Prose Poem: A Smile And A Promise


Sometimes, when someone touches me, I flinch before realizing that I want to be touched.  Then, I think about it for a second, and convince myself that it’s OK, but by that time, the lovely person has already assumed that I had rejected her. I don’t know why it’s like this; it didn’t used to be this way, but somehow, across a distance of a few decades, a part of me has grown to expect things to turn out badly, even when the evidence before my eyes suggests otherwise.

Sometimes, I’m so terrified that one more thing will go wrong, that when I want to reach out and take a chance on an amazing person, I convince myself that there’s no point in trying, but don’t realize that it’s just my insecurities talking until the opportunity has already passed.

Somewhere between being hit by family members and foolishly marrying a woman who started abusing me within days of saying “I do”, I forgot how to accept the idea that, sometimes, when a person reaches out with her hand, it’s because she loves me, and not because she wants to hurt me until she feels better about herself.

I wonder why, despite the anecdotal evidence we see around us, we automatically assume that if someone is being hurt by a person of the opposite gender, it’s a man hurting a woman. I wonder why we assume that the only wounds that hurt are physical ones, and that the only real violence is the kind that leaves a mark.

I’ve read that nearly half of all domestic violence is perpetrated by women, but overwhelmingly, only men get punished for it. I think that this is because women are better at talking about their emotions and admitting to being hurt, whereas men are more likely to be silent when they’re in pain.

A friend once told me that he had been repeatedly raped by his ex-girlfriend. He was beside himself with shame because he had let her convince him that he deserved it, and still couldn’t quite shake the belief that she was right. He was a large man with a delicate heart, who couldn’t bring himself to hurt a woman, no matter what she did to him. He couldn’t believe that if he called a rape hotline, the person on the other end would even listen to his story without condemning him as a faker. So, I called for him, and screened out two hotlines who clearly believed that only women could be raped, or didn’t care if the opposite had, in fact, just happened, because this hotline was “just for women”. There were no hotlines for men. When I finally found someone who would listen compassionately and take what I was saying seriously, I gave him the number, but he never called, because he was too ashamed.

Still, I choose to love women rather than hate them—not because they’re inherently more pure or decent than men, but because if I didn’t make this choice, I might become bitter and angry like the people who have hurt me, who believed that they had the right to hurt me because, at some point, someone had hurt them. Sometimes, I wonder how many violent offenders have been created by people who thought they had a right to hurt one gender or another, in retribution for crimes long past. Ted Bundy hated women because at least one woman hurt him when he was a child; and how many men have been hurt by bitter women and over-zealous law enforcement officers because of the pain that abusive men have caused to women? Will the cycle ever end, or will we continue to say that our hurts are, somehow, more important, and act like our own rights are all that really matter, unconcerned with what that means for other people?

I would like to see people raising awareness for men’s issues in the same way that we see people raising awareness for women’s issues.

I wish that feminism were always really about gender equality, and not so commonly an outlet for women who are simply angry at the other half of their species. I wish that we would do away with terms like “feminism” and “masculism” as references to causes worth supporting or condemning, depending on which gender one identifies with. I wish people would organize “equalism” rallies and shout down people who show up with the obvious intent to support only one gender.

I see beauty in the ocean of yin and the fire of yang, and I believe that neither one should try to “convert” the other with the dogmas of academics or politicians. I see men taught to be silent and timid because they can’t communicate emotions as well as women. I see women being taught to be silent and timid because they lack the logistical talent that men tend to be born with. Whether we call it “NonViolent Communication” or “Management Training”, if it teaches someone to be afraid to speak up and be honest, then it’s broken and abominable.

I’m hoping to find someone who will understand that I’m afraid of what women might to do me, but am willing to offer my heart anyway—even if I flinch, at first. I’m looking for a woman who chooses to see me as a unique individual, and not a surrogate upon which to lash away the pain of past wrongs.

I’m hoping that, somewhere, the word, “partner”, really refers to equality in all things—regardless of who has which talents, or who makes more money. I would like to see a world where it’s considered normal to be a “stay-at-home dad”, where people consider such a position to be just as honorable as working at a technology firm. I want to see a world where men and women both have the freedom to take on stereotypical gender roles because that’s what makes them happy, or to do something entirely different for the same reason.

I would like to hear it called “manly” to give a woman a foot massage.

I would like to hear someone say, “I am woman, hear me roar”, in a quiet voice, before kissing a baby.

In a perfect world, we would hear laughter at this poem, because all of the above is a ridiculous re-hashing of the past, but for now, let’s just share a smile and a promise.

The World’s Wrongs Aren’t As Wrong As You Think They Are


<rant>

I just saw something about “things we didn’t know were made with sweat shop labor”.  It’s sardonically funny because it’s utterly obvious to anyone who knows how humanity has worked for all of our history.  Realistically, the only way to have everything we want without doing this kind of labor, ourselves, and without having other people do it, is to have robots do it all–which would mean mass unemployment, especially for those who are already poor.  (No, “fair trade” with foreign entities isn’t feasible in most cases, because it’s ultimately impossible to enforce where those collecting your money spend it–whether on their workers or on themselves.  Or, we could enforce it, but that would require sending soldiers into a sovereign nation and killing people who resist.  Embargoes against countries who refuse to participate in fair trade tend to result in economic collapse and death by crime, warfare, and poverty for people in those countries.)  The short explanation of why things are done this way is because, like everything else our society does, it’s the method we’ve found that “works” with minimal problems.  It’s not necessarily good, but it’s better than everything else we’ve tried, so far; therefore, any truly helpful suggestion for change is going to have to involve a more complete solution than, “let’s just pay more for stuff, and shame those who don’t or can’t do that!”

These items include:
-Food (Cheap labor is required to grow it plentifully.  In almost all countries, farmers are the poorest of the poor.  Here, farmers aren’t poor, but farm workers still are–which is an improvement from the global norm, if we’re being honest about it.)
-Clothing (Textile workers have pretty much always had it rough.  Working with fibers can mess up your body if you do it enough.  A lot of people I know struggle to buy clothes at the current price.  Multiply that price that by 500-1000%, and a lot more folks will start freezing to death in the winter.)
-Drugs of all kinds (Which come from crops…therefore use cheap farm labor.)
-Plastic objects of all kinds (If we want them to be plentiful, and therefore affordable, that requires cheap labor, and a huge supply of petroleum.)

This article sucks:
http://app.greenamerica.org/world-of-hurt/

Yes this is messed-up…but I don’t think anyone reading this has ever gone a day in their lives without benefiting from these abuses.  In fact, the computer or mobile device you’re using right now–regardless of brand–was made using these practices, unless you paid about 10x what every other comparable model costs.  (I know this because I’ve been building computers since I was a little kid and have a pretty good idea of where the parts come from, and what they would cost if we made them using better practices.  All the local computer stores pay minimum wage to build computers, and would pay less if they could get away with it.  The reason you can get a computer or smart phone for under $1,000 is because the parts were made in sweat shops and assembled by underpaid techies.)  Worse, the people who like to share such statistics about “sweat shop labor” are usually the same people who support organic farming, which pits food shortages against human rights abuses and outright lies (for marketing to sensitive shoppers), when you get right down to how it works.

The local political party/advocacy group/guilt factory where I live, the Chico Peace and Justice Center, is all about making people feel bad about <insert verb here>, while providing only the most superficial and infeasible alternatives.  I’m sorry, but I wish that people would pay more attention to figuring out why people do what they do, under the assumption that nobody is “born evil”, rather than going around condemning people for doing whatever they can to deal with life as well as they can manage.  All the injustices in the world exist because they help meet somebody’s needs, or have done so in the past (and no better solution has become readily available); therefore, any meaningful solution requires us to put ourselves in the “perpetrator’s” shoes and figure out why they need to do what they do in order to be OK with life.  Yes, this includes actual villains like S. Hussein and A. Hitler, even though what they did was obviously unacceptable.  They both had very human reasons, though, and if you really dig around in their history, you’ll see that they were just trying to meet their personal needs, and sometimes those of the people around them.  Did they both deserve what they got, in the end?  Yeah, I think so.  Would you have acted in a similar fashion, given the same upbringing and life experiences?  That’s a harder question to answer, and I hope that one would hesitate to do so blithely.  I think that if our local (or not-so-local) activists were to seriously consider why these unfair practices exist, they would have a lot less anger, and not feel as much like they need to look down their noses at us “plebeians”, for one silly reason or another, no matter how <insert political leaning here> either person or party might be.

</rant>

Love Is


Love is wanting to take her out to eat, but knowing you can’t afford it, and offering to cook, instead.
Love is opening your heart instead of your wallet when it would be easier just to spend money.

Love is when you know that you could get into bed with her just by being shallow, and insisting on getting to know her first—even if that means losing the opportunity, forever.

Love is seeking a “yes”, rather than avoiding a “no”, and being happy with whichever you get.
Love is knowing when to say yes, and being patient until then.

Love is seeing that the lawn hasn’t been mowed, but thanking him for doing the laundry, instead of complaining about the yard.

Love is when you say a kind word when an insult might be more appropriate.
Love is swallowing your pride and saying you’re sorry.

Love is writing something sweet on a post-it every morning before work, even when you’re mad at each other.

Love is giving your partner the last piece of chocolate.

Love is giving someone a massage when your own back hurts.

Love is cooking food that you can’t or won’t eat, because you know he likes it.
Love is eating “burnt offerings” with a smile, and then asking for seconds.

Love is abandoning a closely-held belief because it hurts someone you care about.
Love is choosing to support your partner’s eccentric ideology, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense.

Love is being unafraid to discuss religion, politics, or anything else—and always being willing to change your mind when a good point is made.
Love is choosing dialectic over of debate.

Love is when you give without caring whether you will receive.
Love is when you work a job you hate, so you’ll both have a place to come home to.

Love is dancing badly to terrible music, and enjoying it anyway, because it was your partner’s turn to choose the night’s activity.
Love is observing “date night” no matter how busy you both are.

Love is sitting through an embarrassing class or lecture so that you’ll know how to please her.
Love is learning to be satisfied, whether he figures it out or not.

Love is knowing when to hold her close, knowing when to give her space, and realizing that you need to ask, because you don’t have a clue.
Love is answering him patiently even if you think he should know better; and sometimes, love is admitting that you don’t have a clue what you want, either, and deciding to be OK with not getting it.

Love is accepting the love that is given, even when you don’t speak the other person’s language.
Love is learning the language of your partner, and giving him what he wants, rather than what you want.

Love is realizing that whatever love is, it’s definitely not what’s in movies and popular novels.
Love is reading those novels with her, anyway, no matter how silly you think they are.

Love is sitting through all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, even though neither of you can keep up with the subtitles, and she keeps pausing it every few seconds so you can read them.
Love is making it worth his while to keep watching.

Love is setting reasonable but firm boundaries and sticking to them.
Love is respecting each other’s boundaries.

Love is accepting the sovereignty of another person, while also accepting the sovereignty of yourself.

Love is offering olive branches until the whole orchard dies.

Love is forgiveness.

Love is wishing she would quit smoking because you want to be with her a little longer,
But still watching the sunset through a cloud of burning ash, because that’s how you can be here with her, now.

Love is the act of changing the bed pan of someone who doesn’t look like the person you married, and realizing that the good times are still happening.

Love is almost dying of a broken heart after the funeral service,
But deciding to keep going because you know that she would want you too.

Love is the blue sky, and the trees, and the fresh flowers over your new bed.

Love is smiling at a stranger as you plant some fresh flowers on the grave of your ancestor.

