A Kind of Post I Don’t Write Very Often

Via the Book of Faces, a friend of mine posed the internet a challenge:

In thirty words or less, explain why Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal are being treated differently.

My response was, “One lied, one stood up”, but I have been thinking about it more.  Despite that one is a gender issue and the other a racial one, and that they are communicating to and from different communities, they are each touching on a point that humanity has not been faced with before this day and age: is it wrong/unnatural to change your body from what it was born as to better match how you feel?  Where does nature end and choice begin, and vice versa?

Dealing specifically with Rachel Colezal and her situation, that question ultimately regards the differences between cultural and racial identity, and if racial identity is something that is a matter of choice. As a person of extremely mixed heritage, I hold to no cultural identity of any my ancestors, and yet my racial identity is something I cannot deny because my skin will always be this brown color. I think that living a lie about who you are can only lead to personal and silent suffering, but what if I associated with my white heritage more and then wore make-up/got surgery to make myself appear more white? Would my desire to be comfortable with my appearance be a step in admitting and accepting the truth about myself, or is it a denial of the truth? And for a person to put on airs about who they are and what they’ve been through to feel more comfortable only muddles up the struggle that people of color actually go through; the one of, “What does it mean to be non-white in America?”

Many would say you are how you were born and there is no change, but then many said the same thing about gender and now there is open acceptance (or at least a better understanding) of transgendered people.  Is a transracial lifestyle acceptable?  Is this the beginning of thinking of race the same way we are now considering sex and gender?  A transcultural lifestyle is already a norm; look at the amount of people around the world and through time adopting the “black American” culture, just as there is a growing population of people of color who identify more with a middle-class, suburban (“white”) identity.  While there are certain to be a number of posers and charlatans, there is also a good amount that feel more natural with a culture different than what they were born in.  And yet, those groups of people don’t put on make-up to appear more like the race that they identify more with culturally, and if they do, they aren’t heading a chapter of the NAACP.

And that’s why it’s different.  A person changes their gender to match who they are?  Super!  A person adopts and changes their race/culture to better suit how they feel?   Awesome!  But as a nation we have not resolved our conflicts about race, and when a leader on that front line lies about what they are and where they have come from, the entire cause is affected.  Personally, I would have rather she done the same work, the same amount of good, while she was white and saying she felt more like a black woman.  Would she be open to ridicule?  Yes, but I think she would have done more, been a better symbol of unity and changing preconceptions, as a white woman in a non-white culture.

And this says nothing to her intent.  I, for one, will give her the benefit of the doubt for now and assume she was doing this for pure and just reasons, however misguided the actions were – and they were misguided.  No racial community is ever going to respond positively to a person who has lied about their race to get in with a crowd.  If it turns out that her motives were not based in a desire to help others, though, then she has spit on all of those people, of any color, who gave their lives for civil liberty and equality.  The insensitivity would not be criminal, but it would be grotesque and inexcusable.

And no matter what you think of her and why she did (had to do, from some arguments I have read), one thing is plain and clear: she lied.  And that’s the difference.  The questions that arise from this are fair, honest questions and they should be asked, but this deception is an obscene way to start the conversation.  Whether it be in a society, a culture, a race, a gender, or within the individual, truth and change cannot be advanced with a lie.

Disney’s Time Warp Brain Game Package

An Article from the Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2030

Written by Martin Van McSnuffly

No one thought that when Google and Disney formed the new company Googney eight years ago, the alliance made any sense, but the company has shown that with Google’s experience in technology and media interfaces and Disney’s knowledge of marketing, human psyche and herd mentality (albeit in the entertainment industry), they are not just on the cutting edge but pioneers of it.  The first film projected onto the stratosphere, that with the purchase of Google Glass and headphones, anyone within a 20 mile radius could watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean 11 (and in 3-D no less).  The Drivatars – Online avatars of famous Disney characters that collected all your data and email, could be transferred from computer to cellphone to mobile device, followed where you went and who you spoke to, and actually learned who you are and developed their own personalities to best suit your needs.  Their famous Googney Contax, contact lenses with neurotransmitters that “beamed” images and video directly into your brain, allowing you to travel the globe without leaving your chair, with destinations such as Moscow, London, Sydney, and of course, Disneyland.

