Uber Tales: Do You Like It, Five Years Later Edition

Today is the fifth anniversary of my sign-on date with Uber (the date I went live on the app and could start doing rides). As of today (before I start my run this afternoon), I’ve done approximately 12,900 rides and I probably have driven around the planet a few times (lost some milage counts a while back). When I tell people how long I’ve been doing this I get asked this question, one I’ve been asked a lot in the last five years:

Do you like it?

I’ve always wanted to ask what prompted this question but I don’t want to come off as rude or presumptuous or some crap like that. So instead, I’ll do my best to answer it here.

First, the answer is yes even after five years. And there are several reasons for that.

One, the unpredictability. As a driver, you never go the same route day in and day out though there are some constants in the job like going to and from the airport or downtown in a major tourist city like my hometown here of San Antonio. But there are days when I am literally all over the city, and on a few occasions I’ve gone from one end of the county to the other and into the surrounding counties.

Two, meeting new people. I’m shy and introverted by nature so this has really helped me learn how to gauge whether or not people want to talk and what to talk about. I’ve had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things and some have made me laugh, and a few had me fighting not cry behind the wheel.

Three, being managed by an algorithm. I’ve heard people say if you do gig work you’re managed by a computer algorithm and I will always say in reply, “And your point is?” Having been managed by both humans and algorithm I’ll take the algorithm because although I had some good human managers, most of them I wouldn’t give you a dime for because of their sheer incompetence and a few I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire because of their sadistic cruelty. The algorithm doesn’t micromanage you as long as you keep your stats up and stay out of trouble, which I find very easy to do. Also, the algorithm I work for doesn’t say jack-squat to me if I go offline to use the bathroom or for any other reason. I’ve been micromanaged more than I ever want to remember and I sure as hell don’t miss it.

Four, I get to see my city and everything in it. I’ve been in some of the wealthiest enclaves with multi-million-dollar mansions, and parts of the city with houses worth a fraction of that. And yes, I’ve been a few parts of the city that are more than a little rough around the edges but I didn’t stick around for autographs as I’m fond of saying. But I’ve never had any trouble in any area and people are really good wherever you go.

Also, this gig has kept me from sinking into a depressive hell because as my full-time job, if I don’t drive I don’t eat. So no matter how awful I have felt mentally and emotionally, once I get on the road I leave that behind and focus on the ride. And I’m forever grateful for that and also even if something has gone wrong on a run I’ve been able to leave it behind once I park the car at the end of my run.

Is gig work perfect? Heck no. I’ve had more than my share of ups and downs with it, days where I couldn’t get any action going, and crap to deal with like any other job I’ve had. But I didn’t get into this job (or any job I’ve ever had for that matter) expecting things to always be sunshine and rainbows.

Is gig work for everyone? No. With this job I always say you have to be able to roll with things as they come and be able to think on your feet, or behind the wheel. Like yesterday for example, a passenger left a phone in the car and that’s hard to get back to someone (though I was able to, thank goodness). Also, on Tuesday this past week the app glitched just as I started my afternoon run at the airport so I lost some time there till they got it fixed. But as I like to say, things work out eventually.

I think a part of me will miss this gig once I’m able to move on to something else but one big thing I’ve learned is how much I like being on the road seeing the world and being my own boss. I’m far from perfect but I know I can function best when I’m on my own having the freedom to do my job without anyone micromanaging me.

And if you’ve ever asked an Uber driver if they like their job, can you tell me why? I’m just curious as to what prompts that question because my thoughts on it are pure speculation and I’d like to know from people who’ve asked the question instead. Thanks and here’s to more days on the road.

Breaking Radio Silence – The Forest and the Little Girl

(I know I said last week I’d tell the story of the ‘first break’ in my silence as I called it but I’ll table that for another time)

Over the last week, I began to realize there was still unexplored territory to explore in this journey of breaking my silence. The unexplored territory is the true origin story that I’m just starting to work through. It’s of a little girl, a forest, and a silence that wasn’t.

When I was in elementary school, our recess area was bordered by a patch of forest with lots of trees, thick undergrowth, and lots of room to hide. More than once, I stood there looking at it thinking how much I wanted to walk in there, sit down, and never come out. Why? Because going back into a classroom or a playground where I didn’t quite fit in wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I’ve hesitated (to say the least) to write about myself back then. I’ve been afraid of hearing people come at me and say I should just get over all that shit from back then and let it go. I’m glad we’re talking about bullying and mental health like we are now, but for me it’s still a challenge. Yet I’m up to that challenge because here I can say ‘fuck off’ to any voice inside my head that tells me to just get over shit. So I’m going to bring that little girl, aka me, back to life here for a little bit.

When I was her age, there was a park behind the houses in the subdivision we lived in at the time. And I will confess here that I rode back there on my bike and walked around it all by myself. There was a swampy pond in the middle of it but I was never afraid of being around that swampy-pond like I still am sometimes around open bodies of water (residual past-life fear I’ll go into at another time). Instead, my overactive childhood imagination kept a lookout for Swamp Thing. I’d seen the movie when I was that age and yes it’s low-budget and campy, but I loved it because Swamp Thing was the hero of the story (he was a scientist who through an accident in his lab turned into this creature that everyone feared except the heroine of the story played by one of my favorite actresses of that day Adrienne Barbeau). But what I really liked about that swampy-pond forest space was that I could hear my own thoughts and no one else’s bullying belittling bullshit like I heard so much back then.

