Saturday, January 08, 2011

It Can't Happen Here?

“Don’t retreat," Palin tweeted after the health-care vote. "Instead — reload!” 
Let me be absolutely clear.  Sarah Palin has the Constitutional right to say whatever she wishes to, about whomever she wishes to, and I defend that right.
And I, as well as other Americans, have the right to question her behavior and hold her accountable. And we will, here and elsewhere.
It doesn't matter whether the would-be assassin was a Tea-Party" member, a "loner," or a "crazed nut." It doesn't matter whether he acted alone. It doesn't matter because none of those factors are directly material in what must happen in the wake of this event.
What matters are these three critical truths:
(1) Palin and others targeted the Congresswoman shot today with vicious hate messaging, including "targets" and provocative statements such as Palin's above. They now must be held accountable.
(2) Gun control laws are too weak in this country. There is no excuse for anyone to own assault-type weapons and magazines such as those used by the shooter today. Nineteen innocent people were shot today -- how many more must die?
(3) There will be extensive political repercussions from today's assassination attempt. Nobody, certainly not me, can say what those will be, but I can offer an educated guess: The days of unrestrained incitement to violence by the likes of Palin are numbered. 

Who Shot Rep. Giffords and Why?

The tragic shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Dem.-AZ), and others this morning came after Giffords was one of those "targeted" by Sarah Palin, as seen above. Whatever else you think about the politics in America, whatever "side" you take on issues you may feel passionate about, there is no way anyone who has a shred of decency can condone this attempted assassination, nor the dangerous hate speech practiced by people like Palin, who is well aware that, as a major advocate of gun ownership, what the word  "target" means.  Words can indeed be dangerous, and even though, of course, it will be found that Palin's website and ad campaign are covered by free speech protections -- among the rights we all cherish as Americans -- there is more, much more, involved here. Because we also hold other values dear, including taking personal responsibility when our words lead to tragedies like today's. All Americans of all political stripes should await Palin's explanation; meanwhile, what she did in the aftermath was to disable the website (captured above). Why was that? Does she no longer stand behind her earlier call to action now the consequences have become clear? If there is anything good about this dark day, it is that Sarah Palin has proven for all the world, including the "Tea Party," to see that she is unsuited for public office.

UPDATE: (From wire service reports)
Giffords' Tucson office was vandalized a few hours after the House voted to approve the health care law in March, with someone either kicking or shooting out a glass door and window. In an interview after the vandalism, Giffords referred to the animosity against her by conservatives. Palin listed Giffords' seat as one of the top "targets" in the midterm elections because of the lawmakers' support for the health care law.
"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.
In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement in which she expressed her "sincere condolences" to the family of Giffords and the other victims. 

It is sad day when fringe people with fringe politics try to enforce their positions with violence. As a society, extreme vigilance is now called for, and careful monitoring of any hate speech such as that clearly depicted above. There was and never will be any excuse for Palin's hateful speech. The only reason I knew about it is I was paying attention; clearly Palin is now embarrassed, and will try to distance herself as far as possible from the "lone gunman, acting alone." In a media-saturated society like this one, no one ever acts "alone."

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Not For This Season

What often is the case, but perhaps may not be obvious to others, is that you need to write even before you know what it is you want to express with your words. It's rather like being hungry and not yet knowing what you will eat. There is a physical need that must be met; a number of options can accomplish this purpose.

For almost forty-eight hours now I've wanted to post a piece under the title of "Yearnings." But I've been hesitant to do so, because it might force me to depart from my New Year's resolution, which was to turn away from the topic that obsessed me the last two months of last year, and not go back to it until perhaps at some future point when the unsettled becomes settled, the unknowable becomes known.

In the end, everything has to be resolved, but a title like "Yearnings" suggests the opposite of resolution. So it's a choice between the brutal truth or some acceptable metaphor. Let us see.

Today, I started thinking this piece might also be called "Learnings," because certainly by now there ought to be some of those too. I've never been one to stay still for very long; I keep moving, and so do the circumstances of my life.

Yet, today, talking with a friend, I expressed how hopeless some situations can become -- how the circumstances constrain your options, how the sequence of losses you've absorbed leave you little hope for a better day anytime soon.

In that case, you still your hopes and accept your tears. Rage, frustration, terror, self-loathing -- not the points of light that would guide any other lost soul through the darkest of their nights, let alone you yourself.

But if there are no learnings, you're left with your yearnings. That friend suggested that better days will come when you truly are ready for them; that was essentially a spiritual message.

If we take care of our bodies and our minds, then that leaves the spirit, which can be far more restless than the other aspects of self. Being free, a spirit seriously yearns, perhaps for impossibilities. There is no comfort there, either.

But of course your friend didn't mean spiritual in an abstract sense but in the need for prayer, for surrender, for faith.

This, then, is the actual battlefield -- giving up, giving in, retreating from the struggle. You never, ever would have gotten into such a predicament if you hadn't aspired to what apparently is impossible -- a kind of happiness and connection under the pressure of particulars that allow no such peace. Not for you.

Where does that leave you? Stuck. Stuck in space and time. Yearning. Better to admit it than to lie. You want something, you want someone, you want what you thought you had, you want what you thought you had earned and worked for for so long.

But you will not get what you want. That future is not to be yours -- that belongs to others now. Yours is the soul left to roam free, and that, of course, is the final irony. That those who value their independence so fiercely find connection, while those that value dependence find none.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Last Light This Night

Tuesdays are one of my kids' nights -- I drove all over San Francisco's southern half to pick up my three youngsters, who attend three different schools, and bring them back to my house. As they dutifully worked on their studies, and dinner was simmering on our stove, I stepped out back to view the sunset.

This year to date is presenting many challenges; it also is pushing me to define my philosophy of life. You never have to do this when things are "normal," the only time you turn philosophical in my experience is when things are very, very good, or very, very bad.

My philosophy for what it's worth is this: It's time to get out of yourself when circumstances allow you to. These may prove to be rare opportunities. Step as far outside of your own shadow as you can and try to occupy the shoes of another.

A good person to pick might be someone who you feel has wronged you in the past. Now, rewind the tape, and play the scenes again from their point of view. You might come up with a different conclusion.

I have been wronged in my life, both personally and professionally. If I were an angel, that would be a scandal worth pursuing, but I have also wronged others.

Probably the only way to escape these circles of regret is to rewind the tape even more slowly, and see what you might have done differently had you any inkling of how this was all going to turn out.

In some ways, this resembles your final moments of clarity in this life, much as the setting sun lights up the western sky one last time before exiting from our view.

I have often said, in the past, that I had few regrets.

That is no longer true. I now have some monstrously huge regrets. I have made some monstrously huge mistakes, and by the time I came to realize that, it was too late to rewind any tape. The opportunity was gone.

If I seem melancholy on these fresh new days of a new year, it is because I am trying to incorporate my regrets into my own story of my own life. I do not mean this literally; my life is not a story, neither is yours, but since I am a writer, all I seem to have with me at the end are the stories I can tell myself -- or you.

In real life there are no fairy godmothers, there is little magic. But in fairy tales, sometimes you are granted one wish.

If you were granted one special wish, just one, from your whole life, what would it be? What would you change and why?

What would you not let that golden sun go down on before you had acted in some different way -- said a word, made a gesture?

This is new territory for me, both as a writer and a person. I am now exploring regret. But tonight, at least, the sun wouldn't wait for my exploration. It had another, far more important appointment to keep.


The Light Within

Mere seconds ago, as I snapped these photos in my backyard, I realized something I have needed to write for a while now.

The people I have loved -- all of them -- are in my memory lighted from within. What I mean by that is their outer form, which I loved, was always animated by an inner spirit even more beautiful.

It's a new year, a time to honor your past and move along.

I'm honoring all the people I've loved with these pictures, these words, and all of my feelings.


Years New and Old

As I've hardly been alone in noting, many times, is that time keeps moving, whether we do or not. This particular year is guaranteed to be one of change for me, because the way the last one ended is unacceptable.

If we could pack up only the good stuff from life as we move ahead, and discard what is known as our "baggage," we'd all keep getting better and better.

But it doesn't work that way. Our shadows don't depart so easily.

Still, even bad years have bright spots, and even our weaker parts have their purposes. It's just to get enough distance from that to grow perspective isn't always easy.

Sometimes, actually lots of times, I stare at trees or leaves or birds. Less so at people. All are made of the same stuff, however.

Reading workaholic astronomer Mike Brown's entertaining book I mentioned the other day, I came upon his epiphany -- that falling in love trumped his professional ambition.

Those dating sites, which I abhor and rarely visit, usually ask the essential things you could not live without. Outside of the funny answers, most people cite friends and family.

I've been trying to assess which things I am really good at lately, not because I'm into gratuitously boosting my own self-esteem, but because as I survey the job market, it is fairly clear that the types of opportunities I've held in the past don't exist in quantity, circa the start of 2011.

So if I am not to work as an editor or a writer, what will it be? Manager? Director? Communications Executive? I've done those things. Teacher? Professor? Administrator? I've done those as well.

This complication of how to adapt yourself to the job market isn't unique to me, of course, but the challenge facing millions of out-of-work Americans.

A blog at one website posting jobs advises job-seekers to smack down any sign of flagging self-esteem should this pop up to bite your behind. After all, it's the worst economy of our lifetimes.

Speaking for myself only, I've never gotten all of my self-worth from any job, although good and interesting jobs have been important to how I view myself. If I had to name the most important thing, it would be to be a good parent.

But I am hard worker, as well -- loyal, creative, collaborative, loving to be part of a team.

I also like to be part of a team in romance. That matters too -- a lot.

Like I implied above, time waits for none of us, but sweeps in changes whether we want them or not. I'm in the special position, right now, of wanting change -- lots of change, in 2011. And sure enough, those changes are coming...


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Crossing the Line

(Click on images to get the larger, high-res photo.)

The deeper I read into Descartes' Error, the more I appreciate how our brains are an incredible tangle of emotions and thoughts, impulses, warnings, memories, and assessments of our future options. Assuming that my own brain is more or less an average organ for a human male of my age and condition, I'm left with a sense of wonder, in both the good and bad sense of that term.

The good sense is appreciating what is probably unknowable. The bad sense is wodnering what went wrong somewhere along the way.

Since as a professional I have had to deal with the rational, the logical, the collective my entire career, as I've aged inevitably I've been drawn to the emotional, the personal, the individual parts of our consciousness, which is just another word for our brain.

There is another way to describe my journey and that is very typical for journalists, who end up not wanting to write yet another expose, but a novel.

Why, after a lifetime of building expertise in the factual, would we turn to fiction?

I have a theory. Even though we pretend otherwise, each of us journalists develop a sense over the years that our work does not really capture reality in the broadest sense -- we are constrained by many forces, some legal, some corporate, others ethical or moral in origin.

There's a whole lot most of us discover that never sees the light of day. Beyond all of that is our intuition -- that so much of the story remains hidden as we practice our craft that we might as well claim only the tip of an iceberg, most of which remains hidden from view.

It's my contention that this is the fate of any conscientious journalist, though many would disagree with me.

Anyway, fiction represents another, parallel universe to explore the types of things we devoted our professional lives to, as journalists.

That's why we all aspire to write novels, at the end. Few of us will, fewer of us will ever write a good one. The journalism will get in the way.

I've struggled with this problem for some twenty years now. I've started and stopped countless works of fiction. Of course, the problem with probing the underside of any iceberg is that it is very, very cold down there.

Without someone to keep you warm, hypothermia sets in. Still, the few great ones among us will achieve this almost impossible feat. Like sperm.

That justifies the efforts of all of us who fail.


Lost and Found

Some three years ago in a New York hotel room, I lost my ring. It was a silver ring with a black stone that my former GF had given me before leaving the Bay Area permanently for the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast.

I've been feeling bad about that loss ever since, especially recently when I rediscovered a photo of us comparing rings (I'd given her a turquoise one).

Today I was searching for another lost item, my checkbook (I seem good at losing things lately) when I reached into my briefcase and pulled out the ring! It has been with me all along, I just didn't know it. Who knows why these things happen so randomly as they do, but today felt like a very good day to find something, as opposed to losing something more.

I eventually found my checkbook and closed out the year 2010 financially. Yuck. Ugh. I will spare you the details but we only brought in three dollars for every four that went out from Hotweir Central, and that is not a sustainable game plan.

In the early afternoon, I was again embracing my three young children, just back from a holiday at Sanibel Island, one of my favorite places on the planet. Immediately, I felt more alive when they were again with me.

This financial adjustment that is hitting "middle-class" America is a very serious problem. People my age, forced like me to burn retirement savings just to pay monthly bills, face some huge questions about what will happen to us when we grow old and retire.

How can we afford to support ourselves, if the present crisis continues?  I know I am more fortunate than many, in that I'm a "saver," as opposed to the type of person who lives on deficit-financing schemes. I don't have any credit card debt at the moment.

And I'm attached to the one part of our economy that remains somewhat vital -- IT. The problem is there is not necessarily much work for a "content" guy. In this way, millions of former journalists and writers are scratching out a living best they can, by teaching, or working for a nonprofit, or doing contract work.

None of this is sustainable, however, so the question is what America wants to do with all of its unemployed artists? There won't be some massive government program, because the politics of today won't allow it. This is not the 1930s.

The private market, where I prefer to work, is still antagonistic to paying for content work, although that may be changing. In line my a new optimism that I am demanding of myself early in this new year, I do sense a small comeback for content on the web and perhaps on mobile platforms as well.

As for the legacy media -- newspapers, magazines and book publishing -- don't hold your breath. So, like many others, I am perched precariously as 2011 gets underway, needing a few good breaks and badly needing nothing else to go wrong.

Having endured so many transitions, I'm familiar with the moods that sweep over a person looking for new work. The one who gave me the ring said, "Something will turn up, it always does."

She was talking about work, but given what turned up today -- the ring -- not to mention that beautiful winter flower blooming in my garden, I'll choose to interpret the signs as good news coming. Good times coming.

More things found than lost.