In Defense of Darkness

August 29, 2016

On Sunday, August 28, I delivered another sermon (an annual thing for me) at my home church of UU Church of Medford, MA. I dealt with darkness in literature and religion. The sermon text is below.

In spring of 2015, I finally put together a small collection of short stories for publication online. I say finally because while a few of the stories were older shorts, one was a new one that was at last on paper in a form I liked. Once that was finished, I gathered all of them together, packaged it with an introduction and a cover image, and posted the collection online under the title “Starry-Eyed Halluncnations.” The title is as much a play on words as it is a state of mind at that present moment. In the introduction, I spoke about dreams as a writer that had been deferred by life, economics, choices both in and out of my control. A lot of what I had hoped to accomplish as a writer had fallen by the wayside, what were once hard and fast goals had become mirages and to get anywhere now, I would have to be less starry-eyed in my look at the world.

To say the least, it was a much dimmer view of my life, but then so were the stories in the collection. A monologue by a guy who turns out to be a rapist, a first person perspective of an office massacre, a speculative fiction piece about society where abortion is illegal, and a man so far down that suicide is his prefered option. I never stated the plots so blatantly on the back cover blurbs (you have to leave the audience wanting to read it), but it all hinted at a series of moody and dark tales. When friends of mine bought, read it, and posted reviews online, “dark” was the operative word used to describe the collection. What did surprise me were the reactions from friends in this congregation. The oft-repeated phrase I heard was “How could you write so dark?” or variations of it. My immediate reaction to that was what’s wrong with being dark? For these particular stories the dark mood was necessary and would be a betrayal of the narrative. Thinking about it later, I realized what bothered me was that “dark” was being used as a pejorative, as if being gloomy is a bad thing and against the norm. I think this irked me more than anything else. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect someone or anyone to be in a good mood all the time; so, too, the various things they may create need not always be uplifting and cheery. Certainly life isn’t this way, so I don’t know why we expect it out of those around us. Hearing that review, I had the impression that people expected me to be bright and sunny all the time even in what I write, and I know that I’m not like that all the time, and certainly my writing isn’t like that. So I wanted to look at why we see darkness as a bad thing and how it is used in both literature and religion.

When faced with all the questions about the tone of my stories, I flashed back to a source I rarely think about: the fables of the Brothers’ Grimm. I say rarely because when one often thinks of the Grimm’s work, they are thought of as fairy tales for children. While they are mainly for children, these stories are not exactly fairy tales and not as innocent as people are often led to believe. The collected works of 19th century folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are actually much darker than we may remember them. In any strange forest, wolves, witches, any number of animals or beings lie in wait for our protagonists to come in and be taken under their spells or guile for whatever purpose they seek. Make the right choices and you will be rewarded; the incorrect can cost you your humanity or life. And these are the tales that were told to their children for years and years hoping to impart wisdom and common sense.

Of course we don’t seem to remember the dark qualities of the stories, but often the lessons. Part of that isn’t because of the material but the attempt to brighten up things to the extent that dark elements are wiped out. The most egregious offender of this is Walt Disney and his company. For example, Disney’s first major animated feature was the Grimm’s “Snow White.” In the Disney version, the Queen, jealous of Snow White’s fairness, gives Snow White a poisoned (or at the very least cursed) apple that puts her in a deep, death-like sleep that could only be broken by a kiss from a handsome prince. The original Grimm story was different. The apple was truly poisoned and meant to kill Snow White. The rest is a comedy of errors. As the dwarves lay a vigil over Snow White in a glass coffin, a king rides through the woods and is enamored by her beauty. He asks the dwarves to allow her to be interred in his castle. As the king’s servants carry her down the hill, they trip, throwing Snow White out of the coffin, hitting the floor that dislodges the apple stuck in her throat and not digested, at which point she awakes from what can only be described as the strangest diabetic coma in recorded history. By trying to make the ending more palatable, it obliterates the original morale. Whereas the Grimm tale told of the folly of trying to stem youth and beauty and the consequences of ego, Disney changed it to be about goodness and beauty rewarded by true love.

While this may seem like subtle shift in tone, it has led to serious ramifications on societal thinking. The idea that someday my prince will come is a mantra we struggle against in stories, life and a patriarchal society. How many of the baby boomer generation had to be deprogrammed in that “it’s only a fable?” How often is such a lesson required in the movies produced and are inundated with? How many people still hold onto that moral? By making the original story all sweetness and light and family friendly, a false narrative emerged that was strong enough to have a life and consequences on their own.

