Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fuck Cancer

There's a guy I know. I've known him for over a decade because we were part of an amazing community forum, Table Talk, which used to be part of Salon before the Powers that Be shut it down. (It's not profitable! OMG, how are we going to afford to pay Camille Paglia?!)

He made me howl with laughter with his witty parodies of songs, rewritten to match the politics of the day. He challenged me, frustrated me, and informed me with his brilliant political insights. He is warm, genuine, thoughtful, and a truly genuinely nice guy.

I saw him get married to another online friend. I watched the joy that lived within both of them multiply and radiate out like joyous solar flares. They were so happy together.

Are. They are happy together.

My friend MacDaffy is dying.

My friend, who I never met. My friend who has been part of my life for a decade and has made it better for his presence. I knew he was struggling with cancer, but it seemed like he had it under control. As much as you can control that wild rabid beast.

Last week, he was posting speculation about the Malaysia Airlines plane crash, and chatting about basketball and pop culture, the stuff we all talk about. Watercooler stuff.

And then suddenly I started seeing posts on Facebook. Posts saying goodbye.  And then I saw what was happening. The cancer was rampaging, and it was winning, and his time was short.

I wish I had met you in person, my friend. But I loved sharing online space with you. I am grateful for all of the time I got to spend with you, and I'm so glad you found such epic happiness. Love and light to you both.

And, as another online friend says with terrifyingly heartfelt conviction, Fuck Cancer. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck cancer. Goddamn you for taking so many great people from us too soon.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Down by the Riverside

I was fourteen years old when I heard this song and sang it for the first time.

I was a freshman in high school in northern Colorado. There was a protest in Cheyenne, Wyoming, against the MX missiles that Ronald Reagan wanted to deploy as "protection" against the Soviet Union.

I saw a sign somewhere about the protest, and something in me clicked. I had to go. Religious people talk about being called, and for the first time, I felt like I was being called to do something. I had to go to this protest. I needed to.

I didn't own a car, so I hitchhiked up north to Wyoming. (My dad knew, and he was good with it. My brother was hitchhiking around the country - how bad could it be hitchhiking fifty miles north?) And I found my people. We drove together to one of the missile silos that dotted the prairie in Wyoming. We were a small group, and there were a lot of people in their forties and fifties. At fourteen, I was the youngest person there, but I was welcomed.

And we sang. And we talked about the insanity of waging war for the sake of peace. And we sang some more. Because that's what people do when they're together. They sing. We raise our voices together and find our harmony and find our common bond.

I have never forgotten that day. Standing, hand in hand, surrounding a nuclear missile silo with love and song and our wishes for peace. It made me who I am, that moment. And Pete Seeger's songs were there.

Jim Hightower, who knew Pete Seeger for over forty years, said it best. "It never occurred to me that Pete Seeger could die, for I thought of him as a permanent piece of America--like the Bill of Rights."

This was a man who met with Occupy Wall Street protestors, and who stood up to Joe McCarthy's red baiting. He sang songs of protest for over seventy years. He wasn't especially rich, didn't have an entourage, didn't cause earthquakes of damage and destruction behind him. He was a man with a banjo, who brought people together with song. And he did it again, and again, and again.

He wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

He wrote "Turn, Turn, Turn." (Well, he adapted it from Ecclesiastes, but he did that. And what a profound thing to do, to turn a chapter of the Bible into one of the finest peace songs on the planet.)

He wrote "If I Had a Hammer." Doesn't that seem like a song that has always existed? But someone had to bring that metaphor into life, and Pete Seeger did it.

He wrote "Little Boxes." If you've ever seen an episode of "Weeds," you know that song. It's one of my dad's favorite songs.

He helped to adapt old spirituals into the song "We Shall Overcome." He's given songwriting credit for it, but he refused to accept royalties for the song. Instead, all of the royalties go to a center in Tennessee that trains the leaders of tomorrow.

He lived his life and his ideals out loud, for the world to see. He was not a perfect man, as none of us are. But goddamn if he wasn't a man worth admiring. I loved Pete Seeger and admired him and cried for him when he died. For my loss, and the world's loss.

The best thing we can all do to honor Pete Seeger is to lift our voices together. He spent his life fighting for a world of peace, a world of harmony and love and care for each other. Let us all recommit ourselves to bringing Pete Seeger's vision into reality.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


I made my son an omelette a few weeks ago, and he decided it was the best food he'd ever eaten. He's eaten omelettes nearly every morning since then.

Most days, he'd ask me for help cutting it up. Motor skills are a challenge with our little guy, so we try to encourage him to work on them as much as possible. But when he's hungry, I'll break down and cut his food for him. Boy's got to eat.

But I've tried to get him to do it. One day I noticed he ate his entire omelette without asking for help. I was so impressed. Then I  noticed that the knife and fork were spotless. He never used them. He just picked the omelette up with his fingers, like a hamburger or something. 

But I still gave him credit. Even if he didn't do what I expected, he found a solution without asking for help. That's what you do as a parent, especially if your kiddo has special needs. A victory is a victory. 

But then this happened. 

All I did was hand him the omelette and the fork and knife. The rest was all him. I didn't even notice at first what he'd done. And then I did. And I got a big grin on my face, and I told him how proud I was of him. He was grinning too. 

This was a good morning. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Obliterate Me

I love music. I listen to music constantly - for company, for motivation, for relaxation. And sometimes, when my hamster brain is moving at a frenetic pace, I need music to overwhelm me and take over my senses. There is some music that I listen to because I know it will demolish everything in my head and force me to listen listen listen listen dammit listen.

Music like this has a few basic requirements. It has to want to be played loud. It needs to be busy - every beat needs to be filled up with percussion, guitar, blips, samples, background singing, handclaps, something. It should be relentless. Vocals should not be subtle. Quiet is fine, but it should be intense quiet that builds to something larger and more explosive.

This is a short list I turn to when I need to be obliterated by sound. These are my songs. I want to hear about yours. Let me know in the comments.

Wilco -


"Poor Places"

Radiohead -

"The National Anthem"

Radiohead - The National Anthem(live SNL) from amnesiac440 on Vimeo.

"There There"

Temple of the Dog - "Reach Down"
(Note: this song deserves its own blog post, but I'll write that another day.)

The The - "Boiling Point"

Michael Jackson - "Don't Stop ('til You Get Enough)"

Gang of Four - "Anthrax"

Bob Mould - "Black Sheets of Rain"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Faith Restored

I figured he'd be miserable. It was election night and his guy lost.

I came to the election night party late. After the results had come in. I knew. We all knew. It was one of the races that was decided early. I arrived around ten, bought a drink, gave my friend a hug and asked him how he was doing.  And he surprised me. He said he was doing great.

My friend, B__, he's been doing political work for a long time. He's run a lot of campaigns. Some great, some disappointing. You win some, you lose some. It's a job. Even though he's young (younger than me), sometimes I see him as a grizzled old veteran of the political wars. He just does the job for whoever hires him. And that's where I was wrong.

B__ told me how proud he was to have worked on this campaign. He told me about the thousands of hours of volunteer service that the campaign had gotten. How he was the only paid staffer on a citywide campaign (!)  and yet, he was never the first person in the office. There was always some bright-eyed volunteer who got into the office before him because they just couldn't wait to get started.

And B__ told me about his candidate. Told me how proud he was to have worked for the candidate. He wasn't perfect, but he was dedicated to public service. He made decisions and he stuck with them, damn the consequences. And he was sincere. Too sincere, in fact, to make it as a politician.

But he had made an impression. Even in losing, he had made B__ proud to know him and work for him. And I think that this campaign, this losing quixotic campaign, renewed his faith in politics.

I believe in politics because I believe in people. I started in politics as a community organizer, and you have to believe in people to organize. You need to have a hard-wired belief that people are essentially good and that they will, given the choice, decide to do the best thing for the most people. That's politics, at its essence. That's what it's all about.

Politicians don't get into the job because they want to destroy people, or wield unrelenting  power. They do it because they care -  about their communities, about their neighbors, the kids on their block, the homeless people in their alleys. And political campaigners like B__ are seduced into the job. They fall in love with a candidate, and they devote themselves to a candidate. And win or lose, it's that love for the first candidate that they always hold onto. Sometimes it can just turn into a job. But at its heart, politics - and even political campaigns - come down to love.

I was proud that night to see that my friend wasn't mourning. There was fire in his eyes. He had rekindled his love for a public servant, someone who would rather be wrong than be victorious. He saw the goodness in his candidate and in the pursuit of victory for him. And he saw, for a brief few weeks, that that was the reason he'd gotten into politics in the field place.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Moment of Clarity

I've talked about my brother before. But I don't know if I've ever talked about what happened during his trial.

It had been several years since he died. We sorta gave up on the idea that his killers would ever be found. We knew who had done it, but they had fled the state and New Orleans' police was overwhelmed. This was before Katrina, and they were overwhelmed then. Too many outstanding warrants, too few cops.

And then my dad got a phone call. They had caught one of the suspects. The killers. And they wanted to fly us down for his trial. So my dad and I went down.

It was an odd time for me. I was going through bankruptcy, had had a relationship fall apart, and was rebuilding myself. My life was in complete flux.

So we flew down. I saw the guy who did it, sitting in the front row with his lawyer. He looked at me and did a double-take, like he'd seen a ghost. I look a lot like my brother, and maybe he thought he was being haunted. I hope he did.

I stayed for as long during the trial as I could, and then, when they started showing evidence, I left.  I took some time in the city to think, and as I left the room, I saw the family of the suspect. They were upset. Not because of what their son had done. They were in denial. They couldn't believe he had been accused of such a thing.

While I waited for the trial to end, I thought about the penalty phase. He was in Louisiana, which still had the death penalty. Would I accept someone being killed on my behalf?  After all, that's what it was all about. The state was enacting justice - killing him - on behalf of the victims. Me, my brother, and my dad.

I had thought about execution before, and I went back and forth and back and forth. Was it right? Was the death penalty ever justified? What about when it was my own family member? Was it different when it was my own family, the brother I had known for nearly 30 years, who was the victim? Where would I fall? It was a deep and wrenching struggle inside my heart.

I had talked to people who thought the purest form of the death penalty would be to allow the victim's family to carry it out personally against the killer. I thought was a bit brutal. Still, there was truth in that.

When he was convicted, I looked over at his parents again. They were crushed. The reality of what he had actually done - it devastated them.

I made a decision.

I went over to them and introduced myself. They had seen me of course, but they didn't know who I was, not by name. I was just "the victim's brother." I introduced myself. And I said that I didn't want the state to ask for the death penalty. And I said that if they did push for the death penalty, I would do anything in my power to help them fight it.

That was it. It was as simple as that.

I didn't feel conflicted. You think that when you make huge decisions like that, it's going to feel like you're still struggling. It doesn't. It felt like a cloudy day had suddenly turned to blue sky. Once I knew what I would do, I stopped caring if it was the best decision, the most reasonable decision. I stopped worrying what people would think. People like my dad. Or the prosecutor. It didn't matter. Because I was doing the right thing.

The prosecutor was a little stunned. He came up to me afterward and said that if I felt that way, I should have just told him. I didn't really know how to respond. I hadn't felt that way when the trial started. I didn't know until I knew.

These pure moments of clarity don't happen very often in one's life, but they're intensely powerful. It was the closest I've ever felt to following my heart. It was an incredibly serene feeling. You don't know it's going to happen until you know. And once you know, you look back and wonder why it was so hard to see.

I started going to church after that happened. Not because of it, but because I felt like church was a thing I needed in my life. I realized that that moment was something that the church describes as grace. A feeling of giving that is unmotivated by reward. The act of giving compassionately and generously. I let go of my anger and my desire for vengeance, and I accepted that my humanity and the killer's humanity were both valuable. I let go. I accepted that I could let it go.

Sometimes, you won't know the right thing to do until it's staring right at you. And when those moments come, don't worry about what you should do, or what the best argument would be, or what intellectually would be the best course of action. Listen to your heart. If you're right, then your heart will tell you. And if you listen to your heart, it is always the right thing to do.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eagles' Wings

The other day, my son told me that he wants to do something when he's a grown-up. He is going to make (invent? genetically engineer?) an eagle, 1000 times larger than regular eagles. Then he's going to fly the eagle around the world.

I told him that a 1000x eagle would be about the size of an airport. I think he liked that image.

He told me that for the trip, he'd need a safety harness, 10 seat belts, and a book. Probably a few books, he corrected himself.

Also, apparently he's going to have a lab that's bigger than the desert.

Gotta have somewhere to create your giant eagles, you know.