Sunday, July 26, 2020

Floods and Shoes


This time of year – for the past few years at least, I am usually filled with anticipation and excitement. Things are about to happen and I am like a little kid who knows he’s about to go to Disneyland. Okay, maybe not quite just like that, but all hyperbole aside, things that I look forward to all year are about to pop off. The big one is my big motorcycle ride that centers around the annual quintessential motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD – the ride to and from, much more than the actual time spent in Sturgis, is always the highlight, at least since the my second time there. The spectacle of the event, the Mecca that is Sturgis used to be the highlight, it was the first two times I went. But not much changes there year to year, really, I still go because it’s like a hub; “been there, done that” and I get the t-shirt every year.

There are other things coming up as well. My newest grandson celebrates his first birthday in less than a week, a brand new fall semester at California State University, Sacramento (Sac State) is only about a month away and some of my own, personal, annual milestones of significance are also on the horizon. All of that, however, is clouded by a global pandemic, by COVID-19. Everything is different now and, while all of our lives have been significantly altered, I am not complaining or joining any “for” or “against” movements. It’s a fucking virus, it doesn’t care what we think, if we believe in it, if we don’t, whatever – it will do what it can, it will flow where it can, just like water does. My job is to make sure it doesn’t wash over me or mine… I’ll come back to that later.

My ride to Sturgis this year was going to be epic, much more epic than normal, much more epic than it is still going to be, despite the pandemic. I would already be gone more than 10 days, more than several thousand miles and, by now, on my way up to Nova Scotia. I don’t ever firmly nail these things down (which helped when the pandemic hit – no reservations to “manage”), so I’m not sure exactly where I would be, but this was the “coast-to-coast, border-to-border,” 10,000(ish) mile summer. It was (and still is) a bucket-list ride that would be in progress right now. As is, it will be just another two-week, 5,000 mile, five or six state “normal” Sturgis ride. I know, it still sounds epic – it is – and, to more than a few, perhaps a bit reckless, even stupid, but it’s my job to keep the water from washing over me and I can do that. However, there is more to say about that, too – and I will.


All of those other things and more – not just my things, but everyone’s things – have been affected by the pandemic, and that is true whether or not one “believes in it” or not. (Just as an aside: Writing that, and it’s not the first time, always strikes me as odd. It’s tantamount to writing whether or not one believes in science.) Of course, those who are discounting some or all aspects of it are more angry about the ramifications, about their “rights” being taken away, but we’re all, graciously or not, suffering. Some have been refusing to suffer, refusing to deprive themselves of the comforts our society has built, refusing to believe the science, and the results are beginning to accumulate. One of those results is one of my closest friends who is in the hospital fighting for his life right now. He is not a “science-denier” or a hoax-believer, but to say he was taking to virus seriously would be false – he was not being careful. Many of our friends have not been and at least one other has been hospitalized, though in his case the severity is not as bad – he is recovering. Both are very social people and have been, gradually, as the weeks went by, more and more social. They are not the only ones.

My employer, Sac State, and the entire California State University system, made the decision early on to migrate the majority of our classes to online, distance learning. There are some courses that must take place on campus, in a classroom or, more likely, a lab, but all of my sections will take place virtually. There are obvious advantages, but they evaporate when compared to the collaborative learning environment that is lost. Add in the additional (and in my position, unpaid) work required to migrate curriculum to an online environment, and all of the commute/parking/flexibility advantages don’t even rate. However, the water will not flow over me or my students and despite being adjacent to the American River, there will be no flood of any kind at Sac State.

The pandemic will affect all those other things I look forward to, as well. However, for those who might be following the news, for those in the “biker” (I hate that term and what it represents, but it’s about to prove itself useful) community, the “controversy” over whether or not to hold the 80th Annual Sturgis Rally is over, the rally is on and that is that. There are many reasons why is was not cancelled, the main one is that is not a discrete “thing.” There is no singular “Sturgis Rally.” There is the town of Sturgis and it participates. There are the various campgrounds, like the Buffalo Chip, and they participate. There are other local municipalities, like Deadwood, and they participate and finally there are various organizations and they participate, too, but no one “owns” it. It grew organically over the years and is a regional event, a festival not unlike Mardi Gras – it can’t be wholesale “cancelled.” Only the South Dakota governor could do that and she was not inclined to. And even if she did, the bikers were coming anyway.

Many organizations did withdraw, many vendors did as well, but many, like the City of Sturgis, after much deliberation, decided to participate. As I said, the bikers are coming anyway, the city does not have the authority to “shut down” the city and, by participating, not only collects a ton of money, it also pays for and institutes regulations and controls, including an increased law enforcement presence. The control this year is greater and includes pandemic-related safety measures, but I predict that many if not most of those will be ignored. Because the demographic consists of a lot of freedom-loving, hoax-believing, science-denying “bikers.” Not all of them, certainly not me, but a lot. Am I riding into a hornets’ nest – or a flood?

Yes… and no; I can protect myself and I will, but the how is not the point of all of this. Because the reality is that if everyone did the simple shit and kept their spit to themselves, we would be able to do most all the things. Almost all of them. Those who are saying that the virus is so small it will pass right through masks are either ignoring that viruses don’t travel that way (they need a vehicle and the vehicle, in this case, is spit, water droplets that are very small but too big to get through masks) or they are ignorant. Pick one. The same goes for the distance – six feet appears to be the magic number where those heavier tiny spit particles fall out of the air before making their way into someone else’s mouth, nose or eyes. It might seem kind of gross that y’all been living your life catching other people’s spit all day every day, but you have. Deal with it. That, and transfers from your hands to your face (mouth, nose and eyes) is how you catch most illnesses. They, like this one, are preventable. But first you have to believe it’s real.

I have friends and family who are concerned that I am going to a place where so many others who are not concerned are congregating. I get it. I am fortunate in that my experience with Sturgis and the attitudes of the “biker” population will help me with avoiding certain over-populated areas and I will certainly wear an N95 mask when I cannot avoid them. Furthermore, and I actually made this decision pre-COVID, I’ll only be there for four nights and only three of those will be officially “rally” nights. The five days there and the five days back are not going to be an issue – staying away from others while on the road is easy – and it is what I seek while on the road anyway. As far as the Sturgis crowds, the spectacle and all… I enjoy observing, “people-watching,” but I’ve never been comfortable “in the mix.” I’ve seen enough tits, drunks and shiny stuff to last a lifetime, I won’t be missing a thing if I never set a foot in downtown Sturgis, Deadwood, Keystone or any of the other “hotspots” (and I never go to the campgrounds anyway).

These are a lot of words that probably don’t much matter. I want my friends to take this shit seriously. I want the so-called “bikers,” to continue to love their freedom, to question authority, to remain non-conforming but to not ignore reality when the flood is coming. And I want that for others, too. This is not and should not be a political issue, it is and should only be a medical one. Once “sides” started getting taken, everyone started losing. If you think a mask is controlling you, if that is the ground you’ve decided to stand on, you already lost. Your fucking cell phone has more control over you than a mask or the government ever will (except you do know the government can access that, too, right?), but you’ll never give that up, will you? I know, I know… it’s really hard to be consistent in the ever-changing world. Every time you turn around you’ve become a hypocrite all over again. Well, maybe now is a good time to talk about shoes and how well they fit and whether or not y’all should lace them up and wear them. Some shoes work better in floods than others and not all shoes are waterproof.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Anniversaries


As I continue to collect years, the number of notable annual dates, particular days of the year that are personally meaningful for whatever reason, continue to increase. So, too, are those dates that once were, but no longer are. When I was much younger, my birthday was very important – in fact, in terms of personal annual occurrences, that day was the only one that held any special meaning to me for the first 15 or 20 years of my life. Nothing else that I remember today holds any special place in my memory from first very memories to around 1980(ish). And, truth be told, I’d prefer to just forego all occurrences of December 6th in the future. Of course, that day will not go away – my 59th December 6th (my 58th birthday) is just a few months away.


As the years have ticked by, other dates have become important to me as well. I was married on Feb. 7th, 1987. I have three boys, each of whom has a birthday. I was divorced sometime in 1990 (I don’t remember the exact date, but there was one), I bought my first new car, bought a house, kids first days of school, graduations, deaths – all have a footnote in my personal history, many are attached to a particular date and even those that do not have a specific date, a general time of year spurs a memory. Many of the older ones have faded in detail and magnitude, including the time-memory trigger (my first wedding anniversary is a good example, when February 7th comes around, I usually don’t even think about it), but they are all still part of what makes me who I am.

It seems that this time of year brings up a host of more important and relatively recent anniversaries. I got married again in on July 12th, 2012 and that divorce was final on July 9th, 2014 – six years ago today. I remember that, still, because the marriage and ensuing divorce was fairly recent and it was such a disaster right from the start. And it was a disaster I not only should have seen coming – I did see it coming, and I did it anyway. I don’t often wish I could “undo” mistakes, but that was certainly one of them. However, I did learn a thing or two, and among the lessons learned actually paid off just about a year ago – another “anniversary” of sorts. I dissolved an almost three-year relationship that was considerably more healthy than my marriage was, however, it was no longer a positive contribution to my life. The lesson? Love is not enough. It alone will not rescue a relationship. The time had come to end it, this time I did so before I did things that would become much more difficult to undo.

But there are other even more important anniversaries coming up. One of them was a direct result of the freedom I experience of severing that ill-fated marriage – my first excursion to the quintessential motorcycle rally know as “Sturgis.” Officially, “The Black Hills Motorcycle Classic,” in 2014 I went to the 74th annual for my very first time. It was a dream of mine since forever and from the ashes of that marriage rose a near-perfect alignment of the planets that gave me and my Harley the opportunity to go and celebrate freedom. My seventh consecutive Sturgis excursion begins in about three weeks. Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change that experience significantly, the ride there and back (which is at least as important, if not more so) will be largely unchanged and although the four days I plan to be there will be muted, I should be able to ride the Black Hills and keep to myself.

There are two other anniversaries that are much more pivotal. They are not likely to be forgotten even though one of them I don’t directly remember. The first is October 17th, 2000 and the other is August 6th, 2004. The first, almost 20 years ago, is a day that nearly ended my life. In fact, it should have – not could have, should have. Due to a lifestyle will be explained by that second anniversary, I was involved in a wreck that put me in the hospital with major life-threatening injuries for three months, almost half of which I was in a medically induced coma. I don’t remember most of about six weeks of my life and what I do remember is nothing short of weird. The accident was my fault and I am profoundly grateful that I did not kill or seriously injure anyone else. The second anniversary, coming up on 16 years ago, is the date I got clean for good. I have not ingested any mind or mood altering chemicals – no drugs or alcohol – for 5,816 consecutive days.

While all of these various anniversaries are important – not the least of which are my boys’ and grandsons’ birthdays – those two days almost 20 and 16 years ago literally made the rest possible. The almost four years between that wreck and finally getting my shit together were a kind of purgatory for me – it was the time between the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. I got clean for about nine months in March of 2003 only to go backwards at the end of the year. During that time I experienced medical complications, physical rehabilitation, incarceration, residential drug rehabilitation and the beginning of furthering my college education. August 6th, 2004 was not a good day – I reported to jail to do some time on a probation violation only to report to another jail a week after being released to do some time on the charge that got me violated. When I was finally free sometime in late September of 2004, I was beat, pissed off and hopeless.

I was almost 42 years old and lucky to be live, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I was not and never have been suicidal, but I get how some can feel that kind of hopelessness. I had two choices – stay clean or violate again and go to prison. But I did not see how staying clean was going to get me to a place where I would ever feel “good.” I knew drugs would at least make me not care (they stopped making me feel “good” years before). And I also knew that the threat of going to prison alone would not work long-term. I had some recent recovery experience and some recent recovery success, so I tried again, not at all convinced it would work. Day after day, I did what I saw others doing and day after day, without my even noticing, things got better.

In the Spring of 2005, I returned to the local junior college with a plan. I need just that one semester to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) as a junior in the fall. Before that spring semester was over, I was able to look back one day and notice it was a few days since I was angry about anything. While I might not have been “happy,” not being pissed off all day everyday was a monumental improvement. Being angry all the time was fucking exhausting. Also, being clean, focused and motivated had a huge impact on my grades. By the time I graduated from CSUS, I had achieved a couple of 4.0 semesters and my overall GPA at Sac State was 3.83 – I graduated magna cum laude in the fall of 2007. Considering I was asked to leave San Diego State in 1985 with a 0.7 GPA, it is clear that being “dumb” was not my problem. Being stupid was.

