The United States of Dystopia?

It has been a while since my last post. I decided to take a break from writing; I had been hard at it for just under 90 days and the well had pretty much run dry. Additionally, with all of the political turmoil here in the US, most of what I was finding in my brain was simply screams of outrage, which wasn’t translating well to the page. I needed a break, and I needed it badly. So I took one and while I did things continued to go down hill quickly here in the good old United States of America. Our democracy has been downgraded to flawed, and I’m thinking that pretty soon it will no longer be recognized as a democracy at all given the actions of the orange fiend in chief. If he has his way, he’ll have the American people goose-stepping their way to hell. However, the protests are continuing and people are making their voices heard.

I am having extraordinary difficulties dealing with what is going on here, and anyone who can’t see the parallels here to Hitler’s rise to power is delusional. The man has been working from Hitler’s playbook all the way through the election and now is acting upon it in office. He just put a neo-nazi, tear-down-the-government-like-Lenin propagandist in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a civilian who hates the federal government and wants to destroy it. The cabinet he’s put together seems to be geared towards the same concept in each field. He’s gone past any element of reasonableness into the realm of a clear and present danger to our nation of the highest order, and today is only the tenth day he’s been in office.

His targeted ban of Muslims from entering the US, effective with the stroke of a pen, including those with green cards, violates everything this country stands for, and has been cited as being unconstitutional by many. Once again, the parallel is to Hitler cannot be dismissed, nor can the fact that the only Muslim countries exempted are where he has personal business dealings. It is also notable that the ones exempted are also where the terrorists responsible for 9/11 came from. Then he stated that maybe there should be an exemption made for Syrian Christians, which makes the singling out of Muslims even a clearer cut act of bigotry, hatred and unconstitutionality.

Every day that he has been in office thus far has been a potential mega disaster in the making. The wall between the US and Mexico, a 15 billion dollar waste of money that only serves to divide this country and make enemies to the south, could lead to a 20% tax on Mexican goods sold in this country. The bulk of us recognize the wall for what it is, another racist agenda that does nothing for anyone. If anything it makes matters worse, and now Mexico is justifiably angry with the US. The orange fiend has also escalated hostilities with China to the point where they are moving their missiles into better range, preparing for war with the US. He’s threatened the stability of NATO, as well as starting to ramp up nuclear weapons stockpiles and recreating the arms race. He wants more battleships, despite a lack of need for them, and an increase in military strength across the board, which I must say causes me great concern. Let’s face it, he has no impulse control, seeks vengeance for every perceived slight, has no conscience or empathy for anyone, and wants a bigger military. Anyone else unnerved about where this is headed? This doesn’t even include what he’s doing to strip health care away from people who desperately need it.

We only have one world and the doomsday clock is really ticking away in the background. Meanwhile the administration is attempting to silence anyone who disagrees or might provide information that is contrary to what is being provided by the administration. It is threatening the press and its Constitutionally guaranteed freedom, overtly not giving one red hot damn about the Constitution, and has done its best to silence governmental offices that can provide information that challenges the administration’s doctrine of ignorance. It has sent gag orders to the FDA, the National Parks Services, the EPA and all of the other Administrative arms of the government, instituted hiring freezes and is essentially attempting to assume total control over everything. These are not actions of a government for the people and by the people. These are the moves of a group of people who is attempting to hijack a democracy and create a totalitarian regime.

I love dystopian fiction and while I really enjoy reading it I have absolutely no desire to live in a dystopian reality. Unfortunately the bridge between fiction and reality is weakening and it’s looking more and more as if that is the road we are actually heading down with the current administration. Our reality is becoming skewed into an Orwellian nightmare of huge proportions with horrendous implications for the very near future. Every day is bringing a new revelation of the depths to which we have fallen and it has given no indication of slowing down. There are people standing up, huge numbers of them, and some decent men and women in our political system who are standing up for justice and what this country truly stands for. We simply must do what is right, otherwise dystopia wins and the world ends as we know it.

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They’re Marching Everywhere!

The sun is shining today, of all days, and has been since I hauled myself out of bed. It is well past dawn and on into the mid-afternoon now, and I’ve seen hope today take form in massive protests taking place all over the country. Here in Chicago almost 250,000 people joined the Women’s March today, while numbers came in around 500,000 in Washington, DC. And those were the two largest of many across our nation, and elsewhere as well. Today’s march in DC dwarfed yesterday’s inauguration attendance, and sends a clear message that the people of this nation are not content. They are sending the orange man a clear message that they are uniting to stand up for their rights, and their way of life. They will not cower under his glares and misogynistic behavior.

I’ve been watching the images scroll in from across the country on my computer, and as they have my feelings of pride in my country have been being restored. More precisely, my feelings of pride in my fellow Americans have been as I have watched this movement gain momentum, and the numbers continued to grow. Here in Chicago the organizers had to adapt and then readapt as the people continued to arrive. They were expecting around 22,000 initially, from what I’ve seen, which quickly morphed to 50,000 and some changes in rallying points. By 10:30 this morning the numbers hit 150,000 strong, then, two hours later close to 250,000 people were marching, chanting and showing their solidarity against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on destroying years of social progress, denying people of their civil rights and turning our planet into an ecological disaster zone.

This in and of itself is such a ray of sunshine at this point. Seeing that there are so many folks out there that aren’t blind to what is at stake in our country gives me a sense of hope that somehow we just might make it through this somehow. I’m not naïve; I know that it is going to be a long haul, but these are truly significant numbers of people openly aligning themselves in pushing back against the darkness that is threatening us. It gives me hope that our country isn’t up for sale to the highest bidder, and that we’re not going to go quietly into a lockstep goose-stepping future.

I’ve seen so many photos shared by my friends of the marches in their areas across the country. Smiling faces as they held their signs with their friends at the staging areas and along the march routes, hand made signs that some had obviously spent some time creating. These were people DOING something about the situation we are faces, people who care about the direction of our nation, and its policies both at home and abroad. Women from all walks of life, many there with their families, came together and made a massive statement for everyone in the world to see. Smiling faces filled with determination to do the right thing and stand for justice and all that is good here.

I’m thankful to all of them. And I’m thankful for the folks who, while they might not march, contribute to the cause in their own ways, whether it is writing letters to their representatives, volunteering in their communities or whatever they can do to help move this forward and keep hope alive in this country, particularly hope that we can continue to move forward as a diverse country, filled with a rich cultural heritage that welcomes difference while guaranteeing equality for all. I don’t want to see that wealth squandered by despots, nor do I want the principles that this country was founded upon to be lost. There is too much at stake for us to let that happen.

I’m hoping that this is a sign of things to come and that the American people will continue to stand up against corruption. We should be that shining light of freedom, equality and justice that we have dreamed to be and so many have come here to find. We are capable of so much good, so much more than the incoming administration represents. We have the ability, the strength, and the knowledge. Now, with the advent of these marches, I’m also seeing that we have the motivation to take the steps to make ourselves heard and to keep driving forward, not set the clocks back fifty or sixty years to the halcyon days of the straight white male. We are ALL Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious creed, gender or orientation, and every single one of us will be heard. After all, in this country the government is SUPPOSED TO WORK FOR US.

20 January 2017

I’ve been under the weather pretty much all week, between the onset of a cold over last weekend followed immediately by a stomach virus that is a bit on the painful side.  This was my first week back in the saddle in an academic setting, so I taught through it, but fortunately only had to push through two days at work.  It has also been pretty much a solid gray week, with one morning where the sun poked out for about an hour, and rain off and on for at least the last three days.  It’s starting to blur.  Today was a sad day all around what with the orange man taking office and immediately removing the climate change, LGBTQ and civil rights pages from the White House web site.  I’ve been trying to stay away from the book of face, but that has been difficult.  All and all, it has been a pretty dark week and the stomach virus has pretty much eliminated seeking succor in food.  Tomorrow there’s a women’s protest march in Chicago that my wife wants us to take part in as a family.  My daughter wants to make signs, but doesn’t want to be in a crowd of 50,000 people, which I understand.  I’m not a crowd person in the slightest and I have some safety concerns, but the cause is just.  I’m also concerned about whether I’m going to feel well enough to do it.

I am having difficulties with mood management this week due to all of this.  First, it has been so dark around here for the past seven to ten days that it is taking its toll despite the morning use of the “happy light.”   It is our breakfast companion.  It has been positively dreary outside between the constant overcast skies and the constant damp wetness of everything.  Even turning the lights on inside only helps a bit.  I could pull the drapes and drop the blinds on it, but then I’d really feel like I was living in a cave, something I don’t think would help.  Then there’s the whole being sick thing, and while I am thankful that the cold aspect is over, this stomach ailment is a major drag that is also affecting my intestinal tract, which probably isn’t helping my serotonin levels either.  I’ve been able to eat very little over the past three days, haven’t been able to stomach coffee, but have managed to keep up with my meds.  I’ve stopped taking the fish oil though until this passes.  It’s too unpleasant.  So the lack of sunlight combined with physical malaise has been making things rocky on the emotional front.

The advent of the orange man’s reign is also a major emotional drain that I haven’t come to grips with as of yet.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be okay with it, because that is not something I can foresee by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply cannot come to grips with how this travesty occurred, and it is plaguing me to no end.  This is a waking nightmare for me largely because I can find no evidence of a shred of decency in the man.  We’ve gone from supreme class, intelligence, and a dedicated civil servant to this narcissistic sociopath.  I’m grieving heavily for my country, and for all those people who will be harmed by this administration that has been dubbed the least qualified cabinet in our history (one of the nicer things that has been said about it).  I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up any moment and it’ll have simply been a really preposterously horrific nightmare.  Unfortunately I’m not sleeping.

One of the benchmarks of character is how we handle adversity.  Do we cave in, assume the fetal position and wait for things to pass?  Sometimes it feels like the thing to do, and I’m sure that all of us have wanted to at some point.  Right now I’m tired, and I don’t feel well both physically and emotionally.  What I really want to do is crawl off to bed, pull up the covers and go to sleep for a really long time, at least until the sun decides to shine again.  But I can’t.  I have to do, not check out until things get better.  I’ve got performances to give, lectures to teach, a family to care for, and an innate desire to resist tyranny, injustice and bigotry.  Even if I’m depressed, sick, or tired, it’s my duty as a decent human being.  So I’m resisting.

 

Goodnight America: “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Today had brief moments of sunlight, which ended up being overwhelmed by an endless sea of gray. It is the last day of the Barack Obama presidency and as the light fades from the sky turning gray into darkness I can’t help but feel like night is befalling our country. Tomorrow someone I have no respect for, who I do not look upon as legitimately winning the race takes control of our country and starts dismantling it. I just saw that he intends to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR, all of which have enriched so many lives in our nation and in the case of the latter has been one of the last bastions of truly responsible news reporting. Some folks have decried me in my hometown for saying this before, but there is a parallel in history for this, a small man with an odd mustache who led his country into some of the darkest acts and times of the last century.

I have great respect for President Obama, and while he was not perfect he truly is one of the finest examples of an American that I’ve encountered during my lifetime. He spent eight hard years piloting our country, bringing us out of an economic crisis the likes of which this country hasn’t seen since the stock market crashed in 1929. He fought for everyone, and truly cared about the people of this nation. While the Affordable Care Act did have room for improvement, he honestly tried to bring health insurance to the masses and in doing so tried to make peoples’ lives better. Despite facing racism and obstructionism from an opposing party, he fought on to make changes happen, and all the while exuded class, eloquence and dignity. There were no Obama scandals. The only scandals were the actions taken against him by many members of the Republican Party, including colluding with a foreign head of state against him. Still, he out-classed them throughout his eight years at the helm.

Now we’re left with this. Tomorrow our country is swearing in a person who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has no sense of self control, who lied his way through his campaign and was assisted by Russia in winning the election despite being beaten by 2.9 million votes in the popular vote. Before taking office he has already done huge damage to our standing with NATO and our other allies, as well as threatened China and infuriated our southern neighbor, Mexico. He doesn’t understand how government works, is in massive debt to foreign nationals, and is a crude caricature of the type of America we should not be. He has spent more time tweeting about being insulted by people than he has preparing for the job he’s taking tomorrow. Seriously, someone who actually asked why we don’t use our nuclear arsenal should not have the nuclear codes.

I want a leader who brings out the best in people, not the worst. I want a leader that I would put up as an example of being a moral and just person. I’m not naïve; I know that the position involves making very tough decisions where the morality is questionable, but I want someone there who I trust has the intelligence, fortitude and best interests of our country making those decisions. I want someone who respects the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, understands what they mean, and recognizes they apply to everyone in our country, not just the powerful. I want someone who respects women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and the true cultural wealth this nation possesses and that equality is for everyone, as is respect. We had that with President Obama.

Tomorrow we enter into a dark time for our country. A man who has no respect for the office he is taking is swearing an oath. A man who is known to be a massive prevaricator is swearing an oath. Think about that. The founding fathers of our nation attempted to set up a government that had a series of checks and balances in place. Currently the ultra right wing controls those checks and balances, essentially fast tracking whatever changes they want to make. They’re not concerned about the impending ecological disasters, nor are they concerned about their constituents. They have their own agenda, as well as their favorite lobbyists.’ The changing of the guard is very different this time. The incoming regime has no concern for individuals’ rights, nor any empathy for anyone other than themselves. Goodnight, America, “a change is gonna come,” and it’s going to be a hard one for us all.

Off Topic: The Social Media Mire

Social Media has become quite a pervasive entity in people’s lives.  We open accounts with the goal of finding and keeping up with friends that we’ve lost track of, to make new friends with shared interests, or to promote our businesses.  The bands I’m in use Facebook to promote their shows, as do thousands of other groups, artists, writers, dancers, and anyone who wants to be someone.  As people spend more and more time on these outlets, their lives and beliefs are being influenced whether they believe it or not.  Over the past few years I’ve watched the information that is being passed along, and have observed the willingness of folks to believe almost anything they see there, as long as it fits their preconceptions, and reinforces their personal beliefs.  Better yet, if it plays to their fears it becomes even more believable.  Combining this with the alt. right’s destruction of the public’s faith in the “main stream media” has created a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, an open audience that will entertain accepting something as factual, that has absolutely no connection to truth, let alone correlation to it.

I used to view social media as a place where I could virtually hang with the peeps, and it still is to a certain extent.  Through Facebook, for instance, I’m in contact with many people from my past that I had lost touch with over the years and many over many moves from one part of the country to another.  Despite being a writer, I’ve never been much of a letter writer and although I’ve done better with email.   Facebook brings an element of immediacy to the connection that isn’t there with email.  You also can compartmentalize your interactions, without having to commit to full conversations.  This gives me a feeling of connection with these folks that I value, but in reality I don’t have to invest much effort to maintain the connection and neither do they.  In this aspect the entire connection is somewhat misleading in that it too, is virtual.  I’m not really interacting with these folks on any concretely meaningful level aside from maybe allowing myself and the people I’m following an opportunity to not feel isolated, even if in reality we are.

From my perspective this is one of the major negative issues with social media, the blurring of reality and fantasy, which extends to the quality of information that is being presented to its users.  People post meme after meme, attaching meaning to what is mostly a bumper sticker approach to communication.  Some of them are funny, which is fine because that is what they are meant to be, but all too frequently they’ve become rallying points for solidarity with some political or politico-religious statements where no-one bothers to check the veracity of the posts.  I’ve seen statements accepted as fact that any high school English student should be able to discern to be based on false premises through very light research and when presented with the factual information the response was, “well, it sounds like something he/she would have done. . .”  And that was the tenor; the person didn’t care about the facts.

Repetition is one of the ways that people convince others to believe things that aren’t factual, and social media is one of the largest purveyors of this type of communication.  There are laws about truth in advertising, and in advertising subliminal messaging is illegal in the US.  Repetition of misinformation, however, with the purpose to mislead the public isn’t ethically right, but it’s also not illegal and essentially that is one of the grand loopholes in the entire social media experience.  People are being misled on social media everyday by the millions.  People see the same thing over and over and eventually it starts to influence their beliefs.  They trust their friends who are reposting things that they have seen posted by other folks who’ve seen it somewhere on their feed and reposted it, so they accept it as fact without bothering to check the veracity of the so called information being presented.  Much of this type of information’s sources are not listed or made available, or is listed but the source is questionable at best due to either bias or shoddy reporting.  The more often it is seen and repeated, the more it worms into the beliefs of the folks reading or seeing it regardless of it’s actual credibility.

Yes, we are being manipulated every time we log onto social media, and it’s not by our actual friends or contacts, although they may unknowingly be contributing to the issue through reposting things.  We now know that Russia influenced our most recent election in the US in part through using social media to manipulate the American people’s beliefs about the candidates.  They ran a misinformation campaign on social media to support the individual they wanted to run the US for the next four years, someone who is a committed social media user himself, launching destructive twitter post after twitter post despite not even being in office yet.  If you choose not to believe that this is the case, just think about how a lie about you, or someone you know, was spread and ended up damaging that person on a personal level, or that person’s reputation because enough people believed it to make it accepted as fact among the majority of people around that person.  The remarkable thing about this is how easy it is to convince people to believe a lie, and then once they’ve bought into it, how difficult it is to make them believe the truth.

 

Challenges and Excitement: Finding a Project that Moves Me

Sometimes you really need to take a break, and the more complete the break is, the better. A break can serve as a vacation from the daily grind, but can also serve as a time for reflection and upon occasion that reflection can possibly lead to an epiphany of sorts. I have found that on the occasions where I have taken a break from playing I often come to a realization about the direction I am heading in, particularly when I’ve had a pervading sense of dissatisfaction. I find that during these breaks I’m more likely to listen to music and find sources of inspiration that I hadn’t either permitted myself to think about or encounter. These are mostly small realizations that might spark a subtle shift in direction. Other times they might lead to a larger train of thought. Once in a long time there is that moment, the moment when the lights turn of and I become aware of something that really needs to change, something that simply can’t keep going the way it has been and I’m not certain how I’ve permitted the situation to get to where it is.

I have a full plate right now insofar as musical projects since I’m currently committed to four projects. In order to get a somewhat reasonable performance schedule, mostly motivated by making money I am working with three groups as a bass player and one as a guitarist. Two of these are blues rock and the other two are more classic rock and a variety of other things. None of these projects is really making me stretch as a musician. I get the chord charts together, do a minimal amount of woodshedding and hit the rehearsals, then the gigs, then do it over again. Occasionally there will be a gig that comes up that is something that I look forward to, once in a long while one that I’m excited about, but more often than not I’m not too excited about any of it.

What this tells me is that I need to find/create a project that does excite me and that provides a fairly frequent challenging aspect to it as well. This is usually what I can recognize. The real difficulty is identifying exactly what the project should be. I like performing in groups more than I like performing solo, but I’m beginning to think that I might need to take a better look at solo work. Over this break I heard an interesting live album by Ferenc Snetberger, a European guitarist who kind of falls between the cracks when it comes to classification. Snetberger was performing for a quite large audience on the recording, playing solo classical guitar. There was a series of eight pieces titled Budapest, and then a really nice arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that was quite interesting. The recording was such that I wasn’t exactly certain if everything was written, or if he was improvising sections quite masterfully.

I think that I’m going to explore this type of approach and see what I can do with it. I am drawn to fingerstyle guitar anyway, have a background in classical music, albeit some time ago, and am also drawn to improvisational music. This would definitely provide a challenge, and could possibly include some ensemble work that could be quite interesting as well. I’m really a between the cracks kind of guy myself when it comes to my guitar playing at least, so in many ways, the more I think about it the more it makes sense to start moving in this direction. I don’t necessarily need to quit anything that I’m doing at this point in order to start moving forward with it, but I will need to budget my time very carefully, particularly now that I’m also committed to teaching a couple of English composition courses this Spring.

Still, I find the prospect of doing this to be somewhat stimulating, but once again I am not getting a burst of excitement in anticipation of starting to move in this direction so perhaps I need to consider my options some more. Then again, I don’t really get excited about much in life when it comes down to it. I don’t know if this is directly related to my depressive disorder, the medicinal treatment for it, or simply part of my personality, which would actually be a bit on the sad side of things. It does feel like a somewhat comfortable approach, which might indicate that it may be a bit difficult for me to really dig into and get going. Perhaps the ensemble approach should come first. At least I have an idea this time, so I’m one step further into the game.

The Last Gasp of 2016

It’s almost six o’clock on the last day of 2016 and I’m just now starting my last blog post of the year.  I’ve been pretty tired today due to getting in at three in the morning from last night’s gig and then not being able to fall asleep until four-ish.  I had to be up at eight to get ready to teach one of my guitar students.  A power nap did occur, but it was short, maybe twenty minutes of actual sleep, so coffee will have to carry me through until time for bed.  Last night we hit at about 8:45 and finished our last tune at around 1:30.  All in all we played well and kept a crowd there through the night.  It was a decent way to finish out the year’s performances and we all made it home safely.  Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about the positives of the year in review and haven’t taken a stab at the things that could use improvement.  I think that it’s time that I do just that.

This past year kicked off with my being involved in one group, The Chicago Classical Guitarists Ensemble, essentially a sextet.  We did some good work and performed at the Mid-American Guitar Ensemble Festival in Grand Rapids, Michigan in early April.  We had a couple other performances, but I decided to leave the group in May because while it had been a very worthwhile experience it was not moving me closer to increasing my income as a musician.  While this might seem to some to be a somewhat mercenary reason for moving on, one of my major goals for this year was to come closer to a livable income in my chosen profession, and this was not moving me forward in that direction.  This left me entirely on my own through the summer, which yielded three pickup gigs with some local semi-pros between June, July and August.

After moving through eight months of the year, I hit the end of August and the realization that it had been a full year since I’d been involved in a regularly working group, which didn’t sit well with me.  I obviously was not getting closer to one of my prime goals, so something had to change.  I decided to load on the groups to try to boost the income potential.  Theoretically, I thought, this would be likely to resolve the issue, so I dove in, committing to four bands and a heavy woodshedding workload.  Since around October the gigs have started to come in through a couple, the workload is still pretty heavy, and the income is improving, but not anywhere near what it needs to be, and quite frankly I’m still not getting the level of personal satisfaction out of the game that I’m looking for either.

My writing practice has made solid improvements this year over the previous years.  I have, as of this writing, successfully completed two writing challenges for a total of three months of daily writings of at least 750 words per day.  I’ve generated a good number of essays that I’m pleased with and some fiction that I’m not sure what I’m going to do with.  There were periods of lost time over the rest of the year and low productivity, but for the most part I’m starting to actually be the writer I want to grow into.  I’m running two blogs and have been gaining followers on both as well as being read all over the world, twenty-seven countries and counting.  This pleases me greatly, but I also need to look at formal publication submissions, particularly ones that pay.  However, I do think that I’ve made much more progress this year in my writing work than I have in my musical work, and I’m going to stick to that perspective because I’ve actually accomplished some of the goals I set for myself in this arena quite well.  The bar will need to be higher for 2017, but I am going into the next year in this area with some confidence.

One of the things that I have learned over the years is that as a creative person I have to be a creative person in order to have any chance of achieving either personal satisfaction in my life or a modicum of happiness.  I must create; it’s something that I HAVE to do.  When I’m not pursuing a creative bent, I lose my desire to be.  My depressive periods become progressively more dangerous, last longer, and are much more devastating.  I become increasingly difficult to live with and wall myself away.  So, I have continued my pursuits and will do so, continuing to try different approaches until I find something that works and yields the results I desire.  I’m finding my way, and will eventually get to where I want to be.  Tomorrow I start 2017, and start brainstorming for a fresh approach to the conundrum which is making a living as a musician.