Richard Sherman & Macklemore: Seattle Raises Race

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You can’t tell me otherwise—I’ve lived in and traveled through too many other sections of this nation: people think of Seattle as a “white” city.  And with good reason.  In 2010 the census put as at 69.5% whitey—though 33.7% people of color, however that works.  Secondarily people think of Seattle as Asian, also with good reason given our historical influx of Vietnamese, Japanese and Pacific Islanders and the robust and colorful “Chinatown” they brought with them.  But for white boys like me who grew up attending inner city schools in Seattle, it’s always been a little bit schizophrenic to consider our city “white” because our experience was anything but.  Even if the majority of Garfield High was white in 1995, for example, Garfield was considered a “black” school—in large part due to its location in the Central District, its fierce athletic and music departments, etc.   It was also known—and still is to some—as “the slave ship,” due to the AP and predominately white classrooms located on the top floor.  More to the point, inasmuch as hip-hop culture is identified with black culture (much more so when I was a kid) that was the dominant and “cool” culture that we all came up with.  By definition, being a white boy and being popular in the schools I attended presented challenges (I don’t mean to imply that it presented more challenges than being black in America).  So there was always something that bugged me about the impression of Seattle as a white city, awash in sonic waves of Nirvana, packed full of limp-wristed, pale people that inhabited dark coffee shops (where I sit right now typing).  I don’t think I was the only white boy to come out of that academic/social experience constantly managing the temptation to say, “not the Seattle I know” when people generalized or guessed at our culture in far-flung cities. 


Anyway, I say all of this just to frame the irony that Seattle, in the last ten days, has produced the two individuals and the two incidents that provide the most useful fuel for discussion of race—particularly racism against blacks—that I’ve seen in a long time: Richard Sherman’s interview after the Seahawks’ win against the 49ers and Macklemore’s commentary about walking off with all the Grammies last night.  More to the point, I’m proud—proud that these two famous Seattleites (ok, I know Richard Sherman’s from Compton) have led the way in pushing hard on the nuances of race and racism in their respective industries. 


Sherman’s inspired soliloquy after he outclassed the San Francisco offense as well as his eloquent press conference have been properly dissected in the media already, most impressively, I think, by Dave Zirin.  I love it: Sherman doesn’t waste any words: “thug” is the new way to use the N word.  And what better evidence of the broad blindness of American racism than the fact that this man who’s being called a “thug” is a Stanford grad and deeply invested in service to his community, in addition to, as he said in his moment of thrall, “the best” at what he does on the field.  The fact that a broad swath of America could watch Richard Sherman celebrate the win with panache and joy and see only an angry black “thug” underlines either how unfamiliar most of this country is with black culture or points to the fact that any “black” behavior is “thuggish.” 


Macklemore was polite at the Grammies last night and he failed to make any political statements under the limelight.  But just after he texted and tweeted and did all those things he does so well about how Kendrick Lamar had been “robbed.”  Implicit in this message is that Macklemore understands that his race had more than a little to do with the sweep of awards he made. When Macklemore released “white privilege” all those years ago, some people yawned, some people snickered, some people hated, some people nodded.  And I admit that I was suspicious about the transparency of what he was doing on that track—standing on white privilege to decry it seemed  ideologically tautological.  But then again, how else do you do it?  Make an indie-alt record?  Dude is a b-boy, by any measure.  At any rate, at least to my mind, Macklemore’s messages on social media last night mark his integrity and his awareness of the mindfuck of racism in the hip-hop industry more fully than any track he could write and sell about it. 


So it’s a validating if frigid and foggy January morning for me—to see that at least for the moment national conversations about race are emanating from Seattle, and they are not laced with the inoculating agents of political correctness or expediency.  Go Hawks; rock on, Ben (Macklemore).  Maybe at this rate Garfield High School won’t always be known as “the slave ship” in the neighborhood.  




I walked out of Antioch University about 45 minutes ago, for all intents and purposes, a Master of Psychology, insofar as many thousands of dollars and books and lectures can make you one.  It was nice, though, to sit in a room one last time full of colleagues—some ten of us out of the fifteen in the consultation were finishing—and feel it.  What I mean is that it’s not the dollars spent and tomes read and penciled through and lectures duly short-handed.  Mastery is a fallacy, an antiquated choice of words that confers something both more than and totally different from what we have acquired.  What we’ve acquired is mostly understanding of ourselves and our relationships, especially of how pain works.


