Mah-wage is What Bwings Us Together

I feel like if I’m going to talk about having chronic pain for the past 10 years, I need to also talk about The Wife. Like everyone else who gets married, we stood in front of our friends and family and promised to love each other in sickness and in health. Granted, we were both deep into our thirties when we married, but still, if you’ve been lucky, you don’t really think of the sickness part when you’re making those vows. You may joke about changing each other’s diapers or wiping each other’s asses when y’all’re in your eighties, but you don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the logistics of the “in sickness” part. 

My wife would, quite literally, walk through a mile of broken glass barefoot for me. She is madly in love with me and fiercely loyal. I call her “my little bulldog,” but really she’s more like a pit bull---dedicated to protecting me and making me happy. I’m not bragging; it’s just the way it is. Her slavish dedication to my happiness can best be illustrated by this amusing anecdote. After we’d been together for about a year, we were picking around on the internet and found a site that has optical illusions---like one person sees an old man and another sees a young girl? Those kind. We get to the picture below and as I scream “ME!” she screams “YOU!” at the *exact* same time. 

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Proof that, at any given time, my wife and I are thinking about the same thing. 

When this whole pain with my feet started, we were both optimistic. “We’ll just find the right doctor who will give you a diagnosis and then we can treat whatever this is,” we thought. At the time, I was young enough that there’d never been anything seriously wrong with me, so I assumed this would be a no brainer. 

Fourteen doctors, two MRIs, several X-rays, a million tests, painful experiments where I was electrocuted in my leg muscles with tiny shocks, weird shots, some physical therapy, some acupuncture later...we still didn’t have an answer. The best they could come up with was “peripheral neuropathy.” At first I was excited that someone had named it, but then I quickly realized that all these geniuses had told me was the equivalent of “you have an itch.” As to what was causing the itch or what to do about it...well, sorry, they couldn’t help me. The Wife says with each doctor she could pinpoint the exact moment, as I was telling my story, that the doctor gave up on me. Everyone I went to saw me in the 10-minute slot allotted to patients these days, and once they figured they couldn’t solve my problem, they pushed me out the door or, if I was lucky, sent me to another specialist and the cycle started all over again. 

The Wife went with me to *every single one* of these appointments. She filled in details when I got sick of repeating my story, she took notes when she needed to, she took off work, she dropped me off at the front door and went to park the car miles away, she held my hand as I looked out the window and wept silently on the car ride home after another doctor had shrugged at me and foisted me off on the next specialist. 

One of the things people don’t really talk about when they talk about chronic pain is how anxious having pain 24/7 makes you. Suddenly, it’s not just “let’s go to dinner with some friends.” It’s “Will we have to park far away or will there be parking close to the entrance? Will the restaurant be packed? Will there be a wait where I have to stand for a long time? Will the restaurant be loud and crowded? My nerves are frayed because I’ve had a high pain day, and I don’t think I can deal with bright lights or loud rooms. Will we be going out after dinner? If so, that means I’ll have to be the wet blanket that wants to go home early.” And on and on and on and FUCKING ON. All the shit you never once had to think about when you were pain-free and carefree now pushes to the forefront so that you don’t think about the positive aspects of spending time with your friends; all you see are the roadblocks. 

The Wife and I were arguably two of the most social human beings before all of this started; she still is, but I have not been so lucky. Over the years, my pain has made me more isolated, more fearful, less tolerant of external stimuli, and generally hermetic. If I’m leaving you with the impression that this shift in my personality hasn’t affected her greatly, then I’m not telling the story right. Chronic pain affects the sufferer and everyone around them, even friends, but the spouse is the one who bears the brunt of mood swings, flaring tempers, crying jags on the bathroom floor, the sight of their bae buried under the covers for days on end. And if I’m leaving you with the impression that because The Wife is incredibly exceptional, everything was effortless...again, I’m not doing this story justice. She is, hands-down, the most exceptional human I have ever encountered in terms of her goodness and her capacity to love. And still there are days when she hates me. (She will, of course, deny this because Her. But don’t let her fool you, she hates me sometimes.) 

She, too, got frustrated, angry, depressed, exhausted, and was filled with despair. Before we really understood the situation and how lifelong this would end up being, she got angry when I didn’t want to go out; she got frustrated by my desire not to get out of bed; she got fed up with how I was or wasn’t approaching the problem; she was exasperated when I couldn’t carry my weight around the house or in the relationship. 

This was not what the beautiful brochure promised her when we were dating. I was no longer the fun-loving party girl with a mad zest for life that she’d married. It was a bait-and-switch of the worst kind. So in addition to being depressed about how radically different my life and personality had become, I was also depressed over the guilt I felt for how I was affecting her life. 

But much like a service dog who doesn’t start out his life leading blind people across the street or opening fridges for their elderly master, it was a learning process. It may seem weird to compare my wife to a service dog, but she is as fiercely loyal and protective as any labrador retriever. And much of her waking hours are spent worrying about and tending to me. She fusses over me like an Italian grandmother, which took some getting used to on my part, especially when my pain was at its worst. I didn’t want someone hovering and fussing; I just wanted to be left alone. When I was in a particularly deep depression, she came home one night and told me she’d had this great idea: she would collect stories of things that happened to her during the day, then bring home her notes so “you can use your hilarious story-telling skills to make it all sound awesome.” 

Think about that: my wife was literally telling me that she would go out into the world when I could not, bring back life itself, and lay it at my feet so I could turn it into something that might make me happy. She was literally offering to bring me the world. 

For my suffering is her suffering too. She takes on my worries, fears, and burdens and makes them her own. She bounces around me like Tigger some days, willing me into a brighter mood in spite of myself. She gives me “foot spa days,” where she puts my aching feet into a foot bath and gently scrubs and pampers them. She brings me flowers and ice cream. She has a smile that lights up the room, and it’s pulled me out of a funk more times than I can count. Sometimes she just says “Do you want to be the little spoon?” as we’re lying quietly in bed and she knows I’ve had a rough day. Yes, honey, I always want to be your Little Spoon. 

I truly don’t know how I would have made it these past 10 years without her. She is my rock, my truss, my armature, my foundation, my pillar, my stave---and whatever other synonyms there are for “unwavering support.” This illness is, by far, the most life-changing thing that’s happened to me. It’s terrifying, unknown, and crippling. 

But she’s right beside me, holding my hand. That’s a gift I’m not sure I can ever repay. 

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Love Your Tribe

As I sit 2,000 miles away and watch my hometown and my home state recover from the walloping Hurricane Harvey unleashed on them, I am less riveted by the facts of it (though the graphic below does blow me away a bit) and more drawn to the stories of humans helping humans (and animals, for that matter). The story of the Mexican bakers trapped inside their bakery for two days making hundreds upon hundreds of loaves of bread for the community, which were then waiting for shelters when the bakers were finally rescued. The people forming a human chain to rescue an elderly man caught in rapid waters. The tales of people just getting in their boats and starting to rescue people trapped in their homes. Mattress Mack opening his furniture showrooms so evacuees could sleep there. This disaster is terrible, for sure, and will have horrible long-term consequences for the region, but I’m trying hard to focus on community and human kindness. 

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Holy shitballs.

I’m in the mind of community these days because something amazing happened to me since I wrote that last entry about dealing with my chronic pain. A couple of friends set up a crowdfunding site in my name to ease the financial burden of these ketamine treatments, which are hella expensive. (Because god forbid experimental treatments be covered by insurance.) 

When you are sick or in pain, freaking out about money is the last thing you want to be doing. You’re supposed to be focused on getting better not trying to figure out if you’re going to pay for your meds or pay the electric bill. That my friends realized this and wanted to do something about it is overwhelming enough. That the campaign raised $5,000 in three days is an emotional monsoon. That The Wife and I have such a quality community is in and of itself a gift. 

Look, I’ve always been lucky in friendships. My entire life I have known some amazing people---from high school to college to post-college in Houston to all of the people I’ve met in the 21 years I’ve been in the Bay Area---I have been lucky enough to call some of the funniest, wittiest, smartest, weirdest, most compassionate people my friends. But this goes above and beyond. The Wife and I watched in amazement as the money kept coming in, knowing that this would be one less thing we’d have to worry about. The relief and gratitude we both felt is indescribable. Our community gave us a gift of security that is, literally, priceless. 

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I’m going to try and document my experiences as I go through a variety of experimental treatments to try and tame my angry feet. The first is the ketamine, but I’ll also be seeing a guy in the North Bay who is having great success with the new science of neural plasticity, which is essentially retraining your brain to think of pain in a completely different way. I’m excited about the latter as I really have no idea what to expect.

The ketamine though. I’m currently in my second round of treatments now. It hasn’t been as effective as I expected given all the miraculous tales of people with neuropathy finding relief. I’ve gotten about 20% relief, but we’re talking about FEET. I’m grateful for any relief, of course, but if the end result is that I still can’t do much without being in pain, then it’s not really a success. I am grateful that my day-to-day pain is assuaged a bit, but I still can’t walk six blocks without being in agony. 

The trips I go on when the ketamine is administered are a little insane. I do love me some party drugs, but having taken seven trips now, I can honestly say, this is not the drug I’d choose for a night on the town. I mean, I’m guessing environment has a lot to do with it. I’m not with friends at a club, drinking and smoking and having a good time. I’m in a clinic in a recliner attached to an IV pole. I do try and make the most of these trips though---I bring an eye mask and put it and my Beats on. I listen to crazy music while the drugs are coursing through me---lots of chanting, didgeridoos, tinkling bells, you know...total hippie shit. Songs with words would be distracting, and I find the nature of this kind of music pairs well with the kind of experiences I have while under.

The thoughts I have are pretty indescribable. Literally, I don’t have words to express the experiences I’m having. There is a feeling of light and love and oneness with the universe---all the stereotypical party drug experiences. I feel like I’m just floating through the universe on my little recliner taking everything in, wide-eyed and open-minded, as I should be even when I’m not under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. There’s lots of bird’s-eye views of things, lots of floating above cities, forests, oceans, planets, rooms. And I feel warm and happy, nothing is scary, and I’m eager for what I’ll see next.

It’s then pretty surreal to come down from love, light, bliss, and oneness back to the real world where everyone hates one another and we are all screaming at each other in real life and online. Where people are angry about parking tickets and the stupid lady at the gym and the car that just cut us off. In addition to helping me with my pain, I’m hoping these treatments seep over into my brain enough to hold onto the peace-love-harmony perspective in real life. But if me screaming at the crazy lady who almost sideswiped me while I was driving down the street---who then started screeching at ME and calling me a “fat dyke” as though she didn’t just nearly take out the entire driver’s side of my car---is any indication, I still have a long way to go. As is evidenced by the fact that when at the light, I rolled down my window and gave her some choice words and some even choicer finger gestures, laughing at her while all the veins popped in her forehead. You could safely say I’m still a work in progress in this department. 

But aren’t we all? We all spend so much time thinking about the next thing we need to do to either improve ourselves or our lives that we never pause, look around, and say “Fuck man, life is good right now.” And this crowdfunding thing? Another gift my friends gave me was a very tangible reason to pause, take a deep breath, smile, and count my lucky stars for my community. 

And I know Texans on the Gulf Coast are doing the same right now. Because without community, we are nothing. There is nothing to keep us tethered here; nothing to make us accountable; nothing to lift us up when the waters are racing around us, threatening to whisk us away. Community is the shelter in the storm, y’all. 

And it’s good to be reminded of that every now and then. 

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California is my soul, but Texas is my heart..

Six Hours

I know, I know, it’s been a minute since I’ve written. Several things have kept me away from here, mainly that this is supposed to be a largely positive blog, and I just haven’t had a lot to be chipper about. The neuropathy I’ve had in my feet for ten years has been kicking my ass lately, which has forced me to hide under the covers for days at a time. You think I’m kidding, but there have been weeks running where I didn’t get out of bed for days. Even my cat started sleeping in the other room, either because I smelled or because she was sick of me being in the bed with her. 

All of this has led me to try an extreme treatment: I’m now getting ketamine infusions to see if it can’t convince my neural pathways to be normal again and not tell my feet they’re in pain all of the time. You might know ketamine by its party-drug name, Special K, that is known for putting users in a “K Hole.” So yeah, basically I received six daily treatments where I went to the doctor, got an IV shoved into my arm, and they pumped extremely high doses of a drug that then made me trip big hairy balls. More on that in another entry. I can’t tell you how surreal it is to come down from a world where everything is beautiful and I realize we’re all interconnected back into a world where everyone is angry and everything is terrible all of the time. 

The neuropathy I’ve had for more than a decade is so severe that I’m never not aware that I’m in pain. Just think about that: literally every moment of every day of the past ten years I have been in pain. That’s 3,650 days, 87,600 hours, 5,256,000 minutes, or 315,000,000 seconds of unrelenting agony.

Just typing it out like that makes me wonder why I ever beat myself up for becoming depressed and anxious. Of course I’m fucking depressed! You would be too after 3,650 days of someone holding your feet in hot coals. It has made me angry, lethargic, hopeless, uninspired, sluggish, antisocial, introverted, and unmotivated. I won’t go so far to say I’ve lost the will to live, but I cannot possibly explain the hopelessness one feels when staring down another 30 years of life like this. 

Hence, the decision to try ketamine. I was told this was a sure bet, that it has nearly a 100 percent success rate in treating neuropathy. It doesn’t cure you---the neuropathy will eventually return---but it gives you windows of relief. The idea is to titrate your treatments to lengthen those windows. 

The results have been disappointing. After the second treatment, I have experienced a slight reduction in pain levels, but my feet still hurt if I walk more than a couple of blocks. I guess they are “better” but the improvement is negligible. The Wife and I had a dark moment where I lost my shit and told her I couldn’t see a bright spot in however many years I have left on this planet. To be clear, I am not suicidal; I never have been. But the weight that settles in on you when you realize you’ll never experience a pain-free moment in the years that loom ahead is an oppressive one. “Hopelessness” doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

Then yesterday---four days after my last ketamine session---I woke up and immediately noticed that I didn’t feel the blinding burning that is my first thought of every day. I sat up and put my feet on the floor. One thing about neuropathy is that you lose the joy of being able to walk barefooted. The pain is too much. But as I stood and walked to the bathroom, I noticed the absence of the familiar burning and tingling. I almost held my breath as I showered and got ready for my day. I went to the coffeeshop and still I was pain-free as I walked back to my car. I got back home, did some work, and noticed that instead of crawling back into bed after I finished, I was ready to knock out a bunch of shit I needed to do. I started laundry, I spent two hours in the kitchen cooking stuff for our lunches this week, I made some phone calls I’d been putting off because I just didn’t have the mental energy for it. 

And all the while, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of that oppressive weight on my shoulders, that dark cloud that is my constant companion now. I looked out my window and thought “It’s a beautiful day.” I scrolled through the news and my social media without feeling that creeping anger and anxiety. I was as light as air. 

I got six hours of these glorious feelings. Six hours where chronic pain didn’t define who I was. I was just a normal person doing normal things, with only the usual cares of an adult instead of worrying constantly about the blinding pain. And for six hours I was reminded of the person I used to be before all of this started---vivacious, excited, fearless, confident---and it felt like coming home. If anything, it made me realize how heavy this burden had weighed on me, how it affected my every waking moment. Walking around without that burden was a relief I cannot begin to convey. 

And then, just like that, the door slammed shut, and I felt that old familiar burn and tingle creeping into my toes again. I closed my eyes and began focusing on my breaths, willing it to disappear again. But nope, the light had been extinguished, and I was back to toting my impossible burden just like that.  

The doctor who started my treatments squeezed me in at the request of a friend because he was going on a three-week vacation the next day. When he returns, I’ll go see him again. It could be that since I’m trying to undo ten years of fucked-up neural pathways, I need more than the usual dosage. But six treatments cost me $1,500 since insurance won’t pay for me to trip big hairies, no matter how much research tells them that this is a legitimate treatment. If this is something that will have me strapped to the IV pole for dozens and dozens more treatments, I don’t know that it’s financially feasible for me. Plus, there’s just being gun-shy of dropping another $1,500 and not getting any more relief. 

I take heart that yesterday, for those brief moments I was pain-free, I was happy-go-lucky and energetic. Be depressed for long enough, and there’s the added bonus of the constant self-shaming that you are wasting your life in bed, that a better person would be able to “play through the pain,” that all of your angst and anxiety and lethargy aren’t because of pain and the subsequent depression, that maybe it’s really just laziness and an unwillingness to participate in life because you lack some fundamental piece that other people who move happily through life have, that maybe a “stronger” person would be able to function better, that you are worthless. 

But I saw it, y’all. I saw, for six short hours, that I am not the person that I’ve feared I’d become in this past decade, that it really was living with constant pain that has shaped me into the angry and depressed person I’ve become, that without the pain I was the person I remembered being before all of this started. I saw it. It is in me. 

And I don’t know if that’s hopeful or heartbreaking.

A Nation Mourns

You guys, these past 100 days have finally caught up to me today with the House vote to repeal Obamacare. I’d thought I’d been managing these past 100 days well enough by avoiding news, making phone calls, donating to my causes, protesting, and staying mildly stoned. But today what was a tenuous peace cracked wide open. But the sight of all those old white men standing on the capitol steps cheering and looking that particular shade of smug that only old, rich, white men have perfected just burst open the delicate dam around my heart. I’ve been sitting here weeping all morning as though a loved one has died, as though I were in mourning. And then I realized I was---I am---in mourning. 

I’m mourning over the casual cruelty these men---our elected officials who are supposed to be doing the people’s will---exhibited by the roundly terrible healthcare bill they passed without reading it or even slightly comprehending how they will execute this law in practice. That is, literally, their JOB---to read the bills that will affect their constituencies and vote the way the majority of them want them to vote---and they willfully admit to the media they haven't done their jobs! I’m in mourning for the proud ignorance these men and their supporters display like so much plumage. I’m in mourning for the caliber of people we send to do such important jobs who inevitably get mired down in the legalized bribery that is DC lobbyists and sell us all out for cash from the gun, pharmaceutical, and insurance lobbies. 

I’m mourning that these same men hate women so much. They hate women so much that they colluded with a hostile foreign government to keep a woman from reaching the highest office in the land and committed voter fraud in swing states. They made a mockery of our democracy because they fear the concept of inclusion so much, they cling to the patriarchy so tightly, and they fear the loss of control so deeply, that they want to punish us for even DARING to run a female candidate. They hate women so much that their bills and Executive Orders have been a parade of horrors against women and common decency

Here are some old, rich, white men who don't give a fuck about you or the cancer your Memaw is fixin' to die of. 

