Flat Iguana & The ICE-berg

The day after my first encounter with a boa constrictor I walked the dogs along our usual path. On the way back I noticed an iguana on the side of the road. I figured the dogs would scare it away but it just stood there, unmoving. I looked more closely as we passed and it didn’t move for me either. It was frozen into an action pose that looked like it would be taking the next step, its eyes were open, it just did not move. So we moved on.St_Thomas_Marriott_Iguana_8The next day the iguana was gone. On the way back we noticed the same iguana on the other side of the road frozen in the same pose as before. Which made me wonder: “Why did the iguana cross the road”? And more to the point, “How did the iguana cross the road”? I began to wonder whether the iguana was a stuffed animal since it hadn’t yet started to smell going on several days now. A closer look revealed desiccated eyes so I left it alone. A corpse is prone to bloating; a sudden release of said bloat would be unpleasant at best.

We kept walking by it daily; I eventually noticed it getting shorter and smellier. The dogs became quite interested the smellier it got. I maneuvered them to the other side of the road to avoid contact with the smell.  After some time it simply flattened out. One day it was out on the roadway itself, flatter even still, with a tire tread clearly embedded across it. Today it still has some odiferous qualities, but all that remains identifiable are the claws and the scales of its skin.

I am telling this tale because many of my assumptions about life and nature have come into question lately. For example, I’d expect any animal that dies under this hot sun to start stinking pretty quickly. In the states, roadkill swell up fast in the direct sun. Some things just don’t happen the way you’d expect, like President Trump.

How’s that for a transition?

I went from flat iguana to fiendish tyrant in short order. It’s sort of like that old Monty Python joke: “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition,” and yet, there they are – a bunch of bumbling red-robed Cardinals.

f204bc381a7117fb03de56dcede5296d

She’s on the “rack”

Well, if anyone is still reading this I would like to talk about icebergs now.

About 90% of an iceberg is under water and invisible to those of us observing from up top. If you are the type who wouldn’t expect an inquisition, then you certainly wouldn’t expect what’s under the visible iceberg. I suspect Trump is an iceberg, so we had better start expecting an inquisition. 0416_Eisberg_f6c161516e

How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

Let’s stop the bumbling Cardinals before their un-expected inquisition begins. Trump has activated ICE with great authority. This is from a Salon article by Heather Digby Parton:

Stories abound of people being rousted from their homes, and even shot, by ICE agents. People have committed suicide in detention centers. Kids are watching their parents dragged away in handcuffs, and women are withdrawing domestic abuse complaints for fear of being detained. In Los Angeles, reports of sexual assaults are down 25 percent from last year, which authorities attribute to victims being afraid to come forward. In Atlanta, African immigrants are being rounded up for deportation at much higher rates than in 2016.100203houston_lg

If that is what we can see of the ICE-berg, what is below the surface?

TrumpFace, the Musical

I’ve had the most unusual idea for a new musical. Well, it will seem like a musical for the first fifteen minutes or so until a sudden shift occurs. Things will turn scary and the audience will experience fear. They’ll be magically transported to potential future events with dire outcomes if something isn’t done to fix the problems, just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The second act demonstrates how to get things done.

By first getting the audience on my side with the musical introduction, frightening them with a sample of totalitarian violence, explaining the consequences of increasing xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and hostility toward others, then finally giving them a plan for a solution through thoughtful civil disobedience, they ought to be motivated to do something themselves, not just laugh at clever, humorous, frivolity. I mean, John Stewart really helped me get through the Bush years, but we’re in a much deeper pile of crap this time and it will take action from everyday people to get out from under Trump’s authoritarian proclivities.

The play begins as if it is a Minstrel Show.

The star will be Doxie Trump; sort of like Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago. Doxie will be the Donald Trump character in our show, get it, Donnie – Doxie? Ostensibly, each song will be about one of Donald Trump’s biggly lies. The performers will all wear “TrumpFace” instead of black face and have orange and yellow wigs.

minstrels copy

Trumpified Minstrel

It’ll start out fairly simple: Mr. Bones Trump, playing dried up rib bones on stage right and Mr. Tambo Trump, on tambourine stage left with a collection of Trump’s wives and daughters sitting on a row of bentwood chairs playing banjos and so forth. Mr. Interlocutor will be just like the shyster lawyer from Chicago, Billy Flynn, but his name will be Vlady Flynn and look just like Putin in TrumpFace.  He tries to rap his song, but he doesn’t quite get it. His jokes are awful.

The second number introduces the Velma Kelly character of our production, but we’ll just call him Vannon. This will be the only character not wearing TrumpFace; he’ll appear just like the real Steve Bannon who kind of looks like an alcoholic version of Trump anyway. Every time someone says ‘Vannon’ there’ll be a funny kettle drum hit quickly raised in pitch to remind us of his droopy drawers approach to life. This just seems appropriate, kind of like the horses and Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

The third number will be just like the “Nowadays” number in Chicago with a Doxie and Vannon duet as they reminisce about the campaign. The song brings us up to the Inaugural Address. Before the speech begins we see the audience enter in their alt-right clothing, nazi tattoos, and red ball caps; a live mic picks up lines like, “ Finally, we can call ‘em fags again” and “fucking jews”.

