Friday, December 28, 2012

Poem of the day


Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.

by Tony Hoagland

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Another election

The election is coming up on Tuesday and I wanted to weigh in on some thoughts I've had.

After Obama got elected in 2008, I sort of fell asleep on politics.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I have had my fair share of grandstanding these last four years- gay marriage, the death of Osama bin Laden,  the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of Tim DeChristopher, some of the more ridiculous (and terrifying) state attempts to ban abortion, the racism of pretty much EVERY law Arizona has passed in the past few years, etc.  But these awarenesses are mainstream- a passive receipt of knowledge with maybe a little action, repressed frustration, and the occasional blowup of emotion when the stupidity gets to be too much.  My reactions are tepid, fleeting, and shallow.

Partly this may be due to disillusionment in general with the populace.  I think that happens as you get older and see more of the world.  It may also be due to the fact that I've been busy with school and work and have been traveling more and seemingly have less time for everything that I used to hold on to.  Mostly though, I think it's because, as a liberal, I did exactly the opposite of what I advocated in 2008: I assumed that Obama would do the right thing.

Here's what I said in 2008:

The problem is that, by declaring him [Obama] savior, we are essentially condoning this compromise for the long-term. We expect him to save us from ourselves, not acknowledging that we are creating a monster as he strives to attain that position. A mere man cannot be president. Barack Obama would never be president of the United States. He has to become an aggregate of the masses (the companies, the individuals, the 'demographics') in order to reach that spot and by the time he does it, he will have acquired all our worst characteristics in the process.

We can't give him a green light because without our voices, he will fail. Without our protests and our criticisms and our caution and our policing, he will become just another politician who got to the white house and proceeded to do a little good and a lot of harm. We can't go starry eyed on Obama because he needs us to save him from what he is becoming for our sakes.

He will disappoint. They all do. But, while he still has the capacity to listen (and I believe he does), it's important that we continue to remind him why we are voting for him, and why he has to reach a little farther and become a man again, in the most difficult job in the world.

Shit.  I hate when I don't take my own advice.  And fail he has, in so many ways.  Illegal wiretapping that outshines even the Bush era, more "inherent" presidential powers, the junking of habeas corpus, acceleration to the slow death of labor unions, inequality, a bank bailout that fucked homeowners by trillions of dollars, and an increase in the gap between the extreme rich and the rest of the country.  When he did right, (healthcare reform, getting out of Iraq, Sandy, overturning Don't Ask Don't Tell) we slumped even further into liberal stupor.  Only the conservatives, injected with high doses of down-home morality, were pitching fits about Obama, and their arguments, tinged with racism and anti-intellectualism, have never held my interest.  

We, as citizens, did not hold up our end of the bargain.  I feel relatively confident that Obama is going to win a second term, despite the fact that it's been called a close race.  It has always seemed unlikely that Romney will win.  The Republican party is split, Mitt Romney is a tough sell outside the Mormon camps, and it's always difficult to oust an incumbent president.  I could be wrong, but I don't think so.  In fact, I fervently hope I am not wrong, because despite legitimate anger at the Obama administration, nothing has convinced me that a Romney presidency would be any better for the vulnerable populations on whom the election always makes the biggest difference: the poor.  

If the healthcare law is repealed as Romney has stated is his first priority, it reads as a billions of dollars setback to our country.  If more cuts are made to social programs, as Romney has promised, the people who need these services will be directly affected, even though the rest of us might financially benefit in the short-term.  I don't expect to see a renegotiation of NAFTA, a rise in minimum wage, greater support of labor unions, respecting the powers of habeas corpus, limiting presidential oversight, or any of the things that are lacking in the current Obama administration.  The difference is that, with Obama, he promised those things to me (in 2008 and in 2012) and I could potentially hold him accountable; Romney doesn't feel those things should be enacted in the first place.  So yes, I damn well hope Obama wins.  I also hope that Democrats retain the Senate and add more members to the House.  And, it would be great if those people stopped bickering and actually got to work.  Enough with the moralizing, enough with the finger pointing, enough with the outrage- please, please, please, just do your damn jobs.  This sort of wish-making always reminds me of THIS:

However, I find myself cringing at the idea of voting for the "lesser of two evils."  I mean, I did that with John Kerry back in 2004- I didn't believe he was all that amazing, but I didn't care just as long as he wasn't George W. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth; Obama didn't do the things he said he would do.  That's partly my fault, partly all of our faults, and partly his fault.  If he wins this next go around, I promise I'll give a shit about how things play out and at least make some noise about them.  If he doesn't win, I'll probably be yelling regardless because there will be infinitely more issues.  But does he really deserve my vote?  I don't think he does.  

So now, staring into the void of another ballot casting, I wonder if it's time to try a different approach.  Utah's has 6 electoral votes and this year, they're definitely going to Mitt Romney.  If I were in a state where my vote actually mattered as to who becomes president, I would begrudgingly do my civic duty and vote for Obama.  But my vote doesn't make a bit of difference in who becomes president.  So perhaps, I can use that vote to voice a hope.  A hope that someday America will break the iron fist of a two-party system and people like myself won't have to be compelled to support the lesser of two evils.  I think this year, I'm voting for Jill Stein.  I like her.  I think she's got character and values that represent my interests.

And Obama?  I'll be praying you win and gearing up for four years of givingashit this time around.  

Monday, August 6, 2012


It's the middle of the day, Monday.  I've got comments from co-authors to incorporate, analysis plans to generate, and the GRE to study for.  I don't have time to write (or rather, I don't have time to write anything unrelated to what the folks are paying me for).  But, when you have to write, you have to write and all the world has to sit down and shut the fuck up for a minute until the words clear your head.  Then all other noise can resume.

DeAndre McCullough died of a drug overdose a day or two ago.  Mr. McCullough is really only known to me in fiction, through the HBO mini-series The Corner, which was based on his story, and through his in-person portrayal of Lamar, on The Wire.  I read David Simon's personal obit for him, and also the obituary (largely borrowed from David Simon's) posted in the Baltimore Sun. 

"If I close my eyes, the fifteen year old comes to me. His laughter, his wit, his foolishness and ridiculous rationalization mixed in equal measure with his goodness and honesty. I can forgive the addict who came to dominate that young life. I can let go of all the frustration and exhaustion that came with twenty years of faithlessness and hurt. I see, in the end, a man who was in great, unending pain. And I want him to rest now.

In spite of everything, I will miss him badly. I know because I’ve been here before. With Dinky. And Curt. And Ella. And Gary — especially Gary McCullough, the wounded father who in some awful way was a pathfinder for his wounded son.  When you tell yourself you are going to write a story about real people, you say so in the abstract, without any real sense of the beings you haven’t yet met, without any measure of the real cost of addressing actual human realities.

Well then, amid all of the easy labels and stereotypes that will now certainly apply, let me offer only the following:  I once had the privilege to know a boy named DeAndre McCullough, who at the age of fifteen had led a life of considerable deprivation, but who nonetheless was the fine and fascinating measure of a human soul. Everything after, even the very book that we wrote about his world, today seems like useless and unimportant commentary."                        - David Simon

My life is a little chaotic right now.  A process that we can call "evolution", but most of the time just looks like a mess.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with my program- to stay, to go.  Get it done, don't compromise on the big goals but stay flexible enough on the smaller details.  Regardless of what happens, the plan is to leave Utah next fall.  That feels right. 

However, this obit, this remembrance, took me back to where I first began when I got into this affair with the education and the experience.  I wanted to go into public health because I wanted to help.  Not just to help, but to understand.  I want to find ways to help with the dark places of human existence: poverty, drugs, violence, mental illness, sexual assault, cancer, homelessness, HIV.  It's an impossible summit if I expect to fix any of it, but I don't.  I've seen too much in the way of violence and despair throughout my own experiences to expect that.  But I want to throw my lot in. In the words of The Wire, I want to be "counted."  Getting my degree was supposed to give me new ideas, new resources, new understanding about this.  In a way, the education has helped in the way it was intended, but in many ways, I wonder if it hasn't removed me from the things that matter to me, deep down.  I wonder if I am tough enough to insist on those things taking priority.  If I am honest, I also want to make a decent living and travel all over the world.  So it's not all do-gooder mentality. 

I have to start fighting to find a dissertation topic.  As in, I needed to have one yesterday.  McCullough's obit reminded me that, this area- this need to put in some work toward alleviating human suffering where I can- this is what came first for me.  This should be a priority.  This is still worth aiming for.  I'm not going to compromise this by working on some bullshit data whose outcomes won't mean anything to anyone- it has to translate.   It has to help.  It has to.  I find it amazing that the ripple effect from individual lives can spread out like this- so that someone like me, who has never even been to West Baltimore sees this life, sees this tragedy, and is taken back, is refocused. 

back to work now. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


In the beginning god created the heavens and the earth...

Fuck that, you said.
In the beginning there was nothing
and from nothing, an explosion and time.
Green things, insects.

Yes, two by two, right?

Jesus fucking Christ no!
All unique and amazing
all a slow pattern of motion
creeping forward, in hazy spirals.
Here, give me that,
you don't know what you're doing.

And what about the end, I said.
Reckoning?  Resurrection?

Global warming will cause oceans
to rise.
Catastrophic climate change.
We will wipe ourselves out.
The world will continue on
until one day it will be sucked into the sun.

But it ends?

Not really, you said.

Fuck.  For a moment, I thought we were getting somewhere.

We are, you said and wiped our eyes respectively. 
It's just not where we thought we'd be.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Now begins the long, slow process
of pushing underground
that which had come up green and tender
calling it bust
a 'seasonal' surrender
as if those slim fluted tendrils were my imagination
the damp earth
your hand in the night
I saw it green and go too soon
and will remember

Friday, March 23, 2012

For today

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
—Howard Zinn

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Jet Plane

Sometimes I wish all my feelings could be expressed by string instruments. Today, the strings in this song express it perfectly.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I liked this

Now and then I think of when we were together Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
I told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it's an ache I still remember
You can get addicted to a certain kinda sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I'll admit that I was glad that it was over
But you didn't have to cut me off
Make it like it never happened and that we were nothing
I don't even need your love, but you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough

No, you didn't have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records
And then change your number
Guess that I don't need that though
Now you're just somebody that I used to know
Now you're just somebody that I used to know
Now you're just somebody that I used to know

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believin it was always something that I'd done
But I don't wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
But you didn't have cut me off
Make it like it never happened and that we were nothing
I don't even need your love, but you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No, you didn't have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect you records
And then change your number
Guess that I don't need that though
Now you're just somebody that I used to know
Somebody that I used to know
Somebody (now you're just somebody that I used to know)
That I used to know Somebody that I used to know
That I used to know
I used to know That I used to know I used to know Somebody