Sleepless Night

It’s 7:08 in the morning. According to Google the sun will rise at 7:54. I’m in bed but I haven’t slept a wink. 

There’s a lot on my mind these days. I’m in a transitional stage. I’m at point A and I need to get to point B soon but I don’t have a clear path to get from here to there. My ankle is finally starting to heal but I’m finding that I have to teach my body to use my ankle. My gait is herky jerky but I’ll get back to my regular self in no time. The money thing always keeps me up. There is never enough and I’m constantly living hand to mouth. It’s been a while since I’ve worked. I really need to find employment soon. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. I’m a 40 year old single gay man. I might as well move into the gay retirement home. The gay community is focused on youth and beauty. I feel I have no place there. I wonder if I’m destined to be alone. So far classes are manageable. I’m not where I need to be but at least I went easier on myself this semester. My mom’s birthday was yesterday. During the course of our conversation yesterday she gave me some distressing news. My dad went to see his cardiologist on Friday. It didn’t go well. He was basically told that his heart was too weak, that he was on the strongest heart medication that the pharmaceutical companies make and there wasn’t much left that his doctors could do. And I’m up because I can’t understand the world I’m currently living in. I don’t understand how we so easily tear each other down instead of raising each other up. I still feel I’m living in a dream. Sad thing is I know this is reality. I guess I’m not coping with things as much as I’d like to believe. And I apologize for the absence of paragraph breaks. I’m not going to get any sleep but I needed to empty my mind before morning comes. Sun rises in about 20 minutes now so I might as well get out of bed, make some breakfast and watch the sun rise.

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National Reading Day

I found out that today was National Reading Day. This is a holiday I can fully support. I’m a huge reader. I used to be a library clerk so books are a not so secret passion of mine. In celebration of the day I thought I’d share what’s in my currently reading pile. Usually I’m going back and forth between at least 2-3 books but right now I’m in the process of reading 5.

The Sense Of Style by Steven Pinker. I read an interview with the author at the beginning of the year. It compelled me to pick up a copy of his book. It’s a book about writing which I appreciate since I’m in the process of what I dub “world building” a fictional story. It’s also a style manual. This book would be comfortable shelved next to a well worn copy of The Elements Of Style.

The Book Of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. This is the book my Wednesday connection group is discussing. In life we’re always told we need to forgive but nobody teaches us how to forgive. This book is the how to, go to book on forgiveness. My connection group never goes for the easy read but the books we discuss are always life changing.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest. This is a book that grabbed my attention last time I was at the library. It’s a spiritual guidebook on how to be more present in every day life. My two action phrases for 2017 are mindful and meaningful. This book dovetails nicely with those sentiments.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is what my book club is reading for January. It’s a book where you really have to suspend your disbelief. I’d say about 80% of the book takes place in a world wide virtual reality stimulation (think The Sims taken to the extreme or Second Life) based on obscure pop culture. This books is chockful of video game references, cult film classics, hairband metal, Japanese anime, etc. It’s a little difficult to get into but once you acclimate to the world Ernest Cline has built it turns out to be a riveting story.

Fates And Furies by Lauren Groff. You don’t see a hard copy of the book because it’s on my Kindle. I swore for years that I would never succumb to e-books but it’s too damn convenient. My friend, Jen, recommended the book. This is a book I just recently started. I’m enjoying it. My only quibble is that one of the main characters is called Lotto and I always think of CVS 8045 and working the lotto counter when I see his name.

This is what I’m reading. What are you reading? Let me know in the comments.

Mind Over Matter

This morning I woke up determined that I wasn’t going to let my ankle get the best of me. It’s been a journey of pain and frustration this month that has sidetracked me from achieving or even starting my 2017 goals. No more.

The mind is the strongest organ in the body. The mind sends messages to every other organ in the body, every nerve ending. What happens if we change our way of thinking? 

We often tell ourselves negative things. I can’t do this because of that. We make excuses. I’ve been telling myself I can’t work my ankle because it hurts but then I was reminded that we’re weightless in water. I filled up my bathtub and flexed the hell out of my ankle.

What hapens if we stop making excuses? What happens if we start telling ourselves positive, encouraging things. It’s Monday and it’s the start of another week. Instead of moaning and groaning tell yourself that this Monday is going to be marvelous. 

It’s been a long weekend. Get out of the rut. It’s a beautiful but rainy day here in Michigan. I called my mom because it’s her birthday and it’s raining in Virginia as well. No matter. Grab an umbrella and go for a walk. Walk around the block. Get the blood flowing. If you work in an office building take the stairs. If you take public transportation then get off the stop before your normal stop and walk it. 

