There Are Ghosts

Even people with nowhere to go often trespass in places where they are not from. But like all things physical we know, Ghost Ship and the lives that made it were susceptible to the dangers of the world.

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Safe Spaces seems to be the key phrase of 2016. We have tried to define these as operating with psychological and emotional safety in the physical spaces we create. Even when we talk about personal safety in correlation with these spaces, the conversation focuses usually on personal safety free from violence. We talk about these things because most people do not feel safe in their lives in the spaces they are required to or want to occupy.

I still can’t read the names of the Pulse shooting in Orlando this year. I still don’t want to admit that in 2016 someone would shoot up a nightclub of people because they were queer. But then, I am still in suspended disbelief about many of the mass shootings we as a culture experience. There are no safe spaces.

As our culture refuses to validate the need for spaces of different communities, often these communities make their own spaces in the places they can find. I will never forget the first time I went to s show at the Bobby Fisher Memorial Building in Washington DC. It was a gutted row house in what I am sure is now a gentrified neighborhood. On the ground floor was an art gallery, and in the basement was the place set aside for shows. Though I can’t recall if the staircase being unsafe, I did not trust the fortitude of the building. That building was an accident waiting to happen.

Which isn’t to say I was ungrateful for the people that put the work in and did what they could with the resources they could afford, either monetarily or by other, crafty means. There was a new toilet in the bathroom (though no door handle, at least the one time I used it) and other structural upgrades that could be made were. But this space, where young people could share art and play music in the nation’s capitol, was by no means safe.

DIY spaces work and fail because money is not an objective. They exist to provide  ample room in which people can build or share the fruits of their expression. In that is a great deal of sacrifice, often by only a few scant persons invested in maintaining the space.  The expressions created and performed do not exist to provide wealth. Most artists I have met are not bothered by such trivial things. They struggle and strive to make art because it drives them. Money and jobs and wealth are just objects and concepts that get in the way. They sustain only a part of us and only in that they help feed the drive towards creation. It is not that artists don’t want to work or pitch in to the greater good and to the efforts that create our foundation, but the desired payoff is not money. Instead the time and space to reflect on the larger, more esoteric (and sometimes very concrete) moments in the lives of existence is what is sought out the most.

I didn’t know anyone involved with Ghost Ship in Oakland. I’d never heard of this specific space until this weekend. The only person I know  personally from that area is safe, though they may very well know people that worked there, lived there and were dancing there when it caught fire. Ghost Ship was supposed to be a sanctuary away from the harm of the world. It was a space for queers and trans people and probably weirdos and artists to break away from the violence the world projects on our bodies and our beings. It existed no doubt in a borrowed space in another community under served and ignored by the greater systemic machine. Even people with nowhere to go often trespass in places where they are not from. But like all things physical we know, Ghost Ship and the lives that made it were susceptible to the dangers of the world.

I’ve been able to express myself in spaces like this. The Tannex, The Tree Swing, Gold House, Charm City and other spots carved out in overflowing basements, dirty warehouses, falling apart storage facilities, garages, parking lots, living rooms. Without them, I easily would have killed myself a long time ago. That’s not hyperbolic. Looking forward to shows that I was playing or going to kept my heart going, providing the momentum to stick around despite the sadness.

We want to do better in the face of all the opposition to our lives. It is with all my heart that we succeed in this. I am not sure what it will take to this. More resolve? More time? More energy? I don’t have the answers. I know that it seems like every day new wounds are made before we have time to dress the ones from the day before and the fight to make these safe spaces seems even more difficult, more precarious.

But I know we aren’t so fragile to be defeated. I think of “A Pict Song” by Rudyard Kipling and made famous by Billy Bragg. We may feel like the small things, mucking around in the cracks and under the soil, but we are making our networks everyday and they will sustain us. My heart beats in honor of the Ghost Ship and all the ruined and abandoned spaces we find to let our hearts beat, our tears shed, and our sounds ring out. I will never take this work for granted. I will never forget why we do this. I will never let the work that was done by these people unknown to me except in this tragedy be erased. I will be the thorn in the feet so long as people try to trespass where you made your home.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There is no easy way to start this honestly. And in some ways, the connections I want to make in this piece, the two ideas that feel related to me, maybe they aren’t. They both deal with loss. And myself and people around me lately are experiencing loss.

First, I want to tell you two short stories. They are about two animal companions I kept. Within a month both of them died. Well, one of them died and one of them I had to put down. Until this moment, I haven’t really had the opportunity to process their loss. My house in their absence has been much more quiet. My responsibilities have changed. I still have one furry friend, but he’s always been quiet, distant. He’s a great cat. He’s been pulling more emotional weight than a cat should. I’m grateful for it.

