Saturday, December 30, 2017

23--On The Borderline

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like had you been born in a different year?

I did not choose to be born in 1962, obviously. Despite popular new age thinking, nobody can actually "choose" their birth date any more than they can "choose" their parents. That is just more wishful thinking for people who have trouble with the idea of randomness. However, I often think that had I chosen the year of my birth, it would have been 1951. In choosing this year, I imagine certain charms about being raised in the 50's, well, as long as you were not a person of color, or gay, or a woman, or poor. But I could be mistaken, for I was not there. I just like how it seems that people conducted themselves with more decorum back then, at least in public if not in private. I suspect it would have been a good childhood at the least.

But childhood is not the primary reason I would choose to be born in 1951. I think that, throughout history, childhood has been a mixed bag of love and shit, regardless of the greater culture. The main draw would have been becoming a teenager in the mid to late 60's, arguably the most important time of cultural change in the last century. Imagine it: growing up during the emergence of rock and roll and the gradual shift from repression to expression. I think about being 16 years old and being shaped and shaken by songs from the likes of The Beatles, The Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, The 5th Dimension, The Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, The Monkees, and more. I knew songs from these artists during my time, but I was just a child then and they meant little to me other than being catchy and melodic (imagine ever taking catchy and melodic for granted--how I long for it in today's music!). But were I a teen when these songs were released, they would have shaped my development as a young adult in a way that diverged from what I had known.

The new expression of youth in the late 60's
In my alternative life I imagine leaving my parents' home and moving to New York or San Francisco in 1968 and emerging myself in the counterculture as a way to form my own identity apart from how I had been conditioned. I realize that even the counterculture was, or would shortly become, its own culture, but at the time it was a radical throw-off of traditional views, gender roles, and perspectives. It would only become a culture itself once it was discovered that money could be made from it, as the case was with the commercialization of Janis Joplin, with the record company pushing her to be a fashion icon and the voice of the hippies (this ultimately killed her far more than her drug use). In this timeline, I would have been able to avoid the draft and the Vietnam War, since they drew draft lotteries only on men born between 1944 and 1950. While the show China Beach has its charms, it does not make me nostalgic for that particular experience that I did not have.

Had all this happened, I would have eventually, say around 1972, begun to live my young adulthood in the singer-songwriter heaven that was the early 1970's (they say the 60's ended with the Manson killings in '69--party over!). Carole King, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Janis Ian, Dan Fogelberg, Neil Diamond, and more. And I would have hit my adulthood stride just as disco took over the late 70's--what a time that must have been! In reality, I was in my late teens back then, and though I was indeed a huge disco music fan, I was too young to get into anything other than the young adult disco in San Diego (Stratus was its name!). At least it had a lighted floor like the one in Saturday Night Fever, but I am sure it lacked the cocaine-fueled creative and sexual vibe of adult clubs in New York. Believe it or not, I did once get into Studio 54 before it stopped being a dance club in the mid-late 80's. I was visiting New York during a break from college. I remember standing in line and miraculously getting in, but beyond that my memory is vague. I just remember feeling that I had arrived, when in fact all I had really done was arrive.

I often wonder what my parents must have thought of the 60's and the 70's. Mom was born in '22 and Dad in '28, so their formative years occured during the late 30's and early 40's. What a shock the late 60's must have been to them! Or maybe not, now that I think about it. For most of the country it was actually "business as usual", with the hippie culture being isolated to small groups of youth in San Francisco. The counterculture was fringe enough that most folks just mildly adjusted their hairstyles and clothing, not their behavior, to keep up with the changing norms. But still, think of it! The fashion, the music, the sexual norms were quite different from what was happening in the 40's--I regret that I never asked them about this while they were alive. At the least it must have been awkward, at the most a relief.

What I find interesting about the time my parents came of age is that there did not seem to be a separate "youth culture" during those years. All the pictures from the 30's and 40's show young people dressing much like adults did at the time, or at least "adults in training". It seemed as though it was the opposite of today, where adults attempt to look like young people--back then everyone appeared to be anxious to grow up!

Teens in the 1940's
I found out that the word "teenager" was not even invented until 1941--it came to be as a result of the outlawing of child labor. Suddenly young people had a time when they could just be young before worrying about going to work and a new developmental category was created! But even still the new teenagers had not yet created a unique culture--they were mostly practicing to be grownup, albeit with a bit less sophistication and sex appeal.

That changed in the 60's, primarily due to involvement in music and politics--suddenly young folks had a voice that differentiated them from adults, and they developed a look that went along with that difference. Perhaps that is why it was business as usual for most adults--they were not part of the revolution. And as a child, neither was I.

Had I been born in 1951, well then it would have been a different story altogether. Even if I had been missed the draft, I would not have been out of hot water completely, as I would have most probably succumbed to the next deathtrap: AIDS. I surely would have enjoyed the sexual freedom and exploration of the late 70's and the hedonism and ecstasy of the disco age as an adult, but like many who were in their late 20's and early 30's during that time, I would have had a hard time avoiding the virus that affected so many who were part of that lifestyle. 

I was in my early 20's at the time, which probably is the reason I am still alive today--I was too young to have been exposed due to excessive sexual activity. By the time I had opportunities to have sex the rumors of "gay cancer" were already spreading, so I abstained completely from sex for a couple of years. I remember being terrified--this was a period when nobody knew how it was spread. By 1985 nobody (except the government) could deny that there was something seriously scary going on. AIDS cut the 80's in half the way that disco cut the 70's in half, though with far less celbration, obviously. At the time it felt like my adulthood was paused before it even got started.

Want to hear somthing controversial? Sometimes, when I am wistful, I imagine giving up my life in exchange for the "full experience" of the late 70's. But these are just the musings of someone who was not there, and someone who did not get sick, and someone who did not know many people who did get sick and die. There can be a sort of romanticism in nostalgia for what never was, and we are allowed to go wherever we want to go in our minds, but in the light of day I am grateful to have sidestepped that particular timetable, because at the very least I made it to the age of 23.

A pic from the weekend we met in 2015

I met K when he was 23, and I was 53. Through ups and downs, we have known each other for over two years now and have been officially dating for just over a year as of this writing. I did not want to date a man more than half my age, for a million reasons. But the one reason that applies to this essay is the cultural reason--too much happened in the 30 years between us--it can be quite difficult to share perspectives from one time to another.

As an example, K's 23rd year was nothing like mine. He was working toward an actual career, having already received a master's degree. He had been in one major relationship with another older man, but that did not end well. His sexual experience was fair, but limited, although he had already explored some "outer limits" of his sexuality. In contrast, in my 23rd year I was hoping to be a professional dancer, but I was working various shitty service jobs to pay the bills. It was 1985, a great year for music but a horrible one for sex, since AIDS was now a full blown nightmare in the gay world. Up until then I had a number of lovers and sexual experiences, starting from the age of 16. There is no way my "23" could be the same as K's. They were 30 years apart. But perhaps some bridges could be built.

Music can create such a bridge. In 1985, the year I turned 23, my favorite artist (along with nearly everybody else's) was Madonna. My favorite song of hers at that time was "Borderline" from her debut album. Though it was first released to the world in 1983, it was not until June of  '84 that the song showed up as a radio single. It was a smash, charting 30 weeks on the Billboard charts, and was so enduring that it actually delayed the release of her already finished second album (Like A Virgin). The song's massive success was greatly aided by the accompanying music video, which was directed by Mary Lambert, and shot in Los Angeles in early 1984. That video actually changed my life, as it was my first narrative visual exposure of Madonna, and it perfectly presented her as a fashion and lifestyle icon. It was set in the street and showed the multiracial scene she surrounded herself with, and her confidence and style was fully formed in a way that we all would strive to emulate. I had never seen anything like it before.

Besides being unnaturally photogenic, Madonna's video presence spoke to a part of me that was oddly familiar with the unfamiliar--do you know what I mean? Have you ever seen or heard something that is unknown, but feels known? Not as in a past life sort of thing, but as in "this has always been within me" sort of thing. "Borderline" awakened me, so to speak, both activating and displaying the attitude that I would adopt to get me through the second half of the 80's. The video showed me that, despite death (or perhaps because of it), life was all around the fringes of the street, and it's main fuel--love--would not be reduced or diminished. It showed me that I could be aggressive toward my fears; that I could chance taking huge bites out of life as long as I looked great while doing it. Fashion was the armor and style was the weapon against everything that scared us back then. It may sound silly, but most of us were quite literally grasping for something to hold us above water. Madonna's music and image gave us something to be excited about, and her brazen hipness prepared me for the upcoming years--years that would become even worse before they become better. We all were, without a doubt, on the borderline of something.

I watch the video today and I swear it does not look dated--she was that good (and Mary Lambert's directing instincts were spot on). Unlike many other artists of the time, Madonna didn't just wear the look, she was the look. I have tried to convey the importance of this song and video to K some 30-plus years after its moment, and I could tell that his listening was, well, more polite than convinced. They say that if you have not lived an specific experience, that you can grasp it intellectually, but not experiencially. I suppose that I wanted him to share my experience of the song, but that could never happen. The time of my experience of it has long passed, but remains fresh in my memory. I wonder if I would react to the song the same way were it released today? I do think it is a well written song, but I am too attached to it to truly be objective.

Weeks later, K came to me and told me that he finally "got" why I loved it so much. He had listened to it enough that he got pulled into his own experience of the song, 33 years after the world first heard it. A bridge had been built.

Me in the mid-80's with "Randy". Check out the 'stache!
In the British science fiction series "Black Mirror", there is an episode in Season 3 called "San Junipero". (K actually shared this episode with me, and I am very glad he did because it generated a lot of thought.) I will not spoil it for you if you have not seen it, but the basic story is set in a a fictional 1987, where two elderly and ill women are able to meet and virtually "be young again" via advanced technology. The show, beyond being well written and acted, reminds me of why I have nostalgia for the 80's. If you were young in the 80's, you cannot pretend that you are still young anymore. The women in the episode are artificially inserted back into their youth, it is the only way they can act on what they are thinking. But that technology is fictional--this could not really happen. For me, I cannot revisit the way I looked and acted in the 80's, at least not without looking like a grand fool. I cannot act as though nothing has changed. Everything has changed. It was a period that does not translate into older age, therefore it is a period that will forever be trapped by within its own timeline. Perhaps that is why Madonna ditched the hair rags and rubber bracelets only two years into her career--she knew it would not last and wanted to move on ahead of the others.

K is 26 as of this writing. He is still fully in the midst of his youth. The experience of a 55 year-old with a 26 year-old is far different than the experience of a 26 year-old with a 55 year-old. At times I would try to explain to him that he could not know what it was like to be my age--that it was more than what his fantasies told him, that it also involves some aches and sagging muscles and lost erections on occasion. Not very sexy at all, perhaps. He gets me to rally around his youthful interests once in a while--I had a blast at a Kesha concert that I never would have attended on my own. But what finally worked in getting him to understand who I am now was helping him to understand who I was. This is why it was so important for him to "get" the significance of the "Borderline" song. That song tells him more about my experience in the 80's than any verbal discussion. How does it do this? It conveys the mood of the time. It is experiential. He was able to feel the time, as much as he possibly could without having lived through it.

Love can be a tricky thing. Being in love, a phrase I am not fond of, is usually about who we want the other to be. Loving someone, as I like to think, is about who the other is now, who they used to be, and who we help them to become in the future. Much more interesting to me! Meeting me when I was 53, over halfway through my life, meant that K had a lot more understanding of me to do than I had to of him. It must be difficult to join someone after they had already lived most of their life. But by exploring who I was in my 20's in the 80's, he has been able to catch up a bit. Thanks, Madonna.

I cannot ever be 23 again. That time is permanently a part of my past--it is a part of many peoples' past, and it is lovely to think about on hot summer nights. During these moments, the melancholy sadness of spent youth is replaced by the golden warmth of memory. And memory can be a wonderful filter to look through. I can walk across the bridge made of shared musical experience to join closer with my young boyfriend--not to join him in youth, but in a mid-ground where we both feel ageless for a bit, at least until we cross back over the borderline.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Personal Is Political, Unlike Coq Au Vin

"The Personal Is Political" is not my turn of phrase. I borrow it respectfully from the Women's Liberation Movement of the 60's, as it was first brought up in a paper by Carol Hanisch. You can read the paper, and her explanatory introduction, HERE. Please enjoy my first and possibly only post from 2017,,,

As I write this essay, I have Coq Au Vin cooking in the crockpot for a dinner I am sharing with a friend tonight. Have you ever made anything in a crockpot? If you have, then you have noticed how the smell of the cooking food infuses every space in your home. I can assure you that this is the case in my home at this moment. The recipe that I am making makes use of packaged beefy onion soup mix as a "cheat" step, but the finished product tastes the opposite of a short cut! Nevertheless, the apartment smells as though I am brewing a cauldron of onion soup. The beefy kind.

I want you to also get a visual sense of what is going on. My apartment is in the front of the building, and the patio door faces west toward the setting sun (in the evening, of course). My front door is opposite the patio door, but facing south, and opening into the drive that separates the two buildings of the complex. Here in Los Angeles, the wind mostly blows from "off-shore", meaning that it blows in from the ocean from west to east. Because of this, I often get a good breeze blowing through my place from the patio door toward the front door. If I have both of these doors open, the smells from whatever I am cooking waft into the drive, and every tenant with a nose is made aware of what is happening in my kitchen.

Fortunately for me, this phenomena has resulted in more mouths-watering than scrunched-noses, if I am to believe the reports. Were I to prepare a dish that was not favorable to a particular tenant, I would assume that I would receive more of the latter than the former, as tenants in this building are not shy about sharing their discomforts with me.

I sometimes feel as though my ways of thinking are similar to a slow-cooking pot of Coq Au Vin, with the significant difference being that my thinking, when expressed, gets more scrunched noses than watering mouths. I tend to be a private person, meaning that I like to keep the "doors" of my thoughts closed to most. Even my essays are more about "themes" than my life in particular. But over time I have come to accept that thoughts, like smells, often travel underneath, around, and through closed doors to the public space beyond the private.

What I mean to say is that, like it or not, I am a political person by the very nature of how I think, move, and live in the world. The very act of holding a man's hand in public or not saying "amen" during a church funeral or wedding service are choices that, despite discretion, get noticed by others. And this noticing then influences how others respond to me, even if all they know about me is what they gather from the observed act. And the reason that the act gets noticed at all is merely because it is often not what most people do. That makes it political.

What happens when we see, hear, read, smell, or taste something that is not immediately familiar or within what we know? Do our mouths water, or do our noses scrunch up? We all know the answer to that one, I suspect. My best friend and I are true foodies, and there have been many times when I have found myself in a restaurant with him where he will ask me to taste something I have never had before. In these cases, one of two outcomes happens: either I blind-taste the item and give my system a shock of unfamiliarity; or he will tell me what the item is "similar to", priming me to expect a flavor/sensation that I am acquainted with. Whether he primes me or not, I generally have more mouth-watering experiences in these cases for the simple fact that we tend to dine in good restaurants.

But what about when people are not primed?

Atheism is one of those ways of thinking that people are, more often than not, not primed for. In 2017, fewer and fewer folks are scrunching up their noses at, say, homosexuality, or transgender people. We see them on TV, and sometimes even in our families. We hear about them in the news and read about them in the magazines (does anyone read magazines anymore?). But atheism is still relatively in the closet, meaning that the darkness prevents clear viewing, or even simple acknowledgement at times. I have no doubt that the U.S. would more readily elect a gay or lesbian president before they would elect an atheist one, and if ever a gay or lesbian atheist were elected, I would fully prepare for the pitchforks to come out. In the same way that homosexuality used to be linked with perversion, atheism is often associated with not having a moral compass. The idea of a man loving a man is easier for America to digest than the idea of a man not loving god.

Just because you don't understand something does not mean that it is okay to judge it. How many times do I say this to the couples who come to my psychotherapy practice for help?

Let me clarify that I am commenting on the issue rather than complaining about it. I have nothing to complain about! As a cis-gender, white, masculine, tall bio-male, I pretty much have the world at my fingertips. My oddities are not in plain sight, unless you are paying very close attention (it never happens!), so I suffer very little compared to most. Additionally, my atheism is a choice, whereas my attraction to men is not. But regardless of a feature being from nature or choice, I notice that only those on the "shortlist" get a free pass.

What is on the shortlist?
-being heterosexual
-being and/or looking male
-being and/or looking masculine
-being and/or looking white
-being Christian or a variation of that (preferably)
-believing in God, not just a god
-being cis-gender

What is not on the short list?
-being gay, lesbian, bi, asexual, or any variation that is not straight
-being agender or non-binary
-being of color, particularly if you are "dark"
-being trans
-being genderqueer
-being Muslim
-being atheist

Notice that the last two on the list are choices, but often identify a large part of a person's identity.

For this essay, I am focusing on being gay and the choice to be an atheist, but only as the context from which to present a perspective on how who we are and what we do often becomes political, whether we want it to or not. Besides, it is what I know, so I stand a greater chance of being nearly right. And I like being right.

What does it mean for the personal to be political?

I did not know myself until my personal actually became political. How did I know that this was happening? Well, people started being upset with what I did, who I was, what I said, and how I said it. I know that happens to everybody some of the time (and perhaps some of the people all of the time), but the difference between regular upset and when the personal gets political is that with the latter the upset is really upset! When others would get upset with me for how I said something, I take full responsibility for that. I readily admit that my "how" needed working on over the years, but that was the pendulum swinging from zero to full speed.

Initially, politicization began because I was "sensitive" as a boy (not allowed!), or so I was told again and again, and as I got older it showed up when others found out, or suspected, that I was gay. I remember one time as an adult when I was in Hollywood with a guy I was dating, chatting and saying goodbye in front of his building at the end of a date night. We were leaning into each, but not making out, just showing the kind of close physical contact any couple who were dating might do at the end of the night. Suddenly, some guy on the sidewalk yelled at us, "Oh my fucking god, are you two faggots?" At first I thought it had to be a friend of ours, making fun of us in the way that gays sometimes do, but then it continued. "Are you guys kissing? I think I am gonna be sick! Do you like suck dick and fuck ass too? That's fucking disgusting!"

Now, this was Hollywood in the early 2000's. Not exactly the place where one would expect intolerance and hatred to show up. I looked at the guy, who was walking his dog with his girlfriend, and I replied with the first thing I noticed about him that I could attack. "Well, I may by gay, but at least I am not fat."

Dear readers, I want you to know that the thing about a good retort is that it not only hits the target, it obliterates it. I caution you to not go after any seasoned homosexual, because in all likelihood he will obliterate you with his retort. (Sorry, lesbians, you do not generally have this particular skill--but don't worry, you have other gifts.) This skill is not about being being queeny. This is about attack, and knowing, from years of observation, what people's weak spots are. Do not underestimate this ability, or you will likely perish under its effect. 

When I called the guy fat, you should have seen his face. He has just verbally attacked me and my date with a vulgar, homophobic outburst that was not provoked by anything other than two gay men "being gay men". But once I called him fat, he acted as though a line had been crossed. He approached me with hatred in his eyes and all of a sudden I realized that I might have to defend myself. Fortunately, I continued my rant toward him, and I am not a small person, and the opposite of fat, so he stopped short, perhaps renegotiating his chances of success in a confrontation. I do not know if I would have beat him up, but I do know that some of the things I said to him hit like a punch. I do know that I was ready to protect myself and my guy.

Fortunately, I did not have to. My date recognized the attacker as a tenant of the building they both live in, and he warned him that he intended to report this to the manager, a gay man who had zero tolerance for homophobic behavior. The guy backed off, but the damage was done. My date and I were both shaken, and the "shame" of being gay, reinforced by the verbal attack, forced a wedge between us. Who wants to be with the enemy?

Growing up, my family celebrated all holidays together, as most families did until, I don't know, they didn't. When I became an adult and moved out of the house, I felt there was an expectation that I would continue to celebrate holidays at home, and I did in fact do this at the beginning. My mother, as I have described in earlier essays, relied on homemade dishes as much as she did canned items, so our holiday celebrations were a mix of cooked meats, homemade gravies, cooked frozen or canned veggies, and store bought rolls. My mother was, truth be told, really good at warming things up for dinner, but that was par for the course in the late 60's and early 70's. Frozen Dinner Night was considered a special treat--so that should give you an idea of the times.

As an adult, I sensed a shift in the family dynamic, but I also recognized that I seemed to be the only one willing to admit that things were changing. I was also aware of the differences in how my brother and I were treated regarding our dating lives. The personal became political when I dared to comment on this difference, which consisted of pointing out that his girlfriend was granted validity by the family, while the anyone I was dating was treated like an "imaginary friend". Not real. My love life, which I was expressing in the only way that was natural to me, was not considered "real", while my brother could fuck whomever he wanted and reward her with a prime seat at our holiday table.

The personal had become political in my family, and I spoke up about it, as anyone would, but was immediately reprimanded for being selfish, needy, and inconsiderate of "other's" needs. Didn't I see how hard my mother had worked to make dinner? (May I remind you that she mostly warmed things up?) Why did I have to turn everything into a gay thing? Why was I causing trouble? Why couldn't I just stay quiet? I thought I was just talking about how I felt, I didn't feel like I was being political. But this is the point. For those for whom their personal is political, that label is provided by others.

Now just to show you that I can see both sides, I will admit that I was not the only one in the family whose personal was political. My mother was a woman who had been divorced three times before she met my father--not acceptable in those days! And my father was a dark-skinned Mexican man who married a white woman in the late 50's--enough said about that! But my parents differed from me in one aspect: they did not embrace the political nature of their choices, they ignored it. I, on the other hand, could not ignore it, primarily because I was not allowed to do so, and secondarily because the source of my political nature was not a choice. The world reminded me, on a daily basis, that who I was and what I chose to do about it was unacceptable. And because I could not pretend that this was not happening, I pushed back. I became political.

Pushback has an iffy chance of being successful, but then that also depends on what it is you plan to be successful about. In my case, pushback succeeded in making my family upset with me, and it succeeded in my feeling even less understood than before, but more justified in my loudness. On a deeper level, though, let's face it--pushback rarely works. This is because it is an effect of marginalization rather than a solution to it. In other words, it is still part of the problem! The only time it actually changes things is when it is done in a way that cannot be ignored: the early actions of ACT UP during the AIDS crisis; the Occupy Wallstreet movement (at least until it became just another reason to hang out and get stoned); the initial thrust of the Black Lives Matter movement. These examples of pushback were so loud that they resulted in change--for a while.

And yet what other choice does one have when their personal becomes political? Well, the approach that I am currently experimenting with, somewhat successfully, is just to "live my life, being me". While this might not strike you as revolutionary, I have noticed that I am able to be an agent of change on the micro level rather than the macro, and that this change--one person at a time--is not only longer lasting, but also willingly undertaken by the other instead of forced. Change is happening because I am giving others an experience of being myself, a political person, without shame and without agenda. The ones that notice this have an opportunity to be influenced by it for the better. This is why my current approach is not part of the problem, but a solution. So far, so good.

It works with most. But there are some in my life where the political has outweighed the personal. Not surprisingly, those I am referring to all happen to be family. Ah, family--what to make of it? We are thrown into the mix with these people without a say in the process, at least until we become adults and have say. In my case, that say has resulted in me not talking to my brother in 3 years, one of my nieces for the same amount of time, and one of my female cousins. The crime? Being political. But truth be told, there is more to it than that. I really don't like any of these aforementioned relatives. I have, in the past, but I don't like who they are now, and I don't suppose that they are that fond of me either. However, in my defense, I was at a disadvantage from the start due to my being political in ways that "bother" them. At some point, ya gotta make a choice, folks. And I chose to be responsive to what I was feeling. I have no regrets. I wonder if they do?

 Coq Au Vin is not the only dish I make in my crockpot, but it is one of my favorites for the simple reason that it is ridiculously easy and crazy delicious. Isn't that the point of crockpots, to make life easier? When I make this dish with the packaged beefy onion soup, I realize that I am taking a shortcut that, most likely, will not be noticed by those who share the meal with me. What they don't know won't hurt them.

I have not yet found any similar shortcuts when it comes to being an authentic human being. In my experience, this process has to be done the hard way, because authenticity is not a given in modern culture and is often chosen in response to feeling the effects of its opposite. As much as I dislike the people who have made my personal political (and the cultural narratives that create the divide in the first place), I also must be grateful for the push this gave me toward my own authentic expression of self. Meaning, I am not interested in hiding what makes me political anymore. I don't pursue provocation (much), I just live my life as I am, and that, some might say, is the most political of all actions. Those who still find me to be political are, I suspect, not only living their own lives, but also the lives of others. Otherwise, my personal would remain personal. This intrusion on their part is controllable, unlike the scents from my slow-cooker Coq Au Vin. How I wish that others could live their lives as tempting invitations, like the scent from my cooking, instead of as unwelcome intrusions, like the actions of my brother, niece, and cousin. When this happens, their political becomes personal for me.

But as they say, it's no skin off my ass. I have a full time job assessing my personal without worrying too much about another's political. But this is also a tightrope walk, as the political is becoming more dangerous in recent months. I am beginning to suspect that my responsibility is greater than just living my life, but the form of that responsibility is vaguer than the urgency to figure it out. I tend to prefer changing systems instead of individuals, as there is a greater chance of success with systems at times since individuals need to affect change on themselves. But both are valid. In the case of my brother, niece, and cousin, I think we consider the other to be a lost cause, so I long ago shifted my focus from individual change to the deconstruction of religious brainwashing, racial separation, gender inequality, climate change denying, and homophobia in all its forms. Perhaps I am being petty, but you can't say I ever denied being human. I admit to holding grudges where they are earned, but I let them motivate rather than stagnate. Can you blame me? My personal is political.