Since then, I have gone on to earn a MA at CSUS, advance to Ph.D. candidacy at Louisiana State University (LSU) before using my work there for another MA (a “failure,” but in the world of failures, one that comes with a lot of success). I have had the chance to add other anniversaries like that ill-fated marriage, its subsequent divorce, six and a soon-to-be seventh Sturgis the acquisition of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six different Harleys and many other material items – “things” that I like. The intangibles are more important, however. By just staying alive, I now have four grandsons. However, my career is, perhaps, most notable. When I returned from LSU in the summer of 2015, I applied for a lecturer position at CSUS. While not the tenure-track professorship I planned to be pursuing originally, I am still teaching at the school that gave me the tools to go to LSU and do something I never in a million years dreamed possible – doctoral research at an elite R1 university. And now, for the past five years, I have been teaching at the same school that did so much for me. Add another anniversary to the list.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Connections


This essay – this blog post – is being written specifically for my original, nearly 15 year-old blog, The 25 Year Plan. That blog came into existence in December of 2005 due to a number of factors and it has outlived all of my other online “profiles” for many of the same reasons. I have other blogs that are now dormant, but this one, while enjoying more of my attention lately than it has in recent years, is nowhere near as active as it was early on. There are many reasons for that, too, most of which are not important or particularly interesting. However, one reason it got the attention it did (from me, it has never been externally “famous”) was that I had no other good outlet to publish myself.

That concept, “publishing oneself,” still strikes me as odd, but that is, whatever we want to call it, a thing. Maybe it’s a Facebook post, a “tweet,” a picture on Instagram or, now, Snapchat and TikTok – and so many others – but at the end of the day, we are making ourselves publicly available to others. We are publishing ourselves. Why? I can’t say what the attraction is for others, however, the attraction is undeniably there. For me, it predates social media as we know it. When I saw my name in the byline of my stories in the local newspaper, it did something for me, when that story was an editorial, it did something more. Much more. And I say this while saying, sincerely, that attention, fame, notoriety and all other acclaim is not what I seek. I seek, for lack of a better word, connection. On second thought, maybe that is the best word. Yes… connection.

That can happen in a number of ways and much of what I write about is personal, even when is has a political or social or societal or public slant. The subtext of my blog’s title for all these years remains, Perspectives, Purpose and Opinion. That is a very large category that allows for virtually anything. Over the years and 643 published posts (most, but not all, my own original work – some earlier posts were quotes and pictures and other things I found compelling), I wrote about current events, political goings-on, personal trials and tribulations, navigating life as a middle-aged college student and just about anything else. Sometimes I wrote just for the sake of writing. And, for those who read carefully, I likely have contradicted myself and changed positions over the years. For better and (more often) worse, Facebook has supplanted my blog. There are, again, many reasons, but it is impossible to discount or minimize the “publication” factor. Facebook reaches more people faster and easier – it makes for more, faster and easier connections. More, faster and easier, however, does not necessarily mean better.

As much as Facebook has continued to add features giving the platform more access and making it even faster and easier, and as much as it has to some extent evolved to a slightly deeper content level (even Twitter has doubled its character limit), it still doesn’t favor much more than sound-bite and headline level engagement. The proof is everywhere, every day. I am “accused” of being too verbose in my Facebook posts on a regular basis. And when longer articles are linked, most people do not read them – I know this from my own stats. When I link this to my Facebook timeline, I will get more comments and “reactions” than I do hits on my blog’s web page. While the comments often reveal the level of engagement with my work, the reactions (likes, loves, wows, etc.) do not. Is that connection?

I’ve said it before and it’s still true – I don’t do it for the likes. In fact, when my stories appeared in a newspaper, there was no “like” button. Occasionally a sufficiently inspired reader might be compelled to write a letter to the editor, and sometimes the newspaper’s online presence (as rudimentary as it was at the time) would generate comments from readers, but not often. My connection came from my personal interaction in the community I wrote for and the knowledge that a certain number of people had my words delivered on their doorstep. And, although I still prefer the actual feel of a newspaper in my hands, I don’t have a paper delivered to my home anymore. Progress.

The point of all of this got somewhat lost, but maybe that is the point. My online presence, my “publications,” my life experience is shared to make a connection with others. I get drawn into others’ words, like these, and I can relate. The inspiration today came from, as much as I hate to admit it, Facebook and it’s “Memories” feature. My active Facebook history now dates back well past 10 years; the changes as well as the patterns are interesting. It is easy enough to see how the quantity, speed and ease of one platform has supplanted the other. However, it is noteworthy that, for all Facebook is, it has not replaced the deeper and more robust ability for this medium to make a more meaningful connection. A lot has happened in the last 15 years and this time of year seems to be full of surprises. So far, while this has been a crazy, tumultuous year, my personal life has been relatively quiet. My stress about things has an external source, from my connection to others.

I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t like way too much of what I see. I try, really hard, to understand without condemnation, but at some point, with some people, I simply cannot continue to engage. There is no connection; it is either lost or, perhaps, was never there in the first place. Sometimes it becomes clear I can do nothing, say nothing – I cannot even capitulate, apparently that is not what they are after, I’m not sure they even know what they are after. It is as frustrating as it is sad, but walking away from “it all,” as much as I want to, is not my nature. For those who are still willing to sincerely connect, I’ll keep talking, keep listening, keep writing and keep reading. It’s not just about my “perspectives, purpose and opinion,” it’s about everyone’s. It’s about connections.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Too Much


Video has changed the game. It, along with television, was the turning point in the civil rights movement. The technology brought visceral images to the nation, and to the world, of what was happening in “the land of the free.” There it was, right in our own living rooms. We knew about it, we heard about it, but for too many of us it was so far removed from our daily lives that we could turn a blind eye because we were, in fact, blind. No more.