I love nature and have always felt comfortable in a wooded area or anyplace that’s without other humans. I’ve always been more than comfortable being alone but looking back I realize it was a matter of survival. Being alone was a place where I wasn’t being looked at and laughed at, or ridiculed for being clumsy, or intelligent. Not all my childhood was that shitty but there was way too much shit then and later on that I shouldn’t have had to put up with. Yet I’ve come to realize I found a way to deal with it. And no, retreating into silence was not running away from it. No, in ways I’m just beginning to understand my retreat into silence didn’t mean I lost my voice like I’ve thought. My voice was inside me all along. Now I’m just putting it out into the world.

Back then I used to have a rebellious thought: why do all the mediocre loud-mouth bullying jerks get to speak out and shut me up? Answer: because they don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves and empathy is an act of rebellion they have to fight against because they don’t have any. No, I’m not being mean here because of this: does anyone who mouths off about someone to their face or behind their back ever really think about the consequences of their actions? Answer: no. Because if they did maybe that would have stopped them from shooting their mouths off in the first place. But as I’ve come to realize now, that lack of thought and conscience isn’t my problem to deal with. And that’s something I’ve been telling that young girl I’ve been visiting these past few days.

Because if I could go back in time and sit down next to my younger self in the woods I’d tell her the following:

First, her imagination will always be with her no matter how awful things get. It will always be her safe and secure place and someday it will be what gives her a life of independence.

Second, I would tell her she is so much stronger than she will ever know. And that anyone who says otherwise or calls her weak is full of shit.

And then I would pull her into my arms and hug her like I wouldn’t let her go. I’d pour all the comfort I could into what little time we had together.

So yes, I will be writing about that little girl who grows up and all the shit and hope she finds in this life. And maybe over time, that big wound she’s made me see will close enough to where I can stitch it close to give it thicker scar tissue.

Stand or Fall – In the Shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)

Recently, I read an article where a college professor asked his students if they knew what the strategy of Mutually-Assured-Destruction was. Now please note his class is mostly under forty (Millennials and Generation Z) and they had been inadvertently downplaying the threat of nuclear war and the resulting nuclear winter because they thought there were missile-defense systems and also because they had no idea of the MAD strategy. They were shocked when their professor told them there were no real missile-defense systems because the funding for them got cut back in the 1980’s, and that MAD was still in effect. And I have a feeling they couldn’t list all the countries with nuclear weapons either (the United States, Russia, China, England, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel).

I think this lack of knowledge is yet another failure of the American educational system, and the fact that these two generations did not live with the saber-rattling like my generation (Generation X) and the generations before did. But it doesn’t excuse the Millennials for downplaying shit like this and that a significant number of them don’t believe the Holocaust was as bad it was (see next week’s blog entry for my take on that). This is why I think there has been a huge rise in support of right-wing bullshit like the Russians aren’t bad guys and Nazis weren’t that bad. No, they’re worse. Ask the people in Ukraine how bad the Russians truly are, and what the rest of the world has known for over seventy years.

In the 1950’s, the Cold War began. In school, we were taught it was a war of ideas, communism versus democracy (with the Russians being the Communist bad guys). From the beginning of the 1950’s, there was a massive development of nuclear arsenals, thousands of ICBM’s (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles: missiles that are launched from across continents and oceans). Then there was the development of MIRVS (Multiple Independent Re-Entry Vehicle Systems): nuclear missiles with multiple warheads (aka nuclear bombs) on top of a single missile. Now multiply that by hundreds if not thousands of these types of missiles around the world possessed by the nine nuclear nations and by the 1970’s the world began to realize that might not be a good thing. This led the first arms-control and arms-reduction treaties between the United States and Russia and older weapons were supposedly decommissioned and no new ones were built though I’m just cynical enough not to totally believe that. This is why my blood boiled pretty damn hard when the previous US Presidential administration talked about increasing nuclear stockpiles instead of reducing them.

We don’t need to blow ourselves to Kingdom Come. We don’t need to kill billions of people and kill the survivors slowly and painfully and destroy our planet in what is called a nuclear winter (that’s the theory that if enough nuclear weapons are set off there will be so much radioactive dust it would choke out the sun and freeze our planet to death).

So in the light of this insane rush to kill everyone a strategy was developed: mutually-assured-destruction. The idea being that if one side launched their missiles then the other side would launch theirs with the goal to try and knock out the enemy from launching more missiles after the initial strike before they could take out the retaliating side.

And if you don’t believe this shit watch the old 80’s movie, WarGames. It was a movie based on this MAD strategy. And as the computer says in the movie at the end of the simulation of the MAD strategy: “The only way to win is not to play”. But back then, the powers-that-be wanted you to think nuclear war was a game and that everyone wouldn’t die and there would be enough survivors to carry on.

In 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over two-hundred thousand people (estimates). These were civilians, men, women, and children. I was taught it was done to force Japan to surrender unconditionally to end World War II, and to prevent a long and drawn-out invasion of Japan. Today that would be considered a war crime, a crime against humanity and I agree with that. There had been enough death and destruction and the world didn’t need that. And most of all, nuclear weapons are not what has prevented World War III.

I grew up on that bullshit-idea, too, that nuclear weapons kept the world relatively free of war, that the ‘little’ wars that have happened since (Korea, Vietnam, the Balkan Wars, etc.) didn’t mean jack-shit in the face of what happened in World War II. Tell that to the people of the world who survived those wars, and especially try telling that to the people of Ukraine right now. Also, nuclear war hasn’t happened because cooler heads have prevailed in countless crises (like President Kennedy keeping General Curtis LeMay from running wild in 1962 – watch the film ‘Thirteen Days’ to see that), and also people brave enough not to follow orders (such Russian colonel Stanislov Petrov who in 1983 refused to call the Kremlin to order a nuclear missile launch because he knew his equipment was malfunctioning and the United States would not just launch five missiles to start nuclear Armageddon).

So young ones, and Millennials, this is why your elders and not-so-elders get freaked out when there is talk of nuclear war. We know how close we’ve come, but we also know there are people on this planet who honestly don’t care whether they live or die (because they’re under the totally-fucked up and misguided belief that if they commit mass murder they’ll be welcomed into Heaven and not Hell) and who wouldn’t hesitate to hit the big red button and end it all. And for what? To not live in a world beside people who are different from them, who don’t want to live their lives in hatred and anger, and who don’t want to destroy but to create and heal?

It was said Albert Einstein called the development of nuclear weapons akin to opening Pandora’s Box and unleashing pain and suffering on the world. He was right. He also said, “I don’t know what World War III will be fought with, but I do know what World War IV will be fought with: sticks and stones.”

Deep Dive Friday – A Middle Age Look Back at ‘The Joshua Tree’ by U2

It was thirty-five years ago this week U2 released their album, ‘The Joshua Tree’. It was highly-anticipated and I believe their best-selling album ever. And I remember hearing it for the first time as if it had come out yesterday. But since the album is now thirty-five years old, it’s entered middle-age as I have.

In March of 1987 I would have been twelve years old, in junior high, writing, and kind of hating my life at times. Junior high was the worst of my school years for the bullying I endured along with alienation and ostracization, too. My home life was deteriorating and I didn’t have the words to express it. But in the words of U2’s lyrics on ‘The Joshua Tree’, I found a way to put them in my mind and keep them there.

I’m going to say that for me, ‘The Joshua Tree’ and the follow-up album ‘Rattle and Hum’ (the album recorded live on ‘The Joshua Tree’ world tour along with additional studio tracks) was the end of the first era of U2, and my personal favorite. They’ve gone in different directions since and sadly I haven’t always kept up with them though I will remedy that someday. But in the thirty-five years since ‘The Joshua Tree’, I’ve come back to that album along with ‘Rattle and Hum’, and the four albums that preceded those two (‘Boy’, ‘October’, ‘War’, and ‘The Unforgettable Fire’).

For me, U2 taught me about ‘conscience’. My personal definition of conscience is the beliefs, ideals, thoughts, and feelings that guide a person’s words and actions in the world. Because for me, U2 are all about passionate feeling along with quiet introspection. They sang about feelings, about faith, love, hope, but also pain and anger. ‘The Joshua Tree’ album and the ‘Rattle and Hum’ follow-up were a culmination of that era because after that they moved into a more technical and critical eye to the world (though they did return to that in the early part of this century).

The first track released from ‘The Joshua Tree’ was what I call a non-traditional ballad “With or Without You”. It was a huge hit and I think was the first U2 song my mother really got into. Then I played ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ (the second single released) and she was like, “They’re talking about God and Jesus.” I told her U2 had been talking about God and Jesus since their first album and they were men of faith and that yes, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a gospel song (my favorite version of it is the performance with the band and a gospel choir from Harlem in the film ‘Rattle and Hum’).

The third single from the album, “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a favorite of mine because of the way it starts out like the Second Coming almost. It builds and soars and I will personally recommend laying down and listening to the song with headphones to get the full experience.

But there isn’t a misfire of a track on this album at all. The song “Running to Stand Still” (track four) is one I have come back to time and again and will go into at another time and another place here. I read in interviews with the band that the song is about drug addiction as heroin ravaged Ireland in the 1980’s and band members lost friends to drug overdoses. One set of lines stands out for me (and these are the ones I will return to at a later date in a different place here):

You got to cry without weeping

Talk without speaking

Scream without raising your voice

You know I took the poison, from the poison stream

And then I floated out of here

(Songwriters: Evans / Clayton / Hewson / Mullen

Running To Stand Still lyrics © Polygram Int. Music Publishing B.v.)

And for me, all I have to say to those lyrics is: “There but for the grace of God go I” (attributed to John Bradford, mid sixteenth century)

But I’m going to move on to the other tracks on the album:

“Bullet the Blue Sky” – a powerful song with serious political statements in it. Bombs falling raining down onto the sky ‘pounding the women and children’ (line from the song) and also calling out the hypocrisy of Christian evangelism in asking for money yet doing nothing to alleviate pain and suffering in the world as Jesus taught.

“Red Hill Mining Town” is about a mining town when the mine closes and the hardships faced by the people. In the 1980’s, this happened throughout England, Wales, and the rest of the United Kingdom due to the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and so this song is a statement that everything wasn’t good for everyone like the powers-that-be wanted you to believe.

“In God’s Country” is a personal favorite and one I want to blast as I drive through the deserts of the American southwest or the wheatfields of the Midwest some day.

