politics · Uncategorized

Let Us Not Talk Falsely

At a recent blogger conference, the conversation inevitably turned to the current geopolitical situation, enough to suddenly train everyone’s tines face-up at the table. There were terse and worried words laced with an otherwise and nervous humor. A friend quoted, ‘Humor is the anesthesia before one begins to operate.’ And operation—it does seem necessary each successive day one opens up a social media feed, else turns on the TV.

The German expatriate Bertolt Brecht was graver in his summary of things back in 1936, and when he was less about anesthetic humor than he was of bile. From his self-imposed exile in Denmark, where Brecht fled Germany’s rising fascism, he penned a three-part poem, ‘To Those Born Later’. He wrote: “What kinds of times are they, when/ A talk about trees is almost a crime/ Because it implies silence about so many horrors?” This was simultaneously a lament and an urge to action.

Perhaps it’s what the thief, too, of Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ meant when he said: “So let us not talk falsely now/ The hour is getting late.” He said this to the joker, who just wanted a way out.

Is the hour getting late? And why would even the thief say so?

Progress is at peril currently. So many years fought clawing for equality, only to be disrupted by a single election cycle with an ideological wrench meant to stop the gears.

Climate change is hastening. It used to be that, “Is there life on Mars?’ was rhetorical whimsy; now leading scientists are asking, “Can there be life on Mars?” Stephen Hawking himself wonders aloud if the next great exodus need be next-planet bound.

LGTBQ rights seemed guaranteed, thirty-five years after Stonewall, and when the White House itself lit up in explosive rainbow colors following the Supreme Court verdict to uphold and normalize same-sex marriage. Now new stonewalls, both literal and figurative, are on the build.

‘Your tired, your poor, the tempest-tossed’ are specific words chiseled into the copper and steel Lady who welcomes all into Ellis Island, who simultaneously guards against what used to be only-overseas tyranny. Executive Orders from within are eroding her pedestal with the merest scratch of a pen.

A woman’s right to choose is being hastily dismantled frame-by-frame through White House photo ops, which feature suited men only, all smirking.

Ferguson is sidestepped by rhetorically-dismissive rallies of ‘All Lives Matter’, campaigners with one hand on a picket sign, the other a cold dead one clutching the handle of a gun.

The new Dept. of Education misspells its first victories while heralding privatization of a publically secured right.

Democracy is questioned as Election Night numbers create a sudden and new math.

Let us not talk falsely now, let us not talk of trees.

It’s important to know that regress has its speed bump in the vanguards of progress. History is not always just about figureheads, but also about people’s movements. Advocates, many times anonymous, are the actual element of change; progress is either raised or restored when collective voices rise to defeat a fast-seeming decline.

In which case, humor sometimes does act as anesthesia; a talk of trees is an almost crime, but not exactly one; change operates with forbearance and community and the need to exactly resist.

Raise progress.

bipolarity · family · home · politics · wife · writing

Trees, Horror, and a Smoky Eye

“Turn that off,” I suggest to Jenn, while she’s doing her daily ablutions and applying powders to her face.

It’s early. Jenn has already done the gym and has committed to wearing her workout clothes to work, just sneakily disguised beneath a form-fitting dress that suits her. It’s what she’ll wear to school where, as teacher, she’ll change the world by manner of clocking in for her shift.
“Turn that shit off. I’ll grab some coffee and join you.”
She’s listening to NPR while doing her face and the news of the world gets more harrowing as the weekend approaches. She obliges, clicks off the stream.
I’ve been cursing more lately, but I don’t care. (My grandma would be lecturing me, were she still here). But the thing about cursing is that it’s the same thing Freud said about laughter: it’s the subconscious crashing through and exploding decorum for the sake of expression.
I grab a cup of coffee, peel back the bathtub curtains, and sit on the edge of the tub while she adjusts her mirror.
We’ve been in constant conversation recently. Talk talk talk. I got her a staghorn fern for Christmas because she’s been wanting to re-design our kitchen nook so that it’s more comfortable. So that she can lounge in it while I do my cooking, and so we can spend more time together in the evening conversing before putting the kids to bed. Doing all the rituals we do in perpetually getting ready for tomorrow.
The staghorn: it just had a bud. I am happy to report it is thriving.
I sit on the edge of the tub, which I crawled out of seemingly hours before. I’m a night owl, and stay up late writing. I end the night always with a bath before I crawl into bed with Jenn, before I wrap my arms around her in sleep.
I received a cautionary query from a good friend recently—he has a sister with bipolarity—and he asked, “Are you manic right now?”
It does run in my family, but I say, “Oh–fuck, no.” I’ve got a battery of therapists and angels watching over me. I’m just happy, fully, right now and need to exploit that. A lifestyle change and meds punching my pineal have me different. And with yesterday, the Doomsday Clock having been advanced to near midnight, I figure I need to stay laser-sharp and perhaps PRETEND mania the closer to 12 o’ Apocalypse we get.
Isaac Asimov was asked: “What would you do if you knew tomorrow you’d die?”
He said: “I’d type faster.”
So I write and write into the dead of night, read all the news. I report all this to Jenn while she decides on a smoky eye to match her dress, as we sit in our little bathroom.
I narrate all my on-line adventures of the night prior. I gave up TV. Can’t even fucking work the remote—Cayde does it for me. (I only watch ‘Jeopardy’, and last night I impressed the hell outta Cayde by ringing up a score of 54,600. I knew Final Jeopardy: Arthur Miller, 1949,  ‘Death of a Salesman, and what it’s like to fail).

I write to people all over the world every night.

That’s the cool thing about the internet: so long as people aren’t busy blackening their souls and depositing evil shit anonymously on social media threads, you can talk to anyone, anywhere. I write to my friend who’s in Antarctica; I write to my writer friend across town; I say, “Hey” to my sandbox-buddy in Guatemala; I send letters to Chicago and St. Louis and Africa and Finland.
Jenn is beautiful—doesn’t need the make-up, but rituals are important, and what we do to feel beautiful needs no apology.
Bertolt Brecht said: ‘What times are these that to talk about trees is almost a crime, because it implies silence about so many horrors?’
He also said: ‘This then is all. It’s not enough, I know.’
I prefer to talk about trees and horror in the same sentence, talking fast, because both are important.
I help Jenn out the door by dressing Finn. Purposefully, I dress him in a Superman tee. Remember—Jenn’s got her workout clothes on beneath a dress like some modern-day Clark Kent.

Be super.

Cayden · family · favorites · home · parenting · politics · wife

When Gulls Stop Flying and it’s OK

I’m turning forty this year, and suddenly figured out how to conduct myself as a human being. I imagine it as ‘suddenly’, but it may have been a gradual and rising tide of okayish-ness that finally wet the beach blanket and had me move up the sand . I dunno. We live, we learn.

There’s that statement about grace: when you feel yourself at exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, and when working with exactitude. That’s when you know grace is moving through you.

Figuring it out at forty. Has a nice alliterative ring, no?

Jenn usually texts me at some point during the day.

“How’s the morning, Babe?”

And yesterday I replied: “I’m a ray of light! I’m Jon Cusack with a motherfucking radio!”

I like to keep it interesting.

But that’s how I felt. You see, there are these space telescopes that have lenses made of adjustable cells, and when the cells align just so, the universe snaps into crystal-clear focus. It’s like I’m made of those cells, and when the cells align properly, the cosmos bolts right through me.

This is an overstatement, I’m aware. I grew up on Carl Sagan, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re all stardust. ‘Stardust’ can be a David Bowie lyric, but also a measure of simultaneous presence and oblivion. Wouldn’t you love to know that you are, literally, a star? It’s what Sagan has suggested all this time.

So when I’m who I am supposed to be—father, husband, seenchai—storytelling the day through and happy, it seems there’s a bit of stardust in the mix, like it’s a trick.

