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Empty Chairs

It is coming onto to Passover. A month ago I invited people over to share seder with us. The first time in ten years. More years. The first time I have celebrated passover since Lee died. The first time I have written died instead of left. The anniversary of my first year in my new house.

I asked Lisa if she wanted to have Passover in our new home. She said yes. She was excited. That was all I needed.

We used to have a house full of people. In the haggadah, the book that has the order of the seder, the Passover celebratory supper, it says we recline on this night. It is one of the four questions asked by the youngest child. Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,mi-kol ha-leylot. Why is tonight different from all other nights? Why do we recline tonight when all other nights we sit straight? We recline to represent our freedom, the freedom from bondage. In our house there was no choice but to recline. Forty-two people in one very small house left us sitting, reclining, leaning and otherwise enjoying the story of Passover on the floor, leaning against the sofa, on the sofa, at makeshift tables, draped over each other, waiting for the Angel of Death to pass us over..

Each we did this, and people would come. Students who could not get home would hear about it through Hillel, the Jewish student group, at UF. From Santa Fe Community College. Neighbours. Friends.Jews, Christians, Pagans, Buddhists. Everyone brings something. We tell the story of Spring, of rebirth and renewal, because passover is, at the root, a Spring holy-day. We tell of release from bondage, real and metaphoric, and how those who have been slaves but are now free must then reach down to others, extend a hand, to help lift them to freedom. How those who have been freed must never enslave another. A holy-day of social action, equality, and freedom.

I’d even take red streamer paper and cover the outside doorposts and lentice-piece, as the old story says they were painted with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, to tell the Angel of Death to pass over our home. There would be no death here tonight.

Some days earlier we had met Joyce. And she was invited. Her first time in our home for the woman with whom we had become instant fast-friends, and not even a place to sit. There would be no death here tonight.

Sef and I baked matzah, the unleavened bread, the bread of haste, and prepared the house. The seder plate was set. People arrived. We told stories, sang songs, ate bitter herbs, broke matzah, tasted salt water, enjoyed charoset, tolerated horseradish on, and those of use who did not like it, made fun of those of us who enjoyed the gefilte fish. We hid the afikomen (a small piece of matzah) for the children to find, for there were many children there, including our own, and we left a cup of wine for Elijah, in case he should arrive at our door. For Elijah, and all those who are missing, being missed, absent. Metaphoric. Abstract.
This year we have invited people. Most have not responded. One person said she understood this was an honor, and, with appreciation, told me she would be away. Others just said they’d see. They don’t understand – it isn’t game-night. It isn’t just a friendly invitation to come over for a drink. It’s Passover. It’s a different world, it feels like. I don’t know how they don’t get it. But, also, I don’t know how to explain it and have no real desire to.

I know the right people will be there. Lisa. Arlene. Family. That is family. They are family. The nextdoor neighbours will be there. The children are far away. Anyone else, it seems not. There will be no need to recline this Passover.

But there are people who would be there. And for them, the empty places are no longer metaphor. No longer abstract, but painfully, concretely, empty.

Joyce will not be there. She is dying. Close to death. Close enough that she has been visited by Lee, who sits with her. Two empty chairs.

The Angel of Death is a myth. Or, if not, certainly being able to protect loved ones from its grasp is most certainly. Nothing painted over the door will work. No feng shui mirror will reflect it. No prayers will avert it. Death comes.

This Passover, as we are celebrating freedom, I’ll be noticing the empty chairs. And I’ll be thinking, while we are alive, do something with that freedom. We must. Because nothing will protect us. Nothing will stop death. Old age is never guaranteed, only death, at any time.

This is what I’ll be telling myself so I can, the best I can, turn the empty chairs into something more meaningful than symbols of loss, vacuity, grief. Because I suspect there will be many more empty chairs for me to get used to. More cups of wine to pour that will not be sipped. More memories to step around, to not become lost in, as I open my eyes for each coming dawn, go about my days, close my eyes in the dark nights.

