Bringing A Strongly-Worded Letter to a Knife Fight

Compromise and civility. They’re the hallmarks of a functioning democracy. Where we may not always, if ever, fully agree — we are human, after all — but we accept that those with whom we compete politically argue and act in good faith. And when the votes are counted and power changes hands, we accept that outcome and carry on with the business of self-government as best we can.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, I’d really like to live in that kind of world, wouldn’t you?

But we don’t. And it’s time to stop pretending we do. It’s time to stop bringing a strongly-worded letter to a knife fight. Time to stop pretending everything is normal, whatever normal is supposed to be. I mean, I think it’s something along the lines of reasoned disagreement in a marketplace of ideas, where policies and goals compete and the one that’s best for everyone emerges to make everyone’s life better. Like if The West Wing was an accurate reflection of reality instead of an aspirational fantasy.

Not that I don’t love The West Wing. I do. But I love it precisely because it’s a fantasy. Because it shows a picture of how I’d like the United States and the world at large to work.

I mean, how do you compromise with someone whose political philosophy boils down to ni shagu nazad? With a Republican party that met on the day of Obama’s inauguration and decided their number one priority — in the middle, by the way, of a giant recession their laissez faire economic policies brought about — was to make him a one-term President, and has never looked back? The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives elected in 2018 has passed over 400 bills this year. Fewer than 70 have been enacted into law by Mitch McConnell and his Republican Majority grave diggers in the Senate. And don’t even get me started on Merrick Garland. Or Brett Kavanaugh, who I hope gets to have some very uncomfortable talks with his daughters someday.

And that all’s just the tip of the iceberg, which metaphor frankly fails since it’s all out in the open if you care and know how to look. Which is probably one reason it’s worked so well, since as Americans we seem to believe anything done in the open must be on the up and up (at least if it’s done by a rich white dude who claims to be Christian).

As for civility, and the calls for it, well, first off I think that’s pretty rich coming from a party and movement that calls their opposition the Democrat party instead of the Democratic party because it sounds more like ‘rat’, and that decries ‘political correctness’ to the moon and back because sometimes they get blowback for speaking disrespectfully to marginalized people who’re sick of their bullshit. The whole thing reminds me of an ex-girlfriend of mine who every time we were arguing and I made a point or observation she didn’t like suddenly changed the subject from what I said to how I said it. I hadn’t heard of gaslighting back then, but in the rearview it’s as clear as the diamond in Melania’s engagement ring.

So yeah, fuck civility. With a criminal conspiracy running the White House, a major political party that stokes -isms to provide cover for transferring wealth from your pockets to a bunch of gazillionaires who couldn’t spend all they’ve got if they did literally nothing else for every waking minute left in their lives, and a looming environmental crisis that will destabilize and destroy human civilization as we know it creeping closer to the point of no return with every passing day, playing nice with the people helping speed things along for their own short-term gain and the coal-rolling, styrofoam-burning, won’t-recycle-cuz-it’s-not-manly crowd who back them up is about as high a priority as organizing your 8-track collection.

Look, I’d love to live in a West Wing-type world, where ideas and policies compete on a level playing field, where all involved believe in the rule of law and the legitimacy of free and fair elections, and, at the end of the day, everyone wants what’s best for all of us, even if we disagree how to get there. But we don’t live in that world, and I don’t know that we ever have. The world we do live in is one where oligarchs, autocrats, and authoritarians are working and fighting to make a world where they have everything, most people have nothing, and, when Armageddon comes, they’ll be safe and comfortable in their high-tech bunkers while the rest of us die from starvation, unrest, extreme weather events, desertification, and roving bands of armed paramilitaries who’d rather rob, pillage, and rape than cooperate, build, and thrive.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna talk nice and play fair with people working, whether they know it or not, to bring about the end of all that’s best, brightest, and hopefullest in human civilization.

Fuck that shit. There’s too much at stake.

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How to Talk to a Woman Wearing Headphones

Don’t. Just don’t. In addition to piping music into ears, wearing headphones is also an external signifier. It means ‘I want to be left alone.’

Be the guy that respects that.

An Open Letter to David Meinert

We all want to think of ourselves as good people. Even when we are imperfect, and have done wrong, and been ‘pushy’ or ‘handsy’ with women. Or we used to drink too much, and maybe some of our memories of the way things went down differ from the other people involved. And, you know, times are changing. Even two or three years ago, before #metoo really picked up momentum, things were different between men and women. Never mind how things were back at the millenium’s turn, or, god help us all, the ’80s and ’90s, when rape culture was, well, culture.

But here we are.

Now, before I go any further, I want you to know that I believe you when you say #metoo has opened your eyes, and that you’re trying to do better, trying to make changes internally while also making noise to help make changes in the external world. I think it’s good you’re engaging, and I hope you find a good way to continue.

But I also believe the women in this KUOW article. And I think you should, too.

I know your memories don’t jibe. And some of them have stayed ‘friends’ with you since. Which must seem weird to you, since I’m sure if someone did to you what you did to them, you probably wouldn’t have anything to do with that person ever again. I’m also betting no one ever has done something like that to you. So maybe you wouldn’t do what you think you would do. I didn’t. But, you know, it’s not really that weird you might misremember or have forgotten something, considering the way alcohol flows through most of these stories, and how tricky memory is even when everything’s working the way it should. And staying friendly (or even actual, like, friends) with people who’ve assaulted you or even just been really shady about sex stuff is something women have been doing for, like, ever. Especially when it involves someone with your footprint. Even if it’s just going along to get along instead of, say, abject fear you might use your significant influence and power to quash them. For my own part, when I first starting coming to terms with this gender relations sea change we’re in, I wrote this confession (Serious Trigger Warning for Survivors of Sexual Assault). About a year after, a friend from college — a close friend, who I hooked up with once — asked if she was one of the people I was writing about. To my deep shame and chagrin, she was not. And we actually were (and, I believe, still are) friends.

But that’s not the real reason I think you should take these five women at their word, whatever your memories, or the stories you’ve told yourself about yourself, or them. Continue reading “An Open Letter to David Meinert”

The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted

It was the summer of 1992. I was nineteen years old, and had finished my first year of college. I was living near Ann Arbor, Michigan, staying with a friend and his family for the summer between school years.

Ann Arbor is a college town, so even in summer there was stuff to do. But we were under twenty-one, and broke (I had the worst job I ever had, that summer, or close to it, working for a moving company that required I wake up and call in at 7am to see if they had work for me that day; most days, they didn’t). But my friend was really into dancing — I liked it, too — so we would, once every week or two, splurge and pay the cover at a dance club in town. I want to say it was called Tangerine, or something like that.

The place was alright, as small-town dance clubs go. Not that I was particularly an aficionado. But I liked dancing, and I liked the at least notional chance of meeting women, so I was happy enough to go those nights we could scrape together the five bucks each the place cost.

Then, one night, I had to take a shit.

I didn’t want to do it there. The bathrooms were not the most sanitary and, worse, the stall doors had no locks. But as time passed and the pressure mounted, what I did and didn’t want mattered less and less. I couldn’t even leave the club to go find a more suitable spot, because I’d have had to pay cover again, and I had no money for that.

So I did what I had to do. What was the worst thing that could happen? Continue reading “The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted”

Toxic Masculinity vs Depression

I knew something was wrong the moment my mom walked into my room. It wasn’t just that she was crying, though she was. In a moment I was crying, too, because it was my mom waking me up to go to school that morning. Which was not her job. My dad was the one who woke me up for school in the morning. The moment I laid eyes on my mom I knew: my dad finally left her.

I was in fifth grade. Not quite ten years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was very shortly to have the disctinction of being the first kid I knew whose parents got a divorce.

It wasn’t a surprise. Like I said, I knew right away what had happened. And to be honest, I can’t — and could not at the time — remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. I didn’t know what they were fighting about, didn’t really even want to. It was just a thing that happened, and when it did I would go to my room and play with my toys or read a book or I’d go outside and ride my bike around the neighborhood or go knock on a friend’s door or one of the thousand other things kids did back in the days when parents weren’t expected to schedule and supervise their childrens’ entire existence.

That morning was the last time I cried about it.

Because like I knew what had happened the night before, I knew what was expected of me. What was expected of any boy who wasn’t girly or gay or soft or weak. No one had to tell me that boys don’t cry.

So I didn’t. I tamped that shit down, put on my game face, and went on a field trip to Sea World with the rest of my class. As I recall, my dad was one of our chaperones. I didn’t ask him what happened. I mean, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. The real surprise was it hadn’t happened sooner.

I remember being very proud of myself for being so mature.

It wasn’t long after that I started acting out. Continue reading “Toxic Masculinity vs Depression”