Well, they are at it again!  For visitors of any of the major Disney theme parks across the globe (Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disney Europe, Disney China, Disney Oceanfloor, all of which are their own metropolises now), lines have become unbearably long.  While still happy to be in the most magical place on Earth, people have spent weeks waiting in line for a shuttle to Space Mountain (now a mountain in space), or to ride the teacups (a ride that is now the size of Manhattan Island).  These long waits have taken a toll on attendance at all the parks and Googney has decided to use a little of their “magic” to fix the problem.  Yesterday, the company announced its latest technological marvel, the TimeWarp Brain Game App.  For any of the Disney Theme Park patrons who have purchased and installed Googney Contax, a simple app download can take away the drudgery of waiting days to ride through The Haunted Mansion (which now contains a real graveyard).

The app’s concept is simple: avoid long lines by shutting off your consciousness for the duration of the wait.  The original idea was to beam a Disney movie that matched whichever ride a visitor was on, but study groups showed an extreme backlash to this option as it appears human beings react violently to watching The Little Mermaid more than 50 times in a row.  Thus it was decided that instead of beaming a movie in, they would theoretically beam the minds out.  Once downloaded, all it takes is to put your fingers to your temples, close your eyes and say an activation phrase, “VOOP!”  You will enter a sleep-like state where your mind will “go to slumber” while your body stays standing and moving in line.  When you cross the “Spirit Line”, a special transmitter strip at the end of the line, the app will deactivate and your consciousness will be restored.  Though you may have been waiting in line for hours (or days, as is the case with the Indiana Jones ride), to you it will only be the blink of an eye

There has been some strong opposition to the new Googney product.  Andre LaCreddia, spokesperson of the anti-neuraltech movement group Think Free, says that this app is just the most recent example of corporations like Googney masking a horrendous invasion of privacy via entertainment devices.  “These people have created a direct window into all of your personal information – credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank accounts; information that they could sell to other companies as prime demographic data.  But it’s more than that.  Experiences, memories and personality; how do we know that these things aren’t being altered without knowledge or consent?  How will people know if they actually experienced what they remember?  And how could these families be abused in these technological comas?  What if they are suddenly put to work, cleaning the park or serving food?”

“That is preposterous,” says Googney Attraction Supervisor Donald F. Brobbom.  “There’s no need to implant memories.  We have spent countless of trillions of dollars over the past decades creating theme parks and attractions that are a joyful experience no matter what level of technology your brain is augmented with.  The idea that we would sell the personal information that we collect and use it for non-park related purposes is as offensive as it is absurd.”  Mr. Brobbom went on to point out that they have created a whole new Disney personnel whose job it is to take care of and watch over visitors who are using the Timewarp Brain Game App.  “The visitor’s health is reviewed during the slumber time by the app itself, and warns our people if the patron is hungry, thirsty, needs to be relieved, has a cramp, or has a number of other physical problems that may arise during the course of a splendid time at one of our parks.  We do not and will not hijack people to work the park . . . that would be going too far.”

Mr. LaCreddia says it’s already gone too far.  “Simply trusting the biggest company in the world to not collect and use the information after they have recorded it is dangerous.  They have already put our minds in danger.  What if there is a server crash, and a person’s mind is completely wiped out?  The scientific community can continue to push the boundaries of neural science, but it should not be used on the public by international conglomerates before we fully understand the ramifications of this technology.  They are risking our lives and we are letting them.  They want us complacent.  They want us servile.  We should shut it down; shut it all down.”

