Kids, You Can Play on My Lawn

Davy Jones & Maureen McCormick from the Brady Bunch

Davy Jones & Maureen McCormick from the Brady Bunch

My university sent me a card congratulating me on the quarter-century anniversary of my degree. Quarter century. Not 25 years. A quarter century.

Like most people in their 40s, I have fond memories of college and other days. I still listen to New Wave music (that’s 80s music, if you’re wondering). I still smile at Big Hair and leg warmers. I remember when MTV actually played music. I remember growing up in the 70s with Marcia Brady, coveting her hair. So yes, when I find my body no longer recovers as quickly as it used to, or I absent-mindedly put down my phone and then wonder where it is three minutes later, I know that I’m not 21 anymore. Some of the kids I went to high school with are dead. It’s just what happens.

Aging, particularly in a society that sees this as a Bad Thing (cover your gray! dress younger! lose weight!) can make one feel anxious:  we don’t have as much time left. The world changes around us, and we no longer understand the slang, the technology, the mindset of those who were born decades after us. In our insecurity, we may begin to denigrate the younger generations, perpetuating the “generation gap.”

An older woman on Facebook recently referred to the Millenials as the people who are “raising more entitled kids.” It’s funny how we tend to see people our age as somehow better than the younger kids. My generation had its share of entitled kids, I have to say, which can only reflect poorly on the Boomers who were raising them. What does that even mean, though? Are we to believe that there were no assholes before 1990?

The world is changing, and it feels like chaos to the older generations. I was raised in a culture that had commonality in the Fonz, Archie Bunker, and Daisy Duke’s ridiculously short shorts. “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” was instantly recognized. We shared a common lingo. We went to movie theaters—a lot. We swam without life jackets. When I was very young, we rode without seatbelts. And while all of this was my valid experience, that doesn’t make it necessarily the best possible experience. Because if my parents’ car had been in an accident, I would’ve been thrown out the window. And the long-term value of a show like “Diff’rent Strokes” can be easily debated.

My children cannot even conceive of the world in which I grew up. My daughter asked, “What kinds of apps did you have when you were a kid?” So I told her about my Atari and my Texas Instruments computer that didn’t have a hard drive, but I loaded games onto it with a cassette tape—which she’s never even seen. My kids have also never seen “The Brady Bunch” and they may never do so. When I showed my daughter “The Jetsons” at the age of three, her response was a yawn of complete boredom. The things that felt special to me can never feel that way to her. We have moved on.

We have a nice TV. We mostly use it to rent streaming movies from Amazon, or watch Netflix. We don’t have cable. My son mostly uses the TV for the Playstation. Their preferred entertainment is Youtube. Youtubers like DanTDM and Twaimz speak to them the same way that Marcia Brady spoke to me. The difference is that Marcia Brady was created for me to idolize by television executives, but my children are finding their peers and deciding for themselves whom they like and admire.

I’ve heard plenty of Generation X’ers and older folks complain about social media and the way the young people spend their time on Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, or whatever the latest rage is, but it’s because they don’t understand what they’re doing or why. Our kids are forging their own commonality, still based on communication and media, but in a different way. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was no better than a Youtube account, and many might argue that it was far worse.

In many ways, the Internet is like the Wild West:  it’s mostly unregulated and free, some people are good citizens, some are morally questionable, and some are just outright crooked and disgusting. We are no longer confined to Walter Cronkite for the news; now you can pick your own preferred source (and viewpoint) from anywhere in the world. For every argument, there is a blog with a counterargument. We have gone from four major networks (I’m including PBS because FOX came about when I was older) to millions of media outlets, from professional/corporate to homegrown/some guy in a garage. This is a little scary for some folks.

The world is changing, and our kids are leading the way. We can’t stop the changes, but we can support our youth in making them. We can adapt to these changes, or we can be left behind. Whatever we decide, screaming, “Get off my lawn!” is just howling in the wind.

The Worries of Children

"This is what Trump looks like!"

“This is what Trump looks like!”

My children have been talking about Donald Trump a lot lately. It’s not because they’re hearing a lot about him at home; we seldom talk about politics around them. They’re hearing about him at school, where roughly one quarter of his classmates are Latino. Another way of putting this is that one quarter of his friends are Latino and worried that they or their family members might be deported if Trump becomes president. Many of these children hold US citizenship, but their parents and siblings may not. They are faced with the terror of the breakup of their family. My children are faced with the loss of their friends to horrible circumstances.

But can’t they go around?
~Harry, referring to Trump’s proposed wall

When I was growing up in the 1970s, I had two big worries. My first worry was that my dad, who was in the army, would be sent to Vietnam. In those days, the war was featured every night on the news, in all its horror, not as sanitized as it is today. My father laughed and assured me that he would not be sent to the war. He could be certain of this because of his specialty, which brings me to big worry number two.

My father had been trained to maintain and build nuclear weapons. Later, he would instruct national guardsmen in their use. No, they would not invest in these skills to make him cannon fodder in the Asian theater. Dad was very proud of his technical acumen, and as a result, our house featured some unusual artwork:  nuclear mushroom clouds. These were photos of real nuclear blasts. I looked at them daily. They scared the shit out of me.

In the 1970s, it was a given that the Soviets would one day, in their communist madness, blow us all to smithereens. And we would respond, making the earth completely uninhabitable. I once voiced my fear about this to my father. He told me not to worry. He knew how to survive a nuclear holocaust. This didn’t help, because I didn’t want to survive a nuclear holocaust. I didn’t want there to be a nuclear holocaust.

I used to have nightmares about Mechagodzilla. I had seen ads for the movie on TV, and this metal beast, belching fire and duking it out with Godzilla, scared me pretty badly. In a way, he neatly encapsulated my fears of manmade global devastation:  the machine, without conscience, consuming all in its path.

Of course, I grew up, and with Glasnost and the demise of the Soviet Union, my generation breathed a temporary sigh of relief. The wall fell in Germany, Europe united, and we could forget our childhood fears for awhile.

But in reality, the sources of our fears did not go away. Many nations, not just two, have nuclear weapons. Terrorist groups could acquire them. The war in Vietnam has been superceded by the war in the Middle East, which is consuming countless lives daily. My childhood fears now seem trite compared with the reality experienced by children in Syria and other countries. Death, destruction, and terror fill their lives with real horrors—no need to imagine them or dream about giant Japanese lizards. Many children in Africa and Honduras are no longer allowed childhoods, as fundamentalist armies and drug gangs seek to recruit them at ever younger ages. Their choice is to join or die. The nightmare is real.

Too often, adults laugh at so-called childish fears. “There’s no monster underneath the bed,” we assure them. And they grow up and learn to accept that what they fear is “normal:”  we will always have nukes, we will always have war, it’s either us or them. Talk about love and peace is all unicorns and pixie dust. It can never be any other way. Be realistic. Be a grown-up about it.

I don’t believe that my neighbors’ children should have to accept that dividing their families is somehow “normal” or “how it has to be.” I don’t believe that perpetual war is a given, either. I have yet to see democracy at gunpoint or bombing people into submission work. Violence begets more violence. There is always another choice. A harder choice, perhaps. But the only one that will save us and this most precious resource, our planet and all life upon it.

The worries of children should be the worries of adults. Instead of offering our children platitudes, we should offer them something of more substance:  peaceful action.

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
~ A. J. Muste

Our childhood fears pave the road for our adult fears. At 5, I feared Mechagodzilla and all it represented. At 25, I feared being able to support myself. At 35, I feared terrorists and more war. At 45, I am learning to fear fear. All hate is founded on the bedrock of fear. All anger, all conflict starts with fear. Our society and our world reflects our fears back to us:  look in this mirror and see what we have wrought. It’s time to change what we see.

How To Be a Decent Parent

Mom and Wren

In one of my interviews for my book, Discovering the Inner Child, the interviewer asked me how an adult child can come to forgive their parents. It was one of the first questions. He was a parent himself, so I know that what he was really asking is, “Will my children forgive me for my mistakes?”

The title of this post is how to be a decent parent, not a great parent, the best parent ever, or a perfect parent. Because perfect parents don’t exist. All parents make mistakes and do stupid things that they may regret later. So the goal should be, how can I be the best parent that I can be? In short, how can you be good enough?

There are millions of books out there with the goal of persuading you that if you follow their advice, you will be a superstar parent. Your kids won’t need psychotherapy! “Here’s how you do it right,” they say. Mostly what these books accomplish, however, is to make you doubt yourself at every turn. Some days, it seems like the entire world is judging your skills as a parent.

The truth is that being a decent parent isn’t that hard as long as you put forth the effort in a few key areas.

Meet Their Needs

This should be a no-brainer, but… Feed your kids, preferably on a predictable schedule so that they don’t have to wonder when their needs will be met. Buy appropriate clothing. Keep appropriate clothing clean. For lower-income families, I know that this can be tough. I’ve shopped garage sales for my kids’ clothing, too, so I get it. Ask for help if you need it, but provide the basic necessities of life.

Notice that I said “needs,” not wants. If you can give your kid some wants, then that’s okay. But don’t give them their every want. It won’t serve them. Few things are as unattractive as an entitled adult. So don’t make one. Saying “no” when it’s appropriate will make you a decent parent, not a mean parent. Remember, your kids will love you if you love them. You don’t have to purchase it.

Be Present for Part of the Day

In our crazy go-go society, it’s hard to be completely present 24/7, so make a concerted effort to be present for your children at some points during the day. What does this mean? It means talking to your children, and then listening to what they have to say. It means asking them about their day, their worries, their dreams. It means listening to the gossip about the other kids in their class. It means hearing the same silly jokes you heard as a kid, over and over again. It means looking in their eyes and hugging them on your lap.

My kids understand which parts of the day are “me” time. After breakfast, I drink coffee, read the paper, and basically wake up. It’s not my best talking time and never has been. After school time, driving to Taekwondo time, and the very sacred dinner time, where we all sit and talk to one another make up for this. Identify which points in your day offer the best times to interact and be present with your kids, and then make the most of it. If you know you need an hour to recover after work, then that’s not a good time. But after that hour, you should be able to interact with your kids at some point.

Show Up

Showing up when it matters to your kids is one of the most important aspects of being a decent parent. If you say you’ll pick them up at 4pm, don’t show up at 5pm. If you know that they’re in the school play, you’d better show up and applaud. If they’re in the middle of a recital or belt test, turn off your cell phone—never get up in the middle of something like this to answer a phone call. Your kid will notice, and they will believe that you value that phone call more than you value them. And never, ever show up late for a performance. I saw the tears of a classmate when her father showed up after her performance was over. He’d missed it. And he’ll never get it back.

Showing up also means being available when your child wants to share something important with you. If they’ve practiced a little play all day and want you to come watch them, then take the time to do. Show up for their play. Look at their artistic masterpiece. Listen to them play that new song on the piano.

Showing up means you value them. Not showing up means you don’t really care. My cousin was crushed when his alcoholic mother didn’t show up for his high school graduation. It’s not that he was surprised, exactly. But he had hoped that this time, she would make an effort. For him. And she didn’t.

