Friday, March 11, 2016

Of legends and fuck-ups

The other day I had to write a difficult email. And then another. It was a part of a conversation that was, in large part, me processing the end of my recent relationship with Kaleesha. In the course of writing it occurred to me that there was much I had never shared with her. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share it so much as I thought I’d have time. Why rush to share every detail of my life. I figured that in time I’d have occasion to share naturally as things came up. The truth is that she did much of the talking during our first year as she was processing her journey out of religion. And when she wasn’t talking she was crying. She even wrote a book about that journey. It as an intense and interesting time and I was happy to have been a part of the process. We talked a lot less in our second years as other people came into our lives. That’s another story for another time.

The point of this particular story is to begin a recounting of some of the memories that surfaced as I wrote her. Earlier today I was out walking my new canine companion Cosmo and I mulled over a particular paragraph in one of the above mentioned emails. In particular I was responding to something she’d written that hinted that I was settled down. That adventure and growth was no longer a priority for me but that it was for her. Well, it made me angry. Perhaps I’m sensitive  because while I’m a bit older than her, at 46 I’m far from joining the Fuddy Duddy club.   But the more I thought about it, not just who and where I am now but who I've been, my anger turned into a kind of amusement. I had a pretty good chuckle at myself. I’m a fucking legend. Well, my college advisor once told me that I was a legendary fuck-up. Does that count? Probably not.

I've decided it's time to write down a few things that I’ve probably not shared with family or friends. I know for a fact that much of what I might write will be news to my family and at the very least I’d like them to know these things. Not that I’m anything special, but as much as I want to know my fellow humans it’s also nice to be known. It’s nice to share and I think I’ve lived an interesting life, or, at least an unconventional life. I might make this a series of posts over the next few weeks. Of course, I often contemplate such themed posts but never get around to it.  But this is the first time in a long while that I’ve really felt the urge to write. Maybe it will stick. I think I’ll leave out the racy scenes for the moment. Not sure I should really get into that. Ha! Maybe I should. Any good story that purports to be about a legendary life should include a bit of the spicy stuff, no? I’ll contemplate that.

Perhaps this will serve as an overview and future posts might be an elaboration? Sure, that sounds doable. So, what kinds of activities and life choices might be examples of an unconventional life? Let me offer up this as a sampling:

I’ve been to jail for pirate radio broadcasting on a rooftop and I’ve had to kick beer guzzling pirate punk rockers out of my home. I’ve lived with beer guzzling pirate punk rockers.  I once woke up to a flaming couch outside my door and then proceeded to drag said couch until my fingers blistered and bled to keep my house from burning down. It wasn’t just smoldering, it was in full on flames. I’ve been in sweat lodges and fed hundreds of homeless people. During my time doing work for political prisoner Leonard Peltier I camped outside a federal building for a week and quite literally told the FBI to go fuck itself. I’ve drummed  and marched with thousands of people at multiple rallies in DC and helped kids in Memphis fix their flat tires.   I’ve helped make two documentary films and been on the crew of various others. I once took a midnight tour of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Eeeeeerie. They were closed but we were outside showing some traveling activist friends where Martin Luther King was assassinated  and the guard came outside and invited us in. Maybe he did that all the time for anyone but we felt pretty special. I’ve literally faced down a screaming, hooded clansman and been teargassed by the police. I’ve interviewed rockstars on their tour bus (do Chumbawamba count as rockstars?) and helped teach illiterate adults how to read. I’ve helped put in at least 7 different community gardens. I’ve organized conferences and taken phone calls in the middle of the night from someone issuing threats through a voice altering device. I helped found a housing co-op that I lived in for 5 years during which time I lived with over 50 different housemates and hosted 240+ travelers and two different activist oriented conferences.  I’ve raised a baby deer and seen it return to the wild to have it’s own babies. I’ve raised my own poultry and on a couple of occasions butchered them for food. I helped organize two indy film festivals. I helped found and run a micro-radio (pirate radio) station for 2 years. Said station ran out of our home and hosted 50+ volunteer DJs during it’s time on the air. I once misjudged the duration of an acid trip and ended up working  my first night as a barista at a coffee shop at the peak. I pulled it off and went on to co-manage the shop a few months later.

Maybe I’m still hallucinating but I don’t think that’s a typical list of life activities. And it’s just a small sampling. I just wish I’d had an iPhone for that period of my life so I’d better remember more of it. And to emphasize, this isn’t so much as a self-congratulatory pat on the back or bragging about past deeds so much as my not wanting to forget them. And also as a way to be better known. Many might look at that list and see things to be ashamed of. It is what it is. For the most part I don’t regret my life choices. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but a life without mistakes is probably not very well lived. I believe in the notion of admitting a bit of foolishness into our lives and, even more, celebrating it (hat tip to Steve Jobs).

