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1 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

My new apartment includes a garden that hasn’t been properly cared for in years.  Landlord legend holds an elderly woman once occupied another apartment in the building and tended the garden.  When she departed the garden fell into disuse.  I accepted the challenge of taming the yard.
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Armed with my new rust-resistant, steel hedge trimmer with comfort-grip handles, a reverse-cut saw with ergonomic design and new leather gloves, I waded into the garden last night.  It rapidly became apparent that I should have had a machete.  Vines of unknown origin and species wrapped around trees and bushes.  Under the blanket of green were walls of tangled dead and dry plants, suffocated from light by more recent growth. 

Neighbors came out on their balconies to watch the work.  “Looks like you got your work cut out for you,” laughed one man from his roof deck high above.  I suspect it was a bit like watching Sisyphus, as every time I cut away part of the garden, more work appeared.  After ninety minutes of work, I had cleared ten square feet, the other ninety percent of the yard will have to wait until this weekend.

In the ten square feet, I discovered evidence of what once had been the handiwork of an accomplished gardener.  Small areas were boxed and separated from others by wooden rails or low brick walls.  Bamboo sticks for supporting vegetable plants appeared once the arching vines were cleared away.   A marble flower urn materialized. 

Gardens are filled with metaphors for life.  The careful tending, the cutting away of overgrowth, the revelation of hidden beauty, it might provide a writer plenty to mull over. 

I found it interesting to see the handiwork of another person here, someone who valued this little speck of land enough to invest her life and energy here.  Whoever she was, she left at some point.  Then I came along and I’ll invest some of my life and energy here, valuing it while I have it.  My time to leave will come and perhaps someone will follow me. 

Our time in this world is most valuable to ourselves, and the marks we leave tend to disappear with time.  But, of all the things we leave behind, perhaps it is the most extreme of our emotions that last the longest, the residue of our greatest loves and the dregs of our deepest hate.  Here, under the vines, is the evidence of love.  Had the garden been poisoned, it would still bear the marks, unable to produce anything of value.  Most of who we are will be swept aside, but what we build in our moments of greatest passion will be the structures that the next generation will either build upon or must tear down to start again. 

2 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Click for Larger ImageI’m helping my friend from Alaska look for an apartment today.  We’ve only just begun and I’m already in a mood.  Apartment shopping in San Francisco is a task utterly without joy.  I rarely demand favors, but I expect a good dinner after this task is done.

On our way to breakfast, we passed two garage sales and a funeral being held in a bar.  Venturing by the bar after breakfast, the funeral had ended and everyone was drinking.  The garage sales were ending too, but I didn’t see anyone drinking.

Click for Larger ImageIf I have time, I’ll venture back into the garden this afternoon.  Here is a photo of the garden after the recent work.  You can see for yourself the task at hand. 

Oddly enough, I just remembered that tomorrow I have to MC an event at the same bar where the funeral was held. 

4 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Today we have a mixed bag of thoughts and nothing especially profound or original:

Mr. Alaska has an apartment.  In just under two hours we managed to find a very nice apartment in an exceedingly nice building, corner the building manager and finalize all but a few details.  That left us the rest of the day to enjoy as we would. 
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If spring came to San Francisco, the high rents must have scared it away because it feels as though summer has moved in.  Our week of warm weather continued through the weekend, filling each day with sunshine. 

Last night I played Master of Ceremonies for a Basket Auction.  Contestants for Mr. San Francisco Leather created prize baskets for the auction.  The bar was packed, several bidders were exceedingly generous, and we raised a good bit of money.  When I agreed to MC the event, I thought the proceeds went to charity – I admit I did not read the email very closely.  Although the money goes to help pay travel expenses for the winner of the Mr. San Francisco Leather contest, it was such a fun event that I didn’t really mind. 

Now I need your help.  I’ve learned over the years that if I need a hard-to-find item, sources may often be found on the Internet.  But I’ve failed in my recent search so I’m asking for your help on a rather minor request.  I need to find bib overalls, those denim outfits often associated with farmers and railroad employees, that are big enough to fit someone who is six and half feet tall. Any ideas where I can find such an item?

Finally, although I cannot provide much detail at the moment, as details are somewhat sketchy, I’m enjoying learning that Federal Express can deliver more than just letters.

5 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I needed some cash last week so I stopped at a Bank of America teller machine.  I’m not a customer so the bank requires that I both pay a fee and read some advertising in order to get money.  Unexpectedly, Bank of America replaced the monochrome ATM screens with new, “full motion video”, color screens.  Not only can you get cash at an ATM, you can now be entertained.  The entertainment is, of course, a full motion color video advertising the bank’s products.
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Friday night, on my way to the cinema with a friend, we happened by an open-air courtyard downtown surrounded by small restaurants.  It’s the kind of place you sit while eating your sandwich or drinking coffee.  I’ve seen courtyard before, but in the past few weeks someone installed a giant television monitor – nearly twelve feet high – directly over the courtyard.  You no longer need to interact with others in the courtyard, you can instead stare upward at the giant television. 

I’ve noticed televisions seem to be popping up and more and more public places.  Restaurants that never had them now have them installed so that it’s impossible to eat without staring into the screen.  The checkout stands at a local supermarket have flat panel televisions with a constant stream of advertising.  The airport has monitors in every possible corner with the sound pumped through the overhead speakers, making it impossible to avoid listening.  I saw a taxicab last week with a screen embedded in the roof-top signage. 

I don’t like television.  I rid my house of the device nearly eight months ago, and after the delirium tremens ceased, I felt much better.  Setting aside my aversion to television, I nevertheless find the increasing number of them in public spaces a concern.  It takes only small consideration to appreciate why they are placed where they are and what the results will be.

In a society that is starved for connection and affection, such a trend can only be counter to where we need to be going.  We need more that encourages us to think clearly, communicate effectively, interact freely and yet we are doing the opposite.  There is no need to converse with the children in the backseat if we can place a video in the dashboard and power up the television monitor. 

Are we abdicating responsibility for the future of our lives and our society to those who program the airwaves?  Is the entertainment value of a television program fair compensation for the irrecoverable moments of our lives spent watching?  Do we stop and consider the cultural choices we make on a daily basis and their impact on our lives?

7 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Ba-da-Bingo is tonight, so my car is packed with supplies and my mind occupied with last minute details.  I’m thankful for Edith, who emerged as a real resource in operating this event.  I received an email this week from a European film producer who is interested in documenting Ba-da-Bingo as part of a larger project on San Francisco.  I’ll tell you more about that if it becomes reality.  Bingo has already been filmed by National Geographic, Bay Area Backroads and by a gentleman who claimed he represented a Japanese University, although I never attempted to verify this claim.
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I’m considering returning to school and pursuing a doctoral degree in Psychology.  It has been years since I was in a classroom where I wasn’t the teacher and I’m feeling a hunger to learn something new.  I haven’t any idea how I can pay for this, but I’m certain I can find a way. 

Before I run off to attend to the day’s work, I want to thank Becky, who found a typewriter for me.  I also want to thank Dana, who helped me find overalls. 

Since I have had nothing of consequence to say in some time, here is a quote:

“Only when we see that we are part of the totality of the planet, not a superior part with special privileges, can we work effectively to bring about an earth restored to wholeness.” - Elizabeth Watson, "Your God is Too Small", 1996

8 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Fifteen minutes before I left for Bingo last night, I received a telephone call letting me know an important transaction I had been working on had collapsed.  The collapse creates a significant, personal financial impact and happened because people I relied upon didn’t do what I relied upon them to do.  The person I relied upon most told me there was a way to save the deal, but it involved an illegal action, something I wasn’t comfortable doing.  It may take several months to recover financially from this failure. 
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I also got a parking ticket this morning for forgetting to move my car on street cleaning day.

The office DSL line stopped working, too – for the fifth time in as many months.  After forty minutes on hold with Pacific Bell, I hung up and went back to the dial up connection.

On the other side of the equation, a client who disappeared last year seems to have returned with a small amount of business.  The rain has stopped.  The jazz ensemble at Bingo last night was incredible.  And I’m going bowling tomorrow with a bunch of fun queers. 

People sometimes claim you need bad days in order to truly appreciate the good ones.  This, of course, is complete nonsense.  No one ever says you need good days to really understand bad days, we all know intuitively when life sucks.  Likewise, I’ve had lots of days that were filled with joy and they didn’t require a contrast for me to know this. 

I’m thinking of placing a conference call to the Department of Parking and Traffic, Pacific Bell, and the person who was most responsible for the financial muck, and while they are all on hold with each other, I’ll put down the telephone and go for a walk in the sunshine.

11 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I’ve been thinking more and more about the subject of forgiveness.  The need for us to fully consider this topic on both an individual and cultural level seems to become more evident each day.  I realized months ago that the subject was too big and complex to put in this space and that I may end up writing a book about it.
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I suspect that we often misunderstand forgiveness.  What does the word “forgiveness” mean anyway?  How do we forgive someone? 

While I’m only scratching at the surface of the topic, I suspect there are two significant issues why we struggle with forgiveness so much:

First, I think as a society we tend to regard forgiveness as a conscious choice, something we choose to do.  In holding forgiveness in this light we miss at least two other important components:  emotional forgiveness and the spiritual forgiveness.  To wholly experience forgiveness, we must explore it in the many places it dwells. 

Second, I think we often hold forgiveness as external; a pardon for someone who has wronged us.  This practice fails to take into account that much of forgiveness is internal.  Before we can offer compassion to others, we have to find and offer it to ourselves.  We must humble ourselves sufficiently to acknowledge our humanity and the contradictions it offers.  By first finding forgiveness in our own being, we can then fully offer it to others.

Clearly there is both more to be learned and said on this topic and in the coming months I’ll be digging around to see if I can put together a reasonable narrative.  If you have any quotes, sources, articles or books that have been helpful to you on the subject of forgiveness, let me know.

12 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I was out teaching today.  Through my students, I’m often reminded how much grief and sadness we all carry around with us.  Regardless of the class, the company or the industry, the students are etched with the internal struggle to cope with the emotions they feel in a world that denies those feelings. 
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I’m not conducting group therapy sessions, I’m providing corporate training.  But the desire of the students for more than just training often creates an atmosphere that does more than just teach them how to be better employees.  At the end of the first day, students often glimpse the depth of their own sadness.  The moment is tinged with sorrow, although in that sorrow there is the possibility of creating something different for the future.

I’ve said this before:  as with water, food, shelter, and air, love is essential to human survival.  To thrive, we need to swim in it as we would the ocean, to sing it, to wear it as warm coat on a cold day.  In denying it to others, we snatch away the center of what it is be human, removing that piece of our beings that connects us to each other and to the divine.  It’s a greediness, a selfishness that impoverishes us and our society.

An acquaintance said to me recently, “I hate your reasoning, it’s so depressing.”  He’s right.  Looking at the truth of our existence is often a sad thing.  We’ve made a giant mess of things.  But, if we stay with just that reality, we miss an important counterpoint:  we have the ability to create a different reality.  We posses the facilities to change, both  individually and corporately.  We just have to muster the courage to do so. 

We built this house.  We can build another.

13 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Having taught all day, I'm feeling tired and not much like writing.  So today, no thoughts, just two quotes:

"The doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop of a not very bright or reliable kind." - Herbert Muller

"I had a thousand questions to ask God; but when I met him they all fled and didn't seem to matter." - Christopher Morley

14 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Someone I care about told me today she has inoperable cancer.  There are still tests to be done, some uncertainty of the future, but the doctors believe the cancer has spread to five locations in her body.
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The reality of this didn’t sink in until I was walking home from the pet store carrying a bag of cat litter.  I can only imagine what I looked like to anyone who passed me on the sidewalk.  “For goodness sake,” they would say.  “It’s only cat poo.”

Apparently the cancer cells didn’t read the clause in my license agreement that requires all my friends outlive me.  I’ve reached my quota for dead friends in one lifetime and I’m pretty fucking upset that some entity may attempt to increase it.  It’s a shitty deal and I didn’t sign up for this. 

Someone once wrote of my friend:  “When not digging in the dirt or engaging in incredibly butch construction projects, she does good works dressed as the love child of Audrey Hepburn who mated with the hood ornament of a 1950s Buick.”  Regarding the news, she wrote me today:  “Just put on your dark glasses.”

I’m blessed to lead a life filled with imaginative, dedicated and caring people.  I can’t spare any of them, not a single one.  The monumentally crappy thing is that many of them have already left the planet.

If I lose my friend, I may crawl into a cave and hide from the world for a month.

17 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I’m reading the latest book by Irvin Yalom, a seasoned existential psychotherapist and author of both novels and textbooks.  In part of this new book, he grapples with the concept of how to classify the relationship between a therapist and the person seeking therapy.  Is it doctor/patient, therapist/client, provider/user?  He ends with the conclusion that none of these fit, that in fact the relationship is one of “fellow travelers” – two people on the same path, attempting to answer the questions of life, and providing assistance to each other.
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In the Navy, one of the first lessons a sailor learns is that when you encounter another vessel in distress, you must offer aid.  It is a law that is borne of history – lost on the ocean, you have only the assistance of others to bring you back to safety.  There is a school of thought that holds we are all individuals, beholden to no one, each of us solely and completely responsible for our own success.  While this holds truth on one level, it ignores the connections we share, and more importantly, the part of being human we call compassion.  While we can ignore the pleas of the person in the sea, we understand all too well that a time may come when we find ourselves treading water.  Compassion rises from the place within ourselves where we can be fully aware of our own humanity and the weaknesses inherent therein.  When we acknowledge our own weaknesses, we can then hold the failings of others a little less harshly.

I’m considering this title for the book I’m working on:  “Forgiveness: Living a Life of Compassion and Strength.”  Simply, compassion and forgiveness are topics too interconnected to separate.

I’d appreciate your help in this endeavor. Are there times you find it easier to forgive than others?  Are there situations you find are never forgivable?  Why or why not?

18 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Time is held as an important factor in evaluating relationships.  I bought a coffee table book about male couples today and one of the first questions I thought people might ask is “How many of these people are still together?”  It was one of the first questions that crossed my mind.
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I’ve loved a number of men in my life, arguably more than my fair share by conventional standards; although conventional standards are not something often associated with my life.  They fill a spectrum that includes such notables as: Tim, the Marine, who I affectionately called “Mouse” or alternatively, my “Heat Seeking Missile of Love”, whose war time injury took him away to Montana; Peter, the drag queen with four DUI convictions and an outstanding arrest warrant who drove me wildly around town in his Volkswagen Golf without seatbelts or a roof; Bob, owner of a handcuff collection so large it required a room of its own and heir to a Midwest lawn-mower titan's fortune; and Ed, who despite being falsely courts-martialed for raping another sailor, admitting he was queer and locked in a military psychiatric ward, was allowed to stay in the Navy and is now nearing full retirement. 

There are many, many others and I recall almost all of them with a smile built of time and affection.  While I loved them all, by most standards they never were of any great duration, lasting at most two years and more frequently less than one.  Perhaps by evaluating these loves solely on the time they occupy, there is little of merit.  The value of these men was not in the length of time we spent together, but the way each one taught me to love.  Each one required me to love a little differently, to open my heart just a little more, to accept and forgive, to hold but not to cling.  While grief accompanied the leaving of nearly all of them, in the wake of grief came enormous gratitude and joy at having had the time I had.

I don’t know if it is my lot in this life to have a relationship that lasts a very long time; whether or not I will find myself in my final moments next to a single person I love, or surrounded by the memories of myriads of men who have come and gone.  Either way requires a sacrifice for benefits and neither is without loss and joy.  Maybe I will wish I had more time with this person or that, but I treasure the moments I have held with each one.

Is there one special person for us in this world that we are destined to find?  I suspect not.  I think we’re compatible with a very wide range of people, that the miracle of being human, with all of its strange intricacies is a spectacular phenomenon that we have the honor to witness.  Loving then is less about immediate compatibility but of gradual understanding of the marvel that is humanity, of both ourselves and those who share our lives.