But it’s not a trick.

It’s not like the Secret in some pay-to-play religion. It’s not anything I can exactly explain.

There are magic incantations involved, though. Words like Harry Potter spells, ones you don’t need a willow wand for.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

“I’ll do better.”

“Good to see you.”

“I hear you.”


“I love you.”

Most importantly, “How are you?”

Like most good spells, there are hand gestures involved. It’s been pointed out that I talk with my hands: I run an open hand over my chest, then turn it outwards as if I were pulling words from my stomach then presenting them as matter of fact.

I have, recently, been tapping my sternum a lot, too, of late, saying ‘heart’ all the goddamn time. This is unlike me, but like me, too. We discover secret languages within ourselves the older we get.

Pleased to meet me.

Jenn leans in the door-frame. Cayde’s supposed to be in bed, and I’m busy writing, my bangs knotted in a bundle.

“He wants you. He says Daddy is best at calming him down when he’s upset.” Jenn smirks.

The pendulum swings. Cayde has told me on occasion that he hates me; but the other day I fell asleep on the couch and woke up to Cayde clutching me tight. He was responsible for pulling a blanket over us, the green afghan that used to be my dad’s. I wake up at 4 a.m.; ‘Good morning, Daddy,’ he says and those are three words that tell me I’ve succeeded in life. That I’ve used words to describe myself, and that he uses words to describe himself in turn. That a morning together is GOOD, that he uses the word, ‘good.’

“Can we have waffles?”

“Going to work, Kid. Sorry—no.”

This whole happiness thing comes at a strange dystopian time. Cayde has heard, perhaps, too much of my Trump vitriol. He gets upset.

“I’m scared, Daddy.”

I tell him to hit me in the stomach, hard. I don’t flinch: my core is strong. This impresses the hell outta Cayde. Dad MUST be a hero to make the kid more of one. (The punches actually hurt, a little).

“You gotta resist and be strong, Kid.”

“But, Daddy: you ask me to hit you in the stomach. That’s what Houdini said. And a guy hit him in the stomach with a hammer and he died.”

My kid’s got a mortal streak (apple not far from the tree).

(Jenn tells me: “He’s scared.”)

So I crawl into bed with Cayde.

He’s been reading his U.S. presidents book everyday, and he’s cued in—perhaps, too acutely—to the fact that a few presidents have been assassinated. Mortal streak, like I said. He’s got me for a dad.

I’m ok this year, but last year the fact of walking was like falling down in slow motion. I see a certain non-existence when I see a seagull land, and stop flying. There is movement and non-movement. Try and tell the difference sometime.

“Cayde—we’ve talked about this. People make a difference, sometimes leaders do. But people are the more important difference. Sometimes leaders who lead people, especially for peace, wind up assassinated.

I choose to be frank with him. My Irish friend made his wife recite to him the word ‘det’ before he died, because death is the eventuality and why the hell say anything different?

Cayde and I—we talk for an hour.

We talk WWII, Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Bush, Trump, Mussolini, FDR, JFK, RFK, MLK. We talk about feeling scared, and the idea that peace is sometimes mortally and unfairly punished. But also that people’s movements make the difference.

“Seven continents marched for the Women’s March, Dude.”

“Really?” Cayde’s eyes widen.

“Yeah—biggest march in HISTORY, Dude.”

He is stuck on this fact; he also tells me that Charles J. Guiteau shot James Garfield.

“He picked a revolver to kill Garfield, Daddy, because he thought the revolver would look good in a museum. “

Little and selfish acts. Gun in a glass case.

I counter and talk about Ghandi.

Cayde woke up in the morning, asked me while I was pulling on my work clothes, while HE still had his bangs tied in a bundle, and while he was wrapped in the green afghan: “Daddy can you tell me more about Mo-Mohat-Mahat Ghandi when you pick me up today?”

He demanded I pick him up. Mama and I share the duties, but he wanted to have another conversation.

“Sure, Kid.” Let’s talk about him.

My heart: it is full.

politics · Uncategorized

Next to Water, Worrying

On November fifth, 2008, the morning after Barack Obama became president-elect, I worked the early shift at work. It was the sunrise shift — ungodly early — but one that bore metaphorical significance at least. New day, new president. New Era.

I was the first to clock in that day, moving slow when swiping my time card. An unfortunate schedule had me arriving to work while still floating on vapors. Revelry of the night prior had its share of champagne bubbles, but also the otherwise — and perhaps more intoxicating– effervescence of a new ideology recently secured. We were drunk on lightness. The Bush years had been dark. So much time spent in protest of regress and false wars and economic mishandling.

My boss was the second to clock in. Our eyes matched in their particular purple and it didn’t seem appropriate to jump straightaway into work. We work next to water, so we decided to walk a few paces away from the building and take in the sunrise, standing cross-armed over the bay. The scoters hadn’t arrived yet — December marking their usual migration — but the water was graced with a few buffleheads, also the dumb bobbing of pelicans with their ungainly noses and forever downturned faces.

The night prior, I had been at the Civic Center with some colleagues to watch the election results live on the assorted big screens. My wife and I were new parents, just one year in, and my son was resolutely strapped to my wife’s chest in anticipation of the final call. It came earlier than expected, as the media charts displayed what seemed a geopolitical game of Othello, red states ahistorically flipping blue, Barack Obama becoming president. The results were announced just as my one-year old was nodding off in the Bjorn, and the uproar was enough to jolt him from sleep. I hugged my friends, I hugged my wife, I kissed my kid on the head.

I shared this story with my boss as we looked out over the water. The sun was just coming up and the real estate across the bay, all its assorted and differently angled glass, was catching the sun from dissimilar directions. Some windows were orange, others still slate.

My boss had a sad expression.

(Prop 8 had passed on Election Night also. This was the night’s big loss. A California Supreme Court decision had allowed same-sex couples to legally marry within the state, a stunning display of progress with precedent in Massachusetts. But the hate-machine, with white picket fences like teeth and a full set of evangelical canines, bullied the decision’s reversal).

I went to a same-sex wedding in 2007 for the lawyer that helped influence the California Supreme Court’s decision, and state senator Toni Atkins was the officiator. My boss: She got married to the love of her life, too, a woman, and on November 5th found herself — like my lawyer friend — in this wary place somewhere between legality and illegality.

“I was at the grocery store last night, Thom. Well — I’ll tell you: I was buying champagne. I was buying champagne because of the election. And then Prop 8 got voted in.”

(And there is certainly a time when a drink can go from celebration to solace).

The sun had gone from pink to orange, and brants were now accompanying the buffies in the water.

“How,” she asked, “How, Thom, in this day and age — and in our country — can we vote for something that specifically says it’s an amendment ‘to eliminate the rights’ of a group of people? I don’t get it.”

Where the champagne goes flat, and ideology feels less effervescent. Where Rosa Parks gets ordered again to sit at the back of the bus.

The Obama administration had its eight years following that particular sunrise, and — much like that sunrise — had its ambivalences. There was the (perhaps reluctant) continuance of the Bush Doctrine, the drone attacks, the strangely Machiavellian crackdown on whistle-blowers, the brown-shirt flirtation with martial suspension of habeas corpus. But there was also the ACA, the turnaround of the 2008 recession, the de-escalation of Middle-East conflict, an unprecedented rise in employment, the legalization of same-sex marriage. There was progress, which we voted for under the one-word campaign promise of ‘hope’. There was light after eight years of inarguable bleakness. That the scales tipped heavier to progress and not regress showed we as an electorate were willing to trend forward, even as an obstructionist Congress tried its best to speed the rust with regard to the machinations of law.

This gives me hope in a post-Obama nation.

But on January 20th, and when again I am scheduled an early shift, and next to water, I am worried about the forecast. It’s slated to rain and I don’t think there’ll be much of a sunrise as the migratory birds sit in their puddles of gray. How often will the presidential orders following that morning be rife with the language, “to eliminate the rights, to eliminate the rights, and to eliminate the rights.”

I worry.

family · home · politics · wife

Resiliently Happy

My first act of resistance involved goat cheese. I discovered that a diced avocado sprinkled with pepper and smoked salt, slathered in Tlaquepaque sauce, and eaten with a crumble of chevre, is in fact the perfect salad.
This is resistance—this is revolutionary—because I was at work while the Inauguration dropped onto the Capitol’s West Front like a toupeed load of guano, and I was looking forward to being with my penguins as the great alternative. (It was Penguin Awareness Day, after all—not just ‘Breaking the Seventh Seal Day’).
I told my friend and colleague: “Gonna just plug my phone in, but turn it face-down, I think.”
Which I did. For the most part.
“At least I have a good lunch.”
Work was closed because of inclement weather, and the winds hit hard mid-afternoon. We were inside, though, and with the park being closed, we rearranged our day to just do everything as a team, to be in each others’ company. We played with the kids, this year’s brood, down still clinging fast to little penguin heads; we prepared for a fund-raising benefit slated for a hopefully less tempest-tossed Saturday.
I had my avocado salad. It was really good, and it kept me in the moment, whereas—all nights this week—I’ve been staying up late, worrying, unsure about the future.
The freeways were littered with palm husks and there were felled trees along Morley Field.
Back at home it was quiet. Jenn dropped Cayde off at a friend’s house for a few hours, Finn was asleep after some rounds of PT at school. Jenn and I circled the kitchen, alternately talking about the day and the DAY while putting away food and backpacks and rain-clothes. The kitchen light was muted, which seemed appropriate. There was a 9/11 feeling, but something, something, else.
When kissing Jenn, she smiled. She then took a step back.
“You ready?”
And 1-2-3, she jumped up and wrapped her legs around my waist while I caught her by the seat of her jeans. We’re both strong these days, and in different ways. Resiliently happy.
(This morning we both weighed ourselves on the scale, and we weighed EXACTLY the same, down to the tenth of a pound. And, after a cup of coffee in bed, my wife pulled on her yoga clothes—yoga, which we should all do after yesterday—and decided, on a whim to just go in her pants and sports top. She looks fantastic. She never would have done this before, but her core is starting to show definition, and I told her that I was proud of her).
At work, we played with a Lilliputian-small Macaroni kid named ‘Tank.’ Trump wanted tanks at his Inaugural Parade. Tanks. Like some Yeltsin bluster-cluster. He was told tanks would tear up Pennsylvania Avenue, already proof that Trump gives no fucks about infrastructure.
The infrastructure HERE, though, is intact. I put the kids to bed last night and they fell asleep in record time. And then I wriggled out of a pile of boys and bedsheets to purchase Jenn a bottle of wine, there still being a 9/11 feeling, which required anesthetization of nervous stomachs.
I wrote to my friends last night, I sat in my usual place by the front window and listened to the rain. I went to bed on time with Jenn, choosing to not worry about the atomic bomb, and I held her tight.

cooking · family · favorites · Findlay · grocery · neighborhood · politics · wife

