I think liberals have to cop to something: we have a bit of cognitive dissonance as well. Deep down, I don't think we can fully let go of the promise we felt in the days after Obama's election, and many of us are clinging to one hope: that the President and his team only planned to "survive" through the first term, and are saving their progressive gunpowder for the second.
Yes, that sentiment looks even sillier in writing, but for those of us who can't bear the thought that we were only projecting what we wanted onto Obama, it's pretty much all we've got to look forward to.
We expected more out of this Administration, and we didn't get anything close to what we wanted. We compare it to Bush's administration, when those motherfuckers came in and took whatever they damn well pleased, and got more than they asked for. I realize we aren't supposed to "stoop to their level", but you have to admit, their level was pretty damn effective.
As we approach the countdown to another Election Year (and we recommit ourselves to a Total News Blackout), these are the things I've been wondering:
• Did Obama really underestimate the level of hate-filled, partisan obstruction he was going to get? Or did he expect it, and thought he'd come off as the "adult" in the argument?
• Will Obama ever come out and say "the Republicans have done everything they can to ruin the economy in order to gain power in the 2012 elections"? Or does he still believe them incapable of such atrocity?
• Are Democrats going to get lucky in 2012 because the Republican candidates are all so shitty? Would a charismatic, smart, not-crazy conservative wallop Obama next November?
• Can Americans elect a Mormon, once they truly know everything a Mormon believes?
• Did Obama and his team ever have an overarching plan, a basic framework and timeline for his Presidency, and if so, is the present situation anywhere on it? Or did they have to crumple it up and throw it away by the second month?
• If he wins next November, is there any chance he'll actually end the two wars, try to suspend the death penalty, fight for a woman's right to choose, champion a truly effective environmental policy, or do anything that would make progressives happy? Or - cognitive dissonance be damned - he truly isn't the person we wanted him to be?
Tessa and Lucy the night after the Inauguration, Jan. 2009
Please answer the following questions to the best of your ability. I shall go first.
1. Reliable hot sauce of choice?
2. Sunrise or sunset?
3. Country you don't like even though you've never been there? (evil dictator-controlled countries excepted)
4. How hot are your showers?
5. Cursive or all caps?
6. Favorite two R.E.M. songs?
"Cuyahoga" and "Gardening at Night"
7. Most annoying store in modern indoor malls?
8. Least favorite part of driving?
9. Favorite non-Lincoln non-Jefferson 19th-century President?
James K. Polk
10. Most loved sports hero from your school?
Psycho T, Rasheed (tie)
In all of my admittedly-batshit health issues, the underlying motif has always been this: I'll get nickel-and-dimed to death, but the underlying structure has always been good, in fact, better than normal. To give you a few examples...
• I was told I had gout at 21, a kidney acid imbalance that usually only affected old medieval French kings after they ingested an entire reindeer.
• While rolling a trashcan up our driveway in 1999, it flipped up and smashed me in the nose, deviating my septum so that I have to sleep on my left side, even now, 12 years later. The resulting congestion gets infected at least thrice every winter, putting me on antibiotics each time.
• I have every symptom of IBS except for having IBS.
• Despite having the lowest pain threshold of anyone in North America, I was given kidney stones, possibly the most painful event a human can endure outside of full body burns.
• I get everything Lucy brings home from school, I will bite down on something at dinner and end up six months with a missing tooth, I will get bit by a spider and wind up with a staph infection.
HOWEVER, I basically still look pretty young, my weight is certainly down from my 30s, I've always had a good heart rate, low blood pressure and everything else has checked out swimmingly. In other words, all this other bad-luck bullshit was bearable because my baseline always rocked.
with the Mets plushie, Dec. 2007 (missing tooth vaguely visible)
This morning, I got the results back from one of our fertility tests, this time measuring the DNA fragmentation in my Netherlands. It's one of those tests you do after you've done every other test on earth, and yes, it involved a trip to another dreary jack-off room and Fedexing fluids to South Dakota.
I've had to do this at least seven times now, and the results have been similar: "excellent morphology" and "grade-A motility" and around 110 million little guys per ml (when you only really need 20 million).
But this morning? My DNA fragmentation was at 19%, which is in the "good" part of the "good to fair" range. The optimal is 15% and under. And while I've read of fragmentation rates of 63%, and the jury is still out on whether this test is accurate or even useful, it still completely bummed me out.
Because if I'm not coming at this thing with full guns blazing, what the fuck use am I? Like I told Tessa, it's hard enough being a biologically irrelevant dude, so if I'm not providing "GREAT" DNA, they should just stick me to the bottom of a ship with all the other barnacles.
I also got results back about my cholesterol: 209, which is pretty damn close to needing another drug, in which case I should just live at the goddamn pharmacy. And my blood pressure? 130 over 90, when it used to be 112 over 75 - and I'm skinnier now.
Yes, I'll go back to a more stringent exercise regimen, and I'll take a bunch of pleasures out of my diet, but I don't like this trajectory at all. I was getting used to being 44 and still lucking out and sliding under the radar. It's another hit to my exceptionalism and the age-old belief that the rules don't apply to me. But this time it's particularly disheartening; I can handle being nickel and dimed, but not quartered and drawn.
Okay, I just spent three hours trying to find this girl on Facebook, or anywhere, really.
How do people just not exist online? And this whole "changing your last name when you get married" thing is a drag for old friends, dammit! Do you ladies ever feel compelled to list yourselves as FirstName MaidenName MarriedName just so you can be found?
Okay, circadian rhythms are forcing me into a code word question right now, so I'll with one of my favorites from yesteryear: what the hell are you wearing RIGHT NOW?
among other things, I'm actually wearing this shirt from three years ago
It doesn't take much for me to be ashamed of my country; if there ever was a pinko bleeding-heart Blame-Old-Glory-First freakshow progressive, I'm happy to dress up and be a caricature of permissive, limp-wristed liberalism. But nothing makes me want to actually vomit like seeing us execute one of our own citizens. There's just no joke ironic enough to staunch the sickness I get when the Supreme Court fills a fellow human being with potassium chloride.
Troy Davis was killed by the state of Georgia on Wednesday for the alleged murder of an off-duty policeman in 1989 - despite seven of the nine original witnesses recanting their testimony (some claiming police coercion), evidence pointing to another man, terrible lawyers, and a law that made appeals for new evidence almost impossible. My own disgust for the execution, however, has nothing to do with the facts surrounding the incident. I just think that a country that kills its own people is fuckin' barbaric, especially when it doesn't work.
The death penalty is racist, prone to prosecution error, and sickeningly cruel. And Georgia's refusal to hear new evidence is truly Orwellian. Andrew Cohen said it best in a barnburning article in The Atlantic:
Whether the trial witnesses against [Troy Davis] were lying then or are lying now, by fighting against his requested relief Georgia is saying that its interest in the finality of its capital judgments is more important than the accuracy of its capital verdicts.
To those who would say "yes, but what if it was your daughter who was attacked?" I would respond, "What if it was your son spending twenty-two years on Death Row, lying before you, strapped to an IV full of poison, about to be executed for something he didn't do?"
And yet, an astonishing 64% of Americans favor the death penalty. I'm with Dahlia Lithwick: I hope the Troy Davis case acts as a tipping point to bring America back into civilization.
Our office assistant Laura has a dog named Dave, who has gone through a number of medical procedures lately (including canine chemotherapy) that has left him occasionally spaced out, and yes, it's hard to blame him. Today, as he gazed up at me with a particularly mournful look, I instinctively put on a deep Southern drawl and said, "Aww, Davey, it's okay. God is everywhere!"
My wife, who missed out on all kinds of seminal American experience whilst at her poncy grade school in Scotland, not only orders Big Macs at Wendy's, but has also never seen "Davey and Goliath".
I should admit that I've probably seen every "D&G" ever made, because they were shown randomly on the Dr. Max Show, a cartoon show hosted by grumpy old Max Hahn after school on the old WMT-TV station in Eastern Iowa. I know what you're all thinking: yes, WMT actually was one of the only broadcasters west of the Mississippi with call letters starting with "W"!
Anyway, Dr. Max showed all the Bugs Bunny classics with a few terrible "Popeye" episodes mixed in, but once or twice a week we'd get a "Davey and Goliath". I think they subconsciously reminded me of the claymation Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, so I soldiered through them, even though they were hopelessly boring. Plus, Davey was always in some fuckin' trouble or another, either getting lost in a cave, keeping money that didn't belong to him, or plunging into saturnine despair when he grandmother died.
The shows were unapologetically Christian, with frequent references to gospel. Back in the '70s, when we were latchkey kids frequently alone in the house at the age of 8, folks figured "D&G" worked well enough as morality plays in lieu of actual parenting, and didn't sweat the religious angle. I never gave it a second thought.
Until today, that is, when I did an impression of Goliath for Laura's dog, and realized: in this day and age, there is no WAY that show would EVER be shown to kids outside of a special church presentation. The uproar from lefty agnostics accusing the TV networks of brainwashing their precious brood would be deafening, and I WOULD BE ONE OF THEM.
It comes to this. The culture wars have been so scorched-earth and ruinous that neither side has any interest in enduring the other. I will be happy to admit my knee-jerk response to the domination of Christianity in our government (and vast swaths of our culture), and I will cop to overcorrecting, and painting with a grotesquely large brush.
But I will say this: the sickening cant of the Bachmans, Palins, Ashcrofts, Brownbacks, and Santorums of the world has solidified the progressives' lifelong duty to keep church and state separate. Put another way, if evangelicals and religious, right-wing Republicans weren't such dicks, I would have no problem with the occasional episode of "Davey and Goliath". Even the one where Davey accidentally locks himself inside a freight train.
I'm not sure how this monogamy vs. open-ish relationship stuff got into the water lately, but I've found myself in dinner conversations about it with people who have nothing to do with my online life. Maybe Dan Savage's message has permeated past the cultural tipping point, or maybe I'm sliding into an age group that is embodying the phrase "when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change, you will act."
I'm friends with a couple (with kids) who have an open-ish marriage and are doing fine. I'm also friends with a couple whose story went like this: the guy wanted a slightly more relaxed take on monogamy, and the wife was like "well, whatever, it's not my bag, but I guess we can try it." Now she has had a couple of innocent dalliances - well within the new rules - and he is besot with anxiety about it, and not having any fun.
Savage's take on all this is pretty nuanced: he doesn't believe everyone should give up on monogamy, he just thinks that a portion of marriages shouldn't rule it out. Folks are pretty miserable, he reasons, and it'd be better to give your relationship a rebirth rather than a painful, life-sapping divorce.
Here's where I stand on things, and let me preface by saying THIS IS PURELY MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
• I once said this 8 years ago and got a lot of shit for it, but when I got engaged to Tessa, I felt a palpable relief not having to be on the high-or-low-level motherfucking prowl all the time. I expressed it as the "relief of not having to find other women attractive", but it was the same emotion. I say this as a guy, with all the implicit buffoon qualities of same. The hunt, the chase, whatever you call it, is fun for about a decade, but after that, it's a bona[fide] drag better suited for ungulates.
• The above has nothing to do with the fact that my wife is simply amazing, and that I waited a LONG, LONG TIME to find her (again), so long that we turned our attempts at a second child into a craps game with crazy odds. I genuinely love almost every moment we spend together, so the idea of swangin' for swangin's sake sounds vaguely nonsensical.
I mean, I'm still titillated by... you know, "tits"... and all men have their fantasies. Part of it is seeing if you can still "pull", if you still have the ability to seduce, if you have a few ounces of your wild-eyed zest for experience left, to convince a woman to want to be with you, sans culottes, for a few hours at a time. And there are some wonderful, wonderful women in the world, some reading these words right now. But...
• I can't believe I'm saying this - and my past self would roll his eyes to the needing-an-optometrist point - but there is something noble in sacrifice. Given my past, given how I grew up, and given the examples I had, the chances I would be in a stable relationship were very small. Not acting on presented temptations is something to be proud of, to hold in esteem. It means that you're not completely made of shit, which is something I'd suspected of myself in the past.
• The rest is logistics. You'd have to be able to find this other person who wants to delicto you in flagrante, especially if you've agreed not to go after friends (which sucks, especially if you'd carried some torches). This person would have to be either single (and therefore not really get it) or in a exactly-matching "open" relationship. You'd have to find a way to get to where they are, and... oh man, I just got depressed before finishing that paragraph.
• Like the Camel wisely said in the comments, other people are kinda icky. I don't even mean disease-wise, just the basic squidginess of other peoples' bodies, and their peccadillos, and their armadillos.
• Some people fall in love with people they have sex with. Even dudes. That will not "strengthen your marriage".
Now, I'm sure there's a perfect scenario for the quintessential bit of non-monogamy, even for the deliriously-happily married. You're on a trip, you find yourself in a bizarre and wonderful situation, there is someone you admire and find stunningly sexy, and you just want a few hours (excuse me, Emily Dickinson) to "lap the Miles, and lick the Valleys up."
Imagine yourself with an ancient crush, a person you lusted after in high school or college, a magnetic bond that soldiered on, unrusted by time or circumstance. Kissing them, being with them, consummating years of wondering about "the one that got away" may do wonders for your psyche, heal old wounds and just plain ol' Make You Happy above and beyond your solid, wonderful marriage.
But I suspect these situations are few and far between, and you'll rarely have the arrangements necessary to deal with them. It's kilometers too close to the frozen lands of shame for me. The siren beckons, and the hills are laden with forbidden fruit, but Saturday night watching Overboard with your best girl is pretty fucking awesome too.
Many of the commenters already mentioned Dan Savage, and indeed, the NYTimes Magazine profile of him is what got me thinking about the relative benefits of monogamy vs... well, whatever monogamy isn't.
I had a whole fireworks display of things to say about the subject (and will probably do that Monday), but what struck me most over the last few days was reading emails from old friends stuck in tough relationships, then poring over some of the old comments on sexual death within marriage. It has been divorce season again - these things come in waves, it seems - and it's amazing to see the kind of recurring problems, even in a hyper-therapized culture.
It comes to this simple pronouncement: SO MANY PEOPLE ARE VAGUELY MISERABLE IN VAGUELY UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIPS. And though it's easy to blame marriage and/or kids, the truth is it can happen at any stage. Here are some of the scenarios I've seen lately:
• you've realized you're with someone who actually makes you feel more lonely than being alone, but you've got too much shared history, and you're too tired to rock the boat
• you have fallen in love with someone else from afar, someone who exudes the qualities you always cherished
• you've realized your current partner is not "going through a phase" - that's actually who they are.
• the sex is over.
• or, if the sex isn't over, it is so far from "dangerous" or "titillating" or "subversive" or "my awesome fetish" that you constantly fantasize about others regardless
• you are in a state of waking sleep, a drone, a clock-puncher, once vibrant but now content to mark time until you can't stand it anymore
• your partner is a handsome asshole (or a gorgeous cooz)
• you've had an epiphany: you've been imagining your partner as much smarter than they actually are, and they're finished surprising you ever again
Now before I start getting clandestine texts... Tessa and I are doing crazypants awesome, thank you very much. But it doesn't quell my fascination with the dysfunction around me. Our generation was supposed to get this right. We waited until forever to get married, and still, many of us didn't know ourselves well enough to pull it off.
This weekend, tell your significant other one thing that has been REALLY BOTHERING YOU for A LONG TIME NOW and IT HAS TO CHANGE. Do not listen to their defenses. Calmly tell them again. Then smile.
Okay, I've got a code word question for all you animals out there, both anonymous and named... and you must answer how you actually feel, not as you would like to feel.
In short, what is your soul's take on modern American monogamy? In specific, do you wish you could enter an arrangement by which you and your partner are monogamous in all things, but occasional sex with other people is totally okay?
UPDATE (thurs morn)...
The answers to this have been awesome, but let me add a few caveats:
• let's assume all sex is safe (conditions are met that nullify all fears)
• as mentioned by "butterfly", the occasional sex in question cannot be with someone whom your partner knows
• to be clear, both parties in this scenario - you and your partner - have agreed to this arrangement
I'm interested to see how this jibes with this infamous blog from last year-
Normally I'd never post such a bizarrely unflattering shot of yours truly - even though I gave up the quest for cool years ago, I still possess shreds of vanity - but this was too much to pass up. The bug bite (or shrapnel from a Dremel, or whatever the hell caused it) became a staph infection that landed me in the hospital, looking vaguely like a tree-dweller in "Avatar".
This pic doesn't show how bad it got eventually got, but for those who know me, you know I don't fucking look like that. I was quite intrigued about how even small changes around your eyes can make you look like you come from a completely different family.
For her part, Lucy was psyched that I finally looked like her current cultural crush, Bear Grylls, particularly when he got stung by those bees. As long as I'm still cool to the Lulubeans (and don't lose my Bactrim), I think I'll be okay.
Dear September 11,
Yes, I'm referring to you as a sentient beast, because you are no longer a date. You are a bunch of religious fundamentalists, you're an embodiment of the worst of America, you are a whole ecosystem unto yourself - and this weekend you turn 10 years old.
And let me tell you, as a local eyewitness to your horror - and a sufferer of my country since your visit - you are the opposite of all things good, and I want you to go away forever. A year ago, I plaintively asked everyone to forget you, but I was a year early. I should have known the 10-year anniversary was going to shoot you back into the sky, so that everyone can see the planes vaporize into the towers again, and then the towers vaporizing into the island.
We have sucked since you came around. You may turn out to be the Gothic insult that hastens the fall of our modern-day Rome. It's not just that 3,000 people died: you stuck us with a President for 8 years that bankrupted our country, both financially and morally. You mired us in two wars still being fought today, with almost 4,500 Americans dead in Iraq, and upwards of 1.4 million Iraqis. As a horse, you've never been dead enough to stop flogging, giving us vile racism, bullshit jingoism, terrible legislation and institutional cruelty.
as if in a dream, I watched my sister Michelle ladle salad dressing for people waiting for news of their loved ones - Sept 12, 2001
Sure, we "came together" when you happened. How long did it last? Two weeks? Now our country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. While we were taking off our shoes and drinking our own breast milk at the airport, the financial system robbed us blind. Now the USA is the equivalent of a homeless mime: drunk, broke, mute, and jittery.
On a personal note, you sent me to the mental institution and put me on drugs. I have said before you might have allowed me the humility to marry my wife and start a family, but I think I've given you too much credit. I've come to think more highly of myself in the ensuing years.
In most fiction, everything has a purpose; no plot point erupts without meaning. You, however, are reality, which hews you to no such structure. You just happened, and the damage you've done has been both incalculable and worthless. So why are we memorializing you, fetishizing you? Why do we find ourselves in rooms being asked where we were the day you came?
I never talk to people about you, because for so many others, it's just ghoulish fascination. Sure, I've blathered on these pages a lot, but this blog was always intended to be part of my therapy. When you come up at dinner parties, or in casual conversation, I simply listen and nod my head, as I have no compulsion to relive you, or use you as social currency. Frankly, it makes me sick.
You used to be, in Morrissey's words, "too close to home, too near the bone," but now you are neither, just an old actor being trotted out on stage to say his dreary catchphrases, riches in embarrassment. You need to be retired, put out to pasture, kicked onto an ice floe.
What doesn't kill us makes us neurotic. If our country survives, it'll be despite you. I'm done with it all. Let me use the 10th anniversary to say what I should have said all along...
Dear September 11,
Go fuck yourself.
Okay, so, remember when I was talking about being a pussy, you know, one entry ago? I bemoaned not digging wells in Africa because I'd mostly likely get fucking dysentery or some other insult, because stupid random shit seems to always find me.
Upon writing those words, I was bitten on the forehead by some insect in upstate New York, and here I find myself in Los Angeles, with this... THING... getting bigger on my head every day:
I went to the doctor, and she tested me for Lyme and put me on antibiotics no matter what because it seems to be infected. So now I'm singing the intestinal glories of Augmentin.
I don't usually show you people this stuff, but it just seemed all too poetic. Or pathetic. Or bathetic, for that matter.
I'm reading The Magicians at the moment - a novel that is one part awesome, two parts infuriating - but there was a moment that stuck with me. At a crucial juncture, a girl pushes our protagonist into a completely different parallel existence with the words "you have always been such a pussy."
Full disclosure: I don't know the actual words, because the book is being read to me via audiobook. However, the sentiment struck an augmented chord in me, a thought so utterly pedestrian, yet completely profound... why the fuck have I been such a motherfucking pussy my whole life?
No offense to women, cats, anyone's sexual organs or other pussies, but MAN I'm sick of being such a precious little goddamn flower. Ever since I was 4 or 5, I've been flinching from one thing or another, positively incapable of the thought "grin and bear it". It's just not in my lexicon. Instead, I have a laundry list that looks like this:
• constant need to conserve energy lest I run out
• pacing myself, resting, pacing myself, ad nauseum
• too hot, too cold, sometimes both
• inability to ignore even the tiniest discomforts
• depression, or at the very least, acute phobia of getting depressed again
• phalanx of shit brought on trips to salve pussy bullshit
• fear of boredom, then bored of fear of boredom, then fear of being bored of fearing boredom
While it is true that I accomplish a lot, it is generally to distract myself from being "at unrest", whatever that happens to mean. My being a pussy, at best, means those massive Daddo projects that leave Lucy with a life-size pterosaur, but at worst, it means I'm a niggling, nampy-pamby Nancy enervating my wife with my negativity.
priming/painting tin ceiling tiles by myself = not pussy; jumpsuit and double respirator = pussy
There are plenty of explanations - maybe, like the studies say, I'm a redhead with the inherent sensory integration problems shared by most of us gingers. Or I have a phantom bullshit virus, or a mitochondrial slaggardliness, or circadian rhythms that sway to vastly different beats. Or maybe I'm just a fucking PUSSY.
Either way, I AM TRYING. I slip all the time, I'm a habitual user, but it's not like I don't know it, and it's not like I don't fight swimming in syrup every day. My writing a blog almost every weekday is both symptomatic of my pussiness (need for affirmation, needing to be heard) and a way out of it (occasional heartfelt treatises on changin' my ways, soldiering on despite all other distraction).
I'd go to Africa and dig wells if I wasn't sure I'd be in a thatched hut made of shit, writhing with dysentery. I'd take a martial art if I wasn't fairly certain I'd get my nose broken and have to spend six months recovering from deviated septum surgery. I'd get up at 7am with the sun if I knew I wouldn't walk into walls all day from stupefying fatigue.
But I can start small. I am a pussy, but I'm trying to scythe my way out of it.
Have an excellent Labor Day, you delightful people. I recommend the following:
• set an alarm and do absolutely nothing for 20 minutes except clear your head.
• spend one day this weekend without any social media.
• from 2:30pm to 3:30pm on Sunday, get that one personal thing done you've wanted to do for months now.
• oh, and think of how COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE it would be to ratify a holiday for American workers with today's apeshit Congress.
see you Tuesday!