Category Archives: Politics

In Search of Meaningful

Gary and I went to the Vermont History Expo last Sunday and had the fortune of listening to University of Vermont’s Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield speak about The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont 1777-1810.

The root of the multi-faceted problem is that although Vermont did outlaw slavery in its constitution – the first state to ever do so – a significant amount of slavery persisted for several years thereafter; moreover, the ostensible freedom delivered by such a radical-for-the-times anti-slavery provision was not meaningful for even the Afro-Vermonters who subsequently acquired it.

That is, according to Dr. Whitfield, they did not have meaningful freedom.

One example he gave of this lack of meaningful is illustrated by the aforementioned law prohibiting slavery only for adults. African-American kids, who were thus not protected, were routinely kidnapped and sold into slavery without repercussions. So a free African-American parent would be forced to work closer to home regardless of whether better wages could be obtained elsewhere, just so they could offer defense against such common occurrence.

In some ways, meaningful here seems to cash out as real or true; as in, if a person is given two choices where one of the choices is not a decent option at all, then that person hasn’t been given a real – or true — choice; that person does not have real or true freedom.

So why use the term meaningful?

Good question and one I might ask the professor if I have a chance. Or one that I might find in his eponymous book published by the Vermont Historical Society. But for now I’ll offer my spin on it, which makes the nuanced phrasing meaningful to me:

Because meaningful carries more subjective weight and is what we use when we are evaluating our circumstances.

Real and True both give off a false air of objectivity, as if the existence of such things as personal freedom can be decided externally. The loaded terms seem to invoke chalkboards and checklists; some kind of tests; an unchanging algorithm of indifference. But meaningful is a human quality only observed through the eyes of personal circumstances, either yours or someone else’s.

If asked whether or not a parent with a child at risk of being kidnapped has true choice, true freedom, we might start weighing risks, sorting out different possibilities, and assigning values. However, when we are asked about it in terms of meaningful, our landscape — our point of view — immediately changes to a more sympathetic one. When it does, what might have been options under another view suddenly dissolve into absurdity.

Indeed, so much so, I want to take his nuanced phrasing – the addition of meaningful – and use it elsewhere, like in talks of decent wages, opportunities, and living conditions, where decent far too often becomes like real and true, subject to a false objectivity that smugly mistakes crumbs for nourishment, walls for doors, and cages for castles.

Or in talks of peace incorrectly viewed as absence of war; or in talks of ethics where good intentions bow to bureaucracy; or in talks of fighting poverty while those with the power to do so only add more rungs.

On and on it goes, with the meaning of our precious nouns meaning less and less. We need meaningful Life, meaningful Liberty, and meaningful Pursuit of Happiness.

Forget finding the meaning of life. What we need are more meaningful lives and an America that contributes to their development.

Purpose Hunting

Okay, so I’m wanting to make a video for the You have a Purpose project that Gary mentioned to me.

This is a project hoping to encourage — empower — gay youth. Somewhat similar to It Gets Better, I prefer the inherent active nature of this new and improved messaging. For I don’t want LGBT youth to just endure. I want them to flourish and become all that they can be.

As they deserve to be, and to hell with anyone — and there’s still lots of those anyones out there — who try to tell them differently.

But I haven’t exactly been in the most positive, youth-mentoring frame of mind of late.

Oh, I’ve done my share of dealing with being gay, especially when I was a youth.

Sometimes that dealing manifested itself in body modification:

When I was fourteen I asked to be circumcised and was. I had no opinion on foreskin one way or the other. But I knew that the majority of boys in America were circumcised. I would soon be starting high school where I would have to take gym and shower with that majority of boys.

Already aware of how different I was from what society had labeled as normal, I had no wish to stand out further by possessing minority — out of the norm — physical attributes.

Sometimes that dealing manifested in behavioral ways:

In junior high I read the Thomas Covenant series and the Bloodguard mesmerized me. I wanted to be like them; to have that level of Stoic detachment; that profound level of dispassion.

For what use are emotions when you aren’t allowed to show any that matter?

