Tag Archives: leadership

Sunday Afternoon Ramblings – 9/24/17

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I’m reaching out to my friends on both ends of the political spectrum. We live in contentious, divisive times, and many days it feels as if our country is about to split apart into a fragmented mess. I’ve written many posts on this blog about how we need to find common ground and attempt to heal, or we are going to spiral into something violent and bloody.

Well, here is yet another opportunity for us to come together, if we have the courage and fortitude to show unity.

Yesterday, our president called certain American citizens “sons of bitches” for protesting during the national anthem before football games. Regardless of whether or not you agree with their form of protest, which is both peaceful and civil, and whether or not you believe in their message, which is a plea for improved social justice for African-Americans, you should be horrified by the president’s remarks.

We are Americans. We live under the rule of law established by our Constitution, and one of our most fundamental rights is the right to express our beliefs, especially beliefs which run contrary to government policies. This right is imperative for a free society. If we do not have the right to speak our minds, to criticize our leaders for their failures, and to question injustices, we are no longer free people.

Regardless of whether or not you voted for Donald Trump, you need to recognize that his remarks are a form of authoritarian fascism, which discourages citizens from standing up for their rights and encourages employers to punish employees for questioning authority.

In a free society, it is simply unacceptable for the president to use the office as a means for squelching public discourse. His words were deplorable, and his message, though cloaked in pseudo-patriotism, is as un-American and unconstitutional as anything I’ve heard in my life.

Now is the opportunity for us to come together as free citizens and tell the fascists and bigots who feel empowered by their leader in the White House, that we will not allow hate to divide us, and we will not allow fear or threats to take away our rights to express our beliefs in peaceful and civil manners. We are Americans, whether we are black or white or brown, whether we are liberal, conservative, or moderate. We are the shining beacon of liberty. We are the greatest country on earth, not because we are perfect, but because we have the freedoms and the rights to stand up for our beliefs and express our views without fear. Now is the time for unity.

Thursday Morning Ramblings – 8/17/17

I have friends from every end of the political spectrum. Within my circle, there are gay liberals, a gay conservative, transgender individuals, a handful of homophobes, educators, financial advisors, ministers, truck drivers, mechanics, artists, musicians, moderate conservatives, proud Trump supporters, and even a couple of Baltimore Ravens fans. These people are my friends because each and every one of them treats me with love and respect, and while we may sometimes bicker over politics or policies, at the end of the day, I know my friends have good hearts. Liberal or conservative or moderate, the vast majority of people just want to live in peace, work at a job they enjoy, and make certain that their children are safe and happy. That’s the real American Dream.

However, I will say this as succinctly and clearly as I can. If you believe that other people are not worthy of the same rights as you because of the tint of their skin or their gender or their sexual preference or the god they choose to worship, you are an asshole.

In our country, you have the freedom to be an asshole. You can believe whatever outdated, backwards, inbred horseshit you want to believe, but you are not free from the consequences of your ignorance. You do not have the right to harm others just because they don’t fit into your pigeonhole of what’s wholesome. You do not have the right to deny American citizens their inherent human rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution, no matter how many racist clowns you might get elected as president.

We as human beings are capable of terrible atrocities. At our worst we are petty, vicious, insecure people who rush to judgment. In those times, we are worse than animals. But that is not all we are. We are also capable of kindness, charity, cooperation, love, and mercy. In those moments, we are divine.

At this point in history, I hope that the good and decent people of this great country will stand together, regardless of political views or superficial differences, and tell the hatemongers that they do not have the final say. I hope the best of us will rise up, stand together, and demonstrate that evil will not conquer good and hate will not supplant love. We must set our insignificant differences aside and unite against the bullies and tyrants who thrive on hate. The time is now.

About Time

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I fully admit and accept that it’s rather cliche for someone who has been incarcerated to wax poetic about time, but in my experience on this earth, nothing brings it into such sharp focus quite so well. There is our measurement of time–the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years we use to mark its passage. This artificial system, though imperfect and dynamic according to the laws of physics, serves it purpose of keeping our minds grounded in the present while still allowing us to consider the past and future. We need this system, else many of us would slip into madness as time flowed forever onward. But the system is not the thing itself, merely our tool for counting it.

