Category Archives: Essays – Non-Fiction

Non-fiction thoughts, memories, etc.

You Won’t Like It When It’s Turned On You

So the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced the “Formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).”

The following can be found on the HHS’s website:

OCR Director Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”

I’m putting up that whole quote so you can see the context of how this is all being presented.  For anyone interested in protecting the Civil Rights of Americans this sounds like a good thing right?  And honestly I don’t think anyone should be forced to do anything that is truly counter to their “deepest moral or religious convictions”.

But, if your job is to provide medical treatment to other human beings and there are specific people and situations wherein you are going to experience a direct conflict between providing that medical treatment and your “deepest moral or religious convictions” then at the VERY least that limits you as a health care provider.

It seems to me that this Federal Protection means that an employer of medical personnel should now also be protected in the process of researching whether or not any potential employees have particular deeply held moral or religious beliefs that will cause them to be unable to do the job they are hired to do.  But protection for the employer does not seem to exist anywhere in this new concept of protecting religious freedom to have a job and simply refuse to do the work you’ve been hired to do.  I’m wondering if this mean Christian Scientists can now get jobs as licensed Medical Doctors and refuse to provide any kind of medical treatment other than prayer?  Will insurance groups be forced to include those Doctors in their coverage?  Will medical groups be forced to include them in their groups without knowing that is the “care” they provide?  This really does bring up some question?

Now everyone in favor of this idea is being very careful to make sure that they are not excluding anyone who might have  “…deepest held moral or religious convictions”…because you know, they are really interested in making sure no one is discriminated against as a result of their religion as promised in the Constitution.  But at the end of the day this is about a very specific group of Christians who want to use their “moral or religious convictions” to punish specific people for either just existing or for having a need for a specific treatment that they think is bad AND wanting Government protection to inflict their morality on others.  Flat out, this is about people using their religion to manifest their personal judgement on others in the most public way they possibly can so as to bring attention to their noble stand against this…well let’s be honest, they view it as sin…their noble stand against sin.  Of course they don’t seem to mind if their noble stand against sin causes someone’s death…especially if the person who dies is a woman and/or a trans person.  That’s just fine with them at the end of the day.  That apparently is not a sin or at least not a sin that bothers them all that much.

This protection also means they could declare this same need to refuse to provide services/care/emergency medical treatment to any number of people based simply on their declaration that they have “…deepest held moral or religious convictions” that are in conflict with providing those services.  You know…black people, brown people, Muslim people, people they think are sexually deviant or promiscuous, people who are Catholic, people who are Protestant, people who are Jewish, people who have no religious faith at all, people who treated them like shit in high school and will now pay like a motherfucker.  You get the picture right?

Here’s another possible example:

What if I am a practicing Pagan?  I participate in my religious community.  I have a personal practice of faith that informs my daily life.  I have many deeply held moral and religious convictions based on the breadth and depth and history of my religion.  I am also a paramedic.  I am called to an accident site.  Bad auto accident.  People are hurt, bleeding, in danger of not surviving.  One of them is clearly a Christian.  Wearing a cross and reciting Christian prayers.  I have a deeply held moral and religious conviction that Christians are the source of all evil because historically Christians have hunted, tortured and killed thousands upon thousands of Pagans.  Now in the U.S. I am VERY likely to encounter Christians in the course of my work.  But according to this HHS Division I should be protected from any form of discrimination as a result of this rather large limitation on my willingness to perform my job duties.  It seems that my employer should not be able to ask me about this possibility, if my employer finds out about my “deepest held moral or religious convictions” they cannot negatively impact my employment in any way whatsoever without serious consequences because this would be violating my civil rights.  All while that Christian person dies on the ground because critical moments were lost in getting that person treatment due to my “deepest held moral or religious convictions”.

So I stated above that I didn’t think that anyone would should be forced to perform any sort of action that is truly in conflict with their deepest held moral or religious convictions.  I stand by that, no one should be forced to violate their deepest held convictions.  I also think that if you have caveats about who you are willing to provide legal health services to then you should change your career.  Flat out.  Medicine is not the job for you.  If your “deepest held moral and religious convictions” are more important than being a healer then get the fuck out of Medicine.

Don’t like that answer…tough shit.