“Trip Through Your Wires” reminded me of something Bob Dylan might have done and I know Bob Dylan was a huge influence on the band.

“One Tree Hill” is a song they wrote for a member of their crew who was killed in a motorcycle accident and they sang it at his funeral. Once you know the story behind the song it stays with you forever.

“Exit” – From what I’ve read, this is a song the band hasn’t performed live in many years and it is very dark. For more on the song, here’s a link that contains quotes from the band members themselves about the song’s origins and history: Link here

“Mothers of the Disappeared” – The last track on the album and it’s about the mothers in Central and South America who’s husbands, sons, and fathers were taken from them by the brutal regimes in many of those countries never to be seen or heard from again. From this song, I learned about these women who would hold silent protests and just dance in public to campaign for the release of their loved ones.

In the thirty-five years since this album came out, the passion and emotion of this album became a wreckage of lost faith through relentless criticism that passion and feeling were nothing but attention-seeking behavior and ego (NOT TRUE AT ALL!!!). In addition to the criticism, cynicism took over and life itself ground down a lot of people. And all this culminated in the last six years in our world where right-wing extremism threatens to engulf the world in a totalitarian nightmare. No, I’m not exaggerating that at all because when you lose or temper your passion to try and keep from having raging hate-mongers come at you, that tolerance doesn’t work.

It’s time to get passionate again. To talk about faith, hope, love, pain, and suffering and to work our asses off to make this world a better place. Because peace, hope, love, and freedom are worth fighting for. In the last few years, I’ve begun to find my passion that I thought I had lost but unlike the band on this album, I am finding what I’m looking for because it was always there all along.

Stand of Fall – Crosses

“Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses”

From the song, “Killing In the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, 1995

This song was written after the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles but the phrase ‘burning crosses’ has come into my mind as a rebuttal against people who hate anyone who isn’t like them, such as people of color, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer), Jews, and others. Hate-mongers say that those people of color, LGBTQ, Jews, and others are coming for them. They say those people are trying to exterminate the white race, or oppress white people, or deny the existence of heterosexual people. They say that people of color, LGBTQ, Jews, and others not like them are hell-bent on destroying the world.

I have one thing to say to that: has any person of color, LGBTQ, Jews, or others who are not white, heterosexual, fake-Christian, burned crosses?

Answer: No.

Has any LGBTQ person or organization tried to pass legislation to ban the discussion of heterosexual health and well-being?

Answer: No.

Have Jews ever rounded up Christians and sent them to gas chambers?

Answer: No.

Now, at this point I’m sure someone is thinking: what about the Los Angeles riots in 1994, or in Watts in 1965, Boston/Newark/Detroit and other cities in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr that burned down whole city blocks?

Answer: They weren’t predominately-white neighborhoods. Beverly Hills was not burned to the ground in 1994. Anger and rage were turned on the poverty and neglect of Watts and other places and that’s why those areas were destroyed by rioting and looting.

Another question: was any all-white area bombed and razed to the ground like the Greenwood area of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921? The first time aerial bombardment was used in the United States?

Answer: No.

No single group of people or individuals are completely innocent or without sin. I’m not saying that here. But in the United States and the Western World, governments and other political, social, religious, and business institutions are led by predominantly-white, heterosexual people, men mostly in top positions of leadership. And when they’re leadership is threatened, they don’t take it well. What they fear the most is people like them (white, heterosexual, etc.) will turn on them and reject their greed and hatred.

Right now, the true evil I see in this world is the oligarchs, and not just the Russian ones. Oligarchs live all over the world as people who acquired wealth and power through illegal, immoral, or unethical means. People who steal and hoard wealth and resources and drive people into poverty, disease, and death. People who oppress others in order to keep them poor and struggling just to survive.

The oligarchs are the ones that burn crosses and fund the ones that drop bombs on hospitals in a place called Ukraine. They are the ones that have stolen trillions and are also the ones trying to kill our planet. Wealth without conscience.

Some would say I’m being an extremist here. I’m not an extremist or alarmist when I see the world on fire, when I hear hatred every day, see it in legislatures here in my own country of the United States of America. When I know there are people in this world, in my own country, who would finish what Nazi Germany started over seventy years ago if given the opportunity.  

And to those reading this who ask why don’t people of color/LGBTQ/Jews, and others reach out to those who speak out against them and risk their lives and well-being? I believe it’s a choice people are free to make whether or not to engage with those that spout hatred.

And please don’t spout the bullshit of hating the sin but loving the sinner. Being a person of color speaking out against oppression and discrimination, or being LGBTQ, Jewish, or anything defined other is not a sin. As John Pavlovitz said in his book, ‘If God Is Love Don’t Be a Jerk’: If someone is uttering the phrase “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”- They’re usually doing something hateful to another human being and trying to pass the buck to God.” True sinners burn crosses, not die on them.

Breaking Radio Silence – Expressing My Opinion

Yesterday I participated in a focus group. I can’t say what it was for or about due to confidentiality agreements but myself and my fellow participants were there for our opinions (we were also fed breakfast and lunch and paid for our time). I’ve done focus groups before and they’re interesting because you get to meet new people and learn a few things. Now I’ve done these focus groups not just for free food and money, and to meet new people, but to try and break out of my silent shell.

All my life I’ve been told by various people I have no ability or no right to express my opinion regardless of what my opinion is. I’ve been told no one wants to hear my opinion because it’s total bullshit. Why did I believe these people for so long?

1. In the extremely-misguided notion that if I just shut up and went along with their bullshit they would include me in their group. That never happened because it wasn’t my silence they wanted in the group. They didn’t want me in the group at all but they just didn’t have the tits or the balls to come right out and say that.

2. Because they knew my opinion might be different from theirs and they were not tolerant or open to other opinions despite lying to my face and saying they were.

Okay, I know I sound kind of mean and petty, or that I’m fishing for pity and sympathy.

First, people who really can’t accept an opinion or anything that deviates from their extremely narrow-assed existence are not tolerant but for the most part, they don’t have the tits or the balls to come right out and say that.

Second, if you come at me with pity and sympathy I’ll tell you right now to shove that back up your ass where it belongs.

Most girls are raised to be ‘nice’, and I put the word ‘nice’ in single-quotation marks because it’s not nice to be quiet and submissive so people can shit all over you whenever they want to. Our society right now is still deeply patriarchal in that men still take precedence over women, and too damn many women still defer to men even when those men are totally full of shit and don’t deserve any help in wiping their asses like women are expected to.

Okay, I know I’m being blunt and ugly here but we live in a world where the most opinionated people are the ones that are the first to whine and bitch when someone has a different opinion, or is just different from them in any way.

Now, are all my opinions right and true? Hell no. I’ve fucked up things before and will continue to do so until I’m just a bunch of dust particles sailing through space. But guess what? Everyone is just full of shit as I am sometimes, too. Life is a learning experience and I think the only grade that matters is at the end when you face off with God or whoever the Supreme Being in charge is.

Getting back to yesterday, at the last session of the focus group we were all together and the guy running the session was trying to push us pretty hard. He got to me and he said something to me about being slightly angry as I was responding to his questions. Most men don’t like women to express any shred of anger or negative emotion but I didn’t dial it down and I didn’t apologize like I would have done years ago. Instead, I shut him down with one razor-sharp statement from my heart and soul and I looked him right in the eye when I said that. And guess what? No one gave me any shit about that. No one avoided me like the plague or muttered shit about me behind my back. My worst fears from my past were no longer true. I came out of it whole and strong.

Yesterday was a direct result of my ‘breaking radio silence’ project. Years of soul-searching and questioning have given me a confidence I always had a right to all along. My opinions do matter and I have the right to have them, and to speak them out loud. If someone doesn’t agree, or doesn’t like them or just doesn’t like me because I’m delightfully quirky, they can find their tits or balls and tell me to my face. I’ve heard so much shit to my face that I honestly don’t know if anyone can come with anything original anymore. But I know I can survive shitty words said to me and shut people down if I have to. And I don’t have to walk away a shaking, neurotic mess like I used to whenever my hold on myself slipped enough to where I spoke with honesty. That’s something I don’t miss and I will never, ever go back to.

So in addition to having thoughts and feelings, I have opinions, too.

Ukraine On My Mind

Last week I wrote about the heroes of Ukraine but this week, those heroes are just fighting to survive. Over a million Ukrainians have fled creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe this century so far and more are fleeing every day. Thousands are returning to fight and save others and the pressure is on the Russians economically. But things will get so much worse before they get better because it seems the Russian strategy is to bomb as much of Ukraine into rubble like they did in Chechnya and Aleppo in Syria and then murder as many fleeing civilians as possible, all while trying to create false narratives such as the latest one that Ukraine was secretly developing nuclear and biological weapons (which isn’t true at all).

What I’m fighting like hell right now to contain is my rage at the conservative Republican establishment in this country who spent the last five years praising the butcher that is Vladimir Putin and his corrupt and extremely poor Russian Federation. To these motherfuckers, Russia is an idealistic utopia with no people of color, gays and lesbians, and transgendered people to live with, and no Jews, Muslims, or anyone not of the state-approved Russian Orthodox faith.

Over the last twenty-two years since Vladimir Putin came to power over a trillion (yes that is trillion with a ‘t’) dollars has been taken from the Russian people and stashed in banks, yachts, real estate, and in lawmakers and organizations to de-stabilize and take down the free world. And over these past years, there are people who have said this was all fake news, or paranoia, or that why shouldn’t Russian oligarchs get rich off the backs of poor working-class Russians?

I’m fighting like hell not to scream and rage at Republicans and conservatives who are speaking out against Putin now and trying to support the Ukrainian people. I’m trying not to scream and rage at them that Trump was impeached the first time for unlawfully withholding military aid to Ukraine. I’m trying not to scream and rage at them for their silence on this.

Over the years of my adult life I’ve heard this bullshit-saying that people tend to get conservative as they get older. I call bullshit on that because I’ve never been conservative to begin with, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve worked to embrace the idea that the best time to do something is NOW. Because all my life I’ve heard that sometimes you have to wait to make real changes. That’s a bullshit diversion tactic by gutless cowards who shouldn’t be able to make any real decisions because they have no conviction or courage to begin with.

Because over the last six years, in addition to trying to figure out just how fucked up I am mentally and emotionally and what I could do to repair as much damage as I can, I also really dug into my political and ideological beliefs. And I realized the side I chose as a child, the liberal, progressive, democratic side was the right one. I just wished I hadn’t given in to silence on that but the best time to break that silence is now.

