Friday, March 29, 2013

Facebook And Social Networking: The Modern Road Into Turmoil Or Change

           On that winters day in 2004 when Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg and five of his fellow students founded this small social network site in his dorm, I'm unsure if he could've known that in a decades time that Facebook would become the defining example of a successful online social network. It allows artists and photographers to share their work with other people with every growing options for personal privacy. And with its friend finding options it allows long lost friends to reunite after sometimes years of not knowing where the other was. People can share thoughts and accompanying pictures to illustrate them. And with its additionally growing connectivity to other websites all over the internet its become the most popular and successful social network site in the history of the medium.

             I myself have made at least two videos for YouTube on the subject of Facebook and at least a half dozen more that reference the site. One of the most significant things one can say about Facebook are that it's champions and detractors are extremely electric-in the sense that each have equal and opposite reactions towards the social network. As it is in most cases I see myself as standing very much as a type of dormant nucleolus in the center of the molecule of those two opposing electrons of personal opinion to extend the metaphor. I can definitely see logic and truth on both sides of the dialog among people regarding Facebook. So here I am going to present to you the two opposing arguments as I hear them and than my own thoughts on the subject.

              Those who basically oppose Facebook seem to come at the issue from the points of few of generationalism and personal security. The first aspect of this point of view maintains that in the past decade, the level of access to intellectual knowledge, including access to the internet has grown so large that it intimidates most people. And as a result, social networks such as Facebook have come to showcase the lowest common denominator of intelligence among what some of it's users elect to post on that site-such as semi profane language and inappropriate photography. People making this point often tend to cite the same argument with Facebook and social networking that they would tend to have with television: that it does not promote the same level of imagination and creativity they were reared on as children mostly from the very different sociopolitical ethic of that particular era.

             Security on just about any website has been a major topic of discourse since the medium began. Social networking, especially on a site as popular and widely used as Facebook, brings that discourse to new heights of heated debate. Again generationalism plays into this to some degree. If someone reared in the era before internet is themselves online , they will tend to be inclined to use the medium mainly to read articles from the news media-which in itself espouses mainly the point of view of others in their given age group. Online media forums such as Yahoo! and Google News often showcase articles that warn parents and relatives of Facebook users of updates to the site that compromise security, often using language rife with scare tactics. In reality Facebook has many opportunities for online bullying and stalkers if ones Facebook page isn't secured properly. Yet it can also in reality be secured with the proper knowledge and settings on ones Facebook page.

            Those who support and advocate Facebook tend to be of the opinion that Facebook liberates humanity-especially young people. It has become a transient world in the past two decades. And it's difficult to maintain long term friendships for young people where it was less complicated in their parents generation-when families would tend to live in the same community for many years and had each other for companionship and support. With social networks as vast and available worldwide as Facebook has become the possibility emerges for people not only to reconnect with old friends but to make new ones-often from places they'd previously never have access to. The level of human understanding and educational possibilities that arise from this are vast and exciting.  While the sites detractors will also add that many will add friends on Facebook simply as a form of online socializing contests or to play online games easier, those exciting possibilities to understand others remain.

           Probably the most positive aspects of Facebook's existence stems from this possibility of understanding. And that is the sites ability to affect social change. Not many years ago Facebook was indirectly the catalyst for a peaceful political revolution in Egypt that, in another case, could've easily ended in ruined lives and bloodshed among its participants. The historic election of President Barack Obama, for both of his terms as president, have occurred during the height of Facebook's enormous popularity. And it could be clearly seen during both elections how Obama's unique and humanistic technique of running his campaign owed a great deal to the different Facebook community pages created by social organizations in and out of the capital who supported his administration and it's goals for the future. Local, national and even international political figures have also been able to network with the public via Facebook in the same manner as well.

         This also extends into how Facebook has come to champion grassroots level social politicking as well. Activists groups such as the Occupy movement and organizations hoping to put an end to sociological scourges such as homophobia and weapons of mass destruction have thrived and expanded because of Facebook. Just a few days ago, an organization hoping to defeat the homophobic bill DOMA in Washington encouraged Facebook users to place a red "equality" symbol on their Facebook profile and a special banner behind it-in order to show support for the freedom for people of the same sex to be allowed to get married legally in America. The change on which the current presidential administration is encouraging for America and the rest of the world is in fact being helped along greatly by the networking possibilities Facebook has provided.

         So there it stands. Two sides of the same coin in the social dialog about the social network known as Facebook. Both sides are actually complimentary to each other in many ways. While it is true that on occasion Facebook has made abrupt site and security changes without announcing them to their users, and while some undesirable individuals have used the medium to cause difficulties for other users, these factors (as with many parts of life) are really based in human frailties that existed long before Facebook-let alone the internet. In terms of Facebook's positive traits, its method of allowing people to interact is extremely innovative. As well as separating family and friends, the transient society of the last two decades has made affecting change on society next to impossible symptomatically of that reality. Facebook's main advantage is to open doors between people that nearly closed due to a happenstance of a generational perversity. And if Facebook is to represent that open door, in the long term that could only beget good.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Communication:Come Together,Worlds Apart

              At the age of 13 I was very excited when my family announced we'd be taking a vacation in Quebec City. Being an enthusiastically budding photographer, it was a thrilling prospect to have a camera in my hand surrounded by all of the cities classic European architectural and general flavor. Well aware that French was the language spoken there I did a small amount of studying of the language with my mother before we departed. What I did not know then (and do now) is that the Quebecois speak a different dialect of the language referred to as "Cunook French". The result was that I would would speak in all the proper forms,and not the substances. And with a than current air of nationalism in the area, my attempts were not particularly welcomed to say the least.

          That was an extremely valuable lesson to learn: that there are far more than one way to speak any given language. As I later learned, that went for English even more so than others. Each region,sometimes each state,of America actually has it's own turn of phrases and colloquialisms completely unique to them that may either puzzle or (at worst) offend some outsiders. A lot of people I've run into are actually rather arrogant about communicating. The refuse to learn much about a foreign language when travelling abroad, yet they expect the opposite from foreigners-for them to instantly know English as a second language. Along with some people in the world talking very fast when they believe you know even a hint of their own language, most cultures seem extremely protective of their different ways of communicating.

          So if different countries have trouble communicating, and perhaps even fight to the point of warring over this in the long and short of things,how do a small group of people or even just two of them manage to communicate among themselves? My observation of late has been that each individual human being is very much like their own culture when it comes to verbal, and for that matter most other kinds of communication. In the case of the individual two factors seem to play into this: environment and upbringing. As indicated wonderfully in a YouTube video about My Little Pony fans dealing with hateful comments (as an example) ,a causation man from Mississippi may have very little culturally in common with an African American family from New York City. This is likely to result in enormous communication breakdowns and misunderstandings.

           The same issues of upbringing and environment can effect communication between people living right down the street. Especially in strongly economically divided communities such as where I live, I may have as much trouble making myself clear to my next door neighbor as I would with an East Indian Fakir.  The conclusion that I've come to personally is that, especially with the dawn of the internet bridging cultural gaps and now even translating languages, that ethnicity and even religious differences are not the main source for human conflict as much. That it's our inability to communicate important ideas to each other, sometimes through our own arrogance and vanity, that create the majority of modern personality conflicts on many levels. Perhaps one way to begin to solve this is just trying to understand how one of your friend thinks. They will respect you for it, and you'll probably learn something for your own efforts as well.



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Setting It Straight On The 80's:Just One Person's Opinion

                 For many years I've wracked my brain trying to understand how the 1980's,and somehow consequently myself along with it,has become one of the most controversial and often outright maligned decades in recent history. The use of the phrase "I love the 80's" in a laughably ironic tone goes far beyond the Vh1 set too. Basically it all boils down to a comment I saw made on a YouTube video to the effect that "the 1980's equals kitsch". For those reading not in the know kitsch is,in a nutshell,a single word adjective for anything of bad taste. On the other hand,as I've continued to scratch my head trying to figure out how the 80's was such an allegedly horrible time it's almost made me wonder if "bad taste" itself isn't a completely subjective term in and of itself.

          One part of the 80's that really helped me understand how to define generational differences...was actually a PBS documentary about another controversial decade called Making Sense Of The Sixties,which was completed in 1989. It was a brilliant presentation as it humanistically looked into each element that made that decade what it was and bought them all into focus through the lives of it's many participants and events. Due to my appreciation for this approach I am doing to take a similar approach,from my own point of view about the different elements of the 1980's as it affected the life of my family,friends and myself. And of course I'll add  to this brew what I later learned from people from my generation-the "80's generation" who experienced this time somewhat differently. So begins my little examination on this era.

          The first issue I want to set straight about the 1980's was the music. During adolescence I  heard the music of that era referred to mainly in corporate terminology. For example,it was often said to me by music lovers I talked to that a lot of artists didn't get their due because only megastar artists who were selling records in the millions such as Michael Jackson,Madonna,Prince,Bruce Springsteen,etc. In the case of Jackson and Springsteen however,both of them were continuing to deliver music with important messages that,especially with Ronald Reagan and his complete misunderstanding of "Born In The U.S.A" as a patriotic anthem,were either going unnoticed or not fully absorbed and trusted. As for the music itself? Synthesizers and electronics,a scientific toy by and large in the previous decade,were becoming more mainstream in pop music. However,this creative thread from the previous two decades was so deeply ingrained into pop culture to create a vital and artistic hybrid of those two ethics.

        The next issue about this decade is external fashion. One enormous factor this decade's detractors have used against it are the culture's seeming emphasis on money,power and general bigness. In fact those words often go hand and hand with any mention of the decade in pop culture today. During the early 90's I remember being rather violently bullied for simply wearing faded jeans and a neon colored T-shirt. A few school mates even used the would "heresy" to describe my manner of attire. One of the qualities I continue to admire about 80's fashion is it's outlook on the human body as one abstractly shaped canvas. Well all of the bright and colorful patterns,and the unique designs of both men and woman's outwear of the time it was,again a complete extension of the fashion statements of the post counterculture world. Today many still laugh at this type of fashion. Of course that also goes with a lack of appreciation of more abstract art in some quarters in recent years I would tend to gather. 

      Another major issue of the 80's,and perhaps the one where the divisions are seeded,comes with ones own personal upbringing. It's very true that most people idealize their childhood if it's lucky enough to be stable and carefree in general. But in this case,I'll start speaking for myself. During the 80's,I lived in what could be described as a suburban neighborhood.  There are good days and bad days,like any other time. But when there was a new song,a new dance or a new movie it seemed to make people want to do something unique,self expressive and make a difference. Problems,and I faced some big ones even then,were something that could be overcome'd with a better future. Sadly I later learned some people my own age,in other more urban parts of America,liked a completely opposite life-in communities torn apart by drug and violence related upheaval. Still however I can see,somewhere that there was at least the seeds of a better future even in that very decade.

       What could any of what I am saying really set straight about the 1980's? Well as one cultural critic ones said,the key to the change in culture was that the 90's were the 60's turned upside down. Even though that decade concluded with a balanced budget and general security,the popular culture completed rejected anything associated with the previous three decades-with enormous levels of insulting disrespect. I was not involved in this culture at all and feel I was one of the few,at least in my area,who saw it go down as it were as an outsider looking in. I feel it was discouragement on the part of the pop culture icons of the early 90's that set people back so far emotionally. There was a perception the baby boomer parents of most of the youth culture of the 90's had failed to create their perceived utopia. And their children,labeled Generation X,decayed into different forms of passive emotional suicide. Sadly,such as in the case of cultural icons of the day like Kurt Cobain,in physical suicide as well.

         Now we're living in a new century,a new millennium. When I look around me the honest truth I understand,with no bias and/or cynicism on my part clouding my views,is the majority of society-including the "millennial generation" following my own are still deeply entrenched in the same sarcastic pop culture and lack of hope that defined the 1990's. That ever important thread of hope,vision and the thrill of color and innovation that was a key to the 60's,70's and 80's has become by and large something to laugh at,or pity. I'd say if these four separate decades were contestants in some type of temporal Olympic games,the 90's would easily win the gold metal in terms of influence. Now true that decade wasn't in fact a total cultural wasteland. But my point is,neither was the 80's. And I think if more people started looking with clarity and objectivity at the best qualities of that era,they would need to indulge in so many silly arguments about what was so wrong with that era. And in doing so maybe,just maybe as Michael Jackson said we could make the world a better place by taking a look at ourselves,and making that change.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

              About an hour ago something happened that I am not sure everyone around me was thinking about. The vernal equinox has arrived. And well most people,even I refer to it as the beginning of Spring time. The image you see is that of a Krokus blossom,one of the first flowers to bloom in my home state and of which there have been sightings lately. For the past couple of weeks,the local weather has been very typical of the oncoming time of the year. What many here call "mud season" had begun with the snow clearing away off the ground and life looking to be ready to re-emerge. Of course just as the season officially arrived the metaphorical Mother Nature played a nasty trick: another "nor Easter" storm to wreck havoc on New England.

          Spring is a very interesting time in the state of Maine. If one is of the more cynical bent,it can mean a mere extension of winter before the arrival of a presumably short summer. On the more positive side,it means the possibility of effectively cleaning ones home,garage and/or vehicle. It's also a time of Easter eggs for some and Passover seder's. Sometimes on the sadder note,as it has been for me by varying degrees for many years,it can also be a time of unpleasant nasal allergies from the abundance of trees and grass budding.  More over though I tend to look upon it as a time of renewal from what can be a cruel winter where I live,one where on nights such as tonight it's complicated even to leave your home.

           Even though it is by definition an awkward season for New England,often rife with growing pains and many unexpected climactic changes,Spring is always a time that I look forward to every year. For one,with each snow storm it's good to know that each one is getting closer to being the last one of the winter. The flowers begin to bloom,and the world is around you is just going to get a little more colorful. For me that means an open door to a wider range of photographic opportunities in nature. That also combines with what's probably the most promising aspect of spring in Maine: the warmer temperatures. I wish everyone a happy springtime,despite unexpected snow storms and to enjoy the first day of this special season of rebirth!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Patrick's Day: Time To Talk About Ireland

            Ever since late childhood,I've had an unfortunately troubled and divided attitudes towards the Irish heritage that is actually a huge part of my identity. I've always had a strong sense of embarrassment that the first thing most people think of on St. Patrick's Day is going to parades and pubs,and basically using the occasion as an excuse to drink more alcohol than they should. Cultural stereotypes aside,I really never understood why this is. When Irish immigrants first came to America,it was into a society that instantly vilified them as ignorant,poor and unclean. And were the victims of sometimes extreme prejudice as a result. Add to this the years of needless fighting during my generation between Irish Catholics and protestants and it was very difficult to be proud of that side of my heritage. Only recently have I actually began to strongly resolve this sense of internal ambivalence.

           This resolution of which I speak occurred only this week. While on YouTube one day I began viewing a series of videos about the Chernobyl Children's Foundation. This organization is devotes itself to providing aid to children on Belarus,Western Russia and the Ukraine who have had lifelong illnesses and deformities as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986,and whose native towns and nations lack the resources to care for them as well as they'd like to. This foundation was founded by Adi Roche-a native of Tipperary,Ireland who since 1977 has been actively campaigning on issues relating to the environment,peace and justice in her native country and around the world. At one time an employee of Aer Lingus, Adi took redundancy in order to work full time for the Irish Campaign For Nuclear Dismemberment and,in 1990 she became the first Irish woman elected to the board of directors for the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. 

       Seeing for my own eyes the level of intelligence,caring and deep benevolence with which Adi Roche has worked with her foundations,even by travelling into the  areas of Western Europe most affected by Chernobyl personally to oversee the different humanitarian efforts,it is an ideal demonstration of most positive qualities that Ireland can offer. It points to the inner strength and bravery to be socially responsible that runs historically through the Irish culture for centuries. It's a crucial part of the Irish cultural continuum that many countries,especially the United States,has not given nearly enough credence to in my personal opinion.  Anyone who,like me,had a negative opinion on this upcoming holiday would be well advised to seek out more information on Adi Roche and people like her. Which is why I am providing a video on this blog about her foundations which,as a warning to younger viewers,may require some viewer discretion  So I'd like to conclude by wishing everyone a very happy St.Patrick's Day!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Church,State And The International God Complex

              In 1966 John Lennon remarked that Christianity would vanish and shrink. That the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus Christ and,while Jesus himself was "alright" his disciples were thick and ordinary. This comment made in Lennon's native Britain created an enormous stir in the bible belt of the American south-inspiring the infamous hate group the Klu Klux Klan to threaten Lennon. And now four decades later,there is constant worry and concern in regard to the sudden retirement of Pope Benedict XVI,especially amid building controversy surrounding sexual open mindedness and accusations of pedophilia within the Catholic church. Religiosity in America has become such a controversial topic that is thought of to only be worthy of discussion by theologians in an enormous panel discussion. But is there anything that a relatively intelligent common citizen has to offer on the topic. Speaking for myself anyway,I think there is much such a person could and should offer to the debate.
        The main problem I see with religious faith in the modern world is it's continual closed mindedness. As the morality of the world is expanding,and what were once viewed as lifestyle choices based on free will are now being seen as part of the beauty of nature they truly are,the religious community are  linking themselves more and more into the political arena. Of course there was a time where the churches position was that the mixture of religion and politics was "sin". That of course leads to the ultimate wild card with religion in society today-it's growing contradictions. We live in a society that is becoming more and more based in honestly and truth. With concepts such as Intelligent Design,religious groups are struggling a lot harder to rationalize their creationist view of the universe with visually observable scientific reality that humanity is now technologically able to observe. 
        Another factor compounding the debate about religion,in particular Christianity,is the still divided viewpoints on atheism and agnosticism  These sends to be broken down to the simple fact that the term faith itself has been devalued in society as shorthand for religious faith. Basic Christian values such as honesty and good will were at one time very important to a growing culture coming out of the dark ages of knowledge. However as the centuries have progressed,better cultural education has led to a basic and more secularized morality that can apply to all human beings. Included in this is that all religions include some of the same basic precepts. The universalist concept of religion has lead to often religious fanaticism. In particular  Christians and those of the Muslim religion. This has lead to wars and mass slaughter over which ideology is superior. And that position has actually become more and more fixed among the more righteous in society.
        Interestingly enough,this righteousness has been a double edged sword for many cultures. A superb example is the relationship African American's have with Christianity. Having been torn culturally from their native systems of faith from Africa and the Caribbean slaves bought to America adapted Western Christianity almost as a whole. This religious faith led them to positively protest successfully against later forms of racism such as segregation. Though mixed with this was the peaceful philosophy of non violence as advocated by the Eastern philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi  Yet still,if most in the African American community are facing any type of personal or cultural crisis,nine times out of ten it will be the Christian bible,church and prayer that they will turn to for guidance. Though many turns back to  African spiritual roots seem to have come and gone,Christianity has been the mainstay a midst all of that.
         It would seem the majority of people know this. And many of them would like something to be done about it. Yet it seems to continue. Personally I look at it this way. Religious righteousness has created an uncomfortable schism within humanity. One thing that remains true of most humans is their fear of dying. It terrifies them. The personal faith in an afterlife that somehow resembles something beautifully Earthly,such as a garden of eternal life,is appealing when facing that fear. The fear of the unknown is  the basis of all fears people experience. And it is at the very core of human beings ongoing attachment to the continual difficulties and contradictions of religious faith.  Christopher Eccleston in Doctor Who stated it best: that human beings were often so fast to defend something that is invisible yet deny a truth they've seen for themselves. So in the end,the contradictions are not only present within religion itself but also in people's fundamental relationship to it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Things We Do For Lack Of Honest Work-The Finale

            It's difficult to count the times I've been walking down the street in an urban area,seen a person who looks down on their luck in a wheelchair,walking with a cane or with a visible mental illness and seen someone glance over at his person and say rather under their breath,yet loud enough for me to hear "get a job"? If one asks most American's,this occurrence has become as American as apple pie within the past few decades. And this coming largely from a generation in society who preached  that they at least achieved love,tolerance and respect for every kind of human being. As with most things in my life,I've actually come to view this as only the tip of the metaphorical ice berg. But what about what lies beneath? The 80-90% of the ice berg we don't see? Well I've seen it because I've personally experienced it.

          I look at it this way. During my school years I was the victim of bullying. And during my adult years,some people have attempted to make me the victim of verbal bullying because I am disabled and don't work. Many people maintain that  this harassment is confined to the internet,because bullies can maintain heavy anonymity. Again I can tell you it is just as prevalent,if not more so,in the physical world as well. I once attended a support group for the disabled. And the discussions regarding the discrimination against them for not working became so intensely heated,I discontinued going to the group. But it served a valuable purpose in my life. Somewhere along the line,the pursuit of profit rather than happiness has become such a vital factor in peoples lives some have turned on their fellow human beings.

         There is little difficulty in seeing why this problem I'm discussing is so common in my particular area of Maine,for example. During the 1980's,state budget cuts put hundreds of people with different mental illnesses out on the street to fend for themselves. It became so prevalent by the 90's that most of the apartment complexes in the area became subsidized to accommodate this influx,including the one I grew up in. So most people I saw around me suffered from a varying degree of psychiatric or emotional disorder. This has lead to widespread condescension towards such people from others. It's even descended to the point where,when I discuss this aspect of my youth,some people actually believed my emotional disability was bought on by environment rather than genetics. 

            Personally I know for a fact such thinking is only a digression on the part of these individuals. That's because even I on occasion,someone who should know better,have made unspoken value judgement's upon some based on their perceived economic status. Sadly most of us have at one time or another. This all changed when I was 15 years old and made a friend who I learned had schizophrenia. He actually tried to keep it from me and my family. When we talked about it,various things were of course bought up. But the one thing he was most intent on was having a job. Not because he wanted to make money. He was former US Air Force officer and Gulf War veteran who was compensated for more then well. The reason,as he indicated,that he wanted the job was simply because he wanted to belong and "join in".

          As any high school student will tell you,everyone wants to be cool. During our rising adulthood,the term "cool" is often translated to "conform". One of the best and easiest ways for most to conform is to have a job. And why not? Most everyone I know is of the understanding that if they didn't work,they would have no quality of life. That is why,even when they are ill,they'll risk their health and that of other employers by coming to work sick. Yet these same people,with their own insecurities,will often be the first ones to verbally bash the unemployed,especially the disabled,as simply finding ways to avoid "joining the real world" that every single person is supposed to want to (and have to) be a part of.

            The core element of these series of blogs has been about reassessment. About how one person,in this case me,actually took a long hard look at the real world and saw what the modern,over stressed and over worked world was actually doing to human beings. It was through my own experience of having a disability,and learning not to define myself by that diagnosis. It's a continuing journey I'm unsure if I'll ever complete. It's also about cross examination. By learning to understand myself in relation to other people,I'm also learning how other people look at themselves and how they look at their careers. How they look at their money. And how they look at their friends. I am hoping that my stories and observations bring some solace and relief to those who read them,some of whom might've had similar experiences. And I hope these people not only share these blogs with their friends and family,but are inspired to tell their own stories as well. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Things We Do For Lack Of Honest Work-The Sequel

                After writing my previous blog about how many people perceived themselves in their work and/or careers,it suddenly came to mind that it would be appropriate to have more definition as to how such attitudes would effect someone such as myself: a disabled American who doesn't have such a life,for whatever specific reason. Much as I hate to admit meet,human beings are often prone to using pejorative terms of all sorts in regard to their personal prejudices-whether that be racism,sexism,homophobia or ableism. That is apparently the word used to describe prejudice against the disabled. And it's the the type of prejudice that I have found to be extremely rampant in in this day and age. And it' also a term that  fits so well into what this is all about: ableism.

               I'll start from personal experience. When I am first making friends with someone,which is not incredibly easy for me considering my own disability,one of the first questions they will ask is what to I do for work,and how do I make money. For a long time I was extremely frightened to answer because on the few occasions where I did they forthcoming conversation wouldn't go well. I would be promptly accused of not being a "real man" or a "real human being" for not having "a real job",and on one occasion long ago even told I was therefore unworthy to talk to.  At first I was weepy and depressed. So I began finding ways to walk around the subject in casual conversation and avoid it when I could. It became a pattern almost as destructive as the self pity I felt about feeling left out-of not being "like everyone else".

               So how exactly would I define myself in a career? And have other people had similar experiences? The first part of that question is of course the only one I have a definite answer to. I did have a job once. It was in a very industrial environment,cleaning soiled napkins and towels in a giant machine. There I saw and experienced many things. There was a man who was sick from an allergy to industrial chemicals. He was always slumped in a corner. No one seemed to notice because many of the workers spent their days indulging in gossip and other naval gazing,or trying to explain to me,in vein,how to use the equipment they did not themselves know how to use. One day,all of this overwhelmed my senses. It was like a child,fearing bullying,begging his parents not to go to school.

            All of my life,I'd always been a little bit different. The most succinct way to explain it is that every time I tried to do something "just like everyone else",I stumbled and failed miserably. I suppose my parents accepted that it was just how I was-just me. But this was different. I grew up understanding everyone had to work. They had to get up at unreasonable hours,work long days somewhere for next to nothing and that was the only way to live. And now,again,I was "different" and denied even that somehow. I lost almost all my self esteem and thought I'd either be a homeless adult,or what many people refer to as a sponge-a financial drain on my family and friends. A life without anything remotely resembling dignity. I felt like nothing.  

            When I came out about my homosexuality,and began a life with my first boyfriend,things began to change. He had allowed himself to become what I feared I would be "for lack of honest work". So he ended up on welfare. I heard in the offices we went to for benefits things I probably wasn't meant to hear. That some of these state employees had a personal love of making fun of and even laughing at the poor-at the lower class. I felt it I reported this,and I now know this happens,no one would believe me. I actually had nightmares for days about this. As this relationship I was involved in came to an end,I started to realize what was so different about me. But I didn't know before. After another failed relationship,I went to a therapist and everything I had dealt with started to make sense.

              I was dealing with an issue within the social/general anxiety spectrum that only meant one thing: I wasn't going to have a career as I'd defined the term to myself. Eventually one very special therapist helped me with a unique type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It wasn't about altering my personality as others had tried during school and other things. It was about changing how I perceived myself in the world around me. It was about embracing my own unique outlook rather than trying to ingratiate myself upon others. Some elements of this I still struggle with,of course. Sometimes it's all too easy for me to avoid the uncomfortable questions people ask me about what I do for a career. One of the things that helps me with that is being able to have activities in my life I am successful in on the creative level.

               Many people admire my photography. Still,the first question they will tend to ask is on the level of where the commerce is for me in it,or how I can exploit it to make money. That is where many of the perceptions of other people I illustrated in the first part of this blog comes in. And even though I've improved a lot from that very confused young man who was completely ashamed of himself for not working and thought of himself as a lazy vagrant,that is still a line of questing I have much difficulty answering. Life isn't always fair,no. But is this level of unfairness necessary? Now when I meet new people,I am inclined to ask them about their interests,what they love and their personal tastes. Some people tell me easily. Some are very surprised because I don't ask them right away about their work or careers.

           That's the main lesson I've learned from this: sympathy. And even on that I am far,far from perfect. Some of the language I use have led some to believe that my problem with work is not from a disability,but rather an aristocratic self image defined by a "too different to be labeled" type of narcissism. That's only because defense mechanisms I've developed against the many forms of ableism I've encountered are not always 100% effective. The important thing is I keep up with what I call the Charlie Brown Effect: I am seldom successful,but continue making the attempt anyway. So what else would I have to say on this subject in another blog?Perhaps bring out that disabilities really do come in many different forms. To the point where part of the "ableist code" as it were is the idea that everyone is disabled if they think about it enough. Of course,that is a whole other story.





Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Things We Do For Lack Of Honest Work

        Due to a diagnosed disability,I realized six or seven years ago that the type of work and career that the majority of people take for granted was not going to be a part of my existence. Never have and never will write out the idea of something in that area permanently  But I realized upon the diagnosis that it would've only been fooling myself to think that I could apply the same standards to myself as many other people do. The other night,I had a rather heated discussion with an old friend. One I've had with many others in the past. It was regarding the fact that I had a tendency to avoid conversation about this part of my life. And I realized that left me open to many negative suspicions on other people's behalf. This bought to my mind the question of why was I doing this in the first place? What did I feel so much shame about I had to had it?

          As an outsider looking into the world of people who are heavily involved in their careers and accumulating profit,it's clear to see that many of them view working hard and earning a good deal of money as the only key to personal independence. In fact I've often been told this flat out. This also leads to harsh criticism of those seeking alternative lifestyles,such as followers of the counterculture of the 1960's. It would seem that most people are of the opinion that if your contribution to the world around you doesn't involve punching a clock,working yourself into complete fatigue all day long to earn money you never have time to enjoy than one is simply not contributing. This has lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes complete intolerance of others.

         For much of the 1990's and the first decade of the new millennium it was clear that the majority of my peers defined themselves almost completely by fiscal considerations. And even for that defined by a complete corporate mentality. It didn't matter if your economic views were more capitalist or socialist-money was always the defining factor. As the economy itself decreased,the worse this (at least to me) irksome personality trait in so many different people increased. It was almost like a plague. And again,those who disliked this attitude wanted to blame something. The 1980's and the Gordon Gecco mentality was an easy culprit for this. But the fact there was no active resistance towards people's unseen avarice indicated it was an emotionally internal matter. Than came Occupy: Wall Street. Than this attitude of defining oneself by their work and money began to change.

       Speaking solely for myself,part of me not pitying myself for being disabled and unemployable,at least as most would understand it,came from learning to see that obsession with work and financial success as a hindrance,not a help to ones internal and outward ego. As Jessie Jackson said famously at the 1972 Wattstax concert one may be unskilled,one may be on welfare but they are somebody! Hearing that put an ending to my own personal understanding of the career defined ego structure. If someone were to ask me directly what I thought of this whole situation I'd say too many people,particularly those of my own generation and after,have traded in their idealism for a chunk of change. When these people ridicule and question me for not requiring the prospect of a jet set career and an enormous income in order to be independent or understand myself,it makes me very sad. And as much as comments like that disappoint me,I realize I am probably not alone in receiving them. And people should not fear the things they might do for lack of "honest work".

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Nations Second Religion: Sports In America

        All through the month of February all I have to do is be out in the car with someone,or at the local mall and I know just about what'll happen. There will be young people sticking their heads out of cars yelling and blitzing randomly,making such noise they could easily distract drivers into a six care pileup. There will be stores crowded with with collage age men and women pushing past each other-crowded together like packs of hungry wolves in the throws of a feeding frenzy. Is this because of some mammoth school winter vacation  Actually it all happens because of the enormously popular University Of Maine basketball tournaments during that time frame. Of course it's also next to impossible to find a seat at any restaurant in town with the busloads of people playing in or coming to see these games. Melissa Etheridge once referred to sports as America's second religion in After Stonewall,referring to the first Gay Games. But this has always somehow confused me. Why are games where people throw or kick some type of ball around to score points on a board become so popular that it's grown into a multi billion dollar industry? Honestly I've never understood the appeal on that level.
       Personally I've always found it to be an ironically twisted aspect of many people. And it is just as female as it is male oriented-especially with the advent of the soccer mom phenomenon.  Now truth be known there are many local and national athletes who are genuinely interested in the physical skill involved in what they do. And most of them are quite humanistically concerned and decent. In other cases,especially among dispelled of the games (I use that term to again equate sports and religion) seem to use these events as an excuse to behave in a way that would be unthinkable elsewhere,especially in terms of bigotry and competitive hatred.  The English soccer riots are one example. But one of the biggest to me is pro wrestling. Even to it's fans known for being mostly very staged theater,it often perpetuates dangerously racist ideas by portraying a villainous adversary from an "unpopular" nation. In the 1980's they might be portrayed as being from Soviet Russia. Today they would be portrayed as Arab.  Some might view this in it's proper perspective. But I've seen firsthand how a person who is already ethnically bitter might use such an event to justify their unneeded hatred towards others.
        Now that is a personal opinion. And only one side of the coin. But if we flip the coin over,there's another side with very positive connotations  The Olympic games are a perfect example. In a very epic ceremony,countries from all over the world come together not necessarily to compete for themselves,but to showcase the different levels of physical strength and dexterity offered by the different cultures around the world. And all done in the spirit of global peace and community. Despite occasional examples of the negative fowl play I just discussed case in point the 1992 incident with Nancy Carigan and Tanya Harding,this communal approach of the Olympics often has the effect of having a meaningful influence on everyone involved-both the athletes and their supporters. Many  other athletes,both professional and minor league, have donated time and money non tax deductible to children's hospitals and other humanistic causes,even ones promoting world peace much in the spirit of the Olympic games.  Such athletes have in recent years even devoted their earnings to supporting the arts. Which is important since that emphasizes the most important conflicts and challenges sports faces.
          Truth be told my interest lie primarily in the arts,but I am not speaking with any bias in this regard. For as long as I can remember I have seen a lot of economic difficulty in the area I live in. More and more homeless,more and more mentally ill people without a place to go and more and more grown adults-often with families,showing signs of...shall I say less than below average educational standards. Many important local politicians seem to merely put this off. But if a pee wee league basketball team needs new jersey's,or an auditorium needs repair for the tournaments there always seems to be an endless reservoir of money to pay for this.  Considering how many art and music programs are cut from schools,and the extreme difficulty artists of any sort in this area seem to have getting noticed,is it really that hard to imagine someone like me not viewing sports as having a highly disintegrating effect on the world around me? It's very much a sausage effect-you squeeze one end and it grows alarmingly larger on the other end to the point where it begins to burst. If taken within a productive context I am sure sports can always exist as it was meant to in this country: as America's pastime  But as America's preoccupation? Well now most people seem to be just coming to realize what those like me have realized all along: devoting ones life and thoughts halfway to a mere game diminishes all those children and adults who need the basics of life first so,one day,they can even have a pastime.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Are We What We Eat? Or Is What We Eat What We Are?

               How many times have people had this happen? You're at a restaurant with friends or family having a wonderful time talking and laughing. When it comes time to order,your presented with a menu were even the descriptions of the food seem scrumptious. All of the people at the table at the table have the same reaction. Yet there's that one person who says that they are trying to fit back into an old pair of jeans,or even worse that the food on the menu contains so many "carbs" or cholesterol that they just wouldn't feel right eating it. Before you know it,nobody at the table orders the delicious dish they originally wanted and wind up with something they don't want because it's listed as being guiltless or heart smart. It's such a common situation it is actually an out and out cliche nowadays.

           Every time we turn on the television,read a magazine,book or even (if one still does this very often) listen to the radio they are inundated with talk from other people claiming they know the sure fire way to health and weightless  We have TV commercials for low fat products aimed directly at ones self esteem,often followed by an very sensuously presented ad for a heavily sugared dessert. You might even see a television show about a young lady dying of an obesity related disorder one day,than one meeting up with the same fat from anorexia the next. It's often women and adolescent girls who are the most common target of this,and still have the most trouble. Everyone however is affected by that ultimate modern exploiter of the American psyche: the ubiquitous diet plan.

          There seems to be a diet plan for every state,every country. Most of them are massive media blitzes,most are very short lived and a lot of them are severely debunked once they've played themselves out. In my lifetime some of the more famous of these have been the Brat Diet,on which I was on for a time. There's was the Atkins Diet,which was mostly protein and meat oriented. There's also the South Beach diet as well. Of course the oldest,most lasting and by far the most controversial is vegetarianism. This ranges from people who will eat fish but no red meat to high level vegans,a more modern term for those who eat nothing that comes from an animal, who pride themselves on barely eating food that casts a shadow.  This can be summed up best,actually,by a line from Mr.Spock on Star Trek: in a sense we all feed on death,even vegetarians. 

        I'm not a dietitian. I have no idea how the ingredients or any of the other complex substances in the food we eat actually effect our bodies. As a matter of face,it's clear most of the time that "valid scientific findings" on this subject are more often contrived to make money. There is an age old way to maintain healthy eating habits,whether eating in the home or outside,that has never seemed to fail. In fact it may be the best thing for a lot of aspects of our lives. And that is balance. Or in this case,balanced meals. Dinner containing a meat,a vegetable and something made with a potato or rice perhaps. They taste good,can be made in a number of combinations and you inevitably don't have to feel too guilty about any of it. Sounds like a simplistic,almost childish notion doesn't it? Well it's not. 

         We learn about balanced life and balanced meals when we're children,but it slips our minds as we grow. Most of us finish school,have to meet up with the unrelenting and often unwanted pressures of trying to make a living in a ridiculously fast paced existence. So it's easier to grab a cookie or a bag of chips on the go than stop and eat a decent meal. This leads to cumulative guilt. Many experts know this too. Some of them have very dubious credentials and again are economically motivated. Others just freely remind us of what we already know about what we put into our bodies,but that our over taxed minds won't seem to allow many of us to retain for any length of time. So perhaps when it comes to food,what we learn in kindergarten might have more value than we thought it did.