What to do with Outrage

Outrage

I keep a little list of things I want to blog about tucked into my folder. There are titles for stories, representing key development moments from my past or amusing little anecdotes with my children, there are inspiring topics about human progress, and there are things that inspire me about the world. I’ve stopped blogging about whatever book I’m reading, or whatever little historical nugget I’m learning about, and instead focus on what is in my soul as I sit down to write. This is why I need to make time to blog, I need time with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and an open computer screen, so my fingers can channel the things that my spirit wants to convey. When I sit down, I then can choose a topic off the list, pick which story I want to tell. Sometimes, though, I don’t end up taking one of these topics, and instead I write from wherever my head is at, from whatever is most relevant in my brain and heart at that moment. (The discipline of writing, for me, is equal parts dedication, healing, and heart. It fulfills me in a way nothing else can).

And that brings us to today.

My older blogs contained a lot of my intellectual thoughts, and a lot about my thoughts on politics. During the Trump/Clinton election, I can see several blogs in a row that convey my outrage and pain at the very idea of Trump being the candidate we were considering, given all he represented to me. Then after he was elected, I climbed within a hole within myself, because talking about it hadn’t seemed to do any good. I processed my pain quietly, instead of publicly, and grew determined instead to focus on change with me, my friends, my kids, my clients, the places that I can have a positive impact.

I keep hoping that we, as Americans, hell as a human species, will come around. We will stop repeating our greatest atrocities and instead learn to love our world and ourselves. I keep picturing the weaving plot lines in Game of Thrones, where all the egotistic murderous rulers battle through politics and warfare for moments of power while the threat to them all looms just over the borders. We are squabbling over Democrat versus Republic, all while war is raging, people are starving, racism and sexism run the world, animal habitats are being wiped out, and the ice keeps melting as the temperature raises.  And even now, it seems my country is the one withdrawing from the ones trying to make positive change in the world, and instead is forming bonds with the tyrants and warmongers, and I don’t know how to process that. I’m having a crisis of faith.

I am exhausted from remaining silent. I am so weary of this temporary outrage culture I’m living in, where whatever is most currently in the news becomes the thing that the entire world rages over, but only until the next headline, when the outrage moves on to something else and the last thing is forgotten, filed away on an unmanageable list.

But the stakes feel so high! The transgender military ban, the Muslim ban, black men being kicked out of Starbucks, the Parkland shooting, the Las Vegas country concert massacre, the Pulse shooting, the gay wedding cake debate, police brutality against black civilians, overstocked for-profit prisons, the latest celebrity accused of sexual assault, the United States pulling out of the Paris Accords, the arrests of Trump’s allies, collusion and obstruction, private Email servers used in public positions, government employees spending fortunes on furniture, the G-7 summit, the North Korea leader meetings, Obamacare, the porn star pay-offs, the floods, the wars, the corruption.

And now, we rage over these children being removed from parents at the border, and the debate turns to border security, family trauma, war crime victims, asylum, criminal prosecution, human decency. And it hurts me, deeply.

But then I realize I will only be outraged about this for as long as these headlines are there, and then it will be on to something else. Lately, I’m almost constantly outraged. Ignoring it doesn’t help, avoiding it doesn’t either, but neither does publicly screaming about it.

Even now, I could scroll through my Facebook feed. Most of my social media contacts are liberally minded, so I will see the same god-damn scream of outrage, cry for validation, over and over again. It’s a constant barrage.

“I am so angry/furious/outraged/horrified/baffled by the forced separation of kids from their families/the Pulse nightclub shooting/the callous murder of Trayvon Martin/the Bill Cosby rape scandal/the Michael Cohen porn star payoff! We need better gun control laws/more women in government/environmental policies/voter security systems! And if you disagree with me/voted for Trump/blame women for their own rapes/don’t support equality, then unfriend me and get out of my life right now! I’m serious! I mean it! I’m moving to Canada!”

Here’s the thing, though. I feel all of this outrage. It physically hurts me. I hate it. And yet, participation in it doesn’t help. Screaming into the air doesn’t make me feel any more validated. Arguing with people I love with endless paragraphs in the form of a comment on social media posts doesn’t help. It doesn’t take my pain away. And I fully realize, when I remove myself from the box and look at the system from the outside, that I’m being manipulated by media machines, by campaigns and ads. I become aware of human trauma, crying children, and insane atrocities, and…

my life doesn’t change. At all.

I still get up every morning, brew my coffee, see my clients, exercise, take care of my children, try to improve the world around me. And that is the privilege talking, because other people don’t get that same luxury. And that fuels my outrage even more.

So I’m a solution finder. I don’t like to just complain about problems. I want to find clear paths forward, and that is what I help my clients do as well. And my solution, for me? I need to do something with this outrage. I want to stay informed, not by drowning in manipulative media, but by being aware of the world around me, and then I want to do what I can to make a difference.

I can support businesses that share my standards, and especially those that are run by or employ women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT people, and who give more opportunities to women. I can go out of my way to better the world around me with handshakes, hugs, love, and support. I can drive less and recycle more. I can avoid eating meat, and purchase food and goods that come from ethical businesses. I can vote for officials who support an ethical and fair world. I can instill ethics and values in my children that teach them to be themselves, to love everyone, and to live healthy lives. I can donate money to worthy causes and charity. I can write.

And just typing that last paragraph shifted my energy from one of pain and anxiety (what I feel when I focus on the problems) to a space of calm, healing, and hope (what I feel when I focus on the solutions). I choose to use my outrage to create a better world around me. Losing sleep, pulling out my hair, giving myself ulcers, and screaming into the social media void about the terribleness of the world will not help. Teaching my sons about equality and justice, seeing my clients through their pain, and being good to the Earth will.

So come on, outrage. Come join me, and let’s go make a difference in this world.

the Marie Osmond empire

Marie2

It is easy to understand America’s love affair with Maria Osmond. It’s her charm, her forthrightness, her vulnerability, her vocal versatility. It’s her ability to stay true to her roots and push herself forward into new realms. It’s her jokes, her gorgeous dresses, her authentic laugh, and her sheer enthusiasm and passion for what she does on the stage every night.

And let’s face it, she looks incredible. She credits particular nutrition products, but I credit her for her hard work, dedication to exercise, and incredible attention to detail. She was performing aerobic routines on that stage with much younger dancers, and keeping up with them, all while singing. She’s 56 and looks 40, and that is no small feat.

I sat near the stage in the Flamingo in Las Vegas, watching Donny and Marie strut and sweat across the stage, singing their hearts out. I enjoyed the performances much more than I thought I would.

Although I grew up in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t become an Osmond super-fan like my older sisters did. I wasn’t around to watch the young Osmond children singing and performing on television, hosting their own television shows and specials, starring in Broadway performances and musicals, touring around the world, writing books and magazines, and releasing album after album. I didn’t join the media craze as the Osmonds, particularly the most famous siblings (the youngest, Donny and Marie) married and divorced and had children. In more recent news, I peripherally followed their performances and victories on Dancing With the Stars, but never watched.

And now, as I sit back and watch them banter and cajole with each other on stage, taking turns singing classic songs off their old albums, new songs off their new albums, and some surprising hit selections (like “Walk This Way” and “These Boots are Made for Walkin'”), I get it. Donny and Marie have my respect. They are talented, and funny, and charismatic. And I recognize how difficult it is to keep a career alive for five decades.

Donny on stage is a bit juvenile and playful. In between songs, he goes through purses in the audience and takes credit cards and cell phones as a joke, returning them later. He promises CDs to everyone in the audience, then says just kidding. He pokes fun. He’s a bit ouf of shape, but he has some serious pipes and he sounds incredible singing. He’s a solid talent and it is easy to see the star power he has still.

But Marie… Marie is an empress. She’s a name brand. She’s a powerhouse performer who commands the stage with her dances and singing, everything from country to rock and roll and a shockingly beautiful foreign opera piece. A quick internet search of her name shows her connections to advertising campaigns, her own non-profit work for sick children, her dolls and crafting businesses, and her line of books. With three biological children and five adopted, she has been open with the public about struggles with depression and her struggles as a mother, particularly when one son committed suicide. And when Marie’s daughter came out as lesbian, Marie came out in support of her.

Donny and Marie closed the show with a long string of jokes, each ribbing the other. Marie pointed out that the only other famous brother-sister duo who built a career together were the Carpenters. They sang a medley of songs, hits they have done together over the years. And as Donny went through purses and wallets again, Marie rushed around the room drawing lips on the bald heads of male fans throughout the room, in in sequined high heels.

As I walked away from the theater with a smile on my face, I realized that Marie Osmond is a force to be reckoned with, an enduring and powerful performer and business woman who has firmly carved her name into the history of modern entertainment.

And she’s not even close to done yet.

Marie

love/hate Las Vegas

VegasNightSky

A friend asked me this morning what it is that I like about Las Vegas. I gave it some thought and realized quickly that I don’t actually like Las Vegas all that much.

Las Vegas is dirty, it’s grimy, it’s hot. Everyone is in a hurry to have their needs fulfilled. Here is some cash, now feed me, entertain me, dance for me, liquor me up. I want it all and I want it now. Las Vegas is cash and booze and sweat and flashing neon lights and sex and sultry street corners.

Las Vegas is a middle-aged woman, weather beaten and exhausted, standing in an assigned section of casino, wearing a pink fluffy feathered headdress and a corset and a sequined tight dress that exposes her shoulders and legs and cleavage, with bright pink lipstick, holding a tray of drinks as she pretends to smile at each tourist rushing by her but she really just wants her next cigarette break and to get back to the couch that she sleeps on in her small apartment but she still has six hours of work ahead.

Las Vegas is the six college guys who flew from the east coast for a weekend away, all sharing one hotel room, and all with different goals for the weekend: pool lounging, sheer drunkenness, getting smashed at a strip club, picking one slot machine and not leaving it until the bank account is empty or the jackpot is won, finding one girl on vacation and spending the entire time with her, and betting big at a poker table. And they will all find it, with ample amounts of food, before they trudge back to their plans on Monday morning, exhausted for the long flight home.

Las Vegas is the sixty year old couple from Tallahassee who think $3.50 is too much for a shrimp cocktail, and where is the best buffet, and can they fit in five shows in three days and still get in time to shop at that mall over there.

Las Vegas is the mother of four, setting her kids loose on the casino amusement park while she slumps in the corner with a margarita that is taller than her toddler.

Las Vegas is me, in a 26th floor hotel room at Circus, Circus, standing in the window at 5 am and looking out at a city that comes at me in layers. Brown rolling mountains on the desert horizon, a sun rising slowing in pink and orange. Massive shiny hotels looming in patchwork sections of the landscape, massive juggernaut structures full of thousands of people, all pursuing their vices. Long roadways with hundreds of cars zooming in every direction, every one of them impatient. Sporadic green trees withering in the already 90 degree heat. Helicopters hovering in the sky. Small homes and local businesses, all brown and red and tan, where the tired masses head from work to home or home to work, all exhausted. And the connecting pieces between them, every inch neon and concrete, electricity and stone. It’s heavy and hot and fast and exhausted and shiny.

Las Vegas is… vice. It’s sin. It’s all of the baseness of humanity stripped down to its core. People come here for the heat and the sin and the neon and the concrete. And while those are the very things that repel me, I suppose that is the very thing that I love about Vegas. The baseless humanity of it all. The opportunity to go away, sin and get dirty, and then get back to regular life.

It’s gross/beautiful. It’s filthy/pure. It’s love/hate.

Thoughts on thinking

Freeway

Sometimes I don’t have anything to blog about.

Some of my best blogs come from deeply painful places, from emotional barbs that have to be worked out from my flesh with sharp grips. Or sometimes they represent self-discovery, a breakthrough I’ve been chewing on for a few days like a leathery piece of turkey jerky. Or sometimes they come from a place of righteous anger, a sense to vent about the social injustices of the world. Often they come from places of inspiration, bonding moments I have with my sons or my mother or a close friend.

But sometimes, I just don’t have anything to say, even when my brain never stops working.

I’m flooded with inspiring ideas that will never bear any fruit.

The other day, I drove away from Las Vegas at 3 in the morning and planned out a blog in my head about the desert at night with all the drunk people casually gambling with no concept of time. Then I turned on the radio and heard an old favorite song. I sang along, turned off the radio and sang it two or three more times, getting the idea to put up a YouTube channel with me singing a different song every day that inspires me, and then I deleted that idea because that would be one more thing I begin that I would be proud of but never know how to promote. Then I turned on a book on tape about the life story of Jerry Lee Lewis, and I spent the next few hours laughing and annoyed and outraged and inspired by his very weird life, and thought about writing a piece about him and wanting to buy and listen to all of his music now.

I kept driving and I thought about a getaway, something long and enduring, a few weeks where I could have pure, uninterrupted creative energy, but deleted that idea because I would miss my children and I have bills to pay and clients to see. Then I thought about how confident I felt just a few months ago, determined and sure that my LGBT History channel on YouTube (also called Snapshots) were going to take off and be successful, how the quality of the video and the content would just keep gaining and expanding, then I thought of how quickly that confidence had dissipated when I realized that even the people I was paying to support the product didn’t really believe in it, and how the failure to launch was really teaching me a lesson in humility. I thought about efforts to expand or reduce content, wearing a suitcoat to make myself more presentable, generating taglines and mission statements, and even throwing it all into a podcast that went nowhere, and how even though I’m still putting out the videos, my dreams for the project feel like they are tucked into a cardboard box I’ve placed into the attic.

I thought about other ways I might feel more successful with my writing. I thought about making inspiring music videos, or humorous blurbs about animals with unfortunate names, or posting daily images of terrible comic book covers from decades ago that are incredibly hilarious now, or reading my blog entries out loud and putting them online. I think of people who are doing what I want to do, like Anne Lamott and David Sedaris and Mary Roach, and doing it so brilliantly. I thought of all the people who make money on YouTube melting things or blowing things up or doing make-up tutorials or instructing dance steps or looking pretty while interviewing people.

I thought about writing books, and making documentaries. I thought about the graphic novel that I worked for five years on and that I was so proud of and how there are now boxes of them sitting in my closet, unread. I thought of getting in shape and the excuses we use to stop ourselves. I thought of the last guy I tried dating and how the early magic of the relationship had become weighed down by the human realness of adult life: jobs and kids and family and distance and communication, and how that made me sad. I thought of ghosts. I thought of constantly struggling to find our places in the world.

Then I sang, and listened, and thought some more. And the sun came up over the red hills and I stopped for coffee and sat on a curb and drank slowly as I willed my brain to be still. I saw the sun in the sky, the cars speeding by on the freeway, the isolated homes in the distance, and the small ants climbing near my feet.

I thought of silence, and ambition, and adventure, and independence, and my children.

And then I filled my car up with gas while I thought about thinking, and got back in the car to think some more.

Boys will be boys

original_Stu-Ungar

“Boys will be boys,” parents say, to excuse skinned knees, black eyes, broken windows, and bad smells.

“Boys will be boys,” school officials say, to explain absences, aggressive behavior, and drug and alcohol use.

“Boys will be boys,” wives say, to quiet doubts about late evenings at work, lipstick smudges, raised voices, and household budgets.

“Boys will be boys,” the courts say, to dismiss drug offenses, sexual assaults, and domestic violence.

And in this boy-loving culture, where boys fill the seats of court stands, elected offices, church leadership positions, and chief executive officers, the boys are excused, the bad behavior overlooked and shrugged off. Because, after all, boys couldn’t possibly help their very nature. They are driven toward aggression, sex, and conquest, and it simply can’t be avoided. In fact, boys who aren’t driven toward those things are aberrant and less valuable.

And thus, the politicians go to war over oil and debt and revenge, and millions are killed, while human atrocities are ignored, rape and famine seen as the natural consequences of male behavior. And the fathers smile at their sons, pat them on the back, tell them “I’m so proud of you.”

And this was the world in which Stu Ungar was raised in. Stu, often called “the Kid” affectionately, lived from 1953 to 1998. Stu’s father, Ido, had a wife and a child when he started his bookie business, paying off all those he needed to to keep the cops and the mafia off his back. Ido soon left his wife for one of his mistresses, Fay, a beautiful socialite who liked a lot of attention. But that’s okay for Ido, because boys will be boys.

Fay had two children, and the oldest, Stuey, had an aptitude early on for cards, realizing that a mix of skill in the game and a capability of reading people lead to victory every time. Using contacts from his father’s business, Stuey played a lot of cards and won a lot of money, shirking school to do so, because boys will be boys.

After Ido died, Fay sunk into drugs and depression, and Stuey found a new mentor in Victor Romano, a made mafia man, one who had memorized the entire dictionary during his lengthy prison sentence. Romano got Stuey involved in mafia-led card games of Pinochle, Poker, and Gin Rummy, giving him protection and women and money for as long as he kept winning for them, because boys will be boys.

And as Stuey watched men around him die and disappear in mafia hits, he racked up debts, more than he could pay off, so he ran to Las Vegas to try and make more money. Without a drivers license or a Social Security card, and having never worked for a wage, Stuey drifted from game to game, winning vast sums then losing every dollar within hours, over and over and over, for years, because boys will be boys.

And then Stuey started cheating on his wife, leaving her home with his daughter and stepson and using drugs, disappearing for weeks at a time. But he was great at poker and began winning world championships, and he was celebrated, lauded, and honored, because boys will be boys.

And when Stuey’s stepson committed suicide by hanging himself at a construction site, Stuey grieved by gambling and snorting cocaine, until his nasal cavity finally collapsed in on itself, because boys will be boys.

And when Stuey was found dead at 45, in a hotel room, from a drug overdose, everyone shrugged at the sadness, because boys will be boys.