Friday, December 31

hockey, dextromethorphan, and the bliss of doing nothing

I’ve been really sick all week. The fever broke last night, I think, and my brain sort of works today, but the week has been a joyful mist of woozy illness combined with good extra-strength cold and flu meds. Feverish, stoned, and blessed with holiday hockey to watch.

It could have been worse.

One of the un-joys of casinos is that there’s tons of money passing through our hands and, with it, a million germs. New employees to casinos, or old employees coming back, tend to not have a sufficiently robust immune system to handle the microbe overload. After my Boxing Day shift last week, functioning on four hours of sleep after a late shift on the 25th, I came home and succumbed to some serious sneezing.

In between prolonged sleeps and supplemental napping I’ve enjoyed house sitting at a friend’s place and taking advantage of her television, something I usually avoid like the plague. But during the holiday week there’s some fabulous tournament hockey to watch – both the IIHF World Juniors and the Spengler Cup in Europe.

If I had to be sick, I picked a good week.

One might think that it would have been a good week to write some really psychedelic stuff, but I was having a hard enough time focusing on the TV and following the puck. I have a feeling that “Dick and Jane” prose would have been a challenge. So I took the week off, postponing a freelance contract until after the New Year and not even cracking the manuscript. I played utter and complete hooky.

And I barely even felt bad about it.

I read blogs his week (occasionally feeling brave enough to try to comment in English), many of which were following the standard New Years motif of goal setting and resolution making. Many were well-written and yet did not stir me. Two did though, mostly because they bucked the resolution trend: Judy Clement Wall posted a beauty at Zebra Sounds about creating a personal manifesto, and Giulietta Nardone notched a lovely piece at Giulietta the Muse about following your enthusiasm. Please, check them both out - you won't be sorry.

Both, to me, were about defining who we are and then being it or chasing that ideal as opposed to setting external goals and measuring worth according to whether we achieve the goal or not.

The inversion has been all about not setting goals in traditional ways; about setting out on a journey and seeing where the road leads me. Yes, there was a story to write. I suppose that was a goal in a sense, but it was still about the journey more than about finishing anything. It’s still about the journey, about letting something organic grow rather than trying to manufacture something artificial.

Organic is good; A journey is natural. I can let it form itself, stop when there’s a rose to smell, run when the way is clear, enjoy the woods when the brush is thick, and not sweat it. It’s not about where I get – it’s about getting. It’s about how I get. It’s about who it makes me.

I’ll be pitching cards tonight night when the clock strikes midnight. No big deal. Ultimately New Years is just another day, a Friday to a Saturday. If I can have another year much like this last one has been I’ll be a happy puppy. I lack for almost nothing, have everything I actually need. The manuscript is getting better and better, and might actually be close to ready for beta readers. I’m close to friends and Mom, and that’s at least as important as anything else right now.

And I’m on the right journey. I like the road. The path is pleasing - creatively, aesthetically and relationally. There are no goals to reach, just a dusty lane to walk, sometimes just a deer path, occasionally no path at all. But there’s always a direction and the journey.

I find that’s enough. I wish the same for you: Enough.

Happy New Year, folks. Have a good one, take a cab, and be excellent to one another.

Friday, December 24

fa lala lala

Here I am again, happy that I didn’t put “go to sleep at a reasonable time” on some list of things to do today (or yesterday, I guess).

It is December 24 and I’m caught in that strange limbo between my churchy upbringing and my decidedly anti-churchy adulthood again. I’ll be driving to Mom’s later today to partake in the family tradition of Eve celebration. Mom has a tremor in her hands these days. We think it’s a side-effect of the anti-anxiety medication, but we’re going to make sure and ask the doctor next visit, just to cover the bases and be sure.

We always did it this way, the Eve thing. Mostly, I think, so that I could have an extra bit of alone time with my new toys. That only-child thing came in handy as a kid – I was usually pretty spoiled. I was also a loner, so the 25th tradition of hosting friends, or being hosted at friends’ homes, for the big tryptophan overdose was a chore. I was always much happier with the thought of making up imaginary stories for my action figures to battle through, or reading my new books, or playing my new games, than I was being social with kids that I didn’t identify with, or adults that I got even less.

I shirked off the illusion of Santa at an early age. Mom said I was three when I looked up at them one Eve and said that I knew the Santa thing was a crock, and that they didn’t have to pretend on my account. They laughed, she told me, but it was a sign of things to come.

That’s kind of how I feel about the religiosity of the whole season too, or rather, the attempt to impose a religious reason for the season. When I was eleven or twelve, around the same time that the church we had gone too unintentionally ostracized Mom for being in a failed marriage (how dare she!), I started to peel back the curtain and see churches for what they really were – country clubs for the religiously mobile.

I remember reading for the first time the opinion of scholars that December 25th was an unlikely date for the birth of a Jewish messiah, if the little tyke had indeed been born during a census as the story goes. The Roman empire, being as continentally expansive as it was, included some pretty damned cold and snowy places, and the middle of winter would not have been a good time to ask all of the citizens and subjects to head back over hill and snowy dale to descend upon their home towns for the census taking. They were reasonable, those Romans, and conducted their censuses in the early spring, after the snow and before serious planting season. If there was a historical Jesus born in an historical manger in his foster-dad’s historical home town during a census, the smart money is on it happening some time in April or early May, closer to Easter than to this charade of a religious holiday in early winter.

