Rattle

In a rush they shove us into containers,
Anything they have that will hold us,
Desperate,
They like or hate what fits,
They hate or disregard what doesn’t.

If there is space around us in that shape,
They say it is our fault for not filling.
We are… deficient. Wanting.
Their expectation magically
Becomes our… abnormality.

Some fill the hollow and pass on the containers
Some do not and pretend, and pass on the containers.

And some of us rattle in the containers,
insistent, and
break them.

A Tribe Of One.

RFTribeOfOneIt wasn’t too long ago that I was in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, sitting in the local steakhouse at the bar next to a then friend who kept introducing me as being from Trinidad, a prop of the exotic in retrospect, but a burden. So I spoke to him about it, because it’s factually incorrect.

I’m not from Trinidad, I grew up in Trinidad and am a naturalized citizen. I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I left there when I was 3, left Ohio when I was 9, and so on, and so on.

I left, a bit aggravated, and when he and I spoke next he said the bartender – who had a PhD in sociology – pointed out that he was encroaching on an identity that I had built over the years, which I knew but didn’t know about why I was upset. There were other things about it. Being from outside the U.S. comes with a stigma when within the U.S., just as being from the U.S. comes with a stigma when outside the U.S.

RFTaranYoungWisconsinWhat makes it more complicated is how I came about my identity. The picture on the right includes a toothy version of me at bottom, 2nd from left. These were my friends in Milwaukee. Notice anything? I didn’t. These were just my friends. I was the baby of the group, and while I do not remember them, and they likely don’t remember me, I viewed this as normal. This was, after all, my life, and I was about 3. We got into trouble together, though I suspect I got into trouble more. We were all judged about the same with the only distinction age, the tyranny of time.

RFTaranOhioBackyardFor reasons I didn’t quite comprehend, we whisked off to Dayton Ohio, where I traded a rich life of friends for a suburban backyard with a dog, not by choice, but by circumstance. My parents had the votes, I had… the results. I grew to like that life, running around, peddling a bicycle around, and then one day, I found out something.

I was brown.

Now, of course I knew I was brown. My father was browner. His parents were also browner. But up until a magical day when some kid broke an antenna off my father’s project car, an old Duster, and he lodged a complaint with the kid’s father, who happened to be a cop, I heard the term ‘Spic’. Understand, my father’s side of the family is predominantly East Indian by way of Trinidad, so that particular slur doesn’t make sense to me, and when I asked my mother about the term – my father was not in the mood to be asked, I remember that – I was told simply that it was, “a word we didn’t use.” It was 1978, I was 8, and it made no sense to me as many things didn’t, so I was quickly distracted by peanut butter cookies.

Not too long after, I was kissed by a lovely girl named Jenny in her treehouse nearby, and was informed that I was her boyfriend. She even dedicated a song to me in Music Class as she played the drums. “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra. We went skating to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, singing at the top of our lungs in true 1970s fashion. Fun goofy kid stuff.

Until one day, the kid who broke my father’s antenna caught me on the way home from school with a baseball bat and told me to leave her alone before knocking me out with it. I wasn’t a tough kid then. I was a kid who laughed, who smiled, who was polite… not perfect in school. My friends got me home where I lay on the plush ‘baby turd brown’  couch (it was the 1970s) with my mother worrying over me, telling me not to go to sleep.

I felt anger. Rage. Frustration. And so I did find that kid after school one day and I lost that fight, so the next day I fought him again. I lost that one too. And the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Every busted lip and bruise was answered at home with, “fell off my bike”.  My father worked nights, my mother was easy to convince. One day, though, I won. During all of this, I don’t remember Jenny at all. It’s as if she disappeared.

This was my introduction to racism, and this was my response to it. Decades later I would note that even though I had encountered it, all but a few times they hated me for being a race that I wasn’t.

Soon after, I was sent down to Trinidad by my parents, where everything was inverted as far as the color of people. People of European descent were the minority – still are – and everyone else is a shade of brown, or of Asian descent. It meant going from being hated for one reason to another, as I still had the American accent and was not considered Indian enough by some, White enough by others, and not black enough by still others. Add to that going from a Jehovah’s Witness to my father’s side of the family practicing Hinduism, and things got really hairy about who I was, on top of everything else. My mother didn’t come down, my parents divorced, and life was at best a turmoil before and during adolescence as I constructed from the bits and pieces of everything… who I was.

