Hope in the Dark

It’s easy to grow discouraged in this life. Adversity—whether it’s an illness or failing health, economic stress, loneliness or isolation—or in Mary and my case, losing Mark suddenly and tragically: elements like these can grind even the strongest person down, and make them want to give up.

The case can also be made forcefully that the charge that many of us were given when we were young that life in America would be better for us than previous generations is no longer a reality for most. We’ve just elected a president who is at best, a boorish and self-centered man unlike anyone who has sat in the oval office prior. Some believe however, that our current president is an authoritarian with designs on dismantling what remains of our nation’s functionality and crumbling civic and physical infrastructure.

Peggy Noonan, someone with legitimate Republican bona fides calls Mr. Trump, “Woody Allen without the humor” in an op-ed written for and published in the Wall Street Journal. She paints him as a pathetic and weak little man. She’s probably right, although don’t understimate the damage possible by “weak little men.” It’s also far too easy to locate our reasons for despair in one man or a devastating life event.

In the midst of walking a personal path buffeted by discouragement and sadness, I’ve noted how many others are dealing with their own dark journey. In my own grief, I’ve recognized this collective sense of loss all around.  So fellow travelers, why so sad?

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist. She’s been engaged in environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s. Her writing is informed by a life lived with boots firmly planted in real life and direct action work, not academic posturing. Maybe that’s why her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has made such a strong impression on me over the past two weeks as I made my way through it. Continue reading

Our New President

We’re barely 24 hours into the term of our 45th president and it’s clear to me—the next four years are going to be one wild ride! It’s possible that life as we know it in America will have disappeared, with no guarantee that there’s a pathway back to restoring it.

I had to work yesterday, so I only caught snippets of Inauguration Day. I did see the swearing in of Pence and Trump. And then, I got to watch his address during lunch.

I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps naively, I held out some glimmer that our new president was going to offer his plan for bringing together a divided people. Not even five minutes in, it was clear that Trump had no interest in unity.

No unity here.

Granted, as one commentator said, for followers of Mr. Trump, he serves as a “kind of Rorschach test” in that they tend to see him in whatever way they want to believe about him and various issues. I’d concur with that. Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice

Everyone’s looking for a tribe to run with. Sometimes, people find it when they embrace a certain way of seeing the world—religion and politics being two of these.

Turning on the Tee Vee is always fraught with the potential that it could ruin one’s day. I was reminded of this again on Sunday.

After standing in the rain for 5 ½ hour, umpiring two AAU tournament games, I got home late on Saturday, cold, hungry, and exhausted. If you were out in the elements on Saturday, you’ll remember it was unseasonably cold, with precipitation alternating between light drizzle and downpours.

With yet another game on the books for Sunday afternoon, I was looking for a weather forecast, while also wanting to see if the local news puppets bothered to cover the Moxie Festival parade from Saturday, I flicked on the television after pouring my first coffee of the morning.

Oddly, I was treated to a series of social justice warrior gatherings in the first 10 minutes of the newscast. Maine, like the rest of the country, seems to be in the midst of some kind of collective meltdown.

The second story, about a group of white people, mainly women, caught my attention. They had gathered on Saturday in Belfast, Maine, and held a Black Lives Matter rally, or so I was told by the newscaster, reading from his teleprompter. Have there been a rash of racially-motivated shootings in Maine that I missed?

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Continue reading

Hold the Bacon

Bacon is popular. How popular you ask? Well, Americans eat nearly 18 pounds of it, yearly. Our English brethren, the Brits, consume an equal amount each year. Supposedly, bacon is addictive because it contains six types of umami, which produces an addictive neurochemical response.

Don’t tell that to President Obama. He’s made a point of denying bacon to all prisoners locked up in federal prison facilities. Does our brilliant president not realize that he’s going to cause a whole lot of jonesing in federal jails?

Actually, the feds have removed bacon, along with pork chops and ham, along with all other pig products from menus at 122 federal prisons. That means the nation’s 206,000 federal inmates won’t be tasting savory bacon until they’re back on the streets. Continue reading

My Truth is Better Than Yours

Boiling every political argument down as being either conservative or liberal is a limiting critique—a binary straightjacket, so to speak. This kind of posturing has poisoned the current political well for sure.

What it’s also done very well is to create an undeserved smugness on one side, or the other. Where this smugness often gets exhibited in these heady digital days is on social media platforms—Twitter and Facebook, mainly.

Like the other day. Continue reading

The Search for Threes

I’ve mentioned the flaws of binary thinking before. The concept—framing things in terms of duality, or opposites—isn’t a new concept, and it tends to be the way that most issues are discussed in America and arguably, the West.

From a philosophical standpoint, the origins of this kind of thinking date back to Aristotle and Descartes. They first structured this type of logic, which consists of dividing, distinguishing and opposing items. When you see things in a binary construct, there’s no room for in-between or shades of gray; everything is black or white, good or bad, nice or ugly, good or evil, etc. It is the law of “all or nothing.”

Unfortunately, this kind of dualistic framework often leads to dead-ends, and at the very least, can divide people unnecessarily.

One of the best explanations and the one that really made me sit up and take notice, was written by John Michael Greer, and posted a few years ago at his blog, The Archdruid Report.

Greer takes the origins back even further than Aristotle and Descartes. He writes,

Most of the snap decisions our primate ancestors had to make on the African savannah are most efficiently sorted out into binary pairs: food/nonfood, predator/nonpredator, and so on. The drawbacks to this handy set of internal categories don’t seem to bother any of our primate relatives, and probably became an issue—like so much that’s part of magic—only when the rickety structure of the reasoning mind took shape over the top of the standard-issue social primate brain.

The problem with this snap-judgment way of seeing and making sense of the world is that in our current, non-hunting society, the binary framework eliminates the middle ground. In fact, we don’t even recognize a middle position. More often than not, it leads to division and conflict. Continue reading

Some ‘Splainin to Do

I’ve been putting up regular content here at the JBE since 2012 when I first launched this site. The primary purpose of creating this WordPress platform (my first time designing my own website, btw) was launching my personal brand. At the time, given what was happening—basically, getting down-sized—plus, I was reading Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and others; personal branding seemed to be the proper exit ramp to free agent nation.

The most important aspect of the JBE now looks like it’s been centralizing where I blog. That’s one reason why I chose to include one as part of the website in the first place. At the time, my plan was to write about reinvention and other things central to my personal brand.

With all that’s transpired over the past three years, the blog remains the primary reason I keep the site up and running. My efforts the past year to reinvigorate my own freelance writing is the reason why I also maintain another site where I post my freelance writing clips and keep my online portfolio up-to-date—something that seems like it would be a requisite for a free agent writer these days. The personal brand thing—I’m not as bullish on that anymore. Continue reading

Longer Days and a Longer View

The days are getting longer. Some snow actually melted, and a patch of grass showed up over the weekend. Hooray!

The grass is back!

The grass is back!

My week’s off to a patchwork start. Some cool stuff in the works that will end up appearing under my byline in a week or two. Something else that I’ve been pushing for years (yes, years!!) will making an appearance later in 2015, too.

What I’m learning about most of the stuff in my life is that taking a longer view is required. That’s hard because it’s not in my nature and hasn’t always been my experience to wait on things.

And let me close with a bit of a non sequitur. Continue reading

The Other Direction

Going against the grain is never easy. Swimming upstream is bound to get you talked about, criticized, and maybe even hated. As writers, our job isn’t to make people comfortable—it’s to write what we know to be true (spoken as a writer who writes nonfiction).

Mark Twain was quoted as saying “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I don’t know if he added, after reflecting—move in the other direction.

What I’ve noticed throughout my life is that the majority is often on the wrong side of history. A mere cursory reading of the subject will tell you that. Yet, many people still hate having you point that out to them. Continue reading

Luck Makes the Man

His story isn’t new. However, it’s one that’s been embellished. Sometimes it’s important to shine a little truth around, to at least temper some of the misinformation.

I find it telling that Governor Paul LePage, the recipient of largesse from benefactors when he was in his teens, continues to further his own twisted ideology and war on the poor, this time on the backs of 19 and 20-year-olds. In essence that’s what he attempted to do, except that a federal appeals court ruled that it was illegal, on Monday. Continue reading