Sunday, January 31, 2016

Life Imitating Art?

I remember getting into a discussion a long time ago, in the mid-1980's, with three or four people I haven't seen in person this century. We were in Syracuse, at the apartment of a friend I had grown up with that was a little further down the path of addiction at the time than I was, that has eventually ended up with a lot of clean time, too, and he, a guy that attended college both at my school and my friend's (transferring after his sophomore year), and at least one guy that I had grown up with that was also visiting (there was another guy present that night, but I don't remember if he took part in the discussion). were participants in the discussion. It was the sort of conversation that only young people, well lubricated by alcohol and who are aggressively questioning the dogma and received alleged wisdom dispensed by our elders in our youth, seem to have. And as drunk and out of it as I, and the rest of us, were that night, I have never forgotten that conversation--not necessarily verbatim, but the essence of it.
All of us in that room and then out on that porch were--and are, I suppose--what some in the fellowship I now belong to sometimes term "recovering Catholics." All of us had grown up as Roman Catholics, and all of us had lost the faith before leaving--or in at least two cases, entering--high school. I don't remember how the subject came up, but I remember quite a few landmarks along the meandering path that our talk took us on that night. There was the general hypocrisy of the Church that was first discussed in detail; although none of us, at least to my knowledge, had suffered through the sexual abuse that many of my generation around the world were subjected to by predatory priests, all of us had become fully and disgustedly aware of the Church's predilection toward temporal concerns rather than spiritual leadership. The greed, the quest for power, the historical political involvement (and I do remember that one of the things brought up that night was the role of the Church in the Europe of the 1930's and 40's)--all were brought up and thrashed to unconsciousness. And then some of the dogma became the focus, and I remember Mark and I both discussing the inherent silliness of the Church canon being closed off nineteen years ago--as if God had stopped talking to and inspiring people around 100 CE, certainly implying, if not openly stating, that no one sufficiently "holy" had ever drawn breath since that time to have their works and thoughts incorporated into the Bible. I had gone over a lot of this ground before in various talks, in some cases with some of the same people, for several years; while intellectually stimulating, there was nothing new up to that point, and if I had passed out then, I wouldn't remember this conversation as well as I do.
But another conversational direction change we embarked on opened up an entire new vista, and sent me on the first tentative steps on a journey I am still traveling on. It might have been me, or it might have been Mark, but somehow the Biblical stories of Isaac and Saul came up, and the point was made that these stories were laughable as spiritual instruction, because the lessons of them, at least as handed down to us in religious education when we were kids, depicted the people in them engaging in thought, words, and deeds so far removed from anybody any of us knew would engage in as to be meaningless--in essence, making those tales as outlandish as something out of Grimm or Gilgamesh. I remember my contribution on the subject of Isaac--that if you listened to the priests and religious ed instructors, after the attempted aborted sacrifice of Isaac, everybody went home and more or less resumed their lives, piously worshiping the deity that had arbitrarily nearly required one of the family members to be gruesomely killed. I distinctly recall saying, and Mark agreeing with me, that this was ridiculous, that no actual people would ever have just "gotten on with their lives," and therefore the story must have been bullshit, made up. And if it was a fabrication, then a lot of other stuff in the Bible was made-up bullshit, too, and therefore it was not only silly, but downright dangerous to rely the Bible for spiritual guidance, that it was not "The Good Book" but a compendium of bullshit and lies. One of the guys there even made the point if there was an actual devil, the Bible was probably the most effective weapon in his arsenal, because it was so contradictory and so transparently "unholy" that it caused much more disbelief and turning away from God than it inspired belief and good works (I'm paraphrasing, sanitizing, and summarizing here; it was a long time ago, we were shit-faced, and it isn't like a stenographer was recording our every utterance).
And as I mentioned, we were in or just out of college, and several of us there had either been English majors or had been taking many English courses because we found them interesting (if I had been willing and able to attend one more semester, I would have added an English minor to my degrees in political science and history; I was only three credits short). All of us said something about the way the great works of literature that we had all read as part of our cirriculums had, even though they were ostensibly about larger-than-life figures that led lives far removed from we "ordinary" folks, involved us emotionally and mentally on a fairly deep level--because the people in them felt emotions, went through problems, made decisions, suffered consequences, and experienced rewards just like we did. I remember my friend Dan and I were both taking the same class in the same semester (with different professors at different times of the day), and were writing papers on The Odyssey--and discovering, in a tale of supposed superhuman and mythological excess, how many distinctly human actions, reactions,thought processes, and interactions were studded throughout the narrative. It was an experience I have relived, pleasantly, in hundreds of books and works of art since. It is the reason I love Shakespeare and Dostoevsky and Hardy and Dante and Moliere and dozens of other writers and playwrights; that in these archetypal subjects, the people in them are recognizably people, that we can identify with, that we understand--and that we can imagine that we ourselves, should our circumstances change, could stand in the hero/heroine's shoes. And while the major themes sometimes can get heavy-handed, a great writer's greatness can be seen best in the secondary characters and secondary works that they produce--and in the way their stories wrap up. There are few truer depictions of the sadness of picking up the pieces of catastrophe than that at the end of King Lear. There are few truer depictions of the hollowness and unsatisfactory nature of a "happy" ending than at the end of Twelfth Night. This even works with paintings; I love Brueghel's The Fall of Icarus precisely because it is a depiction of what actually happens in real life, and how much difference personal tragedies make in the world at large--next to nothing. Except for friends and family, no one gives a shit, in 99.99999% of cases, about the wax melting off our own wings and our crashing and burning, and life goes on regardless of how tragic or unjust or spectacular our travails and fails might be.
And before I move on, I want to make another point. That night long ago, the point we made about the Bible was accurate--but it also wasn't, and the longer term lesson that I have ultimately gained from it was "read it for yourself; don't take anyone else's word for it, especially on matters of great spiritual significance." There are millions of people, hundreds of millions, that claim that their religion and relationship with God is the most important thing in their lives--and that actually have put zero or next to no work into finding out what their religion's literature actually is ad says. Nearly twenty years after the discussion I am writing about this morning, I actually read Genesis, word-for-word, slowly and thoroughly--and discovered that the standard, pious interpretation foisted on us in religious education about the chapters dealing with Abraham and Isaac are horseshit. After the attempted sacrifice on Mount Moriah, Genesis 22 says that only Abraham and the servants left the scene and returned home--Isaac wasn't with them. In other words, Isaac did exactly what you and I would have done if we had been miraculously delivered from death at the hands of someone--he got the hell away from the man and stayed away. Isaac is never again, in Genesis, shown to be in the presence of Abraham when the latter is alive. Moreover, Abraham and Isaac's mother Sarah are also never again shown to be in each other's presence, as well.
They reacted, then, exactly like human beings from time immemorial ought to have and would have in similar circumstances. And the question then shifts from "Why can't we summon that kind of faith in God and hold ourselves to that standard of equanimity and acceptance" to "what are the motives of those that claim this story says something other than it actually does?" Which leads me, personally, to a reassessment of what the underlying message of Genesis, and indeed the entire Bible, is--and discovering that there is more than one message, and that they are presented side-by-side, from beginning to end. The Bible has actually taken on new resonance for me, because the conflict in the human soul over the course of a lifetime is finding the proper balance between the two great paths outlined in its pages--obedience to authority and acting ethically ("practicing these principles in all our affairs"), with all the fascinating and subtle subtexts accompanying them. Is authority properly constituted? Which principle is in play? Where do you draw the line between hope and denial? Where are personal boundaries? The list goes on and on, and actually defines our daily existence, for the length of our lives.
Now, having beaten that to death with a blunt of the marks of a truly great story or work of art is the way it can inspire different treatments over a long period of time, that adjust to the changes and vicissitudes over the passage of time, and that allow for deeper, meaningful explorations of the themes of the original story. Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur is the earliest written treatment of the Arthurian legend, and the King Arthur saga has proven to have staying power precisely because it has elements of and explores some of the primal, basic human experiences in a very powerful fashion. But like most modern people, my first interaction with Arthur was not Mallory's book, but a Disney movie, The Sword and the Stone, and then the saga the movie was based on, T.H. White's The Once and Future King. God knows how many hundreds of words after I started writing this post, White's central themes are what I find myself experiencing on a very deep and personal level this morning. The Arthur legend has always been something I deeply identified with. The novel I wrote nearly 1800 pages of and lost in active addiction (the computer it was stored on was sold, by someone else, for six bags of crack, and the printed pages of it were thrown away in a fit of pique, both by the same someone else--and yes, I still have a resentment over it, eighteen years later) was a coming-of-age story in Reagan's America. Broadly, it was a retelling of the Arthur legend, complete with a circle of tightly-bonded righteous warriors that succumbed to various temptations, including the infidelity of the best friend and wife. The unfinished novel that takes up several pages of this website is an ultimately abandoned attempt at recreating the lost work, and that was--is--a reworking of an Arthurian theme, too. And what I am currently going through, in professional, romantic, and parental capacities, has elements of ideas and processes expressed in the Arthur legend. No, I am not Arthur--I am not delusional. But the themes presented, most accessibly in White's saga, are things I heavily identify with. The coming to terms with the tutelage of a mentor that was, despite the obvious affection and good faith, seriously flawed himself (my relationship with and the legacy of my father in my life). The nobility of my passions and the creating of an circle founded on idealism and undying camaraderie (first the Basement at college, and, with modifications, the fellowship I belong to now)--and the stresses and disillusionment and pain and heartbreaks when the ideals are fallen short of, when its members prove themselves to be human (day to day existence in the world).
The great question that was ambiguously treated and never given a definitive resolution in the legend or in any of the literary or celluloid treatments of the Arthurian saga was how Arthur and Guinevere picked up the pieces and co-existed, moved on, worked through, however you want to describe it, after the affair with Lancelot. Mallory didn't give it much ink because in his culture, the relations between men--Arthur and Lancelot--were much more important than the relations between husband and wife, which was basically an alliance rather than a love match. White's treatment is more subtle and more in line with our society, but a great deal has changed since White's time, too. And in our culture, in our social element, where love is regarded as a necessary part of a relationship--well, perhaps the ambiguity dating back centuries was intentional.
Because it is one of those questions that does not have a definitive, unquestionably correct answer.
What was clear in the Arthurian legend was the fact that the solution in the legend--Guinevere going into a convent in one version, uneasily reconciling with Arthur in another; Lancelot and Arthur estranged for many years, with unspeakable tragedy resulting--is not only not edifying, but leaves open the possibility that other solutions could have been viably explored. If there is an overriding theme in the Arthur saga, it is that pride, more than any other shortcoming, is the most corrosive failing of human beings--because unlike impulsive errors of judgment and even morality, pride has massive staying power. Wounded pride can provide fuel for hundreds of other actions that are less than spiritually motivated, that can result in abandonment of other principles--and the fuel tank can reach miles into the earth, providing power and motivations for decades at a time.
And ultimately, with wounded pride as a driving force, nobody wins. Nobody wins. 
Lancelot was killed--after killing several of his closest friends. Guinevere was widowed. The knights of the Round Table perished at the hands of both their own colleagues and forces that did not have their best interests at heart. And Arthur suffered wounds that both would not heal--and that would not allow him to die.
Which metaphorically is the most powerful message of all. There can be no worse outcome for a person than to linger in excruciating pain for--well, for eternity. And that outcome, in the saga, could have been avoided if those involved had surrendered their pride and employed principles of honesty and forgiveness--and forgoing vengeance and a vague, flawed idea of "justice." True justice was the application of the principles that led to the founding of the Round Table. "Justice" in the guise of seeking vengeance for wrongs done on a personal level turned out to be a monstrous, horrible illusion, that forever destroyed not only the notion of the Round Table, but the individuals that were a part of it.
White's title, The Once and Future King, is an allusion to the legend that Arthur, wounds healed, will return from Avalon one day in the future. The wounds of Arthur were ultimately attributable to the sins of pride--his, and that of Mordred, of Lancelot, of Guinevere, of Agravaine, and of others. Like an acid spill, the wounds of pride had a corrosive and ultimately irreversible effect on every character in the story. And ultimately, I believe that the point of the legend is that Camelot cannot be reestablished until the wounds of Arthur have healed--and for his wounds to heal, he must let go of his pride.
And most kings have a queen. And if there is a once and future king, there, too, will be a once and future queen. The greatest fear human beings face is the fear of the unknown. The greatest courage human beings can exhibit is confronting the fear of the unknown, and embarking on a course of action without knowing what the results are going to be. Most of the time, the impetus for the departure on that path comes more from knowing that the course of action one has been following is not working. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
There has been enough pain and misery around here for two months to last two lifetimes, and no one is happy. I have no desire to find out, at this juncture in my life, what eternity in Avalon is like. It is the better choice to try another way. Whether that will be more of the same, or better in the long term, I cannot say. But I do know, beyond doubt, that hanging onto pride is not the answer. And that, taking the White metaphor to its fullest, the queen of air and darkness might not have had to settle for those domains if pride had not shunted her off to those places. Especially when she let go of her own pride in an attempt to atone for her actions.
Whatever the longer term outcome may be, whether it turns out to be a wise decision or a foolish one, cannot be answered now. But I have learned to trust my own gut processes, and have learned, painfully and painstakingly, what it means to align my will with that of God's will. It's not easy, still, and it is not as familiar as it should be.
But I have also learned to know that one of the ways when I have carried out my knowledge of God's will, to the best of my ability to know it, is the lightening of the emotional burdens I have been carrying. I have working toward this departure point for several weeks, but I had not committed to making the journey. Until yesterday and this morning. Decisions work best when you commit yourself to making them work.
And rather than lose more than has already been lost, I would rather lose some pride, especially when the other person most directly involved has already surrendered much of theirs. And judging by the relief I feel and the lightness of my heart this morning, it is the right way to go, the right decision to make. Whether it is in the long term remains to be seen, But I am not going to wonder "What if" for the rest of my life because of wounded pride. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the supposed conflict between sanity and Matthew; but I have figured out to my satisfaction that "sanity", in this case, was largely a mask that pride was wearing. The masks have been dropped, and for the moment, pride has been overcome.
It is time to move forward. To borrow another phrase from Matthew, let the dead bury the dead. What has happened cannot be undone. But if the Golden Rule is the key to a fulfilling existence, and I believe it is--well, I have needed and wanted and been given forgiveness dozens of times in my life. I can extend to someone else, especially one that has asked for it, has been making amends to the best of their current ability--and that, when all is said and done, that I really did and do love. Living my life in thrall to something that cannot be changed will not lead to anything good happening.
I am taking the chance that this path will.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I have been a fan of the John the Lord Chamberlain murder mystery series of  Mary Reed and Eric Mayer for over a decade. Murder in Megara is the latest entry in the series, set in the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Justinian nearly 1500 years ago. Two things were apparent in this installment: 1) the county library system never purchased the tenth book in the series, which galls me to no end; I intend to talk to the people I know that work in the library to see if they will purchase it, and 2) apparently in that volume, John ran afoul of Justinian and was exiled, because this book takes place in Megara, a city in Greece between Corinth and Athens. As is usual in this series, the elements of tension play beautifully off one another: John's unease over his past, the fear of the emperor's agents by everyone, the strangeness of a world where many religions co-exist in a place where there is supposed to be only one, the way his wife and servants play into his life. The murder mystery is also better developed than in other books in the series; I did not see the end resolution until the end, but it was not a shot from left field by any means. This is a great little series, and I will be sorry when Reed and Mayer move onto something else.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Thinking Out Loud

This is a bit of telling on myself, I suppose, and hopefully it is just a phase that is going to pass. But I attempted to go to yet another meeting yesterday--and left after about ten minutes. I am getting to the point where it is becoming an endless feedback loop, the same voices talking about the same things time after time after time after time. And the narcissism continues unabated; there is something truly disquieting about two women in their fifties getting into a physical altercation at a meeting, as happened recently. What the hell can happen inside a meeting that can lead to that sort of confrontation?
As a fellowship, we really need to wrap ourselves not only around the idea that we exist within the larger society (which most of us will grudgingly admit), but that in some ways, we need the larger society, at least for certain things. We do not have our own resources, for example, to provide venues for meetings to take place, and I have seen, in the last few years, several places where we have held meetings for a long time grow tired of us and put pressure on us to find somewhere else to go. I remember when one venue starting pushing us away a few years ago, that everyone wanted to blame the church and its council for being obstinate and close-minded and unreasonable.
But we've lost a couple of places, and we're in serious trouble in another place, largely because people that attend the meetings cannot seem to rein in their impulses and personalities. It's not the "uptight asshole church people" that are the problem; it's our own behavior, and unfortunately, the entire fellowship gets labeled with the excesses of its more self-centered members. And this inability to get out of our own way definitely colors the meetings themselves, too. I forget who said it, but I heard a long time ago, in my own early recovery, that the deepest, most intense love affair that most people in the meetings have is with the sound of their own voice. There has always been a unhealthy amount of attention-seeking behavior regularly displayed, and to some extent I realize that is unavoidable. I also realize that not everyone is wired the same, and personalities are what they are--some people are extroverted and outgoing, and those are the type of people that often engage in the behavior. We're a big tent, and people do make progress over time, and in some cases, people genuinely are trying to find a way to help each other--a sort of "doing the wrong thing for the right reasons."
But man, it seems to be endemic recently, and there are some manifestations of narcissism that I have been watching for nearly two decades and frankly have little or no patience for anymore.
We read the same six readings at the beginning of each meeting, and there are people in the fellowship that absolutely insist on throwing in little comments of their own while reading them. Can you put your ego aside long enough to just read what's on the sheet? I didn't realize that the 7th edition of the Basic Text was out already, with you as editor in chief.
I have gone to thousands of meetings in seventeen-plus years. "I came to this meeting hoping so-and-so gets asked to hand out keytags, because I so enjoy his attempts at honing his amateur comedy act and wish he'd take even longer than the seven minutes he does" is something I've never heard. There is no reason that handing out keytags should take longer than two minutes, and the time you're playing at being Kevin Hart is time that could be better spent sharing a message of recovery during the actual meeting. Just hand them out without the show.
I'm not a big fan of huge medallion presentations, but I understand that they are an accepted practice, and they don't bother me that much. What does bother me about them is when someone is asked to be the introducer of speakers, or gets up there to share on the behalf of the celebrant--and then they talk about themselves for ten minutes or more. People that go to an individual's celebration are there to support/hear about/celebrate the celebrant. "I want to hear the MC talk about his own story for twenty-five minutes" is something I've never heard, in seventeen years. Is your ego that swelled that you have to horn in on someone else's special day to that extent? If I want to hear your story, I'll go to your celebration.
This stuff is endemic, as I mentioned, but it sure seems to be getting worse in the past six months or so. I'm much more capable of sitting through a meeting without having to talk than I used to be, but at the same time, I'm too old and too experienced to suffer bullshit easily anymore. My meeting attendance is way down, and I have to tell you that I'm not really missing them.
Because most of the meetings anymore are like being forced to watch people masturbate. It's extremely uncomfortable, and there really isn't anything new or nourishing to hear.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: VENDETTA

