Finding Voice

I walked outside and screamed at the bottom of my driveway,

only because I knew no one would notice,

well, they did, and their doors shut,

I stood in my neighborhood and felt completely alone.

 

The manicured lawns,

similarly styled rose gardens,

the roof repair and invisible fences,

street signs that suggested we all slow down.

 

I glanced around and decided to scream outloud again,

more doors shut,

the street seemed to empty in a silence

more apparent than I’d noticed before my unravel.

 

I stood there for a long time

watched kids on their bicycles take the corner before

having to coast past the man at the end of the driveway,

I realized for the first time I might have been noticed.

 

I walked back up to my garage,

played some music while drilling some wood,

the sweat on my brow, I wiped with my forearm,

I glanced at the street, a squad rode by … I waved.

Philando Castile

castile

NY Daily photo credit

I recently told a friend of mine I have sometime wished I was black, and as the words left my mouth, the expression on his face indicated to me he was immediately offended. I knew I’d made a horrific presumption, and felt compelled to find him a little later on to continue our dialogue.  I wasn’t really sure what I was asking, but he sat me down and asked me a question.

He said, ‘as you sit in that chair, do you feel like you would be where you are, as a black man, including your personality and everything you are today?’

I had to think about the question. I had to get past trying to find the right answer and really think about how I was going to respond. I did not know what my answer could possibly be because I have never been a person of color. I have always been white.

This afternoon, when I first heard the news of the verdict in the shooting of Philando Castile, I felt immediately sick to my stomach. For a year I have replayed that viral video in my mind, imagining only one outcome. I believed the officer would be found guilty of manslaughter. I thought it was an easily defined case. I felt like I had come to know Philando through all the news reports and the expose’s of his life and the stories his community had expressed of who he was in our society. But I forgot one simple truth. He was a black man pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was suspected of being involved in a robbery based upon his description. The only solid evidence that suggested he had been involved in the burglary was the color of his skin.

If that had been me, a white guy, with a gun pointed at my body by a peace officer, I am willing to bet, I could have said everything Philando expressed in the final minutes of his life, and I could have reached with my right arm and found my I.D. without the officer feeling compelled to discharge seven bullets into my body. This officer didn’t simply fire a couple of rounds, He fired seven times at point blank range. And there in that moment, while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident, Philando Castile died.

Justice seemed evident in this case, I didn’t even imagine the jury would take as long as they did to come back with a verdict. I only imagined it would be an open and shut case. That was until I saw the jury selection. I knew that when we had a jury of over 20 white people and two people of color, the case for Philando had taken a dangerous turn. I knew that when the officer was coached to cry in the witness stand, Philando’s integrity was in trouble.

I also knew I couldn’t get out of my car as a white man and express my sorrow and rage to any person of color without coming off patronizing. So instead, I called another friend, and told him he was the first person that came to my mind. Now this friend asked me if I was surprised by the verdict. I think I waffled my answer and said something like, “Well, yeah, I guess, well no, well I’m just sad.”

He agreed with my sentiments, and then began to speak of the systemic failure of our society to recognize the inherent discrimination of the African- American culture. Interestingly, he didn’t blame the cop that gunned down an innocent man. Instead he talked about how our society (his African-American culture) has to become proactive in changing the mindset of how we cope with our discrimination. He immediately prayed that there would be no acting out and a peaceful protest might occur.

I agreed with him and thanked him for letting me listen to his ideals, those of which I have always respected and believed. I finished the call, and sat in my car, and thought about what I would do next. All I could think about was how sad I was with the outcome of the day’s events. All I could do was feel like a white guy trying to wrap my head around this horrific tragedy. I still don’t have any answers, except only to say I’m sorry Philando, I am truly sorry this happened to you.

Why “13 Reasons Why” Is Important

13

In the fine arts we are encouraged to go big with our ideas, to allow emphasis on the issue, the illusion, the piece of art being presented on the stage. The purpose is designed to get the point across to the audience, or keep them engaged. The true compliment to an artwork, no matter the venue, is that people continue the discussion beyond the actual event.

Watching 13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series really blew my mind. I felt like I was back in my high school again, experiencing the turmoil that a teenager goes through trying to adjust, fit in, survive the utter chaos of peer rejection and acceptance, all in the same day, every day.

About half way through the series, episode 6, or tape 3 I was riveted to every moment. Watching Clay struggle with the reality of losing his friend was compelling. I watched the behavior of his circle of people, I won’t call them friends, because so often in this period of a teenager’s life it is difficult to define who a true friend is. 13 did an excellent job exploring that aspect of high school.

I felt like I was the student in the room, experiencing the pain that comes with pressure and bullying. While the world goes on around a teenager, their internal struggle is never really revealed, and 13 explored that well enough to suggest this is real behavior. I thought all the characters fit the proper stereotypes.

The parents of each character as they unfolded in the show seemed normal. What I mean is they depicted the dysfunction of raising a family, holding a job, keeping up with or losing touch with their responsibility. I think the relationship that tore me up the most was Justin and his mom, I felt his pain as he leaned against the wall and she closed the door on their communication.

The administrators of the school seemed effectively overwhelmed by their task. There was the initial counselor who basically didn’t get tenure and then the new guy came in and gradually established their grounding as a central figure. In the end, it was clear things were beyond his control. Imagine the guilt we feel as teachers when we realize we missed something, that if we had just … we can settle behind the reality that our role in the classroom is to deliver our curriculum. Clearly that was demonstrated in 13 Reasons Why, but at the same time, we could recognize the vulnerability that children experienced around adults that were not involved. Or, if they were, they didn’t have a clue.

As I suggested in the beginning, in order to keep an audience, a piece has to have big moments. In television plot lines are imperative, and this is where I began to lose my direct connection to the characters in 13. Everything that could possibly happen, did, all impacting this small group of peers. Why such a micro-managed focus on the energy of a typical high school? Because the ability to attach pain and suffering to familiar characters helps get the point across to the audience.

If we accepted our buy in to the characters then everything they went through was plausible. Much like the movie Crash years ago where a diverse populace all experienced tragedies and successes within a literal block of L.A., though perhaps not possible, the experience the characters endured was certainly believable in the right context.

In 13, the key to this story is they deal with every aspect of being a teenager – confusion with sexual identity, clear cognizance of sexual preference and the societal scrutiny, the lifestyle of a jock, of a nerd, a geek, an outlier, a weirdo, In every aspect of student or teenager, the experiences seemed real and tragic.

What is an important takeaway is to recognize the behaviors demonstrated throughout this series were pretty spot on for the most part. The story line of the tapes could actually happen, though the possibility of getting through a dozen involved students probably not likely. But, they all maintained their characters with a haunting consistency.

Finally, let’s not forget this is about suicide, and the helplessness that everyone feels with a loss they believe they are responsible for. Even though in the real world we always blame the person who takes their own life. The movie itself defined the act as weak. I found it interesting that the young woman who revealed her cuttings on her arms, suggested she was doing it right, that suicide is a cop out. I’ve worked with cutters in my hospital work, and there was always a distinction between real and attention seeking, vertical and horizontal cuts as so eerily demonstrated in the series.

13 might be perceived as a segment of peers in a typical high school all being responsible for Hannah’s death, but if that is a takeaway, it is possibly wrong. It really is the remarkable telling of a young person’s struggle to define themselves while walking through life in a world of hurt, and having the fortune to play out the process with direct and frightening evidence, ironically replayed in cassettes with haunting truth.

I believe this series, beyond the embellishment and soap opera moments, is vitally important, certainly not for the eyes of children under 12 – not yet, even though we think they’re ready. It is a wonderfully tragic piece to create healthy dialogue, whether the characters are realistic or not. I was moved.

A Prayer For Meaning

eagle

StarTribune photograph

 

Today the battle won for the many,

those lives that fill our hearts with meaning,

the memories of laughter, filled the room,

when so many others were left alone.

 

Today, we do recall our brothers and sisters,

whose names we all know always forever,

the lives of strong, courageous beings,

went before our own to save such freedoms.

 

Today, in our ‘day off’ we must remember,

the many heartfelt thanks to all the members,

our lives are allowed to stand in sunshine,

only because their day off would be eternal.

 

So when we fire up the grill, pop the beverage,

when the favorite t-shirts and celebrations,

take over our country, light up the skies,

know the freedom they fought be not forgotten.

 

Be the infinite matter that defines our lives,

for their strength embolden our false security.

Watching

Earth

moon

Have you ever wondered,

a crystal night, stars amaze our eyes,

we walk the pavement of our lives,

in contemplation, where next.

 

Oh there are places we might see,

the visionary sense of certainty.

 

She looks upon our world,

amass of humanity,

living on channeled ice,

melting in flooded waters.

 

While everywhere materials

bought and sold and destroyed,

lay the ground speaks humanity,

burning the flesh of our lives.

 

She will watch forever you know,

long beyond the cellophane blues,

before we ever might realize,

how critical is the ground we soil.

 

The simple notion of carbon gases,

evaporating the core, delightful

is the prize of immortality

if while we cry emissions will allow.

 

An emotional plea is Nature’s wrath,

the ice caps change in form by day,

at night while asleep we dream,

She remains aware forever aglow.

 

Oh there are places we might see,

the visionary sense of certainty.

“I Read The News Today, Oh Boy” – John Lennon

lennon

He always did have a reason to speak, when his lyrics would wind our mind,

“Watching the wheels turn,” he seemed clearly in command of his time,

While we the listeners would be in a constant trance, a mellow sweet remind

How easily his lyrical mastery could make a dull afternoon be sublime.

 

Often the names and faces of humanity lose their certain authenticity

When this our society continues along a road so designed to fail.

We gather steam to criticize the Man, the friend, the neighbor; duplicity

Becomes an only nostalgic desire, when spinning  our arms flail.

 

Oh to hear it said by a pundit’s Machiavellian tongue, meant to misconstrue

We rest our mind to know we haven’t a need to hear it all, day, long.

Rather everyday a glance in the sky to recognize the world is only as true

As a remarkable miracle, allows our hypocritical lives to finally belong.

 

Yes, “it was 20 years ago today, Sergeant Peppers taught the band to play”

We all took in the moment, singing “all you need is love”- live life this way.

 

Propagandic Despair

I want to watch the news,

want to know, to understand, to speculate,

what is right, what is incomplete, what deceptive story

will lead me astray today, tonight, tomorrow, every way

I look for something new, some situation refreshing,

 

I want to watch the news,

I just can’t find the right ideas to concern myself with,

everything is optional, alternative, filled with a facade

of mainstream idiocy,

a propogandic nightmare,

teach me how to spell,

I can’t even count on the vocabulary being correct anymore.

 

I want to watch the news,

I want to see what’s happening rather than the constant shield

from reality, a spacial shape shifter,

we are all latching on to the movement,

the pendulum is rather static right now,

which way will it move?

 

I want to watch the blues,

because quite frankly that’s all that’s worth the news.