Thursday, June 30, 2016

Power and Harassment

From what I can tell, almost nobody in society writes about individual “power.” It seems to be a blind spot, as if it were a sordid subject to us. Perhaps because we think Jesus wouldn’t be “turned on” by having power. Neither would my father: Grandmother told me Dad was a very decent man. Not a coincidence.

I’ve only come across two sources regarding power: Philosopher Bertrand Russel wrote a book called Power, and an angry Mark Twain wrote a political tract after he was angry at the wide spread denial that folks in the Belgian Congo were having their hands chopped off. (This was well before the “Belgian atrocities” of World War I, where the English, safely across the channel, stockpiled hands for Belgian children, to give to them after the war was over) As Twain put it, too bad for the king of Belgium that someone had invented the Kodak camera. Photographs were included. Twain also sketched stick figuers of the big king and his little subjects, to show the king wondering why so many are so eager to be bowing down to him. The king sure liked his power.

Happily, I live in a new century.

It was Joss Whedon, maker of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who said, “Recognising power in another does not diminish your own.” My dad would agree. To me that goes for "equal rights" too. Too bad some males still think of “equal rights” as a fixed pie (or zero sum game) thinking that if you give equal rights to females then somehow males have less rights. No wonder that, according to one blogger, (link) it’s easier for him to rebuke racists than to correct men who wish to harass.

In my own time, when the women’s liberation movement started, I remember society was innocent about the general connection of male power to liberation issues. I remember very well how society had great difficulty making the specific connection that rape could be for power and violence, not simply lust and love. Back then, people were very surprised to hear that plain nuns in shapeless clothing would be raped. For power. Today I think we mostly know this, we mostly know that a rapist can hate women. But now I am wondering exactly how much we still have left to learn.

I wonder, because recently I found a piece on street harrasment. I already knew public harrassment existed: Back during my young “meaning of life” days my girlfriend told me how angry she was to be yelled at from passing cars so bloody often. I believed her, even though this was back in the 1970’s when women were still disbelieved if they claimed there was harrassment for ordinary “didn’t ask for it” women. I haven’t read much about harrassment down the years, but after finding that piece last week I can see that society in the 21st century still has a blind spot.

According to the writer, many men believe that their fellow males are being friendly, merely wanting a girlfriend, when they call out a supposed “compliment” or call, “Hey baby…”

As I understand it, the writer speculated that men don’t discourage such harrassment by fellow males because they think a poor over-confident harrasser is merely trying to find a girlfriend, that maybe he’s an unfortunate guy who lacks the social skills to go onto social media dating sites, or enter a singles bar, or get a membership with a hobby or club

Apparently, what men in our society don’t understand is that the harrasser isn’t trying to be friendly: If the woman does not ignore him, if she acts friendly back, then the harrassment escalates… always… escalates far past the point where any reasonable adult would ever want to be that guy’s friend. In other words, the harrasser is lying about wanting a perfect stranger to be his girlfriend. The secret sordid issue is power; the harrasser can’t feel “power over” the lady being harrassed until she stops being friendly.

If normal men don’t “get it” about their fellow males engaging in harrassment then I guess it’s because society still has a blind spot about indiviuals wanting power.

Sean Crawford

~Here’s a leftist cartoon that includes a man of innocence.

~To find pages of informative links on the web, I would recommend combining the search terms “Scalzi” and “Harassment,” as writer John Scalzi said he wouldn’t attend any science fiction convention that did not have an anti-harassment policy.

~Here’s a writer dealing with a fellow male. At first you may want to skim past the “being a writer” context-setting of the first several paragraphs, and just go down to the paragraph near the photo that begins, “I saw the heroine of our story sitting on the BART.”

~I managed to dig up the blog that prompted me to write today’s piece. It’s lengthy. Scroll down to the October 30th entry.

~At the risk of being disloyal to the U.S. war on terror, and “playing into the hands” of extremists against democracy...  I will note that at the Alexndra Writers Centre my teacher for Personal Essays, a gentle white-haired baby boomer, has a Saturday morning class for women to write about their personal experience of how the “equal rights movement” still hasn’t succeeded. 

If I didn’t join the class then it’s only because I don’t have enough experiences to write about. Her class is named after the 1970’s anti-brainwashing cartoon of a fish riding a bicycle. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs…”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fender Bender for Life

My college teacher, Gerry Bruce, once told us once with a smile that he didn’t have to prepare any lessons for our class: By our actions we generated so many teachable moments. This was for our leadership 201 “how to lead a meeting” class, for in case we found jobs in a small town, and had to facilitate a community meeting.