Fast forward to the early 90s when the technology finds its way into the hands of everyday people. Camcorders were becoming cheaper and easier to use and one of them was trained on some Los Angeles cops as they mercilessly beat Rodney King after arresting him. Although instant access to distribution channels was not yet available, the recording was aired by a local news station and it quickly went “viral.” People were, again, appalled. This sort of police brutality was nothing new, as those who were subjected to it knew all too well, and although we had heard of such things, we were, until the King beating, blissfully blind. The “system” failed to realize the outrage acquitting those cops would cause, but that, too, came right into our living rooms.

So, lesson learned, right? We had a problem. The “racial problems” were not a thing of the past, not an ugly and unpleasant footnote in our history, they were still there lurking under the surface in our institutions. Get to work, identify the cause, craft solutions and eliminate the source of the rage that was a tinder box waiting to ignite. And although some steps were taken, it is clear that we are nowhere near “there” yet. As the technology has become so advanced that video is everywhere, one would think that the very threat of getting caught would compel those who are prone to violate the rights of others to stop. It would be better if their actual attitudes changed, if those in positions of power did the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, but that is naïve. It is puzzling, however, that the risk of getting caught is not enough to keep these cops from exerting unwarranted and excessive force.

It might be that the risk is not that great. Time after time we see those who have been caught in the video cross-hairs sent home, free, with minimal or no consequences. Even in this most recent case, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd was not even arrested or charged until days later. No one except a cop would be afforded that kind of grace. And the other three who stood by and allowed it to happen? So far they have lost only their jobs, and the police union will, no doubt, fight that. Here we have a case where virtually everyone agrees that this was a cold-blooded heinous crime and yet the standard operating procedure that applies to all other criminals who perpetrate this type of crime did not apply. Why?

We have given the cops too much. Too much privacy. Too much secrecy. Too much power. Too much autonomy. We have also not demanded enough from them. Not enough training. Not enough screening. Not enough professionalism. Not enough empathy. Of course, even with all that taken into account, we cannot prevent an occasional rogue cop from slipping in under the radar, but at this point it is becoming increasingly clear that there are way too many and, more importantly, the rest are not policing those who are not upholding a level of trust necessary for police to be effective in any community.

I wrote a piece on Facebook recently in which I argued “there are no good cops.” The premise is based upon the mythical, magical “thin blue line,” that veil of secrecy that binds cops to silent solidarity. I got some push back, some resistance – I knew I would – and while I readily admit that not all cops are bad and that most are not “dirty,” far too many will look the other way. Derek Chauvin worked for the Minneapolis Police Department for 18 years. In that time he had 18 complaints made against him, only two of which incurred any disciplinary action –  “letters of reprimand.” It is actually remarkable that we even know that much, considering the privacy that police personnel records get. There is no indication where those complaints came from, but I’d bet real money that not one came from a fellow officer and, furthermore, I’d bet no fellow officers were particularly helpful in the investigation of those complaints. This is a major metropolitan police department, not the Podunk PD.

This is not an isolated case, it is the latest in a long line of police killings, brutality and other major indescretions that have been documented and in most cases, nothing happened – the officers were found not at fault. And those who were still got special treatment. But wait, this is only the tip of the iceberg – these are only the cases that happened to find their way onto video and into the public domain. With that many that happened to find themselves on camera, just imagine those that have been summarily swept under the rug and behind the veil of a blue curtain – beyond public reach. Is it any wonder people are angry. I am white, male and have seen it myself, experienced it myself, been lied about in police reports myself. I have black friends who have stories that are far worse.

There is so much wrong and so much work to do, but if we don’t focus on law enforcement as a priority, nothing else will matter. The trust that the police must have to do their job does not exist. God cops, good cops that don’t say anything about bad cops and bad cops all look the same. There are no white hats and black hats to tell them apart – I have no idea who I’m going to get when I call them, so I won’t unless it’s is absolutely necessary. That is the reality. The unrest, the anger, the dismay, the disillusionment, the distrust did not come out of a vacuum. The uprising on a national level is not some orchestrated, coordinated ploy by those trying to destroy this nation. It is organic. It is the natural extension of what happens when too many people are denied too long the freedom that this very nation promised them.

We have seen enough. We have seen far too much.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In the History of Failures


I had four years of "funding" at LSU. That is, for four years, they would pay me to teach two classes, pay my tuition for the three graduate classes I took each semester that were required for a Ph.D., and some miscellaneous other contractual obligations and benefits. At the close of the spring 2015 semester, that contract came to an end. I finished my coursework, I finished my exams and I was one large hurdle away from completing my degree, but I no longer had to take any classes and only had to pay for doctoral advising hours. In other words, there was no reason to stay in Baton Rouge if I wasn't working there. And to stay, I had to work.
But the truth, at least part of it, is that as much as I wanted to permanently get the fuck out of Sacramento a couple of years earlier, the smoke had cleared - somewhat - by then (less than I imagined from 2,200 miles away, but that's another story for another time). I wanted to go back home, work there and work on my dissertation from there. I knew that would make a difficult project more so, but I did not care. That was not the only factor involved, but retrospect being both 20/20 and undo-able, it doesn't much matter anyway. That same hindsight tells me that my being home in Sacramento served some very certain irreplaceable benefits as well. Such is the nature of intangibles. That unfinished work towards my Ph.D. didn't get me nothing; it got me a shitload of experience I value quite a lot. And it got me another MA degree. But it did not give me reason enough to go back to LSU for commencement.
So it was on this day, five years ago that I turned in my office keys and walked out of Coates Hall for the last time. I've been back to Baton Rouge a few times, I planned to go back this summer and, depending on how this current pandemic plays through, I still might. I have friends there and I have family in southern Louisiana. I am a loyal alumnus. I was as proud as any Tiger could be to see our football team not only win the National Championship last season but also put together a perfect season and produce a Heisman Trophy winner in the process. And they beat Alabama, too. Even though I didn't come away with letters in front of my name as well as letters behind it, just getting there and hanging in there - with all that was going on while I was there - was a monumental long shot. In the world of "failure," especially in the history of my failures, that is a failure I can be proud of.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Beauty & Truth

It has been a couple of weeks since I’ve written anything more than a long Facebook post. It seems as though anything longer than a Twitter-length post is viewed as a long – too long – Facebook post, but that says more about the average social media consumer’s attention span than it does about social media itself. Maybe it’s the word, “post,” that predisposes all things categorically post-like to abbreviated info-bites designed for drive-through consumption… but I digress. This is not that even if it does find its way to both platforms. Indeed, this is about the polar opposite of satisfying our incessant and growing appetite for instant, easy and shallow discourse. This is about writing at length – real writing – taking the care, the thought and the time needed to compose words and punctuation into complex, multifaceted, textured and nuanced ideas that actually go somewhere. I’m talking about essays, short stories, books, poetry and even other nondiscursive artforms that communicate much more than filling a 280-character-size-box ever could.

