2017

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RIP Debbie Reynolds (April 1, 1932 – Dec. 28, 2016)

It’s unfathomable. 2016 sucks.

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RIP Carrie Fisher (Oct. 21, 1956 – Dec. 27, 2016)

No, dammit. This has to stop.

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RIP George Michael (June 25, 1963 – Dec. 25, 2016)

A life led as fully, and as momentously, as the one led by the onetime, recently departed Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, deserves a final appraisal, a last celebration, and a send-off. That’s the least this world-famous pop icon should have expected, had he any reason to ponder his own demise.

We can be almost sure, though, that if he suffered through any macabre pondering, anytime during the back half of 2016, he must have suspected what we now know: that in the tapering days of an objectively awful year, another celebrity death becomes just another weird statistic.

I’m not sure when we all began to suspect something extraordinary was going on. Early in the year we lost Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard. Toward the halfway point, we lost the champ, Ali. Certainly this last quarter, which has taken Gene Wilder, John Glenn, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa, and now George Michael, has forced awareness upon us all that this thing has near-supernatural proportions. An A-List extinction-level event. A celebrity die-off with no regard for age or current IMDB rating.

Any larger meaning to be gleaned from that, or any meaning at all, will have to be teased forth by nimbler fingers than mine. I simply don’t know what to make of it—other than to draw the equally obvious and non-reassuring conclusions that death is certain, and that statistics sometimes throw curveballs.

Death and statistics become numbing, even in small measures of each. We’re getting megadoses of both, which led to a certain terminal injustice for the dad from Growing Pains, for the incomparable Zsa Zsa, and for the man who urged us all to have faith. Here’s hoping that as we see out the dregs of Black ’16, all our celebrities everywhere are taking their vitamins, and driving and flying with care. At worst just let them hold out until 2017—I think we’ll be ready to properly mourn again by then.

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Blue planet

Water is life so they say and they must have a point seven-tenths of earth’s surface is water after all but wait hold on more than 97 percent of that water is poisonous to us can’t drink it really rather deadly though we splash on the edges of it and sail all around on it we gotta keep an eye on it because it rears up sometimes and smashes just reaches out and swallows us but then of course there’s the 2.7 percent of its fresher variety that we drink quite readily of and wash cars and armpits and dogs and dishes with and we should note for the sake of accuracy that only 1 percent of that 2.7 is actually clean and within reach and the ultimate irony if not patent proof of our unfitness for being is that even that freshest and most accessible water would still kill us no shit in 4 minutes or less in if we just shove our face in it.

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You should certainly make art books

But do give a shout out to the original author

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Interesting times

#interestingtimes

#putinsprez

#treason

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#NoDAPL – This madness must stop

Months have passed and seasons have changed, and the Standing Rock stand-off continues.  In freezing weather and in the face of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons, native Water Defenders and their allies of many nations still hold the line.

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It is intolerable, inexplicable, indefensible—that in the twenty-first century the callousness of the profit motive still trumps civil and human rights, even basic human dignity, as completely and assuredly as it ever did in our dark and shameful centuries past.

Make no mistake. These assaults are perpetrated in the name of commerce and consumerism—they are being done on our behalf. Silence is complicity. Acceptance is acquiescence.

If you would reject your silent collusion in an ongoing crime against humanity, then make your voice heard. Be vocal, be persistent. Let no one doubt that the defense of the Missouri is your fight too.

And join me, finally, in the plea we all should be making, the one that must be heard and responded to…

President Obama, this will be your last, indelible legacy. There are no sidelines, not for us and not for you. If it is within your power to stop this madness—and it is—then not another day can go by without your intercession. Stop the brutality, stop the pipeline, stop the madness. #NoDAPL.

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“Aaron Burr” takes a shot, we all feel the recoil

Culture and current events intersected, as they do, when this weekend Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the Broadway mega-hit musical, Hamilton, and was addressed both with sporadic boos (and some cheers) upon his entrance, and with with a stirring appeal from the cast at the play’s end.

Actor Brandon Victor Dixon, portraying an earlier VP, Aaron Burr, read words reportedly jointly authored by the play’s director, its producer, and its now-legendary creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

Pence’s reaction has been muted, perhaps somewhat gracious. The same cannot be said for his erstwhile running mate, our president-elect, Donald Trump. Taking to Twitter overnight, in his inexplicably rash way, he called the incident “harassment,” said that theaters should be a “safe and special place” (particularly laughable given the scorn heaped on the idea of “safe spaces” by the political right), and called on the cast to apologize.

