OF CRANES & GULLS: SEATTLE INNARDS

 

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The Denny Way/Broad Street exit off of 99 during morning rush hour feeds vehicles into a gridlocked bottleneck Seattle-style.  You are not merely surrounded by construction cones and signs—blazes of orange—and a few lackadaisical flaggers always smoking for some reason. It’s a virtual dystopian clusterfuck panorama: the broadside of a half-gutted, half-built condo tower that can’t help but remind one of the Death Star; lanes doglegged into zags as if by some divine civic hammer to make room for the elbows of as-yet unlaid lanes; banana yellow construction cranes framed by narrow alleys, poised to drop in or lift out a dose of steel.  Pushing back against all of this novelty are old Seattle icons: the pink neon elephant spins as ever; the space needle lays down its hypodermic shadow; the monorail chugs glumly now below much instead of above most, a depressed septuagenarian caterpillar. 

            The men who stalk the off-ramp with cardboard signs for spare change are arguably both new and old Seattle.  They have sometimes vanished due to inaudible clicks of the social service economy or city policy.  They have often reappeared in larger numbers, more haggard than before.  Today the Asker clasped the cardboard plea to his parka with one hand, a bag full of corn chips with the other, pausing to cast handfuls skyward.  Desperate gulls wheeled and screeched against the winter sun like a tribe’s ritual appeal for good favor.  The man grinned and tossed, watching the faces of commuters for reaction, reading our impressions of his wild dance of charity, hoping maybe for the same from us but delighting regardless in the rain of corn chips and gull shit on hybrid hoods, the vapor of his breath in the splintered gold of the sunrays.  One old bird perched tranquilly on his shoulder, too dignified to beg.  Just waiting for the light to change, for the man to reverse course, for our wheels to turn, for the offering, lifted to his beak.  

New Profile and Feature in the Seattle Times

Check out the Seattle Times profile of Eli as one of 13 People in 2013, “Poised to Shape the Future of Arts in the Northwest.”

WASHINGTON BULLETS

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I’ve never come across a document of any kind that reflects upon the incredible irony of the Washington Bullets NBA franchise.  Ok, so team owner Abe Pollin saw the light and changed the name to the “Wizards” in 1995, claiming the assassination of his friend Yitzhak Rabin as the final straw in scouring overtones of violence from his team’s name.  First element of irony: the final straw was not the ridiculous level of inner city violence in DC., but the death of an Israeli politician. Second element of irony: The Clash put the song “Washington Bullets” on their bestselling super anti-imperialist 1980 album Sandinista! possibly to shine the light on U.S. policy emanating from DC, though The Clash have claimed innocence about that.  Third element of irony: this is what passes for gun reform in America: changing a basketball team’s name, versus, say, passing legislation or addressing the root causes of conflict in the inner city. 

 

I got to thinking about this, of course, because of yesterday’s supernova ballyhoo about the depressed, unarmed mother who drove her car to the White House and got smoked by volunteer (thanks to the shutdown) DC Police and Secret Service Officers.  I half-watched the colorful wheels of CNN and MSNBC spin while I cooked dinner.  Every congress member interviewed regarding the shutdown of the government was first asked where they were and what they saw of the violence yesterday.  The shooting took most of the time of each segment.  And no doubt in the days to come we will hear the depths of Miriam Carey’s life and the composition of her demons spelled out with the flair of prime time inquiry.  This offers the possibility of a look at mental health treatment, so there is a silver lining to the prurient blender we’ll be watching. 

 

But I couldn’t help but think if I were a black or brown inner city resident of DC, I’d be a little cynical about the intensity of coverage.  I imagine I might say to myself, Can you believe this shit, self?  A shooting right HERE in Washington DC!  Then I’d cackle but it wouldn’t feel funny and I’d probably want a drink. 

 

In 2011 there were 78 homicides by gun in Washington DC.  Of the victims, 2 where white.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Miriam Carey has gotten more attention than any other black victim of gun violence in our capital.  I wish for her and her orphaned child that somehow her death might at least light that up on our collective radar.   

THE WAR FOR AMERICA (WE’RE WINNING)

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Being a media junkie often sucks.  Far from prurient, sensationalism-seeking, soulless, pale geeks shoveling celebrity joys and miseries into their slack jawed maw, many people I know who might be accused of this moniker are actually deeply empathic—to say nothing of deeply political.   They feel a responsibility to know what is going on in the wider world from day to day; for some, it’s simply a commitment to keep watch on what our tax dollars do to other peoples; for some, it’s a passionate desire to stay on top of the latest versions of oppression (think NSA wiretapping); for some, yes, it’s an unhealthy sort of addiction to tragedy and injustice that produces less catharsis and more stagnation.  I’d like to think of myself as the prior—a privileged white American male who feels some responsibility to know day in and day out what the vast majority of people in America and the wider world are experiencing.  Call it peeling an eye for where and how to be an ally.  And the argument can be made, too, that simply being aware of what’s going as a member of privileged class that doesn’t “need” to expose himself to such quotidian sorrows as the death count on Chicago’s south and west sides (500+ YTD), is being an ally.  If only because it gives you something to verbally punch the idiot at the hardware store with if he gets going on sanctity of the 2nd amendment.  Especially in this era of jacked-up, super-fueled right wing smack talk and draconian legislatures (hi, NC!), to many of us “junkies,” I think, it feels important to stay tuned in the same way it’s important to stay warm before boxing match.

 

But there is also far too often a gap between empathic pain/outrage and any reasonable possibility of action.  In other words, far too much of what I consume about the suffering world is not properly digested.  I try to find ways to speak out or take action or, at the bare minimum, incorporate what I’m learning into my worldview so I might sometime serve someone with a connection or understanding that they don’t expect.  And sometimes I write. 

 

So I’m taking the chance today to write in a celebratory vein.  In the last week, the United States crowned its first ethnic Miss America. Nina Davuluri wore the tiara at the end of the day.  And in the last week the United States saw its first transgender person chosen as homecoming queen.  Cassidy Lynn Campbell wore the tiara at the end of the day. 

 

The fact that both Davuluri and Campbell immediately were assaulted with hateful backlash is not surprising, nor does it mean very much.  I’m saddened by the focus of much of the media on tweets toward Davuluri that suggest she is a terrorist infiltrator, or commentary direct at Campbell that she is just a boy playing dress up.  But then again, maybe focusing on the tone and content of that backlash is wise.  Maybe by casting the depth of that ignorance into the limelight along with the beautiful young women wearing those tiaras, the juxtaposition will move someone, somewhere in middle America who’s just not sure how they feel yet about such radical change. 

 

But radical change it is.  Gay marriage is sweeping the nation, marijuana prohibition is finally eroding, gun control is flaring as a debate at least, some healthcare reform is coming despite the blood surging through Boehner, and  in terms of foreign policy, at least it is now, more than ever, also under the flashbulbs.  It must be a horrible time to be a xenophobic, homophobic, militant fundamentalist.  We ought not be surprised if we hear many explosions of ire from that quarter as a result.  But we ought to listen to just how dumb and tired they sound and know that they’re loud because they’re losing. 

 

Even at corporate beauty pageants and football games.   

 

IF AND, NOT BUT

 

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Dialectics: 1. The art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments;

 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: ….DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice.  

 

DBT is a burgeoning mental health treatment model that is fat with interventions and techniques for use with a host of disorders and issues.  I will be super lucky to spend four days immersed in intensive training come November.  But I’m already using pieces of it here and there with clients, in conversation with distressed friends and family and also with my own damn self.  The main thrust is this: that two opposing facts can exist at the same time and both remain true.  For example, if my client says to me, “my mother doesn’t give a shit about me,” because her mother has been ignoring the mounting scores of lacerations on her thin wrists, I might say, “could you consider the possibility that your mother is acting as if she doesn’t care about you and at the very same time loves you very much?”  Or, more to the point, “can you consider the possibility that your mother is a terrible mother and, also, she loves you very much?” 

 

Of course, most people blink at you and furrow their brows and/or laugh derisively.  But then sometimes they also grow pensive.  Ideally, of course, this opens up the space to talk about the reasons why his/her mother became a terrible mother, what influences and causes piled up to prevent her from doing well.  This increases empathy, in theory, and pushes on the door marked reconciliation or forgiveness or maybe just forward motion.  And another central, related tenet of DBT comes in: “I care about you and admire you and accept you exactly as you are and I also will support you in changing things about yourself.”

 

Lying in bed under the skein of a new moon’s light and a heavy dose of nighttime decongestant and red wine at some small hour this morning, however, I was not thinking about dialectics in terms of clinical work.  I was thinking about dialectics in terms of language and meaning and Buddhism and life and the possibility that embracing wholeness presents.  I remember reading Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein when I was 20 years old, on a hot night in urban Venezuela and coming across this line (paraphrase): “Can you feel the difference between ‘I am angry!’ and ‘I am experiencing anger.’  Through that small distinction flows a whole world of freedom.”

