That Voice

I just saw Gladys Knight in concert for the first time. She has long been one of my absolute favorite voices. I’ve had a crush on her since before I really understood what that meant and it has always been all about that voice. During the show, I found myself wondering what makes her voice so special.

One statement I hear a lot is, “So and so can really sing.” It’s usually made about pop singers, especially pop singers who have been over-produced. I’ve always found it to be a strange statement, though. One reason is that the statement is being made about a professional singer. Of course she can sing. Another reason I find it odd is that it’s a pretty low bar to set. While I appreciate technical ability, when it comes to singing, it’s a fairly common talent. Stop in any high school or church in the country and there’s a good chance you’ll hear more than one person who can really sing. What separates the truly great voices from everyone else?

At the Gladys Knight show, there were three backup singers and they were great. Not only did they hit all the notes and sing in rhythm, they had real power behind their voices. Ms. Knight gave them each an opportunity in the spotlight, and it was impressive. I’d have paid money to see any of the three in concert. But it just wasn’t the same as when Gladys Knight was singing. I don’t want to say they were missing something, because they weren’t. I guess Gladys Knight just has something extra.

I think that extra thing comes down to timbre. It’s not the notes or the rhythms she sings, it’s the sound of her voice. There are just a chosen few who are blessed with a better instrument than everyone else. We are lucky that those who have the gift record and perform so we can share in it. Gladys Knight can really sing, but it’s so much more than that. By sharing her voice, she has made the world a better place.

Share This:

Foreign Policy with Jam Stunna: What Does “Great Power Competition” Mean?

Image Source: http://blog.naiop.org/2018/08/ai-and-the-return-of-great-power-competition/

It’s been a little bit of time since my last post in this series, but I want to be more consistent in writing about these topics. So today’s post is about a phrase that has been thrown around alot in the last few years: great power competition.*

Basically, great power competition is political, economic and military competition between the “great powers” of the world. Right now, that’s understood to mean competition between the United States, China and Russia. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, many American policymakers and military leaders believed that we lived in a unipolar world- that is, a world where the only global superpower was the United States. Leaders believed that both Russia and China would eventually become Western-style democracies, and the mood of a global system led by the United States was captured in Francis Fukuyama’s infamous essay, “The End of History?”

As we can see, history did not end. Russia and China did not become Western-style democracies. In fact, the United States’ status as the undisputed power in the world lasted for just about ten years, and crumbled into dust along with the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Yet the global War on Terror (which I’ll write about soon, because there’s alot to say), while a catastrophic and incredibly deadly conflict which has claimed the lives of people all across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, is not the same as great power competition. The War on Terror has been fought with organizations that are substantial and deadly, but could never really succeed in destroying the United States.

On the other hand, nations like China and Russia possess the power to inflict serious damage on the United States, and their power is growing. China already has 500 nuclear weapons, and the Russians have thousands of bombs. China and Russia are both in the process of rapidly increasing their other military forces too: building more ships, more planes, more missiles and more cyberweapons. We’re seeing these forces being put to use, both in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

As these nations push further and further out, they will inevitably come into contact with American forces. The United States has a global presence; our military is present in 150 out of 195 nations in the world. Our Navy patrols every sea and ocean on the planet, even the Arctic. Military and civilian leaders believe now that, in order to maintain the United States’ global dominance, they must shift away from the tools used to fight terrorism and instead prepare for the possibility of conflict with other nations- in other words, to compete with other great powers.

But why should you care? After all, there are more pressing daily concerns for all of us than theoretical conflict with China. Perhaps we don’t need to have this concern at the front of our minds, but we need to be aware because the potential for conflict will have serious consequences for us. We only need to look backwards to see what those consequences could be. While the phrase wasn’t used in the past, we’ve seen great power competition before. The emergence of Germany as a unified nation in the 1870’s introduced a brand new country to a Europe where Great Britain, France and Russia were already competing for power; while a bit of an oversimplification, the result was two world wars and more than 100 million people dead.

China is now roughly in the same place that Germany was in the early 1900’s: powerful, and growing more and more powerful (this is another gross oversimplification, but I think the analogy works to make the point). American leaders consider China’s rise as a potential threat to our dominance, and this could lead to a phenomenon known as the Thucydides Trap– basically, that as one power rises (China) and another one fades (the United States), war becomes likely.

But history is not destiny, and knowing that our leaders are preparing for war gives us the opportunity to have a say. We have the right to say that maybe we don’t need our military everywhere around the globe; that maybe the South China Sea isn’t worth it; that we should be talking to other great powers instead of getting ready to fight them. Everything is a series of choices, and we need to start making choices that lead to peace.

Share This:

Breakfast

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my mother, as many children do. There were alot of problems, but the biggest one was that we’re too much alike. A surefire way to generate conflict is to put two smartasses together under the same roof, for years at a time, and under extraordinary amounts of stress.

