Friday, November 6, 2015

Medford

March 2, 1955.
A young black woman is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Alabama.
Civil rights leaders and the ACLU rush to her side and she will be a symbol of the struggle against segregation.
Her name is Claudette Colvin and she's 15 years old.
She's also unmarried and pregnant.
Civil rights leaders and the ACLU decide that Colvin is not the best foot forward and stand down.
Eight months later, Rosa Parks happens, but during that eight months, a brilliant and charismatic young minister gets the attention of the community and is chosen to lead the bus boycotts.
If Claudette Colvin doesn't get pregnant, if they'd gone in the spring instead of eight months later, Martin Luther King is a preacher you've never heard of in Montgomery.

Who is Giuseppe Zangara?
He's a guy with a gun who fired five shots in February 15, 1933, killing the Mayor of Chicago.
Why? Because Zangara was standing on a wobbly chair.
And the Mayor of Chicago wasn't his target.
It was the guy the mayor was shaking hands with, the newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt.
If Zangara's chair isn't wobbly, Roosevelt never takes office and we swear in his running mate, John Nance Garner, a man whose political ideology was the basis for his opposition to a package of legislation that would be called The New Deal and we don't survive the Great Depression.

Your kitchen faucet has washers.
They keep water from leaking through the joints in the fixtures.
And that's what O-rings do.
They're giant washers that keep pressurized hydrogen from leaking out of the SRB, the solid rocket booster, that shoots the space shuttle out of the Earth's atmosphere.
These O-rings have been tested and tested under every possible circumstance but one-- cold.
They didn't test to see if the O-rings worked when it was cold.
Why would they even think to test for that? The thing's launching from south Florida.
When's it gonna be cold? On January 28, 1986, a cold snap dragged the overnight temperature down to 18 degrees and it turns out the O-rings stopped working below 40.
So 73 seconds after the Challenger lifts off, it converts itself into a bomb and detonates.

Sometimes it's just the one thing.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why we run the world.

70,000 years ago humans were insignificant animals. The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were unimportant. Their impact on the world was very small, less than that of jellyfish, woodpeckers or bumblebees.
Today, however, humans control this planet. How did we reach from there to here? What was our secret of success, that turned us from insignificant apes minding their own business in a corner of Africa, into the rulers of the world?
We often look for the difference between us and other animals on the individual level. We want to believe that there is something special about the human body or human brain that makes each individual human vastly superior to a dog, or a pig, or a chimpanzee. But the fact is that one-on-one, humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. If you place me and a chimpanzee together on a lone island, to see who survives better, I would definitely place my bets on the chimp.
The real difference between us and other animals is on the collective level. Humans control the world because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Ants and bees can also work together in large numbers, but they do so in a very rigid way. If a beehive is facing a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot reinvent their social system overnight in order to cope better. They cannot, for example, execute the queen and establish a republic. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of intimately known individuals. Among wolves and chimps, cooperation is based on personal acquaintance. If I am a chimp and I want to cooperate with you, I must know you personally: What kind of chimp are you? Are you a nice chimp? Are you an evil chimp? How can I cooperate with you if I don’t know you?
Only Homo sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. One-on-one or ten-on-ten, chimpanzees may be better than us. But pit 1,000 Sapiens against 1,000 chimps, and the Sapiens will win easily, for the simple reason that 1,000 chimps can never cooperate effectively. Put 100,000 chimps in Wall Street or Yankee Stadium, and you’ll get chaos. Put 100,000 humans there, and you’ll get trade networks and sports contests.
Cooperation is not always nice, of course. All the terrible things humans have been doing throughout history are also the product of mass cooperation. Prisons, slaughterhouses and concentration camps are also systems of mass cooperation. Chimpanzees don’t have prisons, slaughterhouses or concentration camps.
Yet how come humans alone of all the animals are capable of cooperating flexibly in large numbers, be it in order to play, to trade or to slaughter? The answer is our imagination. We can cooperate with numerous strangers because we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of strangers to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively.
This is something only humans can do. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising that after he dies, he will go to Chimpanzee Heaven and there receive countless bananas for his good deeds. No chimp will ever believe such a story. Only humans believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, whereas chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.
It is relatively easy to accept that religious networks of cooperation are based on fictional stories. People build a cathedral together or go on crusade together because they believe the same stories about God and Heaven. But the same is true of all other types of large-scale human cooperation. Take for example our legal systems. Today, most legal systems are based on a belief in human rights. But human rights are a fiction, just like God and Heaven. In reality, humans have no rights, just as chimps or wolves have no rights. Cut open a human, and you won’t find there any rights. The only place where human rights exist is in the stories we invent and tell one another. Human rights may be a very attractive story, but it is only a story.
The same mechanism is at work in politics. Like gods and human rights, nations are fictions. A mountain is something real. You can see it, touch it, smell it. But the United States or Israel are not a physical reality. You cannot see them, touch them or smell them. They are just stories that humans invented and then became extremely attached to.
It is the same with economic networks of cooperation. Take a dollar bill, for example. It has no value in itself. You cannot eat it, drink it or wear it. But now come along some master storytellers like the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the President of the United States, and convince us to believe that this green piece of paper is worth five bananas. As long as millions of people believe this story, that green piece of paper really is worth five bananas. I can now go to the supermarket, hand a worthless piece of paper to a complete stranger whom I have never met before, and get real bananas in return. Try doing that with a chimpanzee.
Indeed, money is probably the most successful fiction ever invented by humans. Not all people believe in God, or in human rights, or in the United States of America. But everybody believes in money, and everybody believes in the dollar bill. Even Osama bin Laden. He hated American religion, American politics and American culture — but he was quite fond of American dollars. He had no objection to that story.
To conclude, whereas all other animals live in an objective world of rivers, trees and lions, we humans live in dual world. Yes, there are rivers, trees and lions in our world. But on top of that objective reality, we have constructed a second layer of make-believe reality, comprising fictional entities such as the European Union, God, the dollar and human rights.
And as time passes, these fictional entities have become ever more powerful, so that today they are the most powerful forces in the world. The very survival of trees, rivers and animals now depends on the wishes and decisions of fictional entities such as the United States and the World Bank...
...entities that exist only in our own imagination.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Humble

