20 January 2013

On Dating

A man was asked why he kept hitting himself on the head with a hammer.
"Because it feels so good when I stop," he replied.

09 January 2013

Seriously? A Trillion Dollar Coin?

My Dear Reader,

A couple people have asked for my take on the Trillion Dollar Coin meme, so I'll do my best to give you my honest assessment.

THE WHOLE MATTER IS CRAP.

First of all, there's nothing magical about a single coin.  It could be a thousand Billion Dollar Coins (which would be easier to mint, but not easier to put in a headline or sound bite).  It's just too...too...contrived.

Second--and I really don't want to make this political--but I'm mystified by how much excitement this has gotten, when it's really quite absurd.  The left sees it as a way to get around those unreasonable "spend closer to what you actually have" Republicans, and the right sees it as Byzantine maneuvering by completely out of touch liberals.

Here's how I see it:  we have a very serious, very real problem, and this nonsense is a distraction from the tough conversations we ought to be having.  We cannot afford the promises we've made.  We can't tax enough to pay for them, and the consequences of cutting those promises (e.g. cutting "spending") are dire.

No quick fix is even responsible to consider.  This coin business is actually insulting to have to write about, and indicates just how far we've devolved when it comes to serious conversation about:
  • Why we feel compelled to over-promise and underfund;
  • What we're going to do about it going forward;
  • Why would we rather discuss absurd fantasies than deal with the actual problems that we've created;
  • What we do with $16,500,000,000,000 in already existing, real debt.  That's not a coin fantasy, that's money we actually owe.  
Sixteen and a half million, millions!  Imagine if everyone in the Greater Los Angeles area (and really think about what EVERYONE means--all those people driving or walking by outside, or sitting in their offices or houses right now) was given more than a million dollars EACH; that still wouldn't match the amount of our debt.

Most Treasury debt is actually short term (yes, we borrow mostly on our national credit card rather than taking out a mortgage), but imagine for a moment that we had to pay that $16.5T back over 30 years, like a mortgage.  That would amount to "mortgage" payments of about $73B PER MONTH, or $876B per year, assuming 3.4% interest over 30 years.  We only take in about $1.5T in cash each year from taxes, etc, so $876B is HALF of our national tax receipts.  We spend about $3T or $3.5T (hence our annual deficit; remember, "deficit" is our annual gap, but "debt" is forever).  We spend far beyond our means; like about 4x our means, if you imagine ever paying off the debt.  Even if we pay it off over 100 years, and interest rates magically stay at 3.4% that whole time (a ridiculously low rate), we'd have to spend $576B a year...and that's to pay it off in 2113.  Still a huge portion of what should be our budget.

And from whom do we borrow all this money?  Between $1.5T and $2T a year?  Well, conveniently, the Fed is buying about $1.2T in debt from the Treasury this year for its Quantitative Easing program.  So borrow it from ourselves, minted out of thin air.  Yes, that's as bad as it sounds, and don't let anyone talk to you about the "velocity of money" as evidence that it's GOOD for us all.  It's actually had little or no effect, as you've seen and felt from the Quantitative Easing we've "enjoyed" over the last several years.  It's mostly a clever way to debt finance our annual deficit.  The rest comes from all the dollars we spend overseas (buying disposable goods that don't increase our national wealth), and the new owners of those dollars (like China) have to put them somewhere, so they buy our debt.

These are the conversations that we should be having.  Not some idiocy about a miracle coin that's going to save us.  If anything, all that should show you my Dear Reader is that we've gotten to the point where money is meaningless, and is backed by wishes and fantasy.  That should concern you greatly, because the effects of such a monetary regime can be disastrous.

If the coin subject comes up, ask people if they know about the numbers a couple paragraphs up, and how much of our national budget would go to debt service if we were serious about paying off our debt.  And don't be tempted to imagine that Uncle Sam can solve its problems as easily as printing a platinum coin.  This coin thing is a psychological phenomenon, not an economic phenomenon, and it's dissociative  irresponsible, childish, and counterproductive to the work we actually have ahead of us.

04 January 2013

On Microblogging

It turns out unemployment has its advantages. I get to walk more, think more, and sneak in little snippets of life.




01 January 2013

On Cliffs: Fiscal and Otherwise

It's hard to break old patterns.  Sometimes, we set up artificial goals in order to "motivate" ourselves to break the patterns in which we're stuck.  At one point or another, each of considers creating an artificial "cliff" to scare ourselves into change.  I'm speaking, of course, about my own personal patterns.  Specifically, of not writing and of finding almost anything else to do--solitaire, non-profit work, for-profit work, dinners, errands, whatever.