But a total shutdown is not likely to happen.  The public response to the new application has been tremendously positive, and the new Googney app was downloaded over 20 million times before the close of business the day it was revealed.  “I can’t wait to try this out,” remarked park patron Susan Honglee right before she activated the new app while in line for Splash Mountain.  The moment it was on, Mrs. Honglee’s face took on a pleasant look with a faraway stare.  59 hours later, when Mrs. Honglee got to the front and crossed the Spirit Line, her face picked up with the same cheer she showed at the beginning of the line. “It’s like I blinked and was suddenly here.  I love Disneyland!”

Reports have come in that a few people have experienced an unsettling paranoia after deactivating the app, and one person even described his wait time with the app as “16 hours in a lake of fire”.  There have also been rumors that a few visitors have had psychotic breakdowns after using the app for more than a day, but no evidence of such an instance could be found.   As to the possibility of a server crash causing parkwide loss of patron personality, Brobbom says it would never happen as they don’t store minds, they simply turn them off.  “Besides, technology isn’t full-proof; there will always be kinks.  But no one’s brain will be wiped out or reprogrammed.  This isn’t some evil cabal that seems more at place in one of our movies.  This is Disney and Google.  This is fun.”googney

Are Fortune Cookie’s Starting to Jerk Us Around, Or Am I Alone?

“You are kind and loved.”
I demand my money back
That ain’t no fortune

I’ve never believed in them; let’s make that totally clear.  I don’t like anything telling me what to do, which includes cookies, self-help books, or parents.  I hold any “Wisdom From the Beyond”, be it astrological, numerological, tarot, or confectionery, all with the same disdain.  Jupiter is in Leo, with Mercury rising?  My fifth chakra is out of line?  Gag unto me with a spoon.  I understand the appeal, though, and this stuff can be fun.  I read my horoscope sometimes, even if it’s just to see how wrong they are.

But these cookies.  These cookies are screwing with us.  I remember once when I was a child cracking open a fortune cookie and reading “You will find a ruby buried in the sand.”  I spent the next year surveying every beach, sandbox, and miscellaneous piles of dirt for a hint of a gem, even the tiniest little scrap.  When I grew up and stopped being as gullible as, well, a seven year old, I couldn’t get angry at a tiny scrap of paper; I hadn’t found a ruby, but I had found a $10 bill, a bird skull, a pocket knife, three pogs (which were in vogue at the time), and a fair share of bouncy balls.  All of that may not of been worth much, but what a treasure!

Something has changed though.  These cookies nowadays don’t give fortunes.  I started noticing about a decade ago, when fortunes such as “A long lost uncle will die and leave his entire estate to you”, or “Your wife is sleeping with your brother” were replaced by more vague premonitions.  “Your future is bright” and “Your work situation will improve”.  I’m okay with these, I guess, but none of them are going to go make a kid sifting through an entire playground.  It’s like trading a homemade cookie that was made with real molasses, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and is the shape of a duck, with a national brand cookie that is a regular shape and has a standard taste – it’s still good, but it’s not as much fun.

All the fortunes have been replaced by affirming platitudes.  “You are an insightful individual” and “You are cherished and adored by your friends”.  What sort of bullshit is that?  I did not buy $30 worth of over salted noodles and dumplings that I am sure are filled with more raccoon meat than chicken to be told I’m happy and pleasant person.  I WANT EXTREMES, DAMMIT!  Give me my family’s weight in gold!  Tell me if I climb a mountain, I’ll be able to read people’s minds!  It doesn’t even have to be positive!  “You will get lupus within three years.”  AWESOME!  BRING IT!

To make-up for their lack of creativity, these people print lotto numbers below these trite affirmations, as if saying randomly generated computer numbers hold all of our luck.  I can do that at home.  Hell, 14 03 63 22 05.  See?!  (If anyone wins with those numbers, please let me know; I may have a future in the psychic industry.)  What I can’t do at home is be surprised by a sweet crunchy sugary treat foretelling that my grandmother is going to buy me a horse named Sprinkles.

