The Real World

What, exactly, is the real world right now? Let’s see…the volcano in Iceland is still pulsing lava fountains several hundred feet high, every five minutes or so. It’s hard to conceive of that much-molten rock on the move beneath the surface and straining for release. It’s not showing any signs of dissipating as of this moment, so engineers are trying to figure out a way to possibly divert its direction. They’re concerned about some nearby infrastructure, which seems odd since this has been going on for nearly six weeks now.

The GOP has lost its mind entirely. Marjorie Taylor Greene is obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (which she pronounces the second name as o-k-sheo). She chased AOC in the halls of the Capitol, demanding a debate over the Green New Deal, claiming “the American people want a debate”. Um, no. The American people have a few other things on their minds right now…COVID vaccine issues, jobs, paying rent. Little things like that.

AOC has ignored the nice lady, which seems prudent. She did make a response to news queries today, though, and said Marjorie Taylor-Green seems “unwell” and professionals need to deal with that. I can’t say that’s out of line. Video footage from 2019 shows the aggressor yelling through the mail slot on AOC’s office door, calling her a baby and telling her to “face the American people who elected you”. I hope the professionals come quickly, armed with tranquilizer dart guns.

The Colonial pipeline was interrupted because…some hackers seized control of their network and held it hostage. It was a “ransomware” attack, and they shut down gasoline distribution across several states. One would think a gas shortage might encourage people to conserve gasoline, and possibly help each other out. But, no…despite being asked nicely to not hoard, not fill up or top up unless necessary, etc. people lined up at gas stations like it was 1979. At least here in NC, folks were filling up all of their vehicles, plus multiple gas containers, plastic bags, racks of gas canisters on pickup trucks, and anything else they could get their hands on. So much for not panicking.

With the long lines, supply shortages followed at individual gas stations, and then bad behavior was the name of the game. Fistfights, fender benders, hurling of invectives were the way to handle a crisis, real or imagines. I imagined that people who were going ballistic at the gas stations left there after filling up, then visited their favorite grocery store to purchase emergency supplies for any disaster that might be headed our way – bread, milk, and toilet paper.

Bread and milk, for some reason, are this areas designated necessities for all weather emergencies, so that supply always runs low when there’s a hurricane or ice storm within 500 miles of here. I’m not sure what good milk would do if power is lost, but what do I know.

I don’t much care for milk anyway, so they are welcome to it. Bread doesn’t really excite me if it’s not toasted, so that’s not what I would need to live on if power goes out for a few days. I’m more looking for protein bars or shakes, and non-perishable snack foods. I can hoard tap water in advance, so that’s about all I’m gonna need.

It’s not like I’m gonna be eating gourmet meals in an apartment with no power and no way to get out. Truthfully, I don’t eat gourmet meals in my apartment at any time. Everything else in the area will be out of power as well, so I just have to hold my nose if necessary and get into camping mode. It won’t last forever, so pucker up butter cup.

The toilet paper hoarding was kind of new, courtesy of the pandemic. Not sure what caused people to panic over toilet paper when things shut down last march, but seems like a lot of people got the memo. There was simply no toilet paper in grocery stores, drug stores, stores of any kind. Shelves were bare, and just like today’s gas supply issues, people were rudely hoarding what little they could find. Buying enough toilet paper to last for the duration of the apocalypse, I suppose.

When stuff like these crises befalls us, it seems to bring out the worst in people. As I said earlier, there were fistfights and car accidents today, courtesy of the gasoline shortage. At the beginning of the pandemic, when masks became mandatory, people rebelled and refused to mask in public.

Retail stores demanded shoppers mask, and the fun began – people quoted imaginary laws and policies that explained why they were exempt, cited health conditions that didn’t exist, stood in the middle of the sidewalk and threw massive temper tantrums. A 4×6 inch piece of fabric was going to be the hill they died on. But they’re still woefully alive and still refusing to mask, because this is the land of the free. And possibly the dead. But, I digress.

I was on a call the other night with some folks, and we were talking about race. It was an intentionally multicultural/multiracial/multi-theology group. One of the participants, who is a Black Christian woman, said she is tired of talking about race. She just wants to talk about fun stuff, every day stuff, stuff that shows how more alike we are than different. I was aware that I was having somewhat a reaction to that, but said nothing.

I let her comments sit for a bit, and the conversation naturally flowed toward several related subjects. The woman’s comments were still rattling around in my head, though, but I still wasn’t entirely cognizant of what that meant for me. As we talked more about the current state of affairs with race in America, it came to me. I can’t ignore the ways my identity makes a difference when I’m dealing with people who differ culturally, racially, gender-wise.

At a more or less opportune moment, I injected my thoughts about that into the conversation. More clarity emerged, as I said that I understood her fatigue about constantly feeling that every conversation was about race, as though social interactions had become an occupational deliverable. I went on to say that where I couldn’t stay in that posture was in the case of systemic issues. When it comes to things like Ma’Khia Bryant and Daunte’ Wright, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland…and all the others…I often do not respond in the same way that members of dominant culture respond. My reaction is frequently more gut-level emotional, more visceral. I despise having to explain that, but it’s very real and usually worthy of explanation.

The rest of the group was quiet, thoughtful. I really wasn’t trying to have a confrontation, or a debate, I was simply letting people know how I felt. When everyone else went silent, I wondered if I had gone too far, erred in some way. There had been a moment when I had left the building, because I was emoting at such an intense level that I was consumed by it. I wasn’t angry, but I was…passionate. I was entirely “in” what I was feeling.

I glanced at the woman who’d first spoken, and wondered if she interpreted my comments as somehow disagreeing with her, trying to start a conflict. Her face had changed, there was an expression I didn’t understand, and I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble with whatever she’d say next. And it looked very much as though she had something to say.

When the lady spoke, she was contemplative, and spoke more softly than she had previously. She called me by name, and said that when I mentioned Ma’Khia Bryant, she had to catch her breath. She related very personally with that girl, as I did, and she definitely couldn’t be similar to people who didn’t see that situation as tragic, and not right, and unfair. She agreed with me – that child should not be dead. She went on to say that she usually just couldn’t talk about that case with people not like her.

She got me. I got her. We connected on some binary of pain, of hurt, of despair that a 16-year old Black girl-child was dead at the hands of a white police officer who’d done nothing to save her. Done nothing to serve and protect her. Reduced her to a sentence in a training guide. There was no compassion there, no attempts to mitigate or deescalate the situation, which is what officers are paid to do. That child never saw it coming, and I pray she never felt a thing.

When that woman and I connected on our pain, I felt like this, right here, is the reason I’m doing all this work. This is what all the emoting and sharing opinions and reacting is about, getting to that point of connection where there’s emotion, where the heart is involved, where both people are on the pin-point of their respective humanity. That’s where religious differences, class differences, skin color, gender, size, intellect, sexual orientation, and every other difference, fall away. None of that matters when you’re at the crystalline point of connection, like a frozen water drop that begins to melt. It’s crystal clear, and solid begins giving way to liquid, and there is energy moving. There is flow.

I guess what we’re working for is flow, where the rigidity is relaxed and we can move between each other with ease, no inhibitions. But we cannot maintain that rigidity, that frigid structure that freezes everyone in their tracks. We have to warm up, treat each other with caring, and thaw our hearts. We have to un-freeze, somehow.

Perhaps seeing all of these horrific images of murders, the unfeeling and emotionally detached visages of murderers in uniform after they’ve fired their weapons, is what will thaw some of us. Perhaps. Some of us remain unmoved, but more and more are looking at this and showing emotion, frustration, anger. Anger cannot be where we stay, but sometimes it’s a reasonable place to start the flow. Begin the thaw. Allow us to see the connection points. Perhaps.

I am hopeful. That’s a big deal, because some days there seems to be little cause for hope. Hope is about the future, and the present moment seems heavy and dark and unforgiving. But, hope is a vent for release of the fog of giving up, the smoke of burning dreams. Often, I want to protect myself from having any hope whatsoever, because it feels like vulnerability, it feels like dreaming, it feels like prayer. It feels as fragile as a new sprout emerging from the soil…will it survive? That moment of “will it survive” is the one that is make or break for whether we stay at the table, when the risk is real.

Sometimes, when I am confronted with such a moment, I ask myself what’s the worst that can happen? In all honesty, what might I lose? Will I survive, or will my fragile new growth be trampled and eradicated completely? This is the moment of choice, no matter how unnoticed it may be, no matter how miniscule. This is the moment there is a hint of a choice to either revert to our default posture of “me, mine” and feel safety in the status quo, or move past the discomfort of the risk and see what happens. I suppose that is hope – waiting to see what happens, with a hope that it won’t be a disaster. It’s very uncomfortable, but I am not sure we can live without it.

Refusing to face that moment of vulnerability, and uncertainty, is what keeps us in this unending moment of hating each other because of our differences, of being so afraid of each other that we have to kill. This is what keeps us tied to status quo, because the discomfort of not knowing what comes next is so frightening, so unnerving, that we prefer to remain in thrall to the tried and true, no matter how inequitable and unfair and unsatisfying it may be. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

I suppose we have to deal with our fears, honestly and truthfully. What exactly is the fear present when you are at the top of the heap, and there is movement below? Do you fear that you will lose your position? And if you do, what does that loss mean to you? Does it mean that you will die, that someone else will die, or does it simply mean that you will not get what you want, or be able to keep what you have? Be clear on that, because it’s important to know why you do what you do. Just taking action because everybody else is taking action, or because that’s what your ancestors did, is not good enough. Just like good intentions are not good enough. There has to be intention, and intentional action. Otherwise, the stream remains frozen, there is no clarity and there is no flow when the water thaws.

We are thirsty. We are thirsty for the water of life, for the flow, but there is so much water around us. Some of it is frozen, and so we can’t drink it until there’s a thaw, until there’s warmth and molecules unclench. Some of it is blocked, by impediments we’ve constructed ourselves, often to prevent others from having a chance at drinking. Some of it has been poisoned, again by circumstances we’ve created, and unsafe for anyone to drink. We need to see our part in that, metaphorically and quite literally, before the water can flow and before we can drink.

Most of the Earth is water. Most of our cells are water. It would seem there is a message in that, and we’d probably do well to reflect on that. Clarity in water is important, it usually signifies the water is safe to drink, but not always. Sometimes, we have to be aware of the source, and understand where it comes from to determine if it’s salty or fresh, and what contaminants may have been introduced. Once we know that, we have ways to ensure our safety, or we can choose another source. We have choices.

Having the choice to engage or not engage serves us well. We often do not make good use of that, because we simply react. Make me angry, and I don’t like how that feels, so I retaliate. Steal from me, and that makes me angry, so I react and maybe kill you because, well, it looked as though you might kill me, and besides, everybody knows stealing is against our laws. Or maybe it’s because you made me angry enough that I decided you should die. We need to know the difference.

I hope that I know the difference. I feel that I do, but I also know that when rage or abject fear is involved, my mind can go numb and my reptile brain can take over. The reptile brain, as it’s called, is only really concerned with survival. It’s small but very powerful, and takes control of our instincts to act in any way necessary to prolong our lives. That’s the root of the familiar chant defending police officers who have killed unarmed suspects – they were in fear for their lives, so their shooting was justified. I contend we need to delve further into that, and figure out if that’s true in all cases. That’s the source of protests over killings like that of Ma’Khia Bryant, and Daunte’ Wright. Exactly whose life was in danger in those situations, and did the officer really have no choice?

Choice is important. We have many choices, and we have to understand that with choice comes responsibility. We can make incorrect choices, and we have to make amends for any resultant harm that is done. Sometimes, we can’t make it right. Sometimes, the damage is irreversible, and it can never be right. When a person is killed as a result of your actions, you cannot bring them back to life. So, what then?

I am not a huge fan of the penal system, because it offers no hope of rehabilitation at this point. I’m also not a fan of “putting people away” in order to bring them into “normalcy”. This is what we do with the mentally ill, and the elderly. Institutionalizing people doesn’t work, and they usually transition out of our lives in the same condition, we just don’t have to deal with it. We pay other people to deal with it, and that is problematic for all involved, even us.

I don’t have any sure answers for this, but lean toward the making of sincere amends, acceptance of responsibility for the actions that have caused harm. No groveling, no excuses, no please for understanding, just a sincere acknowledgement that you have caused harm, and pain, and that you at least have a desire to make it right. Restorative justice uses that model as a foundation, where perpetrator and those impacted by their crime meet to negotiate accountability.

Restorative justice practices have shown promise in the educational system, and in some lower-level niches of the criminal justice system. It’s not perfect, but it’s a small way to make small changes. Aside from deterring incarceration for some who commit non-violent crimes, this modality gives those impacted a way to reclaim their voice and participate in a justice system that hears them. The perpetrator is not exiled from the community through institutionalization, but remains a part of the process and participates in re-establishing good relations.

Justice is a tricky thing. As state previously, in some cases, we resort to eye for an eye forms of simple punishment. It would seem there is no change to status quo in that modality, only a Calvinistic rendering of punishment. There is no growth, or opportunity for redemption, only punishment. The incarcerated learn nothing about the true impact of their crime, and those impacted are left to their anger and powerlessness. They, too, are left out of the criminal justice system’s process, of which they should be the most integral part.

The economic benefits of the prison-industrial complex for the State are legendary. Prisoners are used for cheap labor to perform various manual labor tasks, and the number of guards and service contracts involved to manage the incarcerated population makes tremendous opportunity for private sector profit. In some cases, it appears there is little incentive to keep people out of jail, and every incentive to keep them IN jail. When police entities are incentivized to make arrests for low level crimes, the number of people subject to incarceration rises exponentially. What good is that?

I suspect it is of no good whatsoever. So many lies, so much energy wasted on stereotypes and creating the boogeyman over and over and over. And the boogeyman is always a Black man. That’s insidious, and so incredibly erroneous, because as I have told people many times, I am way more afraid of crowds of drunken white frat boys than anybody on the face of the Earth. I have seen what they do, I have seen their cruelty, I have seen their depravity. I keep my distance, because I’m generally afraid of them. They make the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end.

I was reading something earlier that was discussing the Big Lie of election fraud in the 2020 Presidential election, and whining about election fraud has actually been going on for decades. In 1993, they were attempting to pass bills that amounted to voter suppression, mainly suppressing traditional Democratic voting blocs, but many of those bills were challenged and didn’t succeed.

But they have kept trying, and now we have this utter dumpster fire, inside an erupting volcano, while a tornado is forming overhead. If it wasn’t so dangerous and sad, the efforts to suppress the vote would be funny. But it’s not funny, and it is dangerous, and it’s very sad. And they are not going to stop.

It occurs to me that all of this bull dung about election fraud and destroying faith in the election process is just covering up something else that’s in process. This could very well be a distraction for something even more heinous, like trying to get a Constitutional Convention in order to amend the Constitution with some form of disastrous and democracy-damaging change. I don’t put it past the previous guy and his minions, and now that the GOP has declared their undying loyalty to him, above party and above oath of office, nothing would surprise me. I don’t for a minute believe that nothing is going on behind the scenes.

So, hold on to your hats, boys and girls. This is going to be a rough ride, but it will be the thrill of your lifetime. Make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets, and make sure you hold on to your eyeglasses and dentures, because we’re going to be upside down a couple of times, downhill at high speed, and it’ll all be a blur. Don’t say you weren’t warned, and make sure you keep the safety bar latched at all times, and your arms and feet inside the car until it comes to a complete stop.

Nobody will ride these with me. That makes me sad.

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.

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