I’ve never been able to take “The Reason for the Season” seriously since then. It was the first of many disillusionments when it came to all things x-ian. Others, like the fact that most of our Judeo-Christian holidays are simply neo-versions of pagan holidays superimposed over the old celebrations as a way to churchify the days people were going to celebrate anyway, or the fact that so many pre-Jesus pagan deities share so many instances of serendipitous coincidence with the Jesus mythology, just cemented the deal. The added fact that this holiday, more than any other, typifies our western obsession with turning everything into a reason to shop, helps my cynicism too.

It’s not that I’m a Scrooge. I enjoy the happiness that sometimes overpowers the stress of angry shoppers playing full-contact consumerism down the toy aisles. I take a bit of consolation in the fact that more of my friends do secret Santa variations instead of wholesale shopping one-upmanship. An informal survey of climbers at the climbing gym this week (I was covering so that my friend, the owner, could get some well-deserved R&R) revealed that more than half of the more regular and serious climbers do a present-sharing scheme version of some sort, limiting their over-consumption. This may be because we tend to be counter-culture a lot.  Or maybe because we’re simply less affluent than many. The two probably kind of go hand in hand. Either way, we’re all happy. Hell, we’re often silly we’re so happy.

But still, I have a level of frustration as I watch drivers share their xmas spirit by fingering each other as they race from mall to mall, or other friends participate in the race to see who is least cheap, and most “generous” (like it’s a competition or something), credit be damned, the stress of anticipated card bills already dancing like obese sugar plum accountants just behind their fake smiles.

I wonder if the sardonic humor I feel coursing through my veins is just a world-weary reaction to the foolishness I’m watching, or whether it’s something darker; something more Freudian.

When the first real experience of religious disillusionment kicked in, back in my pre-adolescence, I was angry about it; angry at the church and at god for the way Mom was treated so callously by the church; angry that god had simply not shown up in such a profound way. I stayed angry about it all through my teens – angry and depressed. Then, when I fell back into religion as an adult, through most of my marriage, I was told that god had not failed – I had failed; my faith had failed. I was encouraged to read Job a lot. Have you read Job? Wonderful morality tale, that Job is, if amazingly depressing, and a very sophisticated apologetic for the shitty things that happen to people. And for a while I believed it all again too, silly me.

When I walked away the second time, the curtain pulled back one more time to reveal the gears and machinations behind the holy veil, I vowed that I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There are amazing things about faith that have nothing to do with religion at all. My faith remains a living, breathing thing. I’m not sure what my faith is in any more – certainly, it’s nothing to do with the specific mythology of western religion – but I can still feel a breath of belief in me. And a strong one too.

Like Ramakrishna, I now believe that all religions have truth in them, in their innate humanism. It isn’t coincidence that most world religions have a version of the golden rule. Science and atheism can’t explain everything out there any more believably than any religion can. In a sense, science can be a religion too, with its high priests in white garb, test tubes in hand – our gatekeepers to a better understanding. I don’t have faith in science, as interesting as new discoveries are, just like I don't have faith in religions with their old explanations. Both are corrupt, flawed by the need of institutions to control people, and control information, and keep people dumb and in the dark.

Faith, to me, is sacred: The ongoing search for an understanding of things as a whole. Science isn’t an answer – it’s a path. Same with religion. And all paths, potentially, even when they are corrupted by the intrinsic nature of institutions, can lead to the roof. That’s what Ramakrishna said. Who cares how we get there, so long as we move in that direction. 

I just prefer no path. I like bushwacking. A bushwacking kind of faith isn't very defined. It doesn't mean that you can't get anywhere - it's not being directionless - it just means that you have to scrape through the burning bushes, and wade through the seas. Nothing is done for a bushwacker - we do for ourselves.

I have faith in the knowledge that we don’t know everything. I have faith in the truism that the more we know, the more we should know that we don't really know. I have faith in the thought that empathy might win out one day, and that our species will actually become what we’re capable of being. I have faith in the ability of my fellow humans to transcend the bullshit, only occasionally sometimes, but at other time, in some people or in some places and times, on a scale that is truly miraculous and marvelous to behold. I have faith that we could do that more, and that if we could, it would change everything.

So yeah, I still have a semblance of faith.

Sometimes, when I think about how anti-tradition I am, it bothers me. I wonder if I’m just being kooky and unjustifiably recalcitrant. I wonder how much easier it would be to just go with the flow. I wonder if the reason that so many of the high profile atheists seem so goddamned angry all the time is because, like me, they still feel the sting of their lost religion and the comforts it provides. Is that why I’m prickly about this topic? Because I’m still angry that I saw behind the curtain and the truth robbed me of all my comfortable illusions?

Maybe it is. At least, maybe it still is a bit.

And then I remember that I’m not generally inclined to swim with the current at the best of times. Certainly, in the face of so much cultural and self-deception, it’s unreasonable for me to expect such behavior of my self. I’m that guy that goes up the down escalator some times, just because. This is who I am. I like being the wrench in the works, when the works need wrenching. Seeing behind the curtain, through the veil, was probably kind of inevitable. Seeing behind one too many times, in one to many milieus, has made me skeptical and cynical a bit, I know. I have to live with that.

