Contribution, Attribution

I’m contemplating what contribution I make to…to what? Society? Friends and family? The Earth? Myself? I imagine that I’ve always felt like my contribution was to society in the form of work, my contribution to some goal for someone else. When i worked in the public sector, I felt like the someone else was the community at large. In some respects, I guess that was true, but ultimately the contribution was to the bureaucracy that paid me. Sometimes that bureaucracy did effectively contribute to the overall good of the populus, but sometimes it merely contribute to political aggrandizement. Public service, in many cases, is an oxymoron.

When I was younger, and before I had seen the worst of what people had to offer, I took great pride in doing things I felt contributed to the greater good. I took great pride in working for the local government, and it fed me. It almost didn’t start that way, but over time, I felt a certain fulfillment in the work. The corruption did get to be a drag, and it got even worse after I left. I spent fifteen years there, and after leaving for the foothills of North Carolina, the whole place went to hell in a handbasket. I have no idea where that phrase comes from, but I’ve been saying it all my life, so … there it is. Anyhow, after I’d been gong for a few years, Hurricane Katrina happened, and the corruption and incompetence and bad politics was all exposed. People died, lives were destroyed, and people I had worked for directly went to federal prison. Did I feel vindicated? Somewhat, I guess…but I didn’t give it much thought. Conditions there were normalized, and they had been so bad that I was very much emotionless about it. I remain, however, heartbroken over the loss of so much of the spirit of the city I call home. It’s as though someone has ripped the heart out of it, and I’m not sure that will ever be recovered. There are still a few cultural icons that can never be eradicated, but as time goes on, and the old ones die, some things have become frozen in time, in one-dimensional photos and pages in archival footage. I suppose that has happened to other places, but this one is mine, and it makes me very sad.

Anyhow, back to how I might be contributing these days…since I’ve been unemployed, I struggle to find any value in things I do. I suppose the relationship between someone else compensating me financially for my work product is stronger than I thought. I know that I have contributed to my community of faith (or at times, no faith at all) in many ways. I’ve been at the lead of our social justice work for a while now, and we did quite a lot toward voter engagement this past year. We are still working on that, as mid-term elections seem to be not all that far away. I also work on a state-wide justice group for the larger faith movement, and that’s fairly rewarding to me personally, although it don’t pay. I do a fair amount of working, formally and informally, to educate people on anti-racism and multi-culturalism. That’s probably best and more productively done on the informal level. People generally don’t need to be lectured about racism and prejudice and historical elements of both, but allowed to work through their own journey through it. Trying to unlearn our collective patterns of bias and various -ism patterns is daunting for everyone, regardless of racial/ethnic identification. I explain to people that I learned status quo and white supremacy the same way everyone else did, it just looks different on me as a person of color. Not better, not worse, just different. On me, it frequently looks like internalized racism, and something akin to PTSD. I’ve got to unlearn and question the status quo and figure out how I contribute to it, just like everybody else.

So, contribution is sometimes a sticky wicket. I contribute to the status quo, I contribute to dismantling the status quo, and I contribute to my own frustration. I suppose I also contribute to my own growth, as I do find that I’m not the person I was before I started questioning and exploring the norms I was raised with. Oppositional defiance comes in handy at times, and without that, I might never have resisted a lot of things. I might never have questioned anything at all, but would have remained generically enraged without ever knowing why. I don’t know all the reasons, but I know some, and I know I’m not the only one feeling that way. I once thought group resistance was useless, because all it did was gather pissed off people together in rooms where you just kvetch about how wrong they done us. As I’ve gotten older, though, I find that without group resistance I would feel hopelessly alone in my rage. So, although group dynamics frequently confounds me, I know that me kvetching by myself is the more futile endeavor.

Over the years, since I’ve been out of school, I seem to have been consistently involved in some manner of resistance to oppression. When I was younger, and had functioning hormones and some get up and go, I was marching and raising my fist for gay-lesbian empowerment, and liberation, and … stuff. We hadn’t even included bisexuals to the acronym yet. I came in on the end of the Gay Liberation Movement…then it was the Gay-Lesbian Movement, or alternately the Lesbian-Gay movement, depending on who you talked to. Then came the B, and many years later the T. Now, it’s gotten a little out of hand, with the Q and the I and the A and a + sign. Whatever. I go with the program, but I’m old and sometimes it’s just alphabet soup to me and I get it all screwed up. I mean well. Regardless, that’s where my activism and shouting out got started. That movement always had a white face, to me, It was what it was, and I couldn’t have survived without it.

By the time I had fallen out of the proverbial closet and was more or less comfortable in my skin, at least as far as my sexual orientation went, then came the AIDS crisis. My friends were dying, by the droves. Tiny little gay men, burly bears of gay men, average looking guy-next-door gay men…it didn’t matter. They were dying on the daily, sometimes homeless, wasting away to nothing. Vibrant artists whose creativity lit up silver screens and dinner theatres all over the world suddenly went silent, and nobody could do a damned thing about it. Moral police declared it divine justice, and meted out brutal pronouncements on the dying and those who loved them. My sense of justice and fair-play couldn’t tolerate that, and I volunteered for hotlines and marches and fund-raisers to help with the resistance effort. It was tough. People were so hateful, and they still are. By the time the causal virus was discovered, and medication was able to counter the worst of the symptoms of AIDS, the death toll was high. We were all more or less walking wounded, and our ranks were decimated. It wasn’t until AIDS was finally understood to be an equal-opportunity infections disease that some of the pressure began to ease off in the community – it had started out as “the gay scourge”, but that was a lie. It’s a virus, and the CDC finally discovered that a virus didn’t care whether it was deposited in an anus or a vagina, it just needed a human host. Because it’s a virus, it would do what viruses do and kill its host, unless intervened upon. That information was literal salvation.

The AIDS epidemic has quite a few similarities to this corona virus pandemic, so much of today’s bad behavior doesn’t really suprise me. It distresses me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Higher levels of violence toward Asian-Americans mimics the hate crimes that were so rampant against gay men at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when it was thought to be only a gay-infecting disease. People resisted efforts to mitigate the spread of AIDS early on, with safer-sex practices, and there was widespread resistance to that, much of it ironically in the gay community. The anti-mask resistance during this pandemic reminds me of that. Being faced with one’s own powerlessness and mortality frequently brings on episodes of very bad behavior, it seems. People dying, helplessly, often without alone and separated from their loved ones has been experienced in both pandemics. The race to develop effective testing methods, and difficulties in the distribution of effective medicinal remedy, that’s common to both viral outbreaks. COVID, however, has garnered a bit more energetic response, and I believe that’s mainly because it’s not sexually transmitted. There is no vaccine for HIV even now, and I don’t know how much research is dedicated to that currently. We’re very fortunate there is no moral judgement involved with COVID, or things would be even uglier than it is now. People still die of AIDS, due to HIV infection, but we don’t much hear about that anymore.

So, I digressed a good deal from the original topic of contribution, namely my own. I suppose I am much happier discussing injustice and the common good rather than my own contributions. Ultimately, I suppose I feel as though I haven’t made any significant contribution to anything. I can name things I’ve done that I feel are positive, that I feel are meaningful, but I don’t know if I really consider them contributions. I am toying with the definition of contribution, I suppose, and whether or not that means something rendered to someone or something far outside of my Self. Furthermore, can I actually contribute only to my Self, or is that merely selfishness? Ack. When I got sober, that was something I did for myself, but I conceive of that as something that was of some value to others…safer driving, better work product, better general health, treating people a little better, greater responsibility, etc. etc. etc. So, I don’t know. It was for me, but I guess there’s some positivity that radiates outward and benefits the greater good. I suppose. It is difficult for me to assign positive value to most things I do, and that’s just a quirk, an ego edge, a humility hurdle. Something like that. I have gotten so much in the habit of downplaying what I do that it’s just a default button now. Perhaps I should work on that. We’ll see; I have never wanted to be considered much of a horn-tooter or a braggart.

Today was a fairly nice day – sunny, temperatures in the 60s. I took the dog for a walk, not as long as we had gotten accustomed to doing a couple of months ago, but you have to start somewhere. It was about a 35 minute walk, and she enjoyed it. When I had taken her out for her constitutional earlier in the day, we ran into her apartment husband, the neighbor who had the quadruple bypass surgery 3 or 4 months ago. He’s close to 85, and came through it like a champ, and looking very good these days. He loves my dog, and she adores him. When she smells him in the vicinity, she cries like somebody is ripping her guts out. When he comes into view, she screams. Absolutely shrieks. I can usually just let her leash go and she races toward him like a little snausage torpedo, ears bared, legs churning. He loves it, and so does she. It makes me happy, too. We’re in for the evning now, but all in all, it was a good day for dogs and humans alike.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

One thought on “Contribution, Attribution

  1. Hope you don’t mind a stranger popping on with a comment.
    I think that sometimes, being the best of ourselves is a big contribution. It may not seem it but, while there can be huge campaigns changing big things, these seem so big and distant at times. People need small things too ( maybe even more so at times ), from just a simple reminder that they’re noticed and valued, a simple kindness to show that there is light on the days you feel lowest, a shoulder to remind them they’re not alone though they feel it. Campaigns may change laws but small acts bring people together.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: