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.”

The Heroes of Ukraine

This past week Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and within three days had not taken a major city and their army on the ground was beginning to run out of fuel and supplies. Now I don’t how this war will turn out because no one knows the future but I do believe in one big thing: I think the Ukrainians have one hell of a shot at winning. Why? Because their leadership, their President and all government leaders have stayed to fight alongside their army and regular citizens who have taken up the fight, too.

And this, my dear readers, is what the Russians were NOT counting on. They were counting on the government fleeing into exile so they could roll in and set up a puppet regime like they’ve done before. But when a government stays and fights, that doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen in World War II when the Nazi’s bombed the shit out of Great Britain, and it’s not going to happen now in the Ukraine. Because as Ukraine President Zelensky said to a US government offer to leave: “The fight here. I don’t need a ride. I need ammunition.”

And they’re getting it. The US government is sending an emergency aid package and for the first time ever, the German government is allowing transport of rockets and other armament into Ukraine. Also, it looks like the Russians are about to be cut off from their most lucrative financial source (the SWIFT banking transaction system), and the world is rising up and standing with Ukraine.

President Zelensky is the unlikeliest of heroes, at least on paper. He’s a former television actor and comedian who played a character on a tv show who went from being a history teacher to the president of Ukraine. Real-life mirrored his tv show when on a lark President Zelensky ran for president and won. But he’s not a bumbling fool. No, he’s got balls of steel because he’s stood up to two bullies and not backed down either time.

In 2019, US President Trump tried to bully and blackmail President Zelensky into helping him establish himself as dictator-for-life by providing non-existent dirt on current US President Joseph Biden’s son Hunter. Zelensky refused and lost out on four-hundred million dollars worth of military aid. Then in 2022 Zelensky refused to kneel down and suck Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dick by refusing to back off on Ukraine’s desire to join both the European Union and NATO. He knew that both decisions would cost him dearly but they were the right ones.

President Zelensky is Jewish, and his great-grandfather died in the Holocaust, and his grandfather fought Nazis in World War II. He honors both of them by standing with the people of Ukraine, armed and ready to fight. He knows that by staying he’s not giving in to Putin and the Republican Party here in the United States. He’s not giving in to bullies, and in the Ukraine right now his people and the Ukrainian Army are literally kicking the shit out of the Russian bullies trying to take over their country.

And not without losses and pain. There have been casualties on the Ukrainian side, and they’re Heroes of Ukraine.

Thirteen Ukrainian border guards became heroes when they told a Russian warship who pulled up to their island outpost, Snake Island and ordered them to surrender: “Russian warship, go fuck yourselves.” They all died as vheroes and their words are now a battle cry in the Ukraine (and on digital road signs on the highway to Russian invaders now).

A Ukrainian Army combat engineer, Vitaly Skakun Volodymyrovych, stayed behind when the charges he set along with his team couldn’t be detonated remotely. By destroying the bridge, and giving his life in the process, he stalled a major Russian Army advance and gave his fellow soldiers time to regroup and fight on.

There are other stories, some unknown, of other heroes of the Ukraine. I hope after this is all done a memorial is built to honor them.

And yet another inspiring quote from President Zelensky (a baby girl was born in the subway of Kyiv under intense Russian bombardment this past week): “But today is also the first day in the life of the baby girl born in the shelter in Kyiv metro station… When babies come into this world even under shelling and fire, then the enemy has no chance in this war.”

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