Posts in Category: Wisdom

Cops in trouble vs. Cops are trouble

violence

512 Americans were killed so far this year as a result of police shootings. That seems like a small number doesn’t it? Considering there are 318.9 million of us living is this great big country. If you want hard numbers, that accounts for 0.00016% of us. That’s not a lot.

Let me ask you to consider, while you’re considering those cold, hard facts, this: Each of those 512 people had someone who missed them when they didn’t come home that night. Those were not numbers on a page, but warm, beating hearts stopped by bullets from department issued firearms.

This is the price we pay for maintaining a safe society. Police are hired to keep the peace. Cops have to do their jobs. Of course they do. I would never argue that point. But 512 lives lost? Shouldn’t zero be our goal? Is that in the mission statement of any police department? Or is it something nobody’s talking about because everybody’s okay with a few deaths if it means the rest of us feel safe. Only, I know a whole lot of us who don’t feel safe anymore, if they ever did.

Let me make a parallel, if you would. It’s going to hit a hot button, though, so be prepared. We have had one death related to the measles (according to the latest CDC stats) in the past decade+. Yet we call the decision by many parents not to vaccinate their children a dire societal failure. One person, in a whole twelve years. Sure, you could argue that it’s only because of the millions of children and adults who are vaccinated, but what about globally, where the vaccination rate is much lower? In the entire world, there were 114,900 measles related deaths in 2014 (most current WHO statistic). Comparing that to just 512, 114,900 that sounds like a lot, but that’s out of seven billion people. It comes to .000016%. That’s an extra zero in there compared to police shooting deaths, and that zero represents a whole lot of extra people.

This is not about vaccines, though. It’s not about whether you’re on the helpful vs. harmful end of the spectrum on the vaccination question. I honestly don’t care what you choose, it’s not my business. What this is about is what we find acceptable on a death certificate in the box marked cause.

Here’s the thing, if we call deaths caused by the measles an epidemic problem, why not death caused by our nationwide police forces? There are a lot more of them. I understand, you could well be thinking, the cops are just doing their job. I’ll give you that, but I’ll go one better. All those measles viruses are just doing their job, too. It’s not fair to target them and not the cops is it? So, what about this? How about we get our scientific community to start work on an empathy vaccine? We can institute a vaccination program for that one so everyone would be left with a super-healthy and active empathy brain center. That’s a mandatory program I could get behind!

…and so my arguments have devolved into ridiculousness. But please don’t take that for an indication this isn’t serious stuff. Our collective national police forces need improvement. They need to be studied for what is working, what’s not, and best practices to fix them. It must be scientific, but we MUST support the men and women in blue while they do their jobs. They’re human beings. They will always make mistakes. All we can ask, all we should ask, it that they are the right people for the job, are trained well, and are required to continue training throughout their careers. And let’s push for community policing. That, my friends, is our best option. It’s going to be a lot harder to shoot a man if you know his name and where his grandma lives.

To wrap this up I’m going to leave you with this. It’s a link to statistics collected by The Washington Post of fatalities caused by police officers nationwide. It’s not a judgment, it’s not an indictment, it’s just factual information about each event, where, why, and how it happened.

it’s important stuff and you should give it a click.

Hate is not okay

HateThe internet is overflowing with stories about the Orlando shooting yesterday at Pulse, a hot nightclub in the LGBTQ community there. Like always, Americans have differing opinions about what happened and why. Was it a gay thing? Was it a religious thing? Was it ISIS related? Was the shooter mentally unstable? Was he violent on a daily basis? Would the result be different if Americans didn’t have easy access to assault rifles? Should we ban assault rifles? Should we ban Muslims? Should we ban gays? Should we ban crazy people? Would changing any one of those elements make a difference?

All of this and more, I’m sure. Personally? I vote for banning assault rifles for personal use. Because, really? In what scenario does a private person need one of those things? When you’re living through a Hollywood-style apocalypse story is the only answer that makes sense to me. But I know a lot of people who disagree and think that placing any caveat on our 2nd Amendment rights will start a fast slide down a slippery slope. So…

Hatred, though. That’s the real issue, isn’t it? Somebody hates gays. Somebody else hates Muslims. Somebody else hates the Capitalist Pigs. We hate crazy people, disabled people, people with purple hair, brown skin, that dude with an extra toe. I’m willing to bet you can find an easy handful of Americans who hate at least one thing on the vast list of EVERYthing.

What I despise most about the internet, and our insta-news culture, is how every story is promoted with click bait. This inevitably leads to the following three (problematic) story writing rules

  • The story must be dramatic.
    • Drama sells. We want to read something exciting, right? Something to get our hearts racing, something we can have an opinion about. (Speaking of opinions, read this!)
  • The material must instantly evoke a strong emotion.
    • Love and Hate. If we’re talking basic human emotions, they’re it. If we’re talking emotions that are easily manipulated? You guessed it! They’re it, too. Now, love doesn’t sell much on the news circuit, unless you count baby animals being adorable. LOVE in the news, and most of the internet, is considered fluff. Insignificant: only relevant when there’s a spare corner or extra 30 seconds to kill. HATE, though. That’s meat and potatoes shit right there. If you want to sell a story, make it something everyone has a reason to hate. They don’t even have to be the same reason. Actually, it’s better if there’s a whole list of reasons to hate a story. You hit more demographics that way.
  • The concepts must be digestible in a three second eye-scan of the page.
    • This one drives me crazy, especially when it comes to social issues. They’re never simple. Bigotry, poverty, racism, sexism, extreme religiosity, etc, etc – none of it can be explained in a meme. And if you can’t explain a problem in three seconds, there’s no way the solution is simple either. Life is complicated (even on a good day), it’s multi-faceted, short term wins frequently lead to long term disasters, and ducking our heads in order to ignore these facts is absolutely unhelpful.

What’s happening as a result of our online culture? I’ll tell you. We are becoming an overly dramatic group of people who crave hatred and answers that require little to no thought or intelligence.

Hatred, though. We respond to tragedies like what happened at Pulse with more of it. We hate the shooter. We hate his religion. We hate gays for being the easy targets that they are. We hate the NRA. We hate the media for sensationalizing the very tragedy we spend 2 1/2 hours searching google, twitter, facebook, and the rest of the internet for information about. Our elected officials (BTW, I wanted to name them elected leaders, but I can’t.) jump on the bandwagon and make statements inflaming the hatred and promising simple answers. We hate them, too.

Are you noticing a political trend here? [[shudders]]

My answer is not LOVE. That’s also the easy answer, in my opinion. All you need is love? It’s a beautiful sentiment. First comes understanding, though, because I will never love racism, but I can understand the seeds from whence it stems. Same with folks who feel a need to buy a gun to protect their home and family. I don’t love their reasoning behind it, but I can work to understand it. I will never love the urge to cause a large group of people terror or physical harm and death. But I can try to understand how a person can reach that point. My point being it is difficult and almost impossible to hate a thing that you can understand. So I will always reach for a point of understanding.

Hatred, though… Can we just stop? Can we just, please?

If you know who I can attribute this photo to, please comment!

Here’s my opinion…

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I’m slowly developing a Hate-Hate relationship with social media. My problem is the same as everyone else is having:

We have instantaneous access to 90% of what’s happening in the world and every damn one of us thinks it’s our right, no our duty, to have an opinion about it. Or to give advice or criticism, our perspective or maybe just a little piece of our mind. We have to have a say, right?

In the past several days, the story everybody’s up in arms over is Harambe, the gorilla that was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old boy fell into its enclosure. Either you think the kid’s mom is an idiot for letting her precious child so close to the edge that he fell in. Or you think the zoo keepers are idiots for killing the gorilla. Was lethal force really necessary? Or you think the media are idiots for making the story into such a big deal. Or you think gorillas are dangerous creatures and aren’t safe around humans, so good… Perhaps you’re anti-zoo in the first place. I could spend hours working my way around all the different opinions people have about this singular event. However I look at it, all I can come up with is that it was tragic all the way around.

The reality is, I do have an opinion about what happened, but I am far from being an expert about gorilla behavior, so I’m okay with letting the experts make the call. I mean, just because I spend a few hours online learning about how and why gorillas behave the way they do, doesn’t mean I am anywhere close to being an expert. (Likewise reading WebMD doesn’t make me an MD, reading Wikipedia doesn’t make me an expert historian, taking a course on HarvardX about String Theory won’t make me any sort of a physicist.)

Am I against animal cruelty? Sure I am. But isn’t it cruel to trap a wild animal in a small space in the first place? And the part that honestly bothers me most is people arguing that it’s the mother’s fault that her kid fell in to start with. As though, whatever might have happened would be okay with them because BAD mommy! I don’t know if you’ve ever had your own 4-year-old, or knew one that could magically disappear (like Harry Potter magical) within a matter of seconds, but it happens.

