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My sword is bright
it lights the path ahead
through treacherous times
shining

My sword is sharp
it cuts to the heart
the dissemblers’ lies
seeking

My sword is strong
it survives unfazed
the illogic tide
standing

My sword is my vote
it points the way forward
for right and for rights
singing

——

k

 

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Well, that was quite the week.

I took last Thursday off for my wife’s birthday. I didn’t get her a present—I long ago stopped trying to surprise her with a gift and now merely provide her with whatever she desires—but if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have been what she got, courtesy of SCOTUS. Thanks to them, everyone’s packing heat, women are chattel of the state, prayer is back in schools, voting rights have been further eroded, native sovereignty is diminished, and the government is hamstrung in its battle against climate change.

This all got plopped down on top of plates already over-filled by the war in Ukraine (served with a side dish of “Why so serious?” courtesy of Russia), the onion-peeling revelations from the January 6 Select Committee, and the smoldering root fire of pandemic, inflation, and civil unrest.

Good times, eh?

I think we can all be forgiven if we find ourselves a tad out of sorts, short on patience, or (in my case) fighting a persistent long-term, low-level depression. To combat the latter, I generally try to “accentuate the positive” by focusing on the good bits. It isn’t easy, but thankfully, in the midst of last week’s maelstrom of sewage, I did find an island of serenity.

Last Saturday, I married two young people. This was my second opportunity to officiate a marriage, and even though I don’t enjoy public speaking (an understatement), being asked to perform a wedding is an honor I’m not sure I could ever turn down.

The bride is the daughter of my adoptive family, and the ceremony was at the groom’s family home, a lovely Craftsman-style house nestled in a dell, deep in a birch forest. We arrived Friday for the rehearsal, and were met with the expected combination of almost-too-late preparations, near-to-breaking nerves, and brink-of-tears composure. My job on Friday was easy: radiate calm and stay out of the way.

Saturday . . . different story.

To complete the picture, I should mention that this was the weekend the Puget Sound region decided to turn the heat up to eleven. We went from a Thursday high in the mid-60s (20°C) to a Saturday with temps in the low- to mid-90s (35°C). And we were outside. And my spot was in the sun. And I was wearing black. Including my blazer.

At a wedding, it’s easy to interpret a profusely sweating minister as an ill omen, but I was able to maintain a cool appearance via sheer will. It wasn’t until the exchange of rings that I felt the first trickle of sweat on my sunward temple, and I didn’t have to mop my brow until the recessional was complete. Whew!

The thing I love about weddings—and I’ve been in more than my fair share—is that everyone wants them to go off well. Participants, family, friends, guests, even the caterers and photographers and musicians, everyone wants it to be beautiful and happy and glitch-free. But while beautiful and happy are do-able, I’ve never known one to be glitch-free. At mine, the judge arrived on crutches; she’d torn a ligament sliding into second base, and since we our wedding was in a forest, she had the devil’s own time negotiating the terrain (at one point the entire wedding party had to take one step backward so she could get her foot out of a hole). At another, the bride forgot the rings at home and had also locked her keys inside; we had to break in through a window. Weather is always a crap-shoot for outdoor venues. Hangovers often throw sabots into the machinery. And let’s not forget the gremlins of technology; unintentionally hot mics, recalcitrant PA systems, looping cables and wires stretched across traffic paths, they’re all just glitches waiting to happen.

But even with these myriad disasters waiting in ambush, I’ve never known a wedding to go completely off the rails. The glitches happen, to be sure, but they get handled, and they become part of the story, the one thing that makes this wedding unique, the thing we all laugh about afterward.

Weddings are built, from bottom to top, of hope.

And for me, that was definitely a bright spot in a week otherwise filled with drear and dread.

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This is who we want to be

We want our neighbors to go hungry
So we can enjoy the myth of our exceptional diligence

We want people to die of a preventable disease
So we don’t have to suffer the discomfort of a filter mask

We want kids to be stigmatized, bullied, and ashamed
So we can believe in the binary nature of gender

We want the oppressed to shut up and take a seat in the back
So we don’t have to think about the crimes of our ancestors

We want people to work long hours in unsafe conditions for paltry wages
So we can promote the fairy tale of corporate benevolence

We want women to bear babies, even if it kills them
So we can revel in our prideful righteousness

We want nothing to change, even for the better
So we can remain faithful to the tribe of our forebears

We want our children to be traumatized, maimed, and murdered
So we can have our guns

This

This is who we want to be

A nation without compassion, without sense
A nation without morality beyond our own selfish wants
A nation without shame, without courage

And we are succeeding

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more “interesting,” Justice Alito and the Doo-Wops serve up a new album guaranteed to top the charts and convulse the nation. 

Among the many things we should learn from this—the uselessness of judicial confirmation hearings, the endemic mendacity born of high ambition, the obvious fact that we no longer live in a system of “majority rules” but one of “minority vetoes,” the toxic effects of religion on a secular society, the true intentions and blatant misogyny held by the conservative right—there’s another lesson we should not ignore.

Our rights are not guaranteed.

The Constitution can be amended, and amendments can be repealed. Laws can be passed and subsequently stricken. Executive Orders only last until there’s a new butt sitting behind the Resolute desk.

There is no right, no legal expectation, no course of justice upon which we currently rely that cannot be taken away by a minority bent on its removal.

None.

The good news is, we know what to do.
The bad news is, it won’t be easy.

What we need to do—Trigger Warning: this may make white cis-het males feel bad about themselves—is dismantle the patriarchy. We need to eliminate the veto power of the minority, and never, ever relent on codifying, implementing, enforcing, and protecting the rights society adopts. Only one in three Americans believe abortions should be illegal in most or all cases, and yet they’re the ones driving this decades-long battle to turn women of childbearing age into Incubators of the State.

Putting aside the incredibly reductive and retrograde reasoning put forth by Alito & Co. in their draft majority opinion (and some of it is really quite shocking when given even passing thought), it is clear that the conservative/religious right has a stranglehold on the GOP, and that they are bent on imposing their theocratic beliefs on the rest of us. (Note: these are the same people who screamed about their personal liberty during mask mandates; irony isn’t dead, but it is picking its battles.) 

So, when we reestablish the rights of privacy, self-determination, and personal sovereignty—and I am convinced we eventually will—we need to deny ourselves that victory lap, that well-earned rest, and keep the barricades firm, because regardless the laws we pass and amendments we enact, they will come at us again.

Raise your voice.
Stay united.
Vote them out.

k

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I need a new word
for the conflict that
rages within me

I need a word
for the feeling that hits
when I see
a response to force
so primal
so basic
so innately human
yet
so brave
so admirable
so worthy of honor
that
I become a forge
a crucible filled with
heart and spleen
love for the spirit
hatred for the reason

This alloy of
love and anger
horror and awe
this reactive nexus to
the best
and worst
of humanity
surely deserves
a word of its own

k

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These past few weeks, a large cadre of Americans has been decrying the “cancel culture” that is coming down like a ton of bricks on Joe Rogan and Spotify, whilst simultaneously applauding the RNC’s censure of politicians with whom they disagree. In addition, this tranche of the conservative mind-bank is paving the way for suing teachers and school districts, should they have the temerity to teach kids about social issues, as well as—surprise surprise—continuing to indulge in its penchant for banning books.

Frankly, I was surprised that the RNC was so stupid as to believe they wouldn’t get any blowback for characterizing the January 6th riot as “legitimate political discourse,” but it definitely did not surprise me that conservatives are still into banning books.

Banning books—banning any type of artistic expression, really—is the worst way to control said expression. Know why I went to see The Last Temptation of Christ? Because of the furore raised by the so-called “religious right.” Know why I read Lolita? Because someone believed it would scar me for life. Know why, this week, I bought a copy of Maus: A Survivor’s Tale? Because a Tennessee school district banned it and I’m too old to have had the opportunity to read it in school. (In fact, in the weeks since Maus was banned, it has risen to the top of bestseller lists, and I’m pretty sure some of those purchases were made by families who specifically wanted to get it into their children’s hands. So, not a great model for successful social engineering.)

This all got me thinking about the practice of banning books. Who does it, and why? At the outset, it’s clear that books have been challenged by factions on both sides of the political spectrum. The left has challenged books here and there, for use of the n-word and for racial stereotypes, but by far these actions trend more heavily to the conservative side.

The American Library Association has for decades tracked the most challenged/banned books, and has compiled lists of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books, by decade, since the ’90s. The reasons books have been banned break out as follows (multiple reasons can be given for a single title, so the percentages total more than 100%.)

  • 92.5% — Sexual content
  • 61.5% — Offensive language
  • 49% — Unsuitable for age group
  • 26% — Religious viewpoint
  • 23.5% — LGBTQIA+ content
  • 19% — Violence
  • 16.5% —Racism
  • 12.5% —Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • 7% —”Anti-family” content
  • 6.5% — Political viewpoint

I researched some of these more deeply and found that of those deemed unsuitable for an age group, the books were intended for juvenile and/or young adult readers. I also found that for books tagged with the “political viewpoint” reason, many of the complaints were not about the political views put forth in the book, but were in regards to the personal views of the author. One book, The Grapes of Wrath, was banned—and I’m not kidding—because it portrayed Kern County, California in a negative light.

Yesterday, I went around the house, pulling banned books off my stacks and gathering them together. I found about two dozen, from the Holy Bible to Jack London to Stephen King to George Orwell. While some of them are still TBR, I’ve read most of them, including many that I read when I was in school. Banning them, taking The Great Gatsby or Flowers for Algernon or To Kill a Mockingbird off the shelves at my school would have done nothing to further my education. And good luck keeping me from reading The Lord of the Rings.

Sheltering our youth from ideas in the name of education is both a folly and a disservice. It’s also a fruitless exercise because kids will find a way, and banning a book is a sure-fire motivation for a curious youth. I mean, do you think I was over 18 when I saw my first Playboy? Do you think I was 13 when I saw my first PG-13 movie? Do you think I was 21 when I had my first beer? Hehe . . . no, to all of the above.

Now, I do not think that all art is appropriate for all ages. Some books, due to their themes or topics, should be introduced with curation and context by someone familiar with the age group and the subject, someone like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a teacher. But what one particular 15-year old may find disturbing, a different child of thirteen might handle fine, especially when supported by teachers and family.

I once met an 8-year old girl who told me she loved my Fallen Cloud Saga. I actually winced when I heard her say that, because I really did not intend those books—with their occasional scenes of violence and sex and themes of prejudice and racial hatred—for a prepubescent audience. But the girl’s mother was standing right behind her, beaming over her child’s precocious intellect and, talking further with them both, I had to admit that the mom’s decision to let her daughter read my books was fine. For her daughter.

And there’s the rub. Not all kids are alike, not in any way. There are all sorts of ways to tailor curricula to address specific parents’ concerns and fulfill individual students’ needs, all without banning certain books for all students.

Banning books is stupid and does not advance the intended goal. One wonders why they even bother anymore.

k

PS. If you’re wondering where I come down on the Joe Rogan/Spotify fracas, I dropped my Spotify membership. And if you’re now wondering why I’m okay with “banning” Rogan but not okay with banning books, consider that:
(a) I’m not banning Rogan; I’m merely refusing to support him and his exclusive carrier, and
(b) there’s a big difference between banning a book because it has uncomfortable truths in it, and refusing to support Rogan’s continued pattern of providing a platform to spread lies and misinformation.
—k

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06Jan2022

One year ago today, my journal entry ended with: “Self-medication was required.”

This year, it’s still too early to know what the day will bring.

What today is supposed to bring is suffused in mundanity—an appointment with a chimney sweep, a couple of deliveries, an inch of rain—but if 2021 taught me anything, it’s that we can never really know what the world at large will toss into the mix.

Looking back on the year between, though, I’d have to say the auspices are not promising.

Monday, we both got our COVID booster shots. Our immune systems kicked into high gear, building the desired antibodies and so, by Tuesday, as expected, we were a bit under the weather. Some of our social media contacts chided us for putting such “poison” into our bodies; one even sent us a ten-minute video on how it magnetizes our bodies. (FYI: it doesn’t.)

In a friend’s most recent letter, she told me that some people in her circle—all functional adults capable of holding down a full-time job—upon reading a book that could be classified as “magic realism,” were of the belief that because “back then, people were closer to nature,” the magic described in the book was real. (FYI: it wasn’t.)

Recently, heavy snows—in winter—are being pointed to as clear evidence that climate change is a hoax, while tornadoes and wildfires in December are dismissed with the label “God’s will.” (FYI: it isn’t and they aren’t.)

And, to bring it back around, two in five Americanstwo in five—believe that hundreds of individuals across the nation somehow conspired to flawlessly submit thousands of fraudulent ballots, all without leaving the slightest trace of their crimes, all to oust a sitting president whose approval rating on its best day couldn’t touch the 50% mark. (FYI: they didn’t.)

“I did my own research” has become the mantra of the age, with grand swathes of the American population opting to trust a few hours spent on Google, searching for what they want to hear, rather than give an iota of credence to the knowledge and experience of experts who’ve studied these topics for decades.

We are in a Desert of Reason, where logic and critical thought are as rare and precious as water in the Sahara. Common sense is not only uncommon, it is strenuouslyand at times violentlyeschewed.

Today will play itself out, ending as it will with a bang or a whimper, but either way, as it was last year, self-medication may be required.

k

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