 

It strikes me that an entire world of possibility flows through the distinction between

 

“I love my wife but she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time”

 

and

 

“I love my wife and she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time.”

 

The implication of “but” is that while I might love my wife, I can’t enjoy her or appreciate her or really be in possession of that love until some later time when she’s not stressed out.  “And” represents the possibility that even in the midst of horrendous stress I might enjoy my wife and celebrate the love I have for her. 

 

Or a kid might mourn the mother she wish she’d had while also knowing she did the best that she possibly could.  

 

Or maybe I’m just under the influence of daytime cold medicine.  

CHOCOLATE GRASSHOPPERS & IMPLICIT MEMORY

 

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Saturday afternoon at Café Racer, my son tasted a chocolate covered grasshopper, proffered by David George Gordon.  I tried to take this as evidence that he was growing up, finding new stores of bravery for the art of experimentation and adventure in the world. 

 

___

 

Dr. Daniel Siegel is a giant of a thinker, theorist, researcher, psychiatrist and therapist and you can’t attend a single course in applied psychology or family therapy without hearing the instructor make reference to him and in many cases take you on a glowing oratory tangent.  He’s impossible to hate and so far as I can tell, he’s impossible to question.  He’s on the cutting edge of neurobiology, memory, child development and about six other related fields.  Also, for the record, he writes for the layperson so anyone can scoop up one of his fascinating books like The Whole Brain Child.

 

One of the things that Dr. Siegel writes and speaks about consistently is “implicit” memory.  To put it simply, these are memories that happened before we were conscious and able to develop “explicit” memories.  You can’t call up an implicit memory by sheer cognitive ability.  There are ways that implicit memory gets called up or “triggered.”  Many people don’t understand this but it can govern your emotional life, nothing less.  Have you ever found yourself inexplicably furious or inexplicably sorrowful at the drop of a hat?  Chances are that something triggered your implicit memory: a dead cat on the side of the road, for example, or a father reading the paper at a restaurant where his young daughter sits across from him clearly waiting for his attention.  And it doesn’t have to happen instantly—you could glimpse something like this and not be walloped by it emotionally for hours, or days. 

 

Since learning something about this, I have found myself gaining a great deal of ground.  I was extremely fortunate in that my education around this coincided, more or less, with the birth of my son.  Because everybody gets knuckle-balled with implicit memories when they have a kid and if they aren’t aware of the way the brain works (which most are not), they are going to be baffled and scrambled by their emotional life for a while. 

 

So when my infant son cried out at night and my own chest got tight and anxiety went up, I understood: I was left alone to cry myself to sleep when I was his age.  When my son gets pushed around the playground, my rage is so hair-trigger that I start looking for a dad to fight: I was a sensitive kid told to “use my words” and was not the Lord of any Fly.  So as the time approached for Pax to start preschool (today), I was not as confused as I would have been about my emotional state—but I’m still struck by the intensity of it. 

 

Pax told his mother the other day, “I’m going to cry so much they won’t let me stay at school,” which made me want to hyperventilate.  My own mother’s response was amusement that he had learned to be “manipulative” already.  My mother did step up and offer herself as the courier to preschool for the first week, which was tremendously kind.  What my mother did not do was actively recall under what circumstances she left me alone in a preschool classroom.  I can only assume from my own anxiety and blues during the days preceding Pax’s entrance that I was terrified and felt abandoned.

 

My son left the house with his grandmother this morning in a shark-print raincoat twirling and chattering.  He came back dirtier but in a similar state.  I don’t know if my mother is executing a “re-do” of her own style of parenting 33 years wiser, but she’s doing something right.  I doubt that Pax will lose his breath when his own child’s lower lip quivers at the notion of striking out into school—or anything else in life. 

 

But maybe each time he sees an insect eaten, an implicit memory of his father will warm him from within?   

Judge Todd Baugh & Stacey Rambold: MURDERERS

 

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I have the tendency, which in this day and age is often a curse, to be long-winded.  It stems from a desire to be thorough and persuasive.  But in the era of reading pixels I know that I have to truncate even when a subject triggers an avalanche of words.  I will not rehash the entire case of Judge Todd Baugh and high school teacher Stacey Rambold and the teenaged girl who lay down in her mother’s bed and shot herself in the head after being repeatedly raped by Mr. Rambold.  You can read the whole story here or elsewhere.