What I can say for 100% sure is that I was not there; I did not see the events unfold. My opinion is, therefore, totally irrelevant.

But this is the state of online experiences right now. Nasty responses to events that don’t even indirectly affect us. Everyone’s gotta be up in arms about something. Why? I dunno. Are we so bored with real life we have to trick ourselves into feeling like we’re better than our everyday, real life points to us being? Could be. Is there a solution?

Probably, but you’re not gonna like it because I’m about to sound like your mom when you were 10: Get off the damn computer and go do something with yourself. Read a good book. Take a walk. Smell a flower. Learn something new. Jump out of an airplane. Build a table or a garden or a new friendship. Whatever you do, do something so you’re something more than your own, irrelevant opinions.

An Utterly Impractical Grammy

ImpracticalThis is an open letter to my daughter, her husband, and their soon-to-be baby:

Dear family of mine,

As I prepare to journey back to the East Coast for my stint as a full-time Grammy, I realized there are a few things you should know.

First of all, Rachel: I love you dearly. I loved the idea of you before you were a you. The days since have shown me that the love of a mother before her child is born is nothing compared to the loving that swells every day after. You will learn this soon enough.

Secondly, Dan: That you love our Rachel so well makes you A-Okay in my book. But, thankfully it doesn’t stop there. I’m lucky to have your stand-alone friendship and I can’t imagine life without your silly puns and fantastical moustache. You’re a damn good guy. Period.

Third: I cannot wait for the day you two make me a Grammy! However, I haven’t spent a second wishing or wanting for this baby to be any one person. For some very specific reasons. To start with, every new person deserves to become who they are uncorrupted by anyone else’s expectations. I certainly can’t ignore that fact. Even more, though, I am so excited to see who this person is and how its parents’ features (both physical and personality) mix together to create it. Will it have curly hair? A Kunzle chin? Looooong fingers?? Will it be stubborn? A book worm? A wild child? Guh!! I can barely contain my excitement!

But there are a few things we need to get straight before that day comes. Just in case you haven’t already figured it out…

I plan to be an Utterly Impractical Grammy. 

Now, if you find yourself thinking, Whaa…? You should be ashamed of yourself. You obviously think I might be a totally different person when I become the third generation in our family. Your kneejerk reaction should be: Well, of course you are (with an accompanying eye roll). Just in case, I thought I’d announce my intentions before anyone goes having any absurd expectations.

So, without further adieu, here are a few things you should expect as your baby grows into whoever s/he will be:

1. Things are gonna get a little bit loud. Impractical Grammy doesn’t care if we scream or sing or talk too loud. We’re just exercising our lungs. We’re probably clanking pots and pans, too. There will likely be quiet times, too, but they will be momentary at best.

2. Messes will definitely be made. If I’m honest, I will admit that messes will probably be the norm. Paint, playdough, ooblik? All nontoxic, but messy and more fun than we could ever have otherwise.

3. That’s gonna leave a mark. Clothes will be ruined: by paint, mud, some sciencey something or other I ordered on the internet. So, do not send your child(ren) to this Grammy’s house in their Sunday best. You’re only going to end up mad about it. And then I will have to remind you that we already discussed this very situation…

4. Homework will go undone. I will likely forget there’s homework to be done in the first place. However, even on the odd day I can rely on my memory, there’s probably going to be a book to read or trail that needs walking much more than the damn homework needs doing.

5. Crazy ideas will be discussed as though they are the most reasonable ideas in the world. Imaginations will be honed, sharpened, ripened (pick your favorite) at Grammy’s house and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. BE PREPARED!

6. Arguments will be had. But they will be made up again, too. Life isn’t all fun and games. Sometimes a kid has to wholeheartedly (toss in loudly here, too) disagree with the people s/he loves most in the world. Loud and boisterous arguments will always be welcome at this Grammy’s place. Meanness, however, will not be tolerated.

In other words, don’t expect me to suddenly become this alien, other person just because you’ve gone and had a baby… 🙂

P.S. This list is a decent start on things, I think. However, I reserve the right to revisit and revise it at any time in the future. I probably forgot something that needs specific attention. But don’t worry. I will love that little-little more than any other Grammy could love it. That will always be my priority more than sending her/him back home to you with clean clothes and without a scratch.

