Yesterday, I wanted to express my frustrations with the world around me by writing a scathing rebuke of humankind. But I just could not force myself to the keyboard. Instead, I did as I sometimes do when my emotions are raw and the universe seems intent on punishing us for the arrogance of our existence; I put on a happy face.
I covered my face with two masks: one, depicting the artificial stoic everyone sees; the other, a piece of cloth to give protection to the people around me. Both of them are, in a sense, protective of those with whom I come in contact. And, I suppose, they protect me from the responses people might have if they saw the anger and the pain and the pointless frustration behind the masks. I say pointless because frustration with “the way things are” is wasted mental energy unless it is spent changing “the way things are.” Talking about the anguish that grows from racism and the twisted thinking that breeds it and writing about the evils of injustice…I don’t know, those are such weak responses to such an enormously damaging set of threats to decency and humanity.
An American rock band that was popular in the early 1990s, Rage Against the Machine, clearly understood the power of anti-establishment lyrics, coupled with an angry, repetitive, enraged beat. I was aware of the group, though I did not listen to much of its music. Now, though, I think I understand that its members were not only performing music, they were demanding justice by way of a growing scream that continues to echo in a vacuum today. The group’s name, Rage Against the Machine, is an apt phrase that describes what I have been feeling these last few days. Revolution, rebellion, and aggressively forcing change is on my mind these days. But being “on my mind” and “clutched in my fist like a truncheon embedded with spikes, ready to do its awful work” are worlds apart.
Last night, I watched a substantial part of #WeCantBreathe: A UUA Virtual Prayer Vigil. That was a mistake for a number of reasons. It fed my rage and left me feeling that the only thing “we” are doing is spraying a light mist of words on a raging inferno consuming the world in which we live. I was not thrilled with the overtly religious tenor of the online event, either. But that’s neither here nor there. Rebellion. That’s what we need. Voting with fists and firearms and breaking into National Guard armories with the aim of thwarting the “establishment’s” use of weaponry against an enraged, oppressed people.
This morning, I began the day with a cup of coffee. I sat outside in the early morning coolness and experimented with an app on my smart phone (BirdNet) that “listens” to bird songs and identifies the singing birds. I heard Carolina wrens and northern cardinals and crows and pileated woodpeckers, among others. And an occasional breeze rattled the new wind chimes, creating a calming sound. Now that is a great way to begin a day.
But I feel hypocritical when I seek serenity, believing as I do (for the moment, at least) that rage-infused action is what is required. What good, really, are marches and peaceful protests and letters to our Senators? What value are letters to the editor? How many years have oppressed people been told to “just give it time” and let the system work out the kinks? Oppressed minorities and the poor and disenfranchised have waited generations and generations for the “kinks” to get worked out of the system. And they have witnessed how their “allies” are complicit in the oppression. The most recent public example was in New York’s Central Park, where a woman called the police to report an “African-American man” was threatening to kill her, whereas he, an avid birdwatcher, simply asked her to leash her dog. That ostensibly liberal white woman quickly weaponized her language by telling the police, in not-so-coded language, to come protect her from an “African-American man.” And I feel hypocritical just writing about it. Especially here, a place safely shielded from most eyes. So I am protected from the neo-Nazi backlash and the dimwit hillbillies with their AR-14s and kevlar vests, brandishing Confederate battle flags.
I am deeply, deeply, deeply unhappy. There is little to like in this American society of ours. We live in a root-ball of greed whose growing branches and leaves spread its infected capitalism and merciless animosity toward the poor like a wave drowning the world. I want, desperately, to love this country. But I can’t. Not in its present form. I’m afraid it will be worthy of love only after the thick scabs that replaced its torn skin have been ripped off, revealing the body beneath. That flesh and sinew and bone might be strong enough to survive, but only if its healing is pure.
God, I hate feeling this way. It’s a mixture of rage and fear and hatred and love and embarrassment and compassion and more. The mix is tainted with sand and fine gravel, so the emotions grate against one another with every pass, the pain feeling akin to abrasions, like road rash, sprayed with merthiolate. It’s too early for liquor and I have no sources for less legal and more soothing plant-based psychic balms. So, I will “slog through the porridge,” as I am wont to say. This angst will pass. It always does. The fact that it does, though, is both embarrassing and hypocritical. Oppressed peoples do not have the good fortune of “getting over it.” Because it keeps coming back, stronger and more virulent than ever. And they get to watch people like me wring our hands and wish there was something we could do. Well there is. We’re just not doing it. We’re talking about it and pretending to be activists. Activists are not needed. Armies are. Courageous people, knives clutched in their teeth, willing to stand face-to-face with the oppressors and demand change. Fat effing chance.
I may go outside and pull and few weeds. And plant a few IEDs. Just joking, purveyors of government espionage against its own people. It’s not just the government that maintains and promotes oppression. It’s our own people. Neighbors who vote in misguided, deluded, intellectually-challenged “self-interest” that contributes to the shackles placed around our necks. I can’t stop writing about this. I must go outside and listen to birds! Or I will explode, revealing all the blood and pent-up emotion I carry around with me. If I’m ugly now, the result will require a new word the conveys ugly to the tenth power.
Enough of the screen-based scream.