Honestly, I try not to push it too hard. I'm no better at being an anti-church evangelist than I was at being a pro-church evangelist. Ask me, I'll tell ya. Otherwise, you probably would barely notice. I’m okay with mostly letting those around me enjoy the season. I’m not a humbug kind of cynic, but I don’t keep my mouth completely shut either. Christmas doesn’t make me sour, just thoughtful, and very observant.

And glad I don’t have to go to church.

So tomorrow I’ll go to Mom’s and help make dinner. We’ll open a couple presents (I’ve talked her into simple things with practicality, and no sweaters, but I can’t talk her out of it entirely). I’ll even have a little gift for her and Miriam to open, just cuz. And then, after they go to bed at their early hour, I’ll sneak up the stairwell and spend a bit of time thinking on the roof and staring up at the stars.

I’ll hope that maybe we’ll all reach out for our best selves a little more this year. I’ll wish for a pervasive empathy to settle like a swaddling blanket over the human race just a touch more than it ever has before. I’ll believe that we’re capable of it, and that, in itself, will be a little miracle for me. I’ll try to see things the way they really are and still be hopeful. Up there alone. On the roof.

Because that’s what matters – getting to the roof and having your eyes open enough to appreciate it when you get there.

At least that’s what I think.

Happy Seasons and Merry Greetings, everyone.

Wednesday, December 22

the list post (or why I don't do them)

All the cool kids in the blogosphere do lists. I mean they really do ‘em. They do ‘em to the degree that the damned things are practically art. They:

v      write them for themselves to keep their organized selves all organized and shit;
v      use them to great community-building effect on their blogs, either:
o        Making lists of cool things they’ve learned or done, or;
o        Making lists of questions to ask their readers, or;
o        Making lists of amazing things they’ve found;
v      make them into poetry, with brilliant segues and dazzling syntactic cliffhangers;

I find it awe-inspiring. I’m envious. I’m not a list maker, not at all. Like multi-tasking, I’m capable of writing them, but I find it personally distasteful to actually do. Not in an “I’m going to throw up if I have to write one” way; Just in the sense that it provokes a mild sense of queasiness.

I do write lists from time to time, often for the same reasons that many people I admire write them. I write them to:

v      remind myself of tasks that must get done before I slip back into a pleasantly irresponsible state;
v      order the things I absolutely can’t procrastinate any longer in regards to;
v      create an order of operations so that I can complete boring errands in as efficient a way as possible so as to facilitate slipping back into the aforementioned irresponsible state.

But these are exceptions to my rule of being, things I have to do. They are an equivocation to the way the world is. In my ideal world, the one I usually try to experience in my loopy head, there are only lists consisting of one thing at a time, and a list of one is not a list really, now is it? It’s just an item. I guess maybe I’m an item-maker.

Lists give me no comfort at all. They weigh me down. They loom.

I could have a made a list today about all the things I wanted to get done, but then I would have had to stick to it to gain closure on my day. Surely, on that list, at the end of it, would have been the item: Get to bed at a reasonable time so you can get up early and edit for your freelance job. That is a reasonable and sensible goal to include on a list. And, that item being there, I would have felt a great conflict when, at the appointed time, I decided to write a blog post instead, a post concerning lists, for example. I would have been left with a giant, gaping failure – a huge open check box at the end of my day that would not, could not, subsequently be filled.

I would have been despondent.

You see, I know these things about myself:

v      I am not a goal-setter – I am a dreamer;
v      I do not wish to be a multi-tasker – I desire to be gloriously obsessed;
v      I don’t want to win – I just want to run.

I also have a really hard time making lists longer than three items long, as you might have noticed by now.

I think that maybe it’s genetic or something. I have an anti-list retro-virus, perhaps. We could call it QLV – Quasi-Bohemian Listodefficiency Virus. Or perhaps it’s congenital, a quirk of natural DNA splicing that was undetected in the womb and, in mid-life, has blossomed into an untreatable (I hope) syndrome typified by aimless walks and drives, and ponderous ponderings for extended periods of time during which I could almost appear to be asleep were it not for obsessive chin-whisker fondling, open, unfocused eyes, and occasional, spontaneous outburst of laughter or weepiness.

Here’s the truth: A life without lists feels more to me like the summers of my youth, when I climbed trees and roamed hills and made up stories and even wrote them down sometimes. When I swam for hours, and lay on the raft on the lake and stared up at the clouds all afternoon, seeing heroes and villains and all the characters in between soar over me in a kaleidoscope of private mythology.

Even then, even in my daydreams, I was never the first hero. I was always a supporting character, the dissenting voice on the team, the one that questioned everything, especially himself.

I look back, and forward, from this place and time, and I know these things:

v      that boy was unformed in many ways, but;
v      I was closer to my best self then - I was wild there, and;
v      I need to get back.

So this may be the closest I ever come to a list post. It is, perhaps, too bad, because I love it when other people do them right. I guess it’s just one of those things that I’ll have to learn to appreciate from the outside.

You know, while I’m scratching my chin, happily obsessing, and looking opportunistically for a good metaphorical raft.