Love, Mama (AKA Becky-in-law and Grammy-to-be)

Dependence: A tribute

Bold

Americans make a big deal about independence. Of course we do, our founding document has the word right there in its title. But American feminists, even more so. Independence is this thing that we all seem to look on as the ultimate in personhood. But I question the wisdom of this idea of independence at all cost.

The day my mom had a stroke I learned what it’s like to be enfolded in the supportive embrace of one small part of the Black American community. Two of mom’s dearest, closest, best friends – Dee and Brenda – are of African descent. They both flew (metaphorically speaking) to the hospital as soon as they heard my mom was there. We three mostly just sat around and kept the patient company – the stroke left little damage other than a bit of trouble with word recall – and tried to convince her that an overnight stay was not a bad idea. That my mom is a stubborn lady goes without saying.

When visiting hours ended, Brenda and Dee suggested we go for dinner. That’s when the magic happened. These ladies are incredibly openhearted and we sat for a delicious and long dinner talking about my mom’s strength, my fears, all of our fears, all of our strengths, loving each other, helping each other… Not to mention the stories that were told around that table. I depended on those two ladies to make the situation okay, in my heart-space and in my brain-space, that night.

Black American women have an interesting relationship with dependence vs. independence, I think,* because poverty, or living on the bare edge of it, makes you dependent on help from friends and strangers sometimes just to put food in your mouth. That’s a mean place to be, given the wrong mindset. Black women, the one’s I’ve been fortunate enough to know, make helping each other such an essential, natural part of community and friendship, though, that it’s impossible to tease it apart from the rest. You may as well tell a woman to stop breathing. That I was privy to such natural help changed the day my mom had a stroke from incredibly scary to manageable.

Mothers and daughters have this indescribable something between them. When faced with the first real demonstration that one day that relationship will change forever, it’s a heavy thing to accept. I’m lucky I didn’t have to do it alone. I had these two very special ladies to help me.

That’s the first time I questioned my need for independence.

Here’s the thing: I looked it up and Merriam Webster told me that dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. Here I’d been operating under the misconception that the very reliance associated with dependence goes hand in hand with control. Not so?

Not so.

Since that time a few years ago, I’ve become financially dependent on my fiance. The thoughts of controlled by him pop up in my psyche every now and then, but I’m always able to talk myself down off that ledge. We have a partnership, he and I. [Insert cheeky remark about me being the brains and him the brawn] Honestly, though, we naturally separate when it comes to our priorities in the relationship: His biggest concerns are taking care of us physically, financially, while mine are taking care of us emotionally, mentally. Only one of those concerns requires money, and the job that brings it.

I have an ulterior motive, too, though. Because of Steve, I am able to stay at home, keep the dogs company, run household errands, and write. I have this unrelenting desire to write for a living. The issue with that is the for a living part takes a while to get going. It’s a slow process…

…But I am making progress. Maybe one day my earnings as a writer will exceed Steve’s earnings. It’s not probably in today’s readers market, but it’s not altogether impossible. Either way, our relationship works, just as it exists. Plus, we’ve weathered a couple of life-altering storms over the past five years. We adapt.

But what, again, about that dependence thing? I’m going to say it right here, right now. I am BOLDLY dependent on my man. Forever it’s been anti-feminist to be dependent on a man, right? That’s the only reason I have to add the boldly part. If I’m going to go against the grain, I damn well better be bold about it, right? Yes. That’s right.

To end this post, I’d like to dedicate it to those wonderful ladies: Dee Sewell and Brenda Whitehurst. Thank you both for bringing me through that night. Even more, thank you for showing me that bold has many faces. I am forever in your debt.

*I am a white woman, so I can only describe how I see the Black American community from the outside in. Please excuse whatever misinterpretations that might come from that fact. Feel free, though, to correct me in the comments if my ignorance is crude or leads to blatantly wrong assumptions. I only know what I know from my personal experiences.

Warring over the minimum wage

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I got in a spat on Facebook this morning; a comment battle, some might call it, but it wasn’t quite that contentious. I hate when that happens, to be honest, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I get sucked in by good intentions, then can’t stop myself because every now and then I want people to stop. Stop for just a second, and think. Think about something outside of their own four walls. Outside of their own struggles. Outside of their own little lives, and realize that some people live different ones; they have different priorities, needs, and desires.

