16 years on

It was a crystal clear morning. Mr. Martin’s health class went about as normally as it always went, until a knock at the door. Mr. Martin went over and conferred briefly and then went to the back of the classroom where there was a rabbit-eared television on a rickety cart. He turned on the television. We were greeted by speculation. There had been a horrible accident and a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

And then, very quickly, it became clear that this was no accident.

I might have slept a couple hours that night, having been glued to the television all day, anxious for what was going on, despite my own personal isolation from where anything might actually happen. After school wrapped up on September 11, 2001, my sister and I did what we always did: rode the bus home from school. I refused to get a driver’s license because I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of having a car (and how the times change) and one of the unexpected consequences of that was that I was entertained by myriad hypotheses from fellow bus riders. Who did it. Why they did it. All cracked out of the imaginations of 14 to 18 year old public high school students.

We got home. Bethany, Tom, and I went to Gino’s for ice cream and pizza. Al Jazeera was on the TV in the cramped restaurant. I had never seen Al Jazeera before. The coverage on Al Jazeera was a breath of fresh air – it was detached and not filled with the rancor and emotion that we had been watching all day on CNN and (MS)NBC. The journalists were calm and not fueling rampant speculation.

I probably didn’t eat – whenever I get anxious, the first thing to go is my appetite. At some point thereafter, I left and walked a bit and ended up walking to my school district’s Superintendent’s house. This wasn’t terribly unusual, Mr. deGrandpré was the faculty advisor of the Key Club, of which I had lately served as the President. He invited me in and we discussed what this all meant as cameras panned in and around the smoldering rubble of lower Manhattan and pulverised human remains. Who did this? Why did they do this?

It became clear very early on that the narrative was that Islamic terrorists were responsible – something I did and do believe – and that it was an unprovoked act of pure evil – something I did not and do not believe. No one around me tried to bother understanding the situation in the Middle East, our bizarre relationship with the Saudi regime, our support of authoritarian regimes in the region who would be our friends and continue to supply us with cheap petrolized remains of dinosaurs provided we looked the other way and provided support when they cracked down on dissent.

It seems to me, even 16 years later, few people still try considering that. No, it is instead the Great Donnie Show – throw the Muslims out! build the Wall! M A K E A M E R I C A G R E A T A G A I N. All that meaningless bullshit. No, we’re more interested in building walls between each other, between ourselves, than we are at considering what has happened over the last 16 years; instead of giving ourselves to thoughtful consideration of managing the things that we *do* have control over, we, as a country, gave the keys of power to someone who has styled himself in the manner of a 3rd-world strongman. Mouthy. Loud. Belligerent. And incredibly lacking any capacity for compassion and circumspect. Instead of consideration, we created a storm of consternation for others with a President who lashes out at perceived slights in 140-character shouts. The great question is now not will America be made great (again)? but rather, will American democracy survive the next four years?

The last 8 months have been a mixed bag, to say the least. Left-leaning interest in smaller, local elections has reinvigorated the possibility for the end of right-wing dominance in many localities and states; however, the President’s commission on voter fraud will do its damnedest to ensure that it is as difficult as legally and plainly possible to vote. Kris Kobach will certainly see to that. Neo-Nazi and KKK groups have rallied in Berkeley and Charlottesville, among many localities, only to be met by larger counter-rallies to denounce their clinging to the object’s of America’s strange-fruited past. The neo-Nazi and KKK movements witnessed a resurgence after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. I remember very clearly when Obama was elected that gun stores in the Athens, Georgia, area held Obama Protection sales: stock up on those guns that he never said that he was going to take!

That fear, that baseless fear, helped lay the groundwork for how screwed up the United States of America is right now. Most of us didn’t stop to think and examine: we relied on the truthiness of the matter. We didn’t need the head to listen, we paid attention to what our gut was yelling and our gut was yelling that this foreign-named black Muslim guy that the country just elected President scared us, but we couldn’t say that he scared us because what are we racists or something (yes) so instead we said nothing about it, pretended it was all cool, went out and bought guns until we were armed to the goddamned teeth, and went about our lives with the rug bulging from stuff we had been sweeping under it.

And election night 2016 is when the rug erupted. All the vitriol, the hate: President-elect Donald Trump was here to fix it with the magic of his business acumen.

I laid in bed that night, thinking about what kind of world my son or daughter in 7 1/2 months would be born into. A month later, that worry would no longer matter: but still, what world would we continue to bring new life into? 2016 had already made itself known for the celebrities to depart from this Earth and all of a sudden, the election of Donald Trump seemed to promise a repeat performance on a grander scale.

As he looks at the red button, he chuckles to himself. There is no God but Don now. All our base are belong to him. North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, Israel, France, Germany, Canada: all you countries that doubted him shall see his truth. He’s fired anyone who has attempted to corral his energies in any meaningful way. Missile systems are ready for launch. After a moment, when the cameras are ready and focused on him, this big moment that he never thought he would be in in his wildest dreams, he presses down on the red button, looks up and without a hesitating moment, says in to the camera, “Missile: you’re fired!”

And all this because of fear. Because we didn’t stop and wonder to ourselves if this fear made any sense, if this fear stood up to the facts, if this fear was based in truth instead of truthiness. Our fear speaks not from the head, but from the gut. Gut emissions tend to come out one of two ways. Neither particularly pleasant. Please, I beg of you, let’s stop for a moment and reflect and talk about it. The sand is no place to keep a perfectly good head.

-Ryan

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Feeling like goo.

If you’re wondering what’s happened to me, I think I can sum it up in one word.

Stress.

Over the last 6 weeks – really, ever since C and I moved into the new house – stress has been gradually building up in me and I have had no place to put it and have not dealt with it in any meaningful way. I stopped going to Soul Sessions to watch and perform poetry because by the time 8pm rolled around on a Wednesday, my tank was empty. A long day at work became a long night at home, secluded on my laptop, trying to avoid doing things. But as I avoided doing things, the list of what we needed to do to the house grew longer. All of our big plans gradually became overwhelming big plans and I just wanted to shut it off.

Of course, that’s not how this works. Dealing with stress isn’t ignoring the things that cause the stress, letting a mound of dirt turn into Mount Everest over time. I wish I could remember that, because I am genuinely terrible about doing the things that can actually resolve my stress. Instead, I turned inwards. I picked up Infinite Jest and buried myself in my coin collection. At work, I haven’t been able to maintain focus on anything because it feels like my attentions are being pulled in different directions. On top of all that, especially with regards to work, my anxiety has ratcheted up to pre-panic attack levels: I am experiencing physical symptoms of something being wrong, again, and I am trying to set it right. My sex drive has been shot. My heart/chest feels all sorts of screwed up. My head – don’t even get me started on how messed up my head has been feeling.

That’s the bad. That’s the ugly.

But what do I do? I could take medicine, but it seems the medicine that helps also has an adverse affect on trying to grow a family. I’m going to a cardiologist next week to check on the heart – family history concerns me. I haven’t smoked in 325 days. I haven’t had alcohol in over a week. Same with caffeine. I’m trying to do the things that should level me out. I went to my therapist and now have regularly scheduled appointments. I went yesterday and following the 45+ minutes of word vomit that I let loose, I felt better. My sleep needs to improve. I haven’t slept well in over 2 weeks, maybe longer. I feel tense right now, just typing this up and thinking about it and I can feel how it’s affecting me.

I don’t like it. I’ve never liked it. This spiral is never fun. I think I hit the bottom this past weekend at Floyd Yoga Jam. Going to Yoga Jam was meant to be a spiritual boost. However, for the most part, I felt like an anxious space cadet, feeling this impending sense of doom and did not sleep well whatsoever. There’s a rebound – I know there is because this isn’t my first trip down this crummy path. But it feels so… so far off. Several times over the past couple of days, I’ve wanted to break down and cry, but when I get to the point where I’m crying, the tears aren’t coming. It’s as though I’ve blocked myself from being able to cry. And, damn it, I really want to cry. I want to unleash wave upon wave of pent-up emotion and tension! I want to unlock this broken thing so that it might be able to repair itself! Because I know that when I am well, I am stellar. But when I am unwell, I am thoroughly un-stellar – I am a black hole. I don’t like not being stellar. That could be a point of stress, ell oh ell, but I’ve accepted that. No sense throwing even more burden on myself, right?

Sorry. Had to crack wise.

Anyway. If you’ve had an interaction with me recently, if I’ve been slow at getting back to you (if I’ve gotten back to you at all), this is what’s going on. I hope you understand. It’ll get better.

Thanks,

Ryan

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Where do we go from here?

The last 8 months, going from immediately before Mr. Trump’s election to the Presidency to today, have seemed to have passed by in a chaotic whirlwind. The media report on horse race after horse race story, on whatever new scandal Mr. Trump has stumbled his way into. I’d like to believe that the man who has become President is smarter than the rambling, cocksure fool he appears to be, but this man seems to not know any bounds when it comes to thumbing his frustrations and national security secrets in 140-or-fewer character spurts. I’ve been hoping that at some point, I will awake from the coma I have been in for the last eight months from a traumatic brain injury and be brought back into a world where the sane and competent have the loudest voice and the most sway.

However, this fevered nightmare continues. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. Perhaps more worrying is that in the wings resides an arch-conservative Vice President, whose actions would match Mr. Trump’s rhetoric because Mr. Pence has the political wherewithal to properly manage accomplishments. I want to believe that none of this is true – that Mr. Pence isn’t the super conservative nightmare that I’ve been able to cobble together from his record, that Mr. Trump isn’t this duplicitous canker sore on the mouth of American democracy. But all evidence leads to the contrary. Mr. Trump’s America First/MAGA ploy has been exactly that – a ploy to gin up the anger of an electorate that’s been deceived time and time again. And now it has deceived itself into believing that someone who has built his empire on something as vacuous as a brand could Make America Great America, TM.

At this point, there are few things I take for granted, because every second, every day seems to be on borrowed time for us as a society. We have hired a flim-flam man to the most challenging job in a nation-state: the one to lead it. And with our flim-flam man, it certainly seems that his every act seems to build one self-serving mission upon another. And if this is true, if our flim-flam man is nothing but a sham, what do we do? Why should we have trust in each other in the political process? I don’t have answers, mostly because I am afraid of the answers.

I am afraid that the answer is that we can’t trust each other. I am afraid that the answer is that every person, to the last man, is a duplicitous actor whose motivations only serve to maximize the self, regardless of the cost to everyone else. Why else would we elect people who deny basic, foundational, and evidence-based science to be in charge of the programs that fund basic, foundational, and evidence-based science? Why would we elect people who constantly drive fear into the hearts of others for the sake of their own re-election? Why would we elect people who work tirelessly to conceal the sources of their campaign contributions so as to protect themselves from controversy? There are so many whys that need to be answered and I don’t think any of the answers will be either satisfactory or comforting.

And maybe the lack of comfort is a good thing. Maybe it’s time that we mobilize ourselves en masse to confront the issues of our time: to tackle racism, to restore wealth to communities decimated by decade upon decade upon decade of economic dispossession, to repudiate the wars that these politicians launch to line their contributors’ pockets, to restore the integrity of the American Project, to empower the working class with strong unions that represent all American workers, to bring about a living wage, to insure that people have access to health care that doesn’t cost them their rent or home, to have the so-called service class become the working class, and, in the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, to promote the general welfare.

So: where do we go from here? Let us be frank – the federal government is where go ideas go to die. The best course of action is to work within our communities to mobilize the promotion of the general welfare of the American public. There will be few grand victories, but our victory will be total if we dedicate ourselves to getting to know our neighbors, understanding their plight, and sharing in our common humanity. Our victory will be total if we share in our common victory and not pursue individual glories for the sake of an individual ego. Our victory will be total when we, in fight after fight, bring the cause of justice to our neighborhoods and give it a home with us. This is where we go from here. Do not look to Washington – they don’t give a damn. Look next door. Down the road. That is our way forward.

That is where we go.

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Self-care

Something that I think we as a society don’t encourage ourselves to do enough is to engage in self-care. I know certainly haven’t been engaging in it. By self-care, I don’t mean bathing, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and going to the doctor when you’re sick. Those are indeed forms of self-care, but constitute a bare minimum.

In a world that overflows with distractions and stressors, it is easy to get carried away in the stream that becomes a river that becomes a torrent of things that are dragging your attention away from your mental and emotional well being. That Facebook alert that pops up on your phone? Distraction to pull you in one way away from your mind. How about that email from work that comes up at 9:00pm? Another thing that pulls at your energy.

As many of the few of you who read this know, I have a history with anxiety. My most recent bout with it was this prior week where my body put me through an adrenaline-fueled anxiety bender that caused me to think that – more than the previous anxiety attacks – I was a) having a heart attack, b) going to die, c) losing my mind, and d) not in control of my life. After getting divorced, I was determined to be in full control of my life, calling as many of the shots as I could. An anxiety or panic attack strips you of that feeling, despite every contrary indication that your life is not an omnishambolic trainwreck.

After an emergency intervention and a resumption/increase of my medication, I am feeling a little better, though still somewhat ill at ease. To help me cope, I developed and Clarissa helped to refine an Anxiety Action Plan. It is a list of action items that include things that can be done immediately and things that are ongoing concerns. Ryan’s Anxiety Action Plan is as follows:

  1. Until otherwise directed, maintain prescription use.
  2. Get a referral to seek appropriate modalities of care. (Mine is actually more specific, but just sharing the general idea.)
  3. Clean the car. (Gotta have control over something, so make it easy to control and something that reflects how you want to feel.)
  4. Get outside, exercise, and track it. (Getting outside every time my anxiety spiked helped me feel better, though it didn’t completely beat it back. Tracking it can help create a positive reinforcement.)
  5. Use adjusted work schedule and delegate tasks. (Great if work has been causing stress and you’ve got the ability to manage the change the way you want to see it.)
  6. Manage and balance social obligations.
  7. Express gratitude and spread love. (Sharing warranted positivity with people makes me feel better.)
  8. Talk about your stress and anxiety. (It’s okay to feel like crap and stressed out – it happens! However, bottling it within you creates the likelihood of your becoming an emotional powderkeg.)
  9. Don’t drink caffeine. (Damn it.)
  10. Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption and celebrate periods of non-use daily. (I don’t drink a lot, but minimizing the potential for an adverse reaction, especially while on medication, is ideal.)
  11. Continue not smoking and keep track of it. Celebrate each day without tobacco. (The nicotine feeds the anxiety, not to mention all the other garbage that tobacco use can cause.)
  12. Meditate daily. (Center yourself before the start of a work day. It does wonders.)
  13. Have device-free time. (Seriously, you don’t need to be on Facebook all the damn time.)
  14. Eat well. Cut out fast food and make healthy, savory meals at home that can be reused. (Just a general healthier living tip.)
  15. If you’re comfortable with it, seek out dietary/herbal supplements that can help abate stress. (Certain teas are good for this.)
  16. Lastly, see a therapist. A professional can help you manage your stress and provide insights on what you can do and what you need to do to feel better.

Being less stressed out of course can make you less prone to severe bouts of anxiety, but I’ve also noticed that when I’m stressed out, I’m more prone to get sick. I’ve been sick with sinusitis and other general cruddy ailments this winter more often than I normally am. On top of that, stress is a contributing factor to heart disease and my family’s history with cardiac issues is less than stellar.

With all of that being said, this is all advise coming from someone who is not a medical professional, but someone who is seeking out ways to help combat stress levels in his life. I hope that you are able to identify stressors in your life and manage them the best you can.

Be well.

-rl

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I don’t even know what to say.

I haven’t had much to say in a while because, to be honest, I’m not sure what to say anymore. These times have made me feel like a confused old man: the world has been taken over by scary people and it takes every bit of strength in me to not let fear win the day. How else can such a feeling be appropriately expressed? We live in a time where enough people in enough locations across the United States chose to vote for a manifestly incompetent fool to become President of this country. And, thanks to the 18th century design of our laws, that manifestly incompetent fool is now merely days away from being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

It would be sufficiently bad enough were the man merely manifestly incompetent, but he is not merely manifestly incompetent. On top of mere incompetence, the man has no capacity for restraint or self-reflection – constantly bickering with those he feels wounded by via smart phone app. Moreover, the man makes no mistake about it: he intends to be deceitful. When confronted with words that he said, he denies them, in the face of recorded proof. No “journalist” in this country has dared stand up to this loud-mouthed thug to truthfully expose the ceaseless deceit. The man soon to be elevated to the highest office in this country fed the fire of hate and welcomed people whose hearts are filled with fear and hatred of others, bringing out the worst in what is mythologized as the great melting pot.

It turns out that the melting pot is still trying to differentiate itself. Finding ourselves in 2016, going into 2017, having to work out demons that we thought had been exorcised long ago is a frightening task. In the light of those individuals whose fear has delivered us into the hands of the orangenointed one, we must act with due deliberateness and consideration, so that we may fight our battles effectively.

With that being said, I’d like to mention an annoyance that seems to crop up every two years. Yes, the elections to the United States House of Representatives is a tedious and disgusting task, made even more repulsive by the declamations of those who say that the House is the democratic institution of our legislature. Let’s get serious – when a Representative has a district that is more populous than some states, the body that purports to be democratic is certainly not. Let’s consider Virginia. In the House of Representative elections of 2016, 50.22% of Virginians chose a Democrat to be sent to the House, 49.78% chose a Republican. However, of Virginia’s Congressional delegation, 7 are Republicans and 4 are Democrats. North Carolina provides an even more staggering picture. In 2016, 46.6% of North Carolinians chose a Democratic candidate and 53.22% chose a Republican candidate, with the balance going to independent or 3rd party candidates. In an ideal world, North Carolina would then send 6 Democrats and 7 Republicans to the Capitol. However, here in Panem, District Thir– I mean, North Carolina actually is sending 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to the Capitol. California has the opposite happen – they would be sending 6 fewer Democrats and 6 more Republicans if their Congressional delegation was sent by proportional representation of the whole state and not through geographically meaningless doodles on a map.

Eh. I’m tired. It’s time to resist.

R

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Debate Night – Date Night #1

Tonight is the 1st Presidential debate between a candidate who has the qualifications to be President and a braying ass of an orange-toupéed fool. What to expect? FIREWORKS! JABS! HOT TAKES GALORE.

I’d live blog it, but I don’t think it’s worth the energy. However, you can follow me on Twitter: here.

Adios.

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Good to be home.

Silence, save for the sounds of leaves shaking and branches swaying under the influence of a light and lazy August breeze, greeted me as I returned home for the first time in nearly a year. Following an excursion that took me from Roanoke to Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo, silence was a welcome greeting. Silence broke when it was followed by my mother’s embrace – she was happy to see me! Why don’t I come home more often? The usual welcome that I get when returning home after an extended absence, so the usual welcome at this point.

I’ve spent my adult life running away from the rustic – some might say quaint – trappings of the homeland. Oh? Homeland? Yeah, upstate New York. No, not White Plains. That’s too far south. Albany? Nope, you’re still too far to the south. Keep looking north – keep going north on Interstate 87 until you hit the end. Seriously. A stretch of lonely villages that dot the Northern Tier of New York as it comes to abut Québec and Lake Champlain. Yeah. There. This time home was no different from any of the previous, save for my sister – my baby sister! – was getting married this weekend and I was in the wedding party.

Mom, I don’t go home because there’s nothing. Home is a shell of a place that is being left behind by a confluence of global economic forces and stubborn unwillingness of locals to move forward. Life back home is a perpetual snapshot of high school, senior year, now fifteen years removed. Those of us who had the sense or good fortune to leave did. Those of us who didn’t or couldn’t are sinking into a crowd of aging millennials drowning in a sea of narcotics and alcohol. So mom, I’m sorry I don’t go home more often.

It’s just too damn sad.

As a result, any time I leave my mother’s house, it’s with trepidation – fear that I will see the fleeting wraiths of the past entangled with a displaced, zombified present. A trip to the mall in the nearest city, twenty miles away, typically confirms that worry. This time did not fail. While at Target in the mall, my best friend from high school walked up to me, taking me by surprise. I hadn’t spoken to her or seen her in eight or nine years. We caught up. Her daughter was going to be ten years old, her daughter’s father an abusive alcoholic. Her mother was living in the same apartment complex she’d lived in when I last saw my friend. My friend told me about how she limits her daughter’s time with her daughter’s grandmother – my friend’s mother – because her grandmother is perpetually drunk. My friend’s brother? He had a terrifying experience because after he’d been clean for a year, he went on a multi-week bender, shooting and snorting every drug he could find until the drugs didn’t work any more and nearly killed himself after drinking a handle of the least expensive scotch he could find.

He said it was a wake up call.

The ghosts were all around. The shuffling of the gaunt and barely living skeletons, bound by the chains of drugs, time, and location. I told my friend that this was why I never come back. Everything’s gone to hell. And if it had already been hell when we were younger, the sleep was cleared away from my eyes and a newly focused set of eyes saw the ugly reality, able to perceive the desperation and the desire to be transported out of time and place. Some of us were lucky, some of us were able to leave physically. The rest have had to chemically transport themselves away from their environments. My friend told me that she would have left, too, but she couldn’t.

And that’s a damn shame. You see, by virtue of her environment, all of her talent was leached out. I remember that she could easily transpose anything she heard on the radio to piano. Literally anything. She was interested in history, science… But back home, family life, the area beyond the event horizon that is our shared black hole of a home, there couldn’t be a future for someone who couldn’t get out, regardless of the talent. If you wanted a good paying job, you were left with few options: the Border Patrol, the State Police, the Department of Corrections or the drug company. When the drug company left, options dissipated. Retail. Food service. Any job to pay the bills and live to barely scrape by.

Mom, this is why I don’t go home. Going home is returning to Roanoke.

Roanoke’s got its share of problems, many of them not so different from the problems plaguing the area of my birth. However, we’re a community that has resources by virtue of its size. We’re a community that’s moved towards the future instead of haphazardly recusing itself from the future. As I drive down Elm Avenue and Hershberger Road, there are periodically homeless people, begging for help at the corners and medians, but these are the exceptions and not the norms. And yes, we have drug abuse, issues with violence, and significant issues with inequality. However, here, unlike my home region, people are present who care to fix those problems.

The morning after the wedding, I left at 5:45. The drive back home, to Roanoke, took just over twelve hours. It was still light when the Mill Mountain Star first appeared as I drove down 581. A smile grew across my face.

It’s good to be home.

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