Thursday, December 16

finding wild and the things we do for love

A friend on Twitter, Jennifer Garam (who goes by the Twitter Tag @writieouschick – that’s so cool), posted this quote by Isadora Duncan last week: “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”

It had an impact. Several of us appreciated it, Jennifer posted on it on her blog, One Writeous Chick, and then another friend, Judy Clement Wall, riffed on it too on her blog Zebra Sounds. We came up with a little hashtag magic - #youwerewildhere – and now we’re enjoying our little not-so-secret movement in the Twitterverse. It's growing, very slowly and very organically, and I love that it's staying humble. Every day someone new jumps in, and there's another blog post, and the whole thing feels pretty real.

This is my contribution, such as it is.

I started a new job on Monday. Actually, it’s an old job. After nine years of casino work leading into the life inversion that got me out of there, I started back with the casino that I first worked at earlier this week. Dealing cards. Back to the beginning.

When they say that writers need to cultivate multiple sources of revenue, I never imagine this as part of my fantasy. I really didn’t want to go back. I would have been happy as a clam to never actually set foot in a casino again. I really would have.

The life inversion was and is, in large part, about rejecting the consumerist world. I wanted to find the best me out beyond the bright lights and bells and whistles of the casino world, away from accumulating stuff and living up to popular social standards. The whole thing is an illusion, a fantasy of winning, a mirage of possibility, wealth and vanity inside a reality of desperation and narcissism.

It’s yucky.

But, dealing is also a chance to make twice as much as I could anywhere else at entry level. There are bills to pay, jobs are scarce, and I still know people in that world. It’s still about who ya know, not what ya know. And, frankly, I know how to deal cards. I can work two days a week and cover my minimal nut. This will allow more time to write. It’s kind of a no-brainer. And yet…

I keep asking myself if this is a compromise that I’m making, if somehow I’m losing the compass heading and drifting back into an orbit that I worked so hard to get out of. It’s not pride or vanity; It’s not wearing a uniform again after so many years in a suit. It’s the fact that it’s a casino. I hate that world. Love the people (some of them), hate the environment.

And when I realize that - how much I hate being there – I stop worrying. Other than the bare minimum of revenue to support me while I write, there’s nothing I want there. It’s not me anymore, in any way shape or form. It’s just a thing I do to help me chase my dreams; chase my better self. Living a life without compromise was always a dream, never a goal. The world doesn’t work that way. The goal was to make as few compromises as was possible, and to make the ones that were unavoidable count.

There was a time that casinos offered the possibility of a career, a chance to learn new things, and some sense of helping others by being a good manager, a good leader. It was fun to feel important and capable for a while in that milieu. I thought I was wild there once, briefly, but I let that environment, its pretty lights and the promise of career, meaning, importance and security tame me. I bought in. That won’t happen again.

I don’t claim to have found the wild me - the better me - again when I left the casinos twenty months ago, but I found the path to that me. I found the journey, and the journey is what it's all about.

The writing is wild. Hell, it’s the wildest thing ever. The better me I aspire to exists, not at the end of this road, but every step along the way, every page I type out, every bit of craft I learn, and even more when I ignore the craft and reach for magic. Every day I can spend rummaging around in my imagination, or soaring on the creative thermals that blow when things are just perfect, is a day spent being wild. And like most things, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

This casino gig isn’t a compromise, it’s a sacrifice; a distasteful thing I have to do that harms nobody else but me, and even then only if I let it. It allows me to pursue the dream, to rummage and soar. It is the sacrifices we're prepared to make that define how much we love the thing we're chasing. I find that I am prepared to make some fairly large ones. This sacrifice, this little thing? 

It’s just a small part of finding wild.

Sunday, December 12

wikileaks and the cult of personality

I thought I was done. I thought that I said everything I wanted to say about this subject on Tuesday, but I guess not. Maybe today I can finish exorcising it.

I gave a whole paragraph on Tuesday to the concept of the cult of personality dynamic that is interfering so effectively with the larger, international political story. It wasn’t enough. I was influenced by my wish that, in spite of the side shows, the only thing we’d should stay focused on was the leaks. Not so much the content, but the overarching theme extant within them. The big picture.

So I said what I wanted to, for the most part, about that big picture story, the one that includes revelations regarding our leaders in public office and the undue obligation they seem to feel to preserving their own power and serving corporate interests. But I mentioned the cult of personality concept and, when the dust settled, I felt there was more to say about that. More to say about the concept of cult of personality, and more to say about how it specifically affects this story, with all of its high ideals and low behavior, not to mention the possibility of rape and coercion.

It’s hard to do that, stay focused on the big picture, especially when there's just so much information to process. There’s some major information overload happening on this topic, and so many story threads that it’s difficult at best to keep anything straight.

I’ve tried very hard, with lesser and greater degrees of success at times, to keep Julian Assange separate from the Afghan/Iraq/Cable leaks because I don’t think I believe in heroes. Just in general, there aren’t many individual people that can both be truly marvelous and aspire to the kind of notoriety that Assange aspires to. So I’m distrustful as a default position.

I was still disappointed when the allegations against Assange were made public this summer. There’s always a hope that somebody will live up to their own hype, right? It was clear fairly early though that Assange was just a human. Divisions within Wikileaks, narcissistic statements to the press, and then the accusations and the ongoing investigation; Assange was definitely just human, and maybe worse. If you haven’t heard what the allegations specifically are, this is from The Swedish Wire:

“The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner. The second charge alleged Assange "sexually molested" Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her "express wish" one should be used. The third charge claimed Assange "deliberately molested" Miss A on August 18 "in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity". The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.”