I believe there is more to be seen in this slow degradation of our Chinese-themed, American-invented dessert: instead of dealing with the prospect of opening the cookie and being told our future may not be all that we had planned, we merely wish to be placated and told that we are worthwhile human beings who deserve to be happy simply for ordering delivery.  If you need to be told you’re okay by a cookie, then you may need more help than a dessert can offer.

It might also be that in this time of recession and what may be the beginnings of some civil unrest, people simply don’t want to think about the future even if it’s all for fun.  Yet there’s something depressing about cracking open a fortune cookie and finding nothing, so they fill it with happy descriptions . . . but it’s hard to write a funny article with that one.

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

A Letter to a Girl my Recently Dead Friend Thought was Pretty Cool, but like, Didn’t Love Yet, but Might Have Someday, Maybe

Dear Lois,

I’m not sure if you remember me, but we met briefly at that weird house party on the 4th of July where they had a bunch of old televisions in the backyard playing B-horror movies, and they lit fireworks on top of the televisions and one of them blew up the television and almost killed that one guy with the Abe Lincoln hat.  I wore a blue t-shirt.  Anyway, my friend Tom had brought you along on what I later learned was your guys’ first date.

I’m not sure if you have heard yet, but Tom passed away last week.  There was an incident at the zoo he volunteered at and he was taken away from us in the blink of an eye.  The media is using terms like “Provoked”, “Harassed”, and “Inevitable Outcome”, but I can vouch for Tom in that he never would have deliberately pestered a cage full of birds of prey.  In his defense, the birds seemed extremely irritable before Tom even entered the feeding cage, so when one tried to steal another bird’s dish of dead mice, it only took a little shove from Tom to set off the whole bunch.  You can see it on the video; it’s on YouTube.

Actually, after rewatching it just now, it’s probably best that you don’t watch the video.  While Tom died instantly from the blow from the first bird that hit him right in the temple, they did tear into his body quite severely.  On the bright side, none of the birds were harmed in the incident.

I’m writing to let you know that Tom liked you.  He liked you a lot, really, compared to how long you guys had been seeing each other.  That’s what he said to me, anyway.  He just wanted you to know that he liked how you were soft, and pretty, and how you couldn’t be beat at Trivial Pursuit.  He also liked the sound of your laugh which he described as sounding like a gagging chipmunk.  I don’t think your laugh sounds like a gagging chipmunk, but I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment.

He told me that he could have easily seen a future with you, at least of a few years. Maybe even an engagement that would have lasted longer than it should have and probably would have ended in tears because he also said he liked this cute girl that works at the library. I hope you’re okay with that.  You two just didn’t have the time to get to know each other enough to, like, fall in love, ya know? And that’s what saddest for all of us; we just didn’t have enough time with him.  One day you’re seeing a girl you like-but-not-love-yet, and the next they’re beating bloody birds away from what the coroner assures us (from dental records) is your body.

Those birds really did a number on him.

I wish I had more profound words for you now, but life is a crazy place, and who knows what’ll happen next?  We meet people, lose track of people, fall in quasi-love, maybe eat some good food, grow older, start listening to NPR, and watch a man dressed like Abe Lincoln run around on fire while The Blob plays in the background.  But yeah, you were cool.  He just wanted you to know that.

Mark

Am I An Alcoholic (And If So, Is That Okay?)

We were trying to decide what to do next.  Tired from the morning’s frivolities, our conversation had started to lull.  No movie peaked our interest.  I didn’t get cable.  The Wii was broken.  We had already eaten and were already drinking.  After weighing our options and ten minutes of silence, we decided to get the Wii fixed.  As I stood up to get my car keys, I lifted the glass of Seagram’s and 7-Up to my lips.  “I have learned nothing,” I thought to myself as I took one final sip before leaving,

In the summer of 2009, I attended a party where emotions had started to run high and I had started to drink heavier than usual.  I blacked out around 12:30am, stopped drinking around 1:00, and I left the house around 3:00.  I fell asleep at the wheel and ran into a lamppost on an empty street going about 30mph at 6:00am.  The police arrived, administered a field sobriety test, and arrested me for driving under the influence.  We arrived at the police station at 7:00am, where I blew a .19 on the breathalyzer.  Having a blood alcohol content of .19 means I had lost gross motor control, had poor reflexes and reaction times, and was at risk of having alcohol poisoning; and this was six hours after I had stopped drinking.  At the height of my drunkenness, I wouldn’t be surprised if my BAC was closer to .30, which is when you are at risk of, you know, death.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my drinking habits and what led me to do something so incredibly stupid and reckless.  I can’t deny I had abused alcohol that night, but was I an alcoholic?  My gut reaction, anyone’s gut reaction really, was to say hell no I’m not an alcoholic, I just love to drink.  No matter how many different ways you say that, it’s always bullshit, particularly in my case.  I was in a bar drinking the night after I got out of jail.  Instead of taking my totaled-beyond-repair car as a sign that I had a problem, I looked at the reality of my friends having to drive me everywhere as an invitation to drink more.  I was walking everywhere: to work, to the grocery store, to the courthouse, and especially to one of the eight liquor stores in my neighborhood, where I discovered that alcohol comes in tinier, easy-to-finish-in-one-night bottles.  I drank myself to sleep every night for seven months.

Despite all the evidence in favor of the idea, I never felt like an alcoholic (although to be fair I don’t know what being an alcoholic should feel like), and yet something was going on.  I liked drinking a lot, but other than the DUI and almost killing myself, it was hard to see the negatives of my lifestyle.  Hangovers?  A mere nuisance, nothing more.  The opinions of others?  If I had really cared about those I doubt I would have been drinking so heavily in the first place.  Impact on my health?  Shit, I was just glad to be alive.  I assured myself I was doing all right and slammed back Gin & Tonics like I would win something if I kept at it.  The upsides always outweighed the downs and I probably would have continued drinking in this manner if I wasn’t so goddamn pedantic.

I am a person who likes control, but if life has taught me anything it’s that we have no control over most of the crazy crap that happens to us.  What we do have control over is ourselves and our actions, and that is extremely important to me.  When I would drink too much and blackout (where you are no longer in control of what you say or do but continue to say and do things), it was extremely disconcerting.  While it was not unusual for me to pass out in the chair at my desk at home, when I woke up one morning and found that the glass I had distinctly remembered leaving at my computer was instead on my nightstand, I started to panic.  Most likely I had the glass in my hand when I moved from the chair to my bed, but I didn’t recall doing it.  What else had I done?  What else had I done during those seven months I did nothing but drink?  What else could I have done the night that I crashed into a light pole?  The possibilities were vaster than I felt comfortable with.  I stopped drinking that very moment until I figured out what the hell was going on.

Once I started to go to bed because I was actually tired instead of drunk, I began to realize that my substance abuse was caused by my deep-seeded fear and anger at post-college life.  I was no where near where I wanted to be and considered myself a complete failure at the decrepit age of 24.  I blamed myself for it all and believed that I deserved nothing but hardship.   It’s easy to see how I could lose control with that mindset; if you never give yourself a break, you’ll end up breaking yourself.  I delved head first into the hellish introspection that one has to go through to discover that they are actually worth a damn, what Douglas Adams’ called the “long dark tea-time of the soul”.  I started to lose weight and get fit.  I got myself an awesome new car.  I got into a relationship that made me feel attractive and wanted (although the relationship ended after three months because she was straight up bananas).  I still drank, but never on a weekday and never ever in the quantities that I used to.  I had walked to the brink, dangled over the edge, and walked away with only a few scars.

I never answered the question though.  Am I an alcoholic?  I had been to many court-assigned AA meetings and had seen people who were not just dangling on the brink but in the process of falling off.  I knew for certain I wasn’t one of them, and yet I couldn’t answer the question with a definite no.  A sober person would never have done the things that I had done and lived the way that I did.  But being an alcoholic is a black and white issue, isn’t it?  You either are or you aren’t, right?

