Thursday, February 20, 2020

Abusive Billionaire Crap (The ABC's of the Modern Political Landscape)

CN: Abuse dynamics

Jokes about Warren "killing him" aside, let me do some real talk. I can't tell you what Michael Bloomberg does when he's not on camera (though an awful lot of people seem to imply that it isn't savory), but when he is on a national debate, he acts like an abuser.

Bloomberg got up on stage last night and lied. He lied in exactly the same way Trump did way back when he (Trump) still worried that his base might be scared off by fact-checkers.

He lied in exactly the same way in the way abusers least when they're in public.

"My taxes are too complicated," Bloomberg said.

Let me refresh your memory of the exact words of Trump: “It is big. And it is complex. And it is probably feet high. It is a very complex instrument. And I think that people would not understand it.”

But more to the point, even if he DOES release them next week in his right-before-Super-Tuesday surprise to convince worried moderate boomers that he's better than Trump (after all, he probably IS [actually] a billionaire and not a bloated hundred-thousandaire in massive debt to the Russian mafia oligarchs), telling people that you can't be forthright with them because they wouldn't GET it––they wouldn't UNDERSTAND what they were looking at––that’s abuser talk. How many times have you heard that in the mouths of abusers? “Look, I'm not going to justify myself to you. You don't have all the facts." (Unsaid: And I'm not GOING to give all the facts to you. I just expect you to doubt yourself––and I shall live underneath the umbra of that doubt.)

The real one, though, was about the NDAs on women he'd harassed. I don't know what he did, but I can tell you with the marrow in my bones that it was worse than tell a joke that "they just couldn't take." (Women can't take a joke, amirite? JFC!)

That shit where you swing the silencing tactic back around and blame the victim? That's classic abuser.

"Oh...THEY want to keep their stories private," he said.

Michael, do you know what they would have to do if you released them from their NDAs in order to keep their stories private?


That's it. They would just have to go on about their day. They would have to buy some tasty carbonated beverage from Safeway and sit down to sip it while watching The Witcher. That's it. Their stories would remain hidden. If some savvy reporter could even figure out who they were without them actually coming forward, they would simply have to change their response from “Sorry, NDA,” to, “Sorry. Don’t want to talk about it.” NDAs don't protect those women IN ANY WAY. Those NDAs don't protect anyone but MICHAEL BLOOMBERG.

But framing the isolation of victims from their ability to recount their stories as "for their own good" is classic abuser tactics. Telling people "It's private...WE don't want to air our dirty laundry" when someone is trying to hold them accountable for their actions is classic abuser tactics. And Bloomberg was on his "first-date" behavior last night.

I get that some people see a politician willing to switch their party to run for mayor (and then back again) as literally "as centrist as you can get" but I strongly suggest anyone who thinks that’ he is going to be anything but Trump with a shorter and bluer tie (and a far more Machiavellian mind) to consider the things it says about opportunism, manipulation, and rudderless self-absorption with his own political gain at any cost. We've already seen what the price of those things will be when (not so) deep down in places one doesn't talk about at parties (well, except for the fact that both Trump and Bloomberg DO talk about them.....even to reporters), there is a wanton bigotry displayed for women, BIPOC, trans folk, and anyone with the temerity to "choose" poverty.

Abuse has a social analogue in oppression and marginalization dynamics (complete with its own social forms of gaslighting, honeymoon cycles, and victim blaming) and while there are plenty of people who don't realize what they're doing or are enablers, obscenely rich, cishet white men who think they should be in charge are most likely to fill in the role of the unapologetic abusive partner: "You shouldn't have made me so angry. If you would just do what I tell you, these things wouldn't happen."

My Blue No Matter Who has limits, but frankly that's next season's debate. For now, let me just beg and plead that the generation who looked the other way when abuse was happening across the apartment complex and said nothing during awkward hallway encounters not do the same thing to the whole fucking country. Let's not even GO there, and then we won't have to even have the debate over which asshole could theoretically destroy democracy, marginalized communities, and pluralism more quickly.

Let's not make our decision between two unapologetic abusers.

Monday, February 3, 2020

It's Bigger Than "A Simple Geography Mistake"

Chris's Pass/Agg theater of the day (today with very little "Pass"):

Of course, everyone makes mistakes. Of course not everyone is fully versed in U.S. geography. Of course I'VE "ever made a factual error on social media." But before you dive in like Dean trying to take a bullet for Sam and run the "liberals are mean and just look for any excuse to be mean" play right off of page two of your playbook, I'm going to remind you of the Tan Suit News Cycle That Wouldn't Die™ so sit there for a second and shut your fucking hypocritical waffleslurper.

Do I care that someone doesn't know where a football team comes from? I have a pretty active imagination. I make my money by being creative. And I still have a difficult time picturing myself caring any LESS. I didn't even know who was playing until yesterday, and the only reason I know where one of the teams is from is because I could spit and hit the stadium.

But I do care that this is emblematic. I care that the President of the United States just pops off whatever is on his fucking mind and it is the official communication of the office. Today it might be a low-stakes error about where Kansas City is (or where the team is from if you believe the first "wave" of defenders that of course Trump knew there was a Kansas City in Kansas), but tomorrow it might cause a foreign policy disaster. He doesn't even lean over to someone (anyone!) and say "Hey, does that look good to you?" He doesn't double-check things. He doesn't make sure he's right...or even that he's spelled hamburger correctly. Because he's been alive for over seven decades and still hasn't realized that he has the capacity to be wrong. He's playing fast and loose with his fucking cell phone like he STILL hasn't realized there are consequences.