‘Wahples’ on the Night Fidel Castro Died

“Wahples,” Finn announces as he wedges himself in between the arm of the couch and my thigh, nestling in to the cat’s usual nighttime nook before placing a thumb resolutely in his mouth. The cat lowers her ears and endures the trespass, her fight-or-flight reactions having long since been dulled by a half-life of toddlers running amok. Finn’s in his dinosaur pajamas and was asleep—honestly, he was asleep— tucked in with his brother not ten minutes prior.
“Wahples. Ee ehggs,” Finn elaborates, this being his particular manner of ordering breakfast, despite the contrary hour.
“Waffles. Eat eggs.”
We have a candle burning, most lights out. Jenn and I were cuddling on the sofa and working our way through ‘Stranger Things’ (always a few months behind everyone else on the TV trends), but shruggingly make room for Finn. He can watch Episode Six, I guess; Daniel Tiger will just seem that much more comfortable come morning. ‘Meow-meow-meow demogorgon.’
‘Tay’ is this new contraction of Finn’s, somewhere in between ‘Yes’ and ‘Ok’, and I don’t make an effort to correct his speech. Cayde’s recently confided to me that he likes knowing what Finn says, even when others don’t. It’s a secret language of sorts, and a brotherly understanding. Cayde’s ears remain precise even when Finn’s language is sometimes lazy. When I seem them snuggling together beneath an afghan and whispering to each other, it’s the best thing. It convinces me more and more that language needs lesser volume and lesser exactness than we pretend. And I say this as a fan of the Oxford comma.
The breakfast order has been summarily placed, though it’s nine at night and there’s a full sleep to be had before the kitchen re-opens. Meanwhile, I don’t blame Finn for the confusion—I’m drinking evening coffee and all of us have been sick this Thanksgiving holiday, napping at crooked hours. Jenn exercised her way through a stuffed head this morning; Finn and exorcised our blahs by enjoying a midday Nod. My fault, probably, that he’s awake.
Episode Six credits and Jenn goes to lay down with Finn—“just for a minute”—to have him settle. I already know these to be famous last words. The cat couldn’t be happier, kneading her suddenly extra cushion-space with outstretched limbs. While waiting for Jenn to reappear, I hear her begin to breathe in tandem with Finn the next room over. Maple-coated dreams, everyone.
Scrolling through my phone, I read on Al-Jazeera that Fidel Castro has died. This strikes me. I rouse Jenn briefly.
“I’ll be out in a second,” she says, which I know to mean she’ll soon be out cold. The cat’ll ultimately win her nocturnal roost; surely I’ll be up for a bit. Episode Seven will have to wait, in part because I can’t navigate the television remote.

Castro is dead, fifty-three years and three days after Kennedy. Also, ‘wahples.’ These are facts.

I shoulder into my peacoat and slide on flip-flops—such are the contradictions Southern California allows—and leave to get eggs. We’re out of eggs and the cornershops have since closed. A half-mile up is the late-night market and it’s a nice walk. I don’t look at any more news tonight.
There’s that nice phenomenon when you take a stroll and witness the streetlights wink on, that little bit of synchronicity where you can pretend for a second you’re the reason why the sidewalk is suddenly lit. A similar and more modern phenomenon is seeing news the second it breaks, when you’re at the top of the media micro-cycle, and opinion hasn’t yet formed to churn up the wave and eddy things. There’s just a simple fact, a declaration that something has occurred, and it’s history happening before everyone has had a chance to say what that happening means. With great volume, always, and with pretend exactness. ‘Tay.’
Castro was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He also had scores of human rights violations on his record. Kissinger won the prize back in ’73, as precedent to irony. I don’t look at any more news tonight, though—it would all make as much sense as peacoats and flip-flops, or coffee before bed. There’ll be arguments tomorrow. There are arguments everyday.
This time last year, Jenn and I were looking at houses, which seemed a bankrupt idea considering 2008. On the way to the market, I pass by walk-ups and bungalows—enviable, sure—and one Craftsman has a water element that runs even into the after-hours, a recycled waterfall lending nothing but noise to the xeriscaped chaparral along its borders. Jenn and I don’t know any more. What does equity mean, what’s a house, what future is about to slouch its way toward Bethlehem with demagogues dying, but with others soon to take their place. Today we pondered a new vehicle, a trailer, more attention to date nights and weekends, urban walks, travel! Turning on the streetlamps with our footfalls.

I get eggs at ten-thirty before the market closes and the store clerks say: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah—the Castro thing. What difference does it make though, no?’ We exchange monies.
I like it when Finn is meanwhile declarative, if even at the wrong hour. It’s language and meaning to me, and informs my tomorrow. Waffles—they’re best when the eggs and buttermilk are at room temp, so I leave the eggs on the counter upon coming home and let the coffee go cold.