One reasons for altering the events is out of protection, especially as these were lessons for children. The urge to protect our children from harm is natural and good. Trying to protect our children from everything is smothering and can lead to harm. While in later editions, the Grimms edited their stories to remove any sordid sexual innuendoes, the violence was kept in. In the “The Frog Prince,” while the Grimms took out the implication that there was an intimate relationship between the prince and the princess before they were married, they kept in how the frog was transformed back into a prince: the frog was thrown into a wall (it was changed to a kiss much, much later). In many ways the violence carried the moral weight of the stories. The protagonist was rewarded for good behavior and the antagonist was punished for their cruelty. In their story “The Juniper Tree,” the stepmother kills her stepson, tricks her stepdaughter into believing she killed him, and then cooks him for dinner to cover up her daughter’s crime. At the end, the stepmother is killed when a millstone is dropped on her head, and the stepson is brought back to life.

It’s also important to note how context can affect how we see how dark a story or action can be. Take the song “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash sung earlier. One of the lines in the first verse is “there were few who saw but all agreed/the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.” Having the Man in Black sing that lyric back in the 1960s obviously sets the stage for a gloomy song to follow. But having a black man sing that same lyric in 2016, with all the historical problems of the criminal justice system in a media driven society, has more sinister implications. Different context, different perception.

Cultural differences can also determine what might be considered appropriate. This is key to look at, as the Brothers Grimm were very keen to portray their stories in the light of a national identity (German in this case). In 1893, folklorist Marian Roalfe Cox collected all the variations of the fable “Cinderella,” and found 345 distinct versions that vary by countries, cultures, and morals. In the Grimm’s version, the punishment for the stepsisters’ cruelty was that birds—that Cinderella communicated with—pecked out their eyes, blinding them. As dreary as that may be, this was in the middle of the punishment levels. In the Philippines, the stepsisters were torn apart by wild horses, and in Indonesia, the stepsisters were killed, chopped up and presented to the stepmother as salted meat to dine on. On the lower scale, India had Cinderella forgiving the stepsisters who came to live with her and the prince (this is also the same ending as the Sesame Street version with Elmo). Yet no matter how harsh the punishment in any version, each one is considered a family fable.

As we bring the Cinderella story into this, one important feature that bears mention is the use of the “fairy godmother.” This was not in the Grimm version of the tale, but was a creation of French author Charles Perrault in 1697. He also introduced the glass slipper and the pumpkin carriage to the tale. In the Grimm’s story, as well as other versions, the magic interaction was at the hands of “natural magic.” Various Asian versions made a fish the girl’s protector and guardian; the Chinese version, the fish is the reincarnation of the mother. In the Grimm story, Cinderella took a twig given by her father from one of his journeys, planted it at the mother’s grave, and it grew into a tree which she would pray under; later a white bird would perch in the tree, Cinderella would tell the bird her wishes, and the bird would bring what she wished for. The version we hear and are more accustomed to—and codified by Disney—is the Perrault interpretation.

Part of the reason for this is religion and its impact on culture. While 19th century Germany was a Catholic and Christian majority, German paganism still survived at the time (in part due to the Grimm’s preservation of the folk tales of the German homeland). Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism was the overwhelming dominant religion in France despite racial diversity. At the time Perrault wrote his Cinderella tale, Catholicism was the state religion; so the necessity for an otherworldly intermediary to grant magical wishes to those worthy and of good virtue is more in line with canonical religion than say asking a tree or a fish. This in turn translates well into American Christian thinking when Disney gets a hold of it. Again it is this way of presenting the story—watched over by “fairy” godmother, the divine providence of the glass slipper fitting only her—reinforces a form of Christian magical thinking that is prevalent in society today. Not that the fable caused the thinking, but it certainly exploits a deep undercurrent within Western Christian thought.

This leads to a common problem in Christian thinking that unless it is of divine providence and affirming of God, it is heretical and inherently evil. Monotheism sets up an incorrect narrative that only the one God can bless, provide for, and rule the believers (“True Believers”), and that others are to be punished for their failure to believe, Having said monotheism does this, I must point out that Islam and Judaism recognize other faiths even if they don’t profess their beliefs, and they aren’t known for converting at the point of a sword as Catholics or Christians. One can also see the harsh, punishing God of the Old Testament as a very foreboding presence on the faith, however it seems that the stories of the Old Testament and Talmud are much like Grimm’s morality tales, warning people on what good behavior looks like and the rewards it entails. Also with the development of the Catholic and Christian churches and/or organizations, practices arose that normalized certain black and white perspectives that even subvert the idea of an all forgiving God. A perfect example of this would be the idea of Original Sin and views on homosexuality. Thus I use Christianity as the moral absolutist group, as the evolution of the church lends itself to such criticisms more so than Judaism or Islam. The lens through which one sees the world in the Western Christian thought is divided into black and white, good and bad, dark and light. If it doesn’t conform to Christian normative standards, then it is heretical, pagan or simply inappropriate.

