Thursday, July 28, 2011

Will the Sky Fall With the Debt Ceiling?

Are these the final moments of our financial lives before the US plunges into default? The media certainly has whipped up a frenzy of emotion around the debt ceiling crisis. I am not an economist. When the economy fell over a cliff in 2008, I didn't believe it would affect me at all. I wasn't a Wall Street investor. I'd owned my home for nearly 20 years. But I was wrong on that one. It turned out that because I have a public sector job with a pension, I was not safe. Nobody is.

The irony is that most middle and working class folks have already lost so much that, emotionally, it's getting hard to rise to the bait of these trumped-up crises. It begs the question: How much worse can it get? Unfortunately, as someone who has traveled quite a bit in the third world, I know that answer and it isn't pretty. The upside is that people do set priorities differently when their lives aren't centered on money and things. When relationships assume greater importance than material objects, it's like seeing the whole forest instead of just your personal tree.

On the other hand, I don't want to romanticize poverty. Having shelter, food, clothing and access to decent medical care are concrete conditions whose importance can't be overstated. With or without the debt ceiling fiasco the powers that be are already reaching into our pockets and helping themselves. On a personal level, my medical co-pays have doubled in the past year. Transportation costs are skyrocketing. You can literally take a bus from one end of Costa Rica to the other for what it costs to get across the bay on BART.

To add insult to injury, Obama's alternative to stave off US default in the face of Republican intransigence involved raising the age that people can get medicare from 65 to 67. Those extra two years of health care denial would make the 3,000 plus people who died on September 11, 2001 seem like just a drop in the bucket. Homeless, throw-away people litter the streets of San Francisco. Will the sky fall if the debt ceiling is not raised?

The truth is it is already lying in pieces all around us.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Celebrating Life Outside the Box

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood...
Spending time in rural California really brought the differences between urban and country life into focus. While the quiet simplicity of country living can be somewhat of a draw for me, the conformity of many small town folks is not. Marriage and family plays a huge role in the lives of most mainstream Americans. I realize that this is a no-brainer for the majority of people out there but, as someone who has live outside of the heterosexual family structure since the death of my mother and grandparents in 1973, it always comes as a bit of a shock.

Here in the Bay Area it is easy to find people who live outside the nuclear family detonation radius. The world of books, museums, education, science, friendship beckons from all corners. But during my recent travels in the hinterlands, the subject of marriage and children was continually being raised by strangers along with the unspoken assumption that we all participate in these rituals.

A waitress in a cute restaurant in Truckee chatted about her fiancee and finally setting the date. A group of hikers went on about the wedding they had just attended. Children and husbands were always near the top of the conversations initiated by store clerks and shop owners. I understand that these were not deep, substantive relationships but, back home, all these folks seem to have a broader range of small talk topics. And this is all because one word: diversity. I now realize that if I want to try living in a small town, it had better be a very non-traditional one.

Marriage and the subsequent offspring it brings forth undeniably serve as a cornerstone of life on this planet. Even young LGBT folks have taken to this approach with a vengeance. But, in a time like ours, when consciousness seems to be reverting back to the nineteen fifties, it is imperative to remember that the road less traveled is lined with priceless scenery. The greatest contributions to art, music, literature and the cultural life of a people have been made by outsiders, people who do not live by a pre-programmed itinerary, but make up the rules as they go. And urban centers have always been havens for these dispossessed, places where "otherness" can be both supported and validated.

As the conservative among us celebrate marriage, families and the rearing of children, we should step back and think of the artist in her garrett, that weird guy drawing science fiction comics, that eccentric old woman with her lovely garden and too many cats and, of course, ourselves, in all our limitless variety, rejoicing in drama, beauty, tenderness, sadness, even anguish in the blank space that once held only emptiness and silence.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Methinks The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Michelle and Marcus
those Batty Bachmanns
Helen LaFave,
lesbian stepsister
Shakespeare's age-old insight resonates in the case of Michelle Bachmann and her husband Marcus and their emotionally-charged crusade against LGBT people. Michelle, in spite of her lesbian stepsister, has a real bee in her bonnet (not to mention bats in her belfry) about, not only the rights of queer folks, but our very existence as well. Our "homosexual agenda" is, in her twisted mind, a plot to take over the world. (I thought we Jews had the monopoly on this...what happened did we sell the franchise?).

And yes, as in the case of Anita Bryant before her and in spite of the nausea factor, I do wonder about Michelle's undercover sexual leanings. It takes a lot of repression to cultivate a passion of that magnitude. Oy, and then there's Marcus, her flaming hubby. It isn't difficult to spot the gay in Marcus, no matter how hard he tries to pray it away. Poor schmuck, he even tries to "help" other people exit the "sad lifestyle." And yes, it is sad to be in the closet. It takes a very high personal, emotional toll to live a lie.

Taking away our civil rights seems to be the primary goal of this demonic duo, so we do need to stop laughing long enough to make sure that this belligerent broad and her sorry spouse don't wind up anywhere near the presidency. Otherwise we'll all have to spend hours sewing pink triangles on our clothing!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nature, Capitalism and the Universe

Donner Lake
Spending time away from the rat-race alters perception in a myriad of ways. Nature is something I didn't see much of as a child. It was at least a two hour drive from where we lived to the countryside with its farms, rivers and forests. The urban landscape was mostly all I knew and, to me, it went on forever. Now I understand why people who incorporate religion into their lives are most often rural folks. Feeling small in the presence of something large and majestic is daunting and reassuring. Like some of the acid trips of my past, the natural world can be a keyhole opening into another reality, a glimpse at something more.

However I interpret it, the experience makes it harder to get back to the daily grind of working. For me, job-related activity is a stretch even in the best of times, as it is for anyone who must repress creative desire to economic necessity.

I was on the reference desk with a colleague who has an artist friend employed to create video games. "What a great job, she must love it!" was my reflexive response. She replied simply, "She loves it the way you love your job, you love your job, don't you?"

And I do enjoy my job, especially compared to some of the other things I have done to earn a living. But that doesn't change the fact that would rather be writing, creating my own work. Thus, the difficult march to the proverbial different drummer. It's a struggle I can't win. My more committed co-workers do not like my emotional distance from my work and bosses do not approve of my "attitude." These factors may prevent me from scaling the ladder of success, but not from acquiring great  material for a story.

So, I have returned with a thud from the Eastern Sierras. Next week I will be back at work, a changed being, someone who has been to the mountaintop, taken nourishment there, and come back with a souvenir both precious and intangible; the sense that the all-consuming, merry-go-round of daily life is only a fraction of a universe that is beautiful, vast, boundless and unfathomable.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Vacation

Ah, mountains, hiking trails, lakes and streams. I am busy conquering the great outdoors one mountain at a time, but will return to blog again in mid-July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What the Body Remembers...

Through our brains, our bodies store memories of experience. Most times these are traumatic events because the imprinting that most well-defined is accompanied by adrenaline and other hormones produced by stress.

I've noticed this lately because, since my house was robbed, I have a physical sensation of fear when I enter the back bedroom after coming home from work. I go there first to make sure the drawers are in their proper places and all is as it should be. The sensation, obviously, comes from memory although, rationally, there is no psychological reason that it should persist. Yet persist it does and in other species as well.

I had a cat, Baba Ganoush, who lived to the ripe old age of 21. In her kitten-hood she had a traumatic experience with an orange. I was peeling it and it squirted her in the eye. For the remainder of her long life, whenever she saw or smelled an orange being opened, she would begin to squint, even if she was across the room. Her body held the memory of that experience until she died.

My partner, D., was attacked in her apartment nearly 40 years ago when she was a college student. The other day as she was still sleeping and, standing beside the bed, I touched her arm to wake her. From her sleep, she screamed and pulled away from my hand. Her body remembered that night, so very long ago, when she woke to find a stranger on top of her. It is similar to the post-traumatic stress that soldiers experience after they have come home from war,  a terrible and stunning reminder of the way negative experience shapes and changes us.

Do we ever really escape our history? Yes, we can move on, achieve, accomplish and evolve. But in the convoluted pathways of our brains we carry all the danger signals that we have ever received, along with the positive and neutral feelings, smells and sensations of memory. Memory traces that can return when these areas of our brains are re-stimulated by circumstance or even drugs.

Whenever I have painful dental work done, I enjoy escaping into the fog of nitrous-oxide gas. Often, it takes me back to specific situations in my youth. In one nitrous episode, I was playing my guitar, something I hadn't attempted for over fifteen years. It inspired my to go under my bed and retrieve the instrument and see what I could do with it. Unfortunately, my guitar playing turned out to be even worse than I'd remembered. My memory of notes, chords and songs left a lot to be desired. I'm sure my brain and body are aware that my life is not dependent on musical skill or expertise. And, for that, I am eternally grateful.