The Hoarding of the American Dream

We hoard people.Closet our elderly in nursing homes, minorities to the other side of the tracks, the working poor to apartment complexes. We box them up nice and pretty and say, this is your place, and if you don’t like it, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and solve your problems, but in the meantime, we’ll embroil and entangle your life in a social welfare system that won’t allow for you to buy the boots.

I am not a rich man, I live paycheck to paycheck, in an older middle class neighbor comprised of repetitive ramblers in a small town along the Mississippi. It’s kind of a bucolic life, peaceful and quiet, lights go out at 10, everyone works for a living. There are no minorities in my neighborhood, they’re relegated to the older homes, the ones with clapboard siding and showing their age. The poor are congregated in conglomerations of apartment complexes where drugs are dealt with occasional gun play. We have several retirement communities, well kept, maintained and full of the elderly who slip, fall, mandating a visit from someone who cares, if they have that someone.

The larger city across the Ol Miss ain’t any different, just on a larger scale.

Twenty some years ago, we lived in an apartment. With 3 little boys! That was a trip. Across the hall, a young banker and his schoolteacher wife. Down the hall, an auto mechanic with his family. All working to climb the ladder known as the American dream. Most of us succeeded for the most part. We still have Apartment complexes like that, and they even have minorities, people of color, living in them. Unfortunately, we also have complexes where drugs rampage through the occupants lives, where police calls are daily occurrences and the truth is, those people will only move from one complex to another. That is their life. There’s way too many of them. They are essentially a prison without escape.

At face value, retirement communities, nursing homes and independent living facilities are good ideas, good ideas where we relegate their care to strangers making minimum wage. The cost is outrageous, and for most, any assets they have are gone in a matter of months. My mothers rent is raised annually, can barely afford the home healthcare she needs, and she’s charged incessant fees for a toilet overflowing, a smoke alarm going off, or losing her keys, or a parking space, or a garage. It’s not that families don’t care, it’s that we don’t really have much of a choice, our hands our tied. We do the best we can.

I don’t have the answers, I don’t know if there are better choices out there. But I do know this, we segregate people in this country. We worry if an African American buys the house next door, the value of my house will go down, if a poor family moves in down the street, the neighborhood will degenerate.  And we don’t have the time, the money, the space, the emotional responsibility to take our elderly parents into our homes.

It just strikes me as wrong.

60

I lay flat on my back in some old pasture splotched with brown grass, a cows head is hung nearby, nibbling, and I’m watching a single, insignificant puff of a cloud wander about a lazy blue sky. Like smoke, the clouds journey is buffeted by the wind. East, West, North or South, the destination is the same, dissipation. A return to oblivion to begin anew.

Even the cow has similarities.

I smile with the thought, the irony. Of a cloud, a cow and a human, the path remains the same.

My hands are folded across my chest, a mosquito lights on a forearm, and begins to feast. I let it. Not because I don’t care, not because I’m not irritated, but because for this moment in time, I think it’s the right thing to do. To give sustenance to some lesser being derived from my personal suffering.

Gorged, full, filled, fat, the insect whines and buzzes off, probably toward the cow, I think. A bloodsucker is never satisfied.

I do not know how I came to be here. There was no direction, no manual, so signage along any path I ever traveled, so I stumbled, missed a turn here and there, wandered from time to time, to end up here. I have regrets, unlike the cow, although the cow may disagree. I wouldn’t know. Regrets only because nothing is preordained, no path laid out in stone. If life was concise, an arrow bent against this blue sky, I would have no regrets. I would not know the meaning of the word.

My thought is interrupted by the cow. A loud, lingering single word sound of base, tone, and reverberation. Perhaps the cow is talking to me, and I smile as I wonder what that damn animal would say. There would be no commonality, no foundation for words to speak with each other. Then I ponder, the cow might be the smart one.

I have never been the smart one. I think back to the desert, the jungle, the firepit, and ask if they were, indeed signs along my path, but settle upon acknowledgement they were nothing more than the mosquito, an intrusion. Intrusions, I perhaps, allowed. And if they were by chance, guideposts, they were as human signage often is, vague, offbeat and of little value. The map I’ve been looking for was bigger, laid out in the heavens, written by the hand of God. Intelligence is the ability to quiet the confusion, to discern the word of God from the voice of man. Perhaps it is the breath of the almighty that drives the cloud, than the cloud has no choice. The cloud has no choice, regardless.

My life has always been the world. That is what has meaning. What lies beyond the boundaries of my sphere is of little consequence, and lesser meaning. I have always explored my world. Turned every rock, listened to every bird song, sought answers to unknowable questions, and now I find myself wondering if those answers are to be found beyond the borders of my own private universe. As vast as my existence is, here in a field with a cloud, a cow and a bellicose bloodsucker, might there be more?

I do not want to grow old. I’m not afraid to grow old.

I’m afraid of not being able to take another walk down some ill-defined path, of passing through the door without the right answers, without the knowledge that allows that entrance to call out to me asking for my tome, to verify my life.

Is that what life is? To find meaning? To have meaning? To be able to claim when the far world reaches out, I have answers. I have knowledge. But what knowledge could I possess on my death, that old friends would care to hear? None, I suspect.

There is, I think, a larger question. I do not follow it, I don’t like the thread, the texture of the thought. For one who lies in a field with questionable associates, the question is sour. If I am that guide, that marker along your way, I have failed miserably. The cow wanders off without discourse, the cloud dissipates without direction, and the bloodsucker is justly swatted.

Surviving Trump

Christ, am I ever going to get a break from this imbecilic bully? Are any of us ever going to find our sanity again?

I’m tired of the 24/7 next level bullshit. Did I say next level? Hell, he’s skipped the next dozen rungs of the ladder and taken it to never before seen heights. Yea, we can point our fingers at the media, but the medias just taking his bullshit and fertilizing the America soil. I’m tired of it! I’m tired of Trump, and I just wish he’d go away, someplace where fire bakes brimstone.

Getting up in the morning, coffee in hand, reading the news is like standing in a shitstorm, mouth hung open, facing the wind. There’s no other way to say it.

For eight years I listened as Republicans fertilized our soil, spreading lie after lie about Obama. That was palpable, but I could deal with it, I knew what was going on. I guess in a way, they laid the foundation for Trump, and their refusal to recognize that adds to my Trumpfatigitis, cuz I know they could do something about it, but won’t, and it ain’t because they’re tired of slinging shit. Personally, I think Republicans are liking the show, revealing in it. They’re used to it, they spent so much time in the pigpen, it’s all they know. Shit!

I really don’t know if I can take another 7.5 years of this. That’s a lifetime, ‘specially for a geezer like me. Being old accounts for a lot of aches and pains, and I’ve rode a wild bike down the road of life, but I don’t deserve this shitstorm, nobody in this Nation does. Hell, nobody ever in existence does. Trump has taken my old mans pain and just beat me down, to the point where I’m like living in an alternate reality, where nothing is real. Living in a Salvador Dali world would be a blessing compared to this.

I don’t relish waking up every morning for the next seven plus years, and getting a mouthfull of shit. I got other things to do. Grandbabies in Hungary, an elderly mother, summertime firepits, tequila, YouTube videos, a little website. Christ, I skype with my son, it’s about Trump. I visit my mom, it’s about Trump. I set around my firepit with Friends, it’s about Trump. I do a vlog, and Trump has to show up. I drink tequila by the shotglass because of Trump. Shot after shot till I’m finally wandering about a Dali landscape, rejoicing in my escape.

And then I wake up to the shitstorm. Mouth agape, foul taste, and I’m just so fucking numb from it all. I’s only 9am, and I do a shot. And another. Now I’m ready for this alternative Universe.

I’d also bet what years I got left in this world, that I’m not fucking alone.

And don’t forget to stop by my website, robpaxton.me

 

Life Got you Down?

I want you to know, I understand. Your backs up against the wall, there’s no where to turn, no one to ask for help, you’re stressed to the max, and you don’t have an answer. You flutter into a restless sleep, and when you dream, your stress makes them weird. You’re days are spent praying to God for an answer that never seems to come. Personal relationships, work, financials, or all three, sometimes life just dumps on you. There are times you see it coming from a mile away and just refuse to believe it and when it impacts, you’re still bewildered, stunned by the gale force. There are times too, when you are unable to see that gale force  coming and when it hits, it changes everything in a passing, remarkable and memorable second, often in the most tragic of circumstance.

As if life’s demon has his foot in the small of your back, grinding your face into the dirt, and to make it worse, he’s laughing at you. You spend your days on the edge of tears and you begin to question, everything. You wonder what’s wrong with you, question where your friends are, and more than anything else, you wonder what the point is, of anything. Your favorite refrain is now, ‘why me?’.

There comes that time in all our lives where the pain and suffering seems overwhelming to overcome, you’re just too tired to fight, much less to stand, if not outwardly, certainly inwardly. Your soul aches behind every smile, wondering why you’re even bothering to force a smile.

Like I said, I understand!

Here’s a bigger revelation. Most people will understand, most have been there to some degree or another, and survived. In it’s way, suffrage and troubled waters go hand in hand as a rite of human passage. None of this makes it any easier for you, or anyone to bear their burden. It makes for us an easier way by our experience, to understand, but that doesn’t necessarily calm your waters.

There are things you can do. I’m not a self hep guru, a therapist. and some will say I’m the last person alive to give advice to anyone, and they might be right. But I do have experience in surviving my own personal ocean of troubled waters.

First and foremost, know that life is walked on a thin line between sorrow and happiness, that everyone walks in one direction today and the opposite direction tomorrow, all to different degrees. There’s a huge amount of truth that we are more alike than not. The biggest difference between you and I? How we look at things, our perception. That perception is based on genetics, our current environment, our education, our ego, self esteem and a lot of other factors.

The takeaway, perception can be changed. Some change their perception of the world around them by finding God or engaging in professional help. Some merely through friends or through books, some by grit and determination. Changing perspective on the world, in your life isn’t that hard once you decide to change it. Deciding to change is the hard part. People will argue that the decision is the easiest part, but ask yourself this, if you can’t follow through on a decision you’ve made, are you really committed to that decision?

But what the hell is perception? Well here’s a surprise. It’s not how you view the world and your life, perception is who you are as a person. So if you want to start walking a bit more on that thin line in the direction of happiness, it starts with you.

Start with that recognition, own the troubled ocean you’re drowning in. Once you own that perception, you can mold it by writing about it, by talking to others, by research, by sharing. By even, OMG, by asking for help. Asking for help and understanding can be humiliating, I get that, but what you’re not getting, is that asking for help, asking for a friend to listen, can be one of the most rewarding human experiences in the entire catalog of human experiences. It can be, and often is, the first step in an experience that is transformational.

It ain’t easy, it never is, and like I said, I understand.

Than again, maybe I don’t know nothing and I oughta just slap a piece of duct tape over my big mouth.

A Path Forward

Minnesota has a unique political history with the Democratic party. While many Democrats in Minnesota identify with Democrats, we’re known as the DFL. I grew up believing the principals of the Democrat Farmer Labor party, I still do.

In the early 1920s, the Farmer Labor movement became a powerful political force earning State legislative victories over Democrats and Republicans with their simple message. ‘Agrarian reform, protection of farmers and unions, public ownership of our natural resources, utilities, railroads and a belief in social security legislation’.

Ideals that benefited people’s lives. Ideologies that common folk could understand.

Not only was the Farmer-labor party successful in Minnesota’s legislative seats, from 1921 to 1944 this party elected 3 Governors, 4 United States Senators, and eight United States Representatives.

In 1944, with Hubert Humphry being instrumental, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor party merged with the Democratic party becoming the Democratic Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota.

Today’s Republican party have all but merged with the Tea Party, Libertarians, the Alt-right, and far right Evangelicals giving them a powerful, political voice that drowns out Democrats, Progressives and Liberals.

There’s a history lesson here, and we should learn from it.

Democrats should ask themselves, ‘Why are people who hold our values, our belief in unions, in our environment, in social justice, turning from us, and seeking representation in third parties such as the Progressives, the Green Party, the Independence party, and even Libertarians?’.

We should ask also ‘Why does America have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any modern nation?’.

I don’t have to parse the questions into a thousand data points to find the answer. It’s there, clear, concise.

People don’t vote, simply because there’s nothing to vote for. Nothing new, nothing challenging, nothing that speaks to their future. Not because they don’t care, not because they’re lazy, but because they have heard it all before, with no real-world results.

The Progressive party will continue to grow, as will the Green party, the Constitutional party, the many state Independent parties. So will the Tea Party in some form and fashion, and the Libertarian party, and as they grow, the Republican Party will grow, and become much more of a force than they are now.

At face value, the Democratic Party will claim that they echo the voice of Progressives, that they believe in public ownership of our natural resources, that the Party believes in our labor force, that corporations have grown too large, their influence too great, but if that were all true, Bernie Sanders would have been our nominee.

And here’s the rub, rank and file Democrats, believe in all those things. People in general believe all these issues. Yet, half our nation will not vote.

For the Democratic Party to become sustainable, they must do more than echo repeatedly their concern for issues. They must reach out to people with third party affiliations, bring them into leadership positions, incorporate some of their platforms into theirs, cut ties with corporate donors that contribute to both political parties, and they must learn how to message their belief systems beyond simply attacking Republicans.

While we live in a different world than those of the 1920s and the Farmer-Labor party, some things don’t change. The need to change, the ability to change, the desire to change are always with us.

Politics are, after all, always rooted in being local.

www.robpaxton.me

Along a Rural Road

I was driving back from Duluth yesterday, late afternoon. The sky was blue, the rural two lane lined with burgeoning shades of spring green. Small farming communities came and went faster than the elderly old farmer who I was stuck behind, and couldn’t safely pass. I grumbled at the slow pace, deciding I needed a break, and gas. Like any farming community, the next gas station was there, right along side the road, the pumps standing isolated not in pavement, but dry, dusty gravel that my explorer crunched and crushed over, rolling to a stop shrouded in dust.

The convenience store was small, old, and as I walked in there was a group of young adults, farm kids, gathered around the front counter, talking with the tall women who was taking their money. I made my way to the bathroom, and by the time I walked up to the counter, the kids were gone, the store was empty. I gave her my credit card, and while it seemed like an eternity to verify the card, I didn’t mind, I had a nice conversation with a delightful Indian women.

Not a Minnesota Indian. A women from India. East India.

In the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. In the middle of white, Lutheran, Christian, German, Scandinavian farmland.

I do not know this woman’s life story, don’t know if she owned the store.

I do know this, her presence in that small town store exemplifies what America is all about. What we are capable of as a people, as a nation. I love diversity, I love the fact that diversity is creeping into our smaller communities. And it’s a creeping feeling that some people don’t like, the kind of person who hasn’t ventured far outside their own state, much less county. The kind of person who probably has a twenty some year relationship with their bar stool. Might be I’m being somewhat obnoxiously judgmental about some folk, but the thing is, that’s been my experience.

Not a lot of things piss me off, but ignorance shaded in stupefying knowledge usually sets me down the path of obnoxious judgement. The kind of ignorance where a stool sitting, beer drinking man shrouds his ignorance in world affairs and cultures, with knowledge gained from today’s media. The kind of ignorance with out thought, without experience, that leads to some universal knowledge about the world far removed form where they sit. They have become experts in the world, because they have been told about the world. Never studied it, never experienced it, never thought more than half past the news, about the rest of the world, but they are a god given expert about the world.

And that’s why I love America. As ignorant as we can be, as self centered and isolated in our thinking, our humanity, our tolerance nullifies all that. With every Indian woman that works in some dusty rural gas station, change happens. She changes us, she makes us better. Better people, a better country.

 

 

 

A Common Man

common-manThere was a time when I thought I would change the world. Not could, but would, as in that was my sole purpose for being born. For a very long time, I believed in destiny, in fate, in God and in myself. So much so, I thought myself somewhat special. Not special in the sense that I was better, but special in that I had a specific job to do. Specific and special, assigned by God (or perhaps by aliens but that’s a different story) to make the world a better place.

I’ve always had a personal view of how the world should be laid out, along political, social, cultural and religious veins and the relationship of each, to the other, and to the body. Always thought my ideas were somewhat solid, even if they were somewhat simplistic but I think it’s a fair and substantive question to ask if a Nation should seek respect before power, if belief proceeds needs and determines ritual, if education enhances compassion, and in what way?

30 years ago, I really believed that by the time I was in my fifties, we’d have a moon base, moved on to Mars, beaten back poverty, experience the beginnings of a spiritual awakening as well making inroads into prejudice.

I guess I kind of figured the human race didn’t need my input. That you’d all be alright, that you’d get to where you need to be with out my help. I kind of haven’t worried about humanity for the last 30 years as I went about raising my kids, working and having fun but a funny thing happened the other
day.

I woke up!

I realized I really don’t like the world we’ve made for ourselves simply because I know we can do better, a hell of a lot better. Thing is, I’m a dreamer, and I do happen to believe that dreams do come true, but I’m also smart enough to understand, that they don’t come true without hard work, sweat, hard faith and diligence.

Maybe my destiny is still in play? May be, that I’m not a common man?

And You?

Reflections in a Decision

If I’m asked to define my character, who I am in one word, I’d use the word reflective. I like to think, I like to ponder. Now, before you assign a cool thought to that, being reflective has it’s drawbacks. Sometimes, I find it hard to let things go. Some things harder than others. The things that are hard, are those that I am passionate about, those things that I care deeply about. It also has been my experience that these are things I have little or no control over. The solution is, I write. That’s how I
exert control or at least, I’m able to say, I’ve done what I can. Often, it’s not enough.

The thing is, thats life. You don’t have a say in everything but every once in a while you have a responsibility to say something,  about something and when that time comes, you need to do so or flounder in your nights sleep wishing you had. Before doing so can create many a sleepless night, should I say something, or remain silent? As your wife stares at you between pillows, and tells you to let it go.

I’ve been down that road, and it kills you. I learned to solve it by making a quick decision, accepting the decision, admitting it if it was the wrong decision, and moving on. Not complicated.

The single reason you lose sleep over a decision is simple this. Fear! You worry how that decision will be perceived? Fear based in lack of self confidence.

Before you formulate any understanding of what I just said, think about that self confidence thing for a bit? What do you think I mean by that? Being self confidant isn’t about being in’ your face Bitch, I ain’t never wrong’. It’s about being confident to being wrong and correcting your mistakes.

If you can’t understand that your decisions have implications beyond your life, and that if your decisions impact others in a negative fashion, it’s probably the wrong decision. Not always, but usually. The question you should always ask, ‘Does my decision benefit a thing or a person?

If you find yourself defending a lot of your decisions, you might want to start thinking about how you make decisions. I get it, in the corporate world, your decisions have to benefit the corporation, but benefiting the corporation should be benefiting  those who work for the corporation. Unfortunately, that’s a by gone thought.

Truth is, most decisions you make are based on how you will be viewed. Please, don’t argue! It’s simply true of 99.9 percent of you. Make the safe choice, the easy road out. You make the choices your boss and your friends expect you to make and you are, for the most part, fine with that.

The problem is, it’s usually the wrong choice. Some of you who lose sleep over the problem, well, there’s still hope for you. Most of you just make the decision and nod off to sleep, thinking you’ve done a good and honorable thing, pleasing your friends and your boss. What you’ve really done is maintain the status quo, and failed to grow as a human being.

There are a lot of routine, day to day, minute to minute decisions we all make. In our professional lives as well in our personal spheres. Most of them require little thought, many are redundant. But there are many that create heartache for yourself and others, and those require reflection. More so, they require the ability to be able to think them through. Doing so without prejudice requires a bit more than just thinking about them. They require reflection.

 

Police Town, USA

I believe the only way to begin this piece is with a disclaimer. I live in a small town,  a bedroom community of St. Cloud that has a population of some 50,000 people. The Mississippi is what sepposter1arates us for the most part. Here on my side of the river, there’s a small town feel where everyone knows you and your neighbor. You lose that the minute you cross one of the four  bridges. Here in Sauk Rapids, I’ve met several of the police officers, worked with one, even consider Troy a friend.

Going back a bit further, as a young stud in the mind blowing sixties and seventies, I was influenced, and influenced deeply by the mantra that cops were pigs. I believed that  based on my experience growing up in Brainerd. Some of the officers back in the day  hated us, and by us, I mean anyone that was 18 or younger. Some of the names are remembered with vile. I remember my sister, a Jesus freak at the time, being taken down to the ground for no reason other than walking across a park. I, myself was harassed, arrested and charged several times on bullshit. As the years passed, one of the most hateful, ended up paying a high price for his behavior and another simply grew up, to the point where ten years after the fact, we were able to talk like sensible adults (and yes, I grew up as well).

Today, I have nothing but respect for our police officers. They put up with shit that I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. They are way underpaid, always under public scrutiny and always second guessed and 99.5 percent of them are decent people. Hardworking, with families, like you, like me.

But something is wrong!

Police brutality is spiraling out of control. In 2006, a report was issued by the United Nations Human Rights committee that stated plainly, that after 911, our war on terror  “created a generalized climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist for civilian control over law enforcement agencies. As a result, police brutality and abuse persist unabated and undeterred across the country.”

I’m fighting to take issue with that report and I’m finding it harder to do so as I do more research. First and foremost there are not a lot of verifiable statistics, believed to be because most instances of police brutality go unreported. I’m also struck by my own observation that since 911, Police forces seem to have become militarized.

The Rise of Technology
With the advent of the surveillance state, the police are finding out, that they too are being watched, even in the security of their own work environments. Officer Michael Hart could tell you more about that. So could Deputy Keller, or Corrections Officer Graham. Than there’s the 16 LA County deputies who thought they were safe in their own private world. Mind you, these are instances that happened in their own police stations, jails and the security of their own.

We too have Cameras.
The average American Joe and Josephine  are finding out quickly that their voice is amplified by pictures, and even more so by with moving pictures. Our smart-phones are providing us with an unprecedented voice we’ve never had before, and we are learning how to use that voice, effectively! We’ve came a long way from Rodney Kingand the California Highway Patrol can attest to that.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know there’s a growing problem and it’s evident, evident as hell.

There is a Thread.

 

Cosmic_dust_clouds_in_reflection_nebula_Messier_78Is it believable that our greatest fear is to be forgotten? That after our lives have ran their course, traveled well past our children and theirs, that our names, our deeds, our possessions and their worth, are nothing. That all that we are, will be captured by a bleached tombstone, setting alone in the company of the dead. How many generations will pass before our words, our deeds and our aspirations are unknown. How many before even our names bring a question as to who we were?

There is a loneliness, a desperation in this fear, isn’t there? Despite the truth, we walk the path and hardly ever stop to think of the implications. Perhaps because if we dwelled too long on the worth of our lives, we’d descend into a chaotic nightmare simply because the truth and fear of being forgotten so soon after our lives is tragic and unbearable.

Yes, we live on by what we pass to our children, but will your great grandchildren know what you have given them. Only in the most transient terms, as you understand what your great grandparents gave to you.

The question is one of purpose, correct? The eternal quest to know why we are here and to consider that we are so soon forgotten, calls that concern to the forefront. How can there be purpose in our lives when no one even bothers to think about our existence. Indeed, it is not our physical remains that become dust in the wind, it is our very lives, our actions and aspirations that fall prey to the predation of time, and worse, indifference.

Or do they?

Religion has given us a belief in our sustained value, that there is a purpose. An unknown but individual purpose to be revealed in our afterlives, that claims, regardless of our religious beliefs, that there is worth to our existence. We take solace in that but in the recesses of our thoughts, we question.

I don’t have a lot of faith in organized religion! I do believe in something majestic, though. Some ‘thing’ greater, something wondrous that soothes my soul. That there exists among all of us, a thread that weaves all that we are, all that were and will be, together into a universal tapestry that serves purpose and gives value to individual worth. Consider a woven garment? When in the process of being wove, there is potential for worth. When completed, each thread serves purpose, and contributes. The analogies are numerous, the implications grand.

Each thought, every action that we manage is a threaded needle that weaves itself through our heart, around our soul, and penetrates deep into our minds, weaving our moment of existence together with all of humanity, before and after. You and I are as physically and spiritually aware of those who came before us as those are that come after. Their names and their faces are there, you just need to remember, to look once in a while.

There are indeed shared experiences dating back to our first ancestors, of the same planets, the same moon, the same Earth, the same questions and concerns. These things are the needle and our lives are the thread. We are one and we are the same.

Find the quiet place in your thoughts, close your eyes and allow the darkness to open and the faces and lives will come simply because they cry out to your fear, you are not forgotten.