(Partially because there never are.)

I care that he's a constant national fucking embarrassment. This isn't like my friend making a mistake and me being an asshole that says "Haha! You don't know U.S. geography!" (You have my permission to smack me with a trout if I ever do this.) These aren’t off-the-cuff remarks. This is the President of the United States on official communications who regularly doesn't bother to fact check, get a second opinion, or even proofread. He doesn't treat his job with any sort of veneration or respect. (He only demands these things for himself personally.) In ANY other job, that sort of behavior from an outward-facing representative of the entire company would be considered egregiously unprofessional. CEOs have gotten fired by their boards for not being careful with their PERSONAL social media, never mind the company's official accounts. But you want me to LOWER the bar if it's POTUS?

I care that he makes mistakes like this all the time, but still fucking thinks he knows everything about everything. If this were the first boner, I'd be in line to defend him. But he doesn't grow and develop. He doesn't evolve. When I misposted a couple of articles in a one-week period (they were both over two years old, not current), I was mortified. Now I check the date EVERY time. He HAS no such shame. He just gets pissed off at the people who tell him he's wrong. Which means he goes on being wrong and making mistakes and not learning......and that, I very much DO care about. He should have a social media team, but he doesn't care that he makes factual errors, retweets Nazis, or undermines years of policy when does it all himself.

I care that he literally cannot admit error. The man wrote a tweet with a meaningless collection of letters that is now an international joke, and instead of saying "Yeah, I need to stop going to bed with my phone," or something that literally every human being would relate to, he tried to play it off like he would later reveal the super secret meaning of his "absolutely intended" gibberish. He uses sharpies on weather maps rather than admit he was using hours-old data and should have double-checked. He has no ability to admit that he is a human being capable of error. He only knows how to double down. That's not a LITTLE problem.

I care because he's NOT going to admit he was wrong about this. (He deleted the tweet. That's about as close as you ever get.) And whether he influences them or was simply chosen as their paragon avatar for his powers of truthbending, he now sits on the throne of a group that will defend his absurdities to the last. Even now––even after he deleted the posts––they are out there saying that the team is "basically" from Kansas. This behavior came from a place that can't admit fault or error. An entire political movement exists with whom FACTS DON'T MATTER. They would rather insist on "alternative facts" and defend what would have been perfectly-understandable mistakes as "not actually mistakes at all" by twisting themselves into pretzels

I care that he is a fucking buffoon. Not that he makes mistakes so much as he thinks he doesn't. Not just that he doesn't think he makes them, but he doesn't believe he ever WILL make them either because he truly, ardently believes that it is impossible he ever could. Ignorance is not a moral failing or a crime or even by itself a judgement of value. Clinging to ignorance and defending it IS. And while I might be a little nervous about a world leader who clearly didn't know some pretty basic stuff, even still I could be comforted if they had the humility to know that, and surrounded themselves with expert advisors who they respected and listened to. THAT AIN'T TRUMP. Not only does Trump embarrassingly not know basic things but he THINKS he does. Not only does he not know things, but he doesn't check in with the people who do––nor would he listen to them if they said something he didn't like. Not only does he not know things, but he regularly ACTIVELY MOCKS the very institutions that try to keep people informed and ATTACKS the individuals who point out that he is in error.

So you go ahead and climb up on that cross and tell us that we're all a bunch of look-for-anything-to-complain-about meanie mean heads being elitist about geography. Frankly, not knowing what the real issue is, but THINKING you do, fits in pretty nicely with the motif.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

No More Speed Limits for Trump (The GOP's Moral Failure)

I learned to drive in Santa Clarita Valley—specifically Canyon Country, its south-easternmost town. These days, you can find it on a map just north of Los Angeles, but back when I lived there, even the main drags had huge swaths of undeveloped land between a peppering of strip malls and housing tracts, and I had to explain it to most people by saying "it's near Magic Mountain." Learning to drive in Canyon Country was a swift lesson in Things Law Enforcement Didn’t Really Care About™.

They didn’t care if you sped on Soledad between Sand Canyon and the McDonald’s unless you were clearly doing over 75.

They would almost never enforce rolling stops except for on Whites Canyon, Soledad, or near this chunk of the town where all three schools were within spitting distance of each other. (You might have to really wind up to hit the middle school.

And if you were on Bouquet Canyon Road or Sierra Highway between Santa Clarita Valley and Palmdale, you could go as fast as you wanted. There was a posted speed limit of 55. But it didn’t matter. They never gave out tickets in the stretch between cities. And everyone KNEW they never gave out tickets. So drive as fast as you want. It may as well have been an autobahn.

Because laws that aren’t enforced don’t really matter. Something can be "technically" illegal, but if it is never enforced, it doesn't matter.

Trump’s acquittal, while absolutely the most predictable thing since Shutter Island, is now a lesson that there is no consequence to a sitting President using their power and authority to withhold congressional foreign aid at gunpoint in order to coerce other nations to interfere in U.S. elections. Further, it is okay for the executive branch to arbitrate whether or not the constitutionally mandated powers of the legislative branch are “valid,” and to completely disregard them if they wish.

Not “okay” of course. Everyone agrees that Trump did something wrong. But there will be no consequences.

It’s piss-obvious what happened. Trump withheld foreign aid from Ukraine in order to get them to announce an investigation into a thoroughly debunked theory in the hopes that the mere hint of impropriety would change his personal political fortunes against a rival he was losing to in the polls. (Naturally the “perfect” phone call the White House was a lie. This President lies. He lies a lot. He lies about shit that has been proven wrong on camera. But why should that stop the party of family values from treating him, from a sociological standard, more like a cult leader than a politician.)  In fact, it was SO obvious what happened that the Republicans essentially had to change their strategy in mid-stream. They had started by claiming it was about a deep and abiding concern for corruption (a claim betrayed by the timing, the conditions put on the money, and not to put too fine a point on it, but the fact is that this administration has yet to meet a corruption it didn’t like), but by the time Bolton was confirming the entire story and that it was actually even more corrupt than the initial investigation revealed, and GOP senators were breaking ranks to get to the truth, suddenly the entire argument shifted to “Okay, okay. What he did was wrong, but doesn’t meet the standard of an impeachable offense.”

Literally “He did it and we all know he did it. And he lied about it repeatedly. And it was wrong….and totally illegal. And he knew it was wrong when he was doing it. But since the Constitution is vague, we can pretend that it wasn’t so bad he should be removed from office.”

Lawyers even said that anything Trump did in an attempt to get reelected wasn’t impeachable because Trump thought it was in the country’s best interest. Give that a moment’s thought if you haven’t already. Have you EVER met a politician who thought that their election was NOT in the best interests of their constituents? This is literally arguing that ANYTHING a sitting President does—bribery, extortion….treason––is all okay so long as it furthers a reelection they “really” believe in.

Republicans have had a little “ends justify the means” problem with what they claim are their moral principles for quite some time now, but that sound you heard was millions of eyes going wide as it is still apparently possible to shock the rest of the country by just coming right out and making it your official defense.

Marco Rubio took it even a step further: ”Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office….”

If you unpack that, it’s basically, “Yeah, Trump broke the law and it was ethically bad enough to remove him, and we probably ought to, but I’ve decided not to." (Curiously, this might be the only stance that wouldn’t be reprehensibly hypocritical should a Democrat turn around and do the same thing in four years.

Of course there was never any doubt that this would happen. The Republican leadership was transparent about how impartial they WEREN’T going to be. When Trump was impeached, Mitch McConnell said he was going to do everything he could to help the President (until he realized those optics really sucked and then got all solemn and promised to do his impartial duty…..which just happened to involve doing everything he could to help the President).

The only moment that wasn’t utter, farcical Kabuki theater was when three senators broke ranks in wanting to hear from witnesses. Two were whipped back into line, probably with the threat of losing RNC funds (and if you’re slightly conspiratorial, both may have been putting on a “show” that McConnell agreed to ahead of time because they need to be seen as somewhat open-minded in their battleground states). The only holdout (Romney) was uninvited from CPAC. He’s being “punished.”

Republicans with the SLIGHTEST interest in finding the truth, never mind doing their job, are being “punished."

So the message is crystal clear, now Trump knows he can go as fast as he wants.

The legislative branch has essentially said that it’s okay if the President abuses their authority and holds up the funding CONGRESS allocated to fetter it to political favors. They’ve said it’s okay to enlist the aid of foreign countries to interfere in our elections. They’ve said that it’s okay for the President to ignore the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution and “decide” if a given congressional investigation is worth cooperating with. And if that President decides that it’s politically inconvenient or they don’t like where it’s going, they can just tweet “witch hunt” enough and ignore subpoenas en masse.  Far from mere “executive privilege” on a case-by-case basis decided by the courts, it is okay if the President deems something Congress was given the power to do as unimportant, it’s okay to just ignore their authority.

Well….not OKAY, but there won’t be any consequences for it.

Not a raised voice. Not a “Shame on you, Mr. President.” Not a non-binding resolution of censure. Not one finger wagged.

We all know what kind of frenzy we’d be looking at if a President with a “(D)” after their name had done half of this with an opposition Congress. We would be seeing an assiduous understanding of the “DUTY” of Congress, a keen grasp of the separation of powers, and a clear, lucid articulation of how ignoring subpoenas en masse was an irreverent mockery of legislative authority. Republicans bringing fidget spinners into chambers and railing with their grandstanding time that they can’t even GRASP what Democrats are on about is the worst sort of bad-faith partisan hypocrisy imaginable….which might matter if today’s GOP had shame.

Those who are worried about what happens now are not being hyperbolic. It is as bad as they’re worried it is. The Senate GOP closed ranks and sold out the interests of the American people to protect its party leader. In doing so, they were derelict in their duty to protect the legislature from executive attacks on the Constitution and that document's mandated separation of powers ("checks and balances"). They handed the keys to the President to ignore the rule of law because their political fortunes are all linked and among them they don’t have enough vertebra to form a single entire spine.

There are no adults in the room and the temperance we were assured Trump had behind his bluster never manifested.

Will Russia’s help be directly enlisted now? No more games. No more red-faced, flying spittle insistences that there was no collusion. Just a transparent series of strategy meetings in exchange for sanction lifting that no one will even bother to try too hard to hide. What about if Trump just starts granting political favors to Republican US state governors who will promise to close a few key polling stations, scrub some registrations, or pull some strings? (Swing states are won and lost by fractions of a percentage. It wouldn’t take more than one voter out of 200 being affected to make a difference.) What if he agrees to trade deals in exchange for campaign funding? What if he just decides to go with the play that works and suddenly it’s pay to play on US foreign aid? (You want that humanitarian aid that Congress has allocated to you? Pick the Democrat you’re going to be announcing a corruption investigation into.) Every nation could be secretly investigating a different democrat. And what if he decides to skip subverting democracy and goes straight for attacking it. ("I have decided it's in 'the best interests of the country' if we postpone the 2020 election until this contentious time has passed.") It’s not like it’s even terribly difficult to imagine Trump tangled up in any of these scenarios.

And perhaps more to the point, now the President can do any of these things so long as the opposition Senate isn’t anywhere close to a 2/3 majority.

It’s illegal, but it’s not like there’re any REAL consequences.

Trump can go as fast as he wants.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Splash Damage: A Play in Three Acts

NOT Writing About Writing now presents a medieval-themed allegory play called Splash Damage

Act One  

Scene 1

Somewhere in Cyberspace. Modern Day. Pierce and Norm are chatting.


I'm trying to come up with a joke about our current administration. Particularly the leader of the Republican party.

Well, he's put kids in cages. Memos leaked that the treatment of asylum-seekers was intentionally cruel to act as a deterrent. He has congratulated dictators, held back military aid in exchange for personal political gain, he is so insecure that he attacks his political allies who don't fellate him, sixteen-year-olds, and dead people on Twitter. He has abandoned our allies. He is behaving so exactly like Moscow would like him to that it's there's actually a pretty good case for him being a Russian asset––including doing absolutely nothing about the fact that they interfered in our elections. He obstructs congress, can't go a week without a constitutional crisis––to say nothing of just plain scandals like voicing support for dictators and ignoring journalists killed because of trade deals––, has clearly surrounded himself with criminals, and is an international embarrassment. He basically blew off the emoluments clause and any transparency around it, puts up staff in his hotel at cost like he's running a grift, is a walking ethics breach, and can't seem to cross the room without accruing some corruption charges, which isn't surprising since his understanding of the government that he runs clocks in at a bit under what an 8th-grade civics class would cover. He attacks any institution that besmirches him, no matter how integral they might be to a functional democracy. Not to mention that he hasn't fired a white supremacist on his senior staff, calls Nazis very fine people, is openly racist, misogynist (including a self-admitted sexual assaulter), and homophobic. And he's running a trade war with tariffs that Americans pay for, based on nothing but his demonstrably wrong ideas about what tariffs even are, what they do, or who pays for them, all essentially to assuage his ego about zero sum "deal making," which he is notoriously terrible at if he is not already the boss. He extrajudicially murders high-ranking foreign statespeople without a clear or present danger. He has now spent more of the taxpayer's money than the auto bailout just to keep farmers from losing everything, even though basically every mainstream economist says he's tanking the economy. If his lips are moving, he's lying. He has gutted decades worth of regulations set up to help people who don't have a billion dollars or a corporation with which to defend themselves, and he is a reprehensible character of breathless moral turpitude. He engages in outlandish nepotism, not so much draining the swamp as bringing in a giant hose and pumping the bilge directly into it. He has emboldened a new era of hate crimes, naked bigotry, and cruelty as the ends itself, all with Republican culpability. And that's before even cracking open his personal history of fraud, tax evasion, and credible rape accusations. If I believed in evil, this administration would be it.


I'm going to make fun of how he looks and suggest he has a learning disability.


Act II

Scene 1
Discord Chat Engine. Modern Day. Prudence and Pierce are chatting.


That joke was clever, Pierce, but perhaps consider that it reinforces taboo and negative stereotypes to others who share said characteristic but are not themselves terrible people like the person you are trying to laugh at–at least not BECAUSE of this characteristic. Plenty of people with bad hair do not employ white supremacists. Plenty of people with small hands are not holding up foreign aid contingent on their personal political benefit. Plenty of people who have learning disabilities do not place children in cages to try to deter those seeking asylum. Perhaps we should retire such humor in favor of better, more precise, humor that really gets at the terribleness instead of skipping past the terribleness to focus on looks or smarts. Surely accurate jokes can be equally titillating.

No, Prudence, I'm sorry. We have a moral obligation to make fun of him. And since he himself is sensitive to his looks, it must be in that way. There can be no other guiding star. Because my intentions are to harm only him, my impact will not matter. That is how life works when one is particularly odious, and truly deserves mockery. Their pain subsumes all other concerns.


Scene 1
A living room. Modern day. Mark is in the middle of the floor.

For all that he is and all that he is not, it is the characteristics he shares with me––the unalterable circumstances of my birth––that they find most disagreeable. Not the pain he inflicts or his dubious choices or his bigotry or his moral turpitude, but instead his appearance and his ability to process information. THAT is where their spurs land. That is what they find worthy of mockery. I can only conclude that who I am is worse than all these things combined, for it is the traits I share and not his willful behaviors that have become the insult.

I shall internalize this. I shall never forget the lesson I have learned this day about how much people who look and think like me are valued. And I am now in pain.


Monday, January 20, 2020

This Schedule Already Rocks my Socks!

[This got a little long for the FB post it started out as. I'm going to do some navel-gazing about my wonderful, kick-ass new schedule that I can already tell is better than sliced bread and possibly not getting charged the extra buck for guacamole at Chipotle.]

Going in two hours later each day (or an additional hour and 15 minutes on top of the late November adjustment) is going to make a big difference. For reasons I think have about 90% to do with perception, that end of the day has a very "small change, big results"/"fiddle with the knob and get a whole new dynamic" type ebb and flow about it.

