Sunday, September 17, 2023

It took me 60 years to begin to understand this...

I have always been a very self-involved person, and have not considered history to have much relevance to me personally.   The Baptist Church in which I was raised was very keen on various forms of "Sins of the Father" guilt-mongering, and I rebelled against this with a vengeance.  Having been named first, middle and last after my Father, I even went so far as to go through the legal process of changing my entire name.  I did not consider myself in any way connected to the actions of my ancestors, and thus did not have any great curiosity about them.  This was made easier because something about my origins were considered shameful by my extended family and they treated me accordingly.  I still can't be sure I fully know why, and have always maintained that I don't care.

I did not consider the imperialism torture and slavery my white ancestors visited upon the world, nor the continuing actions of my contemporaries, to be in any way connected to me.

These convenient pretenses have been eroding very recently.  Within my own selfish life I began to realize that the past is as real and important as the present or the future.  Eventually, it occurred to me that my life as it is, including great privileges that I take for granted, cannot exist other than within the context of a vast web of history and current events, people of the past and present, which I can only hope to understand in the smallest way.

I am beginning to feel that it is important for me to understand as much as possible, for my connection to it cannot be denied.

In particular, I have been trying to fill in the vast gaps in my knowledge of the history of the United States of America in which I have lived my entire life.   Part of this comes from being old enough to be horrified at how little generations of adults younger than myself really know about the small span of history through which I have lived. 

The earliest curiosity I developed about the ongoing economic imperialism of the U.S. was when I left the hard but necessary work of farming and moved to the city to do the dehumanizing and needlessly dangerous work still being done, back in the 1980s, in factories here.  I was aware of the great amount of regulation that had been developed over decades and even centuries to make working conditions in U.S. factories safe, humane and fairly compensated, but the "ground truth" of life on the factory floor fell far short of the ideal. Then I noticed how most of the manufactured goods used in this country, in my life, were made in other countries where the scarce worker protections I enjoyed might not even exist.  I could only imagine how much worse it was for those workers.

I had long been vaguely curious about monuments in the downtown Portland, Oregon park blocks celebrating the bravery and heroism of local soldiers who fought in a war in a place called The Philippines.   I was previously unaware that there had been such a war, and the name of the place where it happened only sounded slightly familiar.

Then a few years later, I find myself in a long distance internet friendship with a kid who lives in The Philippines and shares, even exceeds, my great enthusiasm for a surf-punk band called "Man... or, Astro-Man?" (and many typographical variants of the same).   For many months I have been providing what small help I can for his grand project of re-creating the rather complex staging and sound design of the band, very specifically, during their 1999 tours.   

I began to get curious about a history that includes some kind of past war between his country and mine, and ends up with his passion for an American band that has never even played in his country.

I turned to YouTube and a history educator for whom I had developed some trust for telling the whole story as best as his own research, often involving multiple consultants, could allow.  I recently watched his video on The Philippine-American War, which as it turns out, was a sort of spin-off of the already ongoing Spanish-American War, about which I also knew almost nothing.  The Philippine war started in 1898 and lasted until... well sometimes it's hard to set a specific date when something like this ends.  Sure there are dates for treaties and such, but those don't always mean terrible things just stopped happening.

If you want to watch it, the video is here:

And of course, as with any important subject, seek your own sources as well.

At this juncture I don't know how to reconcile my horror and shame about my own country and my realization that these same horrible and wrong things make the life I mostly sort-of enjoy possible. 

Side step in world and personal history a few years, and I was briefly working for a sub-contractor for customer service for the shoe and fashion company Nike. During training for this job, we are treated to many videos, including one that features a very positive story about the wonderful work being done at one of the Nike factories in The Philippines.  Even with all of the positive spin, I could tell this was not a manufacturing workplace like those I had known here in the U.S., and the vast contrast between that sweatshop and the gleaming modernist dream of the Nike corporate headquarters just a few blocks away from where I live, is hard to express adequately.

And all of this is just a small sample of the atrocities of the relationship, past and present, between The United States and The Philippines. 

I haven't even touched upon the vast sources of shame based upon just the internal history of the country that made me who I am.   

I don't know what to do with this, about this.  For now, I am just trying to learn as much as I can about the country, world and history I have for too long considered mostly irrelevant to my life.

Of one thing I am increasingly sure: there were no "good old days", much less any past standard of "Great" to which we should return.  The farther back in time one looks, the less "great" things were for pretty much everybody, but especially anybody without my privilege of being a white heterosexual male. 

