Words in My Head

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The Fallacy of #alllivesmatter and My Cautious Steps Forward to Help

Let me preface this by saying that I am a middle-aged white American male. I was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood. I made my first Black friends in college and afterwards in the workplace. And I know that I might as well be one of the poster children for White privilege.

In my heart, I believe that all lives matter. I was raised to treat everyone with respect, “from the janitor to the CEO,” though I hate that particular turn of phrase. Kindness matters. Meritocracy matters. Empathy matters. Actions speak louder than words and I am always listening.

But even with all of those ideals, I have come to see how #AllLivesMatter does a disservice to #BlackLivesMatter. All lives DO matter, but that does not change the fact that some people judge others based on the color of their skin and see them as lessers. Black lives are disproportionately harder in our country. Period.

I have heard tales from friends and acquaintances of being pulled over or stopped on the street just for being Black. Questioned or looked suspiciously upon on the way out of a store just because you’re Brown. Or had your word doubted simply because you met some vague description rattled off by a scared white person.

Though I’ve never seen those things with my own eyes, I don’t doubt that they exist. Even if I hadn’t heard those tales, the media is painting a pretty dark picture of race relations these days and our country’s leaders aren’t doing much to help.

We have friends on both sides of this divide. Police. Protesters. And I can only hope that things stay civil. I know they haven’t been civil in some places and both sides have done wrong. There’s plenty of blame to go around even though it helps nothing move toward any kind of reconciliation or promise for such.

I am heartbroken, like so many others. I said this week that it seems we’re on the corner of Disappointment and Despair wondering which direction to turn. But no one thing is going to solve this problem created by generations of abuse going back to the founding of our country. No one thing can right the wrongs or fix it overnight.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Never one for crowds or shouting, I have been listening and watching for ways to help in some small way. Hoping that a cautious step forward is better than none at all.

To ensure that Black voices are not only heard but that I keep listening, I’m reaching out and seeking voices to support. I ordered a copy of the Haunted West project from Chris Spivey from Darker Hue Studios that features stories I haven’t heard and a community working towards telling them. I am seeking artists, writers, and other creators whose work to support publicly and privately so that I can learn from them whatever I can. And I am always willing to listen and learn.

All lives matter, but I hope that each cautious step we take moves us forward to close the gaps any way we can so that we’re all eye to eye and seeking common ground. We’re all human.

#BlackLivesMatter

Five Decades

It’s been a long time since I was a fan of celebrating my birthday in any meaningful way. I don’t like the attention or the pressure that comes with it. I would much rather enjoy a quiet day doing the things that I love with the people I love to do them with.

This year is stranger than usual with the worldwide COVID-19 crisis and the fact that I turn 50. The big 5-0.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

The Party That Didn’t Happen

My wife, wonderful human being that she is, threatened to organize a big party this year like she did when I turned 40. I just smiled and told her that I know whose aid I would enlist when the time came to do the same for her. Though the pandemic hasn’t done anything to help my state of mind, at least it got in the way of a dreaded party held in my honor. 🙂

UPDATE: Instead of a party, she has done something amazing. “For your birthday since I can’t throw you a party. I have organized a 50 messages/memories for your 50th. I have asked family and friends to send pics/video messages/special memories of you!!” — I have seen pictures (and videos!) of faces I haven’t seen in years and years, not to mention getting to hear from some wonderful people.

THANK YOU HONEY!

I’m only half joking about parties. About the only “birthday” thing I remember looking forward to from my youth was being able to “play hooky” on my birthday with my Dad. We would go fishing. He would call it “fishing fever.” Often we would take my grandfather with us and just have a pleasant day.

But this year is different. Five decades is tough to wrap my brain around.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Diving Deeper

My mind is wired for books, games, movies, music, and television — I’ve always been attracted to anything with a story I could create or consume. I saw a sign on the side of the road recently that made me ponder some of the bookmarks along my five decade journey so far.

Note that these are in no clear order of precedence — just in the order in which they emerge as I write this post.

  • Decade 1 – NASA, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Space: 1999, Star Wars
  • Decade 2 – D&D, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Take Five (Dave Brubeck), Spyro Gyra, David Sanborn, Huey Lewis and the News, The Last Crusade, Aliens, Icehouse, the Nylons, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Erasure, high school, jazz band, college
  • Decade 3 – Moebius Adventures, technical writing, Depeche Mode, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, T2, Ren & Stimpy, Batman TAS, X-Men TAS, Animaniacs, Indigo Girls, Fiddler’s Green, Red Rocks, Robert Jordan
  • Decade 4 – loss, Ev, kids, Phoenix, remote work, Iron Man, Gladiator, Game Knight Reviews, work, V for Vendetta, so many book/movie/music reviews, Jonathan Maberry, Harry Dresden
  • Decade 5 – Aliens & Asteroids, writing, work, Avengers, Iron Druid, Mira Grant, Larry Correia, Alan, my girls growing up, crossfit, Italy, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic

I’m sure there are other things. These are impressions… feelings… random thoughts. And yet, so many memories.

Now let’s see if we can do another few decades to add to this, shall we?

Thank you to everyone who has dropped me a message via text, phone, e-mail, or carrier pigeon!

Cheers!

Poem: Status Quo

Photo by Oumaima Ben Chebtit on Unsplash

Status Quo

Broken,
the door slams
back and forth with the wind.
We’d grown used to the noise.
Tuned it out.
Refused to see, hear, or accept
its brokenness.
Then, a stranger points it out.
Can’t you hear that?
Doesn’t it bother you?
Hear what? we ask,
returning to our phones.
Status quo.

BTF 11-MAY-2020

Marks

Made of memory,
we are but moments
wired together
into patterns
that make us who we are.

Every song we sing,
word we write,
thing we make,
and tale we tell
leaves a mark.

Those marks are us
in that instant,
captured for eternity
as part of the checkered whole
everybody sees.

Perhaps
we should focus more
on leaving marks
on the world
before we go.

BTF 1-17-2020

Poem: The Mirror

Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

The Mirror

Afraid, I wander
many empty roads
full of people
fulfilling lofty goals
and wondering
if my little dreams
stood up.

I used to sing.
I used to dance.
I used to draw.
I used to tell stories.
But now I stop
for fear
they aren’t good enough
for the ones
who stop to care.

To hell with them all.
Create. Create. Create.
And let the world see
what I can do
with a damaged soul
and a fragile ego.
So I may once again
look in the mirror
and see me
for who I really am.

Brilliant.
Misunderstood.
Creative.

To hell with the doubt,
the agony,
the fear.
Embrace the love.

See the journey
for what it is.
Let it all run free.

BTF 9-28-2019

Fear is the mind killer…

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, has an oft-quoted section about fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert, DUNE

In the last few weeks and months, I’ve come to see much of my own emotional response to the world is driven by fear. Anger. Anxiety. Depression.

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

Good old Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, had something to say about fear as well…

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda

It all comes down to the same thing, right? Much of the fear we face is the root of irrational thought, which leads to poor decision making. Poor decisions lead to consequences we may not want to face.

But what if you’re afraid of what else life is going to throw at you in some arbitrary time period? The last 6 months have been throwing personal challenges at me left and right, but I’m left wondering if that’s truly the case.

Through it all, I’m left asking what it is I truly afraid of? Lack of control probably. None of the things that happened really happened to me, they happened around me to other people. Crises of mind, body, and emotion.

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

Turns out that I don’t have much agency in those crises. In one case, I was able to help a bit, but all the rest have largely been completely out of my control. Couldn’t or can’t change any of them. Eventually I came to realize that, but it took a lot of mental anguish to get there.

All I truly have control over is my reaction. Reaction to events directly affecting myself or others. But still it comes back to fear. I’m afraid for other people and the challenges they are facing. I feel for them, which means I feel their fear and possibly project it onto myself. Empathy is a double-edged sword. I fall on it both ways.

But all I can do is let those people know I’m thinking of them and help in some small way if they request it. I can’t force my help upon them. I can’t force them to see the world differently than they do. We all have our own way of seeing and interpreting our lives.

So I’m left pondering how to accept that sometimes the fear I feel isn’t my own, but a mirror I’m projecting back at myself from the people I care about. Can I change my own thinking to wrap my mind around those emotions and modify them to avoid falling into the traps of anger or anxiety or depression?

Good question. Definitely a good question.

Poem: Seeking Solace

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Seeking Solace

World weary and
soul tired,
ground down
by the daily grind,
I wonder where
to recharge my batteries
so my heart
might sing again.
Gone down the tubes
and down the drain,
trying to find bottom
only to sink in the muck,
I seek a quiet place
to find my center
and reconnect
with a world gone mad.
Instead I am downtrodden,
beaten senseless
and feel like I been
hit by a train.
Where is the peace
I need to survive
in this mad place,
I ask the universe.
And then I realize
the quiet has been inside
this whole time,
waiting. 

BTF 18-APR-2019

Poem: Light the Path

Light the Path

The stars above lay clear for miles and miles
hinting at a cloudless sunny morning to come.
Left pondering these twinkles from long ago
unobstructed for a momentary glimpse
through billions of years of history.
Ironic that we can see those burning dots
and yet our path through tomorrow
is impossible to pick out
through the debris of recent yesterdays.

BTF 31-MAR-2019

Beware the Devil on Your Shoulder

Thanks to the Daily Stoic, I get an e-mail every morning to ponder. Some days they magically seem to smack me upside the head. Other days, I can push them aside as irrelevant.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Today’s e-mail? “Beware the Voice in Your Head.” And it takes the words of Seneca when he spoke about Crates, expanding on them… Crates was walking and noticed a young man muttering to himself. When asked what was going on, the young man replied “I am communing with myself.” Crates’ reply? “Pray be careful, then, and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!”

This is Aristotle, not Seneca, but still portrays a good look for a philosopher I think!

It’s not that the kid was necessarily a “bad man,” but that we sometimes get led astray by our own dark thoughts.

I can definitely identify, as I struggle having unproductive conversations with myself on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to those voices of self-loathing or despair than face up to the fact that they are wrong because they are always in our ear — the devil on our shoulder as it were leading us down dark paths into darker days.

But we can’t always listen to the angels either or we start to believe the stories we make up about ourselves. There has to be a balance between the good bullshit and the bad inside our heads.

This is a very real battle for me, as I am constantly trying to reconcile the positive words I hear from others about my acts and deeds and the dismissive nature of my own interior thoughts about those same things. I never live up to my own standards and sometimes I need to give myself a break — that’s the balance and the challenge.

Dwell in the dark too long and it becomes impossible for the light of the truth to reach you. Maybe I’m full of crap, but it’s taken me nearly 30 years to figure out how to take a compliment more gracefully — and I’m still awful at it. Those are our angels offering praise. And our devils are right there to tell us how full of shit those people are.

You never know what you’ll see in the dark

I remember a “talent show” at a holiday party years and years ago when the daughter of a coworker told me I sounded great and I let the devil lead. I said something to the effect of “Nah, I sucked.” And she laid into me pretty good explaining that I needed to learn how to take a compliment. I was young and stupid. 🙂

Was it a great performance? I honestly don’t remember — I think I played my guitar and sang a song. We had a couple of years where we had big holiday parties and different folks would perform (I did a duet with a friend one year and sang on my own another). I’m an ok musician and have an ok voice some days — that’s the balance I’ve struck with the angel and devil on my shoulder. It’s not — “I’m fantastic, I should perform on The Voice!” And it’s not — “Never do this in public again, ever.” It’s somewhere in-between. 🙂

That’s the battle – achieving some sort of happy medium and using my own insecurities to temper any sense of glorious achievement I may get from the world outside my head. And I’m sure I’m not alone in watching the battle lines push back and forth on a daily basis.

Shallow waters and ripples

At what point did I, as a youth, pull my head out of my ass and actually take a look at the world? I have to wonder now, as I approach 50, and marvel at how some folks seem to see things these days.

The world does not owe us anything. Neither do the people in it. We get what we get and try to make the best of it. If we don’t like it, we do our best to change what we can and move on. That’s it. End of story.

Maybe I’m jaded, but I don’t expect others to do shit for me these days. In fact, I hardly ask anybody for anything any more. Why be disappointed when it doesn’t happen? Or if it does happen, why be disappointed by the way in which it’s executed if it’s not up to our high standards?

I used to expect things of people. In fact, I thought the Golden Rule was meant to convey that if I treated people the way I wanted to be treated, I’d be treated better. Turns out that’s a fallacy. It’s bullshit. You treat people the best you can because that’s what decent people do — and you don’t expect anything in return. You just hope they’re decent people too.

Now I won’t say this attitude isn’t a new thing for me, since I often sound like a broken record when dealing with my daughters; telling them “You can only control one thing in the world — you.” I think it’s just taken this long to finally sink into my own thick head.

I recently read somewhere that instead of railing against the world and how it is constantly acting against you that you should simply say “yes” and roll with events as best you can. That one little piece of advice has changed my point of view greatly.

Ask my family — I have always been hung up on my preconceived notions of how events should play out. So far as I can tell, nothing ever goes according to plan and never works out the way it does in my head. The disconnect between those two things has always been a problem for me. I have alternated between angry, depressed, or sad when that happens — not that it changed anything.

Now I still get a little hung up these days, but not nearly as badly. As my sister might say, I “pulled the stick out of my ass.” And it’s about time.

So when I see some of the folks I know and love get pissed off at the world or the people in it because they didn’t get something they wanted or someone else didn’t get what they wanted or even that someone they don’t feel is deserving of something gets something good… it gets under my skin a little. I know how it feels to not have things go according to plan. But I think to myself that they better get used to it. The world isn’t going to bow down and give them everything they think they deserve unless they’re very very lucky.

I don’t know anybody that lucky. Everything has a cost.

What really ticks me off is that I hear some of these folks badmouth people whose decisions they don’t agree with. I’m not saying you can’t disagree with others, but unless they’re really pushovers, your opinion isn’t going to mean much. And why should it? They have exerted the power in their lives to make decisions. After all, that’s all they can really do as individuals, isn’t it?

As a result, we are left with ripples on the pond we all float on. We can choose to fight the ripples and ultimately rock the boat, but all we’re really doing is getting ourselves wet in the process and maybe splashing them with some inconvenience. Or we can ride the wave and see where it takes us. If it’s not in the right direction and we have the power to change paths, we can do so. If not, all we can do is roll with it until it ends.

And who are we to second guess some of the folks who make the decisions we are not in control of? They have their own lives and bodies of experience to pull from and I bet they’re making the best decision they can with the information they have at their disposal, both from past life experience and whatever just happened today. Who says your decision would be better than theirs, knowing what they know?

So to those people rankled by the decisions of others, I wish you luck fighting the waves. If you can’t go with the flow, do your best to change boats or ride it out until the next opportunity for change presents itself. To change, you have to put an oar in the water and that causes its own ripples. Just keep in mind that your ripples may affect others just like the ones that affect you.

For now I’m going to choose to go with the flow on this one. It’s the only logical choice I can make. After all, I don’t have any control over anyone else’s behavior but mine anyway.

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