Vibration and Sin

I felt the seduction of this song
when it was only vibration and sin,
before the chorus had teeth
or licked my lips.

and memories linked together
like the perfumed scintillation
of black-rimmed eyes
watching me fumble
into bed.

I do hum
when I forget the words
and I do
nothing when she exhales.

and melody in a lullaby
swing lower than a kiss
but promise dire silence
for the hours
I’m alone.

I am now nearly deaf
from the pounding vibrations
and the softness
of these sins made flesh.

Little Drummer Girl


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The Flag

Change In America

The United States in the 21st Century is fundamentally different than when it was the preeminent, ascendant world power of the 20th century. It would be simple to point to one or two major events as the catalysts for this change (9/11, the Great Recession, Barack Obama’s election), but in reality the world is in a constant state of flux and the status quo never lasts long.

I have known conservative religious types to warn of the danger of Same Sex Marriage by claiming that ancient Rome’s embrace of homosexuality heralded their downfall. Besides nicely illustrating the causation/correlation conflation fallacy and showing a complete lack of historical literacy, this thinking also illustrates our most common myth about reality. People are prone to believe that their present moment in history is the default, and any deviation from their norm is an affront, when in fact it’s inevitable.

Change is the constant. One of the failings of the environmentalist movement is that in their urgency to warn of Global Warming-caused catastrophes, they initially fell back onto the easy, grabby language of World Ending Apocalypse. The world isn’t ending, but it is changing, a fate that means very little to the planet Earth, but should prove a real boon to Slip N’ Slide sales in Alaska.

We Need Change

The ideas which are holding back or actively dragging down society can be traced to one terrible piece of reasoning: “It’s what I’ve always believed.”

The country I have come to know intimately is one that can be hard to love at times. Overt anti-science, anti-intellectual, sexist and homophobic public policies and talking points are easy targets for Jon Stewart or John Oliver to lampoon, but far subtler, less political strands of these worldviews inhabit average people in ways that are harder to extract from their, otherwise, fundamental decency. Good people can have lousy beliefs, especially if they’ve never had a reason to question them. It’s simple to think that everyone protesting against same sex marriage or outside Planned Parenthood is just a religious fanatic, but I was maybe five or six the first time I carried a sign in a “Pro-life” march. I didn’t know what I opposed (or supported), and it wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that I thought back on those days with any embarrassment.

Some people never examine their beliefs. That is a shame and the reason why ignorant, hateful people are so prominent in our society (well, that and because controversial statements make nice headlines). We of the “educated, liberal” persuasion shake our heads at others for their backwards beliefs, and yet it’s among liberal enclaves that pseudo-scientific (not scientific at all, actually) idiocy runs most rampant, from the Anti-Vaccine movement to whatever miracle vitamin Dr. Oz is peddling this week. No political, religious or social group holds a monopoly on bad ideas and ignorance.

The oft-ignored extension of the “some people don’t examine their beliefs” rule is that nobody examines all of their beliefs. When Descartes famously stated “I think, therefore I am,” he coined the definitive statement of Rationalism, but his hyperbolic doubt remained credulous about one central belief: God. Even the forefather of rational skepticism had his blind spots, is it any surprise that the rest of us are no better at scrutinizing our beliefs? Another great philosopher, Dr. Gregory House, once bellowed, “Climb out of your holes people!” but we live in holes and nobody wants to be homeless.

We Hate Change

It is quite possible that people seem angrier and more miserable today because the internet allows us to vent more freely and, thus, the dickish thoughts that we always had but kept to ourselves are now coming into the open. This view suggests that humanity isn’t growing shittier, we’re just more open about our fecal tendencies. I like this interpretation because it jives with the underlying optimism I hold for the human race (even if I’m pessimistic about individuals).

However, it’s hard to ignore the police killings of innocent teenagers and the increased mass shootings, along with the corruption at every level of power, both political and financial. The world may be less violent over all than at any other time in human history, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still acting like savages.

I would argue that if there is one underlying cause for so much of the malignant behavior in our society, it’s change. Rapid, unstoppable change. The last 50 years has produced more social upheaval than almost all of human history before it. For 20 years, we have been in a technological explosion like no one’s ever seen. When Gene Roddenberry envisioned the 23rd century in the original Star Trek, it didn’t look all that much different from the world we inhabit in the second decade of the 21st century (minus the space travel; though that may not be far off). In our time, cultural revolution is more pronounced in one year than it was in entire decades of the previous century.

As the old axiom goes, nobody likes change. Sure, some people embrace new things more readily than others, but even for a guy who has made a life of moving from city to city, I’m not always receptive to shifting sands. We are especially unhappy when a change occurs without our input or permission.

I don’t mean to deny individual autonomy because we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, but I think the depletion of civility and society’s rapid transformation are more than casually linked. I don’t have any studies to support that hypothesis (better minds than mine would have to devise ways to test it), but it’s no stretch to suggest that big changes often have unexpected consequences. If the Civil Rights movement of the 60s was met with fierce opposition, is it any wonder that there is so much turmoil in the wake of social changes that include race, gender and sexual orientation in one massive tsunami? The United States isn’t so much a melting pot as a churning caldron.

There’s no returning to the status quo. Which status quo would that even be?

We Has Change

Will our society continue to evolve this dramatically and this abruptly from here on out? Most experts predict a technological plateau at some point, but since we’re experiencing a period like none other in human history, it’s really anybody’s guess. The concept of the ‘Technological Singularity’ suggests that there’s an endpoint for both human and technological evolution, but how far off is that? Could there be a ‘Societal Singularity’?

Whatever comes next for America, we should expect it to be met with challenges. It’s easy to get frustrated if you’re fighting for civil rights and facing backlash. It can be just as frustrating to be passionate about something, anything, and find nothing but hate and abuse thrown back at you. But take solace: if the world seems especially brutish to you, consider that these may be the growing pains of a society rapidly exploding through puberty. Awkward, ugly puberty.

And if that’s the case, maybe a stable, humane adulthood is still ahead of us.

1 World Trade Center 2

The Wasteland

What Will Not Be Dedicated

What’s in our nature
is simple and dangerous,
a hurricane through our bedrooms.
Paths of destruction,
rivers of filth and disease;
where once a home,
now splintered wood
and emptied photo albums.
Incalculable loss in a black ledger.

Mountains of rubble,
shards and shared memories
of what’s to be forgotten,
buried and abandoned.
Walk away,
lest God’s wrath
still hunger
and consume more;
nothing’s left.

In the swamp
of humidity and starlight
there’s only escape
and renunciation.

No insurance
will give back what’s lost,
will protect what’s renewed.
It’s a terror
starting over.

Yet we do,
and when the rains come,
the rifts between us
fill with mud and flashes of light,
threatening this new peace,
our tenuous calm.
We were fools to rebuild. Maybe.
But she smiles
and I forget how to sink.



Be A Secret Feminist

At some point in the last 50 years, some marketing genius in the vein of Don Draper came up with one of the greatest advertising schemes ever: They claimed that if you use the same soap on your face that you use on your body, you will die an ugly, unloved spinster.

And we bought it. Not just women, men, too. One of my roommates currently has upwards of 7 different bottles of bizarre scented chemicals standing in our shared shower. I’m sure each and every one of them does something magical for every individual part of his body, from the tips of his hair to the calloused skin of the feet. There is probably a taint softener somewhere in there.

I have two items in the shower: A combination shampoo/conditioner and a bar of soap.

I assure you, I am a hideous, unlovable troll. But I think that’s just a coincidence.

What Kind of Feminist Are You?

Feminism is all the rage these days. And by “all the rage,” I mean, the mention of the ‘f-word’ makes people want to Joe Pesci someone’s neck. There’s a civil war erupting right now between 40-something feminists and 30-something feminists and 20-something feminists and then the (mostly) teenagers who are #womenagainstfeminism.

I suppose this kind of rift was inevitable. Every group will splinter, every religion develops sects. Feminism has existed long enough for it to go from a political movement with easily definable goals to an ideology with nebulous theories on ‘equality.’ It’s not so much that the ideology is flawed or wrong, it’s that the message isn’t being conveyed very elegantly.

The speech that Emma Watson recently gave at the U.N. for the #HeForShe movement (and that movement itself) is precisely the kind of feminism I signed up for when I was in college and first being exposed to the cause. It’s a movement of inclusion, not exclusion. It’s a movement that says, We lift women up, not by knocking men down, but by helping each reach a higher level.

As Emma said in her speech, “It seems uncomplicated to me.”

So it is.

But there are a lot of future women (and men) growing up today that, while they would agree with the individual checkmarks of feminist equality (equal pay for equal work; women’s right to choose; anti-discriminatory policies; etc.), don’t want to be saddled with the Feminist tag. And I get it.

I’ve been a feminist for over a decade, but waking up to a Twitter feed that is positively exploding with abusive rhetoric (on all sides) makes me want nothing to do with the label. Whether it’s about “rape culture,” “gamergate,” “misogynistic atheists” or some other hot button topic, I find myself compelled by the arguments. Compelled to turn off my computer and run away.

I’ve never been one to shy away from giving my opinion, but the ferocity of the debates has encouraged me to stay back. I don’t engage, I don’t respond. If I see an article that makes some interesting points (even if I don’t agree wholeheartedly with it), I’ll surreptitiously retweet it, but otherwise I keep my mouth shut.

I have become a Secret Feminist.

Be A Secret Feminist

For the young girls and boys growing up today that think gender equality is a no-brainer but have only ever known the term “feminist” to come with scare quotes, it can be hard to feel like there is a movement that represents them. This is especially true for white teens who for all intents and purposes are living in the utopian future that feminists of the 19th and early 20th century envisioned.

(Keep in mind: Equality doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to a girl. Life is still life, shit happens.)

The thing is, sexism is not as overt as it used to be. The Mad Men office environment would never fly today, and there are laws intended to make sure that’s the case. But that doesn’t mean sexism in the workplace has been eliminated, and it certainly doesn’t mean that feminism has won the fight and can now be put back in the closet next to your Sexy Snowman Halloween costume.

But for a large subset of the younger generation, there is a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of Feminism’s most outspoken members and the world they actually live in. Activists tend to believe that people will fall into complacency if they let off the gas at all, but that sort of gung-ho advocacy can be repellent to people who aren’t confronted with inequality in their daily lives.*

So, how does Feminism rehabilitate its image? That’s a tough question, and something that isn’t going to be answered in a 1500 word essay. I do know, though, that it’s possible to be a feminist and stand up equality without wearing pins and starting every conversation with, “Well, I’m a feminist, so…”

It’s okay to be a Secret Feminist.

I grew up in an excitable Christian community that would have had a term for that kind of devotion to the cause: Luke warm. Well, who asked them?

The world needs activists. It needs proud, outspoken proponents for causes. Without them, important issues would fall between the cracks and change would never happen. But the world also needs regular people who don’t fight over every little detail and live in relative harmony with their fellow humans, even when they have fundamentally different worldviews.

What was the biggest boon to the equal rights campaign for homosexuality in America? Not marches or parades, not politicians or scientists. It was Ellen on television every weekday afternoon. It was Neil Patrick Harris charming the (figurative) pants off of Middle America. Ellen Degeneres, the Lesbian sitcom character, disappeared from TV in a scandalized flash, but Ellen the flamboyant TV host is the new Oprah.

So, how does your average, mellow citizen live as a feminist without turning into a caricature? The easiest thing I can think of is finding the little nuggets of sexism in your life and pushing them out. For instance? you ask.

Stop buying into the beauty lies of an industry that insists every natural part of you is an abomination. And I mean that literally: stop buying their products. Yes, when these companies came up with these marketing tricks, they were just making up things for us to be insecure about. They were fake problems. Now, though, society has embraced those standards of beauty and they are ‘real’ (as real as any cultural standard can be).

It’s nice to say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” but that’s a bunch of greeting card horseshit, and while you’re embracing your inner beauty, someone else is getting made up and winning the heart of the guy/gal you wanted. It’s a brutal world out there. Sometimes you really do have to fight for what you want.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t hit back at the industry that birthed this monstrous culture. The easiest way is pretty obvious: Stop buying those stupid fucking magazines. Women’s magazines are more pornographic than Maxim. Why are you buying them? (I mean, I get it if you’re a teenage boy and you can’t get your hands on Playboy, but even then, have you not heard of the internet??)

If you really must have those beauty tips, may I suggest doing what housewives have done for decades: Get in the longest line at the grocery store and read it there. Those magazines are 90% ads and about 6 pages of content, so you should be able to get through 3 or 4 different issues by the time Widow Henderson finds her $.50 coupon for that 30-pack of toilet paper.

For crissake, cancel that damn subscription (may I suggest getting something else instead).

There are a lot of insidious ways that sexism has seeped into all of our lives, but none of them is more pervasive than these beauty standards. Some might see the new impossible beauty standards for men to be a step in the right direction; after all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But that’s the poisonous mentality that is hurting feminism. We shouldn’t be hoping for a worse world for men, we should be hoping for a better world for everyone.**

It’s not easy to push back against the tide of mass culture and the multi-billion dollar beauty industry, but a million individuals making a small change in their life is more impactful than an angry Twitter feud or a dozen articulate blog screeds (of which this is attempting not to be). Enough small steps become massive marches.

The beauty industry’s profits rely on you hating yourself. I’m not saying that the answer is to just “Love yourself.” I’m saying the answer is to hate them back. If you must participate in the zero sum game that is  Cosmetic Beauty, do it without feeding their coffers. Self-esteem is hard; spite is easy.

(Now, I would never suggest that you steal beauty supplies, but…)

jaimelondonboy on Flickr

*Some feminists would argue that we are all, daily, living in a world that is shaped by inequality and sexism. While this is likely true, it’s in ways so subtle that an innocent bystander can’t be blamed for not necessary seeing everything through those lenses.

**Standards of beauty aren’t all inherently bad. It’s part of our very biology to seek them out and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t find some people more attractive than others. There comes a time, though, when those standards grow so unrealistic that they cross over to the level of satire.

beat on

An Expert on Nothing

I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing 2 weeks before I began 10 Cities / 10 Years. There are probably degrees that have less value than mine, but I can’t think of 1 funny enough to complete this setup. As you can see, I’ve clearly put my education to good work.

My other major areas of study in school were psychology and history. If we voyage back a few years, before I discovered my love of writing, I was a young math nerd, convinced that I would some day grow up to work in the fields of mathematics or engineering (not that little Lyttleton understood what that would entail).

While traveling the country, when I’ve reached for non-fiction books, they have predominantly been focused on biology, physics, sociology and cultural studies, or some mix therein. In particular, I’m fascinated by the concept of emergence as it pertains both to biological and artificial entities.

Rather than suggesting that I am a Da Vinci-esque polymath, though, these varied intellectual pursuits are actually more damning than laudable. Instead of delving deeply into any one area and gaining an expertise, I flit from one interest to another, gaining a perfunctory understanding of a wide swath of subjects, but never truly mastering any single field.

That includes writing.

Since becoming obsessed with the written word (and girls) in the sixth grade, I haven’t stopped trying to improve as a writer. From my early detective short stories to numerous church plays, from my terrible high school poetry to my terrible college poetry, I was always attempting to expand my skill sets. The first time I read my poetry in front of a crowded poetry slam, I was 18 in a 21+ only bar. I had invited the (first) love of my life, and from the audience she watched as I shuffled up to the mic, was immediately heckled (“Hey, Hanson!” one astute drunk commented on my long, blond hair) and then attempted to read my shitty free verse.

Spoiler Alert: She didn’t fall in love with me.

I didn’t tackle a BS in Creative Writing because I thought it would make me a better writer. Quite the opposite, I felt that writing was something you did, not something you were taught, so I was very skeptical of my writing courses. I had so little interest in “continuing my education” when I went to college that I lazily picked the most obvious major and stuck with it, even though I probably would have been better suited majoring in psych or Ultimate Frisbee.

It’s remarkable to me that in those college courses, my professors almost uniformly praised my writing ability (whether it was in short stories, screenplays or, to a much lesser degree, poetry), because I look back on everything I produced back then and I can’t see even a glimmer of redeemable work in the whole lot. I like to believe that I’ve grown exponentially since those days, yet like any writer, I yo-yo back and forth from loving my work to hating it, sometimes within the same hour.

Then I look at those writers who went on with their education and attained MFAs from NYU or some other acronym-affiliated institution, and I can’t help but notice that they have developed the most important writerly skill that I’m missing: Connections.

Okay, that’s sort of cynical, while being completely true. Artistic success has almost nothing to do with skill. Artistic failure, though, is entirely about skill. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. As a rule, those writers who are being published are talented (E.L. James, excepted). They might not be the most talented writers out there, but contrary to the beliefs of every frustrated unpublished writer out there, the world isn’t filled with undiscovered geniuses. Having connections helps, and following the ‘legitimate’ writer path of advanced degrees is the best way to make those connections. But just because that’s a safe, predictable life path, that doesn’t mean those writers who succeed along the way are not talented. Au contraire.

Most of the living writers I enjoy are of the advanced degree variety, and it’s because they have mastered (as much as such things can be ‘mastered’) the technical and poetic skills to be truly transcendent authors. They devoted years of their lives to that development and their reward has been a proficient and elegant use of language. They have been resilient students of the form.

I have not. Don’t get me wrong, I read a lot and I write prolifically. I do not, however, study ‘how-to’ guides by the masters or go to writing workshops, nor do I defer to the guidance of mentors or gurus. I write, I submit, I receive rejections and then I move on to the next piece, all along dissecting my past work to attempt to understand the flaws. It’s a largely solitary endeavor, and for that reason it is a slow and aimless trek. Is my art improving, or am I merely circling a drain?

It has occurred to me lately that I will never be a critical darling as a writer. This is a mighty hit to my pride because there has always been a part of me that considered myself an intellectual, a ‘serious writer.’ But just as I’ve had to accept that my shallow dives into all variety of topics doesn’t make me an expert in any of them, I’ve come to the realization that my writing lacks the technical merits to ever earn the critical fellatio of top critics. If I ever managed to squeak out some literary success, it will be by pure force of will. The same stubbornness that brought me to the end of this project.

I suppose that’s fitting for a guy who lists both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac as major influences, as both authors were the recipients of considerable negative critical reviews in their lifetimes.* History has a way of giving artists a second appraisal, but both of those authors died young and as alcoholic failures. I’m not saying that’s a goal or something I’m trying to emulate. No, it just seems when I fell in love with their beautiful prose, I backed the wrong literary horses. I should have been worshiping at the altars of critically superior Authors.

If there is any solace to be taken from this recognition, it comes in the form of a quote from, who else, Fitzgerald:

“An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.”

(I don’t mean to suggest that my goal is to write young adult fiction. Far from it. I have no interest in the genre, neither as a writer or as a reader. I actually find it quite dismaying that rather than teenagers attempting to read literature above their head in order to stretch themselves intellectually, adults are reading books aimed at teenagers because they’re “actually really well-written.”

Dr. Seuss is ‘really well-written’, too, that doesn’t mean you should only read about cats in hats. But I digress.)

My point is to say that as a writer, I may never achieve a level of expertise worthy of the living legends. It will still always be my goal. We should all aim for things that are outside our reach, if for no other reason than because actually achieving a dream is pretty depressing once reality sets in.

I’m going to write. I’m going to try to improve, day by day, year by year. And I am going to get pummeled by critics, professional and amateur alike. And the best thing I can do is to keep going. I have no interest in being a critic. Or a professor. Or even an agent. I want to be a writer. That and only that.

If that ambition leaves me penniless, unknown and critically ravaged, so be it. Que sera, sera. Or, whatever.

We Beat On

*Obviously both of these writers also had positive reviews in their lifetime, but they both managed to squander a lot of their critical goodwill by the time of their respective deaths.

            the road is life


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