Or maybe I’ll be an empty chair, a cup of wine, a quiet moment.

This Passover I will not be covering the doorposts. There is no need. The Angel doesn’t care. Come or go, we’ll celebrate. With life and death, we’ll celebrate. With love, we’ll celebrate, while we can. And lift our glasses to each and every empty chair and know there is one thing the Angel of Death cannot kill.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Culture, Family, philosophy, Religion

 

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Food

Food is a pain in the ass. I understand it isn’t supposed to be, but it is. And I understand how ungrateful I sound saying so. Food is necessary, I know, but I like to think it isn’t. That it doesn’t need to be.

I think I hate food, actually. I’d say I hate food except when I’m eating it, but that isn’t true. I hate food even when I’m eating it. I hate food even when I’m enjoying it. I know that enjoyment is thoroughly transitory and, unless my food it is perfectly chosen and portioned, it will be followed by regret, guilt, rapprochement, and replays of all choices I could have made better, with each imperfect choice a failure of my character.

I’d happily eat a “chow” instead, or food pills, and be done with it. The chow could come in cans, like dog food. Not that horrendous stuff but something like Merrick’s. Merricks has flavours like Granny’s Pot Pie, Cowboy Cookout, Brats and Tots. We used to feed Dusty Merrick’s and, once, when my son opened a can for her, he looked at his mother and asked, “Why don’t you ever cook anything this good.” She had no answer. Mostly because he was right. And there was everything Dusty needed there, made with the best of ingredients, in just two cans a day. Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I have that simplicity and security?

I’ve tried shakes and such but the results are less than positive after a few days. Troublesome. Uncomfortable. I’ve gone as much as a week, and didn’t get out much, other than to work, after day three. I’ve also tried simply not eating. Eight days is as far as I ever got. Just didn’t want to eat. Eight days and I finally relented. People began to notice. Not in my face or clothes, but just noted they hadn’t ever seen me eat or refer to any meals. This is what happens when people love you. They notice things. Sometimes I think that is a good reason to be alone.

I had actually planned on going much longer, and in my head didn’t think anyone would notice at all. That I could go a month and no one would notice. That was my plan. A month. Longer.

Planning, choosing. Worrying. Food is never simple. So much of it is obviously crap, and I don’t want to eat that. And there are so many diets to choose from. Even when one dismisses the idea of a diet as specifically for weight-loss, the number of ideas of how a person should eat are staggering and contradictory. How to choose? They all can’t be right.

Michael Pollan says we worry about diets far too much. “Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”And “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it is made in a plant, don’t.”  Those are his rules. They should be easy to follow, but planning any meal shows they are not. This is why I tend to just eat the same thing again and again, even though I am a more than adequate and inventive cook who can plan rather nice meals for friends and family when occasions calls for them. For other people, yes. For myself, I’m happy to do the same thing for each meal, without getting bored, just for the sake of simplicity and to remove the tyranny of choice.

Mornings, if I can just put stuff in a blender and know it’s good for me, I honestly don’t care what it tastes like. Greens, protein/eggs, a nut milk (no dairy unless I want to spend the day with a headache and stuffed sinuses). Done. I can add cocoa powder and stevia. That’s fine. But I don’t have to. No having to make choices, plan, choose, “what do I feel like,” etc…

My mother worked her whole life to lose weight. We are a thick people. Cabbage diets. Liquid protein. Carb free. As long as I can remember, she was dieting. I can’t recall it ever working. She finally lost her extra weight, twelve years into her fifteen years with parkinson’s. She was an exquisitely thin corpse.

I went carb-free, or nearly so, at twelve or thirteen. No more than forty grams of carbohydrates a day. I counted. I don’t remember how much I weighed or how much I lost, but I recall I thought I was still horribly fat. My clothes could not be tight. Nothing could cling. It had to be loose or I would pull at it, stretch it, tug it away, misshape it. I could not stand the feel of it and always blamed it not on the clothes being too small, not on skin sensitivity, but on one thing – I’m, obviously, too fat.

I was 140 pounds. When I see pictures of myself then, I’m astonished how thin I was. What was I complaining about? What could I not have liked about my body? But, then, the answer to that question was “everything.” There was everything not to like, and nothing to appreciate.

Even then, I could not look in a mirror. I pass mirrors and close my eyes. My wife once noticed, when I shave, I lean into the mirror, but close my eyes. Nothing to see here.

Once, a few years ago, a decade, less, I passed a mirror and saw someone I didn’t recognise and thought, since it was a small office, and my office at that, “Nice/Who is that?/Cute” all at once. I remember this so well, and the pile of thought, because within that same moment I realised it was me, and I saw the image shifted into one I could not stand. I could not recapture that moment, that feeling. I can remember it, but can’t feel it. And delusion does not succumb to logic.

In the mid 2000’s, I was in Weight Watchers. I had to lie to get into it. They asked me if I binged or starved. I lied. I binged and purged. Since I was a teen. Certain foods were hooks. Peanut butter. A jar would not last. A bag of potato chips would not make the night unless I froze it. Then it might make a few nights. A tray or box of fried chicken? Gone. Sometimes I’d buy a tub of frosting and eat the whole thing while watching TV. That would make me tremendously sick. I’d tell myself I’d never do it again. Why would I? Then I’d convince myself, a month later, or on a special occasion, that it was ok. I’d rationalise it. I could rationalise anything. That was especially true if it was at night. Nights are dangerous. Every purchase a personal failure.

The best way to handle this was to simply not buy these things. They didn’t come into the house. I finally did manage to learn to do that. But I might get a cookie. Or a roll. Then I’d punish myself by having to run a mile for that cookie. Eat a cookie? Now you need to run. When I couldn’t do that, laxatives. Then, realising that was easier, I’d take laxatives anytime I considered what I did binging – a piece of cake or slice of pie, too much at a potluck. My definition of binging is very liberal.

I hate food-centered events and try to not participate. At work, I stay in my room anytime there will be food involved. I “feel” people are watching what I’m eating, judging. It’s easier to just stay away. Required to attend? I go early, race to get there first, so i can choose an empty table, sit far away, as long as i can sit alone. “There are donuts in the teacher workroom.” That day, I don’t even check my mailbox.

With Weight Watchers, I lost weight. I never got to goal weight though. I did get down to 152. Their charts said I should be 118 to 128. My wife said that would be a ridiculous weight for me – far too thin for my body-type. She, being a doctor, could certify, and did, that my goal was 142. It might as well have been 118, as it was just as unreachable. Food log, pedometer, a scale for me and one for the food, measuring cups, a well-used gym membership. 152. I must have recognised I had done well. I even wrote about the hard work of losing weight, and the success of it. But I still hated seeing myself. The failure of it. Now I look at that and wonder, what was I complaining about? But that’s gone too.

When she died, my weight was 202. A few months later, after I began to look at the world again, I got a membership at a gym that was open 24 hours. I was there when I couldn’t sleep. I was there when I was bored. I was there when I could not stand being in the house, or going home, or going to bed. So I was there nearly as much as I was home. I was there at ten at night. I was there at four in the morning. I was there twice a day sometimes. Work, gym. Work, gym. Presidential debate? Watch it on the treadmill. Show I want to see? Watch it on the treadmill. Lift weights, lift some more. I tore my right deltoid. Keep going. Eating nothing but chicken breasts and vegetables. Keep going.

I got down to 158. I thought it was terrible. When I see those pictures now… What was I thinking? I couldn’t have been thinking. It isn’t possible.

I’m back at the gym. Walking with my fitness watch. Biking. Watching what I eat. Eating. How I wish I could stop that. I gained weight last week. Despite everything. Still gaining. An obvious failure of my character.

I’m told “do this.” Do this, Do that. Try this other thing. Thyroid. Took stuff. No effect. Testosterone. Sorry, in the normal range, even though it’s at the bottom of it (like we are machine that run to the same tolerances and configurations) so none for you. Try this, wait, try that, wait, working at it all the time. And, all the time, walking, biking, lifting, eating. All the time, eating. How much I’d like to cut that last one out. How much I’d like to stop.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2019 in Culture, psychology, Suicide

 

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The names of the dead were hushed at Kings Buffet.

It is one year since the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in South Florida. While we wish it could have been the last, already, there have been others.

The students, the citizens, of March for our Lives have been criticized for eclipsing the names of the people who died, but, as David Hogg said, while he understands that, they are working to make sure there comes a time when there are no more people who die this way, so their deaths will not have been for nothing. They are working tirelessly to make sure sure this becomes a reality.

In the meantime, so many. So many I can’t recall them all. Columbine was not the first. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And the next one.

The names of the dead were hushed at Kings Buffet.

From the single TV,
High in the corner
Above the frozen soft-serve machine,
The steam table full of sesame chicken,
Broccoli and tofu,
Happy family,
On the screen
A man in a suit behind
A lectern answers questions
And announces
Now,
He will read the names of the dead.

Above the clinking plates he
Solemnly, slowly reads through
The taps of forks
The first name
Slips his lips
And, then, the music swells
From harp, guquin, violin and flute
But it was just that someone
Turned up the volume
From the wall-speakers above the salad bar
So the names continue to drop
To the sound of Mandarin and music
So the names continue to fall
To the sound of the ice and soda machine
And I can not hear them,
Didn’t know them,
Will not even know their names.

There seems little to do.
Eat my fish and think,
How I am, here, now.

In the last classroom
Twenty-one students were saved by their professor
Who used his body to bar the door
Before the shooter shot him through.
A holocaust survivor,
He had died before and for less.
It is good to know why you lived.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2019 in Culture, Poetry, Social

 

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Student Perception of Speed as Affected by Diction: how charged words, as opposed to academic and neutral language, heighten emotions, create bias and skew judgement with specific emphasis on outliers

It has been a long time since I have done a study. 1988, I think. Designed one or run one. A long time since I have written one, and I know I have made many errors here.

I have been telling my students that words matter. Words create perception and they can be used to create bias, emotion, action or inaction. We study appeals to pathos, logos, ethos, kairos.  Loaded language and logical fallacies. But I often sense they do not believe me.  So I thought I would put them in the middle of their own proof.

The result was many open eyes and one student who insisted he should be filming me as a TED talk.

The results are below.

 

Design
This study is designed to see if using a “charged” term, non-academic diction, can change perception of external events. Such language can be used to create bias or emotional states and it was my desire to demonstrate this to English honors and Advance Placement English Language and Composition classes. If the hypothesis is correct, this can demonstrate how “charged” terms can be used to control the overall responses of populations.

I hypothesis that using terms with a “positive charge” will increase perception of speed in a filmed vehicular accident.

Population
Three classes of tenth grade honors English students were tested, with populations of 18, 19 and 21. All classes were studying the same curriculum and in the same program at the same location in their curriculum and instructed with the same materials, methods and instructor.

Material
Each class was shown a five second film of a vehicular accident or a motorcycle striking a car that had just pulled out of a parking spot, as filled from a helmet camera. The film showed the motorcycle increasing in speed, with the sound of the engine extant, and striking the broadside of the car. It was made obvious, in the film, the rider was not hurt appreciably hurt, and there were no signs of injury in the film.

Method
Each class was asked to estimate the speed of the collision and to write the number, in miles per hour, on a note, but each class was asked using a slightly differently worded query. The control group was asked the question in academic diction devoid of purposefully charged language.  A second group was asked the same question with a word replacement or a neutral for a word with a “positive charge.”  The third group had a query with two words carrying a “positive charge.”

  1. What was the speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred?
  2. What was the speed of the vehicle when it smashed into the other?
  3. How fast was the vehicle when it smashed into the other one?

The notes were collected and the data compiled for mean, median and mode as well as lowest and highest outliers.

 

Population 1

27 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 4 mph. Highest Outlier 53 mph.

 

Population 2

33 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 12 mph. Highest outlier 55 mph.

 

Population 3

38 mph average speed estimate

35 median

35 – 40 split for the mode, with four estimates for each

Lowest outlier 18 mph. Highest outlier was 80 mph.

Results
The language with the least emotional charge, the academic diction, resulted in the lowest perceived mean speed as well as the lowest outliers.

The language with one added “charged” word increased the mean perceived speed 22.22% 33 mph over the control group
The median and mode did not shift but the lowest and highest perceived speed increased by 200% and 3.78% respectively over the control group.

The language with two “charged” words increased the mean perceived speed by 40.74% to 38 mph over the control.
The median increased 16.67% to 35 mph and the mode was split evenly between 35 and 40 mph. Using the mean of this mode to calculate percentage, the mode increased 25% over the control. Seemingly most telling is the increase in the outliers.  The lowest perceived speed increased from 4 mph to 18 mph (350%) and 80 for the highest (50.94%) over the control group.

It is clear using charged words increased perceived speed.

This can be extrapolated to other areas, such as crowd size, levels of violence, impending danger and many other real world events.

Interpretation
This demonstrates several things. Language can be leading/loaded even if language does not appear to be. Academic diction has the lowest “charge,” and this supports the need to teach students to be write in an academic fashion. It also supports the need to instruct them to understand the importance of diction, so they can recognize language which appears to create logos when it is really designed to create pathos, thus allowing students to notice subtle manipulations in language meant to create emotional responses to skew perception and/or drive opinion. Further, it demonstrates the need for careful word choice with high semantic value to decrease linguistic indeterminacy.

Replication and Refinement
In replicating this study, I would select a population corrected for gender and academic level to assure the populations were homogeneous. Further, I would add a 4th group with a variable “negatively charged” term to see if the perception of the estimated speed in such a group would be lower than the control.

In further refinement, I would like to test to see if changing the charged adverb (fast, slowly, quickly) or the verb (smashed, collided, hit) have differing magnitudes of affect.

Discussion
We are aware that journalism can look objective but, upon examination, we find leading words and loaded language hiding in the sentences. This can have an effect on how we perceive an event. The word “mob” used for an assemblage instead of group can, and does, affect how people perceive the assemblage and this carries over to the perception of the individuals within the assemblage.

While I understand, in this test, the outliers skew the data, and it is possible the outliers should be taken into account when calculations are made, the outliers are of interest in themselves. Both ends of the outliers rose with inclusion of the charged words. The outlier at the higher end is of particular interest as it is the outliers in a society that cause the most dramatic and concentrated change and cause the most trauma as well (terrorism, murder, mass shootings) and if a small inclusion of a charged word can create a large increase in the emotional response of the top outliers, this is worth noting.

While we cannot combat this in every instance, we can begin to educate students to be aware it exists and to be on the lookout for the use of such language. Words with a positive charge can be used to excite/increase bias and bring activity when coupled with a call to action.  Words with a negative charge can dampen responses and reduce activity. We see this in political rhetoric as well as in sales, and we are seeing it increasingly in social media and fringe news sources.

It is possible that educating children to recognise and not accept the charging of language may help reduce the effect of this.

 

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Culture, Education, psychology, Social

 

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Service

My father was in the US Navy. He was a bubblehead, as I have been told those who serve aboard submarines are called. He also served aboard a destroyer and it is quite possible I was, shall we say, engendered, within that destroyer, when it was in the Charlestown Navy Yard. I have the American flag that draped his coffin, given to me by an honor guard upon his burial, on my bookcase.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, Albert Cohen, English, joined the Canadian Army as an electrical engineer, and saw combat, during WWII – a Jew fighting fascism and hate during the Holocaust.

I had, as a child, thought about the military. But I wasn’t ready even to leave home to go away to college, and my life took a different direction with marriage, children, and a full life. Nothing to look back upon with even a gram of regret.

In the back of my mind, I always thought of my father’s and grandfather’s service. While I knew I wasn’t cut out for the military, for reasons which would become quite a bit more clear as I grew older, I felt there were ways I could contribute to my country. That I could make my country a better place. To that end, I worked on environmental issues, sat vigiles, walked demonstration lines, and spent many years working with Earth First! in defense of the territory, not just the map. I worked to defend what the flag stood for and what my father and grandfather fought for.

For this, I have paid, but have never been paid, though my price has not been as steep as many. Others have been beaten, or paid with their lives – taken by our own countrymen. Sometimes this was due to ideology, sometimes their bodies stood in the way of profit.

I have been told to leave our country. I have been told to get a job, while already working three. I have been hit by eggs thrown from moving cars, held at gunpoint, run off the road, spat on while chained to doors, pushed up against walls to be photographed by men in black jackets with the letters FBI on the back, had my livelihood and income threatened from within and without, and alienated family. And I have seen those beside me pay far more steeply than I.

I did this most of my life, but, there was a time, for a while, I stepped back. During the time I needed to heal, during the great confusion, depression, fracturing, and despondency that was the aftermath of the death of my wife, I could not act. I could not care. But in 2016 I heard a call my conscience could not refuse, and I began to care again. I attended a meeting for Bernie Sanders. While I would have happily voted for Hillary Clinton, and did, and not felt at all as though I had made a “lesser of the two evils” decision, Bernie was my real deal and I went to work.

A month later I was asked if I would take an actual elected position. I was surprised, to say the least. In an area that is not deeply red, but in which Democrats, let alone Greens, Progressives and Democratic Socialists tend to keep a low profile and don’t often win elections, I was asked to take on an official position – Precinct Committeeperson. I was asked by Sanjay Patel who, at that time, I had no idea I’d be voting for happily, working with delightedly, and stumping for constantly, to help elect to US Congress. But, then, I didn’t see myself running for office either. And that wasn’t the only thing I found myself doing that I would not have foreseen.

I had never worked in an official capacity before, but now I was reaching out to voters in my precinct and attending meetings, planning, and working in concert with many others (nearly never easy or enjoyable for me). I began working on registering people to vote. Then I was asked to be the chairman of the Voter Registration Committee. Then worked on the Candidate and Campaign Committee delineating what positions were coming up, qualifications for each, and then working to find people to run for those offices.

Then came the door to door. No, not me. No. Never. Hold a gun on me, ok. Spit on me. Fine. But I’m not knocking on a stranger’s door! But the candidates… I believed in these people. They were my friends. I worked with them. Knew them. So, now, yes, I’ll try it. And so began the canvassing. The canvassing. The never-ending canvassing.

It was frightful. It still is. It twists my stomach. I hate it. And I did it anyway. Many of us did. But many said no. They had anxiety. It made them nervous. They had as many excuses as to why they could not take an active part in defending and improving our country as they had complaints about what was wrong with it. I could easily have claimed the same. I did not.

And running for office? “No. Have you found anyone to run against _____”? No, not yet. “We need someone to run against ____.” Yes, that is why we are asking you. You are qualified and we think you’d be great. Are you willing to do it? “No. Are you going to find someone to run against _____?” They didn’t see the connection between what they were asking others to do but were unwilling to do themselves. And wondered why change did not come.

But, slowly, our slate filled. And did so with people of sterling quality and character that I am proud to work with. People who are worth fighting anxiety and a roaring head and the dread felt before each and every knock. These people are worth that. Our country is worth that. Our grandchildren are worth that.

All positions but one. One open position. One position with no one to run for it. The position with a name that challenged anyone to dare put it on a sign. So befuddling no one knew what or where it was. Sebastian Inlet Tax District Commission. An environmental position and I said sure. Why not?

“I wish I could vote for you, but I don’t live in Sebastian.” You don’t need to.
“I didn’t know you lived in Sebastian.” I don’t.
“I wish I could vote for you.” You can.

Lee had always wanted me to run for office. School board. But I have seen what happens to teachers who run for school board and lose. And their spouses if they happen to teach as well. No. But, here – this was a position few had heard of, low profile, and science-oriented. I could do this. All I needed to do was learn about coastal engineering, fluid and colloidal dynamics, biosolids, environmental policy and a few other things.

Besides, I wanted to be the first autistic person to win a public office. I filled out the forms.

And I was too late. A year too late. Sarah Hernandez or Enfield, Connecticut. Fine. I was doing it anyway!

Then came the fundraising. The asking for money. The accounting and webforms. The letters from the Florida Division of Elections, Office of Campaign Finance telling me I had done this wrong, that wrong, the other things wrong, and my needing to ask for help, though no one would step up to be the campaign treasurer.

Public speaking was not a problem. But, more and more, the dealing with people, though I should have been just discussing science they wanted to concentrate on anything but, became harder and harder. It was my thought canvassing would become easier the more I did it, but some months in it began to twist my stomach even more. The more I did it, the worse it got. Walking up to a house, I would feel ill. I’d wish no one was home. Beg the deities that no one would answer the door. But they were. They did. And I kept going.

Press conferences were ok, but “meet and greets” would leave me sitting in a corner with my head roaring and my body rocking. During a fundraiser, Arlene found me sitting in a corner rocking back and forth. During a pre-Pride event, Marge found me on the floor, in a corner, singing to myself, holding my head. Even at the election watch party, even with benefit of Cruzian and Coke, I lasted less than an hour and Lisa and I left to bring home Chinese food and watch at home.

Seeing myself spoken about in third person was strange. Even, as so much of it was, positively glowingly. But the attacks. Public attacks on me as a teacher. Attacks that followed me to school. Complaints and allegations out of nowhere two weeks before the election followed by parents writing publicly about me being a “piece of shit” and a “horrible human being.” Nothing I had ever experienced in nearly two decades of education. And these coming from not just locally, but far away as Washington state.

Why did I keep going? Service. To make the world better, in large part. To do my share, as I had done before, but in a new and different way, as it seemed needed at the time. Certainly I am not the first person one thinks of when running for office. A person with great difficulty reading, and misreading, faces or tone, won’t talk to people he doesn’t know, won’t engage in anything that doesn’t have clear rules of parameters, and won’t engage in small-talk or banter but will simply dive into didactic, cannot stand crowds, bright lights, and noise, is not who one looks for as a candidate. I am not well-suited for it. It made Earth First! feel easy.

One of the candidates I grew to know is Mel Martin, who ran for Florida State Senate. She is a Marine Corp veteran and I won’t say anything more about her as a person because if I write one compliment, I will feel compelled, and am quite capable, of filling the next five minutes with her virtues. She is one of the few people who knew what challenges I was running with. Instead, I will simply give her space to speak on her own. She has this to say.

“After serving with the marines – some of the finest people on Earth – and retiring four years ago, I honestly did not believe I’d be in the company of true, selfless warriors again. But I was absolutely wrong. While marines fight for each other to accomplish the mission, with the backdrop of patriotic duty, YOU are directly fighting in the spirit of patriotism – for the very pillars of society we inherited and intend to pass to the following generations. We’re not fighting simply as Americans, we’re fighting FOR America.”

And there was what I had often wanted to say, thought for years to say, but could not as I had not the experience of both kinds of service. And, so spoken by an actual member of the armed forces, a veteran, this was more appreciated than I could, at the time, express. Service comes in different types. And those on the street don’t get paid, and, sometimes, meet the same ends, at the hands, however, of their own countrymen. Bombed, burned, jailed. Lose our jobs, homes, families. In service to that which is greater than ourselves. Without benefit of remuneration of any sort, we serve.

Different, yes. And I do not pretend to know what it is like to be in a firefight. My hat’s off to members of the armed forces, always. Respect and appreciation. Often amazement. But I also respect those who have given so much to fight at home to make this home better for us all. Those who worked far past their comfort and risked themselves when they could have stayed at home, and often lost so much.

To them, I say, also, thank you for your service.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2018 in Culture, Social

 

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Ode to the Philly Cheesesteak from Pat’s

Just because. Just because.

Just because I miss Philly. Just because someone close by got a local (Indian Harbour Beach, I think) cheesesteak and said it was the best anywhere.

Just because I want a cheesesteak with everything, and that includes ambiance and attitude.

Just because. Just because.

Ode to the Philly Cheesesteak from Pat’s

Oh my Philly cheesesteak–
I buy you
From Pat’s King of Steaks.
Fuck Geno’s across the street.
I order fast before
Counterman screams at me,
“Whadja want?
Dare’s people waitin’
In line!”
I order your divine
Slices of cow,
Yelling over the counter
“One Cheesesteak wid
And yo, don’t spare da sauce!”
He throws it at me,
Friendly-like.
Yeah.
Fuck Geno’s.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in Culture, Food, Poetry, Social, Travel

 

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Pride

It is not through my own efforts of will, creativity, invention or industry that I was born here. This is true of all people who are not immigrants, as truly, only one who has risked pain, suffering, and life can count pride in such. Hence I have no pride in  being an American, as there should be no pride in the color of one’s skin, gender, preference or any other accident of biology or birth.

Different dictionaries will define pride in slightly different ways, but each has at its core the same sense – a deep pleasure or satisfaction which comes from one’s own achievements or those with whom one is closely associated and can say one had a part or influence. My citizenship is no achievement, as it was for my grandmother, nor is the color of my skin. And any sense of pride in such matters is misguided, at best, used to bolster ego, or, at worst, a week device to create cohesion in a group which wishes to set itself apart from others, to divide, and all too often, for the purpose of establishing or continuing dominance and power, whether that power is imaginary or manifest.

Yet lack of pride does in no way decry, does not extirpate, a sense of duty, and that deep sense of duty is all the stronger for being born of love for the Land, and the principles for which it stands than if it was born from a false idea of pride or, in a sense, to expiate for that lack. A sense of duty to this Country, as evidenced in concern, compassion, for the welfare of the Land and the People, will do more for our common good than any concept of selfish pride, and pride is always, at its core, selfish. Duty in action is patriotism.

Thus, in that sense of duty, and the honor which grows from it, it is only right that we tell the truth where we see it. That we are loyal to our Country, but not to the transitory holders of power, as they are only the agents we set in place for the good of our Country, and their powers and authorities as we have granted, and are to be removed when it is clear the best interest of the Country is no longer served by their borrowed powers. That speaking the truth to those who hold power is a patriotic act, surpassed only by acting on those truths. And if acting on those truths can be done so within the confines of the law, that it be done so, as the law, in a free Country, is but a vehicle to codify, to ensure, equity and justice, but when acting within the confines of the law is contrary to justice, which is the higher law, to compassion, which is the higher law, that patriotism demands those laws be broken. Duty demands those laws be not obeyed. That it is better to suffer for justice and compassion and truth, for one’s Neighbours and Land, than to live falsely for pride.

If one can do this, then, at last, there will be something of which one can be truly, properly proud.

 

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Culture, philosophy, Social

 

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