2.28.2012

Why Rick Santorum Scares The Absolute Shit Out Of Me (And Should Scare You, Too)

First, a brief story.

My parents used to take me to church every Sunday until I was 18 years old (in fact, here's the story about my last ever day in Church, if you'd like to read about my teenage self calling out a Sunday School class on its blatant hypocrisy of considering homosexuals sinners). And once a month or so, we'd sing a hymn titled "Onward Christian Soldiers."

The chorus of this hymn went like this:
Onward, Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war;
With the cross of Jesus, going on before. 

That, among several other moments from my church-going times, sticks in my brain. It's downright scary the words that I spoke every single week during the hour-long ritual we participated in (and my parents, and the rest of my family, still participate in).

*   *   *

Now, on to why Rick Santorum scares the absolute shit out of me.

I was scanning through my Facebook news feed and saw a link to an article which read "Rick Santorum Exposes The Real Republican Party."

I've done a fairly successful job of avoiding most political stuff the past few years. I used to be consumed by it. But one day, I figured out that Politics is not news. Politics is the practice of making you think that what people who want power say was your idea in the first place. It's gamesmanship. The results of Politics? Sometimes news. But Politics themselves? Not news.

But I couldn't ignore that headline. So I clicked on it, and found a rather articulate and honest piece by Andrew Sullivan. I don't regularly read him (or any columnist, especially political ones), but do occasionally read his stuff. He's hit or miss with me. But this piece was spot on, because it highlights the vast disparity that's appeared between what the Republican party used to be and what it is now. It draws a line between social conservatism -- what Conservatives claim to want -- and the fringe theo-political agenda of today's "conservatives".

A choice quote:
It would conserve nothing. It would require massive social upheaval, for example, to criminalize all abortion or keep all gay couples from having any publicly acknowledged rights or status. Then think of trying to get women back out of the workplace or contraception banned - natural, logical steps from this way of thinking. This massive change is radical, not conservative.

And that's why Santorm scares me.

Here we have a man who can reasonably be considered a Theocrat. He believes that God must be overtly involved in the process of creating laws and governing the people. He bases his social agenda on strict Bible-driven criteria. He's the kind of man that true believers of the Christian faith can (and will) rally behind.

A subsection of these true believers homeschool their children with a "God-centric educational curriculum." They campaign to have materials that offend their Christian sensibilities removed from school, such as textbooks that teach evolution. They vote their conscious. They actively ostracize those who don't agree with their beliefs.

A subsection of these people believe strongly enough in their Christian ethos that they will physically gather together for causes in the name of their beliefs. They protest abortion clinics. They burn albums and books that contain content that are considered un-Christian.

A subsection of this group are so devout, they send their children to Jesus Camps:





They teach the rapture as an impending event to children from a very young age. They join fringe paramilitary militia groups and stockpile weapons in case the government comes to take their religion or their guns or their money from them. They actively believe that the government is moving toward the New World Order and that Obama is the anti-christ.

I'm not being hyperbolic. These people exist.

And when -- not if -- Santorum loses, it's an extremely small leap in logic to believe that these people will see the loss as a tipping point in American culture. They will see that this antichrist named Obama won and that they are on the fast track to the end times.

What if Santorum got it in his head, as the figurehead of this extremely fringe -- yet large enough to be dangerous -- group of extremely angry, faith-driven extremist Christian base, with stockpiles of weapons and a hard and fast belief that the Government was crusading against them? That the New World Order was taking hold? That the antichrist was in office right now? That the rapture is imminent? What if he didn't, but local leaders of these tribes decided it was happening anyway and decided to act on it?

It might seem like a paranoid delusion. But you have to understand -- once faith replaces logic in a human mind, delusion has already taken hold. Christians have conspiracy against them baked right into their religion. A core tenet of the faith is the Roman crusade against Christianity. The government of Rome put Jesus to death. The Romans threw Christians to the lions. The Egyptian pharaoh enslaved God's people, and God chose him to lead his people out of Egypt.

Hardline Christian believers have bombed abortion clinics and gay nightclubs.

A hardline right-winger named Ted Kaczynski -- the Unabomber -- believed that there was a leftist agenda in educational facilities and the government so vast and powerful that he decided to mail bombs to those organizations to stop it.

Religious fanatics (not Christian, but still ever faithful to their beliefs instead of logic) flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The unthinkable is only unthinkable when you're capable of realizing it's unthinkable. And once you stop thinking with your mind and start acting from your heart? If your heart is corrupted by dangerous faith -- anything can happen.

The reason Santorum is scary is that he's got a unified base of highly motivated pissed off fringe Christian conservatives supporting him. He's now a figurehead, and the base has rallied around him. The political climate in this country has gotten to the point where friends are parting ways and families splinter because of which candidate they voted for. Bring God into the picture, and you've got a recipe for religious war.

Santorum has but to point in the general direction that God wants him in office, and that the Government led by those who would abolish Christianity and suppress them needs to fall. A unified base would, at the very least, take to the streets. Some of the more fringe would riot. The most dangerous of these people could end up declaring all-out war against the Liberal agenda.

Onward, Christian Soldiers. Marching as to war.

Do I think this could happen? Realistically? Probably not. But that's PROBABLY not. The mere fact that there is now a probability in my mind that it could; that this is a discussion that can even take place... That's why Santorum scares me. Because that's where we are as a country now.

2.17.2012

Eating A Yard Of Your Own Shit

Sometimes, your beliefs conflict with reality, and you have no choice but to do one of two things:

1) Admit you are wrong, or
2) Attempt to convince everyone else in the room that reality is wrong and you are right. 

I am extremely lucky. From the day my father adopted me, he drilled into my head that #2 is always insane. It will never work. It's the path of the weak person, sure. There's all that personal growth harmonic self awareness bullshit, but my father isn't exactly an introspective person who was focused on his path of personal development. He's a man who simply believes that bullshit is bullshit, and the sooner you shovel it and get it out of the room, the sooner everything stops stinking. 

Now, there's varying levels of taking responsibility. The first is when things are just flat out broken and need to be fixed. One of my father's personal philosophies is that you should take responsibility for things when they go wrong, even if you don't think they're your fault. You're not taking the blame. It's not about blame. In fact, it's never about blame. It's about realizing things are screwed up and deciding that someone needs to get them unscrewed, and if you are the one who stands up and raises their hand and says "It's on me," you're now in a position to do something about it. 

Then, there's admitting you were wrong. It's horribly distasteful and very difficult to do. But sometimes, there's just no getting around it: you said or did something that you have to apologize for. This is now about blame, and you blame yourself. You're not being a martyr, you're saying that you screwed up and now realize that your way of perceiving a situation isn't correct. This comes with the risk that people might question your judgement, or consider you stupid. But who is more stupid, the person who can see the error of their ways, or the person who lets belief they are correct stand in the way of what's right?

Now, eating a yard of your own shit? That's something else entirely. This is when you've stood in front of a group of people, convinced all of them your way is the right way, and then end up flunking. You have led people down a path that you've just discovered you can't hack. You have to face the hardest choice there is in all of the human condition: Turn around and look stupid and risk having everyone lose faith in you, or plow ahead, hope for the best, fail and have everyone lose faith in you. It's a zero sum game. You're fucked no matter what. 

There will be shit everywhere in the end. The choice isn't to eat shit or avoid shit. The choice is to either eat your own shit, or force everyone else involved to eat it too. I've faced this exact situation a few times in my life. And because of my extraordinary luck having the father I did, I have been able to eat my own shit, admit I was wrong, and move on. And I'm so much better for it, because when you look back on the situation, you have two choices for how things fall out -- you did what was right, or you did what was wrong. 

No one will ever fault you for following your heart, so long as you are able to admit when your heart is wrong and not let it screw everyone else. And if they do... Well, they're dicks hell bent on punishing someone. That's where "stand up for yourself" type blog posts come in handy. I'm plenty sure you can search for those and find a ton on this blog. 

But realize, standing in front of the world and saying "I was wrong" is also standing up for yourself. It's standing up to your own innate cowardice. And as I read on a graffiti wall somewhere, the only real victories in life are over the self, because they're the only ones that last.

2.16.2012

We Just Go.

I was chatting with a friend of mine (Hi, Christy) about tattooing. She mentioned that she's been wanting to finish the piece on her back for some time now, but realized that financially, she should wait.

I said back to her, "Just do it. The sooner you get it done, the sooner you can have it for the rest of your life. Money comes and goes. We? We just go."

There was this long period of silence, after which she said "That was profound."

I don't know how profound it is or isn't. It just popped out of me. I wasn't trying to be profound, I was trying to be honest.

It's not really a personal motto, but it's absolutely the underlying tenet of how I live my life. Some might attribute it to my having already died once and faced death a few other times. Who knows. I don't hold those memories in my mind, and I don't obsess over the narrative they provide. They're not something I bring up in conversation. I don't wait for the perfect moment during someone's story, reach out, lightly touch their shoulder, look into their eyes and say "You know, having already died once, I can tell you that life is precious and you should live it to the fullest!" and all that sanctimonious horseshit.

But I do have a very keen grasp on the fact that, day by day, minute by minute, my life is being lived.

This does affect my decision to do certain things. It made me realize that, if I don't organize and exhibit my Akira art collection, no one else was going to, and if I wanted the world to see it, I had to do it before I die. It made me write and then publish my first book, and before that, blog in front of an audience who could have very well torn me to shreds. It made me ask my wife out on our first date. It made me who I am right now.

And sometimes, that underlying tenet isn't enough to break the barriers down; not on its own. I still haven't shown you guys any of the graphic novel I've been agonizing over for, oh, 18 years -- because I haven't drawn any of it. In fact, the few drawings I've shown you were done explicitly as an exercise to help overcome my phobia of drawing. But I'm working on that. I'm working past it. It's slow. In fact, it's the one huge wall in my own brain I just can't seem to crash through like the Kool-Aid man and yell "OH YEAH!" as I enjoy a pastime I've ached to do since I was a child.

But it's getting me there. And at some point, I'm going to realize that in the race between my "getting there" on drawing and my life being lived to its terminus, life is winning. And I'm going to have to kick the drawing thing into high gear and keep up. Because here it is, writ plain before both you and me: you get one life, and it's happening right this second.

Whatever it is you've dreamed of doing; whatever it is you want in life... You need to realize that simple fact. Your life is being lived. Right here, right now, as you read this. Sitting in a cubicle at work; reading your phone or iPad on the subway; stealing a few minutes away from doing the laundry and housework by reading my blog...

The clock's ticking. And one day, it won't be. So get to it.




2.14.2012

Our First Valentine's Day In 14 Years -- A How-To Guide For Being Utterly Pathetic

Andrea and I have never celebrated Valentine's Day. We abhor the concept of a marketing-driven pseudo holiday that essentially serves as almost every man's romantic Yom Kippur as they atone for an entire year of being stupid in affairs of the heart. Pass by any Red Lobster or flower shop on Valentine's Day and you'll see hordes of people whose idea of showing love is spending a night eating shitty food and giving consumable trinkets that possess absolutely no heart. It's pathetic.

And when you look at the Valentine's Day aisles of most stores, it gets even worse. The aisles are stocked with shitty candy and stuffed toys and other crap that says, in equal parts, "I love you" and "I think you're 11 years old." We love each other dearly and show each other every single day. And every year at Valentine's Day, we sigh and hang our heads over the millions of people whose idea of romance has been sold to them by Hallmark and Zales (but only for one day out of the year, mind you).

So, just to be an ass, I decided this year to be "romantic" and celebrate Valentine's Day for the first time ever. And to make it really special, I got my highly intelligent, fiercely independent, not-even-close-to domesticated wife just about every single thing you should never, EVER give a woman as a gift. The goal: to be as offensively cheesy and condescending as possible this Valentine's Day. Or, in other words, be a typical everyday pathetic sad clueless guy.

I started with what is essentially a billboard reading "I am the most pathetic guy on Earth" -- the retiredly oversized Valentine's Day card:




And of course, if you're going to muddy your idea of what's romantic with two-foot-high overpriced pieces of printed cardboard, you have to accompany it with the crappiest candy on the planet. Because hey, what woman doesn't want to further damage her self-image (which is already at an all-time low for being with a guy who thinks any of this crap is a good idea) by stuffing herself with chocolate and sugar?




Now, I can't just give frivolous gifts for this, the most romantic of days. I have to give some practical gifts as well. I wanted to make sure she knew I supported her gender-defined roles in our relationship. So I got her a sewing kit, to make darning my socks easier:




And a nice lunch kit, so she has something nice she can pack the sandwiches she better shut up and make me:




And I don't want her to strain herself trying to gather up all the clothes she has to wash for me, so I got her a nice laundry basket and hangers set. In her favorite color, even!




Now, once she's done the laundry, she needs to get my clothes as wrinkle-free as possible (considering I only own 90's rock band t-shirts and workout clothing, it's not that hard... But let's pretend I actually own nice clothes to keep the joke going). And this iron + steamer is the perfect solution!



And of course, she needs the ironing board to use it on (being held by buddy and assistant in all this nonsense, Jeremy): 




Since she's a girl, I thought she might like some pink sponges to do the dishes with. And since I don't want her to sully her clothing or her hands while doing all this domestic work, so I got her an apron and some gloves. 



Sometimes I think she doesn't clean the floors fast enough, and this thing is supposed to be lightweight and portable and whatever, I don't care. I just want the floors clean. I am a man. This is my castle. And if she wants me to spend all this money and an entire day being "romantic" she better keep the place clean:




I know that she's supposed to be barefoot when she does all this work, but I'm no monster, so I got her a pair of sandals:



And to tie it all together, I bought some fake rose pedals to sprinkle around the package. I figured she'd want to test out the new vacuum, and what better way than making a huge mess of the "romantic" gift I'm giving her:




So we put it all together, with the romantic heart tissue paper and romantic heart wrapping paper and a balloon in the shape of a monkey on a stick, wrapped and packaged by our friend Katie for optimal cheesiness:



And there you go. Our first, and very likely last, Valentine's Day in 14 years! And what post about Valentine's Day would be complete without a shittastic glittery animated heart piece of shit graphic:


The truth is, it all started with the Dyson. I saw it on TV during Christmas, turned to her, and said "I want that vacuum for Christmas." As the words were leaving my mouth, I realized that I had become old. No games, no toys... A fucking vacuum. And the funny thing is, she was thinking the exact same thing. But I couldn't get my wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas... That's just wrong. "Merry Christmas, honey! Enjoy cleaning the floors!" So I thought Valentine's Day was the perfect chance to turn the entire holiday on its ear and get us stocked up on new cleaning crap we've needed.

Here's hoping your Valentine's Day is at the very least genuinely romantic. But more than that, I hope your mate isn't so fucking pathetic that they need a day on the calendar to remind them to treat you right by participating in this pink and red nightmare of a holiday.


2.13.2012

Walter Has Passed Away

Remember a few weeks ago (and before that, a few years ago) when I wrote about Walter and his cat,  and how the photo of them together reminded me of the most powerful expression of joy I've ever witnessed, and how we could all take a lesson from Walter and truly cherish what brings us joy?



I found out from Keldemean, the person who posted the original photo, that Walter has passed away. He apparently collapsed while washing dishes at the shelter he worked at.