Oh, my younger years were an emotional whirlwind of surging emotions and the severely cutting off of them. I’d throw things of value away to extinguish sentiment and tried to keep my environment Spartan clean. If I could just order my universe, maybe I could control…

But that was long ago and the issues I deal with now aren’t typically about being gay. For one thing, I realize now that I wasn’t really dealing with being gay back then. For that’s a mistake in phrasing inflicted on gays. There is no such thing as dealing with being gay.

It is far more accurate to say gay youth are dealing with society’s view of them being gay.

I carry a lot of baggage of course from that time period. I am prone to shut off emotion and have other behavioral quirks. But my focus now is on dealing with making ends meet and not doing a very good job of that.

I am currently working at a tedious, low-paying job that tires me out to the point of making it difficult in the non-work time to regroup and focus on finding something better; finding something more in line with my skill sets and maybe moving me further along the path towards my overall life goals.

So much so, depression demons abound accompanied by devils screaming in my ear about how valueless I am; how worthless; how I’ll never achieve anything of significance. Today looks like it will be the same as yesterday and tomorrow looks like it will be like today.

But it never is quite the same is it?

I didn’t write this blog yesterday, I wrote it today. Despite my waking up thoughts of depression I sat myself down in front of the computer and typed it. Tomorrow I can type something else. Today, tomorrow, and all the days I have left on this earth I can take action, even if some minor action, that will alter the timeline of me with a chance for that alteration to be for the better.

Part and parcel of having a purpose is having a vision of where those combined alterations can take you. But perhaps even more fundamental to it is given oneself permission to have such a vision; to find oneself deserving of having such a vision.

We all deserve it by virtue of being human with ability to take action towards making it a reality.

So I guess if I were to encourage gay youth, I would maybe want them to know that they not only have a purpose, but that they deserve to have one. They should keep it, treasure it, and not let anyone try and take it away from them; for it is theirs alone and meant for them alone.

I reckon part and parcel of encouragement, though, is encouraging by example. Far too often I let my external circumstances rip my purpose from me and play keep away high above my head. The world taunts me that I’ll never get it back; that I don’t deserve to get it back; that I never deserved to have it at all.

But it’s not theirs, it is mine.

So I stand up on the chair and snatch it out of the air; clutch it to my chest. I slam it down on the desk next to my computer and stare at it: all beaten and scarred and put through hell; yet still mine, always mine, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I stare at it and type this.

And it glows.

Oh, how it glows!

The Necessitation of Sexual Orientation Revelation

EMT Timothy McCormick was killed Saturday night.

He was gay, an eagle scout, and on duty. Those three words — gay, scout, and duty — are important ones and should be said loud and clear, in that order, over and over again.  They need to be Klaxon loud until deaf America hears.

To do so is not playing politics, pushing an agenda or showing disrespect. To NOT do so would be more accurately described as possessing such attributes and is exactly the kind of subtle inaction anti-gay factions promote in their fabrication of reality.

We are having discussions of the discriminatory sexual orientation policy of the Boys Scouts of America in the unreal world of there being no gays in the scouts. The real world is where gays are already there and have shown their mettle rising up through the ranks from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an Eagle Scout AND gay.

We are having discussions of marriage equality in the unreal Micah Clark world of gays not caring about anyone but themselves. The real world is where gays not only care about others but are actively engaged — on duty — in jobs that serve and protect adults and children alike. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an EMT AND gay.

We are having discussions of sex education in the Stacey Campfield unreal world of gays wanting to recruit children. The real world is where self-identified LGBT children are being bullied and it is society as a whole that needs better sex education.

The fact that in the real world Timothy made an It Gets Better video empowering such kids is damn important, too.

A crucial step in disenfranchising a class is rendering that class invisible in the social sphere. This allows malicious artists of the unreal the opportunity to paint broad brushstrokes of generalizations. The best counter to such sweeping statements is specificity.

The kind of specificity that necessitates constant, continuous, and unrelenting revelation of sexual orientation.

Such call for action might be construed as a call for gays being in your face about their –and others — sexual orientation. You’re damn right it is such a call.

For It has to be that way as long as blind America keeps on turning its head and omitting us from obituaries, wedding announcements, and any other normal societal frame of reference that humanizes us and the people whom we love.

Timothy’s death was a tragedy, make no mistake about that. But to not draw attention to his sexual orientation would be a travesty.

Timothy McCormick, may you rest in peace.

And may the world in which you lived keep on getting better.