Vendetta, by noted newspaper journalist James Neff, is a pretty straightforward monograph about a confrontation that shaped American politics directly in the 1950's and 1960's and had repercussions that are still being felt today--the crusade of Robert Kennedy to convict and jail Jimmy Hoffa. It is one of those time capsule moments that would never occur, at least in the same form, today; perhaps the closest analog would be the Benghazi hearings, but it's not a real good match because Hoffa really was deserving of prosecution. Having said that--Kennedy didn't play fair, either, and the methods that he used as a counsel on a Senate committee and then as Attorney General would not be tolerated today.
Kennedy eventually succeeded by winning a jury tampering case, and Hoffa did several years of prison time before getting pardoned by Nixon and eventually coming to his notorious end. Hoffa is a bit of a fascinating figure for me, in that we actually happened to be in the Detroit area the day Hoffa disappeared--my mother's family is from Michigan--and one of the first clues I had that my father was not your average businessman was that the FBI questioned him about Hoffa shortly after we returned home (although my father and my uncle slightly knew some of the New Jersey mobsters that are the prime suspects in the disappearance, it was strictly coincidence that we were in the vicinity when it happened). And the older I get, the more I understand why certain elements of my family hated Bobby Kennedy; he was a hypocrite of the first order and bulled and bullied his way around the law he was supposedly trying to uphold. In fact, reading of Kennedy's work, it isn't hard to see parallels to some of the debate heard regarding the War on Terror--if we have to disregard the law in order to uphold it, what's the point? Hoffa was no saint, and while he was good for the union movement in its time and place, the brazen and endemic corruption he and others of his ilk practiced certainly greased the skids for the huge decline in union membership we all suffer from now.
This is a pretty sordid and tawdry story on both ends, and an unfortunate commentary on the motivations that move policy for millions of people. It is silly to believe that nothing of this nature is happening today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Bit of An Uptick

No, I haven't got a job yet. But I did get some emails from prospective employers asking me to apply, which is something which hasn't happened so far. I don't care if they are jobs that aren't really in line with what I was doing before, and that don't pay as well as the ones I used to have. They are jobs, and that is something I need to have before too much longer. I haven't given up on the process, trust me; I don't know exactly how many I've applied for, but it's at least 60. Granted, not every one has been a likely fit, but I've been trying. And I do know that as long as I keep trying, it will happen. And it's not going to happen if I just sit in the house all day.
I got good news on the car, too. It's not totalled; what I thought was oil the night of the accident was radiator fluid, and there is no frame damage and no airbag issues. In fact, the estimate my friend got was eminently reasonable, over a thousand dollars less than when my Saturn got crunched a few years ago with similar damage (that one was not my fault). So reasonable that I've given the go-ahead to start, and both my mom and my sister have agreed to help me pay for it. It will be a week, maybe two, before I have my own car back, but that's a lot better than having to start over. And when I do get it back, the first thing I am going to do is visit my insurance agent and get full coverage again. This has been a nightmare, both logistically and psychologically. A good friend of mine once told me that the best way to insure some sort of successful outcome is to act as if it was in the bag, and even though it will be more money, it has been proven to me beyond doubt that increased coverage is the right thing to do. The money will turn up somehow, somewhere.
I'm not quite totally settled on the personal front, but the next step in that journey was confirmed yesterday. It's all uncertain, of course, and there are many, many issues and roadblocks to overcome. But there has been movement already, some amends made and others awaiting an opportunity to make them, and honestly, this sort of thing fits my present circumstances well. My head and my heart, though, are both settled for the moment, and that's important to me. The hurt stopped some time ago, and this feels like the better way to go. The real test will come in a couple of months, and I'm fine with that.
My daughter and I are reaching accommodations, too, with changed circumstances. The tension of the end of last year seems to be a thing of the past; I don't think we have had an argument in three weeks. A friend of mine posted a very lengthy comment on Facebook yesterday saying that she, whatever her shortcomings in other areas, has made the right decision in being devoted to her kids, and I feel that way totally, as well. I haven't been perfect in living my life, and I'm well aware of my faults and failings--but this girl of mine has had a much better and fulfilling life to this point than anyone could have predicted when she was an infant, and I know that's because I made and kept the commitment to raising her to the best of my ability. I don't regret any of it for one second, and I do know that whatever surface stuff may look like, whatever setbacks I endure--she is proof positive that I am capable of making good decisions and sticking with a proper course of action. And knowing that gives me hope that all the problems I am facing now are merely a temporary storm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Behind Every Great Man is a book full of short vignettes by Marlene Wagman-Geller of famous men and their not-so-famous spouses. To be fair, not every woman portrayed in the book was of the "suffering saint" variety. But every man in this book, it seemed, was a serial philanderer or otherwise some sort of shit, and after nine or ten of these tales, it got monotonous and then irritating. I know that infidelity is a part of many relationships and marriages, and that men, on balance, probably are more guilty than women. But there are men, many men, out there that do not cheat, and I do not think that the more creative, powerful, and famous of us all universally do so, as this book seems to imply...Or maybe it's that faithful husbands and wives are not interesting enough to write about. In any event, most of this was actually reasonably interesting. But it could have easily been a hundred pages shorter.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gritting Teeth And Moving On

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times over the past seventeen years. I can only control what I do; I have no control over what other people do or don't do. And to that end, while what has been happening recently has not been good, I am not helpless or without resources, and I am finding that I have more support and friendship and love extended toward me than I really thought. My friend of forty years-plus that owns his own repair shop took it upon himself, after I told him what happened with my car, to call the place that has it and made arrangements not only to have the place tow it to his place, but will pay my storage fee and let me add the cost to my tab with him (he has also confirmed that my feeling that the car is not salvageable is likely correct, but will do his own assessment when it gets there). I have had, to be kind, differences for many years with both my mother and my sister, but both are stepping up to the plate in a big way here and ensuring that this is a temporary setback; I will have a vehicle, one way or another, within a few weeks time, if not sooner. The outpouring of support and encouragement from many of my friends has moved me deeply.
I am still in a dark wood, don't get me wrong. But all is not lost. After the initial despair Saturday night, I realized that I still could take steps to make sure my license was not at risk. Accordingly, I pled not guilty to the traffic citation and mailed it in; I can always change the plea in the future, after the second thing I did yesterday, finally taking the Point Reduction online six-hour course, has made its way into the DMV system. Yes, I am still going to have to pay fines, and DMV fees that didn't exist most of my life, and after having no driving record at all for a decade, I am going to have to be extremely careful behind the wheel for over a year into the future. 
And while it has been frustrating and disheartening to go through three months of job-seeking without result--there are still three months of unemployment left. It's gotten urgent, but it's not desperate quite yet. My landlord continues to work with me. My daughter is not pleased with what has transpired, but is accepting of the necessity to share her car for the time being. A lingering doubt about what has been happening in my personal life is being resolved; I always wanted to know whether someone's interest in me was because of who I am or because of my resources, and as my resources dwindle, her interest is, if anything, stronger. There is still plenty of food here, bills are being paid. My lawyer is another one of those unconditional boons to me; he has been in my corner for years, helps without reservation, and tells me I am an inspiration to him. My ex-wife has proven to be surprisingly accommodating and even--gasp--helpful in some ways. The relationship with my older daughters has evolved, grown, and strengthened. 
Not everyone that I know or know of has proven to be helpful or supportive. But far more than I believed in September have proved to be, and even those that have not been have not proven to be overly corrosive and damaging--to my knowledge, anyway. And if there is one thing that the events of the last four months have been demonstrating to me, it is that the quality of my life is not determined by the outward trappings. Things have not broken not my way--but I have not been broken. I have, even in circumstances less than ideal, proven capable of alleviating the distress of others who could have easily broken under the weight of their own mistakes and misfortunes. And most of all, there is still hope for a better future, even after all that has happened. 
All is not lost. Really, all that has been permanently lost is some pride, vanity, and complacency. Just as I was taken for granted by some that will never do so again, and that are grateful for a chance to make amends and to be forgiven for trespasses, so too I am not going to take much for granted that I did at, say, this time a year ago. That does not give me a free pass on the consequences of some things--but the point and aim of life is not that we dont' make mistakes, but that we learn from them and that we don't repeat them. 
And that we don't give up. I may not get what I want, even if I keep plugging away. But I know that I will not get what I want if I give up. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Testing My Mettle and Resolve