To make sense of any accounting of deeds and misdeeds it often makes sense to order it as a chronology of sorts. It seems smart to start when things took a turn from the typical and that was, for me, college at Truman State University. Why don’t we start with  that cranky advisor that I mentioned above. He thought I was goofing off far too much. He thought I could and should take academics far more seriously. Maybe he was right. I was working on my BA in anthropology from 1987 to 1992 and for much of that time I was more concerned with my budding identity as an activist. My upbringing was basically very similar to an episode of the Simpsons in that we lived in suburbia and my parents were not very political or religious. I could pick any number of other examples of suburban family life portrayed in popular culture but the point is that it was a pretty average life that emphasized the usual for suburban middle America. Within the context of this typical life I, as an individual, was pretty laid back and not all that adventurous. And totally unaware politically. I had little idea about the workings of government or the historical evolution of culture and politics in the U.S. or anywhere. I thought Ronald Reagan was a swell guy.

Antioch College students visited the deCleyre co-op two years in a row for
their environmental racism and justice summer course. 2001
In my time at university I took a big step away from the person I’d been growing up and not just in the usual ways that college kids do. I did the usual and then I kept going. By the third year of college I’d concluded that I didn’t care much about a good job or accumulating wealth. I’d wager this was a bit of a shock to my family as I think their initial and primary motivation in encouraging me to attend college was that I might have better “career” opportunities. For them it was about my earning potential and better employment. I’d guess that this is the norm for the parents of college kids and for most college kids. The focus is getting the degree so that a better paying career  might be had. For me college was the beginning of life long learning, activism and poverty. Well, financial poverty but that was by choice.

It was chance, perhaps, that got me off on the left foot  because I was randomly assigned a biography of Gandhi for freshman orientation for which I was suppose to give some sort of report at a session of said orientation. This was the story of an unconventional life and it stuck to me right off. That’s right, Gandhi was like a big wad of HubbaBubba bubblegum  stuck to my shoe. Not that I tried to pry him off. I was content to have him stuck in. His story proved to be just the first seed in a series that would take root in my mind and begin to open my perspective up to a different kind of life. I was corrupted by an adorable little Indian guy that also happened to kick ass (in a very nonviolent sort of way of course).


Within that first year I’d begun attending meetings of the “World Peace Group” and Amnesty International.  By the third year I’d discovered the Greens and the Green Party. I’d attended the only environmental club on campus that was focused on recycling and decided they were far too limited, too narrow in scope. I wanted something that addressed not just the “environment” but something more encompassing that went at the social root of ecological problems.  I opted to start my own organization based on the larger green movement and simply called it the Northeast Missouri Greens. It was my first step into a process that would lead to a fundamental and radical shift on my understanding of what it meant to be a human being as well as what it meant to be a citizen. I’d never organized anything or spoken in front of a group of people. The room was overflowing at our first meeting and it probably goes without saying that I was a nervous wreck as I spoke to 40+ people, many of whom I’d never met. That was the beginning of my identity as a radical “organizer” and a personal evolution that continued for for over a decade and which continues in some ways today. I’m no longer involved with radical community organizing but as recently as 2010 was active in a local “mainstreet” revitalization organization in our local town. My hope then was to guide the group towards the “Transition Town” model of organization. Sadly the group disbanded after disagreements regarding how to address problems with the local police force. One of our last projects was the creation of a local space for art and culture which hosted poetry readings and art openings as well as discussion groups and even a dance party. Good times.


Since 2012 our little community (within the larger community) has evolved. Our activities, open to all, range from monthly community potlucks to star parties. For awhile I did a series of astronomy presentations at the local library but that’s been on a hiatus for over a year. The point though is that while my personal life is no longer one of a green-anarchist activist in a college town or city, it is still one of engagement. While I’m not opposed to participating in a protest or activities of a more radical nature my role of late has been to try to nurture the practice of creating community, specifically a community of people that tend towards skepticism, atheism and science. It seems like a good counter to the anti-rational and often anti-science culture of religious rural Missouri.

In a way that is a summary of it all with a bit of the beginning and a bit of the end or, more accurately, the present. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the details of the adventures that happened in the middle. The stuff of legend? I may have exaggerated but I will say that at the very least it has been an adventure.

Oh, and for the record,  I’ve known people well into their “golden” years who have persisted in living full lives in every way they possibly are able. I intend to be one of those. Life is meant for living and if I’m going to take up space on this planet I’ll not waste it. So, as I do age, I'll not be one that pretends otherwise. Aging is a part of the process. But I'll also not be one that stops adventuring. Not unless I have to and as long as I have some mental clarity, well, I won't have to.

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