Learning at the Cost of Understanding

I drove Gary to the FSSA office today out on Crawfordsville Road. He recently got approved for disability and there was some additional bureaucratic stuff we needed to do via appointment.

This blog isn’t about that bureaucratic stuff.

Instead it is about the skills involved in the modern world to make the bureaucratic stuff happen. More broadly, it is about skills of that nature in general.

Sitting next to Gary in the cubicle in a maze of cubicles, I noticed how the worker had two computer screens at her desk, both with information up. On the primary screen she worked off of, she entered data, switched screens, then more data, and so on. At one point she got assistance from a supervisor on how a particular entry had to entered and was advised to enter such and such here, then here, then click here, switch screen here, enter such and such here, and so on. Then she was back on her own entering and clicking and screen-to-screening and turning the great bureaucracy forward for our benefit.

No doubt the program used is a very specific program and the person who knows how to use it — has such skill — is valued by the administration for possessing them … valued that is until the program becomes outdated, is abandoned, or otherwise no longer around.

I originally was going to call this entry high-level skills versus low-level skills. But I thought “low” in low-level sounded disparaging of possessing such skills, which is neither my intent nor focus. Also the word “skill” itself is a misleading term what with how much can be lumped under it. A significant amount can be lumped under “learning” and “understanding”, too, but I will cash them out in a way that will distinguish them and perhaps limit such lumping.

Companies like to trumpet that they encourage learning. Other companies promise to help you “learn new skills” to make employers snatch you up. However, often the learning and skills that fall out of that educational endeavor are short-term helpful at best to the ‘student’ but long-term harmful.

For knowing a skill doesn’t guarantee you understanding of something. Yet understanding is what’s most valuable because it is transferable and transcends the particularities of a situation.

Learning to me is gaining knowledge of “how” to do something. Understanding also involves a how, but that how encompasses the environment outside its current situation. Understanding embraces other one-word questions like “Why?” and “How?” while furthermore encouraging the world-changing “What now?”.

For example, we learn to avoid fire early in our human evolving because it tends to cause bodily harm to us. But understanding how fire is created, what it burns, and a host of other things about fire and its relationship to the world means we can cook with it, warm with it, and largely control it for purposes far beyond that initial “fire bad and scary” exposure.

Another, more modern example: knowing how to enter HR data into, say, Peoplesoft is a skill. But better is knowing how that data relates to the people it describes. Even better still, as an HR professional, is knowing how to most effectively put a decent workforce together. The latter knowledge requires understanding of such things as work needs, labor pools, and recruitment strategies, all of which can be used and leveraged regardless of the workplace specifics.

Yet we see a large chunk of the jobs in the marketplace where the person is expected — required even — to have experience with a “learned” skill instead of possession of an understanding. More and more you see this in job ads, which rencourages a rush to learn rather than to understand. This is very helpful to the company of course, as they can plug the person in the like a cog in a machine.

But for the employee? I say it is short-term helpful for the obvious: a “learned” skill gets you that niche job, you get paid, and you can buy stuff so you can enjoy little luxuries like food and shelter. The long-term harm here isn’t as directly visible as the short-term company paycheck, so I’ll try to cast light on it this way:

Imagine your life as a finite series of moments. Which it is, so that should be easy to imagine. Each moment can be used for either action x or action y, any combination you wish. But since there are only so many moments to go around, action x is always “Life – action y”, and vice versa. So more time spent on learning skill x is less time spent on understanding y.

Now granted x and y can — and should — work in tandem. Y may even require x. But…

Imagine having a car. You learn how to turn it on. You learn how to change its tires, check its oil, put gas in it. All of this is good stuff — good skills — and helpful to have learned. But what if you were never allowed to take it out of the garage, let alone out on the road? This is exactly the kind of environment the modern workforce seems like it is promoting with its emphasis on narrowly defined “experience”.

Which is all good and well for the gas company, the tire company, the garage company… for the whatever company that reaps huge benefit from the continuously exploited skill. But the benefit for the worker of such in-demand ability is drowned by the obvious:

Under such vehicular conditions, just how far down the road of a well-lived life will they have gotten?

Cliff Dweller

Debt ceiling showed up a lot in recent political discourse, and now fiscal cliff is rearing its head. All serious matters of course. But I have to wonder how serious the members of the House take it, really, when it gets down to it. What does over the cliff mean to our esteemed congress persons personally? That their investments grow a little slower? That they need to fire a maid or two?

Or will they make even more money by buying foreclosed homes or by liquidating failed businesses?

If America goes bankrupt, there is always China or the Cayman Islands… for them.

I’m on my own personal fiscal cliff and it is scary as hell. It’s a matter of stretching a tissue-thin dollar enough to feed us for the month. It is a matter of trying to figure out how to not only pay the debt of interest each month which knows no holiday, but also attack the principle. It is trying to figure out not just how to get a job, but how to get a job that will actually let us climb the cliff instead of making just enough to let us fall a little slower.

Santa Claus swooped in and gave me food stamps, which helped out tremendously. But I just got a recent letter saying my $10 dollar an hour job was way too much for me getting what I was getting in food stamps, so I now owed him, and he would take it out of future presents or, if I chose to do so, I could simply set up a convenient repayment plan…

My insurance works the same way, making employment tricky. The medicine I have to take in order to live costs about twenty thousand a year or so. Right now Santa Claus pays for it. If I work for an employer who offers me insurance, I’d have to take that insurance instead, regardless of whether I can afford the copays, as Santa Claus only helps when no other way is present. It should be emphasized here that it is not no other self-sustaining way, but the unqualified no other way…

The bottom line is I’m in that precarious state of, while being appreciative of it, not wanting to depend on Santa Claus visits; yet wondering how I can jump over the banker elves when and if some year he bypasses my house altogether.

A person making over $250,000 a year can afford not to believe in Santa Claus or Elves. When he gets hit in the pocketbook he goes to the ATM. When I get hit, I do without. Even if I can’t, or shouldn’t do without.

And I know this all sounds like grumbling. And it is grumbling for sure. But I bet there’s a lot of people like me out there wondering how to get ahead when trying to compensate for the recurring two steps back stranglehold of poverty.

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store”

A (possible) Gay Future

I was on You Tube just poking around and trying to find old sitcoms such as What A Dummy (no luck). I ended up watching a funny scene from War at Home (Kenny is Gay clip), which led me to a clip from the show where their son, played by Dean Collins, has taken up being nude around the house.

Also a very funny clip and I wasn’t expecting to go all serious and tender and romantic, but, lo and behold, to my right a clip from El cor of the ciutat, a Catalan television series.

I’ve been impressed with the way Days of Our Lives has been handling their gay story line, as it’s very believable and is played well… but wow, it is so empowering to see this much more progressive gay portrayal of love in these scenes from a televsion show across the pond.

When you live in a country like the USA where it seems like many people want to yank us back to slavery and closets, it is such a breath of fresh air to realize there are some countries actually moving forward as if this were the 21st century.

Props to you, TVC!

Connie Lawson, Secretary of Hate

My e-mail to former Senator new Secretary of State Connie Lawson:

Dear Secretary of State Connie Lawson,

Your signature on the letter to the BMV asking for the removal of their specialty plate shows severe deficiencies in your ability to serve all Hoosiers. You should resign your new appointment as Secretary of State.

As a citizen, you are free to hate gay youth the way you evidently do. But the state shouldn’t give you a paycheck for it.

John D Fox
[tweeting this blog page under #ProfessionalBigot]

Um, No

Dear Mr. Ryerson,

I read your March 18th Doonesbury commentary with some interest.

Oh, not about Doonesbury. But instead, I focused on the absurdity of your other comments. Having isolated and occasional liberal voices such as Dan Carpenter in a paper otherwise awash with extreme right wing rhetoric is hardly providing a space for a rich conversation. Take for instance Micah Clark’s hate speech disguised as “argument” given such prominent ink and real estate in your paper. My heart goes out to the IYG kids who read that moronic nonsense smearing their organization and felt their own hearts deflate.

Here’s an exercise you can do that might disabuse you of your delusions of balance. Take a paper on any given day. It doesn’t matter what day, really, as your paper is consistent enough. Take a blank page and divide it into two columns. Label one side left and one side right. Start filling up those columns with names of editorial writers you deem Conservative and those you deem Liberal. See what you come up with.

And that’s not even giving sway to actual word counts and layouts, which provide emphases of their own.

Don’t think that such things go unnoticed.

As Reverend Al Sharpton might say on PoliticsNation, “We got you, Mr. Ryerson.”

John D Fox

Not Green but Red

It’s St Patrick’s Day. March 17. That’s what my calendar tells me.
It also tells me it’s 2012. 2012? Really? You could have fooled me.

We have long since passed the millennium, yet my husband Gary and I keep fighting the same battle for equality. I’m sure some people get tired of me writing/ranting/speaking about anti-gay stuff; but try to imagine how tired we get of living it.

The latest attack by the people elected to serve us was on kids. The only gay youth group in Indiana finally got approval for a specialty plate. They were selling well. Then, at the eleventh hour of their session, our state government, having failed to be able to legislate it away, pressured the BMV to pull the plate for reasons that are specious at best.

Gary has written a blog about it, along with the senators involved, which you can link to here. Politics is more his area than mine and he does a better job of that type of explication/exposure/fact-checking.

My educational background is in philosophy and I articulate it via my fiction. I write stories that I hope will entertain as well as subtly stimulate some new thoughts or reconsiderations of old thoughts in at least some of those entertained people.

Subtlety is one of the reasons I prefer fiction. Oh, I do have a definite moral vision in mind when I write as well as a philosophical space from which I am coming. But I try to keep my focus on describing the “real” fiction events in a “this is what happened” way that hopefully leaves it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For I firmly believe it is up to people to decide such things for themselves.

But the state of our state forces me to be more direct.

Lawmakers practice deceit, so I must be an outspoken champion of honesty to counter it.  Hate groups spread lies so I must be an outspoken bringer of truth to expose it. Unholy religious leaders subvert faith to warp kids’ minds so I must be an outspoken evangelist of what’s sacred.

For how are people free to decide for themselves when the triumvirate above alone crowds their ears and eyes with the white noise of their malevolence?

It makes me so angry I see red. And it makes me want to cut through that red into a greener world. I want my words to rain down on my — our — world so full of beautiful potential and leave in its aftermath a vibrant rainbow for anyone — and everyone — to see.

Addiction of Power

So I went to a substance use and recovery class today as part of a HOPWA requirement. I don’t use drugs other than caffeine. Not out of a sense of morality, but one of practicality: I create better art when my mind isn’t any more muddled than it usually is. So I guess I don’t use out of a sense of write rather than right.

Yeah, yeah. Feel free to groan at that…

So why was it a requirement for me if I don’t use? Bureaucracy moves in mysterious ways. But that’s not the point of this piece, anyway, so we can just leave it that I was there. And of course with substance use, the catch phrase power of addiction comes to mind.

But later as I was walking to the library sorting out the characters Randy interacts with in That Fargo Kid – a novel I am revising – I started thinking of the addiction of power. For that’s essentially what the story is about. Through circumstances, Randy finds himself in positions where he wields heavy influence on those characters, each of which have their own particular set of issues and insecurities.

Whether his influence is good or bad as far as the other characters are concerned will be up to the reader. But for the purpose of this mini-essay, it’s enough to say the influence is there. And Randy can’t stop himself from wielding it.

Power corrupts and all that. But it is not quite as simple as such a clichéd slogan makes it out to be. For we need power to accomplish anything in this world. You can surely harm people with your power; but then again, how can you help them if you have no power?

I think part of the “trick” of life is recognizing the power you have at every single moment while simultaneously making a conscious decision about how you use it; a decision to use it for the Good.

Moral might be a better word than conscious in the above, though I dislike using that term since people tend to wrongly equivocate it with religion. What masks as ethics in contemporary culture is far too often just a list of precepts rather than actual thought-out moral belief.

Deliberate would fit, too.

So what is the best use of one’s power? The answer to that is dynamic and wholly dependent on the particular situation. But I am struck by the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when she shared her power with the other slayers of the world.

In our rush to use our power we forget that sometimes the greatest power we have is letting others use theirs.

And I wasn’t intending to go political with this piece, but I can’t help but end up there. For right now, we have a Republican congress that is using its power to take away my power as a US citizen; to harm me and my family. Why? Because they can or think they can. Just because they have the power to pass anti-gay legislation doesn’t mean they should.