I’ll leave it to the reader to gauge whether the statement quoted above rises to the level of harassment, or if any part of it merits an apology. I’d only point out the bald hypocrisy of such a demand from a candidate, now a world-leader-in-waiting, who has brought unprecedented coarseness to our political dialogue, and who has yet to even hint at an iota of regret.

We’re now nearly two weeks past the election that has shaken America and stunned the world. I’m breaking my own literary silence on that electoral outcome, mostly because it’s taken me this long to process it, and also because the Hamilton incident offers a stark glimpse of where we’re at in this absurd time of transition and adjustment.

I readily admit I did not foresee and was not prepared for a Trump victory. I’m on record predicting exactly the opposite, although I was cautious enough to prognosticate a squeaker. For several days after the election I struggled to try to explain, if only to myself, what exactly had happened.

I’m still not sure I have that explanation, and I’m chastened enough to recognize any and all of my assumptions might very well be wrong. That said, I think that the election of Donald J. Trump can be attributed to a bizarre confluence of events, none of which would have been have been enough to bring it about alone. So the tandem meddling of both Putin’s Russia and Comey’s FBI, and the coast-focused incompetence of Clinton’s campaign, and the economic insecurity of middle America all converged, and delivered a result that I and many others never thought possible.

But all of that is, as they say, spilt milk. Trump did not win the majority, or even a plurality of votes cast, but he captured an electoral majority. In our system, for good or ill, that delivers him the victory.

In the wake of that upset, hate crimes are on the rise. White nationalists who call themselves the Alt-Right, but who might be better understood to be neo-fascists, are vocally emboldened. Trump is elevating people who, if they don’t outwardly identify as members of that movement are at least heroes of it, to positions of power in the White House and Justice Department. Darkness is descending.

But there are glimpses of light. We saw one the other night when the cast and crew of a theatrical production broke the fourth wall and spoke truth to power. We’ll see more such glimpses, in the days and months and years to come, because bravery abounds and there is much truth to be spoken.

Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office and become president and commander-in-chief of the United States of America. For the sake of our nation and our world I readily wish him well, and am sincere in my hope that he rises to the occasion. But if his baser instincts prevail and he remains the man we saw on the campaign trail—indeed, the man he’s been for his entire public life—then it’s our duty, mine and yours and every other Hamiltonian patriot, to stand and tell him: No. Not in our name.

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RIP Leonard Cohen (Sept. 21, 1934 – Nov. 10, 2016)

From our lips he drew the Hallelujah.

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#IsItOverWithYet?

Politics is nasty, bloody sport. Maybe we say this every go-round, maybe I’ve said it too often myself—but this time it’s nastier, bloodier, so much more repulsive than we’ve seen…than we deserve…than we’re capable of.

But when you reflect for a minute on what we are capable of, you might find a glimmer of optimism. You might find reason to believe that not only can we put this election behind us, maybe we can even learn from it and start trying to fix whatever it is in our democracy that has so clearly come undone.

But that’s a bigger remedy for many other days. First up comes healing on a smaller scale—So here’s to fixing all those friendships and relationships we’ve let the nonsense of politics tear asunder.

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The clowns bring a message

Great civilizations tend to be visited by great prophets, when they begin to topple or go astray. Sometimes the wise words are heeded and crisis is averted. More often the messengers are ignored and the terminal waves come crashing over.

We should be wary, then—especially wary, now that the oracles walk among us, and they deign not to warn us with oratory but rather with their chilling nighttime leering.

This is entirely right and good, in accordance with the dire message they carry. The scaramouche form they take is the message, or at least the subject line. They’re appealing directly to your and my atavistic fear reflex, as triggered by the panoply that starts with greasepaint and winds on down to their oversized shoes.

Because what else is there to fear these dark days, besides clowns on the lurk? That’s right, it’s That Candidate. You know the one: the one you loathe and fear so much, you know beyond doubting that That Candidate’s ascension can spell only doom for you and all you hold dear.

So what we have here is a coast-to-coast metaphor, spotted everywhere, apparently; deliberately or otherwise reminding us that we’ve got a lizard brain buried way back there that’s not as easy to ignore as we’d like. Lizard Brain reacts most strongly to fear, and in the grips of a strong enough dose of it, Lizard Brain is ready and able to take the wheel. Scare it badly enough and it wouldn’t hesitate to steer us all right into the ditch.

But there’s a corollary message along with the one about clowns and fear. It’s this: Clowns haven’t always equaled fear. Once upon a time they meant delight. Seems like it’s only in living memory that they somehow morphed into those things you hatefully fear deep down in your gut.

It’s been a bit longer that the political class has also been so deeply despised, but once again, it hasn’t always been so. Nor must it always be.

The best we’ve ever been served (and maybe this is an idealized past, but it was the ideal) was when there was no per se political class. Office holders at all levels, as foreseen and designed by Tom Jefferson, were just patriotic citizens, taking their turns at the necessary for a few years, before handing it off to fresh and similarly motivated patriots and going back to their lives. Seems to me that our turn for the worse might have started when we got away from that, and we allowed politics to be become a permanent and lucrative profession.

A few followers of That Candidate, or maybe it was you, were more right than they knew when they began screaming that it’s a revolution we need in this country. Except it’s not one where we hurt each other, or are even uncivil. It’s one where we use the powers granted to us in our national charter, to turn our political system back into something we can be proud of.

Because when we let it get to the point where the grandest and most consequential ritual of our democracy becomes the stuff of our nightmares, we’ve all become clowns.

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What I saw at the HRC rally

There’s a little mental calculus that comes into play when you’re thinking about attending a political event. First off there are the known disincentives: There’ll be long lines and lots of waiting. Decibel levels will be high. Spirits will also be high, and that can be a good or bad thing. Then there are the things that could happen–the entire spectrum of crazy that’s liable to come out and play. At best it’s a crapshoot.

Outweighing all that, for me at least, was the fact that on Monday, October 3rd, Hillary Clinton spoke not just in my city, not just in my neighborhood, but literally down the road from my house. Odds of craziness notwithstanding, how could I not go?

The entire experience cost me about 3 hours, give or take, from the time I walked out my front door until I walked back in. Most of that time was indeed spent standing, queuing, waiting. A few hundred of us (rough estimate) stood in two long lines stretching out from the main doors of the venue, down the street and around the corner. There were a handful of protesters of the “Hillary for Prison” variety; I heard a few rancorous exchanges but for the most part the folks standing in line refrained from engaging. There was one gentleman, picketing back and forth on the other side of the street, holding forth with great gusto on (I assume) all he hated and feared about HRC. There were two lanes of rush-hour traffic separating us, though. I overheard someone else in the line say, “That guy is about to give himself a stroke, and I can’t hear a word he’s saying. Win-win.”

Eventually we filed in, and made our way to stadium seating an an upper tier, or for yet more standing on the event-hall floor. I chose the latter and ended up not more than 20 feet from the podium. More waiting ensued, predictably, then finally the warm-up speakers: local party people, then the mayor, a couple members of Congress, then finally the speaker herself.

If you’ve followed even a modest amount of politics, you probably have a decent idea of how events like this unfold. I saw and heard nothing particularly unexpected in that respect. I’d heard that Clinton’s speech would be one on economic policy, and although that and a lot of other ground (national security, education, not much alas on the environment) was covered, she spent at least half her time attacking her opponent. That’s a predictable political reality, I suppose, but I found it nevertheless disappointing. And on a pragmatic level, I wonder if it was even necessary—Trump seems to be doing fine crashing his own campaign with his own words and deeds. Me and Ali prescribe a rope-a-dope strategy.

But in any case, it wasn’t a bad speech. The delivery was better than I expected—she spoke with notes, no Teleprompter, and she was much more engaged (and engaging) than I’ve seen in all too many of her appearances. She also looked pretty damned good for someone weathering a bout of pneumonia just three weeks ago.

All that time, though, I was less interested in the speaker in front of me than in the people all around me. The turnout, in size and demography, was surprising and encouraging. The crowd looked like my city. All ages, all races; a larger number than I would have expected, frankly, of guys a lot like me: white and over forty. Even better, all of these people were just plain nice. In tight quarters, where toes were inevitably stepped on and all the unavoidable jostling occurred, I heard not a single angry word. All around me, people were simply being kind to each other, striking up conversations and, I’m sure, striking up more than a few new friendships.

Above all else, though, what I found most encouraging as I looked around, was the number of millennials in attendance. This much-maligned generation—probably the most unfairly heaped-upon generation in history—was out in force, and that prompted me to reevaluate them in depth. The many accusations against these young people includes the one about being politically (even civilly) disconnected. Twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings made up not just a plurality of the crowd, as far as I could see, but also a majority of the campaign staff. So if there’s a disconnection somewhere, it isn’t with them.

Millennials are also accused of being self-centered, of being coddled, of coming up with the sense of entitlement that comes with being in that ‘everyone gets an award’ generation. Well, I wasn’t likely to confirm or deny any of that based on a three-hour political rally, but then again I didn’t see any need to try. Because even a moment’s worth of thinking on it reveals how ball-bustingly unfair those accusations are. Millennial attitudes and mind-sets, for good or ill, are the products of the people who raised them. Millennials didn’t invent the concept of passing out awards for showing up—the previous generation did, and the millennials just happened to be the guinea pigs on whom the idea was tried out.

They’ve grown up in a world where they’ve been able to take for granted the ubiquity of advanced technology, yet they’ve been showered with constant blaring assertions that this, right now, is the worst things have ever been. When they were small we told them they must go to college if they ever hoped to make something of their life, then we handed them an economy and a job market where their degrees were more like extremely expensive jokes.

They’ve also come of age at a time when perpetual war and looming environmental crises come with the territory. The costs of both of these are to be paid, disproportionately, by the millennial generation and the generations that come after.

I realized, then, with the unlikely backdrop and impetus of a Hillary Clinton rally, that against all odds and contrary to the lousy hand they’ve been dealt, the millennial generation are doing their best to, well, make America great again.

When I left I was hardly thinking about Hillary Clinton or this chancre-sore of an election. I left feeling very, very optimistic.

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Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen

Today is Leonard Cohen’s 82nd birthday. He isn’t resting easy, though, no matter how well that rest might be deserved. After 49 years (and counting) in the music business, and 13 studio albums to his credit, this anti-crooner and songwriting tour de force is still hard at it. His 14th album, You Want it Darker drops one month from today. He’s been kind enough, though, to share his birthday tidings with us all by releasing the title track, embedded below. It is gravelly gravitas, just like his entire body of work. To honor that retrospective, I’ve also included a wee slice of his older work, including that one gorgeous hymn that’s so often imitated, and so far from duplicated (“I hate that song,” the missus said once as we listened to some anonymous hack mangle it. “Oh but darlin’, you haven’t heard Leonard sing it.”). Enjoy.

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BLOCKED!

No no don’t worry. I’m not talking about blocking users here (least of all you; you’re my favorite). No, I’m using the word in a much older context, referring to a dread phenomenon bitched about by some writers, and existentially denied by others. Those others, a convincing lot, will tell you that a writer doesn’t get blocked, a writer gets lazy.

Perhaps. And perhaps laziness metastasizes into paralysis. Seems like the result is the same.

No matter—no definitive diagnosis is needed. And I didn’t come here to bitch about it, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m telling myself that I’m merely reporting on events.

And they’ve been…uneventful, as far as writing goes, for me. Words in written form seem to be in short supply. Not much blogging, not much freelancing, not much work done either on those prose-and-poetry projects that I keep in long-lived and little pecked-at files, that are as full as guilt as they are words as long as I’m not pecking at them.

But what the hell. Blocks and laziness need not be forever. Already I’m at word 183 of this little blog post. That’s not nothing. And last night in the wee hours (because on the weekend, wee are the hours I keep), I wrote a little bit in my guiltiest file, the novel I want to finish the most, the story I’m most enjoying unraveling. I didn’t write much: two paragraphs. That’s nothing, practically, in the context of a novel. That’s a ten or twenty year novel rate, that is.

But here’s the thing: I like those two paragraphs. I’m well pleased with them. That is something, something fine.

And that’s the way, I think—along with a few words spilled in posts like these (closing in on 300 words now)—to break out of that rut, and to chip away at the block or the laziness, or whatever it is, or whatever it isn’t.

Dial it in and don’t overthink it. There are two states of being: writing and not-writing. I can’t write all the time. I can however not-write all the time, if I chose or if I allowed. I do not.

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