Thanksgiving 2018: Reflections

[A note to my international friends: For you, today is Thursday (unless it’s already Friday where you are), an ordinary week day. Here in the United States, today is the designated national holiday known as “Thanksgiving”. Thank you for your patience.]

For many of my Native American and First Nations friends, the fourth Thursday in November is observed as a day to remember the dark legacy of colonialism, conquest, subjugation and genocide that lies across the face of this continent.

Aside: If you’re not as familiar with the actual origin story of our modern Thanksgiving customs, won’t you join me over here for a quick review? Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

OK, we’re back.

Those of you who gathered at dawn today on Alcatraz, or elsewhere, to honor ancestors, build solidarity, support each other, and find renewed strength, I acknowledge you with respect and love. I also acknowledge the almost certain fact that some of my ancestors were at least complicit, if not active participants in some of that sad legacy. I wish it were not so, but it is. I can only do my best to be better.

My privilege though, has brought me to this moment by a different path, thus my practices on this day are different as well.

One last thought though, before I move on from this part of discussion the day. As a sympathetic observer, and one who has aspired to be a good “ally” since long before the term was coined, I’d like to note that I’ve seen an evolution in the tone, tenor, and presentation of Indian activism in recent years and, to my eyes, that represents positive development in several ways.

I’ve been around since the days of the Alcatraz Occupation, and before. It has been my privilege to watch, at least in the Bay Area, the birth and early coalescing of the Red Power movement. In later decades, it seemed the focus turned more inward, with an emphasis on the urgent work of relearning language, core cultural activities, and spiritual/religious practices before they were lost forever as elders, often the last holders of these memories, left this life.

And along with that work came the task of developing alliances and interconnection between Nations who may have, at times not always seen each other as friends.

Now, in researching this piece on line, I’ve come to realize that the impatient young people with their urgency and sense that they were often, quite literally, fighting for their lives have become today’s elders. And there is a new generation of leaders emerging with the heart and skills to take the movement to the next level, and present it in the context of today’s media environment in a fashion that strives to address continuing issues of oppression while leveraging a new type of academic interest in tribal history, an ingrained understanding of the peril to human survival the excesses of the dominant culture have created, and a level of dignity, pride, and self-worth which had been almost drained away from earlier generations by over a century of systematic oppression, exploitation, and cultural colonialism.

Today’s emerging leaders begin their work from a place much further along than that which was available to their parents and grandparents. Thus we can hope the work of their lives will have impacts we can’t even foresee from here.

All of which is by way of acknowledging the fact that, for certain folks, this day is informally known as Unthanksgiving, and the last thing they have in mind is gathering around a dinner table to eat overcooked poultry in commemoration of what, in many ways, was no more and no less than the time-released invasion, theft and, in many respects, destruction of their land by a hostile and aggressive foreign horde. I honor and respect that, and would not be so arrogant as to offer counsel on whether that best serves. I can’t know what I don’t know.

By accident of birth, however, my experience is different.


Like many Americans, I grew up spoon fed the post-war idealization of “the good life” which included an expectation of warm and fuzzy gathering of loving family to give thanks for our privilege and bounty. And this was somehow all wrapped up in a blanket of patriotism, entitlement, and expectation of the manifestation of some fictional, misty, satisfied gathering rooted in a shared appreciation of fine home cookin’ (somehow magically manifested in the kitchen by the womenfolk while the men did manly things like watch football and chat about plans and expectations for the upcoming holiday season).

Of course, like so many of my generation, things never quite played out that way in our alcohol soaked home. Bonnie (wife and mother) was not a terribly talented “natural-born cook” at the best of times; for her the work was all about finding recipes that either looked good, or appeared to match someone’s fond childhood recollections, and trying to follow them to the letter with regard to ingredients, timing, and presentation.

Not the most relaxed way to approach the kitchen under any circumstances, and when overlain with the crushing weight of holiday expectations (and recreational alcohol consumption that began earlier and ran heavier than it did on “normal” days) the ballet of timing multiple dishes to reach their prime simultaneously, her stress level and performance anxiety would rise exponentially. Which virtually guaranteed an unfortunate outcome.

I’m coming the long way ’round here to get to: I don’t have terribly fond memories of Holiday Feasting from my childhood. And thus, I’ve felt no compunction to try to duplicate those painful afternoons and evenings in my adult life. Imagine my delight when I discovered I had managed to join up with a life partner of similar bent.

However it has also been true for quite a long time that my feeling of connectedness with fellow humans, and the nexus of love we share, is central to how I understand myself and my proper place in the world; in my life.

Thus, over the years, Yoshimi and I have found ourselves establishing a “family tradition” of a different sort, around this holiday in particular.

Neither of us adhere to a formal faith tradition, so we’re not committed to any of the various celebrations of various deities that dot the calendar (I saw an assertion somewhere the other day that December and January actually contain a grand total of at least 52 different observances focused on different reputed “birthdays,” holy days, or astronomical events such as solstice—so much for your “War on Christmas).

So, a day that’s set aside to gather with loved ones (we like to think of them as our “family of choice,” thus differentiated from our “family of origin”—though there certainly is overlap) to contemplate and celebrate the many, many things for which we are grateful emerged as the natural holiday for us.

Over the years, we have mounted gatherings with as many as a couple dozen people; as we have aged the effort grew more daunting, and many of the folks who had previously filled seats at the table moved on to other commitments. But there is always “Thanksgiving with Ace and Yoshimi” as a known thing.

This year, circumstances have lead to a further evolution. Not sure I’m completely happy about it, but it is what it is and I embrace it. In getting ready to put these thoughts together, I went back, as best as the architecture of the site allows, and retrieved some things I’ve written for Facebook in previous years.

