Doubling Down On Mean

I just figured something out the other day. The reason so many people in this country feel so helpless is because they are taught, by people in power and with media access, that complaining only makes things worse. In families, we call this abuse.

When I was a kid, I had a friend whose mother was a mean woman. She said to her son, “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about!” Then she would hit him or threaten to hit him by raising her hand to him. I have since learned that this is a classic statement of abusers of all shapes and sizes. It still bothers traumatized people when they hear it years later.

In clinical terms, it’s called “overlearning” and it’s behavioral modification by giving a small problem a large — perhaps ridiculously large — response and it cements fear of being imperfect, among other things, causing anxiety and over-control of the self. It kind of goes with the sentence, “That’ll learn ya!”, and it’s effective. It also leads to depression and learned helplessness in animals and people.

This kind of abuse has to be actively undone in the case of dogs who have learned they are helpless. You have to save them then teach them that they aren’t helpless in order to restore them to “normal”. I suspect it’s that way for human beings as well. If a client comes to me with this kind of experience, I explain to them that “if the stimulus (what you did) is this big and the response is THAT big, all that other stuff isn’t about you, it’s about them”.

What does this have to do with the news and the political landscape? The prime examples lately are in Florida, though they could be anywhere. In any case, they are destructive to the human spirit and thus to democracy.

Both of the clear examples right now are related to “Stand Your Ground” laws. The first case is the now infamous Trayvon Martin case. It’s bad enough that a boy is dead and the man known to have killed him is free after a huge trial. That’s bad enough for his parents. Making it worse is the fact that recently George Zimmerman (the killer) has been signing autographs lately. What is he famous for? Getting away with murder. How does he make money then? He doubles down on his “fame”. Not only has he killed an unarmed boy due to the boy’s race and his fear, he has gotten away with it, and now, he’s making money for getting away with it. Both he and the people buying from him are doubling down on his evil. If people didn’t start by thinking the legal system was against them, they probably think that now. This is heartbreaking learned helplessness. Martins parents wanted justice. They got less than that when they did and now they watch their son’s murderer prosper, so unfairness gets multiplied. That’ll learn ’em.

Also in the state of Florida is a Black woman on the other side of that law. Marissa Alexander was found guilty — despite the stand your ground laws used by Martinez when she fired a warning shot upon being threatened by her abusive boyfriend. She didn’t take his life and – though I’m sure there are more details — she was found guilty. When the Martin trial shed publicity on the case, the woman won another trial — not her freedom, mind you, but another trial. That’s bad enough. The district attorney in the case is doubling down on mean by saying if she loses this time, her sentence should be three times the first sentence — for defending herself! That’ll learn her.

To compound matters, a state representative named Matt Gaetz is now trying to restrict the press from investigating Stand Your Ground laws. That’ll learn the press for thinking they can make things right.

These are the most grievous cases I know of right now, but cases like these have been making news all the time for as many years as I can remember. People poor enough to qualify for welfare are now being asked to give drug tests to prove they aren’t ripping off the system. While some or many people on welfare are drug users, a person can be poor (and needing welfare) for a whole host of reasons — like losing a job, death of a spouse. Illness or whatever. The government is saying to them “you ask for help and we’ll make things harder on you “. That’ll learn ’em for having problems and asking for help.

Want the right to have an abortion? Not an actual abortion, but the right and facility to if you need one (Did you know the Plll doesn’t work if you have a flu and are taking anti-biotics, for instance)
— same thing.
Woman fought for years to have that right. Last year, Wendy Davis of Texas gave an actual filibuster speech to keep funding going. Still some states require vaginal ultrasounds in order to get an abortion. If the abortion is due to rape, a woman has to get raped again to get one. That’ll learn her.

Whistleblowers in all kinds of cases are taught that the problem is that they complained about some situation or other, rather than the problem or corruption existed in the first place. Luckily, we have whistleblower laws. Unluckily, they aren’t always applied or don’t always work. That’ll learn ’em for talking, making us safer, freer,or saving us tax dollars.

We wonder why people feel or hopeless — why they don’t vote or fight for their rights or have stopped trying to feed their families or… all kinds of things. This is why.

Here’s the thing, though: if you have been the victim of people who are meaner than you deserve — and mean even more because you challenged them — and you feel crazy, you’re not crazy, they are</

. You may have done something or you may not have, you’re responsible for being human or making a mistake or having a lapse in judgement. Everything else is them.

When you see politicians doubling down in their rhetoric to prove how mean or crazy they are, don’t vote for them. Don’t make your situation worse. And if you feel like you have to choose between the lesser of evils (nobody’s looking out for your interests, consider running for office yourself. If you fail, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll be in the same situation you are now.

Don’t buy into bullies. They have the problem. You don’t. Furthermore, we all have a problem in a democracy if yours doesn’t get fixed.

Let’s not support mean- or crazier-than-thou. It hurts all of us.




Book Review: The Education of Nancy Adams, a novel by Larry Baker

During Lent, I have given up video games and have been reading a lot more to pass the time. Fortunately, I have been keeping up with some good company– my friends who write blogs, people who want Harry Chapin elected to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, colleagues and Deering friends, political opponents and debaters, and a new friend, a writer — Larry Baker.

I met Baker online at the “Elect Harry Chapin” Facebook Page and he had said some really nice things about my writing, so I started reading his.This is the second book I have read by him and he knows what I thought of “A Good Man” (3 1/2 out of 5 stars, if I actually had such a scale). “A Good Man” was a dark book, with likeable characters, set in the South, with a few Harry Chapin references. It was good book, as I said, but –as someone prone to depression and one who hates bad theology ruining people’s lives — I’d have to say it was a dark book, with stylistic references to William Stryon not far off the mark. Still, I could appreciate his writing and thought to myself, “How does a guy come up with a story like this?” I still don’t know. I’m aware that some writers let the story go where it wants, as though they are taking dictation. I know others who fine-craft every detail, like the director of a good visual movie. The movie may be boring, but the visuals tell you it was directed by a professional director and an artist and would never have come to into being without that vision. I don’t know Larry enough to know which end of the spectrum he writes from, but I do like the new book because of what it does and what it doesn’t do. In addition there are some professional things that he does as a writer that explain why he gets paid for it and I don’t. As someone who likes a good story, isn’t all that into flash, and is fascinated by the craft of writing itself, the book works very well for me.

Let’s start with the “professional writer” stuff. Larry writes this book from the viewpoint of his main character — a woman. As I read the book, it occurred to me that I would never write as a woman because I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. It’s either a failure of imagination on my part, or a show of imagination on his part. There are no sex scenes, so at least he doesn’t go that far into claiming experience he can’t have, but he knows what women do and he knows how women act in the world and the story is believable because of that. The women in this book are diverse. Some are tender, some are distant, some are conservative, some are liberal, but none of them takes a straight path. They do odd things at odd moments, for deep reasons that Baker explains. There are great shocks in the book, curveballs you don’t see coming, and a great number of them. In Larry’s world, though, there are no ditzes, no undeveloped characters, no shadows of whole people, no sex kittens, no glamorous people, only the type of women you’d actually meet in real life. A reader may not like a character or two — or ten — but that’s because you wouldn’t like them in real life, either. In this sense, Larry is like Harry: they both have a flare for understanding, describing, and telling the stories of the average person in the midst of real life. Sometimes they make moral choices when confronted with reality, sometimes they don’t, but they are willing to face themselves and make a choice, just as Harry’s characters were willing to, just as people in real life do every day.  These people swim in the same environment that we do, are as affected by it as we are, don’t always know why they are being pulled this way or that by and make choices due to what they know. It’s the best they can do and it’s the best most of us could do in whatever circumstances life throws at us.

This book, if it were a movie, would have no action scenes, would not have characters with great powers and require no CGI effects or Dolby Stereo Surround Sound. No buildings or animals would be destroyed, and you wouldn’t have to “come back down to earth” after seeing it. This book, if it were a movie, would require genuine actors who can portray the subtle nuances a character requires. This is a subtle book, a character driven book, rather than plot-driven “BIG” book. It’s about the life that people actually recognize — neither bigger than nor smaller than it.

This is not to say that there aren’t underpinning of larger issues. There are, as the story is set vaguely after the Anita Hill hearings when we starting to recognize abuse, power, and sexism, but this is not a book about Hill. It’s not set in Washington, and it’s not “a political thriller!”. It’s about politics at the local level. It’s about politics in the workplace. It’s about politics in life and how we negotiate those things that happen in the rest of the world. Vietnam colors things for these characters, but the book isn’t about Vietnam. Gender roles color things for the characters, but the book isn’t limited to gender or power or any particular -ism. Guns are involved — from the first paragraph to the last — but the book is decidedly not about guns. These things are all there, but It’s not about them. The book is about people about how people deal with the spin cycle that is real life at times. It’s interesting to see what colors the socks come out metaphorically. Nancy goes through chaos and comes out the other end, as most of us do at times.

Nancy Adams, the title character, grows and matures, yes, but she also becomes subtly younger as she grows up. Her life  is balanced in the midst of chaos around her, or becomes more so, as the book unfurls her. She doesn’t exactly know what hit her, because it’s not one big thing that affected her. It’s several little things and a few moderate to major things . Her character is like the child you only see once a year — they have grown dramatically in a year, but they only know it when the measurements are taken and compared to last time.

Adams, like all of the other characters in the book, are totally original. I have never seen them elsewhere in books or movies (with the exception of the inspirational-teacher-comes-to-town-and-brings-angst-and-ultimately-success movies). But if Baker starts her character there, he doesn’t finish there. This book is about how she changes the students, but more about how they — and the adults in their lives — change her. It’s about how she comes to like her life. Dell, the coach, is unlike others in other books. Jerry, his assistant coach is the same way. The men here like women and want them to succeed — not so much because they “got in touch with their feminine side”, but because they are men of honorable intentions.

Baker’s take on how we got here today politically is explained by the rise of Betsy, a side character who develops her own life by the end of the book, and makes our heroine define herself as well.  Agnes is a faithful African-American woman who goes to the Catholic Church because it’s on her way home. There are no caricatures in this book as there really are none in the life that I see every day. People are what they are because of where they started and what happens to them. They become something different as life happens.

It is a good story, with good characters, and good development — just like our lives and the lives of people around us. I highly recommend it.





(Oh, By the way… I get no commission or royalties or other form of payment for this. I just like the book.)

Today’s America — Love It Or Leave It?

I’ve been in a real conciliatory mood toward my conservative-but-not-nuts (aka “actually normal”) friends recently and I still think that’s the best way to go in life, but I was thinking — and this may not be helpful — as I read a column about Ann Coulter’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee.

Apparently, she was complaining about “The Browning of America”. I wanted to see who “The Browning of America” was — thinking they meant the modern Robert Browningsome probably gay poet that she didn’t like. Once I understood that she meant that American skin was getting browner, I thought to myself, “America. Love It or Leave It, Baby!”

I was at the Springfield, Mass Museum of Science recently  and there was a lengthy history of Springfield, including an African-American man who had “hit it big” in the Gold Rush of 1849, moved to Springfield, and bought up big chunks of land and developed them. He was there before many modern white folks had moved there rather than the “came up to find work” traditional history of Blacks in this area. Did he complain about the “Whiting of America”? No. So what’s her problem?

It occurred to me that it might me be fun to turn that old chestnut of xenophobia on it’s head.

To Rush Limbaugh: You may have noticed that there are many women in this country. There are many women who use birth control. They want to have sex — some of them even want to have sex, even with you. They also want to be respected, want to get paid for their work, serve in the military,  work, pay taxes, run for office or do none of that if they choose. In short, they want to act like the citizens they are. They are already here, have been for some time. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

To the Westboro Baptist Church: There are many gay folks in America who want to be a family, have a family, serve in the military, be healthy, work, pay taxes, run for office… In short, they want to act like the citizens they are. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

To George Zimmerman: There used to be a boy named Trayvon Martin. He, too, was an American citizen. He probably wanted to have sex with someone. He also wanted to be respected, He might have wanted to get paid for his work, serve in the military,  work, pay taxes, run for office or do none of that if he chose. In short, he probably -as he grew into adult life — wanted to act like the citizen he was. He was already here, had been for some time. He — as well as you — was American. You can’t bring him back, but there are many more like him out there. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

To the Ku Klux Klan. American Nazi Party, Aryan Nation, and skinheads of all sorts: There are all kinds of people in America — Catholics, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Pagans, Mexican-Americans, Korean-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Polish-Americans … American Americans. They also want to be a family, have a family, serve in the military, be healthy, work, pay taxes, run for office… In short, they want to act like the citizens they are. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

To the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, and Rich Tax Cheats: There are plenty of folks who work hard in this country. There are plenty of people who want to work in this country. There are plenty of people who also expect to eat, have good schools, have a fire department that comes when their house is on fire, have streets they can drive on, housing they can afford and pay their taxes because they work. It seems like a fair trade to them. Somehow, it doesn’t to you. All of these people  want to be a family, have a family, serve in the military, be healthy, work, pay taxes, run for office… In short, they want to act like the citizens they are. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

To those who refuse to work with  the President all the time, on every issue, even though a majority of us voted for him, I point out to you that he wants the country to eat, have good jobs, be families, serve in the military, have fire departments and streets that work, run for office. I disagree with him sometimes about the best way to do that. I don’t always like the way he acts in some situations. I don’t block everything he has ever done, or tried to do. I don’t vow to stop him on every issue. Neither do most Americans. In short, they want you to act like the citizens you claim to be — intelligent, thoughtful, caring, and wanting the best for America. If you can’t handle that, I say, “America. Love It or Leave It”.

As this next election approaches, as has often happened in the past 30 years or so, I consider moving to another, more peaceful, more just, country. Because I can’t love it, I think about leaving it. Then I realize that the voices I just spoke to are a small percentage of who we are as a country, and I’d like to think — as America gets more diverse — they will become fewer and fewer. Still, hate mongers persist and they clutch onto power like America was theirs and theirs only. They rig elections by not allowing people to vote, They play with laws so that they win. They make laws so that they win. They would rather people live in poverty so they can be in power.

They are not most Americans, and as long as they continue to control things, there will be less and less of what makes America to love. When they accept that most Americans — of all stripes and looks, loves, and habits — want to act like the citizens they are, we will be better off. This is the America that exists. It is the America I know. So, to all the people I have listed, I say, “America — love it or leave it”. I’m happy either way.





An Open Letter To Miley Cyrus

I just watched the “Ellen” interview with you and I am fascinated by the things you said about your work and your plans and your music and your relationship with your ex.  The first thing I would say is that, as a therapist, I wonder why you have so much anxiety. Anxiety — like a headache — is a sign that there’s something wrong in your life. I don’t know what that is — maybe always being “on”, maybe speaking/singing/performing for a gazillion people is too much. Maybe girls your age aren’t supposed to have that much to deal with. Yes, I know you’re a woman now, but the anxiety has been happening since you were a kid, you say. Maybe it’s just un-natural for a human being to have that much attention. Maybe there’s some problem inherent in the Disney model of kids having that much fame. Maybe there’s just a problem for you to have had to deal with it. Maybe there’s something else that caused your anxiety I don’t know, but I hope you can get a handle on it, and that you don’t use drugs as a way to cope because the world is full of dead people who tried that as a coping mechanism and you don’t need to be one more. Further, if you think your talent and/or legacy is worth more than your life, be reminded of Cory Monteith who died young and, apparently, with a lot of talent. He’s been “snubbed” by the Academy awards and is apparently unremembered by the Academy. In any case, whatever legacy he has won’t be getting any bigger. His death prevents him from doing anything else creative and yours would, too. So, whatever is causing you distress, I hope it goes away.

About you at the VMAs: you asked for the opinion of a “normal” person and something that’s constructive criticism, so here’s mine. As the father of two daughters, I can tell you that you miss the point. We’re not necessarily complaining about you at the VMAs, we’re complaining about ourselves. I’m well aware that it’s an illusion that you’re our daughter, or that we know who you are. We don’t have a clue who you are when you go home and look in the mirror. We don’t care that you — as an actual person — are an “artist”.  We care that a girl we thought we knew (a TV character, but nonetheless, one that we knew as cute and adorable and funny) could grow up and be so … sexual. We worry that she had to become sexual to be taken seriously. We worry that she felt she had to become sexual in order to be taken seriously. We worry that our actual daughters think that and we pray to God that we haven’t made them feel that way, because that means we are really sick as a society.  Remember the part in the interview when you said — about “the tongue thing” that you “don’t do dads and the tongue thing… cause that’s weird”. You’re right. It is. Dads shouldn’t want to do that with their daughters and we know that, but here you are, out doing it and we wonder why. Who taught you that you should?

I don’t really follow Robin Thicke’s career, but if the two of you rehearsed that action in advance, then he should have thought about what he was doing, because he (to all appearances, anyway) is older than you, so us watching you appear to commit a sex act with a man who could be your father(he was wearing a suit, you were wearing a bunny “onesy”)  should have rung some bells for him. as it did for us.  Without knowing you had rehearsed, I thought that. Knowing it makes me want to throw up on him. It was like pedophile porn and most of us guys out here in “normal land” aren’t pedophiles, so we were sickened by it, because we should be.

So here’s the thing: you aren’t the first female child star that decided to make the transition to adult roles by becoming sexual, and you won’t be the last. As a father to teenaged girls, I know that my girls will grow up and become sexual at some point. I don’t want to know about it. Sex is a wonderful, powerful, emotionally-laden thing, but it’s especially that because it’s between two people who love each other and it’s not about anybody else. In short, it’s a private thing.

There are so many ways my daughters will grow up that I can know about and want to — their careers, their families, their public lives, what kind of music or books or art they like, how smart they are, their feelings, their politics. Sex just isn’t one of them. The idea that  your business, somehow convinced you that you needed to display the part of you I don’t want to know about in order to “let” you have all the parts I do want to know about scares me, because its a lousy model for everybody else. Lawyers don’t have to do this, students don’t have to do this. Secretaries of State don’t have to do this and the first female president of the United States won’t have to. In other parts of the American landscape, you don’t have to “put out” to get ahead — or if you do, there’s a problem. Anita Hill made her career and was taken seriously because she refused the very same model that Hollywood or MTV says is the way to do things. I don’t want to encourage them, so I don’t want to encourage you. There’s got to be a better way.

So, in short, it’s not about you. It’s about us and our daughters. Don’t feel you have to do anything on account of us. Don’t believe that you are only your sexuality. I’m not saying that you — a person I don’t even know — can’t have sex. Please, feel free to. I don’t have to know about it and I don’t want to. I’ve got a private life all my own, thanks. As a female in this society, as a former role model to my daughters I want you to succeed — as an intelligent, beautiful, powerful singer and creator of music. As a human being, I want you to succeed in your personal life. In fact, I want you to have a personal life, which probably includes a sex life, no matter what TMZ or Perez Hilton wants to sell me.

OK? I hope it helps.