I'm also speaking, of course, about this ridiculous "fiscal cliff" we've all tumbled over today.  Funny how inner journeys are repeated in the outside world.  In the case of our elected representatives, their old patterns of spending and taxing (and never relating the two to each other--heavens no!) have resulted in an addiction to an unsustainable pattern of behavior--denial and procrastination.  So they set up an artificial goal for themselves, much like many of us do this time of year to "motivate" our new behaviors.

But here's the problem, as I see it:  surface level goals don't address the underlying causes of the problems.  Writing each day, or even several times a week (see how quickly these goals get mitigated?), doesn't address the reason I DON'T write--any more than creating an artificial fiscal cliff, entirely manufactured by congress and entirely arbitrary in it's timing and scale, will address the underlying problems in the current composition of our government.

Thus, Dear Reader, we are placed in the position of compromise.  And it strikes me as appropriate that compromise comes up this time of year.  Resolutions are promises we make to ourselves, and compromise has that damn "promise" built into the word.  Funny, it strikes me as a "co-promise", doesn't it?

And maybe that's what's missing here.  A little bit of co-promise.  Each of our intractable halves of government (don't be fooled, there are more flavors in the cookie jar than two, but two is all were given until we demand more options) needs to come together.  Both are being unreasonable.  You can't keep spending the way we do, even if we tax the bejeezus out of everyone.  And we can't protect everyone from being taxed at all--even if we cut current spending to zero we'd still have $17,000,000,000,000 in debt to pay off, and that means SOMEBODY has to pay SOMETHING.  So there's the rub:  both sides are wrong on sticking to their positions.  Both sides need to make some promises to themselves, and to the other side.

And like your resolutions, Dear Reader, our esteemed legislators know what they need to do to get healthy and meet their obligations.  They just don't want to.  Because, you see, you and I have let them set their own deadlines--let them set their own "cliff", if you will.  Perhaps it's time we set a cliff of a different sort for our elected representatives--FIX THIS PROBLEM OR BE VOTED OUT OF OFFICE.  THAT'S the cliff we should be talking about, not some arbitrary series of cuts and tax increases that were not made in good faith.  This fiscal cliff is the opposite of compromise--it's mutually assured destruction.  Neither side believed the other would actually go through with it (PS neither did Wall Street, that weird combo of bookie and blood-thirsty audience for this WWF... our Washington Wrestling Farce).

We cannot elect intractable people to offset the other guy's intractable people and expect governance of any sort other than what we've gotten.  And it's you and me who put these fools where they are, with each side ratcheting up its rhetoric with each new extreme nut-job elected to the House.  It's time for mutual disarmament, I say, and not the nuclear sort--this would be a disarmament of our elected buffoons.  Imagine what it would be like if we had reasonable people with reasonable positions who compromised (there's that co-promise again) in ways that built our nation rather than set it against itself.

Naive, Dear Reader?  No more than any resolution is; no more than any effort to change an established pattern, or to make the world as we've had it more like the world as we'd like it.  And all of us know the principles of this grand bargain--we've all got to chip in, and we can't all have everything we want.  That's a microcosm of life, and as each of us sets out to make our resolutions manifest in this lucky '13, I think we'll be more likely to achieve our goals--our resolutions--if we begin to work on our own psychologies with as much fervor and verve as we use on criticizing each others'.

30 December 2012

The Things We Leave Behind

Dear Reader,

I'm not much for New Year's Resolutions.  To quote Dangerous Liaisons, they're "humiliating if you fail, and commonplace if you succeed."  Better, I think, to make resolutions--and thereby to engage in self-work and self-improvement--all year long.

But this year feels especially weighty in its exit.  2012, as evidenced by the amount I've written, has been an especially rough year.  In many ways, it's been a year of endings:  relationships, jobs, over-identifications, illusions, wishes.  There's a part of me that is entranced by those endings.  I want to fetishize them.  That's something we all do--just look at the (disappointing) drama around the Mayan calendar.  We're obsessed with endings, and we insist that they be literalized in the outside world.  I'm not immune to that, and in some ways it's easier to focus on the ending (as an abdication of responsibility), than to consider the profound power and implication of a beginning (unlike endings, we're responsible for beginnings and for all the future paths they embody).  And I recognize that each of this year's endings allows for beginnings of a different kind.

But here, Dear Reader, your valiant writer is going to intervene!!  I'm going to take a stake, and make a stand.  I will propose for us a distinction between an 'ending' and a 'leaving behind.'  In one, I have agency, choice, and power.  In the other, it happens TO me.  So as I've reflected on it these last few days, I've come to think of 2012 as a year not of endings, but of leaving things behind.

And that, Dear Reader, is where you come in.  For one of the things I'm going to leave behind is my silence. This new year will be about writing.  So you'll see more of me here, and more of me in other projects as well.

That's right:  the choice I made for my career and my life has given me more time to write and to focus--at least for a while--on what it might feel like to actually chase my dreams a bit.  What, you say?  Haven't you been doing that, you Crow?  You've been having a wild good time chasing a big career around and splashing around in the bird-bath of its rewards.  "Are you not entertained?  Is this not what you came to see?"  (Points if you get the reference.)

No.  And healing from the experience of the last few years will, I think, involve going INSIDE instead of acting things out in the outside world.  And that means more writing.  More thinking.  More breathing.  Leaving behind the chase in order to work on the soul for a bit.

Speaking of the chase, let's talk romance for a bit, shall we?  I wonder, Dear Reader, if you'd tell me about what it means to love?  I'll tell you what it's been for me over the years.  Love has been obligation, responsibility, imbalance, dependence, power differentials, resentment, and sorrow.  The best love has been that of my friends, and I've chased it in romance unsuccessfully for years--in fact, almost two decades since I came out of the closet, and dreamed what it would be like to find a man to love, who would love me in return.  Dear Reader, I AM LEAVING THIS BEHIND.  I know that's a bit of inflation--that my ego is getting a little too big for its britches when I make a statement like that--but I feel it's important to take a stand, lest this damaged version of love set the stage for the future.  NO! Says the Crow!

Love will be about relating authentically with myself, and taking responsibility for my feelings, defenses, violence, and anger.  That will be the foundation for relating to someone else.  Love will be the act of valiantly and bravely standing up for myself, and stoking the flame of my own gay identity and self--of that Promethean flame that's burned in me for nearly 20 years.  Yes, 2013 will mark 20 years out of the closet!  And I owe it to that young boy, that daring and wonderful little boy who looked inside and saw something different in himself than in anyone around him; I owe it to him to embrace the possibility that he (that I!) deserve love, and deserve to be treated with respect, and with dignity, and with joy, and with bravery equal to the challenges ahead.  And if I cannot find this in the outer world, then Dear Reader, I WILL EMBRACE IT IN MY INNER WORLD.  And that will be no compromise, no meager substitute--for I am coming to realize that my love is my own, and it is my experience.  It lives not in some other man, but in me.  I love.  I do not ask permission from someone else to love.  My love is my own, so I am leaving behind the belief that I need to find it, and embracing the belief that I already embody it--damn my defenses.

I'm using a lot of caps this time, and you'll note that's a different tone than I've had in the past.  To this I say, DEAR READER, YOU AINT SEEN NOTHING YET.  As I've worked to become more related to myself, and more connected to my feelings, I am choosing to leave behind the politeness, and to embrace the REALNESS.  This is my fucking, messy, angry, light-filled and shadow-laden, joyful, unedited story.  This is the feeling I'm going to work to bring into my life, my writing, my love, my inner work, my career.

I am leaving behind the over-identification I've had with my external accomplishments--my high-profile job (from which I've derived a considerable amount of borrowed unjust power--and have secretly REVELED in that); my community engagement (which--like a hot boyfriend--has such overt and tempting and toxic social power); my beautiful possessions (which, I am coming to see, have owned me more than I, them).  These things I wish to leave behind.

O Reader, now that I've been so inflated, the shame comes up and tells me that I'm being silly.  "You'll never be able to do this, Crow.  You'll fail.  You don't deserve love.  You'd better just focus on making money and buying things that make people envy you.  That's the real love.  You're a failure.  Look at your life:  single, unemployed, bereft, unattached, powerless, worthless.  Get a big job quick so you can buy yourself something to prove your value."

To that demon I say, "Fuck you, and the shade you rode in on.  I leave you behind as well."  My defenses will come up, and I'll no doubt act out (consciously and unconsciously) in ways that I cannot now predict, but that are sure to be violent, anti-self, aggressive, and shadowy.  But I'll face them--and their consequences--in due time.

The intensity of this year has created many occasions to face demons of this sort, where I've acted violently against my own interests and had to deal with the consequences.  And--here's the magic part--it turns out I'm quite capable of facing the challenges these situations present.  And more  than this, Dear Reader, more than this!!!  It turns out your Sagittarian Crow actually LIKES IT!  Isn't that crazy!?  I love this adventure, and this exploration of my own subjectivity--even my own shadow.  I hesitate, and I attack, and I resist, but at my core, your Sable--like some warrior in a fantasy legend--likes the journey.  That's a core ethic of mine--to explore and to improve and to be brave.  In this way, I will invoke gay spirit and the very energy I tapped into when I came out of the closet--that's the energy I'm invoking here, of irrepressible spirit and a sense of self and the belief in truth--my truth--however hard it is.  For if it is hard-won, then all the better to win it.

And that, Dear Reader, is the story of 2012.  It has been a hard-won year.  Your Crow is tired, and his feathers are ruffled, and there have been storms.  But he's undaunted, and is flying away from those things that, in his heart, he's needed to leave behind.  And he's flying toward the dawn.  The solstice is passed, and the days grow longer, and 2013 will be a profoundly good year.

And here's a song about resisting the things we want--of struggling for the breath of life while, at the same time, hearing the voices of our defenses.  What happens in a life where we leave that behind?  What wonders would that life have?  Let's find out, shall we?  ;-)



10 April 2012

On Writing

I suppose a little is better than none.  I can't believe how long it's been since I've blogged, or written anything, for that matter.  About the middle of last year, I started blocking time for writing each week.  I've written about a page.

It used to be different, I think.  Writing is like any art--talent helps, but practise makes the product.  And for me, the experience of writing--of filling these blank pages with my thoughts--it's just too painful.  Well, almost too painful, since I'm drawn back each time.

I have a copy of Julie Cameron's "The Artist's Way" next to me as I type.  I haven't read it yet.  I wonder what it will say.  I wonder if it will inspire.  I wonder if it can hold a tiny candle against the monsters in my mind, that twist and rage and croak their indignation at my writing.

"You're awful, Sable." they say. "You're a shitty writer when you write, and a shitty writer when you don't.  Stay focused on other things.  Your career, your life.  On filling your closet, or your home.  You're better when you're buying, not creating.  YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY."

Those voices are, of course, coming from within.  They're related, I think, to a part of me that never recovered from being gay in this awful world.  I learned at such an early age to hide the most important parts of me, to keep them safe, to protect them, that I struggle now, as a grown and 'empowered' adult, to let them go a little.  To give myself space to write, to be, to love.

Writing and love, it turns out, are one and the same.  They take the same determination.  They require the same sacrifice.  They a leap both into and out of ourselves.  They are both terrifying. 

Even as I write this, the defenses come up.  "Don't put this online, Sable.  Someone might read it, and what will they think?  It's embarassing, showing this kind of vulnerability.  No one is interested.  Stop being so narcissistic...so selfish."

These voices have no idea that I've started to catch on to their game.  I'm learning where they come from--the secret places.  I'm hunting them down.  Not to kill them, oh no, for our shadows cannot be killed--they're part of us just a surely as a breath or a heartbeat.  I'm hunting them down to understand, and to integrate them, and to hold their hands as I bring them into the light.

This blog is one manifestation of that light.  And in the time I've been away--a time of relationships, of buying real estate and gut-renovating it into a thing of beauty, of trips to Mexico where I fantasize about writing and come home with blank notebooks, of taking a writing course (lo!) and of having my professor die just weeks after the class ended (you must write, she said to me), of nights alone with a dull ache in my chest like a kind of disappointment or grief, of nights with friends where I hide my true self and play the good game--in this time I've been growing, like all of us.  And I've gotten stronger as I've grown, more empowered, more perceptive.  Perhaps, just perhaps, even more receptive (wouldn't THAT be nice?!).   And all along my shadows have been watching warily, fearfully.

"What will he do?" they ask each other.  "I like it when he focuses on work," says a tall, thin one with a gold pocket watch and a monocle.  "I like it when he buy things," says a smiling one, grinning through three rows of sharp little teeth.  "I don't care what he does, I can't stand this!" says yet another, a sad, hunched thing with bleary eyes and ink-stained fingers.  "Madness," says a deeper shadow, steepling its long, thin fingers, "This is merely madness; there is no profit here."

To them I say, perhaps I am doing all those things.  And perhaps I will show you to the world, and give you out--air you like a dirty shirt, smelling of cigarettes, beer, and sticky sweat.  Perhaps I will begin to acknowledge you for my own, my little secrets, my precious.  I'm not sure I can expend all the energy needed to keep you silent, and contained, and still have any creativity left for me.  So I will take you with me, shadows.  We are one.

And then, it occurs to me, Dear Reader.  You and I are one, as well.  As I write, it's me I imagine reading when I think of you.  It's my imagination that has to stand in for you, since you are not actually here to see me writing in the dark, in my underwear, with a belly full of eggs and cheesy tuna casserole.  And you are fearsome to me, Reader--most fearsome of all my shadows.  When I turn the final page, I imagine my Reader looking up, and saying: "Is that all?"

So mostly, I hide, imagining that in hiding I can avoid the question.  "What do you mean, 'Is that all?'," I ask with mock innocence.  "I'm not a writer.  I'm a banker.  I'm an activist.  I'm a psychological adventurer.  I'm no writer.  So how can you judge me?"

But it's not you judging, is it?

It's me.

And there we get to the finest pickle of them all.  I am artist, arbiter, audience, and executioner.  The white page is my death, but to stare is down is scarier still.  To hold my ground, when the shadows close in, taken courage.

"You've done enough damage for one night," they say, even now.  "Imagine who will use this against you.  Imagine who will judge you for what you've said, for how you've felt, for how you feel even now with your fingers flying across the clicking keys.  You cannot do the task you've set before yourself.  You will fail."

And I listen, and I do not start the journey.  And even now, I'm lost a little, Reader. I don't know where I've taken you.  I'm worried that I've failed you in the promise any writer makes--to show a little truth about the world.  For I'm scared that there isn't much truth inside, and I have to resist the urge to erase the last paragraph.  Or this entry.  Or my feelings about what it means to me--what it FEELS like to me--to be a writer.

I tell you this, Reader:  It's scary.

I have an outline for a novel.  The shadows I described are busy tearing it apart, telling me that it will fail, that it's silly, trivial, meaningless drivel.  They do this before a single word is written.  Like assassins, they suffocate my characters as they sleep, they paint whole cities black, they unravel plots as quickly as I weave.  And most of all, most sinister of all, they push the hands of the clock forward just a bit each passing moment.  Like an indecisive coach running out a clock while the players grow anxious on the field, time passes unfazed and unfeeling while I dawdle.

This is a lonely journey, Reader.  It's my own Inferno, my own journey inward and within.  Dante knew the right of it.  He had the shape of it.

I wonder, then.  I wonder if I could use this blog to document my FEELINGS about writing as I begin this journey--as I struggle to get out my first novel.  I wonder if it would help me, to let my shadows have some air-time as well.  It has not worked to try to keep them in check, for they have only grown in that time.  More than a decade.  I promised myself that making money was only a way to have the freedom I'd need to write, but it hasn't worked that way.  Making money requires a blood sacrifice--it doesn't give it's fruit willingly.  It requires just enough to keep you weak enough to resist it.  But I cannot blame money or it's making.  Comfort also is my siren.  "Don't write," it sings, "relax.  Take an evening off, or a month, or a year, or a decade.  You've earned it."

I've earned something, you devil.  I've earned the sense of fear I have now.  I've earned the whisperings of characters I've never met, but whom I've glanced in a darkened mirror, or between the pages of books, or just beneath the varnish of centuries-old paintings.  That is not comfortable, but it is magical.

I'm afraid, but most afraid of failing.  Ironically, that's what's kept me from writing all this time.  It's what keeps me here, writing about writing, rather than one application over, writing a story that wants to tell itself through me.  See?  See what a tricky bastard I can be?

I hear singing.  Don't despair, Reader.  It's iTunes, not some dark fantasy.  I hear the words of the Bard put to music.  I hear Prospero's speech--the ultimate appeal by a writer, dreamer, and poet, to his audience.  But also, I think, to himself.  It is as much a guide to one's own Reader as it is to one's Audience.  One is a worse critic than the other...or so I understand.

08 November 2010

A little crowing about crows (and ravens!)

I still get asked about the symbolism of crows.  Here's a good reason why they make me happy.  I can't imagine a dog or cat figuring this out...

Wild crows inhabiting the city use it to their advantage
(David Attenborough - BBC wildlife)