Here are some old, rich, white men who don't give a fuck about you or the cancer your Memaw is fixin' to die of. 

I’m in mourning for the eight years I watched the GOP spend all of their energy keeping a black man from governing effectively instead of fighting for a better life for their constituents. After eight years of being forced to recognize that the social mores and exclusionary ways they’ve been trying to push on an increasingly diverse America these past 40 years were counterintuitive to the desires and the demographic of the America they’ve ruled for so long, they chose to respond with the petulance of a child poking an anthill with a stick. And they chose to learn nothing from the cries of their constituencies. After having a front-row seat for their party’s near-disintegration into oblivion, I’m in mourning because they’re using this second chance, this recovery from the brink of irrelevancy, to cause so much pain and suffering to so many of the people whose interests they’re supposedly representing. Rather than taking away valuable lessons from the American populace and its desire to have a government that is more inclusive of its citizens, these puffy, angry, balding, entitled, maleficent, pouting manchildren have decided they’ve played along with this equal rights "charade" long enough, and it’s time to go Full Republican Hypocrite and decide they never really wanted democracy at all. Yes, these bloviating, bilious billionaires who've been touting our Founding Fathers and patriotism for the past umpteen years have, on a dime, turned into despotic assholes since their taste of power was illegitimately restored. 

And I’m definitely in mourning for all of hypocrisy spewing forth from these manchildren at a speed that is literally becoming too fast to keep up with. All of these cries about how precious women and children are and how we must be “protected.” To do this, they pass ludicrous and useless bathroom bills one day and gut funding for education the next. They champion their “love” of us by removing our right to sue our employers for sexual harassment. They champion their “respect” for us by making sexual assault, C sections, and domestic violence preexisting conditions to the extent that their ridiculous joke of a healthcare plan basically makes being a woman itself a preexisting condition. Soon we’ll be back to the days where we’ll just need to squat in the fields, push that liability out, and keep on picking dat cotton. 

I mourn that politicians have become so shamelessly hypocritical that they can utter “All Lives Matter” or “pro-life” then turn around and gleefully cut off 24 million Americans’ lifeline to healthcare. 

I mourn that there are people in this country who voted for the Orange One and who will lose their healthcare under this regime, yet are still cheering for the man and calling the rest of us “libtards” because we weep for what this country has become. I’m in mourning that these people think of themselves as patriots, wrapping their hatred and bigotry in the American flag until it makes the rest of us embarrassed to be American lest we be lumped in with these mouth-breathers. 

I’m mourning the death of any illusion I still had that we are a compassionate country. I’m mourning the realization that this country basically boils down to those who have compassion and those who would gladly cut off their neighbor’s access to medical care to save $1.12 on their taxes next year. Some people understand that everyone needs a little help sometimes and sometimes that help can come from the government, and others see only what Fox News throws at them---that we are a nation full of lazy assholes who want to lie on our couches all day eating Funyuns, watching Springer, and living off the government teat while smoking our Kool Menthols.

They, for whatever reason, are unable to see that the majority of us are actually just like them and sometimes we lose our jobs or get cancer or have babies or lose our houses because of diabolical and intentional criminal bank schemes. Sometimes our luck runs out, no matter how hard we work. You think disease cares if you’re a hard worker or an upstanding citizen? The GOP thinks that. Yet, in another outstanding show of hypocrisy, they claim to respect honest, hard-working Americans but have zero sympathy for the person forced to work three minimum-wage jobs to pay the rent. 

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I mourn that people don’t recognize the ways in which their government helps them every day by giving their kid a school to attend, by giving them fire and police departments, by giving their cities parks and protected lands to enjoy, by making sure their food is safe and their drinking water is clean (well, mostly). I mourn the dim-witted, short-sighted people who watch gleefully as this Administration cuts vital services to its citizens because they have somehow convinced themselves that they got where they are all on their own and so should everyone else, goddammit.  

I’m in mourning that some people have such a hyperinflated sense of self that they legitimately think the phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a cliche that can be applied to all people in every single situation. I mourn that some of our citizens lack the finesse to distinguish that being born white, middle-class, and American automatically means you’re NOT pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps---that our educational, housing, criminal, law enforcement, and financial institutions have been designed to make sure that some of us start 100 meters further up the track while others, by sheer dint of their birth, must begin at the starting line and watch in frustration as they’ll never catch up to those of us with the 100-meter lead. 

I mourn for the people who lack the finesse to understand that while our government was/is full of bureaucracy, corruption, and mass inefficiencies, it’s infinitely preferable to eating contaminated beef, breathing in toxic levels of carbon dioxide, and watching our rivers catch on fire. Their “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach to government will kill us in the long run. 

I mourn for Jordan Edwards. And Philandro Castille. And Trayvon Martin. And Sandra Bland. And all of the senseless police brutality that middle America dismisses as "oh well, I'm sure he/she was a hoodlum and therefore deserved to die without a trial or jury." I mourn for the people who don’t understand why “All Lives Matter” is offensive because they’ve lived a life free of an entire society judging them by the color of their skin and so they don’t understand why “black people can’t just get over it.” I mourn for the people who hear the phrase “white privilege” and lack the ability to learn something instead of becoming defensive and assume you’re calling them a racist

Truth. 

Truth. 

I mourn the whole swaths of this country who lost their shit when we elected a black man to the White House and tried to make him out to be a terrible incompetent rather than admit they just didn’t like a Negro in the ultimate big house. 

I mourn that the response to that was electing a man who is virulently racist, misogynistic, and homophobic in the thought that it would actually “Make America Great Again” instead of automatically disenfranchising the majority of us. I mourn that they lacked the critical thinking skills to see through his meaningless, pandering rhetoric and realize he is terrible for us in every way, that he is simply using this presidency to make himself, his family, and his cronies even richer and that he makes a mockery of the office by doing so. I mourn the fact that we have to suffer a classless oaf whose reading skills are suspect and who gets his intel briefings from Fox’s morning show. 

I mourn our loss of credibility in the world, that we went from having a dignified, compassionate man representing us instead of a 10-year-old with a trust fund, a huge grudge, and possibly dementia. Not that would excuse his unconscionable behavior these past several months. I mourn the fact that my political party lacks the balls to remove him from office. 

I mourn that 61 million (though, likely substantially fewer now that we’re 100 days in) looked at a sexual predator and accused child molester with zero political experience and said YUP! THERE’S MY GUY! I WANT HIM TO REPRESENT ME!

I mourn the fact that everything we learned in school about America, everything I’ve thought to be true about our democracy, could come so quickly unravelled by one psychotic man with a malevolent Congress behind him. Who didn’t learn in school that our democracy was THE BEST, that our government was envied and admired by the world? Not anymore. It took a single election cycle to disabuse us and the world of that 250-year-old notion. You think we’ll be a superpower forever? Look at the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire...dynasties that lasted hundreds of years and toppled like dominos until they were no longer relevant on the world stage. Make no mistake, our fall will be just as swift, if not swifter. I mourn for the people who will respond to that with “thanks Obama” because they’re still clinging to the notion that a corrupt, bankrupt billionaire knew how to run a country. 

I’m in mourning that we are no longer a nation of thinkers, that we get our worldviews from easily digestible, bite-sized pieces that are algorithm’d out the wazoo to make sure we never see anything that clashes with our preconceived notions of how the world works. And that we’ve become a nation that won’t seek out conflicting viewpoints or secondary sources because we’re just so damn busy these days looking at our phones and who has time to research actual facts when there’s Candy Crush to be played?

I’m in mourning for a media that long ago forgot how to do their jobs well and what their role is in society---to investigate and expose rather than be a paid advertisement for whatever rich, old, white guy owns their conglomerate. We are suffering because of it. Investigative journalism has been a huge force in this country for good; those days are over though. 

I mourn that our government looks at corporations as more deserving of rights and protections than its people. I mourn our filthy campaign and election process, which has become so polluted that it would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers. I mourn Citizens United that has sped up this process at an alarming rate. 

I mourn that our country cares more about Starbucks’ unicorn frappucino than it does about the millions of people, many of them children, who are fleeing Syria. I mourn that most Americans lack empathy, and when they look at the picture below, all they can think about is the one in hundreds of millions of a chance that if we let him into our country, he’ll grow up to be a terrorist. I mourn that our elected officials don’t have the common sense to realize that we’re literally thousands of times more likely to die without proper health care than we are to be killed by an Islamic extremist (it's 1 in 3.6 billion). Or maybe they do understand, and they just don’t give a fuck anymore. 

I mourn that no one really gives a fuck anymore. Our government shoves its dick up our assholes, dry, all while having a smile on its face. Our institutions teem with hypocrisy and us-against-you mentality and don’t even bother to apologize for failing to serve their purposes anymore. Our corporations have gone from “how can I serve you today?” to “you’ll take what we give you and like it.” I mourn as I watch our faith in government, institutions, and companies slip away. Your government doesn’t give a fuck about you. Your institutions will not save you (just ask Flint). And your corporations are getting all the tax breaks you’re not, stashing it in offshore accounts, and giggling as a certain segment of society still buys the welfare-mom-as-moocher rhetoric started by Reagan and his cronies so long ago. 

I mourn for our planet, which is now dying faster than even the climate nerds predicted, while the GOP insists on politicizing the issue, as though it were no more serious than tax cuts, all while we watch our skies, waters, and lands become more and more toxic. The smartest man on this planet just announced earth has about 100 more years left. I mourn that people like Trump and Tillerson read that and STILL think “Who cares? I’ll be dead by then, so I’ll pass this law that ramps up coal production and pipeline construction so that I can add another billion to my already overflowing coffers before I die.” I mourn that that level of greed even exists in humanity. 

wonka-global-warming-fake-566338803df78ce161a015f9.jpg

I mourn for the wolves and the bear cubs in Alaska who can be shot while hibernating now. I mourn for Native Americans at Standing Rock, who still had passion and concern for this planet and were squashed by nefarious means, like so many cockroaches. I mourn for the people of Flint who are resisting by refusing to pay their water bills and are now being threatened with foreclosure as a result. Your city decides to poison you then takes away your house if you refuse to accept the shit they fling at you. 

Call me a snowflake if you insist. I don’t mind that term. It implies that I have empathy and compassion for the humans on this planet, no matter what side of a ridiculous wall they live on. It implies that I understand that we are rapidly headed in the wrong direction and that what has worked geopolitically for the past 500 years is no longer effective. It implies that I refuse to be on the wrong side of history. I mourn that I feel so much rage toward the people who will, ultimately, be on the wrong side of history, for they are friends, aunts, cousins, and stepparents. I mourn that these people who claim to love me and my wife can turn around and cheer for a government so contemptuous of us. 

I mourn for all of the brokenness---brokenness of this planet, brokenness of the people, brokenness of our failed systems, brokenness of our government and our corporations, brokenness of our spirits, the brokenness of our wills, the brokenness of the way we communicate as a species. 

I mourn openly and loudly for I do not care who hears or sees my pain. It means I still have love for my country and my fellow citizens of this earth. My pain is a testament that I still have a humane, love-thumping heart that pounds for a desire to see us be our best selves. We are falling desperately short of that these days. 

And I mourn for that too. 

Gimme Your Heart...Stains and All

I’ve been just apeshit-swoony-cow-eyed-googly-giggly-girl in love with my wife lately. You laugh, but fuck man, it’s been almost 11 years we’ve been cruising through life as a Unit. Having these bouts of goofy love is a major shout-it-from-the-rooftops bigass deal. 

Fuck the rom-coms, marriage is NOT picking up his sweaty boxers up off of the floor for the 453rd night in a row, throwing your hip out, putting your hand on it in a mock-angry stance, giving him a cute-pouty look, and rolling your eyes as you say Boys will be boys! Oh well, I love that big lug anyway! It’s NOT shaking your head as you sip Chardonnay with your gal pals, flip your hair, and say Oh well, you guys know how forgetful he can be!

It’s tripping over those boxers for the 453rd day in a row as you stumble out of bed each morning, pick them up, look at the washed-in skid marks that no amount of bleach can save, and think I fucking hate you. I really, really hate you. It’s having to leave your job because your spouse forgot to pick up your kid from school and thinking I might as well just be a single parent anyway. I do EVERYTHING around here! It’s basically allowing yourself to heap all of your rage, shortcomings, and impotence about problems beyond your control onto the person you’ve vowed to love above all others...the person for which you have forsaken all those hookups from your twenties and thirties...your boo...ya BAE. 

It’s keeping the (unwanted, yet somehow present) tally in your head of how many times you unloaded the dishwasher/took out the trash/did the laundry/walked the dog/fed the cat/changed that diaper vs. how many times your partner has done those things. Uh...none...no times...not once...nada...zilch...Obvs. 

On some nights, it’s sitting at the dining room table over dinner, listening as he’s droning on about work, nodding enthusiastically, and literally thinking shutupshutupshutupshutthefuckupshutup the entire time he’s speaking. It’s God I hate your father and I should have just married a fucking accountant. 

In some sense, marriage brings out the worst in us, eh? It’s one thing to quietly be aware of all of the ways you fail as a human being, all of the ways in which you can be terrible to yourself and others, all the ways you can manipulate people and situations, all the mind-fucks you can unleash on people you think have wronged you, all the grotesque mental gymnastics you engage in every day to justify why or why you are or aren’t behaving a certain way. You can be as fucked-up as you’d like to be as long as you’re not dragging another person down into your muck (see: every entry about my last girlfriend). 

It’s another thing to spend 25 years with a person and not to be able to conceal your worst traits, thoughts, and motivations from them, no matter how good of a job you think you’re doing. And worse, often it’s punishing that person for having seen you pick your hideous scabs because I just couldn’t help myself and now here they are so now you have to deal with them too...SURPRISE! So you sit in the corner, snarling at your lifemate while you bleed and tend to your wounds while they stare at you wide-eyed, doing the mental calculations to figure out how much they actually want to deal with this. If you’re lucky, they stick around to help you in spite of yourself. 

So pardon me if I spend some serious time rolling around in the fresh clover of my resurgent love. Goddamn right I will. Pardon me if I enjoy frolicking with the memory of the first autumn we were together, and I can vividly remember walking up the hill to the gourmet grocery store across from her apartment in the cold November rain. She’d planned a quiet dinner at home for the two of us---one of our first in since our whirlwind courtship began a few months prior---and as I crested the hill and looked through the glass windows into the store, I saw her at the seafood counter, buying a whole Dungeness crab because I’d told her it was my favorite. She was bundled up against the rain, her brightly-colored scarf wrapped around her neck and face, up to the bottoms of her fogged-over glasses. We saw each other through the window at the same time and both broke into giant grins and waved at each other. Her smile is infectious, and I remember well that day how my heart swelled at the sight of that smile, how grateful I was for her, how crazy in love I’d fallen, how much promise I felt, and how warm I felt standing in the drizzle just looking at her. 

It’s hard, once your life becomes so intertwined with someone and every damn day becomes about logistics. You forget about the lifetime of those rainy sidewalk moments you’ve built together when you’re bickering about rounding up enough money for taxes or screaming at her that her dream is crushing your soul. Why don’t we force ourselves to sit quietly and remember those moments more often? It would do our psyches and our relationships so much good if, rather than lying in bed staring at our phones, mindlessly scrolling through our feeds, and occasionally saying “did you see this?” to one another when a funny anti-Trump meme or adorable cat video pops up, if instead, we spent 20 minutes each night talking about a good shared memory, turning it over and over, recalling everything leading up to that moment. 

Yet laziness wins. Sometimes it’s just that we’ve had a long day full of too many people and we want to shut down. Sometimes it’s because we’ve had a fight over dinner. Sometimes it’s that we hate the sound of our spouse’s voice that particular day. But whatever the reason, you can’t tell me hunkering in and playing “remember that time that we...” wouldn’t be a better option to whatever else it is you’re doing on your phone. 

We have Roku and can stream from our laptops to the TV. Tonight I’m gonna stream all my photos from the last 10 years on the big screen while we lie on the couch and laugh about all of the amazing times we’ve had together as a couple. Any time you can do something this simple that makes you feel all the feels again, it’d be stupid not to. I love my wife. We may often be messy, preoccupied, and disorganized as we stumble through life, but we kick ass as a couple, and it’s good to be reminded of that---that we are better together than apart. 

She has seen my Ugly. And she stayed anyway. Everything else can fall away for the time being.  

The Weirdest (Pre)Obituary Ever

If you’re married and you don’t fight with your spouse about television shows, you are suspect to me. The Wife likes to tease me about our Netflix queue, which is pretty much 99 percent bleak documentaries about human atrocities, past and present. She jokes that we need to throw a few rom-coms or stoner flicks into the mix just to lighten things up. She says that, but whenever I go out of town I return to discover she’s spent the weekend watching tearjerkers about some old couple, one of whom has Alzheimer’s, the other who is watching the love of his life slip through his fingers piece by heartbreaking piece. That kind of shit I cannot stomach. 

I’ve been bingeing on Vice News’ weekly shows while I had my friend’s HBO code (before the bastard had the nerve to cancel his subscription). Through the lens of their dude-bro-style of reporting, I learned hundreds of things I had no idea were happening. Things like an entire generation (realistically, it will likely be several generations) of Afghans suffering horrible and painful birth defects due to the bombs we dumped on them for 10 years, which happened to contain (surprise!) spent uranium. Once we pulled out, we left millions of tons of rusting equipment to rot in the sand. Scavengers picking over the equipment had no idea they were exposing themselves to unhealthy radiation, and now they and their children are suffering as the result. 

I learned about an area of current modern-day Kazakstan called the Polygon where the USSR tested over 450 nuclear bombs in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and where residents there are suffering a much worse fate than those Afghan children due the much higher levels of exposure they received. Their government cared about the health of their people as much as our government cared that they were exposing millions of Afghans to potential deadly radiation, which is to say, not at all. 

I learned that surrogacy is a multibillion-dollar business in India, where they’ve perfected inserting a fertilized egg into young Indian girls for the purpose of carrying fetuses for rich white people coming from all over the globe because the process is thousands of dollars cheaper there. India markets it as giving these poor, young, slum-dwelling girls more money than they would make in a lifetime of working 14-hour days as someone’s maid, which is true. Except that you find out they’re promised $10,000 and are usually cheated by so many people along the transaction line that their sum total ends up being more like $1,500, which is chump change for 9 months of 24/7 work. And none of these girls is happy to be there, despite the fact living conditions in the fertility clinic are undoubtedly better than in the slums. They are well aware that this is the last option, that they are the forgotten and ill-cared-for dregs of a society experiencing rampant capitalism and handling about as well as we are here in America. 