Then, there is our perception of time, an inconstant and capricious master that drives our every waking moment. During joyful moments, time seems to fly as the old saying goes, while during the difficult experiences it can seem nearly to stop. In jail, one single night can feel like a veritable lifetime as the seconds crawl along. Much more so than our system for measuring it, our perception of time is dynamic and pliable to the whims of circumstance. But still, our perception is not the thing itself.

Time itself flows forward, inexorable and implacable as it goes. Time cares nothing for circumstance or systems of measurement. It merely is, and whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, time moves in one direction, only in that direction, and only at a constant rate. You cannot recapture yesterday, and you cannot fast forward to tomorrow. If you are alive on this planet, you must endure the relentless flow of time one moment to the next. Learning and accepting this fact can be the most important thing you ever do for yourself.

Regardless of my circumstances or what I choose to do, today will slip away. If I’m mired in an unpleasant situation, I can choose to sit by passively and wait for it to pass, and it will, though what about my circumstances have really changed? Have I learned anything? Grown as a person? Changed my perception? Or am I merely allowing time to flow by as I hope for something positive to happen?

If time is going to pass regardless, then I will use my moments to pursue actively those things I desire. Do I really want to lose weight? I can find 30 minutes in each day to walk if I choose to. Do I truly want to improve my vocabulary? There is time if I take advantage of the moments. Am I stuck in a suffocating relationship? What will change if I don’t utilize time to my advantage and find a way out of those circumstances? Whatever it is, the time is going to pass whether I take action or not, so I am much better off using time to improve something about myself, and if I make small incremental changes every single day, over the course of weeks and months, I will see the benefits of those choices.

That is what I’ve learned about time.

Let Them Eat Cake

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I have no doubt that successful entrepreneurs have worked hard to get their businesses afloat and sustainable. I have worked in many different industries on many different levels and have witnessed firsthand just how hard many owners and executives work. There is no doubt that hands-on entrepreneurs put in long hours and suffer incredible levels of stress. I harbor no ill will for anyone who rolls up their sleeves, puts in the hard work, and reaps rewards for their efforts. Hard work and effort should always be rewarded.

However, where I bristle and when the fighting side of me comes out is when someone of means insists their hard work and effort is superior to others just because they have made more money from it. First and foremost, no one does anything alone. Unless you personally built the building, paved all the roads you use, grew or mined all your resources, and invented every piece of technology you utilize, you received help along the way. Unless you were a trust fund baby who decided to gamble your own wealth, somewhere along the way a bank extended you credit. Unless you personally handle each and every step of your day-to-day operations, somewhere along the way employees have helped you achieve success. Those employees who help you succeed, from the janitorial staff all the way to your second in command, deserve to be able to afford the basic necessities of life, have the opportunity to send their children to vocational school or college, and be able to save for retirement. And they shouldn’t have to hold down second and third jobs to do it, either.

I’ve never known financial success personally, but I’ve worked hard all my life, often juggling those two and three jobs just to stay afloat. As an educator, I typically put in 12, 14, even 16 hour days during the school year, and then usually held down some kind of side job during off times from teaching. I’ve witnessed firsthand good, honest, hardworking people clock out from one 8 or 9 hour shift and hustle to their other job for another 8 or 9 hour shift. I personally once worked about a year and half, 12 hours a day, without one single day off except Christmas. In graduate school, we often put in 16 hour days, 7 days a week. We all work hard, and American workers are among the most productive in the world, even today. Yet our wages have stagnated for 30+ years while inflation has skyrocketed. The myth of hard work equating to success is just that: a myth.

If I live another million years, I will never comprehend the utter disdain some people of means hold for working people. I will never grasp how it’s okay for an executive to make $10,000/hr but unreasonable for workers to earn just a living wage. I’ll never understand how it’s good business sense for CEOs to outsource labor to foreign countries, but class warfare when a working person speaks out for rights. My mind cannot fathom the levels of contempt and pure hatred some people have for those “beneath” them. If you measure your self worth in financial terms, you truly dwell in a poverty stricken existence, no matter how much wealth you accrue.

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

A Deeply Personal, Angry Rant

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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.

A Much Needed Rant

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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.