I Became a Teacher Because of Sydney Poitier

January 15, 2022

My first album was a four-record set called, #1 Hits of the ‘60s. I ordered it C.O.D. in 1973 after I saw Mickey Dolenz, of the Monkees, hawking it on our local UHF channel (WTCG). My mom had to pay for it when it arrived, but I immediately chose Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”  as my favorite track of the 52 songs. So when the 1967 movie of the same name was scheduled to play on the 4 O’clock movie, I knew this latchkey kid would be parked in front of the TV.

What that 9-year-old living in a Georgia Klan town got was his first introduction to Mr. Sydney Poitier. I loved the story of American who tamed the rowdy British kids by breaking the traditional rules of the classroom. He was dignity and respectful control in the face of youthful chaos. Perhaps I craved that.  The fact that that he was black man corralling white kids added to the juxtaposition. But he didn’t treat them as children, and they transitioned into young adulthood under the guidance of “Sir.” There was nothing in my Georgia schools like this. This white boy immediately thought, I want to be like Sydney Poitier.

The film itself, directed and written by James Clavell, is overly sentimental and plagued with real gender problems, but it tackled British racial politics the same season that the Beatles were singing, “All Your Need is Love.” To my young mind, it was all about Pointier’s poise and composure as he deconstructed the politics of the public school, literally throwing out the book (into the classroom trashcan) to take the students to museums and other London adventures. I’d had a taste of Montessori under my belt from the second half of second grade (the first half was wasted in Bible school), and I craved that educational freedom.

So I became a teacher. The first classes I taught were as a young graduate student at Emory University. In one sociology class, taught on the second floor of the Candler Library, I had my own Mark Thackery moment. (Thackery was Poitier’s character in the film.) Instead of working class hoodlums, my students were the privileged children of wealth. It was clear that students weren’t invested in the curriculum I had created for my Youth Subculture class, so I went into a monologue about the corrosive nature of privilege and the opportunity of youth to define itself in its own historical moment. Then I threw the three required texts out of the library window and told them we would never meet in that classroom again. I channeled Sydney as we took the class out into the world. (I later went and retrieved those books from the bushes below the window.)

That dignified grace was a hallmark of so many of Poitier’s roles, including favorites like The Defiant Ones (1958), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and Guess Who is Coming to Dinner (1967). His seminal role as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) was a pretty accurate picture of policing in my rural Georgia town and planted the seed police reform in my young brain. I became obsessed with his films, never missing them on the 4 O’Clock movie or when I’d sneak downstairs into the recroom to watch Paris Blues (1961) on the late movie. When I learned about his civil rights work, I had permission to question the racism of my peer culture. Other kids had their role models, this was mine. Sydney and I had the same birthday (February 20) and I knew that the best thing I could be was to be like Sydney Poitier.

There will never be anyone like him, but I carry his Mark Thackery with me into the classroom every time, with love.

I had a feeling ’21 was gonna be a good year: Psych!

December 31, 2021

Like most people who survived the epic disaster film that was 2020, I had high hopes for 2021. I kept singing that Who song from Tommy; “I got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year.” Trump was defeated, the COVID vaccine was coming, and things seemed to be great on the home front. Man, I was wrong on all counts.

January 6 was the first day of winter classes at PCC, Andi’s 31st birthday, and the day Donald Trump staged a coup to flush American democracy down the toilet. As I Zoomed with my sociology students, we split screened in realtime the assault on the capitol, while my wife realized that the folks who have their birthdays on September 11 now had some fellow travelers.

Then the Delta variant busted through the vaccine barricades destroying any hope of kicking off the new Roaring 20s. It took me down in August, as I spent ten days flat on my back, hoping I wouldn’t cough a lung out. I survived thanks to Andi and Cozy dropping food and medicine into the basement. And that wasn’t even my worst moment of 2021.

Much of this early part of this year, this blog was dedicated to thoughtful policy pieces responding to the January 6th insurrection but then it turned personal. Over the summer my bad habits hit a low point, leading to the realization of the impact of a sexual assault that happened to me when I was just four years old. I tried to make sense of how that explained my narcissistic tendencies but it just made things more unstable in my relationship. In October, Andi moved out to rescue her sense of self. It was exactly what I needed to put the pieces together and leave that 4-year-old boy back in 1968. The time we spend together now is more meaningful than ever. You can’t say you love someone and take them for granted year after year. The personal growth the last third of this year has been so exciting, thanks to good reading, great therapists, and a loving wife who lives just down the street.

There were plenty of great moments this year, including our cross country, Atlanta to Portland, road trip. The meandering journey took us to the Arizona-Mexico border where Andi crossed when she was 8, and leading to one of my favorite blog posts of the year. This year I also joined the faculty at the University of Oregon, returning to the physical classroom to discuss racism twice a week with 150 students in Eugene. I read a lot of self-help books, listened to newly released Beatles songs, watched Cozy turn 7, sweeping into second grade (after over a year in remote), and had a hundred amazing dates with Andi. My meditation and mindfulness practices help me navigate even the hardest of moments.

I also managed to get out 28 blogposts in 2021, the most popular being The Barbarians at the Gate: Confronting MAGA Terrorists Post Trump, followed by Freedom Morons: What am I supposed to think about people who refuse get vaccinated? But it was my piece on my sexual abuse that received the most feedback, including many people sharing their own stories of sexual trauma and psychological fall out. I hope that post helped some folks. It’s never too late to heal.

I’m not going to make any predictions about 2022. It could go either way. Andi and I have tickets for a much-needed trip to Paris in March (as spouses, lovers, or just friends, we’ll see) so I hope the Omicron variant doesn’t lead to a global shutdown this spring. I do know I will continue to work on the hard issues and the hardest issue of all is myself.

2021 WTW Posts

The Barbarians at the Gate: Confronting MAGA Terrorists Post Trump – January 12, 2021

There Is A Way To Interrupt Domestic Extremism – January 23, 2021

Bridging the Great American Divide: Stepping back from the cliff that is Civil War II – February 1, 2021

Preparing for April 19th, 2021: Why We Need an International Approach to Domestic Terrorism – February 7, 2021

Two Robots Meet on Mars – A Valentines Poem for My Wife – February 14, 2021

Talking to Your Kid About Black History Month: First Grade Edition – February 18, 2021

Envisioning Our Renaissance at Home: Life After the Pandemic – March 8, 2021

I’m Vaccinated! Am I proud or am I ashamed of it? – March 24, 2021

Witnessing the Witnesses of the Murder of George Floyd: Trauma at the Trial of Derek Chauvin – March 30, 2021

Standing at the Border: Experiencing Xenophobia Through My Wife’s Skin – April 15, 2021

Cancelling White Fragility: Can Progressives Get an Assist from Madison Avenue? – May 13, 2021

Pandemic Nostalgia: Save a Mask, It’s Coming! – June 4, 2021

If You’re Hiring, Just Be Decent to Applicants, OK? – June 11, 2021

The Black Strawman: In Defense of Critical Race Theory – June 18, 2021

Mindful Meditation: Save me, Ringo! – July 15, 2021

The Delta Variant Got Me: Hubris Amid a Pandemic – August 1, 2021

COVID, Climate Change, and Misinformation: How Shock Doctrine Kills American Democracy – August 9, 2021

Freedom Morons: What am I supposed to think about people who refuse get vaccinated? – August 27, 2021

Death By a Thousand 9/11s – September 11, 2021

2028: A Letter to My 14-year-old Daughter at the Half-way Mark – September 27, 2021

I am the victim of child sexual abuse and it made me toxic. – October 22, 2021

Follow Up: Fixing What’s Broken – November 8, 2021

Confronting Misogyny in Family Feud America – November 13, 2021

Taking You Lumps: Remote Gender Work – November 19, 2021

Learning How to Let it Be from The Beatles’ Get Back Film – November 28, 2021

How to not be an anti-racist asshole: Mindfulness and Racial Progress – December 21, 2021

Dad’s Top 20 Discs of 2021 – December 27, 2021

I had a feeling ’21 was gonna be a good year: Psych! – December 31, 2021

Dad’s Top 20 Discs of 2021

December 27, 2021

Looking back at this entry from a year ago, I thought 2021 was going to kick off the new “Roaring 20’s.” Instead the year was hammered by Delta and Omicron variants, record inflation, and a broken supply chain. There was still a ton of great music that slipped out, and a return of live music. (Favorite show: The Monkee’s Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith shortly before Nesmith’s sad death on December 10.)

Most of my musical consumption this year came from making playlists on Spotify, especially when I was laid low by COVID in August. (The fever sent me on a Steely Dan bender for some reason.) Spotify gave me a great musical project source thanks to my University of Oregon students. As an extra credit assignment, I created a “Race & Ethnicity Mix Tape” playlist. They submitted songs of racial consciousness and healing and we ended up with 229 tunes. Thanks to my Gen Z students, several artists were new to me. (Joey Bada$$ was popular in the mix.)

The musical highlight of the year was definitely the long-awaited release of Peter Jackson’s 8-hour Beatle documentary, Get Back, airing on Disney+ over the Thanksgiving holiday. Insight into the Beatles’ process and a chance to re-write the Let It Be record made it endlessly engrossing. Filmed the same year, 1969, Summer of Soul (on Netflix) gave a brilliant look at a Harlem black music festival that was overlooked by history as Woodstock hogged the limelight.

This year’s top album pics are not necessarily the best selling or most critically-acclaimed releases of 2021. I’m sure Tyler, The Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost is amazing and I’ll dive into Adele’s 30 and Kasey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed when I’m not quite as melancholy (i.e., living it). These are the albums that brought me joy and repeated listenings in ’21. I recognize that three of these artists, Wanda Jackson, Charles Lloyd, and Ringo Starr, are in their 80s. Paul McCartney turns 80 in June and Tony Allen would be 80 but died last year at 79. They demonstrate the longevity of creativity, and are balanced out by teenagers Olivia Rodrigo and Young Thug (who recently turned 20).

The top spot is reserved for The Beatles (surprise, surprise). The 5-disc “Super Deluxe” release of 1970’s Let It Be (remixed by Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles) provided endless moments of Beatle discovery from the vaults, including a Fab Four version of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” The packaging was stellar and stood as likely the last gift of unheard Beatle music for fans. The “in the room” outtakes served as a perfect soundtrack to the Get Back film.

  1. The Beatles – Let It Be Super Deluxe Edition
  2. Aida Victoria – A Southern Gothic
  3. Tony Allen – There Is No End
  4. Oliva Rodrigo – Sour
  5. Lana Del Rey – Blue Bannisters
  6. Paul McCartney – McCartney III Imagined
  7. Jason Isbell – Georgia Blue
  8. Young Thug – Punk
  9. Susanna Hoffs – Bright Lights
  10. Charles Loyd & the Marvels – Tone Poem
  11. Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness
  12. Neil Young – Barn
  13. Halsey – If Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
  14. Illuminati Hotties – Let Me Do One More
  15. Jasmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
  16. Cheap Trick – In Another World
  17. Bomba Estéreo – Deja
  18. Ringo Starr – Zoom In/Change the World EPs
  19. Various Artists – PDX Pop Now Vol. 18
  20. Wanda Jackson – Encore

How to not be an anti-racist asshole: Mindfulness and Racial Progress

December 21, 2021

There are a lot of well-meaning people who’s well-meaning actions just make things worse. I’ve  certainly been one of those people. Portland is filled with self-proclaimed anti-racists who believe that by smashing windows and setting trashcans on fire, they are somehow making black lives matter. Have they bothered even asking any of these black lives if this is a good strategy? The people of color that I’ve talked to see is it as purely white performance. Now working on policies that help people of color buy homes and operate local businesses, that helps. A lot.

My challenge to anti-racist activists, of which I am one, is to take a break from chasing down neo-Nazis and Proud Boys, and take a look in the mirror. Until we start on the long process to undo our own internalized white supremacy, we will be blind to the racial trauma we cause while we’re chanting “Black lives matter!” There is a simple sociological formula that goes like this:

Racist socialization

Internalized white supremacy

Implicit bias

Micro-aggression

= Trauma

In 2021, still, we all learn various versions of “white is normal and better” lessons. That seeps into our subconscious where it lives as implicit bias and then emerges as micro-aggresions (a clutched purse, an off-handed comment, a joke that shouldn’t have been told). And that small thing lands as another wounding message to people of color that they are still not full members in this society. And the endless barrage of those “micro-assaults” become cumulative trauma. And that’s why BIPOC folks were in the streets in 2020, because enough was enough.

As I’ve written in this blog, 2021 has provided a great opportunity to move inwards from the barricades as Delta, and now Omicron, send us back into our shelters. Mindfulness and meditation give us strategies to interrupt our hard-learned tendencies to act in racist ways, even while we lecture others against their racism. I had a great week training with the Center for Equity and Inclusion here and Portland and consumed Mindful of Race by Ruth King. Both had huge impacts on how I move through the world as a white person.

King, a Buddhist woman of color, offers useful strategies to manage those situations that can cause racial distress. It could be finding yourself in an uncomfortable conversation with a Trump-loving uncle who wants to make America white again, or, on the other side, those white fragility moments when a person of color is taking apart your liberalness as just a vacant act of wokeness. One of her mindfulness strategies, that goes by the acronym “RAIN,” has been helpful for me in not only navigating my racial interactions, but also being more present in my relationship with my wife. It works like this:

The “R” stands for recognize. A big part mindfulness is paying attention to our emotional states as things to be observed. When you have an uncomfortable feeling, where is it? Is it a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach or an angry tension in the middle of your forehead. Recognize it. “There’s that feeling. Hello again. I see you there.”

A is for allow. Buddhists teach us that everything is temporary, especially our emotions. Instead of letting them control us, let them float past, like a cloud. Accepting impermanence (“anitya” in Sanskrit) allows us to not, as U2 once perfectly sang, get stuck in a moment that we can’t get out of. So in those racially tense moments, we can see it and then remind ourselves that they will be in the rearview mirror shortly, so hold off on any emotionally driven impulses (including micro-aggressions).

I is for Investigate. Mindfulness teaches us to be curious about our thoughts. Where did this discomfort come from? Could it be projection, or due to a lack of true reflection? Could it be rooted in mis-learned lessons from our childhood? Maybe it’s those implicit biases we all hold.

And finally, the “N” is for nurture. What do you need right now to pass through this moment without adding to the racial harm? And what do others need to address their harm? It could be developing a strategy to address a problematic policy or person, or it could be a hug and a short walk around the block to calm down.

At the root of King’s teaching is kindness. Kindness to ourselves and to those traumatized by racism, and, yes, kindness to those who perpetrate racism in the world. They, like us and as us, are products of this racist society and capable of becoming forces for racial healing themselves. The Buddhist principles of racial mindfulness might be a tough sell to a black clad 20-year-old who thinks vandalizing a police station somehow helps black people, but that 20-year-old has the capacity for personal transformation and the ability to participate in stopping the harm so there can be true racial healing.

Learning How to Let it Be from The Beatles’ Get Back Film

November 28, 2021

Fab Spoilers Follow

Like pretty much every Beatle fan, I’ve been waiting on Peter Jackson’s epic recut of the the Beatles’ 1970 Let It Be film. I first saw it as a midnight movie in Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1978, wincing when the rednecks hissed at Yoko Ono’s first appearance on the screen. The 1970 film was a sad document of a fabled band breaking up. Get Back, the new film, culled from 60 hours of unseen footage from those sessions, promised to rewrite the narrative of January 1969, which George Harrison had branded, “the winter of our discontent.”

I geared up for the Thanksgiving event by buying the 5 disc Let It Be “Super Deluxe” box set and reviewing it on my YouTube channel. I’d read everything about the sessions in the previous 40+ years, so I wasn’t expecting any surprises. And yet, all I got were surprises. It wasn’t just the insight into the working process of the band (Ringo’s farting not withstanding). It was the psychological dissection of what happens when strong personalities stifle equally strong personalities.

Thanksgiving morning Andrea and Cozy came over so we could make this viewing a family event. Andi and I curled up on the couch together and fell into the first part of the eight-hour three-day fab fest the world had been waiting for. Besides the brilliant ’69 fashions and endless smoking, which made us both briefly made us consider taking up the habit, was the revelation of the psychodynamic between John, Paul, George, and Ringo. In the first episode, there’s a moment when Paul discusses and accepts that he is losing his lifelong best friend to Yoko. Paul, looking old at 26, mourns the man who had been his musical partner since he was 14. There’s a long silent shot and you can see his eyes dampen. The realization that closeness is not locked in for life is shattering. John was now “John and Yoko.” No wonder Paul McCartney fell into a deep depression a year later.

But the great story is George Harrison’s rebellion. The Beatles were Lennon and McCartney’s band, both in camera time and musical direction. The quiet Beatle was lucky to get a few of his own tunes on each album. By 1969 he’d been hanging out with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band but was still relegated to sideman in his own group. The songs he was bringing into the band were equal to Paul’s and even better than the ones John was bringing in. (John was checked out, on Yoko and on smack.) Just listen to the Beatles’ version of George’s “All Things Must Pass” and you can see how the understudy had become the master.

George could have just taken it all on the chin, the price of being a Beatle. But on January 10th, George stood up for himself and quit The Beatles. After seven days of rehearsing mostly Paul’s songs in a dank soundstage, George walked out saying, “See you ‘round the clubs,” and that was it. The Beatles were now a trio. Years later, in The Beatles Anthology (1995), George recalled his thinking at the time. “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.” Certainly there’s more we don’t see on the screen in Get Back, including financial headaches at Apple and George’s crumbling marriage (apparently he was shacked up with Clapton’s ex-girlfriend at the time), but we see the youngest Beatle take a stand for his own sanity.

We also see John, Paul, and Ringo sink into a mild panic at George’s departure. John suggest recruiting Clapton, who had played on 1968’s Beatle classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” They end up heading off on a visit (and then a second) to their young friend’s house to cajole him back into Beatledom. End of episode one.

Andrea and I reconvened on the couch the following day for Episode Two as the Beatles reconvened at Apple headquarters. Watching the Fabs, George included, enter the white office building on 3 Saville Row gave us a kick has we had been in the building on our trip to London in 2018. It’s now an Abercrombie Kids store. And yes they sell Beatles shirts. In 1982, I actually snuck onto the roof of the then empty building but we were seeing the reunited quartet walk in the same door we had. Turns out that one of George’s conditions to return was that the band move to the warmer Apple studio in the basement of 3 Saville Row.

The sweet spot occurs on January 11th, George’s second day back when he brings in old friend of the band, Billy Preston. Billy sits in on keyboards on tunes like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down” and the chemistry is instant. These much labored-over songs now sound like album tracks. The look on George’s face was ecstatic, like you assholes downplayed my creative input and I just saved this imploding band. Oh, the satisfaction he must have felt.

Andi and I had a long conversation afterwards about how stifling a person’s true self just doles out misery around the circle. But when you honor their whole potential everyone benefits. There certainly were parallels in our situation as just a few weeks prior she had told me, “See you ‘round the clubs.” Without knowing it, I had been Paul McCartney, trying to make “our band” my band. I thought I was doing her a favor “letting her” have a few songs when she had a triple album’s worth of material ready to go that was far superior to my silly love songs.

We stayed up until midnight to catch the premiere of Episode Three, that took the band up to the roof of Apple, where I would stand 12 years later. On that cold January 30th day nearly 53 years ago, the lads were in their true element, full of joy as a cohesive creative unit, blasting out “Get Back” to the curious listeners below. “I want to look at you the way Paul looks at John,” Andi said. I just want her to have the smile that George Harrison had on that rooftop. As we prepared to step back into our separate lives, feeling finally fully present with her true self, I thanked her for three of the best days I’d had in my life, spent with her, our daughter, and the Beatles. And I hope I passed the audition.

Taking You Lumps: Remote Gender Work

November 19, 2021

Blogs are ultimately about personal journeys. I began this blog on November 24, 2014 as a daily chronicle of my life as stay-at-home dad. I intended it to be me channelling the porto-feminism of pioneering house-husband John Lennon. That lasted exactly one day. By November 25th, I was writing about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in what would be the first in a long line of posts about the Black Lives Matter movement. In those seven years, my writing has ranged from family life stories to global gender politics and everything in between.

There have been two pillars in this writing. The first is the firm belief that we are all works in progress, never fully complete. We can’t make the world a better place if we are not willing to make ourselves better people. And mistakes will be made. That’s part of the process. The second pillar has been how I’ve benefitted from the input from my wife, Andrea. Her patience, strength, and wisdom have pushed me to be that better man. And her experience as a member of a few different marginalized populations has allowed me to confront my own privileges head on. If I could only give her as much as she’s given me.

So here’s one of those entries about the need to evolve. 

It’s been clear in this year of revelations that I still have a lot of work to do on myself. Uncovering my abuse story has helped me see the roots of some of my narcissistic personality traits, but that doesn’t automatically cure them. So Andrea has moved out so I could focus on that work. She got a studio apartment nearby and I helped her move in. The three of us had dinner there that first night as I let this separation settle in. We talk constantly and she’s endlessly encouraging. We have dates planned and I bring her coffee in the morning. But this is time set aside for me to make my mindfulness practices my natural way of being and for her to figure out if the woman she’s become fits with the man I’m becoming.

I have a pretty heavy lecture in my criminology class about domestic violence and about how battered women who flee abuse are as likely to be killed by their male partners as they are by staying with them. (Then I tell them to watch Sleeping with the Enemy and listen to “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks.) Research on wife-killers shows these man can’t handle that “their” women have been rejected and just snap. It’s the ultimate act of patriarchal control.

While the thought of violence has never crossed my mind, I’ve never been very good at break-ups, centering my emotional pain instead of what’s best for my (former) partners. Just ask my first girlfriend who ended our relationship so she could spend a year studying in Paris. I got to Paris a few weeks before her and spray-painted her name all over the city, including on a stature of Moliére at the Sorbonne, where she would be enrolled. I thought I was being wildly romantic, but I was just being wildly creepy, inserting myself into her post-Randy life in the City of Light.

So the evolved version of me has kicked that version of masculinity to the curb. This is about what Andi needs right now and how I can listen and deliver. Certainly 2021 has been filled with examples of me not doing that, including plenty of mad examples of me freaking out as I fell down the rabbit hole of panic and defensiveness that were shaped by a lifetime of acting out the patterns created by my childhood abuse. Putting in the work is under way. I finally feel like an adult and instead of a petulant child and it feels good. I enter this phase with respect, grace, a mountain of admiration for this woman who I will get to know in a completely new way.

My great hope is this process won’t take long. Apartments in Portland are not cheap and it’s coming out of her pocket. We have a trip to Paris planned for this spring and that spray-paint will have long faded away. I’m committed to making that the case for the version of me that took her for granted. Faded away like a lovelorn teenager’s graffiti. 

Confronting Misogyny in Family Feud America

November 13, 2021

I think there was a naive hope that when the Orange Führur was banished from the White House (and Twitter) that the levels of toxic masculinity would ease off a bit. But this is patriarchal America and misogyny is our most hallowed value. Brittney Spears might be free, but the alt-right regularly refers to our vice-president as “Cum-Allah” and continues to plot its boogaloo boy revolution. Nothing triggers fragile men like ending middle eastern wars and a new Adele album.

I was reminded of this one night when the three of us were chomping on burritos while watching the produced-in-Atlanta game show Family Feud. I’ve enjoyed it since the Richard Dawson seventies and Steve Harvey does some pretty hilarious adlib comedy. It seemed like some harmless family entertainment since we’d burned through every episode of the capitalist propaganda-fest that is Shark Tank.

I’d noticed the “survey says” answers on the show’s gameboard occasionally went a little “off color” to go for the cheap laugh, but the Feud really showed its true colors one November night. The question was, “What is one thing a man could do that would cause his wife not to stand up for him.” Of course, the top answer was “cheat,” but when it flipped up on the gameboard what the oh-so-sophisticated writers had for the winning answer was, “CHEAT/GET A HO PREGGO.” I looked at Andi and she looked at me and then we both looked at our 7-year-old daughter. And then we shut the TV off.

Steve Harvey didn’t say anything about it and neither did anyone else as far as I can tell. This is how normalized sexism still is in 2021. If a woman gets pregnant with a married man, she must be a whore. And the chorus of “It was a joke! Get over it!” comes in to make the degradation of women just part of the normal background noise. Nothing to get upset about. Imagine if the “joke” about the “ho” had been about a “coon” or some other racist slur. We’d have heard about it then. Racism gets a rally and sexism get a yawn. That’s because patriarchy goes back a lot farther than white supremacy. And white supremacy goes way back.

This was playing out the same time that Arizona Republican Paul Gosar (who is a dentist and sits in the United State Congress) was joking about violently murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. And this complete psycho (visit his Twitter feed if you want a glimpse of the current state of Idiocracy) is still seated in the House of Representatives. This is how little we value women and girls in our country. Afghanistan, hold my beer.

I was reminded of how far we hadn’t come, babe, when we were shopping for our daughter’s Halloween costume. The costume store had segregated the costumes by gender (separate but definitely not equal). In the kids section, the boys costumes were various superheroes, serial killers, and Mindcraft stuff. The girls section was primarily, sexy nurse, sexy zombie, and sexy schoolgirl. These were the costumes for second grade girls. Cozy picked out a “sexy devil” costume that we figured we could modify to not catch the eyes of the Jeffrey Epsteins in the neighborhood. The sexualization of elementary school girls is not new but when it’s your second grader, you want to burn the costume store, Spirit Halloween, to the fucking ground.

I know this giant tanker of sexism takes time around. More women are now graduating from college than men. And women have outnumbered men in the workforce since 2010. But it’s the everyday sexism that cuts women and girls off at the knees. And it will continue to sabotage their deserved equity unit men say this must stop. (I zipped off a fervent Tweet to Steve Harvey and his show which we will no longer watch). I can only shield my daughter from so much sexist bullshit. I’m gonna need some help from my brothers in arms.

Follow Up: Fixing What’s Broken

November 7, 2021

I needed to let the dust settle after that one.

When I wrote my little “coming out” piece about my experience with sexual abuse a few weeks ago, I wrote it for an audience of two. I wrote if for myself, because I needed to say these things out loud so I could start the healing. And I wrote it for my wife because I was desperate to mend the damage my behavior had caused in our relationship. I had already discussed it with my parents who were surprisingly tranquil about the news that their four-year-old son had been sexually abused. My mother seemed to separate herself from any of the events and my father thought it was a good explanation for how I treated my little brother. Now, as then, they didn’t seem concerned for my emotional well being.

Who did care about me were many of my friends. When I posted the link to the story on my Facebook page I got so many wonderful messages, including friends coming out about their own victimization stories, some leading to failed marriages and life-long challenges. It meant so much and also let me know how many of us are struggling with the adult effects of childhood trauma. We are a statistic (1 in 7), but we are also pieces of the story of humanity. The narcissist in me could be seen as saying, “Hey, look at me! I’m an abuse victim, too!” I thought about that before I posted it. But I think it just needed to be said and I’m glad I did. It was like taking a breath.

The hard part about this is the realization of brokenness. I was pretty cool before, just bopping along, blaming all my problems on other people. I had a poem called “Psycho Chick Magnet” that I’d perform at readings in the 90s to laughter and a lot of dudes saying, “Me, too!” I now see that I was the psycho. My fucked-up defense mechanisms gas lit them. They were crazy. But they weren’t crazy. I was deeply damaged.

Now that I know this, it’s endlessly frustrating. I know what the problem patterns are. I know what the root cause is. I know the behavioral shift to make everything work like it should. Sounds super simple, right? This pattern is fucking up your life, so just stop doing it. This the part where I tell you that I am so completely broken that I’m not sure I can fix it. These patterns have evolved over a half century and I was a fool to think I could snap my fingers and be a different person. That the wirings of my brain that were the result of trauma in a 4-year old boy could just be switched off and I would forever be in the green zone.

Since I posted my story, I’ve fallen off the “Grown Up Randy” train a dozen times. Here’s just the latest example. I thought it would be fun to spend a rainy Sunday at the movies, so Cozy, Andi, and I went to go see Addam’s Family 2 at the Kennedy School. Cozy had her popcorn and lemonade. Andi and I had our beer and held hands and cuddled during the movie, which meant a lot because there had been some me-caused tension (surprise!) earlier in the day. After the film, Andi commented that it would have been nice if I would have put my arm around her. I should have just listened and said I would next time. But instead the four-year old me, who was stuck defending against endless attacks, popped up and ruined everything. I got defensive and felt like nothing I did was enough. I became the asshole that I swore I wouldn’t.

Our therapist warned against expecting immediate results. That changing patterns was like a snake shedding its skin and that old skin was sticky. That makes sense but tell it to my wife who is past her tolerance level fo sticky snake skin. But the feeling sinks in. That I will never break the patterns that were created in me by an entitled babysitter in 1968. It’s nearly unbearable because I see the harm it causes. I should be smart enough to figure this out.

I’ve been doing some research on Polyvagal Theory and how trauma rewires the nervous system. I now understand the my reactive nature is pretty much baked into my body. More great information but still doesn’t get me out of this loop I’m stuck in. All the enlightenment in the world doesn’t carry you out of the darkness.

The only point to this blogpost is to report on how hard this work is. There’s a good chance I will have to do it on my own, but I do it for that little kid who I was and the man I hope to become. You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times.

Afterthought: I was listening to the news of the world leaders in Glasgow trying to kick the can on the global climate crisis. We know what the problem is. We know what the cause is. We know what behavior change is required to fix things. You can only shoot yourself in foot so many times, earth people. (I am the world. I am the inner children.)

I am the victim of child sexual abuse and it made me toxic.

October 22, 2021

I have a few clear memories from when I was four-years-old. I remember the birch trees in our front yard in Parma Heights and turning my tricycle upside down, pretending it was an ice cream machine. I remember doing the Tarzan call over our back fence, hoping my neighbor, Sharon, would climb over to play. I remember my breath becoming condensation on the inside of my Secret Squirrel Halloween mask. I remember the Christmas tree and learning that I could swallow SpaghettiO’s without chewing them. I didn’t remember being molested.

This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written but I have to. I have to because I remember now and that memory has allowed me to connect so many dots in my life, a series of dots that includes a trail of tears full of damaged relationships with family members and other people I supposedly loved. Two failed marriages and a third that is hanging by the tiniest of threads. All connected to one weekend in 1968.

Over the years I’ve trumpeted the benefits of therapy as a place of self-evolution and fixing broken patterns. “I worry about the people NOT in therapy,” I’d tell my students. Since my first drop into clinical depression, that I fictionalized in my novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, therapy has been a place to put out the emotional fires. But it’s often just tinkering around the edges and not getting to the root. The root takes time to dig down to, maybe years.

I was in couples counseling about a dozen years ago when I had a very clear childhood memory that stopped me cold. My young parents were looking for their American dream and got involved in some of those “multi-level marketing schemes,” like Amway. They would take weekends to go to sales seminars and drop me off with an older couple that lived down the block. While sitting on our therapists couch, I remembered my parents picking me up at the end of a weekend away and me crying uncontrollably, thinking they had left me with these people forever and being so relieved they hadn’t. I chalked it up to a root cause of my vague abandonment issues and moved on.

This pandemic has offered us an opportunity for self work. My patient and loving wife has helped me to identify my tendency to center myself instead of her in our marriage. (Something I’ve written about in this blog.) She was strong enough to name it; narcissism. She gave me reading list on the subject so I could continue my work. I was reading one of her recommendations, Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives, and I began to see a lifelong pattern that started with endless fights with my younger brother and my tendency to be in perpetual “battle mode” in my romantic relationships. But I was puzzled about why I could see this pattern and seemingly be powerless to stop it.

Then, one day, because I really wanted to know, I was reading about theories on the origin of Narcissistic Personality Syndrome. And there it was in black and white, that one root can be child sexual abuse. It was like great whooshing enveloped me. I suddenly remembered why I was crying so hard when my parents picked me up from the neighbor babysitters. I had a crystal clear memory of being in the guest room, window facing the street, with the man, maybe twice as old as my 25-year-old father, standing in front of me, staring, with my clothes in a pile on the floor in front of me. The memory gets a little hazy after that, but I know I was crying because I needed my parents to rescue me from how that man was hurting me.

Realizing this literally stopped my breath. I began to hyperventilate and then sob. The timing was not perfect because I was in the middle of a me-caused crisis with my wife. I had shared an intimate detail of our lives with a friend (who was really just a local bartender) that she had asked me not to share. I had betrayed her trust in the most callous of ways for no reason other than momentary titillation, wounding this person I claim to love. This realization shed light on that and so much more. My hyper-sexuality, my narcissism, and probably why I never had a best friend. 

That 4-year-old didn’t have the skills to stop this abuse so he erected a wall around himself for protection. I entered into a world where I constantly had to be on guard and defend myself. Everyone was a potential attacker, including my little brother, who I was endlessly cruel towards. I would see his efforts to emulate me as sinister attempts to take the things that were unique about me for himself. At age 10 I remember freaking out because he said he liked Elton John. Elton John was mine! I should have just said, “Yeah, Ronnie. Elton is awesome. Let me play you some of my favorite songs.” Instead I beat him up. That hyper-defensiveness and self-centering (and fortunately not the violence) followed me into adulthood and sabotaged every single romantic relationship I entered. I can provide you a list of women who will testify that was not a very good boyfriend or husband.

That 4-year-old also didn’t have the skills to process what was occurring. How could my parents let this happen? So all that trauma got folded into my subconscious and came out in my toxic personality traits. That’s where it hid until I was 57-years old, and by then those brain pathways were pretty well-worn grooves.

I found a new therapist to help me work on this psychodynamic that has only hurt people I love. She’s a hypo-therapist, so much of the work has involved talking to that 4-year-old who has been in control of my mind and behavior since 1968. I can take care of him, acknowledge his pain, and move forward as the adult version of me. But that kid is strong. He doesn’t want to let go. One thing that is painfully clear is that alcohol, something often abused by adult abuse victims, lets that kid out with a vengeance. So as of today, I’m going back to my straightedge tendencies. No more Portland benders. I can’t let the child cause more pain. And he’s caused a lot pain.

The research is clear, people who experience trauma tend to traumatize others. Veterans with PTSD have higher rates among domestic abusers. So many of the hate criminals I’ve studied over the years have histories of abuse in their background. Roughly one in seven American children experiences abuse, and you can bet that many of them are going to turn that pain outward, creating an endless cycle of trauma.

One of my favorite novels is Nick Hornby’s 1995 book, High Fidelity. The protagonist, Rob, is going through another break-up and decides to write all his ex’s to ask them why they broke up with him. I’m tempted to write all my ex’s to tell them that I know why they broke up with me and to apologize. Profusely. But my work has be in the present, being ever-mindful of this hurt 4-year-old that lives inside me. His need to lash out and erect walls has destroyed so much. I want to give him love and protection so he, and the other people I love, can finally feel centered and safe with me.

I know two things. What happened to me wasn’t my fault and that this internal dynamic that my abuse shaped is not an easy thing to change. Wish me luck on this path. It’s not going to be a straight line. And also that I’m sorry that I didn’t figure this out sooner. So sorry.

2028: A Letter to My 14-year-old Daughter at the Half-way Mark

September 27, 2021

Our daughter, Cozette turned seven last month and she’s way ahead of where I was in terms of coolness. When I was a new second grader at Highland Christian Academy, I didn’t even know the #1 single for that week (“Maggie May”), but I did know the Frito Bandito song. Cozy can riff on some Dua Lipa cuts and has a vast knowledge of classic rock lyrics. (She has a soft spot for Lindsey Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac songs.) Cozy is well-versed, from Coltrane to Storm Large.

It just dawned on me that, at 7, she is halfway to 14, which was a big year for me and my musical coming out, so I thought I should write her a letter now and tuck it away on this blog until 2028.

Dear Cozy,

Happy 14th birthday! Every day with you has been a thrill and it’s so exciting to see you ready to rock 9th grade. You have turned into the most joyful, complex, and kind young woman I know. And even though your mom and I have had some influence, who you are comes from some wonderful spark that exists deep inside you. I thought I’d use this moment to tell you a little bit about what I was like when I was 14 and make a birthday promise to you.

I turned 14 fifty years ago in 1978. It was a great year of self-discovery and what I like to think of as my “musical coming out” year. You know what a role music has played in my life, starting with my pre-school raiding of my parents jazz records and endless hours listening to your grandmother playing Scott Joplin rags on the baby grand piano in our living room. But 1978 was different. It was the year your grandparents started letting their oldest son go to concerts without adults!

I already had caught the concert bug the year before. (Ask me someday what it was like to see Kiss in concert in 1977). For some reason, once I turned 14, my folks trusted me enough to let me go to concerts with my friends. And we went to every big show that came through Atlanta, from Blondie (at the Fox Theater) to Black Sabbath (at the Omni). In fact, if you listen to the 1978 live Blue Oyster Cult album, Some Enchanted Evening, (recorded at the Fox Theater) you can hear Charlie, Richie, and I screaming our lungs out.

You know how exciting live music is. Officially, your first concert was U2 in Vancouver, BC on May 15, 2015. For the record, you were 9 months old and The Edge fell off the stage. We’ve been to countless shows together since then. You know about the anticipation swelling as the main act is about to take the stage. You know about singing along with the actual people on the recording. You know about your ears ringing when it’s all over.

When I was 14, the other element at concerts was drugs. A lot of drugs. And everything else. I remember a guy drinking straight Jack Daniels before a Who concert, and telling everyone it was his life’s dream to see The Who in concert. By the time The Who took the stage, he was passed out drunk. Missed the entire show. I’m sure he told all his friends how brilliant the concert was. Those concerts were too important for me to miss a thing. I was clear-eyed sober, focused on every element of the experience, every guitar solo, every screaming fan pressed against the stage. And I remember them all 50 years later. Just a suggestion about the value of a clear head. You’ll want to remember this stuff.

Concerts were where I found my tribe. Other music fanatics and the various subtribes. By 15, I was firmly in the mod/punk/new wave tribe and going to Ramones shows. But at 14, it was all brand new. I people watched as much as band watched.

So you are at a magical spot right now. Given life expectancies in 2028, you’ve got another 70+ years of life ahead of you. That means you’ve got 14 years behind you, much of which you don’t remember because you were little, and 70 years ahead of you. The future is wide open. Most of my life is behind me, which is why I bore you with stories of the distant past. But for you there is this incredible newness and potential wrapped up in every experience. I would give anything to hear music that way I did in 1978. For my 14th birthday, I got the debut album of a band called Van Halen and you would have thought the Rapture had unfolded on Earth. That album was like a lightning bolt from God. (Our poor neighbors in Stone Mountain who had to tolerate me playing “You Really Got Me,” at full volume over and over again.) I can listen to that record now and it sounds nothing like it did when I was 14. Now, it’s just a classic rock classic. Then, it was EVERYTHING.

I know kids always get tired of us old folks saying, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people,” or “enjoy your youth.” But we’re speaking from a place of regret. I wish I would have known about the magic of 14 when I was 14. I just wanted to be 18, or 25, or 30. (Definitely not 64.) I’m begging you to take it all in. Close your eyes and turn the volume up all the way. Take a minute to feel how the sound lands on your body and what it connects you to in this moment in history. For me, it gave me the dream of escape; to the lower east side of Manhattan, to Liverpool, to London, or to wherever Styx wanted me to sail away to.

That’s my request. Listen and connect your music to your space and time and maybe your own tribe. My promise is, now that you’re 14, you can go to concerts without me. You have a great set of friends and I trust you to be there for the music. I will still drop you off and pick you up (unless I need my driverless car to do it), but you are free to be as fully into the experience of live music as I was at your age. And feel free to pick music that you think I will hate, because that’s also what 14 is about. (Bringing home the Sex Pistols album at 14 almost got me booted from the Blazak family.) You will find your people at shows. And you’ll find fashions. And you’ll find great opening bands that you will end up loving more than the headliners.

Fourteen is go time. It’s new car smell. It’s endless discoveries. It’s an entire human history of possibilities. And it’s music that will mean EVERYTHING. Go get it. I’ll be there to give you a ride home.

Love,

Dad