The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback

Up is down and down is up.
I messed with this photo. It was fun.

About Those Lists

The year’s headed to a close. The lists have been coming out for a while now, already:

Here’s The Best _________ of the Year.

Here’s The Top 10 ________ You Missed This Year.

Here are the best movies. The best albums. Books. Pictures.

What did we miss? What didn’t we keep up on? What did we fail to consume? The list of lists goes on.

I’ve being a little harsh, but there’s a reason. Lists are fine. Measurements, subjective judgments, as to what’s “best,” as to what you should make time for in a world apparently low on time and definitely drowning in content — they’re fine too. They have some value. I mean that. I like lists. I think there are too many of them, and I don’t trust the motives behind many of the list-writers and think the listing has gotten a bit out of control in an overly Buzzfed kind of way — but I get it.

Looking back, in itself, is a crucial tool for learning. Looking back and organizing what trails behind us into value-tested lists helps us bring retrospective order and clarity to a year that, like all others, invariably, felt as if it was rushing by while it ran its course from January 1 to December 31. And so, here we are, facing another end, another pile of lists.

I don’t have a list for you. But I did notice something recently, in reflecting back upon this this year, that I believe is worth discussing.

The Shift

This year felt like a shift.

I often talk, both here and in general conversation, about the importance of Story to both art and society. As a writer and filmmaker, I obsesses constantly over Story. It’s the god I serve. However, in obsessing, as it often goes, I sometimes forget to reflect upon where Story comes from. In a word, as has been pointed out frequently and repeatedly over the years by artists more experienced and more accomplished than me (though we all seem to consistently forget it): Story comes from Life. Story, at its best, is a neatly ordered facsimile of something that is felt in the world but which begs further exploration and needs expression before any real sense can be made of it.

I realize that some of what I am about to say may be colored by the experience of my recent personal growth spurt (which has been well-documented in this space over the course of this year). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started to truly (and finally) mature as a storyteller and person as soon as I started making distinct, observable changes to my life. Neither do I believe it was so simple as deciding, personally, to embrace change on my own.

Before there can be change there must be readiness; before that, acceptance; before that, awareness; before that, willingness; before that, a sense of needing something to be different.

Up until very recently, I wasn’t sure many people, at least in contemporary America, ever got past this sense of need — to look at something that feels wrong, to acknowledge honestly that, for change to occur, we need to eventually explore areas of pain and dissatisfaction. In my mind — and to a degree I think it’s still an unfortunately common occurrence —  when faced with a feeling of wrongness, we almost inevitably (desperately) suppress the impulse to look at that feeling, to begin trying to figure out what’s going on inside us (and outside us). It’s “safer,” in the unspoken opinion of such people, to hold on to simmering pain, than to risk greater burns by exposing ourselves to potentially hard truths.

An Arc of Redemption

I can all say this because I used to be this sort of person — to a significant extent. As I have mentioned more than once over the course of this year, for a while I was saved by my impulse to pursue and tell stories. When that wasn’t enough, almost in spite of myself, I turned to life for answers. And that’s where I found it, more so this year than ever before. Not a formula or a prescription or a list or even an answer — but a common arc.

Thinking back on this year and those few preceding it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or entirely due to my own volition, that this was the year I began piecing together an idea of what I definitively have to do and why.

Something is happening out there. Something is happening here, in this country, in this city and beyond. I can feel it, can sense my part in it.

In our hyper-connected, fast-moving world — in a world of lists and ultra-divided attention — it can be easy to forget that everything worthy takes time. Healing takes times. Recovery takes time. Social pains that symptomatically erupt into our world, they, sadly, sometimes, have to inflict their damage before enough attention will be paid to studying their causes. Beyond this, even — studying can take us only so far. The pain must be lived, experienced.

And then it must be discussed, and then something must be done. Invariably, something does get done. I believe that, now. I don’t believe it excuses us from action, that change will come on its own without human interjection, but I believe in the inevitability of our collective drift towards redemptive change.

“In everything that can be called art, there is a quality of redemption.”
— Raymond Chandler

I’ve made no secret of my specific points of anger, in regards to American society in particular, in writing here this past year, or in writing and creating in general for the past many years. At several points, in the past, I was blind with anger. We all know this happens. We all know it’s bad when this happens, not only because it’s no way to live but because in blinding ourselves we miss things. Again, while I’m speaking mostly on personal terms, I know for a fact that I haven’t been, and am not, the only angry person out there. That’s part of the point I’m trying to make here.

In becoming blind, when this happens to us or when we let it happen, one of the most crucial things we consequently lose the ability to see and/or source out are our paths to redemption. For a long time, despite a sincere focus on and hunger for redemption, I could not see any way to it; not while I was angry. Now, I’m working on it. Day by day, I find myself feeling less resentful of past transgressions, and more grateful for the time I (and we) still have to make repairs.

A lot of this gratefulness has to do with the arc I’m seeing. It makes perfect sense that I would have missed this as well when I was still very angry, but still it has surprised me in recent months to discover that I have never been as alone in this “fight” as I have felt.

Something is happening out there. The pain of the last several years, and the resultant anger, is subsiding. People are moving again. In particular, young people are moving. The Millennial Generation, in particular, is moving — and quickly.

The Pushback

We, the young, haven’t forgotten our anger, but some of us seem to finally be using it for fuel. For lack of a better term at the moment, this something that is happening, this arc, seems to me at least to represent some early version of a long overdue pushback.

We’re underemployed, underrepresented, misunderstood and in many ways we are not adequately respected. We’re also not perfect, and perhaps we have struggled to shoulder or adequately embrace our responsibilities on social and personal levels in our early adult years.

I’m not sure that last part is entirely our fault, if it is our fault at all. But, either way, we as a loosely-defined generation have, in my opinion, begun to truly absorb the pain caused by the hubris and naivete of those few generations that immediately precede us. We’ve grown up fast, even if we have grown up late.

This is happening out of necessity. Someone has to fix this mess. If older generations want to help us — good. We can definitely learn from them. We can definitely stand to integrate some of the lessons and the time-tested values of the past. But preceding generations can learn from us, too. They’d do well to acknowledge this before it’s too late. We’re not keen on waiting.

The arc of 2013 seems like the beginning of the rise of a new power. This power is by no means mature, organized or specific. But it is accelerated by technology, its heart finds its locus from a mostly just place (if still a place that remains somewhat naive), and it’s growth is inevitable.

I don’t pretend to know where this power is going to take us in 2014 and beyond. I don’t know who its real leaders will be (if any ever emerge) or how well it’s going to handle the increasing influence it is inheriting and, increasingly, earning. I don’t even know how or if it will succeed in hastening or forcing some of the change that desperately needs to happen in this country and this world.

But I’m excited to find out. I’m excited to do my part. I’m still angry but I think I know how to deal with it now, how to channel it.

I’m excited, and ready, to push back. So are many others. Are you?

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year. Let’s make this one count.

Sandy Hook And America’s Sickness

My first reaction to Sandy Hook wasn’t shock, to be honest. I’ll leave the task of hypothesizing as to why I wasn’t shocked, to the words that follow. But, no, I just cried. On and off for days. I didn’t even get angry – at least not in the ways I know how to get angry.

When I did get angry, however, at the facts and nature of what, with all apologies to the families involved, is and should remain a national loss – something strange happened. There’s no way for me to completely contextualize the causality between the tragedy and my eventual feelings about it – not without making this too much about me (in the wrong way) – so I’ll just say it.

Shortly after Sandy Hook, I decided for the first time that I wanted to be a father someday.

I work hard to be a good person. My wife does the same. We’ve both been through some shit. More shit than some, less shit than many others. We’ve put ourselves and each other through shit. We’ll fuck up more shit today and tomorrow.

But we’re good people. We care, and we struggle – and we fight. I guess, after turning over my emotions in regard to Sandy Hook as best I could, that’s where I landed – in a place where I felt the most appropriate reaction was to acknowledge the goodness in myself, which I probably too often forget is a reflection of the good that still exists in the world, and decide for myself what I was going to do to make sure it survives. If the world’s going to get better (it’s still pretty shitty in many spots) more good people are going to have to start doing more good things.

I’m not having a kid anytime soon. But neither can I conscientiously hold on to the reasons why I was, very recently, very afraid to commit to the idea. Apart from the reasons that can be inferred from what I’ve said already, the rest of my rationale is my own. But I believe the impetus, to respond to the sadness of such a tragic event as Sandy Hook with not only sadness and anger, but love and defiance…is something worth exploring.

Much has been made of the official comments made by the National Rifle Associate (NRA) in the wake of Sandy Hook. I’m not going to dignify what was specifically said with a response. However, I will say that I find it odd that less has been made of the days-long silence of the NRA (and the similar silence of a large percentage of our population) in the wake of the shootings. Say what you will of the appropriateness or necessity of discussing topics like gun control and mental health in the immediate aftermath of the event itself, but the fact that the NRA remained sinfully silent for such a long stretch – when the right thing to do would have been to condemn the violence and lament the tragic abuse of firearms at Sandy Hook, regardless of any impact on the overall agenda of the organization – and the lack of a widespread dialogue condemning this conscious decision to do or say nothing, to me speaks loudly of where we are as a culture.

We simply can’t talk about these things.

I get that it’s hard. Little seems harder, in the wake of such a painful example of societal dysfunction, than discussing the fact that children were murdered, and that, beyond matters of faith or fate, there are several reasons and possibilities as to why. But if we don’t talk about these things when something so completely horrific happens – when do we talk? And I mean really talk.  Further, when do we act?

Children are dead. Why haven’t assault weapons been banned already? Why did the uproar die down so quickly? Why, in 2013, isn’t mental health more of a national concern?

Why did it take an outburst of outrage, from the populace as well as local New York and New Jersey politicians, for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to schedule a vote to pass part of a Senate-approved bill to get aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy?

Have we become so dispassionate – that these forms of meandering and inaction are acceptable to us?

Do you know what I did to help victims of Sandy? Not enough, compared to some of my friends and neighbors. But what I did do, I did quickly and to the best of my ability. I donated what money I could to relief organizations. When a friend from Staten Island posted “live from the scene” on Facebook, while he was helping neighbors sift through the remnants of their homes, and said that they had plenty of food and clothing for the time being, but needed shovels and gloves and facemasks –went out and charged what I could find from that list to my credit card, and delivered it to a neighborhood crew who was making daily deliveries to the hardest-hit places in the city. When that crew said that food was needed in a certain area, I packed a bunch of lunches and dropped them off the next morning.

Is that a humblebrag? Maybe. Don’t care. It’s also an example of fucking helping people who need it. Of doing something, to try to help bring the world back into balance after some bad shit goes down.

I’d argue we could all do plenty, on a normal day, to live a more balanced life as a member of society. As it stands, we in America – supposed land of the free – cling to a guarded, fractured, selfish, ghostly existence, in human terms. Most of them times, when we help, we do so remotely – with money, by clicking, sharing. I implicate myself in this behavior as well, and don’t completely fault us all, given where we’re at this crossroads in our history, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be struggling a bit to figure out what exactly is going on out there, within people, that allows us to remain so callously self-interested and distant in the presence of a crumbling social compact that is failing so many of our citizens – including our children.

The issue here, for me, is the closed gap between how we live and how our lives are run, in terms of humanity and justice. It has become woefully apparent, in the age of information, that many of the terms by which we live out our daily lives are controlled and dictated by the networks of power and of powerful people who, at this point, are infinitely more concerned with assuring their continued dominance than with the good of the people, the planet, and even themselves. They’d sooner turn a blind eye as it all bleeds out than be cut off from the money, influence, and especially the illusions, that keep them safely separate from the travails of life on the ground as an otherwise “average” American.

I grew up in a middle class community of workers and entrepreneurs. I received a pretty decent public school education. I then spent my undergraduate years among a population that was mostly white and wealthy (and diversified occasionally by “minorities” playing by the same horrible rules as the old guard) and whose students and alumni have long been associated with “the elite.” Over the last several years, I’ve lived the unglamorous life of the artist-working-a-day-job-to-make-ends-meet. The point is that I’ve skipped around between social classes. And I’m telling you, there’s not a whole lot of differences between anyone, in any environment, when you start digging as deep as you have to dig to get at the reasons why it’s “normal” in our country for the majority of the population to sit idly as the leaders of the day – that we elected and/or keep in power – spend more time haggling over taxes on the rich than they do helping to avert tragedies and/or speedily address the destruction left in their wake.

I’m sure I’ll get around to discussing politics and class in more detail at a later date. My belief, however, is that if you take away all the supposed differences between the majority of the privileged class and the rest of us – the money they have, the material, situational, geographical advantages they enjoy – all you’re left with are: people. People like you and me. Maybe that sounds obvious, or trite, but do we really spend enough time acknowledging this to ourselves every day?

Since September 11th, people in America tend to also be scared people. Worried people. Despite all claims to the contrary, and whether we admit it or not, we’re also a fundamentally godless people. Regardless of whether you agree, with all that stripped away – and I don’t understand how it can’t be momentarily stripped away at times of great tragedy – still we’re incapable of looking at a day stained by the blood of children as a day of reckoning.

The clamor for new laws and better and fuller access to mental health services was and is right and just. But we won’t truly start getting better, won’t be fully able to honestly say we did about as much as we could to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook from recurring, if we don’t admit that something corrupt has poisoned our souls.

Following the lead of our politicians and leaders, and the media empires they control, we mostly just ignore this unfortunate truth. We avoid it.

Well, I’m sick of it. More than that, I’m sick of the fact that we don’t talk honestly about these issues in a widespread way.

I’m sick of the inaction and the squabbling of our leaders and our population. Of our lack of courage and compassion. I’m sick of the outdated, out of touch moralities that we continue to cling to as our culture cannibalizes itself on every level. I’m sick of ignoring the smell of death that has crept into our daily lives.

If I ever have a child, he or she is going to know love. To me that means teaching my future children that life’s contradiction – that we are all complex, unique souls, fundamentally linked by our humanity – renders us ultimately the same.

When children die, we all die. When we fail to ask why, once they are dead, we fail them all over again, and further endanger a world already left less bright by their absence.