I’ve learned that there are communities of children in Mumbai who live on the train tracks and spend their entire waking hours with rags of glue shoved into their mouths, huffing and huffing until they forget they are hungry, homeless, and parentless. Most of them are under the age of 12. 

Where am I going with this recitation of the sorry state of the world today? I know, I know, this is a bummer of an entry. My wife is right---maybe I should start watching peppier shows, but oddly these tales of human suffering have been grounding me as of late. I dunno, it’s really hard to get worked up about the cat’s recurrent barfing on our duvet cover when you know what’s happening to kids in Syria. It’s really hard to whinge about money problems when you remember the young woman in Pakistan talking about how she was raped by the Taliban for being on a committee of women who go from house to house vaccinating children against polio. And how she told her story without shedding a tear, but when asked if she will continue to vaccinate the children of her country, she finally breaks down and whispers “yes” through quiet sobs. 

Perspective. It helps. I mean, I know my problems are my problems, and to me they are dire. Wondering how I’m going to pay our house taxes this month stresses me the fuck out, but when I feel that familiar rise of panic in the form of that tightness in my chest, I take a deep breath and think about my problems in respect to real problems, like loss of life or loved ones or my dignity. You guys, it helps. 

I am in the mind of all of this because my friend is dying. He’s waiting for his children to arrive today. They will say goodbye as a family, and then he will let go. He knows it’s time, and he doesn’t have the will to go on anymore. When his wife texted me this news yesterday, I was devastated. I spent most of the afternoon weeping, on and off. He was an incredibly positive man. He was an older, wealthier, white guy---not normally the type of person I’m inclined to befriend---but he was such a force of delight, I couldn’t help but get sucked into his orbit. He was part of my coffeeshop posse, and he brought joy and happiness to all of us in the group. Hell, he’s the guy who got me my current job. He knew I needed work, he happened to know of an opportunity, and while I aced the interview, there is no doubt in my mind that his stamp of approval carried a lot of weight with the people who hired me. 

Craig is a marvelous man. I grieve for his wife and children. I grieve for the loss of a beautiful soul. I grieve for the conversations we’ll never have. But weirdly, having watched so much global misery through a investigative-journalist lens as of late, I am also much calmer. I mean, his death is no more or less important than the millions of people who die every day---many in much more horrific circumstances than his. Is it weird that I find this comforting? That it allows me to reflect on his life and be grateful that my friend had a happy marriage, children who’d grown up to be healthy and successful, and that he’d been able to live in relative comfort most of his life? He had a better life than probably 90 percent of the people on this planet and that delights me. He deserved every minute of it. And he spread that happiness outward wherever he went. Whether it was through his fiddle playing or his lively debates or his helping a friend get a job, he recognized he was blessed and lived his life accordingly. 

I feel like so much of the past few years of my life has been wallowing---about my pain, about my job, about loss of youth, about my depression, about the state of the world---and it’s been oddly refreshing to pull myself out of this mental quagmire partly by thinking about my problems in relation to the rest of the world. Yes, I realize there’s a whole meme for this called #firstworldproblems, but I’ve been really taking it to heart. I guess it’s the self-soothing equivalent of when your parents used to say “Shut up before I come in there and give you something to really cry about.” 

 

As for Craig, I’m taking comfort that I met him before it was his time and got to experience him in my life these past two years. Two years is better than nothing. So while this entry may seem like an odd tribute to my dying friend, I think he’d be pleased to know I’m thinking of him as a happy and blessed soul and thinking about how grateful I am that we got to cross paths at all. 

Must Love Golden Retrievers 

I’ve been getting real, real high since the election, y’all. I mean, truth be told, I’ve been getting real high for a few years now, since I developed nerve pain in my feet. I’d rather be a stoner than an opioid addict, so I chose medical marijuana. Who would have guessed that a drug that barely interested me in high school or college would be one I’d embrace in my forties? But there you have it. Life’s funny like that. 

Anyway, the election. Right. So since Trump was elected, I’ve upped my intake to deal now not only with the pain, but also the rage. Some days the marijuana fails to contain my rage, and I sit on Facebook, my despair and anger growing as I scroll through my feed, gnashing my teeth at the stupidity of Americans and our elected officials’ brazen disregard for what’s best for our citizenry. But other days it works like a charm, and I lie on my bed, listening to chillwave radio, watching the dappled sun flicker across my bedspread, hand buried deep in my cat’s sun-drenched belly, shit-eating grin on my face, thinking about things, both small and large.  

It’s in these stony, quiet moments of reflection that I spend a lot of time thinking about my wife and the relationship we’ve carved out for ourselves. Marriage is a tricky thing, y’all. I mean, when you think about it, after you’ve been together for years and you have the inevitable plummeting of The Sex (and trust me, Lesbian Bed Death is an actual thing), the person you’re married to essentially becomes your longest-running roommate situation. Sure, you may snuggle and kiss occasionally, share a bank account and mortgage, and have “holiday sex,” but at this point, most of your interactions are no different than the interactions you used to have with the stream of people you lived with in your twenties when you were Single and Sexy in the City. It’s your turn to take out the trash. No it’s not, I did it last time! I know you didn’t drink the last of the wine last night and not pick any more up on your way home today. You forgot to pay the PG&E bill last month. That sort of thing.  

So you can go a couple of routes when the relationship morphs from hanging-upside-down-from-the-chandelier-humping-four-nights-a-week into the roommate-best-friend-with-shared-life-and-financial-obligations situation. You can either be bitter about it and fume about the absence of this thing in your life (and I get that it’s a BIG thing). This usually results in cheating and/or divorce (or, in rare exceptions, new kinkier realms of exploration). Or you can realize that just because you’re no longer having The Sex all day, erryday, it doesn’t mean your relationship can’t be incredibly romantic. You can either watch your relationship slowly deepen as the physical part fades, revel in those less-tangible things, and masturbate. Or you can throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they used to say. 

The longer you’re together, you start realizing that your person is sexy in other ways. Or maybe it’s just that what you’re finding sexy is different the older you get. But one day you realize that it’s kinda hot that you know exactly what story she’s going to tell next at a party. And you know exactly at what point during your story at a party, she will jump in and finish your sentence. You can learn to appreciate that you both laugh at the same things, that you both find the same things ridiculous, that you both love lying in bed after a party gossiping about what you each learned from others at the party. I have to tell y’all, it’s a deeply, deeply satisfying feeling. And okay yeah, the feeling is different from an orgasm, but the effect is much, much further-reaching. Besides, that’s what vibrators are for. 

These are the sort of things I’ve been thinking about during my stony bliss sessions, and trust me when I tell you that it’s doing infinitesimally more for my mental health than scrolling through social media. It’s made me appreciate the hell outta my wife, who is an amazing human being, even if I do resent her for never being the one to wake up at 6:00 a.m. when our cat is stomping on our faces and yelling at us to get up and make with the food. 

Let me tell you about Melissa. Everyone who meets her falls in love with her. I was no exception. If Melissa were a dog, she would be a Golden Retriever. No, not dumb. Impossibly friendly, happy, and able to win your heart in a hot second. I have married Tigger. Being an Eeyore kind of girl, this has been something that I recently realized I’d been fighting against instead of accepting and reveling in. Sadly, I spent a good chunk of time at the beginning of our marriage being annoyed by her relentlessly positive outlook on life. In the throes of a deep depression, I resented her upbeat attitude and perky worldview. I was sullen and angry; I guess I need her to be too? Who knows what the human mind can conjure up when it’s in the depths of self-loathing and pain, but I wasn’t very kind to her during that time. And, yet, still she hung in. 

And honestly, yeah, sometimes I’m still annoyed when she comes home and spends 45 minutes telling me about her 30-minute trip to the grocery store. Or when she’s telling me a story that I’m interested in, but then she wanders off onto a dull tangent, and I shake my head and find myself impatiently saying (out loud!) “doesn’t matter...just get there.” But more often than not now, I accept that this is as much a part of her as her blue peepers are and I settle in. 

Because you know what? We are all deeply flawed critters, y’all. I may have to listen to the occasional rambling story about bulk grocery-buying, but she willingly proposed to a someone she knew was so much of a control freak, she insisted on giving her instructions on the best way TO PET THE CAT. No honey, you have to do it this way. NO, THIS WAY! (There is actual video of me doing this. So much cringe.)

I mean, this is the woman who actually thinks it’s hilarious and adorable that I create entire conversations every morning between me and our cat (of course, changing my voice to a higher pitch to denote the less-developed vocal chords of our furry child then answering her [me] back in my normal voice). I wander around the house babbling away at the cat, who follows me around and yells back at me. This woman actually said to me “Honey, I think you should create an entire podcast around these conversations” and meant it. She believes in me that hard.

She knew she was getting The Fun Girl, the Life of the Party. But what neither one of us knew at the time was that she was also getting a person who would develop chronic pain and subsequent depression, but she’s adapted like a champ to even those enormous things.

Because we are married. And marriage means in sickness and in health. It means It’s your turn to clean the shitbox. It means I will be the one to get you through the death of your parents. It means God bless you for still loving my boobs even though, naked, I now look so much like an African tribal woman I should be talking to you in a series of clicks. It means You should go get that suspicious mole looked at, honey, I’m worried. It means I hate you one minute and I cannot imagine how I will function if you die first the next. It means Sometimes the only thing that’s keeping us together is that marriage license so thank god they let The Gays get married. And it also means I will accept you, scars and all and love you to the very best of my ability, even on days when I don’t much feel like it, because you are my heart.

It means different things from minute to minute. And some of those things are unpleasant and ugly. But if you’re lucky, the moments filled with laughter, snuggling, giggling, shared jokes, security, teamwork, and even the less-frequent sex outweigh those other things. Hopefully, you take your own stony moment to realize that you and your best friend are in this whole thing together, and as long as one of you isn’t lying in a hospital with numbered days, everything else is gravy. 

So you better spend some time lying in the sun with your eyes closed, listening to good music, and thinking about the things you’ve got going for you as they wash over you because that shit is golden. 

And it probably wouldn’t kill you to go down on her once and a while either.

Enough.

For 11 days after the election, I could barely get out of bed. I lay tangled up in the covers, sweating out recreational Vicodin and medicinal marijuana, dreaming feverish dreams of a large, orange Godzilla destroying city after city on the plains. The Wife and I kept a bottle of bourbon and two shot glasses on the dining room table, and any time either of us walked past the table, no matter the time of day, we’d look at the bottle, shrug our shoulders, and say aloud “Might as well.” 

We went through three bottles of bourbon in 11 days that way. 

I went to my pot club the other day. They sell weed Twinkies. They sell weed everything. For those of you who have never been inside a medical marijuana dispensary, let me just tell you: the future truly is here. You can get weed-infused tea, bath bombs, brownies, smoothies, gummi bears. Even weed pizza. Though, that begs the question: if you eat the pizza to get stoned, what do you eat once you’re there? 

Nothing to see here. 

Anyway, I bought the weed Twinkies yes, out of curiosity, but mainly because they provide some serious bang for your buck. They’re like $14, but you get two Twinkies, and each one contains roughly 600 mg of medical marijuana. To put that in perspective, The Wife sometimes enjoys the occasional pot blueberry before bed at night and can barely make it from the couch to the bed once it kicks in. Yeah, one of those blueberries is 5 mg. 

So I don’t eat the whole Twinkie, obvs. But I take a larger bite than I probably should and put in my trippy-hippie bling-bling music, as The Wife calls it. You know the genre--it’s played in every spa and yoga studio and is supposed to bring you to a calm, relaxed state. And I’m lying in bed, listening to the chanting and bells and shit, and I decide to start thinking about gratitudes, which is something that also calms me. 

And then my shit kicked in.

I have eaten and do eat a fair amount of weed. With edibles you never really know how they’ll hit you; there are too many variables--how much pot butter was used, how long it was cooked for, how much or how little food you have in your stomach before you eat them, etc. In short, you can never be too sure what kind of high you’re gonna get. That's why medical marijuana is so great--you always know what you're getting. 

The Twinkie offered me such a glorious high. You guys, it was like floating on little cloud over the planet. All of the sudden this warm, blissful feeling came over me, and it was honestly the best I’ve felt in months. I just felt like everything was gonna be okay, like I was at peace finally. So then I started, naturally, with the supposition that maybe if I ate one of these every day, I could somehow stay happy during the entire Trump debacle. The pragmatist in me immediately went to work: obviously, I would have to titrate and experiment so that I could nail down the exact dosage I need to be blissful while still allowing me to be productive. Take too much, and I’d wind up sleeping for four years straight...not that that would be a bad thing, but not practical. 

These Twinkies do not fuck around, nope. 

So then, my mind pinballs--as it usually does--over to the topic of finding my passion, that balance of finding something that feeds my soul AND does something to make a difference in the world.  Leaving my mark has been a constant theme for me on this journey. I want to do something besides take up space on this planet until I die. I know there’s something out there that I’m like fucking Mozart I’m so good at; I just haven’t found it yet. And I’m sure that this thing--this thing I’m better at than like 99 percent of people on this planet--will also be the thing that affects change, that makes this a better place to live for those people whom I’ve helped. 

But I haven’t found this thing yet. And so I beat myself up all the time about how I’m not trying hard enough, how I’m not disciplined enough, how I lack the motivation, how I shirk away from things that are Too Hard. And then it just because that old, familiar Shit Spiral wherein I convince myself that I will grow old and die on this planet not having made a single contribution. 

And in my mind this thing, this passion of mine, this ethereal quality I have yet to discover, is always HUGE. I’m not just a blogger; no, I have to be Hemingway. I’m not just a protester; I have to be Cesar Chavez. I’m not just a podcaster; I have to be Mark Maron. My first attempt at a novel can’t just be this little thing I self-publish on Amazon; it has to be The World According to Garp

And then my mind drifts this-away and a-thatta-way for a while longer, and I start thinking about how I’m friends with 700 people on Facebook, many of whom I’ve never met. For one reason or another--usually it’s a mutual friend telling that person “you have to friend my friend Kathryn on Facebook; she’s the funniest person on there”--I have a number of people as friends that I wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup. 

And then I think about how many people have sent me private messages on Facebook over the years--some friends from real-life and some from the people I’ve never met--asking me for advice or comfort or inspiration. You think I’m kidding? I’ve had women I’ve never even met tell me they’re cheating on their husbands. I’ve had a mom with a 12-year-old kid who just came out as bisexual ask me for advice. I’ve had people tell me about the abuse they’re suffering from their spouse, tell me they just found out their father wasn’t their real father, tell me they think they might be gay but aren’t sure, tell me they’ve thought about killing themselves, ask me for advice on what to do about their Trump-supporting relatives, tell me they have PTSD, tell me they had an abortion, tell me they were raped. 

I’ve also had people, since the election, tell me that they’ve never once gotten involved with government, but because of my Facebook posts about what actions you can take to contact your senators, they’ve gotten involved and have started making calls. They’ve started using the links I’m posting to protest the madness that is our government, and they did that because I inspired them.  I’ve had people tell me they’re more open about their own struggles with depression or chronic pain because I’m so honest about mine. I’ve had people with chronic pain writing me for marijuana advice like I’m some kid of drug guru. Truly, the topics are all over the map.

I’m not a shrink and have never claimed to be any sort of expert on anything. If I were, I wouldn’t be Struggling Buddha. I’d be Omniscient Buddha or Confident Buddha or something. Yet, people write to me to ask me for advice or simply to confess something as though I were a therapist or a priest. And I’m pretty sure they’re doing it because they know I won’t judge them. I’m not going to recoil in horror when you tell me about your affair or the fact that you were molested by your father. I’m just not gonna. I’m too busy judging you for your choices in shoes and haircuts. 

I kid. But I do think that’s it. All of us just want to be somehow absolved, to be told that You Are Not a Freak, to be reassured that there are others like you out there, to be consoled that you’re not doing anything wrong or that you’re doing the best you can. 

And then I start thinking about all the times I’ve comforted people in this way, by telling them that they’re doing the best they can, that it is enough, that they are enough. 

And then I just keep thinking “It is enough; you are enough” over and over in my head. And I think about how, if that’s the advice I give to other people, why am I not heeding that shit my own damn self? Why do I not see that *I* am enough if I can see it in others? I mean, I know, we’re all our own worst critics, I get that. But I start thinking about Facebook and this blog and the things I’m willing to write about that many would consider too embarrassing or too taboo and how just those small acts might give someone across the country courage somehow. And I think “Why can’t that be enough?” Here I am struggling to leave my mark like I’m fucking Eckhardt Tolle or Shakespeare when the fact is that there already are things I’ve done that have left my mark on people. 

Why shouldn’t I be proud of that shit? Why shouldn’t it be enough? Here I am beating myself up because I’m so full of fear when there are things I write about that others perceive as courageous and find helpful. That should be inspiring and flattering. 

Look, it’s human nature to want to improve yourself. We’re always striving to be more--more organized, more ambitious, more productive, a more perfect parent, more fit, more wealthy, more, more, more... And with those goals is always the idea that we are somehow lacking, that we are not good enough. So in trying to better ourselves, we’re already approaching the starting block as Negative Nancy. What’s wrong with simply taking some time to sit back, take it all in, and say “This is enough. I am enough.” I know, it sounds hippie as fuck. But I, for one, am sick of the hamster wheel of self-flagellation constantly spinning in my brain. I want to get off, please. Think how nice it would be in your head if instead of your brain nagging you all the time, it just kicked back once and a while and said “You done good, kid.” 

So I'm telling you this in case no one else does and in case you don't tell yourself: YOU ARE ENOUGH, ASSHOLE. Everyone else sees it; it's about time you started seeing it too. 

And if all it takes is one-quarter of a pot Twinkie to make me take that pause every once in a while...well, that’s called a twofer, my friends.

To My Father, On the Four-year Anniversary of His Death

 

My father wasn’t born a feminist. Growing up in 1950’s rural Nebraska, he certainly wasn’t one in his childhood or his adolescence. As the youngest of three, he was doted upon by his stay-at-home mother, who treated him like a boy-king and made sure the crusts were always cut off his PB&Js. He didn’t learn feminism in college either, and when he married my mom, at the tender young age of 20, his notions of gender roles in the home were as expected--his wife should clean the house and have dinner on the table when he returned home in the evening.