The spat was about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The basic gist of it is this: There are a whole bunch of American workers up in arms because they currently make $15 an hour (or maybe even less) and have been working the same job for years. I get their point. I honestly do. For me, the real beef isn’t about minimum wage so much as it is about what’s fair.

These workers have years of job experience. Job experience is hugely valuable. If they have that much experience, it also means they do their job well enough, at least, to have kept that same job. Being good at the job you do is also hugely valuable. I trust that no one would disagree with either of those points.

But framing the minimum wage according to one’s personal situation, and that alone, isn’t fair. Here’s the thing, minimum wage was not meant to assist only entry level workers. That’s the argument people most commonly make, but that’s not true. It was meant to be a living wage. It was intended to create a country where no matter what your ability, a worker could make a decent living.

The argument always goes like this: well you shouldn’t expect to be able to live on what you can make as a cashier at McDonald’s because that’s just an entry level job. Maybe it was for you, but that’s not true for everyone. What if a person’s very top intellectual capacity is one that allows him to be a cashier and nothing more? What if no matter how hard a man works he can’t read or do math well enough to do a more sophisticated job than clean a restaurant or bag your groceries? Do you mean to tell me that man, who is the best damn cleaner you’ll ever meet, who shows up every single day to bag your groceries and help carry them to your car, who takes pride in a bright shiny floor after he’s done buffing it — You’re telling me he doesn’t deserve to live comfortably? Let me tell you something, bub, the current minimum wage doesn’t allow even that.

Here’s another thing. If you don’t want the minimum wage increased, then shut the hell up about about paying taxes for food stamps, and Medicaid, and any other federally funded program we have that protects the welfare of the poor. Because you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You have to pick one or the other.

After all that’s said and done, though, I think we have a much deeper problem in our country than what’s a fair minimum wage. Our bigger problem is we don’t respect a hard day’s work anymore. We don’t value a woman for doing a good job if it’s a job that won’t make her rich. Or at least buy her a nice new car. And we sure as hell don’t respect a woman who opts out of working a paying job to raise her children. And isn’t that sad?

When did we stop valuing a man for his best contribution? And don’t get your panties all in a bunch. I’m not talking communistic, we all share equally, kind of deal. All I’m saying is hard work = hard work regardless of whether you have the smarts, luck, or family ties to be the CEO, or not. Let’s be blunt here: if you read the studies on human perception, a lot of what makes a CEO a successful one, is how straight his teeth are or if she’s got good hair. So you go ahead and think this is some crazy, revolutionary idea if you want to, but that there is just not right.

(On) The importance of being earnest

IMG_8982No, no. Not the play, silly. I’m talking about us. As people. Earnestness in how we carry ourselves. How we put ourselves out there in the world. Being earnest is important. It means you have some depth to you, and you are sincere in your words and your deeds. Without earnestness, all you got left is half-assed. And pardon me if that’s not good enough.

I’m proud to be a part of this crowd: We who run around being earnest. Even when we get called silly names, like “bleeding heart” or people say we’re too serious about this, too involved with that. Yeah, I don’t buy that, not anymore I don’t. Now what irks me is when someone, anyone, is not earnest. I don’t have time for people who don’t live their convictions. I don’t have patience for hidden agendas or the disingenuous. Everyone’s got an angle? Everyone’s got a shtick? I don’t, except to live my life in tune with my conscience. Go stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Is this (another) one of my political rantings? No. Not really. I mean, sure, it plays out that way, but that’s not my intent. If I have any intention with putting these words out there it’s this: Live how your soul tells you. Speak your truth and let your actions affirm your life’s purpose.

And maybe that’s what I like about earnestness in the first place. It’s simple. It makes life a lot simpler. And just like Oscar Wilde said a long time ago. That shit’s important 😉

Depressed? Try these 9 tips

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We all get blue sometimes. Maybe it’s the weather, or a bad time of the year, or things just haven’t been going well lately and it’s got you down. That’s feeling blue. Yeah, that sucks, but it’s not depression. Depression is a change in your brain chemistry. It can be triggered by events, absolutely it can, but it’s different. Depression is: no matter what, you can’t shake off the feeling of low. Like, you could be in your very favorite place, with your most favorite people, eating or doing or drinking your favorite thing and feel completely numb to it all. At least, that’s what it’s like for me…

Buck up buttercup? No. That’s not fair, and it’s not that simple. I’m 50 now and for the past year or so I’ve struggled on and off with bouts of depression. Menopausal hormones suck. I’m fortunate though, that when I get depressed I don’t get so low as to feel totally hopeless or completely helpless or feel like it never will end. I am very lucky that’s not me.

But depression is a big struggle. It is for me, and I know it is for the people who love me. They don’t like to see me so low, any more than I like it. So today I’m offering a list to help them and you and anyone else who’s ever had to deal with depression:

  1. It feels overwhelming – What feels that way? Everything. Every single thing feels overwhelming some days. That’s why just getting out of bed some days feels like a minor victory. It is! What to do? Make helpful suggestions. Don’t ask “Where would you like to go for dinner?” Instead, suggest a favorite dinner spot. It may seem like a small thing, but believe me asking where to go for dinner might be just too hard a question to answer right now.
  2. Exercise is important – This is true for all of us, but studies show that exercise can alleviate and in some cases prevent depression. So make the suggestion! “Let’s go out hiking today” or “A walk on the beach today would be pretty. Let’s go!” And don’t be shy about being a little pushy about this one. You can add something like, “I know you’re feeling down, but getting out and moving will help a little.”
  3. It’s not about you – This is a biggie if the person you’re trying to help is also the person you love most in the world. Depression can feel like they don’t love you. It can feel like getting the cold shoulder, or like simmering anger, or like the calm before the storm. But it’s not, and it’s not about you. It’s about weird things that are happening in your sweetheart’s brain. Please don’t keep asking, “are you mad?” or saying things like “I’m sad because you’re sad.” Try this instead: “Would a back rub make you feel better?” Or something like “I love you and tell me how I can help.” Those are both good ways to acknowledge his or her depression without calling you or your relationship into question.
  4. Depression has many faces – Today it might be sullen, tomorrow it might be irritable, and the next? Well, maybe the day after tomorrow it will be inconsolable crying. It’s confusing. But it’s helpful to remember that depression can change from day to day. It’s not your job to track it or fix it, but your patience is a beautiful gift. Don’t forget to say “I love you.”
  5. Ordinary feelings don’t disappear – He still loves you. She still appreciates your sense of humor. It’s hard to express those things because of depression. Do your level best to remember that the person who loves you and your crazy sense of humor is still there. Expressing emotions other than those caused by the depression might be too much today. But wait it out. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
  6. Mole hills may very well look like mountains – We know that saying right? Depression has nothing to do with being overly dramatic, though. It changes a person’s perceptions. I went out the other night and had a total breakdown when we got home because I had to sit at a table with a bunch of people I knew only vaguely, while they sat around talking about work stuff, and ignoring me because I know very little about their jobs. That scenario would tax me on a good day. The other day? It was way more than I could handle. What can you do about this? It doesn’t seem like much, but saying “I’m sorry” goes a long, long way. No, it’s not your fault, but being sorry that someone you love (or just sort of like as a friend) had to live through an intolerable situation? That says a lot about you as a person.
  7. Where’d your smile go? In psychology they talk about a flat affect. That means a person who shows little emotion on her face. It’s sort of like seeing a box of 64 crayons and they look like 64 different shades of gray. That’s what having a flat affect feels like. You don’t smile, not because there’s nothing to smile about, but because it’s so goddamn hard to remember that a beautiful flower or a child’s laughter usually makes you beam with happiness. It’s not a bad idea to remind someone who is depressed that smiles release “happy hormones.” It’s worth a try!
  8. A hug goes a long way – Studies show that a hug can lower stress levels, so hug away! UNLESS physical contact is like rubbing your cornea on sandpaper because that might be, too. But you can ask about it, at the very least. And even if the person you’re facing is hesitant, give it a try. You might hear the most satisfied sign of relief you’ve ever caused. Beware, though. This is not a time to be pushy. You might get punched. Or pushed gruffly aside.
  9. Depression doesn’t work on a switch – It can’t be turned on or off. As person who is depressed or a person who loves someone who is, this is a biggie. “Well, don’t be…” is not helpful. Stomping off because you’re “tired of dealing with it” isn’t either. Be kind. Be like a soft breeze on a warm, Spring day. Be easy, like seaweed swaying with the tides. Be soft, like a newborn’s skin. But most of all: be mindful like a Zen master.

Depression is hard. It’s not your job to make it easier, but it sure is a wonderful kindness to give it a try.

Martin Luther King Day

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During a conversation yesterday, I was posed this question: Is violence in the ghetto justified? My answer to that, on face value, is No. I don’t think violence of any sort toward any body is justified, but I can understand how it feels justifiable.

No, I don’t see those as the same thing. I don’t believe violence solves any problem. We have to be smarter than that. I don’t believe anyone has a right to inflict bodily harm on anyone else. But I can fully understand how anger and outrage and frustration can build up inside a person for years and years and eventually bubble over in violent acts. We’re human, after all.

Let me offer an example and I’d like you, reader, to think (really sit back and consider) what it would be like for you to be in this situation. Here goes: Say you grew up in a family that had no permanent roof over your heads. Your parents worked hard, but never had more than the $50 a night it cost to live in a long-term hotel room. It happens. I’ve seen it. So then, let’s say we apply a little math to that situation and $50 x 30 days (a month’s worth) = $1,500 a month in “rent.” That’s a hell of a lot of money in rent for a shabby hotel room, isn’t it? But people grow up in that situation all over the country. Mom and Dad pay it out, day after day, because when you’re paying $1,500 a month for a hotel roof over your head it’s impossible to scrape together first month’s and last month’s rent plus a security deposit to rent a real apartment. So you remain homeless, as a kid. You don’t eat well because of the money thing, too, but also you don’t have a kitchen or a table for cooking and eating. You probably eat mac and cheese out of a styrofoam cup a lot of nights. It’s hard to study because, again, there’s no table to spread your books on. Plus Mom and Dad might have other more important things on their minds – like can we afford this shitty room again tomorrow, or am I gonna get fired because the car broke down and work is too far to walk? So checking homework and maybe just having an engaging conversation is too much to ask for. Maybe Dad died of diabetes complications because there was no money for the doctor or to treat it or to buy healthy foods.

So you have a family of children who grew up in a situation that was so difficult to climb out of that they were unable to do it. Then, some dude with a job and a house and plenty of food and his own bedroom with clean sheets and warm blankets on the bed and probably a flat screen TV in there; he comes along and says, “Why you mad, bro?”

Would you want to punch him?

I might. Because we are only human. Love and hate are equal sides of the same coin, aren’t they? What matters is what we do with them.

That’s why we admire Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t it? Because he saw the importance of rising above. He knew in his heart that even those kids who grow up in abject poverty need to have a dream. We all deserve a one. Every one of us.

To Marvin, with love

I awoke this morning to the news that David Bowie died yesterday. I drank my coffee thinking about him. And I wondered why, of all the people who have graced our planet, why David Bowie? Why was his life such a lesson? What I came up with is this: David Bowie was a legend, an innovator, he changed the face of music and pop culture because he dared to be a weirdo.

How many kids learn not to do that? How many parents work so, so hard to teach their kids to be normal, as though the normal kids are the only ones who contribute good things to society. Looking back I’d have to say that it’s the weirdos who contribute more good than the rest.

After that, my thoughts moved to a far more personal teacher of mine: Marvin. Marvin was a weirdo, too. I met him in the ER of a tiny hospital in a very conservative community; Marvin was a gay black man. Marvin was also full of life and love and never made the mistake to hide it. He was pushed out of his church for this. He was his family’s black sheep. He once told me how painful it was to miss his father’s funeral. Nobody wanted him there – the very fact of his being was too disruptive.

Marvin died of AIDS in 2011.

The thing is, Marvin never imagined he was a teacher, of anything, to anybody. But he was a teacher to me, and his death hit me harder than I imagined it would. I lived alone at the time and I remember spending an entire weekend in my pajamas mourning and wondering what I could do in tribute to his life. I came up with nothing, except for this one idea that changed me. I decided that since Marvin could no longer live his life to its fullest, I’d do it instead. I decided I’d no longer live my life worrying what everybody thought. I decided I’d do my absolute best to be 100% fully and genuinely ME.

That was almost five years ago. What I’ve learned in that time is being genuine is amazing, but it’s also incredibly difficult. There are no road  maps to follow. There are no tangible signs to tell you if you’re doing it “right.”

I think that’s why we admired David Bowie and those of his ilk so much. It’s hard to be thoughtfully ourselves, but even harder if what your self is is on the far end of human experience. We all have lessons to teach, though. Every single one of us. Even if we don’t think it. So I need to say it today:

Thanks, David Bowie, for being such a weirdo. And thanks, Marvin, for your friendship. I’m glad to have shared this time in space with you both.