I'll say this: if I am as resilient as I think I am, I'm getting an opportunity to prove it. The car that I just got, the one I don't even have the title to yet, is most likely junk now. I got in an accident yesterday, since I don't have collision on my insurance (this is the first time that I have been at fault in an accident since 1989; I took a chance that that trend would continue, and I was wrong and am now paying the price) and since I was ticketed (with reason), and because I suspect there is thousands of dollars in damage to it, I am currently without a vehicle. We will make do temporarily around here because my daughter, thankfully, now has a car, and in the longer term, my mother has decided to dip into what would have been my inheritance and bankroll a search for a reasonable replacement, should it come to that.
But I've got to tell you, it's a blow. The last six months, including the last three months I was employed, have been one series of disappointments and body punches after another. And if it is really true that it is darkest before the dawn--well, it's pretty inky right now. I've heard a hundred people tell me that I am strong, that it will turn around, that it will get better, that something has to break my way here. And I haven't given up--I still apply for anywhere from five to fifteen jobs a week, I am being resourceful about making ends meet, I have tried to keep commitments, I have cut others breaks, I have tried to be the best man I can be, and I have by and large kept all the resolutions I made at the end of last year.
I haven't lost my faith, at least not yet. But it's wobbling. Today is a Sunday, so I will not be able to do much of anything, which is just as well. I'm a little in shock that the track meet in Manhattan that Binghamton is participating in is still being held, albeit in truncated form, and that she and the rest of the team are going; the ban on travel and the state of emergency were lifted nine minutes ago in the city. If I had more fire this morning, I would pen something about how school districts have their priorities disordered; it sure seems like sports come before common sense. The car obviously is going to stay here, and she has school Monday and I can get much done that day, too. But she is home all week afterward, because of the winter testing. I hope to have some idea of what's what by the end of the week; my mom already gave me a price range and told me to look on Craigslist for cars, which I already did last night (I'm finding some suspicious listings, too; if there's a 2012 listed for a ridiculously low price, the contact info is invariably many area codes away). My sister may help out again, as well, but she is up to her waist in snow this morning in the DC area.
And I've been putting off the online defensive driving course for months. No longer. After going ten years without a ticket, I now have had three in four months. In addiction to the other good news, I am learning that the DMV now charges you something called "driver assessment fees," and somehow, some way, I am going to end up shelling out another three to five hundred dollars for that stuff. And I have to do an online course if I even want to keep my license.
As I's wobbly. But it's not going to fix itself. Time to make the donuts.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Random Notes, Late January 2016

I'm going to be all over the map this morning:
1) I usually am inclined to dismiss most talk of "media bias" as nonsense. The mainstream media isn't liberal, and hasn't been for a long time. But there is one element of the standard rant against the mass media heard in places I would never live that has some merit, and that is the idea that events are more newsworthy when they happen around media centers than elsewhere. A case in point is this blizzard that half the east coast (fortunately, not in my area; the upper limit of the storm is about forty miles south of here) is suffering through this morning. Yes, I will grant you that two feet of snow is a big deal, and that places like Washington and Baltimore that normally don't get huge storms are going to have problems. However, I look at the site every morning--and the Great Plains states and Midwest have been under winter storm watches and warnings for, it seems, about two months straight. I have not seen one minute of time devoted to that area's weather travails on any media outlet, television or print. There is some truth to the canard that nothing happens unless it happens in Washington or New York. And honestly--it's winter, folks, and we live in an area of the globe where it snows in the wintertime. Can we stop marveling and doing our best Chicken Little impression every time frozen crystalline molecules of water precipitate out of clouds in large quantities?
2) My daughter has been competing on the indoor track team this winter, and enjoying herself hugely. I have been happy to see her throw herself into something constructive, and Sabrina, being who and what she is, has accepted the new challenge, improving almost daily. She is enjoying herself so much, in fact, that she has told me that she is seriously considering going out for outdoor track this spring, and waving goodbye to Lord Farquaad and the closed loop that is scholastic softball in this area. She hasn't made up her mind yet, but I do have to say I would be in full support of that decision. The track coaches are better human beings; track does not cost a great deal of money for the participants; and there appears to be none of the politics, favoritism, and hidden agendas that make most sports in this age group frustrating as hell for kids and their parents in this generation.
I will write my "Requiem for Lord Farquaad" if and when the decision becomes final. For now, though, I will concentrate on the one aspect of track that does bother me. I understand that a good sized arena is necessary for indoor track meets, and I don't really have a problem with the need for meets to take place at Cortland and Cornell, both forty-five minutes to an hour away from here. What I am finding increasingly objectionable is the sheer amount of time that these meets take. Yesterday, Sabrina left for school at 7:15 AM--and didn't come through the door at home until 12:11 AM this morning. The meet at Cortland didn't start until 5, and didn't end until 11. There was supposed to be another meet, in or close to New York City, this morning--if the blizzard hadn't intervened, she would have had about three hours of sleep, been back out the door at 4:30, and wouldn't get home until well after midnight again. The meet has been postponed at least until tomorrow, and my gut feeling is that it won't happen tomorrow, either, as snow is expected to fall on the New York metro area until well into this evening.
But damn, that's a long time to ask high school students to be away from home.
3) I am still working on several long-term issues that have been going on. I never, ever thought I would still be looking for another job three months after the last one came to an end, and I have to say it is starting to wear on me a bit. I've been a finalist for a number of positions, and I've been on a few interviews recently, and I haven't given up hope on those. I'm also not totally desperate yet; I remain somewhat buoyed by the fact that, with a few adjustments, I am still keeping current on many of my bills (with big assists from my mother, who took care of a plumber's bill and is allowing me to pay her back slowly; my sister and her husband, who rode to the rescue with my car dilemma in a huge way; and my landlord, who has been extraordinarily patient with the rent), and in a worst case scenario, the unemployment doesn't run out until late April. But in case there was any doubt in anyone's mind--this area isn't exactly economically thriving. I knew that before, but I really know it now.
4) I've come to some decisions in my personal life. I'm doing well with not spilling my stuff out into the public eye, but I will say this much--sometimes you just have to follow your heart, do the right thing as far as you are able to discern what it is, and exercise some principles that you haven't employed often in the past. More will be revealed as time passes, but honestly, after all this time, another couple of months isn't an eternity to sit still. The operational principle of the last fifteen years of my life, the programming code of my spiritual awakening, has been that if there is a way to cut someone a break, then do so. And that's what I have decided to do. What is generally known is only a part--in this case, a small part--of the story. And the remainder won't ever lead off the six o'clock news, especially when the end result turns out to be authority saying "never mind, it wasn't what it seemed to be, case dismissed." I know more than I did, and you can't spend years of your life around and with someone without garnering some insight. One might have some problems seeing the forest--but one also damn well comes to know the tree right in front of them really well, and a lot of my questions and concerns have been answered, with connecting of dots taking place and some semblance of sense returning. I have not lost my sense of myself in any of the turmoil of the last few months, and the man I have become is capable of more than I ever was capable of before--and something new is truly being able to do for others what I would like done for me. I do not know what will happen in the future, but this feels like the right thing to do now. And I've learned to trust those feelings, especially when they don't require commitments that I cannot make (and to be scrupulously fair, those kind of commitments are not being asked for).
As I said, more will be revealed. But it's easier to nurse a healing wound than a grudge.

Friday, January 22, 2016


I remember reading William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich when I was a kid, and was profoundly affected by it. In fact, I've never really gotten past his general indictment of the German people for being active participants in the Nazi regime and the unquestioned support given to Hitler for much of the time he was in charge of Germany; I still tend to view almost anything that happens in Germany today through that lens. The Long Night is journalist Steve Wick's look at Shirer himself, with the major focus on the six years he was a reporter in Germany during Hitler's heyday, from 1934 until 1940. Obviously, what happened in those years is well-known; what is not is the conditions in which journalists and reporters had to work in, how it affected them, and the various ways the media coped, from defiance of censorship leading to expulsion to outright collaboration. Shirer lived, especially after the war began, in constant fear of arrest, and the last third of the book is taken up with his preparations to be leave the country while he was still able to--and to get his family home, as well. There was some new information in this book, published a couple of years ago; I had no idea, for example, that Switzerland was nearly invaded during the war, and that when France fell and Italy joined the war, it was entirely surrounded by Axis territory; the only reason it was not formally incorporated into the Reich was that its vaunted universal readiness to fight was completely stood down, like Finland during the Cold War. And the glimpses of Shirer the man are interesting; like so many of the first famous correspondents that made Edward Murrow's CBS the gold standard of broadcasting, he was a bit of a prick and prone to philandering and excess. Whether such characteristics are necessary to be a good journalist/reporter is an open question, but it also must be noted that the pressure that people lived under during the World War era certainly lent itself to a self-centered, carpe diem existence. Shirer was no exception.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Watching The Panic

