What we can learn from Canada and Vash the Stampede

This is how you make your country great:

For that matter, replace “country” with any word that represents a community. Because the way you make any kind of community better is with love, not hate.

Fighting hate with hate only creates more hate. The way you fight hate is with love and acceptance. With understanding and empathy. You can’t fight hate with bigotry, isolationism, divisiveness, that only fosters more hate, more bigotry, isolationism. More divisiveness.

Looking at pictures of Justin Trudeau welcoming refugees from Syria and his “Welcome to Canada” response the other day to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and watching him tear up when speaking with a Syrian refugee’s experience entering Canada just makes me think about how that’s what we should be doing. This is what freedom looks like.

Because it’s not about keeping all the good stuff to ourselves and a few of our friends, it’s about welcoming strangers in and letting them share in that good stuff, too. Justin Trudeau gets that. Barack Obama gets that. This country used to get that, too. That’s one of the fundamental principles it was founded upon.

I recently rewatched Trigun with my partner and here’s why Trigun is a topical anime series for what’s going on right now that if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should watch it, like, today. You can find the entire series on YouTube (English dubbed) on Funimation’s channel, but it’s worth owning.

Trigun takes place in a dystopian future that resembles the wild west. Civilization has fallen apart, and people are struggling for survival in a harsh, desert landscape with little access to water or resources and there’s no real law or government. The story centers around a gunslinger, Vash the Stampede, who refuses to take anyone’s life, at great personal risk. He frequently sacrifices himself, both physically but also emotionally, at times publicly humiliating himself if it means saving the lives of others.

Throughout the series, he’s constantly told “I don’t understand you, why do you do these things?” His mantra seems contradictory for a legendary gunman: “love and peace.” He uses his skills as a gunslinger to change the trajectory of bullets, to knock a rival gunman’s weapon just off course, he uses his incredible speed to usher people out of harm’s way. He does this because he believes that no one should have to suffer, even those who cause harm and terrorize others. His love is indiscriminate.

There’s so much television that is about hate and fear. But what is television but an escape, a way to give your brain a break from what’s happening in the real world? Why escape the hate and fear outside your door with more hate and fear? Why not fill your head with the fanciful notion that everyone is an inherently good person if you let them?

I struggle with the idea of “love and peace.” I sometimes think that, at a certain point, you need to fight back, right? There are a lot of things I have yet to learn from Vash, but being more Vash-like is definitely something I aspire to. It’s important, now more than ever, to remember Vash when we are being faced with adversity and fear and terror and hate. When we are being told to fear these people over here because they are too dangerous to enter our country, it’s important to remember that we are those people. Our histories are not separate, they are the same. We are each and every one of them. We are the ones causing terror and the ones being terrorized. The sooner we open our doors and welcome everyone in, regardless of whatever, the sooner we can show others that there is something better and worth more than fighting.

Love and peace.

Last minute change of RPM plans

In true RPM fashion, I’ve changed my mind re: plans for RPM album. It’s not going to be all about Trump.

While the thought process going into it is more personal/intimate, what I can say is why I’ve decided to switch gears.

In talking with e about the project — because she’s started painting and I wanted to use her art for the album — we started talking about art that challenges the artist and why many male artists (of various forms), in particular, use pain and suffering and misery as inspirations for their art. In music, you can hear it in Trent Reznor (especially early NIN but pretty much everything he’s ever done, ever), Kurt Cobain, I mean the list goes on. Pretty much the entirety of “alternative” music is some dude bitching about how everything is horrible. Isn’t the world bad enough that we don’t need to add more misery and suffering into it through art?

I’m no different. For a long time, I believed that a) all art was created through suffering and b) the only things I had to say were things that came from my own personal angst. I used to channel and hone the worst possible feelings in order to produce music. I would actually make myself unhappy in order to channel that negative energy into art.

Since then, I’ve learned that art (even, gasp, good art) can be made from emotions that are not harmful/painful. For me this is much more of a challenge having believed the other thing for so long.

So, how does this relate back to RPM? Well, the original concept was basically more of the same. It’s easy to get angry about Trump and make art from a place of anger and resistance. But that’s not challenging anything and that’s not changing anything. That’s Trent Reznor’s entire career. Maybe the topic for him has gone to “she dumped me and I’m unhappy” to “the world is shit and I’m really angry about it”, but the basic point is the same “life is shit, I suck, I’m going to go drown my sorrows in some good old fashioned substance abuse”.

We also talked about doing a collaborative project where we’re basically taking the same source/topic/emotion and creating art based out of it. In talking, this felt like a much more exciting project than bitching (musically) about Trump, so I’m much more interested and excited about this idea.

RPM 2017

I’m in it. I’ve committed to doing RPM again this year. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done RPM which basically means it’s been a couple years since I’ve done any music at all and I can’t handle it, anymore. I need to do something.

I hadn’t decided what I was going to do for this year’s RPM, but it’s the 10th year I’ve been a member (though not my 10th RPM — I’ve skipped a couple years), so I wanted to do something special. Also, having a theme has always made my RPM albums better (I think) (see: The Signal and Wasp). I think I’ve decided.

February comes after January, as you know, and January 20th we will be inaugurating into the White House possibly the most terrifying man who has ever held the position of President. This is inescapable. This is fact. It is not some nightmare we are collectively living in. To say that the world will be a less safe place with him running America is an understatement — he’s not even in office and it’s already unsafe for many American citizens.

It seems fitting, then, that as a punk rocker, as a musician, and as we are making albums in the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, that my RPM 2017 album be about this political cycle, somehow. So here’s my idea:

  1. Every day I sit down to work on a new song, I start by doing a Google search for Trump.
  2. The title of the song comes from the headline of the article (but removes the word Trump. Doing a search today gives me “CNN/ORC Poll: Confidence drops in Trump transition”, so that song title might be “Confidence Drops”).
  3. The song mood/theme is built around the topic/title.
  4. The article body becomes the basis for found poetry. Fragments of sentences/paragraphs become lines and verses for spoken word. (I’m not going to attempt to be so ambitious as to commit to singing, though it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.)

I have a feeling this will be a very dark album. Just the hypothetical first song title gives me shivers.

With low expectations, you create your own dismal reality

I’m reading an article in December’s WIRED (look at that, 2017 Goals ? ) about the three days in a row last summer where there were 3 fatal shootings in a span of 72 hours, each of them livestreamed via social media. During the protests following the first two, police approached the protesters in riot gear. There is a quote from a police officer that I wanted to respond to:

If something happens in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, millions of people are finding out about it instantaneously with the video going out. You get a reaction much quicker. With that mob-type mentality — we want to do something — sometimes it’s to do some harm to those in law enforcement. We become a target again and again and again.

Here’s the thing, Frederick Frazier, Vice president of the Dallas Police Association, what you expect to happen shapes the outcome of what actually happens. If you send out an officer in a SWAT uniform to confront a crowdfull of angry protestors, you better believe they are going to react strongly to that. They are going to feel like they are being attacked. If you send out an officer in plain clothes or a regular uniform, who never touches his weapon, you can have a conversation. You may be sending in your officer in riot gear because you expect him/her to be attacked, but that expectation is going to create that reality. The officer will be looking for an attack because they are expecting it to happen. That’s what leads to a black man being shot for reaching into his glove box to get his wallet.

It’s like this: there are a lot of LEGOs that my kids have left out on the floor for several days. Any parent anywhere will agree with me that LEGOs on the floor is a bad thing because you end up stepping on them or breaking things or whatever. If I, as a parent, walk into the room where the kids are, sigh heavily, and say “can you guys pick up the LEGOs, please?” without helping them do it, expecting that they won’t actually clean them up in the time I want it done or to the degree that I would like, it’s absolutely going to go exactly the way I expect. I will walk into the room 2 hours later and nothing observable has been done. I am creating that reality by a) expecting that they aren’t going to do the thing I asked them to do and b) not providing the tools or support to help make the reality that I would like to actually happen.

It’s hard to do. I struggle with it. Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was better to set my expectations of people very low and be surprised when they are exceeded rather than having high expectations of people (and occasionally being disappointed). Having low expectations is a generally miserable place, let me tell you, because I guarantee you will always see the worst possible outcome. And maybe you tell yourself “well, at least I was prepared”, but where does that get you, really?

When the results started coming in for the 2016 election, it was easy to see where the trajectory was going fairly early on. There was an SNL skit that ran afterwards that showed a bunch of white people (and the token black guy) constantly going back and saying “well, if Hillary just wins here, we’ll be fine” and continuing to pat themselves on the back for being so empathetic and supportive towards various marginalized groups. As the skit progresses, they get more and more panicked as the scenarios for Hillary winning become more and more far fetched. And the punchline at the end is “are we really that racist?”

