Posted in Health, Mental Health, Music, Politics, Racism

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 12 White Man’s World

I am a 43-year-old white male. For hundreds of years, guys with my skin color, similar Western European lineage, similar religious backgrounds, and usually right about my age have been in charge of the whole goddamn world. In 1492, we set sail from the old world. We conquered. We colonized. We stole this land from men, women, and children with different skin color, red skin. We brought with us men, women, and children with more melanin in their skin. We brought our own women for the reproducing and rearing children and the keeping of a new homestead.

This is the land that white hands stole.
This is the empire black hands built
These are the homes soft hands have made

Between the establishment of the first colonies along the Atlantic shoreline in the early 17th Century, and where we find ourselves today, a couple of decades into the 21st Century: Smallpox, French and Indian War, Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, Women’s suffrage, world wars, FDR, JFK, LBJ and 500,000 other horrible and terrific things. But most of them mundane: vanilla, saltine, plain… white.

I sometimes forget my privilege. I honestly rarely think about being white or even being a male. I can’t imagine what it must be like to worry – a palpable worry that we ALL KNOW is real – that I might be killed for the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to walk down the street at night alone or to have my heart rate increase with the pace of the steps of the man or men behind me. I can’t imagine the distrust I would have of me and people who look like me if I was Japanese American and had family live through the days of Internment Camps. I can’t even begin to imagine the life of a Somalian immigrant in the Twin Cities or a Syrian Refugee in Dearborn.

Growing up (relatively) poor doesn’t make me not white. Struggling with learning disabilities in school and getting government-funded free lunches doesn’t make me not white. Being attracted to both women and men doesn’t make me not white. In fact, it makes me suspect to some people, and it means nothing more than I’m just like everyone else to some other people. I have immense piles of student debt and not much to show for it. But, like… get in line with the rest of the country!

I think a lot of white dudes go through similar struggles and they forget. They forget the immense amount of privilege that they – we – carry in our very being. This is not an innate privilege, of course. Its is a product of a time, a place, a transatlantic slave trade, a world that I didn’t build.

But I’m here. I want to live a better life in this world, a fair one, a life in which I see the beauty in the wide spectrum of human beings around me. The differences in skin color and tone, and melanin distribution. The plethora of ethnic lineages, gender diversity, and an array of sexual orientations.

The goal of living “color blind” of not seeing differences, of saying “love is love” is in some ways like the old “eye for an eye” ethic of life, in that if we live a life that way, we all end up blind. We can’t see others when we can’t see beyond ourselves. Likewise, if we can’t even see ourselves, to begin with.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4isPnU2TeFFJmkNGCaQxxZ?si=D_RO4rewTU-eIiJcWpp5zg

Posted in Headlines, Mental Health, Politics, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 08 Ball of Confusion

Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

People movin’ out, people movin’ in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run, but you sho’ can’t hide
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on
Well, the only person talkin’ ’bout love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation,
humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball Of Confusion that’s what the world is today

#PlaylistfortheApocalypse

Every single line in this song is relevant today. Need I say more? Now listen to the damn thing, share it, and tell a friend, to tell a friend, and have them send it to their aunt Karen’s iPhone. Teach aunt Karen how to use Spotify! Where else are you going to find your daily news with a dose of comic relief, a dash of existential uncertainty, and a kick-ass Playlist? This is your chance to be at the front of something big. The stock market is tanking. Don’t you want to be able to say that you shared the #PlaylistfortheApocalypse before it went viral? You do not want to be in the “long time first time” queue when people are having that conversation, do you? So jump on now.

Seriously, I hope you’re enjoying the Playlist. I hope this is not turning out to be an Apocalypse for you. I feel in some ways like each day is a mini-apocalypse for me since this all began. You see, I’ve been trying to save the world since before I knew what salvation meant. I inherited this from my mother in two ways: First, and most importantly for my mom, it was important that people “hear the gospel.” My mother and the church culture I grew up in told me that we were all born with some cosmic debt owed to a holy and righteous but angry god and if we just accept Jesus’ human sacrifice for our sins, his death could be the substitution for our cosmic debt. Secondly, my mother – and later the Reformed tradition that I came to be ordained in – taught me that we need to be in the business of “saving” people – flawed human beings, saving each other – from the complex network of structures that keep us all oppressed in some way.

So, where were we? Oh, yes! My daily mini-apocalypse. I became indebted to Uncle Sam in order to college and Study religion. Then it was Seminary to become a pastor. I was trying to help myself – and the world – climb out of our cosmic debt. Somewhere between my mom’s death, coming out as bisexual, and an agnostic atheist or a mystic Christian (it depends on the day and who is asking, either way, I’m a heretic, haha), I also stepped away from church leadership. For the last couple of years, I have been working a series of underpaid customer service and manual labor jobs while I try to “figure my shit out.” Well, I felt like, for the first time in years I was on the verge of “having my shit together” when I heard the words novel coronavirus and Pandemic strung together for the first time.

I had just accepted a new position at a nonprofit, working with disadvantaged youth. I had one paid four-hour training session before Michigan went into Stay at Home Orders. I thought I was totally screwed. I could not work. But I could not file for unemployment. Then, at the end of March, I got a notification in the actual paper mail. I was informed that an unemployment claim I filed in December had been reevaluated and I had to call to certify. For the whole month of April, my daily task was trying to certify my claim – both online and on the phone. Two days ago, finally, success! I was approved for unemployment plus the extra $600/week through the CARES Act.

But, this morning I found out online (after waiting for a deposit that never came) that my claim is being reevaluated again. Meanwhile, I am stuck at home for 10-12 hours every day while my wife is working (the perks of being an essential worker). My kids are with their mother. My parenting time with them has been reduced walking with them around their mom’s neighborhood, six feet apart, with masks on. I want to snuggle with them on the couch and catch up on Marvel’s Runaways with my son and Party of Five with my daughter. I can’t even hug or kiss them right now!

When I say each day is a mini-apocalypse, it’s because I know that other people have it much, much worse than I do. Somehow, that notion has never provided me with much comfort. I hope I have a job when this is all over. I hope I have some form of income before then. But in the meantime, I know how fortunate I am to have a partner with a job, a steady income, and good medical benefits (that I hope to god we don’t need for COVID-19 related disaster). We will probably get through this time (nothing is ever guaranteed).

I guess I don’t suppose anymore that any of us can ever really “save” anyone, existentially, financially, emotionally, or otherwise. But, I hope I am in the business of helping people – community: us helping each other – navigate the complex network of structures that keep people oppressed. I think the best way I can do that – with or without a Pandemic – is through my writing.

I have a memoir I am working on. If you like these posts full of daily news with a dose of comic relief, a dash of existential uncertainty, and a kick-ass Playlist, then I think you’ll love the book. My daily routine for keeping sanity these days is to work on these posts for my anonymous, faceless, followers.  A few “likes” on Social Media and site statistics tell someone is there. When I am done with the daily posts, I put whatever remaining energy I have into Playlist: A Memoir. It’s a reflection on finding love, self-worth, and a passion for life after leaving the Christian faith behind. The “lens” for looking back and forth from Childhood interactions with my mother to the present day is a Playlist I made the last night she was verbal, a few days before she died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Someone somewhere will call it “a triumph” and “a celebration of the human spirit’s resilience” or some shit like that.

Until that’s ready, for however long this national ball of confusion drags on: Whether you’re in Quarantine or an essential worker in Michigan, a barbershop owner dealing with reopening in Georgia, working on the front lines in a hospital or doing your best to wash your hands and stay safe at the office, I’d like to go with you! And hopefully, when this is all over, I’ve finished a book I have been dreaming about and conceptualizing forever, but didn’t feel I had time to work on until now. I don’t need a Kickstarter campaign. But I will ask one favor, if you’re enjoying the music or finding any comfort, solace or mere comic relief in the daily posts, then please listen to the Playlist, read, comment, and share #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

Posted in Beauty, Mental Health, Music, Nature, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 05 The Numbers

You are dust
And to dust you shall return

True enough! That’s evident. But what if there doesn’t have to be enmity between men and women, their children, each other and nature? What Would happen if we lived like this was our home? What would happen if we all stopped living like our cosmic destruction was inevitable? What of our personal failures? I’m not talking about our blemishes or imperfections, but those relay ugly parts of ourselves that most of us don’t like and try to hide. What if we stopped living like we were powerless against those things? I still believe that we could fly, if we would only open our eyes to see. But our feet stay planted firmly on the concrete that paves the way to the fulfillment of our most shallow dreams and desires.

I hope you enjoy today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. Even if you’re not a fan (I know they can be an acquired taste), I hope you’ll give this song a listen. What would happen if millions of people started living like we are all of the earth, like will all return to her, and took life one day at a time? What if we didn’t worry about the various “afterlives” that preoccupy a lot of our time? It would seem to me that waiting for the earth to go up in flames, or someone or something to save us is just as meaningless as trying to amass the most wealth, status or a reputation that would give us a form of immortality by protecting our legacy. What if we saw ourselves as the cosmic specs we are? Would that lend itself to hedonism? Or would that lead us to greater humanitarianism, better care of each other and our planet?

“It holds us like a phantom
The touch is like a breeze
It shines its understanding
See the moon smiling
Open on all channels
Ready to receive
And we’re not at the mercy
Of your shimmers or spells
Your shimmers or spells
We are of the earth
To her we do return
The future is inside us
It’s not somewhere else
It’s not somewhere else
It’s not somewhere else
One day at a time
We call upon the people
People have this power
The numbers don’t decide
Your system is a lie
The river running dry
The wings of a butterfly
And you may pour us away like soup
Like we’re pretty broken flowers
We’ll take back what is ours
Take back what is ours
One day at a time”

 

Posted in Headlines, Mental Health, Music, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 01 Eve Of Destruction

You start a new project with good intentions. There are ambitions, promises, and hopes of rejuvenating your website. The next thing you know, you’ve spent a month of disbelief at home in the middle of a pandemic, worried about elderly loved ones, family and friends with asthma or immune deficiencies, and just a little bit about yourself. Meanwhile, your whole country is living in fear of a complete and total financial collapse. In the United States, we were already living a completely unsustainable way of life before we ever saw headlines reading “Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” The virus and our government’s inept response has exposed the raw nerves of all of our broken systems to the world: the failure of unfettered capitalism, a healthcare system that is tied to employment and politicians that care more about their own finical interest than they do about the health and well being of their constituents.

While certainly we need to hold our elected officials to higher standards, I would also like to take this time to reflect deeply on some unsustainable habits, selfishness and complacency in my civic and personal life. Sure, with great power comes great responsibility. But I also believe there are many ways – both big and small – that we all contributed the place we find ourselves in, dangling over an existential cliff at what seems like the end of the world. So, since I’ve got some extra time on my hands, I would also like to share my “Playlist for the Apocalypse” with you: 15 tracks to play while we watch watch the world burn, duck the flames, and hope for the best.

Several of these songs are from the 1960’s, another time of great unrest and upheaval in the US and around the world. Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” is the first on the list. My mom was a little bit obsessed with the end of the world. When I was a small child, she read the book of Revelation to me for bedtime stories.  So it makes sense that she loved this song so much, with its bleak outlook and allusions to the Bible.

And it’s a song for our time as much as it was a song for 1965. It’s both amazing and sad how much the social anxieties of 1965, sound like those of 2020: War, fear of Nuclear proliferation, senators that refuse to pass desperately needed legislation and policy reform, fear of Communism, and good ‘ol American made, home-cooked racism. Does any of this sound familiar?

In the coming days, I’ll share some of my thoughts, questions and observations about how we got here.  The “City on a Hill,” the country that goes about its business on the world stage (almost entirely unchecked) occupying, bombing and sanctioning our neighbors in the name of freedom and democracy has always been slow to change, eager to concentrate power and wealth among an ever decreasing number of people, and prone to fail the most vulnerable people on the margins of its society. The present state of insanity that we find ourselves in did not begin with the election of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, here we are in a country with vast amounts of wealth, full of brilliant minds and access to some of the world’s most amazing technologies and we are leading the way in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and deaths related to COVID-19, the vicious respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Meanwhile, we have a cartoonishly outrageous and crude president spreading misinformation, encouraging militia groups, offering dangerous off the cuff interpretations of scientific data and holding what amounts to daily televised rallies during a crisis in the midst of an election year. To his credit, he is likely, at least marginally, more intelligent and politically savvy than mainstream media corporations like CNN and MSNBC make him out to be. And he’s also more of a populist than the truly fascist GOP establishment. But none of that makes him a good person and there were certainly more than enough egregious speech and behavior  – prior to his administration’s mishandling of the virus – to make him unfit and unqualified to be President of the US. And he is certainly not the valiant defender of American values from an imaginary bygone era that FOX, Rush and all the right wing media make him out to be.

But the Decrepit National Centrists are not offering the American people much hope or change in this dark hour. A few years ago, I thought most progressives would have agreed that as long as systems of systemic oppression are in place all of us who benefit from those systems in some way – big or small – share the burden of the guilt until we eradicate such systems. Now it seems like as long as there is a D in front of the name, Democrats will do anything to defend their status quo, Wall Street appeasing, Centrist (read Reagan era Republican) candidate. In the case of Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, it seems that means defending systems of oppression and becoming apologists for rape culture. I guess people really do become what they hate. But I heard somewhere that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that:

Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

 

Posted in Mental Health, Music, Writing

Facing the Darkness: Happy Belated Birthday to the Man in Black

Johnny Cash’s birthday was yesterday. And I have once again missed my goal to post on Tuesday or Wednesday between 9 am and noon. Oh hell, I think the Man in Black would be understanding – if not downright proud – of all of my day late and a buck short bullshit and procrastination. It’s the stuff of sad country songs and tortured artists grasping at redemption. Johnny embodied both.

I grew up listening to Johnny Cash because my father loved him. But I didn’t really fall in love with Johnny until September of 2004. That’s when my mom died. My dad and my brother played Johnny constantly as we gathered at my parents’ house in the days preceding and following her passing. A multi-disc “best of” set and the first four albums in Cash’s American series were in constant rotation.

The whole American series, especially the first four, released while Johnny (and my mother) were still alive remain my favorites. While American V was great and sixth installment was okay (both were released posthumously) the first four continue to blow me away. And over time, American III: Solitary Man has earned an extra special place in the Cash cannon for me.

The album was not quite as highly praised as the the first American Recordings album which earned Cash one of two spots in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time List or American IV, which also made a lot of “best of” lists, including one of Johnny’s three placements in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. But American III is a great album in its own right. Perhaps more than any of his other albums, it highlights Cash’s simultaneous status as both a Nashville outsider and country music icon.

Since the 1970’s Johnny (along with fellow outliers like Waylon and Willie ) had been seen as an outlaw flipping off Nashville’s Music Row and at the same time, a name that is inescapable when talking about “classic country” music. Together, they redefined a sound, an era, and a whole damn genre. And in the late 90’s and early 00’s Johnny Cash, with a bit of help from Rick Rubin, did it again with his American series. Like his titular cover of Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man suggests, Cash was in many ways a loner. The contradictory themes of Bottles and Bibles has become so prevalent in country music that Tyler Childers named his 2011 debut just that. Yet few people have walked the line between those poles of sinner and saint earnest believer clawing at the arc of redemption with as much sincerity and grit as John R. Cash.

All of the songs here highlight those polarities: in Johnny, in all of us. He is the Solitary Man, Country Trash, and Wayfaring Stranger, who ain’t got Nobody. He envies that Lucky Old Sun that “just rolls around Heaven all day.” And yet in a time when he was facing increasing health problems, Cash was determined to come out of the gate swinging with the help of a whole host of family and friends and his cover of Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down. He pleads to his lover: Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone). And the very personal liner notes, penned by Cash himself are bubbling with the family names of Carter and Cash as well as a diverse group of friends from Sheryl Crow to Merle Haggard.

It is Johnny’s cover of Will Oldham’s I See a Darkness (assisted by Oldham himself) that is the crown jewel of the album for me. Maybe it’s because my daily music listening habits at the time were evolving to embrace more than Hip-Hop, Alternative Rock and Metal, towards inclusion of Alt Country, Folk and Indie Rock. Cash had previously covered Soundgarden, Danzig and NIN. Now he was covering Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Maybe it’s because I discovered this album around the time of my mom’s death. Maybe it’s because the previous year I was diagnosed for the first time with Clinical Depression, Anxiety Disorder, “PTSD like symptoms” and a learning disability. But those were just names for struggles I have dealt with my whole life.

This, this is why I fell so deeply in love with the album, this song, and in part why I finally heard Johnny. I have lived that song. I still live that damn song. I’ve always seen the Darkness. And people do not truly survive the darkness alone. Even if our companions are fellow Wayfaring Strangers, outlaws, misfits, other addicts or the fathers and brothers we connect with more through music than with words or hugs. There are no solitary men or women in the darkness, at least not ones who survive. If you are there, if you see the ever-present darkness too, you are not alone. Or at least you don’t have to be. Even when that darkness tries to swallow the light and life screams “death” in your face, we all need a “Buddy,” a “best unbeaten brother.” I choose to survive, to thrive if and when possible. Johnny did, until his body could no longer sustain his will and drive. I hope you will too:

Well, you’re my friend
And can you see
Many times we’ve been out drinking
Many times we’ve shared our thoughts
But did you ever, ever notice
The kind of thoughts I got?
Well, you know I have a love
A love for everyone I know
And you know I have a drive
To live, I won’t let go
But can you see this opposition
Comes rising up sometimes?
That it’s dreadful imposition
Comes blacking in my mind
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
Did you know how much I love you?
Is a hope that somehow you
Can save me from this darkness
Well, I hope that someday, buddy
We have peace in our lives
Together or apart
Alone or with our wives
And we can stop our whoring
And pull the smiles inside
And light it up forever
And never go to sleep
My best unbeaten brother
This isn’t all I see
Oh no, I see a darkness
Oh no, I see a darkness
Oh no, I see a darkness
Oh no, I see a darkness
Did you know how much I love you?
Is a hope that somehow you
Can save me from this darkness

Let us save! Let us save each other!