Doxie gives a revised, Hitler-like version of Trump’s actual speech which leaves the theatre audience stunned and depressed. (Minstrels often had a malaprop filled “stump speech” bit in the third act.) The onstage audience of actors will gradually alter their clothing to become a uniformed “Springtime for Hitler” kind of high-kicking chorus line of Trump-faced Soldiers lined up down stage.

The on-stage lights will snap out while house lights come up revealing two soldiers at each theatre exit putting chains around the door handles. The real audience will start to get anxious. An elderly audience member attempts to go to the bathroom, but is knocked down by a guard. Everyone gasps! Is that part of the show? The onstage show stops, the lights become stark harsh white and the chorus stares at the audience while big shit-eating grins grow on their faces. They move up stage revealing Doxie, center stage. She takes off the wig, the TrumpFace and the Trump suit, revealing ‘him’ to be a black woman wearing blackface outlined with fluorescent colors. She comes forward to address the audience.

So, you think this is funny, don’t you? You are wrong. You’re trapped! [all the lights go out with a ‘ker-chunk’ type noise] You’re blind, [spot on Doxie’s head] and you have no choice but to listen to me! [as volume increases and her voice echoes harshly]. You paid to be here, you asked for it and now, you are not so sure what to do next. Am I right?

[Sarcastic] So, you thought humor would make Trump go away. Watch a little Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, or Samantha Bee and life becomes tolerable again. You’re pacified, you’re complacent and then you’re docile enough to go to work for one more day. [shouts] Well, that’s not going to happen here.

You. All of you, have just volunteered for the biggest challenge of ALL our lives. When you, and I, leave here, and, yes, you will leave here. [lights on guards removing chains] You will not be complacent or the least bit docile. You will be determined and you will be serious. You will have no need for pacification because you will commit yourself to the task at hand. You will be an active member of the Resistance. You will be the solution!

To drive home the stakes at play in this circumstance, the second part of act one will involve Doxie, the black-faced black woman, magically guiding the audience through dark and dramatic ‘future’ scenarios revealing Trump’s religious bigotry, anti-environment policies, and hostility. It will be like the audience is Scrooge and she is the ghost of things to come. The Tiny Tims of tomorrow will provoke the passions and anger of the audience.

Intermission allows time to process the weirdness of the first act. The second act brings us to our current reality where we constantly hear the rumor of unnecessary deportations, bigotry and religious exclusions. The scene will be a community center’s meeting room, It is filling up with folks from the neighborhood.  Doxie enters in regular street make-up this time, no longer the ghost of a scary future, but her clothes have hints of the fluorescent colors of her mask in act one. She’s a somewhat plain average person. She is the present day leader of this small group of neighbors. She has brought them together to solve the problem of Trump. This will be the first meeting of the local Resistance. The everyday folks who attend this meeting will work collaboratively to create a goal and build a plan of action. This act will be modeled somewhat on Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty where, at the end, the whole audience stands and chants: Strike, Strike, Strike” with fists raised in defiance! Except that, we’ll be shouting: Resist, Resist, Resist! The spirit of shared purpose and possibility will cause our spirits to soar!

(We would do a big splashy production number for a curtain call except that the audience will have moved too far beyond the artificial pretense of musicals. The entertainment is over; now it is time to do something.)


 

P.S. The Minstrel Show was the most vile, racist propaganda our country has ever experienced. The most horrible stereotypes were presented on stage. Many of those images remain today. Some performers continue to perpetrate the minstrel mentality, especially in the music business. At first, all the minstrel performers were whites in blackface. Black actors were eventually allowed on stage years later, but they still had to wear blackface. Think about the mental dissonance required to perform absurd parodies of your own culture while wearing a mask that ridicules your very own being! Doxie takes that mask and makes it something else by trimming it with fluorescent colors – she becomes a magical guide warning us of possibilities. Remember, she removes the minstrel mask of TrumpFace in order to guide us to the future. In act two she is a normal person, but she still carries with her the strength of her cultural  heritage and the knowledge that going back can never happen again. The metaphor of removing masks to allow our true selves to take action presents a powerful lesson in personal growth leading to communal strength.

Boa Constrictors

animals-94587_1280My dogs and I met our first Boa the other day. The encounter/attack was life-altering. Nobody died or anything, but meeting a 10+ foot snake 12 yards from the front door is a bit disconcerting to say the least. We met and caught a 4 footer the following week in the front yard, just under the bedroom window. Isn’t that nice? Well, we didn’t catch it, the fish and game commissioner who lives up the hill did. I just trapped it in the container where it was discovered sleeping. I wish I had some poignant metaphoric observation to make about all this, but it is still too fresh to me. I will have to give it time. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you what happened.