I didn’t feel that way on election night. Sure, I wanted Hillary to win, but once the results started swinging in Trump’s favor, they never really swung back. You could look at the 538 or a million and one different reports about how Trump has no chance but historically, people did that the whole campaign and he did have a chance and he continued to defy expectations. He was a blind spot for half of the country who believed he couldn’t stand a chance. But it doesn’t take a data analyst to see the pattern, which was, every time we expected he couldn’t do a thing, he did it. A dark part of me started considering what would happen under a Trump presidency, even while I hoped that Hillary could turn it around.

And here’s the real “hindsight is 20/20” thing: many of us who supported Hillary heard what the Bernie supporters were saying about “this may be the only time we can elect someone like this, with ideas for radical change like this”. We heard you. But the thing is, we didn’t expect that to work. Government is slow, he would be fought on every decision by the GOP every step of the way. Every time he tried to make something happen he would get shot down. It would be as hard or harder as it was for Obama. Yes, Obama was a black man but a lot of what Bernie wanted to do was more drastic than anything Obama actually set in motion. And then there’s the fact that the President doesn’t really do a whole lot on their own. They don’t write laws themselves, for example. They can’t just pass amendments to change things. They make appointments, they set things in motion and they approve or deny bills. Would Bernie have had a better shot at getting things done than Hillary because he’s male? Probably, but we’ll never know. The point is, this whole thing maybe could have had a different outcome if some of us had a different set of expectations. Maybe. The point is that if we expect the worst, we won’t be disappointed. The point is, expecting to be attacked will make you more likely to be attacked or see a possible attack where there is actually none.

The point is we should expect better of ourselves and of humanity.

And to nod back to my last post about resolutions and goals for the new year (and to not end this post on such a down note), maybe the reason we so epically fail at our new years resolutions is because we never actually expect to accomplish them? Maybe if you are doing NaNoWriMo and you are focussed on the impossible task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days you won’t do it. But if you expect to be able to accomplish that goal, maybe you have a better shot at it. That’s the theory I’m going to have going into RPM next month. I have no idea how I will manage work and making music enough to compose an album in a month but I know I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again and I will expect it to be an achievable goal and so it will be.

 

2017 Goals

I’m not one for making resolutions as typically they end up being things that get forgotten by February. That said, 2016 was rough all around for most people. Personally, I had a pretty good year (new job, new house) but there were a lot of things I’d like to improve upon. Resolutions are not powerful in themselves — it’s saying the thing and/or writing it down that commits those things to memory and makes them real. As such, I’m not calling them “resolutions” but “goals” for 2017. Here are some things I’d like to look back on in 2018 and think that I did a better job of.

  1. Read more. Reading books for me pretty much only happens on airplanes which I take infrequently. I managed to finish Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency but only because about 80% of that was read during jury duty. I want to make it a point to read more things that are not on my phone. I have a subscription to WIRED magazine but I think I literally went 12 months without opening a single one and I used to, at least, read that while eating breakfast and doing my morning routine. I’d like to get back into that routine and stop reading crap news on my phone.
  2. Write more. I have an amazing opportunity to write for the SBNation blog, RSL Soapbox which I’ve mostly let fall by the wayside in 2016. Sure there were reasons — I was a developer lead, I had very little free time and what free time I had I didn’t want to spend on my computer. I also wrote very little on my blog. I kept having things I wanted to write about but lacked the “time” to do such things. Time is relative, you can always make more time. Now that I am not in a position where I feel like I need to clock a specific number of hours a week and/or I need to be more available for half a dozen phone calls a day plus management duties, I want to make the most of my time and write more. I’ve already written one article for RSL Soapbox since landing my new gig and I want to write more both there and here.
  3. Do something with chrisreynolds.io. For a long time I thought my domain chrisreynolds.io could be a sort of portal into various projects that I am active in, but that meant building a site and that’s where the plan fell apart. I want to do something with that domain besides just using it for email even if that means just mirroring jazzsequence.com there.
  4. Make music. Music in 2016 suffered from the same fate as writing for the same reasons. I didn’t participate in the RPM Challenge in any capacity which tends to be when I double down and focus on making music for a month. It sounds daunting right now to even think about trying to participate in RPM next month but that’s probably the perfect reason to do it.
  5. Take time off. My mindset around taking time off has been focussed around making the best use of the small amount of days I have and don’t get sick and waste them. This often meant scheduling trips around holiday weekends when I’d get an extra day for the holiday, plus two days for the weekend, so I’m only using one or two vacation days. Trips scheduled like this are typically jam-packed, with last minute visits to cool places on the day that we are leaving so we get back home late and I work the next morning. Having a vacation that rushed is extremely stressful almost (but not quite) to the point of offsetting the recharging nature of taking a vacation. And I did it again for my Solstice/winter break even though I’m no longer in a position where I need to watch every PTO day. I took a longer break, but there was no break between when my parents came out to visit and when we left to go to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and no break between getting back and going back to work and I worked one of the days my parents were in town even though I didn’t necessarily have to. Not taking sick days because I tend not to get sick is one thing, but not taking mental health days because I need a break is silly when I have the days to take. I want to be more mindful of myself and part of that means taking time off and actually enjoying the time away from work and the computer.
  6. Learn javascript, deeply. 2 years ago now, Matt Mullenweg set out a goal for WordPress developers to “learn javascript, deeply.” While I am increasingly taking a more objective view of Matt’s opinions rather than what I did when I was a Matt fanboy, it’s obvious that JS is increasingly becoming the future of the internet. WordPress powers over 25% of the internet. The idea is that in order for WP to keep up with the rest of the internet, the future will be much more js-based. I have felt for a couple years that I am at a place where if WP died, I could make my way as a straight PHP developer. This is a fairly big leap from the days when the only programming language I felt fully fluent in (in that I could write something from scratch without a framework or existing platform) was HTML/CSS. Which means I could hop technologies pretty easily to, say, Joomla! (yuck) or Drupal if WordPress disappeared. More recently, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I’m capable at javascript — I can use existing libraries and write some simple things, mostly in jQuery. But I am not at the point where I feel like I could write something from absolute scratch. One of the first things I did when I joined HM was purchasing some javascript courses from Wes Bos and my goal for 2017 is to begin to become fluent (not just able to use/adapt) in javascript. Becoming fluent in a language means using it all the time, so the language is reinforced in your brain and at your fingertips. Yes, a lot of that involves Googling which is partially why at any given moment I have 30 different tabs open but having to Google doesn’t mean you aren’t fluent — mostly my Googling is to find out proper syntax or figure out the parameters and what order they come in for various functions. You have to know or be familiar with the functions to get to that point. I can do that with PHP and WP, but I’m not there yet — I don’t have the functions in my head and at my fingertips — with javascript.
  7. Listen to music. Thinking back on 2017, I feel like I was in a musical hole. I listened to my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist but on the whole, I had no idea of new releases or new artists coming out. What I listened to was, largely, the same stuff I normally listen to. Oh sure there was the new IAMX and Nick Cave and David Bowie but I completely forgot (or missed) that Radiohead quietly put out a new album and even those four specifically are artists that are already in my playlist, not new things I’ve never encountered before. I want to listen to more and find more new music so that I don’t look back on 2017 and wonder if any music at all came out.
  8. Make cider. My first batch of homebrewed cider was pretty much a success. As a first batch, it wasn’t too bad. More on the sweet side than what I would have liked. The instructions in the cider-making kit I got for my birthday said that you needed to use a sweetener with a more complex molecule structure than natural sugars (honey, cane sugar, brown sugar, etc) because the yeast will just eat it up and you’ll lose the sweetness. However, the result was that it tasted artificially sweetened (a little like Splenda or Sweet n’ Low). The instructions also said that the sweetener would bring out the flavor of the apple more. I’m sure that’s somewhat true. However, one of the best ciders I’ve had recently — Crispin’s Honey Crisp — was made with all natural ingredients including locally sourced honeycrisp apples and sweetened with honey. It had a very apple-y bite and wasn’t too sweet. I would much prefer using honey as a sweetener and if we lose some of the sweetness in the fermenting process, that’s okay because the batch I made was too sweet anyway. I also think that using a specific variety of apple, or using real apples (the kit came with a concentrate) makes a difference — the Honey Crisp cider tasted very distinctly of honeycrisp apples — and this means that using our apples from the apple tree in the back yard of our new home should work really well. They have a snappy, apple taste that’s not too sweet. I am looking forward to getting my new hose and auto-siphon so I can start thinking about what the next batch will be.
    Sidenote: In looking back on the label I made for the first batch of cider, I think there was a missed opportunity — I should have put a sombrero on Trump’s head. Would have made the visual much more absurd and much more obvious that I’m trying to make fun of him and his stupid use of the phrase “bad hombres”.