Friday, July 24, 2020

Ephemeral Affections

So I'm trying something a little different here. 

I'm writing two posts about the same thing. Not a two-part post (I do those all the time), but rather a two facet analysis of the same event. One is this one here: a personal, "navel gazing" post about a difficult situation and how I'm dealing with it. The other part I will put on
Writing About Writing: a breakdown of the same event but from a different perspective having to do with my proximity to my writing career and a place at the outer edge of fame that is beginning to become more and more familiar.

[In case you're just tuning in, I'm not monogamous. That's going to help contextualize some things that might otherwise be confusing about this story.]

A few years back, I had a terrible break up. And while I've had deep and incredibly meaningful relationships since then, I spent quite a long time carefully avoiding anything too serious. Honestly, I spent some time in therapy wondering if I was broken because all my relationships involved folks who were married, were half a continent away, or both. But after a while I processed through enough of my shit and got over the hurt and learned to be with myself. And I was ready to date again.

Let me rephrase that. I was ready to have a relationship again, and I really didn't want to date. I love going on dates with people I care about, but the interview process is phenomenally uncomfortable and I get awkward. Plus....there's that horrible initial phase you have to go through where it's like you're the clay pigeon in skeet shooting. With a lot of people, they say "Pull," you put yourself out there, and as soon as they get a good look at you, they shoot you down. It's not super great for the self-esteem. And when you're coded guy in our society, you're a lot more likely to be the clay pigeon.

Buuuuuuut that's life, right? It takes a special type to be able to announce their availability to the world and passively be inundated with a stack of resumes. So I signed up for OKCupid and took my lumps. I went on a couple of disastrous dates, chatted with several high matches who stopped replying without a word. I went through the motions. 

Then Shelter-In-Place started. Technically, that account is still active. And technically, I'm still open to the possibility of something falling in my lap (so to speak), but one thing kind of tangential to this story is that I decided to put all this effort and rejection and emotional energy on the shelf for a year. If no one has shown up at my door and said, "I am for you, Chris Brecheen" by next May, I'll get back out there, but for now I've decided to funnel my energy into other parts of my life. The timing sucks, since I really WAS starting to get lonely on Friday nights and feeling ready for something more serious. And now I'm alone when I much would have preferred to be stuck in here with someone wonderful and kissable, but they don't let me schedule the pandemics so.....

Anyway, for various reasons (mostly having to do with maintaining a high-profile public persona), I still get a lot of attention online even though I'm not trying to make a connection. And while I try to get to KNOW people first so that I'm not exploiting a power differential, I can still be kind of a "How YOU doin?'" target when people are feeling a certain way. (I also don't discourage people from flirting shamelessly with me because who knows what might happen.)

The problem is, this sort of attention is often kind of ephemeral. And my heart has been getting its ass kicked. I get soft-ghosted a lot––that's when the person doesn't block or unfriend you or anything and might even reply if you say hi, but they are clearly NO LONGER INTO YOU. The daily chats and steamy selfies are over. I don't like to assign motive, but people flirt shamelessly with a kinda, sorta semi-famous writer for a lot of reasons. I've had folks who slid into my inbox when they were lonely and then "soft-ghosted" when they got asked out by someone in their area code. I've had people tell me they were non-monogamous and then hubby found the chat open one day and maybe not so much. ("Oops.") One time I was the "symptom" of a broken marriage. I'm glad she and her husband fixed their shit and have a better relationship now, but the fact that it was the trip we were scheduling to see each other, after MONTHS of chatting, that led him to realize there was a problem.....that she was lying (to BOTH of us) and planning on cheating....well it sort of sucked on my end. I've had people establish long-distance relationships with me when they were lonely and needed a self-esteem boost who just stopped replying when they found someone local...who happened to be kind of the jealous type. I've had people come at me at WARP NINE with "I want YOU!" energy, and everything was going absolutely great, then stop one day without the slightest warning or explanation. 

Sometimes I find out later what happened. Usually though, I'm just left to wonder and feel a little bit like the clay pigeon. This has been my reality for a few years now. 

