Finally, A List of the Rules

wood-721871_1280Writing these rules down won’t change the mind of anyone who believes in them and holds them close to the vest, like Reince Priebus, but for a moment, it felt good to think that it could.

1. “It’s your job to make me feel very comfortable while I listen to you, as if upsetting me is the farthest thing from your mind. Only then might I consider your points. But remember, don’t say or do anything I might view as weakness. That brings out my dark side and it’s hard to hold it back.

2. “Smile. This is important. I don’t have to smile, but sometimes I smile at you to be dismissive because it can be very effective and its meaning can be hard to prove if you want to build some sort of case against me. You have to smile, but make sure you never smile like that.

3. “Groom yourself in a way I consider acceptable. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean — I assume that you bathe and launder your clothes, but we are both aware of popular culture. You know the ideal you should be aiming for.

4. “Be careful when you try to change a thing. I may find your passion unbecoming, and the thing you want to change could just be a tradition. We have those for a reason.

“If you ignore any rule listed above, it will only cloud your point if I disagree with something you say. Then I’ll have to respond by explaining, in great detail, why I refuse to listen to you. Or, if I don’t want to take so much time, I may respond with a disapproving quip, or that dismissive sort of smile. Remember though, that I may disagree with your point no matter what, because it will probably be wrong. I am amazed at how often that happens.

“Lastly, remember I don’t respect people when I’m aware of them following rules, like sheep. It’s up to you to figure out how to follow these rules so I don’t notice. How I love watching you try. For some reason, you always seem to get it wrong.”

Nightmare

US Postage Issue: Abraham_Lincoln_Airmail_1960...

Lately I’ve been watching a series on PBS about Abraham and Mary Lincoln. I found the beginning two parts of it to be very interesting, fulfilling my interest in history and my desire to understand people and their motivations. But soon enough I became uncomfortable, as I always do, when faced with people’s strange feelings and reactions to “otherness,” in this case African-American life and the “legal” practice of slavery.

Today, during parts three and four, I nearly changed the channel as comprehension eluded me, or came into focus so sharp that it hurt to see. The story below came up in me — a flailing response to the pain of political ridiculousness, I’m sure — but it took me away from the sharpness far enough to sit at my keyboard and try again to make it understood, because the conversation is far from over. 

Nightmare

The president arrived at his office, closed the door and headed for the stack of papers on his desk. Upon hearing the sound of breathing across the room, he found an unfamiliar man there staring at him. “How did you get in here?”

The stranger removed his hat with one hand and said, “That does not matter at this point.” Before the president could call out for help, the man spoke again. “Your son has been taken.”

“Taken …?”

“Your son has been sold.” The stranger watched the president’s face express shock and the downward trajectory of his heart.

“You are mad,” the president huffed through trembling lips.

“No. I am sane and pragmatic, as are you and surely the other men entrusted with running this country.” He gripped his hat in front of him with both hands, waiting for his statement to sink into the steel trap of the statesman’s mind. “And your youngest is gone now. I doubt that you will ever see him again. I have sold him in such a way as to render your power and finances of little help to you, though I do suspect that if you try very hard, you may eventually find the boy, especially if our side wins the war.”

The president straightened his back with determination to contain his fear. He began to compose a rebuttal to counter this new enemy and make him see reason. “You cannot possibly succeed in this horrible exercise to tear apart my home. If not me, think of my wife. How could the boy’s mother be expected to bear this?”

The stranger turned to the velvet back of the chair nearest him and lightly stroked the fabric as the turn of his mouth registered a mild amusement, his eyes a glazing of anger. “Indeed,” he said with formidable calm.

The president pressed his side against the desk just enough to keep himself from sinking. “This is kidnapping. Surely you know that you will be prosecuted.”

“What would that change? Would you expect his return through our present system of law? You should understand better than anyone how much law is about the moment. All that follows from it stems from those notions and provisions already in place. Even if one does aspire to some semblance of fair treatment for all, changing things is difficult. Is not tending to the whole more important, making human sacrifice necessary?”

“H-human sacrifice? What are you talking about? Are we barbarians?”

“That is a question I have wanted to ask you, sir. Are we barbarians?”

The president’s voice was hushed. “Of course not.” His thoughts flew past him as he contemplated his plight. He had trouble holding onto any one of them long enough to argue sense to the stranger who was breaking him in two. “Listen to me,” he said, “I can see that something is on your mind. Let us discuss your points like men — leave my child out of this. Return my son and let us speak to your concerns.”

“The country as a whole has done nothing but speak to my concerns during these last bloody years. What good has that done for decency and freedom?”

“But my son …”

“Perhaps it is time to think about more important things than your son.”

“You are mad. We are talking about an innocent child here! How can you be so callous?”

“Callous?” The stranger cocked his head as he contemplated the word. “You think my selling your son into slavery is callous? This is something you believe?”

“Wait … how can you say you’ve sold my child into slavery? He is not …” The president’s voice grew silent as if something thick and cold fell over him, muffling his body as it folded in on itself and sank into a chair in front of his desk.

The stranger watched, the glaze in his eyes glinting strong in the lamplight. “You are answering your own questions now, I see. This is all I could hope for. In the years that have passed until now, reason has been too much. Step by step, it has been taken out of the equation because it gets in the way. There seem to be things that those who lead find more important.

“Reason got in my way, too. I preferred to talk and write and appeal to human virtues as if all people had them. I thought those virtues were only dormant and waiting for the right progression of words from a caring soul to bring them to light and move them into the realm of deeds. I thought that until yesterday. Then I decided to ignore reason, too. I fear for tomorrow.”

Soft sobs rose from deep inside the president, becoming rattled retching sounds that filled the space between him and the stranger who lamented, “I have hoped for it, and hope for it still, but I do not see reason on the horizon.”

A Late Monday Rant – The New Comfort With Obvious Lies, They Think We’re Too Stupid to Notice or Don’t Care If We Do

Mitt Romney - Caricature

Question:What’s the difference between Romney’s statements (especially during Monday night’s final presidential debate for the upcoming election) and an ad campaign for a product you don’t need that might actually be bad for your health?

Answer: None. They’re both working from the point of view that lying and obfuscating facts is perfectly acceptable as long as it confuses you into believing in their product.

Romney’s product that we don’t need is his party’s hope that once he’s elected, they’ll be able to further their actual agenda, the republican agenda that they’re too afraid to explain to us truthfully for fear that we’ll reject it.

That means the truth about the policies they actually want to change (or keep the same) must be truths they would expect us to say no to. That doesn’t bode well for the poor. Nor for the middle class and owners of small businesses that they insist they do want to help.

As I search my mind for the answer to the next logical pressing question: exactly who it is that would benefit from a republican win in this election, all I can think of is the smiling, agreeing faces that watched Romney insult 47% of American citizens. It broke my heart to see so clearly how so many of us don’t matter to the republican candidate for president and those who back him monetarily. My heart broke even more tonight to see just how far the lies go right in front of us. Now it’s acceptable for Romney, the republican candidate for the highest office in our country — the person we would look to for truth in times of difficulty and the person we should be able to trust — to insult the intelligence of citizens by lying to us directly and pretending that we are all insignificant past our ability to vote, definitely too stupid to remember what he has said in the past.

Perhaps he and his political party believe that voters pay much less attention these days, or that the ones of us who do pay attention are too few to matter. Does that justify their tactics?

Or does Romney believe he’s doing us a service by unceremoniously changing the gist of what he’s said previously in the campaign, many times on film where it can be clearly proved, and lying that he never said certain things at all? Are we lucky that Romney’s conscience allows him to think so highly of us?

Until this election, there still seemed to be at least a slightly negative connotation to being caught in a lie, but republicans have decided that times have changed. They must be thinking, if you’re caught, continue lying. What can the voters who care do to you? Most of them aren’t voting for you anyway.

I don’t agree with the republicans that this new development is progress, not by the word’s definition in my dictionary: “progress noun – forward or onward movement toward a destination • advance or development toward a better, more complete or modern condition.”