What gets lost in all this moral absolutism is the nuances. Not everything in life is necessarily black or white, but often choices etched in gray that need to be decided by other human beings; and this can be seen in religions as well. Buddhism doesn’t see actions by judging them good or bad, but in terms of the impact of actions on our lives and others. In Roman and Greek paganism, the various deities had similar human vices, passions, and foibles, yet they were still deified. Neither of these contain black and white thinking or moral absolutism, but still imparted important lessons to their precepts. But the best example I can use to talk about nuances in religion and stories is the Taoist concept of yin-yang. This concept is about not opposites, but contrary forces that are complimentary and interrelated. The symbol is well-known: a circle with two swirling sides, one black, one white, with different dots inside the halves. Yin is the black swirl with the white dot. Yang is the white side with the black dot in it. It has been described as sunlight moving across a mountain and valley: with the light gradually moving across and revealing things not seen and visible things retreated to the shadows. In fact, one doesn’t exist without the other. One simplistic, yet meaningful definition I’ve come across said “the black side is the bad within nature; the white is the good within nature; the black dot is the bad within the good, and the white dot is the good within the bad; the whole circle makes up nature as we know it.” This is also reminiscent of a lesson learned in dramatic writing: find the comedy within the drama and the drama within the comedy. Well rounded storytelling isn’t a matter of either or, it’s about measures of both. Hence when stories are glossed over to paint a prettier picture than originally expressed, or sanitized to eliminate certain aspects, the stories fall flat or present a false positive meaning than intended. Stories and parables that make up religious texts are also about both, as well as the transformation of any character along the way. Good stories with a moral still can be the best way to teach young children (and some adults) life lessons; the ones that stand the test of time are not one-sided but have more nuanced tones, characters, and actions leading to the main theme.

Knowing that nature doesn’t exist without both positive and negative elements, why do we act or insist that all negative aspects or emotions of life is a bad thing? The answer can be as varied as the number of people on the planet. For many it’s a matter of not wanting to feel bad or feel the negativity of others. That to feel bad is only the start of a downward spiral that may have seemingly no end, so to ward against that is to never surround yourself with anything negative, dark or depressing. The biggest problem with that is no one can ever be constantly positive. If darkness, negativity, or however you would describe it is a part of nature, then such darkness is natural and a part of life. This is seen in basic psychology in that repressing unwanted emotions has deeper and more serious consequences than feeling it to begin with—supressing anger can lead to depression, unchecked depression can lead to potentially suicidal thoughts and possibly actions. Better to admit and deal with the negative feelings than wishing them away.

In some cases it is still a matter of societal pressures. Our society still sees things in black and white despite all the shades of gray surrounding us. We’re still under the influence of Western Christian normative standards and all that entails, including a disdain for anything dark or negative (“sinful”). As such that makes it harder to even approach the subject without scorn or derision, so we avoid it. That brings us back to the whole repression of negativity I just mentioned, and the vicious cycle continues without remedy.

Having said that, the question still remains as to why the stories I wrote were dark. In all honesty I answered that in the introduction the collection in “Starry-Eyed Hallucinations.” Each individual story had their own reasons for why dark and gloomy was the way to go, in subject matter as well as tone. The rapist monologue was a story that happened when the main character started talking in my head, and wouldn’t shut up. To quiet him down, I wrote his story. In 2005, I wanted to do a story cycle as a critique of the George W. Bush Presidency. Each story would revolve around a theme of despair that America was headed at the time: the uncertainty of the economy, polarization of discourse, disappearing ideas of how American life should be, and so on. The cycle never really manifested but the stories of the office shooting and the suicidal man in the hotel are now in this collection. The speculative fiction piece about abortion being illegal was something I had in my head for a while, but wasn’t able to work on for a long time. That was the hardest for me to write as I was doing it in my own downward spiral. Despite the spiral I kept trying to write. As I said in the introduction: “I’ve always been a writer, but for the longest time, I thought I didn’t have the time to carve out to write. The truth is I never had the wherewithal to make what time I had count. It’s a skill I never mastered. It’s one that every writer needs and has to make count. The way I realized how to do this was embrace any short form writing as a way to maximize time. It also gave me the accomplishment of finishing an honest writing project. Damn the word count, write a story and make it mean something.” Rather than repress the negativity, work with it. And it worked.

Not everything I do requires me to be positive, upbeat and perky all the time. More often I need the wherewithal to stand against a barrage of dark thoughts because that’s where the story is at. One of the great things about being a write is the ability to take negative energies and work it to create works of art, even positive ones. In my old apartment, I had hanging over my desk on the wall a Chinese caligraph of the word Chaos. I had heard that the chracters have within it for crisis and opportunity, but that is actually a mistranslation now taken advantage by motivational speakers. However there is something to be said about positive and negative energies to be creative. In the Hindu tradition, the universe was created out of the dance between Shiva the destroyer and Brama the creator. Destroying the old to make way for the new. We need to have a better relaitionship with negarive or darker things because both are needed. Positive cannot exist without negative, light can only exist in the darkness.

Blessed be.

Closing words:
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”—Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

As a progressive in a few Bernie Sanders Facebook groups, I realize some people in those groups really need to chill out! Not about Bernie, but about other progressives. Yeah I know I joined the group back in March when it was hard to take the media blackout, the gaslighting attacks, and the aggressive supporters, so it was good to find a community of like-minded Berners to help buoy me through the tough primaries. But now it seems like we’re becoming the bots that we all hate (you know of whom I speak).

We are progressives. Whether we are Berniecrats or democratic socialists or Greens or old school hippies, we are progressive in our politics. We are mature enough to be able to talk about our politics openly with everyone here and without fear. The Green Party has been an option for Bernie as well as fellow progressives in the fight against the oligarchy. In a revolution like this with who we are up against, we need all hands on deck. As such we should never try to shut down conversations about the Green Party just because Bernie is not specifically mentioned. As Bernie himself said at a rally in North Dakota, “The truth is you, not me. If there is any person here, any person here that thinks I’m coming to you as some kind of savior, that I’m going to do it all — all myself, you’re wrong. No president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody else, can do it alone. We don’t need a savior. We need a political movement.”

As a movement we need to stand together, not blindly but as the big tent party that the DNC elites don’t want us to be. The Greens are natural allies, and they’ve offered Bernie the top of the ticket if he wants it, but they also need help getting on all the state ballots. As I’ve said in many other posts and comments in this group, we are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You can donate to Bernie and travel to Philadelphia to help him out, but before you go sign a petition to get the Green Party on the ballots if you live in one of the 29 states they still need to get on to. Bernie told a packed town hall that “when we say that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that than when we say ‘hey this whole world is me, I need more and more. I don’t care about anybody else.’ That’s my religion, that’s what I believe in.” He talking the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have done unto you. We should be treating debates AMONG progressives of different stripes the same way, not reporting any post that doesn’t explicitly say “Bernie or Bust.”

We can and should be able to talk about progressive politics. All of it—Berniecrat, Green or straight independent. If we can’t do this here, we are no better than the shills and trolls we struggle against. I say this not as one who has given up on Bernie and pushing people to unite the party—the party is dead and needs to be replaced; but as someone who wants to see the next steps of the revolution happen now. This can be a lasting revolution if we are able to keep unity among us; but unity doesn’t mean lockstep. We need room to differ and present options. Options and differing opinions aren’t bad, they just are a different perspective for a solution. If we have to offer fealty to Bernie in every discussion we have, we won’t get anywhere. The reason Bernie has such a high favorable rating among fellow Senators is because he knows how to build bridges without betraying his values. We can and should do the same in this group.

If part of what is said among us Berners is true—what would Bernie do—he wouldn’t stifle different opinions or debates; he welcomes it. We should too.

Human Kindness

June 16, 2016

Today, out of the blue, my daughter asks what I write on my blog. I give her the rundown of stuff, and she says she has something for it. So without much of a major intro, my daughter’s online debut as a writer and guest blogger. It’s pretty good. 🙂 

So I was on the subway coming back home after-school. To clarify, I take the train to and from school. Getting to school is like this: Airport Station (blue line) to State Street for the Orange line. The Orange Line to Ruggles, then I take a bus by the school, and from school is this order reversed.

The event was on the Orange Line towards State Street. The train was at Tufts Medical Station when a man got on the train. From looking at him- the way he was dressed and the way his hair was unkempt- I could tell he wasn’t in the best condition. It turned out I was right.