In short, my father’s notions of the role of women in society were pretty typical for the era. Women were the fairer sex, and sure they should be allowed to get an education if they wanted, but he was still of the mind that “no woman of mine will ever work” when he and my mom got married. But then, his parents stopped paying for things, he was still in college with no marketable skills, and my mom had completed nursing school and had real-world skills that could bring home a paycheck. So suddenly, he had to be okay with a woman bringing home the bacon or else there would be no bacon. But still, he was no feminist. More like a pragmatist, but certainly not a feminist.

And then he had a daughter. Whether he wanted a son is a matter of debate and matters little now anyway. What I do know is that at some point he looked down at this colicky girlbaby in his arms and decided he was going to raise her to be as fearless as any boy. My dad was an incredibly smart man, but I don’t think he’d given gender roles in American society a single thought until he realized he was responsible for raising a girl.

Maybe I’m giving him too much credit. Maybe he just raised me the way that he did because he really did want a boy. Or maybe he raised me the way that he did because it was the only thing he knew--he’d done all the calculations in his head and decided this was simply the best way to raise a child, boy or girl. Who knows?

But I do know that I can’t remember a single time in my childhood or my adult life that he treated me any differently because I was female. Whether it was him making me play Little League baseball with 250 boys instead of softball with all the other little girls like I wanted to, or whether it was the thousands of hours he spent teaching me how to throw a perfect spiral and run patterns on the old football field next to our house, he drilled into me that I was perfectly capable of doing everything and anything little boys could do.

It wasn’t just sports either--it was the way he taught me to stand my ground when I believed I was right about something, it was the way he insisted I take AP science and math courses, even though I fucking hated the subjects, especially math. It was the way he pushed and pushed and pushed me, both academically and in life. It was the way he instilled in me a confidence to speak up, to make myself heard (and boy did I ever make myself heard every chance I got), to think things through critically and logically before making an argument. He clearly did not look at his female progeny and see “less than.” I think I forced him to readjust the way he saw women, which is often the case when men suddenly have a daughter to raise. He looked at me and thought “Well why in the hell can’t she be President of the United States one day?”

And the fact that while he was grinding away at the daily task of raising me, his wife was getting a PhD in Biomedical Ethics from one of the highest learning institutions in the land also likely turned his notions of what women were capable of on its head. Suddenly my father was surrounded by gritty, strong, capable women--one of whom he’d helped shape.

I’m of a mind of all of this on the fourth anniversary of his death because we are in the midst of great turmoil in this country. We have become a country of divisions--defining ourselves now more than ever by our political parties, our religions, our races, our education levels, our geography, our income levels, our sexual orientations, and yes, our genders.

To say that Republicans have been waging a war on women for decades now is a foregone conclusion--there’s too much evidence to argue to the contrary: increasingly more restrictive reproductive laws, high-profile rape cases where men caught in the act of actually raping a woman barely receive jail time, refusal to pass the ERA, the laws coming out of DC now seemingly designed to punish women (burying your aborted tissue anyone?)--the list goes on and on. And now we have a maniacal madman in the office who appears to pass Executive Orders as a means for revenge on groups he feels have been “too mean” to him. His first Monday in office, less than 48 hours after the incredible women’s marches that swept the land, the very first EO he signed had to do with abortion. Think that was an accident? It wasn’t.

Strong women go against the narrow parameters our “president” assigned for us--either as objects that are hot enough to use for his sexual gratification or too ugly and who should be tossed aside because they aren’t good for anything. His small, narrow brain cannot see a human history in which millions of us have contributed to the betterment of humanity, whether it’s female engineers and astronauts, female abolitionists, women in tech inventing technologies that will propel us into the future, or all of the female authors, artists, and musicians who have contributed to the rich tapestry comprising humankind. There is a giant, black hole in the orange man’s brain that prevents him from seeing us as anything but “useable” or “disposable.”

And what we’re seeing now is women of all shapes, sizes, economic classes, races, and religions rejecting that simplified dichotomy. There is a huge resistance mounting against Lord Dampnut, and women are leading the charge.

Pandora’s box has been opened. Women are no longer content to see themselves the way that men like Drumpf see us--in the simplest of terms based on weight, height, hair color, breast size, ass size, and how they look in a skirt. We are 51 percent of the electorate, and we are starting to act like it. That’s not to say that there aren’t still women in America who don’t see themselves as “less than” men, the weaker sex. Or that there aren’t women out there who think “Well, my husband treats me real nice so I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” But there is a growing army of XX-wielding forces who are refusing to define ourselves the way men have defined us for millennia.

And anyone who reads the news on a regular basis knows we’re not there yet. But there is a generation of second- and third-wave feminists who are rising up and taking their places in this world who were, like me, raised by two feminists, who look around and say “I will not accept this bullshit.”

Men have mostly shaped history. They have done all the war-mongering, the raping, the pillaging, the crusading, the slave-trading, the land-grabbing, the killing, the oppressing, the bomb-dropping, and the weapon-wielding in humanity’s short time on earth. (And have reaped the benefits from this behavior as well.) And no offense to men, but y’all have made quite the fucking mess of it. Most of human history has been defined by men’s insecurities and the terrible behaviors that result from those insecurities. And now this is the world we’re stuck with as a result. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that humanity has largely evolved based off the concept of “my dick is bigger than yours,” but it’s not that much of a stretch.

Isn’t it time we gave the ladies a shot?

My dad once said--from his hospital bed, which made it all the poignant--in reply to me telling him I was grateful to him for raising me to believe I could do anything just as well as boys could: “Well, I hope I taught you that you can do them better.”

Me pops. Check out his shirt. 

I’m not sure if we women would be “better” at ruling the world given what an objective term that is, but if females had shaped history, imagine how different humanity would look now. The world needs more compassion, kindness, and empathy than ever before--all traits women typically have in greater amounts than men, whether through genetics or societal conditioning (which is a whole other entry). To be able to govern without the swagger and bravado and to see other countries and the struggles they face with more compassion and empathy is what we need right now. The world is a frightening and, more importantly, a much smaller place now. What we do as a nation has staggering worldwide effects. I, personally, would feel better if more women were involved with running the show all over the globe.

Maybe it’s a pipe dream. We see all the shenanigans it took to keep Hillary out of the White House. The patriarchy will not go quietly into the night. But now America is full of more dads like my dad was--fathers who look at their daughters and say “I will not accept a lesser world for her”; men who, down to their very cores, believe in true equality and will help us fight for it; men who are enlightened, who see our contributions to science, literature, art, mathematics, and business and believe we have an equal role to play in determining the outcome of our planet.

The future is female. If my stubborn old dad saw it, anyone can.

It’s time for us to lead, ladies. Rise up.

#bitchesriseup

Reconciling My Anger Toward Trumptards

I know, I know...it’s been months since I last graced your souls with my words. I dunno, y’all were here, living through the same shit as the rest of the country. I just couldn’t write about the election, and I couldn’t seem to write about anything else given that it was going on.  Y’all, this buddha is struggling right now for sure.  Like everyone else, my hatred for last year was fierce and hot. But it ain’t nothing compared to what’s coming. 

About sums up my 2016. 

So now here we are. Sixty-one million assholes chose to ignore his volumes of lies, chose to read Breitbart and Fox News instead of facts, chose hate over love, chose anger and rage over steady-as-she-goes. I can’t even talk about the stupidity levels involved with that. I can’t talk about the misogyny involved when an experienced, competent (though far from perfect) woman “loses” the election to a far more under-qualified man. It took an outdated electoral college, Russian hacking, fake news, and countless lies to steal an election from her so that old, white dudes could stay in power. Patriarchy is a powerful thing, and it’s apparently gonna take a bigger battle axe than old Hillary to bring it down. 

I think what enrages me most now--out of countless things over which to be enraged--is that conservatives are telling Democrats that we’re being sore losers and that we just need to “get over it” like they “got over it when Obama won.” Yeah, except you didn’t get over it. In fact, the entire country lost their minds when Obama won. There were people hanging Obama effigies from trees and burning them on crosses. There were signs everywhere showing him as an African medicine man with OBAMACARE scribbled beneath it. People called the First Lady “an ape” for eight years. More importantly, a Republican congress spent eight years making sure his legacy was as limited as possible. We elected a black president and the country lost its fucking mind. So no, you didn’t just “get over it.” I know a couple who went bankrupt in 2007 and spent the next eight years blaming Obama for their plight in spite of the fact that he wasn’t even president when they were doing whatever it was that made them bankrupt. And silly me, I thought the Republicans were the party of “personal responsibility.” 

images.jpeg

Here we have a photo of Republicans "getting over it."

I was (and still am) brokenhearted after this election. There are many reasons I’m brokenhearted for the future of women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and people of color. Think I’m being hyperbolic? Four million people, mostly women, marched around the globe on Saturday to show their refusal to accept Trump, and the first thing he did on Monday was reinstate Reagan’s gag order on NGOs not mentioning abortion. This is a megalomaniacal bully who worries more about being slighted than he does about the majority of his constituency and running the country. If you think that Executive Order wasn’t a message to women that they need to shut up or they will be punished, you’re deluded. 

But the reason I’m so brokenhearted is that Americans let me down. Not the majority of you--the majority of you who voted voted for Hillary. But those who didn’t vote or voted third-party broke my heart for not knowing how much was at stake. But really it was the Trumptards who disappointed me the most. That you would choose a lying con man with multiple bankruptcies and multiple failed marriages and would accept him still branding himself “a winner” means you lack any sort of critical-thinking skills. 

Like everyone, we have Trumptards in our families. Like everyone, we are wrestling with how to move forward from this. This is normal. And as much as I want to say that you are not the sum total of who you voted for, in this case, that’s just not true. Don’t tell me to get over it when he clearly stated, right before the election, was that he would remove any laws protecting LGBT people in the workplace. That means gay people will be able to be fired just for being gay, that we might not be able to visit our partners in the hospital, and that he’s gonna go after my marriage. When we mentioned to a family member that we were actually talking about moving to Canada, their response was “Well, we’ll visit you.” 

How do I reconcile that there are people in my family who thought that any modest tax break they may receive under Trump was more important than their daughter’s/niece’s/cousin’s civil rights? Who thinks that way!? How will I ever be able to look at these people in the face again when I know that my life is of such little value to them? How do I respond to the friend whose argument for voting for Trump was “Obamacare is a joke. I pay way too much now!” Because if someone doesn’t already see that there are bigger moral issues at play here, then I can’t make them see that having compassion for others is important to being a decent human. Instead, I write them off as indecent. I don’t have children, yet I pay thousands a year in taxes so that public schools are free. I don’t bitch about it because it’s okay for me to pay for things that don’t necessarily impact me if they are better for society, as having a more educated populace is. 

And if you don’t have the intelligence to be more than a single-issue voter, then I’m also gonna disregard you as any sort of critical thinker. Oh you pay too much for health care or you pay too many taxes? Well that certainly justifies installing a narcissistic despot into the White House. Trump showed his ass during that campaign--you had to be an idiot not to see what was coming--yet these are the same people who will lose their ACA in 2017 (like my friend who thought she was paying too much but has a huge preexisting condition and will likely never be able to get healthcare again now) and, with the heartless Congress we have now, will eventually lose their Social Security and Medicaid since those are next on the chopping block. Who ARE these people who are so dumb that they’re cutting off their noses to spite their faces? Who are cashing their Social Security checks and benefitting from Medicaid all while railing against Obama for “too many government handouts.” What do you think that check is, you fucking relics? I can’t wait until you all die off. Trump’s policies will hurt the people who voted for him the most--the elderly and the ignorant (for it is, year after year, all those Southern states that hate the government who consistently rely on government handouts the most)--and while I’d love to roll around in a big, leafy pile of schadenfreude over the fact that these idiots will be fucked, I can’t. I’ll be fucked right there alongside them. Hell, I’ll probably be in a camp by then--either for being gay, being a women, or being critical of this regime. 

You are not a critical thinker.

So no, I’m not gonna “get over it.” I love this country, for all its faults and its stupid denizens that are too dumb to know they’re about to be fucked in the ass with a cactus and sandy Vaseline. I’m going to fight. I’ve made a pledge to make three calls a day to my elected officials about whatever shenanigans Trump’s trying to pull on any given day (and there will be no shortage of illegal shenanigans). I will march. I will write about him. I will call Washington on its illegal bullshit. We have work to do, people. If you’d like to join me, this link takes you to an amazing list of actions you can take. It’s updated each week so you can stay on top of new issues as they come in. I’ve found it to be super helpful. 

We have to unite and work to Impeach the Tangerine in ’17 before he can undo any and all progress this country has made. With his election, the great American experiment has died. It took one man and one election cycle to disabuse us that we are well and truly a solid democracy. It took one man to make a mockery of the foundations this country was built on. I went into a deep downward spiral after the election, but this slumbering beast is woke now.  

I’m done trying to understand the mind set of Trump voters. Everyone talks about trying to heal a divided nation. Bullshit. When you’re combating people who will accept things like child rape, bullying, homophobia, misogyny, tax dodging, shoddy business ethics, cronyism like DC has never seen before, rejection of climate change, censorship, “alternative facts,” and labeling people by their color and religion, then no, I don’t want to understand you. I get what you’re about, trust me. Self-interest alone motivates you. So you can go right on ahead being mired down in all of your fear. Me? I will push boldly forth with my vision of America that includes ALL of us who believe in science, who believe that taking care of sick people is the sign of being a decent and caring society, who believe women have a right to make their own reproductive decisions, who believe that a government that includes representatives from all of its citizens--not just the rich, white, male ones--is a better government, and who believe that everyone is entitled to a voice and a vote. 

We Built This House, Y'all

My coffeeshop buddy wasn't in his usual place this morning. When I walked in today and looked for him in his usual seat, it was empty. To say this is unusual is an understatement. It's like waking up and looking out your window to discover the Rockies are no longer there. Or that the Statue of Liberty has walked off.

I've been coming to this coffeeshop for going on four years ago. "Mike" was here on the first day I walked in and has been here ever since. He sits at the same table off in a corner, his laptop and phone spread out in front of him, looking industrious, each and every day. As far as I know, he's never missed a day. He was the first person I ever talked to in a coffeeshop that has become like my salon now. I remember I asked him if he was writing a novel because he was always there before work, typing away diligently. Slowly, we became friends.

Mike is an older African American gentleman. He develops curricula for the University of California system. He's whip-smart, and over the years, we've had a number of amazing conversations about race, religion, and politics. He has decided I'm one of the ones who can be trusted, and he speaks freely about race, both nationwide and here in Oakland. He's been around for a while and has seen various movements come and go. He freely recognizes his time has passed, and it's time to pass the torch on to the younger generation, something he worries about because of the way Millennials are built.

Yesterday, in the wake of #PhilandoCastile and #AntonSterling, we had plenty to talk about. It was the first time I saw Mike---a soft-spoken, gentle man---truly furious. And my heart nearly split in two when he said "I have two PhDs. I have multiple degrees from multiple higher-learning institutions. But it doesn't matter how many degrees I have or the fact that I educate their children: my life is worthless to them. They see me as NOTHING. I am NOTHING to them." I said nothing because there was nothing to say. But seeing him ready to burn down the world made me indelibly morose. My god, what are we doing to our citizens?

And today. Today his table is empty. Was he so defeated, he just couldn't get out of bed this morning? Did he just feel like "If I set foot outside today, I'm so angry I'll get myself arrested…or shot"? Did he just not feel like talking to all of white folks who make small talk with him as they wait by his table for their drinks to be ready?

And now Dallas. Dallas is truly awful. And the amount of furious rage I see from people on Facebook and the number of Blue Lives Matter posts I see popping up makes me wonder where all this white rage was when crooked, racist cops were executing black people without so much as a day in jail, let alone a day in court. It makes me see, in sharp focus, just why the #blacklivesmatter movement is so important. The very fact that an All Lives Matter hashtag has cropped up also tells me we need this movement.

Yes, god, of course "all lives matter." Of course "blue lives matter." No one is saying they don't. I saw a tweet that encapsulated this notion perfectly: "Black Lives Matter people aren't saying all lives don't matter. That's like assuming people who say 'Save the Rainforest' are saying 'Fuck All Other Kinds of Forests.'" It's an apt analogy. Black Lives Matter sprung up because black men were systematically being brutalized by corrupt and racist cops who saw them in the simplest terms and who devalued their lives in the blink of an eye. And no one cared. No one was being held accountable. These men who'd been pulled over for broken taillights, selling CDs in front of a store, or just for wearing a hoodie were being killed on the streets. And white people were saying "Yeah, but…" For god's sake, we had more collective outrage for a slain gorilla than we did for a human being.

This is a country with a savage and violent history. Talk about immigrants coming in and destroying a country. Europeans descended upon the New World and systematically wiped out the native population, either with guns or germs. Then, after the land had been secured (stolen), someone needed to work it all. What was to be done? People talk about black people being lazy. The original settlers were so damn unwilling to do backbreaking labor they went to "the dark continent" to find others to tote that barge and lift that bale. They stole millions of people, ripped them from their homes, and dragged them over here in chains to do their bidding. Then, when that was finally outlawed, they made laws to prevent black people from being actual equal citizens. Once those laws were ruled unconstitutional, they got around it by building entire economic, housing, law enforcement, judicial, and educational systems that not only refused to acknowledge black people's needs or rights, but often actively worked to intentionally disadvantage these millions of citizens. They shoved them into housing projects or into jails for minor infractions. Anything to just get them out of the way. Our history is rife with examples where white people made laws to exclude blacks or to give themselves the leg up. To say we don't have an institutional race problem in this country is to be uninformed.

So here we are, 400 years later, full of rage because a rogue black man gunned down officers who were protecting people's right to protest the system. This sniper was at a point where a lot of my black friends are telling me they are now: "We've been nice. We've been calm. We've waited for justice. And still no one cares. Still nothing changes." We have a gunman who decided the only recourse left to him---the only thing that would make people wake up and pay attention to systemic abuse of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement---would be to murder police officers.

We built this house folks; do not be surprised at the state of its disrepair. We have let a culture of marginalizing 40 million of our citizens go on for hundreds of years. We have let a culture of fear consume us. Which has led, like night to day, to a culture of guns and radicalization. Radical Islamic terrorists? Hell, we're breeding terrorists right here at home. And then arming them freely. The number of White Supremacist terrorist groups in America has gone up from 150 to over 1,200 during the Obama years, and last year alone, new white power group membership shot up 14% in just one year, thanks to something statisticians are calling "the Trump Bump." Nice. God help us gals after Hillary gets elected, and the number of Mens' Rights Activists skyrockets thanks to all the paranoid asshats who are worried about someone with ladyparts having her finger on the button. 