It was my own gauntlet. My own forge, surrounded by tribes, alone, trying to fit in while remaining an individual with those awkward hormones not helping matters at all. I worked in the family businesses not because I was industrious – I was – but because my social life simply didn’t exist. I didn’t belong anywhere, so I occupied myself in ways that would at least gain some form of respect from my elders. Rewinding motors, offset printing, and early failures at sales for both. Give me a computer, though, and I could change the world – that’s what I thought, anyway.
I couldn’t afford weights, so I lifted bricks. I never backed down from a fight and sometimes, if I’m honest, went looking for fights because things at home were less than stellar. The kid who laughed and smiled was pretty much a facade. I had forged myself into someone tough. Into someone that people didn’t mess with. I leveraged printing from the family business into a free gym membership. I leveraged every moment with a computer to become a computer programmer. When the business was bad, I subsisted on what was available. I went one two week period rationing a jar of peanut butter that I had bought on my own.

This, you see, is a lot of identity to build. Leaving Trinidad at 16, I got my father to sign my emancipated minor status when I went to college in Irving, Texas, and from there I worked, I went to school, then I worked and didn’t go to school when I got programming gigs. Student Aid was a joke. I wasn’t black enough for this, hispanic enough for that. I fell through the cracks of the late 1980s of equal opportunity, but what I could count on was… myself.

Strangely, I only encountered a small amount of racism in Texas at the time, surrounded by friends of all shades. I melted into this world, and lost what I was trying to do somewhere along the line. I drove to Oklahoma, to New Mexico, to Louisiana, to Arkansas, to Mexico. I did what I had to do to make ends meet, and I saw an America that was not the America I thought it was when I was abroad – as happens.

And then I ended up in New York City repairing commercial dishwashers before I joined the Navy. When I signed my contract, a friend of mine who was, and I imagine still is, of African descent decided to go out drinking (underage). We hung out in CBGBs, had all sorts of fun, and the week before he headed off to bootcamp, we were out in the village when some angry biker chick shouted across the street that, “N****** and Spics ain’t allowed ’round here”. So, we got our asses kicked by bikers and rode the subway to sobriety. I mean, in retrospect, why didn’t we see bracing the biker gang was a bad idea?

And why is it that I don’t use the word in Tom Sawyer, but calling people of latin descent ‘spics’ is allowed? Why is that permitted?

My recruiter, by the way, noted that I was hispanic so I could get more points for him. ‘Equal Opportunity’ my ass.

Now, all of that said, those account for my first 20 years. The Navy wasn’t bad. In fact, once I got out of the nuclear pipeline, it was pretty good. People liked or hated me for the right reasons, which was a nice recalibration. Upon getting out, I taught medical technicians in Harlem. I had a lot of explaining to do one night with a non-stock 1985 Chrysler Laser with a hatchback, where IV needles and my Florida plates took some explaining to a white cop in Harlem, but I got through that unscathed.
I returned to Florida, where I had been stationed, and ended up being a team leader at a blood bank where I was respected and liked, then dove into programming again for Honeywell where I encountered racism only once where I was referred to by a Sand-N****r by someone who I simply ignored and outperformed and outlasted.

Now, all this time, I never lied about who I was. I refused to do that, I still do, because if a person – or as I was taught growing up, a man – betrays his word, he is nothing. And of all the things I could be, I knew I was not nothing.

I became an individual, a tribe of one, not because of some innate need to be an individual but as a survival trait. When I had forms to fill out and they asked about the artificial construct of race, I wrote ‘Other’. When asked to explain, I wrote, “None of the above.”. This may have even cost me jobs where, had I lied, I might have gotten an equal opportunity hire.

As I grew into that career, that path of software and consultation, my only enemy was bullshit, regardless of how I was seen and I developed a reputation for that. I grew as far as I could by merit, not by handouts, not by stepping stones of equal opportunity and ‘diversity’ – diversity in practice being a way to simply re-emphasize divisions to give the illusion of progress. I worked on my communications skills, and was suddenly gifted by a man from Puerto Rico, a Scottish Jew and a guy from deep Florida with the humanities, something I had lacked in my formative years. And I grew, and I liked who I became despite not liking some of the things I had been to get to where I was.

Because of this, and more, when someone tries to pin me to being a Democrat or a Republican, UNC or PNM (Trinidad politics), Indian or white, or even says if I choose otherwise that I’m only ‘helping the other side win’, there’s a 50 year old ass ready for their lips.

I don’t care about your tribes. I care about the issues.

My tribes are about issues, and I do not join easily. Where you see me is because of who I am, not because of who I’m surrounded by, not because of some accident of geography, not because of some accident of parentage.

I am a tribe of one. I know others like me. We exist. Some call us Third Culture Kids, but we’re all different, different parents, different cultures, different circumstances. We are whole, and we can think and speak for ourselves because we did not have a choice.

We simply exist.

Breaking Out.

I don’t know what’s going on in the world today. I know, but I don’t know.

It’s in my nature to try to write something productive, something that has some sort of impact however small for however small an audience. To point out wrongs, to show what would be closer to right. Yet these past few years since the pandemic started, I have been… paused. In every sentence I have found a judge.

I’ll find threads and pull on them. For example, this whole pandemic mess: Simply because it astounds people that some little virus could wreak such havoc throughout our species on the globe, we had and have people looking for something or someone to blame.

It’s the equivalent of stepping in shit in your yard and suddenly noticing the neighbor’s dog peaking through the window at you. You don’t know it was the dog, but he sure looks…. happy.

“Bastard. It must be his.”

You don’t know that, but hey, that was definitely shit.

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised, should we? Some smart people predicted it, but they also predicted a lot of stuff that wasn’t true. We have this population of humans that just keeps spreading, we keep more and people alive longer, and we’re somehow surprised that something said, “Hey, let’s take those incubators for a riiiiiiiiiiide, man….”

We’re walking ecosystems, ask any doctor- we have our own flora and fauna, and when we get out of balance, we’re sick in some way. Generally, we’re too stupid to even understand that, so caught up in this artificial ecosystem of economy, where what you can buy defines not just who you are, but how well you’re treated, how long you live, and who you have children with. Slaves to our own machine, a twist on Thoreau which isn’t a twist because we largely have become the tools of our tools.

We don’t have time to get sick. We got stupid stuff to do. Sisyphus asked you to pick up his dry cleaning. Icarus needs you to pick up some Gorilla glue.

There’s just so much going wrong to take in. People who apparently never got hit with a science book are arguing with scientists but are dismayed when atheists who have been repeatedly hit with religious texts argue with the religious. It’s a ridiculous society we have. Where are the real critics of society? Where are the people who were supposed to be keeping us honest, or at least within spitting distance of honesty?

Where do we even start?

Where do I even start?

Well. I have a few ideas.

What A Strange World (1 of i)

BartMakeABetterWorldTo say that 2020 has been a strange year so far would be seen by most as the understatement of the year, and yet everything that has happened has been somewhat predictable. In fact, articles written in the 1990s coming forward predicted much of it, from the pandemics to the civil unrest world wide.

I could hunt for the articles online, but it’s too much trouble for a simple blog post. And, of course, we are rife with content created on predicting the future – most myopically of the near future because people want to feel comfortable about tomorrow when they are uncertain of today.

There were times I wanted to write things here about the present day, but there are more than sufficient monkeys with typewriters covering the spectrum of fear to fact. Instead, I began focusing on the background of a universe behind some of my writing that I hope to publish someday. As someone trying to do this, I will say it’s difficult to do better than what is actually happening, but at the core it’s pretty interesting so I’ll write a bit about that. After all, I haven’t published anything here for a while.

Imagining A World

mirror_universeThis is difficult for me, particularly since I measure what I’m trying to do by writing giants who have developed worlds that have become so long established that they are accepted as a backdrop to anything.

The modern elves and orcs owe much to the backdrop of J.R.R. Tolkien, as an example, and the amount of background he did was staggering. Granted, it might take him 3 pages to describe a wall, which made movies more palatable to people who can’t read anything longer than a tweet, but that level of details shows not just through his popular published works but into his less popular works – for example, the Silmarillion (Bonus: Silmarillion is free for the Kindle on Amazon at the time of this writing).

The trouble I have had with imagining this ‘new world’ has been hard for me because I’m inundated by information everyday, from the meaningless and trivial to global events no longer written as much by true journalists (just the facts) but by unrepentant opinionated writers or performers. We can argue that everything is biased, which is generally used as a binary argument (either/or), when in fact it points out that there is an issue of degree.

The trouble with the degree having increased is that the world becomes more and more narrow based on the narratives imposed across the global population – which sounds nefarious, but by itself isn’t since it is the way it has always been. Again, it’s a matter of increased degree.

And therefore, there is less space within which to imagine. So the answer is to stop watching what people choose to show us of the world and instead to seek out what we wish to see of the world. It sounds simple enough but when all the information you see is based on what is available where you are, what algorithms control it, and whether someone doesn’t want you to see it, things can get messy.

Factor in personal age, where you’re used to seeing the world in certain ways… it gets tough.

Having to throw all these things out is difficult, to say the least. To imagine a world is to re-imagine your world, and to re-imagine your world means throwing out everything so that you have the clear space for something.

And having thought through all of that, having written it, I cannot help but wonder if this should also be true of the world we know.

Fractured Systems

Berlin WallWith the pandemic of Covid-19 weaving it’s strains around the world, I had gotten to a level of introversion that I found deeply satisfying. I wrote a lot, published little, and enjoyed the government endorsed need to be by myself.

Then, in Minnesota, something happened. A man who was already restrained died under the weight of police officers, a spark among the fumes of gasoline that has soaked the United States for some time. Every day since then has been rife with disturbing news from my country of birth, the country I served, the country that I swore an Oath of Enlistment to.

And for me, it’s all very complicated because I have spent as much time in the United States as out. In some ways I envy those who have a relatively smaller view of the world deposited through flat screens within the United States, in some ways I am frustrated by them, but I always felt a certain kinship with all but the most ignorant who, sadly, I found I was meeting with increasing frequency. It’s possible it was the same frequency and that my tolerance was decreasing, I cannot know for sure. I never thought to keep statistics.

There’s a side of me that relishes the law and order of the United States, but then, I’ve found too that the law and order seems to run in the face of ethics. The banks that bet on bad mortgages, as an example, were never punished and that is something that I never could comprehend. To me, that seemed unAmerican, but then, it too seemed too American. With well spoken and written friends on either side of the political fences, I found myself negotiating away pieces of myself. I found myself at odds with a professor of African studies in Canada, a long time relationship, because his views left no room for oxygen in the room for me, and I found myself at odds with others in similar fashion.

At heart, I’m what Heinlein coined ‘a rational anarchist’ as Professor de La Paz in, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”:

“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”

I know that truth is not only relative, it has an expiration date – what is true today is not always true tomorrow from the same vantage and can only remain true tomorrow, forever, if that vantage orbits that truth… and if there were only one truth, that would be enough, but there are uncountable amounts of truths running into each other with the manic dismay of Brownian motion.

So I look at the United States now – there is no excuse for most of what everyone is angry about, but there is explanation here and there. The peaceful protests are for the best, the violent protest a political football that various teams spike as their own or strategically as their opposition.

The looting, I think, is a simple matter of self interest trumping the rules of society. A hungry man will earn bread where he can, beg for it if he must, and steal it if the other two do not suit him.

The means to earn in society, not just the United States, seems to have faltered, the begging comes at a cost, and so society already in disarray has members that go out and take regardless of society’s rules, opportunists operating outside the rules of society only because they cannot afford to change the rules of society to suit them as…for example… banks do.

Yet the underlying issues remain. It has echoed around the world with protests about it, and yet, there is more. There is more because this is a reaction to one part of a failed group of systems, there are others, and I wonder when the others will get similar reactions.

The Hedgehog’s Hot Summer.

hedge-hog-fight-768Many of we humans that litter the planet aren’t used to this concept of ‘social distancing’. It will be tough for many; for people like me it is amazingly easy as we have been doing it for some time, for varying individual reasons.

You know us. Barely.

At best, you know us as well as we want you to know us, at worst, you don’t know us well enough to allow us to associate with you. And now, here you are, at home, working from home… if you have others at home, the rest of this may not benefit you. Or maybe it will. I don’t know.

There’s this guy – Arthur Schopenhauer – he died in 1860, long before I could meet him. He wrote about the Hedgehog Dilemma:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another…

…By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

What has happened around the world is, because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the quills have become longer. They have become longer much more quickly. People are scared, and when people are scared in a time when pitchforks and torches aren’t easily accessible, they apparently buy toilet paper and produce and share memes, and it’s hard to argue which of the two is more pragmatic. It’s always handy to have toilet paper, and it’s always good to laugh a bit when things aren’t as nice as we would like.

I could write something about mediation here, but this sentence should suffice for people who understand what mediation means.

That being said, as people adjust to the new normal, those who live by themselves will find themselves alone. For some, this is disconcerting.algorithmsfear

Being faced with the prospect of not having the usual suspects as distractions, new distractions will arrive. Algorithms tell social media that people want to read more and more about Covid-19, and the reality is that we do largely know what we need to know already and the constant barrage of updates will become tiresome – but the algorithms have to be taught that.

Algorithms cannot replace fear, but they most certainly enable it.

Step 1 to your new solitude is to understand that, and limit exposing yourself and the others connected to you to a bunch of stuff that will simply burn everyone out. Less social media.

But what will you do? Ahh, it is a scary world, solitude, but it is ripe for use with books, with in home projects you never quite seem to get around to – and with sleep, with music, with movies… and yourself, perhaps the scariest thing in the world for most people. No matter where you go, though, there you are, and you can do things like reflect. Exercise. Think. Perhaps write, perhaps whatever, but the void you might feel can be bearable.

We know. We not only survive, we thrive this way – but it’s alien and scary for others. Yet, over the course of the coming year, at least for some months, it will be the new norm. And it can be ok if you let it.

Mr. Bojangles

A Brazilian friend of mine told me that there is a saying there: “As long as there are people clapping the madman will dance”.

As simple as that is, it merits considering that even as we clap, we dance, and as we dance, we clap, as do the people around us, as do the people we agree with, as do the people we disagree with.

Mr. Bojangles suddenly gained new meaning to me.

Generations

For no good reason, I’ve been thinking about generations.

People have a tendency to communicate about generations a lot, which includes a lot of generalizations that rarely fit individuals I know. In the broad strokes, there is commonality among the ‘nurture’ aspect of generations, yet that commonality isn’t consistent at the individual level.

In essence, it’s a great way to express things that one doesn’t actually know too much about – something Millenials have been learning the hard way some time, something Generation X (my generation) learned long ago, and something that Generation Z will find out in time.

My generation was largely a disappointment to the previous generation – the Baby Boomers. And conversely, we found the Baby Boomers a bit disappointing ourselves because their judgements came from the world that they grew up in as opposed to the one that they created.

Like all generations, my generation wanted to change the world for what we thought was better – and we did some pretty amazing things given the tools we had pre-Internet.

The very idea that large numbers of people could coordinate around the world to bring their discontent with South African apartheid probably boggles the mind of post-Internet generations – but we didn’t do that alone by any stretch, despite what we may think. The truths related to this involved traditional big media, which was run by Baby Boomers. Was it giving the market what it wanted? Yes. Was it right? Yes. Was it something a few generations agreed on? Yes. Did Generation X take the credit for it? You bet we did, but we didn’t deserve as much as we thought.

Just as previous generations won’t deserve as much credit as they will think. It’s the way of it.

In this way, human society is a lot like rows of shark’s teeth: As they get worn out, broken, or lost, new teeth that have been waiting come to the front. We do not fear the teeth in the mouth of a shark, really – we fear the reputation of those that went before.

This all seems pretty important to think about and isn’t discussed much when we start talking about Millenials and Generation Z, and whatever comes next. We tend to write and speak of these generations as if they are isolated and lack the context of previous generations.

For better and worse, generations have the context of previous generations – and that needs to be mentioned just a little bit more.

Our Modern Intimacy

Modern intimacy. #tech #people #intimacyI’m guilty of going somewhere and interrogating my phone – who isn’t in this day and age? – yet it seems you see people going out together only to stop and get coffee somewhere so that they can sit closely, a faux intimacy, checking up on things and not interacting at all.

Worse, they may be using the infrastructure to share information with each other – bouncing off of servers, perhaps even internationally, so that they can share information.

Have we forgotten how to make eye contact, to talk?

And these are typically the same people who do not respond to messages in a timely manner. It makes one think they are studying articles on how not to communicate.

Yet I myself am guilty at times, when things have run their course and the person with me no longer holds interest for me. This is why I’m usually alone – people generally bore me quickly – but when I’m present, I am completely present.

Toilet Seat Exchanges?

Well, I feel better...Pictures hint at stories sometimes – such as this one.

Who on Earth would think that they could somehow return a toilet seat, or underwear, or other things that would share space with the waste areas of the human body?

And consider – it happens enough where people actually put signs up related to it.

Clearly, as much as we have dealt with literacy, we as a society are failing somehow.