Despicable T – The Political Has Become the Personal

Mine was never intended to be a political blog, but I can’t remain silent in these weeks since Donald Trump was inaugurated.

I have disagreed with both Republican and Democratic presidents before, but I have never felt compelled to push back so hard and so forcefully against an administration. Trump’s strategy and tactics are obvious – his administration intends to overwhelm and to bully while piecing out little nuggets to the GOP in order to keep Republicans mollified against the more egregious and unconstitutional of Executive Orders (see the Muslim Ban).

As for the Democrats, the Trump administration simply wants to mow them over and expose at every turn how powerless they are.

It may be too early to know if these tactics (often attributed by the press as those of Steve Bannon’s) are working; much of this will depend on the how the GOP ultimately responds because, let’s face it, the Democrats have very few plays until 2018.

One would think that the GOP would stand up against Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, his flirtations with fascism, but either out of fear or because Republicans are making some gains (de-regulation of environmental measures, Neal Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination), they are either silent or quietly supportive of Trump’s actions.

This is a travesty. The GOP is being played, and the country is suffering.

The President of the United States is not a king. He is an elected official. And two weeks into his presidency, Trump has already revealed himself to be a deeply flawed official at that. The Trump Administration needs to be put in check.

Right now, that falls to us, the citizens. Both Democrats and Republicans. The judicial branch is rousing, some members of congress and the Senate are beginning to speak out, but they’re doing so slowly. In some cases, too slowly.

In the meantime, there is us. I won’t remain silent and neither should you. To coin a favorite Trump word against him, his presidency is a disaster. Whether that disaster limits itself only to his political career or it takes down the entire country is ultimately up to all of us.

The Bait and the Hook

For several years now, I’ve been working on incorporating a mindfulness practice into my daily (hourly) life.

I began the practice to deal with anxiety; as any sufferer of anxiety will tell you, being in the present is the antithesis of fear and panic, which depend on a tacky combination of circuitous inner dialogue, self-denigrating thoughts and a repetitive regurgitation of previously-felt emotion.

There’s usually a bevy of compulsive behaviors that come bundled in there, behaviors that are meant to drive off the fear and panic.

One of my challenges is that the primary way of coping with anxiety—using deep breathing and other grounded senses to bring me back into the present moment—runs counter to the work necessary for being a writer.

For me, writing requires a deep dive into memory and imagination that often means plunging into that very quagmire of inner dialogue, destructive thoughts and stale emotion that typically trigger anxiety, panic attacks, etc.

Fun.

I discovered Pema Chodron’s work near the beginning of my mindfulness practice, and I’ve found tracking on the Tibetan concept of shenpa to be useful for navigating these seemingly contradictory states of being. Here’s an excellent break-down by Chodron herself.

I’ve written many times in this blog about how very much I suck at noticing that I’m hooked. That doesn’t negate the fact that my goal is to pay better attention, to feel those triggers and those urges and not bite. 

I will fail, of course. And that's why I must begin again.

 

Poem, Poetry, Poet

Although I’m passionate about poetry, and I have written a number of poems (which the world should be grateful I rarely share), I can’t claim to be a poet.

In college I recall being fascinated by the discourse surrounding Poem vs Poetry vs Poet. I hadn’t given the terminology much thought up to that point, but in these (now many) post-college years where I endeavor to write novels, short stories, blog posts, I still reflect on these terms.

In my mind the definitions go something like this:

Poem – The artifact, the work itself

Poetry – The act and art of writing poems

Poet – The person performing poetry in order to create poems

Current or former Literature scholars will have to correct this, but I seem to remember that it was the Romantic poet Coleridge, who while writing Kubla Kahn, identified within himself a preference for writing poetry over creating poems.

At the time, I probably bashed the poor opium addict for his failure to finish a poem and get it out into the world, but now, when work and life threaten to consume most if not all of my time, I’m much more sympathetic to Coleridge’s plight.

We are, as writers, often addicted to the act of writing, the process of it. We’re collectively much worse at finishing our projects, calling them done, pushing them into the light for others to read and experience, and yes, judge.

In that space where poem, poetry and poet flow as confluence within us, we favor the rough incompleteness, the perpetual state of being unfinished. I understand why we do this—why I do this—and I wonder if it’s basal human nature, fear or something else.

Resolute

Acknowledging the new year and the natural inclination to reassess and renew that the turning of a calendar page brings, the time has come for me to make some resolutions for 2017.

Here are a few:

Blog Harder. (‘Blog Harder’ really should be the name of a 'My Dinner with Andre' style movie) Too often I wait until ideas develop more fully before committing a blog to this website; I would like to remember that some of my favorite bloggers write short and succinct entries. And while ‘short’ and ‘succinct’ aren’t typically my thing, attempting to be so will—I hope—help my blogging output.

Be Mindful Better. ‘Mindfulness’ has become one of those buzzwords and social movements that has me naturally shying away from it, because I’m such a goddamned rebel. Still. Practicing meditation and mindfulness these past couple years has benefited me much. A re-dedication to the practice seems in order – more mindful mindfulness?.

Create More. I have been writing. Really. It’s been slow going. (Novel writing is naturally slow, or at least methinks that it should be, and when you couple a naturally glacial process with an impaired writing schedule well….) So yes, there is a novel in the works. Let’s just throw out that I’d like to have a completed draft by mid-2017. It’s always nice to have deadlines to miss.

Fight. I’m deeply dissatisfied with the politics of our nation. From the national level to my local Portland, Oregon. I don’t care who you voted for in 2016, the lingering result is that we have a broken system that is failing all of us, a system that is unfortunately susceptible to foreign influence and extremist factions. I can’t believe that we’re so far apart from one another. That said, some things—oh like Nazism, racism, sexism—are wrong, and we live in an age when they should not be tolerated. At all. So...we fight.

How about you? What resolutions are you considering?

Stuck in the Middle of the Middle

As I’ve hit the middle of my middle-age, I’ve been confronted more and more often with the evidence that the people in our lives don’t know who we are. Not really.

I was struck again by this realization when I attended the memorial/celebration-of-life for one of the principals at my former company. He was a generous, patient and exceptional leader, one of those rare personalities who put his soul into how he conducted both himself and how he conducted his business.

The celebration was hardly celebratory. Most of us were too wrecked with the loss and uncertainty caused by his passing. We all sat there with our separate, fragmented memories of him and what he meant to each of us, and we attempted to share those recollections as a kind of check on who we believed him to be.

The picture we collectively created was incomplete, and it always will be incomplete. The only person who knows my now passed former coworker is him. And even so….

When we ourselves pass, and our mourners are gathered, they will remember, and they will likely remember wrong. Or more generously, they will remember parts of us and not the cohesive whole.

My (forever) cursory study of Tibetan Buddhism tells me that our interior lives are often unknowable to us; we have thoughts and we have feelings but we are not the sum of those thoughts and feelings. Like anyone who has attempted to monitor and to even influence my less than stellar behavior, I’ve learned that with practice there is a self (whether it’s a large S or small s is up for debate) who sits behind our thoughts and feelings. A smarter, wiser self who drives the bus.

Most of my friends and family, however, know me only by the outward expressions of my thoughts and feelings. They see only what I project, express, convey.

This isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s not right, either.

A couple months back, I wanted to connect with my life-long friends over my disdain for the Hallmark holiday that is Father’s Day. Even as a father myself, I hate that day. I was feeling pressured to contact the man who inhabits the shell of my dad, and I blurted out via text message how I hoped that I was a better father, how I needed to believe that I am a better father, even if I’m not. The stupid, made-up day is fraught with doubts and guilt about my own performance as a parent, and it’s fraught with these pangs of loss about how I still don’t have my own father in my life and how I never will.

It was heavy. Too heavy for text message.

I realized after the fact that these friends have no context with which to help me. Hitting them with something so powerful as my perpetual disappointment in the man who originally left my life when I was six years old is too much. I can’t help but feel cheated, though, that other men couldn’t or wouldn’t understand the depth of betrayal that abandonment causes, how that betrayal hits you perpetually as both son and then again as father.

Maybe it’s just too much to ask that others know who we are. Not just what we’ve done but why we’ve done the things that we’ve done. I don’t necessarily know the inner truths of other people, either.

We all have our stories – the version we’ve lived and the version we tell. In our rush to be heard, we often forget that we have to listen, we have to listen more often than we talk, in order to allow people to tell of who they are, what they are, why they are. Perhaps if we’re lacking connection, listening to others is the only way we can eventually hear ourselves.