Dose of Theory

*Excerpt

About two years ago I received a ticket while driving for not having my registration up to date. My car was unwashed and banged up, and the cop that tailed me followed me for several blocks (running my plate through “the system”) before flashing his lights and pulling me over. My girlfriend was with me at the time, and the officer had me sit still for several minutes while he waited for two more cars to arrive.

I kept my hands on the steering wheel because I wanted them to see that my hands weren’t doing anything suspicious. I didn’t want them to get spooked or to give them any reason to put a bullet in me. Truth was I was afraid of them at the time, and with good reason.

When I was in high school my JV baseball coach was a police officer. During the course of the year the man shot a seventeen year old in the parking-lot of the local Walmart. The papers said it was in self defense, and it probably was, but there was doubt among the students and even my parents. Whether it was self defense or not, it was a white on black homicide, and it was someone I thought I knew and who I’d trusted.

I’ve heard that there is generally mistrust between cops and two specific groups; lower-class Americans, and Minorities. Continue reading

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Dark Night of the Soul

As you may or may not know I’m currently working on the novel Beyond the Southerly Weepers, the story of a man and his family as they navigate the often tremulous waters of a post apocalyptic dystopian-future set in my home state of California. The story follows Thompson a man who must come to terms with his strange cybernetic-self, a part of himself he has avoided, in order to find the strength to face the abounding dangers. The first leg of my story was one of flight and introspection, but I’ve reached the point where most of the cards are on the table plain for everyone to see, and what comes next is action.

This is daunting. Continue reading

Bite of Thought

Two books I’m about to begin reading for the purpose of generating good crude thought are The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. The first was recommended on the Daily Show with John Stewart. I have become what I would call a strong reader, and I’ve worked to get there, but mostly what I read is fiction.

One night Jon Stewart did an interview with author Matt Taibbi, and I was hooked. I was beginning the semester taking Intro to Sociology, and here was a book that was right in line with one of the major schools of thought I’d been studying, mainly Conflict Theory. Loosely defined Conflict Theory is a school of thought which aims to search out  areas of social inequity and once these areas are identified deconstruction is used to examine the individual pieces of the “collage” that when joined together create the whole fucked-up picture. This loose definition also works to describe Taibbi’s The Divide.

First I started listening to the audio book. It was a new experience for me, but I learned how to book mark certain sections, and since I was accustomed to reading and writing in the margins, I had to develop a new kind of literacy. You might not believe me, but learning to listen can be challenging for some, and certainly for me.

Eventually I found myself in a world I knew, but all the same was shocking to meet and to see for what it really was, a mess. In the introduction Taibbi talks about a system of justice that is “universal” for all American citizens in name only, and that in fact the system isn’t universal but stratified just like the classes. And one thing that resonates deeply with me is this, “more and more often we all make silent calculations about who is entitled to what rights and who is not. It’s not as simple as saying everyone is the same under the law anymore. We all know there is another layer to it now.”

And I think we are seeing this even more now with police brutality clearly targeting low-income and working-poor neighborhoods, and our pampered friends on Facebook blaming our outrage and our call for regulation as the reason their cop-relatives are being gunned down in the streets. Here we see the lower and lower-middle classes taking aim at each other, when the ones that run the system that maims us continues to live and thrive hidden in obscurity.

While The Divide Looks at the current state of affairs and lays bare what’s actually happening now, The Unwinding looks at how we got here. This, was a recommendation, but one I’m glad I followed up on. I began listening to this on audio too. Here George Packer tracks the movement of “the” glacier that is American politics and Domestic Policy.

He’s worked hard to uncover and expose key players who have played a role in shaping the world we see around us, and he has worked hard to show readers how the pieces fit together, and to show that some things we look at and think “how crazy” actually fit together nicely, naturally, and snug as a bug when you examine the other pieces. Together I hope these books will prepare me for my next semester, one filled with Sociology and Argumentation.