I didn’t really understand just how much stress my mother was under when I was a kid. My mother had three sons and a divorce before the age of thirty, and she had to raise us with very little help from other people. And by “raise,” let’s be clear about what that euphemism really means- she had to keep us alive. My mother had to provide food and shelter for all of us, essentially by herself.

How much food does it take to feed four people? I got a lesson in that this morning as I was making breakfast. I don’t usually eat breakfast during the week (to be honest, I’d rather have the extra sleep than food in the morning), but on the weekends when my son comes over, I like to cook for him. Since my brother and my roommate were awake too, I offered to make them the Saturday morning special: pancakes. The order came out to six pancakes, six pieces of bacon, and four glasses of orange juice. That’s:

-Three cups of pancake mix
-Three eggs
-2.25 cups of milk
-Three tablespoons of vegetable oil
-Six pieces of bacon
-An indeterminate amount of butter (probably about a cup)
-A lot of orange juice

My son is here for the entire weekend, and my brother and roommate live here, so double that for breakfast tomorrow too. That means in one weekend, for two meals, we’ve gone through half a carton of eggs, more than 1/4 of a gallon of milk, half of the orange juice, half of the bacon, and put a decent dent in the vegetable oil.

But wait, there’s more!

Monday, February 18th, is a federal holiday. Guess who doesn’t have school or work? And guess who has to eat? So in fact, TRIPLE that order. Now we’re out of pancake mix, out of bacon, out of orange juice, down to our last three eggs, and running low on milk (thankfully you can buy vegetable oil in bulk pretty easily).

Again, that’s just for three meals, to feed four people. Two people had two pancakes, and two people had one. One of the people who had one pancake ate the bacon instead of getting a second pancake. This is not people who are being greedy and stuffing themselves. This is just breakfast. And the milk, butter, eggs and oil need to be available for dinner too (lunch is when everyone fends for themselves).

If I didn’t have the money or the food for breakfast, I could tell my brother and roommate to make do for themselves; after all, they’re adults. And if things got really dicey and I ran out of food, I could send Gabriel back to his mother’s house and she’ll feed him. Or I could borrow money from my roommates. I have a ton of options.

None of those were available for my mother. She had to feed us at least twice a day, every day, for years (seriously, thank goodness for subsidized school lunch. Even the full-priced lunch was only $2.00- can you imagine getting a full meal for that price anywhere else?). My mother worked hard to make sure that we ate, but also to hide the fact of how close we came to not eating on so many days. I didn’t appreciate the amount of strain she was under because I didn’t know. But now I do, and the rest of my childhood is starting to fall into place as I learn how fucking hard it is to make it with one son and a college degree, much less with three sons and a high school diploma.

Thank you mom, even though I was definitely right in some of our arguments.

Share This:

My Birthday

As a general rule, I don’t like true stories. They are not well plotted and the characters tend to the boring side of things. I like it when the author takes liberties. But for this story, I’m going to stick to the truth.

My birthday was last week, but I need to start a few days before that. I was in the shower (don’t get excited, it’s not that kind of story) when I noticed a weird, circular rash on my thigh. The more I looked at it, the more it looked like a bullseye. I know that’s a classic sign of Lyme disease, but my birthday is in the middle of winter. How on Earth could I have been bitten by a tick in the winter?

I had a nice little internal debate about what to do. Except for the rash, I wasn’t showing any symptoms. It seemed crazy that I might have Lyme disease. One the other hand, I know how nasty Lyme can be if it’s not treated early. So I called my doctor. I decided that a co-pay and a little embarrassment was a worthwhile cost to get him to tell me that it’s nothing.

I went in. The nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, and everything else. Everything was completely normal. Then, the doctor came in. I showed him the rash. He said, “Huh.” Then he asked me a whole bunch of questions about where I’d been the past few weeks. I hadn’t been anywhere where ticks are likely to live. So, he asked me a whole bunch of questions about symptoms. I was feeling fine. He decided that it was either Lyme disease or a fungal infection, but he was leaning towards fungal infection. He asked me to put athlete’s foot cream on it. If it grows with the cream, it’s Lyme and if it shrinks, it’s not. He was going to be out of the office for a few days, but he would be back on my birthday. He told me to pay attention, if it grows at all, or if I start showing any symptoms, to call him back.

I was feeling better when I got home. At least I had some peace of mind. But the next day, I started to feel like I was getting a cold. The rash was unchanged, so I told myself it was just a coincidence. Over the next few hours, I continued to feel worse. I started running a fever. I was pretty miserable, so I convinced myself that I had Lyme.

When my birthday rolled around, I called the doctor first thing in the morning. I told him that I was having flu-like symptoms and I didn’t think the rash had shrunk. I booked an appointment for a little later that day and went back to sleep. When I got to the office, I was feeling way worse than I had been a few days before. The nurse did all the same stuff as my last visit, but this time, she swabbed me to test for the flu (It’s remarkably unpleasant having someone stick a Q-tip up your nose). I let her do it, but I knew it wasn’t the flu, I’d had my flu shot. I had Lyme disease.

In a little while the doctor came in wearing a mask. I had tested positive for the flu. I asked him about the rash, and he wanted to take a look again. It had actually grown about a centimeter bigger. I asked what that meant and he said that it really looked like I had both the flu and Lyme disease at the same time. I asked if there was a test for Lyme, but he said at the stage where the rash is still showing, the test is incredibly unreliable. He felt it was best to start treatment right away.

For the flu, he said there wasn’t anything to do. Theraflu only works if taken in the first 24-48 hours and it had been longer than that. For the Lyme, he wrote me a prescription for Doxycycline, an antibiotic. He then told me about all the tummy trouble I could expect from the antibiotic. I was overjoyed.

I filled the prescription on the way home, crawled into bed, and stayed there for the rest of my birthday. I didn’t have any cake or ice cream. The closest thing I got to a gift was being diagnosed with two diseases and some pills that were going to give me diarrhea. For me, this was definitely a record setting bad birthday.

It’s been almost a week since my birthday, and I’m feeling much better. I’m still not 100%, but I’m functional. I probably won’t be 100% until I’m done with the antibiotic. I don’t think I’ll ever know what was the Lyme and what was the flu, but it was an experience that I never want to repeat. I just hope that next year’s birthday is better.

I apologize for the lack of plot and the boring main character. I felt like it was a story worth telling, though. Partly because it’s a fairly unbelievable story, and people like those. And partly because I can act as a warning for others. Apparently, with climate change, winter doesn’t protect us from ticks anymore. Just think, whatever the month, if you’re feeling lousy, it could be Lyme disease. Or the flu. Or both.

Share This:

Fatherhood

Ever since I had a kid, I’ve considered writing about fatherhood. I never actually go through with it, though. Sure, I’ve written some things about my daughter, or about some parenting decisions I’ve made, but nothing about being a father. There’s a simple reason for that. Being a father is such a unique experience that there’s no real way to talk about it.

At least that’s what I always told myself. I’ve read and heard many descriptions of fatherhood and none of them have been adequate. None of them match my own experience of being a father or even come close. Most are silly or absurd. Then I read this article by Anna Machin. She approaches fatherhood from a scientific perspective, specifically as an evolutionary anthropologist. It’s the first thing I’ve read about fatherhood that resonated with me. I could almost feel the neurochemical and psychological changes she was talking about. She gave me hope that maybe I could write about fatherhood.

Then, I tried to write about being a dad and ran into the same old barriers. I don’t have any scientific training to fall back on. The only way I can talk about fatherhood is talking about the lived experience of being a father. But I find that having the experience doesn’t give me the vocabulary. Being a dad is so different from every other experience I’ve ever had, that I don’t know where to begin.

The temptation, and trap, is to think of paternal feelings as regular feelings, except bigger or more powerful. I don’t find that to be the case at all. My feelings about my daughter are different in kind, not just degree. I’ve often thought about how crazy it is that I’m stuck using the same word, love, to describe my feelings about everything from my favorite food to my friends and family to my daughter. Love just isn’t a versatile enough word. Of course I love my daughter. That’s obvious. But it doesn’t get at the way that particular love is so completely different from any other love I’ve ever felt.

It’s almost like experiencing a completely new color. I don’t mean a new shade of blue or yellow or red, but an entirely new color. No matter how badly I wanted to describe this new color, I would be incapable of doing it. It just isn’t like anything else. It’s singular, unique. Ultimately, that’s what it’s like trying to describe the experience of fatherhood. I just have to accept the fact that I can’t do it. The most important experience of my life is one that cannot be shared.

Share This:

No One Can Know

In 2019, I joined a 12 stories in 12 months challenge. Each month we are given a prompt and a word count and we build our stories from there. This is my first story. The prompt was “no one can know” and the word count is 1500. I’m tempted to point out all the things that are wrong with the story before you read it, but I’ll refrain. Just know that it is a bit longer than I wanted it to be and it’s basically a first draft.

***

He finally pulled himself up on the ledge. He let out a long breath and watched the vapor drift away in the wind. This better be worth it, he thought to himself.

He looked around. The ledge was wide enough for three people and deep enough for four. The wall in front of him was craggy, and there was an opening about the size of a door in the middle. As he took a closer look at the opening, he realized that rather than crags, the opening was surrounded by carvings. Although, they were so old it was difficult to tell what they depicted.

He took off his pack and placed it on the ledge next to him. He removed a water bottle and took a long drink. How long have I been out here? he wondered. He had lost track of the days weeks ago. No one around here seemed to keep a calendar. It had been months at least.

He had been following one rumor after another, none of them panning out, but this was it. It had to be. This information didn’t have the feel of rumors. The people here were sure. They were confident. They knew. It wasn’t like this anywhere else.

This was his last shot anyway. Even if it wasn’t the right place, he had been away too long, he was low on supplies, and out of money. No one understood why he started this journey in the first place. Even he didn’t fully understand. But he was sure. He had never been so sure of anything. He had to know the answer, whatever it is.

He stepped into the opening which extended into a hallway. He couldn’t tell how long it was, but he could see a flickering light ahead. He walked slowly towards the light. The temperature rose steadily as he progressed. It smelled musty. By the time he reached the torch that was casting the light, he was sweating.

The torch was at the entrance to a large, circular chamber. When he looked inside, he saw the chamber was lit by a dozen torches at even intervals about six feet off the ground. The walls were stone and there was a carved chair opposite the entrance he was standing in. In the chair sat what looked like a young woman in a simple white dress. The chamber was otherwise empty.

He walked across the chamber until he was about ten feet in front of the chair. The young woman stared straight ahead. It was as if she didn’t see him or was ignoring him. He cleared his throat. She remained motionless. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you the Oracle?”

She didn’t react and he was afraid she hadn’t heard him. Just as he opened his mouth to ask again, she looked at him and said, “You wish to know if I am the Oracle?”

“Yes,” was his reply. When she didn’t respond immediately, he added, “I mean, finding out if you’re the Oracle isn’t my primary purpose for coming. I just want to know if I’m in the right place.”

She looked at him, as if considering her answer. Her look made him uncomfortable. What is she waiting for? It’s a yes or no question.

“I have been called the Oracle by many.”

“Is that a ‘Yes?’ Should I call you something different?”

She continued looking at him. It was making him even more uncomfortable. “What do you call yourself?” he tried.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. After a pause, she said, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”

“That sounds like an oracle to me,” he said. She didn’t respond. “So, what do I do?”

After a moment, she replied, “Your question is too vague. I cannot answer it.”

He waited, hoping for more. Too vague? It seemed pretty straightforward. He shrugged and looked down at his hands, then to his feet. When he looked back up, her gaze had not moved. He took a deep breath, “If I want you to help me with a situation, what do you need me to do? Is there a ritual or an offering or something?”

“There is no ritual and I do not require an offering,” she replied. “You must ask me a specific question. If I am able to answer it, I shall.”

“Well, it’s a question, but there is a lot of background. Do I need to fill you in?”

She did not answer. She just stared at him.

“Right, where to start? I’ve been with this girl for about a year and a half now. I’m crazy about her. I still get butterflies whenever I see her.

“I didn’t think she was my type. I’m kind of a nerd and she is definitely not. But something just clicked. She knows I don’t have any money, or connections, or prospects, so I don’t think she’s using me for anything. I think she actually cares about me. So, I’ve been thinking of asking her to marry me.

“The problem is, she hates my family and my family hates her. It makes me hugely uncomfortable. My family has always been loving and supportive. I trust them. But I can’t see why they have a problem with her. And I trust her, but I can’t see why she has a problem with them. I feel caught in the middle.

“What I want to know is: should I ask her to marry me?”

The Oracle’s expression did not change throughout his speech. He fidgeted nervously waiting for an answer. After a few minutes, which seemed to him like hours, she said, “No one can know.”

“Excuse me?”

“No one can know,” she repeated.

“That’s your answer? ‘No one can know?’”

“It is.”

“That doesn’t help at all. If we did get married, would she and my family learn to get along?”

There was another pause.

“No one can know.”

“Are you repeating yourself or is that the answer to my second question?”

“It is the answer to both of your questions.”

“Is that the only answer you give?”

“No.”

“Then, does she really love me?”

“Only she knows.”

“How is that any different?”

She continued staring at him. “What takes you so long in answering my questions?” he asked.

“I must listen and consider my response carefully,” she replied.

“So, ‘No one can know,’ was a carefully considered answer?”

“Yes.”

“You do see why that’s not a satisfying answer, don’t you?” She did not respond. “So, let me get this straight. I left my home and my job and traveled across two continents. I don’t even know what country I’m in right now, which is probably illegal. I swam to this island where the villagers assured me the Oracle was and climbed this mountain. Well, it’s not really a mountain, but it is a pretty steep hill. I did all that so you can tell me that my question is not answerable?”

She regarded him for some time before saying, “Your questions were answerable. I am not to blame if the answers are not to your liking.”

“Not to my liking? Come on. ‘No one can know,’ is a classic non-answer. You might as well have just said, ‘Who knows?’ Who do you think you are?”

She answered more quickly this time, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”

“What does that even mean?” he asked as he started pacing in front of her.

After a another too long pause, she said, “It means I do not hedge, equivocate, or dissemble. I do not say what is possible. I deal in things that can be known with certainty. . .”

She did not appear to be finished, but he interrupted her with, “Certainty? Certainty? Nothing can be known with certainty. I’ve studied philosophy. There’s always room for doubt.”

He might have imagined it, but he thought she seemed uncomfortable. He waited for a response.

“There can be no doubt that my answers are true.”

He laughed. This is absurd. He was both angry and amused. He couldn’t tell which feeling was stronger. “That’s just great,” he said. “I came all this way to learn that it is true that my questions have no answers. What’s the point?”

She did not answer.

“Fine. I have two more questions. Then, I’ll leave you in peace.” He didn’t know why he waited for a response, but he gave her a minute, then asked, “Why are you known as ‘The Oracle?’ And don’t say ‘No one can know.’”

She replied, “Any answer would be mere speculation. The motives of those long dead are inscrutable.”

He smiled. That certainly seemed true. “Well, just one more. Have you ever actually helped anyone?”

Her expression did not change, but she somehow seemed sad. “I do not know. No one has ever come a second time.”

He chuckled, but he felt sorry for her. He turned and walked towards the hall to get his things and start the long journey home.

Share This:

A Shutdown In Name Only

This is something I wrote about the shutdown. I didn’t post it at the time because I was so annoyed with everything having to do with the shutdown that my own piece annoyed me. Now that the shutdown is over, at least temporarily, I figured I’d put it out there. I think the point still stands.

***

There is a simple way to end the seemingly endless government shutdown. Shut down the government. It’s strange that that isn’t what we do. Instead we stop paying 800,000 people but keep all the essential functions of government working. It’s a baffling strategy and deeply immoral.

In theory, a shutdown is like a strike or a boycott. The whole point is to cause the decision makers enough pain to force them to either make the right decision or come to a reasonable compromise. Depending on how you look at it, that means that the shutdown must cause pain to the president and Congress, or to a majority of American voters, or both. The current partial shutdown misses its point utterly. It hurts the federal employees who are not being paid, their friends and families, and the people who depend on the money the federal employees usually spend. That’s an awful lot of people, but it’s not the right people.

The shutdown doesn’t hurt the president or Congress, at least not in any immediate way. They are still getting paid. Their supporters continue to support them. Also, while it is hurting a lot of people, it is nowhere near hurting a majority of the eligible voters. Most people in the United States can go about their day to day lives without noticing the shutdown. Their flights are still flying, their interstate highways are still drivable, their borders are still protected, even their taxes are still being processed. There is very little incentive for any of the decision makers to end the shutdown.

The immorality of the shutdown should be obvious. It is pointlessly hurting many innocent people. That’s pretty much what immorality is. It is also immoral in more subtle ways. Most importantly, during a partial shutdown, the government is forcing people to work without compensation. If any entity other than the government tried to do that, the Department of Labor would shut it down. The back pay that is promised after the shutdown is over doesn’t cut it. Because of the time-value of money, it literally isn’t worth as much as regular paychecks. Plus, retroactive pay can’t pay bills retroactively.

There should be two takeaways from this shutdown. Given the immorality of the shutdown, we should discourage the use of shutdowns as a political strategy. Also, if we do use shutdowns in the future, we should make sure they cause pain to the right people. The way to do both is to actually shut down the government during a government shutdown. All of the things that the government does for us should stop happening. The pain still wouldn’t be evenly distributed, but the people who need to feel pain would feel it. It would make a shutdown a last resort, and, if a shutdown ever did happen, it wouldn’t last long.

Share This:

I Don’t Really Want Anything

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Before I start, I want to acknowledge Anne Peterson’s piece How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation and Tiana Clark’s piece This is What Black Burnout Feels Like. This essay isn’t exactly a response to those writers, but reading their works helped me to finally focus this essay, which I’ve tried to write many times with no success. This essay is also not advice; this is how I get through each day, that’s all. 

It took me several tries to get through Ms. Peterson’s essay about burnout. In fact, I only finished it because I wanted to write about it, and figured that I should at least read the whole thing before I critiqued it. I also abandoned my response to Ms. Peterson’s essay because I realized I didn’t really care about what she was saying. I don’t mean that to be dismissive of her concerns; I mean that they weren’t concerns to me. I already know I don’t make alot of money, and I don’t mail things or sharpen knives because those things are boring.

I was able to read Ms. Clark’s essay much quicker, but honestly, I wouldn’t have read it if a friend hadn’t asked my opinion about it. Ms. Clark’s essay was more important because it presented the struggles that Black women face, and I need to be more aware of that. But outside of  those specific challenges, I was similarly uninterested. I know how much it sucks to be Black, and I’ve long passed the point where I’m tired of being reminded. When my friend asked me what I thought of the essay, I responded with this:

 

I think two things. One, this is a great article, both as a response to the original and as its own standalone piece. The challenges and traumas of being a Black woman in America are more specific and daunting than anything me or Anne Peterson experience, and need to be shared for the benefit of other Black women (which could lead me into a whole rant about editors in general, but in the interest of not writing an essay right now, I’ll table that). For me, what I can do is read this and respond with kindness and understanding to the Black women around me.


As a more general response: yesterday on the bus ride to work, I went through my music and put all of the anime songs I listen to on one playlist. I named the playlist “Change the Future.” This is the music I listen to when I’m hyping myself up to work hard for the life that I want. I don’t mean working harder at my job, because fuck that. For what? To make $5000 more? $10,000? No thanks. I’m working three days a week right now and make zero apologies for it. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, living with two roommates and sleeping with my 11 year old son in the same bed. I can’t relate to alot of the stuff that I read in these millennial articles because I don’t care about them. I don’t care about owning a home, buying a car, traveling around the world etc. Not because I’m not interested in those things in the abstract, but because I have no desire to work as hard as you apparently must to get them. That’s my own personal tradeoff- I can’t work three days a week and have anything. But that’s cool, because I’d rather only work three days a week than have that stuff.

I don’t have stress about deadlines or work opportunities anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I just don’t. I felt the stress and anxiety that Tiana Clark describes about her work for a long time- the need to impress, to prove my worth, to be “a credit to my race,” to not let down the ancestors, all of it. And then after being fucking miserable all the time, I asked myself why? I don’t actually like the people I need to impress, so why do I give a fuck what they think? To have money? So that they’ll give me a chance? Pass, and fuck them. There’s always another job, always another bridge to burn. Maybe that’s why, despite being a decent writer, I post most of my stuff for free on my blog instead of being on a paid staff somewhere. But whatever, that’s just another tradeoff. I’m not stressing myself out anymore. 

I listen to the anime music to get hyped about working hard to change the world we live in. We live in a nightmare world that’s about to get MUCH worse, but it has finally occurred to me that maybe it won’t? That maybe it’s possible to actually do something about it? That slavery must have seemed eternal (and for the people who lived and died under it, it was), but enough people fought and suffered to end it, across hundreds of years. Those people changed the future, and now it’s my turn. Others have suffered immensely for me to have the privileges I do, from my ancestors across time and space to my roommate who did two tours in Iraq to afford the house he so graciously rents to me. All of that is privilege. So I put on my music and deeply believe the platitudes about trying my best, the power of friendship and always moving forward, not for a millennial definition of success or to please the ancestors. As imperfect and insufficient as my attempts are, I do them for the people around me.

While I’ve referenced both Ms. Peterson and Ms. Clark pretty heavily until now, again, this essay isn’t about them. Instead, it’s about the next question my friend asked me. She asked, “How did you decide to refocus in this way to work less and be happy with what you have? Do you really not worry about money?”

No, I really don’t worry about money. That’s partly because of all the privileges I’ve been granted through dumb luck- the accident of my birth in this place at this time; the generosity of the people around me; the ability of a physically unremarkable person like me to make a living thanks to the miracles of technology. But it’s also because I don’t care about most things. I’ll go more into that for those interested, but the short version is, I want to do what I wan, and I want other people to have the ability to do what they want, whatever it is, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. That’s it.

The latter part of that incredibly long sentence is pretty straightforward. Yeah, I try to work against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. because those things prevent people from doing what they want. Women should be able to do whatever, as should transgender people, Native Americans, everyone. I don’t care what you do. Work where you want. Wear what you want. Fuck who you want. Use whatever pronoun you want. And if it makes you happy, then sure, I’ll call you whatever you want. It really doesn’t matter to me. But I also know that my nonchalant attitude towards all of these things is not the standard opinion, so I do have to work to make sure that people have the right to do whatever they want. That’s where the anime music comes in, to motivate me to do the right thing.

It’s the former part that I had to arrive at eventually. And I arrived at it by realizing, after five years of working full time, that I fucking hate it. I quit my last full time job with no plan for where I would work instead, but at that point I’d decided that I would rather have the stress and anxiety of not knowing where my next check would come from than the stress and anxiety of waking up earlier than I wanted to, to go to a place I didn’t want to go to, and do work I didn’t want to do. I’m trying to work as little as possible. I derive no personal fulfillment or value from my job. That’s what the rest of my life is for. 

I was also confident that I could make whatever money I had last because I don’t need alot of stuff*. That’s a result of the way I grew up- having a car was the exception, not the rule when I was a kid, so I’ve been riding the bus my whole life. When people talk about the convenience of having a car, my feeling is generally, “But if you plan your bus trip, then what’s the big deal?” It takes longer, sure, but I just read or listen to music or sleep. To me, that’s a pretty good use of the time. Walking to the bus stop in the winter sucks, but in the summer it’s the best. And on the days I don’t feel like standing in the cold, there’s Uber. My parents also didn’t own a home, and we were very transient. Anything above transience is a major step up. Not having a car and not having a house is not very expensive, so I don’t really need that much money.

[*It’s also important to recognize and be thankful for the massive privileges I have. I say, “I don’t need alot of stuff,” but I also live in a place with abundant access to food, water, electricity and every amenity of modern life. I can take all of those things for granted, and I did nothing to earn those things except be born as an American.]

