Winning, losing, and the urge to create

Some people love creativity for its own sake, for the exhilarating feeling of making something new in a world that has seen, heard and tasted everything.   Most people in our culture understand creativity in the context of success or failure, the urge to invent being a transactional impulse that can move someone to an exalted place if sold, or a depressing place if creativity is left unmonetized.  If you’re really good at a hobby, most people smile blandly, understanding only what the world considers financial/artistic success, that of the professional. Sometimes they may be moved to say “you should do this professionally!” a high compliment.   

I know I have nothing to say to the world on this score, but I can assure you that the first view of creativity is the better view, in every possible way.  Do what you love, as much as you can and feel grateful for that love and the feeling of fulfillment creativity brings.

Now I think of the ultimate transactional American, former president Donald Trump.   To men like him only domination matters.  You are a sucker and a detestable chump if you let anybody beat you, that’s all there is to it.  His father Fred was a psychopath who amassed a vast fortune.  His mother, Mary, a dirt poor immigrant from a godforsaken Scottish island, married the wealthy psychopath and produced several children.  The oldest boy, Fred Jr. had all the tools, intellectual, social, emotional and otherwise, to do anything he set his mind to. 

Fred Jr. was, according to his little brother Donald, loved by everyone.  He was, Donald said, a great athlete, funny, popular, the first person people would call if they were in trouble, he was an amazing person, everyone liked him, everyone wanted to be friends with him.   In Donald’s version this is what killed his older brother, he was too nice, people fucked him and he drank himself to death.  Talk about a lesson learned.

Dad started paying baby Donald $200,000 dollars a year back in 1947.  By the time little Donald was eight, he was a self-made millionaire.  When Fred Jr., managing a Trump property, did a kind thing for tenants without forcing a long court fight, his father flew into a rage and Fred Jr. opted out of the family business and got a commercial pilot’s license.  Little Donald, a distracted student and schoolyard bully, was eventually sent to a reform school for wealthy juvenile delinquents, after buying a case of switchblades. 

After Fred Jr.’s banishment the far less talented Donald was reluctantly groomed to become the heir of Fred Trump senior’s real estate empire.  Starting with every advantage in the world, except the love of his parents,  Donald launched many closely held businesses where he was the boss, made every decision, the buck stopped with him.  He learned young about the power of unscrupulous lawyers, guys like the satanic Roy Cohn, ready to bend and break the laws to prevail, working on a gigantic retainer that was a business expense.  He learned to stiff people who worked for him, get revenge on anyone who tried to take him to court, he declared bankruptcy over and over.  He refused to lose, even though every business he ever launched, outside of his personal brand, failed.  If you lose, you are a loser and deserve your humiliation.

Do you have any doubt that Donald was at the center of the seven tentacled plot to overturn the results of an election that humiliated him?   His only choice, faced with losing again, was to lash out desperately and enlist a group of blindly ambitious toadies to carry out his crazy plans.  They did so.  Is any of it surprising?   I’m looking forward to the rest of the case against him, laid out as clearly as in the opening hearing the other night.  Laying out that case persuasively, in the face of virulent propaganda, is an act of great, other-directed creativity.

The first casualty of a frayed relationship

When a relationship is strained, lines are drawn, sides taken and moral stances struck.  The first casualty in such standoffs is often honesty, which is a shame, since it’s also the only way back to health.   But since feelings are strained, hackles are easily raised and things are at a breaking point, you must be very careful about what you say, how you say it, what you leave out, what is safe terrain and what is a minefield that will blow everybody up if you set a toe on to it.   

Though this limited honesty may feel to you like a kind of death, if you are used to an honest back and forth, it is nothing like death.  It is an attempt to save the life of a frayed relationship in the only way possible, by putting things on a respirator in hopes of an eventual return to health and good cheer.