I am not an English professor, I do not teach reading or writing, per se. But as a communication studies professor, I do assign (and read) quite a lot of student writing. One of my classes is designated a “writing intensive” course and, as such, the students are required to write several longer works throughout the semester. This, for many, is a challenge. Our students come from vastly different backgrounds; not all have had the same degree or quality of prior instruction and many have had to deal with outside issues that interfered with their studies. Oddly enough, it could be that those students are better prepared to deal with the outside issue we are all dealing with right now. As a “state school,” we accept virtually “anyone” and I make it my business to do everything I can to help every “anyone” in my class be a better writer when the semester is over. If a “writing intensive” class is to make any sense, that writing quantity must have a qualitative purpose.

Short editorial: I had to take a “writing intensive” class to attain my BA, too. It was absolutely pointless. It had no other purpose other than to produce pabulum, five-paragraph essays with frosting and a cream filling. It was a stupid, bullshit class that must have been designed to get students past this requirement with the least amount of effort. It was offered under the “Recreation and Leisure Studies” department.

I like to write. I know I have some kind of “natural talent” for it and I know that, through the kind of practice that only those who practice their art to ridiculous extremes would understand, I have honed that talent to a fine edge. I am also acutely aware that I am not the “rock-star” writer I aspire to be. There are those who can write circles around me – I will never be that good. But I don’t have to be. My point is that art in general, and the art of writing deeply, thoughtfully, and soundly, is being shoved aside for the fast-food of writing, sometimes with bacon, and a frosty. What’s worse is that it isn’t just the artistry that is being shoved aside, along with the beauty, we are losing the truth. The truth comes from thinking deeply, and that depth comes from not only writing that takes more than 280 characters, but people willing to take the time to read it.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. We are now nearly 600 words – more than 3,300 characters in – and you’re still reading. And I feel like I’ve said all this before, in some way or another. I was going to say, “I’m not even sure what inspired this.” But that’s not true. I know what it was. It has nothing to do with the sorry state of social media, it has nothing to do with my job or my students, it has nothing to do with artistry, beauty or truth (although, that linkage between beauty and truth, I must admit, I did not see coming). And it has nothing to do with imploring others to read or write more deeply. I felt an urge to write – not necessarily this – but to write something. I started to explore my book archives looking for something I wrote a few months ago about a viral apocalypse and who the survivors were, how they survived and what this new world was like. It’s nothing but a prologue and a sketch, but it is eerily similar to what’s happening now. I don’t mean that in a prophetic way – I didn’t know or feel anything, it was just an idea – but one that could be adapted to COVID-19, I think.

As many times as I have started to, I have not yet produced a book – not as one contiguous work, anyway. I have enough work to compile into a book – likely more than one – but I have not yet written one entire, single book with one beginning and one ending. I also have never published any fiction, which this last book idea certainly would be (at the very least, creative non-fiction, but that genre feels like a creative non-genre, I’m not going there). I was feeling a need to breakout this old-school keyboard and two-finger clickety-clack out some words and those words were really supposed to go that way, not this way. But this is where we are.

Summer break is about four weeks away. The stay-at-home directives will, hopefully, be eased up by then. In the summers I usually ride my Harley a lot, and far away – I want to do that. I want to write that book and I can see myself doing that on some lonely backroad sitting on the porch of some rundown motel with my iPad or my MacBook Pro on my lap, cigar smoke winding it’s way up towards the trees, a gentle breeze blowing and the only sound will be that of an occasional bird and the soft tapping of my keys as I write my novel of how Covid-19 changed everything. Maybe it will be prophetic. Maybe I will be the next George Orwell. Maybe I’ll just gain a little peace, think a little deeper and if I get lucky, leave some words behind that might inspire someone else.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SSRSHTF

COVID-19 - Day 30 SSRSHTF (since shit really started hitting the fan):

Life went from pending uncertainty at the beginning of March to near worse-case certainty now, on the last day of the month. While the known cases and fatalities continue to rise rapidly, far more people are taking the crisis seriously and doing what is recommended, at least when convenient. There are still some overreacting and too many under-reacting, but we are a nation of extremes, it seems.

Personally, aside from moving from an actual classroom to a "virtual" one, my life is not overly complicated by this. Complying with the directives issued by the authorities as advised by the experts has not been very difficult. My gas tank in my car has been close to full for about two weeks. My supply of necessities has been adequate without over-stocking on anything, despite the temporary shortages caused by those who did and the things that are not necessities are well stocked as well.

I have not gained any weight nor am I eating my boredom away, probably because solitude doesn't bore me. The only thing that has changed noticeably is that, now that I can sleep later because I do not have to commute to work, I do - and that means I stay up later. And later. And later. I am falling back into my natural nocturnal pattern and, although I don't necessarily see that as a problem, if I let it get out of control, reeling it back in could be a bit of a chore. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

It is Spring Break this week. Ordinarily, I'd be off doing something. I planned to be off riding my Harley all week with no destination, itinerary or plan. While a solo motorcycle ride like that is, by definition, a socially isolating affair, it is not totally completely so. Unless I planned to camp (which, unless absolutely unavoidable, I don't - ever), I cannot guarantee I will remain distanced enough from people who I have no idea where they have been or who they have been in contact with. I'm less worried about getting the disease than I am about spreading it, but either way, I am responsible for keeping my distance, too.

Today I have some loose ends to tie up for my students and I am getting some things in place for when class resumes next week. The weather this week is going to be gradually warming, but even today, with the temperature hitting in the upper 60s, with clear skies, it is perfect for a ride. And I will ride sometime this week for sure. I can go at least 150 miles without stopping for gas, food, a bathroom or anything – I can be 100% isolated on the road for 150 miles that begins and ends right here. But not today, In addition to a little bit of work, I also will do a little bit of work on my motorcycle. It’s also a damned fine day to do that. No reason to “pass the time” with TV, Facebook, sleep, or food. Boredom isn’t real, it is a state of mind – it is a choice. Life goes on, it’s just another day and another adventure.

