Now that I have a small keyboard for my iPad, I think I should start blogging again here. I haven’t blogged regularly in a very long time, because most of what I want to say I say on Twitter, and because I haven’t really had much of value (I think) to say in general.
But it’s a new year, and I’ve realized that I kind of miss blogging. It helps me keep my own thoughts on things in focus. Plus a lot of people seem to actually enjoy reading this thing. So I’m going to make a resolution to post at least once a week here about something.
Now, if the iOS WordPress app weren’t so slow and crash-prone….
Rosalie and I wrote our own wedding vows. Several people asked me to post mine, which I wrote in verse form; and with Rosalie’s permission, here they are.
I will love you in the morning,
In those minefield moments
Before the coffee comes pouring out
To clear the cobwebs from your head,
When you move through the house
Like a ghost who can’t remember
Exactly how you left everything,
Blinking, like a sleepy owl.
And I will love you in the evening,
After you’ve wiped the day away
With cold cream and tea tree oil,
Curled up in your purple pajamas,
Nuzzling at my shoulder with your head,
Purring, like a sleepy cat.
I will love you when you are strong,
When you are as beautiful as you are now,
On those days when everything that’s in the world
Is just the frame that wraps around you,
When you are the song that’s playing in my head,
The blood that keeps my heart moving.
And I will love you when the world
Is washed out like an old Polaroid,
When you’ve locked yourself
In rooms made of uncertainty,
When you cannot speak,
When you cannot breathe.
I will breathe for you.
I will speak for you.
I will love you when gravity has worked its dark magic,
When your back is bent and your face is a scrawled memoir.
I will love you when there are less days ahead than behind.
I will carry you when you need carrying,
I’ll remind you when you need reminding,
I will hold you when you need holding.
I’ll love you when you need loving
And even when you don’t.
And I will love you when you are gone,
And when I am gone,
And when the world has ended
And for at least five minutes afterward.
I will love you when the stars burn out of the sky
And I will love you when the light of their fire
Finally comes to tell us of their passing.
I cannot promise that I will always be a good man.
That I will always know what the right thing to do is.
I will be weak and I will be selfish and I will be a coward.
But I can promise that I will do my best,
And make each decision with your face in my mind.
I cannot promise you that we will be rich
Or that we will always be comfortable.
I cannot promise that we will never know the joys of public transit,
Or the terror of unpaid bills.
I cannot promise that we will never want for anything
But I can promise you that you will never want for laughter
And never want for love.
I can promise you this:
Wherever we go, whatever we do,
We will be amazing
And our life will be bigger than the sky.
And I can promise you one last thing,
With everything I am, and everything that is in me:
I’m gonna love you, baby, ’til the wheels come off.
Columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” video campaign has been in the news these past couple of days. The campaign was created in response to a recent rash of suicides by young LGBTQ kids. The videos are by queer adults, letting their younger counterparts know that it does get better, that you can get through the hatred and fear and homophobia of your upbringing and make a wonderful life for yourself.
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This has a real resonance for me. I’m not gay, but I still got gay-bashed in school a lot, because I wasn’t particularly macho and I spoke well and dressed…er, eclectically…and I was friends with a few gay kids and people who later came out. I had a few friends who got it worse than I did, and one of my acquaintances, Matthew Shepherd, got it about as bad as you can get it. My uncle Kevin was also gay; he contracted HIV in 1982, got full-blown AIDS in 1984 and survived until 2002, when he died of a brain tumor he’d been diagnosed with at the same time he’d been diagnosed with AIDS; the doctors didn’t remove it because at the time it was benign, and because in 1984 AIDS was a death sentence that was always quickly carried out. All of Kevin’s lovers and, later, his husbands, were treated like members of our family; his first husband Michael died in my great-grandfather’s arms. So I grew up with gay family members and friends.
But I think this message is vital not just for members of the LGBTQ community, but for every kid, especially the kids whose wonderful minds and personalities mark them as being different from the herd. Goth kids, emo kids, nerds, geeks, freaks, art fags, dorks, hippie kids…every school has at least a few of them. Like me.
I hated every minute of my schooling, from kindergarten onward. I hated the other kids, I hated the teachers, I hated the school administration. I fought every single day not to go to school. And why not? For eleven years I was sent to a place where I was subjected to emotional and often physical cruelty from my peers and indifference and often outright hostility from my educators.
Why? Because I wasn’t like my peers. I was smarter than almost all of them; sorry, but that’s just the flat truth. I was curious and easily bored and I didn’t know how to keep my head down. I was sarcastic and I was insolent, because I hated being where I was and hated the people around me and had absolutely no choice in being where I was. I liked to read, not sit around talking about fucking WWF wrestling. I liked writing music and making art on my computer. I was autodidactic; I educated myself, for the most part, because I ignored my teachers and my schoolwork. I got almost straight Fs from sixth grade onward, except usually in my English classes. When I sat down in my first class, all I could think of was making it to lunchtime without getting humiliated or assaulted; after lunch, I just waited to be sent home.
What I learned in school wasn’t reading, writing and arithmetic; I learned hatred and fear, and I learned that my nominal job in society was to do what I was told. I didn’t learn that lesson then, and at the age of thirty-two, I haven’t learned it now. I do not do what I am told.
I know I’m not alone. Maybe you were one of those kids, who sat in those uncomfortable little desk-chairs and ignored the whispers of “Hey, faggot. Hey, faggot. Hey, cocksucker,” and the spitwads and the slaps in the back of the head when the teacher wasn’t looking; one of the kids who plotted their walk home to avoid where the bullies hung out; one of those kids who sat in their bedroom and thought about putting a gun in your mouth or a noose around your neck because the years until graduation seemed to stretch out like a life sentence with absolutely no hope of parole.
Maybe you’re one of those kids now. Maybe you’re queer, maybe you’re not; maybe you’re just different, the way I was different, the way my friends were different. Maybe you’re scared and hurting and just sick to fucking death of being treated like shit because you don’t wear the same clothes or like the same music or watch the same TV. Maybe you’re having as hard a time as I did seeing the exit door.
If so, I’d like to tell you something. It’s a secret your teachers won’t tell you, your parents probably won’t tell you, it’s something you may secretly believe but deny to yourself in the face of all of the people who are telling you otherwise. The secret is this.
You’re smarter than they are. Really. Trust me. The great thing about Facebook is that I can look and see what the assholes who tormented me are up to. Most of them are sad, pathetic, boring adults. They have tiny lives. Most of them seem to have gotten their skanky girlfriends knocked up at an early age, and have a giant brood of nasty little piglet children. They still like shitty music. They got puffy around the face, the kind of puffy you get when you spend your life getting shit-faced on cheap beer with the rest of the retards because you can’t face the blank wall that is your future. Most of them never left home, or got more than a couple of hundred miles away. A lot of them love Jesus to a really scary degree. Hey, I don’t blame them. If I’d fucked this life up, I’d probably spend all my time dreaming of the next one too.
You’re right about your teachers, too. Most of them just don’t give a shit about you. They’re drawing a paycheck. There are a few who really care — and you’ll remember them, for the rest of your life. A few months ago I called up my wonderful guidance counselor, Clarice Boring, and told her about my impending marriage and my life, and thanked her for being one of those lights during a dark and scary time. You might have an English teacher or an art teacher — or in my fiancee’s case, drama teachers — who are like that. Man, treasure them. They’re good people and sometimes they’re more like family than your family is.
But the rest of them? Fuck them and fuck what they think of you. Don’t assume because they’re in charge that they know better than you how to live your life. They’re just as confused as you are. One of the great secrets of adulthood is that you don’t figure everything out. You just figure out how to make it look like you have.
That goes for your parents, too. Here’s another secret: your parents are just people too. They don’t have all the answers. And no, they probably don’t understand you now. When people have children, they secretly believe that their kids are going to be exactly like them, except that they won’t make the same mistakes. When it turns out that this new person you’ve created is just that, a person, with their own minds and souls and ways of thinking and wants and needs, that might be completely 180º from what you want — a lot of people can’t deal with that.
That sucks, but you know what? That’s not your fault, either. They need to learn to accept who you are and to accept the choices you make. Maybe it’ll take them a while — not everybody’s a quick study — but most of the time, they do figure it out eventually.
And if they don’t, then fuck them. Most cool people I know make their own families out of friends and lovers. If your parents can’t accept you, you just have to understand that and build a family out of the people who do. You’ll find them.
I wish I could tell you there was another way to get through all of this, but there’s not. You’re stuck with this bullshit, kid, right up until the day you get that diploma and bounce the fuck on out of wherever it is the universe started you off — the burbs or the hood or some sad little cowshit town out in the middle of Flyover Country. But from there, you can go anywhere. Anywhere. Sometimes you get to do it in style; you’ve got the grades to go to a kick-ass college and study whatever you want, or parents who can pay to see your dreams realized. If you’ve got that chance, take it.
If that’s not the case — if you’re not bound for Harvard or MIT or UCLA — you can still get out. Nobody’s got a chain around your ankle. Sometimes salvation looks like a Greyhound bus, headed to New York or San Francisco or Portland or Denver. That’s not easy, but it can be done. Plenty of people do it and do well.
I won’t bullshit you: it’s rough out here in the big world. It is. The stakes are higher. You can die out here, get killed, disappear, lose yourself to a bottle or a needle or a pipe. And people like us, who make our own way in the world, often find ourselves in places we’d rather not be, because we’re not following the easy, well-defined path.
But you can make it. And Dan Savage is right: it gets better. It does. I swear to you, kid, it gets better. You make friends. You fall in love. You become master of your own destiny, wherever the world takes you and wherever you decide to go.
And one day, you’ll find yourself over thirty, looking at the life you’ve made — a life you probably couldn’t have even imagined back in the day, back in school — and all the horror and hate and terror will seem like a bad dream that somebody else had. You won’t be that scared person anymore.
And that’s when you’ve won.
My heart breaks for you, kid, and what you’re going through. You may not believe that, but it’s true. It breaks for you and every other kid like you, like me, like us. It breaks for every kid who takes a beatdown because of how they dress or how they think or who they love. As a wise man once wrote, “What I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that though I do not know you and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you.”
All I can do is repeat myself: it gets better. It gets better. It gets better. You will be beautiful and you will be amazing. You will be loved, you will be admired, you will have people to share your dreams and your life with. You will win.
First of all, let’s get one thing very, very clear before we go any further: your company has fucked up. Not “made a regrettable error” or “inadvertently” anything. You have caused a massive unnatural disaster. Right now, pretty much everybody on the planet hates your guts. There are guys in caves in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, sitting around a radio playing the BBC World Service, going “Dude, seriously, fuck BP.”
I can’t imagine there’s anybody who doesn’t actually sit on your board of directors who doesn’t want to kick your asses right now. And by “you”, I mean “everybody who works for BP, including the PR department, the receptionists and probably the janitorial staff”.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way….
I understand that it is your job to try and make BP’s relations with the public as optimal as possible. You want the public to love your company, to want to consume your products and make everybody a lot of money. You do this, by and large, by figuring out ways to make BP look like the coolest, most environmentally-conscious company in the world. This is a very difficult thing to do when you’re dumping gazillions of gallons of death sauce into the Gulf of Mexico. So you’re probably very busy right now.
One thing you might want to do, however, is to recognize that you’re going to have to ignore one of the basic tenets of public relations: what I mean is, you have to admit you’re wrong. Really, really wrong. Like, the only thing you could have done that was worse was to basically just light the fucking planet on fire while raping babies.
You also need to admit that you were completely careless and ignored your own engineers, who told you this was probably going to happen. You also ignored the fact that your oil well starting actually falling apart like Lindsey Lohan on a mescaline margarita in March, which might have alerted you to a problem.
We know why you did. You’re a corporation. Your job is to make money. And you were afraid you were going to not make as much money if you stopped and actually built an oil well that could actually do the job it was intended for. Let me underline that: there was never, ever any chance you’d lose money on this. You just might have made less money in the short term.
Look: you sell petroleum. You sell the one thing that every nation on the planet is willing to go to war to possess. You’re like Nino Brown in New Jack City, if the entire world was Chris Rock. You’re our momma, you’re our daddy, you’re our nigga in the alley. You’re our pusherman.
The worst that might have happened was that you spent a few million dollars shoring up the Deepwater Horizon, and then you would have gone on making lots more money because it wouldn’t have blown the fuck up. As far as the world is concerned, the only good thing about this spill is that every barrel of that oil is one less barrel you can make a profit on. You’re losing billions of dollars here.
Not that anybody feels sorry for you on that account, so don’t try that tack. It won’t work. In fact, there’s only really one strategy that will be at all effective in saving your company from a planet-wide boycott and bad press the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since Adolf and Eva did their William Tell routine in the bunker in 1945.
It’s very simple. It will work. Nobody will like you, but at least they won’t hate you to the point where they might actually pressure their governments into hounding you into bankruptcy and madness.
Just write a letter. I will even draft it for you. It needs to read something like this:
We fucked up. Badly. Very badly. We are completely and utterly horrified by what has happened. Every time we think of what our company’s greed for profit and carelessness has caused, we run to the toilet and puke. We drink a lot these days. Every time we see another picture of an oil-covered bird, we think about doing a full-on Jonestown thing here at BP HQ. Just put the toxin in the air vents and pump it into every office so we don’t have to live with the total horror and guilt for the incredibly awful thing that we specifically have caused to happen. Not to mention the people who died on the rig. That makes us sick whenever we look at ourselves in a mirror, which is why we’ve had all mirrors and reflective surfaces removed from BP HQ until this all gets resolved. We just can’t look at ourselves.
We have no excuses. We have no spin. We take full responsibility for this spill. It was our fault, nobody else’s. It was a completely avoidable accident, and we let it happen because we didn’t really give a shit. We figured that there was a pretty good chance this wouldn’t happen. We were so incredibly wrong. We are thoughtless and careless and greedy. We are grubby little pigs rooting at the teat of 21st century capitalism.
Here’s what we’re going to do to fix this problem: whatever it takes, whatever it costs, as quickly as possible. We are not going to try and save our own equipment or our revenue stream from this oil well, if doing so means that a single extra gallon of this shit burbles up into the Gulf. We know we’re simply going to take a massive loss here. We don’t care. Plugging that hole is our first priority. Everything else we do, all our business, comes second to this.
And once we finally do that, we’re going to spend as many billions of dollars as it takes to clean up our incredibly massive mess. We don’t put a limit on how much we want to earn, so we’re not going to put a limit on how much we’re going to spend. We’re going to usher in a new century of corporate responsibility.
In return, we hope that you understand that we fucked up, and that we’re going to do better in the future. We’re not going to cut corners, we’re going to be careful, and we’re going to keep bringing you this substance that you all rely on in a safe and ethical fashion. We hope that if we can make you truly believe that we’re doing everything we can, you might still buy our product.
Taking a break from coding and house cleaning — I have a birthday party here tomorrow night, and my house is a wreck.
I’ve decided, tentatively, to blog about my current unique situation. People seem interested in how this came about and what I’m doing to get ready to go to Iraq. (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Iraq; it might also be Afghanistan, I’m told.)
There are a few things I feel a bit…sketchy about putting out in public, for various reasons. I’d prefer not to name the company I’m working for at this juncture. It’s not a secret or anything, by any means; but I’m becoming increasingly aware of the nature of public discourse. I have no idea who’s reading this, who could be Googling various terms. And my thoughts and opinions do not represent anyone but myself, so why not just leave it at that?
There are other things I don’t think I can tell you, because I’m going to be getting a “secret” level security clearance, and I don’t want to jeopardize that, so I’m erring on the side of caution.
With that in mind…..
So far my new job is great, if oddly schizophrenic. My duties are, as I’ve mentioned, two-fold: to develop an interface for a web-based software package, and to deploy, support and provide training for that software to military hospitals in Iraq. The former involves sitting around in my home office in my big terry-cloth boxing shorts, listening to David Bowie and building CSS guidelines and doing graphic design. The latter involves hauling my ass around a war zone in a Black Hawk with a spare server in my bag.
These are not similar tasks.
On Tuesday morning — the morning of my 31st birthday, as it happened — I joined in on a conference call to orient those of us who will be going “downstream”, as the people in the company refer to overseas deployment. (I find this really interesting; I’m assuming the “stream” part of “downstream” refers here to the data stream. This is a different metaphor than a lot of expat workers I’ve known use. They refer to it as being “in country”, the way Vietnam vets used to. Then again, a lot of the expat workers I’ve known were engineers with my grandfather, and several of them actually were Vietnam vets, so maybe that’s where the terminology came from.)
The orientation scared the shit out of me on several levels. The sheer amount of paperwork involved in getting a security clearance is astonishing. There’s several rounds of vaccines as well, including anthrax.
And then there’s the whole “getting shot at” part. When I first heard about this job a few weeks ago, I assumed that “going to Iraq” would be like when my grandfather would go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait when I was a kid — I’d be put up in a hotel somewhere in the utterly safe Green Zone, where I would occasionally venture out into the wilderness to bring fire to the mortals.
Not exactly. No hotel for me, and the Green Zone apparently isn’t as safe as I thought. I was warned about what to do when — not if — mortar fire came in. The gentleman leading the orientation, who serves as a sort of security officer for my company if I understood correctly, told us to expect to be shot at when traveling by air. We won’t be traveling by ground at all, apparently, because it’s incredibly dangerous. (Visions of the opening reel of Iron Man crossed my mind.)
“You’re just gonna have to get used to it,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been riding along in a Black Hawk when I heard shots popping off. The machine gunner next to you’s gonna be firing. There are bad guys and they want to kill you.”
Odd, for someone who has been so utterly ambiguous about the whole conflict over there, to think of “good guys” and “bad guys”. But I think the security officer gave me all the answer I need: the bad guys want to kill you. Anything beyond that, while I’m over there, will have to wait.
I spent the rest of the day with a sort of sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s one thing to talk about going into a war zone as a journalist; it’s another to realize that, if all goes according to plan, you’re actually going to do it, not as an observer but as a sort of sideline participant, in six months.
I am not ready for this.
But I might be, in six months. I am going to do everything in my power to get myself ready. I’m going on a relatively strict diet and exercise regimen. Exercise is a bit tricky for me, because of my torn rotator cuff and trick knees, but I’m going to do my best. I’m going to try and quit or seriously curtail my smoking before I leave. I want to be in at least reasonable shape when I arrive in Baghdad, if not full-on Gerry-Butler-in-300 shape.
I’m also going to be taking a course or two on gun safety and marksmanship. I think I need to know how to load and fire a pistol. (I already know how to fire an AK-47, but I’m going to work on that as well.) I’m also pondering taking a course on urban escape and evasion.
If that sounds paranoid, well…so be it. The other guys I’m going with are doing the same thing. Because this isn’t a fucking game, and even if we’re non-combatants we’re going to be in a war zone, and we’re going to be targets. I’d rather know how to get my Jason Bourne on and never, ever need to use those skills than find myself on my knees in front of a video camera while some asshole hacks my head off with a rusty bayonet.
(And yes, I’ve thought about that. What I’d do if I got kidnapped. The answer? Do my best to kill every motherfucker I see, because these dudes aren’t really about ransom demands. They take Americans and they kill them and they put it on YouTube so the world can see. If I get grabbed, I think I’m going to assume that I’m dead, and I’m going to do whatever I can to get out…because if I don’t, I end up on SomethingAwful.com as the Grisly-Ass Video Of The Day.)
Finally, I’m learning Arabic. A friend loaned me the Rosetta Stone language course for MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and I’ve also got Arabic For Dummies. I was told it wouldn’t be absolutely necessary — I won’t be directly interacting with a lot of native speakers, and there will be translators available for when I do — but again, it can’t hurt.
A couple of people have tried to dissuade me from doing this, because of the danger. But I can’t back out, for a number of reasons. The money is astonishing for someone like me with no real career track record and no college degree. (I’m not going to tell you what I’ll be making on top of my salary as a per diem when I’m downstream, but it’s…impressive.)
It’s also a chance to quit sitting in the cheap seats and go out there and do something to help the world. The software I’m working on might — in fact, probably will — save lives. Not just the lives of American soldiers, which would be worthwhile enough, but also civilians and even enemy combatants. I will actually be doing something that makes the world a better place. And that, to me, is worth the danger.
And there’s the other reason, the one you might not understand: I can’t turn this down, can’t walk away, because I’ve said I’ve wanted to do it for at least a decade, and because I’ve talked enough shit from where I sit comfortably in the middle of the wealthiest country in the world. To back off would be a pussy move. I have to have the courage of my own convictions, and I have to be able to back up all the shit I’ve talked for so long.
So that’s that, then. As long as I can pass the security checks — which my co-workers assure me won’t be a problem, though I’m not so sure myself — we’re doing this thing.
So that’s where we are right now. And I need to pull the laundry out of the dryer, and get back to my CSS.
Tonight, I did the same thing I did last year on this day: I stood in the dark and listened to Mary Fahl’s “The Dawning Of The Day”, and I cried for people I never knew.
I hate jingoism, and I hate the way that so many people have used September 11th as a springboard for their own xenophobia, hatred and fear. But I refuse to allow their venality and stupidity to cloud my memory of that day, when I woke up and watched the world change forever. And I refuse to let them dishonor the memory of the dead — those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and those who went willingly into that place to save those who could not save themselves. I did not know anyone who died on September 11th, 2001, but I still believe it is right to mourn them and to feel pride in them, and in the way that our country — even if only for a very little while — forgot our differences to honor them.
This is the song I listened to.
Then I called my men to follow me
knowing well that the view was dim
Though tired and worn, how they fought all morn’
as time was closing in
And my heart was sad though sore with pride
for brave lads all were they
As the angels fly, how they climbed so high
on the dawning of the day