To be clear, in spite of the arrest warrant and Assange’s remand in the UK pending extradition hearings, these are still technically allegations only. No charges have been laid and Assange is wanted back in Sweden for questioning as part of the investigation. But they are really serious allegations.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, Assange and his lawyers suggest that the allegations are part of a smear campaign, and Assange has unequivocally denied any wrongdoing. And the specifics regarding how the investigation was started, then some charges dropped, the reinstated, and leaked to the press… it’s all very convoluted. And that’s only half of the story.

On the other side of the allegations are two women who brought the issue to the police. There are a endless theories drifting around the web regarding the reasons they spoke to the police. But they’re all theories, and theories and speculation in a rape case are just the wrong way to go.

It was not so long ago that not making criminals of victims, especially in a sexual abuse case, was held up as a pretty high ideal. Outside of this case, it still is (I hope). But inside it, suddenly it’s become okay to vilify the women who made the accusations and assume that they were either part of a giant intergovernmental conspiracy, or that their motives were purely personal and vengeful. Assuming that these women did anything but go to the police to express the perception that they were wronged and seek assistance in that regard is as unfair to them as it is to assume Assange’s guilt.

Let me say that again: Assuming nefarious intent on the part of the accusers is as wrong as assuming that the accused is guilty.

Some of my online friends have been very right in pointing out that fact, and also that we’ve been working really hard and for a long time as a society to change the mentality that victimizes victims twice. The vilification of Assange's accusers is a step backwards. My friends also rightly point out that progressive journalists and writers have been too quick to vilify the accusers in this case in the rush to defend Assange. I think that, to some degree, I'm guilty of that too and I have to own that.

That doesn’t mean that there are still lots of questions that deserve to be answered. The first one, though, needs to be whether or not there’s enough evidence for charges to be laid. If there is there will be the question, to be decided in a court of law, regarding guilt or innocence. If there isn't there may be other questions regarding motives, but it’s way too early for that. And either way, I think that there are questions to be asked regarding the actions and decisions regarding how the case has been handled by Swedish prosecutors. 

Regardless, I have limited hope that many of them ever will be answered. That seems to be how our world works, and it’s part of why I think what Wikileaks is doing is important.

I need to be really specific on that subject too. I believe that what Wikileaks is doing is important. Not Wikileaks itself. What they’re doing. Wikileaks is an organization that has taken collating, vetting and clearing whistleblowers’ leaks to the next level, but they weren’t the first. They most definitely won’t be the last. But they’ve raised the bar and changed the landscape, I believe, for the better.

I don’t believe this because I think that government should be utterly transparent, that every last bit of state craft should be completed in the public eye, but rather that it should be more transparent than it is. I believe that there is so much secrecy in this War on Terror world that it has become difficult, if not near impossible to trust our governments. Many people, including me, are left with a giant vacuum of trust where our faith should be. We don’t trust that our politicians are making decisions with anything like good intentions in mind.

I think that this kind of peak behind the curtain has a purpose: It can make us aware of the selfish, arrogant hubris with which our leaders conduct their affairs, driving home the point that we have to be far more active in governing our governors. It also reminds those in power that they aren’t immune or inviolate; that they are in power by the grace of our votes and will, and that they govern as extensions of the body politic. They exist to serve us. They need to be humble, and nowadays that means that they often need to be humbled.

And that’s why what Wikileaks is doing is important, or at least part of it.

But Wikileaks itself will become an institution in time. Perhaps, in some ways, it already has. Institutions often come into being because of a valid and righteous need. Somebody, or some group, sees the need and meets it. And then, over time, that organization, that movement, begins to be as interested in growing or preserving its own existence as much as staying true to the values and need that brought about its existence. And then it’s an institution, just as susceptible to corruption and hubris as any other institution.

At that point, the institution becomes as much a part of the problem as it is or was part of any solution.

I worry that this has happened, or did happen, to Julian Assange at some point. I see signs that he began to think he was more important than the idea, or the group effort. I worry that he made an institution of himself. I worry that he felt himself above others and above the rules that others have to abide by. I think that, whether there are charges brought against him or not, whether charges result in a guilty verdict or not, he was too casual and disrespectful in the way he treated those women in the summer. I think he started to believe his own press.

Fame and celebrity is a dangerous thing in this day and age. We’re vain creatures, we humans. I remember reading that the brain waves of our pets change dramatically when we pet them, approaching an alpha state, they are so euphoric at that touch, that attention. Fame can do that to us, I think. It certainly appears that way when I watch the behavior of the famous, purring under the spotlight, oblivious to the consequences of their actions or robbed of all common sense.

Julian Assange strikes me as, potentially, such a person. I worry that he was so caught up in doing something good, for good reasons, and became so obsessive about it that he lost sight of who he was and started to believe the newspapers and the fans more than the mirror he looked at every morning. I worry that he thought he could be careless with the lives around him and that it was okay to do so.

So, to be clear, I’m not a fan of Julian Assange. I think his ego pollutes what he’s trying to do. I think that he let his own desire to be front and center get in the way of something remarkable, and now it’s harder and harder to remove the one story from the other. I think that his apparent rock star belief that he could or should use his celebrity to be player was horribly misguided and kind of pathetic.