When Keldemean emailed me and told me, I was sad. I don't know Keldemean. The only conversation that I've had with her was via email, when she saw my post about Walter (whom I've also never met) and thanked me for understanding him, and subsequently understanding why she posted the picture. And yet, I mourn the loss of Walter. Outside of anything one could say about him from knowing him, all I needed to know about him is in that picture: he loved his cat. He had an unabashed joy about their relationship. He passed around photos of him with his cat. He worked at a shelter.

Walter was a point of light amongst all the darkness surrounding us, simply by being Walter. He brought me joy the day I saw his photo. He's brought thousands of other people joy from reading my post and Keldemean's original post of him. And he's no longer here. And I am sad for that fact.

I actually shocked myself when tears welled in my eyes while reading the email. I thanked Keldemean for letting me know, and further, for making our very brief intersection on this road of life such a positive one. We've now exchanged exactly three emails in our history. This is the extent to which I know the person I only know as Keldemean. And yet, she is responsible for bringing a joy to me and my readers, by introducing us to Walter.

And for that, I thank them both. For me, Walter stands as an avatar of all that is right in this world. And that won't die; not for as long as I'm able to hold the image of his joy over being with his cat in my mind. And when I do, it reminds me of all the other memories I have where there's been joy, no matter how small. And thoughts of joy beget other thoughts of joy.

We can all use more joy in our life, no matter how much we already have.

I have no idea if you feel even a little of what I felt when you just read that he passed. I'm sure you probably don't; I'm a pretty odd duck and mourning people I've never met because of what they represent to and for me is probably a really individual behavior. But if you do, thank you. You get it. You understand. And I hope that you will do what you can to fill the void that Walter leaves by feeling as much joy as you possibly can, every moment you experience it.

Be present for it. Be aware of it. Soak it in. Don't just let it pass. Don't let time idle by. Bask in the glow of the warm sun on clear breezy days. Squeeze the hand that holds yours a little extra tightly. Hold a hug longer than you think you should, because it feels good. Smile. Absorb other peoples' smiles. Or, go get a wallet-sized photo of you with your cat to hand other people, because you love it and you love that it loves you.


2.08.2012

The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying

The Guardian recently posted an article about Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. Bronnie journaled her patients' dying thoughts on her journal, Inspiration and Chai, and eventually used that material to create her new book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

I can attest personally that there is a clarity that comes when you realize you're about to die (as readers of my books and this blog know, I've had that clarity, oh, four times now). And during her patients' moments of clarity, Bronnie noticed five common themes that came up again and again:
  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Something that I realized for myself, perhaps much earlier than I should have: These aren't the top five regrets of the dying. They're the top five regrets of the living. 

I posit that we, as human beings, are all the same. This isn't a Tyler Durden style "You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake" speech, because I also believe that each and every one of us is unique, and we are beaten into a form of social submission that makes us dress the same and talk the same and like the same stuff. But that's because, deep down, we ARE the same. 

We want love. We want acceptance. We want to belong. 

We also want to be ourselves. We want to express ourselves artistically, physically, emotionally. We want our own unique thumbprint to be left on our existence, such that people remember us and think that there's no way life would have ever been the same without us.

But we're scared. We often see people who are themselves left out in the cold. Isolated. Not one of us. Not one of the group. Not one with society. We get scared when we think about that possibility; that our peer group or social group or family or friends will abandon us if we don't follow the trend and go with the flow and be what they expect us to be. 

So, men refuse to feel. They turn into Tough Guys. They shield themselves from feeling anything, and if they do feel something, they sure as hell don't let anyone else know it. They have to adhere to their fathers' standards of what a man is... Or their buddies', or their drill sergeant's, or their boss's.

And women feel miserable in their own skin. They spend an hour and a half every day getting themselves to look like the covers of the magazines that tell them how they have to look if they're ever going to live a fulfilled life with a handsome man and girlfriends who gossip over martinis. They smile in the right places and laugh at the right jokes at parties, so the other women in attendance won't ostracize them and the men in attendance won't see them as unlovable. They abuse themselves mentally with thoughts of being alone if they're not with the crowd, and they abuse themselves physically with social standards of beauty that no real man would ever concern himself with.

We all work way too hard every day to afford trophies that symbolize our success. Big TVs, Xboxes, nice cars, clothes, shoes, a decent house, a college degree... We go into debt to attain these things, which chains us to the job we have to work day in and day out in order to keep them. And of course, the newest device or car or gadget comes out and we have to have that, and the cycle repeats itself.

We let petty squabbles and differences in opinion ruin otherwise fantastic friendships, because our pride gets in the way and we'd rather be seen as strong than as rolling over for someone else's opinion. We let political maps covered in reds and blues tint our ability to like and accept people for who they are. We play teams with our morals and adhere to a nonsense line in the sand that says we have to believe everything our team believes.

And that is all 100% pure grade-A bullshit. 

The only people that are worthy of our time are the ones who want us as we are. When we die, we die by ourselves, not as a team. No one from your local political rally is going to show up and die with you. No one from your office will off themselves because you did. Which means you're ultimately the only person you have to reconcile any guilt with.

So why not start off not having any? 

If you're unhappy in your life; if you're sitting in a cubicle right now wishing you could be free from the confines of a life spent working paycheck to paycheck to pay down the credit cards you used to get your electronic trophies showing how successful you are...

If you're too scared to let someone know how you feel -- be it a family member or a friend or a group of friends or the entire internet -- because you'll be seen as a wimp or a wuss or be laughed at for expressing your feelings...

If you're so petrified of being alone that you live a life and act a way that isn't your own...

You can stop all of that right now by doing one very special, important thing: love yourself. 

When you make the decision to love yourself, you begin to realize that half of what you do every day in your life is complete bullshit. You begin to see the cracks in the foundation of the world you've built up around you. You start to realize that you've settled. You wanted something, but you settled for something else that approximated what you originally wanted enough to dull the pain of not having it. 

You quit wasting your time chasing acceptance, because you've accepted yourself. You're complete as a person. You know who you are and what you want. And you will see them -- those around you who are playing the game just as you did -- fall like flies. Some will outright abandon you; some will accuse you of changing to the point they don't want to be around you.

But here's the truth: they didn't abandon you. You abandoned THEM. You don't need the social reinforcement to live the way you want because you've already reinforced the only thing that matters: yourself. 

If you want to be beautiful, be beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? So behold your own beauty and love it. Show it. Stop regretting your life. Start living it. Today. Now. 


2.05.2012

I Pity The Mew... (Or, "Photos Of A Freshly Shaved Pussy")

Remember Julius? The sweet, sweet kitty of ours that is sometimes a little bit... Obnoxious? And Andrea just HAS to pick on by doing things like putting him in a pink dress? Like this:



Well, he was a bit of a punkass again.

We discovered the hard way, and I'll leave what that means up to your imagination, that he defecated in our shower this morning. Now, the act of pooping in the shower itself is a new behavior for him. However, these pranks he pulls, as well as the frustration borne of them, is a daily, nonstop thing for us. We find chewed houseplants barfed up on the stairs about once a week. Mail is completely shredded, and what isn't shredded is punctured with teeth marks. Anything even remotely resembling a string or thread is pulled to it's end length across the house (it's worst when I leave a sewing kit out). We can't have bags of cat treats laying around, because they will be bags of former cat treats within minutes.

He's a dick. But he's a sweet, sweet kitty and he's my kitty and I love him, even when he poops in the shower.

Andrea, however, decided to teach Julius a lesson (that you and I both know won't stick). While shaving down our chow Haggis this morning, she decided to give Julius a reverse Mr. T mowhawk:







...I get the sense that this trend of posting about Julius and the pranks he and Andrea pull on each other is only beginning.