Nuance vs. Anger

In an enraged world, where powerless people are poised, at the slightest provocation, to bite each other’s heads off, nuance disappears.   The best explanation I heard of why this happens is the neuroscience of what happens in the insula (insular cortex) when people are angry.   This important region of the brain, crucial to our emotional lives, lights up, apparently, whenever we are angry.   When the insula is glowing with anger we simply can’t process nuance, can’t make distinctions, can’t make productive comparisons, can only see our anger.   People who insist Trump is the worst president ever can quickly get mad enough to insist that fucking Trump is a better president than fucking Bernie Sanders would have been.

We attended a concert for peace at Temple Emmanuel a few months back.  A couple of musicians we like very much were performing and it was touted as a concert for peace, Palestinian musicians making music with Israeli musicians.   Outside the historic synagogue a small group of angry looking Jews were holding signs, behind a barricade, with a couple of NYC cops flanking them.   The signs said this was an anti-Semitic event held by self-hating Jews.   I crossed the street to ask what was up. Imagine my surprise to learn that I was about to be a dupe of fucking anti-Semites!   I was informed that one of the concert’s sponsors, the New Israel Fund, supported terrorism against Israel.

This claim took me by surprise.  I knew nothing about the New Israel fund, and asked how exactly these momzers [1] supported terrorism against Israel.   “BDS”, I was told, the anti-Semitic plot to squeeze Israel to death economically so that the Arabs who claim to be Palestinians can overrun it.   I felt like I was talking to Stephen Miller, the hatred coming off this one young man was palpable.   I told them I’d check out the New Israel  Fund, but that as far as I knew, from the artists in the show, I was pretty sure none of them are anti-Semites.  My friend crossed the street and took me by the arm at this point.  She led me away from the dozen or so protesters who continued to make a ruckus after we headed in to see the show.

For true believers, it suffices merely to have a rationale, a buzzword, to spit in the face of those who refuse to believe.  In the case of these protesters, BDS is a tool for modern day Nazis and should be criminalized in America, the sooner the better. Full throated support for BDS is the same, to them, as opposing the criminalization of this specific form of non-violent political coercion.   To these angry people, anyone who believes BDS should not be illegal supports BDS and intends to put a dagger through the heart of our beloved Jewish State.  Easy peasy, no need for your fucking anti-Semitic nuance you self-hating fucker!

Here is the New Israel Fund’s position on BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), from their website:

What is NIF’s position on boycott, divestment and sanctions?

The New Israel Fund is committed to strengthening democracy in Israel, supports freedom of speech and promotes non-violent means of expression of belief and conscience. We oppose any attempt to criminalize the legitimate expression of support for any non-violent strategy or tactic, including the global BDS movement which we do not ourselves support.

The NIF does oppose the global (or general) BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as counterproductive, and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

However, NIF opposes the occupation and settlement activities. NIF will thus not exclude support for organizations that lawfully discourage the purchase of goods or use of services from settlements.

 

[1] bastards

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Simple vs. Complicated

Complicated is hard, simple is so much easier.   It’s no wonder that buzzwords and the wearing of different colored hats so often carry the day in human affairs.  

Keeping the countless gnarly complications in mind, remembering contradictions, comparing everything to your own situation and remembering that while you may be lucky, many just like you are cursed… the endless nuance and supreme challenge of trying to remain fair-minded, pursuing justice, mindful of history’s famously slippery slopes, the dependable unreliability of history, of homo sapiens —  it is exhausting just to map it out in a sprawling sentence.  

Complicated is difficult, takes too much goddamned work to work your way through, there is no end to complicated.   Simple is better, clearly.

Hence the soundbite.  The tweet.  Slogans.   If your slogan does not parse well and fit on a hat, the marketing folks will nix it.   A great ad is supremely simple.  It hits some essential truth we recognize immediately.   The best of them bring tears, so simple, so true!   We should make that long distance call to the poignantly adorable child who misses us.  Oh, God, it’s all so simple.

Except, of course, that it’s not at all simple.  “What do you think of Bernie Sanders?” someone asks simply, though it’s not likely you dislike Sanders or what he stands for based on the way you talk.    So, carefully, sensing a mine field as the first few critical comments about him fly around the table, you say:  if we remove the personality and the things you just said from the equation and put all the actual issues his campaign raised on the table, I think we’d all agree about most of them.   I got as far as the importance of addressing catastrophic climate change before the heavy guns were wheeled into place.    Sanders is a self-hating Jew, he only uses his Jewishness for his own purposes, he hates Israel, supports BDS  (Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel) [1]  One raises his voice to say he’d vote for Trump before he’d vote for the hypocrite Jew-hater Sanders. 

Now everything is simpler, easier to understand.  My reflexes were a tad too slow, though I know the right thing to do at a moment like this.   It is time to get up from the table and start washing dishes, or at least to clam up.   Perhaps sit on a nearby chair and play the ukulele a bit, as this little storm passes.   All these options I hope to keep in mind should this kind of thing arise again any time soon.  There is no point, no nuance that can be brought up once somebody is peeved enough to say Trump is a better choice than Bernie because Trump loves Israel and Bernie is a grumpy old Jewish Nazi. 

Simple:  Anyone critical of Israel’s long, often brutal, occupation, and the ticking time bomb of millions of encamped enemies living close by, generations of haters, many raised in hellish, hopeless poverty, many living in camps, literally, with state violence the only means of keeping a lid on the anger of now literally generations of these hopeless and dispossessed people — anti-Semite.  

We can agree that Bibi Netanyahu is clearly not an exemplar of the highest Jewish values.  He’s a putz, a schmuck, a much smarter Israeli Trump.  Fine.  Perhaps we can agree that the mildly racist Avigdor Lieberman, former extremist now Israeli Minister of Defense, and his party, to the right of Netanyahu’s right wing group, is not a legitimate force for de-escalating tensions in the seemingly eternal war between former neighbors.  

But, let’s keep this simple.  BDS, Boycott, Divest and Sanction, the same economic tactics used to exert enough pressure to bring down apartheid in South Africa, is plainly anti-Semitic.  Any Jew who thinks it might be a legitimate tactic to employ is simply a Jew hater, end of story.

Sitting here calmly, reflecting dispassionately, it is beyond dispute that there are numerous issues involved in this particular issue of BDS.   It equates Israel to the racist South African regime — not entirely fairly.    This equation requires its own long, sober conversation.    It involves uncomfortable levels of candor, perhaps, or tamping down an angry reflex to dismiss anything comparing Israeli military policies and THINGS THE FUCKING NAZIs used to do.  

Breaking down doors at night, grabbing and torturing suspects, an off the books detention or killing when required, doing secret violence here and there to keep the opposition from organizing, or bulldozing an entire block of homes because a terrorist was harbored in one of those homes, or forced relocation, or whatever you want to bring up, are reminiscent of things ruthless armies of occupation routinely do.  There is a much larger discussion to be had of the particulars of all these policies.  

All this is very uncomfortable terrain to negotiate, even among people who agree about most things in American politics, you have to walk through it very, very slowly, reassuring the other party of your good will at every step.   Easier to just say Israel, eternally menaced by a world of haters, is justified no matter what or the equally emotional position that Israel is acting just like the fucking Nazis.   The tic to view everything as a dichotomy blinds you to any truths that fall along that human gradient, seamlessly from black, to dark charcoal grey, to grey, to paler, mouse grey, to ash-colored grey, to white.  

Truth is hard, true belief is easier.   That ease is the reason so many still support their president, even as his policies are already starting to fuck them hard.

There are Israeli peace groups (example) working tirelessly against the right wing forces in Israel which have controlled the government, and the narrative, since a right wing religious fanatic murdered Itzhak Rabin more than twenty years ago.   These right wing Israeli officials argue it’s perfectly fine, even restrained, to shoot protesters with live bullets if they come too close to the fence in Gaza.  This policy is controversial and complicated, many difficult discussions can be had over whether it’s the best way for Israel to proceed toward any kind of peaceful resolution to the long conflict between Palestinians and Israel..    

But, for the moment, let’s keep it simple, folks.  Israel is a democracy and our greatest ally in the Middle East (along with Saudi Arabia, but why mention those publicly beheading motherfuckers?)   Our U.N. ambassador applauded Israel’s restraint in killing and wounding so relatively few Palestinians in the recent outburst of mass ugliness between these enemy neighbors.   Soon after her comments we [3]  left the U.N. Human Rights Council who wouldn’t stop bitching about Israel’s use of deadly force against unarmed civilian protesters, even suggesting the shootings by sniper might constitute a war crime.  

To cite but one example of the complexities involved.   One Israeli peace group, The New Israel Fund, supports the right of people to use protest methods like BDS, or, more precisely, it opposes the proposed U.S. criminalization of BDS  (their position is much more nuanced, New Israeli Fund actually explicitly OPPOSES BDS).  

Yet to those Jews who seek to keep it simple at all costs, the New Israel Fund supports terrorism by opposing “pro-Israeli” laws to criminalize BDS, thereby supporting BDS and hatred of Israel.  The New Israel Fund is a target of angry American Jews who believe Israelis who oppose their government’s extreme right wing tactics are traitors and anti-Semites, no better than Nazis, really.   I actually heard this view expressed by a tiny gaggle of disgruntled protesters outside a Palestinian-Israeli peace concert we attended.  

Keeping it simple: the New Israel Fund supports terrorism.   Boom.  End of story, synagogue hosting event is giving a forum to anti-Semites! The great David Broza, anti-Semite.  Anyone looking for peace with the enemy– traitor!

The Israeli government’s moral position on the mass shootings at the Gaza-Israel fence is that it gave the Hamas-inspired protesters fair warning: come within this distance of the 37 mile long reinforced fence [2] and we will use deadly force.  The warnings were dropped in the form of leaflets, plainly written in Arabic for anyone to read.  Fair warning.  Come near my fence and I will shoot you, even kill you.   Still they came, protesting by the thousands, surging toward the hated fence, threatening to breach it and cause a bloodbath in Israel, whose right to exist they angrily deny.  

The failing NY Times reported on the many Palestinian deaths, at least sixty, in the days around Ivanka and Jared’s photo op with Bibi Netanyahu as they cut the ribbon on the controversial U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.  Palestinian and international sources give much higher numbers of dead and wounded at the Gaza fence.   Easy enough to dismiss these numbers as fake news, anti-Israel propaganda, since it comes from people who have historically had a bloody ax to grind against Israel.   Is there a number of medics shot that is justifiable?   Is it legitimate to fire on medical personnel because they are aiding and abetting, by trying to save the lives of, those who surge toward the guns of their hated enemies?

It is so much easier to pick a side and just be on it than to try to consider all sides in an extremely complicated and intractable situation and take nuanced positions on a case by case basis.  We can raise arguments about the Palestinian definition of refugees, as the Jerusalem Post apparently did recently.  Simple, these fucks are not actual refugees, they just pretend to be victims under a definition they came up with.   They can’t leave Gaza?   Good for them!   The simple view sees good guys and bad guys and good people stick with the good guys.  Simple.

I was reminded, even sitting around a table with good friends, warm friends, people I love, all old friends who speak Hebrew and love Israel as much as I do, that some innocent questions are, to be simple about it, not innocent.   Say the wrong thing and the conversation is over.   Forget the fact that we all likely agree, to one extent or another, about the school to prison pipeline, intergenerational poverty going back directly to slavery,  the fossil fuel industry-created denial of plainly observable climate catastrophes as part of a of pattern related to centuries of escalating human pollution, vast, escalating income inequality, the anti-democratic curse of concealing information of great public concern from the voting public, the recent gift of billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest, at the cost of cutting the social safety nets for the most vulnerable, our unforgivable and unaddressed national racism (we can pat ourselves on the back for banning the hateful word “nigger” and replacing it with the great neologism “n-word”, much less offensive!), the imminent dismantling of a woman’s federal right to choose to terminate an unwanted, or dangerous, pregnancy, the inevitable corruption of a democratic system where unlimited campaign money is “free speech” and dark money — if donated in a large enough pile — needn’t ever have its source exposed, as the recently rewritten law provides.  

We did not get to this cruel president and his blundering administration by chance. The extremest, greediest billionaires found their donkey to ride to the promised land they’ve been dreaming of since the days of the John Birch Society.   The Koch brothers’ wealthy, distant father was a founder of that society.  The John Birchers were rich, paranoid men who suspected Dwight D. Eisenhower might be a secret Commie, or at least an unwitting dupe of the goddamned Commies.  These canny billionaires built a national infrastructure over the last thirty years or more, methodically, think tank by think tank, state house by state house, created legislative/corporate partnerships, and finally, as the Kochs head toward their reward in heaven (both are old men now) their long-cherished dream has become reality for all of us.  The cancerous chickens of our materialistic, profit-worshipping “libertarian” democracy have come home to roost.

It is a certain kind of torment to live in a world as inured to violence as our world is.  Millions die violent, hopeless deaths, it’s just the way it is.   Cherished principles are so easily tossed aside when policies are addressed directly to our terrors.   THEY ARE GOING TO KILL US!!!!   So we are morally justified in killing them first.   THEY HATE US.   Therefore, we can torture them, because if they hate us, fuck them, you know?   They already hate us, so torture them, what are you being so squeamish about?   They’d do the same to us, probably much worse.  

At the same time, when we are calm, we can recognize that hate never conquers hate, that an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind, that we need our most creative, empathetic, ingenious solutions for intractable, historically violent problems, but those are just abstractions.  All very exhausting abstractions!

BUILD THE WALL!   BUILD THE WALL!!!!   BUILD THE WALL!!!!    Feels pretty good, actually.

 

 

 [1]   Not only is this a sticky factual issue, with many sources stating that Sanders actually opposes BDS, but there is a related and completely separate issue that is easily elided into “support for BDS”.   Do you oppose a law criminalizing BDS?   I do, vigorously.   Do I support BDS?  I don’t.  What is Bernie’s position?   Truly, I have no fucking idea, though it appears he doesn’t.   I’m pretty sure he agrees that criminalizing selected nonviolent political expression is anti-democratic.  Which in my book, makes Bernie Sanders no more an anti-Semite than I am– trying my best to live by my Jewish values, including dedication to protecting the weakest among us and not doing what is hateful to us to others.

[2]      The fence is actually two parallel barriers built by the Israelis: a formidable one of barbed-wire within Gaza and a 10-foot-high metal “smart fence” packed with surveillance sensors along the Israel demarcation line. A restricted buffer zone as wide as 300 yards is between them. Israel has warned that people in the zone without authorization risk being subjected to deadly force.    

source   (Lying NY Times) 

[3]  We, the People.

Fantasy Island in my mind

Outside, the world is raging.  People are actually arguing about what to call the cages they are throwing confiscated children into.   One wealthy country’s criminally misguided drug laws put neighboring countries’ drug cartels into overdrive, people are killed, tortured, threatened.  Citizens flee the violence of their impoverished home countries.  They are caught at a border, have their kids grabbed, or are told that their children will wait for them while they’re being processed as potential illegal terrorist types [1].  Then, as the adults go with authorities, their kids are secretly whisked hundreds of miles away, no receipt given, the kids can be anywhere.   Whose fault is that?  

Outside, on the Fourth of July, freedom is no doubt loudly, ponderously on the march.   Is it still freedom if it wears jackboots?   Back in Germany, between the world wars, as the violent revenge fantasies were gestating in vats of nationalist, racist steroids, militant German youth marched chanting “wir sheissen auf die freiheit!“. The NY Times translated this as “we spit on freedom!’ though, of course, the active verb in that sentence means “shit”.   WE SHIT ON FREEDOM!  

In my mind, it is much more quiet.  Nobody shitting on freedom, no bureaucrats sending children hundreds of miles from their parents with no records kept, no world leader threatening to detonate nuclear bombs and annihilate millions if he doesn’t get universal adulation — and a Nobel Peace Prize.

“You pretentious asshole,” says an old friend.

“Yes?” I say.

“You seriously believe you can write your way out of a world of festering horrors?”

Mmmm, result is unclear.

“Did you read that off the little screen of your magic 8 ball?”

It is likely.  

“Look, you seem to feel you can just write out your thoughts and feelings and put them up for your dozens of mindless followers to salute.” 

Here is my bottom line.  If you are my friend, I give you the benefit of the doubt.  I exert myself not to judge the things you do to survive, even if they are things I myself am unable to do.

“Fuck you!” says my old friend.

Didn’t mean to sound judgmental, old bean.   I only mean to point out that my first duty, as your friend, is to give you every benefit of every doubt.   I was directed to an interesting opinion piece in the Grey Skank the other day about the corrosive shame so many men feel, and how it leads to the disrespect of women, which fuels more shame.  This cycle culminates, of course, in toxic masculinity.   That is the kind of macho bluster that puts violence at the top of the list of ways to get people who say uncomfortable things to shut the fuck up.

“Jesus, the torture never stops!   Will you get to the fucking point?” says my old friend.

Of course.  Giving the benefit of the doubt starts with recognizing the feelings of another person.   He did this because he felt he was about to be killed.   Fair enough.  In his shoes I might well have done the same thing.  I certainly would have felt the same way he did. 

“You are maddening!” he says.  

Yes.  Anyway, I’ve learned that you cannot argue, or it is pointless to argue, aggravating and counterproductive to argue (unless your goal is a good argument), that you should not feel what you are feeling.  The feeling must be acknowledged, its reality accepted.  The feeling is what it is, the reasons for it cannot be understood or addressed without first acknowledging the feeling.  No productive conversation into overcoming the bad feelings can be had if the other person’s strong feelings are denied.

“Feel this, motherfucker,” says my old friend clenching his fist and brandishing it uselessly.

Oh, uselessly, eh?” says my old friend, swinging his fist an inch from my nose.

I smile without showing my teeth.  “Doan wase yourself…” I say through my smile/smirk, like Bruce Lee on the deck of that boat in Enter the Dragon, not even turning my head to the bully, watching the waves lapping in the distance.    

My friend punches me full force in the mouth.  

Feel better, do we?

“You self-righteous fucking asshole,” says my friend.

Yes?

Look, I get that your feelings are hurt.   I seem to be blaming you for acting badly, even though it wasn’t your fault.  You were in a total panic, afraid I was secretly angry at you, maliciously sabotaging your shaky marriage.  I get all that.  It was important for you to point out, at that time, that I always feel I’m right, never admit the possibility I could be wrong, never apologize about anything.  I apologized to you, for what it was worth.  Then you told me how hurt and angry you are that I see you as an anxious person who needs to be protected.  I get it, I get all that, truly.

Thing is, though, strong feelings, stirred and unacknowledged by the people who are supposed to be your closest friends, lead to other strong feelings.  This happens almost in direct proportion to the strength of the feeling that is left unacknowledged.  If you deny my right to be angry, what am I to do with the feeling?   You come to me in rage, I don’t acknowledge your right to be angry.  Tell you you’re a fucking baby, advise you to “grow a pair”, man up, stop being a pussy(cat).   What happens to the rage I tell you to fucking shut up about?

“One punch in the face wasn’t enough for you?” asks my friend.

Once is never enough, from a man like you.  You remember that Captain and Tennille line, the pretty Tenille singing to the Captain:  do that to me one more time, once is never enough, with a man like you.  What the hell?    

“I’m going to kill you,” says my friend.  

No, you are not going to kill anyone.  One thing I can assure you, I am not going to be killed by you today.   You may feel like killing me, and we can talk about that, you toxic male you, but you ain’t going to kill me any more than I’m going to kill you.

Feel free, in the meantime, to punch me in the face as hard, and as many times, as you like.   I’ve got to get back to my daydreaming on Independence Day, so forgive me if I don’t cry out.   Rest assured, your punches are mighty, and terrible indeed.

 

 

[1]  Not to make a gratuitous comparison between government lies told to helpless people, but when the Nazis forced the Jews at the killing centers to strip naked and line up, the Jews were told it was for a shower, not a gas chamber.   Which would you rather step into?  A nice hot shower, or a sealed room about to be pumped full of poison gas?  Come on, is there even a choice?

Writing, the last refuge of a scoundrel

It is, I suppose, the last refuge of a scoundrel, this sitting and writing out the things that vex you.   Writing on the internet gives carte blanche for every opinionated asshole to have a good purge with no editor to get in the way. [1]  

I had an editor once, I suppose he could be called that, he definitely did edit.   Since the company he worked for paid me $250 for a thousand words, he got the final say on what I really meant.   One of his improvements really fucking got to me, I can tell you for sure.   He took the line “It made no sense to me that a man with all the qualities he possessed could be such an intractable asshole” and rendered it “It made no sense to me that a man my mother absolutely adored could be such an intractable asshole.”  

It made perfect sense to me that my mother loved my father, and I understood the many reasons she did.  I shared many of them myself.   That was no mystery to me. The mystery was that someone with all the admirable qualities he had, and the humanistic ideals, could abuse his children, that was the point of the sentence, the rest of the paragraph.  It was why I had placed the line where I had in the complicated story I was trying to tell in a way too few 1,000 words.

The perfected sentence was clearly much closer to what the editor felt was true, he couldn’t believe, apparently, that his mother had loved his father, an intractable asshole he’d written about in a svelte 10,000 word essay also published on the site.   Fuck him and the knock-kneed, swaybacked turd he rode in on, the dick-fingered mediocrity.   His unsought refinement of  what I really meant made me want to slap him hard, back and forth, smartly, bip-bap!   We eventually had a series of misunderstandings [2]  and I saw that sending future work to him for his random editorial attentions  was not worth the $250 or the emails from friends congratulating me on having my tampered with prose published.  [3]  

Thus it is with the world, my invisible friends.   We constantly have to weigh what is most important to us.  To me, it is finding as much clarity as I can, wrestling things that don’t make sense, particularly maddening things, into some kind of coherence. I am, for better or worse, a life-long student.  I tend to brood and read, make notes, brood, read, stop while walking to make a note.

If you don’t know the people involved, you will probably find my piece about the terrible erosion of an old friendship an interesting read that might apply to your own life.   If you know the people, there will inevitably be a shudder of horror seeing the situation set out so starkly.  I have come to prefer seeing a thing clearly and deciding the best course of action based on my beliefs about the way to be in the world to passively waiting for the next arguably inexplicable assault and the sickening argument that sometimes follows about who was the bigger asshole.  There is nothing to compare to doing an emergency favor for someone and then, instead of thanks, having some shit thrown on you.   I can tell you this from recent personal experience.

I think of something like the president’s current policy of ripping babies out of the arms of asylum seekers, having government personnel lie to the parents that after a short interview they’ll see their kid again, while during the interview the kid is shipped to a prison for children, never to see the parents again.   The first thought that comes to mind, outside of the fact that the privatized prisons where these poor kids are warehoused have some kind of exemption under this supremely corrupt administration, where they get a huge break on the already lowered tax for corporations, is that this is exactly the kind of “feeling out public reaction” that Mr. Hitler’s people used to routinely do.  

Hitler didn’t come to power and immediately open up the now famous Death Camps.   It took years, step by step, to prepare everyone for this final, extreme, previously unthinkable step.  That final step only became necessary, you understand, once the nation was at war.  Step by step, always prepare the next step carefully.   First you gas ‘useless eaters’, people in insane asylums, the mad, the demented, the retarded.   You read the polling carefully.  Most Germans, it seems, had no problem with euthanasia, if it was pitched correctly.   Eventually you will be able to euthanize all enemies of the state, keeping it discreet and secretive and always, always justifying it as a mercy done for the greater good.