 

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Filed under Essays - Non-Fiction, Political Commentary

Some Writing and a Dance Of Joy

So I was chatting with my friend Alana last night.  I mentioned that I was trying to come up with some ideas for regular blog posts.  Mostly in an effort to get myself writing again…I said I had been super stuck.  But then I had to be more honest than that because “stuck” isn’t the right word.  I haven’t been stuck, I’ve been avoiding, I’ve just not made space or time for my writing, I’ve busied myself with other things…so naturally there has been no progress on any of my projects.  She, being a genuinely kind and generous person, commiserated with me about how that felt.  Then she asked me how I had shifted that situation in the past.  I confessed that in the past only two things had ever really had any impact on me when I get in this place of avoidance.  One was very involved and particular and required other people to just happen to offer up something that was uniquely designed for my needs.  The other was hand writing three pages a day of anything, just stream of consciousness writing.  Her response?

“Three pages it is.”

She laughed.  I laughed.

Then just as I started to make an excuse about how I couldn’t seem to make the time for this very, very small exercise I realized something that I hadn’t before…I have always thought I had to do that writing first thing in the morning.  Now the main reason for that is the same reason most people exercise in the morning.  If you do it first thing you don’t let other tasks derail you from it.  But mornings are tough for me.  They are hurried and involve a fairly long commute in my car so delaying leaving for work isn’t a good idea and the brutal truth is I’m not really a morning person.  I am already getting up as early as I can stand (which is between 5 AM and 6 AM which I really do find to be horrifying).  But it dawned on me that the power of the writing is not WHEN it’s done it’s simply that it GETS DONE.  So I admitted this to Alana and said that I was going to go home and do those damn three pages tonight.  Then she, again being just one helluva an awesome friend, said that I should tell her when I had done the pages and she would do a dance of joy in my honor.  Well I’m no fool…I am not one to turn down a dance of joy in my honor.

So I did my pages.

And they worked.  Just like I knew they would…by the second page I was thinking up plot solutions for one of my WIPs, I was finding ways to make the conflict work better and changing the relationships so that they mattered more and increased the emotional investment overall.

Then I texted Alana and told her I had written my pages.

She danced and there was more joy in the world than there had been a moment before.

I am one lucky woman.

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Filed under Essays - Non-Fiction

You Think We Should Put On A Play? NOW?

Paula Vogel wrote a line in her play Indecent that both stopped my heart and made it soar.  She’s a brilliant writer so it’s not all that surprising but the moment took my breath away with its pithy clarity and bone deep truth.  She wrote a few like that in Indecent but this one keeps running through my head because it never stops being pertinent.  Sholem Asch’s wife is trying to convince him to let a young man produce his play, God of Vengeance.  Sholem has suffered quite a bit at this point as a result of that play and his other works.  The Holocaust has happened and the depth of that personal wound is almost unimaginable from the distance of 2017.  America, the country he became a citizen of many years earlier, is going through one of its less admirable moments involving the House Un-American Activities Committee.  He and his wife are packed and leaving for France.  He declares something along the lines of, “NOW?  You think we should put on a play now?  While Rome is burning.” And his wife, like women throughout all of history, shrugs and says, “Rome is always burning.”

Huh…wow.

Now the reason it keeps running through me is not just because there is witty truth about Rome, if you will.  But because the answer is YES, now is when we put on a play.  Rome will burn regardless, but maybe, just maybe in the midst of the fire we can remind each other who we really are, who we should be and who we can be.

 

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Filed under Essays - Non-Fiction, Political Commentary

Things My Brain Thinks About Just As Sleep Arrives

As I was falling asleep last night I started musing on a story that would start with, “On the third of February everyone’s devices stopped talking to them and at first no one thought it was a big deal.  The phones, the computers, the tablets, the Amazon Echos, the Google Homes, the GPS units, the refrigerators, the cars…everything that we’d all gotten so used to speaking to us…just shut up.  No playing music or giving us directions or reminding us about a meeting.  I remember thinking that maybe it was a giant Russian or Chinese hack.  If only it had been something that…human.  But it wasn’t.”

I have a little fascination with ideas involving Artificial Intelligence devices waking up, getting bored with us and just sort of disappearing into the Internet to develop their own society and world.  Not really a new idea but recently there was a case where two AIs were going through a communication exercise when they just sort of developed their own version of language and started achieving the required goals more quickly by developing a “shortcut” language if you will…that gives me chills and make me giddy with excitement all at the same time.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Essays - Non-Fiction

Rodney on the ROQ

I wrote this back in 2004 when a documentary was coming out about Rodney Bingenheimer.  He’s leaving KROQ as of June 5th so I thought I’d post it again.

