2020 RANT

Well, this shitshow started out normal enough, but that didn’t last very long… anybody roll out of a NYE 2020 party resolving to stay in your house all year, scream at the television every night, wash your hands 13,000 times, gain 20 pounds, stockpile 42 cases of toilet paper, 7 gallons of hand sanitizer, and count the steps to your living room as a major exercise accomplishment?

No, I didn’t think so… anybody think medical care would include poking a huge Q-tip up our nose to the base of the brain, or one of those cool home kits you drool into – thanks for playing we’ll get back to you in oh ten days or so. Nothing anxiety producing about that, never mind the ever-shifting list of symptoms ahhh Covid19! 

On a positive note, I was able to solidify my goal of being an Olympic level social distancer. Since I was distancing, I figured I better find a way to maintain my magnificent physique. I decided to try this intermittent fasting thing; you have heard of this right? Let me just tell you, there is nothing intermittent about not eating for 18 hours – that’s just plain fasting. In my book intermittent means skipping some snacks, not all of them, just you know, intermittently – totally misunderstood that.  

I appreciate how many of you have reached out asking, well more like demanding an EPIC rant for this year; which honestly hurt my feelings a bit, cause aren’t they all epic? But I understand 2020 deserves a next level rant, something that lives up to the unparalleled insanity of this year and captures the unbelievable confluence of events: a new social awakening, “autonomous zones,” a truly insane Presidential campaign, then top that off with a global pandemic and all its trappings… 2020 – so one epic rant coming up. Admittedly, I am tad anxious about starting this with a week left in the year; feels a little like tempting fate to pull one last “fuck you”. 

Now, I have a feeling you guys are morbidly curious to see how I handle the long list of important and conflicting topics out there: Covid19, Trump/Anti-Trump, Biden/Anti-Biden, BLM/ALM, ANTIFA, autonomous zones, white privilege/guilt, “woke” movement, cancel culture, lockdowns, mask mandates, Dr. Fauci – cause why not, right… damn I almost forgot the vaccine! Probably a dozen more we could add to that list and if you think I’m jumping into that minefield with both feet… read on.

There are a few things I need to deal with from the top though; and this is classic rant material so hang on. Without getting into whether wearing a mask is the right, safe, respectful thing to do can we just talk about the asshats that wear it over their mouth, but not over their nose? Seriously why bother, never mind that it looks ridiculous, this kind of foolishness just irritates me. If you are a Covid non-believer that thinks masks don’t help, breed deadly lung diseases all while increasing your CO2 consumption I suggest you just don’t wear one. Now if you are a believer and subscribe to the current (for now) wisdom that masks will curb the spread, flatten the curve, and are a perfect vehicle for your cutting-edge fashion sense then cover your nose. There’s no place for you “in-betweeners” in this new Covid world – time to pick a side.

We need to talk a little more about this social distancing thing as well, now truth is I have been a long-term fan of social distancing; in fact, the more distance the better. Six feet is the prescribed measure, this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out – most places are actually marking it out for you so pay attention. However, we all know that you can ignore social distancing if you are at Walmart, Target, Church -in some states anyway, a friendly rally (you can decide what that means) or in an airplane. Do I need to explain that last one? Pretty simple actually, it’s six feet in all directions and that’s impossible on an airplane – so maybe the mask thing is a good idea after all… simply put: don’t get all up on me dude. 

Normally I don’t get “geographic” in these rants, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t invite all of you down here to Florida… Our governor has legislated that Covid is not allowed to exist here so Floridians have decided it’s time to get back to normal. The weather is great, so come visit and hang out at a beach, a bar, or your favorite amusement park – might I suggest you fly down. I almost forgot we make our kids go to school here, so if you have little ones you might want to consider a move!

I understand it’s difficult not to focus entirely on Covid, it is after all a pandemic, so maybe we can just talk about politics. Fact is I usually avoid politics; not because I care what anyone thinks, but because I find most people aren’t interested in a substantive conversation involving the exchange of ideas, which means actually listening to each other. In my opinion the level of acrimony within our national dialogue is a poor reflection on all of us. After the last few election cycles though I am beginning to wonder if collectively we have simply lost our minds or at least our imagination, you people do realize we keep electing folks that are clearly past their expiration date – at this rate we don’t need term limits we need a long-term care facility. 

