Chin Up, I Tell Myself

park 2013
I’m trying hard not to feel sorry for myself because I know things could be much worse. There are people tonight who don’t have the warmth of a wood stove or the safety of a roof over their heads. There are people with fatal neurological diseases who have no hope of recovery. There are those who don’t have an incredible support network of friends and loved ones. I am blessed to have a plethora of people who care about me enough to go out of their way to make sure I have food, shelter, and warmth. The sincere have proven to me what wonderful and giving people they are, and I am grateful for and appreciate those who have helped me in my time of need. While my circumstances are not ideal, all in all, my life could be in much worse shape than it is right now. Remembering that and thinking about that help me stave off the creeping bitterness that wants to take hold.

Hopefully, I will have an answer from disability by the end of January. Until then, I wait and count my blessings.

Yet Another Injustice

I’ve started a couple of research-based, logical, sensible posts to demonstrate why racism and all the divisiveness it creates are keeping us from ever progressing into a better society, but I know in my heart it won’t do any good. The people who agree with me will read it and tell me how grateful they are that I wrote it, and the people who disagree will attack my character and call me crazy or stupid. All the while, in a few days, we’ll get yet another story of an unarmed American citizen being murdered by the police. The powers that be will lie, falsify evidence, discredit the victim, and tell us to go fuck ourselves for questioning their authority. The sad fact is that we now live in a quasi-police state owned and operated by corporate America, and I have zero faith that the various levels of our government represent my best interests at all.

For decades now, this country has been moving towards criminalizing poverty, and today, we’ve reached the point where just being poor is illegal. Between nitpicking traffic stops for a taillight out (which is really just an excuse to look for bigger and more expensive infractions) to arrests of people for feeding the homeless to choking a man to death for selling cigarettes, this country simultaneously seeks to punish poverty and stifle economic mobility. In my grandparent’s generation, one income from 40 hours a week was more than enough for a home, three cars, regular vacations, and retirement savings. For my parents, it took at least two incomes for the home, a couple of cars, and irregular vacations. For my generation, most of us require two incomes just to survive. For most of us, retirement means work until you drop dead. I can’t even fathom how hard it will be for those younger than I am.

I say this not as someone who shirked the system and tried to skim by but as someone who went to graduate school for an advanced degree and has worked since I was ten, sometimes at two, three, and once even four jobs to make ends meet. I say this as someone who wrote multiple books and maintains over a four star customer review rating on Amazon. I say this as someone who tried with every ounce of energy, spirit, and fight in my body to be successful but ultimately only found dead-ends and blind alleys. I don’t begrudge those who have found economic success in this country, but I do begrudge those who have purposefully shifted the average American’s wages to poverty standards while simultaneously slashing safety net programs. And I know I’m not alone in my anger at that group of people.

As I write this, my body is now a broken shell, probably from so many years of 60-70 hour work weeks with no real vacations. I’m physically not able to protest in the streets for equality and justice and improved wages. My heart is broken at how far this country has regressed in my lifetime (and I still stand by my statement that we are heading for a New Dark Ages ruled by fear and superstition). I like to think that if my body were able, I would step forward front and center and lead the charge, but right now, I’m just sad for this country. Sad at seeing the time and energy and resources wasted on mindless entertainment. Sad at seeing greed and vanity rewarded while virtue and decency are ground to dust. Sad at watching countless injustices unfold while the vast majority pour their righteousness into frivolities like getting college football coaches fired or criticizing others’ clothing choices.

One of my few remaining rays of hope is that history tells us that this is a repeatable cycle. All civilizations go through episodes of greed and corruption that are followed by periods of chaos and then stretches of peace and prosperity. We happen to be in an obtuse period of greed, and hopefully enough people are waking up to this fact that it will change soon. Hopefully, enough people will begin to see that matters of race and gender equality are also matters of economic inequality, and that as long as the system purposefully denies full rights to any taxpaying citizen, no one is really free. Hopefully, the episode of chaos that follows won’t be too terrible for my children’s sake, and hopefully the next era of peace and prosperity will last for quite a while. Right now, however, I’m overwhelmed by all the hate and venom spewing from so many directions

The Conversations We Need to Have

Cover1
Open and honest discussions of racism and prejudice matter. The cold, harsh reality in America today is that racism is alive and well. My Facebook newsfeed over the last few months has proven that fact to me and opened my eyes. Not so long ago, when America elected its first African-American president, I believed that our culture had made tremendous progress in overcoming racial discrimination, and in some ways we have. In 2008, I believed racism had been pushed to the fringes, populated only by lunatics and the truly backwards. However, ever since the protests and rioting over Michael Brown’s murder made national news, my eyes have been open to the fact that many, many people still harbor horrific racist views about minorities.

I have long believed that race is merely a mirage. I believed this long before DNA proved it right, and my reasoning was based on observation and experience. I’ve had the good fortune to have lived a rather diverse life among a myriad of people, and what I have learned from my interactions with people of numerous nationalities and religious backgrounds and cultural identities is that people are people no matter where you go. Some would offer you their last bowl of soup if you needed it; others wouldn’t share if their pantry was overflowing and you were dying of starvation before their very eyes; and still others would steal a life-saving meal right out of your hands. And like most everything, there are countless shades in between. The simple reality is you cannot tell who truly falls into which category until you witness their behavior in your moments of weakness.