This man started talking about his situation and what was happening to him. He felt bad for begging people for help, and that was the first thing he said.

“I don’t mean to be annoying on the train, and I feel bad for begging you all for stuff.”

The man said he’d been homeless for 26 months (over two years). He then told the people on the train that someone had offered him a place to live, but he needed an ID to get the offer. An ID costs $30, and that’s why the man needed money. He needed all the help he could get.

“I’ve been waiting over two years for this opportunity, and I need help. I hate begging like this and looking like a moron, but please, can somebody help? Anything will help”. Nobody helped him.

I was looking around the car, and some people weren’t even listening to his story. And the people who were listening just looked at him with a blank expression. I wanted to help him, but at the time, I had no money on me.

The man looked desperately around the car, hoping someone would help him. But as the train stopped at Chinatown, the man walked past me to the door, muttering angrily and disappointed.“Not one person. Not even one person.”

I felt crushed. I wanted to help him, I really did, but I had nothing to help him. Also, only one 13.5-year-old girl couldn’t possibly give this man all the help he obviously needed. I kept glancing at the poor man sadly, then looked over to everyone else in my car. They looked like they didn’t even care.

This made me really mad, even though I didn’t show it. What’s worse, the man had an infection in his right leg, so he was LIMPING  around the car, looking pleadingly for help he never got.

“And I have this infection in my leg”, he pulled his jeans cuff up to show a huge, rotten, black scab on his caff. “It won’t go away because I have to keep walking around everywhere.”

This type of stuff isn’t new to me. My dad and I take the train everywhere (except for certain occasions, where we use Zipcar), so we see homeless people asking for money all the time. This isn’t a good thing. We always try to give them change if we have it while we see other people walk right past them like the homeless are invisible.

Those people always made me sick. Why? Why don’t you guys care? There’s someone in need right beside you. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel. The worst part is that I can tell they can see them. But those people will look straight ahead like there isn’t a poor injured old man begging for money right there. It takes less than five seconds to give a homeless person- or any person in need- care and attention. I know they might need the money for something incredibly important, but homelessness rates are high because we don’t give them the necessary help and attention- what they need most of all.

In some scenarios, a valid excuse is that they have nothing on them- which was why I couldn’t help even when I wanted to. But the majority of the people in the car were adults, and I could TELL by the way they looked at him- the way their hands kept moving like they were trying to keep a secret- that they had money. They COULD’VE helped. But the chose not to. And I bet the man could tell too- the reason he was muttering when he got off the train with nothing.

Homelessness is a serious problem in our country, especially today. It’s a terrible problem. In my opinion, it’s one of the worst world problems. Why? It could be prevented. It could be made right if we give the necessities. If everyone could show some kindness to these poor folk who need our help and affection, our country- our world- could be a happier and better place.

Better Focus

February 5, 2016

Not sure how I’m doing lately, but it’s kind of a good thing. I’m not sure how to explain it except while things aren’t clearer, they are less fuzzy.

Funny thing happened. A few weeks back, I was talking about trying to get more organized this year, but specifically January would be a month to figure out where things stood and try to see what needs to be dealt with. I was thinking about it but not doing anything about it, when I remembered this happened to me awhile back. A friend of mine was able to knock some sense into me both when I was at my low point in job hunting, money problems, and Sophia’s mom—that perfect storm battering me to further ruin; and soon after Sophia’s mom died and I had to become a full-time father on a part time income overnight. One of the things she did was help me get my organizer into working shape and use it as a tool to get throught he day, the week, and once in a while minute by minute. I thought she gave me a custome organizing sheet to use. I thought I had it on my computer somewhere among various backups, so I went looking for it among the files. What I came across was everything else I’ve written and done over the years. Some of the things I hadn’t read in years, and some still held up. It was interesting to read things I didn’t so much leave behind as they got lost in the shuffle. One of these was my favorite unfinished piece of work” a web series that only had two episodes filmed, even though three scripts were writen. I forgot how well it worked, but also how well it was received by peers that I truly admired. And it is still unfinished. That might be my next project. Other things gave me hope as well. I’m not nor ever was ahead of my time in my writing, but I am a solid writer (still); it holds together well. That in itself gave me hope.