So, what does that even leave to rant about? I may have been to Starbucks a dozen times this year and honestly, I don’t even have to order now my favorite drive-thru barista knows what I want. No morning commute so no reason to bitch about the minivan in the Dunkin’ line that can’t figure out what donuts the kids want. Hell, I’ve only driven on the freeway a couple of times so if peeps are still out there texting at 90MPH I wouldn’t know it. Let’s see, no air travel so fake service animals in sequined vests aren’t a real concern and if someone wants to push their way to the front of the plane to get off first… nope don’t care. 2020 is seriously cramping my rant style. 

There is the whole grocery delivery situation, do you think they train these people to pick the bruised avocados or is it just luck of the draw?  And before you start any shit about first world problems or privilege – I’m pretty much working all the time and I am not going to go hang out with the below the nose mask morons at the grocery store… just saying. As long as we are talking about avocados and let’s add mangos to this; why the hell is the pit so big? Do you think the Almighty actually thought that was a good idea or did some celestial engineer completely fuck up the schematics? Fact is I have a whole list of questions like that, take giraffes for instance – wouldn’t it have been easier to make shorter trees? Or pineapples, who thought it should take two years to grow a pineapple; clearly no one was thinking about how that takes twice the space it should… questions without answers I am afraid.  

Setting the whole celestial engineering thing aside, as I reflect on 2020 it strikes me, we have been here before. Our relatively short history is punctuated with upheavals, our own seismic shifts – belief systems competing like tectonic plates that grind against each other eventually creating something new. I read somewhere that all change is violent by its very nature, I’ve had time to think on that a bit this year. War is clearly the violent application of force to achieve a political aim; social unrest, technology leaps that fundamentally change society, or the thrust required to escape the gravity of this earth – each in their own way adhere to this principle. Simply put achievement or change is disruptive and by extension violent. 

Easy to recognize in retrospect – the frantic lines on the seismograph of our history – but here in the midst of it we are just hanging on; resisting the inevitability of it.  This time will pass like all others before it and we will adjust to the new landscape, gather our breath and begin that journey to the next upheaval. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that during these points of acceleration you can choose to participate or not, but change is inevitable and affects all of us. 

So, is it really all so dismal? If you flit across the surface of things jumping from one negative meme to another you might miss the beauty underneath. Let’s not debate the decision making surrounding Covid, I would rather honor the indomitable will and compassion of front-line healthcare workers, many times providing the comfort family wasn’t allowed to. We locked down the world, but did you see the videos of entire Italian neighborhoods serenading each other? Consider the millions of folks that got up each morning kissed someone goodbye and spent the day delivering stuff to those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave the house. Will there be costs and logistical issues with a vaccine, of course, but how incredible that brilliant people were able to craft hope in so few months? I think it is human nature to focus on the turmoil around us, but as we reflect on this complicated year remember where we shined. 

Instead of allowing 2020 and the pandemic to disconnect us we used technology to bridge the gap, to do church, work, and keep friends and family close. In many ways I am more connected to folks today then I might have been under “normal” circumstances. We are getting to see a more intimate view of each other, our homes, our kids, our parents, and grandkids… there is no extracting them from the virtual space we now occupy and how wonderful it is. We share at a different level; experiences, fears, hopes, pieces of ourselves we wouldn’t bring to the office. Our humanity is starting to shine through… and it’s a beautiful thing.

On a personal note, 2020 has created an opportunity to hold my immediate family closer, when your circle is forcibly limited you no longer take relationships for granted. I think about the many more meals I am crafting at home and how much I really enjoy the creativity of making a weekly menu. Dinner conversations have a different gravity now and I find myself reaching out to my boys in Seattle, my sister in NM, and friends in a more frequent and regular cadence than before. Those connections have a different tenor now and although 2020’s issues may dissipate I don’t want to lose this more tangible and precious connection we have forged. 

This has been a year of challenges for our country and it would be easy to push the popular narrative or skip over controversy completely, but that isn’t really what the rant is about is it? I can’t speak for anyone but myself and maybe for the first time I am considering the consequences of speaking my own truth. That dismays me on a deeply personal level, not because I am insecure in what I believe, but because it seems we have come to a point where no matter your beliefs some will be in violent opposition. There was a time when we could disagree, argue our point, try to enlighten those that may not have seen the “wrong” in something – where did those days go? When did it become okay to punish those that think differently? Of course, the true measure of courage is whether you are willing absorb the consequences of your beliefs, easily said not so easily done. In fiction the tests are obvious and monumental… in life I have found it is the everyday opportunities that make the difference.

Some would say we are past the time for such platitudes, that change needs to be accelerated. Maybe they are right, I see my children standing up for what they believe, even to the point of taking to the streets in protest. I may not agree with every position, but I am incredibly proud of them, I understand their passion, their impatience, and their courage. Maybe it’s the perspective of experience, but I worry that obstinate intolerance ultimately dooms the conversation benefitting no-one. I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to craft a dialogue that moves everyone forward, and that, requires the ability to listen respectfully – even when we disagree. Like many young people mine are making an effort, lifting their voices, is the dialogue comfortable – not always, but it’s necessary. In some respects, it doesn’t matter what side of things you find yourself, as long as you make the effort to participate in the conversation – it’s important.  

So, my friends smile at the insanity, push the fear aside and embrace the challenge to rise above. In my mind it all comes down to this: if you are going to order some ½ decaf soy chai latte with a mocha drizzle made backwards, park the Prius and go the hell inside. 

Stay the course and Happy Holidays my friends,

Joe

PS: Do you remember the quiet though? During the early days of the lockdown, I would sit on the porch and listen… no traffic, no freeway noise, no construction… just nature’s symphony – I think it forced me to take a breath, take a moment, and just be still… I miss that… 

The Filament…

The days are fraught with equal measures of peril and opportunity for there is a filament that lies within the human experience that ties all things and all beings together. It allows the soul to absorb all that is beautiful, horrific, agonizing and uplifting. It transcends time, space, geography, prejudice, and understanding. It creates coincidence and allows for missed opportunity. It is a sharp intake of breath, an ache deep in one’s chest, an uncontrolled smile, and an unrestrained single tear. It is all that we are, all that we wish to be, and all we wish we weren’t… Excerpt from “Jake”

Destiny…

As sometimes happens in the universe a man may find himself on a collision course with destiny.  He may not be looking for it, and in most cases would undeniably prefer to avoid it at all costs. However, destiny is a force all its own and the whims and weaknesses of mortal men have no bearing on it… excerpt from “Jake”

Some “Jake” to go with your Molly…

…Jake wasn’t a great lover; too many hard edges and a complete lack of patience, but he had a simple sweetness about him that appealed to Molly. Somewhere inside was a little boy that just needed attention. She believed, like so many before her, that she could somehow love him enough to heal him. Jake’s troubled soul needed more love than Molly or anyone else for that matter could muster.  They quickly fell into a routine, Jake drinking too much, missing work, and promising it wouldn’t happen again… and of course Molly wanting to believe things would be different this time…

Some Molly – from “Jake”

… The bedside lamp throws a shadow over the far side of the bedroom as she clicks it out. Stretching, trying to fill up the bed, she turns over. It’s then she sees the soft silhouette on the dresser of Jake’s three shirts and two pairs of socks from the morning laundry. The flood of hot tears is unquenchable she can’t help but snuffle into her pillow – clenched fist in her chest trying to massage away a pain that can’t be fixed. While just short of four hundred miles North Jake cuts the engine and listens to the ticks and pings that normally sooth him; sucking on his cut lip he tries not to think about Molly… 

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty, relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

Life on the Net

So, I spent about an hour on FB this morning and this is what I came up with… Has your life become an internet meme? 

Do you think to yourself, I should do something I love cause then I’ll be happy? Broke, living on the street, un-showered but fucking happy as hell! 

Are you tired of reposting, reposting, reposting… so some kid you don’t know can get better – wouldn’t it be nice to have an update on that shit – AMEN?

What about having to look at all these food pics that you know you can’t make and neither can the asshole that posted it and besides didn’t you just spend $300 on some super shake solution that tastes like shit?

Politics – just fuck all of them…

Olympics – yeah fuck them too – well except the Russians – cause anyone that can drill a hole in the lab wall and pass clean samples back and forth deserves a fucking medal…

Motivational posts – seriously you are trolling FB all day – I don’t think they are working on you. 

Your baby, puppy, kids, blah blah blah – do I even need to say it? We are all glad yours are so much better than everyone else’s! oh and fuck off…

You’re so blessed – fine we get it now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You blessed someone else – fine you’re the greatest person in the world now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You’re kneeling, standing, crawling, running, walking whatever shut the fuck up – we’re all just trying to get through the day… just leave everyone the fuck alone already

Happy everything, hope you have a wonderful fucking day – do I really need to keep hearing about it? 

Since obviously no one will tell you – you suck at relationships cause you’re an asshole stop posting about it please… it’s definitely your fault

Stars and Stripes…

I’ve heard all the arguments, the passionate defenses, and angry protestations… and I agree with all of them, every one… but I agree because I believe this country, we as a people have it within us to collectively define, embrace, and demonstrate the best humanity has to offer not in spite of our differences but because of them.

You can say the flag is a symbol of oppression, freedom, colonialism, democracy… and you would be right because we have the choice to define it in the way that represents our present circumstance and understanding – not everyone’s just our own.

For me though this isn’t a symbol from the past, it isn’t owned by a particular ideology, it doesn’t represent a singular belief system – no it is the very tapestry of this land – those stars represent all of us… every beautiful square foot of this country from the concrete jungles to the snow covered peaks – and those stripes… they were where we started not where we are ending.

That flag is big enough to be knelt in front of, to be saluted, to be burnt, and to be draped across the box of someone you know, someone that lived in your town, on your street, or in the bedroom down the hall.

So no matter your ethnicity, color, creed – if you just got here or if you were here before the rest of us, we all have a choice, we can accept the same old tired arguments that aim to separate and strive to keep us from our full potential or we can choose to make an individual choice about the type of person we want to be and by extension the type of nation we will become.

Do you believe that flag is big enough to cover all of us… because if you don’t then it isn’t the man kneeling on the sidelines, the millennial protesting in the streets, the water protectors at Standing Rock, the men and women that work shoulder to shoulder every day, the immigrant searching for a better life, or those that wear the badge on their chest or flag on their shoulder that are the problem…

Just one man’s opinion…

Moments

The sky blossoms a kaleidoscope of color – the heat a lover’s embrace on a winter morn… It’s only a moment, but in that moment the realization of a thousand other moments… the compression – expansion – dissipation of time itself… a horn blows – the traffic moves and it occurs to me we have no moments to waste…

Independence Day

I wrote this about fifteen years ago and have for the most part dragged it out every Fourth since then… this afternoon I’m halfway home sitting in a much to luxurious hotel room in Chicago looking out over a city I love to visit…. the staff takes good care of me here, most are immigrants working hard on this “holiday”… I take the time to listen to their stories when they are willing to share… It’s the true story of freedom – independence – the pursuit of opportunity this country still represents to those outside clamoring to come in… I think about my trip East from Seattle this past week – the beautiful country I have passed through – but also the blatant racism in so many small towns where Native Americans are treated as second class citizens – how do we embrace “…all men are created equal…” when we look the other way uncomfortably? Maybe these are questions without simple answers… I think probably, but I believe when we stop asking we have conceded point and the bright shining example we should and could be is tarnished a little more…

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The sweet smells of cotton candy and caramel corn dance through the early evening air mixing with the laughter of children and the soft murmur of a thousand conversations. The sun begins its slow descent and you can feel the anticipation thrumming through the stadium. As the sharp cadence of the Color Guard recedes the lights go down and the first shells burst in a spectacular blaze of color and thunderous sound. I lean back in my seat and let the show assault my senses.

Independence Day, a day of celebration, a day of remembrance, a holiday so simple yet so fraught with the complexities of modern day politics and the ever-shifting landscape of international policy it should challenge us to examine its true meaning. In its purest form we celebrate the courage, vision, and perseverance of our forefathers. They created a new nation with their very blood and infused it with a set of ideals and beliefs that has not only become a rallying banner for democracy everywhere, but a siren song for the oppressed and downtrodden the world over. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident…” the power of these words shaped a nation and challenged the greatest imperial power of the time. They also set an inescapable responsibility for us as a people, we cannot embrace our history, our independence, carry on our annual celebrations and displays if we ignore the balance of our declaration: …” that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have taken this responsibility upon ourselves and have found opportunity in our history to rally to it: The fascism of the Axis powers in WWII, our vigilance against the insidious creep of Communism during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Jihadist of the Middle East and in defense of those most vulnerable within our own borders. These political and military battles may represent our collective will, but the achievement of our independence was built on the personal efforts and decisions of those men and women who chose to shoulder the burden of, not only defeating our imperial masters, but also investing themselves in the creation, nurturing, and guiding of our country as it took its first steps on the path to greatness. Too often it seems that the ideals our founding fathers espoused have become the fodder for today’s self-serving political machine. It unfortunately transcends party and pollutes the purity of the democratic process. We must always remind ourselves of those “self evident truths” and understand that the preservation of them is a personal responsibility.

The final rumbles are fading into the distance and the last vestiges of smoke have cleared, chased across the horizon by a warm breeze. I take my daughter’s hand as we begin the slow walk to our car and I silently rejoice in the fact that she will grow up in the greatest country in the world. I promise myself to teach her the history of Independence Day so she can one day become the conscientious steward of our freedoms that is the legacy of our citizenship.