Genetically Modified Food

Can we talk about Monsanto for a minute?

Everything you eat is a genetically modified organism. From the cows we have selectively line bred from wild ungulate, the chickens which there’s probably no accurate timeline for when humans removed from nature and began to bend to our uses as food producers, the pigs which we whittled from great ugly boars to be the various shapes and varieties of domesticated hog we’re familiar with, from the porcetta to the pet pigs. The sweet corn you eat is a human-created hybrid of a hard kernel corn that the native north americans had, with a softer kerneled corn that the europeans brought with them. Wild bananas are filled with seeds and barely nutritious. Wild apples have such incredible biodiversity it’d be a stretch to say even 1% of their wild types are human-food-compatible.

So do I believe that genetically modified food is bad for humans? Of course not. Drought resistance is a genetic modification we’ve made to food, pest resistance. Even food color, texture, ship-ability, all things we have chosen as humans as genetic traits we favor, cultivate and keep.

So now Lets talk about Glysophosphate. Glysophosphate is marketed in North America (and elsewhere) as Roundup. Which is a powerful, wide spectrum herbicide, used to unselectively destroy plants wherever applied, to clear land, to eliminate pest species and drive back invasive plants. Now lets talk about penicillin, azithromycin, erythromycin — powerful, wide spectrum antibiotics, used to unselectively destroy bacteria and other microbiological life wherever applied, to break down bacteriological overruns, detrimental biological outbreaks and drive back invading disease so our natural immune system can complete its job of healing. Both of these are powerful tools and have BOTH immensely increased the quality of life for millions if not billions of humans.

HOWEVER… If you talked to a doctor about making an azithromycin resistant form of bacteria, they would realize, beyond a shadow of doubt, that while we may learn something from the process of making this bacteria, that allowing that enhanced, resistant form of the disease into the natural world would necessarily come back to bite us in the ass. Period. You make something resistant to your most powerful tools and it will resist those tools whether in the lab or in nature, and the stressor of creating that resistance has also created dozens of other unknowable potential genetic expressions in the bacteria.

But that is exactly what Monsanto has done with its roundup ready crops. They’ve built plants that are hard to kill with the best tool we have to kill plants. And those plants have already hybridized with wild/non RR plants in the wild, transferring their roundup resistance, along with whatever other modifications were made, intentionally or unintentionally, from the laboratory right to the soil of the earth. The reaction of Monsanto to these hybridisations is yet _another_ indicator of how sick the ideals behind this creation are — they have sued the farmers whose plants are in fields adjacent to RR-plants, saying that those hybrids are Monsanto intellectual property and they should be compensated for them.

This is what I’m worried about. This is what needs regulating. This is what needs labels and investigative journalism. Fucking apple-fish-corn cars and Organic avocados and locavore kale can all go fucking die, because if we accidentally end up with a form of durum wheat that is round up resistant, has no nutritive value for humans because of other genetic changes, and can breed true in the wild? We’re gonna have dark days ahead. If we end up with BT-apples that are releasing nicotine analogues or other esthers we barely understand into our kids before they’re hitting puberty, we’re going to learn more about developmental disease than we ever have before. And the whole way, those that are the most impacted will be sued and harrassed and lose their worlds, and those who have the power to change thiswill be ignorant and distant and greedy and we will all pay for it.

This is what I hate about Monsanto.

What is right and prudent

OK, so again, we have another mass shooter in this country. And like last time, everybody (including me) wants to see what he looks like, see if we can judge the potential for evil in his face or his story. Now a friend was mentioning that this guy was the reason they believed in the death penalty, and I disagreed.

In the interest of being honest here and not just arguing about what I think is right, I wanna differentiate here between what I want to do, and what I think is right.

So if I were emperor right and they told me about this guy we’d flay him and my whole phalanx of dark hooded thugs gets do some shit that’d make George RR Martin turn white in front of the whole town and every video camera I could convince y’all to point at it. I’d yell THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DISOBEY THE LAW through a megaphone like the Lord Humongous and then everyone would rev their engines while monster trucks pull him apart right that’s what I _want_. I _want_ that spectacle to hearten the good people that crime is not allowed in My Empire and hopefully fearshame some potential criminals into future citizens, right? Ideally.

And only since I have lost the ragged-edged, fatalistic and bichromatic tunnel vision of my youth, I recognize that the part of my brain that wants to do that is the same part of the brain that told this guy that shooting these people was the right thing to do. It’s the same part of the brain that told millions and millions of Americans, on September 12th 2001 that the ONLY way we could FIX this was to GET OUR FIGHTING MEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST _IMMEDIATELY_. ANY PRETENSE. It’s the same part of my brain that tells me that when somebody goes 52 miles per hour in the fast lane of the freeway that the “right thing” to do for the world would be to run their car off the road, bludgeon them to death, find their wallet, go to their home, burn it down, and then scan the remains to make sure none of their progeny survive to breeding age. And in fact anything that subconsciously feeds this desire; that results in the instigator of a negative emotion in me “paying” for that transgression in corporeal form, is immediately five clicks more appealing, more logical. It gains ground in reason as I lose mine.

What I think is right, however, is to look at the statistics of programs that don’t include the death penalty, that have “dis-imprisoned” hundreds of thousands of white collar criminals who end up in prison over fines and fees they could never afford BEFORE they were a convicted criminal much less after, provided job placement, counseling, housing that transitions from full penitentiary to halfway house to supervised independence. Which really cares about rehabilitation and reintegration as opposed to retaliation and retribution, and seen what it has done to the countries that have implemented them. See what it means for their economies and their literacy rates and socioeconomic mobility. Then look at the statistics of countries which follow our format. Look at their recidivism rates, their percentage of GDP spent incarcerating their own citizens, look at their murder rates, their drug use rates. And the real thing I think is right is to listen to the specialists on this, listen to the researchers, and not listen to the sharp hard thump of my own terrified heart.

the Next Big Thing

Where do we go from here.

That’s the big one right, pretty much as soon as they wipe the chunky effluvia from your crusty eyes and slap your first unheeded complaint into the world, people are already bored of your shit.

They’ve done 12 hours of the least endearing episode of the You Show already, they’re done.

The nurses wanna go to sleep,

the doctors wanna leave,

your parents wanna sleep.

They want to feel like something is done, crossed off the list, and that you’re moving on to

the Next Big Thing.

 

You feel like crying just because a doctor slapped you, little dude?

You just wait a few days and you’ll see what’s worth crying about.

Wait a few years. You’ll break a finger but that’s nothing.

You break a leg but that’s nothing, you know nothing.

A collarbone? That’s nothing.

You think you know pain, you know nothing.

 

This is pain, this thing _I_ have, what you have is nothing.

Oh.

Good to know. I filed that one.

“I don’t know what pain is.”

Color code that fact a light magenta to denote “a light air of menace” and filed it under topics to not bring up unless I wanted the day ruined, a vast array of such cards, in old fashioned card catalog cabinets. Light magentas go third row, fourth column, arrange by context: race, politics, health, sport, masculinity, femininity, truth, validity, logic cross index and update master catalog.

My pain cannot be discussed on any level, I have compiled the numbers, the cross indexes eliminated and the statistics rendered. It is an off topic subject.

My pain brings him shame. It means I’m not perfect, I’m not the perfection of him.

My health brings him fear. (His health can not be discussed. I’m just a kid. How would I know. I know nothing.) If I’m not healthy it means he has failed, it brings the shame, and then the anger. Why didn’t you tell me?! Why didn’t you think about how this would make me feel that you didn’t want to talk to me about this? Why don’t I ever want to talk to him about anything?

I did, but… then

I ran the numbers.

I knew it would end here.

Well, the Me show is just getting started.

It’s not done. I’m sorry for being morose here, all the time, but I try to limit my mourning to this space. I’m working on things. I’m failing at them and learning and doing them more times. Doing all that theater tech I never could because everybody was convinced I was gay without the pink cast of stagelight. Playing in my life, and with my partner, instead of playing in my head with a phantasm.
PS I’m really quite fun on facebook, don’t friend me if you can’t reasonably expect a friend back.

I’m a honky ass peckerwood.

OK, so you know how sometimes you’re cruising along in your life and you think. I’m doing good. Fuck it. I’m a _good_ person. Better than average! Right? We all think we’re just a biiiit better than average, which is good, that’s healthy for humans. But I went to a trivia event last night which absolutely kicked my penis right in the middle.

So round one – Mysteries of the Unknown! 85 points out of a possible 101. I didn’t realize virtues and principalities were angels but we guessed and it worked out. Creepy shit is good fun to learn about and not depressing for the most part. Good team effort all around.

Second round. Spin Off Shows – One of our team members just ruled at this. 102 points out of 102 possible. We are DESTROYING.

Third round… Black History Month. Uhhh. I’m… we’ll be fine right? Frederick Douglas. That’s a historical black guy. Dred… Scott? That’s a… thing. Bad thing? I mean as far as Black History goes it’s all basically bad things. We start.

First question! Frederick mother fucking Douglas. And I forgot to think of the white guy (Abraham Lincoln) as the other half of the answer, so that makes me a civil rights champion, I think. We move on. Which amendment abolished slavery? I forget. the 21st is about booze. We guessed and were wrong but no big deal. Amendments, schmamendments. Who remembers them other than guns and booze and the freedom to say dumb shit.

Then it’s just… sad emptiness. Not even the hope of an answer, for a very long time. Who held the civil rights movement together after MLK? Huh was it… Malcom Sharpton? Hrm. Boo Radley is not a real person. Nat Turner is and his name is definitely not Dred Scott. Those are two different people. I’m starting to feel a little bad about it and then… Right at the end… we get a question about black women.

I panic. My vision narrows. In my minds eye I see only two things.

A lithograph from my childhood history textbook of who I believe to be Harriet Tubman. But I cannot remember her name at all in the moment and label her — Jesus, Lord this is so sad; “Georgia O’Keefe?” in my brain with a confidence rating of “about two or three out of ten”. And another notable black woman whose name I cannot quite place, looking VERY upset at me. I think about the face and I try to remember the name, she’s clearly not the director of Selma but I gotta be able to figure out who this woman is right. As I try to piece it together – I slowly but surely remember to actually be…. Frida Kahlo with some kind of blackface filter my brain put on her. She is looking very terse at me indeed when I restore her skin tone to normal. Hmmm.

If I were as ignorant about white historical figures as I was about black ones I’d get laughed out of conversations. If I couldn’t think of a single modern powerful white woman’s name, NOT A ONE, if I couldn’t think of a single _HISTORICAL_ powerful white woman’s name, people would treat me as sub-normal. It’d be like if you asked me which woman was going to direct Spider Man and I answered, “Queen Emily or something of like… Belgium I guess. The cake eating lady?”.

A horrid core

I say breakdowns come and breakdowns go.
So what are you gonna do about it.
That’s what I want to know.

I can finally talk about it, as obvioused by a whole month of me bitching about my childhood. But what do I do with it. What use is it to know these things and feel bad about them now, when I packed them up so tight and emotionally dehydrated when I was a kid. You ever dissect an owl pellet in science class? Why pull em apart and wet em down with tears. Why unearth their musty remains and pick them apart. That smell, wet hair and corruption, while you squint at a tiny jaw bone. Was this a vole, perhaps. A mouse. A baby rat? We could magnify. Study the teeth. We could scrape the inside of the marrow for dna and run a full analysis. We could analyze the canines for size and relative position, count the molars. Compare it to every known type of jaw bone. But when we have it, when we know exactly what it used to be – does that change the nature of the owl? Or of the vole. What do we really learn about the life of the owl from this, that we didn’t already know. Owls eat little mice shaped shit. It stands to reason that if the herk up a wad it’s gonna be little mouse parts. The tiny jawbone is as useful to understanding “Owl-ness” the second we prise it from the regurgitate as it is when we scientifically determine its species. And no amount of analysis of that vole’s bones or of its diet or life or mineral content is going to add, meaningfully, to the understanding of owlness. The raison d’oiseau.

But right now that’s what I’m doing. I’ve done it before. I lived my entire life in denial of my emotional response to situations, for reasons both noble and foolish, so I’m no stranger to having an emotional meltdown in the wintertime. But only now, at 35, do I understand that in order to use that section of my brain I have to ACTUALLY unpack all the crap in there. I have to hawk these little mouse parts out because they’re just clogging my ability to think and act in the interest of my own life. And I promise that I’m gonna try to spend less time being overwhelmingly negative but when I dug deep down to find what I was most upset about, I found a horrid core within. A blackened stunted gnarled thing, packed on all sides with these memories I could not talk about, feelings I could not feel, and fears I dared not name. An immature, selfish, lazy little thing that Life was “happening to” in protest. The ultimate victim. I found a boy who lived his life backwards and blamed the world for the scenery going the wrong direction. And I’d found him before too. He’s a mean little thing. Cruel and crude. When you touch him he tries to break you. He spits poison and screams that you should put him back where you found him. Leave him alone forever. But you can’t, well, _you_ can. Lots of well justified folks have. But I can’t walk away and I can’t just leave him in there anymore. The only medicine for this malady is motion. I have to unpack his little shitty hole, have to make him move. Because this horrid little shadow in me that thinks it’s supposed to hold perfectly still is really supposed – not just to move, but dance. RACE. Not just to show but to SHINE. But he has gotten lazy, and I have let him. I let him jam himself down in these bad memories and ossify.

Pulling Out

I had been edging around this for a while. I had an axe to grind, well, several, but he was no stranger to this game. He had an axe to grind too, he knew an uncomfortable question was bearing on him. Since we never ever spend time together this must finally be the time.

Game on.

I forget how far in I got. I had some questions about how they had taught me about money. I had a lot of em, but I was being extraordinarily careful. As I said in previous posts, I was engaged deeply in the kingdom of my father, and it was critical that he not quit his job. He’d threatened to do so several times, for increasingly less relevant or meaningful reasons. I had picked one thing that was bothering me, for a really long time. Since high school, when it happened. All I wanted to know was why they thought it was OK to take money out of my savings account and not tell me about it. Why my dad thought it was OK to tell me that I owed him that money for back rent. Why did he intimidate me out of ever asking about it again. Was he just scared, ashamed? Did he really still believe it was OK. Why hadn’t they ever apologized, in all the intervening years. Why didn’t they ever give the money back, directly, acknowledging what they did. It wasn’t much, for an adult. But it was a lot for a kid in high school. But he’s trumped me. As soon as I brought up money I lost.

They’re broke. Again.

The business is losing money, he announces. So help me I’ll quit my job and figure out where it’s all going! He insists, and each time I think we all held our breath. Maybe the others held their breath because they were afraid of what I would say. Maybe I held my breath because I was afraid of what I would say.

There are four television sets upstairs, one plasma and three LED. One of them is in the bedroom, so that the transition to bed happens naturally during commercial breaks. Mom can run upstairs and prepare the sleeping television while dad finishes his last snacks. Two of them are on the exercise room floor, between the unassembled professional massage table, the disused exercising machines. I can see a past due notice from the city jutting from the pile on the second step of the staircase. Sometimes the city turns the water off, and they have to juggle money around to pay off the enormous late fee and balance. If you counted outstanding bills and debt, I bet I could slap 70k before I left the third stair on the staircase – where all their business mail is dumped.

If I ran from the dinner table and just started slapping things, supermarket sweep style, I bet I could hit seventy thousand dollars before I even got to the cars. A seven hundred dollar security camera system on the staircase. A full sized carnival cotton candy machine. A table saw my dad didn’t remember purchasing. There’s a thirteen hundred dollar bicycle. A six thousand dollar sports car that last ran before Obama took office. A mini mill and an oscilloscope. A CNC laser engraving machine. A passthrough soda cooler. A full stained glass production setup. A greenhouse full of potted orchids and violets, identifiable only by their pricing tags still sticking out of the desiccated dirt. These are the ones too big to give up on. The little stuff they’ve wasted money on, that’s all at the goodwill, the real inheritors of the Walker fortune. They drive to the goodwill, drop off $1500 worth of shit in the back. Buy $75 worth of discount garbage in the front, and come home pleased with their bargains. Where is the money going? It’s a whopper of a whodunit, that only Sherlock McBathtub can solve, while he shops for Bose radios on eBay. He’s bested me. I can’t keep going and being careful. He’s enraged me so far I can no longer be delicate. All I can do now is wait until it has been a polite amount of time and leave.

I no longer live here. This isn’t my fight. The people who still depend on this idiot are both here, silent. I can see their worry lines deepening, both of them boozily pilled up to bulwark their mood against this constant storm. They gently sway in their drunken passivity.

I think back to the things he’s proclaimed from here. The king of dinner. CEO dad, at his evening press conference.

“You know what they say, you ruin your kids”

I don’t believe that is anybody’s saying about children no. Not a Doctor Spock line. I don’t think it’s an old country saying either. Nobody authoritative’s blanket opinion that all you can do is ruin children. I’ll update this later if I find out that one of the main points of “It takes a village” is that everyone ruins their kids.

“I’ve found this new financial seminar I want to take it’s called Live Rich, Die Broke!”

This is a constant theme. Dual edged. When my parents feel rich, it is important to them to know that I realize there will be no inheritance of money or estate, that they will be using this money to LIVE LIFE with capital letters and have no patience for some kind of stodgy old estate. At the same time it is important to them to always know that when they are old and infirm that me and my sister will take care of them, in the style they are accustomed to. Living life with all capital letters doesn’t leave any time for picking out elder care options or addressing your own mortality. What it DOES leave time for is spending money to go to a Get This Author Rich Quick seminar, in the hopes that the richer living you might be doing might be even richer still. INSANELY rich maybe. BEYOND ALL DREAMS.

I get into my car, and drive away. Which is all I could think to do. It’s all I can think about now. When should I have said something. When should I have said “You are a fucking asshole.”. When was my teachable moment with these guys. Why is THAT what I’m worried about still. Why is this still about what I should have done for THEM. Every fucking time. It’s about them. Their fucking wanty bullshit. One whispering into each ear, “Oh Aaron we sure wish life were different. I mean not enough to do anything, not a single anything other than unload it into your ulcer-box, but we sure do wish…”

Actually – I dunno what they wish. I no longer pretend to understand either one of them. I guess I assumed that when I turned into a “man” from the chart yesterday, I’d totally understand what these two were up to. I’d understand that what they had been up against had been so incredible that the weird stuff they did to me and to each other was totally normal. But now I’m them. I understand entirely that our situations are wildly different – I was nine years old by the time my dad was my age, but I also understand that paying the bills isn’t that hard. Paying your debts isn’t that hard. Having a job isn’t that hard. Not making your shitty, underdeveloped emotional intelligence everyone elses problem but yours, is NOT that hard. Also, pulling your dick out a lady when you’re not ready to have kids? That’s not that hard either.

Stages of Human Development

I don’t understand where things are going.

I guess that’s being old, realizing what you don’t know. And what you didn’t know even when you thought you knew it all.

And I knew that, that’s been explained literally to me before, in many forms. “Go out and fix the world now while you’re young and still know everything.”, I thought it was pretty insulting the first time somebody used it on me, but the way all the adults laughed it must have resonated so I let it sit. And eventually I even came to understand it,  I met older people and they were wiser than me. I listened to older people who maybe I didn’t think were wiser than me, and it turned out they had lives and adventures and stories too that certainly did not fit in the mold of what I expected. I read about people who thought they were wiser than everybody and how their plans for how to fix humanity went and boyee there’s a big reminder that whatever you think you know; you know jack shit about people. The results or logically derived programs were definitely not what was scientifically/logically expected. So there was something to this. More {time as human} more {knack at humanitific behavior}. It was not a science but a soft skill. But I still understood it to be a linear progression.

Credit for all below images to this EXTRAORDINARILY CREEPY website.

You can also visit the subsection on Legal Risks here.

Make sure you run that past a lawyer before you start using any advice given there.

So this is human development.

stages2bof2blife

1-fetus

So basically you start off here, as a little slug thing, right and you’re basically nothing, Sorry Amanda R, when you are there you’re like a colon polyp with the ability to sense bright lights.

2-worthless

And then you turn here into like a little baby and everybody knows little babies don’t know shit. I don’t remember being a little baby so I assume I knew nothing just like everybody else. Like you know how to fart and snuggle and know what your favorite person smells like and eventually you graduate to “whoa we gotta keep this thing in a crate when we’re not paying attention” so you’re basically a weaning labradoodle, again, we can assume you know nothing aside from how to root out snacks when they’re nearby.

3-dumbanddumber

Look at these two assholes. You wouldn’t trust one of them to watch the other one right. NEXT.

4-eyyylmao

These two guys are probably who I was when I first came to this understanding, that there was wisdom in age, and I could see the difference in body hair density well enough to understand maybe I wasn’t quite there yet. This is for sure when the “fix the world while you still know it all” was used on me the first time.

5-dude

This next guy I didn’t really get because I didn’t know any of them when I was growing up and I only barely understand them now that I’m not one anymore. I do remember that this is peak “fix the world while you are still young and know it all” time, at least for me. This poor guy, he’s really in a rough part of life so we’ll leave him alone but sufficed to say, probably closer than I was when I adopted this theory of adulthood, but definitely not a “man”.

6-mens

But these next two guys right they have it all figured out. Look at how short the curve is at the end of this thing there’s not much left so, that must be understanding. You look that shape you have that smell and now you know, you’ve hit the top of the hill and you can see very far.

I now realize dawning understanding is a mite crawling out of a skin pore. Your whole world is the labyrinth of that pores peaks and valleys, the microbial wars of its folds and abscesses which once loomed so large are now unremarkable, tame, downright friendly, compared to the vast, unfriendly immensity of the world. The unending mundanity of it. And each new peak you reach simply unveils new, terrifying, confusing layers that you had never comprehended before. And by the time you have gained enough conquest in the world to return to what you wanted when you were young, the world has changed. What you wanted is worthless. The life you lived was a series of compromises and crises that spit you out grey fringed and rheumy eyed and visibly dimished.

7-ohno

But man have you had a long time to think about those compromises. And those crises. And seen others make them. And I suppose that is what we call wisdom.

Portland: 2014

I’m not calling it over per se but I’m definitely worried.

When I moved here, my dad gave me this very compelling argument, in his fashion: “You’re going to want to have moved here, and seen it, before They ruin it. In ten years this is all gonna be… different.”

You’ll not see me leap to my father’s credit a lot but the mother fucker called this one.

Even at the time there was no question of who They were, and I’ve only gotten to know what They do better in the past decade. They are the mean spirited old men of means who have not found peace or happiness in accumulation. Who now, in their reclining bitterness, revenge their youth burned in fiscal pursuit. Seeking to analyze the cool and interesting out of a place and normalize it’s output into steady revenue streams. They are the oblivious. The opportunistic. The unconsciously obnoxious. They are the hollow eyed Californiacs, having finally found treacle their sweetest sunshine, roving North, ravenous. Their pimp the Beast of Hollywood will follow, and kick down the door looking for anything it can sell, suck, or swill. Then the real monsters. The Capital They They. The Banksters, the Blue Bloods, the construction conglomerates and the developers. And the accountancy will begin, and once they have the measure of our meat the richest will decide how the Feast is to be divided.

Finally the displaced tattooed step kids of middle class middle America seethe toward the left coast in their unironically inherited station wagons —  a xanax daydream, a wistful fistful of grandma’s savings bonds and a banjolele — seeking some kind of latter day Haight, some new Brooklyn, and instead arrive to the groundbreaking of DisneyPortland: The Rainshine Experience. Our $2700 package features a condo that overlooks a locally sourced artisanal baked bicycle improv co-op™ and is digitally smell matched to your place in SoMa. For our budget minded, we have the $1500 St. Johns Super Saver. A section 8 apartment that’s just a three bus forty five minute commute to one of the most heavily serviced transit malls in the city!

But for all the rest of you, fuck off. Pools closed. The Feastors have spoken. Why don’t you guys all move out to Foster Powell or far east Sellwood, make something cool happen out there. Just take the bus east to the last stop and start walking. Maybe if you get far enough you won’t even have to watch us eat. Heh heh heh. Just make sure there’s a Whole Foods sized locally owned market for us to pillage when we get there. Then, they turn away and settle themselves, enormous and engorged, upon the city, their bodies smashing through bars and neighborhoods. They chortle and with a keening trumpet their feculent folds vibrate and belch poison. The shockwave bursts the glass on another local landmark. We’ll take care of that, they chuckle again. Don’t you worry.

(hat tip Greg Bigoni, whose It’s a Wonderful Portlandsville post on his always excellent Way Too Much Portland inspired me to write this)

The Prelude

The Prelude to Cello Suite number 1. There aren’t a ton of good solos for Cello. It’s a foundation instrument to most composers, the sweetness all goes to the violins and violas, the horns and the winds. The Cello gets the gravy, the grits. Fill in the richness and provide a contrast, rhythm. At least where I stopped playing, that’s what Cello is. You wanna be the soloist you learn violin. You want to be in a band that’s not orchestral? Learn the bass or the violin.

I didn’t pick cello randomly. I could see that I wasn’t going to get along with the kids in band class. A few cute girls went that way but also a lot of goober guys, you know, the ones who graduated from eating boogers to farting for attention, so I headed toward the orchestra room with the quiet kids. Violin was for girls. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that. It was the squeaky one, too, squeaky enough my ears hurt sometimes listening to it so I couldn’t imagine practicing it at the house, interrupting Dad’s naps, blotting out TV shows. The viola was closer, bigger, the tone was a lot more listenable. But it was obvious, again, that it was for the boys to bear the cellos. You play them splay legged, they’re heavy, they sing in the same range as men. I could imagine napping to cello song. So cello it was.

We’re in the Gammage, at the college. There are lots of adult looking people around and I feel awkward and young and I would like to go home. The last time I did this was very stressful and I had an accompanist then, somebody who was an adult who had been there with me coaching me through the entire experience. This time I am alone. I tug awkwardly at my clothes. I think I’m just wearing my metropolitan youth symphony clothes, I don’t think I have any others. Cummerbund and Cello both start with C and they go together. I’m not sure where the bow tie fits in. Somewhere beautiful music is playing but I can’t even hear it, all I can hear is my pulse and the sound my clothes make scratching against me.

Years of lessons. Private lessons. Orchestra at school. MYS. Practicing at home. Your fingers hurt, they don’t tell you really about that and you get blisters places. Your hands cramp. You’re profoundly bad at it, and everyone knows, including you. There is no bliss of ignorance with a fretless stringed instrument, there is only poor intonation and lack of practice. You have to do stuff over and over that is really annoying to listen to. No one encourages you. They tell you that your parents will but nobody does, it’s an expense and a hassle and they know you’re never gonna make a dime with this so they say all the stuff they’re required to. They tell everybody how much they support you doing it. They get excited about how the activity is gonna look on your college transcripts. But ultimately it’s just more stuff they paid for that they have to tell you to clean up. They wish you’d quit and get a hobby that didn’t cost anything, maybe one that made money.

I walk out and all I can see is the spotlight, I can feel myself sweating and I can feel my breath, fast, way too fast. Whoa did I start already I can see the bow moving and I can see my fingers going but I cannot stop… I don’t know what speed things are going and I can see the crowd and they’re embarrassed for me. Oh no. Most of them avert their eyes. It is over in… dozens of seconds. My three minute piece. When I finish I can’t even bow. The announcer isn’t prepared, I have left him speechless. I leave the stage wordlessly.

My parents can barely hold back their laughter. This is their strategy with all shame, to make it a joke and if you can’t laugh about it you are the asshole. Why aren’t you laughing, asshole.

FASTEST CELLO IN THE WEST. I wish I were dead. DID YOU EVEN BREATHE. No I did not. I didn’t and I wished I never had to breathe again. OH YOU KNOW WE ONLY TEASE YOU BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU. Yes I am aware that you say that every time and that in repetition there is truth. HAHAHA WE WILL LAUGH ABOUT IT SOME DAY. You appear to be laughing about it now.

We had some kind of shame meal on the way home, some grotesque food mistake to corporealize the emotional horror I was feeling. Greasy Tony’s? The Chuck Wagon? They joked about it. And joked about it. And joked about it. They waited what must have seemed like an appropriate amount of time and joked about it again. Finally I laughed about it, because it was obviously what they needed. They needed to know they had fixed it and that I could laugh about it. Ha ha, fixed. What a moron I looked like up there. Ha ha. Yep wow what a failure! Haha Cello failure. In front of SO MANY PEOPLE TOO ha ha man what a jape.

That is when I quit Cello. I kept playing for a while after that, but I really just waited for an excuse. I stopped practicing. Eventually my mom asked me if I wanted to keep doing private lessons, and I said I did but I didn’t.  I toyed with the idea of learning guitar, which seemed like a more modern and versatile musical instrument. Or maybe piano. Maybe even violin, see what the big deal was. And one day I was trying to do something, work on something, and I whistled a little song when I was working, and when my mom heard it, she said “You are just tonedeaf aren’t you.” and I guessed I was if she said so. Dad had once said she had perfect pitch, so she would know. So that meant I wasn’t good at music right. I practiced a lot and while I did OK I didn’t get great at it, like not famous, so the problem must be I have some dysfunction with music.  If at first you don’t succeed – maybe try a different hobby because this clearly isn’t your forte. So I quit.

Not every Thanksgiving, and not every Christmas, but enough that I’ve stopped counting, I’ve gotten to listen to that story, from my parents point of view. The story of the fastest cello in the west. They’ve told all my friends. Every girlfriend they’ve ever met. How hilarious they thought it was to watch me fail in front of my peers and adults and how obvious it was from the stage how panicked and awful I felt. Always when someone else is there, never just to me. And I’ve had to sit there again, my fork clenched in my right hand, and a rapidly dwindling beer in my left, listening to them recount the story of how they shamed me out of music in front of dozens of strangers, recalling it with the sort of glee and nostalgic wistfulness that I hope other parents use to describe the day their kids graduated college. Oh what fun we had that day. And we can still laugh about it! They laugh. They CAN still laugh about it.

I wonder why they never bring it up just to me, not that any of them talk to me individually much. But according to them it’s such a fun story, they have such fun with it I wonder why that’s never something they just talk individually to me about. Maybe because I’d have told them that it was the reason I quit music. Maybe because it’s so obvious I’m still hurt about it. Maybe they think it’s sweet of them to not poke at my wounds unless they’re working as a pack so everybody can get a taste.

But today, when my weak little adult fingers try to make a G chord on this guitar, all I can think is.

“It’s OK, Aaron. Everybody makes mistakes and you panicked. I’m sorry you feel discouraged and I’m sorry you had to get embarrassed like that in front of folks. You might feel like you failed. And you did. There are two things to remember about failure – 1. failure is a real result, that can happen even if you’ve done everything right. 2. failure is not final. Having failed does not make you a failure. How you respond to failure determines whether or not you are a failure. If you pick up and you move on, you don’t let it stop you, you will be a winner. If you fail and try again and fail and try again and fail and try again…. you will be a winner. Only if you let a single setback stop you will you truly be a failure.

You made this mistake this time, but you will get over it, you’ll get past it and next time you’ll remember to breathe, and you’ll remember to count it out. Nobody does it perfect the first time, and even if they did, nobody does it perfect every time. If you see somebody who is doing something amazing that looks effortless, you need to recognize that it probably took hours and hours and weeks and months of hard work to make it look that easy. No human being knows how to do ANYTHING when they are born. Everything that people do other than piss on themselves and cry are things they’ve learned and practiced and messed up at in front of people doing, and it’s important to them to keep doing anyways. Even if Cello isn’t important enough for you to keep doing right now, you need to find what is important to you and make time for it in your life.”

Nonpologies

The subject of the essay was to be “My Hero”, and I already knew who I was going to write it about. My dad.

You see I didn’t have a lot of heroes, I wasn’t quite sure what hero meant, so when you asked me who my hero was I would instead respond with whoever I had the most raw mathematical respect for. And by that rubric there was absolutely no question who I had the most respect for at the time. Oakland Athletics left fielder and every pitcher’s nightmare baserunner Rickey Henderson, whose career now is of course one of legend, MLB hall of famer, ten years after this essay was due he would be voted into the Fan-selected MLB All Star All 20th Century team. He (along with Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire) was in the middle of taking the Athletics to their first (and last at time of this writing) World Series championship since 1974. You didn’t want to pitch against him so you walked him and as soon as you gave him a base he’d take one and a half more on average so you were basically letting him walk to shortstop and wait for one of your infielders to goof up so he could bring it home. He played hard offense, he played hard defense, climbing walls and snaggin balls with the best of them. Everyone knew he was great but he was my American League West hero, the same way Cal Ripken Jr. was my American League East hero. Players who made the difference for their teams in raw statistical, provable ways. But I knew that on the off chance my dad decided to look at my school work and saw an essay I wrote that was titled “My hero” and the subject wasn’t him, there was a very real chance he’d come home from work and sleep, from the minute he could lay down on the bed, until dinner was ready, and then generally slump around the house for the next week, waking in various stages of rage each time you had to rouse him from his slumber. That was just how things seemed to go with him. Something inexplicable would hurt his feelings and he’d just go to sleep around that hurt. Sometimes it was something that happened at work and you couldn’t account for those one or fix them, but you can certainly avoid the hero-essay problem, dummy. So get to writing.

Sorry if I’m just being morose around here after months of inexplicable absence. Basically, for the past year I’ve been thinking about the stories I’ve told here recently, turning them over in my head. Wondering what it means to know this. To have known it so young and to have not rebelled until so old. Pathetic. Where were teenaged Aarons stones. What was his problem. Why couldn’t he just call that fat sack of shit out on his bullshit, or my mother – who would depend upon me to be a one-way confessional about her problems with my father, but whenever I asked her to also keep some problem “between us” would instantly and almost gleefully turn him loose on me — to mewl and wonder why I didn’t want him to know, demanding to know what else I was keeping from him, to slake his insecurity. I know that there were no stones involved. I loved him, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Bad shit happened when Dad had hurt feelings, the household becomes unbalanced and tense, communications shut down entirely. It’s terrifying to see your mother sad and alone while your father glowers on the couch, and when you can’t even comprehend coming up with hundreds of dollars in rent EVERY MONTH much less caring for and feeding yourself, avoiding this situation becomes your full time job, until the excuse of “going to college” finally let me leave tender emotion-baby dad for mom to take care of by herself.

But then I moved back into his house again and I was 25 and I still didn’t stand up to him? That’s on me. I just let myself pretend the rules didn’t apply to me. That I didn’t have to grow up, I didn’t have to address things. I didn’t have to confront anyone. I didn’t have to do anything but wait for my chronically overweight rageoholic father to die so we can have a family meal that doesn’t revolve around fantasizing about bigger, fattier meals. And that is what I was waiting for now, I can acknowledge that. I relished every time I went over there and watched him eat himself sick on foods no human was ever meant to consume simultaneously. To hear him describe his inconstant bowel or his frequently-prognosticated adult onset diabetes. To show his waddle fat neck and compare it to photographs of his passed mother, who in her own late-starting way ate herself to death. I loved it because it proved everything I felt about him and that focus, that gleeful schadenfreude-demon and copious alcohol would let me excuse everything my mother and sister were doing to enable him, and each other. It let me pin the tail on my dad and ignore all the other jackasses in the room, myself included.

Maybe this is my midlife crisis.

It’s OK. That’s a big deal.

Most of my life stuff was not OK. It was “superfantastic” or “exceptional” and occasionally “awesome”. I’d reply with those things and people always laughed it was a good joke. People really loved superfantastic. What it meant was “I spent the whole walk from the front door to the back door analyzing stacks of wooden pallets, counting them up and trying to figure out who I could send out to the front to pick them up. At the same time I was imagining what it would be like if I were just on fire. This is important to me for some reason I must always feel as though I am right on the edge of disaster. I must prepare. When anybody got closer to me than ten feet, I imagined what I would need to do to defend myself against them, what parts of the surrounding store fixtures I would use to kill them. Who I would go for second. My heart racing and my eyes laser focused.”

“Exceptional” meant the same. “Awesome” meant all I could think about was death. The finality and hugeness of it. In its enormity I found awe. It’s little tricks you use to pretend like you’re doing OK. Sometimes I really meant it. My brain had accidentally given me all kinds of good chemicals and I really felt like nothing could touch me. I could be at the edge of chattering teeth or I could be at the edge of panicked worry. I wasn’t always sad but I was always crazy.

I wasn’t always actively crazy but at the same time… I was always crazy. Even when I occasionally relaxed and was honest and real with people, there was crazy hide-the-coffee-cans-of-money-and-burn-your-journals Aaron ready to jump out. I’m still crazy. I still hide the coffee cans and even at 35 when you tally it all up there’s more burned journalwords than saved ones. But I know I’m crazy. And I have people who will tell me when I’m acting crazy. I have people who love me enough to be honest with me all the time.

I am still crazy. But I am blessed.