11 August 2017

Don't forget to tell them how you feel

I've been, for the last week and a half generally, but for the last 48 hours specifically, been trying to get my head around the idea that i have some friends who died.  For lack of a better description, this alone has been a rough, bitter pill to swallow. But over the last few days, some things have come to the forefront of my mind, and sometimes, I just say whatever is running amock in this contraption I call a mind...a very brief synopsis for anyone that happens to not know.

...as a freshman in high school, I didn't have a ton of friends (not that different than now, but for very different reasons) but one of the true confidantes I had in high school was a friend, we'll just call him Chirs. Chris and I went to different high schools, but even through the things that pull kids apart, I felt those things pulled us closer together. I didn't have a best friend, but he would have been the closest thing to a best friend. We would hang out after school, generally vent about how much we hated high school and eat peanut butter sandwiches and reflect on our (read: my) lack of game. One random Wednesday, Chris met me at my school, as he got out of school an hour earlier than I did, and he wanted to chill. So we leave my school, and go to downtown Berkeley and go to Games of Berkeley (looked at a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons stuff) got a slice of pizza (Arnell's- best NY style pizza in Berkeley) and walked around the campus shooting the shit, having a great time. We get on the BART train, head back to El Cerrito, where I walk with Chris to his house (which is about 4 blocks from my house). We say our farewells, and right before I walk off, Chris comes to me and says, "Thanks." I'm not really sure, but I say "You're welcome, man. I'll see you tomorrow."

Fast forward 26 minutes, as that's about how much time it took me to walk home and make myself something to eat. That's when my mom walks in, and she looks like she's seen a ghost. I have no idea what's happening, but that's the same look she had on her face when she found out my brother died, and so I knew there was nothing remotely close to good news.

Apparently, my friend Chris, who I had just spent all afternoon with, and had literally just seen not a half hour ago, was discovered by his mother, in his room, hanging from his ceiling fan. He left two notes: one to his parents, and one to me. The only words on my note were: "Today was awesome. Best way to go out. Too much to explain. Just easier this way. Catch you on the other side."

To this day, I always wonder if the reason he came to my school that day was that he needed to talk to me, and he needed me to talk him out of it. I wonder if he was reaching out, and I was too stupid/arrogant/self-interested to really notice. I spent the greater part of my high school experience carrying the weight of unmanageable guilt, as I felt my friend was reaching out to me, and my arms weren't long enough to reach him. But more than any of these things I wonder about for my own selfish reasons, I really wonder if hearing what kind of person he was, and what kind of friend he was, and the role he played in (at the very least) my life, might this have made him reflect on himself differently, and maybe he...I did this to myself for years and still do to this day. To Chris:




I don't know if my telling him how important in my life would have saved him, but I do know that not telling him fucking haunts me to this day. So I try to remind myself to tell the people that matter in my life that they matter, and I try to remind them how much. It seems small and insignificant, so much so that we almost never do it.

To Chris, Dave Hunter, Vince, Willis, Chuck, Kenny, and the people I didn't list but still weigh heavy on out.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell the people that matter to you that they do. But don't forget to tell them WHY.


Jack, Jill and Akbar or you never know who you'll meet and where

Every once in awhile, usually when the mind is allowed to wander unhindered, I find myself thinking about experiences that seemed unimportant and/or mundane at the time that, upon reflection, end up being relatively important, much more important than I could have possibly imagined. Normally, I just forget about these experiences and watch another episode of Law and Order (or one of the many spin-off shows or mirror image shows put out by other networks), flip on the XBox 360 and play a round of Tiger Woods, or just do nothing and fully enjoy the leisure of the life of a teacher in the summer. Today, I choose to share one of these with my friends...

let's preface this with a couple of caveats. first of all, this is when I was in college, and in college, I had a period of time where I experimented with drugs. That being said, there will be some references to some drugs in this. If this bothers you, I'll just tell you to turn the page now and save yourself from the gang-raping of your virgin ears. Also, this happened before September 11, 2001, so there is no way this story could happen today. Thanks, Osama Bin Laden. Third, any references that might appear to be about Miley Cirus is just an illusion, and you should get your mind out of the gutter...everyone knows she's being turned out by the Jonas Brothers...

...I've done a fair amount of transferring between some of the highest academic, accredited institutions in the USA. I had just transferred from Gonzaga University, a mistake I rank up there among the three dumbest things I'd ever done, and ended up at the Sonoma State of the Wasatch, Weber State University. I was going to school and debating for Weber State and was having a decent semester, not insofar as travel, but in the little traveling I was doing, I had been relatively successful. Apparently, the Heart of America debate tournament, in Lawrence, KS was going to be really small in NDT debate, so Nick and Steve chose not to go and decided to stay home and get ready for districts instead. But since tickets had already been bought, the director tells me that I will be attending the tournament, in CEDA debate. To give a little history, I had debated at the Heart in CEDA the year before when I debated at Chico, and we took a hellified ass-beating, winning a lone debate. Out of eight, which looks a lot like 1-7. It was the worst tournament I'd had since my first debate (another story I imagine I will tell at another time), and we spent weeks getting ready for the tournament. The director tells me (i will repeat, tells me, doesn't ask, just tells) I will be going with two days to prepare. This was a guaranteed beat down, and i wasn't really feeling it. He then told me I'd be going with one of my friends, DL. Now I will also note that DL is my friend, but a good debater, he wasn't. So his going doesn't change the inevitable, it just makes it more entertaining...so the tournament is advancing, and we're doing a lot of things, but winning debates was not one of those things. We're going into debate 7 with a stellar record of 1-5, and we're debating a team from the University of Wyoming, a team we'd been beating like red-headed stepchildren for the entire year. The Heart was experimenting with new, crazy formats, from a total block of time consisting of cross-examination and prep time, and you can use it at your leisure, to giving each team 20 minutes of prep time, which was the wrinkle during this debate. During 2AC prep time, my debate partner says he's going outside for a smoke. I assumed he was going to smoke a cigarette. I was incorrect...

...background: we brought a lot of mushrooms to the tournament. I'm not exactly sure how much, because I had spent the greater part of the semester eating the quarter pound I initially purchased (gave money, didn't know how much I was going to get, was pleasantly stunned, and, with no connections and no desire to spend years in the clink, so selling was out of the question), all I know is I was carrying an extra large ziplock bag with a ton of dry, crushed mushrooms. My debate partner had gotten the habit of smoking the mushrooms, which when you're at home, I really had no complaints....Time is elapsing, and the critic asks me if I know where my partner is, and I tell him I don't know, but we should have some time. Turns out he's been gone 18 minutes, so I go out to find him- he's outside, in some doorway, smoking mushrooms (we didn't have a pipe, but we traveled with a water pipe called the USS Enterprise, a two person, three chambered piece with two tubes where people (theoretically) can compete against each other, and when one person pulls off, the other gets the smoke from all three chambers). DL is sitting in the doorway, alone, smoking out of both tubes of this bong, when I remind him about the debate that he needs to give a speech in about 45 seconds. It worked out like you could imagine, a boot in the junk. We were clubbed like baby seals in this debate, to an inferior team (before your time, Stannard), so much so that this debate was forfeited in the 2NR. DL wanted to go smoke, and I needed to be alone, so we went our separate ways. I'm at the Heart, for the second year in a row, with a 1-6 debate ahead of me. This couldn't have been a more dire time. I was considering quitting, when I decided to go smoke a little pot, hopefully, to make this whole experience a little better. So I walk around the building, look for a couple of places where I could be alone. I know nothing about Kansas except that I couldn't have bought a bottle of alcohol, to drown my misery in something distilled (I would do this later in the hotel bar at the Heart, a bar you'd have to experience to truly believe). Besides, I still had one debate left to deal with (but at that time, I had already decided going 2-6 was not any better than going 1-7, so this debate was a wash- how could I think anything different, we fucking forfeited a round earlier)...

...so i go downstairs outside this massive building the Heart is being held in. Down one flight. Down two flights. Down three flights. Yes, this is the place, debaters would be far too lazy to come way the hell over here to do their business, and I definitely need the alone time. I need to figure out if i should even do this. This is supposed to be the hardest tournament in CEDA debate, and if the best is serving me up like this, maybe I should re-evaluate this. So I find my space, a little ledge, overlooking a side of the campus. I pulled out a pipe (I'm resourceful if nothing else, and borrowed a piece from my friends from the University of Oregon, who rolled tough to tournaments), packed it up and took a hit...probably a hit too big for my britches, and found myself coughing hysterically. Afraid I'd be caught, i went down one more floor, just to be safe. As i was about to take a hit, i hear, in the distance, the spastic, frantric cough that's familiar to anyone that's enjoyed the fine herb. I take a small hit as to not expose myself, and i hear the cough again. For some reason, and relatively out of character, I decide to call out to my unseen smokers, by telling them to join me, as "we're all doing the same thing." Turns out to be three people, two people from the southeast, an NDT team debating CEDA for the weekend (let's call them Jack and Jill) and a stellar NDT debater from some school I can't remember (let's call him Akbar). We didn't know each other, but got to know each other, casually, over a couple of bowls, some from the southeast, and some from Oregon (as I said, the Oregon kids came strapped- but once again, this is way before September 11). We chatted, talked about our homes, a lot of debate and, if I remember, a fair amount of literature...and sometime during that conversation, my desire to quit this activity seems to have disipated...in fact, i went in to the next debate, and lose. But in the debate, I made a critic listen to an entire debate about Hasty-G, something I knew he would hate, but something i wanted to do, just to see how people would answer it if the entire debate was focused on it (something Jill reminded me, debate's for debaters, something I try to remind myself of every day). I'm still friends with Jill, and I consider Jack one of my good friends...so out of the "American Me" raping of my confidence as a debater, or so I would have thought, came the reminder of why I do this, and found a good friend. Better day than i would have expected....

Flashback: That time where my invisibility allowed me to see some progressive racism

Sometimes I really do think that Ralph Ellison was talking about me sometimes- I sometimes really do feel like the Invisible Man. At work, in the store, or eating flapjacks in a restaurant, it seems that I get to hear people having conversations they clearly hope to be having privately.

Flashback to one of those days.

I decided that I wanted to get some breakfast. Ideally, I'd have hit off some Chicken and Waffles, but the only place that makes them in the area does not open until noon and is only offering the buffet, which means the Bacon Waffle I was looking forward to wouldn't be happening. So I decided to head over to some place to get some breakfast when I drive by a guy with a sign for a spot called The Bold Knight. It's a spot Carol and I had been to before, so I decided to give it a try. I walk in, get a table by the window and begin to read my book to fill the blank time you have at a restaurant alone. A couple of minutes later, two gentlemen dressed in workout clothes are seated behind me. Immediately, they seemingly continue what must have been an emotional conversation from the vehicle. As I sit there, the conversation increases in volume and intensity...as this conversation is happening, I'm just running my own internal dialogue to this conversation, hoping this can just be something entertaining to myself as opposed to me turning to this dude, who clearly has no idea I'm here and having what they call in academia "a teachable moment"...

"Look, I'm not a racist..."

All of a sudden, my ears perk up. Almost all minorities understand that the phrase "look, I'm not a racist" has a couple of things that are generally true: 1) there's usually a "but" on the end of that phrase, and  2) what follows is something that could be seen as racist, and they really hope the "I'm not racist" caveat will absolve them of the implications of the toxicity of their language and thoughts.

"...but I just don't know how I feel about my sister marrying a black man."

Well, sir, you do know how you feel about your sister marrying a black man. it bothers you. but it bothers you more that it bothers you because you like to fancy yourself as a progressive, free thinking individual. I can't possibly be racist: I voted for Obama!! Michael Jordan was my favorite basketball player, and I love Denzel Washington and 12 Years a Slave!! So clearly I have no problem with black people.

"I mean, he makes good money (he's an investment banker as the conversation would offer) he loves her unconditionally and it's clearly reciprocated, but I know she can do better."

Really? How much better can she have it? I've met many many married and divorced people that would tell you that the unconditional love part, minus the money part, is necessary and sufficient for a happy marriage.

But then that begs the question: what does he mean by better?

At one time I worked at a school where I was one of the few Black people, much less teachers. The entire time I was there, I could never help but to feel that they didn't dislike me being there, but that if they had their choice, and they could find someone who can do my job and was white and religiously affiliative with the school, that they would replace me as fast as they can, and that my job being hard to fill, and not the schools love for what I'm doing, was more tied to my job security than anything else, including my competence. Someone might ask why someone would think these kinds of things? It's because "I know she can do better" isn't just a comment he was making that only applied to his sister- but has applied across the board in this country: Jazz as a platform of music is one substantially dominated by Blacks, but even in the height of the Jazz age, it took two whites (Paul Whiteman- the proclaimed King of Jazz and Benny Goodman- the proclaimed King of Swing) to take the music and bring it to the masses (the degree of offense to make Whiteman the King of Jazz is only magnified by the absurdity of his name for this role- White-Man is the King of Jazz). Rap has been a genre of music for 40 years with a virtual cornucopia of styles and variations of incredible artists and Eminem and The Beastie Boys are among history's top sellers in the genre. The underlying premise is this:

Things that are black aren't legitimate until they have been granted legitimacy by whites.

The idea that Benny Goodman was the King of Swing pretends that many of Goodman's best songs were songs he got from Fletcher Henderson, the band leader at over the Roseland Ballroom in NYC, or Chick Webb over at the Savoy and that they had been playing many of those same songs for years. If you doubt me, please feel free to run your own sample. We'll start with Benny Goodman's Stompin at the Savoy...



A nice little ditty. Smooth. Very together.  And now, Chick Webb's version of the same song...



But we gravitate to that which is most comfortable to us- which is why when you look at hiring patterns, we notice that overall patterns of hiring look a lot like the administration thinks it should look, that's what it ends up looking like. It's the reason Salon and Slate can bang the drum about how racist FOX News is because of the stances they take, but then when you look at their editorial staffs, you notice their hiring patterns also are a mirror to this racism: minorities only account for 13% of editorial staffs in the country (when the total percentage of the US at 37% and the attempts to make newsrooms more reflective...). But at Slate, only 5/75 editors are minorities (6.7% for those doing math at home) and Salon only has 2/25 (8% at home). Why does this work this way? I can tell you, as a black man that has to let people know that I'm the person in charge, it takes time for people who have never had to trust a black man with responsibilities they can't envision one handling, it's a harrowing and simultaneously enlightening experience. People will ask you questions with regard to your competence that, if you were to ask them an equal question about their work they would take offense, and they'd have the right to. I was asked if "am allowed to be left alone with students" by a parent before we leave for a field trip. It's similar to asking a teller if she intends to "steal from the till" or if a doctor was going to perform an unnecessary surgery. I've had parents ask my assistants, random parents and even students questions they should ask me, I'm standing there and they never think to ask. Occasionally I'll offer my help and they'll tell me they want to wait for "the person in charge"- only to be dumbfounded and embarrassed to find out that I AM the person in charge. I don't think the average person sees the racism in their actions-this belies the benefit of privilege...

But I sure get to...

So, to the guy behind me who thinks his sister can do better than the black guy: Why does she need to do better? What would make him better? Why is who he is insufficient?

This is the problem with a color blind society: we're not colorblind. So what happens is we act color blind- until that blindness affects us in a way we find problematic. Then we're really conscious of it. Which magnifies the benefits of privilege and makes the gap between us larger than smaller. The only way to make change is to convince people who have no reasoning or impetus to want change to be the flag bearers for that change. And we can't get that if we think of ourselves as the same with different skin color until one of us impregnates your daughter.

03 January 2017

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game or Blame Bob Stoops

In the last 48-72 hours, I’ve heard more a ton about Joe Mixon, the University of Oklahoma running back who, in the last month, had a video surface that showed the brutality of a previously adjudicated action- the physical assault of a young woman, Amelia Monitor. I’m sure for many of you, this is the first time you’ve seen that name, which says way more about the way we evaluate assault on women than any of us are really willing to admit, which is another conversation worthy of dissertation work. 

The assault, which happened in 2014, was acted on by the University and the Football team, with Mixon spending the entire 2015 season suspended. Once the suspension was served, Bob Stoops allowed him back on the football team, where he played, pretty much without incident (well not really, but comparatively) for most of the season. But in the same way the video of Ray Rice magnified outrage, once the video of Mixon surfaced, and with the absolute brutality shown in the video, people started calling for Mixon to not be allowed to play, to be punished (again) for the brutality of the action that went misunderstood in the initial punishment phase. Stoops even went as far to say that if he’d known then what he knew now, he’d not have allowed Mixon to return. 

I call shenanigans,  Bob Stoops. 

Why would I call bullshit on Stoops? I mean, he’s a good man, isn’t he? He has the best interests of his players, and more importantly than making good football players, he wants to make them better men. Isn’t that what all coaches want to do? 

Actually, no. Not at all. Coaches want to win, so they don’t get fired.

What would leave me to believe that Stoops would not be interested in making sure that his team wasn’t a place that a domestic abuser might call sanctuary? 

Empirics. I can, without very much thought or work, think of three instances where Bob Stoops seems to have ended up on the wrong side of the domestic abuse conversation: Fred Shannon, Doriel Green Beckham and Dede Westbrook. 

In 2014, the University of Oklahoma Title IX investigation against a player, linebacker Frank Shannon, who was accused of sexual assault of a student. The Title IX investigation found linebacker Frank Shannon responsible for a sexual assault Prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges in the case, due to witness being unavailable for court (which happens a lot in domestic abuse issues- fear of reprisal is strong, so a lot of the time women will just not speak out- I can only imagine that fame only magnifies the impacts of the patriarchy. Oklahoma suspended Shannon, the team’s leading tackler in 2013, for one year. He returned for his final college season in 2015, to about as much uproar as the pre-video Mixon uproar, which could best be described a intense, yet muted- a few people really cared, but most had no real idea what was going on, and when they heard about, their rage paralleled the intensity of lightning strikes- disappeared as quickly as they appeared but with a fiery rage upon arrival. If I had to guess why Mixon got a year, I can’t imagine it not being tied to this experience. “We let a dude beat a woman’s ass, set him aside for a year and then rode him like a stable animal to success before, why not try that shit again?”  I imagine it may have been said with more subtlety, but I seriously doubt it. 

Doriel Green Beckham was the #1 ranked WR coming out of high school when he arrived at the University of Missouri to play for Gary Pinkel. After he was dismissed from the team, stemming from a litany of issues, ranging from arrests for marijuana, to a dismissed burglary charge to a domestic abuse issue, which he pushed a woman down a flight of stairs. Once he was dismissed from the team, many programs were afraid to reach out and take a chance on DGB. They saw at best, a stoner and at worst, a domestic abuser, both things generally frowned upon in Power 5 Conference football (as well as almost every level and league everywhere). Bob Stoops had no such concerns, going as far as bring DGB to Norman, where, apparently, he just torched OU defensive backs like the last dab before bed, before his off the field issues never allowed him to play a down of football at Oklahoma. All of this happened between DGB’s dismissal and the Opening Day for OU Football 2015, while in all honesty, DGB's ability to enter the draft before playing a down at Oklahoma also had significant relevance...

The need for speed has, on more than one occasion, has allowed Stoops to look in the other direction. This involves a current receiver on the team, Dede Westbrook, whose ascension this season from a receiver filled with potential to a Heisman Trophy Finalist and without question one of the top receivers in the country. The University indicated that, despite their in-depth background search they do on all prospective athletes, and indicated that there were no red flags to indicate that he couldn’t compete for the University of Oklahoma. It’s pretty hard for me to buy that they just missed it: they were recruiting Westbrook the same time DGB was on the OU campus, during his transfer year. They had to know the amount of heat they’d take if this became an issue, they weighed it and just decided it was easier to say nothing because, unless they were doing so well that background research was being done about him, and they could always just deny they knew (brilliant actually, the worst they look is the way they do now, which is incompetent not malicious). 

It occurs to me that their claims were very specifically vague: at this point, it is reasonable to think that OU may have known of Westbrook’s issues, but that domestic abuse, especially if it happened before your time at Oklahoma, might not be disqualifying factor to play football at the University of Oklahoma. It occurred to me that this could have been very specifically problematic- because it allows for the papering over of crimes against women- as long as we don’t see them (read: as long as our inaction can’t be specifically frowned upon) then there’s no issue. It’s not a disqualifying factor. Sexual assault isn't. Pushing a woman down a flight of stair isn’t. Punching a woman in the face isn’t. What’s a little domestic battery of the mother of your children among Sooners?

22 November 2016

My Daily Internal Dialogue About Suicide

There are a couple of points in the day, every day, where I consider if life is worth it. A couple of times a day, an action or an inaction- some monumental and some minuscule- an observation or sometimes a realization causes me to consider the world, my place in it and whether or not I even want one.

I call it my daily internal dialogue about suicide.

It's one of those conversations I don't ever like having, but I think there are more people out there that may feel this way and think they're alone, and this may help. It's also possible this is some shit that only happens to me, and may be the first sign of my impeding hospitalization....

It's not like I walk around all day, teetering on the brink of killing myself, but I do think, on far more occasions than I would have imagined or wanted to admit, reflect on my life, and the world I live in. And upon that reflection, as I look at the world I live in and/or the world as it's projected upon me, I think that either the world would be a better place if I wasn't here, or that the world is what the world is, and that like a shitty book or movie I'm in the middle of, I just need to remove myself from it, not for the good of the world, but for myself: that I deserve better than this world is willing to offer me: that this is just a bunch of bullshit and I don't need to deal with it.

The morning when you wake up and already feel like you're hitting against The World with a two-strike count, you walk by a homeless man who asks you for cash (aside: debit cards have gutted my charity-I almost always gave any extra cash away, now I never have cash). When asked, I have to say no, because I don't have any cash. His response to me:

"Fuck You Nigger!"

Now we can have conversations about homelessness and social location, but that seemed a particularly hateful response to what has to be seen as a predictable expectation. And it hurt me to my core. And most days, my Anti-Blackness Force Field is on point, close to impenetrable. But on this day, from this person, at this time, in this framing, for this reason, it shook me to my core. In retrospect, I'm pretty proud of my response, which was to go home broken and think about why it's even worth it to live in a world where that happens.

Let that marinade for a second.

I'm proud because my other possible reaction probably would have me in month nine of what would easily have been a 15 year bid, that would have, at best had me choking him out and at worst taking 45 years of anger and frustration out on him, which would have meant I had killed him. So my options were kill him or contemplate killing me: one option guarantees someone's death and the other just reflects upon the idea and desirability of my mortality, as a response to the world that is.

Or this morning, in my daily deluge of morning news, from the New York Times, I read this quote...

"It’s baloney to come out now," Dianne DeWolfe, a Donald J. Trump supporter, said. "They’re opportunists. Listen, no man attacks a woman unless she’s looking like she’s asking for it."

I think about the people I know and it seems every one of them has a story: about somebody taking liberties, they "thought you were kidding" when you said stop and no. Or "you wore that skirt and got drunk so you must have wanted it." Or "she said no at the beginning but stopped so it was cool." And I used to wonder how in the world, in 2016, do we have all these problems. I grew up in a time when a lot of fathers told their sons that "girls are supposed to say no" and that "no is really maybe"- that sucked and was the fuel for thousands of rapes. We should have learned from that, we should have recognized that without killing this mindset in the home, there's really no hope. A world this shitty, with no real hope for change (she's probably got kids who think that way too, set for untold damage just as a set of falling dominoes would on the lives of the people they touch. That also sounds like a world I want no part of and have no real ability to change.

These are but a snapshot of the myriad of examples that make me wonder: why is this worth it?

And in a world when I had nobody or lacked a reference for the devastation of suicide, I can't say that I'd be here today. And nobody would have had any idea when it would have happened: I might have just left a place where I was with friends and had an awesome time: I might have even been the life of the party that night, cracking jokes, punning all over the place, being the me that most of you know.

And then, I'm alone in my head- wishing that my mom would have gotten a chance to meet Carol and her family- gotten a chance to see me at my happiest. Wishing that I had courage to drop off the grid with Carol and try to make a living on the outskirts of Yellowstone, roughing out snowed in winters but the most amazing springs summers and autumns imaginable. Thinking about my friend Chris, who I was hanging out with 45 minutes before he hung himself in his bedroom. Thinking back about my friend Evan who I talked to about two hours before his heroin overdose. Trying not to be overwhelmed by the emotion that just thinking about those days: was there something I could have said or done to have maybe changed either fate? What if I invited Chris to my house for dinner, like I thought about doing but didn't? What if I'd gone to Evan's: he'd have never done smack in front of me: he never had and knew I'd have made us do something that would have made injection impossible (which was his main complaint with me-and I took pride in- his non addicted friend).

And that's the thing about depression: it hits when it hits and is largely oblivious to things that should matter: fun and connection and companionship, all things that should run depression off like a homeless man at a sorority party. But here's the thing about depression: it can happen in the middle of all that happiness.

Being happy does not solve being depressed. It pushes it back. Sometimes. But other times, seeing people who are enjoying themselves so purely, so completely, while you fake it and never understand why they are having so much fun, and why you're so miserable in the midst of so much fun. So many of the evenings when my friends have enjoyed my company and then spoken in reflection of the time we had, a lot of those times I have no recollection of specifics of that evening: I was just hoping the smoke and mirrors of the person I was that evening wasn't spotted, which would force me to answer questions I'd prefer not to think about. And so many of those same evenings, I've truly enjoyed myself, had a great time, connected in those instance where connections can happen, with full knowledge those are short term, temporary feelings that change as fast as Bay Area weather.

The only way I’ve been able to resolve these issues in my mind have always been twofold: my connection with others and my personal experience from loss. I have very important people in my life, and I know they’ll always be there for me, which means that, even at my lowest, I can slow those thoughts to a state of inertia and allow myself to get to a place where no true, physical harm can be done. I have my wife, family and friends who have been there for me even in times where I wish they'd left me alone, making sure I couldn't forget I was loved. I recognize the great deal of fortune I have, being able to pool that love from necessary reserves. But even in a world where I didn't have access to that plentiful and abundant resource, I’m still sure I’d not be able to do it, and it has much more to do with the unexpected losses of people close to me, one from an overdose and another from suicide. In both instances, I was one of the last people to speak with them, and in both instances, I feel like I was placed at that crossroad for that reason, to help my friends in their most dire time of need.

Needless to say, I feel like I failed both of them.

