Don’t Tell Me What to Do
UPDATE March 2023 – I’m finally setting up a new theme since this site has been dormant since September. If you open it and it looks strange or half-made, that’s because it is.
NOTE – The old WordPress theme that I was using for this site crashed recently, which is why it’s looking so plain and doesn’t have all of the pretty colors and features that it used to. I’ll be setting it up with a new one as soon as I have time, which might take a few weeks to get to. Good news is that with a newer theme it’ll be device agnostic and will look good on phones and tablets too. Yay, sort of.
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I’m starting out with announces here at the top this month so that you can check out the lovely and singular rant below without commercial interruption.
UPCOMING EVENTS :: I’ve got two (2) (too) events coming up in September. Yay! :: On Saturday, September 17 I’ll be reading at the Zoom Release Party for great weather for MEDIA‘s brand spankin’ new anthology Arriving at a Shoreline. This one is West Coast earlyish, starting at 1pm PST / 4pm EST so you can frolic with the wordies and still have time for an afternoon walk. What wordies, you ask? Check this out: readers include Roger Aplon (Beacon, NY), M.A. Dennis (New York City), Aimee Herman (Boulder, CO), Tobey Hiller (San Rafael, CA), Richard Loranger (Oakland, CA), Violeta Orozco (Cincinnati, OH), Aimee Wright Clow (Durham, NC), and Yvonne (Philadelphia, PA), all hosted by Mary McLaughlin Slechta. How’s that for a party! You can get to the FB event page by clicking on Zoom Release Party above (oops, here too), and can find further deets on the the Events Page on this very site and more about the book below. :: And on Saturday, September 24 I’ll be hosting a live reading in Live Oak Park in Berkeley as a release party for the mind-rocking new books by Julian Mithra (Unearthingly) and Steve Arntson (Gypsy and Other Poems). These are two of my favorite writers in the Bay Area (and elsewhere), and I couldn’t go another minute seeing them both with new and honestly brilliant books without a damn release party. So I booked a picnic area in North Berkeley right next to the Berkeley Art Center from noon till 4 on what’ll definitely be a fiiiiiine late-September weekend afternoon. You’ll want to look at the deets on the Events page here so you don’t get lost. Also thinking an hour or so open mic. Yay!
RECENT PUBLICATION ::
I’m gosh-darned honored to have my recent piece of flash fiction “Shed” appear in the latest and mesmerizing anthology of international work from great weather for MEDIA press, Arriving at a Shoreline. This one contains poetry and short fiction from sixty-four writers plus interviews with Martín Espada and Jack Foley. And look at that beautiful cover! Worth the price in itself. Look for more deets about this fine pub on the Anthologies & Journals page. P.S. – “Shed” is a teensy bit scary, just so you know.
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DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO
When I lived in Austin in the late 90s, I hung out frequently with a good friend name a Dave. Dave was an engaging and chipper fella thirteen years my senior who’d been blown off a roof in Vietnam and lived to sing and dance again. He was an actor and a waiter at the same estab as I and his perspective was often upbeat, always interesting. and sometimes surprising. He was as much a pal as a mentor and I valued his opinions always, even when I scoffed in glee. We would spend hours on end imbibing beer and weed and endless cigarettes while shooting the shit about every damn thing.
One day the topic of capital punishment came up, an inevitability if you happen to live in Texas which is rather gung-ho about the practice. At that time our fine state was preparing to off some murderous soul or another with all the hoopla they could muster, and it occurred to me that I had no idea what Dave thought of the issue. I was teetering on the proverbial split-rail fence about the whole thing, which made me all the more curious to hear his venerable opinion. I had a feeling that he’d be all, “Yeah, kill the fucker,” but as was so often the case, his answer was much more interesting. Thus the whole mentor thing, I guess.
He was dead set against it, but not for any reason I’d ever heard. Now listen, it may well be that 99% of you folk reading this have known of this rationale forever—it might be as common as chicken soup, but my less-than-genius brain had never encountered or considered it. And ya know, everbody gotta have a first time for everthing. Dave could see I was taken aback by his immediate response and chucked wryly. (The man could do wry like nobody’s business.) “Now I suppose you’ll want to know why I think that,” he said.
“Very much so,” said I.
“Well I’m not sayin’ that cold-blooded murderers, at least the ones we’re sure of, shouldn’t be murdered themselves. Go at it, I say. Send out the posses! Kill the fuckers! I just don’t think that the government should be doing the killing, that’s all. And do you know why?” (I didn’t.) “Because a government should behave in a way that it wants its citizens to emulate. Because you know what? They will.”
Now I know you’re all out there sayin’, Sure, I know that. I figured that out years ago. My grandpappy told me that on his knee, and what a great way to look at things or what a stupid way to look at things, etc. But hey, have a moment of kindness for us slow-to-catch-on folks, okay? I swear I’d never heard this perspective before, likely as it is that it was posited by the most famous social theorist ever and I’d heard it a hundred times and it just never stuck, but whatever the case I damn sure heard it this time. And it was a big deal idea for me, even in my late thirties. It was, in fact, a turning point in my own way of viewing society. An epiphany of sorts. All of a sudden the Reagan years made so much more sense. Let the corporations run rampant? Hey I wanna piece of that too. Back room deals with the Ayatollah? Hey I’ve got a back room right here myself. But it wasn’t just the hostile takeovers, the explosion of greed, and the yuppie invasion of America that felt so cause-and-effect in retrospect—so much historical conflict, the minutia of oppressive and aggressive ideologies, and so much bad behavior in general all fell into place. We really do make our gods in our own image. No wait, we really do make ourselves…. Fuck false profundity, we’ll just take any excuse we can get to cover for our unseemly antisocial tendencies.
Fast forward to recent years, which make the Reagan Administration look actually like the Howdy Doody Show. With Drumph leading the charge into chaos, Dave’s perspective never seemed more valid nor its consequences so clear. Essentially we had a “leader” who had no interest in leading, let alone in any sort of programmatic ethos or civility or modes of behavior. This is a person who seems to genuinely have no sense or concept of boundaries, rules, even decorum. His day-to-day life is to all appearances about one thing only: to do whatever he wants, when he wants, regardless of…anything. And that, I’m afraid, is what his adoring hordes have latched on to and what they emulate.
Back in July I was watching an episode of that great new television series The January 6th Hearings. In this particular episode a fellow named Jason Van Tatenhove was testifying about his years working for the Oath Keepers militia group. Mr. Van Tatenhove had been taken on by them after his experience with small-group standoffs with the Federal Government starting with Bundy Ranch. He described Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers’ ostensible guru, as wanting to start a second civil war and having grand visions of himself as a paramilitary leader. As I was watching, I had one of those ask the question, ask the question moments. What question was that? I wanted Senator Raskin to ask him what the Oath Keepers planned or envisioned doing after a successful revolution, and what kind of world they hoped to create. He didn’t ask.
The thing is, recognizing that these folks must have a range of perspectives, the one quality that the insurrectionists and malcontents seem to share across the board is that they all want the government off their backs. It doesn’t matter what government; although some may have demonized certain factions or party affiliations, ultimately a lot of these are people are simply sick of restrictions on their lives and businesses and what they see as mismanagement of the economy. Mingling with them are some who find certain social conditions to be infringing on their comfort zones (e.g. people of color and queer culture, women who don’t know their place, etc). And while some governments may promote oppression of the latter groups (hello, Florida), in the end they will all tax the citizenry, they will all zone housing, they will all grift small businesses for every cent they can grab. The frustration of the malcontented folks in this age of corporate ascension is greatly understandable. Making a living for self and family is nearly impossible at most socioeconomic levels right now, let alone nesting a few eggs. It makes absolute sense that many people want to see less restrictions and more “freedom” to build a better life, and when someone comes along who claims convincingly enough to support that direction, it’s not hard to be taken along for the ride.
Those are the malcontents, a word that I do not use here in any derogatory fashion. Then there are the insurrectionists who, for whatever reasons of nature and/or nurture, like Drumph, simply don’t want anyone telling them what to do. Ever. For any reason. I’m not just referring to the AK-47-swinging public intimidators; behaviorally this presents on many levels. Hell, any one of us could present resistance to attempted control at any time, though the last few years have dredged it to the surface all around us in places and people both predictable and unexpected. Take the masking issue as a case in point. Science clearly shows that wearing one protects both oneself and others from infection by the virus—though I get it, not everyone stands by science, or does selectively, an instance of Don’t Tell Me What to Think. But even most common forms of morality and personal conscience suggest that it’s wrong to harm others, which for many includes not passing along a clearly deadly disease. Early in the pandemic, Drumph staked his position on masking by stating firmly, “I just don’t want to wear one.” No reason, just I don’ wanna. The fact that millions of Americans subsequently took this up as a cause, expressing their irrational position with violence including murder, is very telling. This trend reflects the same insurrectionist stance (I shy to call it an ideology) espoused by the Oath Keepers, the Bundys, and many others. These are not people who seem to want a new government or civil construct, nor do they seem to have one in mind. They’re not anarchists, a term far too loosely bandied, who by definition and in theory would make it a personal focus to figure out how to live well with others but without laws. They do however resemble certain brats who call themselves anarchists, but who really just like to break things for their own satisfaction. Like Drumph, these people seem to have no sense of social compact. For them it simply doesn’t exist. And that’s the horror movie right there.
So we have the insurrectionists and their antihero Drumph, all fixated on infantile I-don’-wanna behaviors (with fists and guns); we have the often rightful malcontents struggling to get out from under the boot of the corporate oligarchy; we have a whole general mass of MAGA Twits (MAGATs for short) whose minds have been co-opted by Rupert Murdoch and Friends and good ol’ reliable conflict addiction; we have the right-wing and far-right and alt-right politicians who either parrot, “support,” or make increasingly desperate excuses for Drumph and his mob, some of whom may fall into these earlier categories while others are simply exploiting the sitch in their quest for power and wealth (oh, that), and many of whom, along with a lot of lefties, absolutely uphold corporate interests over those of individuals; and we have you.
Which leads us only to questions. Namely, what do you think of all this? Does this perspective have any place in social discourse? Would you be comfortable living in a culture devoid of laws, regulations, manners, or any semblance of social contract? What would your place be in such a world? How would you get along? Or if you’d rather not have that, how should we stop it from happening? What kind of human system would you realistically prefer? Are you okay with being told what to think or do, and to what level? Am I? Where did I get all these ideas from anyway? And finally, of course, what would Dave think?