Our instructor asked us to share pieces of wisdom with the two people in the room who were just this quarter starting their clinical work.  What I found myself saying, after I ducked the pressure to say something clinically “useful,” was that you start to look at pain differently.  The same horror and trauma that devastated me the first quarter inspires me, if not in equal parts to the devastation, than at least to some measure, now.  Sitting with kids’ agony and legacies of abuse and maltreatment calls my attention now to their resilience.  To their pride.  To their strength and survival.  The debilitating sadness—or anger—that played behind the stories of abuse and shame has been cut down by another sound that comes at a different pitch but is unmistakably, irrevocably present. I realize how naïve it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how useless it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how unethical it is to look at people as victims.  I realize how inevitable it is to look at people as victims and to feel like victims ourselves. I realize how indispensable it is to change the way we look at people, at ourselves.  And for me that has only come from the mandate to sit face to face in small, airless rooms with troubled people for the last sixty-five weeks. 


I want to say some more about this.  I want to say some more about why as a society we need to see people as victims.  For a very long time I saw myself headed into human rights work but was somehow waylaid by the siren song of writing, which produced a spectacular stumble, from which I recovered to find myself standing semi-upright in the world of psychology/therapy.  And for a very a short time now I’ve been able to see that I am in human rights’ work—that abuse, addiction, mental illness and the traumas they produce are very commonly about oppression.  If we hurl this into the political realm, we hear right wing politicians talking about “entitlement programs” and people looking for “handouts.”  What they mean is that people have a “victim mentality,” which, by implication, is simply un-American.  If we jump over to the progressive side, we encounter people who would never use the callus language or strike the callus pose of their supposed ideological foes, but people whom see a world rife with victims, too.   Victims of genocide, slavery, institutional racism, police brutality, educational inequity, imperialism and colonialism—in short, of oppression.  And of course it is true that people are victimized by these savage legacies their vicious ghost dance in the midst of which we all live. 


But I’ve come now to ask myself whether one conception of victimhood is any better than the other.  Insofar as reality is interpersonal and transactional, very empathic, progressive people can easily reinforce internalized notions of victimhood by overemphasizing the trauma and injustice that others have been subjected to, whether in a macro way—slavery and its legacy—or in a micro way—an abusive, disturbed mother and absent father.  When I look at a kid like S (one of my most maltreated clients) now, I don’t see a victim and I don’t think it and I don’t, therefore, communicate that to him.  He has taught me that, like all of us, he contains multitudes, but more importantly that the identity at the forefront is survivor.  He has taught me how to look at him and as a result I can serve him and build with him on his resilience and strength to a far greater degree than if I were straight-jacketed by the horror and injustice he’s been subjected to.  (Of course, on a macro level, reactionary ideology will all too easily manipulate anecdotes like this to their benefit by insisting that cutthroat policies of “entitlement programs” (social service) slaughter is aimed thusly: at the notion that people can’t be coddled, lest they internalize victimhood.  We must remember that reactionaries are not interested in liberation and therefore have ulterior motives). 


But both ends of the spectrum need victims—that’s what I was starting to say!  The ideology of the right needs victims because they need someone to blame, the need for an “other” to galvanize the increasingly fractured ranks.  The Mexican that steals your job and the black man that ogles and perhaps rapes your wife and the Arab that attacked your way of life and the queer that wants to tutor your kid.  There has never been a society that existed without leaders’ effective use of this “other” strategy.  And the ideology of the left—especially the most privileged left—needs victims because it gives us a way to feel morally superior—as long as we can identify the impacts of oppression, we are more human than those who would deny it (which is true, but being more human than right wing reactionaries isn’t a very high bar).  And at least some portion of us will therefore take action—even if it’s only by voting—to kick some ballast into the picture, support programs and policies that benefit the oppressed.  Which also, then, allows us to shudder and close our eyes and wave our hands in front of our faces when we hear of the horrors of oppression—we don’t have to hear it, we know, we know, and that’s why we support Obama and a hike in the minimum wage.


So I guess maybe the “progressive” conception of victimhood via oppression is the best we’ve got.  It’s better than seeing the inheritors of oppression as inferior, weaker, less than or deserving of their lot.  But it’s not the best conception we could have.  A better conception, maybe, has to do with recognizing that moonlight falls, too.  As I walk away from this chapter in my life, which I thought was about learning how to identify mental illness and “treat it,” I realize I’ve learned, mostly, one simple cognitive lesson: When we hear horror stories of abuse, trauma, oppression in all its forms, we must recognize that the fact that someone is alive, right there in front of us—in our therapy session or on CNN—to tell us about it is in fact the luminescence of resilience, pride, survival, strength and, yes, beauty.





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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.”


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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.   






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.   





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”




“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.  






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 petition to demand Baugh’s resignation here

Sign the petition here

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

The Blind Alley & the Mirror: A Dream



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.