Saturday, December 31, 2016

#218 - A Year To Forget, A Year To Remember

In many ways, I will not be sorry to see the back of 2016. The year got off to a rocky start with the death in January of David Bowie and continued on through the double whammy deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

In between, a number of famous and important people left the scene, and a minority of Americans succeeded in handing the keys to the candy store (and the nuclear arsenal) to an rude and overbearing reality TV host. It's as if The Truman Show (the Jim Carrey movie in which his entire life is fodder for reality TV and he's the only one not in on it) has been flipped on its ear, the script pages mixed with those of Panic In The Year Zero (the 1962 Ray Milland film about a family which must learn to survive in the aftermath of nuclear war) to give birth to some sort of Nightmare on Elm Street revision in which the nightmare is all too real.

I have little in the way of expectations for positive change from the incoming administration, and based on some of the names on the transition team and those being bandied about for Cabinet posts, I doubt I'll be pleasantly disappointed.

I am lucky in that I do not expect my life to be negatively impacted much by the Trump presidency. My fear is that millions of others will not be able to say the same.

Based on the rhetoric coming out of Washington since the election, attempts will again be made to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. This, even though those two groups make up a smaller portion of federal spending than military spending, federal subsidies, and tax breaks for large corporations.

I expect to see racism become, if not more prevalent, more visible and overt over the next four years. The change is already taking place as evident in the turning of a family's outdoor Menorah display into a swastika. The incoming President may not be a racist, but I believe he is an enabler of such behavior.

This last year, quite frankly, sucked in a lot of ways, and I could continue to lament what happened and outline my fears regarding what lies ahead. Instead, I will hope to be wrong and will hope that in 2017 fewer people than I expect will suffer a rolling back of rights; that fewer people than I expect will be excluded from the safety net that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were created to provide; and that more people than I expect will find love in their hearts for people who are different from themselves.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2016

#217 - A Holiday Wish

Just a short post to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. If you are traveling to visit friends and/or family over Christmas, may your journey be safe and uneventful, and may your visit be filled with wonderful and lasting memories.

It looks like our Christmas may well be a white one. Several inches of snow fell in the Boise area throughout today, much more than that, I'm sure, in the surrounding foothills.

Regardless of your political or religious beliefs, I hope this holiday finds you safe, happy, and healthy. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa. As is said during the Catholic Mass, Peace be with you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

#216 - Scar Tissue

WARNING: A disturbing scene is described in the post below, and at least one word may not be suitable for sensitive ears.

The other day, I was listening to an interview a friend and former colleague was doing on a New Orleans radio station about a documentary she's been working on for the past decade. (Talk about dedication!) The documentary, titled "Battlefield: Home," is about the battles servicemen and women, along with their families, face when they return home from active duty.

My friend's film has nothing much to do with this post except that it got me thinking about the idea of scar tissue. We usually think of scar tissue in terms of surgical procedures. However, many of us carry around scar tissue of a different nature.

In the case of my friend's parents, that scar tissue was created by supremely traumatic events. My friend's mother was a child survivor of the second atomic blast during World War II, in Nagasaki. Her it father was a survivor of two tours (if I remember correctly) in Vietnam. Those experiences, I'm sure, left emotional scar tissue, something that really never goes away.

As my friend was talking about her parents, I began to think about my own scar tissue. When I was five, my father left for work one day, never to return (something I've posted about on a couple of previous occasions). The story my mother gave me for the rest of her life was that he left because he could not handle having a family. The story I later got from another family member was that my father had a penchant for underage girls. My mother found out and kicked him out. Scar number one.

My mother soon found herself a new beau who would become husband number two. Living in Los Angeles, a bustling metropolis, and having the looks my mother had, she should have had a good chance of landing a Mr. Right type. The man she ended up with turned out to be all wrong.

Husband number two came into my mother's life after a short stint in San Quentin (you know, the other prison Johnny Cash recorded a concert in) for killing another man in a bar fight. When my mother met him, husband number two was working as a truck driver but apparently did not like driving a truck because he promptly quit as soon as they married and moved us to a small town in the Mojave Desert. To the best of my recollection, he never worked again during the five years they were married.

Of course, expecting to feed, clothe, and house a family of five (he had a son and I had a sister) on the income of a waitress would have been hard enough. It turns out the bar fight was not an isolated demonstration of the temper of husband number two.

He was prone to yelling at my mother and not at all reluctant to slap her around from time to time. For the most part, I have blotted the specifics of those years out, but one episode has never left me. So vivid was it at the time that I have never been able to blot it out.

One day, for reasons I don't recall (possibly something to do with an assumption on the part of husband number two that my mother had held back some of her tip money, although he never really seemed to need a reason), husband number two began yelling at and slapping my mother. He ripped off the top half of my mother's clothing and yelled for his son to bring the scissors because he was going to "cut her tits" to teach her a lesson. I was eight. Scar number two.

For several years after my mother and husband number two split (they were married for five years, together for about three years of that time), my mother raised us as a single mother with the help of an elderly couple. My sister and I  slept in a converted chicken coop. The husband was a nice, easy going man. The wife was a fire and brimstone type who continually browbeat and belittled her husband (perhaps my first experience with the idea of a battered husband).

After a few years of this existence, my mother was convinced to move us all back to the Seattle area, where I was born. Along the way (both before and after the move), my mother cycled through a series of boyfriends and lover always searching for Mr. Right and never even finding Mr. Maybe.

Some of these affairs lasted a few months (one was a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his head, one was a man 15 years her junior, another was about ten years younger). The ones that lasted the longest also seemed to be the ones that did the most damage.

One such affair was, in many ways a reenactment of husband number two. This affair, begun while I was in high school, involved a younger man with a volatile temper who usually just yelled at my mother, sister, and me, though he was not above the occasional slap. (By this time, I had long since learned not to cry when I got in trouble and was whipped with a belt, so I was somewhat numb emotionally.)

One night in December, just after my birthday, boyfriend number whatever came home from work after having gone out for a few drinks, and he was in a foul mood. I don't recall what my mother was supposed to have done, but I do remember that the shouting match that ensued soon became physical, with him slapping her and ripping her top off, exposing her in an eerie reenactment of the episode from nearly a decade before.

By this time, I was 17 and thought I might be able to step in and help protect my mother. I picked up a baseball bat and threatened to bash in his skull if he didn't stop hitting her. He laughed. I froze, unable to follow through. He threw her and us out of the house. (It was snowing, much like it is today, and my mother was half-naked.) When the police came, my mother refused to press charges. The boyfriend later proposed marriage, something I talked my mother out of by threatening to leave for good if she accepted. Scar number three.

Life's experiences help prepare us to survive, and I have survived, though I'm not sure I've really lived. There have been times I'm not sure I wanted to live, even spending time during my colleges years wishing I were dead and thinking about suicide. Like the episode with the baseball bat, though, I was not able to follow through (although I did once attempt an overdose of aspirin, of all things).

Over time, I have developed a thick skin. This has allowed me to endure bullying at school, abuse at home, and other things life has thrown at me along the way. On the other hand, I have encountered road blocks and obstacles made more difficult due to that thick skin which provided a safety layer but kept people at arm's length.

My experiences have made it difficult for me to make friends, love, express myself verbally. They have also led to me developing my own temper, which I am thankfully usually able to keep in check and am (more thankfully) able to keep from escalating into the realm of the physical.

My wife argues that I need to leave the past behind, and she's right as far as that goes. I have managed for the most part to move on from those experiences. Therapy helped some in that regard, though I never felt able to share some of the most traumatic episodes in those sessions.

However, our experiences do shape us, for better and for worse, and the scar tissue each of us develops as the result of our experiences do help to define us or at least create the hurdles we must overcome in order to reach whatever potential we might have.

In some ways, I am who I am because of what I experienced growing up. In other ways, I am who I am in spite of those experiences. Even at this stage of my life, I am still healing. Whatever may have created your scar tissue, I hope you are healing as well.

Monday, December 5, 2016

#215 - Another Day Older

"St. Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the company store." - Tennessee Ernie Ford - "Sixteen Tons"

Today is my birthday. Today, I enter another decade of this chronological journey we call life. A great deal of change has occurred in that time.

When I was born, a lifelong military man was President and just over four years away from warning about the dangers of acquiring unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex and the potential for what he called "the potential rise of misplaced power." Today, it could be argued that those dangers have become reality, although not perhaps in the ways he envisioned.

When I was born, life was for many of us black and white and not simply the way in which we watched television. A large part of the nation was literally divided by the color line, and the differences between good and evil were, we thought, more clearly defined.

Today, many of us no longer watch television, instead getting our entertainment from our phones. That technological change has been accompanied by an apparent attempt to in some ways reclaim the "simplicity" of the decade in which I was born, complete with the calls by some to restore some modern-day equivalent of that "separate but equal" time.

Then, as now, we developed and shared technological advances not always aware of or even thinking about the potential ramifications or dangers for future generations. Then, as now, whole groups of people are fighting for the rights they argue were granted them in the Constitution.

The divisions present when I was born were less visible than they are today. In that sense, that decade was a simpler time. There were not dozens, if not hundreds (even thousands) of places from which to gather information available to the average person.

Today, we have the 24-hour news cycle, bloggers whom some people quote as if they were experts or trained journalists, a massive distrust of the so-called "liberal media" (so called because mainstream media is controlled by a handful of large corporations), and various Internet outlets for "fake news," many of which seem to have no other goal than to create and facilitate dissension and disagreement. (The fact that The Drudge Report is only one letter removed from dredge and rhymes with sludge is not lost on me.)

Some of our most important institutions are amongst the least admired or respected while we seemingly revere sports figures (basically entertainers) who make as much (if not more) money in a single year as many people make in a lifetime. At the same time, the gap between the richest and the poorest of us seems to grow exponentially while the middle gets squeezed even more tightly.

Us baby boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964) were dubbed the "Me Generation" in the 1970s. For many, the focus on self-realization and self-fulfillment during our youth has given way to a different kind of focus on difference and a desire to keep those who are not like us out or separate.

Then again, perhaps it has always been like this. When Europeans came to America, they moved to control, eradicate, and segregate Native Americans who wished to hold on to their lands and their traditions. In the decades since I was born, America has attempted to bring (or perhaps impose) our way of life and our values to others who did not ask for it, helping to fuel conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East in a sort of unholy crusade to impose the modern-day religion of capitalism on unbelievers.

I've lived long enough now to know that one answer does not fit all and to conclude that kneeling at the altar of the almighty dollar has the potential to do more damage than not (forests, waterways, skies have all paid the price).

Socrates once said "All things in moderation, including moderation." We seem to live in a world and a time of extremes (extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extreme politics, extreme religion). Perhaps a little moderation is in order - moderation of political views, of prejudices, of religious views, of greed, of damage to the environment.

While we plan and race to send expeditions to Mars and to the Universe beyond, perhaps we should take a bit more care of the world we currently inhabit. Otherwise, the problems we have failed to deal with and resolve here will be sure to follow us wherever we end up.