After the writings, and unable to find the sheet I was originally looking for, I found the organizer I used at the time. While it is mainly used for storage now, it was a daily reminder for everything back in the day—2011 to be exact. So much has in a short tme and I kind of forgot the chronology of it. Some people suggested I concentrate on what I was feeling during that time, but all I felt at that time was fear and anxiety. It kept coming in endless waves and a constant throbbing in my head. Looking at what happened when, helped me focus. I read these events as dates on a calendar and I can feel neural pathways open in my brain. That whole time was a jumble for survival. You forget everything you are for a way to keep going the next step. It’s frightening and the only way to deal with that fear is to become so myopic that you ignore the fear—which you can’t do, but you live in denial to take one more step forward. The time was a blur, but seeing what I did made some things a little clearer. Knowing the chronology of certain events put the jumble into order, especially at a time of chaos.

To me it’s amazing how much you have to abandon when you are in survival mode, but you don’t realize it until it’s all over. Even a sense of time, linear events and planning erode from fear of the weight of the current situation and what might lie ahead. It’s a horrible way to live and I can’t believe I was in that reptilian mindset for so long. Moreso I can’t belibe I made it out, scarred but together. Things are less out of focus than they have been lately and it’s possible to remember some of that time without panic. Knocking on wood, it will stay that way for a while.

Is There a Square Zero?

November 30, 2015

“A dream without a goal is just a wish. A goal without a plan is just a dream.”

This has surely been in the back of my mind for the last month or so. A lot of the things I’ve been trying to do haven’t had goals or plans in place. So I’m basically been wishing and dreaming a lot without achieving much. This I thought I wanted never came to pass because I never had a plan in place to get to them or goals to achieve. There have been times when I’ve been disciplined enough to get things done—I got my Masters and completed 10 screenplays—it’s the steps afterwards that I hadn’t a clue what to do next. I think this is a pattern for most of my life. A lot of things I wanted to do or be never passed because I got stuck in my own head and stayed there daydreaming. Maybe that’s why I’ve felt so asleep these days.

I’m not sure how to get the discipline I used to have back. I don’t remember what plans (if I had any) to create what I have so far. I’m not sure of the goals I have to reach for; a lot of them changed from when I was younger, but haven’t settled into a visible or tangible thing. I used to want fame; I don’t anymore. I thuoght that would lead to wealth; now I simply want to thrive and not give up more yardage. I’m kind of lost and not sure where to begin. This seems to be my biggest problem: not knowing where to start or which way to go.

pj

Standing Up to Fascism

November 28, 2015

In January 1992, I had the honor of hearing Elie Wiesel speak at my undergraduate commencement ceremony at Hunter College. It was thrilling to hear him speak and I know most of what he said got lost in the moment of seeing Wiesel 20 feet away, but one thing he said rang so true it stuck with me all these years: ignorance is a form of fascism and it must be countered at every turn. I think he later changed it to “indifference” especially in a speech in front of then President Bill Clinton. In front of Clinton, Wiesel spoke of indifference as a state—“a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil… Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.” (Wiesel “The Perrils of Indifference” 4/12/99) To me if indifference is a state, ignorance is a willful act; consideration of people as of no consequence and meaningless is now a conscious act. When you look at the tenets of fascism itself, the verb “disdain” appears often which means there is a conscious decision about intellectuals or human rights. Because of this, and after holding back for the last week, I cannot stay silent anymore about the Trump Presidential campaign, the GOP non-reaction to it, and the pitch of rage taking over our country.

We see and know how Trump acts on the campaign trail: he’s a malignant narcissist bragging he can “make America great again” if elected. He started his campaign saying the Mexican immigrants are rapists and killers, and has now called for a database of all Muslims in America. He demeans all of his opponents and anyone who criticizes him publicly. He’s seems to be going through the 14 characteristics of fascism pretty quickly and for him there seems to be little going back—at least no apologies for his statements or actions, another way to maintain strength and power. And even with all of that, he’s only down 14 points but still leading the pack, and that is the scariest part of all of this.

It seems no matter what Trump says, his supporters eat it up and he stays on top of the GOP polls. His fans and base keep coming back for more and worse. In Boston, two Trump supporters assaulted a man they thought was a Mexican immigrant. Earlier in the summer when Univision journalist Jorge Ramos tried to confront Trump on his immigration stance—force all 11 milliion Latino immigrants out and build a wall bodering Mexico—he was thrown out of the room by Trump’s bodyguards who told him to “get out of my country.” And last week, a Black Lives Matters protestor was beaten up at a Trump rally before being removed. In each instance, Trump stood up for his supporters/assailants and later further escallated his rhetoric about making America great. This is what can no longer be tolerated.

What made America great is that we are a place where we can have civil discourse that doesn’t lead to violence. We have serious issues with supremacy and racism/sexism/etc., but not every political discussion must lead to demonizing others and violently disagreeing. Now it is more commonplace and worse it is spurred on ,or at least sanctioned, by those who are vying for the top leader position in the country. Some conservative critics have finally started to call Trump’s actions fascist and only presidential candidate John Kasich has been hounding his actions and positions as eventually leading to fascism. One would hope that can solve things but I doubt it. Over he last 8 years, the GOP has made it acceptable to openly spurn a top leader for doing his job, resort to name calling and denigrating them as an “other” unworthy of such a position. We in the public have not pushed back enough maybe out of our own belief that we would never go down the route of totalitarianism or uprising. But now we are partway down that slope and facing people who are unapologetic in their rancor towards anyone who disagrees with them. This is where we have o stand up and say no more. Our indifference is on the verge of becoming willful ignorance and there is no going back from there.

If you are a supporter of Trump, please reconsider. He has promised nothing except a vision with his own ego in charge and no other way but violent means to get there. If he is spurring violence towards reporters and people who have the constitutional right to speak up for matters thay believe in, he is not fit to be a leader and you need not follow him. The “throw the bums out” mentality has taken a dark turn and the actions of others has shown this. Making America great again only happens if we have great Americans upholding our values; right now Trump and his followers are displaying the worst of us. We need to be better than Mr. Trump (which isn’t hard) and we need to not fall for pie in the sky promises that have no hope of fruition and all the markings of ruining who we are as a nation.

We know Trump will never apologize for his actions or who he is, but we can make sure that he never gets to office he seeks. We can also make sure that whenever the brand of Trump is uttered, it brings to mind fascism in bad hair. The best punnishment for Trump is not only losing the nomination, but to lose his businesses and fall into obscurity like some discarded misguided philosophy we never needed. It would be the best thing to happen to him and America.

I don’t know why I feel so out of it these days. I know I have goog daya snd bad days with my own particular depressive/anxiety problems, but do the lows always have to feel so sould crushing? It’s not like I can be depressed AND go to the gym or write or whatever; I have to be so depressed that I don’t wan tto go anywhere, except to work when I have to. I also haven’t written in a few weeks. It’s not even that I’m stuck in a story; I can’t muster the will needed to pick up a pen. I know what I have is a problem of chemistry, not about laziness. Mental illness is a biologic disorder, at the very least a medical one. I just feel more lost than usual.

Why is trying to take care of yourself and your own needs such a struggle? I know I need to carve out time to write, exercize and rest so I can be functional; but why, when faced with the other priorities of the day—work, shopping, cleaning, picking up Sophia, etc.—why do I always put my needs last? Or better yet, why do I see it as an all or nothing proposition? If I take care of myself, I forsake everyone and everything else; or if I want to help Sophia, everything personal gets throuwn out the window. It shouldn’t be an eithter/or situation but my head keeps turning it into one. Why? I have no clue.

What’s funny is I can’t completely blame it on mental illness. It’s a huge component of it, but putting me last is something ingrained in me since childhood. Yes it’s a learned trait that can be unlearned, but how easy had that ever been? I’m still fighting fights with myself that should have died long ago. Just add this to the list. Meanwhile I’ll petition to get a 28 hour day—that’ll be easier.

Near the end of March, I got my six month review of my SNAP benefits. I had a checkbox review of what had changed and what hadn’t in my circumstances over the six month period. Usually I just check off the checklist and return it, but two weeks before I started the new temp-to-perm job I’m at now. This meant my income changed and I’d have to see what happens next. I knew there would be a reduction in benefits, but I’m not sure if the food stamps would be taken away completely. I got copies of the only two paychecks I received thus far, sent it with the review and hope for the best.

April came and I still had my full allotment of food stamps and was able to buy what I needed and stretched the benefits until the end of April. When May EBT date came along I had no food stamp allotment, but had no food in the house; I paid for it myself. I wasn’t worried about paying out of my own pocket; I had money for what I needed and paid for it.

Later that day, I missed a call from the Massachusetts office of transitional assistance, which handes food stamps for the state. When I called back, they said my case had been closed, which I expected. What I didn’t expect was why. Earlier in mid-April, I got a notice saying my account would be closed if I didn’t mail in my full review to them in the next week, even though I mailed it out a week before it was due and even online they say they received it. So I called customer service rather pissed off. It’s one thing to close my account because I’m ineligible; it’s another to close it because they say I didn’t do something that I actually did (even their computer acknowledges it!).