It seems to me, likewise, that from my actions this week I could come up with my weekly essay topic, even as I am earnestly trying to generate a serious list of future blog files. If so, then my most instructive action of the last week has been a tiny fender bender. Ouch! I was slowly backing up and I hit a Nissan Pathfinder. To avoid any vested interest in being defensive I won’t write about the actual accident. To me, what are most interesting are the various “human factors.”

I have to smile: It’s strange how our young scientists, by coming up with new insights into physics, chemistry and plastics, are making the science publications of our parents obsolete… yet we are still reading Shakespeare plays from hundreds of years ago. We are still learning about humans, and the learning “just ain’t easy.”

In the diversity-and-assimilation file, I learned that a man might have a “strange” first name, yet still use learned academic words like “teensy weensy.” As in “scratches I could wipe out with a wet thumb, and a teensy weensy chip.” Actually, because his name was one syllable it was easy for me to learn (but he had to tell me how to spell it); a multi-syllable name I always have to write down.

In the technology-and-inventions file I learned that fiberglass is truly light. How light? If your fender is a little off, then don’t drive on the freeway. The grabbing wind does “strannnnge” things. Meanwhile, my modern car still comes with a few steel bars inside, but only the barest minimum, no more. After all, we have to get the fuel costs down somehow. Man, how I long for the days when you just smack a dent with a hammer. Incidentally, among certain young of Pacific rim Asians, young North American have a dubious reputation for being willing to drive cars with visible rust and dents. I put this down to American poverty roots, and love of fixing up old cars.

In the ego file, I found myself wanting to minimize or deny: I don’t have accidents, not me! And if I did, well, I’d think, “it doesn’t count—I can explain!” I found myself seriously wanting to get a rental car real fast, before anyone saw my fender. Obviously my ego was warping my truth. Not good. Surely I wouldn’t advise anyone else to wiggle and deny, so why do so myself? “Yes, but—”

This week I have learned something happy: Even when my ego is in “desperation mode” it takes surprisingly little self-talk, very little, to set myself straight again. “Tell the truth and shame the devil,” says I.

In my old family, sad to say, we didn’t have the word “self-talk” in our vocabulary, and our unspoken saying was, “There’s nothing wrong with this family…and don’t you dare tell anyone!”

As for surviving a family such as mine, a fortnight ago (In I am Not Oblomov) I posted a link to a radio interview of survivors of sibling abuse. After my fender accident, a man of my background told me he doesn’t ask for help the way other people do, because he doesn’t think he will get any help. I replied, “When I go to make a fender bender report at the police station I expect to be yelled at.” I told this to the nice cop at the station who responded, “Really?” And then, another cop who was there typing away nodded his head “yes” as the constable added, “…well, we could ask him to yell at you. (We all silently laughed)

Derision is not called for. My college instructor, a man of key phrases, used to tell us, “If you point an accusing or judgmental finger at someone else then you have three of your fingers pointing back at you.” Another phrase he would often say, after he gave us descriptive feedback, was “Defensive comments are not necessary.” Down the years, as you might imagine, I am still trying to be as good a chairman as he was; meanwhile every time I drive a tiny bit over the posted speed limit I know, sadly, I am still failing to be as good a driver as my driving instructor. Oh well. As Shakespeare could have said, it’s nice to live and learn.

Sean Crawford

~Yes, I may exceed the speed limit when keeping within group traffic flow—that’s only common sense.

~I am reminded of two Chinese proverbs,
One good teacher is worth a ton of books
He who teaches me for a day is my father for life

Translated by Emil William Chynn
Copyright by Armand Eisen
Published by Andrews McMeel

Kansas City, Missouri

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Being Good At Something

You may have seen a Hollywood teen movie where a plain teen finds a popular kid to serve as mentor… and then becomes a new, improved, cool person. The plot gets recycled every decade. It’s nice to see it with buttered popcorn.

In the everyday world a student could be self-mentored by reading a self-help book for teens, a book that goes nice with coke.