Everyone gets their heart Riverdanced on, especially during that initial bullshit period of dating. That's just the way the cliché crumbles. But sometimes having an online life and a high-profile public persona can put the ol' blood pumper out there for a little extra stomping. Add in the OKCupid stuff, and....yikes, it sure is tough. I didn't want to get jaded and start treating genuine people in shitty ways. Particularly if the only thing they could really be accused of is a well intended dabble really only flawed by emotions that hadn't been fully unpacked. (I mean I'm actually the weird one for doing hours of introspection and writing out my feelings to process.) fucking HURTS, and I didn't want to keep opening myself up to be hurt over and over.

But I recently WAS able to use my fabulous set of hard-earned therapy tools to craft a solution. It was kind of cool because that's the goal, right? You don't just want to work out solutions to the problems you have. You want to be able to solve new ones as they come up with the same set of guidelines. (Like taking care of your heart.) I mean it's not exactly free and accessible here in the US, so it's nice to have something to show for the four years and twenty grand. 

So I thought about ways to engage people who were doing the WARP NINE approach in ways that took my own feelings into account but didn't shut down those feelings either. To enjoy the attention RIGHT NOW without expectation or presumption. To enjoy the exchange without putting up walls and hiding myself away, but also without exposing myself to the hurt of yet another ephemeral pass. To just be fully present in that moment without cynicism or naivety. Well....maybe a LITTLE bit of cynicism because you kind of can't take folks completely at their word––not that they're lying, per se, but you have to sort of keep a heavy dose of "they meant it at the time," on standby.

And it worked! Someone slid into my PMs, dropped all number of salacious ideas (and pictures), and broke the just-flirting barrier at Mach 3. We even started talking tentative scheduling for some possible future rendezvous. I had fun. I enjoyed the moment. I told myself not to get carried away. I took it for what it was and not a particle more. I enjoyed the shit out of it and never considered for a moment that it was going anywhere. Three days later a nurse hit on her in meatspace and within a week I was getting the call: "It just felt so right. I have to see where this is going."

Fortunately, I was okay. It didn't feel great. I wouldn't want to do it three times a week. But it didn't hurt the way it did when I put all my weight down on the soon-to-be-pulled-out rug. I didn't wonder what was wrong with me or fling myself into a pillow regretting that I ever opened my heart to love. It just became a nice moment––a beat that was as over as soon as it began.

There's a metaphor for life here somewhere.

[I think writers in the public eye, or really any artist or entertainer who has a public profile, has a particular dimension of this to navigate. I'll write about that in my other blog.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Fascism: You're Soaking In It

If you've missed the headlines over the last week, Trump is sending his federal enforcers, who answer only to him, to cities run by––in his own words––"liberal Democrats." (Which is any Democrat, in case you've been on vacation for the last four years.) He's so locked into his narcissistic "everyone's against me" thinking that he isn't even attempting to stick to the ostensible bullshit about "law and order" (which, just so I'm mountain-lake clear would be laughable if it weren't so terrifying, given that the best "defense" the lock-armed GOP was capable of mounting during his impeachment was, "Sure he broke the law, but that doesn't mean we should remove him from office.") I mean he tries, but he keeps screwing up and blurting out the quiet part too.  

He can dress this shit up like a dog in a little tuxedo, but when you burn away the euphemism and rationalization in an anti-bullshit crucible, what you get is that the President of the United States is mobilizing his military forces, answerable only to him, and invading cities of his political opponents, kidnapping their citizens without charging them or reading them Miranda rights or even identifying themselves. This to attempt to intimidate the shit out of them essentially because they were part of (or somewhat near) a protest IN WHICH PROPERTY DAMAGE OCCURRED, and using an ever more violent and deadly tier of crowd suppression weaponry in an attempt to curtail the constitutionally mandated right of free assembly. 

That's pretty much what you see on your TV from some other country when you shake your head and say "Damn shame about [XXXXXXX]. Poor bastards. Shoulda gotten themselves some sweet, sweet democracy."

You know how in some RPG video games you get a prompt before you do something massively unwise? 

"Are you sure you want to doom the galaxy to destruction?"

"You will not be able to return to The Capital Wasteland for some time. Are you sure you wish to proceed?"

"Killing this person will end your quest and destroy the threads of destiny. Are you sure?"