And the weight I feel about their deaths, despite hundreds of hours of therapy with a doctor telling me and everyone I've talked to about it telling me the same thing: you can’t hold yourself responsible. And I don’t think I'm responsible as much as I was irresponsible in my inaction, which is different but not as different as I’d like it to be from just being responsible. But the memory of my inability to act, the paralysis I felt immediately after both deaths, the confusion and pain I felt. And the pain I felt for both I thought was spirit crushing- until I went to the funerals, and I got to see the pain and confusion I felt magnified on the faces of the parents, family and friends with way more history, knowledge and expectations than I'd ever had of them.  The faces of their anguish are branded on my soul, and every time I ever think about death in any framing, I find myself working to make sure I never do that to someone, to leave them unexpectedly, with the pain expanded exponentially based on my choice to leave, for lack of a better word, willingly. Their memories, despite the pain they cause me, are always a driving force to keep moving forward, the best I can, and to remember the Maya Angelou quote:

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

I think it’s important to note the person that told me that quote: my therapist. I need to state that because the only way I could have lived through a variety of experiences that would have broken me was with what would be described, at times, as pretty extensive therapy. Without support, I could have been easily broken by my issues: Valuable and important figures in my life dying, fighting a terminal disease and the psychological bumps and bruises faced throughout life.
Add to this that therapy is generally frowned upon in society, and the lack of access within the black community only magnifies these issues. There was also an issue with empathy: I had to go to multiple therapists to find one that didn’t dismiss my issues or frame them from an social location point inaccessible to me- finally finding one with whom I had common experiences with- she was Black too. It took me some time to find the right one, and it took me time to open up to her, but in a world where I’d been unwilling or unable to do that- I can’t guarantee what I would have done- but the violence would have been played out- just a matter of externally (me hurting others) or internally (me hurting myself). It took the combination of having people that care, my own desire to refrain from hurting them by leaving them with so many questions and therapy to get me to the point where I am now. It took the combination of having people that care about me, not wanting to hurt others because of the questions they’d have and therapy to get me to the point where I am now- where the ideation of suicide and the execution of suicide are not two sides of the same coin.


22 March 2016

Even homelessness allows for anti-blackness

i had my dignity stolen from me recently. and when i mean recently, i mean less than 24 hours ago. not because i' done anything undignified, far from it, but because someone decided to call me a nigger. say all you want about sticks stones and the impotence of words, i have never felt them as ineffective as described...

I had just travelled to Atlanta on a consulting trip, where I worked hard doing something I enjoyed. It could be said that the work I did produced high levels of success for those who purchased my services. I'm getting to do one of the few means of money generation I've truly enjoyed, and feel like I'm being compensated in a way I can appreciate.

I was back home, and after sleeping in to a point where I was actually rested when I woke up, I meandered through my morning until I realized I needed to go to the bank to make a deposit and get a bite to eat, two relatively harmless actions. Shit that literally everyone with a bank account has done. So I get in the sled and begin the day...I go to the bank with little expectation of a day turning shitty with limited expectation...and my trip to the bank is uneventful: I deposit my work check and decide I want to get some ramen...which requires me to go across town and wait in a 30-45 minute line...so when I arrive and the line is REMARKABLY SHORT i think that everything is coming up Millhouse...

I wait and get my ramen (FB,GR) and am about to head home. I drive home down San Carlos Ave to the freeway, and while stopped at a stop-light, I see a homeless man. He's standing on the median of the road, with a sign (two sided- one side- his wife and kids, the other- solicitation for money), and I was moved. My guy Joel reminded me that my problem was allowing myself to be moved by White Suffering (he was nowhere near as explicit) and if I had followed his advice, I'd  have been straight...but I didn't...

...I was moved by the pictures of his kids, his two year old (I'm assuming) and his 8-year old, and he was married. The pictures of his wife and his family- it was clearly a happier time than this. Also, couple the fact that it's beginning to rain really hard outside, and that i had a little something extra in my pocket, and I made the decision I could help him: it seemed the only "right" thing to do. So I gathered my money (a $5, a couple of $1's and some loose change- not winning the lottery, just tryin to help) and rolled down the window. Usually, when you roll your window down around soliciting homeless, they are pretty quick to pick up any money, as the location doesn't allow for smalltalk or really anything but brutal logistics of exchanging money. So when my window had been rolled down for a few seconds, I assumed he hadn't seen/heard me roll down the window, and was thus not aware of the possibility of getting a few bucks. So I try to call for his attention....this is a verbatim conversation...

me: hey man, i have some money for you.
homeless man:  I don't take out handouts from niggers. You probably stole it from a white man...

Day shatters.

Homelessness validated by White Privilege. 

All of the good that i've done seems to be washed away by this man's hatred. The things that I think establish value for me are literally set ablaze by the incendiary (the irony of such a word is i'm not sure if i asked him why he'd chosen such incendiary language that he'd have even fucking known what i was saying. The words themselves were hard enough to put my head around, and maybe it's my arrogance and classism speaking, the audacity of telling a man who's trying to offer you money that his "nigger" money wasn't good enough  and that it must have been "stolen" from the white man....I wasn't alive at the time of my parents, obviously, every thing they told me with regard to their lives revolved around the idea that "nothing is defaulted your way" and to "expect the system to fuck you at every turn, which is why you need to be able to relocate nationally in 72 hours." I always thought complete evacuation in 72 hours was odd until i realize we did it..twice...different time...

And at that point I felt...empty. Entirely fucking empty. And it nearly killed me. I don't really have a clear recollection of obtaining the food that i ate for lunch other than to know that, based on what was in the photo, that i must have gone to Race Street Market to get a Grilled Lobster Tail and some Drawn Butter, and decided the to get a Fish and Clam Chowder meal as well. All not terrible choices, except that I'd already PICKED UP LUNCH, The Soy Sauce Ramen at Santouka with Special Pork, which was sitting in the car the entire time. I don't really recall the drive home, except that I must have stopped at a grocery store as I had items from there, as well as a donut shop, as I had two sugar donuts (this says way more about me than i probably want it to, but here we are). I don't really know how I even got back to being in my house in front of the television when i kind of flashed back to the last 30+ minutes of my life when i just went on auto-pilot and just accomplished tasks- not even tasks that necessarily had to be done, but they were things to do while i tried to not become so enraged that i would get back in my car and run that motherfucker down [aside: i'd never have done that, not because i wouldn't want to, but i'd not let the media play me out as the cold hearted motherfucker that ran over a homeless man, removing all the context and making me a black Pol Pot]. But here I was, back home. There's a full length mirror that's next to the couch in The Man Cave, which is where i was sitting, about to eat a glorious lobster tail and The Weight of it all just hit me. And i started bawling. I'm to this point not really sure why. But I do know that i felt worthless and pretty fucking hopeless, in a heap of my own emotions. 

I've had people way closer to me say way more hurtful things, in the heat of the moment, in jest and sometimes, just because. People, even ones you love, can be incorrigible ass-hats. That being said, I've experienced way more vitriol from the parents of a woman i was dating, from a teacher at my high school and from a woman in a Burger King that tried to mace me for whistling Superstition by Stevie. Each garnered a response, and most would say that the response was of larger magnitude than the initial claim (read: i was way more hurtful in response- not proud of it, probably one of my most significant character flaws-but at least I recognize it's there). But this time, I'm sitting at home, an emotional hot mess, and I couldn't figure out why. It was at that moment this popped in my head:

Why do I want to live in a place where an attempt to give money to a homeless man and his inflammatory response can make me feel like I'm worthless? I'd be better off if I was dead. 

I've never had that thought before. And it scared the shit out of me. Immediately into my head floods all the good things that are going on- an incredible wife and family, a strong support system of friends and acquaintances that i know care about me and a drive that says "fuck you" more than "i quit" and within a few minutes, my thoughts had gone from "maybe i'd be better off dead" to thinking "what do people do when they don't have that support system? what happens if the person they love is the root of their pain? what happens when they run out of "fuck you" and "i quit" is all they see left?"

In short, what happens to you if someone takes your dignity and you're not able to get it back. I imagine it would foster what looked to be illogical amounts of distrust and hostility to the victims toward those inflicting the pain...does that sound like anything familiar to you all?


In the future, I'll resolve this the way my guy Joel does- I'm just not giving to white homeless people. Someone else will get you. You'll be aight....


11 January 2016

Dark Days coming for American Unions?



The Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case today that has the possibility of having massive, far reaching implications, the possibility of overturning constitutional precedent, and essentially changing the way unions in the United States function. These are some pretty broad, sweeping claims, especially about something that most people won't even know is happening, and won't really be an issue until June/July, when these decisions come in. 

Fredrichs v. California Teachers Association will be heard by The Court today. The question of the case is simply complex. There are actually two questions being asked: 1) Can public employees be forced to pay union dues as a mandatory condition of employment? 2) Whether requiring individuals to opt out of dues is in violation of the First Amendment. Since this is a little more formal than most of my writing, I should give some sort of road-map of the discussion. Initially, I'll give a limited history on Abood v Detroit Board of Education, Knox v. SEIU, Harris v. Quinn and how those cases play a role in this case. I'll then give the framing of the case from the position of the Petitioner, and afterwards, I'll give the case from the framing of the respondent. And finally, I'll go on record and tell you how I think the case will go, so I can have concrete proof of my choices for all to see, while remembering this key piece of information: Predictions are free, and worth what they cost. 

To have a legitimate understanding of Fredrichs, it'll be necessary to get a little background on a few decisions that are integral to it's legal implications. The first is Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977). Unions take dues from federal employees, which makes them members of the organization, whether they want to be or not. This also includes nonmember workers, people not actually represented by the union, but are beneficiaries of union actions (these people will be called free riders for the duration). Louis Abood, a school teacher, objected to the union itself and was against the unions endorsement of political candidates, so Abood sued in Michigan state court., claiming a 1st Amendment violation. The decision still has far reaching implications, as it's the engine most unions use to generate the necessary funding, and it still does (part of the reasoning behind the case now). SCOTUS determines in Abood that, consistent with decisions with the private sector with regard to collection of dues, but only for collective bargaining purposes, as opposed to political purposes. This distinction is at the heart of the conflict within the Abood decision. It's important to note that Fredrichs intent is the overturn of Abood, which is pretty rare in SCOTUS decisions, as limiting and expansion are way more consistent actions...After Abood, the question of explicit vs presumed consent with regard to union involvement was brought forth in Knox v. Service Employees International Union No. 10-112, 567 U.S. 310 (2012). The SEIU needed to collect "special fees" and did so from union and nonunion members with an opt-out system, one that presumes consent to an action unless the individual makes an affirmative action to remove themselves. Otherwise, the person is presumed to consent and no actions need to be taken to collect fees. The Court, on a 5-4 decision, decided it was imperative to, in the case of special fees, to have the affirmative action- you have to actively want the fees taken, as opposed to having them taken from you and you have to act to have them not do so. This has the potential to be a devastating decision to the unions, but was severely limited in scope...this lead to Harris v. Quinn 573 U.S. This case seems like it's more in line with the questions in Fredrichs, as it has to do with the collection of union dues from nonunion members. The issues dealt with home health care workers, who are hired and fired individually, which was an important distinction noted by the justices when they made their decision that, in Harris, it was unconstitutional to collect dues from these nonunion workers. The warrant of the decision, once again, came back to collective bargaining. The Court determined, since the individuals are hired and fired on an individual basis, by the patients themselves, the discussion of collective bargaining for these nurses was irrelevant, as they would not be protected, as they were hired and fired from a different process...these three SCOTUS decisions provide a backdrop for the discussions in Fredrichs.

The Petitioners in the case are making two distinct, but important arguments. The first is that there is effectively no distinction between "collective bargaining" and "political speech" and that this false distinction is at the core of the conflict. The logic isn't hard to see- conversations about wages and benefits within the public sector, which is the area unions are allowed to use their fees, can definitely be seen as political speech, and at least, in the petitioners eyes, the core part of collective bargaining may be substantially more "political" than many core political issues (example: pension benefits being paid or cut is probably a bigger story than what state senator is endorsed and backed by the union). If the logic of Abood says it's unconstitutional to use union dues for "political purposes" then the petitioner, if they can prove there is a false distinction between political speech and collective bargaining. The petitioners also feel there is flawed logic in "free rider" rationale.

The logic of free rider rationale is that members who gain benefits from the union should pay dues, even if they're non members, as they are beneficiaries of the union actions for a couple of reasons. Initially, petitioners believe the the unions framing of what the union does and what they get out of the union is problematic. Unions, they claim, frame the issue of representation as an onerous burden placed on the union to represent all the members of the union, and it may be, the petitioner would say. However, it's also a base of incredible power, something the union has in spades: they're essentially a monopoly on access to the marketplace for negotiations between the employee and the employer- they have the power to speak exclusively for all employees AND prohibits the employer from going anywhere else and dealing with anyone else. And because of this, it means the cycle is always self-fulfilling, there will be dues which will allow representation which will increase wages which increase dues, etc. Secondly, their argument is that under the current agreement, unions are the representatives of the employee, whether they like it or not, which begets a certain amount of coercion- it's not really a "free" ride if you didn't ask for it or want it as much as a "forced" ride, and in this country, we're not forced to pay for things we didn't ask for. 

The second part of the petitioners claim is tied to the opt-in/opt-out option for union dues. As of now, when you get a job for the government, the union has the option to take dues from you outright (mandatory) or through an opt-out, presumed consent framing (this instance was an opt-out, which they also find problematic, for the reasons described in Knox above). The petitioner agrees with the logic advanced in Harris, indicating that, with regard to fees for unions, that members should choose to affirmatively engage with the union, as opposed to having their inaction the point of engagement.  They would argue that this means, without affirmative consent, the union gets to claim members as representative of views in collective bargaining and out (and remember, the initial claim is tied to there being no distinction between collective bargaining and political speech as they're one in the same). And because of this, the opt-out clause, specifically, does damage to the 1st Amendment rights of nonmembers who have to live with the implications of a union they're not members of with no voice in the matter. 

The Respondents are not without their positions on the matter, and feel they, too, have a strong case. They feel the premises of both components of the case are problematic. Initially, they feel there is a real distinction between political speech and collective bargaining conversations, and that the problem of the free rider is real. Their claim is that conversations determined during collective bargaining, things like wages and working conditions, are things that benefit all employees, regardless of their participation in the union, and that, in a world where people would still get the benefits of the union without paying for it through these union dues, that the union would have a couple of substantial problems: 1) they would have substantially less funds with which to operate and would crush the unions ability to do its job, and 2) would give incentive for people to NOT be in the union (human nature- you can get the same item, one for free, which do you take?) and would eventually be the end of the union as we know it. 

The respondent would also disagree with the logic of opt in vs opt out discussion, indicating that, because of the reasons above, that members should have an affirmative obligation for involvement, and that if they choose, they have the chance to opt-out of such a system- if you think the union isn't saying what you want them to say, you can sign some forms and no longer be obligated to pay. This means that, even if the petitioner was right and the union, through collective bargaining took stances on positions the member was dead set against, they could go to an office, sign a form and at that point, no longer be obligated to paying this.

Now that you've gotten a little something something on this, what do I think is going to happen? I'll start with what I think should happen- I'm not a legal scholar, so bear with me...historically, SCOTUS tries not to 1) overturn decisions, and 2) change law that would have overarching effects on society- only a handful of decisions have actually been overturned and SCOTUS doesn't generally like to set the world on fire with a decision that requires wholesale changes in the way societal structure functions. Overturning Abood, which is what Fredrichs wants to do, would set the union contracts world on it's head, as literally thousands of labor agreements are tied to the language, law and logic of Abood. And it's pretty important to have unions, in my opinion. Sometimes you and your administration may not see eye to eye, and you'll find yourself out there with nothing behind you, no support system to help you get what you deserve. This is the function of the union. And because in a capitalist system, I'll never believe the employer will do what is in the best interest of the employee, in terms of pay, conditions, hours, etc without some impetus to do so. Unions are that impetus. 

Now, what's actually going to happen? I think SCOTUS will affirm Fredrichs, which effectively overturns Abood. I think the majority, The Conservative Four and Justice Kennedy will decide there is no distinction between political speech and collective bargaining, that there are many staunchly held views by individuals that unions, in their collective bargaining agreements, take positions in direct opposition to those views, and that union dues, in effect, are funding speech they don't agree with and simultaneously squashing speech they would, but for the union. I think the discussion of the opt-in/opt-out will largely be irrelevant, as the court will have the opportunity to do something I think they want to do (the language in Harris indicates they felt Abood was problematic but that the question of the case made addressing Abood with an overturn was probably a constitutional stretch). The question I have is with that fat Italian racist Scalia, who is on record with having problems with the problem of the free rider with regard to unions and nonmember dues, but once I remember that 1) he's Scalia and 2) he voted with the Conservative Four on Knox and Harris, it becomes apparent that, when I call Miss Cleo about the future of unions in America, she, after leaving me on hold for 4 hours at $4.99 a minute, tells me:

The Future Is Bleak.