One of the many selling points that brought us to the island where we moved recently was that there are no naturally occurring snakes here. The snakes we met aren’t natural in that sense, they were brought here as pets and let loose when they got too big and now there are lots of them living quite naturally here in the rain forest part of the island.

So, word was out about snakes in the area. Our neighbor, the Fish & Game Commissioner, had caught about forty of them in the last year. He had already been doing an excellent job of keeping the invasive population of lionfish down along the coast, but now his focus was shifting towards these land based invaders.

So, I was keeping my eyes out as I walked our Basset Hound and Yellow Lab. They were on one leash with a ‘Y’ on the end because my hips couldn’t handle being twisted about by two 50 pound dogs pulling individual leashes in two directions at the same time. This way they pulled against each other and I was no longer their wishbone. This island is very third-world in many ways but my road is paved. No curbs or sidewalks, however, and the vegetation intrudes on the roadway rather quickly, so it gets chopped back by crews every so often.

We were walking by an area of 18 inch tall grass when the dogs started tripping over one another. I looked down at them and saw the beautiful large head of a snake! So, I yanked on the leash causing the Lab’s chin to come crashing down on the snake’s forehead. This startled me more, so I pulled both dogs out of the way and looked back at the snake.  I stared at him, mesmerized, waiting for the snake to tell me what to do next. He looked as if he were deep in thought while he regarded me warily. He did not look as if he were going to pursue. The three of us were still very close to the alluring attacker, so I broke my gaze and moved the dogs to the other side of the street. I turned and saw that he continued to gaze at me. I slowly stepped closer to see how big he was since most of his body was still folded in the grass. We examined one another for a few moments more, then he slowly, and confidently, turned and retreated into the grass.

The boa and I seemed to have a rapport with one another during our brief encounter. It was very primal. It was the regard of a predator to its meal: consumer to the consumed, bully to his target. I trusted the snake not to attack me, he sensed I was not going to attack him, we could see our intent in one another’s eyes. I assume he was waiting in the grass for some rat or mongoose to happen along when a basset foot showed up and he sprung. He must have pulled in his teeth when he saw more than the dumpy basset’s foot strapped to a taller yellow creature attached to 5’-8” human. His tiny brain couldn’t calculate the mass of the potential meal in front of him.  Nor could he figure how to wrap himself around all three of us to squeeze our lives away. 4beef17e8527de224e65017c86778190He had the affect of an old-time accountant wearing a vest and green visor pulling the handle on an adding machine tallying up his options.

The colors on his head and back were astounding. I was in awe of the color. Young people use the word awesome for anything that is novel to them, but the emotion of awe  in its true meaning modestly describes my attraction to the beauty of his skin. I barely noticed how much body was curled up in that pile of snake. There were some angular protrusions along his flank that may have been still-digesting dinners of the past. I am glad none of us were among them.

$_32

What’s Inside?

So, as residents of the rainforest we have certain other critters to contend with, one of them being rats. These fellows are actually kind of nice, not like their cousins I’ve encountered in downtown Detroit and Boston. They are still destructive however, so we have a service put poison out in little black plastic containers with holes for the rats to enter and exit. During the day these boxes become quite warm in the sun. Snakes like warmth and will sleep in them during the day. The young man who services them didn’t expect to be touching a boa constrictor when he reached inside. He screamed like a school kid at three o’clock on a Friday. That snake was gone by the time the commissioner arrived, so he showed me how to trap it next time. We caught him two days later. This one was four feet long and not nearly as friendly as the other one. Of course, we had just woken him from his nap and grabbed him by the throat and squeezed his jaws open to look at his multiple rows of hooked teeth. That would make me cranky too. He spent the rest of his life in a backpack. Rules say wait five days to dispatch these guys and a backpack is secure enough (snakes don’t get how zippers work apparently) and easy to carry.  Although, as of late, he seems to need more backpacks.

So, how has my life been altered? Well, I carry a big stick on dog walks. My husband wants me to carry a machete which he has recently sharpened, but I’m pretty confident the dogs or myself would be the targets of my blade wielding ineptitude; it’s hard enough using the damned thing to harvest a bunch of bananas without the loss of a thumb. The main change in my life, though, comes from having looked directly into the eyes of a predator and being considered, briefly, lunch. I, for a moment, shared a rapport with an eating machine. He considered eating me and since I showed no aggression he felt he might have a chance. He chose not to, possibly due to the bumbling dogs at the end of my leash, or my extra-large belly; who can say? Neither of us showed the other fear. Now, I just hope he goes home and tells all the other snakes how fearless I am and to leave me and my dogs alone. I’m not sure I could go through that again.

Yell Well

This is about an ex-Presidential Candidate who is proud of his Yell Leadership. I have to confess that I don’t know what that is, so why am I talking about it? Well, yelling apparently gives a person the credentials to complain about Student Government Elections in Texas. Neither being that State’s ex-Governor nor Secretary of Energy are essential criteria, but yelling is. I’m going to have to look this up.