I’m going to be completely honest here and say I’m worried when I speak out like this with all my colorful language that I’m just further alienating myself from people. But then I tell myself I’ve been alienated and alone all my life, and maybe the course of my life is to be the traveling old lady telling stories and always alone. I say this because when I write like this, I’m showing the world I will not compartmentalize my emotions, especially my compassion and empathy. I will not part-and-parcel them out only to a few people. I fight with every ounce of strength I have not to embrace the lure of rage-turned-hate. When I feel that lure I respond simply with: ask yourself why you think and feel the way you and keep asking until you find all the answers you can though I will warn you, you might not like the answers you find, and you will have to deal with them sooner or later. Because I have not stopped asking myself the same thing and I never will. I will never have all the answers, but neither will anyone else.

The fires of the ‘culture wars’ against black and brown people, Jews and Muslims, lesbians/gays/transgendered people have all been complete and utter fucking bullshit. They’ve been used by the oligarchs of the world to steal and drive millions of people into poverty, and into mass graves from poverty and disease. In the United States alone, next month a million people will have died from COVID-19 and many of those deaths (250,000 at the latest estimate) could have been prevented had there not been opposition to public health guidelines such as mask-wearing and vaccines.

The people of Ukraine are taking a stand against a country that has been trying to subjugate and take them over for the last century. Whether or not they will succeed remains to be seen. This could devolve into a guerilla war, or a proxy-war between the West and the Russian Federation. Or it could all end a blinding flash of light under a mushroom cloud.

At this point I say all you can do is take it day by day. I get up now and check the news and for the last eleven days the city of Kyiv still stands free. I see President Zelensky is still alive. But I also see the dead, the burned-out ruins of cities, the masses of refugees and my heart aches. That ache hurts but it reminds me time and again that I’m human, and that ache is pain, and compassion, and empathy. And I will fight with every ounce of strength and courage not only to feel those emotions, but to speak out with them, too. “Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine!) 

Deep Dive Friday – Pump Up the Volume and Talking Hard

In 1990, the movie ‘Pump Up the Volume’ was released. Starring Christian Slater as a pirate radio dj Hard Harry exposing the hypocrisy and bullshit of that era, it was a favorite of mine back then. Recently, it showed up on the HBOMax streaming service and I watched it for the first time in decades. And to say that my reaction was deep and personal is putting it mildly.

The opening lines here give you a pretty good idea of how things were back then, and how they were fucked up though extremely mild in comparison to today.

“You ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?

You know that feeling, that the whole country is, like one inch from saying, “That’s it! Forget it!”

Just think about it, everything’s polluted, the environment, the government, the schools, you name it.

Speaking of schools, I was, uh, walking the hallowed halls the other day and I asked myself, “Is there life after high school?”

  • From the movie ‘Pump Up the Volume’ written and directed by Alan Moyle

I want to start off with what life was like in 1990 for a teenager, such as myself. In 1990, I turned sixteen though without any ‘sweet sixteen’ or even ‘Sixteen Candles’ hoopla. At that time, I was just really trying to stay under the radar in life. At the start of 1990 I would have been a sophomore in high school and it was the first year since sixth grade I didn’t have an Advanced or Gifted class. I dropped my last two of those my freshman year because of the bullying-bullshit I was going through in those classes though in reality I was a shit-ton smarter than most of those preppy assholes ever would be.

In 1990, I just wanted to write. And luckily I had my best English teacher my sophomore year, Mrs. Sena of the house slippers and Elvis Presley picture on her classroom wall (she wore slippers in class because her feet hurt and she loved Elvis). She also taught me how to put a sentence together and how to string a bunch of them into paragraphs and essays that made me get nothing but straight A’s on all my writing assignment for the rest of my high school days. That’s when I think I really began to dig into the idea of making it as a writer.

The thing I remember most about that time, 1990 thereabouts, is the extreme pressure to conform to some bullshit ideal. To be smart, successful, agreeable, and to be on the fast-track to success, and most of all, to know who you were. I call bullshit on that because no teenager would ever know who they are because they haven’t lived long enough and two, who the fuck cares? Because in response to the question at the end of the quote at the beginning of this, there is life after high school. And it gets worse as it gets better though that balance is usually out-of-whack most of the time.

Now before I go any further, I want to say this: we were NOT having the conversations back then like we are now about things like mental health, suicide, sexuality, sexual orientation, or anything of real substance. Back then, if a young person managed to keep their shit together and not lose it or blow their lights out, they were said to have good ‘coping skills’. That was a high compliment back then though it was really absolute total fucking bullshit.

There are two parts of the movie that tear me up now. The first is when Harry receives a letter from a young man asking if he should commit suicide. Harry calls him up and tries to talk him out of it but fails. Like I said in the previous paragraph, we didn’t have the words back then to talk people out of suicide. So many people back then, like now, feel that suicide is a solution. Back then, if you even mentioned it the shit would come down on you, though. It was not met with the level of compassion that it is today, which I’m forever grateful for.

(I’ve never been suicidal and not because I was afraid of roasting in Hell for an eternity, but because I was terrified if I even thought about it and the assholes in my life got a whiff of that, or heaven forbid if I did it, those same assholes would follow me into Hell and torment me for an eternity. This is why I felt like if no one wanted to be around me or hear what I had to say then I just wanted to be left alone to live in my own imaginary world.)

After learning of that young man’s suicide in the movie, Harry goes on a hell of a rant about suicide being crude and honest about it at the same time. Then he says something that jumped out at me:

“At least pain is real.”

In a world where it felt like nothing was real except if some high-and-mighty asshole said it was, acknowledging your own pain as real and your own was a big thing. Then Harry encourages his listeners to do something crazy and loud and plays my favorite song in the movie ‘Kick Out the Jams’ by Bad Brains featuring Henry Rollins, a song I still blast in my ears when I’m really pissed off about something.

Then Harry opens up another letter and calls the letter writer. This time, the letter writer is a young man who opens up about being gay (though he doesn’t say the word ‘gay’) and being abused by several other high school boys. Back then, if gay kids were outed they were horribly abused and hated on. And transgendered kids… well they were hiding out in the basement and the word ‘transgender’ was years away from being said out loud. This why laws barring the word ‘gay’ and also the attempted torture of transgender youth here in my home state of Texas boil my blood and make me want to rage and breath nuclear fire onto those right-wing Republican assholes. So many young people suffered in silence back then and for motherfuckers to want to drive them back into silence or just kill them… hell fucking no and never again!

Looking back on this film I realize this is where a large part of my own silence came from, and how I learned to solidify those walls in my twenties to deal with what I went through then (watching my mother slowly and painfully die of cancer). And right now, this is why it warms my cold, re-heated leftover Generation X heart to think that someone reading my words might get pissed off at me. I hope they do and that being pissed off also makes them uncomfortable enough to feel just a razor-sharp shred of shame, guilt, and remorse.

Because that’s another thing in the movie Harry rants about: being ashamed. Feeling shame for things you don’t have to feel shame for is so fucked-up wrong in so many ways. I have felt shame and guilt for things I had no business feeling that way for and that’s why I feel Harry’s rage and fury against that. It’s not wrong to feel anything at all, or to want to speak out against things that are wrong.

And yes, I’m going to freely admit here with very loud pride that my reaction to this film after thirty-two years is deeply personal. It was personal back then though I didn’t have the words or the ability to channel my anger, rage, and pain into the written word like I’m doing now. And no, I’m not going to let any asshole off the hook who told me I had nothing to talk about, or bitch about.

To any young person of high-school age reading this: I’m sorry for my generation giving in to silence as badly as we did. And I’m proud of all of you for standing and fighting for what’s right. For all the students in Florida yesterday who walked out of their schools to protest the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in the Florida Legislature. To David Hogg, Emma Gonzales, and all the young people who formed the organization ‘March for Our Lives’ and have kept it going despite death threats from the gun lobby. To Greta Thunberg who has inspired millions of young people to strike for climate change. To Malala Yousafzi for fighting for the right of all children to an education, especially girls. And to all the young people online who have, and are fighting the good fight against those who would silence you, or worse, deny your right to exist as you truly are. Please know that I see you, and I stand with you.

And as Harry said at the end of the movie, “Talk hard.”

Stand or Fall – In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud

The title of today’s blog entry comes from the song, “Hammer to Fall” by Queen. I first heard it on the soundtrack to the film ‘Highlander’ though the song was released first as a single from Queen’s 1984 album ‘The Works’. Written by Queen guitarist Brian May, it’s about growing up during the Cold War when both the United States and Soviet Union (now Russian Federation) would get into a dick-swinging contest but swing around nuclear missiles instead of their own pencil-dicks.

Two days ago, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin said he put Russian nuclear forces on high alert and of course all of us Cold War-babies had flashbacks to duck-and-cover drills, ‘The Day After’, ‘Threads’, and other dystopian nuclear apocalypse imagery. My father used to tell stories of watching nuclear bomb tests on live television in the late 1950’s and also that he got sent to the principle’s office one time for saying during a duck-and-cover drill, “Shouldn’t we all just put our heads between our legs and kiss our asses goodbye?” (when my grandfather came to pick my dad up from school and my dad told him what he’d said, my grandfather said he couldn’t punish my dad for being honest).

By the time us Generation X kids came of age, we grew pretty fatalistic about nuclear war. We hoped we’d be close enough to the blasts to get vaporized because that’s a pretty quick death. If we survived, we knew we’d have to forage for Pop-Tarts to survive (Twinkies are the foraging goal for the zombie apocalypse). But we also knew since 1945, cooler heads had prevailed, and there were people who had the balls not to push the big red button or make phone calls to the Kremlin or the White House. Because if those missiles launch, it’s all over and there won’t be anything to do except sing REM’s classic song, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine)”.

I saw something yesterday online where a teacher asked his Generation Z students if they knew what the strategy of MAD (Mutually-Assured Destruction) was. They didn’t know and he had to tell them and they were pretty shocked. I grew up with that like my dad and his generation did. Because that’s the nuclear strategy the world has lived with since 1945 when the first and so far, only atomic bombs were dropped. The strategy is that if anyone launches a single missile, everyone else launches all of theirs in the totally fucked-up misguided idea that if we launch a counter-strike we’ll knock out some of their missiles. Yeah, I don’t think they thought that one through.

What I will say now is this: pray that cooler heads will prevail and keep the monsters from hitting that big red button and blowing us all to Kingdom Come. Pray for steady leadership like President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for people to stand up to a President and tell him to quit joking around about bombing Russia (thanks to President Regan’s White House advisors for telling him to knock that shit off). Pray for their counterparts in Russia who are probably risking their lives and hoping they’re not near a meat-hook or a window to get thrown out of.

Most of all, stand up for what’s right and true. If a politician or pundit has voiced support for murderous dictators like Vladimir Putin, make sure to remind them at every opportunity and hold them accountable. If they’ve taken dirty money to destroy democracy in this country and around the world, hold them accountable. Vote them out of office and support investigations into their criminal and treasonous behavior. There is no middle ground when it comes to preventing nuclear war or the dirty war of misinformation and the destruction of democracy.

As I write this, the people of Ukraine are getting the living shit kicked out of them by the Russians. They’re fighting just to stay alive and hold out long enough to get reinforcements and hope for a coup in Russia. They’re hoping the world doesn’t cave in and abandon them like the world has before.

It’s hard to live in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Yesterday I looked up at the clear blue sky above me and thought what a total waste it would be to see it on fire. Instead of getting scared and sad, I was pissed off as hell. I was like, “Not this fucking shit again!” I reminded myself all I could do was get on with my day and pray that cooler heads will prevail yet again. I know we got a cool one here in the United States in the White House. The one in the bunker in Russia I’m not confident in at all but I hope enough of his stooges find their balls and keep him away from the red button.

To those who are feeling the terror of that mushroom cloud, come on in. Grab a pack of Pop-Tarts, take a seat, and turn up the music.

Breaking Radio Silence – Standing Up to Bullies

Over the last few days, I’ve been doom-scrolling and watching the news out of Ukraine (and I blogged about it yesterday, too). And I began to ask myself why I’m having such a strong emotional reaction to it other than fear of a huge conventional war breaking out in Europe or worse, nuclear war. But then I realized it was because I was watching a nation of forty-four million people stand up to the bully that is Russian President Vladmir Putin and the corrupt government and military leadership of the Russian Federation.

Now I’m not equating my life with what the Ukrainian people are going through in any way, shape, or form. They’re fighting for their lives, but they’re also fighting to live on their own terms. Under seventy years of Soviet-Russian occupation, the Ukrainian people were brutally oppressed. They were banned from speaking their own language and practicing their culture and customs. And now they’re being told by their neighbor that they can’t determine their own path in this world by joining the European Union and NATO simply because some asshole in the Kremlin is a joyless, soulless ghoul? Fuck no.

Bullies are loud, rude, obnoxious, and totally convinced they’re in the right even when they know they aren’t. And it’s not my job, or anyone else’s for that matter, to figure out why they’ve jammed their heads up their asses and decided being asshole is better than being a decent human being, or to figure out why they have decided to live without conscience, empathy, and compassion. I’m here to talk about the damage these people cause and what I’ve learned to repair some of it.

Some of my earliest memories are of being teased and bullied as a young child because I was fat and clumsy. I am probably one of the most un-coordinated people you will ever meet. I have balance issues like my late mother did though not with her motion-sickness thank goodness. But it lead to a lot of teasing, bullying and worst of all, alienation. Or to simplify that, it sucked and hurt like hell to always be picked last for any team.

While I suffering through the hell that was PE (physical education) class, I was suffering from another hell in the classroom and elsewhere by being shy then proving I wasn’t stupid for not babbling and running my mouth without trying to think about what I was going to say first. I have a brain that runs at about a hundred and fifty miles an hour on a good day and that means I over-think a lot of shit and have since my age was in the single-digits. I still do that though I’m really trying to get that under control.

Now here’s the really shitty part about all this: the human brain imprints repeated exposure in order to learn. Basically, if you hear something often enough you start to believe it even if it’s not true or just plain wrong and awful. And because of that, the human brain itself doesn’t really learn how to filter out things negatively impacting you emotionally as well as it should. Learning not to believe the lies and bullying about yourself is very hard to do. It took me over thirty years to realize that not only were people wrong about me being stupid and weak, but the way I had internalized their shit was wrong, too.

By the time I reached my late thirties, I believed every single person on this planet had their shit together and knew everything, and that I knew absolutely nothing and was a total loser. I did this in the severely-misguided belief that if I beat the shit out of myself first then other people wouldn’t do it to me. But then I realized something: most people honestly don’t give a shit about you after they’re through mouthing off at you about something. Because I used to fear people mouthing off at me then if I made even just one peep of noise or movement, they’d pound the shit out of me and put me in a cage somewhere far away.

That never happened. All my bullies were gutless cowards who didn’t have any heavy weaponry to come after me, and if they’d had access to any of that they wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I realized this when I had this thought come into my mind and started believing it: everyone else is just as full of shit as I am sometimes but that doesn’t make me a bad person. What that means is no one has all the answers, and if they try to bullshit and bully you into making you think they do, call them out on it even if it’s just in silence and not letting them live rent-free in your mind, or saying it to their face.

From that lesson more came to me and they all culminated in the big one: people can say whatever the hell they want to, but I have the right to respond in any way I choose to, even if it’s in a way they don’t like. If you stand up to someone and say they’re hurting you, you’re not wrong.

I think the best way to stand up to a bully in daily life is this: you don’t run and hide. You say, “I’m still here. And you need to go off and ask yourself why you think and feel the way you, and keep asking until you find all the answers you can though I will warn you, you might not like the answers you find. And sooner or later you will have to deal with them. Just like I’ve been dealing with mine.”

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