Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

I’m weird.

There, I said it.  I have personality quirks that set me apart from the mainstream, from poor impulse control to social awkwardness, and a wealth of other items in between, not the least of which is my passion for history(yes, evidently being into things that aren’t popular in the last few years makes you a complete luddite).

Until recently, I’d been a part of a small social group since 1997.  This group, due to its basic nature, has a tendency to pick up on the out-of-the-norm aspects of people, blow those aspects out of proportion, and use that as a bludgeon to beat those people down.  It’s been going on ever since the group formed; criticizing the flaws or eccentricities of other people was the very basis of its formation.  It’s treated as a given; if you’re a part of the group, it’s accepted that you’re going to give people trouble and you’re going to take it, whether it’s all in fun or not.

After having been around for 17 years and making a number of close friends and acquaintances, I was still regarded as racist, ignorant, living in a dream world, in denial of negative historical facts(never mind that I was likely one of the most knowledgeable in the group regarding history) and in favor of a whitewashed vision of the past(one of the things that irritates the hell out of me, by the way, is the tendency of people in my hobby to idealize aspects of certain eras instead of taking a realistic, pragmatic view of history).

I grew sick of being mischaracterized.  I was sick of being demonized, sick of being talked down to, marginalized, disregarded, ignored, made fun of, disrespected, and and dismissed.

If people repeatedly prove that they can’t accept you, don’t change yourself to try to win their acceptance.  Walk away.

Nearly 10 months ago, I did.  It was a massive release.  I haven’t looked back, and I don’t care to again.  All of the negative feelings generated by my visits there are no longer present.  I no longer struggle with being accepted by my peers, because I got rid of a large number of them.

Life has since changed significantly for the better, and seems that it will continue to do so.  I can now bask in my own weirdness and nurture relationships with people who accept me as I am, without the needless background noise from those who don’t understand me, or care enough about me to make an effort to understand.

If people in your life beat you down instead of lift you up, kick their sorry butts to the curb.  You don’t need them.  The resultant lack of noise in your life will be positively liberating.

 

Recurring Themes.

I have a series of recurring themes in my dreams.

I do not say recurring dreams, because each dream is different in its details. While the dreams are often similar in their settings, situations and characters, they are never the same.  They seem to be most intense in the ‘waking’ hours or minutes, just before I wake.

The themes:

The auditorium: I list this one first, as it is the one that has occurred most recently – last night(or rather, today, as I overslept).

This is a large, dark space, semicircular, with an expansive stage and a deceptively low ceiling.  It features a large sloped seating area and balcony with much plush seating, a large, labyrinthine and very dark backstage, and occasionally a sound booth at the center or very back of the balcony.  It bears a passing resemblance to the sanctuaries of a few churches I’ve attended, and likely my mind is drawing from memory of those.  The most recent iteration of it featured massive expanses of golden-toned exotic wood on nearly every surface except the floor and seating. I always find myself sneaking about as if I’m not supposed to be there.  It is almost always empty; every once in a while I have a companion that sneaks about with me, or I am avoiding a small group of people working there.

Alternately, the auditorium is rather small and boxlike, has a flat seating floor, some high box seats close to the stage, is small, cheerfully lit, and features surrealistic productions of which I play a pivotal part, not necessarily as an actor, but sometimes the production staff.  The closest parallel my conscious mind can draw is the theater featured in the film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I think that the memories of time I spent as a drama student in junior high and high school contribute significantly to the events.  I had a number of feature roles, but I also spent a fair amount of time in helping build sets or stage hand tasks such as follow-spotlight work.

The ship:

A large ship, old, alternately elegant or utilitarian in its interior.  I say large; it is huge.  I have visited a number of ships in my lifetime, among them the Red Oak Victory,  SS Jerimiah O’Brien,  USS Hornet and not the least of these, the RMS Queen Mary. I am fascinated by massive pieces of machinery, while I have no desire to become a mariner(ask any mariner that works in ship’s spaces other than public aboard a pleasure ship, and they’ll liken them to a self-propelled prison), I am intrigued by ships as a study in large-scale design and engineering.   When the interior of the dream ship is elegant, it usually resembles the Queen Mary’s more refined public spaces.  I say resembles, because the spaces aboard this ship never are identical to the Queen Mary; in fact, they are often a strange combination of basic shapes, rendered in exotic wood, glass, and bits of chrome, looking very much like an early 20th century interior design study, devoid of furniture.  It is often dark inside and strangely calming and unnerving at the same time.  Walls move on their own, passages appear and disappear, doors and stairs do the same.  When the ship is utilitarian, it resembles the U.S.S. Hornet , although only in passing.  Often in the dreams involving the ship, I will find myself in the water next to the ship, terrified by the prospect of its sheer size, or floating above it as it sinks, also terrified by the crystal-clear nature of the water and the size of the ship, or find myself aboard as it sinks, usually very, very, slowly, over the course of a number of days.  I often have a room aboard the ship, or am trying to find my room, or attempting to sneak on board and find an unoccupied room to dwell in.  I believe my mind is drawing all of this from multiple trips to the Queen Mary and dances / events aboard the Hornet, along with one particularly memorable visit to the Red Oak Victory.

Ships – multiple – appear often; last night, again, massive ships, greatly varied in purpose and design, sailed by at the edge of a fog bank off the shore as I watched from the wood deck/pier of a shore house with a pool and speedboat.  I was then loaded into the speedboat by the house’s occupants and taken to an event that I needed a suit for, not the swimtrunks that I was wearing.  While I was voicing my protest at length, the boat’s pilot, the husband of the couple that owned the house, repeatedly nearly overran swimmers in the water.

The car:

Throughout my life, I’ve owned cars that I’ve been passionate about.  Some didn’t last long, but they left a permanent mark on my personality. They’ve always been a bit unique; the first two were Plymouth Furies, a ’68 and a ’72. I wrecked the ’68 just 5 days before 9/11, the ’72 threw its timing chain and I didn’t have the money to fix it; I sold it to a collector and it was restored. The next was(and still is, as of this writing) a 1974 Datsun 260 Z.  The current chariot is a 1994 Mazda Miata, a car that I bought as economical, reliable transportation that could be treated as an ‘appliance’ vehicle, but has really grown on me as just good fun.

My car in my dreams is often a full-size sedan of late 1960s or early 1970s vintage, sometimes quite obviously a stand-in for my white 1972 Fury.  It invariably is damaged, wrecked, stolen, or confiscated by authorities, leaving me to spend the rest of the dream seeking retribution for the ills I(or rather my car) suffered. Occasionally the car is never used, but is stationary somewhere, and I spend much of the dream attempting to get into it and leave wherever I am for someplace I’d prefer to be.

Recurring along with the car at times is a dirt road or track, high on a coastal mountain range with seemingly impossible to navigate turns or slopes due to their banked or ridiculously steep, narrow nature.  I have found myself on numerous occasions attempting to take a steeply banked turn with a precipice immediately on either edge, or go down an almost vertical slope, the road getting narrower and narrower, steeper and steeper, impossible to track past the edge of the hood, and I wake gripping the edges of my mattress as if they were the edges of the road. Happened last night.  This time, I’m pretty sure I was driving a version of my Dad’s rust-red 1968 Ford Galaxie 500.

The city:

A strange mix of San Francisco, New Orleans, and Kindred, North Dakota.  Three places I spent time in as a kid; they left a permanent mark in my memories.  I still visit San Francisco often; this likely greatly influences things.

I’m always supposed to meet some friends at an event, or I’m looking for some friends.  I’m always dressed in vintage clothes.  The streets are always hilly, with many old buildings.  They are not often straight.  Bright interiors show behind large glass windows with hand-lettered signage.  I rarely seem to enter any buildings, I just wander the city endlessly, looking for some friend or event.  Streets twist and undulate, the night never ends.  The city is always coastal, and has bridges that pass thousands of feet above the waters, forming a latticework over each other, sometimes with great gaps that require much speed to cross, landing on another bridge. I once fell asleep in the dream and awoke – still in the dream – to find myself in a deserted version of Kindred, its layout changed, strange intertwinings of old industrial or farm buildings and homes, the town’s revival dependent upon my ability to find my way back to the Victorian mansion my father used to live in.  I had a bicycle, but I could not find my way through the town.  I used to ride my restored Schwinn Stingray all over Kindred in the three summers that I spent there in the 1980s.

The house:

I’m always the caretaker, sometimes unknown to the owner. The décor is decidedly upscale, sometimes trendy, but homely.  It’s expensively furnished, but comfortable. It’s a split-level on the ground floor, with a kitchen extending into the back yard and the living room off of the kitchen down a short set of stairs at a 90 degree angle.  The front rooms are side by side; a formal sitting room and a small entryway / drawing room.  The upfloors and rooms are numerous and never laid out the same way, but a large, open hallway connects them all. My room is either in the basement or in the attic, and accessible via a hidden passageway that requires much clambering over pipes, ducting and other bits, between walls and over beams.  My room is always well-lit and seems safe, and I get the feeling that nobody knows either it or I am there.  The room itself often has a hidden secondary space, often as large again as the first.  One version of the house had rooftop access from my room, and I could come and go as I pleased, almost as a comic book superhero.  Nothing I’ve ever lived in remotely resembles the house.  I can’t explain this theme, other than my room; growing up, I lived in the basement of my parents’ home, and it had a hidden panel that enclosed the house’s water heater, and another that opened to that crawlspace under the house.  My parents have said that if they had the money when they moved in, they would have dug out the basement to include the whole underside of the house.  I fantasized a lot about that as a kid.

The base / school / prison:

The worst of the scenarios; I always feel as if I’m back in school, years behind in my work, forced to repeat grades or make up for lost time.  I never know what’s going on, and I never know the material.  If it’s a military base, I’m out of uniform, don’t know where my unit is, I’m somewhere on the base where I don’t belong, or I’m late for roll call, or an appointment, or some other function.  The layout seems to invariably be a copy of the junior high school or grade school that I attended, with its playgrounds expanded into flightlines or warehouses. One dream featured a prison along the same theme, with large underground facilities resembling kitchens, showers, or bathrooms, all tiled walls and linoleum floors.  There is often a communal living arrangement, much as I experienced in basic training and technical school.
This one is simple, I was an awkward kid and a bad student.  Going to school as I grew up was a daily exercise in misery for me; I had few friends, often felt out of my depth with schoolwork and wanted nothing more than to be done with school and put it behind me.  Much of the old feelings of helplessness and awkwardness come flooding back when this theme comes occurs.

Are they nightmares?  No.  They’re not always pleasant; I often wake feeling saddened that I couldn’t find who I was looking for, or resolve the situation that I was in.  Occasionally I wake, wishing the dream wouldn’t end because the environment or situation, while not realistic, was something I wanted to explore further.  Every once in a while, the circumstances are so deeply emotional I wish I hadn’t dreamed them, or spend quite a while after waking still being moved. My dreams often make me feel as if I was in a distant alternate past; a history that never was, something I wish I could see out to its end.  That’s the most distressing part, not being able to see the outcome or live out the scenarios, especially when the environs sketched out by my subconscious are something I find appealing, such as the rich art deco interiors that occasionally occur.

I can identify much of myself and my personal history in my dreams, I can trace down the origin of much of what goes on.  Why my brain decided to throw those bits and pieces together in a particular place and scenario with a certain cast of characters, I have no idea.

The inner workings of my subconscious are surreal indeed.  Just reading this over makes me realize just how varied my personal history and life experiences are.  The end effect is to give me an impression that somewhere in the cosmos, my life is playing back as an epic feature film.  I hope the audience finds it a good watch.

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A Caution Against the Label of ‘Hero’.

I take issue with being called a hero.  I have never committed any act that can be defined as heroic.  I am not someone of any sort of remarkable character or deeds that I should be looked up to as a hero.

I have had people tell me that my status as an armed forces member is reason enough to be called a hero, and I disagree wholeheartedly.  Joining and serving in the armed forces is not a heroic act in and of itself.  It is indeed an honorable thing, and takes courage, determination and strength of character, but service to one’s country is not by itself an act of heroism, nor does it require heroic qualities.  Courage, determination, and strength of character are qualities that should be a matter of course in a human being, and are quite present in the majority of the population, although many of us are unaware of these qualities until we are tested to our limits.

Nor does joining the armed services make you by default an honorable and courageous individual. Our culture has somehow been consumed with the notion that ‘the troops’ are innately imbued with saintlike qualities.  I have met many airmen who were possessed of no such attributes.  A number of them are now incarcerated.  Others are no longer serving.  The rest are not respected by their peers, and have lackluster careers.  Being a member of the uniformed services does not give you some sort of default pass as an upstanding citizen, possessed of the better qualities of humanity.  Even the most despicable of human beings can at times be courageous, be held to their word, and show the occasional glint of honorable behavior.  Calling someone heroic purely because they joined the armed services paints everyone else in the services with the same label, and the poor character of some individuals in uniform sullies that label and the character of their brethren.  The higher we raise that pedestal, the further our armed services have to fall, and the further we will be disappointed and disillusioned when the poor character of these so-called heroes is revealed.

True heroes have made sacrifices on the behalf of others at great personal risk or cost to themselves.  They have been placed in an extraordinary situation and performed extraordinarily, often bearing physical scars or worse mutilation as a testament to their sacrifice, assuming that they survived the experience.

They are not professional athletes.  They are not everyday law enforcement officers or first responders. They are not rank-and-file servicemen and women.  They are not doctors or politicians, or entertainment icons.  While these professions and people are often worthy role models and lead lives that others aspire to, there is nothing about them that is inherently heroic.  There are many among them that do qualify for the title of hero due to occasional extraordinary situations they encounter in their professions, but this does not make all other individuals sharing their professional title a hero by default.

You may select whatever individual you like to be a personal hero, and for whatever reasons you like, but your perception of them as heroic does not necessarily make them so.  Great baseball players from the pages of history might be referred to as heroes to many who watch or play the game, but an extremely small number of them ever committed an actual act of heroism.

Using the word ‘hero’ to describe someone who hasn’t committed any act of heroism diminishes the strength of the word and the impact of the deeds of those who truly deserve the title.

I once had a chance to talk at length with a fighter ace that had seen the horrors of war up close and had taken numerous lives in combat. He imparted to me that war is by no means glorious, and being a hero in time of war is nothing one should aspire to.  The cost of war to oneself and the cost to humanity are too great to be considered glorious or virtuous.  It was an eye-opener, a crystallizing moment. Prior to that conversation, I had been what can best be described as starry-eyed.  I was idealistic to a fault; I had considered him and his contemporaries as men larger than life, as some sort of generation of men beyond men.

They were not.  They were simply human beings doing what they knew they must do in a horrible era of history.  More like them will come, and the era that gives rise to the next great generation will likely be another regrettable era in humanity’s story. To say they were the ‘greatest’ generation pays disrespect to every generation before them, and discredits generations after them.  We should pay them respect equal to the respect we pay to others before them that had risen to the same call, and paid the same price. We should not disrespect ourselves with the notion that somehow we would not be just as great if placed in the same circumstances.  Should we never again aspire to greater standards?  We will pay our respects where respect is due, but we do our society a disservice if we whitewash the virtue of an entire generation for the sake of four remarkable years, and say that we as a society will never be able to equal or better their deeds.

I am simply a man doing what I know I must do, am capable of doing, and have given my word to do. That is by no means heroic. If simply holding myself to my word and doing what I should is heroic, it is a sad commentary on the depths to which we as a society have let our standards slide.  Let us aspire to greater things, and look upon our history with measured reason, neither exaggerating the honorable, nor shaming ourselves for the regrettable. Let us use the label of ‘hero’ for those who are truly heroic.

John Levitow

John Levitow

Paul R. Smith

Paul R. Smith

Connor Stotts

Connor Stotts

Ted Williams

Ted Williams

Mary Edwards Walker

Mary Edwards Walker

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A policy of foolishness.

Why did ANOTHER Fort Hood shooting occur?

We give mass shooters everything they want; instant global fame, media attention for weeks, nationwide outrage and their name in lights. We spread their name and face far and wide. They should be nameless and faceless. Their victims’ names and faces should receive infinitely more attention.

We refuse to make harsh examples of the criminally violent, we refuse to swiftly punish those who prey upon others, we continue to allow endless appeals, we do not swiftly execute those who have proven that their presence among other human beings in open society results in death.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, we keep believing that the mentally unbalanced / criminally insane / criminally predatory will somehow be stopped by imaginary lines on the ground represented by ‘gun free zones’. We continue to say, ‘Stop, or I will say stop again’, and believe that the predatory will somehow modify their behavior. In the case of Fort Hood, we disarmed en masse those we have charged with protecting us, making them most vulnerable in the one place where they should be most secure, the one place where anyone should be terrified to commit an act of violence; we have made military bases a shooting gallery of defenseless victims.

We believe in larger and larger numbers that the state will fix the problem by passing more laws, the state will fix the problem with more police, the state will fix the problem by disarming the populace. We are convinced that if we somehow take all of the bad weapons away, predators will no longer be predatory.  We think that making something just that much more taboo will stop someone determined enough to take the life of another human being. We refuse to accept the truth that all of these factors create more and larger shooting galleries for those who don’t care about laws, aren’t afraid of police, and are seeking the defenseless as victims.  We ignore that deadly violence occurs in a matter of seconds, not minutes, and that emergency services are a delayed response to a crime, not prevention. We honestly believe that training, a steady paycheck, a badge, and a uniform will turn common citizens in supercitizens, the only ones with the training to protect us from ourselves.  We ignore their humanity and believe that these supercitizens’ elevated position in society will keep us safe and make them infallible.  We then cover our gross errors by completely ignoring and blatantly denying the consequences.

We see the armed, peaceful, common citizen as a ticking time bomb, instead of a line of defense against those who have proven themselves to be a threat to others. We run counter to our credo of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and assume that someone with the means to defend themselves must be plotting something, while ignoring those who have proven themselves to be incompatible with peaceful society.

We assume that mental instability can be detected before the person ‘goes off’.  We assume we can test for it, we assume that if we put enough checks in place that we can prevent ‘those people’ from acquiring weapons, we assume that if we can keep the guns away from them they won’t do anyone any harm.  We refuse to believe that we as a culture and society are at fault for producing psychopaths with little regard for human life and too much regard for their personal problems.

We continue to focus on the METHOD used – the weapon – instead of the ROOT CAUSE – a person that has decided their problems are more important that the lives of the people around them. We have failed multiple generations in teaching them that they are the focus of their universe, they can do no wrong, their problems are not their fault, that life is less than sacred, and that if they make enough noise, others will come running to fix the problem.

We have a cultural problem, and it has absolutely nothing to do with firearms.

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