On Reaction vs Strategy

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So this is a sensitive but far-reaching subject I’m wading into. Please read with careful discernment.
I tried to write a protest de-brief but this came out instead.
At the Women’s March in LA yesterday there were plenty of different races/colors/ethnicities present, but it was pretty white. There was a large representation of Latinos of course, numerous signs in Spanish, with enough curse words to make my mother faint. A few black folks and Asians were there too.
 
I’m not surprised, that’s generally the make up of most groups I encounter in downtown Los Angeles. Two miles to the east and the make up would have been heavily Latino, then white, then black. Six miles east northeast is heavily Asian, then Latino, white and black. Ten miles to the south would have been heavily black then Latino, with a few daring whites sprinkled in. Bottom line: Los Angeles is still a bit racially segregated, though largely by social ties rather than zoning regulations (because they’re illegal now).
 
So part of my experiences from the march yesterday was the Metro clusterfuck to leave: At the Pershing Square platform the crowd was overwhelmingly people from the march calling it a day (crowded so thick Metro workers had to stop people from coming downstairs because there was no more room), but there were a few people who weren’t affiliated with the protest.
 
Among them were two young black folks, a young woman and a young man. The man was largely quiet except for occasionally agreeing with the woman. The woman…well if she were white it would have been received as hectoring, mocking the crowd for protesting the new President and how it’s just a matter of fact to be lived with. A few people tried to respond, to explain or just note that they disagreed with her point of view, but quickly realized it would be fruitless. What I noted from her comments was that it wasn’t like she likes or supports Trump, it’s that she’s used to people in power who…suck. She’s used to not getting her way. The people in the crowd, they aren’t used to losing. They’re not used to the sting of unfairness. They have rarely if ever had to just shut up and take it. She has. As far as she’s concerned, the way to deal with a bad turn of events is to accept it and push on.
 
That’s an attitude I keep thinking about when so many white folks, many of my friends among them, declare that this or that political outlook or preference is hurtful to minorities, *especially* when the objection is couched as “you’ll have to explain it to people of color why you don’t care about them”…etc. Several months ago it was “if you vote third party you have to explain why [insert really bad logic about how this supports Trump]”. And today it’s “if you don’t punch a Nazi it’s because you don’t care about minorities” or something like that. It’s still bad logic.
 
To be sure, I know at least two people of color who are so eager to get their violence on I personally find it nearly obscene. They mean it as testament to their opposition as well as an expression for just how angry they are.  They are entitled to their feelings, the same way that it’s my feeling of wishing to avoid being party to their bloodlust. [If you’re reading this and you can’t wait to write, yet again, the details of what you want to do, save it. You already know I don’t want it on my page.]  But for the most part, every piece of advice I’ve heard from people of color to others in their own group, when it comes to confronting racial bias has typically gone to “keep your head down, don’t make trouble…” etc.  It is, of course, a stark contrast to the “good trouble” Rep John Lewis advocates, but it’s what made the Civil Rights movement so remarkable.  When someone is at the mercy of people in power, whether it’s systemic oppression or one person’s abuse of another, that someone learns that objecting just brings more pain.  The pain that African American activists took on during the Civil Rights era was spectacular and terrible, but one thing must be remembered at all times: They knew they would receive it, undeserved and unfair as it was, and they chose to take it on anyway.
 
The thing is, a one-off like punching someone who blatantly stands for offensive policies is merely a viscerally satisfying reaction. Let me repeat that: It’s merely a *reaction*. It’s not a tactic. It’s not a strategy. At best it insults the offensive group he represents. But insults are sloppy things. Again, momentarily satisfying (seriously…heh), but not a real strategy.
 
And the white knights insisting they’re doing this on behalf of people of color and other minorities Nazis eagerly disparage, because people who don’t like the violence have nothing to lose? Please. They themselves point out that white supremacists regularly target minorities.  It is minorities who are going to take the brunt of any backlash.  And unlike during the Civil Rights days, minorities en masse have had little say in facing down white supremacists.  The difference?  When activists march *in favor* of something they declare who they are.  They aren’t reacting to a turn of events, but making manifest an existence that has been overlooked or misunderstood.  THAT is a strategy.
 
That woman from the train platform didn’t see that the people around her knew that they didn’t have to sit and take whatever neo-fascist plan comes down. Maybe the badness will come anyway, but it won’t be because it was simply accepted. She didn’t know that many people in the march are energized now to organize and more actively and directly resist objectionable and offensive efforts by governmental powers. She didn’t see the potential for a real, effective strategy within the massive group desire of all the marchers to turn away from everything that Trump and his fellow fascists stand for.
 