I’m not a fan of Wikileaks either, in and of itself, but I appreciate what they are doing. I think it’s important for this time and place. I’m not assuming Assange’s guilt or innocence, but I question whether he, or any one person, should be the ‘face’ of anything as big as Wikileaks. Giant, potentially world-changing ideas deserve better than one, frail human face.

I believe that criminal investigations and charges of rape should be treated seriously, all involved given their due respect until the investigation is completed and, if required, courts can render a verdict. Until that happens, all involved should be given the benefit of the doubt, treated as innocent until proven guilty, including and especially the alleged victims of abuse.

I believe that, if possible, when accusations against a person blur the line between personal behavior and the political actions of a group, when they muddy the water, we should try our hardest to separate the two issues and not conflate one with the other.

And I believe that I really hope that’s all I feel the need to say about this. 

Wednesday, December 8

wikileaks and the emperor's new clothes

“Which country is suffering from too much freedom of speech? Name it, is there one?” Julian Assange

I didn't want to write this post. I just wanted to watch and post links. I wanted to be a spectator and hope for a good outcome. But here I am. Not writing about it was becoming a distraction that I don't need and so, in spite of the fact that it's a ridiculously complex issue, and that coverage of it in the main stream and alternate media is ubiquitous (if selective), here I am. I hope it's readable, and maybe offers a synthesis of ideas already circulating, but this is my disclaimer: I'm writing this for me. I need to process it here and go on the record. For me.

At best, I'll understand better how I really feel, the whole mess will make a bit more sense, and you'll have found something redeeming in the next many paragraphs to justify the battery power you use and the time I've stolen from you. At worst, I'll be as frustrated as I am right now, and you'll be asleep. Either way, for your entertainment, here's my brain, or maybe my brain on Wikileaks. For the record, the following is based on my understanding of the facts. I'm no journalist (nor do I want to be), or a lawyer, and I'm not doing any vast amount of fact checking beyond reading pretty much everything I can find on the subject. I'll try to avoid making gross errors of the facts, but if I do miss something, or get something wrong, it's an honest mistake. If you find such an error, please post the correction in comments and I'll update the main post.

To summarize then, Wikileaks is a journalistic enterprise dedicated to the ideals of transparency and open government. It supports these ideals by acting as a clearing house for whistle blowers, with systems from simple to sophisticated, designed to allow whistle blowers to provide Wikileaks with secret documents. Wikileaks vets the documents and then, after varying degrees of editorial perusal, they release them. They've been doing it now since 2006. Julian Assange was the original mastermind behind the idea and implementation, and he has remained the 'face' of Wikileaks throughout its existence.

While they've been operating for over three years, Wikileaks hit the big time this year with the release last spring of the Collateral Murder videos, versions both edited for length and completely unedited, of a US helicopter gunship attack on civilians that resulted in multiple deaths, including the deaths of two Reuters journalists. The video, if you haven't seen it, is graphic and disturbing. The audio of the pilots, gunners and their CO's is chilling and suggests a level of inhuman disconnect that shocked the world. Wikileaks was accused of editorializing the video, especially the length-edited version, to make the participant soldiers, and thus the US military, look as bad as possible.

They followed that up with the Afghanistan Logs, and then the Iraq Logs, two caches of military documents that provided unparalleled insight into both wars, the mentality behind the occupations, and revealed dramatically different stories and statistics than the US State Department and Pentagon had previously suggested were accurate. Finally, since the end of November, Wikileaks has been releasing in increments a cache of US diplomatic cables in what is now being called “cablegate”. In all three of the document release cases, Wikileaks has worked with major mainstream media sources, allowing seasoned journalists to scour the caches for weeks prior to public release, assist with redactions, and to help facilitate coverage and add legitimacy to their efforts, perhaps in response to the accusations of editorialization in the Collateral Murder video release. They also, in the cases of the Afghan and Iraq documents any way, invited the US government to participate in helping scour the caches and assist in redacting sensitive information that might put lives at risk, offers that were rejected.

In the summer, US Pfc Bradley Manning was arrested under suspicion of being the source of all of these leaks.

Also this summer, Assange was in Stockholm, Sweden to speak at a conference. He was later accused by two Swedish women of sex crimes under Swedish law. The allegations include sexual coercion and rape. Assange has completely denied any wrongdoing and accused the women and Swedish authorities of participating in a smear campaign against him on behalf of the US government. The lawyer for the two women says that they have no political motives. The allegations revolve around consensual sex that the women say became non-consensual, but the timeline and facts are convoluted, and the stories, so far, are just that.

Assange has now voluntarily surrendered himself to the UK police authorities in response to an international INTERPOL red notice requesting his detainment on a Swedish warrant. That warrant is not in relation to actual charges – no charges have been laid – but rather the desire of the Swedish police to speak to him IN PERSON. Suddenly that's a really big deal, even though Assange offered to make himself available in August and September, and was given permission to leave Sweden, and has offered to speak to investigators by Skype or other means since then.

The timing and circumstances are, needless to say, suspicious, and it's not hard to start drifting into conspiracy theory territory, but essentially, those are the facts and the end of the boring part. I say boring because, well, if you've been reading the news, and if you are Google-capable, then you can find it all out yourself. Go to it.

