The Arc of 2016: Fight Smart and Do Less, Better

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I knew Donald Trump was going to win.

At least, a part of me knew it. A part I didn’t want to hear. I suspect there are more than a few of us out there, who knew and yet couldn’t — desperately didn’t want to — believe it.

There’s a friend of mine, out there right now, who might still have a voicemail from me, that I left a few days before the election. I remember knowing what was going to happen, even then, as I clung to the belief that it couldn’t possibly happen, and did my part to avoid the result.

But it did happen. It has happened, hasn’t it — despite any recurring, sudden seizures of bewilderment. (Today, I heard someone say the word “trumpet”, and winced.)

We all know this, by now, that Donald Trump will soon be our President.

Some of us have even begun to accept the fact, as reality, if not on any further basis of principle (more on this later). Others haven’t yet accepted it, may not ever. And I suppose that is their right.

For myself, I was quick to accept the results of the election. They make, in retrospect, a perverse “sense”, at least to anyone who has been paying attention to the mood of the country and the world for the past decade.

This is not to suggest either that I am happy with what has happened (I’m not, if that hasn’t already been made clear) or that I am currently without hope for the future.

But it is a complicated, difficult time for sourcing out hope.

I can remember the day I left that voicemail more vividly now, as well as the scattering of others, occurring more recently, wherein I was similarly seized by anxiety, anger and sadness — when confronted with that sense of knowing what was about to happen, what has happened.

I can remember them more vividly because now I’m looking at those moments for what they were, as opposed to fighting against the knowledge that this is reality, as were the factors which led to (and now sustain) this unfortunate reality (for now).

Most of all, I remember the inner conflict. The sense of sinking dread.

This can be avoided. This can’t be avoided.

I refused to believe it. Still, sometimes, I can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s my sin, shared with countless others on both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly it is the sin of our media, which did not see this coming and, in fact, most likely contributed to this mess in a major way, by validating the theatrics of a bully via their mere “serious” attention.

Make no mistake, a time of reckoning has arrived in America.

People are going to suffer. The arguing will continue. The fear will continue.

Justice, fairness, equality — all supposed bedrocks of our democracy — will continue to absorb blow after blow. And we very well may wonder, soon, finally, if any of these crucial aspects of this contemporary brand of civilization can survive.

But they will survive, ultimately. We will.

I believe that. I can see and feel this belief clearly. The shock of Donald Trump’s Presidency has, at the very least, thrown our failings as a country into sharp relief against the task of safely securing a future — for all our citizens — about which can (eventually) be proud.

My acceptance does not make the pain or the sadness at our plight any lighter to carry, but it does imbue the carrying with a much-needed charge of hope.

So, what does this all have to do with my annual recap, as an artist, as I deliver it here once again? (That is, incidentally, nominally, the reason for this post.)

 

This site, the central hub for my work as an artist and activist, is now four years old.

When I started it, I was still struggling with anger, resentment and fury — against the injustices of the day. I was ready to talk about the issues, but not yet strong enough to truly engage them — or myself.

The year after that saw progress. I re-discovered a consistent creative voice, and I got to work. Along the way, I found myself heartened by the number and quality of like-minded people also working to make this country a better, more accepting, more equitable place.

Then, last year, I found peace. I began to feel capable of showing patience, of practicing faith. I’m still working on this, every day.

And, now, here is a great test. And a pressing question — how to conduct myself as an artist and a citizen during the presidency of Donald Trump?

It is a question, and a crucial one, whether its reality shocks me or not.

I have been turning this question over, regularly — but in a non-obsessive way — in the many days since I shared my initial thoughts on this deeply disappointing turn of history.

As I mentioned in that post, unfortunately, this sort of reaction comes more easily to me by nature of my demographic reality.

As a straight white male, the likeliest form of suffering in store for me has to do with my economic class — the same one I am in now, that I was born into over thirty years ago — even if I am sure to suffer by proxy as I watch friends and loved ones shake with anger and fear, and legitimately suffer, over the next four years.

And yet it is in this fact, in my similarity to Trump, that I find a point of access for the decision and announcement I am about to deliver.

 

The reason I knew this was going to happen is because it was inevitable.

I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way. I’m not being cynical or conveniently revisionist. This was inevitable because of how straight white people like me are handling the type and rate of change currently sweeping through the world — in a word, poorly.

But that is not to say that this is entirely their fault.

If there’s any justice left in the world, Donald Trump will in later years prove to be nothing more (or less) than the last gasp of a fading American power structure owned and engineered disproportionately by straight white males.

He is the face of our enemy, of our collective oppressor, not due explicitly to his whiteness or his straightness of even his maleness, but, rather, based on how he conducts and employs the power and privilege that come part and parcel with these things.

Once a bit of a misogynist, a bit of a racist and a homophobe, but always a skeptic of bureaucratic power — I now state plainly that I pride my contemporary self on being the polar opposite of someone like Donald Trump, despite our shared demographics of gender, race and sexuality.

Personally, at the very least, no matter what I do from here, I can move forward knowing that I struggled through change, learned and trusted in the goodness of people who looked and acted differently than me, and acted out of decency and courage rather than fear and hate.

It is no secret to regular readers, to anyone who saw The Videoblogs, or listeners to the podcast, that I have now absorbed goals of fairness, representation, and economic equality into my mission as an artist and a human being. However, I believe this all bears repeating for one very important reason.

 

While Donald Trump has provided a face to our enemy, he alone is not our enemy.

It is what he represents, and how he came to power, that we must understand and combat.

Politically, the answers might seem clear. And, in fact, they are.

Truth itself is under attack. It has been for a long time. I think the main reason I knew this was going to happen (despite my disbelief) is that I had already been fighting against men like Donald Trump for most of my life. Many of us have been.

Except, oftentimes through no fault of our own, we’ve been distracted from this truth, and this fight. By the machinations of the powerful, we have been bent, manipulated, and pushed away from Truth.

Our lives are not our own, in many respects. We are controlled by a power elite that, despite certain vestiges or illusions of democracy, care very little about the average American.

These people mostly only discriminate in regards to race and creed, insofar as it benefits them financially and politically to do so. They have very little actual faith in anything, apart from money and power, which are themselves faithless things.

These sad, desperate people know all this, and it destroys them inside — but they know no other way to behave, in the face of their own fears. And so they continue to hold fast to that fear, thereby, by virtue of the reality of our contemporary crony-capitalist economics, squeezing us.

And while they squeeze us and misdirect us and distract us, even to the point of their own continued and dangerous disillusionment, we turn against and fight one another, despite the overwhelming commonality of our fears and concerns as citizens. In this way, democracy (rule by the people) remains perpetually arrested, and plutocracy (rule by a wealthy elite) continues to maintain its grip on the throats of the everyday citizen.

Donald Trump may be the face of our enemy, but we must be very careful in the next several years of civil combat not to focus the majority our energy squarely on him and his administration. True deliverance from this plight requires us to go deeper, and fight longer.

This is what I have come to understand in these past few weeks.

My own distractedness, my own fear and faithlessness, have been my failure. I don’t say this to diminish the gains I and we have made over the last several years. I only mean to point out that there’s much work left to be done.

 

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The disease is the faithlessness, the dejection, the weariness, of contemporary America — and much of the world. We (the people) are angry, we are depressed, we find ourselves fundamentally exhausted and estranged from true hope. We have been beaten down and driven insane by the elite, confused and harried by the speed of innovation, and neither the tyranny of the elite, nor the advance of machine-dependency into our lives — show any signs of letting up.

There is no other way to explain how someone like Donald Trump can win office by claiming to represent the will of the people, while lying through his teeth about his intention to fight against the very elite that he wholly (and vulgarly) represents.

All that our cowardly, selfish, greedy President-elect intends to do for the next four years is consolidate money and power among his elite.  That much was clear all along, and has been proven by his cabinet appointments. When he’s done he’ll abandon the destruction and foot us with the bill and — barring a miracle — carry on with his greed and destruction until the moment of his lonely death.

To be clear — to repeat — in actual reality, there is no one less-representative of the average American than Donald Trump.

That millions of people either do not understand this, or refuse to believe it, that our political and economic system all but excludes the possibility of an actual champion of the people successfully reaching office (or at least one empowered by a consensus of reasonable political allies on all sides of the political spectrum) — this is the sickness from which we desperately need to recover.

 

For this reason, for myself, I find that this year has brought with it a lesson in focus.

I cannot afford, or tolerate, anything less than fully-committed, principled conduct and expression from myself. I need to fight smart and I need to move quickly. The only way to do this effectively is to put out work of real depth, that is of a larger scope, and work smartly and strategically to get the work out to as many people as possible.

To be clearer, I intend, beginning in 2017, to do less — better.

This site will remain online indefinitely. But this is likely the last blog post for a while, although I might chime in on occasion and will continue to run my email list. Beginning next month, Coffee with Creatives is going on hiatus, indefinitely. My presence here will be sporadic, as compared to previous years.

I have big things to do, in regards to the main areas of battle central to this essay. I intend to go at these things, full tilt. I’m ready to — truly, passionatelly — fight.

Are you? Because we’ll need you.

 


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

 

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.