In college, I discovered the writings of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington and immediately felt a kinship for these former slaves, not because of racial identity but because of the obstacles of poverty that they had overcome. As I studied their works, I began to see that race and bigotry are social constructs used to divide us so that we the populace never learn to cooperate as a unit. Skin color is such an easy divider, and it becomes so easy to say I knew “those people” would behave that way, no matter that you can easily find examples of other skin tones doing the exact same things and no matter what the examples might be. When people, human beings, get upset over circumstances out of their control, a certain element take it upon themselves to destroy other people’s property, usually stuff that belongs to some innocent bystander. Whenever social order breaks down, there will always be an element, irrespective of skin tone, who capitalize on the opportunity to steal material objects. That’s human nature, regardless of “race.”

I always knew that I wanted to write works that would attempt to break down racist thinking, and though I thought progress had been made, I also believed that there was still work to be done to rectify the centuries of slavery and now century and a half of social and economic discrimination. I also knew that as a white man from the hills of East Tennessee, I would have an uphill battle to write about race relations in America. To counter this stereotype (and yes, I live under the yolk of an oppressive stereotype about hillbillies, and no, I’m not making an attempt to draw a comparative analysis of being more or less oppressed than anyone else because that’s counter-productive), I chose to use Fantasy Action-Adventure as my medium for discussing race and discrimination.

The main character in my series is bi-racial and struggles to find his identity between two disparate cultures. Each race carries misconceptions and prejudices about the others, and from those mistaken ideas much of the tension grows. However, through the course of the series, the central characters learn to see each other as individuals, not as part of a “them,” and through this process they learn to work together to defeat their common enemies, those who seek to oppress. I’ve not discussed this facet of the series very often because I had always hoped my audience would find it for themselves. However, as we encounter this new era of racial tension, it is more imperative than ever that we as a society discuss these issues and listen to each other.

So now, I’m going to be something of a capitalist and ask you to buy the first book in my series and share it with the young adults in your life (Because it is fantasy and there is some bloodshed, I do not recommend the series to anyone under ten years old). I’m making this appeal for two reasons. First, we need to have these open and honest discussions about the racial problems that still exist in this country, and I’m a firm believer that fiction can be an excellent bridge to discuss difficult topics. My second reason is that I need to sell more books to be able to afford treatment for this neurological condition that is crippling my body. So if you would like a good work of fiction that examines the racial divide we are facing today and would like to help out a person in need, you can do both by checking out The Brotherhood of Dwarves. As always, thank you for your support.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0076OCAKG

A Deeply Personal, Angry Rant

453768628.0.0
I’m probably the whitest white guy you could hope to meet, so honestly, I probably have no business saying anything about the happenings in Ferguson. But I’m going to speak my mind anyway because I’m pissed. I’m pissed for my black friends who once again feel as if our justice system has failed them. Before any single one of my white friends chimes in with a “yeah but,” shut the fuck up and listen. I hate the expression white privilege as much as the next person because there hasn’t been anything privileged about my life at all, but I’m absolutely aware that if I’m detained by the police for any reason whatsoever, if I’m polite and respectful, most likely I will get out of it unscathed. My black friends DO NOT have that luxury. If you disagree with that simple fact, fuck off and get out of my sphere. Permanently.  You won’t be missed.

I’m pissed at the latent and overt expressions of racism I’ve seen coming from white people ever since Michael Brown was gunned down in the street unarmed. If you think he deserved to die because he was a “thug,” fuck off and get out of my sphere. I’ll guarantee I was just as much of a smartass punk at 18 as he was and probably did ten times worse, and I didn’t deserve to be shot. Besides, this whole thing isn’t just about him. It’s about the thousands of black men who have been murdered by authority figures who never face punishment for their excessive uses of force. Michael Brown has just become the symbol for that oppression. If you think jokes about work boots not being looted is funny, fuck off. If you want to make analogies to OJ or the poor kids murdered in Knoxville or use this as any other excuse to express your internal racism against minorities, fuck off. Just because you don’t use the word nigger doesn’t mean you aren’t a racist.

I’m pissed that my white friends can’t see that their “yeah buts” are exactly the response the powers that be want. As long as working class whites are fine with working class blacks being treated like animals, caged in the prisons of the slums with little hope of escape outside of athletics, we will never push back against the oppression of the wealthy elite. As long as we allow race to divide us, we will never be anything but suckers and doormats for a system that fucks us over and drains us dry on a daily basis. And that is exactly what they are counting on. If you believe that THIS SYSTEM as it stands is what’s best for the average American, you are a delusional fool. Sorry to be the one to break that to you, but any system that allows billionaires to pay poverty wages to working people while receiving billions in corporate welfare and simultaneously dodging their tax responsibilities is morally bankrupt and doomed for bloody civil war. You can accept that lesson from thousands of years of human history or you can bury your head in apple pie and sing Lee Greenwood tunes.

I’m pissed that we are controlled and ruled be an ever shrinking wealthy elite who buy politicians and rewrite laws into their favor and then blame the rest of us for not succeeding in spite of the game being rigged in their favor. I’m pissed that conservatives want to blame everyone but big business for the mulching of America, and I’m pissed at liberals for being too spineless to actually do anything about it. I’m pissed at myself for not hoisting the black flag in my youth, when my body was still strong and virile enough to fight for real change. I’m pissed that now I’m virtually powerless to do anything of substance except write angry blog posts.

To my black friends, I’m sorry I failed you. I tried to build bridges; I tried to make a difference. While I know I made the effort, ultimately, I have failed at making any dent in the poison of ignorance and racism once again consuming this nation. To my white friends who harbor latent racism in your hearts (if you have in any way uttered that Michael Brown got what he deserved or that “those people” are acting just like you thought they would, I am talking directly to you.  Yes, you) fuck off and get out of my sphere. Whatever time I have left on this earth will not be spent on people mired in the divisive charade of hate that is racism. From now on, my time and energy is reserved for those who want to unite all of us working poor who want to shrug off the yoke of oppression and ensure that equality and justice are for every single person in this country, not just certain groups. If you aren’t in favor of that, fuck off. You won’t be missed.

Blah

DSC_0968mc
So tomorrow is my birthday, and I’ve never looked forward to the day less. That has nothing to do with the age and everything to do with the circumstances. Trying to keep myself positive and upbeat, but that’s not easy. I guess, to look on the plus side, at least the horrid, rancid year that was my 41st is over. Maybe 42 will have brighter days ahead.

Mid-November Update

DSC_0968mc
There are two great pieces of news to share. First, thanks to the kindness of two of my former students and the congregation of their church, my place now has ample insulation to get me through the winter. Second, I have adequate heat in the form of a wood stove. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude for those who helped me get both installed, either. As I type these words, a nice fire roars away in the stove, and the insulation keeps the heat in here with me. It’s a nice feeling compared to the alternative, which I had gotten to know all too well.

Physically, my days range from kind of bad to really bad. One day, the spasms will be constant and unrelenting; the next, the burning in my shoulders will have me nearly in tears (once upon a time, I thought I was kind of tough). Some days I walk okay, but others, I can barely lift my feet. The fatigue continues to worsen, too. Any amount of exertion leaves me absolutely exhausted, and I can’t explain just how much that frustrates me. There are so many things to do, and I can’t do any of them.

I know I’ve expressed that I don’t have a confirmed diagnosis, but the neurologist and I are both fairly certain it’s MS. The symptoms all fit, and it makes sense with the predisposition to autoimmune issues from the Celiac (not sure if “from” is the right preposition there, so scientist friends please don’t bombard me about it). I haven’t mentioned MS on here before, I don’t think, because of the lack of a confirmed diagnosis, but that is the most likely culprit. The good news is it is manageable if I can get health coverage.

Speaking of which, my medical review for social security is next month. With any luck, I can get approved and get some kind of treatment and hopefully be able to get back to work. Mentally, some of the concentration and memory issues seemed to have eased off, so if I could get the physical issues under control, I could at the very least hopefully get back to writing regularly. More than anything else, I want to get better and get back to doing the things I love, the most important of which is being an active father for my sons.

I’m grateful for everyone who has contributed to the fundraising campaign. That money got me through September, October, and November, and without you, I really don’t know what kind of shape I’d be in right now. Hopefully, the medical review will prove beneficial, and I can get income from disability until I can get well enough to fend for myself. Until then, my situation remains pretty desperate. I still hate begging for handouts, and it eats away at me to have to ask, but if you could please share the link around and help me get through the next couple of months, I would greatly appreciate it. Once I’m well and back on my feet, I vow to pay it forward to others in need.

http://www.gofundme.com/brotherhood

A Much Needed Rant

a331c5986ab86b2d4462f6a238736ad7bdceb5032398465734c7e358289f689c
For the last three plus years, I’ve lived every waking second in some degree of pain. Up until June of this year, I endured this pain and soldiered on because I held out some hope that maybe one day things would get better. Now, the pain gets so bad that sometimes I wonder if I can take it for much longer. Most nights, I awake from a dead sleep calling out in pain. My left hand is nearly useless from trembling, numbness, and constant twitching. I can barely walk because I literally cannot tell how high my feet are off the ground and because the muscle spasms make my legs hurt so badly that the very act of walking is painful. Now, any amount of physical exertion exhausts me within minutes.

I feel used up and discarded, and for the first time in my life, I regret moving back to East Tennessee to teach. This state does not value education or educators. It does not value literacy. I regret allowing some misguided ideology that I needed to come back here and teach because if not me then who would do it. I was a fool for not moving to New York or LA and writing for TV or the movies. I should have been selfish and gotten as far away from this backwards, pill-popping, illiterate state as I could. For the first time in my life, I’m truly ashamed to be from Tennessee. I’m ashamed of this place and the ignorance and corruption which govern it.

I’m angry and bitter, and I feel completely and utterly hopeless.

The adventure you've been waiting for!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,279 other followers

%d bloggers like this: