But I’m a Private Person!

This week, Geoff looks at the modern bugaboo, the supposed right to privacy we all expect in this wildly interconnected world, with an added examination of outrage. Ohhhh, scary.

Why Be Reasonable?

A slight change of pace as Geoff determines just how being unreasonable can be not only a good thing, but the only thing.

For Love of Bike

Today, Geoff explains how an older, overweight, out of shape man can still be a stud. Especially when bicycles are involved. The story takes us from a dirt road in very rural Northern New Jersey all the way past the Rockies, the Cascades and in to Beverly Hills, CA.

I Swear…

When I was in college, most of my fellow students had fairly raw vocabularies. My roommate Jay was particularly varied in his creative use of the expletive. I didn’t object to it, but rarely participated. There were two notable exceptions.

During my sophomore year, we were putting on a production of the play Dylan, about the poet Dylan Thomas’ travels in America. It was a complex play with tons of characters and myriad sets. Everyone in the drama department spent some time doing all the different tasks required of putting on a play. In this case, I played several small parts and was the prop master. I was a good prop master, had done it on several productions, but this was a near herculean task, since each character required at least one prop, and each set required many. There was a set toward the end of the play that was to be filled with fresh flowers, so I made an arrangement with the local flower market to, each Friday of the run, pick up a car load of flowers that were just too old to sell, but still beautiful. I was resourceful.

TechHellThere were also several scenes with reporters and other characters that required pens, pencils and clip boards. I gathered more than enough and put them on the prop table. There was also a set with an alarm clock. I used my own personal alarm clock. It is a rule in theatre that no one ever touch anything on a prop table unless they are about to go out on stage with it. Well. During the rehearsal period, the pencils, pens and clip boards kept disappearing. I kept replacing them. Then, during one of the final dress rehearsals, I went back to check props and discovered, once again, that several of those items were missing, as was my alarm clock. I kind of lost it.

I tromped out onto the stage where Bob, the director, was rehearsing a scene, and announced in a clear, booming theatre voice, that I was done replacing the effing pens, pencils and clipboards and that the clock used for the hotel scene was my own and whoever had been taking things from the effing prop table had better by-God put them back now. I then tromped back and forced myself to calm down. I noticed that it was fairly quite in the theatre, something that never happened during a dress rehearsal, then Bob started the scene back up and the noise level returned to normal. He never mentioned the inexcusable interruption. Years later I was told by a fellow student that, “we were all nervous during Dylan, but none of us freaked out until we saw you freak out. Geoff never freaked out. It really freaked us out.” I had no idea I could have such an impact. Oh, and the pens, pencils, clipboards and alarm clock magically reappeared on the prop table within an hour or so.

The second time I let loose was in my Senior year, during a production of Max Frisch’s The Firebugs. Several of the first year students were in the production as the Firemen chorus. Since most of them hadn’t yet gotten their own makeup kits, I let them use mine. One day, I noticed that someone or several someones had dipped their brushes (or fingers) into several of the color pots without cleaning them in between and several of the color pots were quite polluted. I channeled my inner longshoreman and said some version of, “if you’re going to effing use my effing makeup, have the effing courtesy to clean your GD brushes between colors!” There was a stunned silence, then Jay (remember Jay? Roommate Jay, who liked to swear?), said, “Geoff, I’m ashamed at you!” Everyone laughed. But no one ever polluted my makeup colors again.

Very selective decisions to swear can be effective, it seems.

Since college, I have taken up the occasional profanity to the point where I have to be careful and really monitor my speech around children. I don’t, as a habit, use profanity in my email, however. Until a few months ago. I was bantering back and forth via email with a good friend about the fact that ABC still wasn’t going to stream the Oscars© unless you had one of a select few cable services. I don’t own a television, so streaming is the only option. That, or inviting myself to someone else’s party. I thought I found a solution, but, after writing my friend about it, discovered that, for several reasons, it wouldn’t apply to me. I wrote him back with several “F”s and a couple of “S”s. Only, when I hit reply before writing that email, the wrong email was highlighted. So I sent that email to someone else. A client.

A little while later, I received my client’s reply. It was a simple, “huh?”

I apologized profusely to him, explained the whole thing and sent the email to it’s proper recipient. Luckily, the client has a sense of humor and thought it was funny.

I did get to see the awards show. Sort of. I invited myself to my friend’s house. It was raining and his cable went out about 3/4 of the way through the show. If I believed in instant Karma, I’d say that was because I’d used such language in an email.

I won’t ever use profanity in an email again, though. I swear.

Blatant Cat Abuse

Today, Geoff explores his penchant for finding pleasure in the distress of others, or, to the more pretentious among us, his own private schadenfreude, exhibited while observing a cat. Yes, it’s a cute cat story, served with a side of giggles and guilt.

Peas in Our Time

Frozen Peas. Image by Jina Lee via commons.wikimedia.org

Frozen Peas. Image by Jina Lee via commons.wikimedia.org

Today, in a story of transformation and the budding awareness of impressionable youth, we explore Geoff’s changing attitude toward that odd manifestation of God’s quirkiness, the pea. In the process, we also critically compare the relative virtues of canned vs frozen vegetables.

We are All Lucrece

I am not a gamer, I am not a coder, I am not a scientist and I am certainly not a woman, so I come at this completely from the outside, with the ignorance of an outrider, but I am amazed and appalled at the rampant chauvinism and outright hatred of women in those fields. Barely a day goes by that I don’t see some evidence of some (often reportedly quite talented) woman in one of them that has been driven out by harassment, bullying, threats of rape and murder, often driven even to suicide.

I read about women who have to move every few months because their bullies find them, publish their address online and show up in person at their front doors to harass them to their faces. Some women are strong enough to handle it, to even fight back, but why should they have to handle it? Why should they have to fight to pursue their love and talent? If I were subject t that kind of hatred, could I handle it? Somehow, I doubt it.

It’s much less obvious in the scientific community than the gamming community, but even there, women are demeaned and often treated with horrific disrespect.

I have often thought that the people who make the games must be very immature and that many harbor hatred of women. I used to call them “adolescent boys who work in the dark in their mothers’ basements”. Of the few games I have ever played or been exposed to, a very large percentage include getting points for running down or otherwise slaughtering women, often with a laugh track for a background. I found that distasteful even before I started hearing about the treatment of real women in their ranks.

I just read another story where a woman coder, who had been cyber bullied for a very long time and repeatedly told she should just jump off a bridge, just jumped off a bridge. And, I imagine, her bullies feel no remorse, are even (I am assuming, here) proud of getting rid of one more.

That assumption may be entirely false. Perhaps, for these bullying young men, it is all a game and they can’t understand that their words and actions hurt. Somehow, I can’t believe that to be the case, but I’m open to the possibility. If it is the case, there must be some way to rub their noses in the damage they are doing, have done, so they can be forced to stop and reexamine their lives. I don’t hold much hope for this outcome.

I don’t like to talk about problems without the possibility of presenting a solution, but I can’t see what that solution might be. I have some ideas, but they seem weak. Perhaps a coalition of female coders and gamers that can support each other, help ferret out the abusers and bring them to the attention of federal authorities who, with a preponderance of evidence from the group, would then be impelled to bring the force of law down on the heads of the bullies. What they are doing is patently against the law, so that doesn’t seem far fetched. It can’t be hard to find them. They seem to find the women easily enough. What I wonder about is, why hasn’t this already been done? It seems so logical that I can only assume that it has been tried and, for some reason, didn’t work.

It even happens in comedy, for God’s sake, both from the audience (women comics must get used to lewd and untoward behavior from the men in the audience in a way that men never need to be) and their fellow comics.

When a small boy (of any age, someone who does this is a small boy almost by definition) counter-attacks logic with “I’ll rape you!” and is virtually high-fived by his fellows, and the rest of us don’t raise up in arms and crush them into smears of grease on their keyboards, there is something decidedly wrong with our entire society.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I do know that I will start to stand up and say something when I encounter this horrible niche in our society that seems to feed upon itself. As Marcus in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus says to his niece who has been raped and brutalized:

“Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee
O, could our mourning ease thy misery!”

Maybe, if enough people simply do that, mourn with them, acknowledge them, we can turn the tide and allow women to feel safe and to openly, proudly practice their art.

I’m Angry

I have been silent, mostly shut down for the last few months. I thought I was depressed and was trying to figure out why. I realize, though, it is because I am angry. I am angry almost to the point of immobility, angry about so many things.

I’m angry that women are brought up to believe that they are second class citizens, that they are taught to think they can’t be leaders, and, when they try (and, God forbid, succeed) they are called bitches. I’m angry that we all think men get better with age but women fade to meaninglessness and invisibility.

I’m angry that, although both have their value, we revere youth over experience, for both men and women (although more so for woman).

I am angry that, to a black man, there is no safe way to interact with police without fear of being murdered. I’m angry that white people, more often than not, not only don’t see that but actively fight to try and prove it is nonsense.

I’m angry that so many of our citizens continuously vote against their own best interest out of a blind devotion to ideology. I’m angry that one political class is consciously fighting to limit the rights of all our citizens in the name of “what’s good for business”, that they are systematically thwarting the rights of so many to voice their opinion with a vote, that they are working to put women back “into their place” and to prove that science is bad because it sometimes blames businesses for the sins they commit. I’m angry that we have turned back the clock to the 1930s, when workers had no rights, were routinely abused and often killed by their employers without consequence.

I’m angry that we have now, somehow, come to believe that it is persecution to not let people discriminate, as long as that discrimination is from “deeply held beliefs”. Unless you are a Muslim. Or an American Indian. Or a woman.

I think our citizens should have the right to own guns, but that debate has been narrowed down to only two possibilities; 1) that everyone give up their arms or 2) that everyone carry guns and that everyone has the right, no the duty, to use them whenever they see fit. Unless you are a Muslim. Or African America. Or American Indian.

I’m angry that we have a war on drugs when all evidence and research confirms it doesn’t and never has worked, that the best way to handle drug abuse is to consider it a medical issue rather than a criminal one.

I’m angry that the United States of America is called “the Land of the Free” when we have more people per capita in prison than almost any other nation, and that so large a percentage of those incarcerated are people of color. I’m angry that we keep privatizing our prisons to the point where it is economically advantageous to incarcerate more and more people to the point where judges are being paid to find people guilty no matter what the evidence.

I am angry that we are removing funding to education, to infrastructure, to the arts when a society without art is a dead society. Closer to home, I am angry that I seem to have lost my sense of humor, that I have not come close to fulfilling or realizing my dreams. I’m angry that almost everyone I have turned to for advice has advised me to put them aside and pursue a different path, and that I let them convince me.

I’m angry at many of the choices I’ve made over the last 50 years in terms of health, relationships, friendships and art. We all make bad choices, or at least ineffective ones, but I know what mine were so they seem very real to me.

I am angry that my best friend has advanced stage cancer, that almost every treatment he has been given, operation he has gone through and advice he has heard has been an utter failure, including three bungled operations. I’m thrilled that his chemo seems to be making his masses shrink, but angry that the treatments are taking so much out of him.

I’m angry that cancer is so prevalent in our land. That we have believed it when food companies say their additives and processes are benign. Angry that the water, air and even dirt are being fouled by companies who have no consciences, even though they are considered people, and that the people who run them have completely subsumed their own consciences to the corporation.

I’m not angry that companies and corporations make money, that’s what they’re there for. I am angry that they now hold the same rights as people, such as the right to free speech and religious affiliation, but not the same responsibilities as people, such as paying taxes and obeying environmental laws, and that they have an overwhelming say in the direction and focus of governments. I am angry that our democracy is now almost entirely an oligarchy, if it was ever anything else.

I am angry that, whenever I open social media, I am barraged with thoughtless screeds (on both sides of the political divide, but mostly from those on the Right) that have little or no basis in reality, that black people who riot are called “Thugs” and criminals even by black leaders, but white people who do are called “men”, that there are still people who believe President Obama was born in Kenya and is trying to establish a Caliphate when his actions and policies are less radical than either Regan or Clinton.

There is so much that I am angry about that I could never list everything. If I had written this yesterday or waited for tomorrow, it would be an almost completely different list. Mostly, I am angry because I have become resigned to it all, because the fight has left me. I have always believed in the innate goodness of mankind, in the possibility of transformation, but as I near my sixtieth birthday, I see no possibility of change.

In the last few days, as I let myself finally think about all this, as I let my anger come to the surface and be expressed, to let it feed upon itself, I started to remember some things.

I remember that it is always darkest before dawn (at least figuratively); that the dying of an old way of being has violent and powerful death throes and when we focus on them rather than the light that is shining through the violence, we give those throes more power and make it harder for them to end.

I remember that this is the classroom, that the things we experience in this life, throughout this life until the moment we die, are simply the lessons we need to learn. I remember that the choices we have made, the experiences we have had and those we have avoided, have made us who we are and we have no way of knowing the ultimate consequences if we had made other choices.

I remember that there is no Eden, that there has always been and will always be conflict between the old and new, that what was once brand new and revolutionary will always become old and entrenched, and that there will be people who cleave to the old and those who put energy into the new and sometimes the old will win and sometimes the new, and that neither, by itself, is better than the other. I remember that, when we move back and watch from a greater distance, with less investment and involvement, we can see that humans are being human, that we all are innately good, no matter what ideology we cling to, fight for or dig in to defend.

I remember that any step can be the start of a new journey, a new direction, and often, going through intense emotion can put us on that new path. I remember that I am the only one who can give meaning to the events I witness and I can choose what that meaning is.

I remember that, mostly, I’m a good guy, that many people love me and many more at least like me, and that those who don’t have their own issues to deal with just like the rest of us. I remember that I have entertained, educated and influenced a lot of people, many that I don’t even know, and I can continue to do that.

The anger is still there, still burning, but I remember that I can make that anger mean something, whatever something I choose it to mean. This essay is the first evidence of that choice. I suspect there will be more in the very near future.