 

When I read the short article on CNN’s iPhone app (on Labor Day in the lovely Cascade Mountains while my toddler played in the sun nearby, I might add, which indicates I need some boundary work), I felt a confusing form of rage take shape in my gut.  While a 49 year old teacher who grooms and then repeatedly rapes a 14 year old student has committed a monstrous act and deserves to be severely punished, this type of male violence/power is as old as our species.  Weak men succumb to strong biology.   I realized that the preponderance of rage I felt was saved for Judge Todd Baugh.  Upon handing down a 30 day sentence to Rambold, the judge said the following about the dead teenager: “She was as much in control of the situation as her teacher…she was older than her chronological age.”

 

That misogyny lives on among men of power is no mystery—and is the key reason why that particular form of oppression persists so strongly in our society.  But when men with power use their position to make statements defending misogyny and the sexual abuse of girls, they have stepped far outside of their rights to bigoted opinion. While we might naively hope that judges would leave their bigotries and biases at the door the courtroom, we all know that’s often not true.  But to demand accountability for publically singing the defense of child rape as a judge, from the bench, seems incumbent upon every single person who loves a female in this culture.

 

Fourteen year old girls who act out sexually (if indeed that was the case at all, as the defense would have us believe) need mental health support.  That at least two men of authority and responsibility in her life offered her victimization and demonization instead is a horrific precedent to witness in 2013.  If I had it my way, Mr. Rambold would spend the full 15 years in a prison; if I had it my way, I’d meet Judge Baugh in the ring.

 

Sign the Change.org petition to demand Baugh’s resignation here

Sign the Moveon.org petition here

Watch CNN’s Dr. Drew almost lose his shit tearing Judge Baugh apart here

The Blind Alley & the Mirror: A Dream

 

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I turn down an alley, aiming to enter wherever it is I am going through a back entrance.  The typically grimy and dumpster-cluttered stretch lays before me, fire escapes climbing the dripping walls like metal spider legs and shards of cardboard thrown like oversized blank playing cards in puddles.  It appears this is a blind alley, which causes me to wonder when and why someone constructed a wall to seal it because it was not always this way.  But as I approach I realize the alley has always been blind, only there’s a long, tall mirror that stands against the wall so that normally it reflects you coming as well as the opening at the other end.  But as I draw nearer, I see the mirror has tilted forward, the top right corner catching on a loop of rusty wire so it hasn’t fallen, but it’s leaning toward the ground, reflecting only the dirty blacktop, which is why, of course, it looked as if the alley had been blinded/sealed.  As I approach the mirror, it undulates, as if it’s just plasterboard mirror glass with no backing and now it’s cracking and small pieces are falling off and I realize I’m in my underwear and have this enormous, possibly deadly item in my hands and am dancing around with it now, trying to figure out how to let go of the mirror in a way that will keep it from slicing me to ribbons.

Dear North Carolina Redux

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I’ve written before about my deep love for North Carolina, where I spent three raucous literary years, not only writing memoir, elegy, love stories and creepy fiction but also learning unwieldily lessons about myself, the south, teaching and healing trauma and grief with the pen.  I was taken down a peg by thoughtful, slightly conservative farm boys who became some of my best friends, and I prevailed hard upon their senses to rethink some of what I perceived as assbackwards values.  I spent a lot of time as an infantile leftist in my college years and after, so the immersion in an old Southern city like Wilmington for graduate school and exposure to thoughtful opponents was very good for my  tolerance and moved me forward in being able to communicate respectfully instead of shout.  Of course, I couldn’t help but hope that North Carolina would bleed out of its bigoted, hateful history in time for the first black President.  Like many a guilty white boy, I had my eyes on race (also, it’s quite difficult not to focus on skin color given Wilmington’s particular history–see Philip Gerard’s Cape Fear Rising for a full account).  But last year when NC voted down gay marriage–or to “protect” traditional marriage–I was deeply saddened, out of proportion to my expectations that should have been low, I suppose.  I wrote a sad letter to North Carolina, published here.  What I failed to note in my writing then was that it was nothing less than a miracle that North Carolina came as close as it did to joining the progressive tide on the issue of gay rights.  I failed to see progress from another angle.  

 

I’ve heard snippets of newscasts over the last few days. In one, I was told the anecdote of Governor Pat McCrory delivering a plate of chocolate chip cookies to pro-choice protesters dressed as 50s housewives.  He insisted it was a “peace offering” (read: you can’t have abortion, but you can have cookies…peace!) without a trace of irony.  In another brief reading of some article between various tasks at my desk, I understand that North Carolina has made it legal to bring guns into bars, which makes sense, because, you know, drunk people are dangerous sometimes.  And in yet another blast of newsworthiness from NC, radically restrictive abortion regulations have sailed through as a rider on a motorcycle safety bill.  After all, motorcyclists need more protection just as the whores who get pregnant out of wedlock or because they’ve been raped (probably due to their own impure actions) need to know they’re not going to be able to just get rid of that baby “safely.”  So, in a way, it’s kind of poetic–you know, motorcycle “safety” and abortion danger.  

 

It’s really like a dystopian novel unfolding in a way, shit you just can’t make up.  

 

But I’m not going to make the mistake I made last year in writing a scornful, sad and dismissive letter to North Carolina.  Because I’ve grown up some more and had the great good fortune of insightful thinkers, both southerners and godless Pacific Northwesterners, to push my thinking around usefully.  North Carolina is flying a purple flag today; North Carolina is a battle ground; North Carolina is in the midst of a beautiful struggle and every single week dozens or hundreds of brave people put their bodies on the line in the effort to haul North Carolina–like an old school dredge that cut through old swamps of the state–into the bright future of progressive social values.  All of the brave people who populate the movements in North Carolina are defying history and defining the future and they deserve letters of encouragement and love, not disappointment and shortsightedness.  Here is mine for today.

 

(Oh, and if you want to know the whole political story, google “Art Pope.”)

 

(And if you want an encapsulated, hilarious version, read Dave Gessner’s cartoon)

WHAT DOES MANHOOD MEAN TO YOU?

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Recently Ross Reynolds of KUOW’s the Conversation (who will interview me August 12th about my memoir/love story Clearly Now, the Rain) did a brilliant interview/call-in show about “what it means to be a man.”  Lately I’ve also been reading this radical, raw and thoughtful blog called The Good Men Project.  So I was just very slightly more prepared than I ordinarily would have been when my Treating Internalized Oppression instructor told me I absolutely had to work on my internalized male oppression. 

 

Now.  What this means in the context of Jerry Saltzman’s class is that you write up everything you can remember or have ever felt about being a man—every stumble, every shame, every sorrow—you send it to the other twenty people in the class and then you go face to face with Jerry for a counseling session in front of said class.  He is as consistent and vehement in his warnings about how emotionally traumatizing the course will be as he is laudatory of those of us “courageous” enough to go through it.  I get to go first. 

 

Like many people, I’d imagine, I have been trying to cognitively get a handle on what exactly “internalized male oppression” looks, feels or sounds like.  According to the model in the course, every identity comes pre-stocked with oppression.  The price of identity is, in fact, oppression.  Jerry talks a lot about “contradictions” as psychotherapeutic interventions.  I can say this much: simply the notion that a guy like me could be considered oppressed (in addition to oppressive) is a wallop of a fucking contradiction to every analysis I’ve ever rendered. 

 

But in preparing my outline for the class, some things did start to shift.  I realized that my view of how to properly be a man is quite dialectic—or to be more honest, contradictory.  There is so much about “traditional” maleness and male roles that I’m not ready to abdicate, and I don’t mean about privilege, I mean about responsibility.  I know that there are feminists out there (still) who would probably prefer you not hold a beefy door open for them, much less posse up with your boys to beat down a rapist (that was a long time ago).  I’m not so naïve—especially at this point in my pursuit of a psych degree—to fail to realize that rape is about power and only manifests as violence and so using violence to disempower a rapist is probably only maintaining homeostasis in the bigger sick system, etc.  But still.  It’s better than doing nothing—turning a blind eye, actively condoning, shrugging.  And I still think that when I see a man strike or bully a woman or a child, it’s my responsibility as another man to do something.  But I know both men and women who would make the argument eloquently that my notions are chauvinist and do a disservice to the cultivation of a true gender equality.  I know men who despite employing what I might feel are inappropriate ponytails and limp handshakes, probably are keeping it more real in terms of true gender equality than I am.  Maybe part of gender equality means letting go of trappings of maleness and sliding somewhat toward the center of what many people now consider a spectrum. 

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to be a man?  Or a feminist man?  What are not willing to let go of?