Or does this definition work for their insidious purposes, too? It could, if only the top per cent matters.

I hope we all remember that not voting plays into the hands of the people who think we aren’t important, the ones who’ve been trying to stop many of us from exercising our precious right, and have succeeded at it too many times.

I read a sentence a week or so ago that felt like an anthem to me. I’ll close with my version of it: Please vote like your future depends on it. It does.

 

Thank You President Obama

President Obama in Tucson: "The Forces th...

I’ll resist the urge to ask what took you so long. The reasons you gave make sense, so I’ll let that go. I’m just extremely grateful that you understand that all people deserve the right to be legally married and that now you’ve publicly taken a stand in support of same-sex marriage.

On Monday I was worried about so many things in the world, and within our country. Now I have a little more hope. Thank you.

The Monday Rant #6 – The Increasing Fear of -isms

capitalism

One of the -isms (Photo by wallstalking.org)

The logic of offering something in return for goods and services has been tested by time. So far, aside from varying charitable contributions (or things like blogs) people haven’t discovered a way to simply make the things they specialize in available to others for free without suffering losses that lower their quality of life.

I offer much of my writing for free because the internet allows me to, but I can’t knit you a sweater just because you want one and I can do it. You have to buy yarn and perhaps the correct size needles, then we have to discuss an hourly rate or a flat rate, depending on what you can afford and how much my circumstances influence the amount I’ll settle for. Enterprise works that way doesn’t it?

In the example of the hand-knit sweater, three industries benefit fairly if they aren’t unreasonable about their profits, perhaps a fourth if the buyer wants a specific pattern I haven’t written. I don’t think capitalism is inherently evil. Capitalism is a concept, a thing. It’s the people who allow themselves to lean toward evil that corrupt it. People who aren’t brave enough to remain fair in the face of more and more profit are the ones who keep adding to the economic house of cards without caring that when the winds of fate blow, the cards fall like boulders onto those not insulated with money.

We haven’t yet come up with an alternative -ism that isn’t vulnerable to government and corporate corruption. At least capitalism, supposedly, gives each of us the opportunity to try something. I don’t want to go into all the ways its form of opportunity discriminates against many people’s circumstances, including lack of capital, unmanageable illness, personality type, and the desire to be fair without enough backing to make the decision to be decent actually work. We love stories about overcoming the odds. We seem to be easily turned off by ones that illustrate the other side. Specific groups don’t even believe the people on the other side matter.

I wish many of us weren’t afraid of all -isms that aren’t capitalism. More honest discussions about ones that have been tried, and their good and bad points, could help us make a fairer world for everyone. Maybe we could construct a new -ism that works fairly for all aspects of society instead of just for the few who prosper the most within it. But first we have to examine why we all don’t understand the ways our lives touch each other. How can we work on our fear of -isms when so many of us are more concerned with excluding parts of the discussion that include differences like gender, race, and who one loves and wants to build a healthy family with?

A young man stopped my daughter and me years ago at a bus stop outside our polling place on the first day she got to vote. He asked us who we had voted for in the congressional and presidential races. When we told him, he expressed sadness and much concern that we hadn’t voted as his pastor had suggested. He told us that the most important thing was that we make sure our government didn’t “legalize homosexuality.” My daughter and I were appalled. How do we make a decent society when folks like his congregation actually believe it helps us all to forget about war, poverty, escalating attacks on consumer choice (especially concerning healthy untainted food), and the increasing assumption that health care should only be a benefit of having the opportunity to work at a very good job? I don’t know, not when that young man was as appalled at us as we were at him.

At one time I was convinced that we could figure out how to become kinder by studying how the human mind works, how ridiculous prejudices prevail, and why so many people want to stamp out healthy decisions other people and families make about their lives. I’m realizing more and more that those studies are mostly being used to enable corporations to figure out how to sell us more stuff and services.

This one truly is a rant, because I’m blowing off a little steam without having any answers. I’m willing to keep taking part in the discussion no matter how much it hurts, because being quiet about it is the only thing worse than all the bad stuff that continues in our world. But this discussion isn’t a new one. It’s been going on in human history for a long, long time.

The Monday Rant #1 – If Disagreement is a Dirty Word, the Stink is Everywhere

Black sea sunset

Sometimes the search for illumination is futile. (Photo via Wikipedia)

I decided to begin this series with a rant that comes more from the heart than from one of those places that feels like toes crammed all day into shoes that are a size too small. This one is about disagreement and acknowledgment.

We all live with disagreement every day. It hovers around us to some degree, in offices and in our homes (even if our only companions are pets and broadcast media.) It sits on the bus with us, rides in the next car on the road, follows as we make choices in the supermarket and looks over our shoulders as we vote. Disagreement is everywhere, always. So why do some of us have trouble dealing with even the faintest whiff of it? Why does polite discourse set them off?

I realize that conditions I’m unaware of could be where some of these answers lie, but I’m also sure that until that type of answer is clear, at least somewhat, we all do society a favor by not jumping to conclusions. I believe it’s best, initially, to attempt polite conversation with a person as if they understand the notion of polite conversation. It’s good practice for life, especially if you have to work for a living, make it there and back home each day (sometimes stopping off to buy dinner fixings on the way), or perhaps raise children who’ll be able to do these things, too.

Last week I was offended by a ‘brave’ very short story written by a woman who didn’t state whether she was black or white, but who appeared to be white because of some strangeness that didn’t sit well with me in the story she appeared to have written from a black perspective. In about three short paragraphs of comment, I politely left a few points for her consideration.

She answered with a long comment that went on and on about how happy she was to have received such detailed feedback and, if I recall correctly because it’s all gone now, she seemed to think I liked her work and was trying to encourage it in its present state. She said more than once that she was sorry she couldn’t acknowledge anything I’d actually said within her lengthy reply, but she just didn’t have time.

I’ve been told by others that I’m not always as plain-spoken as I think I am and that it can often be hard to tell whether I’m angry, pissed off, sad or ready to step over a cliff. I re-read my comment and wondered if I had been polite to a fault and caused her to misunderstand. That would be unfortunate considering my points. But could the length and opaqueness of her answer also have been an elaborate pat on the head to shut me up? I left about two sentences more to say I understood her not having time to respond. I just wanted to be clear that as a black woman, I was offended by her story.

I was actually hoping she would tell me that the only problem with her story was that the protagonist was white and she didn’t make that clear enough for me to see despite the photograph illustrating her post, but she didn’t say that. I was hoping she might say that yes her protagonist was black, but she didn’t realize that it was so dangerous for a black person to get so close as to “brush past” a Klansman. I was hoping she would briefly note the feelings of a person who was offended by what she wrote, and that as an artist she would consider why, how or if the point of view she tried to convey was one she knew as well as she thought she did.

I’m all for brave. It felt brave to me to write about my feelings in her comments section considering how many pats on the back she already had there. But do I really want to be a person who isn’t understood because I didn’t even try? Do I want to be quiet because race is such a tough subject that I should be grateful she tried to address it in her work at all? Hell no.

Yes, it’s her blog and she gets to do and say what she wants. She gets to delete our ‘exchange’ and add a verrry long couple of rants about people who get offended because she hasn’t got time to respond to every single comment she gets and, doggone it, she’s not even going to worry about trying to be ‘nice’ to people anymore. Okay. And I get to wonder what makes a writer, who can write so many words in one sitting that don’t address anything much, prefer to do that than to write a single paragraph about their work to someone who took the time to read it more than once and who left a direct, but polite, comment in the little box that asked, “What do you think?”

If it’s an aversion to disagreement, well WTF, you can change what the little box says. It doesn’t take so many hot, airy words to do that.

Postscript: I didn’t want a link to this post to just pop up in her comment feed since her own feelings seem to be so sensitive. (Besides, she knows where I am, if she cares what I write.) But in the hours since I wrote this, I’ve realized that I can just say where her blog is if anyone is interested in reading her story. Her blog address is scriptorwrites.wordpress.com and the story is called, “Ain’t None of Us Got a Clean Soul Heah.”