(added the next day)  Stop the presses.  The larger point about the incremental nature of the ascendence or evil practices remains, but my example is problematic. We learn from Hannah Arendt that the gassing of “mentally sick” Germans had to be stopped, due to public outcry, after a mere 50,000 souls were “granted a mercy death”.  No such protest was made a couple of years later when the “granting of mercy deaths” was liberally extended to millions of Eastern European Jews and many others who died in the gas (the Nazis preferred poison gas, Zyklon B, was originally developed as a pesticide, don’t you know?)  and by other methods.   

So the fact that Trump and his diminutive racist lapdog A.G. are forcibly, and deceptively, separating parents and children when the family comes seeking asylum, is just one of the many steps toward becoming a society where unspeakable cruelty is as common as America’s Top CEO’s bristling over-sensitivity to criticism.

Look, once something becomes routine, most people will stop questioning it.  It’s human nature, you can only be outraged for so long, particularly if there is nothing you can do about it.   A shame that thousands of children and their families will be scarred for life, fleeing violence in one country to experience cool, rationalized, perfectly legal government violence in the country you fled to.  But what is that next to the brutal scarring that men like the president and his Attorney General must have experienced to make them the vicious people they are today?

That is always the question, in this world so deftly described by the brilliant Mel Brooks in his explanation of the difference between comedy and tragedy.   “Tragedy is when I break a fingernail, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.”  If you are not personally the victim … well … you can understand … kind of … an abstraction like why it’s wrong to torture somebody who was turned in for a large reward … on the off chance that he is a terrorist … or wrong, OK, to take a baby from its mother’s arms and lie to the mother, as you lead her away … or wrong to lie, repeatedly, about everything … but on another level these things will never be absolutely, compellingly real to you.   

If an old friend is in a panic to see you, accuses you of malice, gives you the chance to say you were mistaken, or lying, then tells you that you’ve never been a true friend, are incapable of admitting wrongdoing or apologizing, and expresses deep anger for a good deed you did thinking you were sparing his feelings … well?  What is one to make of this?  I was confused as hell for a few days, then, as I digested the constituent parts of it, came to finally see it clearly.

The old friend is prone to anxiety, fears the worst, always, apparently.  This anxiety causes him to live a nervous life where he really can’t always give the feelings of others the same immediate attention he must give to his own feelings.   His friends must understand this characteristic distractedness, his true friends must see past it.   They must make an allowance for this personality trait, even if he can’t always reciprocate.  His life is, in a phrase Springsteen once sung, “one long emergency.”   He has many fine qualities, great intelligence, humor, warmth, but he also has needs that can sometimes obscure these qualities. 

I don’t have great insight into panic or anxiety.  I had to imagine and understand, as best I could, what life must be like for someone prone to that.   Depression I have lived, I get that, but what it must be like living with constant anxiety took some imagining.  I don’t understand being angry for reasons that are mysterious to myself.  It simply makes no fucking sense to have anger you don’t understand constantly simmering in the background.  I have to understand why I’m mad.   It can take time, but most of the time I can put my finger on it.  I get a certain relief when I understand what I’m mad about, I can often take some action that will help.  This old friend has no time for this exercise, and his anger comes out in odd ways.  Like lambasting someone who has just spent a couple of hours being as kind to him as he knows how to be.

This old friend’s oldest son is a mensch, a really admirable young man.  I don’t know him nearly as well as I know his father, but I know enough to hold him in high esteem.   It was the thought of him reading what I had originally posted, a more detailed, much angrier piece, that caused me to take the post down.   His father never reads anything I post here, the son periodically does.   After talking to Sekhnet, someone I’ve never known to pull a punch, telling me I might want to pull this punch, I realized how much the original version could have hurt the son.   It’s possible the revised post might too, but much less, I thought, and there was value to the post in the “larger conversation” I am always dreaming of.

Relationships, like all living creatures, have a life cycle.  It’s hard to see this when you are young and idealistic, but live long enough and you will come to see this life cycle over and over.   When a friendship is mutual everything is cool.  Over time certain patterns become ingrained, resentments can build up.   One guy crucifies the other guy’s priceless guitar.   Anger is stored up.  Distance is inserted between people to insulate themselves from further damage.   Mistrust accrues every time an untruth is uncovered, or an attack happens.  Enough of this shit happens for long enough, the warmth of friendship can cool to coldness.

