Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Right Winger's Guide to Helping A Popular Movement Destroy Itself

I wasted another four hours trying to participate in another Occupy Wall Street event, this time in Johnson City.

Want to have a good laugh, or a good cry? Click on the link below, a pdf of the flyer and "consensus building" plan the group followed. And don't miss that flow chart on the back!

When I got home, I threw our signs in the trash.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Who's Behind The Trigger?

Photo by Jim Kuhn, "Crime Scene, Do Not Cross" tape at The United States Supreme Court during the January 27, 2007, march on Washington D.C.

“And it all comes true.
Yes it all comes true.
Like a wheel inside a wheel, it turns on you.
And you ask, what have I done?
What can I do?
What you believe about yourself,
it all comes true.”
— John Mellencamp and George Michael Green

Last night, Doug and I were having a “48 Hours” fest, watching several of the reality crime shows back-to-back. We do this three or four times a year — I have no idea why. Maybe, for me, because it reminds me of the days I was a crime reporter — anyone who’s done that work can tell you, it’s the same all over. Big city, small town, detectives and criminals operate about exactly the same. It feels like going back to an old territory I know, and I can almost feel that small reporter’s notebook in my hand, as I watch. Anyway, Doug and I both lamented that the proportion of poor, black men who find themselves on this show seems too high, and then we nodded sadly. That’s probably pretty consistent with real life. Doug considered that white people’s murders might be less likely to be solved in 48 hours. The burden of proof changes when you’ve got money for an attorney.

And then out of my mouth it came: “What you believe about yourself, it all comes true.”  

“I’m never entirely sure what you mean, when you say that,” Doug said.

On the episode we were watching, the age-old crime reveal:  a double murder had begun as a “simple” armed robbery. Really, it was no lie, I think it rarely is — when the robbers jumped out of their hiding place, nobody was supposed to be shot. But pow pow pow pow — their guns went off and in an instant, their plans morphed into something else entirely.

“What those men believe about themselves,” I said. “That’s what pulled the triggers. They had one vision in their heads, of how the robbery would go down. Nobody was supposed to get killed, anyway — they saw themselves as armed robbers, not murderers. But unconsciously, they’d written a different story for themselves. Like a wheel inside a wheel …”

I did not get the impression my explanation was all that helpful. If we'd continued, Doug probably would have asked if I was trying to make a statement about “personal responsibility.” Was I saying they had a responsibility, to think of themselves differently? To get a handle on their unconscious selves? That they had some control over the circumstances of poverty and black skin? To which I would have said, Oh noooo. What people believe about themselves has everything to do with what the rest of the world believes about them. I am a huge proponent of personal responsibility, but people have to have better tools than guns, poverty, poor educations and bad expectations, to take it.

But you know, we were watching television, it’s not really time for chit-chat. On we went, to the next episode. Drug deal gone bad. Poor, black man is taken into custody. Detectives are questioning him, getting a little family history, which they hope to use to soften him up, get him to talk. “What about your father?” they asked.

“My father already done been killed.”

Like father, like son, kill and be killed. The story never ends. Maybe until we all create a new belief system about who we are.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Promises, Promises

Well, I did it again — made a promise about a future blog topic that I am now loath to fulfill. The tattoo was a brief thrill that has now assumed its rightful place on the Interest Meter, somewhere above bitching about the weather but below this year’s amazing fall color and reading my horses’ body language. (Noble steeds? I have a pair of four-legged clowns.) Now, it’s just a thing; I notice it from time to time but mostly it’s like a fabulous new nail color. Much as I might like it, I don’t pause to admire it while I’m picking the horses’ hooves. Life goes on in Brumley Gap.

But I said what I meant, and I meant what I said, I guess. I feel an obligation to finish what I started. I’ll try to say something for a broader audience, or at least throw in something completely unexpected, for gratuitous-sex-and-violence value.

Anyway …

Tips for Would-Be Tattooees

1) Wait a few decades.

I can date the first time I told a friend I was seriously considering a tattoo to sometime between 1993 and 1996, the years I worked with her. You always hear that tattoos are not just for sailors anymore, but just that few years ago, they were. It was a shocking thing for a college director of public relations to admit. My friend’s eyes grew wide, but when I told her I was thinking of something to memorialize the son that I had lost, she said, “Oh don’t worry about it. No matter what anyone thinks about the tattoo, they’ll forget it instantly when you tell them that.”

For well over a decade, I never got a tattoo, until about the exact moment a new idea replaced that old one. In my 30s I was wise enough to know that I didn’t want it to be my son’s name — I didn’t want to explain who “Andrew” was to every stranger who innocently asked. In my late 40s, I realized that I didn’t want a symbol of him either. In my case, the tattoo was all about me. I just wanted it. It was far, far too frivolous and self-centered an endeavor for a memorial. I would have felt silly and a little guilty every time that I saw it. On some level, I think I always knew that.

One last aside on this tip:  After reading the barest minimum on the long-term effects of tattoo inks, my personal opinion is that a woman, especially, should consider whether she should be beyond child-bearing age. I elected not to get vegetable inks no matter what, and not to think about the metal-based alternatives. That is a luxury of being my age — the ink in my skin that I will carry around with me for the rest of my life can only affect me.

2) Respect that your body will be taking a big immune-response “hit.”

In a previous blog on this subject, I posted an awful photograph of myself the evening after I got the tattoo, still looking exhausted and puffy-eyed after a hard two-hour nap. Doug said I looked stoned. I wasn’t real sure why I put it up, except for a vague sense that I wanted people (my daughters) to know, should they decide to get a tattoo: they should be very healthy and take excellent care of themselves, especially in the days before. It didn’t hurt until briefly, at the end of about two hours of needles, but I knew by the way that I crashed afterward that I was actively in the process of doing some serious healing. The artist that I had chosen said he could tell by looking at my skin and the way that it was responding that I eat very, very well (I do), and he asked me if I worked out. (I don’t, except for working horses and being outside a lot.) He himself is top-notch; among the things that impressed me when I chose him was that he takes photographs immediately after doing a job, so people can see that a brand new tattoo doesn’t have to look like bad road rash. I followed the after-care instructions, continued to rest and eat really well, and the thing was perfectly healed up in 5 to 7 days. Never itched, never hurt. Never got a wicked-bad antiobiotic-resistant staph infection.

And that will be enough of that. I’ve got horses to ride. But before I go …

Two old ladies are talking to each other. One whispers secretively, “I went to see my doctor because every time I sneeze, I have an orgasm!”

“Oh you poor dear! says the other. “What are you taking for it?”

“Why, ragweed.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011


After spending a whole day excitedly making our signs and preparing to camp out with Knoxville Occupy Wall Street Saturday night, Doug and I walked amongst the group’s various organizational committee meetings in Krutch Park for about an hour, and decided to abort. Wordlessly, we read each other’s minds and nodded agreement: this isn’t working out. We were sorry, looking wistfully over our shoulders, as though we’d climbed a mountain to find God and instead found the note, “Sorry for the inconvenience.”*

It wasn’t an altogether wasted day. Before adding the Occupy Wall Street event to our agenda, we had already planned to visit some of Doug’s family at a couple of points along the two hour trip. This fall in East Tennessee (just across the Virginia state line from where we live) is spectacular beyond all reason. I felt the irony of zipping along in my new car in the crisp autumn light, and eating a most awesome lunch at Red Lobster, his father’s treat, before lighting out for Knoxville. (I love crab so much it hurts.) But spending time with Doug’s mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s, was particularly sad and difficult. (The emotional “color” of the day.) As I told friends once we were back home late yesterday evening, “We were wrung out and in no mood for shenanigans” by the time we got to Krutch Park.

“Shenanigans” is probably not exactly the right word. We saw mostly young “hippies” (for lack of a better term), a few homeless people, a lot of passion, and a lot of immaturity. In trying to “organize,” the organization is falling apart. (See the Occupy Wall Street - Knoxville Facebook page, for details.) Three or four committees had taken up various spots in the small park, in circles comprised of about 20 rainbow-colored, pierced, dyed and dreadlocked kids seemingly getting their first chances to say something. More power to ’em; they’ve got some angst to get out of their systems before, hopefully, they move on to efforts more enduring and effective than this one was.

The real solidarity-killer was the “Constitutional Amendment” committee. As is almost always the case, a very few voices muted all others with their power and passion. One, jacked up on adrenaline, insisted that the Knoxville group’s codified demands include that the United States of America accept the authority of the World Court. Aw jeez, really?

There is nothing inherently wrong with anything I’ve described, except this: We are the 99. We are the 99 percent, getting fucked every which way but loose by the 1 percent. Contrary to the rapist’s cognitive-dissonance credo, we are not “enjoying” it. When a protest or occupation or rebellion includes 99 percent of the population, the reasons people are involved, or the issues that motivate them personally, are infinite. For example, one young, single mother I talked to was A) visibly struggling to make ends meet, B) obviously doing a bang-up job of raising a much-loved daughter, aged 6, presently; and C) really, really worried about public education. It has been stripped of funding to within an inch of its life in favor of military and other “government” profiteers, while commercialized interests seep in like water, to “take up the slack.” This woman had never had the luxury of higher education, and so the thought that, because of her so-called unlucky birth circumstances, her daughter would never even get a shot at college seemed grossly unfair. This young mother can’t afford to buy toilet paper for the school to supplement her daughter’s “public education,” and damn it, she should not have to.

And what about Doug and me, the people who drove a sweet brand-spanking new car to the event and ate at Red Lobster along the way? We are fortunate to a point that I regularly want to fall on my knees in gratitude. I have everything I ever, ever dreamed of in my life, including my first new car and the most spectacular set of stars that shine brighter-than-bright over my rural property in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I stood in the moonlight last night, with my two horses cuddling up against me on each side, 10 acres at their disposal, and I thought, OH GOD. Above all else, I attribute our great fortune to two facts — we were born white, to parents who willingly and generously helped pay to educate us, just as far as we wanted to go; and we carefully and humbly chose what it is that we want, over time. What we want is not “everything.”

We are also on a knife’s edge of losing everything, with one family emergency or serious illness. For years and years and years, we have paid top-dollar for family medical insurance, and paid into Medicare and Medicaid, and paid ridiculously rising medical deductibles besides. In our old age, despite the government medical programs that have collected from us over a lifetime of work, the health care industry will collect our assets in the form of a “spend down.” And after we’re dead, the medical industry will take the rest. Forget about inheritance taxes — nobody is leaving anything to anyone. Don’t be ninnies, Tea Baggers: it’s all getting shunted straight up, to the 1 percent. I'd be okay with it being taken, if it were for the greater good, which would include my children!

Meanwhile, our own college-educated children, the cost of whose educations would make your eyes pop out, are not having any luck finding work except for unpaid or low-pay “internships,” which they are taking, with energy and devotion, so that their resumes are not blank beyond graduation. And all indications are that we parents will be paying for their medical insurance until they are 26 or beyond, plus for their cars, car insurance, and all manner of emergencies that they can’t afford. See, Wall Street knows we’re better bets for paying for these things than our grown children are, by and large; despite all those kids’ great minds and willingness, they’re still fledgling adults, poor in their entry-level positions, struggling to make sound financial decisions, or with paying their debts. They have to learn. Better their parents do it.

And retirement? Now, who’s going to profit if anyone can actually retire? Who's going to pay for all those "less trustworthy" grown kids?

We, for all our good fortune, are the 99 percent.

When a protest or occupation or rebellion includes 99 percent of the population, the reasons people are involved, or the issues that motivate them personally, are infinite. But the cause is exactly the same: the 1 percent. There should only be one goal. Bringing it down.

* Douglas Adams, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy"