Sunday, April 22, 2018

Blood and Guts and a High School Reunion

Jimmy Carter and the class of 1988, then and now. 

Jimmy Carter was president when we moved to Dallas in 1979.   I was just nine.  Kathy Acker had just finished writing Blood and Guts in High School.  I carried a copy of the surrealist novel on my flight to Dallas for the thirtieth anniversary of my high school graduation.  Acker’s novel pulsed in front of eyes as we careened through the air on our way. Sex and feeling, her novel, full of dialogues with Jean Genet, Jimmy Carter, and madness is a reminder of that raw feeling.  Growing up is never simple.  

Image result for blood and guts in high school
Image result for blood and guts in high school
Leaving New York, I think of our daughter’s 9th grade friend who hurled herself off the 16th floor of her building two days prior. 

As Caroline wrote of facebook:
On Wednesday afternoon a young friend of my daughter's ended her life. It's sad and mysterious, and today we just wished she could have counted to ten, or called a friend, or watched a stupid favorite tv series. None of it makes sense and it's been an unfortunate lesson for my 15 year old to learn about the fragility of it all and how grief actually feels when it hits home and not abstracted as our media does so well. Hug your kids tightly and remember to hear them.

Flying, I read and nap and edit Illuminations on Market Street, my novel about surviving those years.
I have an ambivalent relationship with this space, its the scene of the crime, divorce and memories.  I’m slightly nervous.

Eric picked me up in Dallas and we drove into the distance.  The blue sky seemed to expand forever, the Texas sky is always a reminder of something infinite.   We talked about beer and the dead, music and friendships, a drug here, a lost contact there, kids growing up faster than we can keep up with.   Twenty years prior when he picked me up for our ten-year reunion, none of those kids were around.  Now our kids are in high school and college, asking questions, contending with mortality and romance, faith and work.

We drive to Greenville Avenue and share a few.  He tells me about a trip across Europe with Roy and Chuck and Jen and Doug, who tended to sleep through the trains.  And did not appreciate being awoken.
What was I supposed to do leave him?
Where is everyone?
It might be you and me.

Pictures and add from an old girlie magazine are spewn over the walls of the bathroom, an add with Jimmy Carter, a pack of cigarettes.

Friends pour into the space, people I have not seen since Reagan was president.  Karen who left the East Coast after Columbia, Larry who played football with me and bought me a pint, Tuffy whose house was a second home whose mom was ahead of her time, Doug who offered the biggest smile, Kelly who worked with autistic kids, Beth who works with Trump, Jennifer who gave me sex advise, Erin who talked about suicide, Chris who talked about anal, Karmi who went to Georgetown, became a nurse and organized the reunion with Karen, on and on.  Robin and I talked.  Hadn’t seen her for three decades, a little forgiveness here, a few stories there. Costas and I hadn’t stumbled into each other since the financial crisis and lost touch. It was good to laugh.

One person’s kid feels everything in the world; another’s is bipolar.  Another is learning to make money. We all had stories about the last three decades. We’d all survived a few childhood growing pains, divorces, and premature autopsies along the way.

A Bowie cover band played “Modern Love” and people danced, like it seems they only dance in Dallas, without an iota of self confidence.
Karmi led the crew for late night dinner and Eric drove me to David’s.
Thanks’ for the ride and the friendship buddy.
David has a new friend who he introduces me to.
She’s 18 months old, smiling from ear to ear.
Beverly and Barbara meet David’s wife, daughter and I for lunch.
Barbara has outlived two husbands.  At 81, she is gorgeous.  She tells us about her grandparents arriving from Dublin and starting a life here.
Driving through Dallas, to the Inwood Theater and the Highland Park Theater where we went to midnight movies and a man hid in the attack for a decade after they stopped playing Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1984.
A lot of memories here, he comments.
Yes, but the present is a good place, I reply.
We talk about our Dads and those years, the goodbyes and hellos and friends from a decade that brought us together, linking our lives.  You only grow up with so many people in this world.  I finish my drink and he drives me to love field.
Dad used to go to this sketchy bar down here when he was fighting with mom.
That was a swingers club, notes David.
Dad wasn’t there.  He’s more a part of the Texas skies.
See you in New Orleans.
Great to see you again class of 1988.
I pick back up my copy of Blood and Guts in High School, reading about her hallucinations from a beach in the mid-1970’s, one that feels  a lot like the future we’re living now.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Beating back Thanatos, Singing Out with Louise, and Marching for Science and Sanity in a world of the absurd

Image may contain: 3 people, including Benjamin Heim Shepard, beard and outdoor
Top photo by this blogger.  Middle, "Sing Out Louise always makes my day,"
by Diane Greene Lent, featuring Jay Walker, this writer, Virginia Vitzthum and members of Sing Out Louise, 
and bottom, this writer and his youngest at Sunday's anti-war speak, National Day of Action to end U.S. Wars, out by Erik McGregor. 

Some days its hard to make sense of it all

I sat to write this blog about the past weekend of fighting for reason and science, singing out instead of screaming about war, laughing instead of crying at the rightward tilt of the world.   And I got a call from the school guidance counselor. She told us something had happened.
What?  A child at school had killed herself.  Our daughter knew her and talked with frequently. And now she was trying make sense of a world in which these pains take place over and over again.

I was going to write a blog about fighting fascism in Europe seventy years ago, watching Mussolini and Hitler become things of the past, only to watch authoritarian rule grow in Hungry and China, even in the US, where anti-democratic impulses are running over long standing institutional arrangements.   And freedoms disappear gradually.

During breakfast, our daughter asked how we make sense of it all.

We all make meaning of the struggle in our own ways. We tell our stories and make art.  We build communities of resistance. They become part of the mosaic of our lives.

It was not the only suicide this week.
On Sunday, a prominent activist self- immolated himself in Prospect Park killed himself.

The remains of the lawyer, David S. Buckel, 60, were found near Prospect Park West in a field near baseball diamonds and the main loop used by joggers and bikers.
Mr. Buckel left a note in a shopping cart not far from his body and also emailed it to several news media outlets, including The New York Times.
Mr. Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson, in which a Nebraska county sheriff was found liable for failing to protect Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Falls City, Neb. Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mr. Teena in the 1999 movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”
While serving as marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Mr. Buckel was the strategist behind important same-sex marriage cases in New Jersey and Iowa.

Friends said that after he left the organization, Mr. Buckel became involved in environmental causes, which he alluded to in his note as the reason he decided to end his life by self-immolation with fossil fuels.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote in the email sent to The Times. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
In his note, which was received by The Times at 5:55 a.m., Mr. Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.
Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others.
“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Mr. Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough.
Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr. Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.
The police said Mr. Buckel was pronounced dead at 6:30 a.m. in what they said was a suicide.
 People kill themselves because they are hurting. Can we look out for each other, look out for our neighbors, our friends?

Today, we are fighting darkness, fighting fascism again and again and again. We beat it and its crawls back.  Those impulse inspires.  People are manipulated. Xenophobia and nationalism appeal.  Thanatos beats back Eros.  So does cruelty. People feel alone.

Saturday, we met in Washington Square Park to speak up for reason and science.  As the facebook invite for the March for Science declared:

In 2017, more than one million people around the world gathered to defend science for the common good and its role in policy and society. Since then, science has continued to face increasing threats at the federal, state, and local levels.

But science will not be silenced - and it’s time to unite again. This year, let’s come together to send a message: we will hold policy makers responsible for enacting equitable, evidence-based policies that serve all communities. 

We march for many reasons, but unite to defend science — because science belongs to us all.

Meet us at Washington Square Park from 9 AM to noon to rally with scientists and friends before our march down Broadway to Liberty Street. We'll have speakers, live music, and tents for science outreach and political advocacy groups. 

We were going to march with the harm reduction bloc but I stumbled into my friends with Rise and Resist, who’ve made laughing instead of crying an abiding principle of their resistance.
On this day, they would sing:

The March for Science. This Saturday. Washington Square Park. You, Sing Out, Louise! and the world debut of our take on She Blinded Me with Science. You don't want to miss this. 

Singers - we're meeting up at the north west corner of the park, to sash up and get our gear together. We'll then serenade the crowds who'll start marching at 12, heading downtown. 

So we marched with Sing Out Louise, laughing much as possible, singing “Rise and Rist” to the tune of YMCA. 

“We know- what its like to feel down.  Cause its psycho- Nazis marching around.
And that yo yo – is a traitorous clown, just a fascist face with fake hair
We know things could not be more bleak.  Quite a combo – the whole criminal clique.
Some new shitshow- every week with this freak.
Can we wake up from this nightmare?

Come on America – rise and resist!
Do not despair – you can rise and resist.”

We sang all afternoon, Bowie and Queen covers, show tunes, freedom anthems.
Kids walked with signs honoring the need for science.
And things felt a little better.

My friend Athena gave a talk about bringing light into darkness at a panel, I helped facilitate at Organizing 2.0 later in the day.

And the weekend proceeded.

Sunday, we met friends at Judson and marched against war, that one big perma war that seems to stretch from WWII into the distance, through Korea, Vietnam, South America, Iraq, back to Korea, the Middle East, etc.

My friends from Rise and Resist were there.

“Here we are again.  I guess  its better to laugh than cry,” I said to Jay.
He agreed.
“I hope we can speak about what we want, not just what we are against,” I replied.
“How about peace?”
“That’s right.  How about it?”

There was a man who looked my fathers age.
He was carrying a sign opposing war.

How long have you been fighting US wars I asked him.
As long as I remember, at least Vietnam, he replied.

It was cold out.
So we wandered home, trying to dodge the chill in the air.