I'll be able to really knock out an entire day writing before I have to get to work. If I sleep in, wake up, eat, do my morning routine (which I'll be the first to admit includes too fucking much Facebook), and then sit down to work a little late, I won't immediately have that sense of "WTF just happened? There's no time! I have to crank out some kind of puff piece if I'm going to get out of here by 1:15." Even when I **DO** have to go into work, most days I'll be done in just a couple of hours (instead of five or six) and able to come back and keep going if I wish (instead of exhausted). Plus there's plenty of time for adulting if I need an appointment or something, and not having to figure out what writing to sacrifice every time you want to have a teeth cleaning, get a skin tag looked at, or go take care of your passport is exactly the kind of thing creativity needs to flourish. Our high-octane, late-capitalism world of side hustles, constant productivity, and zero-sum time management is a near-impossible environment for creative thought, no matter how fecund the starting soil.

I also have a feeling that I WON'T do as much Facebook. At least in my experience I won't. I waste time––like really waste it––when "me time" feels like a starvation economy.  When I actually have time and I'm not worried about how much I've got to get furiously get done before I "hop in the shower at 12:30 to be on the road 1:15....", that's when I start having ideas left and right (but mostly left ones *rimshot*) and sitting down in the middle of the afternoon on a lark to just crank out two hours of fiction or something.

I also have a hard cap of 18 hours. The past few months it’s been 30 with most week’s creeping up to 35+ Twelve or more hours a week makes a huge difference. It’s like having an extra entire day.

But sitting here today, I can already tell that the biggest difference will be the three-day weekend every week. I got two days to relax and become myself again (yes, I was just coming back from a vacation, but with high-powered introverts like me, there has to be decompression after travel, no matter how relaxing the time was). Each day I wrote, (for I write every day), but without blog deadlines and productivity demands (and as I mentioned above, ironically wrote more). But then, instead of hopping right back into the grinder with a sense that I had only JUUUUUUUST gotten my various psychic needles out of the red, I get an entire extra day to focus on writing.

I know today is a bank holiday, so I'm joining many in having this three-day weekend, but getting one every week is going to help my creativity, help my quality vs. quantity, and help my output.

I took a pretty big financial chance with this schedule. An expensive month is going to see me dipping into my savings. (And so I take a crass moment to remind everyone that even a small patronage over on Patreon will help me out immensely.) However, that is actually what my 3-year-old Kickstarter is FOR––shoring up a budget shortfall and keeping me writing. I probably have too many money anxieties to sit and watch a savings account shrink month after month after month while staying zen and it was a mistake to think I could, but once in a while, I can talk myself down and put on my oxygen mask.

This will be the most writing-est schedule I've ever had. Technically, it won't be the most writing-est TIME I ever had. For 18 months in my early thirties, my then-spouse supported my quitting my day job. The only thing I had to do was about two hours of housespousery a day. And while I learned a lot and wrote a lot, I did not yet have the tools to make the most of that opportunity––both in terms of my prose skill, but mostly my discipline to stay focused on writing for hours a day.

However, I have never had a conjunction of so much time AND so much ability. If I can keep from worrying overmuch about my finances, it's going to be an explosion of creativity.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Domino Squirrels

Me: Wait, why do I have a window open to some comment about the immorality of physical violence in the formation of nation-states? Why am I reading this while I should be writing?

My brain: Because you were listening to your "Because you wanted Moana but also some other stuff."

Me: You're going to have to walk me through this one.

My brain: You were listening to Moana on a loop, but you got a little tired of it. Not so tired that you wanted to listen to other things, but tired enough that you wanted to intersperse other things into your Moana experience. But manually changing the song back and forth meant meant closing your writing tab every couple of minutes. So you turned on your soundtrack genius, and just started skipping songs you weren't into since that just takes a click. "Soundtrack" genius picks gave you Braveheart. Not the regular soundtrack, but the one with all the voice-overs called Additional Music From Braveheart which you bought because you're a big nerd who loves that soundtrack. You started reciting, along with the song, the last line to yourself in your best Mel Gibson-being-Scottish accent. ("They fought like warrior poets.") You wondered what really happened at Bannockburn since "historians from England will say Robert the Bruce's voice over was 'a liar'," Googled it, read up on the Wikipedia––WAY different––and like a COUPLE other things, and then found, on only the second or third page of results, an interactive map, and somewhere between "can't look away," "distracted by other people's emotions," and this idea that as a writer you have to occasionally "experience the malevolent aspects of the human condition," you scrolled down to the comments, which––being internet comments––did not stay on the subject of Bannockburn, but became a shoehorn for some white dude's freshman political philosophy ramblings.....

....all while you should have been writing.

Me: I miss our ADD meds.

My brain: I miss them too, brah. I miss them too.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Solstice Goals

On midwinter, I went and watched the sunset over the water, and as the longest night began, I considered the road ahead and my own moment of rebirth and renewal.

As much as I've never really done resolutions, and I'm not a particularly big fan of this time of year, I have found a lot of comfort in creating a little solstice ritual that involves a bit of a mental and emotional inventory and the setting of new goals to start the new year. I was going to just post the goals themselves on Facebook in a cross between accountability and telling my friends what I'm up to, but it ran a little long for FB, fit a little TOO well under "navel gazing," and it seems to me that sometimes the posts I think are almost gratuitously personal and uninteresting to almost everyone turn out to be some of my most popular. So I figured....what the hell. Let's make a post of it. 

As a disclaimer, both these goals and this ritual are intensely personal. I don't think everyone "ought" to do any of them. I don't think they have moral value. I don't think they bring me any closer to humanity's true nature. At the most, I think they involve listening closely to myself and trying to move closer to what would make me happy.

Woo and the Skeptic Writer

I keep most of my metaphysical thoughts pretty close to my chest. Once in a while a peep buys me lunch (or just kisses me so often that I have a big soft spot for them) and if they're curious, I'll spill it. Suffice to say that if they don't know what unmanifest Brahman or Taoist metaphysics are, we probably end up talking about Babylon 5 and Star Wars more than anything.

What's probably the important part to understand why I'm running around on solstice with a charm necklace and trying to both bend and be bent by "the will of the universe" or some shit, is this: I don't capital-B "Believe" in very much (outside of widely agreed upon cross-cultural empirical human experience). I don't waste time making sure everyone knows I DON'T believe either. But with most extraordinary claims, I consider the verdict to be out until/unless more extraordinary evidence is presented.

Perhaps as a writer who finds language to be just so amusingly elastic, or perhaps as just a skeptic who found one too many atheists insufferable to be willing to count myself among them, one thing I've seen evidence of time and again is the focal power of symbols and metaphor, the reorienting strength of ritual, and the ability of the mind to shape reality. I know that sounds pretty woo, but all you have to do is change the language, if you want to tuck your resident atheist into bed without giving them nightmares. The Placebo Effect is a real, measured phenomenon of the mind affecting the body. Our "Rorschach Inkblot" interpretations of random patterns around us provide personal psychological insight into ways of thinking we might not even be consciously aware of. Our ability to focus on an idea can be enhanced with a physical object that jogs our sensory experience with tactile and visual reminders or by repetitively doing something that reminds us. You can talk about meditation reducing cortisol inflammation and anxiety without ever getting into balancing your energies.

So that's what's going on. If you're one type of person, I tell you that I'm going to clear my head and mindfully focus on some symbols while I enter a non-drug-induced altered state of consciousness through mindful breathing. If you're another type of person, I tell you I'm going to take my fetishes up to a place of power to do some solstice magic.

Of course, to a third type I say only, "Blasphemy. Pure unadulterated, Claude-Frollo-sentences-you-to-be-lashed-in-the-public-square-for-heresy blasphemy."

Now, When I Say Goals....

Some people are taskmasters with their goals. They are going to quit this. Learn those. Lose that. This is the day their life changes, by God. I think that's one of the reasons I'd rather leave "resolutions" to other people and find a day a little more personally meaningful for me than one where I'm mostly watching everyone nursing hangovers and being appalled that the brunch place isn't open until 2pm. Most folks want their goals to hurt because it's time to live life differently and if they have to wear leather with spikes and yell German at themselves, they're going to make it happen.

It's not that kind of movie, kid.

I mean, I could do that. I certainly have in the past. I am nothing if not overdo-it capable. But I find the Venn diagram between people who set taskmastery goals and people who are back to their old ways by Jan 8th is almost a perfect circle.

For me, solstice goals more like deliberately fiddling with the knobs. I may have a goal to get something done but I'm not going to stand over myself with a riding crop. (I let other people do that....erm perhaps another time.) These goals are not supposed to alter my entire lifestyle or be hard to keep up with. Often they're things I want to do––those little inner voices all year long that say, "You should do more of this," or "You should do less of that." Last year I set goals to work on my novel and hike (both things I really want to do), but also just to see more movies and stop working so many double- and triple-booked side gigs.

I feel like most resolutions––certainly of the New Year variety––are people slamming themselves into a wall in hopes that they hit it hard enough to break through like they're fucking Bugs Bunny or something. They hope to leave a little them-shaped hole in all those obstacles. And usually they end up smashing themselves more than anything. For me, solstice goals are more like redirecting the force of what's already there to something a bit more aligned with my objectives and values.

And Up I Went

It's a two-mile walk to the reservoir and then a ten-minute hike up the hill to get to the water. Then it's about another quarter of a mile to get away from the cement dam, and find a dock with an empty bench or picnic table. I sat down with a touch over an hour before sunset; faced out across the water; watched the sunset, the clouds scudding across the sky, the shifting pinks and purples; the ripples from the wind on the surface of the water that (from a distance) looked like a chaotic teeming mass of worms, listened to the birds talk about how bad they want to get laid, and began to breathe very, very slowly.

This is the actual place.
It's not a Dawson's Creek
But if you want to sing some Paula Cole, it would
probably be appropriate.
Perhaps most importantly, I listened to me. It's funny how seldom I do that. I spend all day with me and my internal monologue and my various voices, and this brain that tries to synthesize every experience immediately into language, but being so still and quiet that I can actually hear ME is sometimes a conscious effort.

I sat and thought about the past year and the one coming up. I thought about the therapy I concluded eight months ago and if I was keeping up with the strategies I'd learned, and where my defenses were weakening. I thought about what I want my life to look like––not pipe dreams but actual hopes. This time next year. In five years.

I talked to some things that arguably weren't there (but it was the talking that mattered). Only the birds answered me, but I understood.

I thought about where my time and energy have gone and places where those things do not align with my values and objectives. I thought about what would make me happy.

I thought about some things I have not the heart to tell you.

And when the long night grew too deep and cold, I made my way up the trail by cell phone light and began the two-mile walk home.


Last year I set four goals (write book, more movies, hiking, and fewer hours working), which I did reasonably well at hitting given the circumstances. My least successful was the book because even though I worked fewer hours, I still had a bit too many. This year I had a lot of little tweaks I wanted to make, but I didn't just want some arm-length laundry list of rando goals, so I spent a lot of time going through them and deciding if they were important or just me wanting to do everything (which is not, like, outside the realm of how I sometimes handle things). It LOOKS like a lot more than it is, but it's really a new four goals with a few specifically-articulated components each.

  • Work hours 
  • Prioritize Book
  • Reading More Fiction
  • Side Projects

The linchpin of my writing goals is getting more time to write. This last six months I had 20 hours a week on paper, but 30-35 hours most actual weeks. While it was great for my wallet, I had a hard time keeping up with any writing goals. I have pulled the trigger on lowering my availability to my clients starting in January. I handed them my ideal schedule (12 hours) and my maximum availability (18 hours). My savings account is going to take a hit, but I would rather have the writing time.

My novel has to take a high priority this year. Acknowledging that I have severe ADD, I must make a tweak. I will always expand to fill up as much time as I give myself for this blog. After seven years I must admit this and redirect force instead of trying to meet it head on with willpower. While on occasion, there isn't enough time, there is never too much. There is only just enough. Because my brain doesn't work very well until the screws start turning. So if I have six hours to write a post, it gets done at 5:55. If I have EIGHT hours to write the exact same post, it gets done at 7:55.

This is the way.

So starting now, I do my novel first. I have to, or I will never get to it. The end of the day will always be getting something in right under deadline and I have not managed to rewire my brain to finish blogging with an hour or so to spare. The fiction must come first. I'll probably start with a page a day and see how that feels. The important thing is that writing happens first.

Like many people, I found my ability to read fiction was severely impaired after the 2016 election. I just could not get into it. And I have probably read something like ten books a year since then. (That is like....almost a tenth of my usual rate.) I still read voraciously, but mostly non-fiction articles, think pieces, news, and such. I still ENJOY reading fiction when I tie myself to the mast and ignore Facebook's siren call. So I'm going to start slow––one book a week––and if I'm not quite up to that, I'll readjust, but just thinking about it as a low-key obligation might help crowbar me off of screen time. 

I began several side projects over the summer, all of which had to be put on the back burner when the true impact of watching the baby became apparent. I want to begin pursuing them in earnest. Writing About Writing merchandise (complete with a snazzy new logo) will probably start showing up in a couple of months. There is also a compilation ebook of a couple dozen earlier articles in the works that will go on sale for just a dollar or two. (They'll always be free here. It's just if you want them all in one easy place.) It's time to renew giving all these things a little bit of time each week.

  • Hiking/Walking (25 miles/week)
  • Tai Chi (Once a week)
  • More Water
Last year I had a wonderful time incorporating hiking into my life. It's a thing I enjoy, so it wasn't a burdensome obligation to go find a trail. I even hiked up a mountain in the summer. I'd like to do some more ambitious hikes this year if I can get in shape for them, and to that end I want to try to hit 25 miles a week if it's not raining. That is pretty close to what I'm doing now, but it will encourage me to get out and take a shorter walk most days, so I'm not trekking down to San Jose on Sunday to try to do it all last minute.

In college I took Tai Chi to fulfil a physical education requirement, and that chuffed my Maguffs. My ADD brain is not good with the sit-still brand of meditation ("Oh good luck with THAT!" my brain says), but the kinds that involve repetitive moving are really quite wonderful. (I think that's half the appeal of hiking.) The YMCA that I was given a membership to––so I could take the kids I nanny swimming––has a Tai Chi class late in the morning. I'll have to be a little more deliberate about my writing time, but that's usually not a bad thing.

When I got out of my last relationship, I didn't pay much attention to what I was eating or drinking. I was in survival mode. So I just drank however many Diet Pepsis and didn't think too much about it. Last year I started to phase out regular sweetened soda (except as a rare treat), and this year I want to extend that to the diet stuff and start carrying around a water bottle and just being better about drinking more water. I'm not thinking cutting it out completely or anything. Just bringing it down to one or two a day at most. I don't know how to parse through the studies about phenylalanine (beyond to people with PKU, which I don't have) or gut flora being trashed by "fake sugar." My doctor says it's probably mostly okay but that water would definitely be better. 

  • Less "dribble"
  • More fun––Netflix and video games
  • Cooking
  • Photography
  • Keeping up with calendar
  • Pare down
My online life is an amazing balancing act. I'm not amazing AT it, understand, but if I didn't spend most of my time flat on my face, the act itself would be impressive. I can't walk away from "online" because that's where I promote my work and most of the reason I get paid. (I also wouldn't want to because that's where 95% of my social interactions are.) Any effort to reduce online time usually lasts only a couple of days. And yet I am often "stuck," refreshing Facebook or reading ONE MORE article. And while I am comfortable with my political and ethical convictions, I know that my biases are being stoked to make me angry all the time by algorithms that monetize my anger. 

What I want is for my life to be more deliberate. So much springs forth from that. From more writing time to reading to potentially taking up an instrument (below). But when I'm stuck online, I feel like I'm dribbling. I'm not really working. I'm not really playing. I'm not really enjoying myself. I'm just there scratching that itch, sometimes on bad brain days for HOURS. I don't know how much it will work to just think about this and commit to "not getting stuck as often," but if that doesn't work, I can install some Facebook monitor apps or something. Sometimes just being aware of something helps. But also....

To that end I want to "play hard." Or at least harder. Instead of four hours doing nothing on Facebook, I want to close the window and do the things I want to do––that I LIKE doing. Watching Netflix. Playing video games. Reading (above). I have so many games I'm itching to play and so many shows I'd like to see. I'm going to start putting PLAY time in my daily schedule to help encourage me to spend more time away from FB. Maybe I can't do it by just willpower and have never had much luck from simply saying, "Must.....not.....Facebook!" However, it's very likely that working WITH my brain, I can find success in saying, "Oh that's my 4pm alarm. It's Fallout o'clock!"

I bought a meal kit from Amazon on a whim this year––just to try to get more vegetables into my diet, really. I really enjoyed making it. So I bought another. Then another. Suddenly I'm going through two or three a week and loving the shit out of cooking. I never knew how much pleasure and comfort it would bring me (especially feeding peeps). So what I really want to do is try to find some recipes for those kits I've really liked, start buying those ingredients, and learn to make those recipes from scratch. I'll start with one and then keep going. I'd like to try to cook one meal from scratch at least once a week, but it'll probably start with once every two.

Similarly I recently got a camera. (Like a real one, not just the cell phone type. An older model as a "starter," but no slouch.) I have gotten to play with it a bit, and it makes me really happy to try to find the shot (even if I'm no good), but I really want to sit and read the instructions, learn what it does, find a cable so I can upload them to my computer, take LOTS more pictures and kind of go all in on this. If it turns out to be one of those things that kind of fades in time, I'll let it go without trying to hardass myself about it, but if I continue to dig it, I'd like to be knowledgeable enough by the time I buy a "Yes, I'm really serious about this" camera to know what I want.

My 2019 day calendar was perhaps my most important tool in keeping myself from feeling too much like I was spinning out of control. Therapy was great, and one of the enduring lessons I took from it was to do what kept me feeling in control before I felt OUT of control. When I kept up with all the little aspects of my day calendar (scheduled posts, planned writing, budget, adulting), I knew how much money I could spend and be okay. I knew what blog posts were going up and when. And I knew when I was going to take care of that thing. When I let it slide, some of those things made me anxious. ("Someone canceled a $5 Patron. How will I afford food this month?") Having a thing I can look at that basically says "That fear is unfounded. Chillax!" helps profoundly.

I went through a breakup a few years back. It was an adult relationship, and I had a lifetime worth of stuff that I then had to move into a single room. It's a BIG room, but it's still just a room. And there are days I feel a little bit like I'm in a clown car with my stuff. It gets messy so quickly, and there are spots that just kind of become staging areas for junk. The fires this year made me think about how much I wouldn't take if I had to up and leave, and what I really want and need. I'd like to start getting rid of something every day––something that I don't want or need. Even if it's just one T-shirt that doesn't fit anymore or textbook that I'm kidding myself I'm ever going to read again. Just ONE thing each day.

I will have to keep ruminating on the possibility of getting rid of my bed. I love this bed, but it is a king, and it takes up SO much room. 

  • Sleep
  • Learning Shit
  • Keyboard(?)
Sleep could really go under physical, emotional or mental, so I just picked the one with the least other entries. I've been doing so much better this year about getting good and proper sleep. No more sleepwalking. No more diagnoses of exhaustion and orders to bed. No more dire warnings that I'm slowly killing myself. However, that balance is still very up and down. I make sure that I get naps or sleep in when I have a sleep debt, but I want to start being better about just getting the right amount of sleep every night. The easier schedule means I get to sleep in, so the most important thing I can do at night is to stop doing things that DON'T END after about 11pm. (Online stuff and video games.)  If I'm watching a show, the show will end and I can look at the clock. If I'm reading in bed, I'll probably fall asleep right away. But video games or Facebook are too stimulating and don't have an END, so I can look up and realize it's three or four. I'll set a few alarms for 11pm. 

There are a few of things I really want to learn. I don't necessarily know that they will bring me joy and count as self-care (why this is mental and not emotional), but I have wanted to learn them for a while. When I was fresh out of college Spanish, I could keep up with most simple TV shows, but these days I miss a lot of what is said. I know I need to keep studying and practicing if I don't want to forget, and particularly if I want to get better.

The other two things are a little more rarified skills. I keep a chain around my neck with a LOT of charms, and I bought a jewelry kit, but there sure are a lot of little rings and wires that I have no idea what the fuck they even are, never mind how to use them. I don't need to be a master jeweler or anything, but being able to make a jump ring or keep one charm from clacking too much against another with some spacers would be a useful skill.  

The other thing? I want to learn to tie knots. And not for Boy Scouts, you feel me. I have a book. I have some nylon rope. But I need to sit down with some YouTube videos and my book and practice. 

The trick is going to be not doing too much at once and also not perpetually procrastinating these as things I'll do eventually. None of these is like a "One hour a day of rigorous study and three hours a week practicum...." When I have a good feeling for how my schedule is shaping up, I'll fold some modest time in.

I have this keyboard that I bought like ten years ago and all these good intentions to practice piano. I've even had time once or twice, but there is really NO place to put this thing right now. There IS a space that it would fit. I would have to set it up and break it down after each use, but that wouldn't be super tough. (The bookshelf I could lean it on is right there and I don't often need access to the books.) I'm not going to commit to this yet because there's a lot of other stuff going on and I don't want to overdo it, but as the year matures (perhaps at the equinox), I would like to come back to this. Musical practice has always helped me think more clearly and be more emotionally centered when I've done it regularly. Plus I just fucking love music and creating it is the bees knees.

I will take inventory of my progress at the summer solstice and on the equinoxes and probably find I'm doing well with some things and need to be more deliberate about others. And the world will keep hurtling around the sun. The days will shorten again, and this year will come to a close and I will again think of where my life is, where I want it to be, and how I can get there. But for now, the longest night is over, and our hearts and our ambitions begin to unfurl again.