Friday, March 11, 2016

I Need to Be Careful Not to Let Trump Ruin my Community

Walked out of my mechanic's shop this afternoon and probably won't go back because they were watching the rally here in St. Louis and which I wanted to protest except all of a sudden my window goes down and won't go back up and I need to get it fixed, and maybe then I'll go, but then I go to the spot and they're all in there with the rally loud and that guys' voice (not saying anything, as usual, at all - just yelling nonsense) and they're in the front office making comments about how dude paid for the space, he got a right to throw out the protesters and they should go outside if they don't like it and defending the way they get treated. So I sit still for a minute, but then I can't sit still anymore and I'm like "Are you seriously defending this man?" and they are like "This is America"

I mean I'm sitting right here. And we're in St. Louis, and you're defending the way he treats protesters. For real?

Video of Trump Arguing for Brutality to Protestors: We Need a Little Bit More of That

"Vote" the mechanic says loud to me, looking both defensive and sheepish "we're gonna vote." As if that makes it right. Let's say we elect him and 'the people' decide to put him office. What then. How dangerous. To defend him.

And I say but he's hateful, he's the most hateful thing we can do right now. And I say in fact I don't even want to listen to his voice, can you turn it down? (Because how do I sit here for the next hour and listen to them rally around this rally. Even though I'm listening to it on my headphones.)

And then he says, with more confidence. "This is my house. My house. If you don't like it, you can step outside" and I'm like "Yeah and I'm your customer and that's hate and you're defending it and I'm sitting right here."

So I left. And on the way out, the soft spoken woman who owns the place and is the whole reason I went there (a woman owned auto shop...what???) says to me "I'm so sorry, francine" but then when I say "But he knew I was here" and she says "Well I really don't think anything here was disrespectful." which I guess she would say - if they think the protesters are the disrespectful ones. Cause one, any money that dude spent on that space is not his money and he lying about that, and two, why are y'all arguing about property limits when we at risk of putting a fascist in office. And he's running for president, why you think he deserves some fence to ward off the vigor of the public sentiment.

And three, I'm just not down for any shit right now where women are apologizing for and/then/or defending men right now. Just not feeling it.

Whose house it is is a conversation that is about to get really real. This not your house, Trump. Not your house.

And now I need another mechanic, prolly. Though some little part of me wants to call, cause it's a relationship. But I feel like she should call me. Cause it's a relationship. But then what is there to say really, far as I knew she owns the shop, or at least part owned it, but she let the mechanic tell me this his house. Ok. Whatevs.

Now I go to the dealer and they got a nice lobby and innocuous music on the radio and they say ma'am and whatever but it's in the suburbs and I'm looking around thinking but for real who's voting for him? But I'm like well, shit they ain't have a place for me to wait really anyway, to get coffee or eat and work while I wait. But if I go to dealer, there's a place to sit and work down the street with espresso and I'm thinking this kinda' some bullshit. Something just upended something very local and real and replaced it with a starbuck's logo on a cup and wifi.

And I'm realizing, I like the rest of the country just bought - literally - racism that isn't on the surface, that I don't have to deal with. Some little part of me is grateful something is pushing it to the surface, forcing us to deal. I'm still not trying to listen to Trump while I'm waiting on my car. But I already miss my mechanic.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas Town, Too Late, Somewhere

There's nothing much sadder than Christmas images after the New Year. It's a sign of a dead-end hope for next Christmas already, of fatigue from the surge, of the cheapest sort of nostalgia for that which happened just a week ago.

It sort of feels like that half-smattering of snow still on the ground. Where the snowdrift sits atop barren dirt piles. A cow pattern of winter. Leftover. Lingering. Yawned and sighed.

HAPPPPppppyyyy Newww Year!!!   (sound of fading flatulent paper horns)

I have always disliked the aftermath of holidays. My family used to try to console me by leaving trees up long after Christmas was over - after I'd returned to school, after I'd already worn (and likely ripped or stained or otherwise ruined) whatever was in the boxes, and after we'd settled back into the busy tedium of the new rest-of-the schoolyear.

It's because I have a January birthday. They left things up until then. We were better than some, whose sad santas and half-baked-in-the-sun snowpeople sat in soggy yards until the first spring rain. We did, after all, have an expiration date.