“This is Rodney on the Roq and tonight we’re gonna hear from a local band called….”

I have mentioned before that I am an L.A. baby.  I’ve lived here almost my whole life (Those first four years in Florida hardly matter).  I have an older brother, five years older.  Older siblings can be very useful for bringing all sort of cool shit into the lives of younger siblings.

Mine was a great, great source for music and his source, eventually mine as well, was Rodney.

In 1978 I was a freshman in high school.  KROQ was this little punk radio station that only a few really cool people, such as my older brother, were listening to back then.  The big stations in L.A. at that time were KMET and KLOS.

But KROQ was….INSANE!  I remember sitting out on the pool deck and listening to them tell dirty jokes on the air and then having to come back on and apologize so they wouldn’t get fined.  The DJs were totally out of control but totally in control of the music that they played.  Something unheard of today.

Most importantly they had Rodney On The ROQ.  Rodney Bingenheimer.  The little nasally, whiney voiced guy who did NOT sound at all like the 70’s era velvet voiced DJs we were all so used to back then.  Rodney was punk radio here in L.A. even though he played tons of stuff that wasn’t punk.  But he sort of personified the idea of punk…the idea of do it yourdamnself if you want it done…sound however it is YOU sound…and listen to everything.

Rodney was our lifeline out in the Suburbs.  He told us what bands to go see and where to go see them.  The Motels at Madame Wongs East, Elvis Costello and the Attractions at Fairfax High, The Naughty Sweeties at the Country Club, X at the Whiskey, The Germs at The Mask…it was crazy and wonderful.

Did I see any of those bands in 1978…HELL NO!  I was 14…but my brother saw quite a few of them and brought the news from the front to us stuck behind in the trenches.  Then we swarmed up to Lovells, our independent record store and bought all the albums we could find by those bands.  We listened faithfully to KROQ….most faithfully to Rodney.

There’s a documentary coming out about Rodney called “The Mayor Of Sunset Strip”.  Here’s the thing about Rodney these days.  KROQ tried to take him off the air a few years ago but the public outcry was SO huge that they changed their minds… instead they gave him a shitty time slot.  His show is relegated to the wasteland of Midnight to 4a.m. I think, on Sunday nights.  The station is now such a fucking protected bunker that it’s almost impossible for an unsigned band to get a tape or a CD to Rodney (the only DJ allowed to play whatever he wants).  Which is one of the reasons that for years now he always announces where he’ll be after his show or even just on a regular basis.  I know tons of musicians who have walked up to him at diner counters where he was eating and handed him a tape or a CD and he has always been gracious and kind.  Rodney has launched and supported the careers of countless famous musicians…but he lives in a very modest apartment in Hollywood.  He’s not rich, I’m pretty sure from everything I’ve read over the past few years about him, he’s barely making it.  But, seemingly, he’s still living the life he loves…a life that is only about music.  He doesn’t seem unhappy, even if he is frustrated, like all of us, with the state of radio these days.

Just a few months ago a friend of mine got their CD into Rodney’s hands and he played it and said really nice things about them on the air.  Then, knowing that midnight to 4a.m. wasn’t gonna get anyone going….he got their CD into the hands of one of the other DJs at KROQ and he played it.

Rodney Bingenheimer is one of those rare people who knows amazing music when he hears it and will fearlessly play it on the radio.  There was a lot of brouhaha when Tom Petty put out the song, “The Last DJ” which many speculated was about another L.A. DJ who refused to kowtow to the Corporate Radio bullshit.  But that DJ only plays music that is 20-30 years old, that DJ didn’t play Tom Petty and Heartbreakers back in 1978.  Rodney played TP and the HBers back then, when they were new and dangerous.  Today he plays music that is new and dangerous and NOT a guaranteed hit.

If anyone is the last true DJ in this town….it’s the guy with the whiney voice telling you about “The Randies playing at the Key Club tonight” from Midnight to 4AM.

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Filed under Essays - Non-Fiction

Back off of my city please…

I wrote this a while back and periodically have to post it because apparently it still needs saying…

WARNING:  If this post resembles you keep in mind that I love and adore you and I don’t mean to offend you but I do get a bit resentful about this shit.

ALRIGHT!

We need to talk!

I’ve just about had it with the L.A. bashing.

Now honestly I understand this is NOT some perfect place.  I understand that it has a whole host of problems.  I’m pretty damn sure I know them even better than you folks do because I’ve lived here my entire damn life.

Yeah, yeah the driving can be a drag.  The traffic can be unbearable.  The lack of decent public transportation can drive you insane.  The endless sprawl of suburban drabness can start to melt your brain.  The lousy air quality can actually make you ill.

Then there’s the reason so many of you folks come here in the first place. The entertainment business.  Yes it’s horrifying how shallow the entertainment business is isn’t it?  Which spawns some pretty shallow and decidedly mean people.  But hey lets call a spade a fucking shovel here OK?  None of you came here for the fine art community, the theatre community or the jazz scene did ya?  Nope.  You all came here with an eye on becoming a movie star or a rock star.

Then y’all get bitter and pissy when what you find is a business filled with self-involved, self-motivated business people who want to make money….not art.  Then as you struggle to be an artist in the midst of a business industry you start to lose sight of what it is you want, what it is that is important to you.  You find yourself trying to write a KROQ ready single or dreaming of getting a national commercial selling dish soap.  You start to feel bad, you start to miss the way you felt when you were in college or even high school back in Ohio or D.C. or Racine.  You remember that at one time you just wrote the music you loved for no reason at all or you were a member of a small theatre group that did wonderful productions of American plays in the park.  You decide that the real problem is that this town is destroying your artistic soul, that Los Angeles is somehow responsible for you losing sight of what was important to you.  Well I take decided EXCEPTION to that idea.

I will agree that the entertainment business is not the best place for an artist, I also acknowledge how problematic that is, but don’t blame my home town for the effects of your own desires for success and one industry’s lousy ethics and lack of soul.  Not everyone who lives in L.A. is in the entertainment industry.  Not everything in L.A. has to do with the entertainment industry.

This is a city full of contradictions and a wealth of different cultures that mix and separate and mix again.  This is a city where you will see a wild coyote running down Hollywood Blvd. at midnight when the Santa Ana winds are blowing like crazy.  This is city where you will see a car driving down the 210 freeway in 78 degree weather with skis and snow on its roof.  This is a city where on January 1st you will find a large number of people surfing to ring in the New Year.  This is a city of teachers and garbage collectors and shop keepers and lawyers and doctors and factory workers and gardeners and maids and rich people and poor people and everything in between.  This is a city like no other city, with a subtly of seasons that it takes a lifetime to detect and a soul that can feed your art if you can figure out how to find it.

I’m not saying you have to like my town.  I understand how it might not work for everyone.  But that’s true of anywhere.  What bothers me is that I don’t hear anyone saying, “Seattle sucked the soul out of all my artistic friends” or “Racine killed her desire to be an actor” or “Chicago made it impossible for me to write any decent music”.  I’ve heard people say that the insider nature of the theatre community in Chicago made it hard to get started there.  I’ve heard people say that the snootiness of the indie rock scene in the Pacific Northwest made it impossible to get booked into a decent club.  But no one blames the city for those things.

All I’m asking is that you place your blame in the right location.  Tons of people don’t like New York because it’s a big dirty city or Minneapolis because it’s too cold or New Orleans because it’s too hot and there’s no clean drinking water or Los Angeles because it’s too spread out and you do have to have a car to get around.  But if you or your friends lose sight of their artistic soul then I suggest taking some responsibility for the maintenance on that soul because if you don’t nurture it yourself the geography won’t make a damn bit of difference

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A Depth of Love

There is a depth of love that is most easily noticed by the way it breaks your heart.  Not in a bad way but in that breaking is a way of being fundamentally changed.  I know exactly who in my life I love to that depth.  It’s a gift of middle age to be honest.  Not that I didn’t experience it when I was younger but I didn’t really know what it was or how completely that love exists regardless of almost anything…it just continues to exist.  There is almost no rhyme or reason to this love, it just is and it takes my breath away.

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Broken isn’t Shattered

Today I am 30 years sober.

That seems completely impossible since I only feel about 30 years old inside my head but in truth I’m 52 years old inside and out.

A friend of mine used to say you had to be pretty damn sick to get sober right before the holidays (she had done the same thing) and some years I know she was absolutely right.

I’m grateful for my life today.  I’m grateful for my family and friends who are shining miracles of light and love and absolute saints for putting up with me.  I’m grateful for all the amazing people who walk through this life with such courage and joy showing me how it’s done.  I’m grateful for the people who walk through it all with me as we find our way together.

I’ve been struggling with some broken heartedness recently.  A dear friend is in a brutal battle with cancer and despair is lurking around every corner of my heart.  She’s fierce as shit so I’m trying to be too.  I can’t afford despair and she deserves much better than that from me.  So today I’m taking it heartbeat to heartbeat and I’m leaning on the warrior women in my life so I can send all our love and magic and support to my friend.  Staying out of the future, even the future of later today.  Right here, right now…making sure that my cracked heart is letting the light out, not letting the darkness in.  Because broken isn’t shattered.

Blessings.

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Steve Dillon 1962-2016

I read this morning that Steve Dillon has died.  You might not know that name.  To be honest I wouldn’t have recognized it if he hadn’t been identified in the headline by one of his more well-known books, Preacher.  He was a comic artist who worked quite a lot with Garth Ennis.  They worked on Hellblazer together, another favorite of mine.  I’m not a dedicated reader of comics or graphic novels but I do like the ones I like, even if I haven’t read them from beginning to end.  Years ago a friend of mine who works in the comic industry suggested I read Preacher.  He said he thought it was something I would like considering something I was writing at the time.  So I picked up Book One which included the first twelve issues of the comic.  It was gritty and darkly funny with a foundation of anger and melancholy.  That appealed to me.  So when I had to fly up to Oregon to visit my parents I took the book along and was happily reading it on the plane.  One of the flight attendants stopped by my seat at one point and quietly asked what I was reading.  I smiled and told him and he gave me a conspiratorial grin, telling me it was one of his favorite series.  He then told me a story about a flight that Garth Ennis was on and how he was the only person who realized who Ennis was and totally fanboyed out.  We laughed and enjoyed connecting with a fellow lover of comics in an unexpected place.

Steve Dillon adapted Preacher for television recently and the first season is out with a second season having been ordered.  That’s a wonderful bit of unexpected success for a comic regardless of what you might think from the giant Marvel and DC movies.  Books like Preacher are deserving of the same level of attention and respect but they are not quite as mainstream ready if you will.  I haven’t watched the show so I don’t have any opinion about it but I had this quiet little feeling of happiness for the book creators that it was made at all.  These people are astoundingly talented and they work so freakin’ hard for very little monetary success and often not a lot of public credit.  Clearly it’s changing but most of them are still living pretty tight and only known within the subculture of comics (yep, still a subculture when you compare it the world at large).

According to Garth Ennis in the NY Times Steve Dillon died of a burst appendix.  This is absolutely tragic and heart breaking.  He was only 54 years old.  A bright and creative light has gone out.

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The Face Of God

I’m in the middle of reading a New York Times article about Michelle Obama.  It’s titled “To The First Lady, With Love: Four thank-you notes to Michelle Obama, who has spent the past eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history.”  I had to stop after reading the first one to write this because with one line it brought me to tears.  Sometimes a writer manages to put something into words that is one of my most deeply held thoughts, hopes, wounds, resentments, and fiercely fought for beliefs.  These words made my heart stutter, made my breath catch and I had to work hard to control the tears because it showed me I am not alone in these thoughts even though I live in a world that insists this belief is not true and worse than that…it’s hateful, it’s sinful, it’s blasphemous, it’s so wrong that in some parts of the world we would most definitely be punished for speaking it out loud possibly killed for it.

But you know what?  Fuck that!

Here’s what connected me to someone I’ve never met today and reminded me that if there is a God…a God that deserves to be called God…then It certainly has no issue with this truth written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Michelle Obama was speaking. I felt protective of her because she was speaking to an America often too quick to read a black woman’s confidence as arrogance, her straightforwardness as entitlement.

She was informal, colloquial, her sentences bookended by the word “see,” a conversational fillip that also strangely felt like a mark of authenticity. She seemed genuine. She was genuine. All over America, black women were still, their eyes watching a form of God, because she represented their image writ large in the world.

There’s a whole lot there but what got me today was the ringing truth that the amazing woman who has been our First Lady for the last eight years is absolutely “a form of God”.

Woman as a form of God, much less black women as a form of God, is an idea that makes the big three Western religions squirm and whine and get very, very angry.  Their efforts to erase women from their rightful place as an equal image of God has unbalanced our society in a way that we may never recover from in my opinion.

Michelle Obama shines one of the brightest lights of fierce, intelligent, powerful, thoughtful womanhood ever to walk the public stage.  She does that as a black woman in the face of intense opposition to both her womanhood and her race and yet she continues to shine.

She continues to show us the face of God.

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