While I’ve listened to these and gotten a lot, I’m now going back over paperback copies with highlighter in hand. What I find I’ll share with you.

And I haven’t Forgotten about Austen. Me and her are getting along just fine currently!

Two quotes to leave you with, some food for thought.

“We are creating a dystopia, where the mania of the state isn’t secrecy or censorship but unfairness. Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process. Winners get rich and get off. Losers go broke and go to jail. It isn’t just that some clever crook on Wall Street can steal a billion dollars and never see the inside of a courtroom; it’s that, plus the fact that some black teenager a few miles away can go to jail just for standing on a street corner, that makes the whole picture complete.

The great nonprosecutions of Wall Street in the years since 2008 were just symbols of this dystopian sorting process to which we’d already begun committing ourselves. The cleaving of the country into two completely different states–one a small archipelago of hyperacquisitive untouchables, the other a vast ghetto of expendables with only theoretical rights–has been in the works a long time.”

-Matt Taibbi, The Divide

It’s like If I were to walk down to the creek, I’m going to wear a path, and every day I’m going to go the same way. That how the roads in this country were built, basically. The people that built the roads followed the animals’ paths. And once that path is set, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to take another path. Because you get in that set pattern of thinking, and it’s passed down generation to generation to generation.

-Dean Price, in The Unwinding

Sense and Sensibility I

Omnibus Austin!!!

Omnibus Austin!!!

Jane Austin is an author I have only met once or twice before. She bored me the first time around, and it has taken me awhile to find the right footing on this latest meeting. The omnibus collection I’ve gotten myself into begins with Sense and Sensibility

At first I was not impressed. I was against the author for dealing solely in world of the affluent, and for ignoring completely the world at large. It is true that the Dashwoods are not the most affluent in their world, but they are comfortably secure in their income, and their prime concern is whether or not the unmarried and eligible among them will soon be married, and of course to whom.

When I first dove into the pages I thought, If I were to name this novel back in the day I would call it ‘First World Problems: The Movie,” thankfully I didn’t name the novel, and thankfully I didn’t let my bias ruin the novel outright. It took some commitment on my part to let the story unfold before me.

Austin’s style is difficult for me because her narrator reduces complex actions to dull and ambiguous description, like for example when she writes, “The morning was rather favourable, though it had rained all night, as the cloud were then dispersing across the sky, and the sun frequently appeared” when describing a day at the park. You see I’m use to deeper descriptions, and a little more active too, but once you get use to it you can allow your imagination to take up the slack.

My objections were considerable, and then I met her characters in dialogue!

Comes from the end of Chapter 9

Comes from the end of Chapter 9

Here you catch a glimpse of Marianne, the youngest of the Dashwood women, and you can see that Austin loves her characters. Here Marianne is doing what she always does, caring a great deal about a thing that no one else would, and she’s quite a hipster about it too in a more modern sense as she’s pretty much saying, “Oh, that’s so unoriginal!”

This is where I start to not just appreciate, but enjoy the book. There are modern themes in here, there is so much comedy in here also. Austin doesn’t agree with any of her characters wholly, instead she’s fitted a quality to them and set them against each other. Every character in here has a foil, and every foil runs into her or his other half frequently, and often their interactions are fucking hilarious.

The last thing I will share with you is this. Sometimes my brain works fast, and it can see things quickly and clearly… other times it works more slowly. This is a case where my brain was lagging. I have only now begun to understand the title Sense and Sensibility. Marianne and Willoughby are Sensibility, because they are driven by their sensibilities or personal tastes, aesthetics, and moods. Conversely, Elinor and Brandon are Sense. They are more mature in the way the perceive and process the world, they move slower than the other two, but more steadily and less erratic. Together these foils are Sense and Sensibility. If I were a smarter man I would have seen that instantly, but I wasn’t even looking. Turns out I have a lot to learn from Austin.

Talya’s Visitor

Been cooking up story for ya'll!

Been cooking up story!

Talya could never find the right words when she was asked to explain her pain. A man with a certificate on the wall in his tight-and-stuffy office would ruffle his thin grey mustache and sit across from her in silence awaiting her reply. Most days she could only say, “It’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.”

Dr. Gary would nod sympathetically, and sometimes when he really wanted to show he understood he’d stop scribbling in his little black notebook, put his pen down, take off his glasses, and put his hand on Talya’s shoulder saying, “You matter girl, you do.” On those days he’d look her square in the eyes and most of the time she knew it was bullshit too, but some days she’d feel a biting warmth at the back of her eyes, and she’d cover up quickly before her councilor could see any tears.

Even so she thought he knew, but he never said anything mean about it, and their song and dance had become routine for the better part of a year. She never experienced those “breakthrough moments” they talked about on her mom’s televised novellas, but even though she  made sure he knew that they’d never be tight friends, she could almost admit to herself that things were getting better… not on the outside, and not in the world, but maybe within herself. Maybe the world could be full of bullshit, but she could be something else.

Talya had never been one to consider suicide. Even when things were really bad at home and at school, and even when her best friends jumped her because they thought she’d stolen from them to make a quick buck Talya never once considered suicide. But when she discovered a way out, a real way out of it all, she’d become a little obsessed with the idea.

Escape, now that was something not bullshit.

The arrangements had been made, even though her visitor seemed sad about what had to happen to see their plan through, but Talya knew it’d be better for everyone. Her older cousin had once told her a story about a former slave back in the days her history books glossed over. He’d said she killed her beloved child, just a baby, to make sure her girl wouldn’t be taken back into slavery, that terrible world that Talya felt she knew better than the dream of “work hard, be what you want.” It was a story from some famous author that her cousin really admired, but she couldn’t remember who exactly, only that the writer was Black and that her cousin was proud of her because he was brown too, as was Talya, and to him that meant anyone could write a story that was worth a damn.

What she did know was that she understood it. Slavery and Misery were the same, and she understood misery, that slow poison that ruined diners and made good company chaff over the years. Misery had put a grey streak in her mom’s hair and her mom was so full of it she blamed the grey on Talya saying, “If my girl was better, like the ones at church who never do anything bad I wouldn’t be getting old so soon!”

Things like that hurt Talya, but on the outside she’d bristle and firm up. “Then why don’t you fucking go adopt one of those blond bitches then!” And she’d slam her door. Her sister would walk across the room and hold her, but she wouldn’t talk to her mom again for a week. Things like that had become a bi-monthly occurrences, and lately they’d become more violent. They’d never hit each other, but god had Talya wanted to.

Unfortunately the world’s bullshit had taken her mom, and Talya could feel it at the foot of her door. Misery was relentless in trying its’ accost of her soul, but somehow she held it off, though she had no idea how much longer she could.

She looked around her, at the adults in her life, and saw shadows over eyes and slumped shoulders. They could put on a good show for family and friends and when the occasion called for a strong performance, but when they were alone she saw them for what they really were. Their eyes could no longer hide their tiredness when they were alone. Above all, that tired succumbing was what Talya wanted to escape, and she thought that maybe they did as well.

“Just like that woman in the story,” she whispered to her visitor in the spare moments she had her room to herself. She paused when she heard movement in the rooms beyond her closed door. “My cousin said it was violent and mean, damn mean the way she killed her child, but it was an act of mercy and love. That’s what we’re going to do for them.”

And the stranger sat quietly awhile behind the mirror beneath the loose floorboard. Finally, “Your people have justified a great many things in the name skewed idealism.” Talya wasn’t quite sure she knew what he was saying, and her visitor must have known. “Take for example the people who lived here before the Europeans.”

Talya knew a little bit about them. In her textbooks she learned that they’d built teepees and that they helped the early American settlers survive their first winters. But she also knew a little Apache boy. She met his father, a man who only smoked Marlboros and who would watch westerns late into the night and laugh at all the jokes the white cowboys made like he was one of them and like their wit and cleverness was the best he’d ever heard. She could never quite figure out how the people in the school book related to the fat Apache father who barely noticed his son when they spoke and who dreamed of being white, but she new it had to do with the Misery she saw running rampant in the land they told her was her home. She never found out if his people built teepees or not, and the old man didn’t know.

The visitor stroked what looked like a chin, but of course Talya couldn’t be sure, when he said, “You know one version of the story, but I was there when it happened. They killed most of them, poisoned the rest, and they brought them their Trinity. Their Jesus was to be the natives’ consolation prize, and the Europeans justified their cruelty in the gift of their Christ, saying you have lost much but you’ve gained much more in Jesus Christ, you’ve gained salvation!” Again the visitor paused, “but you see it was idealism, their religion was the ideal, and they used that to destroy, turn-over, and shape the world in their image.”

Talya had to think about that. “You’re saying, you’re telling me that I might be doing the same thing now… saying what I have to so that I can get my way.” The visitor smiled the way humans do, but Talya didn’t think it looked natural on him. “Keep working on it Lertan.”

They both chuckled at the visitor’s sad attempt at a smile, and Lertan agreed that it looked ghastly on him. The conversation came back to their escape. And Lertan again became serious. “What you’re asking will hurt a lot of people.” Talya shook her head knowingly, and she was about to speak but her friend stopped her. “You think you know, but you don’t. You humans think linearly, and very rarely to you consider the interconnectedness of parts.”

“No, I know.” Talya was feeling more than a little angry with her visitor then. “I know, setting you free will kill them! It’ll kill all of them! The city will be no more, like biblical destruction and shit!”

“It’s not just the city.” Lertan stepped back from the pane of the mirror and buried half his eyes in his palm. “Family exists beyond this city that will be pained by this plan of yours too, businesses and the people who make their livelihood by them will suffer as well… you do not live in a vacuum Talya.”

She hadn’t thought beyond the city, Lertan had been right on that count. Talya sighed and shook her head, “But why should we have to suffer for them? They don’t even like us!” And at that her visitor was silent. She knew he felt what she felt, that burning pain, that Bullshit and Misery, that Slavery-disguised-as-freedom-and-choice. She knew he could fell it. When they’d first met he’d told her his kind were very much in tune with the world around them, he’d said his kind were Empathetic.

The visitor closed his eyes and sighed. “I’ll admit only, that my time here, has been long, and that I would like to see home once more.”

“So you want to go!” Talya would have hugged her visitor if she could. Instead she put a fingertip to the glass and he did the same. It was almost like they were connected.

Again the visitor sighed. “Yes I want to go, but not at the expense of millions of people.”

Talya sat back. Everything was so confusing. “How can you want to go, and want to stay? It doesn’t make any sense!”

The visitor tried his smile again and this time Talya thought it looked a little more, human. “Both our species are very complex little one. That is our universal truth. There is no black and white with us, and there is no good and evil, only shades of grey and the choices we make.” He paused for a moment. “Look at me girl… The choice, as you know is yours. Search your heart, and you will come to the right decision.”

“But what if I choose the wrong thing!” Talya was crying now. “I never get it right! I’m not like the girls from church! They’d get it right… you’d know if you met them! You wouldn’t even like me if you did! How do you know I’ll get it right!”

“On my planet,” Lertan spoke between whispered breaths, “Our faith is as strong as yours.” All the while she’d been fingering the key.

Lertan hadn’t thought she would find back when they’d first met. His ship was buried at the edge of the city, but when Talya found it an old broken home had been built over the spot. She used her grandfather’s metal detector like the visitor had told her, and she found it. Beneath a creak in the floorboards was an old basement, and she chipped away at the foundation she found soft earth, and below that she found Lertan’s ship.

It lit up at her fingertips, and cold air spewed out of it as the hatch slid open. There were so many lights inside of it. She found the key as Lertan had described it, a metallic triangle with a raised disc on the flat side. All she had to do was place the circle in the indentation beneath the mirror, and her visitor would be free… but when she did the released energy would destroy her city in a brilliant ball of fire. Lertan told her he would be able to protect her, but that there was no way they could save the city.

So she’d found her escape at last, but it came with a deadly price. She thought about her cousin away at college. The story he’d told her about the woman and her child, dead by her own hands, gave her hope that she could live with herself afterwards. That she could leave the pain and misery of their reality in search of something better, and know that in their death she’d given them freedom from the Misery that slumped their shoulders and put the shadow over their eyes. Talya wondered if her cousin would be among those hurt by the loss outside of the city.

It seemed unavoidable, and for that she was truly sorry. She heard her mom screaming on the phone in the kitchen, which meant her and her sister would have to endure another dangerous night with a dangerous woman that looked a lot like their mom, but wasn’t, and was violent too. She decided then to take her sister with her when she left, but first, she’d have to warn Dr. Grey.

Review: The Man Without a Country

From: Classic American Short Stories

From: Classic American Short Stories

Mr. Hale’s story is long and rambling, and at times “getting through it” becomes a chore. As much as I hate to say it, this one in particular didn’t appeal to me outright. The character, Philip Nolan, is beset by an interesting set of circumstances. In his youth he slandered his country before a military tribunal, and as consequence his superiors saw fit to cut him off from all awareness of the country he slammed. He would spend the rest of his days under “lock and key” aboard various naval vessels in which he’d never see nor even hear mention of the country that he’d forsaken.

The premise is interesting enough. It is a kind of social experiment involving isolation and exclusion, but not neglect, so that the severe isolation could be maintained indefinitely. But the writing doesn’t fail at the premise.

First you have to understand that this is an older work, and that Mr. Hale wrote in the 1800s. When you consider that fact, though it makes the text no more palatable, it softens your bias. Here you will find the vivid prose of King or Eowyn Ivey, but you will discover, if you set your bias aside, that what you are reading is as much a time capsule written in just a few short pages as it is a story.
I do not know whether or not Mr. Hale was an abolitionist, but he did write in the later 1800s, and the mention of “the rebellion” and Abraham Lincoln. And this is where the story becomes interesting to me, because so often the only picture of the Civil War we get it dictated to us through High School History books and Hollywood adaptations, and here we get an author-of-the-time’s opinions.

There is a scene in which Nolan is called upon to translate Portuguese onboard a slaver-ship to some newly liberated slaves. What makes me think Mr. Hale is an abolitionist is his idealism in the scene. It is a very solemn scene, very respectfully crafted, and the slaves themselves, all black, are elevated to the point of near-sainthood in their suffering and their dignity. Now, while I appreciate his treatment of the subject matter, my suspension of disbelief ends at the point where they decide to waste more resources and time just to bring theses slaves back home. This is a point that shows the flawed-idealism of Mr. Hale’s time, because while acts of kindness and sympathy surely happened on the open sea, they were not devoid of racism.

So, while Mr. Hale’s idealism is problematic, and seems to seek the absolution of White Americans in whatever nebulous role they’ve played in developing the institution of slavery, it is interesting to feel his underlying guilt and to see the delicacy with which he treats the subject matter, and through what pains he suffers to make sure there is no mention of the slaver’s ethnicity or skin color. Also, the fact that slavery plays such a pivotal role in the story is telling as well. There are not too many authors I’ve read who’ve acknowledged the realities of an ugly thing, and here Mr. Hale shines light upon a subject that most would prefer to keep swept under the rug, especially of his day.

I would recommend reading this story as a survey of facts, events, and culture of the 1800s. In that capacity this story is a fantastic voyage. But be warned, though the subject matter is grand, you may get bogged down in the slow-paced prose from time to time.

Thank you for reading,
David