[Editorial note: I have done a pass through this to correct some of the most embarrassing errors in spelling, syntax and readability.  Along the way I found a tangled web of tenses that, if I were to try to untangle it, I would give up on this essay entirely.  In a way, shifting and conflicting tenses are intrinsic to one of the central ideas I am trying to put forth here: that the past, present and future, as well as the individual and their small place in the world, are all inextricably, interdependently connected, like it or not.  For a lot of my ongoing "awakening" process, I would also like to thank Roccie Hill and her powerful book of historical fiction "The Blood of My Mother", which I am still reading, but can already recommend.]

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

An Old Man Falls Down

Halfway through writing this, I feel compelled to add this preamble, explaining that much of what follows is excessive in detail that does not contribute to a tolerable, much less entertaining, narrative.

I have fallen down three times in the past week or so.  This is considerably more frequent than usual.

There has been a late resurgence of winter weather recently. "Resurgence" is not the right word. Winter had been mild until it suddenly wasn't in mid/late February.  It might yet not be done.

Fall One:

I was out in the most extreme of the snow, at about 5AM, trying to get a large round segment of tree from my side yard into my house, to burn in the fireplace.  Our heat pump has been out of service for a few years, and in any case, even using electrical heat is dodgy, and expensive, because the heat exchanger is rather clogged with pet hair and such.  

So, I was out in the extreme cold trying, as I was too weak and lazy to simply pick it up and carry it, to roll a large chunk of wood towards the front door.  It accumulated snow as I rolled it, much like a snowball in a cartoon or when children are building a snowman.  I'm not entirely sure what happened, but I think I was pushing on it with my foot and lost my balance.  In any case, I ended up face down in a little more than a foot of cold powder snow, with no gloves and no obvious way to get back on my feet.

The snow was so cold on my bare hands that it felt, paradoxically, like they were on fire.  White hot needles of ice tore through my bare hands as I crawled towards my car.

Fortunately, I had the forethought to bring my car keys with me in case I wanted to use it as a warming shelter.

 Eventually I made it to my car, started it up, and waited for it, and subsequently my hands, to warm up.

The pain was amazing.  The time immeasurable. Eventually, I was able to get back in the house, but without my burnable prize snowball.

I would eventually find that I had somehow scraped off a large patch of skin from below my right knee. Diabetes slows healing, especially in my legs, so regrowing this skin is a long-term work-in-progress, but infection has been avoided.

Fall Two:

This was during the cold weather, but doesn't really count as a weather-related fall.  I was leaving a small room in my garage.  A space I had created for myself after the demise of my recording studio, intended to be a smaller studio for smaller projects.  It is extremely well insulated regarding light, sound and heat, so a very small heater keeps it almost too warm in the coldest of weather.  I can't imagine physically constructing this space, from the scraps of my old studio, with the body I have now.  I am glad I did it back in 2004. 

I had a sudden notion that there was something I left behind that I wanted to go back and get.  An attempted turn on the cluttered floor of my garage and I was suddenly on my back, painfully lying on the metal edge of a discarded, inoperative, 24-channel mixer.  Not much more to that story.

Fall Three:

I ventured out into the world, one of my least favorite things to do as of late, to secure supplies which had proven difficult to acquire through delivery services.  In a Fred Meyer parking lot, I failed to notice a patch of ice near where I had parked, and down I went.  The bizarre aspect of this experience is that I found myself once again crawling towards a place where I could pull myself up, but this time it was in a public place in what passed for full daylight at the time.  There were people all around going about their own business as if there wasn't a 60 year old weakling trying to find a way to make right his figurative capsized tortoise shell.  In retrospect, I think people rushing to help would have been more horrifying than being left to my own limited devices.

In any case, I obviously solved the problem and completed my errand with only a smaller patch of missing skin next to my left elbow.

 In Conclusion:

I think writing this all out was a strange and pointless thing to do.  What do I want?  Pity? Empathy? None of the above.  I just have an inexplicable urge, occasionally, to document the mundane events of my decaying life.

Perhaps my mundane documentation, along with those of others, may eventually help some future archeologist form some marginally realistic understanding of common life in this era.

I also like to feed birds that don't really need me to feed them, and one very old feral cat who very much needs me to feed her if she is to continue becoming older.  I also do the laundry and take care of my two indoor cats. Life could be worse, and it will be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Introduction to the Boss Battle with my Ego

 I have taken to re-reading books I remember that I like, but have not read in so long I could scarcely provide a summary from memory.  I am starting with Kurt Vonnegut, who I had first read in my late teens.  It is astounding how little I remember, but not at all surprising that I liked these books.  It is also clear how these books shaped my way of thinking and observing the world, especially then. Even now, they help me look at life in a way somehow more tolerable.  I almost said "yet cynical", but it is the cynicism itself that takes some of the sting out of existence.  In most of the intervening years between my Vonnegut-influenced youth and decline, between 16 and 60, I was very earnest, very busy, and very self-indulgent.  Most of the time I covered the sting of existence with a sense of immediate importance in everything I did, and when that didn't work I was episodically unpleasant, unhappy, or just gratefully drunk.

I had wanted to be an author for the longest time. I wanted to be many things, but I am lazy and stupid, and easily distracted by what I believe others want or need from me.  The only thing that comes easily is writing, but now even that has become something I rarely do.  After awhile, due to my self-indulgent habit of re-reading myself, I finally realized I have been repeating myself, and that has brought me to an almost complete stop.

Long before noticing that I have been repeating myself, I became painfully aware that I only write about myself, and from my own perspective.  Not only do I lack a "mind's eye", I lack the ability to figuratively wear shoes that are not my own. This makes for writing that isn't just boring, but painfully boring.

Regarding the repetition, I know there are many little mildly interesting vignettes of experience which I have spoken of to others, back when I spoke to others, but have never written out.  There may even be more than that.  The main problem is that I know my memories are eroding.  I cannot call up any story at will.  I have to wait for something to trigger it, which does happen, but then they don't hold up as stories because I often remember fragments, but not what connects them, and generalities, but insufficient details.

This also does not solve the "I" problem.  I am sick to death of of writing sentences that begin with "I", and I am absolutely sure this is not the first time I have written those words.

So I have the "I" problem, and the "story full of holes" problem.

Reading Vonnegut closer to 60 than 16 seems to hint at possible solutions.  The first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five is written in the first person, and serves, in part, the function that most authors waste on an "Introduction" or "Preface" that readers routinely skip.  From then on, the story isn't about "I", it is about Billy Pilgrim.  That solves the "I" problem, and also gives Vonnegut freedom from the burden of trying to maintain the integrity of so-called objective truth.  He can fill in the missing details and connective story tissue with convenient or entertaining lies.  By making Billy Pilgrim "unstuck in time", Vonnegut even frees himself from strictly linear storytelling, and can distract from the absence of sequences that might otherwise have appeared to be missing.  He even distracts from the fact that most of life is truly dull, repetitious, and unworthy of novelization.

These cannot be original observations about Vonnegut or Slaughterhouse five, or even the task of authoring fiction in general.  They aren't even entirely new to me, but perhaps for the first time, usefully complete and clearly codified for my own purposes.

Then there is the problem of someone else's oft mentioned "shoes".  To me, this is a variation of what I like to call the "Leading Man" problem, or for illustrative purposes, the "Tom Hanks" problem.

Tom Hanks is a "Leading Man" not just because he is famous and first-billed in the majority of thing in which he performs.  He is a "Leading Man" because at all times you are aware that you are watching Tom Hanks, not a character actor who disappears into their role.  Yet at the same time, this doesn't take you out of the story.  The viewer remains in a state of suspended disbelief sufficient to be engaged with the events of the presentation. My theory is that Tom Hanks doesn't play a character, he plays Tom Hanks fully immersed in the situation of the character.  This is his solution for his own "I" problem.

Again, certainly not an original observation, nor the first time I have attempted to convey my own thoughts about it. But together with the other solutions Vonnegut implies, I almost have a working theory of how to write something potentially tolerable to myself, and maybe even others.

Unfortunately, I feel like I have only learned how to steal a pale ghost of the genius of others.  I am still oppressed by the conviction that it has all been done better, and there is no need for my version.  This is the "Boss Battle" with my own sense of self-importance.  Egotism and self deprecation are not even a yin and yang, they are functionally identical.  There is an aspect to my "I" problem which I have not yet mastered sufficiently to begin tolerable writing.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Is Everyone Dying?

 Yes.  Of course.  But is everyone I know, including myself, dying right now, very soon, all with symptoms resembling pneumonia?  Momma Kitty's symptoms seem to come and go with the weather.  Patricia's mother died last week of something more akin to pleurisy. I've been sick for a week with something confusing.  Definitely not pleurisy.  I've had that, after my open heart surgery many years ago, and it hurts a lot more than this.  But maybe I have something like pneumonia, which is annoying because I had a specific vaccine against that earlier this year. 

This isn't like when I went to the hospital and found out I had congestive heart failure.  If anything, I am dehydrated.  I have been losing about a pound a day for a week, and that is almost certainly water weight because I am not exercising.  So much chest congestion, to the point that I feel I can barely breathe, and I have almost no voice, and my breathing sounds like an Aztec Death Whistle (look it up, if you don't know), which keeps me awake.  Some nasal discharge, but definitely not to the degree of sinus infections of the past. 

Why am I even writing this?  I don't know.  Forensic bread crumbs?  For whom?  I had intended to go to a clinic today (Friday), but woke up feeling better than I had for awhile and it all seemed so inconvenient.  But then the symptoms come back.  Coughing to the point that I nearly pass out and my stomach muscles ache, just to divest my lungs of a tiny measure of sputum. 

Maybe tomorrow I will go to a clinic.  Maybe tomorrow I will feel better. Again, I don't even know why I am writing this.   My apologies to my audient (right or wrong, I hold that to be the singular form of the plural "audience").

Friday, April 22, 2022

Three Mothers

Yesterday, technically still today for me, my Wife's Mother died.  This is a complicated passing, with a complicated back story, and my part in that story is one that I will probably never fully tell.  Ultimately it is sad, in no small part because I don't know if I ever saw her truly happy.  It feels strange and wrong to have nothing more to say than this when a human life which has so thoroughly intersected with my own has ended.

My own Mother moved with my younger sister to another state a year or two ago.  I honestly can't remember which state right now.  My Mother, at least as of a few days ago, is still alive.  The story of these relationships, with my mother and my sisters, is also very complicated, and a story I feel I have every right to tell to anyone, but I do not feel very motivated to do so at this moment.  My immediate concerns and responsibilities are with and for my wife at this time.

The third mother is a cat.  "Momma Kitty".  She is very old.  It seems she has always been living on my back deck, with food, water and warmed shelter provided. She became the matriarch of a minor cat population explosion, but I managed to get her and her first born all captured and fixed, and her grandkittens all socialized and placed in homes.  Now only she remains, having outlived her own offspring and several other neighborhood ferals.  Just a few nights ago her breathing sounded very labored and I was afraid she wasn't going to last the night, yet she still found her way to unreachable shadows before I could pick her up.  Fortunately, she seems a lot better today.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Notes for an Introduction to a Book (which will probably never be written)

I'm sorry to give away the ending, but there is no point, there is no meaning.  Life is not a Movie, it isn't even a Story.   It's just something that happens until it stops happening, and every one of them is different, and the only person who knew it all is dead.  Soon anyone who knew any part of it will forget, and then they die, and eventually all of it ends.  Entropy wins.  Creation loses. 

Or I'm wrong.  I don't know shit, and I certainly don't know you or your life, or the universe in which it is happening. 

I very much want to be wrong, but wanting doesn't make it so any more than pretending to know does.

A good writer, a popular writer, would feed you a bunch of happy horseshit about how the meaning is in the moment or some such brain vomit as that.  What good does living "in the now" and finding meaning "in the moment" do me after I am dead?  None that I know of, and none that any dead person has ever bothered to tell any living person.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably lying or delusional.

But again, I am really good at being wrong, and I really want to be wrong about all of this.

A Vague Sense of Final Purpose

The brief flurry of "Retro-Blogs" was an attempt to rescue increasingly hard to access writings on other online platforms.  I lost the initial manic drive to pursue this effort rather quickly, but it should resume at some unpredictable time in the near future, or not.  Some will not be recoverable, but I may have offline drafts that can be refurbished.  As layers of my life peel away, some shadows of memory are returning, and there may be an effort to document some of those.  As I review what I have written, I realize some of what I have not. There may also be some overlong emails in my sent folders which may spark other memories or tell stories that can be reclaimed.

All of this comes from an absurd conceit that something could be organized and condensed from this blog to form a physical book.  Nothing digital lasts, but physical books can be surprisingly resilient over time.  This grew from the increasing conviction that I have very likely exhausted my supply of things to say, of days with events specific to me even marginally worth describing.

Of all of my shallow ambitions, the most persistent was for me to be some kind of writer, followed very closely by the ambition to be some kind of songwriter and singer.  Singing is largely out of the question now, but I am fortunate to have had a few moments on a real stage, with a real band, in front of a real audience, and I managed to make reasonably finished recordings of two original songs. I have also documented lyrics and non-standard attempts at conveying melody and other musical elements of several more, almost all of which were originally conceived in a very narrow period of my youth.  Writing and editing of writing remains possible, if sufficiently low standards are applied to the quality of the work.

Mine isn't a life that tells a story.  There are some stories within it, but not the kind of thing that adds up to a book of general interest.  But it is the only life I have had, or likely will ever have.  Even boring books of boring lives such as mine exist in abundance, yet I feel some small compulsion to add my own, even if only very few copies can be produced at my own expense.  There may eventually be, I suppose, some small historical value to boring people documenting their boring lives.