Try a new food. Stop telling yourself that it’s going to taste awful. I hated the thought of kale but my church mama convinced (forced) me to eat some and it was delicious. Try new things.

Talk to a stranger. Stop telling yourself that you have nothing in common with your co-workers, classmates, neighbors. Be open to the possibility.

I recognize the importance of saying no. Saying no is important when doing self care. But say yes every once and again. Say yes to karaoke. Say yes to that group invite to go bowling. Say yes to those things that scare you. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember that everything comes down to mind over matter.

24 Hours In

It’s been a little over 24 hours since Donald Trump gave his inauguration address. The speech made me speechless and I had to take sometime to process it.

The speech scared me to be frank. During the campaign there were comparisons to Hitler that I thought uncalled for but now I’m not sure. The nationalism in the speech gave me chills. There was an Orwellian air to all of the talk to patriotism. I’ve already seen the antagonistic view he takes with the press. In Donald Trump’s patriotic country, is there room for dissent? Is there room for protest? 

As a spiritual person, the talk of God bothered me. There is a separation of church and state. Is Trump’s God the God for everyone or just the evangelical Christians? He spoke against “radical Islamic terrorists” but does he consider all of Islam to be radical terrorists? The God that Donald Trump thinks protects us isn’t my God because my God is of love and nothing of that speech was love.

Most inauguration speeches call for unity and try to bring both parties together. Donald Trump spoke about “American carnage”. He used righteous a lot which always bothers me. It’s one of those trigger words that signify you’re better than me because you feel your value system is better than mine. Most of the speech focused on fear based tactics and implicit bias.

I want to focus on passages from the speech and offer up my two cents worth of commentary.

First he talked about the movement that built around him and swept him into office. He said “At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens.” I find that fucking hilarious. President Trump feels that the nation exists to serve its citizens but one of the first things he did as president was sign an executive order that began the process of dismantling Obamacare. I guess having healthcare isn’t one of the ways a nation should serve its citizens. 

Then he goes on to list the wrongs of this country and he made a statement that reeks of racism. “And the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” When the Republican party talks about crime and gangs and drugs they are talking about the African-American community. There’s a distrust within communities of high minorities towards the police department but President Trump has now said that the drugs and the gangs and the crime will be stopped so that means more unchecked police officers patrolling in communities where people of color live. They’ll be more stop and frisk. They’ll be more racial profiling. The tension will build.

Donald Trump then talked about our military. He said we “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own. And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.”

Now, the only militaries that we’ve subsidized to my knowledge are Iraq and Afghanistan. The only reason we did that is because we illegally invaded Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein after September 11th and we attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan even though the Taliban is a nomadic group. Fuck, Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan. We still have one of the most well funded militaries.
I’ll give the president his due. I’d be the first to agree that the US has this odd habit of bombing places then helping rebuild them while our own infrastructure is crumbling. There are many issues here on the home front that needs to be dealt with before we deal with them in other countries. But I harshly disagree with the idea that the “wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated.”
The “America First” rhetoric worries me. It’s the same argument used in the 1940’s to keep us out of World War II even though there was strong evidence that the Holocaust was occurring. We’ve become a globalized world and President Trump scares me with his talk. I read that that the economic fallout of pulling out of NAFTA could throw us into another recession. 
He said that “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example” but I’m afraid that’ll turn out false. The United States has a long history of meddling in the affairs of other nations. He said that “we will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.” I can’t be the only one frightened that Donald Trump has the nuclear codes when I hear “ERADICATE COMPLETELY FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH.” That’s some scary talk.
Above all, Donald Trump scares me when he talks about allegiance. “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
Allegiance is a tricky word. We’ve had instances in the past where citizens were rounded up and put into internment camps because their allegiance was questioned. We’ve had citizens rounded up and forced to testify in front of a House UnAmerican Activities Committee. If we’re persuing “solidarity” is there room for a difference of opinion. Donald Trump scares the hell out of me.
Yesterday I pondered what it was like to be an American. I tried to emphasize that being American meant that we got to challenge the president and keep an eye on him. Now I’m afraid that being American under the Trump administration means that we have to kowtow to Trump’s every whim and tell him falsehoods to stroke his ego. He’s already upset with the press because they reported the truth that the inauguration crowds were smaller than President Obama’s crowds. Will he consider it UnAmerican to support immigration? Will he consider it UnAmerican to disapprove of building a border wall? Will he consider it UnAmerican if someone disagrees with him? 
President Trump vows that “our country will thrive and prosper again” but I feel our country already thrives and prospers. He said that “we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms” but that’s a falsehood. There are “religious freedom” laws that are discriminatory towards me because of my sexuality. There are laws that broach on women’s health issues. There are laws that make it easier for the wealthy among us and make it difficult for the poor among us. 

“Together we will make America strong again, we will make America wealthy again, we will make America proud again, we will make America safe again. And, yes, together we will make America great again.”

America is already all of these things. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat myself. We’re in for a long 4 years. If you were content with the status quo then you probably look forward to President Trump and the Republican held Congress repealing Obamacare and limiting the rights of same sex married couples. You’re probably happy that Planned Parenthood is losing its funding. You’re probably happy that Freedom House here in Detroit, a place dedicated to helping refugees, has lost its funding. You probably think this is the start to a glorious age but not all of us feel that way. The women gathering on every continent in protest feel that this is the beginning of a dark time. I feel that this is the beginning of a dark time. All I can hope is that we see the light, that love and common sense win and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Until then I hold onto my faith in humankind, my belief that we’re all part of a human family and put my faith and belief into action. 

Inauguration Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy and what it means to be an American. Being American means a lot of things to a lot of people. For a lot of years I felt like a second class citizen but, compared to other countries, I knew I had it made. I have the freedom to vote. While I might get bombarded with other people’s opinions on who to vote for I’ve never felt pressure to vote a certain way like my life depended on it. I have the freedom to voice my opinion without fear of reprisal. I have the freedom to attend whichever religious institute I feel or to spend my Sunday morning in bed. I have access to healthcare and running water and I don’t have to wait in line for hours at the grocery store and hope that there is food on the shelves and that I have enough money to buy a loaf of bread. There are still days I feel like a second class citizen, especially when I think about how I can be fired for being gay and how I can’t donate blood unless I am celibate for a year. There are a lot of labels I wear and American is one of them.

I’m thinking about what it means to be an American because Donald Trump becomes our 45th president at noon. I said our because, like him or loathe him, as an American citizen he becomes my president. He becomes your president. He becomes our president.

A lot of people are in shock that he’ll be inaugurated later today. There’s a lot of division in America. A lot of hurt feelings because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the electoral vote. As an American, as much as I hate it, I have to accept that’s how our democracy is set up. Donald Trump will become our next president.

One of the cornerstones of our democracy is the peaceful transition of power. I look at today’s ceremony where President Obama will meet Trump and the two of them will travel together to the Capital Building and compare it to what is happening in the Gambia where the newly elected president cannot take office because the former president refuses to yield. Troops from neighboring countries have mobilized to ensure democracy stands there.

Let me be clear. I accept the fact that Donald Trump is about to become the 45th president but I don’t approve of him. I don’t approve of him but roughly 62 million of my fellow Americans did. The margin of Clinton votes versus Trump votes was only roughly 3 million. It was too close to call in many states including here in Michigan on Election Night. I accept him as my president so I can better keep an eye on him. He has said worrisome things on the campaign trail. He has made worrisome actions with his choice of staff members and Cabinet nominations. He’s my president and it’s my job to watch him and resist him when necessary.

But my mind still goes to those 62 million people that voted for Donald Trump. I refuse to believe that they are all racist, bigoted, misogynistic people. Donald Trump sparked something within them that Hillary Clinton did not. Is it naive to believe in compromise? I don’t want the next 4 years to be us versus them. Can I make sure that the progress we’ve made stands while acknowledging the concerns of the 62 million that voted for Trump? 

As an American all I can do is watch and wait and use my voice to speak out against injustice of all sorts. I can protest in the street and bombard my senators and representatives with phone calls and emails expressing how I feel.

I wish President Trump well. I really do. Because if he fails then we all fail. I figured it out this morning. I’ve lived through 6 presidents and Trump will be the 7th. We were able to survive then and I choose to have faith we’ll survive now.

Thank You, Mr. President

2016 was an election year and, because of term limits, President Obama is leaving office. The last several days have been a long goodbye to the Obama administration. Last week was his farewell address. Yesterday he held his final presidential press conference. Today, his last official day in office, he released one last thank you note to the nation. I want to return the favor and honor the Obama administration.

Thank you, President Obama for helping pull the economy out of the Great Recession and for preventing another Great Depression. When President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, we were facing financial ruin. I live in metropolitan Detroit and Obama’s bailout of the auto industry saved Detroit from destruction. Detroit is revitalized. Economists now estimate that Obama’s financial policy helped create a little over 11 million jobs. 

As a queer American, thank you, Mr. President, for your advancement of LGBT rights. It was under your administration that the military policy of don’t ask/don’t tell was repealed. Your administration decided to stop enforcing the Defense Of Marriage Act and you allowed the White House to be lit in rainbow when the Supreme Court declared marriage equality law. And thank you Mr. President for fighting for my transgender brothers and sisters and making sure their rights were not ignored.

Thank you Mr. President, for the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare isn’t the best solution but you set forth a plan after decades of talking about healthcare for all. Thanks to you I have healthcare for the first time in ages. And, thanks to you, I was able to have surgery when a medical problem occurred.

Thank you, Mr. President, for what you’ve done for higher education. You’ve made it easier to pay back student loans. You got behind the movement to have community college become free. You focused on campus sexual assault by using Title IX. Your effort is appreciated.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your domestic policy stances. You furthered the conversation about immigration and signed the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protected minors that are undocumented immigrants after Congress failed to act. Thank you for weilding your pen and signing gun control into action via executive order after Congress refused to act. Thank you for your grace and compassion as you mourned with your fellow Americans after national tragedy. 

Thank you, Mr. President, for your foreign policy. You hunted down and enacted retribution against Osama bin Laden. You imposed sanctions against Russia and kicked Russian diplomats out after the intelligence community proved a connection between Russian hacking and the 2016 election. You entered into a nuclear agreement with Iran that would prevent them from making a nuclear weapon. Thank you for taking a stand against Isreal and acknowledging that peace will only come when there is a two state deal. Thank you for reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.

And, while I’m at it, thank you, Mrs. Obama, to your service to this nation. You worked with and brought attention to military families. You focused on childhood obesity and got America’s kids to move again. Thank you.

Let me end on a personal note. In September of 2015 I was lucky enough to share a stage with President Obama. He came to my college and, as a student leader, I was able to stand behind him on stage as he spoke about making the first two years of community college free to those with a qualifying GPA. After his remarks I was able to shake his hand. It is one of the best moments I’ve had in my life.

President Obama, your presidency ends tomorrow but your legacy will live on. I thank you for your service and I wish you and your family the best. 

Tuesday Night Musings

I’ve always tried to be as self-sufficient as possible. I try to be independent. I don’t seek out charity. I don’t ask for help. 

Now I’m injured. I can barely walk on my ankle. I’m also hungry because I’m running out of groceries. I need to do laundry. I need to clean the house. I need to go grocery shopping. I need to do all this but my ankle makes it difficult to do much of anything. I can’t fall asleep because I can’t find a comfortable position so I toss and turn. I’m physically exhausted and emotionally exhausted due to the frustration of needing to do something but putting myself in pain and potentially making things worse.

Now, knowing all of this, I made a dreadful decision. I threw all of my dirty clothes into the basement and managed to hobble down the stairs to do laundry. Now, of course, I didn’t think things through so it was a process bringing clean clothes up the stairs. I somehow managed and now I have clean underwear.

I let my laundry adventure make me think I could conquer the grocery store. The grocery store in my neighborhood was shuttered last summer so I’m still in the process of finding a new grocery store. I’ve been going to Meijer but I’m still trying to navigate Meijer since their remodel. I told myself if I was going to attempt to grocery shop then I needed a familiar store. I decided to go to Kroger in Hazel Park. I went and bought $50 worth of groceries but, like the laundry, I didn’t think things through. It was managable getting myself to Kroger but I didn’t think about how I was going to hobble home with x amount of grocery bags. 

Tonight has made me question my decision to avoid help. In my family we have a stigma against asking for help. My family have characterized others as being lazy and weak. I know better. I’m a social work major. I know that asking for help, for assistance is one of the bravest things a person can do. But, knowing that and applying it to my own life is easier said than done.

Last year I read a brilliant book by Brêne Brown called Rising Strong. The book talks about vulnerability among other things. It’s the vulnerability piece that I struggle with.

For myself I equate vulnerability with weakness. I don’t ever want to be viewed as weak. As a gay man, there’s already an implicit bias against me because gay men are stereotyped as weak. Making myself vulnerable and asking for assistance makes me look weak. While I know that I could ask someone to take me grocery shopping and most wouldn’t mind there’s also this tiny voice that tells me that if I ask then I’m going to become a burden. Worse yet I grew up in a family where no effort went without strings attached. I don’t want to feel I’m forever indebted to someone because they did me a favor. In my family you don’t want to become beholden to someone else and you don’t want to become a burden. These twin thoughts rise up whenever I get to a breaking point. Like tonight , I choose to go my own way and, honestly, I probably did more damage to my ankle. 

I don’t know what it all means. This is one of those times where my journal is my de facto therapist.