Beyond that, I’m generally a low maintenance guy. In an essay I wrote about dating, I described going to Providence for a date. It was a wonderful city, and it’d be nice to go back, but if I never do, whatever. A couple of days later I had another date where I went to the batting cages and ate Subway. I had an amazing time, and it cost maybe $40. I enjoyed the date because I enjoyed the woman I was with, and I don’t really care what we’re doing, as long as we’re doing it together. 

In the best summer of my marriage, all my ex-wife and I did was smoke weed, eat candy and watch Battlestar Galactica. My favorite pastime with my last was to buy a cheap store brand pizza, some cheap chicken wings, smoke and play Smash Bros. That’s all I really need- someone to smoke with, fuck and watch TV with. Everything else sounds nice, but I don’t care about those things. The things I want (weed, sex and conversation) are cheap.

I can live on PB&J, cereal and spaghetti forever. Go through my Facebook pictures- I have like five shirts and two pairs of pants. I average one haircut a year. My monthly bills are my rent and my cell phone. I haven’t had to refocus or make adjustments there, because I’ve been very lucky that the things i like are cheap.

But most importantly, I’m happy.  Right now, I live in a house with my friends. I can drink on a Monday night because I don’t have work on Tuesday. I can fuck until 3:00 AM on Thursday morning because I don’t work until the afternoon. I can smoke all the weed I want because I don’t get tested, and I don’t care to work at the jobs where I would be. I give my son everything he needs, and most of what he wants. I can write all the stuff I want because I have tons of free time, and the magic of the internet allows me to present it to people without someone giving me the okay. $10,000 more, even $20,000 more doesn’t come close to being worth any of that. What’s the point of money? To do what you want, right? Well, I get to do that now. More money means more work, which would actively detract from the lifestyle i value.

I’ve always been told to want things- a house, a car, a good paying job, a family, a fence, nice clothes, vacations, retirement, a good education, jewelry. I was talking to my brother about all the things we’re supposed to have, supposed to value, and how we don’t have them or want them. “I don’t really want anything,” he said. “I just want to relax.” What I realized is that not wanting the “normal” things doesn’t mean that we don’t want anything, simply that we want different things. The different thing I want the most is time. Time to write, time to smoke, time to fuck, time to hang out with my son. Time to do nothing. I don’t disparage anyone for wanting those other things, but I’m not willing to work 60-80 hours a week for anyone or anything, and I’m damn sure not going to waste time worrying about not sharpening my knives. It’s just not me.

 

Share This:

My New BFF is Two Years Old

The Culprit

Being a parent is hard. You’re literally responsible for another human being’s survival, but that’s not all. You also have to help them become a person- teach them about sharing, fairness, following the rules and listening to elders. Then you have to balance that against encouraging them to pursue their individuality, protect themselves, ask for what they want, and eventually break all the bullshit rules you taught them. It’s not easy.

It’s even harder as a step-parent. At least as a parent, you have a kind of automatic authority built in. This kid listens to you because you’ve been there every day, cared for them every day and loved them. They give you a hard time, but for the most part they yield to you. As a step-parent, you have to build a level of trust that took biological parents years in about a quarter of the time. I haven’t had to experience that yet, but my ex-wife’s husband has as the step-dad to my son. Gabe’s a good kid, but I didn’t envy the task of getting to know a seven year old.

At least those arrangements, fraught as they may be, have clear lines of relationship and authority. Parent, step-parent. Pretty easy to understand. But what’s the word for your brother’s father? What’s the relationship there?

When Zoraida told me she was pregnant, I started thinking about that. This isn’t my kid, so I don’t have any responsibility for her. But she’s going to be my son’s sister, so maybe I do? I mean, there were some obvious things. Don’t be a dick to this kid. If I’m with Gabriel and buy him ice cream and she’s around, buy her ice cream too. Duh. I was thinking more of the weird gray areas. Do I buy her a Christmas present when I get Gabe one? I take Gabriel places sometimes; when she’s old enough, do I invite her too? There are a bunch of other ones, but you get the idea. I knew from the beginning that I would treat my son’s sister well, but I didn’t know how I would actually relate to her. Who is she to me, and who would I be to her?

It was an academic question for most of the last two years. Soleil was a baby, so relating to her wasn’t a pressing issue. She got older, but I would only see her here and there when her parents would drop Gabriel off to my house for the weekend. Eventually I started paying for Gabe to take an Uber to my place, so I would go weeks or even months without seeing Soleil. Our interactions were reduced to the occasions where I would pick up or drop off Gabe with a friend, and I would play with Soleil for a few minutes. Still a baby, still only seeing her now and then. No need to worry about the stuff I’d been thinking about.

