Guns and Cigarettes

Guns and Cigarettes

I grew up in a house without guns. My parents are artists, they love a beautiful aria and a good book. We were not a hunting family, we didn’t even fish. I don’t recall one single conversation about guns. Their absence was entirely normal to me, in my quiet mostly white and Asian suburban world. I was mildly intrigued by the idea, the power and masculinity they seemed to imbue, but having little interest in sports or much of an inclination towards activities that required good aim, they left my mind as breezily as they went in. It didn’t occur to me what the black and brown kids who lived on the other side of the freeway thought about guns until I was much older. I found myself drawn to a different symbol of masculine self-reliance – cigarettes.

Visiting my brother in rural Ohio, I remember going into a gun store at the end of a quaint little collection of stores selling quilts, Amish furniture, antiques and the like. My brother and I, having never really been in a store that sold guns, went inside to look around. My father followed us in. At 5’10” in his Puma sneakers, with his hands in his pockets looking around, he smiled an expression that was not a smile, and he turned around and walked out. Something about that small moment struck me – the look on his face was a knowing look, with more than a hint of resentment and disapproval. He looked culturally out of place in that store, and he probably felt that way too. My father, who loves nothing more than puttering around the house and to fall into a nap with a spy novel and a cat at his feet, who will weep at the sound of a beautiful solo tenor or a chorus of children’s voices, exuded a particular version of masculinity to me, as his child. He has many traditionally masculine traits – he loves baseball and tools, women and woodworking, he was in the army reserves and was a pretty good shot. He was even pretty rageful and scary in his drinking years. But the unarmed, emotionally minded, gentle masculinity was what was passed on to me.

It is difficult to come to terms with the privilege I now know it to be, to be able to grow up in a world with not even the faintest fear of gun violence. It’s so easy for me to take a moral high ground and make a grand statement that I will never own a gun. That sentiment reminds me of the snarky comments I often received by those who clearly disapproved of my cigarette smoking and the effect it had on others. It was an obvious cultural difference between us, and I indignantly disregarded their comments. The gun lobby and the tobacco lobby share many similar traits – the stalling and hiding of science showing the heath risks involved in their products, the appeals to libertarian freedom of choice, invoking images of rebellious individuality, and the stoking of culture wars to keep the sales flowing. For both industries, it is ultimately about profit. I grew up in a world where cigarettes weren’t smoked in front of children, but was still something adults seem to enjoy, or was at least acceptable to do. I cringe at the thought of all the butts I threw from my car window, and all the youthful eyes that watched me smoke. My depression and anxiety had me searching the ashtrays in front of restaurants as a teen, and I have given god knows how much money to the tobacco billionaires, all for a cultural and chemical coping mechanism. Clearly guns and cigarettes are different animals, but both are animals none the less.

I could go down so many rabbit holes on this topic – how the relentless sales of arms has fueled the ridiculous violence we are seeing in the world, a musing on the human propensity to take a life, white privilege and guns, the sadness around so many unnecessary deaths cause by both guns and cigarettes… I could write about how I think regulating gun sales actually helps strengthen responsible gun ownership (look at Canada, look at regulation of driving cars), and speculate on how far past that point we are. Many, many rabbit holes. But what I sit here with is just the enormity of our shared predicament, and the powerlessness I feel to affect it as a single individual. It is a hugely complex issue that is interconnected to so much else, with no quick fix or sound bite slogan. Like the reality of poverty, its causes and solutions are multifaceted, requiring effort from all angles to even get it to budge. A myopic attack of one small variable will not move it.

When did you first experience guns? What was the culture surrounding them in your world as a child? Do tell 🙂

j

TDoR 2015

TDoR 2015

On Trans Day of Remembrance this year of 2015, in the midst of picking up the pieces from yet another defeat in my struggle for sobriety (sanity, life itself), I am wondering how many folks who’s names will be read aloud tonight struggled with drugs and alcohol. I’m wondering how many trans/gender non-conforming folks lost their lives this year to an overdose, liver disease, car accidents, diseases transmitted through drug use, or took their own lives under the influence or with the compounding stress of being trans and suffering from addiction. I have had the honor to know a few of them, before they left us too soon.

I recognize that, except for a few variables in my life, I could very well be a part of that statistic. I have been to rehab three times. I have had access to counseling and psychiatric medication, on which I heavily rely. I have a supportive family that has never given up on me. I was introduced to 12 step early on and have always felt safe there. I was able to transition at 22. I am white. I am seen in the world as a relatively normative male. I can hardly wrap my head around what my life would have been like if any of these variables were different. It’s hard to say if I would be alive today. In these troubled times in my life, I am often amazed that I am still alive, good variables and all.

So this year, my heart and my thoughts go out to all the trans/etc folks who have lost the battle with addiction and mental health. My heart and thoughts go out to those who are alive and still struggling, to those who are still alive but feel hopeless, and to all those who love them. May all the good vibes sent out today give us all the strength and courage to get through one more day.

j

Queer Camp Reflections

This weekend I went to Queer Camp. I was so in the groove of spending all damn day on the computer, an endless stream of booking emails coming and going, flicking back and forth between map and calendar, Facebook and email, Songs of the People and album material… And then along comes Queer Camp, a 3.5 day camping trip in Castro Valley with no phones or computers, to build community and share art and social justice work with queers I may or may not know in a beautiful temperate place. I have to say, it’s not the easiest thing for me to mentally switch gears, especially when I am super nervous about something (like, say, booking a giant US tour and putting out my first solo project), so as fun as it sounded, I wasn’t entirely up for it. But I was teaching a songwriting workshop, so I had to go.

My first evening I had what I can only describe as work/internet withdrawal. My mind was elsewhere and I really wanted to be with it, and instead I was awkwardly meeting new people and swatting mosquitoes. But I figured, since I’ve got my recording schedule all blocked out and I start June 2nd, I should use this time to break out of my compulsive social media checking and energy intensive but only partially productive computer absorption. It turned out to be a good call.

I am always surprised, even though I shouldn’t be by now, at just how small a queer world it is. No one is too many degrees of separation a part, even when folks meet in entirely different ends of the country for seemingly unrelated reasons. Yet, here you are again, you know so-and-so, they know so-and-so who knows so-and-so, oh we met way back in random place with so-and-so. No way! Even so, there can be folks that you may share an entire circle of friends with, been at the same events, but have strangely never met. I was able to connect and reconnect with so many lovely, interesting, and inspiring people, and I fell in love with my community all over again.

The weekend brought us all together, the programming got us all out of our comfort zones and interacting with everyone, and we all became very close. It’s strange to remember first looking around the circle at the semi-unfamiliar faces, and at the end, looking around at the same faces that were now familiar, that showed their depth and insight, and to feel real love between us. When the queer community is so often found in the bars, it was a wonderful thing (especially for this sober guy) to be in a beautiful place out doors, away from the party atmosphere to commune with my fellows.

The songwriting workshop was awesome. Each one is different and they really keep me on my toes, and I hadn’t done one in a while. We got some really interesting pieces out of this one! Someone gave me one of the best and most unique complements I have ever received – they said that I was the song mid-wife! Amazing, and truly an honor. The magic for me is finding that little nugget of concentrated truth, a shining piece of golden art in the ore of words someone just mined, pulling it out and setting it into a form, and building a structure around it. And thus – a song. The magic is also when someone sees their own words, their own story and experience, come alive is a piece of music. It is really, indescribably cool.

So now I am back at the computer, attempting to switch gears yet again back into work mode. The weekend gave me some time to ground out, and settle into my intention for this project. Yes, I am trying to make a living. I can’t do anything if I don’t make a living. But most importantly, I am trying to offer something useful to the world – doing the thing that somehow I seem built for and called to do, and trusting that it is not only an important contribution, but the best one that I can personally make. That’s a pretty tall order, and it reaches beyond this one album – it really is the way I want to live my life. I feel like a toddler in this sober life of mine, my functions barely back on line, the world seeming to be this wide, overwhelming place that I am bumbling through. If I stay the course, I may find myself able to handle far more than I can now, and that would truly be somethin’ else.

So here I go, this coming Monday.. I am locking myself in my studio and I’m not coming out (except to play church gigs, a wedding, and mow lawns) until it’s done. And it must all be ready for submission by July 11th. No big deal.

Wish me luck! Better yet – how bout some patience and perseverance 🙂

j