March 2nd, 2014

Simply Be Beautiful


In the sweetness of hope does the new person hold my gaze. She’s pleasant to the eye, but that’s incidental to the fact that, like few others, her mind is sharp enough to elicit my attention.

Brown eyes, more tantalizing than any perfume, and a lavender heart more potent than a field of mauve; the gold spark of genius is a thing to behold, and a rare pairing with a heart that pumps red sanguine. Like any true marvel, this creature is an ethereal beauty that blossoms from beyond the veil and only shows a few budded petals in this azure reality.

With the gusts of wind, it loses them to the fickle fancies of diverse interest. In every corner of the world, there is a garden that yearns for the grace of such a rare phenom, but with all things so prized, each plot is left wanting for its deus ex phronēsis to save its gardener from his doleful and ongoing affair with mediocrity.

A prodigious flower is the coveted plaything of many greedy masters, pollinating the world with her acumen, while sitting in an empty plot.

One wishing to engage such a person will sometimes find that the closer one gets, the more blighted the soil becomes; because a being of such wit may have, at some point, concluded that the only way to keep from being overwhelmed by weedsome intruders is to make the entire plot barren, but for barely enough room at the center.

But that’s OK. When one is ready for more, one becomes available to accept more. For now, maybe it’s enough to simply be beautiful.

Sept. 14th, 2014

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death


This is a poem I wrote in 2002 for my college creative writing class.  The professor hated it.  Most other people love it, or at least don’t hate it.  I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor for college education, in general.

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death

The archaic din of white text superimposed upon a black screen is no more.
The blinking curser and the cryptic jibe,
“Syntax error,”
have receded from the much-coveted position of
“operating system”
into the subcutaneous untreaden cave of
“MS-DOS Mode.”

Upon the release of Microsoft’s 1995 crowning innovation,
the new “Windows” operating system,
fully equipped with tranquil desktop themes
and a myriad of cheery, sound-coordinated pop-up menus,
people around the world rejoiced.

No more will the unconscionable
Config.sys errors
of yesteryear interfere with the high-profile,
high-fidelity
file management systems of modern times.

The gratingly irritating beeps
and infinite lists of “Bad commands” or “Filenames;”
the stubbornly unbootable hard-drive has given way;
techies around the world groaned
for they knew that the days of horribly stubborn operating systems had ended,
and their jobs as the unapproachable gurus of the Great OS
would soon cease to exist.

But there was hope.

For the dreaded Blue Screen of Death has been replaced
by the Gray Window of Frustration.

Woe be
to the unsuspecting user who
dares check
the internal workings of his system—
who dares click on

Control Panel > System > Performance

the windows popping up—
cascading”—
presenting him with that
forty-two billion dollar grin of approval,

and the user,
piles of driver disks and small papers on the desk in front of him,
stares,
with half-closed eyes
at the messages:

Compatibility-mode paging reduces overall system performance.
Drive C is using MS-DOS compatibility mode file system.

Noooo!
say his unflinching, half-closed eyes.
Briefly,
he reminisces about the
real operating systems of old.
He thinks,
why did they have to make this thing so dang user friendly?

The “Default”
green desktop stares back at him,
unaware of its error.
He stares for a moment longer
at those two
insolent messages,
and at the five-cent euphemisms–
the kind that make this operating system
the most widely used operating system in the world–
and explain why his computer is running so
DANG SLOW!

The stuttering CPU fan blows hot air
out of its overworked medium tower.
Glaring light from the ceiling fan reflects
in the dark window behind the computer.
He stares, dazed, tired
at the clock on the Taskbar.

I should have hired a techie,”
he murmurs as he futily replaces the yellow driver disk
with yet another version of the software.
He restarts the hardware installation program.

Windows will now search for any new Plug and Play devices on your system.
Your screen may go blank during this process. This is normal.

One pulsating vein highlights his greasy forehead
as he clicks the Next button.

Please wait while Windows searches for new Plug and Play devices.

For a few fleeting moments the hard drive activity indicator flickers its compliance.
Mother board resources, mother board resources,” he chants,
in vain hopes of coercing the stupid machine into subjecting itself to his will.

For the next five minutes there is no activity.
His limp fingers grope around on the keyboard for those three familiar buttons:
CTRL+ALT+DELETE
.

The End Task window doesn’t appear.

He sighs as he presses them again.
Then chuckles, reminiscing,

as he longingly smiles at the familiar blue screen in front of him.

Slam Poem: A Lesson in History


February 17th, 2015

Today, I received an email from a friend urging me to repeat history by petitioning for non-involvement in Ukraine. This is my response.

France stole the iron out of Germany while is men stood with their swords nailed to the ground.
Germany’s lenders and industrialists made pacts with the invaders, and grew rich from the spoils of their people.
A man was raised up, out of the perils of a beer hall, who promised that the invaders could be quashed.
“A new empire, a Third Reich”, he proclaimed, as his battered, starving people stretched forth their hands, to receive bread.
And he gave it to them.

Bread from the depths of the earth, from iron mines and oil wells; a war machine that would dance like black lightning across a sea of broken bodies.
This bread could be made and exported without limit, because more life-giving sustenance could be found upon the corpse of every Frenchman who convulsed under its piercing influence.
The traitors—those foul lenders and industrialists—were quickly made to bend the knee, and then bend their backs under the strain of the baker’s flour.

Poland ate the bread of steel while the world watched from their places of non-involvement.
The seed of the money-lenders became the new laborers in the baker’s furnace.

Those who once put their boots upon the necks of their countrymen, for a mere dottle of favor from their conquerors soon found themselves penniless, their eyes dark and their fingers jointed with knots.
To those who feared the foreign oppressors, this was justice; and to those who suffered at their hands, it was fate, because this, too, had happened before.
But whose fault was it, when the sky turned white with human ash, and the air grew hot with putrescine?

It was the fault of those who could not stand the thought of another Great War; their cowardice brought a second one into being.

In 1919, the Allied Powers said that oppressing Germany was the only way to bring peace.

When France continued to invade Germany after the end of World War One, it was said to be Germany’s “just desserts”.

When Germany expanded east and west, it was said that they couldn’t be faulted, because the Treaty of Versailles was clearly unfair; and could we really blame the German people for wanting an end to that oppression?

When France fell, and London was besieged, we complained because we didn’t see it coming. Our self-righteous vanity shattered like the aftermath of an airstrike.

And now, we stand by, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is clearly different.

Propaganda is circulating, saying that Ukraine doesn’t have to stay independent, because it’s only been that way for 24 years, and before that, it was part of Russia.
But the kingdom of Germany had only been fragmented for 20 years before World War Two began.

The propaganda says that Ukraine’s government is corrupt, and therefore they don’t deserve to be their own state.
So, too, were the lords of fragmented Germany when they met in that fateful beer hall, and were shot at by their nation’s soon-to-be fuhrer.

Our vain, liberal propagandists claim that we can’t lay this at the feet of Vladmir Putin, because he’s a latecomer, and is only responding to the fragmented nature of Ukraine.
So, too, did Adolf Hitler only respond to the fragmented nature of his beloved Germany.

Yes, our vaunted diplomats urge that, if only we do nothing, this whole thing will blow over, and clearly Russia will stop as soon as they conquer Crimea. Or, at least, they’ll stop before they reach Poland. Or, maybe they’ll stop before they reach Germany. But surely, France is safe.

How long are we going to suffer the advice of cowards and fools? Does it make sense to ignore the past, in hope that doing so will change the future? When has the ever…ever worked?!

I call myself a Centrist because I can’t stand the idiocy of any polarized ideology, be it conservative, liberal, capitalist, or socialist; and it’s high time I write some propaganda of my own:

Down to ignorance!
Down to cowardice!
A pox on the enemies of peace,
And a brand on the ever-hackneyed re-writers of history!