One of the more amusing sidelights of the national election scene over the past few months has been watching the "establishment" of both political parties get more and more nervous as their preferred outcomes slip further and further into the unattainable range. It's been somewhat more amusing on the Republican side, of course. I remember the smug confidence that so many, both rank and file and pundit-class, of that political stripe had that out of the fifteen or seventeen or however many there were, there would emerge this bulletproof candidate that would complete the conservative takeover of the government and usher in the Golden Age. And they would do so by beating down Hillary Clinton, who would have cruised to the nomination in her party over token opposition.
Funny how reality intrudes.
First of all, on the Republican side--there was (and is) not one candidate that can win a general election across the country. The Republican party "base" is a good solid third of the national electorate, too large to ignore in Republican primaries and caucuses--but also far too ideologically conservative to win over many of the remaining two-thirds of voters across the country. If the only source of input you have had for fifteen years is Fox News, then the field looks like an embarrassment of riches--but to people that exist in the real world, these people come across as either incredibly stupid or outright dangerous. Short of massive fraud (which can't be discounted), there is no way that anybody in the field is going to win 270 electoral votes against Krusty the Clown, much less the Democratic candidate.
Who may not be Hillary Clinton, after all. The national press and professional political class has spent most of a year trying to denigrate Bernie Sanders-- who keeps drawing more and more support as time passes. The disconnect between the political interests of the haves and near-haves and the large majority of the rest of us has never been more clear. Whatever label one tries to pin on Sanders, it is starkly apparent that the issues he hammers home daily are the concerns that most Americans have in their own lives. Relatively few people care about ISIS, or abortion, or Obamacare, or Benghazi, or prayer in schools, or a dozen other pet concerns. People want jobs, and they want jobs that they can earn a living at, and they want the rape and pillaging of the vast majority of us by the kleptocracy to stop and those engaging in it to be punished. And Sanders is the first viable candidate since Jesse Jackson that actually addresses those concerns and issues--and the label of "socialist" isn't as much of a handicap as the pundits would like us to believe, because there are still a large number of people out there that remember the real thing.
And what has become amusing to watch is the horror and discomfiture that those that have tried to rig the system are displaying as they see their efforts blow up in their face. I laughed out loud when one of the Koch brothers was on TV last week complaining that his $700 million dollar outlay doesn't seem to be buying the electoral results he wants. The guy that runs the national GOP apparatus (who names their kid "Reince", by the way?) has become increasingly irrelevant, and the woman that runs the Democratic Party has been exposed as the Hillary hack she is. Clinton's people have gone from ignoring Sanders to attacking him to hoping that she weathers Iowa and New Hampshire in half-sturdy shape. The Republicans have been reduced to hoping that Trump can't win a majority by time the convention rolls around.
This is absolutely glorious to watch, in some aspects. I'd be enjoying it a lot more if my own economic situation was more secure, of course, but I am becoming happier to know that enough of us have not been brainwashed or bamboozled or hopeless enough to just passively accept the Kool Aid we're being offered by those that have looted the country over the last 35 years. I believe that there is a good chance that those currently benefiting are going to do all they can to hang onto power if the electoral process turns against them--but in that case, chaotic and ugly and deadly as it may turn out to be, there is some hope for meaningful and lasting change.
The system is working the way its designers want it to. The problem from their perspective is that people like Trump and Sanders weren't supposed to be the ones taking advantage of it. And while it is likely to not end well--it sure is fun to watch at the present time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reflections on the Car-Selling Experience

Last night, I received the money for the Ion, and the car I owned for the longest period of time in my life has passed into the past. While I am very happy with the car that my sister and her husband have graciously willed to me, I still felt a bit of a twinge seeing this one go down the road, never to return. I've never had a car so dependable, that I had no problems with at all that ever kept me from driving it (the only time I was without it in the time I had it was when it got hit and was in the shop for about a week getting bodywork done). I wish everything I had ever had works as well as this car did.
Selling it, on the other hand, turned out to be a bit of an experience that I am not sure that I want to repeat. I have to say that the longer the ad was up on Craigslist, the more legit the inquiries became; in the last couple of days, now that a legitimate offer was made and agreed to, I've been getting calls, texts, and emails out the wazoo about it from actual local people looking for a car. But I've gotten a bit of an education about how scam-saturated the US economy is these days, by the sheer number of clearly bogus inquiries.
And as a public service, I am going to list some lessons learned, or re-learned, in the last couple of weeks.
1) If someone texts or calls you from an area code that is not your own, it's a scam. There are thousands of cars available in the Columbus, Ohio, metropolitan area; no one in their right mind is going to be interested in your beater in upstate New York.
2) Bank certified checks sound impressive--but a little research revealed that they are actually about the easiest thing to fake. Not only that, if you deposit an allegedly bank-certified check and it turns out to be no good, you're responsible for making the loss of funds good, not the person that gave you the check.
3) Do not give your car's VIN number out to anyone before you are actually signing the bill of sale and/or title to the car. If somebody wants to run the car on Carfax or whatever before they purchase view is that I'm not a dealer, I'm not trying to get 200% of what the car is worth, and I sure as hell cannot afford to have some legal complications because my car's VIN number is registered to two or three vehicles across the nation. I do my best to alleviate legitimate concerns by being entirely truthful about the crash history, and if that's not sufficient for the prospective buyer--then likely he/she is going to be a pain in the ass anyway, and I would rather sell the car to someone that isn't that way.
4) Don't get too hung up on price. I was surprised that the book value on the car was as high as it was. The first listing I put up was right around that number, and it got yawns and crickets. When I dropped the price a hundred dollars, I started drawing a lot of interest, and I ended getting more than the number I had in my mind when I put the car up for sale. Too many people think their junk is made of gold.
5) If you're going to sell something on Craigslist, remember that the ad itself posts contact information, location, and some details about the car. Sometimes you get someone that doesn't look real careful at the ad--but if someone is asking you about stuff you've put in the ad, it's probably a scam.
6) Descriptive terms in the headline garner more attention than just the model/make/year. I didn't get legitimate hit until the ad read "Dependable car, perfect for a starter car" in the headline. To someone who's facing a crisis because their car just crapped out the morning their kid had to go back to college--that strikes a nerve, in a good way.
7) And lastly--if you are selling a car for less than three thousand dollars, you'd be a fool to take payment in anything other than cash. It's not hard to get your hands on less than three grand in real money; the bank doesn't bother itself too much with sums under that amount, especially if you're taking it out instead of putting it in. Bank checks, personal checks, even money orders--why take the chance? Even if you have to take a few hundred dollars less--you can't go wrong, or get ripped off, with cash.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Stuart Wexler has made a bit of a reputation as one of the few journalists that has been on top of the far right wing in this country for a number of years. America's Secret Jihad is a very detailed and convincing history of the violent tendencies of what is variously described as the "militia" or "hate group" movements in this country since the 1940's. Wexler rather convincingly makes the point that the far right wing in this country has been waging domestic terrorism for a long time, and the root cause of it is a particularly odious and virulent sect of Christianity-- Christian Identity. CI has spawned many offshoots, but the essentials of the ideology--that the Jews and blacks are not even real people, much less children of God, and that Armageddon will come as a race war--haven't changed a whole lot over time. What is fascinating about the information presented here is that the "normal" nutjobs out there--mostly the racists that populate organizations like the KKK and various Tea Party organizations--are being manipulated by hardcore CI believers into furthering the apocalyptic ambitions of CI. There have been hundreds of incidents over the decades that have perpetrated by right-wing terrorists, and in virtually every case the aim was to create chaos and retaliation so that the race war that the CI adherents want can begin.
The two most interesting chapters in the book deal with the Martin Luther King assassination and the Oklahoma City bombing. Wexler's views on the events in Memphis nearly 50 years ago are both novel--I am somewhat of a buff on this stuff, and I had never known that there was a CI-inspired bounty on King until reading this book--and entirely plausible; his view is that James Earl Ray, a notably money-obsessed man, basically overstepped his role in the conspiracy and killed King himself trying to put himself in line to collect the bounty money. And while a lot of people have been very suspicious of the official version of the Oklahoma City bombing, Wexler's research is again very plausible--that McVeigh did do the bombing, but the more important aspect that has not been found out is who trained him to make bombs and carry off other parts of the bombing.
And the dirty secret running through almost all of the incidents listed here is that the FBI has been ambivalent at best about pursuing the perpetrators--because of the need to protect their sources and informants inside these movements. This has present-day repercussions--reluctance to share information is one reason that the Department of Homeland Security isn't terribly effective against home-grown violence. And America's native terrorists have adopted many of the methods that their Muslim foreign analogues have--independent cells and lone wolfs--which make detection and prevention harder to accomplish.
At a time when anti-Muslim xenophobia is at an all-time high, the lack of attention being paid to a bigger threat to our security is worrisome. One good thing that is coming out of the Oregon standoff currently playing out is that attention is being paid to the movements these people belong to--but the incident is serving to prove Wexler's ideas right. The fools occupying Oregon's refuge seem more ridiculous than dangerous--but it's very likely that they are being used by harder men that still are trying to bring down the apocalypse, an event that the hardcores believe they will personally benefit from.
And those that believe that they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of a world falling apart are always the most dangerous people to the rest of us.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Alma Mater In The News

I wasn't on the Internet much yesterday. For a Sunday, I was actually pretty busy, and there were playoff football games on free TV all day, so it was well after dark before I saw a post on Facebook from a friend of mine whose daughter is, like me, a Geneseo graduate. Early yesterday morning, three students were found dead in a house just off campus; although police have not officially confirmed what happened yet, unconfirmed and persistent reports are calling it a murder/suicide. In a departure from what has become depressingly normal in recent years, the weapon used was not a gun; reports say a knife was recovered at the scene. Which actually makes the news more grisly, in a way.
It has been thirty and a half years since I graduated from Geneseo, and I am as sure as I can be that the Geneseo that lives in my memory bank no longer exists. And yet it retains a powerful pull on my consciousness, and in no small way helped shape the person that I have become. I was discussing something with another person the other day, and I made the point that attending college, even if one does not end up using the degree earned as a stepping stone to a career choice, forever changes someone. At the risk of sounding elitist, the immersion in a social pool of intelligent and generally curious peers cannot help but rub off. I can still remember many conversations almost verbatim from over three decades ago, when I was exposed to intellectual arguments and discussions about hugely important topics such as race, social class, law and order, religion, and feminism that I was never, ever going to have with anyone in the town I grew up in--and the reality that other people can hold reasonable, well thought-out, cogent opinions that are different from mine first took root in that environment. The quality of the education, too, was magnificent; Geneseo was in the midst of transitioning from the party school it was before the drinking age changed in New York to the academically rigorous school it is now. I majored in political science and history while I was there, but what I learned in courses went so much deeper than the syllabus material. When I went to college, I assumed that the bipolar world I had grown up in was a permanent fact of geopolitical life; by the time I had left, as a result of my concentration of Eastern European and Third World politics, I knew that the Soviet Union was doomed to fall apart one day (although, to be fair, I definitely did not foresee it happening within six years of graduation) from within. And the education was more rounded and complete than I anticipated. I ended up taking three courses on Shakespeare, and not only know most of his plays, but understand just why Shakespeare is the greatest writer in world history, and how great works of art and literature help us understand the human condition and our own lives so much more thoroughly.
In short, I discovered, at Geneseo, you can never know too much. And that at Geneseo, you will depart there knowing more than most people not only in the rest of the world, but that attend other colleges, as well.
But one thing that rarely, if ever, intruded onto the existence of college students when I attended were the harsher realities of life. There was very little in the way of violence and disorder while I was there; I only remember one brawl--which, considering how much drinking was going on in the town at the time, was very surprising, and that brawl was started by visiting lugs from Brockport--during the time I was there, and that was off-campus. There were the usual admonitions about safety, but Geneseo has twice as many females as males on campus, and I honestly do not remember meeting anyone or hearing about anyone that had been sexually assaulted. It was the early 1980's, and the culture was very different than it is now, but I also do not remember much in the way of illegal and illicit drugs (although to be scrupulously honest, my own cocaine use, which culminated in my entering rehab fifteen years later, started there). And the only time I remember death intruding on the general consciousness was when a fire at a fraternity house killed three students.
It was quite a shock to read the news accounts yesterday, then. And I felt a further twinge when I read where the killing took place. I lived on campus the entire time I was at Geneseo, but I have been in that house, more than once. I don't remember the names of the people who rented it when I was there, but I can picture their faces clear as day, and I remember at least two distinct after-hours parties there. That house is on a street literally a pebble's throw from the campus, and so it was a very desirable location for those that wanted to live off campus. It was a three-minute walk from my own dorm, in fact.
I've known for a long time that my youth is long gone. But this news drove it home like few other items have. The fire that killed three students when I was there was on the same street, I believe, and that also took place in the winter time (although my recollection is that it happened the night before winter break, I could be wrong). I am pretty sure that the full student body has not returned from winter break; when I attended, the first day of classes was usually the last Monday in January. The fact that the couple that were murdered were athletes explains their presence, and the alleged perp was a former student that stayed in town--a phenomenon more pronounced in Geneseo than in other college towns...This is a senseless, needless tragedy, but it is also a sobering reminder that human beings, whatever their level of education and socio-economic status, are universally susceptible to the same thought processes and emotions.
And it hurts the same for all of us. I have one daughter that just graduated college, another in college, and a third eighteen months from starting college. Of course I feel empathy for the parents that lost their children, for lives ended just as they were starting to live them. And I hurt for my college and what I still regard as my town, too. No community "deserves" tragedies and calamities, but Geneseo has always been a special, sort-of insulated place.
No longer.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Crisis of Spiritual Nourishment

At first, I thought it was a phase. Everyone that has been in recovery for a while goes through them--the times when dragging one's butt to meetings is difficult, because you've heard it all before, you're doing what you're supposed to do, and it seems like everyone in the meeting either is full of shit or talks about the same thing every time you see them. In seventeen-plus years here, I've gone through five or six of these funks, and almost without exception I pulled out of them in a couple of weeks or so. There was one exception, in 2008, when I ended up dumping all my sponsees except one and didn't go to a meeting for over two months before gradually edging my way back. And I am desperately combing my mind trying to remember what the hell I did then to get out of the funk, to overcome the lack of spiritual nourishment that I am currently experiencing.
Because as it stands now, I am feeling pretty much nothing when it comes to the fellowship--nothing good, anyway. I've had a number of sponsees over the past year, as many as four and two that I've worked with more or less regularly, but I barely talk to them now, not because of anything they're doing or not doing so much as I really just don't want to. My sponsor is somewhat more of a priority, but even he is going through his own stuff, and while I love the man, I also cannot help but feel like he's talked about his main issue six ways to Sunday, and I'm tired of hearing about it. Meetings have become an ordeal; I can look at who is at a meeting and tell you who is going to share, in what order, what they are going to say, and how long they are going to talk for--and I will be proved at least 75% correct by meeting's end.
I don't really want to list a  number of peeves here. That would be old behavior, and it's not about the other people--it's about me and where my spirit is. I know isolation is really dangerous, and that's why I am trying to resist the alienation I'm feeling. But I also really feel like I need a spark, something different, something new--because I am getting very little out of my recovery experience right now. Some of the strategies I've employed in the past--changing the meetings I go to, taking on different service commitments, trying to find spirituality in other arenas to augment and build on the relationship with God--have been employed, and like when there's been resistance to antibiotics developed by bugs, they're really not taking this time.
I'm getting to the point where I am actually considering attending some meetings of the other fellowship, just for something different and to hear different voices. There's a part of me that says I ought to speak up more at the meetings I do go to, but honestly, the things that are going on in my life, I don't really feel like anyone else is interested in--how many ways are there to say "unemployment is wearing on me?" and "I'm working through my relationship issues as much as I can"? The input I get on the former is "don't give up" (I haven't), and I don't talk about the latter much because the people willing to share opinions on it aren't necessarily helpful or are involved in situations much worse and damaging than mine currently is, and I always "consider the source" because that's just good, healthy judgment skills.
And I don't have any real desire to join the chorus of old tired voices I hear when I do manage to sit in a chair at a meeting. I'm so tired of a few particular individuals that I feel a physical twinge when I see them enter the room, and it's really hard work not to leave the room when they start droning on and on and on for the 687th consecutive meeting. In the past, this has been a phase--but I have been feeling this way for months now, and the feeling is increasing in intensity, not decreasing. I know a huge part of feeling like this is "You spot it, you got it," and I am particularly keen on noticing self-centeredness and self-absorption in others when I am obsessing on my own stuff. I know this, and that's why I am not getting specific or naming names or pointing fingers. There's a part of me that wants to vomit all this stuff out at meetings, and seek attention, and look for feel-goods, and all the stuff that I am seeing in abundance. But I've felt and experienced for a long time that "you don't need to talk about it, you need to do something," I know that's where the solution lies, and I know it's not helpful to engage in verbal masturbation and hold everyone hostage--to quote Bob Dylan, "fearing that I become my enemy/In the instant that I preach."
But I am struggling like a fish with a hook in its mouth  getting pulled inexorably toward the surface. I'm not in any danger of using; I have fully internalized that that would only add to my problems and alienation, and I've seen enough destruction in the last few months caused by the inability to put it down in others to ensure that I have no desire at all to let that genie out of the bottle again. But I am not finding solace and a path to God where I have found them for many years now, and it's very discomforting and frankly a little scary.
Because worse than using, I fear being totally isolated even more. This fellowship has been the axis my world has revolved around for a third of my lifetime. If I don't feel comfortable there anymore--then what? And I don't like the answers I get when I contemplate that outcome.
I am supposed to meet with my sponsor in 90 minutes. I have debated since I woke up whether or not to cancel, and to bag the meeting that comes after it, too. As of now, I am trying to make sure I keep the commitment--but honestly, I'm not going to show up, even if I do go, with the idea that it's going to be helpful, like it's going to be three hours of wasted time. And those kind of feelings usually are self-fulfilling prophecies.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cruz, Trump, and The Definition of "Values"

As much as it pains me to say this, Donald Trump was right on target the other night about something. He blasted Ted Cruz when Cruz disparaged "New York values" and New York in general. Trump referenced the rebuilding from 9/11, as is required in Republican circles, but he also pointed out that in New York and the Northeast, there is still a sense, dwindling but present, that we're all in this together, something that has never been part of the equation in Cruz' part of the country.
In a couple of sentences, New York's symbolic importance to the country's self-image has been the blueprint of the melting pot, the vast city where people come from all over the world to find new lives in the United States of America. It's an oversimplification, but by definition New York is inclusive, cosmopolitan, and accepting (if not always welcoming) of diversity. New York City and to a lesser degree New York state have been much more tolerant of differences among its population dating back to the very earliest European settlements--actually, beyond that, as upstate New York was the heartland of one of the world's first true (loose) federal organizations, the Six Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. In New York, one notable aspect of its culture has always been the easy merging of the original European Dutch aristocracy, dating back to New Amsterdam, with the later influx of settlers of English origin; descendants of both are important and present in the state even today. 
Cruz' Texas, on the other hand, and much of the rest of the southern United States, has championed separation, segregation, and exploitation of a large majority of the population by a small group at the top of the pyramid since Caucasians first starting living in the area in the time of Coronado. One of the reasons Texas so easily assimilated into the antebellum South was that its Spanish colonial heritage was similar to Southern colonial heritage. One of the great unmentionable truths about American political history is that for all the lip service paid by conservative Southern politicians to "freedom" and "democracy", there is a 500-year legacy and history that proves that the primary purpose of politics and power holders in that region has been to deny freedom and prevent democracy for the vast majority of its citizens. This is a region that rebelled against the nation to continue to have the ability to keep other human beings in slavery. This is the region of the country that made segregation the law of their land. This is the region of the country that waged a terrorist campaign in the 1950's and 60's to keep their "culture" of subjugation and discrimination alive. This is the region of the country that even as I write is continually finding ways to suppress voting, to rig legislative apportionment of seats to keep power firmly in the hands of the few, that employs the "law" to keep large numbers of its citizens from being able to access health care or organize into unions. This is a culture founded on hypocrisy, and sustained by a never-ending supply of hatred and repression of others.
I am proud to be from New York. I am proud to have New York values. I have lived in Texas, briefly. Even thirty years ago, it was proof that hell is full and the overflow populates the earth; even though I was succeeding in a material sense at an accelerated rate (mostly because my "New York" education made me much smarter and more able to problem-solve than the "education" provided to the natives there), the culture was so toxic I came back home after a few months. By all accounts--and I mean all--the Texas of thirty years ago resembles today's Texas about as much as much as today's Texas resembles the society of Switzerland. You could promise me a hundred thousand dollars to relocate to Texas tomorrow, and I would not go (or, to actually mimic Texan values, I would go there long enough to bank the money, and get the hell out of there). 
I do not like Donald Trump, at all. His personal characteristics are of a spoiled rich kid used to getting his own way, and much of his stated agenda is anathema to me. But this has to be said: he is much more preferable as a potential President than any other Republican candidate still in the race except perhaps John Kasich, and he would still be preferable to Kasich, too. And while the rhetoric is much more inflammatory, I have a real belief that a Trump Administration would not be markedly different in actual policy than a Clinton Administration would be (which is why I am strongly in support of Sanders). Much of what Trump wants to do, he will not be able to do if he gets in the White House, anyway, not without a coup, and I really don't see that as likely, at least with Trump as the beneficiary of it. And on some things, Trump is more right than wrong--and his defense of New York and in general of this region of the country against the nearly-unbroken trend of "conservative" and Southern values being put into policy since Nixon resigned is a needed shot of fresh air in the national debate. I actually hope we do get a Trump/Sanders contest; whatever the result, it will not be business as usual, and that shakeup is what is sorely needed right now.
But I don't really think we're going to see it, even if they get nominated. One thing that has been proven time and again over 400-plus years of American history is that the type of people that Cruz represents will not draw the line at violence and other extralegal means to maintain their hold on power. I really believe that if it appears that Trump and, to a lesser extent, Sanders has a legitimate shot at winning the election, attempts will be made on their lives. And if either should win--well, those that have held real power in this country for a long time are not going to quietly recede into the background. We have enjoyed "democracy" for as long as we have only because it has been molded into a form that perpetuates the status quo.. Should that change...all things are possible, and a relatively likely outcome is that the pretense of "democracy" will be dispensed with. 
Cruz' crude salvo is a shot across the bow. Party label means less than control of the power structure, and the people Cruz represents aren't a whole lot different than the fire-eaters of the 1850's. Those people, at that time,  went to war rather than subside into opposition within a legislative system. Expecting that to be different this time is folly. 
We're in for an interesting time, and it's very likely that there will be some violence before the dust settles. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

An Imporant, Not Wasted, Week

On the surface, this hasn't been much of a week around here. The state website was down Monday morning, getting the week off to a real rocky start, and it seems like it's been an awful scramble ever since. I didn't do a whole lot on the job search front for a couple of days, because I knew I had an interview for a good-paying job yesterday. Sabrina was home sick from school for two days. The most significant other in my life has had the tooth infection from hell. I've been dealing with a pretty serious cold for a week. We've had a bit of a cold snap, so being outside hasn't been much of an option all week. A nightmare person from the past popped up long enough to demonstrate the ultimate wisdom of the choice to cut off ties a long time ago; some people are not salvageable, period. A couple of people sniffed around the car, but backed out at the last moment. And I had to dip into my cushion to stay solvent for the first time since losing my job.
But much is turning around, too. The interview for the job went well. It's at a correctional facility, and would entail a radical change in routine, not to mention require six weeks of training out of town before even getting the job--but the pay is high enough to be worth it, should it be offered to me. I will find out, I hope, today whether the job I've really wanted since interviewing for it five weeks ago is going to be offered. Sabrina is feeling better, and so am I, finally; I slept the sleep of the blessed last night for the first time in about ten days. All three of my kids finally have health insurance, and I've been told that as soon as my documentation gets to the right desk, I will, too, effective February 1. The car has drawn a great deal of interest in the last 24 hours, and one way or another, I can probably get it sold for a price that I can live with within a week. My finances have stabilized for at least a couple of weeks. And although I certainly have had bigger fish to fry in the big picture, a degree of manageability has returned to my emotional life. At a time of similar turmoil in my first summer clean, I followed a suggestion and made a pros/cons list for two courses of action. I did the same yesterday, after talking about doing it for weeks, and came up with a surprising result, which was justified almost immediately by events. The confusion and ambivalence is gone; sometimes seeing things on paper imparts a clarity that isn't apparent when mulling over matters in my mind. And it gave me the courage to close and lock a door I should have locked years ago, which was another factor in sleeping the sleep of the blessed last night.
I don't know if the economic situation is finally heading for greener pastures. But emotionally, the winter of my discontent (it is simply amazing to me how many neat little phrases have their origin in Shakespeare; as I've told my own kids and dozens that I have worked with over the years, the thing about Shakespeare's reputation as the greatest literary artist in the history of the English language is that he really is that good) has slid by. I feel pounds lighter today, and although I know better than to think I'm going to be floating on a pink cloud for weeks or months now, I also realize that uncertainty and wrestling with serious emotional baggage can adversely affect all areas of life. Shedding the baggage yesterday was very liberating, and today just feels different. It's like a bank of fog has lifted, and a couple of ways forward have been revealed.
And to that end, I have a pretty full day ahead. Giving someone that desperately needs it an hour of my time early. Then shopping for necessities. Showing off the car. Meeting with a sponsee. Getting through the pile of job leads my wonderful counselor at Workforce emailed me yesterday. And a renewed appreciation and gratitude, after looking at a parade of familiar names and faces on Mobile Patrol all week and at the nightmares it has caused in some others I know, for not only having left addiction behind me so long ago, but to be truly free of even the most remote desire to ever pick it up again, even in troubled times.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: AURORA

Even though it has passed during my lifetime from the realm of science to the realm of fiction, one of my favorite genre of books is those dealing with the future of space exploration and more specifically those of humans living on other planets. British writer Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is a rather long novel dealing with a theme in this type of book that I've never seen written about before--what happens when things don't go swimmingly. The novel's narrator is the artificial intelligence that runs the spaceship, and one of the secondary themes is the AI's evolving human emotions--not in a malevolent fashion, to be sure. The major plot action is the journey to a nearby star for the purpose of colonizing a world there--only to find that the world harbors microorganisms that kill humans. The colonizers eventually engage in a fratricidal war that ends with many opting to return to earth, and the technical problems that entails--and then the less-than-heroic reception they get. This book is a lot longer than the standard sci-fi novel, and there is a lot of information to digest--but that is also because this is more ambitious than most books of this type, and on one level the story is quite a commentary on today's earth, its culture, and those that populate it, as well. The level of technical detail in this book is frankly unnecessary and bogs down the story at times, but on the whole this is quite an accomplishment, and the idea that eventually is driven home--that the size of the universe basically precludes any meaningful contact with any other civilizations, even if they almost certainly do exist--is very logical and probably correct, even if many are in denial about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

That's My District

There was an article online this morning that stated that the graduation rate in the Binghamton City School District is 54%. In other words, out of every twenty kids that enter the high school, only eleven graduate. There have already been apolgia and excuses from the principal, stating that the number cited is not just the high school kids, but kids in the alternative schools and such, and "we have no control over that at the high school." Which is technically true, I suppose, but dodges both the larger and smaller points.
The larger point is that there are an awful lot of school-age kids in the district that attend school after the age of, say, 12 simply because the law requires them to be enrolled. By the time they reach high school, it is abundantly clear that the school itself is merely a holding station, an environment that they are not willing and/or able to succeed in, and by the time their ostensible "class" graduates, they have been long gone. These are kids from homes where both biological parents are almost always not present, and they are from homes where the parent or adults in the home barely or didn't graduate high school themselves. And to me that's the bigger issue, and the bigger problem. I remember serving on a panel at some event years ago with a school official from a rural school district, and in conversation with her, she mentioned that dealing with parents of troubled kids was often more frustrating than dealing with the kids, because the parents' experiences when in school at that age were almost uniformly bad, and there was a lot of resentment and "nonsense" to work through. 
And that underscores the great problem in American society, seen on so many levels. Most people pay lip service to the idea that children model the behavior that they see their parents engage in, and that their values often turn out to mirror their role models'. And then when the kids grow into adolescence and young adulthood--somehow the dots aren't really connnected anymore, at least to the point where parents won't acknowledge their own contributions to the present problems. I saw this time and again at my former job; parents that had lived dissolute, chaotic, completely self-centered lives for years suddenly acted like it was the school district's fault that their kids turned out to be non-involved, attention-seeking, sullen and morose teenagers, with no real interest or ability to cope with problems and even less in acedemic achievement and healthy social networking.
And Binghamton, more than most other districts, certainly others in the area, has an overabundance of youth that are from family situations that are chaotic and headed by people with no substantial record of healthy attitudes or acheivements. The results are completely unsurprising. The classic example of this is a youth I remember from my caseload about eight years ago. She was sixteen and pregnant, and showed zero interest in staying in school or even completing the tenth grade. Her mother was 33 and had never worked for more than six months at a job; her grandmother was 50 and been on SSI for decades. She had never lived anywhere other than a two-bedroom apartment, and her mother had never owned a car. The kid could barely read, and told me she had never read a book for pleasure. The mother showed little if any interest in her kid's welfare or learning process; the kid told me that the last time her mother had cooked a dinner on a school night was when she was in elementary school, and most weekends only came home to sleep and change clothes. Was it any real surprise that the kid was pregnant? It was a way to get needs met that the mother and grandmother were manifestly unable and unwilling to meet. 
And while that situation was a bit of an extreme, it wasn't that unusual. I saw, and see, this all the time. While the fairy tale of the poor kid that sees education as the way out of the hellhole he/she grows up in is well established in the American narrative, it is not realistic to expect kids to overcome their backgrounds on a regular basis--not to mention that higher education and upward mobility is a thing of the past, anyway. I was surprised, but not shocked, that the number was what it was, but even the district's statement that about 70% of the kids in the high school actually graduate seems high. There aren't really more than half of the kids in the high school invested in their education, and a similar proportion of parents, too.
The smaller point is that even those of us that are invested in our kids' education, that pay attention to what happens in the school, have known for years that the academic programs at the high school level are lacking--and so is the way discipline is administered. Binghamton's program is OK if you have a high-needs kid, and OK if you have a really smart kid that is intellectually voracious and ambitious--and totally sucks for the kids in the middle of the bell curve. Truancy is often winked at, and the anti-bullying campaign breaks down because kids that engage in the behavior are not given meaningful consequences. The racial tension present in the community is very much reflected within the high school itself, especially among the female students. And Binghamton's school officials are well aware of these problems--but their solutions are ineffective and seem mostly designed to justify paying higher salaries to administrative positions, rather than actual teachers or innovative and effective programing. The few school officials and few school-sponsored programs that were effective a decade ago have been scrapped, and the outside initiatives the school has adopted have failed miserably. 
But in some ways, it doesn't matter. Without parents that give a shit, whatever the school does is going to limited at best. My own feeling is that the district, ideally, would acknowledge reality and separate the kids that want an education from those that don't--but the way the system is set up doesn't really allow this. Failing that, they ought to take better steps to make sure that the environment for the majority of students is actually conducive to learning. Which means more rigorous and more effective ways of dealing with problem behaviors and problem students, and if the kids don't adjust their behaviors--then turn them loose earlier. 
Hell, it isn't like they are graduating anyway  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Joys of Selling a Car in 2016