My own parents didn’t show up to my second wedding. There were lame excuses:  they wanted to replace their roof. Wanted to, not needed to. “Your wedding isn’t at a convenient time for us,” they said. It was four months away, not four days away. I’m not a fool. I understood that they did not see this as a “real” wedding, since I was marrying a woman, and at that time it wasn’t even “legal” yet! And I’m sure my mother thought that if she wasn’t there, it simply couldn’t occur. If a same-sex couple gets married and a mother isn’t there to see it, does it exist? I’ve written a lot about my mother’s mental illness, and I get it rationally, but it still hurts. If I look back, this was breaking point number one. So the moral is, don’t provide your kids with breaking points. Suck it up and BE THERE FOR THEM, even if you disagree with their choices.

Say “I’m Sorry”

You are going to screw up. Your choices are to screw up and say nothing, which teaches your children that your feelings are more important than everyone else’s, or you can screw up and say, “Dang, I screwed up. I’m sorry.” The latter teaches your children to take responsibility for their actions.

Other good things to say are “Thank you” and “Please.” I get that as the parent, you’re the person in authority, and you may feel that saying these things will undermine your authority. But if you want to be a decent parent, you will be a benevolent authority and not a dictator. Good manners go a long way. Would you prefer working for a boss who said “please” and “thank you” or a boss who barked orders at you? Love and gentleness will help you cultivate an ongoing friendship with your kids. Fear, on the other hand, will only cultivate enemies.

The truth is, your kids are going to know when you screw up. And they will know that you know that you screwed up. So take some responsibility for yourself and apologize when it’s called for. It’s the adult thing to do.

Love Them Unconditionally

Recognize that your children are not you. They are not you, and they will never be you, no matter what beliefs and ideals you try to instill in them. Some of this will take, if done with love, and some may not. Your job is to love your children regardless of this fact.

You will not always like your children’s behavior, their choices, their hairstyle, their beliefs, their politics, or their choice of mates. But you can always choose to like them, and to love them, no matter what.

I always say to my kids, “There is nothing you can do, feel, say, or think that will make me not love you.” And I mean it. Sometimes they piss me off. They’re supposed to do that. But I still love them completely. In some ways, they’re like me. In many ways, they’re not. That’s okay. I just want them to be themselves, to explore themselves, to live up to their full potential, whatever that may look like. I just want them to be happy, and I’m not the best judge of that. They are.

The Homeless Are Our Canaries

homeless_man_during_morning_commute_iStock_000004136154XSmall

Do some people “deserve” compassion more than others? A lot of people mean well, but based on my conversations, there is definitely a filter being applied to the unfortunate. I know someone who volunteered once for Habitat for Humanity. He lasted a single day. He wouldn’t go back because he felt that the people whose house he was helping with had a car that was too nice. And so the Judgment Engine roared to life:  clearly, if they could have a car that nice, they didn’t need his help. They didn’t deserve his help.

The problem with judgment is that without accurate information, you start jumping to conclusions—which are probably incorrect. Their car could have been a hand-me-down. They may have bought the car new during a time when they were able to afford it, but they have come down in the world since then. Who’s to say?

Probably the most maligned group of people, however, are the homeless. I spoke recently with someone who believed that they should be put to work by the city to get help. There’s nothing wrong with the city providing jobs for those who can work, but he was assuming that the homeless were there because they were idle, and not because they might be mentally or physically ill, which is often the case.

My wife Ahnna worked with the homeless for many years, so we know that there are many reasons that people become homeless. Sometimes it’s as simple as gentrification:  one man became homeless for many years when his apartment building was knocked down to make way for some fancy condos. The price of housing keeps going up, and many people are being left behind. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a school bus stop at the night shelter. There aren’t enough family shelters, so often the kids would get into the parents car, where they would all sleep for the night. The children would hand over what food they had managed to get at school to share with their parents.

While whole families do become homeless, more people are working to house them. Single adult males are the last in line to be helped. Approximately 33% of these men are veterans.

Statistics are important, but stories are what help build compassion. Ahnna ran a nonprofit to help people who qualified for Social Security disability to get their benefits. This is harder than it sounds; the Social Security Administration does not just stand ready to hand out checks to those who apply. Their first (and second, third, fourth) response is:  “Prove it.”

One of Ahnna’s more memorable clients was brought into her office by another homeless man. She had seen “John” around the day shelter, but he never spoke to anyone. He also had the habit of living in a layer of his own shit, so he was definitely fragrant. At first, he didn’t want to work with Ahnna. She had the mark of the devil on her forehead, he said. It took a long time to gain enough of his trust to get him to sign a document allowing her to help him. She found his grateful mother, who had been looking for him for five years. John was schizophrenic. He had a 4.0 grade point average in college before his first psychotic break at age 22. No one had been able to help him since then. Eventually, he got his benefits, which meant that he could be housed in a medically supervised situation. He was able to be medicated.

When Ahnna saw John some time after that, she barely recognized the polite, clean, soft-spoken man who thanked her. Hopefully, he is still housed and still on his medication. Drugs for schizophrenia can have unpleasant side effects, and sometimes the sufferer decides to quit them (maybe because they “feel fine”), which brings back all of the symptoms of their psychosis.

About 20-25% of the homeless are severely mentally ill. Asking them to do anything resembling a regular job is impossible. They literally cannot “earn” your compassion through work.

Some people become homeless by simply struggling to get through life. “Richard” came to Ahnna in midlife. He was afraid she would not want to help him if she knew the truth about him. The truth was that he had served time in prison in his youth for killing a man in self-defense. It was a drug deal gone bad, and he admitted that he was a stupid kid. He killed the man who attacked him with a knife. When he was released, he found himself in the unenviable position of having a criminal record. If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably seen that checkbox asking if you’ve ever committed a crime. Checking that automatically rules you out of most jobs.

Still, Richard did what he could. Although homeless, he started his own gardening business. He didn’t have a car, but he had a bike with a trailer and some tools. Richard was already disabled by severe dyslexia, but when a truck ran over his foot and broke it, that was the end. He could no longer ride his bike. Then, since he was living outside, someone stole his tools, effectively killing his business. JOIN, a local homeless outreach center, was able to get him housed because his broken foot made him vulnerable. Eventually, he was able to get on benefits and spend a few years inside before dying.

Some homeless people are physically ill as well. In the United States, most of us are only one serious illness away from bankruptcy. This plays out on our streets every day. It might look something like this:  person becomes very ill. Person cannot work. Person eventually loses job. Person then loses insurance. Person has to make hard choices.

One of Ahnna’s clients had to make this choice:  cancer treatment or her mortgage. She could not afford both. No doubt concluding that living was better than dying, she chose the cancer treatment and ended up on the street. By the time Ahnna met her, she had regretted her decision. She wished she had chosen to keep her house instead, even though it would mean her death.

I’m one of those people who give money to the homeless when I have it. I remember being downtown once, and a young girl came up to me and asked me for change. In that moment, I did something terrible:  I looked at her youth and judged her. There was change in my pocket, but I shook my head. As she walked away, I realized she wasn’t wearing shoes. It was 40 degrees. I felt sick. That was my lesson. Why was she homeless? She may have come from an abusive home. Maybe her parents kicked her out (40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT). I don’t know what her story was, but I’ll never judge another homeless person asking for help again.

Aside from being thought of as lazy, many people assume that most homeless people are alcoholics or drug addicts. That is a problem. We don’t have universal healthcare, so the mentally ill self-medicate. Veterans with PTSD and other issues self-medicate as well. And frankly, I’ve always said that if I were homeless, I’d drink, too. (Technically, I’m not homeless and I drink a cocktail every evening, so who am I to judge?) Some people do become homeless because of their addiction, but one thing is certain:  there is no hope for recovery without some help getting housed. It’s impossible to get your act together when all you can think about is basic survival.

Here’s what a basic day looks like for a homeless person:  Wake up and secure your stuff. Hide it or take it with you. The first order of business is food and a bathroom. If you’ve ever had to ask for the key to a restroom, you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t many public bathrooms available to the homeless. Finding a place to take a shit can take half a day. One of Ahnna’s clients was obsessive about it:  he couldn’t do anything else until that one task was accomplished. As for food, maybe you have a little change to buy some. Maybe there’s a soup kitchen or church willing to offer some. Some businesses make food that they would otherwise throw out available. In order to eat, you have to have a map of your area in your head so that you know where you can find things:  breakfast. A possibility to pee or change a tampon. Or get a tampon. Or just wash your rags.

The rest of the day is yours to live through. If the weather is good, you’re in luck. If it’s wet and cold, maybe you can find a place to sit and shelter that doesn’t have spikes on it. Maybe the police won’t bother you today. Maybe they will. Hopefully they won’t take your stuff. The business owners think you’re bad for business. But the cops might find your camp in the park and take it away. It’s difficult.

At night, where are you going to sleep? What’s the weather like? If it’s freezing, better get to the shelter early to get a place in line. They only have so much room, and it’s first come, first serve. Do you know a good place to sleep where you won’t get beaten up or sexually assaulted?

I’ve known people who think that the homeless somehow “chose” it or “prefer to live that way.” There are definitely some who don’t know how to live any other way at this point. When you combine mental illness and years on the streets, you get a little feral. You forget how “inside” functions. Transitioning can be tricky, but it can be done.

More than anything, however, it’s important to remember that we are the homeless. They are people. They are us. There but for the grace of God go I. Judgment condemns, but compassion heals. It is our first and best resource. Let us all choose the path of compassion.

Safety is an Illusion

Think of the Children!

Everyone wants to feel safe. No one wants to contemplate terrible things happening to themselves or their loved ones. But sometimes terrible things happen, and this isn’t something that anyone can control.

The truth is that safety is a comforting idea, but it is not real. No one is ever completely safe. Bad things can happen without warning. You or a loved one may lose a job, be diagnosed with a debilitating or fatal illness, lose life or possessions in a natural disaster, be harmed in an accident, or get shot and killed—just to name a few possibilities. Depressing thoughts, so naturally we prefer to avoid thinking about it. After all, if you always dwell on the possibility of horrible (a process you can call awfulizing), then you’re not going to live a happy and joyful life. Instead, you will live a fearful, unhappy one.

In general, I think most people prefer not to dwell on horrible what-ifs, but in a world where the folks with the majority of the wealth want to distract us from that fact, there is no better way to do that than by making us afraid—of each other. And it’s remarkably easy to do because fear appeals to our lizard brain, our most basic instinct. It can overwhelm logic and reason, and it pushes out love and compassion entirely.

The latest manufactured fear in the U.S. is that somehow “allowing” transgender women to use the ladies’ restrooms is going to unleash a rush of male pedophiles to peek under the stalls at your daughter.

Think of the Children!

Never mind that transgender women have been using the ladies’ room for as long as transgender people have existed (forever, in other words). Never mind that most girls are molested by someone they know rather than a complete stranger. Never mind that boys in the men’s room have always been at risk (from other men). Never mind that smart parents accompany young children to the restroom. No, you should BE AFRAID. And suddenly, many people now are.

In our pursuit of “safety,” we are quick to throw others under the bus. Many of the folks who are in favor of bans on transgender people in their restroom claim to have “no problem” with the transgender people themselves. (“Some of my best friends are black,” no doubt. The same North Carolina legislation that bans transgender people from the restroom they identify with also strips them of their basic civil rights, like the right not to be fired for being transgender. I don’t hear anyone in the pro-restroom bill camp decrying that.) But let’s assume some of these folks really don’t have a “problem” with transgender people, per se. The problem is they also don’t have a problem with revoking transgender rights so that they can “feel safe.” They won’t be safe. But they’ll feel safe. We’ve been here before…

“Gosh, it’s a shame that the Adachi family lost their house and business and got sent to that camp, but it’s war, after all. Gotta be safe. They could be traitors.”

“The Goldsteins always seemed so nice, but I’m sure it’s better to have them moved to a new home somewhere else. Can’t be too careful. Maybe what they’re saying is right?”

“Oh, we can’t let in any Syrians. They could be terrorists.”

Yes, sadly, there are terrorists in the world. And they’re everywhere. This policy or that policy is not going to change that fact. Policies, laws, and wars all give us the illusion of safety and security, but that doesn’t mean that a bomb won’t go off tomorrow in your town. It doesn’t mean that another mentally ill person won’t take a gun and do something horrible with it. And sexual assault is a terrible, terrible thing. That’s why we have laws against it, so that we can punish those who do it. But the laws themselves do not prevent sexual assault. And the ridiculous bathroom laws are not going to make a predator draw up short and say, “Curses! Foiled again by an invisible legal shield around every women’s restroom! Now I’ll have to find a different way to prey on little girls!” But such laws will further stigmatize and isolate a vulnerable population:  you have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered if you are transgender; you have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered if you are also a person of color.

So, yes, safety is a highly desirable if unrealistic state, but it is also clear that fear kills. When your sense of safety begins to outweigh the needs or rights of others, we all have a big problem. There will be bad apples in any given barrel, but there is no sense in throwing out the whole thing. We live in a world with no guarantees. All we can do is take each moment as it comes. We can be empowered by listening to our own intuition; if something doesn’t feel right, then by all means, leave! Take reasonable risks. Be aware. But even so, Superman ended up in a wheelchair. Lightning strikes. But it’s equally terrible when we allow fear to take away our humanity and compassion for others, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.

Why I Love Immigrants

 

By WorldAccent - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

By WorldAccent – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14695479

I live in the U.S., and let me tell you, life is getting hard for immigrants here. I suspect that’s also the case in Europe, as the terrible war(s) in Syria exact their toll on an innocent population, who have no choice but to flee or die. Rhetoric from the right is angry and all too often racist. If you heard nothing else, you’d think everyone in America wanted anyone who looks or speaks differently than they do to stay out, period. This makes me sad.

I get that the anti-immigrant crowd are afraid and angry. The America that people my age grew up with is, quite frankly, gone. We have many challenges ahead, and change is the only way through. Of course, change itself is a very scary thing. And nothing is easier than finding a scapegoat for all your worries. “Those people” make handy scapegoats.

Here’s the thing, though. If my world really looked like a Neo-Nazi dream, all white and Christian, well… well, I wouldn’t be here. I admire the carpenter, but I don’t think he’s God with a big G. But aside from that, let’s say I were allowed to exist in this whitewashed world. Here’s what I would miss.

Skills

We take for granted many of the skills that come from somewhere else. My Taekwondo master is Korean. Taekwondo is Korean. No Koreans, no Taekwondo. No Japanese, no Aikido. No Chinese, no Kung Fu. Yes, there are white instructors. But they didn’t learn it from their European forebears, now did they?

Or maybe you like Yoga. That’s a Hindu practice. No Indians, no Yoga.

Speaking of skills, without the skills of the people already living on this continent, many early colonists would have died. Native Americans understood the flora, the fauna, and basically how to get along. Some of them generously shared their knowledge, giving Caucasians such wonderful new foods as corn and potatoes.

Art & Music

Imagine the world of art and music without input from other cultures. Most of the music Americans listen to these days derives from or was directly inspired by the music of black people. You know what pure white music looks like? Mostly classical (which is awesome, but still) and regional folk music. I love the bagpipes, the oom-pa-pa German folk songs, and Irish reels very much, but I’m glad they aren’t the only things I have to listen to. No black people, no jazz or rock ‘n roll.

Likewise, while the European artistic tradition is rich and fabulous, there’s an entire world of great art out there that we wouldn’t have access to, and that would be a real shame. African art, Oriental art, Islamic art, South American art, all wonderful and all equally valuable.

Food

I don’t even have to explain this, do I? Even so-called “American” foods (like pizza) were inspired by immigrants. Oh, but that’s Italian. White people. But not always. The Irish and Italians were not exactly welcome 100 years ago.

Back to food. I like French cuisine, German food, Italian food, even haggis. (Yes, really.) But it sure is nice to eat Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, so much variety and goodness!), as well as Ethiopian, South American, Lebanese, and Mexican food. (Mexican food originated with those brown people down south that a certain someone wants to wall out.) No Mexicans, no burritos.

Ideas

I have worked in the high-tech industry for a long time now. It is probably the most diverse workforce in America, aside from science and academia. I have worked with, and continue to work with, immigrants from India, Singapore, China, Japan, Russia, Hungary, Central & South America, and the Middle East. Are they here taking all the white people’s jobs? No, because I work with a whole lot of homegrown Caucasians, too. So why do the tech companies hire people from all over the world? Quite simply because they are good at what they do and can inject new ideas into the creative process.

No immigrants, no new ideas. Stagnation.

Friends

If I stop and think about how many people I know are first-generation immigrants, it’s a big number! I can’t imagine not having them here. Their absence would diminish my world.

Aside from basic friendship, the presence of immigrants in our communities provides the catalyst for new and wonderful things. No immigrants in your town, no fusion cooking!

It is certainly true that all of these skills, ideas, food, and art would exist around the world even if we isolated ourselves in a sort of white Utopia. And that’s the way the world looked once upon a time, before people started to travel longer and longer distances. European heads of state financed explorers because the explorers brought back cool stuff. Tea, corn, potatoes, herbs & spices, unusual fruits. If Yoga only exists in India, then you don’t get the benefit. Immigrants bring the best of themselves with them.

Yeah, I can hear the folks who say, “And the worst!” Well, I personally don’t think immigrants have a monopoly on the worst of human behavior. As evidenced by the existence of right-wing hate groups, most of whom are…white.

Life is messy. There are never any guarantees. There is no such thing as security, really. So from my perspective, a white-walled palace “to keep them out” is a prison. A really boring, homogeneous prison. Immigrants bring us so many gifts, why would we want to turn them away? Come join the mixing pot. It’s where the party is.

Trust Me, I’m Trying Hard Enough

Prozac--Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

I recently read a blog post that I liked about weight struggles, Oprah, and self-acceptance, and she said stuff like this:

…every day that jackass science comes up with another possible reason for the so-called “epidemic” America, and almost every other country, is facing. It’s because of portion sizes. It’s because of processed foods. It’s because of genetically modified wheat. It’s because of our microbiomes. It’s because of stress and cortisol. It’s because of a virus. It’s because of insulin resistance. It’s because we no longer use scythes to harvest rye. … Maybe someday they will figure out the reason for it, but I do know the reason isn’t not trying hard enough.

So I shared this article on Facebook and added this comment:

Since I’ve been on the antianxiety meds, I’ve put on a few pounds that don’t seem to want to leave, even when I’m “super-vigilant.” So fuck it, it’s better than panic attacks. And maybe, at 46, a 21-year-old body is just not practical. Not what’s needed. Maybe, it’s age appropriate. Like these silver hairs I’m spotting.

Normally, I might get a few likes, and that’s that. But since I brought up the antianxiety medication, I got a very interesting response from a few of my friends—and I love you, I really do. With one exception, my friends expressed concern and hopes that I was going to be okay. Why? I had brought mental illness into play. Now, I have blogged about my journey with anxiety here and here, but not everyone reads what I write, and that’s okay. But I didn’t think I was dropping a bomb. I was just talking about the truth of my life like I always do.

On the one hand, I appreciate the concern. Aww, thanks guys! I love you back. On the other hand, I was more than a little surprised. Some friends pointed out that there are natural alternatives that I should try. But I had tried them. I do exercise—quite a lot! I do eat well. I do things that I love, like gardening, painting, writing, and Taekwondo. It seemed, from some of my friends’ points of view, that I was depressed and alternating eating bon bons and pharmaceuticals on the couch all day. Okay, that’s over the top, but it kind of felt that way. (And I STILL LOVE YOU for worrying about me.)

I’m Not Falling Apart

My friends know that I prefer natural alternatives, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I acknowledge that Big Pharma sometimes embodies Darth Vader, but you know, it has its Luke Skywalker side, too. Sometimes I need antibiotics. Without them, I know I’d be dead. I also need a thyroid medication. Without it, my children would not be here. (Thyroid storms can cause you to lose pregnancies.) Sometimes I have to take a fucking pill. And it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying. On the contrary, it means I’m getting better.

It’s kind of unfortunate that my mental health issue—anxiety and panic attacks—found relief in a pill that causes a difficult side-effect for women:  weight gain. It’s not a lot of gain, but enough to tell a difference and to force me to buy new jeans. I don’t view it as a disastrous amount (20-25 pounds). I don’t believe I am less beautiful or less healthy because of it. I’m still doing all the stuff I was doing before. It’s just that now I’m feeling emotionally better when I do it.

I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love to drop the extra weight, because I would. And I pay pretty close attention to what I put in my mouth without being a super-control freak about it. (Control-freakishness is a trait I’ve been working to overcome, after all.) In short, I’m doing everything humanly possible to remain healthy, and it is up to me to accept myself however I am and whatever I weigh. The point is to be happy and fulfilled. I feel happy and fulfilled. The little pink pills help. This is not a problem to overcome.

Well-Meaning Judgments

It is human to jump to conclusions. A mental health diagnosis of any kind means that people are going to form a judgment about it. Anxiety, depression, pull yourself out of it! Come on! Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia—some people don’t even believe that these things exist. Brain chemistry is not something you can think yourself into changing. And hormones? When a woman enters perimenopause, she is probably going to change. She may become more anxious, moody, depressed, or none of these things. But it happens more often than you’d think. It happened to me.

For years, I had been fighting myself. I was moody, and I didn’t realize that my anxiety was making me short-tempered. It wasn’t some horrible character flaw that I could control if I were a decent person. I was anxious. And when my anxiety reached a pinnacle, I could no longer cope.

I love my medication. It gave me back to me. Many people suffer without medication. My wife, Ahnna, used to help homeless people who qualified get their disability benefits so they could be housed. One of her most memorable cases was “Jake,” who was schizophrenic. Like most schizophrenics, Jake was highly intelligent but completely unable to cope with our reality without medication.

When Ahnna met Jake, he stank because he was covered in his own shit, on purpose. It was to keep the evil things away. He rarely talked to anyone. He told her she had the mark of the devil on her head. Eventually, with the help of his mother and a hard-won signature from him, she was able to get him on disability. Jake now lives in a group home and is medicated. When he showed up at her office some time later to thank her, she barely recognized him as the same person. A home, caring people, and medication gave him back to himself.

So, yes, I gained some weight. And yes, I gained it because of a pharmaceutical. Please don’t worry. It was exactly what I needed. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Forget Those Abusive New Year’s Resolutions

Joan Crawford in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

A new year, a new you, right? Time to lose weight, get fit, change your diet, stop yelling at your kids, love your spouse oh so perfectly, and basically be glowingly nice to everyone all the time. The only problem, of course, is that this is not only bullshit, but it’s the worst form of self-abuse.

Implied in all these resolutions is that as of December 31st of any given year, you notice that you suck. You just aren’t good enough. Buck up. Get with the program. You can do better than this! And by the third week of January, when you have failed in 90% of your aspirations, you feel even worse about yourself, because if you weren’t a TOTAL LOSER, you would’ve been able to stick it out and make it happen. This is yet another verse in the song, “I can’t be happy now, but I’ll be happy ONE DAY when I’ve fixed all my problems.”

Inevitably, some of my Facebook friends posted their resolutions. And it’s not that they’re all bad, mind. If you can make healthier choices, then make them! There’s nothing wrong with fitness, healthy food, or a genuine desire to be a good person. The problem is when you decide that you aren’t good enough today, but there’s that BETTER you out there in the future, waiting to be born. This is a myth, of course. You are the best you that you can be, right this very minute. Abusing yourself with the notion that you haven’t really tried in all the years of your life, due to some innate failing on your part, is not healthy.

A group of women at my gym started a new year’s cleanse for three weeks. The idea is to detox after a holiday season full of rich food. I have no problem with this, since I personally don’t want to see either cream or sugary treats for quite a while. Most of the time, I eat whole, unprocessed foods. As I was reading the rules of engagement, one of the big ones was no alcohol. The other was black coffee. Well, I put coconut milk in my coffee, and I’m still going to do that. But no evening cocktail? Seriously? As things progressed, many of these women were opting to eat smoothies for breakfast and salads for dinner. Now, I already eat salad for lunch every day. Not because I feel I should, but because I genuinely enjoy it. And a part of me naturally rebels at the thought of drinking my breakfast. (Unless it’s coffee, of course.) This was no longer sounding like a simple, fun cleanse. What was next, a fast? I could feel my resolve slipping away…

A meme on social media. Author unknown

A meme on social media. Author unknown

I’m officially now at the age (older than the wonderful cat above) that I will do what I please and not worry what the rest of the world thinks about it. And it may be that this kind of wisdom is one you have to earn with years. Many of the people who seem to suffer the most with new year’s resolutions are younger and in their 20s-30s. They’re still not sure if they’re good enough, so they seek validation from the world around them. Women, in particular, struggle with acceptance of their physical presence on the earth. It doesn’t help that so many businesses’ profits depend on us feeling bad about ourselves.

S0, what to do? The big key is acceptance. Accept who you are, right now. Embrace that person. No one ever said you had to be perfect. No one ever was perfect. No one. So what makes you think you will be any different? You are the product of your history, your genes, your society, and your self-regard. That last one is kind of important, because it’s the only one that you control. If you continuously think you suck, it’s going to have a negative effect on your life. You’re going to stress out about how not to suck, which is a moving target that you will never achieve because you will continue to think that you suck, even when you don’t. And if you are certain you suck, no one can tell you otherwise.

So acceptance is step one, and choosing to like yourself as you are is another.

I have known many people who believe that liking themselves, much less loving themselves, is some sort of Herculean task that they will never, ever attain. It’s too hard, they say. Well, believing that certainly makes it so. You’ve given up at the starting gate. Those other horses are definitely going to win…

Self-regard is something that you cultivate, like a garden. You clear the weeds, you plant seeds, and then you mulch, water, and fertilize. It’s a process, not a sudden, overnight change between December 31 and January 1. When I plant my seeds, I believe that my garden will grow. You must also believe in your garden and in your inherent self-worth right now. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. You only have this moment. Use it and forget about fixing what isn’t really broken at all.

Comic relief

If you’re still having a hard time accepting and liking yourself, well… JUST STOP IT. Bob Newhart will show you how. It’s hilarious because it’s true.

Fighting Each Other, Fighting Ourselves

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472Small

We’re all in this together.

It was with a sort of macabre amusement that I noticed the Washington Post said of the San Bernadino mass shooting that it “might be terrorism related, but we don’t know.” Two people killed 14 others at a Christmas party. Personally, I call that terrorism, and I also call it terrorism when a white Christian man shoots up a Planned Parenthood or when white guys shoot at peaceful black protesters. But I guess the message here is that only certain brown people commit acts of terror. Right.

America now experiences terror, by my definition, almost daily. Mass killings are now normal. Got a grievance? Disagree with someone? Well, if you have a gun, you can sure fix them. They are the problem. But who are they?

Maybe they are Hispanic immigrants. They don’t speak English. They do things a little differently. They are suspicious. Or, maybe they are Middle-Eastern-looking-brown-skinned people who may or may not be Muslims (PSA: people who wear the turbans are Sikhs, not Muslims). They have different customs and beliefs and are therefore suspicious. Probably can’t trust them. Or maybe they are hoodie-wearing black gangsta-looking youths who are probably on welfare (my tax money!) and about to steal something. Or maybe it’s just your ex-wife, who has it coming.

Our society now overwhelmingly prefers to blame someone, anyone but ourselves, for our problems. And the best fit for that is a scapegoat. They are our scapegoats. (Struggling to keep your family solvent and healthy? Maybe it’s their fault.) But you know what? The people who actually exert the most control in this country prefer it this way. Because if we’re busy fighting each other, we’re not going to notice that man behind the curtain. That “man” who is destroying our environment, robbing us blind, and enslaving us with debt and growing poverty.

So, here we are, fueled by our own personal echo chambers (Fox News, MSNBC, etc., take your pick). We’re no longer content to merely disagree with one another. Force has become a viable alternative. Are you feeling powerless and enraged and you don’t like abortion? Kill some people. Don’t like the government? Blow up a government building.

Last night I dreamed that Nazis were coming. They had arrived at my house, and they were going to kill us unless we left. We were now the “Other,” the misfits, the scapegoats. We grabbed backpacks with a few belongings and set out on foot. We had to leave the pets behind. It was terrible. I was so relieved just to wake up. But listen well: fascism is not something that ended with World War II. The seeds are right here, in America, and demagogues like Donald Trump are watering them furiously. “There’s nothing wrong with you! Immigrants, Muslims, China! There’s your problem!” This kind of talk is how you incite a mob to violence. “Those people are misfits and don’t deserve to live.” We are not better people than the Germans in the 1930s, some of whom fought the Nazis to the best of their ability. We are just as susceptible to violence against “the Other” as they were. And right now, it ain’t pretty.

So what can we do?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

It is very important not to let fear take over. Fear is the enemy, because all hate stems from fear. Fear of the Other, fear of the unknown, the need to feel “secure.” If that need for security and safety becomes too strong, people will give up a great deal to achieve it, even their own liberties. Fascists will tell you that they will take care of you and make you secure. There are no guarantees in this life. I’m more likely to die while driving than I am to be killed by a terrorist. Fear is a fascist’s currency. They will use it and manipulate it if they can.

It is also incredibly important to stay in the energy of love and compassion as much as possible. If watching or reading the news makes that difficult, then stop doing it! The purpose of the media is to make you afraid.

Most importantly, remind yourself that there is no “Other.” We are one humanity. We are One Being. The idea that we are somehow separate from each other is an illusion. So each day, do whatever is given to you to help. Pay someone a compliment. Tell someone you love them. Help a neighbor with a chore. Feed someone who doesn’t have enough to eat. Smile at a stranger.

Even though it seems like the world has gone completely mad, tell yourself, “It is healing.” Make this your mantra. “It is healing.” There are healing pains, yes. And you may feel powerless, but I assure you that you are not. Use your light. Use your compassion. When you gaze upon another face, know that you are looking at your brother or your sister. And then smile.

The Universe in Your Hand

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

It would seem very strange if I told you that you had a nose. “See? It’s right there, in the middle of your face.” And you might respond, “Duh.” You can see your nose. You can touch it. You can even blow it. But if I also said, “You have something in your hand that contains the Universe’s Power of Healing and Creation,” you might wonder what I’ve been smoking. Nevertheless, you do, and it does.

Reiki practitioners and other energy healers are unlikely to be surprised by the idea that your hands are conduits for healing, but they may not yet be fully aware of why that is. In your dominant healing hand (for me, my right hand), lies something that is just as much a part of you as your DNA (which can be seen and measured) and your aura (which most people cannot see and which science declines to measure). Tune into it. It is a higher-dimensional being that looks like a star tesseract. By definition, tesseracts are four-dimensional (and higher), so it’s difficult to draw one. But if you look at it psychically, you will be able to see its shape and color.

The tesseract in your hand is no simple object, either. It has its own consciousness. It is not separate from you, but it is not entirely you as you define yourself, either. The reason for this symbiotic relationship is that you, the spirit in the human being skin, must achieve a certain level of consciousness yourself before the tesseract will become available to you. The power of Creation and Healing is not for the person who has not yet mastered themselves, at least to a degree. (The abuse of this power is part of what led to the downfall of Atlantis, after all.) No, the tesseract works with your heart, not your head. Your heart must be open and compassionate.

“A conscious tesseract with the power of creation in my hand, you say? You must be mad.” There are many things that are unseen or difficult to measure (is light a particle or a wave?), but that does not mean they don’t exist. If you’re open, you don’t have to look very far to find the evidence. Jesus Christ was said to heal with his hand and create food from thin air. Given my understanding of the tesseract, I have no problem believing this. Or take the Yogi Milarepa, who demonstrated his mastery by leaving his handprint in stone.

Every culture has its stories of miracles and healing that simply cannot be explained. In our overly logical culture, we tend to dismiss these as simple fairy tales, separate from our very hard and measurable reality. But even fairy tales have something important to tell us about ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it, however. Develop a relationship and understanding with the tesseract in your own hand. It will help you learn all you need to know. I say that you likely have a nose in your face. It gives you the sense of smell. I also say that you have a conscious star tesseract in your hand. It is yet another sense to help you navigate the world and the universe. And the fact is that your heart and your tesseract are needed to help heal and transform this planet. Chaos and self-destruction is avoidable, but it will take many of us to awaken, to love, and to heal.

Your star tesseract is part of your personal power, just like your heart, your mind, and your aura. Awaken to it. We need you.