Saturday, December 5, 2015

The way I am

This is not an apology. I cannot and will not apologize for the things I am about to say. It is, however, an explanation. If you disagree, fine. I don't need to hear about it. I'm probably in the minority, and that's fine. I am also thoroughly convinced that I am right.

I hate guns. I have had a distaste and fear of them since I was 7 years old. My uncle was shot during the commission of a crime. It wasn't life-threatening, but it affected him for the rest of his life. A number of other gun-involved events, including some with fatal outcomes, continued to happen throughout my youth. I wasn't conscious of the impact guns were having on me, but it is clear to me that they were indeed having an impact.

In my adult life, gun violence has disrupted my comfort and sanity for years. My sleep is often interrupted when images of the carnage and devastation caused by the weapons creep into my consciousness. One of the reasons I left a job early in my career was that I dreamed about being shot on a nearly nightly basis, and I couldn't find a way to deal with it. I now deal with anxiety and periodic panic attacks, both of which can be caused by the daily drumbeat of gun violence in our tragically gun-obsessed society.

Guns are different from other tools. Guns have one and only one purpose: guns kill/murder. That's it. You can't use a gun to build a house. You can't use a gun to make a sandwich. You can't use a gun to fix a road. Guns kill. Period. If you have a gun, you have it with the purpose of killing someone or something. (Don't argue that you can competition shoot with guns. A few hundred people in the whole country actually do that and only that with guns. That's a b.s. argument and you know it.) Guns have daily utility only if you provide all of your food by hunting. I have eaten lots of game from hunters, but I have never known anyone who provided for themselves and their family exclusively through hunting as people did several hundred years ago. Again, no reason to have a gun here.

Many anti-gun people say they don't want to take away guns. I do. Get rid of them all. That way, if you have one, you are breaking the law and you should pay a penalty. Keep doing it and you should get locked up, because your obsession with being able to kill stuff is unhealthy and dangerous. If we could do that, it would be so easy to see the bad guys. If you aren't in the military or a police officer and you have a gun, you're the bad guy. Easy peasy. "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Exactly. Arrest the people who have one. Problem solved.

If you live near me and have a gun, you are making me and my family less safe. The only reason to have a gun is to kill, and if you have one, I am a potential target. I don't believe that there are people who own guns, but would never use them. If that's true, you don't need one. You just like to play with them, and that's dangerous. (I've done it too. Guns can be a lot of fun. So is Yahtzee. Do that instead.) Private citizens don't ever stop these shootings with their own guns. And if a private citizen starts shooting in such a situation, it is very likely to make the situation even worse. You don't need a gun; you want a gun, and that's very different. I want to not get killed. That's me living versus you having a cool toy. I think my concern wins.

I'm not arguing here. I will never ever think guns are a good idea. I'm just explaining why they are such a bad idea. I have heard all the pro-gun propaganda and it doesn't sway me. Like, at all. I don't need you to rehash them. I probably won't even read them. Like this or don't, but it's just an explanation. If you really love your guns more than other people's lives, I'm not going to convince you with this post. Just delete it, ignore it, or whatever and move on. It's fine. You aren't that worried about my life anyway.

Friday, November 27, 2015

His ego is huuge...

Buy low, sell high
You get rich and you still die
Money talks, people jump
Ask how high, low-life Donald what's-his-name
And who cares?
I don't wanna know what his girlfriend doesn't wear
Its a shame that the people at work
Wanna hear about this kind of jerk
-John Gorka, "Where the Bottles Break" 1990

I want to be clear on this occasion that my opposition to Donald Trump is almost entirely about him as a person and not about his policy ideas. I can be as partisan as anyone, so I have opposed other Republican candidates on policy grounds, including John McCain, who I admire very much as a human being. I just happen to think he is wrong on nearly every possible political issue. In the case of "The Donald," he is a horrible person. He has no policy positions aside from tricking Mexico into building a giant wall between the countries. He is a bully and an arrogant piece of trash who mocks people for disabilities, gender, race, and anything else he can think of. He is everything that is wrong with the country. I am pleased to see that people are turning against him. I only hope it continues and he crawls back into the slime he came from.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

To love another person is to see the face of God

Today I got to see my oldest son perform on stage as Javert for the last time. The performances were wonderful and I really couldn't be more proud of him and the whole cast. It was remarkable as a work of art, but it resonated with me for a whole different reason.

I remember many years ago an occasion that has always stuck with me, but I never really understood it until now. When I was playing in bands with my dad when I was in high school, I was the second (and sometimes third) best vocalist in the band. I was starting to come into my own, but I wasn't quite there. Then we played at a benefit concert and I felt like I had arrived. An old friend of my dad's told him, "you aren't the best singer in the band anymore." I didn't agree, and I still don't, but my dad said he did and he was happier to hear that than if his friend had told him he was still the best. I couldn't understand that. I thought he was just agreeing to make me feel good about myself. When Dermot walked on stage and began to sing his first lines: "Bring me prisoner 24601! Your time is up and your parole's begun!" I choked up and my eyes filled with tears, even at this unsentimental opening scene. This beautiful young man was Inspector Javert and he occupied the stage in a way I never could have. And I was bursting. I cried every time he took the stage that first night. (And a whole bunch of other times, because "Les Miserables.") I finally understood my dad's reaction. I was happier with his triumph than I ever was with one of my own.

So thank you to everyone who made it possible. Thank you to Theatrikos and Theatrikids. Thank you to the directors, Joe and Kennlyn. You brought Javert out of him.

Thank you to the cast for welcoming him and giving this young man so much happiness. You are his world right now and I couldn't pick a better group of people. 

Thank you to his SMS friends in the cast. You will be his link to this show in the coming days.

Thank you to his onstage foils for making the show so wonderful. Thank you to those of you who have become close to him and made him one of your own. I am inspired by your kindness and love for my son. 

Thank you to the members of the cast who are moving on and have finished your final Theatrikids show. Your contributions will live in the performances Dermot will undertake going forward. 

Thank you to the cast of "Our Town" who first made him feel welcome at the Doris Harper White Playhouse. It is his new home away from home, as it is for so many of you.

I could not be more proud of my son tonight. I think all of us who were there were very lucky. The songs of the show speak of being selfless and helping others and focusing on each person's humanity.  It was nice to be reminded of that through those songs, but it was even more powerful for me to see it in action in so many large and small ways. Again, I thank you.

Thanks for reading. I'll try to do better next time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thinking about the music

I've been thinking about music today. Over the last year or so, I have acquired several "box sets" of CDs which include most or all of the albums of a particular artist. A few weeks ago, I decided to get them all out and listen to the whole batch in precise chronological order. That's the music set-up.

Now I need you to permit me a necessary digression. There is a particular type of Catholic spirituality, derived from St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, called active contemplation. It is similar to Carl Jung's "active imagination." In religious practice, the participant uses Scripture and his or her own imagination to place themselves into the Gospel story, etc. in order to experience it more completely. That's the rest of the set-up.

So I started listening to the CDs yesterday, but as I was driving and listening to music from the mid- to late 1960s, I began drifting into the music in a way I had not expected. As in Ignatian Contemplation, I found myself experiencing the music as I might have in, say, April of 1968. Suddenly, I was returning home from the record store and marveling at the songwriting of Paul Simon as I listened to Bookends for the first time. Later, I heard the chants of "The whole world is watching..." from Chicago's 1969 debut album. I could picture myself recalling those awful August nights 8 months earlier as I tried to categorize the new sounds coming from the vinyl.

Most vividly, I could feel the electricity in the crowd as I listened to Simon and Garfunkel in concert in late 1969, when they tested the new material which would make up their next album in a month or two. In those moments, I heard "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as for the first time. Tears rolled down my face in silent testimony to the power of the music and a tingle ran up my spine as I heard the crowd's reaction from that November night 46 years ago mirroring my own. I could get used to music this way.

Thanks for reading. I'll try to do better next time.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

So tired of this

I am very frustrated with the state of affairs in the U.S. today; this will come as no shock to anyone who knows me. It has taken a particularly nasty turn over the past few days. A dear old friend of mine is very angry with me because I have dared to question the sanity of America's destructive love affair with guns. He says I shouldn't talk about it in the aftermath of Charleston, that it's just playing politics. Perhaps we should spend more time away from these incidents decrying the gun obsession, but we don't. Then, when things like Charleston happen, as they inevitably do in our country, the pro-gun crew try to shush anyone who complains about it. That's how they change the subject.