I found this “day after” rumination from last year, and thought it worth revisiting here. I’ll explain why on the other side.


FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2017
Notes from the wreckage:
~ I realize we say this every year, but I believe this truly was, in many ways, our finest holiday gathering ever.
~ As always, I look forward warmly to a succession of comfort meal favorites on the menu in coming days. Hot turkey sandwiches with gravy. Turkey soup. Ham and scalloped potatoes. (Side note: Christ, there’s a lot of left over mashed potatoes this year for some reason. Recipes incorporating same glady accepted.)
~ I thought my “no politics today” rule worked out reasonably well as a tool for setting our anxieties aside for the day. And who came closest to violating it as the evening wore on? Yup. Moi.
~ I’m not sure what possessed Yoshimi to elect to bring out the Good China and crystal glassware for the first time in a number of years but, even though it meant more handwashing after, it was a nice, luxuriant touch, and I’m glad we did it.
~ Good mix of old friends and new this year. That was a joy. And thanks, by the way, to everyone who pitched in side dishes for the feasting. Damn, but we do get to live well.
~ It is so VERY much worth it, but I gotta admit there’s a lot of physical work involved in mounting this kind of feast, especially for us old farts. Man, I’m beat up this morning (and “ma in her kerchief” is still sleeping soundly). I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but I do have to own the costs. Which leads me, finally, to…
~Damn, but I’m grateful I don’t drink any more. It struck me a little bit ago as I stumbled through brewing the cats and feeding the coffee that I’m pretty sure if I laid a hangover in on top of this I’d be praying for a swift and merciful death about now.
Happy Day After, all. If you’re going out among ’em (or, gods love ya, if you have to work retail) today, be careful out there.

I had no idea when I wrote that, that 2017 would be the final year we hosted Thanksgiving Dinner in our home of 16 years.

But, for a number of reasons, it’s time to move on from here. We’ll be setting up housekeeping in a new location in January. Initially, we considered “one last farewell feast” here. This home has meant a lot. I’ve realized as we’ve contemplated and planned this transition, that I have lived here longer than any other place in my life. And the same is true for Yoshimi. Ultimately though, it just felt too overwhelming to take that route.

Once again though, we are drenched in gifts beyond all deserving. A dear friend has invited us to combine our dinner with hers. We’re sharing the cooking, and an abbreviated guest list. Yoshimi and I have done significant pre-baking here (our friend is wrangling side dishes) and we will load up the turkey, the dressing, and the ham in a few minutes and head over there. It will, I am sure, be a different but still filling (in so many ways) afternoon.

Know that, as always, I carry you in my heart and you’ll be right next to me at the table.

Wherever you are, and whatever your dance card features this day, you are wrapped in Love. And ultimately, I am convinced to my core, this is all about the Love.

Turkey Day Context

As these things so often seem to do, this begins with the fact that everything we were taught about the origins and backstory of the Thanksgiving holiday was just so much gauzy mythology, with only the most tenuous of connections to historic reality.

All that lovely “Squanto give corn” stuff, and the thing about how the Pilgrims were so grateful for their first bountiful harvest that they invited their indigenous neighbors over for a four day extravaganza of of celebration, feasting, and fellowship? Yeah, no. Not the way it came down at all.

If you’re interested (and IMNSHO you should  be), there’s a straightforward and accessible interview with Ramona Peters,  of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that the folks at Indian Country Today put up last year.  I strongly recommend it.

So, how did we get from the somewhat gritty reality of two radically dissimilar cultures carefully finding their way toward what, at least for a time, appeared to be a mutually useful alliance to the national day of food, football, and family we observe today? The answer (and this’ll surprise you, I know) apparently lies in politics.

A number of Commentators and Deep Thinkers of late—and I’ll wear it, I am often among them—tend to View With Alarm the lack of civility and respect in the public square as we debate issues of the day, and the coarseness of our discourse, often going so far as to wonder if the Republic can survive and regain her role of leadership in global affairs.

But it’s worth recalling that our Great Experiment has survived severe tests before. 1863: The nation was literally torn asunder by a shooting war, the stakes of which were the direction, and very survival of the Republic as a sovereign country. In the midst of that chaos, President Lincoln faced the dual challenges of identifying and empowering military officers of sufficient skill and abilities to turn around a war that was, frankly, going badly, while attempting to provide the sort of intangible leadership and inspiration needed to keep his citizens committed to staying the course and supporting the Union.

And, of course, he dealt with the influential media powerhouses of the day, each with their own agendas to pursue and circulation numbers to boost. Among them was a woman called Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a popular women’s magazine of the day, who had campaigned for year for the establishment of a national observance of thanksgiving.

Realizing the potential as a unifying theme, Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation establishing the day:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States
A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

And over the intervening decades, as we are wont to do, we collectively built up and embellished an origin story more reflective of a sanitized, Disneyesque fantasy world than the gritty, brutal, often morally ambiguous (at best) actual facts that undergird the creation of this “exceptional land” we enjoy today.

I’m not at all sure we do well to avert our eyes from “how the sausage was made.” I would suggest we, and the country, are better served when we honestly confront the hard truths, acknowledge the many ways we’ve failed to apply the ideals we espouse across the board, and commit to doing better.

I don’t believe such a position in any way precludes our pausing to contemplate and celebrate the many things we have to be grateful for. That’s my plan for the day. I wish you well with yours.

 

 

Got Those Monday Blues

I expect it was inevitable at some point.

And today was the day.

Woke up this morning immersed in fear.

Not your run-of-the-mill sort of fear; the kind we all get that kinda sounds like “oh, I don’t think this ends well,” or “I think I really screwed this up.”

But way down to your bones Scared AF fear.

I think I’ve broken through and am confronting the inevitability of my situation on a whole new level. However, as we so often do, I’m investing the fear not in what I know, but what I don’t know.

It’s not the going over the edge into the abyss so much that has me freaked. Nor even the prospect of standing at the edge and looking into that abyss.

It’s the anticipation of being dragged over the rocks on the way to that edge that has me trying to climb out of my skin.

So much is unclear about just how this is going to play out. Where the cancer elected to set up camp once it metastasizes. How much pain that brings; how physically or mentally debilitated I’ll be. What the chemo options might look like, and whether they’ll seem worth the fight.

And yet this is all, ALL of it, just stuff I’m making up in my head at this point. We’re not there yet. Today is today. There is much important work to be done, that I can still do.

I know that this mindset is a trap of my own devising, and I need to make the decision, take the action, to step away from it and get on with the tasks of the day.

And I shall, given another cuppa or two and some space to recenter myself. This is the first time though since I was upgraded to Stage 4 that I woke up like this. And it seemed like I ought to memorialize it.

I’ve been pretty clear all along with everyone about my general feelings about all this. I have enjoyed a remarkable run, and I am grateful for it. As I like to say, I’ve been “playing with house money” for quite a while now.

And, somewhat to my surprise, I’ve also found myself to be deeply grateful for the “advance notice” of my pending offramp. My entire life, my baseline assumption was always “I hope I just get hit by a bus one day, so I don’t have to put any thought into what end of life means.”

But, in the event, it turns out I actually have found this interim period to be extremely useful. Not in terms of “delaying the inevitable,” rather that it’s providing me room for reflection, some opportunities to savor, a chance to do what I can to clean up things I’m responsible for and position myself to end my run as gracefully as possible. And how lucky am I to get that chance? Very lucky indeed, I’d say.

And yet; and yet. I woke up this morning immersed in fear. Deep, to the bone fear about how the rest of this plays out. That in the face of how terribly fortunate I have been to date. Not least in that I know, to the depths of my core, that I love and am loved (not by all, but by more than a few—and all out of scale to anything earned or deserved).

So there it is. It’s an authentic feeling. I hereby mark it, own it, and choose to get on with the tasks of the day.

Tales From the Dark Side

I’m about as far from the target demographic for Demi Lovato’s music as a person can be. Hell, I’m old enough to be her grandpa; been clean and sober longer than she’s been alive.

To be honest, I’d never heard of her until her highly publicized overdose this week. But when the news broke, it didn’t take long for me to learn who she is. And it took even less time for the ignorance and judgment to rear its head on social media.

Twitter and Facebook were awash in comments on threads about the news. People expressing anger and disappointment at her “choice” to relapse. Arguing that the “disease concept” is exculpatory claptrap aimed at absolving bad actors of responsibility for their behaviors and decisions.

You’d think by now I’d be used to it. Every damned time there’s a high profile “slip” by someone battling personal demons whose life is chronically documented by paparazzi and the ghouls at TMZ and all its imitators, the chorus begins again.

A part of this has nothing to do with alcoholism and drug addiction.* It’s really more about the whole social context of our “celebrity culture.” In our instant-access internet and social media fueled environment today, I think the dysfunction has grown more extreme. But I saw it when I worked in the music business almost a half century ago.

Consumers (or “fans,” if you will) find themselves touched in some way by a personality; their performance, their persona, their perceived lifestyle, whatever. And they bestow on these folks a degree of admiration, affection, and perceived personal connection that may be barely, if at all, tethered to reality.

This isn’t necessarily unhealthy in itself. One thinks of the devotion that hormone-intoxicated adolescent girls of my generation bestowed on the Beatles, for instance. For most, it was a bonding, coming-of-age experience that eased their transitions from childhood towards adult life.

But somewhere there’s a tipping point towards unhealthy obsession, in some cases an almost stalker-like sense of “ownership” of the object of their affections. This can create dangerous, sometimes self-destructive behavior by the obsessed. And also creates serious potential pitfalls for the target celebrities.

This is why a significant part of the work for support staff who surround performers, in addition to facilitating technical aspects of a show, is about insulating the artist from the public. Egalitarian ideals notwithstanding, there’s just too strong an element of unpredictability involved. Some performers like to flirt with this side of the live event dynamic, but things can go sideways in a hurry if that “walk on the dark side” isn’t carefully managed (the Rolling StonesAltamont concert being the most well known example of how things can go terribly wrong).

But I’m drifting off point. Sorry.

One of the other ugly components of our culture’s dynamic around celebrity is how quickly that affection and adulation can sour when one of the “privileged” falls short of the public’s expectations. Whether it’s sports fans’ often vehement dissatisfaction with a star athlete whose performance fails to win the day, or the expressed outrage when a favorite actor, known for their heartwarming performances, is revealed to be an absolute shit to crew members or their family, public perceptions can flip in a heartbeat. This is exactly why the massive corporations that earn billions from marketing entertainment to the crowd employ entire subsections of their publicity departments devoted to managing negative press.

I’ve gone a long way ’round the park to say that I think this is part of what underlies some of the hostile, often uninformed reaction when a celebrity, especially one who has very publically (thanks, in part to those same damned PR flacks) confessed their sins and “gone into rehab” before. We gave ’em their damned Second Chance already. What the hell here?

C’mon, people who’ve achieved this level of celebrity enjoy a level of pampering and privilege unimaginable to most of us! The clothes, the cars, the special treatment. They should be appropriately grateful and humble. They should act right, dammit.

 

So, to be sure some of the venom that greets news of an overdose, a fatality, a DUI arrest, or other addiction-related mishap is a natural element of the whole love-hate celebrity thing.

But, in my experience, a lot of it remains a creature of the basic misconceptions that float around out there. And I really want to spend some time on that; more time than one can spend in a Twitter thread or Facebook note.

I guess I’ve lived a fairly insulated life the past three decades or so. My spouse worked in the treatment field for many years. I’m in my 38th year of continuous sobriety. The majority of my closest friends are also in recovery—and those who aren’t themselves, and have known me long enough, are damned glad that I am.

So I’m always taken aback at the public reaction to a high-profile overdose or other public and visible derailment of a personality who has declared themselves to be in recovery. The most recent example before this week that comes to mind was the death of Phil Hoffman, but we see it happen over and over again.

Once the news breaks, the clattering and chattering on social media begins almost immediately. And by now, it’s a pretty familiar pattern. Someone will pass a comment about how “sad” it is (and yes, indeed it is) that so-and-so lost the thread of maintaining their recovery, and the floodgates immediately open.

We hear from fans who are angry; pissed off that someone they perhaps admired has “chosen” to get high again; condemnation of their “selfishness” and lack of consideration for family, loved ones, and public followers.

Much backing and forthing ensues, with some folks (usually either people in recovery or parents and others who have direct experience with an addict in their lives) pleading for understanding—reminding others that addiction is a disease. A surprising number of folks will snap back, flatly denying the disease model of understanding addiction and insisting that’s just a rationalization to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions.

By the way, probably worth noting here that, though this may sound contradictory to the uninitiated, understanding addiction as a disease in no way absolves or excuses the addict from the responsibility or consequences of their behaviors, decisions, and activities. One of the most important central tenets of virtually all treatment/recovery models of which I am aware is the exercise of identifying, taking ownership of, and making amends for all the ways in which we’ve harmed others.

In my experience of over a half-century with alcohol and drugs and the people who use or abuse them, virtually no one deliberately sets out to become an alcoholic or addict. And understand this: somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% of those who use, either recreationally or medicinally, don’t develop the pathology.

But for that remaining tenth of us who just weren’t wired up like the rest of you, either biochemically or emotionally, it’s virtually impossible to step back once we’ve discovered the first thing in our lives that seems to make us feel whole and “normal.” By definition, if we were capable of making rational choices about whether the use of drugs or alcohol was a good idea for us, I think we’d likely fall somewhere within that other 90%—even if we have some history of excessive behavior, often when young.

It’s not my intention to spend a lot of time here laying out the scientific and medical arguments, that information is readily available if you’re interested. I want to talk about how it feels for those of us who share this affliction to encounter the levels of vehement judgment and ignorance that continue to exist, despite the much higher visibility addiction and recovery “enjoy” today.

It’s painful. It’s frustrating. Sometimes bewildering. And, despite the inclinations of many late night comedians, not goddamned funny in the slightest.

Look. I’m not asking people who aren’t alcoholic/addicts to somehow modify their behavior to accommodate the minority of us who are. That would be absurd. I guess my point here is to remind folks that feelings aren’t facts. And to point out that broad statements about how the dynamics of addiction work from folks who clearly do not know (a) can be hurtful and (b) for damned sure makes you look the fool to anyone with even a modicum of education or experience with those dynamics.

And, in a perfect world, I guess I’d like you to know that nobody—absolutely nobody is a harsher critic of that alcoholic/addict than they are. No one is more disappointed in, or frustrated with them.

There are few hellscapes more dark or bleak than the internal dialog going on inside the mind and heart of someone who truly ought to be clean and sober but just can’t seem to find the handle.
And know this, too. Far more addicts and alcoholics fail than succeed at this recovery deal. Somebody much wiser than I once said “it’s simple, but it ain’t easy.”

[Addendum: There’s a young man I’ve made “friends” with on the Twitter machine these past few months who sits at the complete other end of the arc of Life in Recovery from me. He’s just achieved the milestone of 9 months sobriety this week. He was moved to share some thoughts about our shared affliction as well, and I strongly recommend them. His name is Sam. His piece is up on Medium here.]

UPDATE: The news guy inside me insists on this followup note. Ms. Lovato has released a statement. Rolling Stone has her text in its entirety along with a brief story here.

________________________
*or other addictive behaviors such as compulsive gambling, eating disorders, etc.

Fortunate Son, Part TBD

Note: Fortunate Son, Part 2 is sitting half-written in my drafts folder. And there are, I suspect more installments to follow.”
This piece, I think, belongs much later in the Fortunate Son series, but for reasons which should, perhaps, be apparent it seemed necessary to “jump ahead” and get it down now.

When I woke up this morning, I realized I’d been dreaming, pretty extensively, about an old friend I’ve known since my earliest days in sobriety. She has always been one of the most dynamic, powerful women I’ve ever met.
But recently some serious health issues laid her low and she spent several weeks in hospital, many of those unconscious or only barely still connected here. I spent several afternoons, gowned up, sitting by her bedside holding her hand and whispering my love and respect in her ear—wasn’t sure for a while there if she’d be coming back or not.

I’m quite confident that if you had a chance to ask her Cora, like me, would tell you she is, on balance, pretty damned happy with how her life has played out. Her story is far, far different than mine, but it is one that lets her hold her head up.

And thinking about Cora after I awoke, my thoughts turned to the individual who actually first introduced me to recovery. I had met Cora through E, that’s what brought her to mind.
We stayed close for a time, I even turned out to be “that guy” who could step up in 1982, driving her back and forth from the San Lorenzo Valley to Packard Childrens Hospital at Stanford almost daily when her infant daughter was there for an extended period of time teetering on the edge of life. That was one of my first experiences in this Second Half of My Life with prioritizing being of service to someone else; putting their needs ahead of my own.

Eventually though, our paths drifted apart. A few years later, I learned E had returned to drinking, and was living a pretty limited and marginal life. Lost touch completely after that. I have no idea if she left the area, got sober again somewhere else, what? I know I never ran across her again, or heard rumors of her “in the rooms” around Santa Cruz County.

I don’t know if she’s still living. Perhaps she relocated, found her way back to sobriety in another community, and is living a contented life surrounded by grandkids. But it’s equally possible, perhaps even likely, that she died in her disease, taunted by the demons of alcoholism and the lies they whisper just inside our ears. I don’t know, and I won’t project on her.

Contemplating the possibilities though, especially looking at the contrast between Cora’s story and E’s, I had to confront the hard fact that many of us do not reach the end of our run here in a space where we can look at the arc of our time with a modicum of satisfaction and gratitude.

For too many folks, this journey is just a long, grinding, trek through a relentless vale of tears. I am truly, truly saddened that that’s the case.

And I realize yet again (a) how very goddamned lucky I am and (b) that I owe an ethical, even moral debt to those less fortunate. That I am bound both by love and duty to comprehend, acknowledge, and appreciate my good fortune.

I have not earned it, I am no more deserving of it than anyone else. I am profoundly grateful for it.

Fortunate Son, Part 1

So much of what I’ve been able to witness and/or be a part of throughout my life are, frankly, the product of Happy Circumstance. Seemingly random occurrences which placed me in the right place and time, with the right people.

Start with the very fact of my existence. It would seem that my old man enjoyed a bit of good fortune himself. As World War II got into full swing, just about every able-bodied young man was expected to play some role in service to the war effort.
Lou elected to volunteer for the Coast Guard, which had been placed under the command of the Department of the Navy “for the duration.” After completing basic training, he was assigned to a ship, and traveled to San Francisco to assume his duties.
The ship was anchored in San Francisco Bay, off Treasure Island, with orders to depart for the South Pacific sometime in the next 48 hours when the hand of fate, as manifested through the military bureaucracy declared him an official Lucky Bastard.
Prior to the war, Lou had some experience working in a teller’s cage for a bank in Des Moines (it was the Depression—you took  work where you found it). As a result of that background on his résumé,  he’d been declared, in Navy parlance, a Storekeeper, which essentially meant he could drive a typewriter and add a column of figures.
Thus, when some gold-braided officer ashore determined that another half dozen or so enlisted men who were at least semi-literate were needed for clerical work, he was one of those who plucked from the rolls and ordered off his ship.
Thus, instead of spending the war (or as much of it as he survived) engaged in the ongoing floating hell that was the Pacific Theater, Lou’s war was fought  in San Francisco Bay on Alameda and Treasure Islands, and he spent most of his off duty time in the City.
So the fact that I exist at all can really be tagged as a happy accident. The odds of him surviving four years in the South Pacific and finding his way home physically and mentally intact enough to father me (given how emotionally damaged he was already) have to be pretty slim.

San Francisco was a hell of a place to be in those years, especially for a guy dressed in Navy blues. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for a twenty-something kid from the Midwest who’d never been out of Iowa.
But I know this much. When he was mustered out after the war, he made a beeline back home, told his honey “we are NOT spending another winter in this, you won’t believe what I found” and started packing stuff into the old Chevy.
After a leisurely cross country trip along the Southern Route (US 66), the young couple landed in the Bay Area, initially renting an apartment in Burlingame before buying a brand spanky new tract house in Santa Clara and moving just in time for me to be born just after the New Year in San Jose Hospital.
So, once again: Lucky Me. Instead of growing up in the summer heat and humidity and winter ice and snow of Iowa, I’m a Native Californian. Actually, better than that, I’m a Bay Area native (there are many Californias; each with its own unique personality).

It would be hard to overstate how fortunate I feel having had the chance to come of age in California in the latter half of the 20th Century. Visitors from places around the world come away impressed with one thing or another, depending on their tastes and priorities. Almost all seem to find something to carry away with them they see as memorable and exceptional.
There’s a lot to love. And it’s remarkable for its diversity as much as the special flavor of any particular piece. Whether it’s snow crowned mountains, sun kissed beaches, or stark desert; urban or wilderness, you can find it within our borders, often just a couple hours drive away.

Growing up in The Golden State, and spending the bulk of my life here has infused me with a depth of appreciation born of decades of intimate familiarity. I imagine a first time visitor may be, in some respects, more “wowed” by aspects that have long since become commonplace for me. But the other side of the coin is that living here for so long has built within me a rich sense of love for this corner of the planet. There may have been a time in my youth I didn’t fully appreciate what a privilege it is to be here; if so that time is long past.

It’s difficult for me to find the words to describe my love for this place, and my sense of connection to it. I spent my childhood within a few miles of San Francisco, and once I left home the bulk of my youth and young adulthood found me in the City, at the center of a cultural and artistic moment unparalleled in my lifetime.
So, that I love. I also love spending time under the cool, quiet canopy of groves of redwoods that were already old when the Roman Empire was spreading across the “known world.” I love the subtle but insistent beauty of our deserts.
I am nourished by the soul healing, ever shifting waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether those waters wash the sands of sun kissed beaches or crash dramatically against rock cliffs in the endless dance of dominance along those hard shores. Driving through the grass covered rolling hills of California live oak country infuses my heart with a lyrical gratitude that, after a lifetime of absorbing it, I still don’t understand.
And this barely scratches the surface. I’ve not even talked about the remarkable character of the birds, beasts, and fish that still find space for themselves in our ever more populated state. Haven’t begun to explore the wonders of our climate, and its perfect pairing to the needs of the human body.

Nor have I really done any unpacking of the story of humans on this land, from the earliest first peoples who lived quite comfortably, if simply, in the bounty nature provided for untold centuries on into the stories of successive waves of newcomers to the state (with all the good, and terribly bad those stories encompass); or spoken of the fascinating structures and other artifacts those generations left behind for us to explore and try to understand. And still today, there are parts we get right, and parts we get wrong.

Lucky me. I’ve had the privilege to call myself a California native for almost seven decades, now.

Turning once again to the specific fact of  growing up in the Bay Area in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s important to note just how deeply I perceived myself a misfit, pretty much as far back as I can remember.
Some of that, no doubt, was the result of environmental factors, be it a childhood in an alcoholic home or the fact I was a poorly coordinated, unathletic, glasses-wearing kid who was an easy target for schoolyard bullies. Some a function of my own internal dialog. I never really felt a comfortable and confident sense of mastery; that I truly belonged anywhere, really.
And, as I commenced my fitful slide toward adolescence, and beyond, that sense that I didn’t fit grew increasingly to dominate my narrative. That was when the indescribable good fortune of being located a few miles from San Francisco, just as the City was becoming the center of the counter-cultural universe, really made itself apparent.

More on that is ahead in Part 2 of this narrative. For tonight, I’m wrung dry.

 

Legal Beagle Stuff

So, the new European GDPR privacy protection law took effect today.

I support the aim of it, and don’t really know enough to have an opinion on the specifics (Barlow, where are you when I need you?).

But the long and the short of it is that pretty much anybody who owns and operates a corner of real estate on the internet is being strongly counseled to put up a carefully crafted Privacy Policy disclosure document.

The law mandates it be significantly more “user friendly” than the 87 page long lawyer language stuff we’ve all grown accustomed to clicking as “read and accepted” in order to do damned near anything on line, though I confess I still find the available boilerplate to be pretty snooze inducing.

Nevertheless, I’ve got one now.

You are cordially invited to review it FYI here.

And you can rest assured that if/when I elect to add any new bells and whistles on this site that impact the data I collect on you, how long I keep it, and what other entities I may share it with, you will be advised and have the ability to opt out.

Every Day is “Mother’s Day”

I posted this up on Facebook late Sunday. And, I confess, reaction was so strong I’ve been persuaded to repost it here so it sticks around.


I’m tired and more than ready to log off, but I wanted to at least acknowledge, and share a thought or two about Mother’s Day.

To those among my friends for whom this day remains a pure, happy celebration of love, my deep and sincere best wishes.

But, I’m keenly aware that there are a number of folks who, for various reasons, land somewhere between “mixed feelings” and “raw grief” this day.
And I send my heart’s desire for peace and comfort your way as well.

  • For the children who have lost a loving mother.
  • For those who feel they never knew a loving mother.
  • For the women who mourn the fact they were never able to have children.
  • For those who made a thoughtful, personal choice not to have children for good and valid reasons but who nevertheless feel left out, if not judged, on
    Please see note.

    days like this.

  • For the mothers who have had one or more children die or go missing, and are living their lives now carrying a gaping, invisible wound that never fully heals and will be with them all their days.
  • For the single fathers who find themselves trying to be mother as well.
  • For the grandparents who thought they were headed for retirement but instead are now raising a “second family.”
  • For the mothers and children separated by incarceration, war, or politics.
  • And for all the others who’s particular situation I have not called out here, but who found themselves feeling “out of step” with the dominant narrative today.

May you all love and be loved; may you feel peace, safety, and connection; may you all sleep tonight with full hearts.

Note: I found the artwork that accompanies this post a couple days later on a friend’s Facebook page. Seemed to drive the same message so well, I thought I’d include it here. It was created by Boston artist Megan J. Smith for their Repeal Hyde Art Project. You may want to check out the project’s web site here.

The Creatives

I was hunting for something on YouTube this morning that I never did find. But in that way that YouTube (well, all of the internet really) has, my search took me down a couple different rabbit holes, eventually landing me someplace that really got me thinking.

Among the body of film clips and audio files of The Beatles that float around out there in the wild these days (much of it material from the Anthology project, or bits and pieces that didn’t make the final cut for that compilation) there are a number of purported bits of “the boys at work in the studio.” Many of these informal scraps appear to be at least semi-staged, quite likely at the behest of some Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man (in his seersucker suit) who wanted something “special” to leverage.

But what I stumbled upon this morning seems to be authentic “fly on the wall” audio of the band sitting around in studio trying to find the pieces to fit a remarkable new song George Harrison had brought in. The tune eventually became the wonderful Something on the Abbey Road album, but it’s a long way from it at this point.

I listened in fascination for a good nine minutes as the boys stumbled and wandered around the fully formed melody line, searching for the lyrics. As I heard them chase down several false trails, then back up and restart, I silently thanked the studio gods that some assistant engineer in master control had the presence of mind to roll tape “just in case.” It’s a revealing glimpse at process.

I also realized, after a bit, I was getting a revealing look at myself as well. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked here before about my lifelong affinity for music, of all types. Really from the time I was old enough to begin generating fully formed* thoughts and feelings I was attracted to music wherever I could find it.


*hmmmm…”fully formed” may be overly generous, even now.


Whether it was strolling oompah combos at the County Fair, watching variety shows on the huge mahogany black and white Capehart, my folks’ old big band records, or afternoons spent peeking around the corner into our living room as the neighboring teenage girls brought their precious rock ‘n’ roll 78s over to play for my lonely and welcoming mother in the living room (they’d kick off their shoes and dance in their bobby sox all afternoon—nobody at home would permit them to turn up the volume on “that damned noise”), I was locked in by the time I was 6 or 7 years old.

Fast forward a half-decade or so. By the time the first stirrings of puberty were beginning to cloud my young mind, my horizons had expanded beyond pop deeper into the roots of blues, jazz, folk and more.

I even went through a brief phase when I was 14 or so when I saved up, bought myself a used acoustic guitar and some tab books, and worked on reinventing myself as a “folk singer.” But within a year or so, I had to confront the reality that I had absolutely no native talent as a musician.

You know how you hear stories about kids who pick up some cast-off junk instrument, teach themselves how to get a noise out of it, and within weeks are astounded the adults around them? And they then grow up to be famous players, in demand by audiences around the world? If there is a 180 degree opposite of that kid, I was him. I was never gonna “astound the guys and win the girls” with my guitar virtuosity. Eventually I came to terms with that truth and let it go.

But my hunger to find a way to be near the music, to be there for the transcendent moments I already understood it can bring, stayed with me. And it wasn’t long before I came to realize that for every lead guitarist and killer piano player up on stage there needed to be a significant number of “support troops” to make a space for the magic to happen.

And thus, as I came of age in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I found myself on stages and around clubs, dance halls, and bands. Not as a performer, but as one of those necessary crew people. It was in the intensified cauldron of that scene, in that moment, that I began my lifelong, still ongoing, admiration for and relationship with people I’ve come to call The Creatives.

I speak here about artists of all stripes, be they performers (musicians, actors, jugglers and dancers—even, to some degree, athletes and politicians) or practitioners of more solitary arts, such as writers, painters, and the like.

I found, almost subconsciously, that the role of “support” is a comfortable fit for who I’ve come to understand myself to be. I truly do not have that gift/curse of The Creative, whose mind and psyche contains the odd admixture of talent and inspiration that drives them to express something, and gives them access to the necessary skills to execute. But I do have skills, talent and intelligence. And I get great satisfaction in putting them to work in service of The Creative.

I did that for a number of years in and around music.

Also spent a good chunk of time in radio which, at first blush, might seem to run counter to what I just said. But really, in reflecting on my broadcasting career, I was always, again, able to make myself a useful and valuable “member of the team.”
And the nature of the medium means that still put me in front of a mic (and yes, I loved doing that work). But here too, I was never the most high profile personality on air. Most of the time I was “the news guy,” doing important work, but never putting myself in front of the story. And my stints as a music host were all relatively anonymous weekend shifts or fill in work for “the regular talent.”

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to apply that “support staff” mindset in work with two different authors; one working on an important biography, the other producing fiction pieces after decades of focusing her talents in completely different arenas.

In one case, I served (by remote electronic connection—the internet is a remarkable tool sometimes) as essentially a combination proofreading editor and beta reader. Devising and implementing a system for making notes and communicating them to an author several thousand miles away was an interesting challenge.

For the other, I’ve been more directly involved in virtually all the “non-creative” aspects of producing, packaging and taking to market, two books now, with more to follow.

In the latter case, it’s been a pretty intense learning curve in which I’ve had to bring many aspects of my skill-set to bear in new areas where I have limited, if any experience. Fortunately for me it appears I am, among other things, an autodidactic polymath. Which is, I learned this afternoon, a $20 way of saying  I am one adept at self-education “whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” Impressed? I was.

The thing I’m trying to say about this is that, once again, I find myself sliding easily into that “I’m the support guy” role for a new sub-category of Creative. And, once again, I’m deriving significant satisfaction and fulfillment from being the facilitator.

Look, I’ve come a long way ’round to get back home to this point: While initially motivated as a young person simply by a desire to be present and a part of what seemed to be important and exciting events, that yearning brought me to come to see myself as bringing value to life by applying my skills and talents in support of The Creative.

And, as a result of that, I’ve enjoyed more than my share of opportunities to stand close to the white hot energy of the Creative Crucible as much as anyone not endowed with the gift/curse themselves is likely to be able. Due to that, I believe I have come to have a certain familiarity, if not intimacy, with that process, and a number of people within whom it moves.

That close view has taught me some things over the years. Early on I absorbed the lessons, but did not yet have the life experience or perspective to put the education in context. With the more contemplative mind set this season of my life has brought comes, I think, a deepening understanding of it all.

In younger days, it was hard to get much beyond the basic transactional lessons. “I really love Xyz’s music, but geez he’s an asshole to deal with.” “What a delight it was to spend the evening with Abc. Supremely talented, and so easy to present. She just brings light to the entire building when she walks in.” Stuff like that.

Fairly quickly, because I did spend so much time “inside the bubble,” I also learned that, as a culture, we are damned hard on our artists. We bestow a certain celebrity upon them, but then make demands on their attention and activities that are, frankly, selfish and unreasonable. Then we resent them if they don’t accede to those demands, on our timetable.

But here’s the thing (and this is the piece I find myself coming to somewhat late in life). I  feel terribly grateful for the trust Creatives place in me when we take our respective roles and do the things we must. And I have ever-deepening respect and sympathy for those among us who carry the Creative gift/curse.

To be the individual who brings the magic is truly a remarkable gift from the universe, and the gods of the arts. But that gift comes with a heavy, heavy cost to those upon whom it is bestowed. Beyond the often terrible weight of the relationship with “fans” that I touched on above, the very act of creating often generates a staggering vulnerability for the Creative.

And the more profound and moving the art, the greater the extent to which it leaves the one who puts it out there naked before the world. Also, I’ve never known a truly talented individual who wasn’t wracked from time to time with agonies of insecurity and self-doubt; what some call “impostor syndrome,” regardless the level of their accomplishments. It seems an inevitable byproduct of the work.

Different individuals deal with it in different ways. As noted above, some create a deeply loving and supportive “family” among those they work with and all who surround them while others grow prickly and withdrawn.

It breaks a lot of people. That, along with the basic raw talent, is why the ranks of the truly magical are so small. Many, for one reason or another, drop out along the way. It’s also why we have so many tales of alcoholism and addiction, failed relationships, and deaths at age 27.

What I know to be true is this: Being a Creative is a damned difficult job, harder and more challenging than anything most of us ever have to bear and sustain. Thus, today I have deep, deep respect for the courage (even if it’s courage born of desperation) of those who do the work.

The human condition is enriched by the presence of these gifted ones among us. And to whatever small degree I have been able to ease the yoke of the gift for a few of them here and there, it’s a life well lived and it has been my privilege to assist.

Plus, I got to be present for a hell of a lot of cool stuff.


Oh, I expect I owe it to you to show you the video that sparked this almost 2000 words of rumination. Here ’tis.

On privilege and things

NOTE for regular readers:
As you know, I avoid the overtly political here, reserving that sort of traffic for my Twitter and Facebook accounts. The avowed purpose of this blog is to honor my medical diagnosis and do what I can to “download” whatever experience and—dare I say?—wisdom I’ve accumulated before my run here is finished.
But here’s what happened. A young man from Rockford, illinois who calls himself Jimmy B.O.A. posted the following Tweet, which sparked an exceptionally interesting comment thread (Jimmy clearly has high quality followers). I wanted to join in, but quickly realized my remarks would extend too far beyond the 240 character limit to even build a thread. Thus, a post here which I can link in the comments.
And besides (he adds in his best self-justifying voice), this isn’t about a “news of the day” political issue. It does speak to a piece of who I am which, I submit, gets it past my self-imposed “no politics” rule.
First, Jimmy’s Tweet:

POC can fight against racism until the death of them. Shit will never change, until the minute good “White Folks” speak up, and condemn each and every person that commits “Racial acts” against people that doesn’t look like them.

You. Must. Not. Spare. A. Racists. Feelings.

Let’s set context first, OK? I’m an old white dude, a bleeding edge boomer specifically. And I’ve been speaking up and speaking out my entire life. Attended my first civil rights march when I was, not sure now, either 12 or 13 years old. Was involved in anti-war activities and efforts to support UFWOC (later UFW) by the time I was a freshman in high school. Et cetera, et cetera. So, I’ve “been to the barricades” many times, and I’ve never stopped advocating for what seems right to me.

And I’m grateful to Jimmy for launching this thread. It has kicked off some interesting and useful conversation (something that seems a rarity rather than the rule much of the time on Twitter).

I absolutely concur. Nothing changes unless and until those standing in the way of change are challenged and called out. One of the advantages of being my age is that I have seen this play out time and time again on any number of specific issues over the decades. Barack Obama and Dr. King were right about the arc bending toward justice, but it’s a long arc and it needs our help along the way.

Need to say though, that as I have continued to “do the right thing” as best I can, I have had to learn a lot of new stuff over the years. And a lot of that has to do with privilege. There was a time it all seemed pretty simple to me (if a little risky at times). When I saw something that seemed wrong, my job was to stand up and speak out. That remains my guiding policy, but in recent years something began to happen that confused and disturbed me at first.

And I’ve seen some folks post up about it in this thread. Other white folks whose feels got bruised when they tried to speak out and someone challenged them (sometimes caustically) on their standing to discuss the issue.

See, I’ve come to believe that confliction (a lot of it anyway) is all about privilege. And I’m realizing one of the most pernicious things about privilege is how difficult it can be to recognize when you’ve enjoyed it your entire life.

In today’s context, now that someone has invented and defined the term “ally,” it just won’t work any more for me to roll up and start white mansplaining to folks who are marginalized and disempowered in one way or another how I think they “should” act to be most effective (let alone how they should feel).

Because I don’t know what I don’t know. Oh, yeah. I’ve spent periods of my life impoverished. I have more than a passing acquaintance with alcoholism and drug addiction. I’ve seen the inside of jail cells for less than noble reasons, lived in “the inner city,” and on and on. But when all is said and done, I remain a white male and therefore, by default, less vulnerable and exposed than many others.

When in discussions—especially discussions about “resistance” of one sort or another, but really discussions of any sort with POC, women, LGBTQ+, and other friends and associates I love, respect, and want to support, I’ve learned I have to listen before I speak. To stay open and receptive. To stop and carefully consider when someone tells me to “check my privilege.” Then, if I still can’t see it, to ask for help.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable at times. Especially when those challenges land in a way that feels like my intentions, motives, or sincerity are being questioned. But I’m finding that beyond the discomfort there is important stuff for me to learn and understand. About myself, and about the people I want to support.

Also, I believe it’s damned important that the conversation has been elevated to the place where privilege is on the table. The fact that certain members of that dwindling dominant white male culture feel so threatened and put-upon by voices for change (and are completely blind to the absurdity of claiming they are somehow “victims of discrimination”) speaks to that importance.

So, yeah. I will continue to speak up and call out my cis male white brethren whenever and wherever necessary. I’ll also participate and, if it seems appropriate, offer my input and opinions to my sisters and brothers in the struggle; but I will do my best to do so with humility, an open heart and mind, and the understanding that it’s not my job to be the lead sled dog.

%d bloggers like this: