear of heights. I’d like to tell you that very much.

But I suppose it would be a lie. The truth is that I’m afraid of being ALONE. Dying is about as alone as a person gets, isn’t it? Even in a crowded death-tube surrounded by the screaming doomed, you are still alone. You may be living together but you will die alone. I don’t know much about death. I’ve never experienced it. But one thing I’m fairly certain of is that at the moment when you meet eternity, you’re doing it solo. And there is nothing like the idea of facing your own mortality to remind you that the whole “we’re all in this together” bullshit is actually just a band-aid on the painful wound of the “we all walk our own solitary path” reality. And it may be selfish but, in a way, a plane crash is about as social a death as anyone can ever hope to have. So ironically, if i have to die someday (and i’m still young and arrogant enough to assume there might be an option I just haven’t seen yet.) a plane crash would probably be the best way to go.

But it’s more than that really. I’m afraid to fly mostly because I can’t see the man running the show. There is this mysterious entity who I get a quick peek at when i’m waiting at the gate. And then another quick peek at when i’m boarding, surrounded by a control panel twelve times the size of god which reassures me NOT AT ALL. And being a very show-me kind of person, I like to be able to see the driver when I’m a passenger. I like to know that the person in charge of my future has as many reasons to preserve it as I do. I want desperately to refute the dismal knowledge that (you guessed it) I’m alone.

It was a hard thing to admit. At first I told nobody. Finally I started admitting it to a few choice people “Yeah man, it turns out i’m afraid to fly because I’m not ready to admit that I walk alone.” – It sounds theological, mystical and more than a bit insane. Sometimes I tell myself that it even sounds like something a hero would say.. on the edge of a great adventure. But the truth of the matter is.. that fear is nothing more than the stamp of mediocrity. It’s why anyone is afraid of anything. Isn’t it? Admit it. Your seemingly pointless fear of lettuce (yes it’s a thing.) somehow leads down a completely irrational road that ends in your untimely and lonely death. It’s the same reason so many of us fear the unknown. It’s an unfriendly place. It reminds us that we’re really the only thing in existence that we can be certain DOES exist. Change, the unknown, the unfamiliar is a painful reminder that time and space coddle nobody. There is no guarantee in life when it comes to things staying the same. In fact, there is a pretty clear guarantee that nothing does. And that includes life itself. And I don’t know about you, but to me? That’s a pretty shitty deal we’ve got.

We’re all alone. And I suppose that’s how it should be. We’re all alone because we maintain the illusion that we are separate from stuff. I am not trying to spark any sort of philosophical nonsense here. Or.. maybe I am and my definition of philosophy is too narrow. I don’t know. I just get this overwhelming sense that everything really is going to be ok. Granted, I normally get this sense when everything IS ok. And, I don’t know, maybe that negates its validity. But even that’s ok.

And who knows.. maybe there really is something to all that. After all, I wrote this in the air.