That is no way to say those policemen deserved to be slaughtered; I'm simply saying that the shooter was a man who'd clearly given up all hope and just didn't care anymore. He didn't get there on his own, y'all. We built this house. 

And now that white cops have been killed, plenty of people are taking notice. In one 20-minute burst of gunfire, a vigilante got the world's attention. And frankly, though I might try and understand his motivations, I still offer him a hale and hearty FUCK YOU. How dare you sabotage what has largely been a peaceful movement and turn it into something to be feared and loathed, something for racists to rally around, something for the gun nuts to use to justify open carry and arming themselves to the tits? How dare you be no better than your enemies? 

If you were aiming for a tipping point, Sir, I fear you might have brought it about in the most awful way. I fear this will polarize an already weary nation even more. I fear it will make otherwise rational people turn out in droves to vote for a racist maniac who is preying upon fear and hatred and counting on us to eat ourselves. I fear it will make moderates who once had sympathy for what BLM was trying to accomplish turn away from the central message, which is simply: HEY, WE MATTER TOO. I fear it will take kind and gentle African Americans, like Mike, and turn them into angry and violent revolutionaries.

Not since pre-Civil War days have we been a nation so divided. Race, politics, religion seem to be all the categories we use to define ourselves anymore. And if you're not with me, you're against me. We no longer have the oft-berated "gray areas" of yore---everything is now black or white, literally and figuratively. There are relatives I want to disown because I know they're voting for Trump, so I'm just as guilty. I look at them and think "If you can't see how horrific the repercussions will be if this supremely unqualified, bumbling, bloviating colostomy bag who hates women, immigrants, and minorities and who is at least partly responsible for stoking this hatred and creating this current environment gets elected, then I don't even want to talk to you because you clearly are incapable of critical thinking." Your candidate now speaks for who you are as a human being.

And the thing is, I don't want to be living with this kind of reductionist thinking. It's harmful to the people in my life; it's harmful to me; it's harmful to this country; it's harmful to humanity. I try extremely hard, daily as a matter of fact, not to make assumptions about a person based on the color of their skin or what religion they practice, so why should I make these short-sighted assumptions about people based on their political alignments?

It's hard not to be reductionist, y'all. I know it is. I'm so very guilty of it. Daily. So I try to read as much as a can, get my news from a variety of sources, stay informed, talk to people different than I, etc. But most of all, I just try and have empathy. I have empathy for the mother of Alton Sterling's child as she stood in front of a bank of cameras and recorders just hours after he was slain and spoke clearly and eloquently about the need for justice and accountability as her son sobbed inconsolably and as she carried the knowledge that his death wouldn't make any more of a difference than the countless others. I try and have empathy for Philando Castile's girlfriend as she sat handcuffed in the back of a police car after she'd just watched her boyfriend get executed, and her four-year-old daughter sat next to her and said "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm right here." I try and have empathy for that four-year-old and how she will have to process seeing a police officer execute her friend in front of her and how that moment---the moment her childhood was stolen---will affect who she will become as an adult. I try to have empathy for the City of Dallas, its police department, and the families of the slain police officers as they wake up this morning and come to grips with the siege that happened to them last night. And I'm even working on trying to have empathy for Trump supporters, the NRA, the neocons, and the one-percenters who are benefitting from watching us plebes destroy ourselves. But lord, it's hard.

I will leave you with this to put it in perspective: my friend who is an African American mom with a five-year-old son has been a mess as the result of this, and her Facebook posts reflect her fear, her sadness, her sheer terror at being the mother to a black son who will grow up and be seen as nothing but a nigger to a large part of society, no matter what his achievements will eventually be (see: Obama). And I'm watching her friends---other black mothers---weigh in on her posts. I'm reading about their fears for their sons, fear not only that society sees them as criminals and nothing else, but also fear of what all of this is doing to their developing brains. These young black sons are absorbing all of this too. They're watching right along with us. They pick up on their parents' fear.

One of her friends wrote something so heartbreaking that I burst into tears when I read it. She wrote: "My boys like to walk to the little store near our house. This is the beginning and I really worry. We haven't had a bad experience yet, but my gosh we've been having the conversations and we talk about each of these murders that hit the news. I am constantly asking myself if I'm preparing them enough or too much? My boys know they could get killed if someone just thinks they are doing something wrong; that alone...knowing that and having these conversations, is already an outrageous violation to their dignity." 

Yes, dear mother, you have hit the nail on the head. It is a violation to their dignity, heaped upon centuries of indignities. And it has made us all ignoble. I understand why black people are ready to take up arms. I understand why white people are scared. And I don't see how, on the grand scale, this is going to resolve itself any time soon.

So I'm going to go out and keep doing what I'm doing: reaching out to my African American friends and telling them that they DO matter. They matter greatly to me. I'm going to keep reaching out to people of different skin colors and different religious customs and different income levels. I am going to resist the urge to see things in black-or-white terms. It may not count for much because it's just little ol' me, but I'm striving every minute of every day for personal connection, for getting a chance to hear others tell their stories, for telling the people around me how much they mean to me, for refusing to stoke hatred. I'm just one person, but it's what I'm gonna do.

I invite everyone who reads this to adopt this approach too.

We are a nation divided right now, and these are a few of the victims.

Become a Member of the Church of Zero Fucks

I was on a bit of a roll about the shit I'd learned since starting my quest to eliminate depression from my life, but then fucking Brock Turner and Orlando happened, and I had to put my two cents' in. I guess it's the perfect example of how even when you're just tryna keep yo head down and work on your own shit, the big ol' ugly world insists on intervening. I'd like to pick up where I left off though. Thus far, my life lessons have consisted of:

  • You're gonna have to meditate.
  • Work like a bastard to develop empathy.
  • Do not park in your comfort zone. 
  • Get the hell off the internet.
  • Control your smartphone; do not let it control you.

For my seventh entry in this series, I gotta talk about becoming a member of the Church of Zero Fucks. Put another way, you gotta figure out a way, in your own everyday life, not to give a shit about the stupid things. I cannot stress this enough.

Here's the thing y'all: we have become a soft, lazy, and entitled country of whiny bitches. When you think about it, when you see people losing their shit in public, it can all be distilled down to fucking comfort and entitlement. We've been conditioned, in this country, that if you have enough money, you can have anything you want, however you want it. It's moved well past Burger King's once-unique jingle of "have it your way." We are the country who asks for our coffees "extra-hot with two shots of caf, one shot of decaf." We are the country of "on the side." If you don't like the way an experienced chef has prepared the food, restaurants will let you swap out sauces, sides, cooking styles, etc. And if, god forbid, there's a chef out there that tells you "No. I prepared this with very specific flavor profiles in mind, and this is the best way to eat this," that chef will be raked across the coals on Yelp.

We are now used to getting whatever we want it, how we want it, and as quickly as is convenient for us. And when one or some of that combination doesn't happen, we feel like it's okay to pitch a fit---either in person or in an online forum. We feel as though it gives our needs, our experience, our satisfaction (or lack thereof) gravitas. It elevates our own sense of self worth, gives us a sense of "Oh yeah, just wait until you see what I said about you on Yelp"ishness that is, frankly, ugly, spoiled, and a bit Veruca Salty.

So when these little moments of comfort don't happen, we take it as a personal attack. "What do you MEAN you can't make my coffee exactly 180 degrees today?!?!" And then we feel so slighted by this inconvenience that we feel the need to then take to the internets and social media to complain about this slight.

I'm here to tell you all one very important thing: get over yourfuckingselves.

Listen, the sooner you come to the realization that the world doesn't have any obligation to conform to the way you think it should spin, the happier you will be. The sooner you realize that you are a control freak who has gotten so used to having your tires rotated, your nails sculpted, and your coochie groomed just so and that sometimes these helper-people will not say "how high?" when you say "jump" and that's okay, the better off you'll be.

I mean, listen, I know you've gotta take your petty victories where you can get them, okay? We're not all in the one percent---used to having our coifs fluffed, our asses wiped, our purebred dogs walked, our meals cooked, and our blows softened---so we grab our power where we can. We care about exerting power over baristas, checkers, street folks, servers, bartenders, people we have no vested interest in. We seek to feel important by showing our wrath to these everyday people.

I'm here to tell you: this is not The Way. In this way lies misery and unhappiness. If you are one of the people who finds yourself moving through life idling at "simmering rage," you are giving too many fucks. If you find yourself sitting in your cubicle at 10:30 in the morning, still thinking about that asshole who stole your parking space that morning, you are giving too many fucks. If you are spending your evenings arguing about politics with strangers on the internet, thinking you will change someone's mind, you are giving too many fucks. If you think the fact that your coffeeshop is out of your favorite kind of muffin is the universe's way of punishing you, you are giving too many fucks.

A tale of two Richards: one gives too many fucks about the wrong things;
one is a carefree, sassy sprite who follows his joy.

Look, I get it. Modern life is hard and we're all under a lot of stress. It takes an enormous amount of self-actualization sometimes not to take life's little inconveniences as personal affronts. I did it all the time; I still do. No amount of meditation is gonna get me to a place where I'm zen about every damn thing. It's just not gonna happen. But getting butthurt about things over which you have no control and/or that really don't matter is the emotional equivalent of a three-year-old child throwing themselves on the floor of the middle of Baskin Robbins because the bubblegum ice cream cone you just handed him was blue and not pink. Everyone in line hates that little shit.

Besides, wasting all of your rage on things that don't matter leaves your energy depleted for fighting things that DO matter. Politicians and CEOs use this tactic all the time: "Let's get everyone's dander up over this transgender bathroom thing; meanwhile, we'll pass Citizens United and no one will care." Or "Let's get everyone riled up over the fact that there will be no more free juice in the breakroom; meanwhile, we'll take away your dental care." If you're too tired from simply moving through your angry day, maybe you have less energy or are in a much worse mindset to play with your kids, cook dinner, spend time with your family---things that DO matter, things you SHOULD be giving a fuck about. 

Look, I'm not always good at this. I still struggle not combat stupidity on a daily basis. But I just read this crazy-cool article about how the way you think actually physically changes your brain. Think about that for a mind-blowing second: this means your imagination can literally change your reality.

Is your mind blown yet? Because that's some seriously crazy shit. The article explains:

"Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about…Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger."

What this means is that, over time, if you continue to respond to stimuli in a certain way (negatively, for example), it becomes easier for your brain to make negative associations. You've literally trained your synapses for a go-to negative reaction rather than a positive one. Your brain, and what you do to it, literally shapes your reality. So by constantly allowing yourself to have negative reactions to the stimuli in your world, you are trapping your brain into a vicious fucks-giving cycle.

Sisyphus Butterfly needs to stop dragging that boulder, and so do you.

Bottom line is I've been much, much happier since I stop giving so many fucks. The things we view as irritations and inconveniences are such bullshit anyway. On your deathbed are you gonna remember how your neighbor was a shitty parker and his bumper hung over into your driveway? Or how that one time 12 years ago someone in line at the Comcast customer service center was an idiot? Or even that a coworker hated you and tried to make your life miserable at that one job you had in 2006? Or that the person you spoke to on the phone at the utility company was a moron? When you step back and allow yourself to get out of your solipsistic bubble and gain some perspective, it allows you to see the silliness of it all.

So that's what I try to do now, when I feel the heat rising in me over something that is truly unfuckworthy: "Is this worth wasting emotions on?" The answer is probably no. And the pause I take to think about that is a testament to meditation, which has allowed me to get those positive synapses closer to each other.

I still give plenty of fucks. I'm just choosing how I dole them out more selectively now, and it's made all of the difference. 

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The Gay Mafia is Coming for You (and It's About Time)

I'm gonna talk about Orlando. Of course I'm gonna talk about Orlando. 

Last night we watched How to Survive a Plague about the AIDS activist group, Act Up. It was a great flick, and I'd recommend it highly. First, I didn't realize that Act Up's primary focus was fighting the NIH and the FDA to push through testing of experimental AIDS drugs. This group, almost singlehandedly, got critical and life-saving drugs pushed through the approval process much faster than was happening at the time (which was excruciatingly slow due to the stigma of who had the disease---homos). They were able to get protease inhibitors to the people who were dying decades faster than it would have happened on its own. At the end of the movie, I felt so much pride for this small group of desperately committed men who affected such sweeping changes in this country. These were my people.

Second, yesterday I posted a meme on my Facebook page---half-seriously and half-jokingly---about how the Orlando murderer singlehandedly mobilized a huge block of people to take on gun control and how "these queens get shit done." After watching this documentary, I was reminded how true that actually is. The Act Up folks were terribly smart, uniquely motivated, and highly organized. Sick of being turned away at hospitals, they started an underground drug network, smuggling experimental drugs in from other countries. Then they started compiling data on these patients and sharing that info with the FDA because no one else cared enough to do it. They organized huge protests in front of drug company headquarters until the companies agreed to look at Act Up's data and work with them to develop treatments. In short, they got shit done. 

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You know who gets shit done? Bitches and queens. 

And then, 30 years later, they mobilized an entire country in less than a goddamned decade to accept same-sex marriage as a civil right. From the moment we lost the Prop 8 issue in November 2008, the community mobilized a campaign---both legal and social---to turn around the thinking of mainstream America in just seven years (until the Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2015). Seven years for sweeping social change is unheard of! Lookit us go!

But now this community---my community---is reeling from what is rapidly shaping up not to have anything to do with extreme religion but rather just good old-fashioned homophobia and self-loathing. We have been left shaking and bleeding and reeling, seeing firsthand the backlash of such rapid acceptance. I see clearly what our next fight will be. 

Look, I'm not naïve. In the battle of The Queens vs. The NRA, I have no illusions about who is better-funded. And it's always the people with more money who win. And if the dozens of grieving parents of murdered six-year olds can't change the system after Sandy Hook, why would I think an oppressed group of people, whose vagina-on-vagina and penis-on-penis action many Americans find distasteful, can get anything accomplished? I guess part of me is hoping that now that we've seen how mainstream opinion can affect policy change (as it did with same-sex marriage), the same will happen with guns. That the more groups that bigots and homophobes alienate with each mass shooting (blacks, Latinos, gays, parents, etc.) will just add to the growing cries of tighter gun regulations until the politicians realize they can't take the NRA's money anymore without being publicly shamed. And I guess part of me is hoping that having enough experienced activists in the gay community will make this next attack on gun control smarter. I know, I'm being naive. We no longer live in a democracy by any stretch---votes can be (and are) openly purchased by special interests and, unfortunately, the people with the most money are never the people with my best interests at heart.

On a personal note, I've been reeling in emotions these past two days. Yes, there has been sadness, but that's giving way to anger. Fuck this shit. I actually argued with a gun nut online yesterday. I KNOW better! I guess I'm shocked that I'm still shocked by the lack of compassion I've been seeing from pro-gun people. Fifty fucking people were mowed down with an AR-15, and the asshole I was arguing with was splitting hairs about how an AR-15 doesn't actually fire any faster than her handgun (for which she has a concealed carry license) so...

So. So fucking what? It was a weapon, a weapon of mass destruction, made by and for the military to be used in combat. Never intended for use among the citizenry. And crazy fucks are buying it with the express intention of killing as many people in as short of time as possible. And this is the direction of your argument---parsing out rounds per second as though that were the issue?!? I am flabbergasted at what people tell themselves and how their interest of being right Trumps (capitalization intended) their compassion for fellow human beings. 

I'm angry because what should be a no-brainer---making access to this weapon harder---is something that's controversial. We've become so polarized that even something as simple as 50 dead innocent citizens immediately becomes politicized. Immediately, as in, within minutes. I've watched as pro-gun folks' first reaction was to roll their eyes and say, "Great, now the gun-control nuts will use this argument for tighter gun control," (a logical response) instead of "Oh my god, how awful! What can we do about this epidemic?" Everyone is more interested in their side being right than in basic human compassion. When did we become this society? Oh right, when we elected a black man as president and old white dudes went nuts that he would start treating them the way black folks have been treated for centuries; turns out there was backlash on that issue as well. We are not a nation to easily grasp the complexities of a situation and prefer to see things in mostly Black or White terms (again, caps intended). 

I'm angry that even in the liberal, gay-friendly Bay Area, I now have to worry that some deranged fool with a gun will spy me exchanging an innocent kiss with my wife on the street and will follow us home and rape and kill us. (Yes, I've actually followed that thought line to its completion.) And I'm furious that that thought even crossed my mind. I'm angry that I even have to *think* about checking myself.

Most of my life, I identified as straight. I was 36 when I met my wife and fell head over heels in love with a person, regardless of her genitals. We were two peas in a pod, and there was no way I could pass that up. And anyone who has spent time with us in real life can see it, how perfect we are for each other. More than one friend has said to me "Y'all are my favorite couple." Not favorite gay couple, just favorite couple. That there are people in this world that want to murder my wife and me for something so beautiful and life-affirming is something I've always carried with me, yes. But Orlando has brought that terrifyingly to the forefront of my mind.

Lookit how cute we are, for fuck's sake. How can you hate us? 

I know she and I will continue to be ourselves, will continue to speak up for injustice against any group of people, not just "our people" when we see it happening. That is who we are---we are compassionate, empathetic people who don't like to see people being treated unjustly. We have been infinitely blessed with love and support around us all of the time. Our families and our friends shower us with love and let us know they support us unconditionally, both as individuals and as a couple. And our friends are raising their children with this same love and acceptance, which is heartening to watch.

It's a counterbalance of hope against the rage I feel most of the time that I'm just sitting around waiting for old, conservative, white men to die so we can get on with the business of making this a more loving, inclusive, and accepting country. A counterbalance to the hatred I see Trump and religious leaders inciting across this country. You want to blindly hate all people who worship a particular religion that incites violence? Fine, hate Muslims, but you gotta hate Christians too. They may no longer be beheading people, but they used to. Remember the Inquisition? When it comes to religion, they all have blood on their hands, and the fact that there are men and women in DC who are trying to rule this country as "a Christian nation" is no better than ISIS trying to get the world to bow to Fundamentalist Islamic rule.

The world is under no obligation to operate on YOUR terms. How hard is that to grasp? How hard is it to think "homosexuality isn't my jam, but live and let fucking live, man" and go about your own goddamned business? How hard is it to look at the person in front of you and not judge them based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or skin color and not hold them accountable for the sins of a deranged person? Apparently, it's pretty fucking hard for a lot of people in this godforsaken country right now. 

See? See how quickly I was talking about love, and I devolved into rage? Right now, I'm trying so hard not to let the dueling emotions of sadness and anger consume me and to focus on that love and hope instead. But it's hard, y'all, so fucking hard. Just remember, many of your gay friends are struggling right now. Please drop them a kind word and let them know you love and support them. You think it won't matter much or that it will be corny; it won't. Also, if you could read this, I'd be much obliged. It's the best thing I've read on Orlando and encapsulates a lot of what I'm struggling with myself.

I am who I am because of gay men. I count them among my earliest friends, confidantes, and influences. I am quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and campy. I am mouthy, opinionated, and sassy. I have shared so many pivotal moments of my life, both triumphant and deeply humbling, with gay men. They are among the most compassionate, kind-hearted, witty, fun-loving, brash people on this planet. The world needs more of that right now: fun and sassy and light-hearted. When I think about how it could have been any one of us in Pulse that night, I weep for the future of these victims, stolen so young. And I weep for how numb we are all growing toward this. 

Spread the love. I'm having a hard time doing that just now. Forgive me.  

We Need the Menfolk to Take Up Pitchforks Too

I'm not sure why the Brock Turner rape case has caught the nation's attention. We live in a world that shows us each and everyday that society still views women as chattel, something to be used, tossed about, scorned, shamed, insulted, beaten, stalked, and harassed online. If you've been paying attention even halfway, you're aware that women get abused or killed by their partners in this country by the minute, beaten or killed by strangers, raped by frat boys, sold for sex trafficking, told by strangers online that they should be raped or have their breasts cut off, and are generally made to feel worthless using terms that insult their weight, physical characteristics, or intelligence. The internet hates women even more than the real world does.

This man is lying, Rapey McRaperson who shows zero remorse for his actions. Look at that smug, "my daddy can get me out of anything" look of entitlement on that doofus face. 

Yet, I can't help but notice that, for some reason, this what is sadly a very typical example of what can happen to a young woman when she is around men who cannot control their impulses, has gone viral. It's no longer been contained to the quiet, manicured grounds of the West Coast's Ivy League university. People are posting pictures of Brock with the words RAPIST above his head. People are posting the victim's unbelievably eloquent and powerful letter to Brock.* People are posting the father's ridiculous response about how his fuckwit of his son has lost his appetite for ribeyes and how he shouldn't be punished for "20 minutes of action." People are posting the judge's picture and reminding everyone that he's up for reelection tomorrow. (As it turns out, he's running unopposed, but there is now a petition to get him recalled.)

And the reason this feels different to me is twofold: first of all, we women are becoming more emboldened and empowered. For all of virulent hostility women encounter online, we are now using social media and the internet as a forum to publically shame rapists and abusers. For every ten Men's Rights Activists (that term makes me throw up in my mouth a little) slut-shaming women from their hidey holes, there is now one woman standing up and saying "Fuck you, you Tiny Man, no one cares what you think." We, too, have learned to use social media to our advantage when the justice system fails us. We have watched versions of this same tired rape trial play out all over the country for decades now, and we are finally standing up and saying "Fuck this shit. Stop teaching your daughters about what not to wear and how much to drink and start teaching your sons not to fucking rape."

Second, I'm seeing, for the first time, MEN getting involved in the public shaming of this entitled, unapologetic human skid mark. I live in the Bay Area, where, arguably, we have some pretty damn enlightened men. My male friends are compassionate, intelligent, mostly liberal people who would consider themselves feminists. Even if they wouldn't use that word to describe themselves, they still certainly believe that their female partners, friends, and coworkers are entitled to all the rights they themselves enjoy. They certainly believe that a woman has a right to control over her own body.

Yet, in past high-profile trials involving rape, abuse, stalking, or harassment, these compassionate men mostly remain silent on social media. There is no calling out the rapist or even posting the story on their timelines. I'm not sure if it's because they feel the burning shame of the atrocities of which their gender is capable, whether it's because doing so would make them seem like a wimp to other male friends, or if it's simply "well I know that *I* would never rape someone so I'm already doing enough." But for whatever the reason, my usually compassionate male friends' social media accounts have remained awkwardly silent in the past.

But this one is different. I see my male friends stepping up and reposting this story with furious words for Brock, his father, and the judge. They are reading this story and making a moral judgement, then doing something about it by reposting it with angry commentary. I mean, we just had a week of "what kind of stupid-ass parent doesn't keep an eye on their kid around a gorilla enclosure?!?!" parent-shaming on Facebook. It's right and just that Brock's father receive this same level of parental shaming for not instilling common decency in his grown-ass child. People--no matter the gender--should be calling this fuckface out. Brock's father's plea to the judge has received thousands of "fruit doesn't fall far from that tree" comments worldwide. I also believe this is right and just.

Yes, one can argue that being a "slacktivist" accomplishes little. Sharing a story on Facebook with your rant is about as little action that you can take (aside from no action at all), and people argue that's not really doing anything. It's not like you're taking to the streets to affect social change.

I disagree. I think social media is now how we see, in real time, how tides can shift when it comes to social and cultural issues. I don't think attitudes about same-sex marriage would have changed at the lightning pace they did without Facebook, without the countless memes, news stories, and pictures posted on Facebook and Twitter. You keep seeing those sentiments over and over again, phrased in different ways, poking holes of logic in any arguments you might have had, coming from all different types of people, and eventually that's how the zeitgeist changes. You start to realize that maybe your beliefs aren't cool, a touch outdated perhaps.

And just like other social movements before this one, the oppressed need allies who are members of the oppressing group. The Civil Rights Movement needed open-minded, compassionate white people to help get the message out that racial equality was an idea whose time had come. The same-sex marriage movement needed straight people who believed that ALL people should be entitled to equal rights under the law to join the cause and help influence other less-open-minded straight people.

And now? Now we need you gents to step up and help us get this message out, and speaking out on social media is a good start toward it. I think public shaming---for all of the murky, ethical, Shirley-Jackson-Lottery-esque qualities it carries---is actually starting to work. Sadly, it's not enough that we women are standing up for ourselves, showing our outrage, and speaking out--we need you guys to stand up against this behavior too. For it shows other men---men who themselves would never rape someone but who would otherwise shrug and say "well, it's the world we live in" and walk away---to see that it's not betraying their gender to also speak up and say it's time to stop treating women as objects. It's not enough that we're standing up for ourselves when it happens to us on the streets or in the workplace; we need men who see this happening in real life to speak to the aggressor as well. It's the old "if you see something, say something" adage, writ large.

As my friend said "Is it wrong that I'm grateful for those two Swedish boys who stumbled upon the scene as Brock was penetrating this unconscious woman and that they actually did something? Because that's not necessarily the society we live in." Sadly, she's right---many men would have averted their eyes and hastily walked by, not wanting to get involved. But those kids DID get involved, and it sucks that women have to feel grateful for even those scraps of basic human decency.

I just read a comment on another friend's page that said she overheard two old white men in the airport this morning talking about how poor Brock was being persecuted for his boyish indiscretions and it was "a bunch of jealous dykes with pitchforks on a witch hunt." Had I been sitting next to those two old dinosaurs, I would have stood up, looked them in the eye, and said "I can't wait for your old asses to die and with it all your stupid, sexist, outdated bullshit. The rest of America is doing just that---waiting for you to die so we can get on with the business of making this an America where ALL citizens are given equal value and equal treatment." Hell yes, I would have said it; I'm known to do that sort of thing all the time. (Some of my friends have suggested they'd like me to strap a GoPro to my head and have a reality show based on me calling out stupid shit.)

And the thing is, we need ALL like-minded people to start doing this. Don't just shake your head and move to another seat so you don't have to listen to their misguided, misogynistic rantings. Think of it this way: if you were sitting next to a guy an the airport spouting racist crap, would you say something? If the answer is yes, then why not expand it to include women?

For the more people are told this sort of public behavior is unacceptable, the more we see a social shift. I'm not naïve; I don't think that public shaming and calling people out IRL has ended racism or gay-bashing. I spend enough time on the internet to know that's it's only inflamed some---the ones we're waiting for to die. But at one point, people of this country thought slavery was a good idea; now we don't. We thought Jim Crow was probably fine for those hillbillies down South; now most Southerners agree that was a shameful period of their history. At one point the thought of two men having a wedding and having it be recognized by our government would have been ludicrous; now people look forward to attending their first gay wedding with excitement. It is possible to shift public opinion. And now, thanks to the ways in which we're all dialed in, social media is forcing those shifts to happen faster and faster. 

We are coming into a period where we will need our male allies to step up and be even louder. Look at what having an African-American president has done to bring out all the horrible, racist kooks who now think it's okay to shout their ignorance from the rooftops. (Hate groups have increased a whopping 250% since Obama took office.) If Hillary Clinton is elected president, the next four years will be a constant assault on women as old white dudes perceive their centuries of total control slipping away. We ladies will pay the price for America having elected a "female bull-dyke bitch" for president. We'll see misogyny the likes of which we haven't seen since the Middle Ages. If you think there's a War on Women now, just you wait until we see a 250% rise in MRA groups. It makes it all the more important that like-minded men consistently call that shit out when they see it---either online or IRL. For what we're seeing now is that public shaming DOES work when the law enforcement or legal system fails you. We see angry mobs getting people fired from their jobs for racist rants on social media; we see people publicly shaming rapists and judges and parents. And I can't help but think that now that the internet has just even the smallest amount of accountability, people are rethinking their actions. You think some drunken frat boy talking to his dudebros about how he's gonna take a wasted girl back to his dorm and take advantage of her now won't--at least a few times---elicit the response "Careful bro, remember what happened to that dude at Stanford?"

Hell, even if that conversation only happens once at one frat party, isn't that a start? 

_________

*If you haven't read the victim's letter yet, please, please, please go read it. It's one of the most moving and powerful victim statements I've ever read and something that should be required reading for ALL teenagers--boys and girls.  

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, It Will Be YouTubed

The following entry is the fifth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

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If you read me even sporadically you know about my daily battle with technology. Not in a "Grandma can't figure out how to work the DVD player" kind of way. More like in a "why should I go out and play with the three-dimensional people when I have so many kitten videos to watch?" kind of way. To that end, I have a couple of tidbits of advice to offer up. These are things that I inherently knew were/are contributing to my unhappiness, but that I kept doing anyway. It's sorta like when you think "Well, meth may take down everyone else, but not me---I can handle this shit!" Next thing you know, you're toothless, picking at scabs on your face, wondering how you lost control of your life. For me, these two things are as addictive as a drug, and the chasm between what I know I should do and what I actually do is as mighty as the Grand Canyon. So that being said, I offer y'all the following advice:

Get the hell off the Internet. Fucking run, don't walk. This comes from someone who has spent the last several years mainlining the Internet and mainlining high doses of stupid websites so I can, what? Remain relevant? Be the hippest person on unhip Facebook? Be able to intelligently discuss world news at parties? And I don't just mean social media is toxic, I mean all the crappy video sites, news sites, video-streaming sites, and other timesuck activities that are bombarding you with stories and pictures and activities that will make you feel bad about the world and your place in it. Aside from the fact that you know, deep in your soul, that you only have one life to live and sitting and staring at a screen for 14 hours a day is NOT how you should be living it, everything on the goddamned Internet is designed to make you enraged, divided, argumentative, and bullying.

The Internet gives us the illusion that we're connected, but really it makes us didactic, angry, and fist-shaky. The whole fucking thing is designed to keep us hooked, learning our algorithms and feeding us more of the same crap that we've clicked on before to keep the rage going. So we sit there like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere, clicking on articles that make us furious about the state of our cities, states, countries, planet…on an endless loop…clicketyclick. And what the fuck can we do to solve any of these problems, right? We can't fix the broken political system or do anything about poisoned water. So this enormous ball of frustration and impotence builds in us, and we spend our days carrying around a vague sense of hopelessness and can't figure out why. 

Just as applicable today as it was 30 years ago. Just substitute the TV for a monitor.

I am a news junkie, a political junkie, an Internet junkie. There have been studies showing how Facebook activates the same neural pathways as drugs like cocaine and heroin. If you've ever watched me scrolling through my Facebook feed, you'd believe that comparison in a heartbeat. Now. More. Again. Since I got my smartphone in 2008, I've developed arthritis in my thumbs from FUCKING SCROLLING. Let that sink in for a minute. Plus, I have a constant pinched nerve in my neck and shoulder from the way I hold my phone. My body is, literally, telling me that this is not how I was meant to live. Yet, like drugs, the pull is too great, and I succumb, "playing through the pain" like some sad techlete.

We have become a nation of people getting what is laughably called "news" via Twitter and Facebook feeds---angry headlines with algorithms that know to feed us stories that align with our existing beliefs---so then we turn around a spout that opinion on our own pages, thereby perpetuating the hatred, all while calling ourselves "informed." I'm the guiltiest of all, which is why I've severely cut down on the type of stuff I share on my page. The 2012 election about killed my joy for good, so I cut out all the pages having to do with news and/or politics on my feed. At some point, Facebook transitioned from being witty posts from your friends to nothing but people posting articles agreeing or disagreeing with their worldview with angry rants attached. I am the worst offender, so I've unliked all the news sites and political sites to minimize how much crap I see, and I've hidden all ranty and/or negative friends. And y'all, it has helped enormously, both with the amount of time I'm spending online and with my outlook. I can't recommend it enough.

This dovetails nicely with my next pearl of wisdom which is, yes, I know everyone tells you this, but I'm not fucking kidding: You have got to control your smartphone instead of letting it control you. Because it means even when you are out in the world, you're not really in it. Once I had access to all of the knowledge of the world---plus a camera!---at my fingertips, my life became far less rich. Instead of experiencing life, which I used to be very, very good at, I experienced virtual life through a tiny screen instead. I was no longer paying attention to the wonders of the world around me. I developed that nasty neck crick we all seem to bitch about now, the one from having our faces buried in our phones nonstop, and suddenly I ceased to be alert to conversation with friends, possible amazing interactions with strangers, beautiful scenery, towns I drove through. Once it was me and my phone, I inadvertently put up an invisible wall around myself and stopped making myself accessible to all of life's possibilities.

Look, I love having an easily operable camera at my fingertips at all time, and there's no shame in documenting your trip, your lunch, your day. But when you take a picture then spend the next 20 minutes uploading it to all of your various social media, think about the 20 minutes of scenery or conversation you just missed. Talk about failure to be present. I'm so very guilty of doing this, and I'm trying to check myself. Every time I reach for my phone, I try and be conscious of it and think "Do I really need to do whatever I was just gonna do on this phone or should I just enjoy the things around me?"

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The Wife is trying desperately to drag me into cribbage. While I like cribbage and I see what she's trying to do (get us involved in something that doesn't involve drinking and that initiates conversation), I've been dragging my feet. I think it's laziness. It's easier to lie on the couch and color on my phone than engage in face-to-face interaction. Much like doing things that get me outside my comfort zone and force me to leave the house, I'm again opting for the moment of least resistance. What will require the least amount of effort from me? The answer is always gonna be smoking a bowl and watching TV. And that sucks. I don't wanna be that person. I just feel so exhausted most of the time, and that makes everything seem so insurmountable: going to dinner with friends, playing cribbage, going to the grocery store, talking on the phone.

Don't act like this ain't your house.

It's like I've let my mind tell my body that this is all it's capable of anymore. It's nothing more than mental laziness coupled with the addictive capabilities of a doctor with a loose prescription pad doling out Oxy. We don't stand a chance unless we make conscious choices surrounding the technology we have access to. Much like alcoholics must have a plan in place for how they will handle "dangerous" situations, we, too, must have a plan, boundaries, rules---whatever you want to call them---in place for when mental laziness takes over and our brains are itching to zone out and our scrolling thumbs are getting twitchy.

I've tried it all---the apps that track your time on social media sites, setting an "only two hours a day" rule, bribing myself, removing social media apps from my phone so they're not as easy to get to. Hell, I even went into the woods without my phone for 10 days. It was this last one---me going all Thoreau on my life---that remotely stuck. Coming back from that time away from technology, I felt utterly refreshed, and I didn't have the need to jump on my phone when I returned. I've since slid back into using social media too much, but the pause made me stop and think about the amount of time I was wasting, as well as the type of things I was posting. I've stopped posting angry rants about politicians, corporations, corrupt judges, brutal police actions, and greedy billionaires. The information is already out there; I don't need to perpetuate the cycle.

So that's today lesson, my precious pets. Technology is both a gift and a menace. It's up to you which way it leans in your life. 

No Parking in the Comfort Zone

The following entry is the fourth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

*****

Continuing with this series of Things I've Learned during My Struggle for Happiness, one of the things I've realized is that getting out of your comfort zone will make you a better person. Look, I hate this one too because I've discovered that with pain, depression, and just plain age comes fear. Fear of fucking everything. Fear every time you open your computer and read about what's happening in the world. Fear every time you walk to your car at night and remember that story you read about the woman who got raped in that neighborhood last week. Fear of quitting your job and losing everything. Fear of divorce. Fear of the death of your parents or children. Fear of getting really sick. Fear of dying alone. Fear of everything until you stop trusting in people. And then you start fearing anyone who is different from you or any situation you haven't previously experienced.

This last one seems to consume us the older we get. The more we fear, the more we isolate ourselves. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we're getting our perception of the world through secondhand sources, like television or the Internet. The more we trust others' perceptions of the world instead of our own experiences, the more likely it is that our perceptions become skewed. You forget the age-old adage of "don't believe everything you read," and you become more susceptible to trusting the news, which is designed to make you what? Fear even more shit. It's a vicious cycle, man.

Funniest_Memes_get-out-of-your-comfort-zone_14430.jpeg

To counter this, I'm trying hard to get out and meet the people in my community, to put faces on people belonging to groups about which I understand little so that I can broaden my worldview (check out my previous entry about this). I don't want the face of the Muslim religion to be something I read about on Gawker. I don't want the face of cops to be everything I read on the endlessly one-sided, clickbaity web "news" sites. I don't even want to paint the picture of all Trump supporters as the ignorant, racist hillbillies they're often portrayed as. That means all I'm getting is the one-dimensional shit; I'm not understanding the deeper issues at work. It's human nature to blame another group for the world's woes. It's always the blacks, the Mexicans, the Irish, the Muslims, the gays, the feminists, the Soviets…and on and on. But living with all that hatred is not only harmful to you (anger and anxiety lead to health problems), but it's harmful to the world to buy into that mindset---you become part of the problem. It's essential that you make connections to individuals.

Listen, this shit is hard for me too. It's no different than the promise you make to yourself as you fall asleep that tomorrow you'll wake up an hour early and get to the gym. We always wanna believe that tomorrow is the day we're gonna be our best selves. For me, I wanna think that tomorrow is gonna be the day I leave the house and go do something really different, something helpful that allows me to make a connection, something that pushes against the boundaries of my comfort levels. But fear stops me. When I told my shrink about these things and how I don't engage in activities I claim to I want to do and that I know are in my best interest out of sheer laziness, he said he doesn't believe in laziness. He thinks that there is always something behind the laziness that's really stopping you. For me, that thing is FEAR. It's an interesting theory, which has made me pay attention to what's really going on in my head when I say I don't want to do something. Why don't I want to do this? Because it would be easier to stay in bed and watch Netflix. Okay, but easier how? Because you're scared to have to go and interact with people? What's going on beneath your desire not to put on a bra and leave the house?

I still struggle with this, y'all. I'm just happier being home these days. Except the thing is, when I don't leave the house, I turn to all my usual distractions: weed, booze, Facebook, Netflix. And then it turns into a shame spiral pretty quickly. I lie there and think about whatever thing I got invited to and begged off of, and I beat myself up for not being in the world, telling myself over and over that I only have one life to live and is scrolling through Facebook how I want to spend it? Or do I want to go to things, experience things, see things, talk to people? I know what the *right* answer is, so I continue to lie there and beat myself up, all while ostensibly doing what I'd rather be doing---staying at home. Your brain really is its own worst enemy. As my other shrink says (I know, I have a team of professionals trying their best to keep me sane) "How's all the negative thinking working out for you?" Dr. Phil-isms aside, she's right. It's not working for me any better than it's working for you. But turning off that stream of "I'm-a-piece-of-shit-because" thinking is one of the hardest things we struggle with.

Look, this shit is so common, someone made a meme. You are not alone.

Look, we have been conditioned to fear for our lives every time we set foot out in the world. Either it's the Bay Bridge, which will collapse at any minute, surely killing me while I'm en route to the city. Or it's the crime in West Oakland, of which I will surely be a victim should I choose to place myself in that "disadvantaged" neighborhood. Or it's the possibility that the angry dude in front of me at the coffeeshop berating the barista will be carrying a concealed weapon. Or it's that the air we're breathing and the water we're drinking are slowly killing us. We are conditioned now to fear all of the time, and if you don't think that that's doing a number on your psyche, on your flight-or-fight instincts, on suddenly developing panic attacks for no reason…you are just flat-out wrong. It's taking its toll. This mentality is making us turn inward and want to be in the world less. Trust, bitches, I know. I am their poster child.

There's a dude who, post-divorce, developed a card game for the very purpose of getting himself out of his comfort zone. He, too, was paralyzed with fear, so he vowed to do one thing every day that scared him, where there was a possibility of him getting rejected since rejection was *his* biggest fear. And it changed him. I haven't made any sort of pledge like that for myself because it's, well, scary. But my point is, this is a common affliction from which we ALL suffer. Again, we mock and scorn things that scare us so that we can justify not engaging with that person or not putting ourselves into a certain situation. And it keeps us terribly isolated. And fearful. Fear does not equal happy. You have to get out there and try new things and meet new people. By any means necessary. And I still struggle with this, y'all. It's not easy. But it is essential. Honestly, the cards look cool, and I think I'm gonna get myself a set.

There's no shame in admitting you need extra help with any of these things. If it takes a set of cards or some other means of bribing yourself, do it. We spend all this time and energy and use every tool available to us to work on what our outward bodies look like, yet very few of us put that same level of effort and energy into making our minds more fit. That extra 10 pounds you think you need to lose every time you look in the mirror? How do you think you'd view your body if your mind were in a better place? Those 10 pounds wouldn't fucking matter---and they shouldn't. Who gives a fresh fuck about your muffin tops when you are mentally healthy and happy? I mean, I know this falls under the category of DUH, but if you feel good about yourself inwardly, you're not gonna give two whits about what other people see on the outside. Given the choice between a six-pack and contentment, I'm choosing contentment every time.

And even though I sorta suck at getting out of my comfort bubble, when I do manage to do it, I'm rarely sorry I did. Usually it results in meeting someone new and having a really cool conversation with them, going to a new place and having a new kind of experience, or hanging out with old friends and really, really connecting with them. So I know it's hard, y'all, I really do. But trite clichés aside, you really do only get one life.

I know it's easier to lie on the couch and watch episodes of Roseanne for the tenth time---and I'm not saying that's never okay---but when you look back on your life as you get older, will it make you happier to remember that you spent most of your middle age horizontal on a couch quoting "Steel Magnolias" line-for-line or will you remember that you went into the sunlight and frolicked when you had the chance? Me? I already know I can do the former, so now I'm working on the latter.

Work Like a Bastard to Develop Empathy

The following entry is the third in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

Empathy. This is a theme that runs like a river through my blog. We have become a divided nation, a divided world. We vociferously define ourselves by our political affiliations, our religions, the colors of our skin, our genders (whether cis- or trans-, male or female), our sexual orientations, geographic regions in which we live, our economic status (or lack thereof), our cultural references, and our classes. Owning your birthrights or your preferences is certainly a great step toward pride and self-love. But sadly, we've also started lashing out at groups who identify differently than we do, and that's where humanity gets into real trouble. Defining yourself by who you hate is a dangerous proposition, made even more dangerous by the anonymity of the Internet, where trolling and hate-slinging is a way of life.

When I was wearing my young/hip/edgy San-Francisco-city-chick persona throughout most of my twenties and my thirties, I thought it was what I needed to keep the freaks at bay. If I looked and acted caustic and hard, no one would fuck with me. Then, one day in my forties, I looked up and realized my worldview was really, really angry and messed up. I had zero sympathy for anyone. I'd become hard, cold, and unsympathetic; very "Every Man for Himself." And I realized I did not want to live the rest of however much time I had left being pissed off all the time or assuming that the guy sitting next to me on the bus was toting a shiv and was about to remove my teeth from my head. (Don't laugh, this really happened on the bus line I took every day when I lived in the Mission.) I was sick of assuming all homeless people somehow deserved to be homeless and that’s how I could justify stepping over them every day. I was sick of assuming all black men standing on a corner in a shitty neighborhood were either selling or buying drugs, and that's how I justified looking away from them so quickly.

In short, I was sick of defining individuals by how society has told us they should be defined.

^^ Not me ^^

The fact of the matter is…everyone has a fucking story. We can be proud of the groups we were either born into or choose to identify with, but to marginalize or somehow make invisible groups we know nothing about or have only heard stereotypes about is coming from a place of fear. We mock and scorn that which we don't understand. And that turns us into callous assholes and makes it that much easier to assume "all Blacks…" or "all Muslims…" or "all transgendered people…" or even "all gun owners…" For me, it's "all Republicans…" or "all Evangelicals…"

The way to counter this blinder-like thinking is to develop empathy. I know, that phrase is being bantered around a lot these days. You see almost as many stories about developing empathy as you do about meditation. What does it even mean…empathy? Short version: putting yourself in someone else's shoes and trying to imagine what their journey has been like up to that point. If you are a compilation of the things you've experienced, the people you've met, the stories you hold, why would you think it would be any different for a street-bound person? Or a Latina maid who just cleaned your hotel room? Or the drag queen on the corner? The Road to Right Now is paved with all of the wrongs we've suffered at the hands of others, bad choices we've made, times we've stumbled, people who have let us down. The difference between you and that person living on the street could just be a couple of devastating turns of fate for them or that you were lucky enough to have a better support system in your life.

It means recognizing that everyone doesn't come from a place of privilege or ease. For me, that meant learning to look at life through a different lens other than a middle-class, college-educated, white American. It meant that being born into those aforementioned groups had automatically given me certain advantages that other people simply didn't have access to. What it didn't mean was feeling bad about my white, middle-class privilege---I hadn't done anything wrong by being born white and middle-class in a first-world country---but it did mean recognizing that my birth into these categories automatically gave me a leg up in society as it stands today. It meant that my odds of having a more comfortable life were greater than say, a child born into a brothel in Mumbai or a black kid born in the projects in West Baltimore. To acknowledge this privilege didn't mean I was a racist dick or a Trump supporter. It didn’t mean I possessed any superior knowledge or survival skills; it simply meant I likely had greater access to the tools that help a person succeed in society. Once I recognized that, I felt like I had an obligation to appreciate other people's journeys and to recognize that their lives might have been much more fraught with obstacles than mine. I realized that judging people based on what I saw before me in a moment was a bit vapid; I had zero knowledge of how they arrived at that point.

Once I started talking to homeless folks I encountered, or the young, black men loitering outside our bar, or people who are taking hormone-replacement therapy to change their gender, or the woman wearing a hajib in my coffeeshop, it became that much harder to lump these folks into easily defined groups. How can you be dismissive of "all homeless people" when you've heard Cliff's story of losing his legs in Vietnam, losing his VA benefits, his only child dying in a car wreck---all of which left him without family and without an income? How can you say "all black kids…" when you see, firsthand, a bunch of high school kids who came from the projects, parents often addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless themselves, who are busting their asses to grab as much education as this country can offer them in order to get into college and better their family's situation? You can't. Once you start seeing people as an amalgam of their life stories up to that point, rather than "a black junkie," it becomes harder to vilify them as Other.

Listen, no one likes getting judgier than I do. I can tear a person down from head to toe in the time you can say "we are more alike than different." Riding down the street with The Wife and I is an exercise in bitchiness. "Did she really leave the house in those shoes? Aw hell nah! Ooooooh girl, you need to rethink that outfit!" Shit y'all, that's some all-American fun right there---picking folks apart for making worse choices than you. You can pry my superficial, bitchy judgments from my cold, dead brain after I go. But the difference is, I do it in the privacy of my own car or home or barstool. What I don't do is poke people---either in real life or on the Internet---for how they are living their lives or the choices they're making, and I don't tell them what choices they should be making instead.

But what I do do is seek out The Other in an effort to know more about them, to make them less scary, to hear their stories, to understand. It makes it easier to resist stereotyping and to resist assuming everyone should think, act, and believe as I do. And once I started doing that, a funny thing happened---my anger toward the world started to wane. I stopped seeing everyone on the bus as a potential drugged-out criminal or all white women in Lululemon pants as vapid yoga moms or whatever. I mean, shit, I ain't perfect; sometimes I do let my angry stereotypes get the best of me, but it happens less and less. I'm getting better at moving through the world without fear and rage, which makes me feel less craptastic all around.

So lower the walls just a bit, if you can. Strike up a conversation with someone as you're waiting for the bus or standing in the coffee line. I'd tell you to volunteer at a shelter or a mosque, but hell, I haven't even gotten off my own ass and done that, so, ya know…do as I say, not as I do. I'm a work in progress too, just like all of us. Sometimes I have the best of intentions. So start small. Build a tiny inlet into understanding that which you might fear.

And stop hating people because you think you've got them all figured out based on a few outward clues because you don't. Any more than any stranger has you all figured out based on those awful shoes you left the house in this morning. 

Look, You're Gonna Have to Meditate

The following entry is the second in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

 

*****

So I've been thinking about the things I've learned on this sojourn toward happiness lately. To say that being on this quest to reclaim my happiness hasn't changed me would be dishonest. I've learned a lot of things about myself and the things that impact my contentment or dissatisfaction. So don't roll your eyes when I tell you the Number One thing I've learned is that you're gonna have to meditate. But hold up, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Everyone goes into it with this preconceived notion of what meditation is supposed to be, like you have to sit cross-legged with your fingers touching in circles in the middle of a deep and verdant forest next to babbling brook, and you will open your mind and the universe will expand…like you are Buddha his own damn self. But that's not what meditation is! Listen here, Buddhafaces: Meditation is whatever the hell works for you.  

I know, I know…you've read the barrage of articles that have been popping up in your feed with growing frequency about how meditation helps your mental and physical health, so you tried it and you "suck at meditation" or your "mind wanders all over the place." No. Just stop. Stop fucking saying that because it is patently and blatantly untrue. Nobody has a more scattered and jumpy mind than I do (thanks ADHD!), and even *I've* figured out a meditation style that works for me. If I did it, you can too. Trust.

Seriously. 

So what's the point? Why is meditation increasingly being shown to extend our lives and bring down our blood pressure? The central goal of meditation, as I see it, is that it teaches you self-soothing techniques. You are training yourself bring your mind back to focusing on something physical (your breath) when your brain starts wandering (which it will). Of course your mind will wander! That's just human nature. The key is, when you're meditating and you realize you've spent the last five minutes wondering whether you should throw a Star Wars-themed or a cowboy-themed birthday party for your kid, don't then berate yourself for it. Notice it, let that shit go, bring yourself back to breathing, and start counting your breaths until your mind wanders off again (which it will). 

This will be you. And that's okay. 

The point of intentionally sitting and teaching yourself this when you're in a calm, quiet environment at home is that once you practice doing this in a peaceful environment, you'll be able to bring yourself out of your racing, angry mind during in real-life moments, calm yourself down, and buy yourself a little perspective on whatever's happening. Whether your child has just dumped red paint on the carpet, or you're stuck in traffic behind a little old lady driving 15 miles an hour with her seatbelt hanging out of her door, you'll recognize the signs that you're losing your cool and will be able to take steps to soothe yourself before you let something as idiotic as shitty traffic ruin the rest of your night with your family once your commute is over.

There are, literally, thousands of tiny little techniques you can use, some of them only take a couple of minutes. To use "I just don't have the time to meditate" is a weak-ass excuse. You unconsciously meditate when you zone out in your car on the way to work and suddenly find yourself pulling into the parking lot wondering how the hell you got there. THAT'S meditation, motherfuckers! For reals! If you can do that, you can consciously meditate too!

I meditate in my own kooky way. I long ago gave up meditating how someone else expected me to, and I just started trying all kinds of crazy shit---I chant, I rock, I hum, I karaoke, I curse… Sometimes when I'm sitting there, I chant my mantra: Be Patient, Be Polite, Be Positive, Be Powerful, Be Present. And if I know I have a challenging day ahead of me, I think about how I will apply each of those concepts to my day ahead: "Be Patient….today you're meeting with Bob, who is an idiot fucktard…don't let him get under your skin…when he suggests one of his useless ideas, instead of rolling your eyes, really listen to what he has to say! Okay, so…Be Powerful…today you're meeting with your boss about a raise…you should provide the examples of where you had happy clients who gave good feedback, and if she tries to minimize your accomplishments, firmly remind her of the time you took on that ugly project that no one wanted…" I tailor my meditation toward whatever I feel unsure of or I think will give me trouble during the upcoming day.

Often, I will step outside for 10 minutes and sit in the sun. I then take an inventory of the physical things I'm experiencing. I close my eyes and do slow, controlled, deep breaths and take an inventory of the things I can hear (birds chirping), feel (the sun on my face), and see (floaters in front of my closed eyes), and smell (someone is grilling). I focus on these physical aspects around me while breathing deeply, and 10 minutes later, I'm a new human. I can go back and read the next 20 pages of a poorly written, boring report. I can face the thought of getting on I-80 during rush hour. I can face dealing with The Wife and talk about that argument we had before she left for work this morning.

Or sometimes I crank the chanting, New Agey, bling-bling music and just focus on my breathing while lying in a hammock. Or sometimes I close my eyes and concentrate on the sounds around me in a coffeeshop. Or sometimes I let myself completely lose myself in a song I love. Or sometimes I smoke a bowl and chop vegetables for dinner, the rhythmic ><CRUNCH!>< providing satisfying background music to my zen state of mind. Point being, your meditation can be any way you want, for however many minutes you can grab.

And what is the end result? Does it really DO anything? Is it like "Six-Minute Abs?" Will I "see results in just 6 weeks?!?!"

Bitch, please.

The world's greatest smart ass and healthiest skeptic on the planet is here to tell you: FUCK. YES. I am a transformed person because of meditation. If my hard-drinking, chain-smoking, burger-eating ass lives to be a day over 60, it will be because of meditation.

Sweetbabykrishna, let me count the ways in which it has helped. The main one being that it has taught me how better to be in the present moment in my everyday life, not just when I'm meditating. "And what does that mean? Being in the present?" You might ask. It means everything.

It means that when I wake up in a bad mood, sometimes I can turn that mood around by stopping and taking stock of my situation instead of blanketly being a pessimistic asshat and assuming the entire day will suck. It means before I get out of bed, I can lie there for 10 minutes and count things for which I'm grateful: "Yesterday I spent an hour wondering whether or not my cat was happy enough. I'd say that means my life is pretty much gravy right now. Last night The Wife grilled that pork loin perfectly. Holy crap, that was good eats. And tonight we’re grilling pizzas? That'll be awesome! I'm lucky that I have access to such good food." It's the difference between starting my day in a shit mood or a sunny mood. 

This is you, isn't it?

It means I no longer get that purple, popping vein in my forehead when I'm driving behind slow AF morons. Or standing behind someone counting out pennies to pay for their purchase. It means I better ignore the ugly behavior I see everyday. Whether it's careless, rude, or selfish behavior from another person, it means I don't spend the next hour festering about whatever stranger pissed me off that morning with their stupid behavior.

For example, these are the sort of things my brain says to itself now,
rather than saying them out loud. And then I let that shit slide right out of my head.

It means I no longer get hopeless and relentlessly angry when I read or hear news stories that I know I can't do anything about. It means knowing I can avoid those stories altogether with my own behavior, by refusing to click on things I know will disturb this sense of calm I have.

It means when I'm fighting with my wife, I am more likely to stop and take stock of the situation before yelling something at her that just makes me feel good in the moment but that will have ugly repercussions. It means I can think about the words I'm choosing so that they no longer wound like they used to. (I'm a mean fighter.) It means when I can feel my blood pressure rising, I remember to stop and count to ten instead of letting my whiskey-heated tongue spout out something I'll regret.

It means that when even the most innocuously pleasant thing happens to me, I've learned to stop and enjoy that moment, no matter how small. Whether it's noting that I'm driving with all the windows down on a warm, sunny day or whether it's a really good piece of cheese I'm eating, it means I've slowed down and stopped to appreciate it. 

I'm not saying my old, ugly habits don't die hard. I'm still a hopelessly judgmental and angry twat at times. I've spent 25+ years living in major urban environments. Living amongst too many people, too much filth, and too much crime makes for an angry persona. Look, I spent 15 years riding San Francisco's MUNI buses. My PTSD from those years still makes me scream at MUNI buses as they lumber by me whenever I visit the city. Plus, I also spent the same 15 years stepping over homeless people passed out in my doorway, human feces, and used needles, as well as getting mugged…twice. It doesn't take long to go from the earnest, young, fresh-faced Texas girl to a callous city dweller who erects an invisible shield around herself every time she steps out of the house. You have to be hard to protect yourself. Or so you think.

But it turns out, you can live with a healthy amount of skepticism and still be an emotionally charitable person. Which dovetails very nicely into the next thing I've learned these past few years: You're gonna have to work like a bastard to develop empathy.

But I'll save that for my next entry…

The Entry Where I Drop Mad Wisdom

I started this blog three or so years ago for a number of reasons, but mostly, it was because I was deeply, deeply unhappy, and I wanted to start a journey toward reclaiming the happy, carefree person I used to be. And I knew the struggles I was having with anger, impatience, frustration, impotence, rudeness, and anxiety weren't just my struggles---it's stuff we ALL struggle with in the Western world. Most of us (though definitely not all) don't have to worry about food or shelter, so we have the luxury to worry (and get angry about) all sorts of other things. The world is rife with perceived irritations. I think what we've become as a society and the current state of the world leave a lot of people with these exact emotions. We've become a nation of divided, entitled, and angry fist-shakers, and whether we realize it or not, that affects our psyches on a very personal level each and every day.

So these past few years, I've spent A LOT of time thinking about happiness---my own and society's. I've tried all the hippie, California, New Age shit---from hiring a life coach to individual AND couples' counseling to learning to meditate to reading spiritual books to going on silent retreats to quitting my miserable job---and still happiness eluded me.

And then, about a month ago, I went away into the woods for ten days. I had no devices, no TV, no booze, no friends, no Internet, no obligations. And I just sat. Sure, I read a bunch, and I cooked. I meditated. I wrote a little. But mainly I just sat and stared off into nothingness. At the fantastic advice of one of the above-mentioned shrinks, I didn't try to make a schedule for myself or make a to-do list or set any sort of life goals. I just let myself Be. And man, it was everything I thought it could be. Y'all should try this shit, for real.

Even corporations don't want us to live in the goddamned real world.

I don't know if it was the no distractions or the fact that I gave myself full permission to zen the fuck out, but I came back from those ten days utterly refreshed. Holy shit, it's almost like I have my old personality back, pre-pain, pre-depression, pre-everything. I felt calmer and more at peace. If there was an overarching message I came away with from my Waldenesque time, it's "don't make things so fucking hard." And it's been with that message in my mind that I have moved through the world this past month.

Which leaves me wondering: that after all of this struggle and soul-searching, can it really be that the secret to happiness is to stop chasing it so relentlessly? Because that feels like something I should have known already, and part of me is a little chafed that I didn't figure that out before this whole journey started and saved myself a lot of time and mental struggling.

Well shit though, that right there is a baby floating in some bathwater. It's not like nothing was accomplished on my little spiritual adventure. It's very Buddha-y to say "its not the destination, it's the journey," right? Turns out that chubby bastard was on to something. This journey has brought a deeper understanding of myself than I ever thought possible. It's given me time to contemplate the factors I felt were contributing to my unhappiness, which, in turn, has allowed me to better figure out how to manage those factors.

Which is how I got the idea for the series of entries I'm about to write. It's been a four-year struggle for me, just trying to get back to zero, and I'm not claiming to have unlocked the Secret of Life or anything, but I have figured out a number of things along the way that I feel like were factors in getting me to a place of relative calm. First of all, I've spent a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of why I'd become so unhappy, which will be the first entry in this series. Your mileage will vary, obviously, as the things you struggle with are likely not the things I struggle with.

Pain. The obvious factor in contributing to my misery has been the chronic pain. When I used to hear people say "He suffers from chronic pain," I would think "What the hell does that even mean? He has an ingrown toenail? What are we talking about here?" Well, I'm here to tell you that it means that that person is living with some form of pain each and every day, and that pain not only affects their body, but it's slowly rotting their brain too. Their brains are expending 90 percent of its energy recognizing and thinking about that pain and how they will make it through a normal work day, let alone ever doing the things that once brought them pleasure. There is no room left to let them be functioning, pleasant members of society, no room left for social expectations and niceties. They no longer recognize themselves. Who they are now---all they are---is their pain. It defines them. There's no room left for their old personality. Which can often lead to…

Depression. As I've mentioned before, my chronic pain and how it twisted my life in the course of the first years I experienced it, led me straight into a deep and dark depression. And, unfortunately, I didn't recognize for a very long time that I was depressed. I just kept beating myself up for not being able "to pull myself up by my own bootstraps" as society teaches us to do. I figured I was just being a pussy, wallowing, feeling sorry for myself. And if I just had a stronger character, I would rise up and get past this. But because I wasn't getting past it, it was some deep moral failing on my part. Fortunately, I found a very, very good shrink who explained to me that my rational, intelligent self was trying to figure out how to think my way out of this problem. She explained that depression doesn't work that way. No amount of logic and problem-solving can dig you out of that hole because it's not a moral failing, it's fucking biochemistry. But I'm not gonna lie to you---it took me years to accept that and to stop kicking my own ass for not being able to get myself un-depressed. Unfortunately, when you're depressed and in pain, doing the things you're supposed to do---eat right, socialize, exercise, meditate, etc.---are things you don't have the energy for. So you find other things to do besides stare at the ceiling, things that are easier to accomplish than making a fucking smoothie and hitting the gym. At this point in human history, that thing is typically spending hundreds of useless hours on the Internet.

Self-doubt? Check! Anxiety? Check! Depression? Check!
On a first-name basis with the counter guy at the nearest liquor store? Check!

The Internet. For me, specifically, that means Facebook. As my depression was drawing me more and more inward, social media was exploding. So as I'm pulling away from my spouse, my family, my friends, and the outside world in general, an app that was supplanting face-to-face contact and supporting arm's-length interaction was at the height of its popularity. Depression meant I found talking to people and making plans with my friends daunting, but suddenly this platform that still allowed me to be in the world (insert eye roll here) as my old funny, witty, caustic persona was at my disposal. How perfect for me! It allowed me to present a face to the world that was the polar opposite of what my brain was feeling on the inside. "Look at me! I'm still funny, edgy, interesting, and relevant!" I could lie to the world and no one would be the wiser. But what was really happening was that the pain and the depression had created a deep-seated fear in me---fear of the outside world (due, no doubt, to the steady diet of bad news the Internet handily provides); fear of telling the world how much pain I was in because they'd think I was making it up; fear of failure when even thinking about trying something new; fear people would judge me for my pain, depression, and lack of motivation; fear of exposing my inner workings to another person (even my wife); fear that I was withering away and not living up to my potential. And man, that fear was fucking crippling. So I pretended I was still in the world using the social media tools available to me. It was an ugly, vicious cycle that further contributed to my depression because I wasn't really connecting with my people; I was merely giving the illusion of doing so.

Don't let your phone become your prison, peoples! Rise up!

Don't become a prisoner in your own phone. Rise up! Look up! Be in the real world!

My Addictions. Frankly, they just weren't keeping me entertained the way they used to. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing guilt over the choices I was making. If my twenties and thirties had been my decades of careless hedonism---a time where I put anything and everything into my body in the name of Having a Good Time---my forties had shaped up to be the decade where I started to regret those choices. It's usually the time in a person's life where they find themselves musing "God, can you imagine if I'd saved every penny I've ever spent on booze, drugs, cigarettes, and general frivolity? I'd have like 2.3 million dollars by now…" It's the time when you're standing in front of the giant chasm that is the Second Half of Your Life, and you realize you have to find a greater purpose in life besides drinking and recreational drugging because those things don't look quite as cute as they used to. You've long ago developed an alarming "been there, done that" about all of your usual vices so you figure you'd better have a more purposeful reason to live than happy hour or else you might start getting curious about things that offer bigger thrills. Basically, I hit the point where I was sick of my own shit and all of the things my addictive personality was reaching for to fill an ever-growing void in my soul. I knew I needed to be honest about them, to do a cost-benefit analysis, to really examine how well they were serving me at this point.

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Even I'm bored with my own distractions at this point.

My Isolation. All of it---the pain, the depression, and my addictions to the Internet, my phone, my safe place, booze, drugs, etc.---caused me to isolate myself from E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. This is typical depressed and/or addict behavior. "I'm ashamed and embarrassed at how I've lost control of my mind and body, and I don't want anyone else to know what a mess I am…" is a common refrain of both depressed people and of addicts. When you're depressed, even responding to texts and emails about a night out with close friends becomes impossible. You've already fast-forwarded into the future and thought about how that night will play out, and how you're sure that, when that night arrives, you'll just come up with an excuse anyway so why bother? Friends start dropping off because you're a pain in the ass. Worse yet, you stop telling those closest to you, like your spouse or your parents or your best friends, what's happening in your head. You are pretty much panicked all the fucking time, and this is a source of constant shame for you. So you clam up, which is the last thing you should be doing when you need help. 

That this is a little slice of heaven is something on which can all agree...
but is it healthy for your messy head?

So yeah, those are MY five biggies that I wrestle with every damn day. Still. I know there are behaviors that can minimize the effects these bitches have on my life. On good days, I engage in those activities; many days I do not. I don’t like to refer to depression or life as a "battle" because a battle implies that you can be victorious which, as many of you know, often doesn’t apply to depression. In many cases, that shit will always be with you, even when you're feeling good. And bad things will happen to you in life, unless you're Prince George or some shit, so seeing it as a "battle" seems counterproductive to me. The bad stuff isn't the shit sandwich Life is throwing at you: it IS Life. You might as just roll with it. 

Anyway, point being, once I isolated the things that have been dragging me down these past few years, I started paying attention more to the things that worked for me as I struggled to "fix" them. Those things will be the focus of my next few entries. Again, I'm not claiming to have any special knowledge or be some guru; this is just shit I learned when I started paying attention again.

Stay tuned!

Is It Possible to Emit a Pheromone that Smells Like Cock?

I was 16 years old the first time a friend came out to me. He was the college roommate of my high-school boyfriend. Like many 14-year-old girls, I had a maturity more on par with, say, a 17-year-old boy, so I dated a senior when I was a freshman. He and I managed to stay together even after he set off for college, which was a minor miracle for a number of reasons, the main one being that he was capable of tolerating a lot of my shit.

One weekend, my junior year of high school, I managed to weave a believable and satisfying enough story to my parents that got me out from under their watchful gaze for a period of time long enough to drive up to my boyfriend's college, attend a kegger at his apartment, spend the night doing god-knows-what on his waterbed, and return home the next day. The parental units were none the wiser. And that's when Kevin told me, in a drunken, blurry conversation on my boyfriend's said waterbed.

Up until Kevin came out to me, I'd never met A Gay. Or so I thought, in that naïve way that teenagers who think they've seen it all really haven't seen shit. Like most kids, I'd spent my middle school and junior high years calling people "a fag" when they did something stupid. My mother, a scorching liberal, would glare at me when I did so, and correct me using the term of the time: "alternative lifestyle." I have a memory, extremely vivid, of watching MTV once with my dad, and Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" came on, which featured dozens of scantily-clad, bemuscled young twinks prancing around in unison. I remember my dad watching for a while before wryly turning to me and saying "Looks like old Elton's enjoying 'an alternative lifestyle' these days." (This was long before he officially came out.)

Point being, when Kevin came out to me, I instinctively knew that being freaked out by his sexuality would be uncool. To stop being friends with someone because they were gay was wrong. It wasn't even a question for me. Why should I care where he put his dick as long as he was a good person and a good friend? I thank my parents for instilling that value in me. That right there is parenting at its finest: teaching your child to judge someone based on merits that really matter---kindness, compassion, caring---and not on merits that had nothing to do with a person's character.

A couple of years after that, when I was in my freshman year of college, my best friend came to visit me. One drunken night in my dorm room, he, too, spilled the beans that he'd been keeping a huge secret from everyone. I remember that moment just as vividly, in spite of the fact that the room was spinning as it happened. We were both sitting in my dorm room on an old trunk of mine, just home from a frat party, drinking drinks we in no way needed at that point in the night, and he started stammering and saying he had something to tell me. Up until that moment, I had nary a clue that the guy I'd experienced most of my pivotal teen moments with was gay, but as we sat there in my dimly lit dorm room, and I watched his discomfort, it suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt. I saved him the trouble of having to say the words. "You're gay." I blurted out, pretty matter of factly. His shoulders slumped and he let out a giant sigh "Yes."

Once again, my mother proved to be ahead of her time. After Paul left to go back home, I immediately called her and said "Oh my god, Mom! Paul's gay!" To which she replied "Duh." I screamed into the phone "You knew?!?! Well why didn't you tell ME?!?!" "Because," my gentle and wise mother said into the phone, "it wasn't my news to tell."

Well shit, after that, it was a free for all. Every gay guy within a 400-mile radius seemed to make a pilgrimage to come out to me in the years that followed. By the time I'd graduated from college and moved back to Houston, I don't think I had a friend that was straight or female. Wherever I went, it was me and my Gaggle of Gays.

My early post-college years, I threw myself into volunteering for PFLAG and for the AIDS Foundation of Houston. I spent nearly every night with my friends in gay bars, and before long, I was a bona fide fag hag. I don’t know what the kids are calling this concept these days, but back then, a woman who spent most of her time with gay men and took on their mannerisms was called a "fag hag" or, perhaps a little more generously, "a fruit fly." And I was their poster child. I could bob my head and draw out a "guuuuurrrrrlllll" with the best of them.

Now during this time, I was straight. If anything, I identified as queer. Being queer doesn't necessarily mean sleeping with the gender the same as yours. It's more of a sensibility you carry around with you, a sense not only that you are gay-friendly and support equal rights for gay people, but also that you live your life outside of the mainstream---that you seek out the outsiders and the weirdos as your compadres. Post-college is when you're still very much trying to figure out who you are and what your adult life will look like and, consciously or unconsciously, I had decided that I wanted to surround myself with flamboyant, fun, dramatic people who are, in some form or another, outsiders.

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But at some point, I decided that spending all that time in gay bars wasn't doing much to further my cause of getting laid. So when I extricated myself from my long-term relationship and got fired from my job in one 24-hour period, I decided it was time for a big change: I decided to move to San Francisco.

The Gaggle squealed: "You wanna stop being a fag hag and you're moving to SAN FRANCISCO?!?! BWAHAHAHAHA!" To be fair, they made a good point. But I was determined to move to the city by the bay and NOT only hang out with gay men. I joked that I was no longer accepting new gays in my life.

And I mostly avoided being a fag hag from that point forward. Coming from Houston, where the community tended to be more insular out of necessity, I was pleasantly surprised that people here cared less about sexual orientation. Being gay was such a non-issue that you didn't define your circle based on who your friends were boinking. 

Still, it was a persona that has never left me entirely. I often joke that I must emit a pheromone that smells like cock because sometimes I will literally just be walking down Castro Street by myself, and gay men will be walking toward me and suddenly scream "Oh my god girl, you're FAAAAAAABULOUS!" and start fawning over me for no apparent reason. I know that sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but ask my friends: they've seen that shit happen with their own damn eyes. 

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. One night, my above-mentioned friend Kevin (who now also lives in SF) and I were out at a bar in the Castro with a straight, female friend of ours who only knew me from my days in California, not the Texas me. Kevin was explaining to her how I'd been this huge fag hag back in Texas; she was flabbergasted. She said she couldn't see it. As we were leaving, they both went to the bathroom, and I went outside to smoke a cigarette. In the span of the four or five minutes they were still in the bar, I'd struck up a conversation outside with two random gay guys. By the time Kevin and my friend emerged, they walked up on me leaning against the building, coolly smoking a cigarette as each of the men firmly held each of my breasts in their hands and were fondling them as I boredly let them. It certainly wasn't the first time this had happened to me (gay men love boobies too, it turns out), so I was nonplussed. Kevin turned to my friend and said "SEE?!? WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!"

What I didn't realize, all the way back in 1986 when Kevin was first coming out to me, is that I was about to begin a lifelong journey that would result in me knowing and spending time with some of the wittiest, funniest, most outlandish people on the planet. And it suited my personality and augmented it. *I* became wittier, funnier, and more outlandish through the company I kept. And I became more open-minded, not only toward gay people, but also toward other groups of people who'd been marginalized or who were considered "outsiders" by the mainstream. It made me more empathetic toward people who didn't fit in because they had such different outlooks on life than I did. I became a more tolerant, accepting human being as a result of spending time with people other than straight, college-educated, white people.

And, honestly, it made me much more willing to give love with a girl a whirl when the opportunity presented itself. I'd never considered myself gay, much less bisexual, when I was growing up. I very much liked sleeping with men…like a lot. I still would, if not for the fact that my wife considers that a big no-no. ("If it wasn't in the vows, you can't change the rules now!") But a dozen or so years ago, when I was being courted by my lesbian roommate, whom I liked very much and, yeah, kinda in that way, my thoughts weren't as much "ewwwww eating pussy?!" but more of "I like THIS person…genitals seem such a stupid thing on which to base a long-term relationship if you're crazy about a person and see a future with her."

Don't get me wrong---it was still a huge leap for me---the sex part---but it was one I gave myself the permission to take instead of spending countless hours angsting over it. That I lived in a city that was queer-friendly, had incredible parents who would love me no matter what , and that I'd spent nearly a lifetime around interesting and funny gay friends, certainly made it that much easier to see myself with her, don't get me wrong. I was definitely in the right place at the right time in history to pull it off. 

It turns out I didn't have a future with that particular girl, thankfully. But through her, I met my wife. And I never would have found the person I want to grow old with had I not been willing to take that initial leap of faith. Do I miss sleeping with dudes? Sometimes. But this is a person with whom I've found an incredible compatibility, connection, and joy. Considering most of us spend our adult lives seeking someone we'll still want to talk to when we're 70, I count myself among most fortunate to have found her. Why on earth would it matter what she has between her legs if we've made a lifelong, unbreakable connection? Isn't THAT what life is supposed to be all about? Making connections?

Anyway, I'm digressing into human sexuality, and that's an entirely different kind of flying altogether. Point being, I have incredible, wonderful, funny, smart, compassionate friends. Most of the oldest and dearest of those friends happen to be gay, and those friends helped shaped me into the person I am today. They taught me how to be sharp-tongued, quick-thinking, witty, kind, open-minded, sarcastic, compassionate and, yes, even bitchy. And for all of it, I feel incredibly thankful. It started me on a very interesting journey in my life.

Unfortunately, they didn't teach me how to dress myself. I'm still a mess in that department.