Why Does It Matter Whether Homosexuality Is A Choice?


I think that the reason people think that choice in gender preference matters is the same reason why people who ask that question are, so far as I’ve seen, utterly unwilling to follow that question to the uncomfortable places to which it might lead. This applies equally to both sides of the LGBTQ debate. The logic goes something like this:

The anti-LGBTQ advocate will typically look at the evidence in this way:
“It’s entirely, or substantially a choice. Therefore, people who engage in homosexual activity are culpable, and legitimate targets of (social) prosecution.” In rarer cases, such an advocate will see homosexual people as a “mistake”, wherein their desires are NOT a choice, but they need to “behave themselves”, anyway, and seek medical help to correct the problem.

The pro-LGBTQ advocate will typically look at the evidence in one of two ways, (seemingly) entirely dependent on the situation at-hand:
1) It’s not a choice. Therefore, nobody can be blamed for it, and people who feel same-gender attraction should have every right as people who are born heterosexual.
2) It is a choice. Therefore, people can’t put those who feel same-gender attraction into a “box” as being only a certain way.

Personally, I think that all of these positions have at least a little merit.

The anti-LGBTQ advocate makes good points in claiming that people are responsible for their own decisions (and not those of other people). This is no different from heterosexual responsibility, when you get right down to it. They also make a good point that, similarly, everybody needs to behave in a socially-responsible fashion. Parading unprotected sex in front of an elementary school is probably not a responsible thing to do–regardless of who’s doing it.

The pro-LGBTQ advocate makes a good point in stating that if it isn’t a choice, then discrimination and (social) prosecution is utterly inappropriate. Likewise, if it IS a choice, people who sometimes feel attracted to one gender, and sometimes to the other shouldn’t have to be confined to a particular “way of being”, just because others have trouble wrapping their minds around this. (Bisexual men and women I know are also targets of poor treatment from gay and lesbian people who want them to “figure it out”, which seems equally silly.)

The thing is, regardless of which position is correct, BOTH sides of the debate are going to lose. Here’s my logic:

If there’s a physiological element, then anti-LGBTQ activists are screwed, because it means that they can no longer advocate for laws and policies that have different rules for LGBTQ people–since that would be discrimination. On the other hand, if it IS a choice, they’re stuck proving that same-gender attraction is hurting those who consent to such relations. Rape is already illegal, and clearly, this is a hard case to make with regard to consenting adults.

On the other side, pro-LGBTQ activists are screwed because the physiological element means that medical treatment is theoretically possible. This has the politically-inconvenient effect of proving that a person who is currently homosexual could be turned heterosexual, with the right treatment (hormones, gene therapy, surgery, etc.). If that’s what the person in question really wants, then this gets into “choice” territory: if the pro-LGBTQ activists get to decide that people can’t make this choice for themselves, then their anti-LGBTQ opponents can make the same choice about homosexuality.

So, let’s look at some of the evidence: is there a physiological difference between straight people, bisexual people, and homosexual people? Scientific inquiry has resoundingly said, “yes”. One factor is the shape and development of the amydgala–the part of the brain most responsible for interpersonal interaction and letting the two hemispheres of the brain talk to each other. The amygdalas of gay men more closely resemble those of straight women. The amygdalas of gay women more closely resemble those of straight men. Bisexual people are somewhere in-between. There are also hormonal differences, and one has to wonder how any of this is possible without at least a small genetic component. (I’m sure information about the latter could be found with a Google search–but probably predominantly on politically-biased websites. Scientific journals are, unfortunately, commonly hidden behind paywalls.)

So, why does it matter whether homosexuality is a choice? Because talking about it–SUPERFICIALLY–acts as an emotional “trigger”, and therefore as a political “dog whistle”. And that’s why LGBTQ-related gender politics aren’t worth paying all that much attention to, just yet.

(For those who are wondering, the current “correct” acronym for the aforestated gender rights movement is “LGBTQQIP2SAA” or LGBTQ+, for short.)