That changed when Gabriel got a sweet new PC setup for Christmas, and asked me to go to his mother’s house to see it. I was ostensibly there to watch him play Fortnite in stretched 1080×1080 resolution, but Soleil easily dominated my attention. She was coming down with a cold, and boogers were running down her face like a contaminated river. I wiped her nose a few times, and made the big mistake of calling them “gross boogers.” Well, now that Soleil knew I thought they were gross, her mission became to gross me out as much as possible. She accomplished this by digging up her nose and then wiping her boogers on me, cackling the whole time. Exposing me to disease was the funniest thing possible to Soleil, so I had to find some way to distract her. I grabbed her and put her on my shoulders, and pretended like I was going to drop her several times. My second big mistake. For the rest of the visit she would walk up to me and say, “I want to go in the sky!” I was sick and my quads were burning by the time I took Gabe to my place.

That was it. Before I knew it, I was talking to Zoraida about Soleil and how we could best help her when she got into school. Soleil is a rambunctious, physically active child, and schools don’t do well with rambunctious, physically active children, especially girls. We would have to be prepared for the possibility that she wouldn’t do well in school, not because of a lack of ability, but because schools simply aren’t built to accommodate willful, active children.

Wait. Why am I using “we?” This isn’t my kid. She has two active and involved parents, and extended family that are pouring time, money and attention into her. They don’t really need me throwing my two cents in, unsolicited at that. There are clear boundaries that I intend to respect, both as the ex-husband and as someone with no blood relation to this child. But I’m interested in this kid’s success because I like her. I like her alot.

I’ve joked that no one will ever believe that Soleil and Gabriel are related. Who would believe that this vaguely Puerto Rican-looking kid is the brother of an Asian girl nine years younger than him? They couldn’t look more different if we’d tried. Their differences extend far past their physical appearance too. Gabriel never played with Legos, while Soleil builds skyscrapers in her free time. Gabriel likes to read books and talk about them with his mom, while Soleil is more likely to pick up a screwdriver and try to fix a computer like her dad. Gabe was a chillaxed, go-with-the-flow baby and remains that way as an older kid; whenever I call Zoraida, I can hear Soleil carrying on in the background, demanding that everything be just so.

Soleil is so different than Gabriel, and that’s one of the things I like about her so much. It’s fascinating to watch her grow and develop into her own person that’s related to my son, but entirely distinct thanks to genetics and environment. I like her because she’s spunky and combative, mischievous and even a little mean. She beats up Gabriel regularly, and made no qualms about letting me know who was in charge when I came to her house. Yeah, she’s my son’s sister, and yeah, children are the future blah blah blah. I’m invested in this kid because she’s actually pretty fucking cool.

And she likes me too! The last time I talked to Zoraida, I could hear her shouting in the background as usual. Then she got quiet as she approached her mom. “I want to talk to Jamil!” she said. How she knew it was me on the phone, I have no idea, but she did. Apparently, she’s been asking for me since the visit to her house.

So yeah, 2019 has already graced me with a new BFF, a booger-wielding, tower-building, brother-abusing maniac. I can’t wait until the next time I see her, and I’m just as excited to see what kind of adult she becomes as I am for my son. In the meantime, if you can think of a word for “my brother’s father” that we can use to describe this budding relationship, I’m all ears.

Share This:

Depression Revisited

A couple of years ago, I wrote a bunch of posts about dealing with depression. It was somewhat uncomfortable, but at the time, I couldn’t write about anything else. I’ve been dealing with another depressive episode for the past four-ish months. Only this time, I couldn’t get myself to write about it. In the past week or so, I’m finally starting to feel better, so I thought I’d give writing about it a shot.

First of all, this go round wasn’t nearly as bad as a couple of years ago. If I didn’t have a history of depression, I would probably have described it as an extended funk. Everything just felt a little off. It was like a bad day that lasted a few months. The most prominent symptom was a lack of motivation.

I was in good enough shape to recognize what was going on and be frustrated by it. But I was in bad enough shape that I couldn’t do anything about it on my own. So, I increased the frequency of my therapy sessions and I called the doctor. The doctor started me on light therapy and made some adjustments to my medication.

I wasn’t really thrilled with either one. I hate to think it was a seasonal thing. My favorite seasons are fall and winter. And I just don’t like medication. I take it. I know the doctor knows a lot more than I do about this stuff, and I tolerate it well, virtually no side effects, but I still don’t like it. The good news is that even though I didn’t like it, after some experimentation (there’s always some experimentation) we found something that seems to be working.

Now that I’m coming out of my fog, the frustration is really hitting me. Before this episode, I had been doing so well. Once the depression set in, though, I stopped exercising. I just didn’t have the energy. I stopped bringing my lunches to work. Not making lunch got me an extra five minutes in bed every morning. Of course that meant going out to eat for lunch every day, which is bad for my waistline and my wallet.

One of the first signs that I was feeling better is I wanted to go for a walk last week. I’ve been getting out consistently since. I also started making my lunches again. I’m actually motivated to get back to where I was. I’m knocking on wood, but things are moving in the right direction. Now I just need to lose the weight I gained. Maybe that will get me a second date.

Share This: