Journal Entry (2016Jun19)


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Thursday, June 16, 2016                                          4:43 PM

This rush to the gun stores—I don’t get it—how often are these peoples’ homes being invaded? Just how primitive is life outside of Westchester? Westchester has people who feel the need for self-defense, too—where is this fear coming from?

There’s a dichotomy to civilization—we create communities that are stable, where you don’t have to have a gunfight to survive, where you can walk down the street with a high degree of certainty that you won’t be attacked. People like me take that at face value—and reason that introducing firearms into the environment only increases the danger. But then we start to imagine that people might sneak around and break in and rob us, rape us, or kill us. We start to think that our lives are at risk. But I find it hard to maintain that paranoia against the lack of anything like that ever happening in my neighborhood. That stuff doesn’t happen where I live—or if it happens, it’s less frequent than a bolt of lightning.

There are places where violence is common. That’s different—I can’t speak to that, because I have no idea what it’s like. But I am among the vast majority of people living in developed countries where violence is rare and quickly attended to. And for people like me, owning a gun is just asking for trouble—it’s unlikely to be needed, and far too likely to cause problems simply by being there.

It’s not a dichotomy so much as a distancing of ourselves—the world is still a place of terrible struggle, with war and poverty stalking the earth. Our protected pockets of civility exist by virtue of military defense preventing encroachment by the barbarous hordes—and civilian police who are (mostly) restrained against oppression of their charges. In other words, we understand that our peace is built on fighting happening elsewhere—and that, therefore, violence is still useful and necessary—just not where we live.

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But having created these areas of ease and civility, shouldn’t we use them as such? We are in no danger of becoming the Eloi to the Morlocks of violence—when we have these mass shootings, we also often see formerly peaceful residents become, in an instant, people who risk their lives, and sometimes give their lives, to defend those around them. What we have not yet seen is anyone who is carrying and has the presence of mind to return fire. So what does that tell you about guns and self-defense?

I’m in no hurry for my chance to find out if I have a hero inside me—but I will face that when and if. What I won’t do is spend a lifetime preparing for my worst imaginings, pumping myself up for a battle that isn’t being fought.

It’s totally logical, you know. In a race, looking back, looking around for your rivals—that’s the worst thing you can do. You want to drive forward completely focused on the goal. Equally, in life you want to focus on the goals ahead—any time you spend being petty towards others is a waste of effort and it can even make you lose your stride. If you face the world openly, gladly, and without malice, you create less friction in your passage—you might even get others to wish you well and support you. That’s how I see it—and even if I have built this rationale on a personality that is naturally disposed that way, that doesn’t negate its efficacy.

I’m uncomfortable around people—but even I know that being generally positive about things is the easy way to get along with others. There are times when I’m forced to disagree or contradict—and I’m all too eager to do that—but I have learned that, even then, the minimum amount of conflict is to be sought. I have to restrain my killer instinct, or I run the risk of making a worse wrong of being ‘right’. Arguing can do that to people—and I am one of the worst offenders in that regard.

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It’s fairly simple to turn that around—to make the point that wrong must be attacked with vigor and stomped into the ground, even when it’s hard on people—but I still maintain that it is the wrong that needs stomping, not the person. When Senators Tim Scott and Lindsay Graham spoke before the Senate today, they both cited the stunning character of last year’s church-shooting victims’ family survivors, when they forgave the man who killed their relatives in open court.

And when you examine our prison problem, you see its roots in our stubborn insistence that prison continue, as in darker, more ignorant times, to be punishment and not rehabilitation. I am not the only one who gets carried away with a sense of vindication—but there are people of such strength of character that they can rise above their passion. I’d rather those people had the so-many-millions of twitter-followers that lesser beings accumulate—but then, they probably have better things to do than tweet.

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Friday, June 17, 2016                                               11:42 AM

So there I am, just doodling along, enjoying my peaceful life—and then this stranger posts a derisive comment on my YouTube post, laughing at how badly I play Mendelssohn on the piano. Now, I know I’m not going to win any prizes for my piano playing—but I don’t need to be laughed at by strangers-what the hell?

They say life is a competition—and I suppose that’s true. But in many ways and in many cases, life is a competition because we make it one. And we prefer to compete with people we know we can beat—come on now—is that really competition, or is that just bullying? I play the piano—I’m not naturally gifted—I play because I enjoy the challenge. Finding someone worse, and laughing at them is not a challenge—it’s easy—and it’s sad. Pitiful, really.

I felt bullied, so I reported his comment as bullying. I’m glad that YouTube has that function—though I’m a little concerned that the guy’s YouTube channel might get wiped. Then again, I didn’t ask for his ridicule—and if his life’s work gets erased just because he picked on me, well, maybe he’ll think twice next time. We live and we learn. Who’s laughing now?

I get so upset at random, unnecessary cruelty that it gets me crazy—I can’t stop obsessing over the question of why someone would just add random ugliness to the universe. I guess it makes him feel better about himself—better than if he gave compliments to the pianists that are better than him. I really don’t know—it mystifies me. And, of course, I’d like to kick him in the face—cowards from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean can insult strangers all too easily, safe in the knowledge that they can’t be found and confronted. I’d love to surprise him on his doorstep—I may not play piano well, but I bet I can kick his ass.

Still, that would be as unnecessary as his rudeness—because twisted trolls like that are punished by their own existence. He may have sent a tiny parcel of hate my way, but he’s soaking in it. Happiness, for him, is a long ways off—and not getting any nearer anytime soon.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016                                           8:56 AM

I’m An Asshole   (2016Jun18)

I can be such an asshole. I’ve tried to train myself to be a nice guy, but it’s a very thin façade. As soon as someone is an asshole to me, I turn right back into one myself and give back as bad as I get. And I wanted so much to believe I am a nice guy. Sure, you think I’m a nice guy—but you’ve never been mean to me. Whenever someone is mean to me, I spend hours, days, obsessing over how I can be even meaner right back. That’s not nice—but it is me. I’m like a colony of fire ants—ordinarily, I’m just a lump in the dirt—but if you kick a hole in it, all these vicious little insects start crawling around looking for something to bite.

Poor impulse control? An overdeveloped sense of vengeance? Plain old spitefulness? Or perhaps all three. I’m frustrated by the enormous gulf between who I want to be and who I really am. Sure, if everyone just leaves me alone—or if everyone says only nice things to me—I can keep it together. But that doesn’t really count—it’s how you respond under pressure that’s the true test of character. The worst part of it is deciding that my tormentor is a miserable excuse for a human being, then realizing I’ve been goaded into being just as bad, or worse. I start by hating them and end up hating myself.

Let’s see if I can’t shift some of the blame—maybe that’ll make me feel better. What is the return on insulting strangers? Why should someone I don’t know decide, ‘hey, let’s ruin this guy’s day by crapping all over his posts’? Shouldn’t I show up on their doorstep, introduce myself, and kick their asses? How else are they ever going to learn? Sometimes I reason that the troll is surely bullying lots of people—and he’s picked the wrong guy this time. I tell myself that they need to be responded to, if only for the other victims who are too hurt to respond, too insecure to reject the facile judgments of some online brat. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

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But then I start to question my motives—am I just latching onto an excuse to vent my own anger? Is this guy some broken, twisted nightmare who will only get worse from all the scorn I send his way? Still, when challenged, I feel obligated to fight back.

There’s a big paradox to this—and it extends beyond this particular scenario. Whenever someone is a miserable person, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve been made miserable by people or circumstances. Their personalities have been deformed by abuse of some kind—do I really want to add some more bad vibes? But then, having been molded into monsters, can I really just ignore the abuse they direct toward myself or others?

It’s like crime. To a certain extent, one could make the argument that all crime is insanity—a person who does anti-social stuff has been made to think it’s acceptable to commit crimes—by want, by abuse, by desperation. By the standards of a law-abiding citizen like myself, they’ve lost control of themselves—and that’s insanity. By the same token, all prisons should function primarily as mental hospitals—the inmates are only there because their minds have failed to register the need to meet society’s minimum standards of behavior.

But most people are as bad as I am—we think, ‘well, they did something bad—they should be punished—we’ll worry about their state of mind later’. That’s sloppy thinking—and even sloppier ethics. And where does it get us? Overcrowded prisons whose only rehabilitation programs are sodomy and gang initiation. Yeah, that’ll work.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016                                             10:56 AM

Father’s Day   (2016Jun19)

What a great day. The sun is shining. I got presents from my wife and kids. I had a pretty good morning session at the piano (sorry, no recording). I’ve been playing from a songbook “Happiness is… Italian Songs”, a gift from my good friend Randy. Today I discovered it included ‘Cosi Cosa’, which you Marx Bros. fans might remember from the shipboard-feast scene in “A Night At The Opera”. A few of these songs also have grace notes and whatnot that make me feel like I’m channeling Chico at the piano—I’m really a sucker for Italian popular songs.

It may be simply a welcome contrast to a lifetime of Irish songs, my heritage on my father’s side—both he and his own father were prone to sing in a fine Irish tenor—‘Danny Boy’, ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling’, etc. My dad would sometimes get an entire bar or restaurant full of people to sing along, after a nice meal and a few drinks. As a boy it embarrassed me, but as I got older I realized there was a certain magic to it. And his dad actually sang for loose change in bars sometimes, during the Depression when there was no other work to be found. My grandmother would describe how my infant father slept under one of the tables as his father entertained.

It is impossible to be a father without feeling the obligation to be the strong man, the defender, the provider—and those instincts struggle mightily under the onus of disability. My wife and kids have cared for me through many years of illness—and I’m very grateful—but it’s hard to maintain any self-respect as a complete dependent. I don’t recommend it. But what a great family I have!

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A note on the artwork: The eight drawings used in this post are scans of old drawings from back in my still-healthy-enough-to-draw-a-straight-line days. I had lost too much fine motor control to do fine art, but I could still do cartoons, flyers, and illustrations. Some of these are from the bittersweet final years of still hanging on to my job–so I’m nostalgic about them for two reasons.

2 responses to “Journal Entry (2016Jun19)

  1. Happy Fathers Day !!
    I’m glad you’re enjoying the “Happiness is… Italian Songs”, songbook !! R

    You’re so hard on yourself.
    Take a moment.
    Sit back.
    Marvel at your life:
    at the grief that softened you,
    at the heartache that wizened you,
    at the suffering that strengthened you.
    Despite everything,
    you still grow.
    Be proud
    of this.

    • Thanks, Randy. That’s the rub, isn’t it? Sitting back, taking a moment. If I could just remember that at least once a day I wouldn’t get all bent out of shape the way I sometimes do. If I were a rich man, I’d hire a guy to just stand around all day, and every once in awhile, he’d lean over and say, “Take a breath, dude.”

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