The earliest such book I’ve encountered was from about 1950, gathering dust in my high school. It began by focusing on the easiest changes, the physical, as in, “A 1940’s hair cut is as out of date as a 1940’s suit.” Then came the more advanced advice, most notably: Take action to “become good at something, even if it’s good at playing tiddlywinks.” Why? Partly for one’s effect on others: In my college therapeutic recreation program, each one of us enjoyed a “claim to fame” for others to see.  Mainly though, for the effect on one’s own self-confidence.

In the short run, to be good at “tiddlywinks” adds to one’s inner stability and strength. In the long run, it means having faith and courage that new skills are aquirable: I didn’t hesitate for an instant to put in the long manhours required to learn (here on the web) to touch-type a Dvorak keyboard (vowels on the home row) because I knew that back in my twenties I had learned other lengthy skills—including, by the way, how to touch-type a standard qwerty keyboard.

For a young person, or not-so-young, being good at something could mean crossing the threshold from saying “I am different” to saying “I am the same,” and “I can.” Last year I drove through the mountains with a lady my age who worked with young women having a criminal record. She explained that her people deeply believed, with great despair, they “couldn’t” hold a job like “normal people” could. I don’t like to think what this meant to their self-image. I am reminded of Chery Strayed, writing as Sugar in her post Getting Unstuck (link), saying that for her girls graduating high school without getting knocked up or going to jail, and then getting a (Mcjob) would be as hard as pushing an 18 wheeler with your little pinkie.

But for the regular teens I went to school with, getting “good at something” would be doable and important.   

Actually, this next sentence was less true after middle school/ junior high, I can only say it felt true as I typed it:
Back when I was a teen, I couldn’t bear putting in the long manhours to become good at something, even as other students were being mentioned in the school morning announcements for their took-a-long-time accomplishments in both school and community. At least I tried to make my reactions to the morning news healthy, not like the bullies on The Simpsons. They tell Bart, as they smash his trophy, “We go after people who do things.” (Not something a real world bully would ever have the guts to admit—because, of course, bullies are cowards)

It’s nice today that I’m “real good” at several things, but I realize I’m fortunate. Last year on John Scalzi’s blog I read a comment by (I think) science fiction writer John Barnes that went something like, ‘young writers who have never been good at something themselves may find it hard to write characters who are good at something.’ I stood still like a statue on the trail to ponder that line. I’m thankful to have some slowly acquired skills, including, of course, writing nonfiction.

I must confess my essays to date have been more impersonal than “personal.” That may change, as I have been enrolled in a night class in “Personal Essays” at the Alexandra Writing Centre, in an old sandstone school near Fort Calgary. I had to quite due to my increased work-hours, but I did manage to attend five classes. I hope to post all my short two-page (500 word) class essays. Why? Easy: (besides not wanting to waste anything I’ve written) Because then I can turn aside from composing fresh essays for a while, and instead work every day on learning to write fiction. Ah, learning fiction: There’s a road that takes years to travel—but the skill is worth the years.

Sean Crawford

~It was local Calgary writer and blogger Carrie Moffat, as we talked on-line , who recommended the essays of Cheryl Strayed.

~I want to be "in the swing" of writing fiction, "just like everybody else" when I go to the volunteer-run When Words Collide. Only 56 days left until the convention; it's 89.6% sold out; I'm looking at you, C.M.

~I didn't mean to squish the last paragraph of text. Sorry. I upgraded last week to the newest Mac OS and I guess it comes with a few bugs in the system. Although I could click on the title screen, the cursor wouldn't even register if I clicked while I tried to paste my MS word onto the text screen. (So I typed first, which got me the blink, so then I could paste)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I Am Not Oblomov

The “hour of the wolf,” midwinter, three a.m.: A sleepless Russian uncle feels with cold clarity the greyness of his life, and so he pours a glass of vodka to keep the wolf on the other side of the cabin door; meanwhile I pray in the pitiless dark, “Lord, I don’t want to be an Oblomov.”

It’s an old, old fear of mine. Decades ago I saw the movie Oblomov, (1980) based on the Russian literature novel where the main character wastes his life, and then, at last, admits to his condition, “Oblomovitus.” In the movie version, Oblomov spends nearly all his time at home, with no job, like a human sloth. He can afford to sloth around because he is a member of Russia’s “one per cent”: He doesn’t have to work. In America, some people are known to work for a living, then in their off hours they default to being a “couch potato.” Call this being “Oblomov light.”

(By the way, the movie was made before the word “couch potato” (coined in 1979) became popular)

My fear, made manifest by Oblomov, goes back to boyhood. I can recall holding a wooden tinker toy, pretending it had a secret radio set inside, while reading a grim adult book about prisoners of war hiding their radio from the Japanese. They’d put dust over the cracks in the wood to conceal the radio lid. They got caught—A terrible fate.

That book was James Clavel’s King Rat. I have since learned Clavel could not start his novel writing career until he first wrote King Rat to get the horrors of being a prisoner out of his system. Imagine a “hundred thousand men” penned up with nothing to do. (Forget about any prisoner “working” on escape—the goddam Japanese never signed the Geneva Convention: to escape meant death for innocent fellow prisoners) Why not work on getting an education? As Clavel writes:

QUOTE (page 114) …languages and art and engineering… there was at least one man who knew any subject.

The knowledge of the world. A great opportunity. Broaden horizons. Learn a trade. Prepare for the utopia that would come to pass once the goddam war ended and things were back to normal. And the university was Athenian. No classrooms. Only a teacher who found a place in the shade and grouped his students around him.

But the prisoners of Changi were just ordinary men, so they sat on their butts and said, “Tomorrow I’ll join a class.” Or they joined and when they discovered that knowledge comes hard they would miss a class and another class and then they would say, “Tomorrow I’ll rejoin. Tomorrow I’ll start to become what I want to be afterwards. Mustn’t waste time. Tomorrow I’ll really start.”

But in Changi, as elsewhere, there was only today. UNQUOTE

A Trick
As an adult I found a trick, a hack, a “work around”: I knew that, like the heroes in Changi, I was an ordinary man. And so I resorted to seeing myself as even less ordinary. I told people: “I’m a recovering wimp.” Adding, “Anything thing I say I’m going to do, I have to do it.” If I say I’m going to a weekend company first aide course, I am there. (Not everyone shows up) For any weekly course, even if it’s a bunch of volunteers helping each other to grind through a workbook, I’m there every single week without fail.

Like a recovering alcoholic, I fear I have no safety margin. It’s all or nothing. Let others think I’m a conscientious guy who keeps his word.  Let them think I have enough self-esteem not to procrastinate. I know the P.O.W. side of me.

As a child, it might seem I would have the energy to play all day. It might seem that if I read books as a child then it was only like how I’d watch exciting Saturday morning cartoons instead of going outside, or like how the boy in Diary of a Wimpy Kid wanted to spend his summer inside playing exciting video games. It might seem so—but I’m not quite that charitable to myself. For although in my endless childhood I could endlessly play, I was also a sloth… at least, I think I was. And I have long feared returning to that.

First Word: Depression
But maybe I don’t have to worry anymore. Maybe I am being needlessly fearful. For with my adult eyes, this week, I can see something, two words, that no one in society would grasp back then. For grown adults we had the word: “depression.” But I don’t think if it's possible—even now—to diagnose medical depression in a child. Children and their hormonal chaotic brains are too hard to measure.  (see footnote) And yet… I’m thinking of my best friend saying, “To be gay and to be in the closet (to oneself) is to live with a low grade depression, and not even know it.”

Note to religious friends: Until “yesterday,” it was common at church to say that people would grow up into worldly adults and then make a choice to be gay. Today scientists say that being gay is not a choice, and that innocent children can be gay while still in school, perhaps terrified and despairing, or perhaps in the closet to themselves, years before they are adults. I say this not as an atheist, but as a God-fearing man.

Second Word: Abuse
Now I am speculating that depression in a child can cause a symptom of sloth. This week I am thinking that depression in an adult, and in a child too, can be caused by abuse. This week on CBC radio I heard the word “abuse” as three people, two women and a man, testified to being abused by their siblings, not by their parents. “Abuse” is the new word I am facing. One woman said she did not hear the word “abuse” from any therapist until she was in her mid-thirties. But once she had the word abuse in her vocabulary, everything in her adult life made sense for the first time. That radio show has rocked my world, for I have only used that word out loud once in all the years since I was my mid-thirties. Here’s the link

Like that lady, I too was in my mid-thirties when I grasped the word. I remember I was talking with a 26 year old, and to make sure I wasn’t patronizing her I said I was 36 and that I wouldn’t have known X back when I was 26… and then she said I intimidated her because “you see things due to your abuse issues.” Such a jolt. I filed the phrase away, a phrase I had never applied to myself, and didn’t much think about it. Until last week when I caught that CBC show. And now I’m looking back; trying to admit things. As far as I can see, society may at long last, since the Columbine school massacre, realize that bullying can lower self esteem, but we aren’t ready to realize that ongoing abuse, as a man on the radio was careful to say, is utterly destroying of “soul” and “self-esteem.” He said it destroys “right to the core.” When he hitchhiked as a minor he was amazed that people were nice to him. (Yes, of course normal people at his school and in his community were nice, but soul-destruction cancels that out) I can relate. This may not sound logical, but such is the empirical evidence: Hail, flood and fire do not destroy people at the core. Abuse does.

I hope to soon spend a whole day reading. Without fearing Oblomov. I haven’t done so in long, long time. My buddy Blair Petterson, a few years ago, was excited on hearing I planned to soon re-read the classic Dhalgren. It’s a thick book.  Blair advised me to make sandwiches on Saturday morning before I started so I wouldn’t have to stop reading to cook lunch.

But “soon” still hasn’t happened yet. I really want to have enough self-esteem/ entitlement/ permission to read for a whole day. I will pray on it.

Sean Crawford

~Update on children's brains:
-A mother who's son will be forever living with mental illness tells me she hadn't known that marijuana can harm a growing brain right up until the early 29's.

-In an AP story out of London, in the June 9 2016 Sun page 50, researchers say regarding drugs for depression in children and teens "some may be unsafe, and the quality of evidence about these drugs is so bad the researchers cannot be sure if any are truly effective or safe. According to Dr. Cipriani of Oxford, "We now have a hierarchy of pharmaceutical treatments and the only one that is better than placebo and other drugs is Prozac." 
According to Jon Jureidini of the U of Adelaide, "There is little reason to think that any antidepressant is better than nothing for young people."

~Memory is sticky, both conscious and unconscious. I see on Amazon book reviews how many people downgrade King Rat far more than they should because they just can’t help comparing the book to their memories of Clavel’s “Asian saga” from after he began to really write.

~J.G. Ballard was a civilian prisoner as a boy. I think his bizarre science fiction is how he got it out of his system. They say he spent years running away from his prison time, and then years approaching it again, until he could write Empire of the Sun. I think the movie version by Spielberg would have done better box-office if only moviegoers had not been expecting a magical uplifting film like the recent E.T. the Extraterrestrial.

~ I’m glad there were trials for war criminals in the Pacific Theatre.

~I remember attending a modern dance based on Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren. The guy I went with wondered if the choreographer had finished the book, because so few readers do. How come classics are always so long? What I did was begin with the middle third, then instead of going on to the end I decided I was motivated enough to cover the beginning third, then I finished the last third. Next time I will read Dhalgren straight through.

~The Russian was the uncle of Commander Ivanova, she of the five-mile-long space station Babylon-5. My own comfort drink for the hour of the wolf is hot coffee in a mug I can warm my fingers with. I honor Babylon-5 in my essay Death of Buffy archived January 2012.

~Seldom are things neutral on the field of human affairs. If you are mired in denial and confusion, if you’re having immense trouble deciding whether you are being “abusive,” then ask yourself: Am I being “nurturing?” It’s usually one or the other. The by-product of this reasoning is a new way of life where you try to be nurturing in every encounter with friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. It’s a good and satisfying way of life. I know.

~Columbine school is a fading memory. I am sure that if society relaxes on our new efforts to end bullying, then society will relax on knowing that bullying can reduce self-esteem. After all, that’s how ignorant we were before Columbine. By our ignorance we didn’t think that bullying should even be stopped. At that time, as I read in a book for parents, teachers and students, Bullying Solutions, a man could attend a ten-year high school re-union and be very surprised that his victim still remembered the bullying, still hated him for being a bully. I mention the book in footnotes to my essay Saving Tomorrow Land, archived August 2015.

~As a scientist and artist I don’t believe in falsifying reality. If I have found peace then besides ROM file degradation, it’s merely from not clicking on certain memory files. I suppose Clavel must have used the same trick.
(I know my nightmares, which started after the safety of leaving home, had stopped by the time I was 36, when one of my peers did a short story about self confidence from nightmares ending; I don’t know if Clavel was that lucky with his dreams)

I honor James Clavel in my essay Poetics of Communism and the Beautiful Art of War archived February 2015.