I haven’t reached that point with this guy’s father, someone I’ve known for about fifty-five years, but I certainly am not confident that my old friend is capable of the kind of self-knowledge I need in those closest to me.  I have friends as neurotic as he is but they have never given me the same cause to doubt their basic good will.   I intend to give my old friend every benefit of the doubt, I’m just not optimistic about the long-term health of our long friendship.  I hate the idea of holding him at emotional arm’s length, for the sake of remaining friends, but that may be the only working compromise available to me.

Consider this, related, if seemingly unrelated, to the incremental way things die.  It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to imagine waking up in the USA every day and hearing the lede “the president attacked”.  This thin-skinned man with the massive inferiority complex attacks someone several times every day.  It’s what he does.   After a few hundred attacks we just take the words “the president attacked” for granted.  It’s tempting to fume about that for a moment, but I’ll rein in that impulse and give one last grunt here.  (You may laugh, or at least grimace, to see how well I rein in that impulse, I suppose).

Professional football players respectfully protesting police violence against unarmed blacks are “sons of bitches” fumes this man who then screeches that they should be “fired!”  His campaign fundraiser crowd goes wild, applauding their hero who basks in their adoration.    One of the bitches tweets that she’s proud of her son, proud to be the bitch who raised him to be such a man of  integrity.   The president, of course, has no answer to this, he’s looking for someone else to attack, the main thing is to keep attacking.  

His daughter, a mannequin-looking woman he’s on record as wishing he could have sex with, busily promotes her many brands while a public servant, profiting handsomely, if corruptly, from her selfless service to the nation.  A comedian points out that she’s behaved with monstrous insensitivity regarding her father’s policy of ripping young children from their asylum-seeker parents’ arms.  The comedian calls her a “feckless cunt” for not confronting her father on this heartless policy, instead of  narcissistically, obliviously, posting pictures of herself hoisting one of her loving children.   The description seems to fit pretty well, feckless meaning “lacking initiative or strength of character, irresponsible” except that “cunt” is the c-word, like “nigger” is the n-word.  It is a word that simply may not be uttered, except at one’s peril.

Now the president gets to be righteously outraged, the thing he does best.  Picture how much restraint it must have taken him not to tweet that the offending comedian, Samantha Bee, is the cunt.  “She’s a cunt, not my daughter, her, she’s the fucking cunt, with a mouth like a fucking toilet bowl full of disgusting vegan shit!”   He could have tweeted that, but he’s the president and aware of his power as a role model, so he merely ranted a bit without profanity about no talent, loser Samantha Bee and her low-rated show and called for her to be fired.   The First Amendment is overrated, he thinks, even as the sacred Second Amendment is constantly under attack by liberal c-words and n-words who fucking hate our freedom.  Lock her up, lock her up!

USA!   USA!!!!!

 

 

[1] With WordPress you can even do it for free!

[2] A nice example is outlined here, along with a 1,000 word piece he actually solicited, one he rejected as “strangely unmoving”.

[3] WordPress bots helpfully provided a link to an earlier piece, which has more a bit more detail and nuance.  Vous pouvez clickez ICI,  mes amis.

Quick note about friendship

Friendship is, more than anything, about mutuality.  If you find yourself making constant accommodations, eating bad food doled out in incredibly stingy portions, taking care of somebody who is incapable of returning the favor most of the time, somebody who casually shits on you as you provide that attention, (these often go together, in my experience) can we really call that friendship?

That’s a loaded, rhetorical question, of course.

Irony is often lost on the nervous

I had a rock vamp I used to play all the time, very groovy little four chord thing that fit together nicely.  One day, years ago, playing an old friend’s beautiful old semi-hollow body electric guitar (a delightfully resonant Gibson ES-335) later sadistically destroyed by a mentally ill musician in a fit of enraged mania, I improvised the following to those chords:

You heard
just what I said
when you had your gun
pointed at my head,
but instead,
you’re dead
I didn’t mean to kill you but…

You should have stayed
home in bed
with a comfy pillow
under your head
Instead
you’re dead
I didn’t want to kill you but…
dah dah dah dah dah dah dah

Then I took a heroic guitar solo as the mentally ill keyboard player beamed at  my maliciously macho little lyrical invention, my rock and roll posturing.  I don’t recall how much later it was that he took a file to the beautiful guitar, breaking the F-holes and prying out the humbucker pickups, gouging and mutilating the lovely red-lacquered body beyond recognition, leaving the martyred, irreparably destroyed vintage guitar floating in a dirty bathtub full of sudsy water, the greasy hair from his half-shaved head as the cherry on top.  He wound up back in the laughing academy after that little caper, though it took a village to get him there.

The thing is, once you hold a gun to someone’s head, trust is usually compromised.  I eventually had to take a dirty stake and hammer it through the heart of this highly intelligent, provocatively mirthful idiot.  I reapply the stake as needed, by posting things like this, periodically, prophylactically, to make sure he doesn’t stagger out of his fucking grave imagining that we can be friends again.  

So it is, and so it must be, with people who unthinkingly treat others solely as vehicles to take them where they demand to be taken.  People who fear they are weak will often take a friend’s perceived strength for granted, until that strength is exhausted.  You may not have noticed, friend, but I ain’t no horse.  While I can pick you up, if needed, I can also throw you down.  Neither of those things makes me a horse.  

“What is this about holding a gun to somebody’s head?”  a concerned voice asks, seeking clarification about this disturbing metaphor.  Hoping it’s a metaphor.

It’s a metaphor, it’s a metaphor.  Picture this: you create an emotional emergency, emergency, emergency!  It must be dealt with immediately, now, now, now!  Ah, never mind.  It wearieth me too much.   For the anxiety riddled, it is rare for them to instantly get the joke, unless it comes at the rare moment when their native anxiety recedes enough to let humor in.   Irony is generally wasted on this type. Nuff said.

Sitting with Difficult Emotions

The more difficult the emotion, the harder it is to sit with it.   We don’t want to feel the things that hurt us, quite naturally, and we have sophisticated, if often not very subtle, means of not feeling them.   One of the most striking is the method described by Dr. John Sarno [1], who died recently at an advanced age.  Sarno cured crippling back pain in countless patients by having them understand that immobilizing spinal pain, which the mind causes by making the body clench, constricting blood/oxygen flow to crucial muscles and nerves, is more palatable to the psyche than feeling the threatening primal rage that causes it.  Understanding that, and feeling a hint of the emotion behind the physical manifestation, appears to be a big step to feeling better.   Spine surgeons hated Sarno, as did other medical experts.  Bad for business was fucking John Sarno.

I’ve never tested Sarno’s theory, not having suffered from what the good doctor called TMS, Tension Myoneural Syndrome.   But I have often sat with anger, which is a motherfucker to sit with.  Much easier to do virtually anything else, I’d have to say.  Blaming others for your anger is a great alternative, I think you will agree.  No shortage of asshole provocateurs in this world.  Hah!  Done and done.  Nothing a hearty “fuck you!” won’t cure, repeat as needed.  If people weren’t often such merciless pricks, you wouldn’t have to get angry at all.   Anodyne as all get out, no?

In a quiet moment you will realize that blaming and venting didn’t quite work, you’re still angry.  There is a cure for that too!  Endure no quiet moments!   There is so much noise available, sought or not, that we can keep ourselves from moments that will… well, you get the idea.   Stay busy, my friends, and you need never feel things that will cut you too deeply.  Work hard, play hard, pass out, repeat.   It works for many people, I don’t knock it, really (though I also do knock it, clearly).  

 Some consider pondering things like your own anger a form of masochism.  That would be true if you used your anger against yourself, blamed and excoriated yourself for feeling something so ugly.   I don’t advocate self-harm in any form, though you might not know it from my lifestyle, which involves, I suppose, a certain amount of it.  To my mind, and my spine, there is a good benefit to sitting in a comfortable chair with difficult emotions, or taking them for a leisurely stroll.   For one thing, these terrible emotions lose some of their power.  When you sit next to a monster intimately tied to your life you will tend to feel more comfortable with, and less terrified by, the monster after a while.    

Go down the list of the seven deadly sins [2] as an exercise.   Take a fearless moral inventory, if you like.   Note how the seven deadlies overlap.   Do you regularly experience, say, jealousy?   Deal with your feelings of envy by understanding where they come from.  Your fucking older brother got all the credit while you got none, never, not once.  Mom and dad beat the shit out of me, while my siblings got away with murder.  My brother and sister literally murdered and dismembered people, in front of mom and dad, and my parents just laughed and gave them lavish gifts.  If I set the table wrong, the salad fork on the wrong side of the entree fork, I’d catch a beating.  A beating and not so much as a stick of gum, ever.  You wonder why I’m fucking envious of the spoiled bastards all around me everywhere?

I’m not actually recommending anything.  There is nothing to recommend.   We all do what we need to do, constantly.   Me, I need to draw, write, play music.  Can’t help it, don’t sell any of it, even as all three things are done at an increasingly high level, a professional level, one might say.   My problem, when phrased that way, is my stubborn lifelong refusal to even try to monetize any of several highly honed skills.   On another note (accompanied by a lovely, old-timey minor 6th chord), I don’t give a fuck about this world of noise and strife when I am doing what I love.

Not to say that I love sitting with difficult emotions, but the obligation to sit with the stinking bastards comes with being sentient, as far as I can see.   I’d have it no other way.

 

[1] I have written a bit about Sarno, you can read it here and follow the links for more information about Sarno’s radical, medically disparaged but true sounding, theories.

[2] Anger, jealousy, pride, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth.