Friday, January 8, 2021

Reflections on a Would-Be Insurrection

               If your eyes are skimming these words, you – like me – are probably unable to divert your attention from the car wreck that just happened, and you’re still half expecting to glimpse a mangled carcass or two that has so far been over-looked.

              I have so many thoughts on the events of Wednesday the sixth of January, another “date which will live in infamy”, and I haven’t stopped looking at it from many different angles, including lots of supposes and what if’s.

              Some of them are/were:

-       -   Who didn’t see this happening? Everything was pointing to an overflow of anger and outrage. How was anyone surprised at what descended on the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon?

-       -  It could have been so much worse, given the lack of preparation, and I’m actually surprised that it wasn’t.

-       -   Wow! Police and security forces can be so gentle and patient, when they have a mind to be.

-       -   What a pleasant, surprising, even moving beginning to the end of that night, with Kelly Loeffler giving ground, Mitt Romney sounding so statesmanlike. Even Lindsey Graham, washing his hands of Trump (though, at this late date, that isn’t really possible) and proclaiming the incoming regime. These are all individuals I’ve had to work hard at not outright despising (throw in Mitch McConnell). To think that they each brought me moments of optimism and joy?! Go figure.

-       -   I never in a million years expected that by the end of the night, the way forward would seem clearer and easier than it had a few hours earlier. I’d probably have been less surprised had a full scale insurrection broken out.

-       -   Isn’t it amazing that the historic and impactful events of January 5th, in Georgia, were so quickly and neatly relegated to the rear view mirror?

-       -   What’s in store for 20 January, I wonder?

What I think is true is that no one knows what’s going to happen, how America will survive 2021, just as not a soul on Earth knew what was about to happen a year ago.

I feel a bit lighter and less tense today than I have because I sense that Trump’s power may finally be breaking. A day after he turned on his lap dog of a vice president and accused him of cowardice and treason (and does any loyal lap dog deserve such treatment?), I hear that some of his Q-Anon idolizers are now turning on him and accusing him of treason, for renouncing the feeble uprising that failed. Karma can be so, so beautiful!

Not for a second do I believe that the madness is over. It’s just that there might have to be a casting call for disruptor-in-chief, and it’s possible that the insurrectionists will break into camps. But it’s not over by a long shot. I hope that the 6th served as a wake-up call, and that security will be much more prepared on the 20th. 

One of the things I’ve done over the last couple of days is to look a little deeper into Q-anon, and it’s helped me to get a better grasp on what these folks believe and what drives them. They are serious! And they are obsessed! They take it as a point of prophecy that Trump will serve a 2nd term. And there are thousands armed and ready to help bring this about. Understanding their mindset and movement makes some of the things Trump has said, and the way they’ve been received, clearer to me. I gladly refer you to the following link for a primer ( It's disturbing and frightening. But it has helped me to remember that people are often driven to madness via their warped and manipulated sense of patriotism, or justice, or religious devotion.

I still believe that the only way out for America will be for more of us to become able to understand that our opponents are often genuinely motivated by good intentions, even while others are motivated by greed and hatred and poisonous ideologies. It’s hard to break through the level of delusion, fueled by intense fear, that has so many in its grip. It seems to me that Q-Anon and many other right wing movements, spring from fear of Black folks (the bogeyman of the guilt conscience, a legacy of slavery), and the fear of loss of self, that was tapped into by Obama’s ascendency, and heightened by Hilary Clinton’s threatened ascendency. Just as a Century and a half ago, the KKK arose from the fear stirred up by the ascendency of Black power during Reconstruction.

These fears are wrong and baseless, and they succeed by dehumanizing us. But we mustn’t fight back by merely dehumanizing them. It’s no more true or right to label all of those thousands marching in DC the other day as racist, terrorist, insurrectionist thugs, than it was last summer to label every protester against police murder as an anarchist, terrorist, insurrectionist thug. I brand them gullible fools, for believing that Trump is a good and honest leader who cares about them. But all gullible fools aren’t monsters.

Things are pretty damned grim in the US these days. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sure have a job ahead of them. I wouldn’t swap places with either of them, not for anything. But if Trump’s power is truly ebbing, we may someday look back on 6 January as the bottom from which recovery began. Good things are possible. And hey…they have Stacey Abrams on their side!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Promising and Creating Tomorrows

The main reason I’m writing this post is to keep a promise I made to myself a year ago. At that time, having fallen into a very unproductive writing rhythm, I resolved to post three times each month. If I maintained that pace, it would generate the highest level of blog productivity in several years.

This post marks number thirty-six of the year, fulfilling my commitment to myself. That’s a good accomplishment for a New Year’s Eve, on the verge of what most of us look to as, at the very least, an opportunity for a fresh start.

One of my best personal gains from the year 2020 was the relearning of a very simple lesson: that a habit, a commitment to keeping promises generates great power, that can be sustaining, generous and even transformational. This is the case because, when promises – or goals – are taken seriously, they bring the future present and turn possibilities into actualities.

If I tell myself that I will write a page a day, there is potential to complete a novel within a year. But if I elevate this intention to a promise, one which I bind myself to, then I am changing ‘might’ into ‘will’. I am transforming those imaginary and wishful 365 pages into certainties. When I bring myself to a state in which I trust and value myself enough to believe in my word to myself, my word then becomes very powerful, and speaking becomes an act of creation.

I have to give at least partial credit for this ‘lesson’ to Landmark Education, which grew out of the work of Werner Erhart, and whose programs have benefited me. Erhart’s expressions about promises and personal integrity are perhaps the most succinct that I have ever come across. And I’ve been using them to re-empower myself.

This re-empowering became necessary when I had to acknowledge that, over a long period of time, my words of commitment to myself had lost force. It began with making commitments that I wasn’t entirely committed to, so that it became easy to back out of them. And this progressed to the point where I hardly believed promises I made – to myself or others – even as I spoke them.

Taking up the lesson again meant, first of all, not to make any promise or commitment lightly, but only after consideration, and a clear-sighted acknowledgement to myself that the act of promising is either total or it is nothing. Because if a promise can’t be relied on, trusted in, completely, then it has no more power than a passing whim. And life had shown me how little whims are worth, when it comes to building a life.

One of the first fruits of beginning to take promises and commitments as expressions of my integrity, was becoming reacquainted with the power of will. I began to see how, once I’d promised something, and when abandoning that promise became an impossibility, the ‘will’ to fulfill always generated a way. It’s true. It works. However magical it may seem – and it sometimes does – it is also that simple.

And so, completing and posting this post, on this day, in this ‘last minute’, is important and meaningful to me. It reinforces the power and possibility of promises, as every fulfilled commitment does. And it deepens my believe in the magic that 2021 will bring!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reflections on a Year

I think it’s always a good thing to look around and remind oneself of all that there is to be grateful for. That may be even more important at a time like this, when it’s so easy to dismiss the entire year as lost, painful and wasted. We are all looking forward so eagerly to 2021, to things being different, to hardships being in the past. It’s tempting to erase 2020 from memory, to let if fade like a bad dream.

But there are always flip-sides to a situation, aren’t there? Silver linings and serendipitous nuggets of goodness. Some of these have emerged because of the painful aspects of the fading year, and will disappear once things are more normal. For example, a lot of us have been blessed with a sense of more space and more time, both for privacy, self-discovery and solo pursuits, and for intimacy, ‘other’-discovery and activities shared with those we have bubbled with. So while I’ve shared accounts with many friends of our struggles with isolation, stagnation and boredom, we’ve also had experiences of re-connection, enlivening and reinvestment that would have eluded us if not for the strange pressures of this year.

Dilok Klaisataporn /iStockphoto

So, much has been lost, and much has been gained. We can each tally up the sides of our personal ledgers, if we want to. But I’m not so sure that it’s important to generate a ‘net’ result. I’d rather just hold on to as much of the good as I can. I want to keep the fresh eyes the year has given me, maintain the renewed connections, be more deeply appreciative of things I took too much for granted or allowed myself to be bored or impatient with.

Personally, I’m not one of those people who is very eager to see things return to the so-called ‘normal’. I’d rather welcome the many new normals that are coming about, though many of them are sure to be ugly. Collectively, we have opportunities to shape and tweak these ‘developments’ as they take place. And it looks like there are massive shifts taking place in work places, in political space and in communities everywhere, as well as inside of each home, each life. Which means there will be displacement, anxiety and fear. 2021 may or may not bring the level of upheaval that 2020 did. But it can’t help but bring a lot that’s unexpected, new and disruptive, because every year brings that.

My list of things to be grateful to 2020 for will be a long one. For all the insanity, it’s been a beautiful year. I won’t be sad to see it end, but I’ll try to hold onto much of what it has given me. It’s good to be alive!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Step by Step

It’s going on a year and a half since I retired, and I can hardly recapture the frame of mind that I lived with for so many years, rising five days a week to go to work and organizing the rest of my life around those committed hours. Fortunately, I managed through most of my life to work at jobs that excited and motivated me, so that whatever resistance there was to the constraints on my time was balanced by an eagerness and commitment to the work itself.

Quite a few of my jobs were project or contract related, or were new or cyclical in some sense, providing me with a sense of creating, developing or building on something that either had a finite end, or that would reach a natural, periodic conclusion. Working through a school year was like that, or counselling a group of youth transitioning from incarceration back into their communities, or putting together a life skills program for a new group home. This enabled me to work at specific jobs for one to three years, and then to move on at a natural end or completion point. Which in turn enabled me to feel just fine about my frequent changes of employment.

My very last job, however, was quite different. I remained in it for over ten years, which proved to be much too long. And while it was work that brought me onboard with a new and growing enterprise, and so had those elements of newness and development, this aspect was essentially done after the first three or four years, after which I found myself in increasingly stagnant and repetitive environments and routines. I should have moved on from there but failed to make that happen, and had become a burnout case by the time I coasted numbly into retirement.

Looking back, I’m struck by the levels of depression I experienced in that last job, and by the depressed energy and suppressed frustration and resentment in those around me. It wasn’t an atmosphere I had much prior experience with. In the past, I’d always felt well able to flee such environments long before the souring had set in. But this time around – having failed to succeed with a number of applications for other jobs, I felt stuck, resigned and hopeless. So I accepted what I’d always considered a ridiculous and unthinkable proposition: remaining in a role where I largely went through the motions, unhappy with the quality of my own work, and finding little or no fulfillment in it.

Retirement has become a kind of drawn out adventure. I feel that I’m engaged in an ongoing process of reinvention and rediscovery, but it progresses slowly. The pressures I’m under are set principally by myself. Goals and projects are my own, self-defined and willingly embraced, but not promptly executed. When I don’t accomplish what I’d planned to in the course of a day, there is no external consequence, and that’s an aspect with two faces.

On one hand, I’m thrilled at how completely free I feel. What didn’t get done today, I can easily put off to tomorrow; there’s no one to care or even to know. The absence of the mounting pressure I’ve associated with procrastination all my life is really beautiful. Whenever I do get to whatever it might be, I feel motivated by my own concerns and wants, instead of by a desire to avoid criticism or disappointment from someone else.

But the other side of the coin is that I let many things slide for longer than my own standards can tolerate. And the feeling of disappointing my own expectations cuts deeper than those complaints I occasionally got from others. And they are a lot harder to dismiss.

Maybe the best side of this process of developing a self-generated work process and rhythm is the fact that it’s so personal, and has involved me getting a deeper understanding of how I tick. For example, I’ve confirmed that the most productive work times for me are late morning – shortly after getting up from bed, and late at night – early morning, really – when the day is over and the next hasn’t yet started. That latter time is like a space in between, and it feels that way, almost as though it floats between those two days, untethered from regular clock time. My late morning and my early morning sessions have totally different feels, and I’ve also found that the second is always best if I’ve already made an investment in the first.

There are a few other things I’m learning about myself and how I work best that are carrying me toward the goal of writing and publishing regularly. I’m sometimes amazed that I’m seeing a piece of the puzzle of myself so late in life. And I’m also seeing that some lessons are so particular to my current stage of life that I couldn’t have learned them any earlier than I have, just as I’ll never do the writing I failed to do at earlier stages, because I’m no longer the person who held those seeds of stories inside himself.

All of this together seems to be opening up a present tense in my living that, while it’s always available, can only be entered into by conscious choice. And I only seem capable of making that choice when I’ve freed myself of distractions and fears, while at the same time accepting whatever structures and demands the moment brings for what they are. And often, as weird as it may seem, that means being willing to act without explanation or understanding. It’s like giving voice to another dimension of my own awareness and intelligence, and trusting that it won’t let me down, because it can’t.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

A Win and a Beginning

There’s a magic to this NaNo business that I need to get a handle on in the next few days. It’s a clear and obvious sort of magic, but I haven’t yet learned to make it work for me.

This is my second year participating in National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve gotten so much from it. The month and the challenge – to produce a 50,000 word draft of a novel – will be over tomorrow, and I already have my technical Win. Like last year, it was a tremendous success for me. I started the month with an idea, and over the last four weeks I’ve worked and built on that idea and have sketched out a novel that’s full of ideas and substance. And I’m very happy with this beginning. I hope that the parallel to last year ends here. Because then, I barely advanced with the work over the course of the following eleven months. The mindset that worked so well in November evaporated, and I never figured out how to get it back.

What’s obvious is that it has to do with a deadline and a commitment. Both this year and last, starting with those two elements and a good idea, I was able to force myself to the keyboard multiple times each day, and to press to add an average of 1,667 words to the manuscript each day. After November ended, I wasn’t able to do so. And now, after having re-visited that very productive mindset, I’m at least a little clearer about what shifted that I can’t allow to shift this time around.

During Nano, I’ve granted myself permission to fail. I keep writing even when I don’t believe in what I’m writing, out of the commitment to get the words out and to hit the 2,000 daily that I aim for. I sometimes feel flat, uninspired, a little bored or even miserable as I’m producing those words. Because I don’t feel I’m writing well. The inner critic is very present and very loud in my head, telling me with every key stroke that I’m producing crap.

But rarely does it turn out to be crap. There’s always something there that I can use. Some few sentences, or a description, a character or an insight give me material that actually carries the work forward, that successfully fills in a gap in the narrative, the plot, or in the guts of the piece that I was trying to fill. Which then fuels me to push on, so I go through the entire thing again.

In normal time, there are several ways in which my process would differ. First of all, I typically don’t force myself to keep writing when I feel that I’m writing crap. I might go at it for a short while, but rarely beyond two or three hundred words. And if I do press on, it’s generally going to be with a fresh start, after abandoning what I’ve done that I don’t feel good about. I don’t write far enough through that pain of ‘writing crap’ to have anything to look back on the next day, something I might realize isn’t as useless as I thought it was.

Another difference is that during these Novembers I’ve been able to really put off any editing. I start the month knowing that I won’t be doing any through the entire month. It is really ‘out of mind’. So I continue writing free, able to think of it all as play, experiment, exploration, knowing that in the editing process I may change any or everything.

What it comes down to is that Nano incentivizes me to write much looser than I normally permit myself. And in the looseness lies the magic. I allow ideas to intrude sentence by sentence, make up characters on the fly, bring in or ignore key elements, or zig where I intended to zag just moments before.

Already, I’m feeling the signals of approaching anxiety that’s of a totally different flavor than anything I’ve felt all month. I did feel anxiety during the month, but forced myself to write through it. As I’ll have to force myself through the tightness that’s threatening now. I feel optimistic because I have a better understanding of it than I did last year. And the greatest gift of NaNo is the self-confidence it inspires. It’s amazing to have a rough draft of a novel where a month ago there was barely a scenario. It inspires great faith in the creative process and in my ability to enter into it. Every Day. And day by day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

An Odd Birthday

Today is a kind of birthday. I’m two thirds of a century old. Somehow, shortly after rising this morning, much earlier than usual but fully awake, the significance of the day popped into mind.

Odd, yes. Exactly 66 years and eight months, two thirds of a century pie. I LOVE it.

Maybe the reason I caught the date is because I have a very clear memory of the same happening when I hit the one third century mark. It must have been 25 July 1987 and I was in Seattle. I was – at the time I made the calculation – in a vehicle heading north, with my love of the time and one or two others that I can’t remember. Thirty-three years and 4 months old, I was.

And what did I think of that then? I guess that it seemed a good age to be. I was realizing that I wasn’t young anymore, in the way I had been. And a prediction by an old friend occurred to me: he’d said I’d ‘settle down’ by the time I was thirty-five. I guess he meant ‘get serious’.

He should’ve given me this other third of a century; it’s what I’ve taken, anyway. I think I’ve finally done it though. And if I haven’t gotten serious, I’ve at least gotten a lot more focused.

I’m lately re-discovering the power of promises I can make to myself. I’ve been reacquainting myself with that tool recently, not to hold away the distractions and temptations, exactly, but to press on and do what I committed to anyway. And I’m committed to living leaner these future days than I have my past ones. It’s a big advantage, a gift I can give myself.

Another promise was to do NaNoWriMo again this year, as it helped me so much last year. And it’s been amazing again, and has refreshed my vision and optimism about writing throughout the year.

Thanksgiving is here in the States, and I wouldn’t mind some time there. But the Hammer, here in Canada is home and I’m glad I don’t have that particular set of heightened stresses to deal with. My brother and family are in Atlanta, Georgia, in the state that was such a key flip in the recent election, and that is about to hold the final two nationally significant elections of the cycle. And right in the middle of the Covid explosion.

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. All about actively enjoying the blessings. It’s probably always been a bit too much about indulging, and not enough about being thankful. But enjoyment is a full and direct expression of appreciation, anyway. So long as we’re aware of how blessed we are in having whatever it is we have to enjoy. Even when a lot of pain and lack comes with it. It’s a great strength to be able to thank. It’s a rich and an enriching experience.

Thanks forward, too, for whatever may be coming next. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Trumpocalypse 3.0

    Version 1.0 was the takeover of the Republican Party with hardly a whimper of resistance.

    Version 2.0 saw Trump winning control of the executive branch of the US, and beginning to impose his will across the nation and the world. That period - thankfully - appears to be coming to an end. But the nightmare won't be over for some time yet.

    The new version of Trump that is emerging - version 3.0 - promises to be as chaotic and disrupting as the others - maybe more so. This latest version, which was unveiled at about 3 am on 4 November, the day after his defeat and removal from office was officially set into motion, is the manifestation of the terrified loser that Donald Trump has apparently dreaded being for his entire life.

    One of the characteristics of Trump that emerged during 2.0 is his need to respond to failure, rejection and criticism with destructive vengeance. And as soon as he found himself on the verge of becoming the biggest loser of all time - victim of the largest voter turnout in US history - he turned his full attention to attacking those entities responsible for his public humiliation with everything he has.

    His first targets: the democratic party and the electoral system that are bringing him down. Starting with the early morning press conference, in which Trump claimed victory long before all votes were counted and accused the Democratic party of fraud, Trump made clear his willingness to intentionally poison his followers' faith in the institutions that sustain them.

    Over the course of the last three days, Trump has done what no other losing presidential candidate in memory has ever done: he's appealed to the most gullible and loyal of his supporters, with lies that his opponents are trying to do what he in fact is trying to do - steal an election. He calls them out to put everything on the line to support what he is willing to destroy, in an attempt to retain the power slipping through his fingers.

    And my fear is that, after the final votes have been confirmed, and his loss of the presidency is clear, he will do what is in his power to sabotage the Biden administration, regardless of the harm it will do his supporters.

    Am I paranoid? Over-reacting? Falling into the bottomless pit of conspiracy thinking? I may be. Trump's insults, threats, accusations and dog whistles, and the unthinking acceptance by Trump nation of his every lie, have me dreading the worst of which Americans are capable.

    There's a silver lining of fresh hope. Actually, it's an enormous opening of possibility stretching into the future. Maybe, just maybe, Biden will restore some sanity to the political realm in the US. I'm actually very happy just now. I was near despair when Trump made his pronouncements the other morning, but by the time I woke, Wisconsin and my home state of Michigan were beginning to trend in the right direction. Since then, through endless hours spent following the developments, one state after another has shifted into Biden's column.

    But Trump isn't going to dissolve like a bad dream. Version 3.0 is newly activated, its ego has been badly damaged, and it's out for vengeance. And it has over two months remaining in power to stir up the chaos it so loves. May we all survive its infectious madness.