Yes, I want Nazis opposed, I don’t want white supremacy to be even remotely considered viable in my country or anywhere else on the planet. And I largely agree that it can’t be led to enlightenment through reasonable discourse – though I maintain individuals could have been led away from that path if we collectively hadn’t turned them away for being awkward, weird, or otherwise, and left them to be recruited. But punching a guy, or rather, indulging fantasies of punching guys, because that’s what all but one of the anti-fascists have done, doesn’t do a whole lot.
Maybe it encourages them to avoid the folks who punched them, but it doesn’t make them cease to exist.  It certainly doesn’t to a damned thing to end the ideology.
I’ve been listening to racist whites say fantastically shitty things about Latinos for my entire life. And while I genuinely believe that as we’re given more opportunity to advance in society we are realizing more of the possibilities we’ve always contained, I’ve never considered a realistic response could be to just go up to someone who’s saying that shit and cold-cock them. In my deepest darkest fantasies, maybe I can see that, but you know what? I KNOW A FANTASY WHEN I HAVE IT. And I know in real life shit like that just makes all the oppressive crap far, FAR worse.
 
The only time opposing bullshit has gone well for me has been when I have white allies with me. But what drives me nuts – personally, I can’t say if anyone else feels this way – is when my allies jump out ahead of me in an effort to defend me and start claiming it’s in my name. It’s a little bit irksome when other people get mad about offenses aimed my way before I even noticed them. Someone calls me a wetback and friends are crying for blood while I’m still trying to note that I was born here so that’s technically the wrong racist term for me…  And in the aftermath all I get is deep fear of ever running into that someone without my friends around.
 
So anyway, going back to the march from yesterday and how it demonstrated the many, MANY MAAANNYY people who won’t simply accept this Presidency quietly, it’s cool that there is such a strong movement toward justice and inclusivity. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy, and I want to throw in with it with all my heart. But I keep a weather eye out, and I wonder how unified the movement would be in the face of a storm.
 
The destructive desires in people who claim to be my allies has me disquieted. Why is World War II their only frame of reference? Why not civil rights marches?   Why not come up with something even more effective since we all have the benefit of history?  Why not check in with the people mostly likely to be victimized by the enemy?
I espouse non-violence, at least as a personal principle.  Although, I maintain the right to self-defense.  Opposing Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, or the alt-right in the moment, whether yelling at them or punching them is amusing but reactive. Reconciling my principles with my reaction to that which I detest is how I’ll find a viable strategy.  I will definitely not find it from people who do not respect my principles and do not recognize their own reactive desires.

The Protest is the Point

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Given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote last November by nearly 3 million, I feel safe in saying that I stand with the majority of the country in trepidation over Trump’s inauguration tomorrow.  We don’t want this. We don’t deserve this.  This shouldn’t be happening.

I look on in horror as the Republicans work to strip away a health care system that got me medical attention that I sorely needed and shudder to think how friends who have worse health will get by.  Ethics were never Trump’s strong suit and already the GOP have made an effort to reduce ethical oversight in Washington.  I can easily imagine the Republican-led Executive and Legislative branches working to dismantle the EPA, the Department of Education, and worker protections and rights overseen by the Department of Labor.  Goodbye, any effort to protect the environment. Today it was made known that Trump intends to cut the National Endowment for the Arts. Foreign affairs don’t look much better as Trump has already been all too willing to shoot his mouth off about military efforts, both on-going and non-existent, and made international faux pas in an effort to aggrandize himself at the cost of decades of carefully crafted American statesmanship.  Every day news headlines from the incoming administration have sent chills through me.

This is, of course, to say nothing of Trump’s horrifying comments about women, Mexicans, black people, the disabled, Muslims, etc, and how they’ve emboldened white supremacists, re-branded as “alt-right,” and even put the KKK back in the news.

Talking with friends, all I can say is that I genuinely don’t know what is going to happen.

But I will march against this, because it shouldn’t have happened.  Slim margins in several states tipped the electoral college his way.  How could that happen unless the electoral college is inherently unfair.  In less populated states a single vote carries more weight than in a heavily populated state.  How can that be possible in a so-called democratic country?  And for the $10million question: How can this have happened twice in the last 16 years?

I will march against this abrogation of democracy because our Declaration of Independence notes that government power comes from consent of the governed.  And we did not consent to this.

I’ve been asked why even bother when demonstrating doesn’t do anything.  I guess many people are too removed from having to take persistent action to effect change in their country.  No, protests aren’t direct action.  Direct action is getting right in the way of business as usual and forcing it to deal with you – blocking entry to government buildings, laying down in the road so buses returning undocumented immigrants to Mexico can’t move, etc.  The protests that strive to avoid breaking laws are indirect action.  They’re about solidarity and about being heard.  Anyone who has ever watched their silence get mistaken for agreement knows the value of speaking up, being visible.

The point of protesting is to protest.  So you don’t stew in your own home, so you don’t despair that you might be the only who feels like you do, so your community is forced to recognize where you stand.

And with any luck it bolsters those in the halls of power who might present an opposition to the forces being protested.  Call it a political gambit, or maybe a drive to be popular with the protesters, but gaining political support is no small matter.  I can only imagine right now what it feels like to be a liberal Representative, surrounded by Republican Congressmen who now have a good shot at realizing their dreams of squeezing government services until they pop. How intimidating it must feel.  Perhaps millions of people around the country taking to the streets will bolster their will to oppose and counter Republicans.

For people who still want protesting to have utility beyond speaking out in public, the Civil Rights hero and Congressman John Lewis says, “Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Stepping out, raising your voice, being visible, is a challenge to the status quo.  It attracts attention.  It attracts trouble. The powers that be would prefer if their power and authority were never challenged; they like to behave as if your silence equals agreement.  I will not let them be mistaken as to where I stand.

Even the Goldfish Died

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Damn this year, amirite? Just to get that out of the way – the major, macro level things were fairly crappy and damned near traumatic, weren’t they. David Bowie to Carrie Fisher, Prince, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Debbie Reynolds and on and on, even in geopolitics, Janet Reno and Fidel Castro, all trampled under this blind troll of a year.

And then there was an election that may yet have consigned us all to hell. I definitely feel like I’m in a hellmouth, being frog-marched toward the flames. After a year and change of being forced to listen to Donald Trump, I was looking forward to having him turn into an obnoxious footnote of history. I wanted so bad to forget this asshole by Nov 9, the garbage he had said, the mockery it made of a Presidential election. That he won the election – that he won despite his opponent receiving almost 3 million more individual votes – probably makes me the most sick out of all the major level disasters of this year.

If you’re wondering about the goldfish, well that’s the real point of this post. Trauma and tragedy extended into my personal life; and it’s been difficult to grapple with given the noise and fury of political and social losses.

My dad’s baby sister, my aunt Sister Virginia passed away in May. My dad is down to just one little sister, after growing up as the middle child of eleven. Sister Virginia was always a no-nonsense, organized and take-charge sort of person. The (gigantic) family hung together because she kept everyone’s phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, and birthdays, weddings, baptisms, etc, together and knew how to reach *everybody*. What I didn’t realize because she was always bustling little bundle of energy in a Franciscan nun’s habit, was that she was always a bit anxious. And she kept the anxiety in check by helping other people, her family, the students of the school where she taught years ago, the elderly women of the convalescent home where she spent the last dozen years of her life working, and so on. When I was a child at family parties I didn’t find her very warm and sweet, but she was always moving, getting food and drink for her aged mother, singing or dancing, clapping for others as they sang or played guitar, looking after kids when they fell and scraped their knees, finding extra chairs for extra guests, and cleaning up when everything was over. Sister Virginia rarely sat down and never stayed sitting for long.

Lying sick in a hospital bed, racked with pain, Sister hated the family coming to see her. *Hated* it. And it finally sunk in then, that being in a position of helplessness was her worst nightmare. When I saw her the doctor was frustrated that she wouldn’t permit them to do more. From where she was, I was told, she’d have a week to live, maybe 10 days. She could extend that by several months if she agreed to further procedures. Well, the doctor was wrong. She passed away that night.

Losing Sister Virginia was a severe gut punch. But it wasn’t the only loss close to the family. My Uncle Frank – dad’s remaining little sister’s husband – passed away in the fall. And Ernestina Rivera, Tina, one of my parents’ oldest friends and a woman who had been in my life for as long as any family, passed as well. I’ll miss Tina and her wonderful cooking. Her husband, Hector, passed away last year. He had been a good friend to my dad for a good 50 years.

Of course, over the summer Paul Backer, one of my college professors, died suddenly.

And the goldfish? hehe- Well that’s part of some of the odder and less-horrible things that went on this year. Friends in Encino invited/asked me to stay in their house and take care of their goldfish while they went on vacation to Florida. The fish was the excuse, since I’ve cat- and dog-sat so much in recent years. They just meant to give me as much of a vacation as they could, and it was well appreciated. So, the fish itself. In my defense, the thing was a freak of nature. It lived a good six-ish years before kicking off. Just… did it have to do that when I was trying to look after it? At least I was warned it could happen, and furthermore instructed NOT to replace it. I can say this for it, it was the biggest won-at-fair goldfish I’d ever seen.

Other than that, I lizard-sat later in the summer at another house in the valley. 20 year old iguanas are fairly tough and only barely need some tending. So I fed him, avoided his claws, and relaxed in my friends’ house.

I don’t really feel like going through the year and the stuff I did. I can barely remember, honestly. But there were some really nice steps forward in the career and interesting artsy projects I worked on. I got into voice classes with some of my heroes – a workshop with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Matt Mercer and James Arnold Taylor, a class led by Richard Horvitz – and received some really nice compliments as well as endlessly useful insight and instruction from them. I worked on a text and voice message-based alternate reality game (ARG) that was all about Shakespeare. And I landed a fairly hefty gig translating content from English to Spanish and then recording it at home for a real estate video designer. It took a couple months to get through it all, but hey for a while there I was a real, working voice over artist!!

Between working on that project and the class with Richard I felt more and more emboldened to call myself an actor – something I already was, but felt nervous saying out loud. So before I could talk myself out of it, I joined a theatre friend’s workshop and now I’m part of the cast. I’ll be onstage in WONDER CITY next month at Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival.

I got to fit in some adventures with friends, too. I went to Wondercon, which was a lot of fun. I like getting to panels (I find the shopping really tedious, there’s rarely more than what I’d find at a local comic store (that I’d buy, anyway) and I have to dodge throngs of people, some of who are wearing large bulky costumes with spiky armor or ridiculous weapons poking out). But the most amazing part of cons is always the surprise encounters. And frankly, that’s usually with friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Thiiiis time though…img_10771

 

I met Edward James Olmos!!!!!!

And that’s one of the crazy things that can happen to LA. Meet an actor, strike up a conversation, get invited to a movie screening. Okay, that rarely happens – but now I can’t say it never happens!

Back to talking about the family, we also fit in some good times. A few months ago my cousins put together a 90th birthday party for their mom, Teresa. She is the widow of my dad’s oldest brother, Tony. They hired a mariachi band to come and sing her favorite songs, and 90 being just a number, my Tía Tere got up and danced over and over, and even grabbed my sleeve so I would dance with her! And just last night we had a 91st birthday party for my dad at his favorite restaurant – a Chinese all you can eat buffet. My mom and sister invited everyone they could think of, friends and family. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. We all hugged and delighted in seeing each other – for happy reasons. For many years we’d only see each other at funerals (again, my dad had nine siblings who’ve all passed away).

So, that’s how it goes. Tragedy and worries, deep concerns for the future, as well as continued efforts in the career, and really cultivating more boldness. It’s really scary. I can’t say anything without mentioning that. I’m full of doubt, and when I look around at the world around me, everyone is nervous of what the next year will bring. Will we lose equal rights and harassment protections? Will businesses be granted the latitude to treat human beings as mere resources to be scavenged? Will the environment be ravaged without an ounce of protection? Will unions be completely undermined? And on and on…

There’s this saying, “as above, so below,” and I’ve watched it be true in human institutions time and time again. If the leader of an institution is thoughtful and calm, the institution they lead will be thoughtful and calm. If the leader is rash and prideful, so will the people who follow them. If the leader is either mindbogglingly stupid or crass and cruel, I’ve watched institutions follow suit. The man who is about to be installed at the head of the government – at least at the head of the Executive – is a frightening mix of self-involvement, pettiness, greed, and superficiality. And he is surrounding himself with people have shown open disregard if not disgust for the responsibilities of a government toward the governed.

I hate that we have to face this at all, to say nothing of being without our heroes, the big men and women who shined so brightly we felt like we could find our way.

I felt this keenly when Sister Virginia died. Who was going to keep the family together? Who would organize the major parties and keep the phone trees up and running? Who would keep all the old photo albums and baptismal certificates? It’s still painful to think about.

But it was at her funeral that I realized we were going to have to step up now. That if the times made me anxious, I’d have to take a page out of Sister’s book and see how I could serve others. Getting stuff done, like she always did, really does calm the nerves. My heroes may be fading out, but it’s time for us to be heroes.

Resist movement toward the dark, be a beacon of light. Does it sound cheesy? How cheesy were you feeling at the end of Nov 8th? People are going to need help finding their way. You may be one of them–we’ll all take turns. We’ll need light. We can’t hope someone else will provide it. It’ll be difficult, it might be frightening. But it’s never the wrong time to the right thing. Sometimes the goldfish dies despite everything you could do, and sometimes you meet a movie star and he turns out to be cool, friendly guy.

Aging Angst

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This coming year I turn 40.  It’s kind of terrifying and unhappy-making, even while older friends point and laugh and tell me I’m young yet.  I don’t feel 40.  In my heart I feel maybe 32.  I keep forgetting it’s the whole four-oh, and have to pointedly remind myself.  Reminding myself is what’s freaking me out, man, that I didn’t realize all the years gone by.

But anyway, I’m a-gonna turn 40.  When I was about to turn 30 I felt like I couldn’t wait.  My 20s felt weird, I wasn’t suited to them somehow. 30s seemed more established, like I wouldn’t be kidding myself if thought of myself as an adult.  Perception is such a weird thing.

Obviously, in retrospect this is all ridiculous (thank you, weird perception).  I felt weird in my 20s because I was largely wasting that time.  I had more energy, a faster metabolism, better health, to say nothing of holding down a steady job for most of that time.  I look back in chagrin thinking of the things I could have done – worked harder to get back into acting, studied Japanese, or even taken financial investment classes.  I try not to get caught up in regret or what-ifs because it’s completely pointless, but for all that I may feel young now, my body constantly reminds me that I’m not.  You don’t really need the gory details, suffice to say my health isn’t the product of misadventure or really bad luck so much anymore.

Still, one’s 20s are for banging around in the world and not fretting too much about bruises.  And I know this for I am old and wise now. So if you’re under 30 quit reading this and go have an adventure – before it’s too late!

I couldn’t see my future when I looked so hopefully at my 30s.  I was such an idiot.  I couldn’t see what would come either from my misfortunes or the misfortunes of the world that twined with mine (see banking collapse & Great Recession).  I couldn’t see how my forward movement would disappear, swallowed whole by depression that would take years to even think of escaping.

Maybe I want to be 32 so I can get those years back, goddammit.

But now, I’m headed into 40 and time and tide are not known for their patience.

I hope for 40 what I’ve always wanted from years previous – satisfying, lucrative work that I can be proud of.  Some other things too, I guess.  Good health, physical & mental, getting fit, not feeling like it’s extra complicated for me to get healthy thanks to being flat broke.  Getting to see friends regularly, not having to exhaust myself constantly just to see a few people once in a while.  Traveling would be extra nice.  Unlikely, but still.  But it really is all about the work, the career.  I have so little to speak of in that direction and regardless of what I “should” do with “shoulds”, DUDE, I should have a career by now.

You know, one nice thing that happened in 2016, though, was that I got a really nice voice over project over the summer. It was for a Spanish language video project that few people will see, but it was a nice payday (given the amount of work the pay was probably low, but no matter).  I got to attend a couple of classes with people I look up to in VO and they complimented me nicely, so that’s always really cool.

Finances got a little rocky though and I couldn’t get one major ticket item off my list, which was a Spanish language commercial demo.  I know I’m leery of it.  I know I drag my feet when I consider the tasks necessary for it, but it’s honestly a big deal.  If I can get it done I’ll open up a whole new area of work I can do.

So 2016 was looking pretty good for career stuff and at least by the end of October I had a lot to look forward to there.  It gave me the nerve to get into a theatre project and see it through to the point that now I’m part of an ensemble cast, and we’ll be putting on our show at the end of next month!  Now that is a big deal.  While voice acting IS acting, stage acting uses different muscles.  And I haven’t taken these muscles out for spin since I was in college.  Thanks to VO and thanks to working with generous artists I’ve come to a point where I’m more confident in my acting ability and have the nerve to think I can do a whole show outside of the protective confines of school.

For work that I love doing, 39 was not too bad.  Wasn’t great financially, all told, but there was forward movement.

I’d like to hope I’ll see more of it at 40 and beyond.  I keep hedging because there’s a lot of turmoil around me and I can feel the nervousness in the air.  Trying to get a job in a tense environment is *tough* to say the very least.  I’ve never been able to.  And other people’s nerves make me second guess myself.  All in all, one of the worst things that happened this year is casting a long, deep shadow over next year (and years to come).

What I fear for 40, I guess, is that I’ll have to push out harder and more persistently than I ever have.  In fact, I’ll have to get up with the conviction that I can meet my goals leading me there. And that is far harder than it sounds.  Not only am I prone to depression, but I can’t begin to figure out how to have a positive attitude and be upbeat about my opportunities when people around me are feeling morose, if not in a panic.  I can do steady, cover the basics, make sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.  But I can’t do hopeful. Not while everyone is telling me to worry about eroding rights, cut offs in access to medical care, runaway environmental destruction, and urban neglect.  I can’t disconnect what I do from what goes on in the world, or at least my country.

And that leads me to think that at 40 I’ll have to work on both levels, both for myself and for my society.  And here again, I wish I had the energy I had when I was 20.

I turn 40. In 2017.  Good Lord.

Acting is Hard, man

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One of my biggest flaws is overthinking, and when I’m on the spot I can easily end up in a loop, the noise in my head overwhelming what I have in me to say.

I left last week’s voice acting class really off balance.  Who knows what really put me off balance from the get-go. Stress, hunger, having  a meh week, a lot on my mind…  I try to clear all that from mind before class but I’m not always successful.  So I try not to let it take over when I need to get to work.

And it’s a really peculiar state to be in, when you perform and everyone else likes what you did, but you’re not sure.  You don’t think you liked it, but it’s hard to say, it’s hard to feel anything for sure except uncomfortable.

There are all those aphorisms about doing one thing that scares you every day.  All over the Web there are versions of this image that visualizes the idea that growth and success are outside of one’s comfort zone.comzone

And it’s more or less true. Reaching out of the usual, the (relatively) easy, the comfortable is the only way to get to a new and better place.  As an artist this is essential for growth, and in the arts growth = improvement.

But of course that means spending a lot of time afraid and uncomfortable.  And who wants to be afraid and uncomfortable most of the time?  I have anxieties enough without inviting more!

Happily I’m not on the verge of panic any more.  Anxiety makes my view of the world narrow down until all I can see and think is how much I suck and I hate myself and what I should do to myself… etc. And part of what gets shut out as the view narrows down is my training, my belief in myself, and the very spirit I have in me to play and to create and to act.

Nurturing that spirit is harder than it sounds.  It’s not terribly respected or understood (it’s kid’s stuff, not suited for adults, in particular not suited to adults who want to get paid), and it requires completely different muscles from the ones I use to navigate most of my life.  But it’s all I want to do.  Creating and acting is so fun and satisfying that it often very effectively quiets my anxieties and comforts me when I feel down.  It’s so clear to me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, even though it’s scary.

But WHY are we here?

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I was told a story of a 13 year old boy who is struggling now between a Bible-based view and a secular, if not atheistic, world view.  And about where he is now seems to be wondering what the point of life is, especially if the Bible isn’t objectively true.  Though young, he sees the alternative society offers up as consumer-driven and ultimately empty.

My first instinct was to feel a little sorry for him that he has to go through this trying time of determining what he believes in while people around him try to convince him to their way of thinking.  But I suppose I should also grant that he is smart enough to realize an acquisitive life is fairly meaningless and promises no satisfaction.  I’ve known too many people who’ve reached middle age and still haven’t figured that out.

The question of why we exist is one that philosophers, religious thinkers, and other intellectuals have struggled with for centuries.  And maybe that’s where I don’t measure up as an intellectual…because I don’t really care very much about the question.  Is it to give glory to God?  Is it to be free?  Is it to serve each other?  Or is it all one big colossal accident and there is no reason?  *shrug*  I dunno.

In Christianity there is the concept that humans cannot know the mind of God.  Whatever His plan is, it IS, and we cannot fathom it.  All we can do is have faith that it will take care of us, probably in some way we cannot understand.

That’s around where I start.  I don’t know if the plan is really detailed to every single life and material object and quark of dark matter or whatever.  Or maybe all of reality IS the plan.  The study of physics and chemistry, etc, is the corner of reality that we’ve been able to shed light on and get a feel for “well at least we understand that XX works like YY and effects us like ZZ under AA conditions.”  And while that allows me  to believe that we’ve worked out a tiny section of the plan, I also feel like we’ve had to simplify what we found in order to make it fit into our language and thereby our mental capacity.  This is very much akin to the simplification teachers have to give to Einstein’s theory of relativity just so us regular people can begin to grasp it.

And I recognize that the question isn’t meant to invoke the physics that got any particular person here, but I bring it up to explain that’s where my mind goes.  There is a vastness to any plane on which this question is tackled, to such a degree that I would never feel like I had enough solid information to go on.  The Bible does specifically say that God created us to glorify him, but what does that mean, really?  *shrug*  I dunno.

I hope no one came here actually hoping for some direction.  I don’t know that 13 year old kid above, I hope he’s okay and grows up solid in his critical thinking, and open to life and the world around him.

It’s just that I probably get the best instruction from the Absurdists (who had a strong tendency to atheists).  The idea that there is no meaning to life, that we’re here by accident is comfortable to me.  It’s freeing as I then feel that my choices to try to move myself and my society to somewhere better, somewhere more loving and more accepting, are truly my choices.  I don’t have to worry about trying to make myself be happy by checking boxes of acquiring any material possessions or even a particular social status – the pursuit of happiness being a completely separate endeavor from trying to live the way I’m supposed to.

The reason people ask the question Why always seems to have another component. Why questions don’t settle matters by themselves, they elucidate information that might answer a more basic question that can be difficult to articulate. And the asking of Why questions tends to reveal more about the questioner and the situation than questions of Who or What.  “Who ate the last doughnut?” is a very different circumstance than “Why did you eat the last doughnut?”   Even though there is a narrow difference between “What did you say?” and “Why did you say that?” there is still a difference.

Asking why we are here requests an answer that would satisfy a hundred Who/What/How questions.  If it’s to glorify God, we have now have a game plan for what to believe.  If it’s to be free, now we have an objective.  If it’s to serve each other now we have a methodology.

Without asking Why we may end up just wandering around, serving our basic needs, and having no idea what to do with the greater capacity we know we have.  We didn’t build cities, establish complex traditions, study our own histories, pursue scientific discovery, create epic poetry and end various diseases on accident – humans have always seen possibilities greater than themselves and sought them.

But the answer to Why questions sometimes feels too conclusive, even predestined.  That is, if the reason we are here is to serve God then all other options are not only sub-optimal, but perhaps morally wrong.  And if the Why of our existence is truly inevitable then there is no way NOT to serve God.  All actions, thoughts and words would be in line with service to Him.  This, of course, does not follow.  Not when the Bible gives a pretty firm code of conduct in terms that let us know it’s possible to break with, at the cost of breaking with fellowship with God.  Eg Anyone who ever took a cookie before dinner and then lied about it knows perfectly well that “Thou Shalt Not Lie” is pretty easy to break.  The Commandments, then, can only be expected to instill in us the scruples to behave in an honorable way.  They do not literally control us.

So then Why we are here ought to tell us a “preferred” way to live, or a philosophy to aspire to.  In other words, the answer satisfies the question, “Now that we find ourselves alive on Earth, what are we to do?”  Enough people over the millennia of human existence have found themselves lost in the wake of this query that I have no doubt as to the great value of a satisfactory answer.  I don’t look down on people who ask it.  I just wonder why I’m not one of them.

I believe in God, but as for what God is, I don’t know.  I believe my human mind cannot fathom God in the same way it cannot fathom the vastness and intricate workings of the universe.  But neither God nor the universe need my mind to grasp them in order to exist.

I don’t have any solution to Why, just an axiomatic idea. The meaning of life is to live.albert-camus-quotes-2

For Paul (and also for me)

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I haven’t been able to write very much in the last several months.  So much has happened that getting meta about talking about it actually isn’t as interesting to me right now (which should be quite startling to anyone who knows me).

I keep meaning to write and then I don’t and so all kinds of things fly by me, experiences and realizations, losses, wins, connection and destruction have all been going on, all suitable for blog entries.  But for whatever reason, things are actually happening at the same time that I don’t feel up to raising my voice about them.

I’ll tell you one thing and maybe ramble on from there.  Today I went to a memorial for Paul Backer, one of my college professors.  Paul passed away very suddenly less than a week ago.  It was deeply shocking to me and to the rest of his students and of course to the USC School of Dramatic Arts faculty.

Today I listened for a few hours as a stream of students recounted how Paul touched their lives as one of the warmest, most supportive and generous teachers anyone could ever hope to have.  I got up and talked, well, rambled and forced my voice to stay on despite the deep sorrow that made it shake terribly, mentioning how seeing Paul could improve my day in an environment (college) that could be, by turns, bewildering and frustrating.  How he knew so much about seemingly everything and when he couldn’t solve something with words and wisdom, his hugs were the perfect cure-all.

And I had to tell everyone there, which included his mother, that when I was looking into voice over Paul was one of the people I got in contact with, asking for advice.  This was only some five-ish years ago, well over a decade since I’d last seen him at my graduation.  I wasn’t even sure he’d remember me.  He remembered.  He not only took the time to write back to someone who only bothered to write because she needed something, he answered my questions, pointed to professionals he knew and wished me well.

I had to tell them because I had to tell Paul, his vacant body in a casket, his mother in her chair, that I have a career because of him.

Right now I am spending my days creating Spanish narration files for online videos.  I’m still in the earliest of early days as a professional voice actor.  I am constantly fretting that I’m going to ruin this job, that this is a one-off and I can’t expect to ever find work like it again, that this work is meaningless when it comes to what I ought to be doing with my life…

The one person who could always convince me that I could take on the challenges ahead was Paul Backer.  I am such an idiot for never considering contacting him earlier or for staying in touch.  I didn’t even ‘friend’ him on Facebook.  I can’t believe that I squandered that connection.  And now I can’t ask him for one of his hugs that made everything okay.

PaulHug

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much, Paul.  Fare you well, wherever you may fare.

Anger is a Symptom

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I don’t know if I’ve ever read how angry depression can make a person.  I know when I was younger, maybe a dozen years ago, and working full time I could feel my rage build up inside me until I was utterly useless at my desk.  All of my energy was spent hiding how much I wanted to set everything on fire and/or throw it out the window.  I wasn’t violent by any means but I had to excuse myself from conversations lest I would whip around and start screaming in people’s faces about how stupid they were, how the things they talked about were so insanely petty, how everything was bullshit….  Let’s just say it’s good that I don’t work there any more and most of that vague, pointless fury has quieted down to ennui.  I may not be able to hide how boring I find most the world, but it’s better than breathing fire on unsuspecting coworkers.

A lot of that anger was really something that I inspired against myself.  I hated my life and everything I was doing with it.  And today I still prickle with vexation at myself and what I’ve done so far, but I aim a lot of the anger squarely at my depression.  Because in recent history nothing has made me lose so much ground and so much time from my life as the lethargy and misery of depression.

I get angry at every day I feel myself lose motivation, every hour I spend napping when I wasn’t really tired, every minute I hang in indecision because I can’t get up any drive to just pick a direction.

And I get angry at the time spent too angry to move.

Maybe vague but potent anger feels better than vague, sucking grief.  I don’t know.  It blots out suicidal thoughts and gives me energy… for a time. It takes more energy though. When it’s burned out I’m back to miserable.

No one talks about this.  I don’t know why.  Maybe people judge anger even worse than being sad all the time.

Un-thinking

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I’m feeling some stage fright.

Well sort of. It doesn’t seem to be as petrifying as I remember the stone cold grip on my lungs was when I stood in the wings waiting for my cue.  But I’m still nervous.

I know it’s because I’m caught up thinking about how I’m going to impress people who have deeply impressed me.  And I’m likewise caught up in being convinced that I’ll never impress them, only disappoint them.  I won’t disappoint myself, I already know I’m a loser.

I’ll just irritate myself and that’ll set off despair at myself and then I’ll lie around wondering what point there is in getting up and attempting anything.

Do I get ahead of myself?  Yeah, of course, that’s overthinking things in a nutshell.  Not only am I already thinking ahead, past my inevitable failure, but I’m skipping over the part where I am present to the work that I am doing while I’m doing it.

Performing has little do with thinking. I’ve already written about that. Thinking helps set things up but does not do the performing.  My thinking muscle is very strong.  I’ve worked it out every single day since I was wee thing.  But my performing muscle is flabby.  Sometimes I pay careful, persistent attention to it, sometimes I ignore it. Every day problems come up that need attention from the thinking muscle and they eclipse the opportunity to workout the performing muscle.  And then along comes a problem, or really the chance to show off, that only the performing muscle can handle.

But sort of like instinctively lifting with your back instead of your legs (and subsequently hurting yourself), the thinking muscle wants to jump in and plan out All the Things, including failing at what it is no good at.

Performance is play. It’s in the body and the soul.  Thought keeps it all together, so I don’t just flop around and scream incoherently, but the impact of performance is created by physical effort and inspiration.  There is no anticipation there, no planning ahead, just doing.  Just right now.

And it’s frightening.  I’m used to relying on thought to help me through everything.  Performing feels like heading out on a tightrope – if I start to tip over how will I keep from falling??  But again, that’s only a concern because thought won’t help.  Performing will.  It sounds weird to say performing saves performing, but… well, what else is there?  If I stay centered in what I’m doing – performing – I won’t lose my balance.

Shhh, thought. I’m doing something.

Social Networking in the Time of Politics

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Oh Facebook, I wish I could quit you.

I have to write this over here, trying to do anything on Facebook is destroying my calm faster and faster every day.  I’ll try to keep it short because I’m just reacting, I don’t have anything real to say for myself – or rather, I don’t really have the time.  This is just a few thoughts I need to purge myself of.

I’ve gotten enough benefit from using Facebook that I find it worth the bother.  It is a lot of bother though.  I hate most of its infrastructure and if I could redesign it I would probably tear it all apart and start from the ground up.  It’s honestly a terrible tool, but the only one with a critical mass of users, and as far as modern agoras go, that’s all that matters.

So it has let me keep in touch with a few people and it has connected me with people connected to career and creative interests.  So all that is very valuable and I’d be loathe to give it up.  I have to balance that good against the crap design whenever I get so frustrated I think of quitting Facebook.

The thing pushing me to walk away from Facebook now is politics.  It doesn’t have to do with how Facebook is designed, and everything to do with how people are acting and what they’re writing on FB that’s trying every last bit of my patience.

I hate scrolling past awful, attack-oriented macros while I’m barely getting to work on my first cup of coffee.  I hate reading what otherwise lovely and delightful friends and family are saying about people who disagree with them politically.  I hate the joy people are taking at watching the opposition tear itself apart (NB, the opposition of *both* parties).  I hate seeing the sincere comments people leave about wishing for actual violence and real bloodshed among Americans.

And I HATE that people aren’t taking ownership of their words and implications. When liberals take specific glee at the violence at Trump rallies and openly hope the Right’s love the 2nd Amendment comes to violent riots and EXPLICITLY wish for murder to “thin the herd,” I am sick to my stomach.  When I listen to conservatives offering apologia for Donald Trump’s blustering misogyny and racism because “whatever it takes to beat Hillary” I am beyond disgusted.

Politics is all compromise.  It requires working with the other side, that’s the whole damn point.  Trust me, as a dedicated Green-party member and someone who very resentfully lives a capitalist lifestyle, I can tell you with certainty pure idealism leaves no room to actually do anything.  I don’t care if you have to “hold your nose” to get somewhere with someone, the point is you’re getting somewhere, not digging deeper the same shithole we’ve been festering in for years.  Compromise is necessary to civilization.  How am I the only person who caught that in Government class?

What the hell are people thinking? Is that supposed to fix something?  Is letting people know your disdain for them really going to set you up better after the election?  Is venting your thoughts really going to make you a better person?  Is it going to encourage anyone to “shape up?”

Or is it going to ingrain the meme of “liberals are X, and conservatives are Y?”  Is it going to encourage more repugnant rhetoric that doesn’t always stay verbal?  Is venting really about something you have on your mind or is it going along with what friends are already chanting?  Is it going to inspire and give solace to people with short fuses and ready armaments?

I’m fucking frustrated.  Americans, I know you’re better than that, I’ve seen it for myself.  Generous and funny, creative and decent…  I can’t believe that you’re going along with it.  Is forgetting all about “by the people for the people” in favor of “us vs them” really what we need right now?  You know that “they” are really us, right?

What the fuck are you people doing??