So, according to this YouTube video, and a few subsequent videos, Yell Leaders exist at Texas A&M University to replace female cheerleaders, but they don’t like to be called cheerleaders because of its feminine connotations. These macho men have big muscles and are manly. The primary benefit of being elected to this prestigious position is that you get to date a lot of girls. Someone says so in the videos. Anyone who does this non-feminine version of cheerleading is well known on campus and gets lots of dates. They are usually quite good-looking guys and muscular from doing pushups.

3a5006c289e2d90f2dc81d9c98d8e24c

Not Feminine

Got that? As elected yellers these handsome fellers have some kind of pull with University dwellers for many years after they graduate. Rick Perry the yeller mentioned above decided to use the bully pulpit of ex-yeller to get an editorial published in a Texas newspaper complaining about a recent Student Government election here and here, his other titles may have helped some too.  As a yeller he is already hyper-sensitive to being thought of as a cheerleader (girly) so when a gay man got elected as President of Student Government at his alma-mater he did what any like-minded republican, masculine cheerleader type would do and turned the gay student into a national, modern-day, LGBT version of Rosa Parks. (They can’t help themselves!)

There are a few other details to mention. Bobby Brooks, the new president (and inadvertent gay rights icon of the month), just like Trump, did not win the popular vote. The student who did was disqualified by a unanimous vote of the SGA leaders who make these decisions. The student who was disqualified is the son of a Republican fundraiser who campaigned for Trump. Gee, maybe the highly placed federal Cabinet Secretary was doing a political favor? I doubt that, this fits in with Trump’s anti-gay agenda more than simply fulfilling a campaign debt, but it did kill two birds with one stone.

So, Trump and Perry put their feet in their mouths again. The Department of Energy got hijacked by a local student government non-issue. And Bobby Brooks’ political career just got the biggest boost possible. Your tax dollars at work!

Feeling Daffy Duck-ish

The animator’s pencil comes into the frame, eraser first, as it starts to remove the black and yellow duck known as Daffy from the screen. The duck continues a conversation with the unseen animator complaining about being erased. It’s a surreal, existentialist cartoon from Warner Brothers that plays with the conventions of the dramatic art of cartooning.

To enjoy a cartoon, you, the audience, must first accept the illusion of reality as presented in the animator’s product. Once you realize the conventions of the illusion: bright colors, stylized scenery, animation, funny voices, sound effects etc. you can choose to go along with it or not. The natural inclination is to disbelieve things that are so blatantly artificial, so you must temporarily suspend your disbelief to give the artist the opportunity to present his art. Duck Amuck, pokes fun at the cartoonist’s own rules through a number of techniques calling into question what reality is, and other existential dilemmas. The image of a god-like pencil and unseen power controlling it could be frightening in another circumstance.

I’m feeling a little Daffy Duck-ish today, speaking of other circumstances. The omni-twitter-present power controlling our government’s pencil is erasing me. After fighting my whole lifetime for the opportunity to be recognized in society and especially by the government, Trump is erasing me from the picture. I know it’s not personal, he is erasing a whole category of which I am apart. I am old, gay, disabled, and I have no children. This category of individual is being erased from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). The love that dare not speak its name from my youth is being told to shut up again. Well, not exactly told so much as the questions about us have disappeared from the questionnaire. We won’t statistically exist any longer. Poof, gone!

We know it is a planned effort on the part of the administration for a number of reasons:

  1. They are doing the same thing on the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living which evaluates services that help people with disabilities to live independently. No statistics specific to the gay population will be collected this time.
  2. They lied about the changes made in the surveys. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) oversees the surveys.  They give a new reason for the dismissal of questions while contradictory statements about these issues remain on their own website. They describe the current questionnaire as not being any different from the last one.
  3. “An anonymous administration official confirmed to the AP that the agency targeted LGBT questions in the surveys” according to Zach Ford’s post in Think Progress yesterday.
  4. The LGBT rights web page disappeared from the WhiteHouse site on Trump’s inauguration day.
  5. A HUD survey on LGBT homeless was dropped completely. No data there!
  6. And of course, all the pull back on transgender issues in education and in North Carolina.
  7. This is a continuation of the homogenization of our culture. I have mentioned it before. No attempts to recognize diversity are being made. We are all the same – worker bees. Our distinctive characteristics are diminished while our commonality is reinforced.  There is no point in recognizing any sub-group because Trump, really doesn’t want any identity to define Americans other than American. Ignore the “Special Interest” to remove its power as a sub-group. He spelled this out in his inaugural address.

Those of us of a certain age are quite familiar with a closet. We know it when we see it. This is the database version of the closet. If there is nothing to find in the database then it doesn’t exist. If the questions aren’t asked in the research then there is no data to report. When there is no search information to find, the query provides no answer, so a default answer is applied. Our society is so reliant upon searchable data that even our religious institutions have trouble relating to the humanity of their belief system. Take, for example, the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on love, it is designed to fit into a database. Lawyers must have written it given the legalistic nature of statements defining the rules of Catholic love. It is a forceful anti-LGBT document dressed up in the flowery language of condescension.

There are clear edges on each rule starting with the first sentence. “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” This says what they mean it to say, but further explanation of the fine points is necessary. It’s a declaration that the church and the family are inseparable, making love impossible without the church and its database of rules. There can be no love in a family unless it follows the rules in his book. My reaction to this is one of eww yuck – I don’t want the church in bed with me. I envision a creepy priest peeking under the covers of each bed while the family is asleep.  The Exhortation is a long list of rules that fit in the database and become absolute criteria for love to exist. I was never a Catholic, but once I had read this manual for love I was appalled at the audacity of those pompous men in robes for demanding this from human beings. I’ve never read anything so pretentiously cruel. You see, a database has no way to turn emotion into data. The church disregards, denies or ignores the feelings of the humans it overlords.

Trump is formulating his own exhortation on being a subject under his rule. His first criteria is that every commoner will be regarded in the same way unless they are rich. Money is the deciding factor in whether distinctiveness shall be noticed. Are the rules for belonging to Mara Lago that different in their exclusivity than the Pope’s Exhortation? In the Pope’s realm the excluded masses go to hell; in Trump’s realm the excluded masses become the homogenous 99% citizens of America. The only distinction that matters has already been made. No need to gather the data of distinction.

So, the end of Duck Amuck reveals the unseen hand of God controlling the eraser to be Bugs Bunny. Who knew Bugs, the Pope and Trump have so much in common? The final line in the cartoon is Bugs’: “Ain’t I a stinker?” The answer is three times yes.

Thats all folks!trio

Still willing to suspend your disbelief?

 

Ceremonial Deism and Alternate Facts

God, so prominently mentioned on our currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, is an ambiguous term. It is so devoid of spiritual significance in either context as to be absolutely meaningless. But that doesn’t stop the atheist community from being upset by its omnipresence in society, nor does it keep the evangelical community from going ballistic when people try to take it away. Maybe we should relax about this. Maybe the degradation of this particular word is a good thing – let them make God bland.

A word looses its original meaning when it becomes overly commonplace, mundane and familiar; in this case the god we purport to trust on our pennies and quarters is just a slogan – “God” becomes routine, not special, just a word. It looses significance because of rote repetition. Ceremonial Deism is the legal word-of-art that excuses this phenomenon. The legal system invokes this theory to justify the use of a generic god in secular public life, thereby, bypassing the constitutional establishment of government religion. The courts created what Trump’s folks call an alternate fact version of God. When god is mentioned in public it doesn’t mean the God of any particular religion. It is ceremonial. It refers to whatever supernatural entity an individual subscribes to, and that is up to the individual, no one else. The alternate god no longer means anything specific so why ban it?

‘In God We Trust’ is a powerful sentiment for those who already have a clear idea of a god, but those with a secular perspective find it pointless. That’s the beauty and the intent of this shared delusion – everyone takes from it what he or she already believes. Franklin Graham believes the government publicly supports his version of a god, so he defiantly mentioned Jesus in the closing of his prayer at Trump’s inauguration. This had the effect of making Jesus generic!! Jesus was formally neutered of Christian significance by Graham’s act and made ‘ceremonial’ if the logic of the courts holds true. I am sure Franklin had the opposite intention, but that is the trap of alternate facts, if we put it on our money and in our pledge and justify its use through the removal of its meaning, then we are left with a shell. Christians can believe in this alternate shell of their faith and the followers of Zeus (if any exist) can believe the same thing. Everybody comes away happy. Well, maybe not the Hindus who might prefer the plural: In Gods We Trust.

Still the shared delusion is maintained. Humanity’s natural tendency to seek comfort in groups of like-minded people while avoiding the use of reason, is the order of the day. Nobody’s gonna look foolish due to a supernatural “belief” if everybody else is affirming their own irrational belief. The only people who don’t fit into this scheme are the people who don’t have an irrational belief, those who prefer rational exploration. But, their numbers are small and they think too much, so don’t worry about that complaint. At least, that is what the courts, the legislature and our president want. So lets give it to them!

generic

Let them create their semantic utopia. Let posters adorn each classroom with the milk-toast pabulum of trust in god. Let them force this word into the daily life of all of us so that we give it no more notice than a crack in the sidewalk. The more commonplace the aphorism the less significant is its message. Bumper sticker moralizing turns God into a greeting card message – all sentiment, no substance, and totally impersonal.

Look how willingly evangelicals abandoned their principals to get Trump elected. He hooked them into believing he shared the minimum, a ceremonial deist’s faith. “See, he’s just like a penny: in God he trusts.” (Although, he may not even capitalize the ‘g’in god, we don’t really know.) “He’s one of us. Let’s place our faith in him.”

Perhaps we could surreptitiously sponsor a new ‘religious’ cover for secular humanism – Ceremonial Deism. Its sole purpose would be to homogenize theology into a pasty-sweet, mind-numbing form of the narcotic: soma as Aldous Huxley presents in Brave New World. Appease the masses with the comfort of a shared illusion. Alternate facts taken to a theo- logical conclusion. ‘God’ officially becomes significance-neutral when anyone can interpret it as they see fit.

Where are the adults?

Remember back in school when the teacher lefty the room for a few moments and all hell broke loose? The girls started talking, the bullies started picking on the nerds and guys would start telling dirty jokes. I was the nerd in that scenario. I really didn’t want to get in trouble so I was probably the only kid there hoping the teacher would come back right away.

I’ve been re-living that same sensation during the whole presidential campaign. When is an adult going to come and restore order? The teacher has been gone so long now that the bully is in charge, the guys are acting out their dirty jokes and the girls have made one another cry so often that they’ve started doing it all over again.

Seriously, the adult has to come back and tell the bully that working with the Russians is bad, then make him sit in the corner until he gets it. Tell him to stop lying. Use the dictionary. Be polite to guests, immigrants and German Chancellors. Stop killing the poor, young, sick, old and disabled by taking away their health care and polluting the environment. Don’t start any wars or threaten nuclear nations with leaders wackier than you are. Finally, take him off Twitter.

A Common Cry From Curs

Did your dog ever ask you: “What the hell is going on?” I mean, like on the third day of vacation in a cottage someplace totally different from home. He looks at you with his ‘existential’ face instead of his ‘what’s next’ face; the one with knowing skepticism. The face that says: “You know I will do what ever you want, but could you please just explain all this sand?” “Yeah, and what are crabs, exactly?” “And that big water bowl tastes salty and gives me explosive diarrhea.” “Really, where is our life going and why?”

Faith in love is the most basic element of a relationship. As humans we can use words, language, gestures and intonation to convey all sorts of details and subtleties about love. We expect these techniques to work in all communication but, in some moments, it fails us completely. Our conversations can instantly be reduced to one as simple as between a dog and his master. Coming out can be one of those occasions. Sometimes there is only this answer: “Sorry, doggie, you’ll know it once it happens. Until then trust that I will love and care for you.”

In the time of YouTube and Facebook young folks have a slew of “It Gets Better” and other coming out models to follow. Something like six million people have come out on Facebook alone. In contrast, during the 1970s there were few if any role models for coming out. Each person blazed their own trail blindly. If someone was lucky, they could prepare a plan and have the time and support necessary to execute the plan. Some others were forced out of the closet door unexpectedly, which was harder, and often life-altering in extremely negative ways.  The “it gets worse” side of things is a harsh and un-cool place to be.

One commonality of gay life in the 1970s was the ritual telling of coming out stories. Everybody has one. The stories were a natural point of reference for living in the gay world. I would listen to another guy’s story and think, that’s not so bad, or wow you had it rough! Some stories were so devastating as to make the whole room cry and some were funny and surprising. All of them provided a context for what it meant to live the gay experience.

I was mystified at the stories coming from gay Catholics with their matter-of-fact discussion of abuse by priests. I heard these stories during the years I was getting my MFA in Detroit. The repetition of story after story of what must have been horrible childhoods made me, at first, question the veracity of the stories until I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of priestly experiences. I felt honored, in a sad way, to hear this discussion, as if I were now part of an elite club of secret knowledge. I wasn’t even Catholic and yet I knew the intimate details of what eventually became sensational child abuse scandals thirty years later. Child rape was a way of life in Catholic coming out story after story.  All of this was common knowledge in my circle of Detroit friends. It was almost a joke actually — another aspect of the downtrodden lives of sexual misfits. These gay Catholics seemed to believe they deserved the abuse. It was a contextual standard for the next chapter of a coming out story; insert your priestly experiences here. alterboyssmall

Hearing those stories I could begin to imagine what had happened to Mark Sobota, my eight-year-old, first, best friend who came back from Father Pedantic’s (not the real names) summer camp a different boy than the one who had left. He had been assigned the honor of Father’s ‘favorite’ that summer. Gradually, as I looked back to those awkward memories, a thought became clear: had Mark been raped by this priest? Why, after two weeks at camp, would he reject affection, isolate himself, have a fear of old friends, and act out in anger all the time; it was so unlike him? And, why would he become a priest himself later in life?

A grad-school friend of mine, David, wanted to be a priest very badly and yet, because he would not deny his sexuality, he was excluded. I watched him struggle year after year as other, less-honest gay men were taken into the training program. They had no problem stretching the veracity of their sacred vows. David had integrity while they did not, yet they got the job and he did not. Secrets are required to become a priest? I guess if your duties involve shuffling unveiled pedophiles from parish to parish, secrets might just be an essential requirement for the job.

If your dog can take you on faith alone, while theological bureaucrats require you to lie and even turn away those who are truthful, then you have to wonder who has the better moral code? It makes me want to put on my existential face and ask: “Really, where are our lives going and why?”

 

This is an adaptation of a chapter from Billy’s Moral Adventures, Featuring Serious Emotions Such as Those Brought on by Death, soon to be published. Text copyright © 2016 William W. O’Donnell

Trump v. Serendipity

Let’s remove the crudeness of reality by taking the topic of: art as a spark plug for finding moral solutions, and give it some application in the real world, Trump’s world. I have been preaching the benefits of art as a catalyst toward finding solutions to moral dilemmas. The actual process may seem a little non-specific (or downright goofy) since we are relying upon serendipity to send us in the right direction.

Trump’s behaviors and policies are immoral. People are being harmed. The language is being abused with alternate facts, of all things. Trust is a fading concept. Trump’s malevolence is, obviously, much more serious than what an individual painting or song might teach us. Art itself doesn’t solve anything; its success rate on that score is about the same as prayer. Communing with thought-provoking ideas is what directs you to a solution. Engaging with art is a conversation with universal ideas. Art is not limited to your own experiences as prayer is, it encompasses the whole world of ideas.

You could seek out specific artworks to solve a specific problem I suppose. Go see Death of A Salesman if you are having troubles relating to your father’s bad choices. Read From The Mississippi Delta if you are a smart young black woman struggling to become educated in an environment of prejudice and poverty. Go see Angels in America to reflect upon your own behaviors back in the late 1980’s.  Go see the new King Kong movie if you are in the mood. It does not matter much whether the story shares an identical problem with yours or not. Although, look at all the people flocking to re-read George Orwell’s 1984 because of Donald Trump.1984

Re-reading 1984 or Animal Farm could be a wise thing to do for any number of reasons. It is part of our shared history. It provides parallels to the current situation. It is fiction, yet speaks of real-world truths. It helps us remember the emotions of people in our circumstance which provides tremendous value. One of the edifying benefits of art is emotional intelligence. If all we needed was information – Wikipedia would provide that with more efficiency. True facts require interpretation; alternate facts already are propaganda. Orwell’s novels provide an interpretation we seek to understand.

Another profitable choice is going to an art museum or gallery (or skim through an art history book). Walk around, view the pictures on walls and sculptures on plinths. Allow the environment to provide a space of inspirational possibilities. Creativity is contagious, it makes the thoughts in our minds race to a solution. The ‘use’ of another artist’s visual products to design scenery for theatre is similar to a sound designer’s use of music. The creative products of others are re-purposed to assist in storytelling. A certain era can be quickly re-established with music and amplified with fashion and architecture. The evocation of emotions can be accomplished in the same way. So can a solution to a moral dilemma.

st matthewArt is a path to the Dreamworld. The Dreamworld is a resident of our hearts and minds. A glance at Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Mathew” is like a mirror reflecting our own conscience. We don’t even need to be Christian to gain the benefit. Inside that glance may be the solution we have been searching for. Art reveals clarity. Why that painting? Why that moment in time? Why that song in our earbuds? Does the subject of this painting, a deity picking an apostle, have any bearing on our personal revelation? Possibly not, the subject of the painting is not necessarily relevant to the creative spark – the atmosphere of proximity to art. Art is, once again, the catalyst to inspiration. Solutions are revealed to your mind when opportunity is ripe. Art makes opportunity ripe.

So, our moral dilemma involves discovering a way to deal with the moral disaster that is Trump and his republican cohorts. Normally, this would be just a political issue but he is damaging the lives of too many people in our country and elsewhere to pretend there is no moral problem. His unstable behavior along side the nuclear buttons makes this a moral problem. Do we, as regular citizens, have an obligation to do something? Of course we do – the obligation of citizenship.

So, how will serendipity best Trump? Well, it’s not like we are going to sit around waiting for chance to throw a better fate at us. Nor are we all going to march out to the local Museum of Art with a mass expectation of grand revelationsdreamworld. Art doesn’t work like a church where the sanctuary fills with people seeking comfort from life’s hard knocks. Church is a place to commune with the Dreamworld filtered through an intercessional deity. The Dreamworld exists inside you so art helps you see yourself directly. It is the catalyst, the prime mover of change, but not change itself. You change because art, the path to yourself, reveals your Dreamworld. Religion gives you a super-natural artifice, a fantasy of gods and angels, a detour along the path to your internal Dreamworld that steals focus and delays finding the solution within. It strains your integrity through a sieve of dogma. It takes credit for what is already yours.

Through art, our mind is amassing a series of value decisions. Most are insubstantial on their own, but the cumulative results of all of them within the context of the main question are gradually putting pieces of the puzzle together. One choice becomes associated with another in a thoughtful order. Connections are being made. The part of our brain that is organizing all this is a different operating system than the conscious brain. We don’t realize this process is going on until we choose to revisit the question. Our conscious brain sees all those new connections made while it was busy cooking dinner or what ever, resulting in a “realization” or “idea” or “solution”.

If you are hoping for a solution to the Trump problem you are going to have to wrestle with art for yourself. I don’t know the answer. For now, my solution is writing this blog. A blog that is being read by perhaps 150 people. I don’t seem to be a mass market type of blogger. My blog is a broom; one person with a broom might inspire other people with rakes or vacuum cleaners, shovels or backhoes to start cleaning too.

Finding Morality Through Art

Two artistic expressions of melancholy, both alike in sincerity, if not stature or quality, will be the subject of this blog. One you will recognize from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the other one you will not recognize at all because I created it and it has been shown to very few people. The two are paired together because they are expressions of young men and their efforts to address the pains of existence within their personal circumstance. This is a continuation of the discussion of the last two posts regarding art.

Hamlet is probably twenty years old although some say he is thirty, but that makes no sense, he is written with behaviors of a student questioning life, not a full grown adult. Let’s not delve too deeply into the details of his anxiety; he is a Prince who’s father, the King was murdered while some hanky-panky was going on in the castle between his Mom and the king’s brother, his Uncle who conveniently became the new King. A ghost, his dead father, comes back and suggests avenging his death. This stress adds to Hamlet’s basic not-yet-an-adult angst. He is already a pensive lad and depressed when he gives the following monologue to his two friends:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

The second piece is a watercolor painting that’s been modified in Photoshop. I painted this the night in 1978 when I struck up enough courage to walk into my first gay bar. I got my self all dressed up and ready for action and walked straight through the door and sat down at the bar. The place was empty. It was only eight PM. Nobody was likely to show up until at least eleven. The bartender took pity on me and explained how things work in the gay bar scene. I went home, cried, got stoned and painted this self-portrait.BMA cover art

The original painting was less colorful. I jazzed it up on the computer so it can be used on the cover of my book. Years of stress, anxiety, frustration and soul-searching culminated in that brazen trip to the bar only to end in embarrassment and disappointment. This moment was the apex of my struggle. At least I got a painting out of it, such as it is. The title is “I Was Angry” in case you wouldn’t get that from the red eyes. The brows aren’t furrowed the way they would be if looking at some other person angrily. This is an internal, reflective anger focused on no one else. All the energy, conflict and determination through years of effort is churning inside. There is still a peaceful resoluteness in the face that shows a firm determination to succeed. The staunch pursed lips say, “I’ll win this battle”. Coming out of the closet will happen despite this set-back. Period.

So, in my last two posts “art” is assigned a moral and edifying quality. Can we see it in these two examples? Well, the most obvious lesson is that they both exult humanity. Perseverance, the human quality of getting up and doing it again after facing adversity is a major element in storytelling. When do people need that lesson? When they are depressed from having faced adversity themselves. The picture illuminates both anger and peace. The monologue illuminates both the strengths of mankind (is it sarcastic?) along with the harshness of foul and pestilent vapors, summing it as “a quintessence of dust.”  The terms of the discussion have been defined. The monologue could be taken out of context of the play and used to describe any person’s circumstance and so could the painting, making them universal expressions of mankind’s existential struggles.

The moral insight comes from observing humanity exalted through art. There may be no specific moral point of view stated in the piece, so we, the observers, are going to assign a moral value to make our encounter meaningful. Will it be the intended opinion of the artist? Who knows and who cares? The ways in which we interact with art are personal. It is designed to provoke questions and thereby provide an observer the opportunity to draw conclusions. The artist has certain questions in mind while creating the work but the audience always forms new questions and seeks to answer them all. That is a good thing.

Moral solutions are derived through the process of deliberation, which is a crucial element of having integrity. If one can say they honestly examined a choice from all sides, that it results in an opinion/conclusion, and are willing to back up that choice publicly with reasons, then they have integrity. Moral decisions require contemplation and time. Hamlet is deliberating his own moral dilemma when he speaks this monologue. He puts forward universal thoughts in an effort to solve his specific problem. By watching him experience this process we can discover something useful to help us with our problem.

A young adult or anyone for that matter may see something of value in the portrait or not. It may be found in the monologue, or not. A song on the radio, a book, a movie, a TV show, an opera, any and all modes of art have the potential to provide the insight required.

Suppose you choose to seek guidance from a priest or another dogma-based source, you are still culpable for your own actions. Following advice from a bible or religion doesn’t absolve you from your own actions. If you choose to do so, you should truly understand the reasoning behind the instruction from that authority. When you reason out a decision for yourself, you know why you have made the choice you have made. Following predetermined dogma because you ‘believe in it’ doesn’t give you the same insight or understanding. Following another person’s rule does not convey moral integrity.

Art is not a straight line toward understanding. It is a strange and wavering path that exposes vulnerability and encourages confusion. It asks you to think, deliberate and debate so you can form your own considered conclusions. Art is a catalyst which assists its audience with the option of making personal choices. If all art directed people toward forming the same conclusion, then it would be propaganda. Art does not do that, it has no dogma. Art removes the crudeness of reality and the inanity of dogma and frees your mind to explore all options.