I decided to go to the gym yesterday at a time that the March for our Lives was taking place in Washington and elsewhere across the country. I was on the treadmill when the young people were taking the stage. I read their words on closed captioning. It was an amazing sight. My generation sought tremendous social change and I am proud to see a new generation dissatisfied with the status quo. During the 50s and 60s I never feared for my life in school. No one came our schools with guns and opened fire. I never thought that those I disagreed with would try to kill me. But now with Facebook, computers, social media, all kinds of new technology, come higher tech weapons and more people with anger and vengeance on their minds. We need news media to report truthfully what is happening or get out of the way. We need to keep changing the times. It is once again a time for hope and change.
I just read a story about friendship that developed between two people who began playing an online Scrabble type of game called Words With Friends. After browsing stories on my blog hosting service WordPress I found an article about Spencer Sleyon, 22, of Harlem, N.Y., who has played Words With Friends, which is an online game similar to Scrabble, with 81-year-old Roz, of Florida, since last summer. I decided to go onto twitter and found that the Rev. Amy Butler of the Riverside Church in New York had arranged for the meeting in the retirement community where Roz lives. After playing more than 300 games together, the two met face-to-face in West Palm Beach last Friday. Spencer told The Root ”it was a cool experience,”meeting his online best friend.
A hastag #relationshipschangeus has spread across twitter with news of the story. I am touched by this because I sometimes feel I spend too long talking with Facebook friends instead of with people face to face. Increasingly however I have been attempting to create some overlap so that I have people I contact regularly online and in person. In fact I was moved over the weekend by a conversation I had with a friend who I talked about on Facebook.
I have connected with several people from my old high school and met one of them. I learned some things about my old school that I was unaware of and it gave me a greater understanding of where I came from.
Another benefit of using social media has been my debate with a group of friends on Facebook about the best sewing machine to buy my eight-year-old niece. Having this medium allowed me to talk with several friends even though we were never in the same location together. I liked reading about which machines and stores everyone preferred. I shared these observations my my sister and my significant other. Tonight I finally ordered the machine and my next step will be talk about the wonderful things my niece does with her present. When you share words with friends, either as a game or a Facebook post you can create relationships.
Sometimes I regret not playing more of a role in my nephews’ lives. My oldest nephew, John, was born the year I graduated from high school. When I was graduating from high school, I was experiencing deep depression. I felt loss from a woman I loved. I was protesting the war in Vietnam. I wanted to be a part of history. I was a horny male teenager. The depression was the most difficult of those things to understand. I remember writing letters back home in lower case to try to make them understand I was not doing well. Depression was a family characteristic. My mother and older sister have also lived with it. When you are 17 or 18 everything seems so overwhelming. The depression was about what my mind was saying about feeling empty and lonely.
Nobody who is that age is old enough to understand. If there is one thing I regret I wish I had learned to understand myself sooner. My younger brother also lived with a mental illness triggered by use of hallucinogens. I believe that I survived because of a combination of nature and nurture. James left home as a teenager and went west at a time many people were feeling alienated and wanting to get away from home. I was old enough to go to Howard University and be a part of history and the largest anti-war demonstrations in American history.
When you are young and you are struggling you have more options than I saw as a teenager. For me, the best choice after dropping out of college was the military. But when I returned to civilian life, I struggled with economic security. I heard the voices of my nephews but I was in no shape to be able to help them. Now that things seem to be different and I have gotten help I am no longer being driven by depression or mania. I am doing well. I was part of my niece’s life at an event to retire the flags last week. I cannot go back into the 1970s but I am proud to part of the present.
I have been thinking about my public persona since last year’s presidential election. It was the most polarizing election I had ever witnessed and I noticed that the many candidates and their supporters were very active on social media. I was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders who I had noticed for the previous two years saying more and more things I approved.
But as I joined different Bernie Sanders groups I became concerned that some of them seemed to use ideas from the far right in attacking Hillary Clinton. I also saw nude pictures of Trump’s wife being circulated as if she was a campaign issue. As the campaign wore on I noticed people in the Sanders camp trading stories about law suits and supposedly uncounted votes and there was nothing you could say to them that could change their minds. I decided some websites were publishing fake news and told my friends to stop spreading them.
Similarly the things I saw from so-called Jill Stein supporters portrayed Hillary Clinton as a war monger. When I looked at what Stein presented I was clear that she was unqualified and a waste of time. I found myself in more heated discussions and blocking people on a regular basis. There was no evidence that the Green Party had any impact or tried to raise issues between the presidential elections.
Another source of Facebook arguments is on atheist and humanist pages. Some religious people troll these pages and I enjoy mocking them and their beliefs. Why not? I often block these trolls who think that all I need to do is read the bible. Not going to happen.
Trolls are people at the bottom of the social media visiting and disrupting sites they don’t agree with, throwing insults and disrupting discussions. They are not worth anyone’s time so I get rid of them. Trolls are people who are looking for a fight. Occasionally I am accused of being a troll when I ask questions. I visited a page for a candidate for governor of Wisconsin and someone very soon said he thought I was a troll. I think supporters of candidates need to be less defensive.
What I find more surprising is that I have been drawn into arguments with people in introvert groups. Some of these were very religious people who liked to regularly ask people what religion if any they followed. Others were introverts who were incredibly socially isolated. One man talked about not he had not left his room in 3 years and it would be my fault if he went back into there. Obviously you don’t want to communicate with people like that so I needed to block them. Other people in introvert groups were pushing their politics, especially Donald Trump. I left most of the introvert focused groups I had joined because I become tired of seeing them talk about how wonderful it would be to live in the middle of nowhere.
I have grown more impatient this year in my political discussions. Some people still want to fight over last year’s elections. I have focused a lot of attention on the off-year elections and found reason for hope. The people who want to talk about how they distrust the Democratic National Committee or want to bring up Donna Brazile are a waste of time, in my opinion. I don’t want to be drawn into more arguments about who does not like Hillary Clinton because there is not enough aspirin.
I am surprised that I am really a hardass on Facebook. I don’t usually go around telling people STFU in person. I may be arguing with people who are at least as old and grumpy as me in which case they are used to me. For everyone else, if you were not such a knucklehead you would have blocked me or been spending more time with your loved ones instead of arguing on social media.
On the pursuit of happiness
I have been reflecting lately on two very different periods of my life. I had a long stretch in which I felt dissatisfied with a lot of what was happening. I was working in toxic environments, I was in bad relationships, and I felt unsafe in my neighborhood. Notice that I am using the word happiness as a measure of my life and whether or not I was feeling it. This is very deliberate as I want to avoid the impression that I was depressed during this period. I was not achieving my goals and I saw that it would be a long time before I would make any progress.
I tied a lot of things to get out of this rut including watching inspiring movies like the Will Smith movie I am referencing in the title. Self help books like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People gave me some pointers. I underwent counseling and seriously considered the advice I was being given. In addition I talked with my older sister and changed relationships and careers. It was not the sort of thing I could do overnight. I almost forgot one tool from the mental health field which was the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. I wrote and revised my plan several times before bidding it farewell a couple of years ago.
On the Hidden Brain podcast a few months ago there was a story about how people ruminate or continue to think about their past decisions. I also go through this process of thinking about what I have done and wondering what I might have done differently. And I also learned that as time passes, you have to let go of what might have been and move ahead with what has happened.
The surprising result of this effort is that I feel happier than ever. I can think back to things that happened and how they improved my life. And I improved the lives of people I met along the way. That is the person I have become and I hope there will be greater happiness in the future.
I just told a story to my sister from a long time ago which I have clung to as an example of being mistreated and patronized. But listening to her reaction I realize I may misjudged the person who I thought was misusing me. I have learned over the years that my memories are often faulty and I erased certain things that did not fit my perspective. For example I tell people that we moved from an all black neighborhood to an all white one just 8 blocks away. In reality our next door neighbors were a white couple including a man who drove a truck for the bakery around the corner. My sister, who is six years older than me, remembers that I broke a window in our neighbor’s house and mom made me go over and apologize. Mom paid for the window and after that we had a wonderful relationship.
However things did not go as smoothly with me. Perhaps it was due my personality as I was introverted and I would sometimes lash out at people. One of my hobbies was playing baseball and listening to the games on the radio. The top player at that time was Willie Mays. Well, as luck would have it, our neighbor would ask me about Willie Mays whenever he saw me. One day I told him that there was more to me than Willie Mays. I don’t recall that the man said another word to me. Looking at it from the man’s perspective, Chris that that was how men related to other people. Especially boys. I could have told him a little bit more about me that he could use to talk about. Instead I shut off communication.
This brief story suggests that there might be a value in looking at a situation from the standpoint of the other person and wonder what they are thinking of me as we interact. Am I communicating what I hope to be saying or are they hearing something very different from me? What do you think?
I have been reflecting this weekend on some things that have bothered me about the stories I recalled from childhood that my family and I used to tell about people who we suspected were gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. We had no understanding of what we were talking about but it seemed there were more of these people. My sister said they were “funny.” We would look at certain entertainers, like the Hines brothers and she would remark that one of them was almost certainly one of them. I don’t know whether we ever discussed James Baldwin in the same way. It was not that we hated these people, we simply did not understand them.
Our mother was very uncomfortable discussing sex and sexuality. It was clear in school that my classmates knew a lot more than I did and they said things I did not understand. Where I learned about sexuality was through politics. There was a group called the Mattechine Society that had a radio broadcast and gays and lesbians. And when I became part of the antiwar movement there were people talking about the need to fight all kinds of oppression. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where Workers World Party was formed. One of the leaders was Leslie Feinberg who was the first trans person I had ever met.
I opened my eyes to the reality that there were more identities than I knew when I first became an adult. I grew up in the era of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York. One of my cousins was the first gay person in my family. As I looked around I discovered I had more gay and lesbian friends, including a woman who was part of the poetry group I belonged to. My best friend in my 20s was a bi-sexual woman who helped me struggle through underemployment.
A lot of has changed in these many years. On a Facebook post this morning I talked about the Supreme Court ruling that took us from an era of passing laws and constitutional amendments to discriminate to recognizing that all citizens were entitled to equal protection under the laws. When I attended the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this summer I was asked what pronouns I used and I was stunned. I almost went back to the old All in the Family theme song talking about “when girls were girls, and men were men.” Fortunately those days only exist on television reruns. Another new thing that I did not understand or accept was the use of the term cisgender for men like me.
Yet in spite of the changes that have taken place there are still people clinging to their old prejudices. I saw something on Facebook about the so-called “gay agenda” which was a term invented by right wing bigots years ago as part of their campaign to deny equal rights. It is time to speak truth to ignorance. So, yes, my pronouns are the ones listed as the title for this blog entry. You can say of me that he said we need to accept and recognize our brothers and sisters.