But the leftover of Christmas also seems to me a kind of protest against normal. Holidays are certainly that. Consumerism aside, we like the non-ordinary, the parade, the carnival, of it all.

Within parameters, of course. The non-normal is sanctioned. The weirdness is supported by the non-weirdness of the accepted custom. You can be extreme and bizarre within that sanction, as long as it's rooted squarely within the tradition.

How much I've longed to happen upon a place where I could sit and drink rooibos tea under dim lights with a picnic table and string lights. There are places outside Michigan where that happens. But here, it's a Seuss-fantasy stuffed inside a Christmas stocking.

What I wouldn't give to find this table out there in my every day, without the triangle trees, maybe without the snow, or at least with a tent and an outdoor heater.

These images are taken from a Christmas park off of US-31 here in Interlochen. It's actually the back lot of a motorcycle shop. Little place called CycleMoore. I've never been inside. But a worker talked to me while I was taking pictures and told me they sell and fix antiques. He seemed a little wary of me. I'm used to that now. (Am I? Maybe not.) It's also hard to tell 'wary' up here, exactly. People seem naturally a little skittish.

The display is gone now. Just like the holiday is gone. The world is about to set in again, with its corrections and diplomacies and careful wording and adjusting and straightening and filing and saving and squinting and sitting up straight and avoiding eye contact and moderations and appropriate time lengths and closed doors and open doors and listening intently and snagging sleep and curbing cruelties.

But gone too is the very quiet and the really hermit. The withdrawal and the resigned. The easy and the undress. The wrung midnight and the extended sighs. The closed window and the cold engine. The photo rifling and the reenacting. Again and again.

It's a new year and another opportunity to push forward and reach out and decorate each day. So yeah ...

Happy New Year!


oh. p.s.   ..............

is it just me, or is this a brother?

Friday, March 7, 2014

the last of the chili powder

Year seven and material disintegrates. It's a matter ... of matter. And time. Last night, I used the last of my mother's chili powder. The hollow canister echoed the final caked particles too fat for the shaker holes. Hit it a few times and nothing else came out.

mom and dad, circa 2004
     Someone once told me that when someone very close to you dies, it takes awhile for all your 'selves' to understand that they are gone. The you who called Mom when you were lonely, vs. the you who went home because you felt obligated to go. The you who still felt safe in her living room or the you who learned how to cook from watching her roll various doughy objects in buttered hands. 

     I used the line in a poem. All your selves know, now.  I thought it was genius. Of course the closest I've heard to this philosophy from anyone else comes from a scene in Bates Motel where Norman Bates is trying to console Bradley Martin about her dad. He tells her:  

     I think grief is just the period of time it takes for your brain to accept that someone's gone. Cause everything in your body, your mind, your entire being being just keeps bringing you back to the moment that they're still alive. Takes a long time for your body to let go of that.

     Just look at that canister. I'm not sure they make these anymore. Spartan apparently merged with Nash Foods. I got to give 'em credit. They're one of few stores that stayed in Detroit. Farmer Jack, Kroger. They all pulled out. The blacker the city got, the faster they flew. When Farmer Jack went out of business I thought it was kismet. Of course, Spartans were never the best. Cheap and not well-stocked. The best produce I ever saw in a Spartan store was this morning on their revamped website. But that was then. Maybe they are different now. 

     What does it mean that while writing this post, a drunk man wandered into my backyard and lay himself across my porch, talking to the afternoon sky. I walked in on: much softness out there. He sat there for awhile. I watched him for awhile from inside. That initial thought: Call the police. Then I thought. For fucking what? He's just sitting there. Talking to the goddamn sky. 

     Every so often my mother would bring people home. To feed. She'd try to do it before my father got home. Because he would flip out. I guess from the outside looking in it was bad. Her bringing home those wild-eyed ones with their not-great smell. But my mother had a sense of things. More than a lot of people I know. Sometimes she had such a calm about her. Manic woman that she was, she could be so even-handed, so free of fright, and easy. In those moments, the shit was zen. Nothing could hurt us. I wasn't scared of her restless friends, or the time it took for her to make them meals. They often babbled on and I would go to my room, rather than 'have to' engage. But it's a small house. I was just out of eyesight. I could hear the whole exchange. The way they listed on and the way my mother would interject if there was quiet. 

    Do you want pickles?

It's my father who taught me the worst place to protect yourself is in hiding. My folks didn't like to hide. Too much most of the time. They were so visible. With his shotgun and her various days. They were not ashamed. Not of that. Anything that needed to be dealt with needed to be aired. Everybody knew everybody's everything. 

     Eventually I went out and asked him to leave. That went over weird. He said these were his friends too. I asked him to leave. He said no. He said it adamant, but soft. So I offered him a sandwich. He said yes. He said We'll wait right here. He waited for it in the snow. Like a chair. He took a seat in the snow. 

     What I wanted to talk about was how old spices have a smoke to them. An age. How I suspect that metal canister does some kind of barreling where plastic just lets it get stale. Seriously. Do you understand this last dash of chili powder I soaked into the onions for last night's turkey burgers would have to be at least 25 years old. I'm saying, I remember it as a kid. I remember wondering what my very basic-recipe mother was doing with chili powder. She kept in the back of a metal spice cabinet, piled high with canisters and small vials of space like a professor's crowded library. When she cooked, she clicked the vials around and re-ordered and repiled. 

     I gave him the sandwich. I asked his name. He gave me his whole name. He said it needed more mayo. Or some ketchup. Apparently I make the shit too dry. Eventually he asked for a ride to his sister's. I asked where she lived. He gave me his wallet. His wallet had a cracked driver's license, social security card and someone named Jeff's phone number. The photo on the i.d.: short hair, smiling, tanned. No sister's number. I thought about it for a long time. He said My colleagues are waiting on us. 

     It was the kind of calm I think came from the way she soothed her mind. When she locked everyone else out. She taught me how to do it. How to soothe it away. Eventually she turned it over to me and I was in charge. I stroked it away. I got to be good at it. By the time I was a teenager, I could make it go away. I could rock her and rock her. Or sometimes I could just stand in the door. 

     Fine. I said. The fuck am I doing? I give this dude a ride somewhere, it's a whole other level. He's gonna puke in my car. His sister won't want to open the door. He'll pass out in my car. He's already asking me to help him up out of the snow. The second time. The third.

The Spartans. were militant. They took over ancient Greece and dominated through the Greek army. Maybe that wasn't their whole shtick. But that's what they're revered for. It's not even about being the victor, it's about spirit of the war, the valor. All the fences you have to put on the body to have the valor, the metal. The shield, the armor. To wear the air of the conqueror. 

     Who are you? He kept asking. You're taking control and I do not like it.

      I got my coat. My keys. My i.d. He fell three times in the snow on the way to the gate. He wanted to climb the fence. I told him there was an easier way out. We walked through the gate. I asked him where we were going. He walked out past the car. He pointed to the sky. Up the hill, he said. I don't know where he meant. I said do you know where she lives. He pointed a different way. He walked out past the car. To the alley between me and the crappy fast food joint that stinks around this time of day.

     He looked down the alley. I had my keys, I guess. I had them. He said: There they are. They're waiting on us. Come on. He said. I said You see 'em? He said Yeah they're right there. I said well then go on ahead. 

      I have this image of my mother doing a strange dance in the kitchen when she is restless. She's in a housecoat. Much like this one. She's making a funny face. She's throwing her body and her arms around to no particular rhythm. That's how she danced. The floors would thump. There may or may not be any music. But you could hear her slippered feet.

dad in a junkyard wheelchair. he used to wheel it around the yard.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Salad that Has Kept Me Quit

My friend Mark quit smoking recently and I’ve been super proud of him. I’m not sure if this will work for him, but I wanted to share it. I have been eating some variation of this salad almost every day since I quit smoking over 2 years ago, and I’m inclined to think it has helped me stay quit. I usually eat it after my meals (the European way) and that after-dinner craving I used to have pretty much dissipated. Considering that's the strongest urge of the day, I think there's something to it.
     Of course, I also took up yoga early on and then running and working out a bit (and craft beer for the kick) to keep my days happy and smoke-free, but I know that when I was smoking I always craved citrus – it just never tasted good. Now I think I can appreciate the flavor and this feels like one of the healthiest parts of my day. I’ve also heard that seeds, especially pumpkin and sesame seeds, are deterrent for nicotine. So here’s to staying quit. I hope it helps. Cheers, Mark, and everyone else trying to take better care of their lungs.