I have shared this before, but it remains one of the better responses to the gun crisis in America, so I share it again:

Matt Gottschling, a friend from Portland, with whom I had the pleasure of teaching for a couple of years, posted this after another mass shooting a few years ago. It is the most reasonable response I've heard so far.

"A lot of pro-gun advocates use the argument that “vehicles kill people too, and no one talks about banning them”. Okay, let’s treat guns like vehicles. Here’s how:

1. Require those who wish to own a gun to first... obtain a license. They must pass a test, complete a background check, and periodically have to renew their license. First-time gun owners should also have to take a course on gun safety, and how to properly secure their firearms.
2. Those who have conditions that prevent them from safely operating vehicles are not legally allowed to operate vehicles. The same should be true of guns.
3. Require all firearms to be registered. Also, any transactions of firearms (whether sold by a dealer, at a gun show, or by private parties) must include an official transfer of title or bill of sale (just as a vehicle does).
4. Vehicles can not be purchased or operated by the very young, despite the fact that they are not intentionally designed to hurt people. Guns are designed to hurt people, and yet I know many who believe that it is okay for young children to operate them.
5. Vehicles can’t be used everywhere. I can’t drive my car on a sidewalk, in a store, or through a park. Guns should not be allowed anywhere and everywhere. Contrary to what elected officials in my former state believe, guns should never be carried in schools, bars, or college campuses – except of course by law enforcement officials.
6. Vehicles have regulations to ensure their safe operation. Guns should as well. I can’t drive a vehicle that is forty feet wide and seventy feet long – even if it makes me feel empowered and awesome. Guns that serve functions that go well beyond the reasonable uses of “sport” or “self-defense” should not be legal. No automatic or semi-automatic weapons. No extended magazines. No armor piercing bullets.

There's no way of knowing if any of these ideas would prevent a tragedy like the one that occurred yesterday. However, I believe that it is important to fundamentally change our "gun culture" in this nation. I do not believe that it is too soon to have this conversation. If we won't do anything about it in the aftermath of such a stupid and senseless act, then when will we?"

I'd much rather find a way to restrict access to guns, as they did in the U.K. when there was a massacre like this. I don't think that will happen. Maybe I will just keep posting this every time one of these gun massacres happen. At least until there is no one left to read it.

Thanks for reading. I'll try to do better next time.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The world sucks right now

The world is upside down. Arizona, a place I have loved, has lost its soul. In the new AZ, education is bad. Guns and, inevitably, shooting people with them is good. People who look different than you are bad and should be sent away. People who speak a different language than you are bad and should be sent away. People who believe in a different version of God are bad and should be sent away. Rich people are good, but allowing poor people a chance to become rich, or even middle class, is bad. People who love someone that the power brokers don't think you should love is bad. Any idea that comes from somewhere else, particularly east of, say, Houston is automatically bad, so bad, in fact, we should ignore it, despite the clear Constitutional conflict that incurs.

The Republican Party has been overrun by the worst form of reactionary sludge, the so-called Tea Party. These are the people who propagate the nonsense I just detailed. The Republican Party I proudly registered for and of which I was a voting member for nearly 10 years, no longer exists. Stupidity and ignorance is valued. Truth, especially truth with scientific support, is denied. I have been called a terrorist by a previous Secretary of Education and by a 2016 presidential hopeful for the crime of being a public school teacher. I dedicate more of my life to the public service of education than I do to my own family, and I am compared to ISIS. Literally. I am tired of it. I don't even have the energy to fight, outside my own vote.

The bad guys have won. The only time I have been hopeful in my adult life, politically speaking, was on the night of the 2008 presidential election, and the awful Tea Party people ruined that optimism. I am more depressed today than I remember being in a very long time. Politics matters. when the bad people win, bad things happen and the voices of good people are ignored, including the hundreds and thousands who have protested the way things are now. I really don't know what to do. I am usually a positive person, but I am without hope today. I need to go grade 180+ tests, write my lesson plans, and care about all those kids, which makes me Public Enemy Number 1.