Only time will tell if your efforts towards repair succeed.   A primal wound feels the same every time someone pokes a finger into it.  The loss of a long, close friendship, in spite of your best efforts, always hurts exactly the same way, is identical to the grief of death in its inexorable finality.  I will say, from my experience, a friendship that ends with someone screaming at you or bullying you is much easier to walk away from than one where your friend expresses only hurt, confusion and exasperation.  It is as if the anger of the friend you are trying to reach cauterizes the wound, since you feel immediately relieved to be away from someone who can’t stop hissing and snarling.  Good riddance to the raging bastard.

It is a tricky business, to be a human, as anyone who has tried it will tell you.   The most important tool to mending hurt is mutual understanding. 

Trying to reach understanding with only limited honesty, certain things never on the table for discussion, is supremely challenging.   If the relationship means enough to you it is possible to find the patience to wait, even though it may seem impossible to be that patient at certain points.   As long as you don’t lose your temper there is a chance of repair, even with the prickliest, most defensive of characters.  The hope is that at that point mutual honesty will also be restored, everyone wiser for the long, terrible disruption of good will.

The terror of inchoate rage defended incoherently

Long, deep talk with old friends the other day, reminding me of the healing power of being heard and of forcing yourself to hear things you may not like to hear because these are crucial perspectives you can’t come to on your own when you are impaired by pain. Good friends don’t always have to agree with you, though they often do, but they always treat you with care when you need care.   A walk through the experiences they share sheds light that can reveal important, difficult things impossible to see on your own.   

I forgot, in all the emotion of a long, complex talk about heartbreak and forgiveness, to make a point about my personal, visceral terror of an incoherent argument insisted on to the death.   

In worldwide politics this kind of incoherent argument is made every day, insisted on by partisans and, spreading via “social media” able to gain millions of enthusiastic adherents almost instantly.   

What is the argument against continuing to fund a program that very recently took millions of vulnerable little children, our fellow Americans, out of the living hell of poverty?   The program seems to have done a great deal of good, cost a tiny fraction of the world’s highest military budget. What is the argument against helping the neediest and weakest to avoid a life that nobody, particularly a tender young child, should ever be forced to experience?

The arguments are all variations on Democrats “tax and spend”, liberty means no government “coercion” (unless you’re planning to murder a zygote or embroyo), Makers versus Takers, the president is a doddering dotard puppet, the Democrats are communists, socialists, liberals, it’s a slippery slope from a Child Tax Credit to forcibly closing all the Christian churches and confiscating all firearms, we are under attack by powerful Jews with a plan to dilute our vote by brainwashing millions of imported brown idiots to vote Democrat, the most powerful Democrats, and smiling, false-faced liberal monsters like Tom Hanks, are pedophiles, and child murderers, who drink the blood of the helpless kids they kidnap and rape, when they are not out aborting nine month old fetuses, looking them in their tiny eyes and sadistically slaughtering them in cold blood to prevent their baptisms.

The horror of such arguments, aside from the “argument” itself, is that they prevent agreement about anything you can actually talk about, let alone resolve, they preempt all reasonable discussion.  No compromise is possible between fervent followers of the Prince of Peace and Love and Satan.   Why Satan advocates for a program to take two year-olds out of poverty is a separate and complicated theological argument that no secular humanist could possibly understand.  God is infinitely mysterious in His infinite love and mercy.   Heathens, heretics and “humanists” simply lack any understanding of the higher realms of faith and divine justice. End of chat, have a blessed day.

It makes me sound old, I know, but there was a time, not long ago, when a president who was caught lying many times every day, and openly, angrily, disrespecting all law and democratic tradition, would be a villain who’d be turned out of office.   He would lose reelection not by 8,000,000 votes but many times that, and after he lost he would not be able to convince millions that he’d won in a landslide, his victory stolen by LGBTQ, hoards of angry, cheating urban Blacks and woke college students, Muslims, anti-fascist terrorists, dirty recent immigrants, disloyal Jews, etc.   

My biggest terror about the world today is that our lowest human impulse, to fight to the death for an insane cause when locked in righteous rage, has been monetized by people of infinite wealth and privilege who decide, strictly on the basis of how much more money they can make, that they will automate the process of spreading incoherent hatred that cannot be corrected by reasonable discussion.   The “invisible hand” of the Free Market, you understand, protects their absolute right to do this.

If you remove the ability of people to argue about issues of mutual and public interest, on the merits, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a government policy, and replace it with legally sanctioned partisan incoherence (unlimited spending by billionaires and legally created “persons” to influence elections is guaranteed by the First Amendment now), we are close to done as a free society.  It’s a coin toss whether we will soon stick a fork in our long, overcooked experiment in democracy, to protect, in perpetuity, the privileges our most privileged are entitled to.

That’s the piece I forgot to mention to my old friends the other day, not that it changes anything — how much it freaks me out trying to make a point to someone in my personal life who has closed their mind, insists I accept an incoherent narrative and stands on their demand to have me respect their right never to have the issue brought up again.   In a world with so much anger, shapeless, formless and deadly, loaded gun anger that can be pointed anywhere, the only small comfort I can take is in carefully taking in and analyzing what’s raging all around us, understanding it as clearly as I can and finding small signs of hope in the details that point toward decency, fairness and Lincoln’s better angels of our nature.  

With politics there is a widespread feeling of debility among those not in a rage toward authorianism, a learned, media-enforced helplessness and fatalism on the part of the great majority of our cynically, deliberately divided nation.  We have seen over and over that corrupt officials and powerful criminals are not punished, except once a decade or so when a particular powerful person is ceremonially held accountable for some particularly heinous crime and sent to prison, to prove that not every such person is above the law. 

In my personal life I have almost no tolerance for a senseless argument that I am expected to swallow without protest, an unappealable verdict I must never smart from the unfairness of or even refer to again. 

But there are other ways of looking at occasional insistent incoherence among close friends, and they must be looked at with love and a patience that may at times seem superhuman.    It is not superhuman if you are lucky enough to have kind, honest friends to help you understand the burden you are carrying and offer a way you can’t see in your hurt to take the impossibly heavy load off of your shoulders, off your heart.

Harder to sit with sorrow than with anger

Sorrow is draining and terrible, it forces you to feel the pain of loss in its pure form. Anger, while blinding, gives you energy, purpose and a bracing sense of righteousness.

If you are quick to anger, try sitting with sorrow sometime, feeling the loss of a soul you love. It is an illuminating exercise.

My father found it humiliating to feel vulnerable. His early hurt made him unable to risk giving anybody the power to hurt him, so he never let his guard down. His fists were always ready, his blows were struck with glares and harsh words. If he had begun to taste the pain of the ocean of pain he was thrashing in, he would have drowned.

But I couldn’t have understood any of that while I was still his adversary. I couldn’t break free from that endless, senseless vying until I learned about his traumatic infancy. Seeing him as a whipped two year-old flooded me with compassion, and opened a window, for the first time, into his valiantly defended, tortured soul.

The silent death of Little Girl

Reminding us again that the real sting of death is that eternal silence where a beloved life once was.

two young kittens 2018

Little Girl (foreground, her sister White Back behind her, as always), who greatly resembled her beautiful mother Mama Kitten, her constant companion and ally, left us as gracefully as she came into this short, precious life four years ago. 

Her absence hangs heavily over the turf she bravely defended and enjoyed the many roosts of, and where we touched base late almost every night.   She was an agile, athletic hunter who could grab a bird out of the air, a gold glover who could catch a tossed treat and pop it into her mouth. She always showed up in the driveway to shake us down every time we approached the door. She carried on the tradition her mother started. They were known as the Driveway Bitches, two natural beauties, demanding their due, and they always happily collected their toll.

An ordinary event, the natural death of a sometimes affectionate feral cat we loved, filling our mortal hearts with sorrow, threatening to burst them, until the sorrow overflows.

Reminding us again that what takes your breath away at death is that eternal silence where a soul we loved once was.