One of the developments of the last couple of weeks around here has been the decision to sell the car I've been driving for the last six years. I was reliably assured by almost everyone that I spoke to that the best way to sell anything anymore is to put it on Craigslist, so that's what I decided to do. And got quite the education.
First of all, I had no idea of how many people are trying to sell cars and trucks on this site. Within 24 hours, my ad was already buried three hundred listings back, and I'm sure that if the person coming today to look at it doesn't buy it, I'm going to have to repost it tomorrow, simply to get it back out there in the forefront again. But it blew me away to see literally hundreds of cars listed in a 24-hour span.
The second thing I noticed within minutes was how prevalent bullshit artists are. Within an hour of listing the car, I got a text message from a number based in South Bend, Indiana, offering to pay over what I listed by certified check, asking for address and phone number, etc. It looked enticing--for about five seconds, when I realized that I had neglected to put a phone number in the original posted ad. How the hell did this person, supposedly in Indiana, get my phone number? They had to have access to the Craigslist database that they supposedly should not have is the answer I came up with, and then the texts starting coming in about every five minutes. I ended up blocking the number.
I readjusted the ad to put contact info on it, and got an email while I was at the track meet Saturday. And then another. And then another, and then... eight emails, all from the same sender, all within an hour's time, all with the same message (offering to pay more than what I want for the car). This one had an email to mail back to, and I sent one saying I couldn't meet when they wanted to, but to suggest another time. It took about ten hours for a response--and the answer came back with a different name for the alleged interested party than there was in the first email, and again the same line with the certified check and alleged agent to check out the car. I never responded.
Finally, Saturday I got a legit response (at least I think), and supposedly the woman is going to check out the car today. But that's been it. There hasn't been this great stampeded of interest; the market for this sort of thing is glutted, I can see. If this sale doesn't work out, I might just try to offload this on a dealer and be done with it.
But the certified check scam deserves some more exposure. It sounds legitimate. But I did a little research, and even Craigslist themselves openly states that no one selling something on the site should accept one, because they are easy to fake, from out of town banks, and people should be very wary of non-local buyers. It's not like an eBay for cars, to be certain. And then I found out that if you deposit one of these certified checks in your bank, and it turns out to be fake--the depositor is responsible for making the amount good, not the person that gave you the check. Which, from the bank's perspective, makes sense; they have no way of knowing that you're not the one that created the fake check, and you're the one that brought the check to the bank, after all. I can see no advantage at all of having a certified check for anything. If you get  a personal check, at least the person that wrote it is responsible for it being good.
I cleaned out the inside of the car on the weekend. I have to clean out the trunk today and vacuum it out before the afternoon. But hopefully, by this evening, I hope to have an agreement to sell it. Fingers crossed.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ziggy Stardust Goes Home

I woke up in the middle of the night, a few hours ago, and discovered that David Bowie had died, a couple of days past his 69th birthday, overnight. I'm not usually one that is affected by celebrity news of any sort, and not given to gushing memorials when someone I never met in my life dies. But this news does affect me somewhat.
I've written on several occasions in this space about David Bowie ( at some length, and I'm going to try not to repeat the information presented in those posts. But I will go over a couple of points again. One is that the Bowie canon of songs made a whole lot more sense after I went through a bout of drug addiction and then recovery. Some of his songs weren't overtly about drugs, but after having gone through similar experiences, I know now, many years after first hearing them, what the song was describing. To take one example, the song Scary Monsters, although quite a virtuoso piece of work, doesn't really make sense to a non-addict. I remember hearing it for the first time in about ten years after I had been clean for about a year--and I was blown away, because I had now lived through being with a woman "who had a horror of rooms," who "couldn't hide beat," what it was like to keep "running scared." And much of his earlier work also made a great deal more sense; Width of a Circle, in particular, resonates now much more than it ever did when I was younger, because it is an account of addiction and some of the weird places it leads one to. And perhaps his masterpiece was Ashes to Ashes, a song overtly about an addict, and the source of the title of this blog, among many other things. Lost in the hype of the song's release about the updating of the Major Tom saga was the fact that it is as poignant and accurate a picture of the despair of end-stage addiction as exists. And it has been given an added kick, in my own life, by my recent contact with someone who is "strung out in heavens high/hitting an all-time low."
But the most inspirational part of the Bowie story was not his addiction, but his recovery. Bowie spent the last 30 years of his life away from center stage, and as my own recovery progressed, I became convinced that Bowie had, whether he publicly acknowledged it or not, gone through a "spiritual awakening" of the type recovery programs often talk about. He didn't need to seek attention, didn't need the spotlight, like he did in the first twenty years of his career. In fact, if you look at Bowie's career from about 1982 onward, you see a whole lot of collaborations with others, a lot of low-key stuff, a determined and lasting attempt to be just a member of a band, and a lot of uncredited, behind-the-scenes stuff that helped others' careers and furthered causes. I was just reminded of the quintessential example of this tendency in the last month, with the Christmas season coming up again. Bowie was one of the guiding forces behind Do They Know It's Christmas?, the 1984 effort that raised awareness of the Ethiopian famine that spawned Live Aid and its successors. The song has become a staple of Christmas programming on radio stations around the world--and you'd never know, looking at the video or hearing it, that Bowie was so deeply involved in the making of it, because even though he was perhaps the biggest star on the planet at the time (he was less than a year removed from his biggest commercial success, Modern Love), he would not take a line to sing solo, and only contributed voice to the backing vocals, not even appearing in the background shots of the video. To  a recovering addict, there is no better example of "selfless service."
He recently released a new CD, and there has been some promotion around it, but the fact that he was mortally ill was not public knowledge. I was blown away to see the headlines that he had died, and even more surprised to find that it was cancer, not a heart attack or something sudden. And again, to me that is proof that this was a man that had become comfortable with himself and who he was, to the point where he refused to make a spectacle of his own impending demise. David Bowie ended up being one of the true giants of not only the music world, but of the world in general. He was a man that came to terms with his past, and spent the last half of his life making amends for the excesses and damage that he caused in his addiction. And to all visible evidence, he passed from this existence at peace with the world and with himself.
If you had told me, when I was in high school, that one of the terms that would be attached to David Bowie when he died was "dignified," I would have laughed uproariously. But his life's arc proves to me that it's never too late to change, that doing the right thing for the right reasons brings its own rewards, and that the excesses and embarrassments of a dissolute life can be expunged by a commitment to living by principles. I am sure that there are quite a few people out there that will see the notice in the news this morning and still think of Bowie as the androgynous freak of the early 1970's, or the skeletal addict that emerged from a three-year sojourn in Berlin in the late 1970's looking like a barely-animated corpse. In the last month, I saw several people post videos of Bowie singing a duet with Bing Crosby on the latter's last Christmas special on network TV, somewhere around 1975. And some of the comments were tough to read--evidence that for some people, no matter how much change takes place in a person over 40 years, they are forever pigeonholed as some stereotype or frozen in a moment in time and forever labeled and dismissed no matter what happens after that moment.
And I'm sure he didn't give a crap what was said. He was a man that experienced all the transitory and empty promises that "celebrity" has to offer--and that found peace and contentment by giving it up. For that example alone, he deserves our admiration. And he was also one of the best musical artists of my lifetime. I had him rated as number 7 out of my personal top 40 a couple of years ago, and frankly I listen to his music as much or more, even now, as anyone else's. He evolved from a leper messiah to elder statesman, from freak show to the essence of dignity, and showed us all a better way to walk through our lives while losing pretentiousness and narcissism along the way.
And as such, he will be missed, but more importantly, he will be mourned.