You're not going to get that when it comes to fascism. (And just in case it doesn't go without saying, we can't restart from an old save point either.) No prompt will come up saying. "This is your last free and (kind of) fair election. Are you sure you want to play purity politics?" or "If Trump remains unopposed, you will lose abortion, free assembly (except for neo-Nazis), BLM protesters will be rounded up, southern border camps will become a final solution, and there will be a seven-figure death toll due to Covid-19. Are you sure you want to ignore this latest symptom of encroaching fascism?"

You'll never get that. You just won't.

Everyone thinks they are going to know when they see that clear and unambiguous moment when the nuanced politician's eye twitches and they announce the concentration camps (**checks notes** Oh wait, we already have concentration camps). Everyone thinks THEN they will stand up and do something genuinely patriotic about it. Like it's an action movie. ("Time to get my strangely NOT-anachronistic bow and arrow, and end this.") Actually, it's usually historians looking a decade or more in the rear view who come to some absolutely un-unanimous consensus about the tipping point moment. 

Do they LOOK like they're here to DEescalate the fighting?

But fascism isn’t a toggle switch. It’s more like a slider. The US has had "more fascist" moments in its history––like imprisoning protestors of WWI for years without commuting their sentences after the war. And arguably, unless one dismisses the lived experiences of marginalized communities (which most do), the U.S. has always had one foot in the clinical definition of fascism (beyond just the "bad guys" in a WWII movie). Certainly it's been on the rise since September 11th, 2001, and has had a marked upswing since the the current leader of the Republican Party took the highest office. 

But we won't ever get a prompt that we've hit the point of no return. For us, in real time, it'll just get worse and worse and there will ALWAYS be some justification for it and some scapegoat group like "liberal Democrats" who make one more and one more and one more step acceptable in the mind of those desperate to rationalize their own apathy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Year Without Love ("What Would it Feel Like.....?")

Many of my personality traits come through in their own distinctive voices. The voice of caution is my mother's. Patrick Warburton encourages me to go for it. Chris Hemsworth's voice tells me I'm still worthy. Mr. Rogers reminds me to be kind. 

I also often hear therapy things in therapy language in my therapist's voice. She used to hip check my bullshit with "What would it feel like if...."

What would it feel like if you let yourself have a day off?
What would it feel like if you didn't accept that behavior?
What would it feel like if you just let them walk away?

It was....a theme. So even though I wrapped up my last session nearly a year ago with her looking at me and telling me that she thought I was going to be okay and I had her number if I ever wasn't, I still think of things like my boundaries or asking for what I need in a very "What would it feel like...." kind of way. In fact, I think she might have said, "What would it feel like if this were our last session unless you have a specific need in the future?"

Anyway, I was driving home the other day, thinking about how hard any semblance of dating is during Covid-19, how lonely I’ve been living alone with only really my nanny clients for company, and how long it seems Shelter in Place will remain a factor in our lives. And then, I heard her voice...clear as if she was sitting shotgun.

"What would it feel like if you just planned for a year without a primary partner?"

Now...I should pause here. I have a very active imagination, and I can **practically** hear a lot of things. Voices. Sound effects. Morgan Freeman narrating my life with just a twinge of disappointment at my every choice. But except for a few phantom strains of music when it's very VERY quiet, I don't often break out the full-fledged auditory hallucinations. And I've been having just a weird enough couple of months because of isolation to worry about this. So I spent a few minutes on the phone getting grilled about mania and blood clots by my doctor so I could be extra peace of mindy. (Probably no big if I don’t hear it three times a day, I have a full conversation with it, or it doesn’t suggest violence––if you were wondering.)

But in the moment, I just started answering. Like, literally talking to myself in the car. THAT part is pretty normal for me…when I’m not acting out entire scenes from my stories in the car. 

With Oscar performances.

But anyway, I answered: ”Well, I'd probably get more writing done. I would be free of some distractions with figuring out what the hell is going on in my spiritual life. I'd have a little more bandwidth for job two. Gaming. Working out."

"But mostly," I told 'her,' "I think it would just kind of be this emotional expectation lifted. Like, I could just fucking concentrate on other stuff. Like it would actually bother me less to be alone if I were more actively engaging an idea that that's just not a thing. I'd have this year where I'm just like, that's not what I'm doing with my life right now. Wouldn't hiss at it if it showed up, but just put that energy somewhere else. It would be nice just not to feel so…disappointed all the time.” 

And suddenly that felt SO comfortable. That was...IT. That was the answer. In a flash and a moment, I was excited about my next year (“Oh the places I will go!”), and just taking the time to put energy somewhere else. Just letting all the pressure and expectation float away. Put all that crap on pause. Maybe next year I'll worry about noodling my OK Cupid profile, if I’m putting enough effort into flirting, or spending time  facing a mirror and thinking about my desirability quotient. For now I just have other shit to do, and I'm going to do it, and unless someone shows up at the front door saying, "I am for you, Chris Brecheen" (hopefully holding a pizza), I'm just not going to worry about it.

So thanks, my therapist. You're still helping me out. Even if it’s a little spooky.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tens of Thousands of Teachers are Going to Die

Usually I point here with my Facebook, but today I did my writing on Facebook, and I'm going to point there from HERE. 

Full link:

It's a public post, so you should be able to see it even if you don't have a FB account. Like I say there, blogging just feels a little more "official" and even though I think that writing is important, I was gazing at my navel even more than usual. 

Honestly, I hope I'm way off. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

At Least a Million? (Covid predictions.)

CN: Sort of frank Covid death toll talk. Not trying to be your doom-scroll itch-scratch of the day; I just think we have hard truths to face in this country.  

I've predicted that, when all is said and done, we'll be near a million US deaths from Covid-19 a couple of times, and people think I've lost the plot. They think a quarter mil is on the high end. And to be honest, they're probably right. I don't have a very high opinion of mainstream US culture or its ability to handle this crisis. 

But frankly, I also don't have a model or a forecast I'm using. I don't believe this thing is far more dangerous than the CDC claims or some conspiracy theory or think it is secretly airborne or anything. I just watch our CURRENT fundamentally horrible reaction, and I think we are a perfect storm of incompetence and cultural vulnerability. When cases jack up, deaths jack up (there's no stopping that statistical reality yet), and cases are about to jack WAY, WAY up.

There are 330 million people in the United States. Even Covid's low, beat-the-curve, not-overwhelming-the-ICU's (and the low end of the current guestimate) numbers mean that the cold mathematics are that only about 1/5 of the country falling ill would come out to about a million dead.

1- We haven't even begun to see case spikes from all the reopenings. And by the time anyone says, "Holy shit, reclose it! RECLOSE IT!!!" they will be dealing with two weeks of exponential growth before their curves flatten. Those kind of numbers will grow with dizzying speed.

2- We have the numbers we do BECAUSE of the social distancing and the Shelter in Place that we've managed. And those numbers are.......(wait for it).......the worst in the industrialized world. 4.4% of the population and about 30% of the deaths. That's us on our BEST behavior. And we're about to relax. And conservatives have taken to actively "misbehaving."

3- The federal government's response to insufficient PPE has been criminally derelict. Most places STILL don't have the PPE, beds, ventilators to handle a spike in cases (like the one we're likely to see from reopening), which means you'll see the outcomes of an overwhelmed healthcare system––when that mortality rate jumps.

4a- We have a significant number of people who refuse to take even basic precautions because "fuck the libs" (and fuck academia and science and the media), and no one's going to tell them what to do. When they get it, they will spread it a lot. Not because the info wasn't out there, but because the right-wing leadership found it politically expedient (in the light of facts having such a liberal bias) to undermine any institution that would propagate good data.

4b- It is super hard to watch HALF of a society NOT make a sacrifice you're making for the good of.....them. (Like we can do that shit for our kids, and maybe close family.) Not that there won't be some people who keep social distancing for various reasons, but you're going to see a lot of people (especially if they're in places that aren't doing it at all) wondering what the point is if no one else is doing it.

5- Our governing administration has said openly and on the record that testing just makes the numbers look worse so let's not do that. This is absolute anathema to every medical institution's insistence that one of the highest priorities needs to be testing so we know who has it, who they've been exposed to, and who needs to go into quarantine. Donald Trump has done everything from dismiss the numbers to peddle untested cures. They are completely, absolutely, grotesquely inept. Literally doing nothing would have been better because then at least the states would have the PPE they had to smuggle in from other countries.

6- Even on my friends list, where you would think the people who follow medical and science advice are pretty well represented, and the vast majority would care about public health risks and have the compassion not to expose vulnerable folks….   EVEN THESE FOLKS are getting Isolation Fatigue. They're starting to post pictures of small social gatherings and "just a couple of friends" and trips with their BFFs. And if they're maintaining cell integrity (and trust implicitly that their friends aren't having another "just a couple of friends" with another group), they can make that work, but done casually, it's just the sort of thing that basically make most social distancing and shelter-in-place rules statistically meaningless.

7a- The most scientifically and medically minded states are still opening back up. We are handling CV-19 the absolute WORST IN THE INDUSTRIAL WORLD, and we're opening back up like we've pretty well got this thing licked. And whether you think they've done enough or not (I happen to think Gavin Newsom has done pretty dang well), reopening can't NOT raise exposure rates, thus cases, and thus––statistically––deaths.

7b- The states that flung their doors open (not soft openings) represent a pretty large contingent whose basic outlook is, "let them die (just a bunch of old fogies anyway*). “ The leader of the Republican party and most of its leadership have said that the economy is more important than the death toll, and have basically doubled down on it already.

[*It’s not.]

8- A shocking number of people, irrespective of "side of the aisle," think they know better than the experts. Not "fuck the libs" no-protection types, but people who think that the exposure rate is probably low enough that they can have dinner parties, or who think that it's not really worse than the flu so it doesn't really matter if they get it, or that masks are useless or whatever. Or my personal fave: that they probably had it last spring when "...remember that bad cough," and really don't need to worry because they're immune. They just....know better. And no epidemiological expert is going to convince them otherwise. And every American exceptionalism cultural narrative plays STRAIGHT into disdain for expertise.

1-8: So I don't really think we're going to get a first and second wave. I think we're going to get just one long mushy wave with lots of hotspots, resurgences, and a highly HIGHLY politicized reaction. While I think it's easy to imagine that in two weeks, all the open states will see the error of their ways and close back up, you also have to realize that these are the same people who have basically called Covid deaths the price of doing business, so it's going to take more than a few days of numbers going up, "that's not a moon" trepidation for them to hear the branch crack under their feet.

And it doesn't end in the fall, no matter how badly politicians want it to.

9- Our healthcare system is about the worst equipped in the industrialized world to handle distribution of a vaccine. I don't have the slightest trouble imagining that it won’t be AFFORDABLE to many people for months or even years.

10- We know for a fact that there will be people and forces actively discouraging using the vaccine that will leave wide gaps in herd immunity––probably for years.

11- An administration that has lowballed, underestimated, and mismanaged everything since they got rid of the pandemic response team..... The same administration that has padded numbers, has openly admitted to not testing to keep numbers low, and is run by a guy so out of touch with numbers that make him look bad that he INSISTS he won the popular vote and his inauguration was bigger.... THOSE GUYS....are predicting 3000 deaths every. single. day. Do you think there's any chance in the world, if that's what they're OPENLY ADMITTING TO RIGHT NOW, that it's going to actually be that low?

12- I don't really put it past our current administration not to descend even further into the depths of depravity to try and get the economy going. I wouldn't put it past them to coerce or even force people back to work. I wouldn't put it past them to mount a propaganda blitz that everything is awesome (when you're part of a team). I wouldn't put it past them to engage in TRULY massive cover-ups. Basically, they're doing all that stuff already, so all we have to do is imagine that *more* of it is happening than we know about, and that they will up their game as they grow more desperate....not exactly a stretch of the ol' imagination.

13- When other countries want and try to send in medical teams to help us, we will refuse because that's the way we treat countries we look down upon.

We have a political party that has, three months in and with clear evidence available of how bad this is, turned doing nothing into a loyalty test for their deepening cult mentality. I think there's very little chance the US is going to suddenly step up and magically govern its way well through a crisis (not until maybe next year--vote!). And I just think we are still thinking we can turn the ship the instant we see an iceberg. But exponential growth is a cruel master; by the time the party who is currently governing might actually admit they were wrong about anything, those numbers will be SOARING out of control. There are ways to get this under control (and other countries have), but we seem to have everything going against us.

Hope I'm way off on this one. Bunch of gut feelings. Not a lick of evidence.

Surely a huge overestimate. Yes.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

If You Don't Believe THIS, I'll Unfriend You

CN (and TW): Abuse dynamics; S.A.; Coercive r*pe

I have spent several days thinking about how to write this. And as with most things, I have decided that the best thing to do is simply to be open, honest, and authentic. For my part, the only “polemics” I will engage in here will be to tell the story slightly out of order, so please bear with me if you don’t immediately see where I am going.


Within abuse, there is a concept called DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.) Basically one of the first things an abuser is likely to do if their victim ever escapes their control or might go name and expose what is going on is to claim that THEY WERE THE ONE who was abused.  (One of the reasons I point at the current GOP leadership as a macrocosm of abuse is because they do this on the social level, but that’s a rant for another time.) Abusers often engage in DARVO when they can no longer control their victims. They launch smear campaigns. They bring up the culmination of “Baiting and Bashing” out of context. (That’s when they are awful for a sustained period in order to provoke a reaction so that they can claim their victim is “mentally unstable” or always angry or something. (For example, they might ignore someone’s wish to walk away, follow them into a room with a locked door, physically corner them, and try to hug them and then when the person pushes them aside with the strength necessary to move a human that is refusing to move, they would say the person was “violent and shoved them.") But sometimes DARVO isn’t even a twisting of truth. Sometimes it is invented whole cloth. And it means that if someone comes up to you and tells you a TERRIBLE story about their partner’s abuse, it might be true. And it might be them trying to get to you first and control the spin on the story.

If you’ve paid attention, you know I’ve been emotionally and mentally abused in the past (probably by malignant narcissists, but I’m not qualified or in a position to diagnose). I have done YEARS of therapy to have better boundaries and less codependency.

Except for my step-father, my abusers have all been women. I try not to derail discussions of gendered abuse for it is a particular phenomenon that requires its own space and own discussions and its own examination of entitlement and social power differentials, but it can be painful to have my story erased when I see certain absolutist “slogans” go beyond the simplicity of their slogan context and into full praxis with some folks, all while ignoring the nuance of my lived experience.

This isn’t actually a post about DARVO, but it is a post about my incredible relief that when (some) people who loved me heard certain stories from my abusers, they trusted the person in question was a human capable of relaying their own lived experience, then went to verify the information, and found it to lack credibility or at least context. (In some cases, absolutely made up whole cloth in a way that wasn’t even plausible.) Of course, not everyone believed, and that bothered me. And not everyone everyone verified, and that bothered me too. Some people just trusted my abusers. Perhaps because I’m a guy. Perhaps because my abusers got to them first. I lost friends. 

And when I was trying hard to encourage everyone to hear both sides, that was particularly painful.

I am also a victim of sexual assault. While in one case, my “No,” and even “Please stop,” was ignored, and in another a smirking sheriff’s deputy told me the next morning that maybe I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, most of my experience was mental and emotional coercion. I knew if I said “no,” there was going to be a fight. A tearful, painful fight about whether or not I found her attractive anymore. It would go on for hours. It would involve wailing cries and hitching sobs. And sometimes I let sexual things happen because the fight was worse. It felt awful, but it would be a decade and a half before I learned exactly why I felt so violated and how to name what had happened. One time, as Die Form chanted “synthetic flesh” and I let my body be used, she stopped suddenly, and matter-of-factly told me all about how “passionate” a person she was, and that she fed off my own “passion” so it was important to her that I got involved and encouraged her with my reactions. (And if that sounds like “Could you pretend to be enjoying it,” it should.) 

I still can’t listen to “Doctor X” without feeling deeply anxious and without reliving that moment.

And so, while many of my friends have maintained integrity, it has been an incredibly difficult experience, these last several weeks, watching several of them react to Tara Reade accusing Joe Biden of sexual assault with either “Trust implicitly” or “Apply outlandish levels of skepticism" based, from what I could tell, primarily on their preexisting feelings about Senator Bernie Sanders and/or Blue No Matter Who. A stark mirror of two of of the worst and most hurtful experiences of my life have been, for their political expediency, either ignored or shouted-out respectively.

(To be clear, I don't think Reade is an abuser, certainly not of Biden, which is not why I brought up DARVO. DARVO was just front and center during the times in my life when I can think of that people were undertaking smear campaigns involving outright lies against me. It is what I think of when people insist on "trust," but are hostile to any attempt to "and verify.") 

I know better than to point fingers. People would be incensed and (righteously) indignant at the accusation that their interpretation was anything but meticulously considered. Personally, I don’t think the court of public opinion has the tools necessary to condemn OR exonerate anyone over a decades-old story, and most people just run it right through their biases. But mainstream journalists investigating old claims are not immune to social narratives that silence victims, and the legal system practically shelters sexual assaulters. It gets so messy. And there’s a tendency to feel that only the court of public opinion holds any power.

Still, it’s hard not to notice that two of my greatest traumas have become a “great taste/less filling” shouting contest in the #neverBiden struggle. My own feelings on the matter are filled with rough edges and complications, and I’m still not ready to share them with the world. (Trust that I will overcome my personal revulsion as I vote for the health care without which I would be dead and kids NOT in cages.) And I can RESPECT either edge positions as easily as something more middling and messy like I have. I don’t expect survivors to vote for people they think might be assaulters if they can’t. I don’t expect folks who’ve seen political smear campaigns stoop to any level not be dubious.

However, some people have taken to saying that if they so much as SEE the opposing viewpoint on another person’s wall, they will begin unfriending. “If I see anyone stanning for Biden, I will just block them.”  Or, “If you believe Reade, just unfriend me now.” 

I get it. People want to feel safe in their own spaces. I know how social media gets, and there are issues (Swerfs, Terfs, homophobia, sharing that fucking Plandemic video) where I can’t really say that I don’t empathize with the impetus to just unfriend someone if you see sharing something someone is REALLY worked up about and opposed to. Especially right now—who wants to have a blow-up fight when you can’t even go have poke bowls afterward? And if their accounts are anything like mine, they have friends, good friends, and would-die-for-them friends on their Facebook, but also people they met one time at a craft circle or who share a single interest. And that’s not a relationship worth trying to salvage through a fundamental disagreement about something like dismissing sexual assault. 

Which is all to say that I empathize, but as someone who has been abused, walked away, been smeared, and then felt like Luke Skywalker getting saved by Han Solo who just showed up and took out Vader when at least SOME of my friends said, “I tried to verify her story, and I think she’s lying”….

BUT ALSO as someone who has been sexually assaulted and can completely see how it would make casting a vote for a rapist untenable, I read these statuses on both sides as silencing and erasing.

“If you speak your truth and it contains nuance I am not interested in, we shall no longer be friends.” 

And I guess I have to be okay with that. People have to do their own self-care and make themselves safe in their spaces. And maybe someday I’ll even come to accept that anyone who wouldn’t let me speak my truth on my OWN wall and in my OWN way wasn’t much of a friend. But it hurts to see that from those I’ve peeled off some of my armor around.

I have a feeling that many of the people I’ve seen doing it were caught up in a moment of hyperbole and frustration, and probably didn’t realize the implications.

I’ve tried to write this as gently as I could and from purely my own point of view, and everyone’s mileage may vary, but I guess I’ll find out if I’m summarily unfriended. And I guess I'm going to have to find a way to be okay with that.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Kids Are Alright

I have sort of a pair of stories, loosely related.

Yesterday, I was trying to explain the basics of the differences between economic classes to my clients' medium smol kid. He heard me talking about some low four-figure amount (enormous to a small kid) and when I told him it wasn't that much when you have bills, he asked if I was rich.

*pause for big laffs*

So I started explaining some of the ways those terms get broken up (and broken down) and given superlatives (like "UPPER- or LOWER-middle class"), and how it kind of depends where you live, so there's no SET cut off, blah blah blah.

Well, I used myself as an example of upper poor. I'm fine. My needs are met. I even have those liminal not-exactly-LUXURY-but-people-could-live-without items like computers and cars. But ALSO I technically live below the Housing and Urban Development Bay Area poverty line for an individual (even with my jazz hands and shenanigans).

His face grew somber when he heard that I was poor. He looked down at the ground as if weighing a big decision, although it didn't take him long. "I have money, Chris. You can have it."

*cue barely-keeping-it-together Chris* 

Of course, I had to explain again that I was really okay. (Really.) I live in a tiny place (that, while tucked into a really cute and nice village, is in a depressed area). I don't spend much outside of my needs. And his parents can teach him about the myriad ways and places they donate money, but he can keep his tooth fairy savings.

He offered me his TOOTH FAIRY money after a moment's thought.

That kid's all right.

His compassion made me think of something from my own childhood that I'd aaaaaalmost forgotten about.

I used to walk everywhere in Santa Clarita (long before its current density––back when it was the very definition of urban sprawl). An up-and-coming suburb was where my parents could afford to buy a house. The streets crisscrossed through lots of undeveloped areas that made the best shortcuts. So I was constantly hiking through some construction site or dry riverbed or something trying to shave a half an hour off my walk time to the local anything. (This is five years before even the first  mall dropped in Valencia). These shortcuts were often through the kinds of places you can get in trouble for trespassing if you're an adult, but that most kids (white kids in particular) get away with going through. I used to steal laundry quarters from my parents and then walk three miles to a bowling alley to play video games––it was about the closest thing we had to a good time unless you wanted to bike eight miles to the movie theater.

It was there where I first noticed homelessness. Calabasas, where I'd lived before––at least the part I haunted––was a combination of extreme wealth––multi-million dollar homes on the hills–– and the bedroom community of condos and apartments that those homes literally looked down on. (That's where we lived.) The area I lived had anti-loitering laws, overnight parking laws, and even a sign in every park or recreational area that said plainly that it was for local residents and anyone else would be fined and removed. So homelessness wasn't something I was ever really exposed to there. I was probably too young to realize what I was looking at when we lived in Canoga Park. And Santa Clarita certainly must have had it, but most of the development of the bedroom community from farmland was only a decade or two old.  I just hadn't really dealt with it.

Then one day, on one of my adventures, I met a guy living in a copse of trees in the riverbed. He had a ratty old sun-bleached tent behind the trailer park by the bowling alley and I still remember his dog was named Kerouac. (One of those things you realize the significance of later. Although I could not tell you if the guy realized it or had just watched that 80s Nick Nolte movie.) I said hi as I walked past. He nodded at me, but didn't look away.

I couldn't stand it though. Why did I have a house and he lived in tent in a riverbed? It just wasn't right. I made it INTO the bowling alley but as that blast of cold air hit my face and I saw the electronic glow of the games, I just couldn't. I turned around and went back.

Kerouac's human wouldn't take my quarters though. I remember saying please, my voice shaking, and he said "four dollars is not the real problem here." That day I ended up playing video games after all. They felt miserably unsatisfying, and I took the long way home. I didn't want him to see me after.

Later, I tried to make him a care package of everything I could think of he might need. A jacket no one really wore anymore. An old blanket. Some TP. Canned food. I maI waffled for hours on the idea of putting our camping tent in there. I finally thought better of it. We only had one and I was an only child––my parents (almost always correctly) knew it was my fault if something went missing. Too risky.

My plan was to put the box nearby so he couldn't possibly miss it, but then run away so he couldn't refuse either. But it was too heavy. It was just too heavy. I could lift it but I couldn't carry it very far, much less walk it three miles through unpaved riverbed.

I cried instead.

My mom found the box and confronted me (thinking I had plans to run away or something), and when I broke down and admitted my scheme, she hugged me for a long, long time in a way that I didn't get then. The way I wanted to hug the medium smol. To hold out a world that would blast the edges of so much goodness.

Of course after the bowling alley guy, I imagined folks of such circumstance were few and far between. It would be more than a decade after that moment before such a presumption was shattered, when a trip to Compton cracked open a childhood of sheltered privilege and a young white Chris, being hugged and rocked by a homeless Muslim, openly wept on the streets of Los Angeles's worst inner city when that cloistered version of me learned unambiguously that a world I knew to be imbalanced and unfair hadn't even shown me the half of it.

We get such a fleeting glimpse of what injustice means and how truly, deeply, profoundly unfair the world is before we begin to look past it or even to rationalize it as actually kind of fair. Even those of us who don't ever want to lose that perspective often require some filter as a survival mechanism. And the twin drums of victim blaming and meritocracy pound ceaselessly through our culture's mantras.

But a lot of kids––and I can't say it's all of them because a sense of entitlement gets its hooks in us early––but a LOT of kids see right through that bullshit to the heart of it.