It was around 2003  that Cash Mama adopted me. I was living in an apartment complex with a young lady. We went to change our laundry in the basement and this little black cat was there. She started to cry at us and we gave her some attention. She had a collar and tag that indicated she lived in another building in the complex. We went back upstairs with our laundry. Minutes later, my girlfriend asked if I heard a noise. We opened the door and Cash walked in like she already lived there. After finding out that her previous owners had abandoned her and a short stint at my mothers, Cash became our family member.

She was not quiet. Her name, my mother gave her in honor of June Carter Cash, was the perfect moniker. She sang all the time to express what always seemed like her displeasure. She was the alpha, not just of the other animals but of the house. She cuddled on laps, next to sleeping heads, and seated bodies.

Her last day was horrible. She could no longer eat after two and half years of degenerative digestive issues. It was a Sunday night and I knew it was pretty much over. But, the discomfort and pain finally took its toll. She died in a little bed I made for her as I pet her little head.

Fuzzy’s story is one of the most unusual I’ve had to tell about pets in my life. There are a lot of things about his life that I’m not going to talk about publicly. But after his former owner passed he became my charge. But I knew the moment he walked into my house he  would be mine for the rest of his life.

I’ve never been much of a dog person. They are exited, loud, big and they smell weird. Even when they are tiny they seem big. Fuzzy was a scrappy, dirty, gross dog who loved to dig holes in my backyard and lay in the dirt. His face was all busted up with a huge over bite. He was totally loyal. Nothing loved as much as that dog and I have never felt as much love from another earthling as I have that dog, and I have a mother who loves me very, very much.

Fuzzy started acting weird right before Cash passed. We thought he had developed arthritis.  A month later he wasn’t eating either. I thought he was still getting used to his medication. Turns out all his internal organs were breaking down. He was bleeding internally. I had no choice but the euthanize him. It felt and still does like a betrayal. I laid on the floor in the vet’s office as they injected him. He didn’t want to leave me. He wasn’t done with his job in his little dog mind. Apparently he had long been in pain and only in the last few weeks could not hide it.

Both animals were in there mid teens, which is a long time for a domestic animal. We don’t treat animals well in our society. I have a lot of mixed feeling about being a pet owner. Owner being a word I’m not comfortable with. But I am charged with taking care of them as I keep them in captivity. I think I feel more guilt about having them in my charge than anything.

Relationships with animals grow in a weird kind of intimacy. We project personalities on them, talk to them, rely on them to endure emotional labor that they do without question. Their loyalty is something we take for granted. We do the same thing with people too.

2016 seems to be the unraveling of many things we once held to be true. As such, I am seeing relationships unravel. From romantic, to professional, to familial and personal many people’s lives are being changed. Whom and how we rely on them these days is changing. Our needs and often our discomfort with our needs are becoming more important.

Watching relationships fall apart, slowly rotting away, remnants of what was there being covered up in the dirt and the bullshit is difficult to stomach. Seeing exhaustion in friends eyes, or hearing it in the words they say even when they are trying to say other things is sobering. Sometimes these little deaths are just as tearing as the bigger ones.

My entire life has been built on the ideas that resilience and momentum can always get us through. However my velocity has been slowed considerably and in that decrease of drive I found scars and wounds that maybe I wasn’t aware of or didn’t take the time tend to. And I see in the weary faces, here in the trembling words, watching as faces drop that I am not alone in all of this. Maybe it is time we slow down, tend to the lashes that life has given us and, more importantly, that we give ourselves. I’m not sure what stopping means, I don’t even know if that’s possible.

The Warmers song “Walking Solves It” plays in my mind over and over and over. keep moving. keep moving. keep moving. It’s all my brain will tell me to do, but maybe it is time to decrease my pace from what feels like a full on run, to a walk. Observe what’s around, recognize my direction, contemplate my destinations and see who else is on the path. And to those faces walking near me, on similar paths all their own, I see you. Thanks.

The Death of the Straight Male – A Hypothesis

If women have to work anyway and provide for themselves and can no longer rely on a male counterpart to even contribute, what role does a man actually have in their life that provides anything positive?

Hypothesis – noun – a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

The other day on the social media machine a friend of mine posed a question in regards to the male desire to resist “being tied down”. She indicated that she had recently encountered several men in her life that were very resistant to the typical, romantic pairing that is still proposed norm in American society. She pondered what the motivation was behind this. Of course, as you will come to find dear reader should you visit here with any regularity in the future, this set me off into a tailspin of semi-fracture ideas and explanations, the type one can not get out of the propelling madness of thought for days. Thus, we find ourselves here, exploring the idea that the straight male was set up for this failure beginning during the industrial revolution and that much of the current political backlash is due in no small part to a socialization that did not allow for the adaptation of changing social and economic norms. The desire to preserve preindustrial relationships which were romanticized during economic prosperity post-World War Two for white America is driven solely by the fact that the straight (white) male is now, essentially obsolete.

During humans more agrarian times, relationships were based on survival. Though not always divided by gender expectations, over time, especially in colonizing America, the labor divide existed between the assumed genders of male and female. As such, expectations grew in order to preserve and advance life. People did not cohabitate based out of want, but instead, need. Where we relied on the efforts we put in to our personal production, the labor of that production was rewarded not economically, but through effort. Men were charged with cultivating raw materials, women in making products of those materials. This further fed the desire of the rustic pioneer mythology of colonial America in which men were conditioned to be explorers in hopes of finding rich lands filled with unending natural resources. As we built capitalism on the false value of gold, this mythology increased as propaganda to entice single men into investing their labor for others profit. This has been the American model for hundreds of years now.

The industrial world changed personified. Suddenly, we were not growing and hunting food. It was being manufactured and preparation was simplified more and more. Stories of these rugged pioneers and colonizers were able to be reproduced wholesale due to advances in printing and paper, as well as the invention of moving, photographic pictures. We call them movies (a term that still bothers the hell out of me). Though the 1950’s also gave focused America on establishing it self as a dominant global power, it also emphasized white hegemony through the nuclear family.

This was not done however in disregard for to satiate a man’s need for independence. After all we just spent the better part of 50 years sending men to European countries to kill each other, bonding them over real and actual fear of death, isolating their emotions, all while reinforcing independence, strength and leadership as the traits needed to survive these situations. In post-WWII capitalism, now a white man could provide for a family by working 8 leisurely hours in an office, come home and drink the nightmares away, handle their children with stern disaffection and utilize sports and media to personify he heroics of war.

These ideas were passed on to their male children who would grow up worshiping John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers and other independent pioneers that further sold the idea of manhood as something that was faced alone and whose problems were independent of the greater world around them. We had more sports and more wars and more advances in technology and more prosperity until shit started to fall apart.

While many will point to the Women’s Suffrage movement as the point where the societal roles began to change, I point to World War Two’s need to replace the workforce they were sending to Europe as the point in which society implicitly changed without forethought. Women were now making their own living, often raising children, doing physical labor and generally keeping both the country and the war machine afloat. Though it would be a few more years before business owners recognized they could lower pay and therefor increase the workforce that would require a dual-income household, what this also did was change the perception within the population (generally only of women) that women could both cultivate the raw materials and manufacture them. Capitalism had made it easier for them to take care of the basics. Food preparation, clothes making and childcare all became commodified, creating  the time to enter the depleted workforce. Since raw materials were no longer scarce and time consuming to collect and cultivate, the individual need for that role was essentially obsolete. Though it took far too long for society to catch up to that, the undoing of the male role in the family household was becoming unstitched.

Women no longer needed men to build houses to protect them from cold, no longer needed them to hunt animals for protein and clothing, heard sheep, make buckets, break horses, build wagons, etc., etc., etc. Further, as we began to conglomerate in large cities, social isolation was no longer an issue and thus new types of relationships were being formed. So, while men were still being conditioned to be rugged isolationists, women were naturally creating new, deep and intimate bonds. Their emotional needs were not just begin met by, but also supported by a new network of people outside the needs to the home. The role of protector was now also taken off the table for men. Yet they still strive to fulfill what was no longer required.

So, jumping to now, at 18 everyone is shuffled out the door to college or into the workforce, cohabiting with other single people of mixed gender identities, providing for themselves, forging long lasting, deep, personal relationships where everyone has to make money to provide for themselves, the dynamics have changed. But, the same old stories are still being ingrained in young boys to prepare them for manhood. And manhood is still built around the idea of rugged individuality, even more so today. For example, I just watched the movie Creed. It’s a tale of a boy whose parents died when he was little, shuffled from foster home to foster home until his Dad’s wife (the kid was a bastard essentially) finds him and raises him. Oh yeah, but his dad was this famous boxer and the boy has a natural predilection for fighting. We follow his story, including a hetero-romantic subplot to glory. And sure, he has help along the way from his Dad’s rival. But guess what, Rocky has his own journey to go on. So even though they are working together, their goals are singular. One man is following in his father’s footsteps to prove himself to himself. The other is reclaiming his former glory, and thus his own self worth. For Creed, stepmom’s concerns are not an issue, girlfriends concerns are not an issue, housing, food, bills, responsibility is not an issue. Just the journey towards self satisfaction is what matters. This is not an atypical tale. And while people would love to praise Creed for being a positive example for young, black men it’s true function is to normalize the mythology of the rugged lone hero so that he can be isolated and utilized for the profit of others.

See, without creating personal connections now, by isolating the male from the family unit, in fact encouraging him to abandon those relationships benefits the capitalist economic system in two ways. It creates one laborer who is easily exploited by means of using loyalty and the hero journey as motivation to work. On the other, it forces women to have to work, often at insufficient wages in order to provide for both themselves and often a neglected family. So, if women have to work anyway and provide for themselves and can no longer rely on a male counterpart to even contribute, what role does a man actually have in their life that provides anything positive?

The rugged individual mythology does not promote cohabitation, collaboration, compromise, companionship and communication. It is silent, stoic, and singular where all decision making and thus the consequences and responsibility lies on one’s own shoulder. Further the mythology misleads one into believing that their efforts benefit a greater good by their heroics of discovery, valor and strength by refusing to acknowledge the damage of violence, genocide, habitat destruction, emotional and psychological damage as well as the exploitation of labor for gains of otherwise unaffected third parties.

But why only straight white men? Well for one, due to unlimited number of years of persecution gay men (and other queer and marginalized cultures) were forced through means of survival to bond together. Their shared interest in thriving made it so these skills ignored by the rugged individual became tools to meet their ends. Many people say that it’s fear as to why queer sex is so liberating and unabashedly expressive. I would argue however that it is more because in these marginalized communities, communication and compromise were necessary. This did not just apply to how they dealt with the prejudices from the outside world, but because they were collaborative communities, they had to negotiate emotions between each other more often in order not to destroy themselves. Since sexual intimacy is such a powerful means of communication with other people as well, shared partners and understandings of non-monogamy can thrive because other emotional needs are being met. It is no longer social norms that define what relationships are, but the individuals. These ideas are spreading outside of non-queer populations. Yet, straight men still don’t seem to get this. Conquest drives their mentality. No one else is really interested.

So the funny thing about the backlash from fascists, meninists and single, white dudes who are increasingly being disenfranchised and excluded from what they were historically promised through this mythology is that it is the creation of single, white, heterosexual, Judaeo-Christian males. They literally perpetrated all of this through their ego, greed and desire for unnatural glory. As the rest of the world did have to collaborate in the wake of their manifest destiny, which was a success for a while for them, new means of socialization and relationships were formed naturally out of need. Men abandoned their own role in romantic relationships in order to be exploited by craftier, gluttonous sycophants.  They never gave up on these fantasies, they never stopped believing the narrative and when the needs they once fulfilled were replaced by a hyper-capitalism and they failed to realize it, they were left behind. The straight, white, male has nothing to contribute anymore in a romantic relationship. No one cares about their epic fantasy quests through video games, the benign, repetitive worship of the sports demi-gods they fuel, or any financial deals they closed at the benefit of everyone else but them. That shit is fucking boring, bro.

Nurture, comfort, companionship, communication, interest, openness, selflessness; these are the traits that matter. Commandeering someones time and attention to marvel at your mediocre accomplishments is abusive. No one gives a shit about your fantasy football team, your band, your earning potential or how many beer and broads you pounded in Vegas. The men before us exploited everything, from people to the environment, to the psychological and spiritual for singular, selfish benefit. Following in their footsteps rather than using your effort and energy to create sustainability and harmony is pathetic. Further, your inability to even recognize that you have the emotional intelligence of a two day old baby, let alone efforts to correct that, would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. And the “lone ranger” expression of being a swinging man isn’t honesty, especially when you degenerate those around you. You aren’t expressing your individuality, you’re just broadcasting your fears of being alone.

The straight man is obsolete by his own doing. As relationships have been changed by technology, economy and lifestyle, the straight man  can only contribute his labor to sustain the machine, no longer necessary to provide substance or sustenance in intimate relationships. Their own search for glory has even made them antiquated in their most primal function, reproduction. Aside from providing sperm cells, actual sexual penetration is no longer necessary for reproduction. We could literally farm men to harvest their half of the DNA required for reproduction without ever having to bother with their “freedom spirit” bullshit. So long as personal, emotional, and intellectual evolution remains not just stalled but actively opposed by men, they will find less and less place in society that has moved past the plot lines they grip so tightly.