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has a twenty question Alcohol Abuse Self-Test, with questions like, “Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink?” and, “Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of your drinking?”  Answer “Yes” to a question and you add one point to your score.  If, at the end of the test you have two or more points, you are at greater risk of being an alcoholic.  A score between two and eight, and you “should consider arranging a personal meeting with a professional who has experience in the evaluation of alcohol problems.”  Anything above an eight, and you’re an alcoholic.  The NCADD does state that the test is educational and not medical in nature, and the results should not be considered as a diagnosis of alcoholism, but if you answer yes to “Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time?“ it’d be hard to not be labeled as a booze hound.  After taking the test just now I scored a six, so obviously I still have some issues.

But I don’t think it’s that obvious.  I have a steady job.  I’m involved in a healthy romantic relationship of two years and going.  I exercise, eat right, and (other than a few extra pounds) am pretty healthy.  I never feel an unexplainable lust for alcohol.  I have consulted with AA sponsors and counselors just to make sure, and none of them said they felt like I had an abuse problem.  So why do I still feel like an alcoholic?

Because I am an alcoholic.  The issue is a black and white one, and if you are, you are for the rest of your life; and yet I am okay with being an alcoholic.

There are the people that are labeled alcoholics because they enjoy drinking, go on binge about once a year, don’t mind drinking alone (and prefer it in many cases), and they are never ashamed that they do so.  For these people, alcohol is a hobby, one they love to practice whenever possible.  They are social alcoholics, deemed somewhat less than because they admit that it feels good to drink.  Everything comes with a price, however, for when you dance on the edge of the precipice, there is always a risk of falling off.  Social alcoholics are always in danger of becoming the big alcoholics and at one point in their lives, they usually do.  I did.

There are those who demonize all substance-use as substance-abuse and consider anyone who indulges in drugs or liquor as people with a problem.  They hold nothing but disdain and pity in their hearts for drinkers.  The feeling is mutual.  The author James Crumley once wrote, “Son, never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time.  And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They’re usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they’re a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can’t trust a man who’s afraid of himself.”  For me, it’s hard to trust a person who has never made a mistake or gone too far.  You learn something significant about yourself when you hit bottom, and it’s a testament to your strength and fortitude if you can pick yourself up and go on.  I’m not advocating that people should go out on a bender to truly explore every facet of life, but the people who have never had a drink, or who have the occasional eggnog at the Christmas party, and look down on others for their habits are nothing but snobs who only want to feel superior.

Drinking, or not drinking, doesn’t make you a good or bad person.  Using a substance doesn’t make you a bad person.  Being a judgmental asshole makes you a bad person.

So yeah, I’m an alcoholic.  I like to drink more often than the normal joe on the street, and I usually do . . . and I’m absolutely fine with that.

If you think you may have a problem, or would like to talk to someone, you can find information at the NCADD website, or call 1-800-622-2255 for immediate assistance.  Times can get tough, so please remember that you’re not alone and there are people who want to help.

The Story of a Dream in a Story in a Dream

You were in my dream last night, most of which isn’t important
It was the normal affair of reality and lies twisted therein
But at end of it all you gave me a call
A call to me in a dream I had that you were in

You were saying that you had just had a dream
And that I was in this dream that you had
And we were in the desert among the starlight
I had done something neat, some sort of crazy feat
In this dream you had dreamed in the dream that I had dreamed last night

And right before you said what I did this dream
Some escapade fantastic, an exploit utterly mad
I woke up, confused and confounded
Amazed and astounded
At the dream within a dream that I just had

But I was disappointed with my slumber
At least with how it ended
For I never learned the exacts of my glory
What was so great about my midnight jaunt
To justify a multi-layered dark hour haunt?
I guess I’ll never know the whole story

And I blame you for my dis-satisfactory vision
You should talk faster, not so much ado
I think that it’d only be fair, though you were not really there
There, in the dream that you had that I was in
In the dream that I had that you were in, too.

confused-full

“Yeah . . . I’m sorry about . . . about doing that . . . I guess . . .”