GreenFruit Suppression

Chopped greens (romaine and/or red + baby spinach is great)
¼ cucumber, partially pared (the peel is good for you, I take off one or two sides for texture, then slice)
¼ avocado, sliced
½ ruby red grapefruit, skinned and sectioned into bite size pieces
2 tbsp. fresh red beets, skinned and chopped fine
1 tbsp. fresh carrots, chopped fine
1 tbsp. shredded white cheese (mozzarella and/or provolone + italian is nice)
about 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
Red wine vinegar


So my salad is all about layering. Prep everything first except the avocado. Mix greens and cucumber and lay in serving bowl. Slice avocado over the greens in an even layer. Then add the grapefruit. (The citrus softens the avocado and gives the salad texture. You can actually get away with not using dressing it all, if you do it this way). Add the rest of the ingredients, also in even layers and sprinkle generously with pumpkin seeds. Dress with red wine vinegar. Raspberry vinaigrette also works well.  Variations help keep the salad an interesting part of your daily diet.

Variation (optional add-ons)
Craisins (flavored ok) or golden raisins
Green pepper, chopped
Chopped turkey deli meat or chicken breast (cooked, obviously)
Unsalted sesame seeds
Top with fresh sliced strawberries! Oh yum.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year in knee caps. (which have nothing to do with this post)

I've always liked the number 13. I've never had a bad Friday.

Cycles are fine. But years are odd. Each year is worth a white candle and a brisk body of water.

Odd, maddening, merciful, strange, the days. Each day marks turn, come to think of it. Nothing is where we left it. Gravity heavy harder on knotted anchor. the dust shifts corners. 

When you teach young people, particularly teenagers, there comes a day when you look in their eyes and you see they have grown. A day for aware. Awake in the senses to something they did not know before. I imagine they do not see this in their own reflections, so subtle the change. But as you age, you learn to look for it. In your own small glasses. Hear it in your own voices.

The years collect knowledge. absence. a different indifference. renewed trouble, angst and fear. sweetened bliss. 

Subtleties of our unresolved grit churn in mortar under the weight of our pestling bones. The body distributes. disturbs. Some days you wake alarmed at how fresh memory ruins in like the sun. 

And at how much you've forgotten. 

So another year. And more acutely aware of each day, each hour. To love, we have been given movement. As great as our Nelson Mandela. As wild and loud as our Wanda Coleman. The voice is changed and colder (it's Winter here more often, you see). 

The street sweep kicks out kids once playing in hushed golden sun. 

Thankyou to my friends for keeping me alive. And writing. And unruly loved. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"at Thomas Lynch reading, UofM - December 2010"

I found this drawing today that I did a couple years ago, and thought I'd post it. I know the lady in the ponytail is Eileen Pollack. I think Michael Byers is to her right. I can't remember who's head is cocked in that strange way in the front row, but I remember being fascinated by the pose. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Stream - "A Man Named Pearl"

Tonight I watched the 2006 documentary, A Man Named Pearl. The story is about Pearl Fryar, a topiary artist in Bishopville, South Carolina. Bishopville is a small town that Fryar's topiary garden has apparently put "on the map." Tourists come from miles and states and countries away to see the 3-acre artscape. And, in fact, if you google the address to Fryar's garden, not only is Bishopville on the map, but so is Pearl Fryar. The Google satellite view shows, not only some of his incredible leafy sculptures, but also a shot of the artist himself, cruising along on a John Deere down Broad Acres road.

Ultimately, I love this story. Scott Galloway, as director and producer, codirects and coproduces this documentary about Pearl Fryar, who is not just an awe worthy artist, but seems like a pretty incredible human being. He spends time mentoring youth, cares about his community, and has that kind of can-do attitude that must be a documentarian's wet dream.

I've had this title in my queue for a while on Netflix. I kept not watching it. I think it's because I am suspicious about documentaries (and film in general) about African Americans just now. I'm kind of in a place. I find myself not just disappointed with some of the depictions, but heartbroken. I knew I would like Fryar just from looking at his face in profile on the thumbnail of the movie blurb. I didn't want to be heartbroken.

And, indeed, I had to unclench my teeth a few times during the beginning of A Man Named Pearl. Here's a story about an artist in a small town in South Carolina who taught himself horticulture and landscape art and, with years of daily work, created an incredible garden.

But the term "artist" is not often used about Fyar in this documentary. And it's difficult to tell why, or how that's happened. That's the problem with documentaries. You can never tell if it's the interviewer’s angle you are witnessing, or the people being interviewed, or both. 

In this film, the larger impression of Pearl Fryar is that he is a worker – doing a great job. And doing such a great job, that he gets Employee of the Year (or here it is Bishopville’s coveted Yard of the Month award) which set him on his way. The vicars esteeming his dedication include people such as the Director of the Chamber of Commerce, a news editor, the AME pastor, and a friend named Polly Lafitte, who is clearly a museum curator, but for some reason is not connected, in title, to the museum that has commissioned Fryar’s work, but is only listed as “Friend.”

There are strange moments in this narrative, such as the Commerce Director talking about the money coming in from the tourists in such a fiduciary way that it leaves the viewer wondering if Fryar actually sees any of the moneys that he apparently generates for this local economy. You really can't tell. Coupled with a strange scene of the Waffle House waitress in a rather condescending spiel about how she makes sure Pearl Fryar and his wife "eat for free," one has to wonder what the town allows Fryar to believe about his monetary worth. 

Another troubling aspect of the film is the impetus for Fryar’s art. The response to this notion is put forth by the townspeople, but not entirely challenged by Galloway and crew. It is said several times that Fryar is the son of a sharecropper and grew up in very difficult times. Yet, at a logical point in the sequence of the documentary when it feels time for a viewer to understand what started all this for Fryar, the revelatory human-triumph music kicks in and the dialogue is cut back and forth between Fryar and his younger friend, Lafitte.

Lafitte: "When Pearl first came to Bishopville … he looked at a house in a particular neighborhood and he really wasn't welcomed there because of his race." 
Fryar:  "I guess it's the same thing you would have anywhere, would be, a problem of uh, I guess really kinda' accepting the fact of someone strange moving into your neighborhood."
Lafitte: “There was the statement made that they didn't really want him in this neighborhood because he wouldn't keep up his yard and that's a racial stereotype that's difficult for anyone to handle."
Fryar:   "It's human nature to look out for whoever look like you. You understand what I mean? And ... there's always gonna’ be those obstacles. The thing about it is to make you strong enough that you don't let those obstacles become what determine where you go".    
Lafitte: "Pearl handled it very, very well in a positive way and said 'I want to do something that is spectacular in keeping up my yard.’"

Thus, we are sort of left with the impression that Fryar’s impetus for his life of art was that Yard of the Month award.

But Fryar, in the way of retrospective, also talks about his father as role model. And I have to think, based on how he talks about him, that much of his art is in honor of his father's hard work – his father the sharecropper, a man with a third grade education, who spent countless hours farming another man's land. From our understanding of sharecropping, we have to imagine that those hours were brutal, exhausting, fruitless and ultimately, artless. 

“One of the things about farming, like you had to work. This was like basically a 24 hour a day job. And when you grow up in that kind of environment where work is the only thing that you have to offer. – if the people felt like you was not a good worker, you couldn't get a farmer to farm [for] the next year to feed your family. So I saw my father go through that." – Pearl Fryar

But the most fascinating, and sometimes troubling aspect of this documentary, is that Fryar is not revered for his artistry, as much as for his function, as an extension, in a strange way, of the town economy, of the church, of the community. Some of this is clearly part of Fryar's philosophy. He calls the topiary garden a "ministry" in an interview with ETV Road Show. He talks about having a daily congregation of tourists. Early on, Fryar says "It wasn't important to me to create a garden. I wanted to create a feeling - that when you walked through, you felt differently than you did when you started." So it's not off the mark to depict Fryar as a man of God and the garden as a kind of spiritual outlet and spiritual center that he wants people to have as a haven of “Love, peace and goodwill.”

And then some of it, it seems, likely just the sort of provincial outlook of a small, southern town. The kind of place that still sees art as a little weird, that thinks largely in terms of use and function. Clearly Fryar is accepted here because he is good for Bishopville.

Still, I am left a little befuddled at how much face time the AME preacher gets in this documentary. And though it makes sense that the Commerce Director is in the film, they both contribute to a general feeling that Fryar is not an artist, as much as he either, a commodity for the good of the town or someone just doing the work of the church.

How he manages to thrive in a town that does not give him much agency for his creations is honestly mind boggling to me. And here, I start to feel the limits of my rather skeptical, nonchristian ways. I hear something more in the subtext of some of this commentary that, maybe, isn't there at all. Places where it seems like people are trying to minimize Fryar’s artistry, to take the art out of his hands and attribute it to a divine inspiration that they all share. After years of watching Fryar work "morning to night," a neighbor says of the topiary garden, that it was great to see "the miracle happening."

Granted, as I said, this is the perspective of someone who doesn’t follow the church. But there is also a way in which I can appreciate all the brothersisterly love put forth here, both by Fryar, and the communion that others partake in, even if in taking strange credits for his work.

It just seems to be the way things go. A kind of wild and willing faith. A kind of communion. And so, yes, a kind of love.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Do You Think I'm Judgmental?

Recently, some of my dear friends implied that I might be a bit judgmental. I was, of course, shocked and dismayed. Then I considered the sources of this strange accusation.  And I had to decide whether or not they were judgmental people making these judgments about my judgmentalness. Then I decided that since I loved them dearly, it was ok that they might be so crude as to make such a horrendously erred and flawed conclusion about my personality. Then I considered whether or not I still loved them anyway, even though they might be erred and flawed. Because if I loved them, that must mean they're good people, (if erred and flawed) and if they're good people, maybe they might be right about the nature of my judgmentals. But, that thought was a little scary for me. So then I thought: Are they? Are they good people? How do I know? And then I thought about all the things I know about these people. Their various acts. And deeds. And accomplishments. And convictions. Their senses of humor. And their funny ways. And I thought about the way they walk. And the way they sit in a crowded room. From across the room. And I thought about what I think every time I see these people. The first thing that comes to mind whenever we meet. Then I decided. They're alright. They're pretty alright. Yeah, they're pretty good, alright people. Yeah, they're pretty great.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cynical. I think I mean Mildly Cynical.

My facebook status from yesterday: 

ifrancine ij iharris:   
I commented on someone's 'mild cynic' recently and they thought I was being insulting. So I wrote to them: " I think a healthy cynicism is necessary. I believe you can stay optimistic in the face of pessimism, but I dislike rosey views and I dislike 'nice'ness and I dislike people who will do anything, sacrifice anyone, walk away fron anything, deny any form of difficult truth for teh sake of keeping everything 'kosher,' 'upbeat' or 'positive.' I mean I really dislike these people. Lol. I avoid them fervently.
So in order not to be this way - to be a real thinker, to be discriminating, to be honest - doesn't it require a certain amount of cynicism, of skepticism, of approach to any subject, any notion, any 'fact' with a discerning lens? The question for me is always 'What do I make of this?' not 'Does this make me feel good?'
This is maddening to some. And to those folks ... Ah well. We nod and wave in passing.
Mentioning your 'cynical' eye as part of your thought process is my sincere form of flattery.' 
... and then I wanted to share my declaration with the world (of facebook).

... in particular this response from my friend, Nick

Nick Gaudio Ah, hell. Another try:

That people are self-interested is...well, an obvious point. However, cynicism seems to me an outright dismissal of all human interaction as self-interested and "base", flagging all Other Parties as potential threats regardless 
of fact or nuance or circumstance; whereas "discernment" or "shrewdness" allows for a broader scope of understanding of what self-interest can be or mean. 

Why are we having this conversation?
A cynic would say: "You're both trying to appear intelligent," (or something like that) condemning us to simplistic/animalistic impulses; people speak to publicly define self-worth in the Petri Dish of competitive Darwinism, whatever. Look how smart we are, opposite sex! Base urges, etc.
A shrewd person would say: "You're both probably trying to come to some understanding of some greater truth." Of course, that motivation is still in the arena of self-interest, but it smacks of a type of nobility that I hope, at least, is partially true. We're trying to make ourselves feel more assured about a unknown universe and there is some nobility in that. 

Not only that, but to constantly monitor the motivation of Other Parties is an implicit statement that one must -- out of necessity -- constantly monitor all Other Parties (for fear, I suppose, of one's own self-interested being infringed upon). What else is that but unproductive misanthropy? 

Let's say I have three sons and one steals money from my wallet. If I constantly monitor the other two sons, who have not ever (to my knowledge) stolen money, I'm wasting my time. To monitor, however, the thief-son is productive and shrewd. To monitor the other sons as if they are potential thieves is cynical. 

I'm in a bit of a hurry now, so this might not make much sense. I apologize but work calls, you know.
The gist of the whole conversation can be seen in my previous post, or by clicking here:

Dear Nick Gaudio,

Your points are fine. I really love that you (and others like Metta) hold integrity to the intended meaning of our language. You are absolutely right, and I can concede this – that I may use, and have been using, the word incorrectly.

I’ve had this argument before, actually. And so I wonder why I hold to this word, why it means anything to me at all, because if it had no meaning – I would entirely concede. I can be tied to my own “rightness,” but not to the point of nonsense.

Perhaps I have opened a box, unintentionally. And to navigate this conversation … I have to be careful, and intentional.

I did not intend to have a conversation on my beliefs about the human species. I only meant to suggest to my friend that his questioning nature (about life and about people -- and it’s our attitude about people's motivations that are central to the debate, here, I think) was a good thing.

Then, Gaudio, you offered the word “skeptical” or “shrewd” as possible replacements for what I mean to say.

So….I’ve been thinking about that. Do I mean skeptical? Shrewd?

Of connotations, I will say shrewd (to my mind) has more to do with rhetoric and debate and argumentation – and, unfortunately, business and The Market. Certainly part of what I mean, but not the totality.

Discerning. Yes, but this definition is not inherently about people and their motivations.

Let me say here, that I think the reason the definition must involve our considerations of others’ motivations, is because I am thinking chiefly about the information we are given, the truths we are offered, and about our ability to parse through that information to consider why we’re being told things, not just how, or even whether or not it appears logical.

However, it is here where I must be careful, because I also recognize that I struggle with social “trust”. In fact, I’ve been thinking lately about that word – trust. What it means, ontologically. If it’s possible. If it has anything to do with anyone else ultimately, or if it is chiefly about our desire for guarantees (a different, but related, conversation).

Skeptical: Ok – but isn’t this just a softer version of cynical? Both definitions suggest the tentative approach, the hesitation, the doubt – has to do with the motivations of others. So you know, maybe what I see in the cynical part, that I admire, is the humor (not just sarcasm) that can bloom from it. Doubt humanity is on your side?? Well turn that frown upside down. There’s always stand-up. The Louis C.K. of it all – the Maria Bamford mixtape.

Now, if you argue that this shit is too heavy, too disparaging. Well yes, at times, yes it is. I love Doug Stanhope. I wouldn’t really want to live with him. I also (in all honesty) worry about him. I really worry about him and sometimes I just … hope he’s ok.

I think people think that about me sometimes.

Not only do I believe that humanity is on trial, I believe that most of us believe this. I don’t know what The Trial is. I don’t know that it matters, really. We are a nervous species. We are eternally damned to trying to figure out if we’re GoodEnough people while balancing it with varying degrees of the WhatWeCanGetAwayWith-edness, the WhatWeShouldBeDoing-ness, the WhatWe’reSupposedToBeDoinged-ness. The latter part of these equations depend on the person (and to what degree they are entertained), but, I think, are always set against the morality part.

Moral vs. Pleasure.
Moral vs. Purpose.
Moral vs. Intention.
Moral vs. Truth.

We are a nervous species.

The evidence of this is in our culture itself, our marketing principles, our faith(s), our legal system. The notion that your proverbial three sons ought to be innocent until proven guilty is nothing more than a notion. The reality of your proposed analogy is that human nature suggests the moment that one son steals something, the parent of that son will ask the question about all her children – Are all my children stealing? It is not to say that the next logical step then, is to punish all those children – this would be cruel, paranoid, and pathological. However, the next logical set of questions for her is not just What I should do about this son? but How do I make sure none of my sons steal? That child’s actions will undoubtedly affect the way said parent goes about setting parameters for all her children. And such, I imagine, is the nature of parenting, you try to deal with what you instill in your children as you think to do it. You try not to be reactionary (just dole out punishment when kids do bad shit), but to establish some mode of preemptory guide. I don’t want my other two sons thinking this is acceptable behavior … so you go about responding to one in order to consider the whole factor of the family’s behavior.

And I believe that the reason we are nervous, is because we prove, time and again, that we are capable of awful behavior. Sometimes it’s out of stupidity. More often our awful behavior is out of selfish motivation. And even beyond that – we prove time and again that for all the beauty we are capable of, our moments of awful – have devastating consequences. So that you can go through your whole life doing wonderful things, and in one moment, one very horrible instant – ruin more than everything you’ve worked your whole life at making beautiful.

That’s possible.

The reverse – is really not true. You can’t be a horrendous person your whole life and in one moment, with one good deed, “undo” a reign of terror.

Bombs take moments. Construction – Weeks. Months. Years.

Now having said that I believe all this – I have inherently, I suppose proven all of your points. Though I love people, need them desperately, am ravaged by, amazed by, inspired by and moved by people – I also live with this belief. And you’re right. It colors how I think. Some days – it weighs heavily on me. And maybe, after all, I’m wrong. Maybe this is the half empty, half full scenario.


I believe it.

And I also believe.

That unless we are honest to ourselves, about the damage that we are capable of doing. About the nature of our selfish hearts, about our tendency (and here, maybe is where I depart into your dreaded cynical category, and enter the most debatable, contentious part of my thoughts on this) to be self-involving, self-referencing, self-motivated, then we have no real way to have honest discourse about what we are willing to do as compromise, what we owe ourselves as a functioning society, what we owe each other in the face of current reality, what we owe each other because of our inherent tendency toward self-motivation.

So. For example. If we could be honest about national health care coverage, we could discuss it without the bullshit rhetoric. Nobody really cares about the people we don’t know and their liver diseases. But we owe it to ourselves as a functioning society to ensure that all of our citizens are, minimally, healthy. The debt, to my mind, has to do with the debt we pay for having the privilege to indulge (in a ‘free’ nation) our self-motivated spirits.

And then sometimes I feel like our bullshit thoughts about political systems stems from the fact that we are unable as a species to admit that we are largely self-involved (and in this context) selfish beings. If we could admit that – if we had that healthy dose of skepticism (to use your word here), maybe we could move on to the next conversation, instead of pretending like there’s some moral high ground that most people will take in most situations when the cameras are turned off and nobody is listening in.

Because the reality is – that shit is entirely unpredictable.

All the rest of it is bullshit.

This to me, has something to do with the kind of cynical I mean to address in my comment. I am somewhat …. curious, I guess, why folks have not noted that I modified the term itself. I did not call my friend cynical. I did not praise unmediated, rampant cynicism in his intellectual rigor. I used the term “mild” for a reason. I said “mild cynic” for a reason. I mean to suggest that it is one part of a complex, nuanced human spirit. The other part, I was trying to say, has hope, is discerning (which is about facts and reason, less so than it is about human intention), is skeptical (and maybe the difference for me is a colder, more remote shrewdness), can be mildly cynical (appreciates the darkness, the duende, the death of our eventual selfishness, the humor in it, the bleak but beautiful, the eventual wind down, the Eternalblahblahblah, the Oh But Aren’t We All a Little Damned, the morbidity of our daily actions because we are not coming out of this shit ok, and this is why – cause we’re kinda’ fucked up).  That’s not skeptical. That’s … that’s cynical. I’m a little cynical.

I see that.

That’s how I think about things. And then – then I take my bike and ride real fast downhill by the river and laugh at the fucking autumn leaves.

Gaudio, you do, too. That’s why I love you.

It’s what we do in the face of it all that I think we all mean to have hope about, here. So maybe there’s a different word for what I mean. But I don’t know that word, exactly. I’ll keep hearing suggestions.

Right now, I’m saying “mildly cynical”.