I remember a film called Three O’Clock High – mostly because I may have had a crush on Annie Ryan, the female lead. If I remember correctly, the story involves a new high school student – some glowering bully in a leather jacket with a larger than life reputation – deciding to beat up the resident nerd, and said nerd’s attempts to avoid being beaten up. It’s a film that explores and exploits the intricacies of a stereotypical high school trope: there’s gonna be a fight, news of which spreads throughout the school to everyone who breathes air and is not an adult. It reflects the two worlds that exist under a single roof in most schools: the world inhabited by teachers and staff, and the nebulous, dark waters precariously navigated by kids.
I’m thinking about this movie because there was a fight at my school recently – a bad one – and an administrator trying to break it up was hit multiple times. So many adults were surprised by the fact that so many kids not only watched and cheered on the fight, but also recorded it on their phones as well. Our principal sent out a thoughtful response about how what happened is not consistent with “our values.”
While I know that my school strives to be a safe place, what happened is a textbook example of how US schools reflect the broader American culture; a culture that has always commodified and capitalized on violence as a spectator sport and a way to solve problems. We do say something when we see something in America, and it’s usually “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
There’s a large segment of society that applauded the rise of ultimate fighting, and professional slap fighting, just as previous generations celebrated boxing. We bemoan how athletes see their lives and careers shortened by the abuse they take, gasp when that violence spills out of the game and into their personal lives, then applaud these "warriors" week in and week out for laying their bodies on the line for our amusement.
As I write this, the tattered flag in front of my school sits at half-mast because of yet another school shooting. We light candles for victims of mass shootings and watch them burn out on the altar of the second amendment.
We have no right to wring our hands after we’ve used them to build and applaud the violent institutions we celebrate. It’s disingenuous and hypocritical.
Everyone has dreams about falling and flying. My flying dreams are comical because I clumsily flap, flap, flap, gliiiide. Never going too high or too fast, my arms don’t tire. It’s the aerial equivalent of coasting on a kick-scooter. Icarus could have learned from me.
My falling dreams happen in the etherous greige between sleep and awake, I slowly roll over from one side to the other to find bed, wall, earth -- I never remember -- replaced by a sudden void reaching past me like a formless, sonic hug.
My falling dreams seem to be disconnected from my flying ones. I never flap, flap, flap, faaaaaallll. But I’ve learned there’s a connection. In those flying dreams excitement and risk hit just hard enough to make life interesting, but not so dangerous that I couldn’t survive their impact. It’s controlled and correlated to my actions: I flap and I fly, but never higher than street lamp height on nondescript streets edged by nondescript houses in a nondescript neighborhood. The low cruising altitude lets me see a manageable amount of the world from a distance that’s just as manageable and safe, albeit just a little bit dangerous.
What’s most frightening about my falling dreams isn’t that I’m falling, it’s that I can’t see what I’m falling into. There are no houses, no grass or asphalt rising up to meet me. It’s just a black flash into nothingness. Like my flying dreams, the action is still precipitated by my movement. I roll over and I fall, until my blinking eyes and fluttering heart beat me awake.
Instead of trying to find out what the dreams say about the dreamer, I’m learning how the dreamer builds the dreams; about how the child I was influences how I fly or fall tonight. As life during COVID edges into a monotony that matches the Monopoly houses in my flying dreams, I understand how my need for safety – now and then – has been shaped by a broken frame.
I was a kid who rebelled to, not against religion. My parents’ materialism and drug use drove me to church. My stepfather’s empty cocaine vials and my Sundays spent at worship became leverage when he would try to ground me for leaving the house with my bed unmade. When as a college freshman I fell out with the church, I didn’t cast myself as an Animal House extra, I got married at 19.
Flap, flap, flap.
Throwing myself into religion when other people my age were throwing footballs and standing up to say “I do” when I should’ve been doing keg-stands didn’t seem like falling at the time. I’ve told myself they were choices meant to give me anchors my childhood didn’t provide, but even that’s not right. I was a kid trying to build an identity out of a void I was afraid to fall into.
I’m starting to get to know my inner child. I’m trying to understand who he is so I can give him the love and guidance he may have lacked and needed that I still need today. I’m going to find out who I was then, before parents and pastors and my own choices as a young adult left him awkwardly hovering over monotonous suburban streets when he should have been dreaming of jetpacks.
This piece is a time-capsule from a time before COVID, and January 6th, and Putin's invasion. It's a sketch I wrote in August of 2018 and forgot about until I took a dive down the depths of my Google Drive. I will most likely work these thoughts into a larger piece (how can I not?). The metaphor is striking, given everything that came after August.
All but this MTG image were anchored in the original piece. She's a great example of what this piece is about.
A leader is the mask his or her followers wear.
A 1999 study conducted by Mick Cooper of the University of Sussex revealed that wearing a mask can lead to “disinhibition, transformation, facilitation of the expression of aspects of the wearer’s Self, and various psycho-somatic changes.” That’s why I’m more afraid of the people who accept and apologize for President Trump than I am of Trump.
Trump is the mask that gives “good people” who hold racist beliefs immunity. Their shouts spring from the shadows of the dark web and set places like Charlottesville and Portland alight with their hatred.
He is the mask that enables Evangelicals to excuse his moral indiscretions and outright lies because of the transformative potential they think his presidency provides them. They will make a proverbial deal with the devil because Trump’s words and policies align with their long-held beliefs about how Americans should behave. Pornstars? Pay offs? Lies? Sure, that’s bad; but, think of the babies.
Many in Congress who wear the mask follow similar logic. They are willing to overlook Trump’s many personal and moral failings, along with those of the people he surrounds himself with because they like his policies. Grab em by the pussy? Well, I wouldn’t do it; but, look at the tax cuts.
Red-State America wears the mask because:
Many white Middle-Americans erroneously feel they’ve been pushed to the economic edge by minorities. They seek to reassert their privilege by believing in the bogeymen of color Trump called out when he announced his bid for the presidency, as if building a wall will protect their prospects for a better future that will never come under Republican leaders (or motivate them to take one of the 368 thousand agricultural jobs currently held by illegal immigrants. Most experts, including Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, don’t think so: "It appears that almost all U.S. workers prefer almost any labor-market outcome — including long periods of unemployment — to carrying out manual harvest and planting labor").
Fear of a deep state, to Pizzagate, faith in Q, and people who think that this is really something you should be doing because Alex Jones was banned from Facebook are all wearing masks that cover their mouths with the ridiculous words of people like this:
They are the people who think a space force is a great idea, like these ones:
While it’s easy to laugh at these people, or to believe that they are not representative of the nearly 63 million people who voted for President Trump in 2016, these faceless foot-soldiers of MAGA nation hold enough power to shape the trajectory of democracy in America; and, in some strange form of symbiosis, they are the mask for Trump.
writing is a swordfish desperate for catch and release
its rostrum dipped in ink not
mightier than but equal
to college drowning in small pools filled with shimmering fry
searching for open oceans from
which to speak and stand
on ecstasy at Coachella with thirsty holograms swimming
through smoke and sweat like Pac
twelve years dead and gone
and live on stage
waiting for the next universe
Note: This will be most effective if you are able to sleep through your alarm, but have an internal clock so synced to your fear of disapproval that it jars you awake at the last possible minute.
If that’s not you, I find it helpful to push the snooze button multiple times. If your alarm goes off at eight-minute intervals like mine, I’d suggest a minimum of four hits, so that the distance between your best intentions and your feet actually hitting the floor is as close to 30 minutes as possible. That’s not enough time to make you late, but your arrival will be a hair-raising experience since traffic is bound to be booming by then. Remember: to be cutting-edge you must be willing to handle sharp objects, even metaphorically.
Sleeping to the edge of late ensures that you won’t be able to exercise or meditate, but you can take comfort in your status as a pioneer in the practice of mindful driving. Assuming, of course, you can keep the radio away from the news and tuned to something relaxing, or off altogether. You’ll like being a trendsetter, and as time sharpens your practice you can consider live-streaming your efforts. Your viewers will be surprised by how soothing the sound of morning traffic can be. You can market pins or bumper stickers exclaiming “Life’s highway HATES an angry car.”
As your influence grows, consider a collab with the manufacturer of those organic granola bars you keep in your glove box. A few dollars goes a long way towards easing the guilt that comes from not having the healthy breakfast you meant to make. Envision sponsored tees reading “Two eyes on the road, one hand on the wheel!” with a line drawing of a smiling driver lifting a granola bar to her mouth. You’ll have another chance to make healthier choices come lunchtime, provided you don’t work through it. Those statins you’re taking keep the promise of another tomorrow free from heart problems just a snooze button’s push away. Remember: the future is fertile!