There is also a cult of personality issue here, and I despise the cult of personality. I despise unjustified fame being heaped on people of questionable character, whether it's heaped in response to talent or ability or luck or success. In a perfect world, fame would be reserved for those who were of the highest character only. But character isn't sexy. Character doesn't sell. And we do love the fall of our icons as much as the meteoric rise, don't we?

More important by far than Assange is or will ever be, is the underlying reasons and actions behind Wikileaks, and one of my frustrations is that Assange's soap opera is detracting from the message. It's the same problem I have with Black Bloc protesters that feel direct actions against postal boxes and corporate store fronts are an effective way to get an activist message of dissent across: It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of public perception, and a basically selfish and childish motivation to serve self ahead of the cause.

All of that said, the response to Wikileaks and cablegate has been electric and fierce. For the first time in such a public way, the governments of the West have embarked on an unprecedented extra-judicial attack against a non-American site, with massive Denial of Service hacker-style attacks being mounted against Wikileaks servers around the world, and pressure being applied to the “American” companies that have been hosting or allowing Wikileaks to work through them for parts of their operation. That response is a de facto admission that, as much as the US government protests that Wikileaks is only a minor inconvenience, they've really touched a nerve.

But why? What nerve have they touched? The US Government says that any disruption to diplomacy is only a minor inconvenience. If so, then why have they mobilized what amounts to an illegal attack on all things Wikileaks? An attack that, if perpetuated against the US government, would result in federal charges and aggressive prosecution. They are obviously afraid of Wikileaks far more than they are wiling to admit if they're willing to adopt the tactics of those they call cyber-terrorists to try to combat them.

I believe that the answer is obvious: Wikileaks is showing the world just how corrupt and morally vacuous our leaders actually are. As one writer put it, the emperors' clothes have just been shredded by the web, and the naked truth is that our political and plutocratic leadership is utterly devoid of anything remotely redeeming. In war, our “leaders” act like sociopaths, and incite and train soldiers to do the same, and in politics and diplomacy they act with all the aplomb and sophistication of three-year-olds fighting over the sandbox. Our leaders, in short, are not leaders at all. At least not ones worth following.

Several other pundits have also pointed out that, in the wake of the reaction to Wikileaks and Assange (especially if it is ever proven that the Swedish allegations are politically motivated), we will never be able to take self-righteous allegations against totalitarian regimes made by the West seriously again. The West has shown in the most public way that they are just as willing to suppress freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and dissent, as any of the regimes that they point at derisively to make themselves look better by comparison.

The illusion that we live in a free society has been completely stripped away. Our society may not be as oppressive as those totalitarian regimes, at least not on the surface of things, but the people in power are just as desperate to hold onto their power as any other dictator. When someone manages to pull the curtain aside, and we see not only the weak false-wizard back there, but see that the wizard is utterly naked and pathetic, those supposed leaders of the free world react with the same kind of violence and disregard for the law as any dictator does.

That we, as voters, are complicit in their tyranny just makes it a little more sad. 

Again and again, writers who see the value of what Wikileaks is doing, even if they question the details, have reiterated the concept that the best defense against Wikileaks and those who will inevitably follow it is a more open, less deceitful form of government, one that actually does work on behalf of people, and does so with transparency. If you are blameless, the logic goes, the reason for whistle blowers disappears. Even if accusations are leveled, it is easier to defend and prove innocence. 

That's a lesson that most of us are supposed to learn by grade one. I hope that Wikileaks and those who are like-minded manage to break the dysfunctional system we currently languish under so completely that re-making it becomes impossible. I hope that enough people open their eyes to the truth that we can reach a tipping point, and that this time, when the shit truly hits the fan, we can learn lessons from our history that actually stick.

I hope that Wikileaks makes it impossible for us to ignore the truth, and impossible to forget. This is, perhaps, an unrealistic hope. We've been here before under different circumstances, and supposedly we learned unforgettable lessons from those horrific times. Obviously, our ability to forget is directly proportional to our greed and selfishness and laziness. Maybe this time we can get it right. 

I know- doubtful. But then, I've been accused of being an incurable optimist before...

Monday, December 6


When I was eleven, the academic curriculum I was involved in at school was provided the opportunity to do a remarkable thing. Remarkable to us, in any case. We were allowed to make the big, dangerous walk across the street, through the sports fields, and into the giant halls of the Senior Secondary School to the confines of the band class so that we could participate in a unique grade seven music program. Through a quirk of fate and germs, I managed to miss the first visit. When I arrived in the second week, all of the really cool boy instruments – the trombones and trumpets, saxophones and tympanis, the lone guitar and drum kit – were taken.

I was left with the choice of clarinet or flute. The teacher said I had a good embouchure for flute (if @migroddy wanders through, maybe he can explain that concept in the comments), so that’s what I got. In time, I came to appreciate that placement – there are some really cute girls in the flute section – but at the time, just stumbling out of the blocks into pubescence with all of its sharp corners and early-adolescent contrasts, I did not feel lucky. I felt ripped off, like a cruel joke was being played on me. Like a giant “kick me” sign (to replace the one, only slightly smaller, that I already thought I possessed) had just been hung around my neck. I was not an enthusiastic student.

Three months later and heading towards the holiday break, I was facing my first test; about sixteen bars of simple melody that I could not complete on my best day. Not even close. My inadequacy was earned; I didn’t practice. The space between that band class and my closet space at school where I could hide the offending instrument, or home where I could hide it even better, was a bit of grade school social hell for me. Subsequently, I was on the road to failing said test, a probability that was, to me, as or more horrifying than the sentence of having to walk around in public with a flute case.

Not doing really well in school was not something I was comfortable with, in any subject. I was a nerd and proud of it. So with a few nights left before the test I suddenly came face to face with my desperation to excel and please my teachers, dug the flute out at home, and tried to practice.

It was dismal. When Mom now complains about tinnitus, I wonder whether that evening had something to do with it. I know that it didn’t, but still, I now know that nothing says “I love you” like a parent suffering through the early stages of music tutelage. After a whole fifteen minutes of trying and failing I was frustrated and ready to give up. I’d just quit the music program. I hated flute anyway, hated the snickers and the jokes and the insults. Mostly, to be honest, I hated not being better than the others. I hated standing out for the wrong reasons.

And then, for what was to be the first and last time, Mom made me keep trying. Like the one spanking I received, it had a profound effect. And like that one spanking, I’ve later wished she’d done it more. A lot more. I never really learned about how good discipline could be for you as a kid, but I wish sometimes that I’d had the opportunity to learn that lesson better, and younger.

But on that night, she was stern and strong and unwilling to equivocate on the subject of my practicing. As I got up to quit, she got in my face and made me sit back down. On that night, my fear of failure was confronted by that fierce motherly aspect, and my fear backed down.

I took my seat and tried again, her at my shoulder. And then I tried again because that time sounded as much like bird torture as the time before it. And again, and again, and again. It took another thirty minutes of really trying, of having no safe place to retreat to, of being stuck between a flute and a hardass, before the crux passage finally worked. Magically, my spasmodic fingers managed to function together and I made it through the bar of eighth notes and through to the finish. The only smile in the room bigger than mine was Mom’s.

Band and jazz band and orchestra ended up being extremely dependable and relatively easy A’s for me for the rest of my public school career. I was never exceptional, just a bit better than most, good enough for first flute but not enough to ever worry about a scholarship, and I was (sadly) okay with that. I learned to enjoy playing and being surrounded by girls even more. (A good embouchure is also useful for kissing.) All thanks to Mom and half an hour of not quitting.

But, as I said, it was a one-time lesson. I could have, should have, received that lesson many, many more times. But Mom got pretty busy with the boarders, and I was always too proud to ask or admit I needed it. So I coasted, and then floundered, and finally learned how to avoid challenges so as to avoid failure with an alacrity that bordered on evil genius.

It didn’t affect every part of my life, that aversion to risk, just the creative ones. Just the important ones. I did well in my chosen jobs, was successful when I went pack to school at 26 to re-educate following a motorcycle accident, and managed to get through most things looking like I sort of knew what I was doing. But I also didn’t really “complete” a lot of things. When the going got tough, I got going… the other way.

Through my thirties I was provided opportunities to learn lessons that I wish I’d learned in my teens. Somehow I managed to stumble into management positions, and where I was comfortable failing myself, I found I wasn’t comfortable at all failing the teams that depended on me. That sense of obligation or responsibility was the leverage my mind and heart needed to get over the hump and push through to completion, even when my legs wanted to go the other way.

Those lessons took a long time to learn though. I wrote the first draft of the prologue of the story I’m writing nearly fourteen years ago, got forty or so pages in, drew maps, and then abandoned it. I told myself it was just fantasy and not literary enough. I told myself that it was unrealistic to want to be a writer. I told myself that I was almost thirty and should start being a responsible adult. And they were all excuses.

At forty-three, I finally had enough confidence, frustration, angst, disillusionment, hope… whatever… to try again.

You know this part of the story if you’ve been reading along for a bit. (If not, search “life inversion” and catch up.) I quit again, but this time only the parts that were really bad for me – the corporate job, the consumerism, the stuff-accumulation, the pretending and pretension. I decided to put all my eggs in one basket, say “fuck it”, and write that goddamned novel I’d always said I was going to write.

I finished the bastard last Friday.

Well, not “finished” it in the sense that I’m ready to try to sell it just yet, but I finished a second draft. It’s close. There’s a bit of polishing, then the sharing with trusted and valued readers, then a final polish. But then, soon, only a couple months away now, I’ll be trying to find an agent.

When I typed the last word of the last chapter on Friday, it felt a bit like vindication. Not over anyone else. But over me. To me it felt like giving a big middle finger to the part of me that thought I’d never do it; to the voice that whispered in the dark that I was deluding myself; to the piece that was still convinced I was a fuck up. I felt like I was standing over that remnant, that vestigial quitter, on the field of battle, my foot on its corpse, sword in hand, screaming something primordial into the cold gloaming air. My own Barbaric Yawp.

It was how I’d felt, just that once as an eleven-year old, when Mom made me keep trying until I fucking got it, only better.

Some lessons, I suppose, take longer to learn than others. Mostly the important ones.

Epilogue: The mss is essentially done. Like I said, there’s a bit of polishing to do, but it’s pretty much complete at 180k words. I edited over 50k of them in the last month (my own sort-of NaNoWriMo), so thanks for hanging around while I took that break. Regular posts will now commence again. I’ll keep you updated.

P.S. I missed you all.