Peace.

Monday, March 30, 2020

We are Strong


Today is the first day of Spring Break, 2020. It’s a little cloudy outside, about 63 degrees at 1:00 p.m. – that’s about as warm as it’s going to get. There is no rain forecasted and the weather is going to gradually warm all week to the 80’s by this weekend. It is perfect motorcycle riding weather and ideal for what I had planned this week – a five to seven day solo ride throughout California and possibly neighboring Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. My “plan” was to stay on the road all week and travel 2,000 to 3,000 miles with no destination, direction or itinerary – just ride. I am also part of the “Tour of Honor” for the first time this year and I wanted to try to visit some of the tour stops once they were released on April 1st. They are still being released, but they aren’t being scored in “lockdown” states, rightfully so, and, because I live in California, anything more than a day ride is out of the question anyway.

So, yes, boo-fucking-hoo, poor me, cry in my beer, I don’t get to do what I want to do. Those who know me know I am not a whiner. There are too many good reasons for that, not the least of which is that is doesn’t do any good – whining has never made a bad situation better. Never. But beyond that, in this case, what is there to whine about? It’s not as though my life-long dream has been snatched out from under me, never to be had again. I’ve ridden. A lot. A long way. Many miles. Many days. Many times. It’s no accident, I’ve done that because I really like doing it, but not being able to this one time isn’t the end of the world. I have a much, much bigger ride planned for mid-July to mid-August that is a “bucket-list” ride for me, a coast-to-coast, border-to-border month-long, 10,000-plus mile odyssey that, even if this initial crisis has crested, will in all likelihood become just another two-week ride to Sturgis and back. Say it fast and that sounds like a chore - just another…

So many people are being affected by this in ways I cannot even imagine, ways that they will not easily, if ever recover from. And that is to say nothing about the people who have perished or the people who will – a number that is still rising alarmingly fast. I wonder how many people were complaining about being inconvenienced during World War II, when day-to-day staples were rationed in a nationwide effort to win a war. I wonder if anyone was worried about their vacation plans in 1942 when Germany occupied most of Europe and Japan was a constant threat in the Pacific. While there were some detractors and naysayers, the vast majority of this nation banded together in a common effort to defeat a common threat. We were not a nation of whiners.

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers
And despite the commotion coming from a vocal minority, we still are not. Though it took a little time for the skepticism to fade, by the time the crisis became real, most of us became real along with it. There is an undertone of that grit that defined this country during World War II, a grit that resurfaced, for a while, right after the attacks of 9/11, and it is getting louder. We aren’t fucking whiners. We, most of us, do what we have to do and we do it without bitching about it. It is getting louder and it is getting stronger. In The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, after Gandalf frees Théodin from Saruman’s spell, he tells a weakened Théodin, “Your fingers would remember their old strength better — if they grasped your sword.”

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, the age-old tale of good, against all odds, conquering evil, of bravery and sacrifice, of character and soul, of heroism. These are the themes that are beginning to emerge. This pandemic has shocked us into action the likes of which we haven’t seen before. We have been entirely too comfortable. We are awakening from a long, dark and deep sleep. We have grasped our swords, we are remembering that we are strong. We can do this. We are not fucking whiners.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Apocalypse-ish


I am not a so-called “prepper,” but that is not to say that I am not, generally, prepared for life’s inconsistencies. When the COVID-19 craziness began a little more than two weeks ago (in the US, but in California in particular), I was prepared. My normal supply and resupply routine had me well positioned to weather at least two weeks and, if stretched, much more. As luck would have it, I did my regular shopping – which I do every two to three weeks – right at the beginning of the “scare,” just as it was turning to panic. I figured the panic would pass, the crazed lunacy, the unbridled procurement of random items, the outright hoarding of things that make no real sense, all of that would quickly fade. The big warehouse stores where the huge inventories are stockpiled were hit first, but my much smaller (but still good sized) neighborhood Raley’s Supermarket had plenty of everything and I bought what I usually do – enough for my household. I could have purchased their entire stock at the time, but why would I?

Apparently there is an answer to that question, not one that satisfies me, but one that justifies a whole lot of others, especially when panic strikes. Within a week that panic spread to my local Raley’s and every other store. It also spread to other items besides paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Things that make some sense were disappearing – nonperishable food items and such – but also things that do not last over long periods of time. People had carts full of gallons of milk and loaves of bread, produce to feed an army and even with enough freezer space, how much freezer burned chicken will they tolerate over the coming non-apocalyptic months?

My food stores and most other supplies are still good due to my regular supply and resupply routine. I did have to go hunting for paper products today, but although both my neighborhood supermarkets are still out, the local warehouse supermarket has some. As I predicted, the supply chain has started to catch up as the panic is dying down. Even canned goods are reappearing on the shelves. There never was a supply issue. And, as far as paper products go, with so many now owning a lifetime supply, the availability might not be the initial issue next time – it will be some other random “necessity.” Maybe it will be shaving cream, who knows?

And there will be a next time. This time, as bad as this pandemic is and as much harm as it can cause, has caused and will cause, it has revealed something much more damning. Human fear. Mass hysteria. Panic. We did not hit the tipping point… this time. A virus that is a little more deadly, one that moves a little faster, something more mysterious or anything unknown that poses even the slightest existential threat will flip the mass hysteria switch and, if on a national or global scale – that’s Armageddon. Will it happen? Possibly, I have no faith in mass humanity to stop it – this little trial run has shown that. A better hope is that sort of disaster does not darken our national or global door at all.

The “preppers” out there are, as the term implies, prepared for the absolute worse. They are prepared for the collapse of government, of civilization as we know it. They are prepared to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. While I am not at all convinced that sort of preparation is warranted, this little dry run of a widespread emergency has shown me that counting on humans to act rationally when scared is folly. A lot of otherwise intelligent, reasonable people were caught up in their own individual toilet paper wars – it was not pretty. I am, however, stepping my level of preparation up a notch or two. Once this blows over, I will enhance two distinct areas. Stock and defense. While my current position is fine for this scenario and more, I clearly underestimated people.

That does not mean I’m going to dig a hole in the ground and fortify it into a bunker. It also doesn’t mean my home will be some sort of armory or storehouse. It does mean that in addition to my level of day-to-day preparation that was already adequate to cover minor interruptions in daily life, I’ll extend it to preparation that covers major ones – bigger than what we are facing now. I’d like to say I can count on my fellow humans, and under normal and even slightly stressed conditions, I certainly can, but when people are afraid, they do irrational things. The response to fear, more than the thing feared, is often what kills us. I’m not about to let your fear kill me.




Friday, February 21, 2020

Millennial Doomsday


The blaming of the younger generation for all the ills of society is nothing new - it has been going on for, literally, generations upon generations. In his book, "The Sense of Style," Stephen Pinker writes, "Every generation believes that the kids today are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it." Examples of the "older" generation denigrating the younger one and then dooming the civilization that THEY built (single-handedly, no doubt) to obsolescence are as old as writing itself.

Illustration: Ryan Kelly
There are two problems with this quasi-argument. The first is that it is patently false. Not only is our civilization more advanced and more robust than it has ever been, it is through thousands of years of human societal evolution - not just the past few generations and certainly not "yours." Indeed, if there is in fact a threat (and there is a strong argument that there is), it is due to unchecked industrialization and "civilization," not some immanent societal breakdown due to changing social norms.

Second, and more importantly, is the implied deflection of responsibility. The older generation is all too quick to assume responsibility and take credit for our largess, for our species' rise to the top and dominance of the food chain. But when it comes to our offspring and how they mature and take hold of what we leave them, well, that's not on us. Who the fuck do you think taught these Gen Xers and Millennials all these things that you despise? It was y'all. There is no one else. What? The media? Who is the media? It's y'all. The government? It's y'all. All "those influences" are y'all - play the fucking tape back.

It's funny, really. You were all once young. The older generation was once bagging on you. That "rock" music was going to be the end of civilization as we know it. The way y'all dressed was and the way y'all talked... and women wanting to be doctors and lawyers? What was the world coming to? Yet you did your thing and look at us now. Now you're old and you don't like the change you're seeing. It's got to be someone's fault. It's those kids! But not your kids, right? You raised your kids right, but no one else did. Please. You had your chance to do your thing and make the world in your vision. Now your kids and grandkids get to do the same - we only had it for a little while. Now it's their turn. Let it go. Change is good. It's going to be okay.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Serendipity Passed


Prior to a near-death experience that was probably closer to actual death than it was near, my life was a series of seemingly random occurrences. I thought myself in control, I wanted to believe that I was going somewhere, the reality was that I was adrift. I had no direction and very little control. That experience, now almost 20 years ago, was the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the beginning would not really take place for another three or four years. But that was the first domino.

There are a couple of concepts that sort of described what has transpired since. One is what is sometimes referred to as the “butterfly effect.” Essentially, the idea is that something as small as the flap of a butterfly’s wings on the other side of the world will disturb the air is such a way that the disturbance – and just that disturbance – will start a causal chain that results in virtually everything else that happens from that point forward. Of course, taken to an absurd extreme, everything is the result of the first flap of the first butterfly’s wings, but the broader point is much simpler. Little things done now can have profound and unknowable effects much later. The other is serendipity, which is defined as, “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” While the butterfly effect has no positive or negative valence, serendipity necessarily does.

That near-death experience was the very large flap of a very large butterfly’s wings and the things that have been presented to me since, the opportunities, the ways in which I have approached life and the paths that have appeared before me have proven serendipitous, indeed. This is not some new revelation, I have experienced profound moments of gratitude and equally profound realizations of the presence of serendipity in my life many times over the past many years. It is upon me again, but this time is not a moment of rejoice, but one of sorrow. It is a time for gratitude, for sure, but also one of loss and in some respects, regret. However, if not for that first domino falling and certain events unfolding as they did starting nearly 20 years ago, I would not be writing this today, even if I had survived.

Without writing a book-length memoir that accounts for the unlikely path that led from there to here, part of that journey included a return to school as a “nontraditional” student.” Nontraditional in this context is commonly translated as old – old compared to the average college age student. In my case that was well into middle age, well after screwing up my actual college age years and making a mess of much of my life in the years following that failed attempt at college. It was not as though I never experience success; I did, but it was always fleeting and never with any solid plans or goals. It was incidental success, accidental success or, perhaps, opportunistic success. It was the kind of life that might have predicted the end that almost happened.

The path that took place after almost cashing it all in led me through a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at California State University, Sacramento before I continued on to a Ph.D. program. I applied to a number of schools all over the country, among them was Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Two schools accepted my application, one was, serendipitously, LSU. Why serendipity? Because I have not just connections in Louisiana, I have family. Blood family. My mom’s sister, my Aunt Nancy, my cousins and other direct family all live nearby. While I had never been to Baton Rouge prior to visiting LSU before accepting my invitation to study there, I visited family in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi many times over the years since I was a child. While not close on an “everyday” basis, they were still very close and the “home base” that I had there, generations in the making, made my relocation much easier.

But it was far more than that. Sure, the practical implications of a middle-aged grad student having a complex, fully integrated family support system in place was an advantage that certainly made the transition smoother. Anything that removes external stresses could only be beneficial to my studies. It doesn’t take a great deal of intuitive power to see that. But the 2,000-plus miles between our homes meant that, aside from some holidays and other “special occasions,” we really didn’t spend a lot of time together. My living less than an hour north for the better part of four years eliminated that distance both physically and personally. It was so close, in fact, that I often took it for granted. No longer was it a major event to visit my Louisiana kinfolk, I could go just anytime. And although I did, in retrospect, I didn’t often enough.

I entered LSU in the fall of 2011. That year, before I knew I would be attending LSU, my Uncle Sonny, Aunt Nancy’s husband, passed suddenly. His memorial was one of those “special occasions,” though that word, “special,” feels somewhat dubious. However, as it was a celebration of his life, for a memorial it was pretty special. He and my aunt were married for almost 60 years. Yesterday, after a relatively short battle, my aunt followed him. From the fall of August of 2011 until May of 2015, I spent much, much more time in Louisiana than I did in California. The vacuum left by Uncle Sonny’s passing was still very real, but Aunt Nancy’s strength was the stuff of legend and, truth be told, I needed that, even if I didn’t know it or would never admit it. There were times, many times, when we would find ourselves, just her and I, alone just chatting about this and that – important stuff, trivial stuff, family stuff from an entirely different perspective – just stuff, and sometimes an hour or more will have passed in the blink of an eye. Although I built new closeness to my cousins and other relatives there, too, it was with Aunt Nancy I grew closest to. With my own mother, her sister, so far away, she was that to me, too.

I realize that I said a whole lot about me before I got to her, but this isn’t meant to be a memorial. I could not do it justice, anyway. One of my cousins will do that much better than I ever could, and rightfully so. This is more a reflection on the little things in life and how important those forks in the road can be, many miles and many years later. While I regret not taking the opportunity to visit more often when I could have, I am forever grateful for the time we had. My aunt was more help to me than she knew, more help than I knew, especially considering so much more that was going on that I didn’t write about here. I will truly, truly miss her.

As I was perusing my Facebook memories today, pictures of Mardi Gras popped up. Prior to LSU, I’d been to a few, but while at LSU, I felt more part of it than ever before. But those memories, while nice, are not unexpected or particularly profound. One, however, was; it was a comment from her on one of my posts. She was more a Facebook “stalker” than a participant, so her commenting is kind of a big deal, that it would pop up today, two years ago one day after she passed, is… touching, in a way I can’t describe. It reads: “I have no comment on the content of your post, but I see genes appearing. Grandad would be proud of you. There's nothing like a good argument to keep life interesting. Good job.”



Friday, February 07, 2020

The Radical Middle


There is, seemingly, nothing that the far right and far left agree on. In fact the one sure thing that they clearly do agree on would get push back from both sides if it was even suggested they agreed on it. Both sides constantly lament, no, whine, about how juvenile the polarization, the mudslinging, the back-biting and the sand-kicking has become. However, as much as they would bristle at the fact that they actually do agree, they do, in fact agree – we are a nation divided. I became politically aware at the beginning of Nixon’s second administration – yes, that Nixon – and in the past more than 45 of my 57 years, I have never seen this nation so set against itself. It is a domestic threat that looms far larger than any foreign threat that exists.

Both the left and the right, fueled by the extremes, blame each other; both say it was started by… pick a president, pick a Republican or Democratic House and/or Senate, pick a personality or a network or even “the media.” The reasons, the personalities, the policies, the attitudes, the generations change with the election cycles but the common denominator is blame. Vote for me because they did this to you. I love America, they want to destroy it. I represent American values, they are fascists (if on the right) or communists (if on the left). And everyone is stupid. Nice.

The reality is that most of us have a complex mix of both conservative and liberal ideals. Most of us do not have a straight party line ideology that is consistent with any political party platform. We make our decisions based on who best represents what is most important to us, every time giving up some things that we must concede. The only political candidate for any office who completely represents my interests is… me, and I’m not running. In every election we make compromises with ourselves regarding who the best candidate is, not who the perfect one is. Like us individually, our collective society, reflected in our government, consists of a melding of these liberal and conservative ideals – it always has. Everyone gets something, no one gets everything, by design. Somehow we seem to have lost sight of that. The is nothing inherently wrong with conservatism or liberalism so long as both extremes are checked by the give and take of debate, cooperation and compromise. When that works, democracy works.

While our democratic republic is still working, it is not working well and if something doesn’t change, it will, eventually, stop working at all. The only power that can destroy this nation is the power that created it. Those on the extreme are fine with reforming our policies and our institutions in their visions of the extreme – in that respect, accusations of communism and fascism are well-founded, but they don’t represent the vast majority of us and they don’t even represent those in congress, despite the partisan claims to the contrary. The vast majority, Republican, Democrat and independent, love this country and are patriots just like you and I are. However, they also love their jobs and to keep them they must (or feel they must) pander to their base – and that base tends to be on the extremes. But just the “extremes” isn’t even the problem, it’s those on the extreme edges of the extremes who are driving the division, and it is no accident.

A careful reader might have noticed by now that I have not accused or otherwise called out one side over the other for instigating or being the aggressor in this quagmire. A not so careful reader might be reading in Rs and Ls where I have not placed them. Please, please, don’t. And please do not internalize this because no matter how you feel about the left or the right – and even if you don’t believe those in congress “love their country” (I’ll even go so far as to say they might love their jobs more), the vast majority of your friends, family and neighbors are just like everyone else – a complex mix of conservative and liberal ideals who must balance their interests with those running for office and choose who best represents them. All we can ask of them is that they do the same when they get to office and debate legislation and policy. When we demonize the general “other side,” we are also demonizing our friends, family and neighbors who happen to identify with the left or right of center.

President Nixon resigned in disgrace. He screwed up, got caught and paid the price. It was a dark time in our nation’s history, a veritable Constitutional crisis. But despite that, he was no dummy. One of the things he saw was similar to what we are experiencing today – a political middle that is caught in the cross-fire. He recognized the non-political, hard-working Americans who had had enough of a whole lot and he mobilized them. He gave them a voice, and a name – the Silent Majority. They didn’t want to march, they didn’t want to protest, they didn’t want to be berated with mudslinging, with accusations, with bombast – they just wanted the government to work for them. And they showed up – at the ballot box.

It’s time for the middle to rise up again. We don’t have to march. We don’t have to protest. We don’t have to post or respond to stupid memes on Facebook. We just have to vote. But who do we vote for? It seems that they are all the same – each side pointing fingers at the other, each side taking credit here and placing blame there like it is some kind of game and the side with the most points wins. Aren’t we, the people, supposed to be the winners? We win when they work together. This election cycle, I will be voting not for any candidate who thinks most like I do on any given issue, I will be voting on the candidate who pledges to work together with his or her colleagues to do the work that we sent them there to do – our work. Those who can show me they have the backbone to rise above the partisanship and work to find compromise on the issues that face us will get my vote, and I don’t care what party they are attached to. It is time for the radical middle to be heard. Indeed, it is our only hope.