21 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I’m starting a new tradition.  It’s the first annual Betty Awards, to be better known as the Betties.  Yeah, Oscar has been around for 80 years, however 65 is the age we generally consider someone should retire. 
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The Best Film of the Year Betty:  This is a tough one, but I’m going with Lantana.  Yes, In the Bedroom was amazing, and so were Iris and Moulin Rouge, but Lantana kept me guessing right up until the end.  The acting was superb and the characters had depth, no one was innocent or transcended the human experience in this film.  Kudos to the people from Down Under for Lantana.

The Best Actor of the Year Betty: Tom Wilkinson, for In the Bedroom.  Did anyone else think the end of this movie had homoerotic overtones?

The Actor I’d Most Like to Sleep With This Year Betty:  Ewan McGregor of Moulin Rouge fame.  Actually, he’d lose to Vin Diesel (think Dark Planet) but Vin hasn’t been in any really good films lately.

The Best Actress of the Year Betty:  I’m split here.  Judy Dench was amazing in Iris, a film that brings the entire audience to tears.  But, Sissy Spacek really got me in In the Bedroom, so the Betty goes to Sissy.

The Film I’d Most Like to See While on Acid, if I Did Acid Betty:  Gotta be Moulin Rouge.  I must say, Paris wasn’t anything like that when I visited.

The Best Really Queer Film of the Year Betty:Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Hedwig could match Marlene Deitrich on any USO tour that comes to my town.  If you are a conservative queer, or one of those queers who hates queers, you may have missed this excellent film.  That would be a shame. 

The Most Disturbing Film of the Year Betty:Das Experiment.   If you don’t watch foreign film you might have missed this German entry.  Great film, but left me gasping for air.

The Most Overhyped, Should Have Been Left as a Book, and Way Too Long Movie Betty: Lord of the Rings.  I understand all the people who loved the book were hungry for a movie, but this movie was unbearably long, predictable, filled with entirely too many computer generated graphics and would have been better as an NBC miniseries. 

The She’s Really an Actress? Betty: Alright, I admit it, I went to see Queen of the Damned, but only under duress.  If Queen of  the Damned was indicative of  Aliah’s acting abilities, then she took a nose dive only shortly before her acting career did. 

Undoubtedly the Betties don’t carry the prestige of the little golden man, but give me a few years.  Our statuettes are anatomically correct and maybe by 2010 we’ll have a television show of our own.  Of course, I don’t own a TV, so I’ll miss it.  But I’m sure it will win a Betty.

22 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

A woman in my Thursday night reading group reported last night about a problem in her local playground.  It seems the playground has a sandbox and the parents thought the kids would enjoy the sandbox more if they had water – because water and sand make it easier to build things like sandcastles.  So, they petitioned the city and a water fountain was installed.  The kids like the park, the sandbox and the water so much that the parents thought it would be nice if there was a light over the park, so the kids could play during the months when the sun goes down early.  The parents banded together, raised the money to pay for the light, and after many months of working with the city, the light was installed.  Now, with light and water, the kids can no longer play in the sandbox.  Why?  Because drug users, with easy access to water and light in a quiet playground at night, leave needles in the sandbox where the children play.
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Over the years, I’ve worked with many non-profit groups that directly or indirectly provide services to drug users - from needle exchange programs to health services.  I’d rather addicts have clean needles than exchange HIV and Hepatitis.  I generally hold drug abuse to be the unfortunate side effect of both our pathological society and irrational drug laws.  At the same time, a mother’s desire for a safe place for her child to play is reasonable and emotionally compelling, and the actions of the addicts reprehensible. 

Every possible solution for the playground has limitations; every solution is only partial and likely not to work.  These limitations are inherent in the fact that the problems of drug abuse, homelessness and law enforcement are bigger than one playground.  These are symptoms of a society that places the value of human life below profits of corporations, a system that requires community ties and family bonds be broken in order to increase consumption, and a government that holds both emotional and mental health to be unreasonable costs best not considered. 

The unfortunate truth is that we are unlikely to ever solve this issue.  As a nation, we as citizens are deficient in both education and the ability to rationally discuss these issues, our leaders even more so.  We accept the nightly chatter of corporate newscasters as debate, the half-baked ideas of Washington as hope.  And nothing changes, we continue to spend millions, even billions of dollars, to stop drugs and yet the number of addicts increases.  I can offer no solution, no suggestion.  We are powerless, a society surrendered to our own apathy, sitting silent in front of our televisions while the next generation plays in sandboxes surrounded by used syringes.

23 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Today, an extended quote that is well worth the read:
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"Not everyone here will share my thoughts. Still, I will respectfully say what I think.

"The existing world economic order constitutes a system of plundering and exploitation like no other in history. Thus, the peoples believe less and less in statements and promises.

"The prestige of the international financial institutions rates less than zero.

"The world economy is today a huge casino. Recent analyses indicate that for every dollar that goes into trade, over one hundred end up in speculative operations completely disconnected from the real economy.

"As a result of this economic order, over 75 percent of the world population lives in underdevelopment, and extreme poverty has already reached 1.2 billion people in the Third World. So, far from narrowing, the gap is widening.

"The revenue of the richest nations that in 1960 was 37 times larger than that of the poorest is now 74 times larger. The situation has reached such extremes that the assets of the three wealthiest persons in the world amount to the GDP of the 48 poorest countries combined.

"The number of people actually starving was 826 million in the year 2001. There are at the moment 854 million illiterate adults while 325 million children do not attend school. There are 2 billion people who have no access to low cost medications and 2.4 billion lack the basic sanitation conditions. No less than 11 million children under the age of 5 perish every year from preventable causes while half a million go blind for lack of vitamin A.

"The life span of the population in the developed world is 30 years higher than that of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. A true genocide!

"The poor countries should not be blamed for this tragedy. They neither conquered nor plundered entire continents for centuries; they did not establish colonialism, or re-established slavery; and, modern imperialism is not of their making. Actually, they have been its victims. Therefore, the main responsibility for financing their development lies with those states that, for obvious historical reasons, enjoy today the benefits of those atrocities.

"The rich world should condone their foreign debt and grant them fresh soft credits to finance their development. The traditional offers of assistance, always scant and often ridiculous, are either inadequate or unfulfilled.

"For a true and sustainable economic and social development to take place, much more is required than is usually admitted. Measures as those suggested by the late James Tobin to curtail the irrepressible flow of currency speculation –albeit it was not his idea to foster development – would perhaps be the only ones capable of generating enough funds, which in the hands of the UN agencies and not of awful institutions like the IMF, could supply direct development assistance with a democratic participation of all countries and without the need to sacrifice the independence and sovereignty of the peoples.

"The Consensus draft, which the masters of the world are imposing on this conference, intends that we accept humiliating, conditioned and interfering alms.

"Everything created since Bretton Woods until today should be reconsidered. A farsighted vision was then missing, thus, the privileges and interests of the most powerful prevailed. In the face of the deep present crisis, a still worse future is offered where the economic, social and ecologic tragedy of an increasingly ungovernable world would never be resolved and where the number of the poor and the starving would grow higher, as if a large part of humanity were doomed.

"It is high time for statesmen and politicians to calmly reflect on this. The belief that a social and economic order that has proven to be unsustainable can be forcibly imposed is really senseless. 

"As I have said before, the ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illnesses, poverty or hunger.

"It should definitively be said: "Farewell to arms."

"Something must be done to save humanity!

"A better world is possible! "

- Fidel Castro, speaking to the International Conference on Financing for Development, March 21, 2002

25 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Less than a year ago, I was returning to London from Berlin having spent Easter with the German Sisters.  Germany was colder than I thought it would be, and the hotel recommended to me was in East Berlin.  You reached my room by traveling through a dark tunnel, past two heavy gates and down an unlit corridor, in which the absence of light made getting the key in the lock challenging.  Having celebrated Easter, I decided to return home early.
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In Brussels I changed trains to the Eurostar, which reaches London via the Chunnel.  Seated across from me were an attractive Belgian woman and her unattractive British husband.  They told me of their days spent in the underground music scene before they decided to buy a house in London and became slaves to the mortgage.

“Did you go to Belgium?”  She asked. 

“No,” I said, “unless you count my few hours in the Brussels railway station.”

“That’s a shame,” she replied.  “We have many good night clubs – many better ones than Berlin.  Berlin is very boring.  Next time you are in Europe, you should go to Belgium.”

When I returned home, aside from a pocket of odd coins, I had just three items:  a child’s backpack from the Eurostar train that I conned a customer service person to give to me and two tins of Belgium chocolate that I smuggled past agricultural inspectors in the United States.

Today I received confirmation that a Belgian television station is sending a crew to videotape Ba-da-Bingo next week - almost exactly a year after I stopped in Brussels, talked with a Belgian housewife and smuggled two tins of their candy back to this country.  Coincidence?  I can’t say.  But, in a short period of time, my pet project will be beamed into homes all across Belgium. 

Next time I’m in Europe I’m going to see if those Belgian night clubs live up to their reputation.

(Secret note:  one of the links above contains photos of Sister Betty you will never see on this site...)

26 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

How neat it would be to hire a private eye to trail those in attendance...  Catholics need to know who their enemy is.  But who needs private eyes when we already know who it is:  well-educated agnostics, atheists and embittered ex-Catholics who sip latte, hang-out in library carrels and have an aversion to makeup (save for going in drag).”  - Catholic League president William Donohue in a press release today regarding queer Easter celebrations.
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In my practice, I have a line I share with clients:  “It’s irrational to be rational with someone who is irrational.”  I wish I could claim the line but I heard it from a colleague,   and I had to hear it twice, too.

Often our public (and private) discourse is hobbled by irrational thinking fueled by emotion.  Regardless of the discussion, the loudest voices are often the most arousing, the most absurd.  In the demand for equal time for every opinion, the rational and the reasonable get pushed to the side or overpowered by the noise of sensation.  Whether coming from the left or the right, the result is the same:  the process locks into a shouting match where anyone who could listen generally has left the room.

The belief that we need to listen to everyone, that everyone should be given equal time, doesn’t serve our society.  If we run into a lunatic on the street ranting at passerbys, we generally don’t stop and listen.  The same needs to be true of our public debates.  When we can reasonably see someone is too emotionally aroused to enter the realm of rational discourse, they need to be politely removed from the dialogue.

This is not to say emotion has no place in public dialogue.  To the contrary, emotion is an important aspect of our human experience and its presence provides a depth that rational thought lacks.  However, there is a point at which emotion surpasses intellect, robbing us of our ability to fully function – and to listen.  It is then we need to remove ourselves, or others, from the discussion until we can return to a place of reason.

I’ve watched irrational people deadlock well-meaning community groups, bring corporate meetings to a standstill, gut public debates and monopolize media attention.  They offer a colorful perspective that plays well on video but does nothing to resolve the issues that face the larger audience. 

The privilege of free speech comes with the responsibility of knowing when to exercise it and when to remain silent.  The difficulty of free speech for our society is in understanding when to listen and when to walk away.

27 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Note to corporate America:  “Customer Service Representative” implies your representative is able to serve the customer. 
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I have an account with NextCard.  Paying my bill today, I noticed that my interest rate was increased from 9% to 24%.  The Customer Service Representative indicated this was because I made a late payment in September.  My payment due on September 8th was received on September 9th.  September 9th, however, is a Sunday and there is no mail delivery on Sunday – which means the payment must have been at the NextCard office on September 8th.  The Customer Service Representative was unmoved.  Clearly I didn’t understand the way mail works, he insisted.  The payment was late and that was that. 

Then there is AT&T.  Several months ago, I began getting bills at my business for $9.95 per month, the base rate for AT&T business long distance.  I don’t use AT&T and never have.  I waited several months and then called.  They agreed to stop the charge and stop the bills, although they stated the charges were my fault – I never quite got the reason why.  In January I received a bill showing the promised credit.  Then in February they began billing the $9.95 again. 

Did I mention Earthlink?  Once upon a time I used Best Internet as my ISP.  Best was sold to Verio, who was terribly unreliable, so I switched to another company.  In winter of last year, Earthlink somehow got control of Verio’s accounts, although I’m not certain how.  Nearly two years after I dumped Verio, I started getting bills from Earthlink for $29.95 a month.  I called Earthlink, only to be told that I was wrong, and that I was still a customer.  I glanced at my Pacific Bell DSL modem and reassured the Earthlink representative that I no longer used dialup services.

Oh, having mentioned Pacific Bell, they happened to combine my business telephone account with the account of another company with a similar name on the other side of the city.  My calls went to that company and I lost several clients who were unable to reach me.  After one year (12 months) of calling around Pacific Bell, I finally was able to get my telephone service fixed.  They sent me a bill for $2,600 for fixing the error they made!  We’re still fighting over that.

Dealing with big companies sucks.  You have to dial an 800 number, usually only during the hours they are open, which may be Pacific, Mountain, Central or Eastern time zones.  Then, you have to punch in your account number.  You wait on hold.  You wait some more.  Sometimes the telephone system hangs up on you.  The human who finally answers may or may not speak functional English, may or may not be able to solve the problem, and may or may not be helpful.  It’s all a lottery, and you hope your winning number draws the right person. 

It’s a good thing they put call centers in remote areas like Montana, Arizona, India and the Philippines.  If they were located near major urban centers, it’s likely mobs would burn them down from time to time.  “This is the fire department...your call is important to us...please hold for the next representative...”

28 March 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment) Note:  A follow up to this entry is here.

It’s Easter weekend and I’m struggling with putting into words how I feel about an upcoming event.  Give me a little space if this stumbles a bit:
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The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were founded in 1978, and legend holds the first time they appeared in public was Easter Day.  There is some debate around the actual date, but Easter has become the accepted anniversary.  Over the years, the Sisters have celebrated the anniversary in many different ways, sometimes being very creative, other times relying on humor that derives primarily by playing on certain Christian stereotypes.

The Catholic Church has never been fond of the Sisters.  The Sisters were founded by a group of queer men, and although the Order now includes women and straight people, it remains primarily a queer organization.  The Catholic hierarchy has been clear on it’s feelings for queers, although some branches of the church have more liberal views. 

Easter, however, is one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar, and especially so for the Catholics.  So, while queer male nuns might present a mild annoyance at certain times of the year, celebrating the anniversary of the Order on this date is a rather large annoyance. 

If the anniversary were merely an anniversary, I might say nothing.  However, over the years the Sisters have from time to time done some things on Easter that a reasonable person could interpret were meant less to celebrate the anniversary and more to offend.  Although the Sisters involved would argue otherwise, I think a rational person would see through this.  This has created a considerable level of animosity between the Catholics and the Sisters.

Moreover, we don’t need to do these things.  We are creative and inventive people who can create humor, entertainment and interest without using the holiest bits of someone else’s spiritual tradition as fodder for questionable humor.

Here is the point to this:  I believe that if we ever want to move forward to creating a more socially and economically just world, we must build bridges between groups that have traditionally not been able to coexist.  We cannot allow historic differences to continue to interfere with the work at hand.  We must reach across the divide between us and have queers shaking hands with Catholics.  That is hard work and requires we step beyond ourselves and make an effort that has never before been made. 

From time to time we need to acknowledge when our behavior, even when not intended to do so, lacked integrity or caused harm.  And then, even though no law or rule compels us to, change the way we interact with the world.  By doing so, we invite others to do the same, and we start to move into a place of greater community.

We don’t need to celebrate this anniversary on this day; we can choose another.  Will such an act change the world?  I doubt it will.  But to use a cliché, it’s the first step in a longer journey.

Several months ago, I sat outside a prison protesting an execution.  I shared that space with Catholics nuns and priests.  We had a common purpose; we shared the same mission.  Our disagreements outside of that space were irrelevant.  We were there to do the work that we believed God compelled us to do.

I am compelled to say it is time for the queers and the Catholics to make peace.  We may not agree with each other, but we need to start moving in a different direction as our current path can only lead to more suffering.  And so, on Sunday, I will not celebrate this anniversary with the other Sisters in the park.  My absence is in some way a prayer that change will be possible.

Easter is all about transformation, and transformation is something we, and our world, desperately need. 

Note:  A follow up to this entry is here.


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