As it turns out the only thing I needed to include to complete the review was a termination letter from the previous job; I do this and I can get the EBT back. I was more upset that they didn’t notify me of that fact—it’s not even mentioned in the review forms. While talking to the customer service guy I told him about the new full time job elsewhere. He did some calculations with me on the phone to see if I needed to even mail in the termination letter. As it turns out, I didn’t as my new salary put me just over their income level needed to receive food stamps.

And I’m fine with that. I’ve been on food stamps for almost 6 years. This was shortly after I was forced out of WGBH, lost two of the three part time jobs lined up to supplement that loss, and still had to pay full time child support payments. They ebbed and flowed over those six year but it’s been there to use for a good reason: I wasn’t making enough to feed me and/or my daughter on my own. Crunching the current numbers, I now have a little left over each month after all expenses—not a lot, but any kind of cushion is good—and still have a decent weekly shopping budget. It’s one more step in the right direction towards recovery in my life. It’s a mark of success. Things are slowly getting better. The forward momentum needs to be sustained to see serious improvement.

First Wor(l)d Problems

April 24, 2015

I don’t mean to be negative. I really don’t mean to be out of touch and distant. I’m not trying to avoid the spotlight and not trying to avoid people. But when I have to focus on life, that’s what happens.

A writer’s life is one of trying to balance everything they have going on in life—work, money, kids, family, crisis management—as everyone does with the added pressure of trying to get our own creative ideas onto a page and off to be published, sometimes on a deadline. Some people can do all of that and structure their lives well. Others will sacrifice one side for the other. You write in fits and starts and get little things in when you can while you tend to life; or you spend most of your time writing and forgo high paying work and possibly a family. I fall into the former group. I’m a single father trying to raise a tween and all the issues that come with that, and after years of having to deal with part-time work and money stress I now have to work everything around a full-time job and dwindling time. It’s a good problem to have especially when you’re tired of dealing with poverty issues, but it can be annoying when the writing output slows.

I am trying. It’s hard to go back to full time work, especially since I haven’t had a single full time job in six years. It’s playing with my head like I never expected but I am managing. The only problem is I haven’t been writing much. I look at the space between blog entries and sigh a lot, but I know my daughter is being taken care of. Still I am trying to not beat myself up about not writing more than I used to. I’m not as young as I used to be and even less disciplined with my time (if that is even possible), so that will take time away from getting stuff written. If I can get a sentence or two of one of my short stories down on paper I am happy. But it is still a struggle.

Writing always is and time has a lot to do with it. I haven’t figured out the best balance for all my needs now and it may still take a while to do. Once in a while I hope to have more on my blog than I would like. What I would really like now is to get my mind straight and get some sleep, as though going through the latter to achieve the former hadn’t crossed my mind. What can I say, I’m tired and out of practice.

Let it Rain

April 7, 2015

For the first time in three years I’m actually ready in case it rains today.

Last week I took Sophia to Kmart to do some shopping. I got my tax refund and did some budgeting to buy stuff for me and Sophia. She definitely needed a bathing suit for the summer and other clothes; I definitely needed work boots which I have needed since my last pair expired about three and a half years ago. Waterproof doesn’t mean it will last forever, and eventually the boots kept leaking enough to make having the boots useless. But since then I haven’t been able to have enough to spare for work boots—even from payless. Sometimes life caved in and money was suddenly needed elsewhere, other times what I thought I had for boots wasn’t enough to get them and by the time a sale came around, life caved in again. Also there were days I said the hell with it; I can manage with sneakers well enough. After this record winter downfall, that idea fell out real quick. So we went looking for stuff, and tried to find a good pair of work boots in my size and within budget. Luckily Sophia had better eyes than I did as she found a pair in the style that really caught my eye that were my size—whereas I couldn’t find my size of that boot.

Not that I want material things to make me happy nor can only be happy if I have money, but there is something good in the feeling that if you or your family need something—last minute or in general—that you can actually afford it without worry. This is something a lot of people take for granted until you find yourself in a situation struggling for money. It could be the idea of having to choose between a car payment or a mortgage payment, but I mean more along the lines of choosing between food or medicine or rent. I made the choice to deal without having boots because there were more essential things needed in the house, be it food for the cats or rent money. I’d make the same choices again if it came down to it because I need to take care of my family. Now the tides are working with me and I can make some choices that help me as well as my family. That’s a feeling you don’t get without some financial stability. Not a lot, but some which is better than none.

So yeah, it’s good to have boots on my feet again. Just in time for the rainy forecast this week.