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.
I mean, you’re never going to change that asshole’s mind. Why bother engaging? Why roll the rock all the way to the top of the hill when you know it’s just going to roll right back down once you reach the top? You’d do better to conserve your passion and energy for something useful, like calling your Congressional representatives or digging a shelter to cache supplies for the coming post-Apocalyptic nightmare that will surely follow the decline and fall of the American Experiment.
And look, there probably are a hundred better things you can do with your time. And probably you should do them. I mean, we’re all going to die someday, which means our time is finite. Probably best we spend it doing positive things.
But you know what? There are some damn fine reasons to engage the shitheads, trolls, and wingnuts of the internet-o-sphere if you have the time, emotional bandwidth, and outrage to spare. So, in the spirit of, like, five years ago, let’s make a list, shall we? Continue reading “When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet”→
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.
Depression is a thing that will fuck you up, no matter how well things are or seem to be going. It saps the foundations like termites, wears away self-esteem like your own personal, internalized gaslighter. It’s kicked my ass up, down, left, right, sideways, and diagonally, and I am a person routinely mistaken for strong. Depression is a cancer, a colonizer of the soul, dimmer of the spark and whisperer of bitterest nothings in your psyche’s ear. It wears you away, eats you away from the inside.
It is also, in some times and some cases, a perfectly rational and reasonable response to the world we live in, which seems to conspire to create misery for most so a few can accrue — if not always enjoy — prosperity and power and wealth.
So yes, be kind, because you never know what kind of struggle someone’s going through, and kindness costs nothing but pays the highest possible dividends. But as we mourn another dead celebrity, another had-it-all suicide, another loved one or friend or friend of a friend, let’s not just be kind.
Let’s resolve to build a world that makes people happy. That takes care of their needs and provides space and opportunity for them to flourish. That asks what they can give and gives more than they would ask. That takes the prosperity and progress we as a species have achieved — and can achieve — and sees to it everyone gets their share, and that no one gets left behind. No one falls through the cracks.
Let’s build a world that takes care of everybody, that lets everyone live their best, most productive, and happiest possible life, so we don’t have to lose these bright shining stars before their time anymore, and because, goddamit, it’s the right fucking thing to do.
What do you even say when you see something like this in a kindergarten classroom? I mean, really, what do you say? Given its placement, the way we read left to right, the Lockdown Song is apparently even more important than learning the alphabet.
How has it come to this?
How have we reached the point where school shootings are such a part of the fabric of our national life that someone decided it was better to start preparing children for the worst than to try and preserve their innocence awhile longer, and provide an environment where what’s best in them might flower and grow?
These questions are rhetorical, obviously. We all know how. A powerful manufacturing lobby made a Faustian bargain with a political party (and possibly, even probably, Russian oligarchs) to sell as much of their product as possible, consequences be damned. For them, from their position and perspective, it’s actually a virtuous circle. Scientific studies have shown that fear makes people more conservative, makes them buy more guns. Once the market reaches a certain saturation (like, idk, one gun per person in the freest, most prosperous nation in modern history), the feedback loop reinforces itself. There are too many guns, and it’s too easy to get them, to make it harder for upright, responsible citizens (or, really, anyone) to buy guns to defend themselves from all the other people with guns. Never mind how your chances of dying from gun violence vastly increase when you purchase a gun.
But that’s just science talking. And science, despite its dedication to reflecting and clarifying actuality, can’t hold a candle to narrative when it comes to getting people to do (or not do) stuff.
But back to the virtuous circle, which is not really virtuous unless it’s in your interest to make people frightened so you can sell them guns and get them to vote for conservative politicians whose policies are generally terrifically unpopular. I mean, does anyone who isn’t rich really think the rich need more money while the rest of us scrabble and scrape? Does anyone really want to live in a world two steps removed from a battle royale where it’s all against all and fuck everybody who ain’t me and mine? Some people might, but fuck them.
So, the circle. How does it work?
Well, what you need is to cultivate an atmosphere of threat, fear, and scarcity. Which isn’t hard, because people are wired to respond to threats. It’s how we survived, evolutionarily, and though we’ve created a situation in which most of our instincts aren’t really optimal, evolution takes a while to catch up. Anyhow, I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say that when things get scary, or scarce, people’s circle of concern tends to tighten up. They start looking out for them and theirs. They also look for targets, because fear and scarcity take their toll on a person. And because fear produces anger and anxiety — which, let’s be honest, don’t exactly lead to clear thinking — it’s easy to divert that fear and anger away from their actual sources, so the underlying causes and problems never get addressed.
Which brings us back to the Lockdown Song. I mean, just think how many guns a whole generation suffering from a lifetime of fear will buy. Long term, school shootings are going to be great for business.