I think we all need something burning in the dark.

No matter how happy we are or how satisfied we become, there will always be that little pilot light in the corner of our hearts - flickering with memory and nostalgia - that just won't seem to ever extinguish.

Many people have come back into my life the last three years in an effort to rekindle that flame, see how warm the glow still feels after all of this time. Maybe it's a friendship, maybe it's an old romance, sometimes it's an old co-worker, trying to make amends over an expensive mistake. But in any case, the point remains the same: No matter how long it's been, no matter how much we've grown or changed, how far we've moved on, or how many of our own questions we've answered, that spark of human curiosity always wins out. It's a persistent little agent of our subconscious that is simply too innocently naive of rational thought to ever fade away.

Sometimes this is good. It allows bridges to be repaired, and old problems with aching joints that were weary from the weight of guilt and doubt to finally be free of the burden we inflicted upon our own selves. Many times it opens up new doors, new avenues and connections in our lives that we had gone without for so long; the light of life floods in, and the lessons we had been learning all these years finally come to fruition and reward our bravery with something new by having the courage to accept something old.

And sometimes that same curiosity is bad. It becomes an anchor to our hearts, only allowing it to move forward with painful tugs, dragging along mud and rock from the ocean floor of our psyche. With every push forward, there is a nearly equal pull back, reminding us that we failed before. That we still have something to learn, some wisdom we still have yet to extract. Worse, it can simply settle into the ground, leaving us immobile, and at the mercy of any waves or hurricanes life throws at us with no way to adapt or escape.

The inevitability of this flame is what keeps me humble. I don't reject it's existence when I feel it's fire, nor do I fully embrace it; I accept it. Walk over to it. And sit next to it. And then I watch it with a tilted head, and wonder why it moves the way it does - why it chooses to dance at certain times of the night. I refuse to be burned by it again. But I will let it close enough to keep me out of the dark.

Some people come back into my life only to feel warm again when they feel cold in their lives. And while I will always offer my companionship to anyone in need, I refuse to be used as a tool. I draw the line at being a safe haven when it's convenient only to be rejected as a human being the next moment for that same reason - convenience.

Others have come back into my life and I couldn't be more grateful at the luck, blind fate, God, or whoever or whatever had their hands on the puppet strings of time. I truly do not know where I would be today without a very select few individuals. Still others I admittedly wish (and hope) come back to visit me when they are ready to keep writing our story, to answer questions they long feared to ask... or answer.

Their time may come. Or it may never. I remain humble in that regard as well. Not every story has a happy ending. Hell, not every story even has an ending. Some stories cut off in the middle of the book and the best you can do is hope their last chapters went well without you. But until I die, I will always wait by my flickering fire, ready to talk with whomever decides to sit next to me again. 

I may sit alone sometimes, but never in the dark.

I'll always have my Curious Flame.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Lights. Camera. Fraction.


That's the thing about friends.

They're there, and they're not.

You're connected to them either via obligation or desire, both stemming from fulfilling social and emotional requirements in order to be deemed "normal". They set aside the traits in you that they disagree with, you do likewise with them, and you all go out to have the best time that's possible. To collect memories. In hopes that one day they all outweigh the bad memories and their value over time has accrued to a point of priceless bonds.

But what do you do if you're never truly invested? What do you do when you want so badly to be, but you just lack the wires to connect to the current? What do you do when you've been faking the motions for so long that no one even notices?

How do you tell your friends that you have no idea what a real friend is?

Where do you go when everyone you've ever known - from the fundamental foundations of your own parents to the furthest reaches of your emotional capacity, your loves - have all betrayed, lied and abandoned you at some point, and you don't trust a single person?

I'm not here.

I'm never here.

I'm just someone reading a script I've rehearsed a thousand times before I walked onstage. Reading lines to props in the background.

The stage is my home, and the play is exhausting.

But she was my greenroom.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Not For Sale.

"So what is this all about?"

What is what all about.

"This.[points] Why do you do all of this?" [spins finger]

Why do I do... all of me?

"Your long hair. The way you dress down. The beard. Being quiet, like you don't care. Acting like you don't like kids. Acting cynical. Acting like you like being alone. Just... acting." 

[keeps looking up at the stars]

"Is just camouflage to hide among everyone until a girl worth your time tries to tame you?
 Waiting for one to figure you out? So she sees the real you behind this mess 
you're trying to sell everyone that you are?"

[smirks, smokes cigarette]

"I just want you to know, Neil: I don't buy it."

You couldn't afford it.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chain Reaction


All right.

Tomorrow night, November 19th.

Let's do this.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Flood.


"I don't think I ever wanted to be 'The man who loves children.' But from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out and you act proud, and excited, hand out cigars. But you don’t feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them but you... don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem.

"Then one day they get older, and you see them do something. And you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. 

"And it feels like your heart is going to explode."

- Don Draper

Monday, October 20, 2014

Within The Ceaseless Grip of Trying

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: They say the weather is a great bluffer. I suppose the same is true of our human society - things can look dark, and then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man's curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.




Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Best.


The phone chimed that morning. Woke me up.

But I already knew what it was.

I didn't need to be told.

* * * * * 

The evening prior I drove to my parent's house to celebrate my cousin's birthday. After the obligatory meet and greet, I asked where Lily, my little sister's dog of 8 years, was. She's in the bathroom on the floor, they said. Scrunching my face, I headed to the back of the house and down the dark hallway.

Turning the light on, there she was. Unmoving, all except for her glassy black eye, which squinted and looked at me from the side. Just vague interest in my presence, nothing more. No barking or yelping. I walked in and crouched over her, reaching down to pet her where she's always liked it; around the ears, and under the chin. Her skin felt hard and there were lumps hidden under the fur. She took a deep breath and groaned out. The only movement was a weak attempt at a flinch when I'd pet her nose, as if it hurt to the touch.

"The hell," I said, as I walked back into the living room.

They didn't know what was wrong specifically, but she'd been in pain for about a year now. Limping. Lack of energy. Slowing down. Not as playful. Couple of surgeries to remove a tumor. The last few weeks she hadn't even been eating, relying on I.V. treatments for nourishment. The tests were apparently coming back tomorrow.

But I knew. We all did. No one needed to be told.

* * * * * 


Lily was a crazy playful dog. She never once bit or snapped or growled or... anything a dog normally does. Ever. Her entire life. The only time she opened her mouth was to hold a tennis ball, eat food, or bark as she blindly chased water. She didn't walk; she pranced. And she didn't run; she bounced, with her long fur coat bouncing along with her. She never over-zealously licked your face, never overstayed her welcome, never woke you up with noises, and never destroyed furniture. She somehow knew when it was okay to hop up on the bed and lay next to you to comfort you... and when to just stay on the floor to protect you.

She never needed to be told.

* * * * *

So we drove the quiet drive to the animal hospital. Lindsey held her the whole way there. Inside, we waited and were finally called. My father, mother and sister and I circled around Lily, lying on the table barely breathing, and cried. We pet her in silence, all lost in our own thoughts.

When the door opened and the time came, my sister realized she couldn't watch what had t happen and left with my father. The doctor asked if we were ready. No one said a word. Because, really, how do you say "yes" to that.

I was in charge of holding Lily as the doctor pushed the needle in. Unlike Jag, my cat, Lily wasn't spastic. There was no jerking around. No scuffle. No fight. No frantic movements of confusion or resistance. Five full seconds in, she softly raised her head, feeling the new sensation flowing inside of her.

And then, just as peacefully... she slowly laid her head down. As if she was simply... deciding to sleep.

I held her closer, feeling her one last breath fill her boney little body; a deep and relaxing one.

And I felt her let go.

No one in the room moved for quite a while - neither my mother sitting on a stool by the wall, or me hugging Lily. I think we were secretly waiting for her to bark and pop up, hearing the jingle of her collar, and her tail to whap against the metal table, the first animal ever in history to miraculously come back from aggressive Mesothelioma, sparking a newfound faith in a God worldwide.

But it didn't happen. Just the sound of the quiet hum of the fluorescent lights and sniffling around the room. A soft press of the stethoscope against fur, and the veterinarian nodded to confirm what we didn't need to be told: We no longer had our Lily.

There was no more wheezing. No more groaning. No more of those helpless looks with her eyes turned up because she was too weak to move her own head. None of that. I looked down and, for the first time in a long time, I saw something different.

She looked just as I had always known her: 

Perfect. 

And at peace.

That night, we left her the way she lived.

Perfect.

And at peace.


Say hi to Jag for me, girl. 

- HKR

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Other Side Of The Equation

I realize now that the hardest part in finding someone isn't trying find a person that has the things you're looking for.

It's finding a person that appreciates the things in you that you enjoy being appreciated.

One of the things I miss the most about my ex (and a few other select relationships) is when she would share with me a moment or aspect of who I was that she adored - one that I had never even thought about before. One time it was how expressive my eyes can be. Another time it was my broad shoulders. Or how safe she felt sleeping next to me. Sometimes it was my smooth skin. Or how she liked the way I walked, or finished her sentences, or how fast I solved puzzles. And especially the multitude of intimate connections we shared that she promised never to take for granted. She noticed all of the little things that pass over the rest of the world's heads... parents, siblings, co-workers, even best of friends. To a large degree, they're far more invested in their own lives to ever notice and become aware of the nuances that make up who you are as a whole. (After all, how often are you thinking about all of your friends' cute little quirks?)

Even most girlfriend and boyfriend couples only scratch the surface of each other. He'll say she's so pretty, and she'll say he's so strong; He'll say, "Oh, you're so smart," and she'll say, "You're so funny." But that isn't who you are. That isn't the crux of you. We are all comprised of little idiosyncrasies, involuntary subliminal "ticks" that separate us from each other.

You could take 10 men, stand them side by side, and have them all be, say, 5'9" - that's average, right? Now let's say they all make, astoundingly, the exact same amount of money. They all drive the same make and model of car, have the same favorite musical taste, eat the same food, weigh the same amount, are all left-handed, and even share the same political and religious ideologies. Let's even give them the same skin, hair and eye color, too.

Now on paper, they're the same person and therefore, theoretically speaking, should be interchangeable as a potential partner for a woman, right?

But of course we know that isn't even remotely true. There are a combination of tiny differences in each one that individualizes them all from each other.

• How does one guy act when he has the flu and can't get out of bed? 
• Is he grumpy and demeaning? 
• Do one of the others act like a injured puppy in the rain? 
• What about when you sit them all down in front of a computer with awful internet connection? 
• Which one flips the keyboard into the air first? 
• Which one likes kids? 
• Hates kids? 
• Wants to have one or two? 
• Wants to have five? 
• Says he hates kids but actually adores them? 
• How does each one drive in traffic after being cut off four times in a row on the freeway? 
• Which one will remember your birthday with a gift, and which one will remember it with a surprise vacation? 
• And which one will forget altogether? 
• Which one is terrible at oral sex but amazing at everything else? 
• Or vice versa?

And most importantly: Which one will experience you for who you truly, truly are, discover all of the things that you love and hate about yourself, and still love you? Which one will love you for the right things? And call you out on the bad? And let you slide on others because he knows he's not perfect either? Are you okay with someone that will never be capable of comprehending 100% of your hidden, untapped nature? Will you settle for something "easier" if it means you'll never have that intense fire and magic of a deep connection again? I suppose that decision is relative to each person, and each person decides what they're willing to trade-off for.

I personally concede no ground.

See, you could find someone that ticks off every box on your checklist - "attractive, smart, secure job, within your age window, close by, likes pets, likes your kind of music, food and drinks, someone my parents will like, etc." - that's the easy part. Because you're intrinsically always on the lookout for that minutia of qualifications anyway, so you don't really have a choice in terms of the set of qualities you'll end up with. And you could go out with that person for a while. But after some time passes, you'll know whether they possess the ability to understand the depth of who you are... or not. And it will become obvious fairly early on that you're going to have to make a choice: Surrender your ceiling and settle for "well it's not bad", or admit that you and the other person deserve more - deserve better - and then be brave enough let them go. It's actually irresponsible not to. You're denying them happiness just as much as you are your own.

I'm a stubborn son of a bitch. I was with an "easy" for about 5 years. But I eventually came to the realization that she would never fully grasp who I am or appreciate the extent of me. That's simply not who she was. This isn't a bad thing; On the contrary, she was and still is a profoundly wonderful person. One of my favorite people I've ever met. She was just a very simple person and needed only a simple boyfriend that wanted a simple life. That would make her happy. Unfortunately, I'm neither of those things. And I knew that somewhere, out there, was a simple guy that she could fully appreciate and would fully appreciate her in return and need nothing more from a relationship. Some people are perfectly content eating vanilla ice cream. She was a vanilla girl. (I was... I dunno... Rocky Road? That's a cliche enough metaphor.) So at the expense of security and contentment, and for the sake of her happiness, I let her go.

And then I pursued my twin and she pursued me

And then we won

And then we lost

The rest is history. 

This isn't about ego, either. It has nothing to do with, "I want someone who always thinks I'm a god." It has to work both ways. That person could unearth everything amazing in you and you could like it, but if you're incapable of tapping into the amalgamated spirit of who they are, it's not going to work either. It's about the reciprocated acknowledgement of one another's true essence.

There are plenty of women out there that fulfill my surface requirements for a partner: Pretty, college-level intelligence, ambition, broad sense of humor, empathy, well-intentioned, informed intuition, analytical defaults, submissive vulnerabilities, alpha tendencies, a willingness to push me and to be pushed herself, politically and socially aware, big and kind-hearted, not religiously-charged, craves life, loves animals, and possesses inherently strong nurturing instincts. There are quite literally tens of thousands of those women out there. And within my age range. Also, single.

But how many of them could possibly "get" me? For all those attributes that align with what I desire in someone else, the most critical aspect is the most difficult to find: Profound and accurate appreciation. In all of my years, I've only found it twice. I could have been content with silver a few times... but I can't. I never can be. I need gold.

See, you can find and be with someone that has all the stuff you want on paper. But the kicker is that intangible variable in the equation that so many people forget and causes them to settle: 

It's not about what you find in a person - that's the easy part. 
It's about what that person finds in you. 

That's what makes it work. In the end, you'll miss what they loved about you. Because it's when you get someone that sees things in you that no one else has seen before - not even yourself - that's when you truly have a unique connection that you can live for.


...that key that moves all the tumblers in your lock.

-HKR

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Goodbye, Oh Captain, My Captain.

Rest in peace, the father I never had.
-HKR