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Friday, August 30, 2019

If I Didn't Feel This Way, I Would Be Crazy

Edward Hopper Morning Sun 

Recently I had to have an invasive procedure combined with a biopsy. Cancer is the slow-moving but implacable nightmare ogre stalking my family. I grew up on my mother's accounts of my Slovak grandmother Mary dying young.

"She was in so much pain. They never gave her enough pain killer. They claimed she shouldn't have felt so much pain."

I lived those scenes, in a white-walled, fluorescent-lit, merciless and cold American hospital, where my tough-as-nails, refined-as-spun-glass grandmother, who was born in a peasant village in Slovakia, breathed her last. It all transpired before I was born, but through my mother's obsessively repeated and broken-hearted accounts, I lived those scenes, and I hated the white-coated, robotic, stiff Americans who refused my grandmother adequate pain-killing drugs, and I have never come to terms with the God who smote my family.

And I have always known that it would happen to me, right down to the robotic doctors refusing me pain killing drugs, and I have always known that it was just a matter of time.

My brother Mike, of course, died at 34, while I was in Nepal. Antoinette, just four years ago. I've been a shredded, mourning wreck ever since, though I don't think I show it. Joe, last year. Me next, I guess.

So, I had to have an invasive procedure with biopsy the other day. Haven't gotten the results back yet. Hoping for the best.

The facility I went to was wonderful. Everyone was beautifully present, gracious and professional, from the intake person, to the nurses; even the anesthesiologist behaved like a mensch, which is rare.

The chief nurse chatted with me enthusiastically about the Marcal Paper Plant, once a landmark on route 80 near Paterson, that burned down in January, 2019. That distracted me from the procedure, as did her charming personality.

She then stared at a computer screen and said, in a getting-down-to-business voice, "I'm going to ask you some questions that I must ask you by law."

"Okay," I said.

"Is anyone trying to hurt you, or is anyone threatening you?"

No, I said, thinking wow, what an absurd question. What has that got to do with this biopsy?

"Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?"

I can be a contrarian person and I resolve, when receiving health care, to be as cooperative as possible. For that reason, though it would have been easy enough to say "No," I said, "Yes."

The nurse stopped. She looked shocked. "Really?" she said, looking down at me in my hospital gown, all hooked up to machines and tubes, lying on the wheeled and barred hospital bed.

"Yeah," I said.

Well, everything changed after that. And of course I have come to regret being honest.

New personnel arrived. They informed me that life is worth living. One had the courage to encourage me to pray. I was grateful for that.

Belligerent atheist activists have so stripped our communal life of the sacred. I had no problem with being encouraged to pray, and if you have a problem with it, you can go jump in a lake. But pray about it first. :-)

By the way, "You can go jump in a lake" is not real encouragement to jump in a lake. It's a way of saying, via an idiom, that I am sick to death of the cranky, humorless, jack-booted, fascistic New Atheists, and I wish they'd not go into a tizzy when a kindly health care professional, trying to save a life, encourages a patient to pray. And if that explanation doesn't work, really, you can go jump in a lake.

I think about it daily. If I didn't think about it, I'd be crazy.

I've never mattered to anyone. Oh, for the love of God, please don't feel the need to insist that I matter to you. I don't. I'm not talking about someone liking a Facebook post.

I'm talking about this. I am alone every holiday and every birthday, and I almost always have been with the exception of Peace Corps, when holidays and my birthday were glitter-colored phantasmagorias of communal hugging and kissing, drinking and singing and dancing. There's something to be said for being a member of a cult.

When I have to fill out the form that says, "Who should we inform if you faint or die or need a ride home?" You don't want to know how many times I've had to make up names and phone numbers for those forms.

Uncle John loved me, I think, but he spoke no English and we shared three weeks together in Slovakia when I was a child and he was an old man. That's a pretty slender thread to be holding on to all these years.

And, no, "I like your Facebook posts" is not the same thing as "I love you" so don't say it is or I'll be forced to smack you.

I've failed at everything. I had so much hope for God through Binoculars. I sent copies of it to various authors, many of them bestselling, before its publication, in order to get blurbs. The blurbs were over-the-top positive. "Beautiful … profound … important."

I worked fulltime the entire month after it was published begging outlets to publicize it, review it, invite me to speak. I got, what, three, four reviews? All of them terrific, followed by zero sales. My writing has gone nowhere and it will never go anywhere.

As mentioned, since the second to last surgery, I have been dealing with torture-level pain. The bursts of pain are, for the most part, short-lived. The pain can last anywhere from a minute or two to, in the longest instance, 24 hours. I've been to five doctors. Tests show I'm not making it up – my body is breaking down. No one knows why, or how to make it stop.

Losing every member of the only family I've ever been part of is overwhelming. You really can't convey it to people who have relations with whom they have contact. The only way I can begin to communicate it is thus: I have a few family photos. Mike, me, Tramp, Lady, Artie, Benjie, Antoinette, Phil, Aunt Phyllis, my parents, all of us. I have recordings of them speaking. And there is a story with each photo. No one wants to see those photos or listen to these recordings. No one wants to hear the stories. I am the sole remnant of the living in a city of the dead.

Alone, in pain, and a failure.

I received a follow-up phone call from a very officious sounding woman. She gave her name and rattled off fifteen numbers, that she bade me to jot down. It was a weird conversation. "Hello? Ms Goska?" Now, see, if they knew anything about me, even if they just asked, they'd know that I prefer "Dr Goska." I worked hard for that PhD.

"Ms Goska, your response to the survey questionnaire made its way to me. Please jot down these numbers." I did, dutifully. I have them in my notebook. What are they code for? I just googled them. They are billing codes. I found a seven page document about billing. I didn't understand much of it.

The woman who phoned me sounded bored, uninterested, and unhappy. She immediately brought up drugs. I did not bring up drugs. She named two doctors who might authorize her prescribing mind-altering drugs to me. Neither was a psychiatrist. I never asked for mind-altering drugs. I don't want mind-altering drugs. At no point in the conversation did she ask anything about me or my life. Nothing.

She just phoned back. I won't return the call.

I think next time I'm asked this question I'll duck it. I don't like to lie, not even when a Trader Joe's cashier asks, "Find everything you were looking for?" I don't want to say "No," even if that is the answer because then it would be his or her job to "help" me – emphasis on the quotation marks – to find what I've given up hope of finding. No, I just want to pay and go. So I don't answer. I don't lie, I just say, "No bag, please." No Trader Joe's employee has pressed me after that.

The way people talk about suicide and euthanasia really pisses me off.

Some examples:

When people post "Repost this suicide hotline number to prove that someone is always listening." Somehow these memes are always posted by impersonal, argumentative, self-righteous Facebook posters who never engage in any substantive or warm dialogue with anyone. If the goal is to prove that someone is really listening, why not listen? And engage with someone who wants someone else to talk to?

Someone posts a personal triumph. Congratulate that person.

Someone posts a cute puppy picture. Say, "Oh, how cute."

Someone posts a picture of their nephew graduating high school. Type, "Congratulations!"

*That's* how you convince people that someone is listening. By *listening.* And *respoinding.* Not by posting impersonal, coercive memes about suicide hotlines. You know what those memes prove? Not that someone is listening. That someone is virtue signaling.

See? The basic common humanity is sucked out of interactions and replaced by partisan memes. "I hate Trump … If you voted for Trump you are an asshole … If you are feeling suicidal, phone this number." What if the suicidal person was a Trump supporter, and you just posted fifteen posts calling Trump supporters halfwit knuckle-draggers? Sheesh.

I also reject the all too easy equation that suicide = mental illness. People I know who have committed suicide (and I write about them in God through Binoculars, the book no one is buying) had real life problems. One had a dead-end academic career he had poured the best years of his life into. He was constantly put down by his superiors.

Another had just been rejected by a man she loved, and she was at an age when, for many women, it is make-it or break-it for marriage and family. I loved how she looked, but I could see where men might look right past her. The old biological clock was clanging loudly.

Another friend who made a serious attempt at suicide, one I, clumsily, aborted, was a brilliant lesbian living in a less-than-brilliant New Jersey suburb, working at a less-than-brilliant community college job. Her frustration, loneliness and alienation were palpable.

I don't think any of these folks were nuts. I think they were hitting very hard brick walls. Insisting that they were crazy, and that drugs were the solution, trivializes the very real life challenges they faced, all of them, as far as I could see, without support from philosophies that emphasize persistence against very tough odds.

And speaking of philosophies that emphasis persistence against very tough odds. I am still here because of the Catholic Church and the models of my ethnic heritage. Poles and Slovaks march on through the worst. Quitting is not allowed. But if you really can't take it anymore, you go quietly, not asking for anything before you go, like a recent Polish immigrant, a hard-working husband and father, who hanged himself at home down the street from me not too long ago, and a very lovely Polish immigrant, with an advanced degree, who, without any fuss, drowned in the Passaic River.

Can you not understand her story? She got an advanced degree. Her parents probably witnessed the worst of communism and the dregs of the Nazi crucifixion of Poland during WW II. She immigrated here with high hopes. Maybe she ended up cleaning houses. There is no Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to sing dirges for such Polak immigrants. We are somehow not as poignant as Central Americans. We write our own stories, and if the plot peters out, there is nothing left for us but the denouement offered by rope or river.

There is visual documentation of the retrieval of her body from the river. The light is late winter dusk grey. The snow on the ground looks fluorescent. There is a dark gash, a path through the snow to the river. Men in clunky rescue gear gouged this path to the river. Red and white lights flash on adjacent suburban roads slipping into darkness. A firetruck towing a rowboat drives by. There is, of course, yellow tape, as if yellow tape could hold the evil out or the despair in.

The reporter of her story has a Dutch last name. The Dutch first settled this state. I've had college professors who were Dutch. I have bought fresh corn at Dutch-owned stands. My Bohunk brothers used to sell raw fur to a Dutch roadside stand. I could never afford their pumpkins, huge, aesthetically perfect, and always had to settle for smaller, cheaper,  and more pinched, asymmetrical supermarket pumpkins. What could a Dutch American reporter, his ancestors in this county for four hundred years, know of the passions and agonies of a recent Polish immigrant?

The video ends in darkness, the only light flashlights pointing toward the ground, perhaps the body, the weight to be dragged away from the river, flown to Poland, prayed over there, and settled as cremated ash in the Polish earth that, perhaps, she should never have left.

So, no. I don't like the number codes. I don't like the drugs. I don't like the insistence that this choice is about mental illness and not about real life challenges that the one making the choice is sure he or she can't solve.

There are a lot of us. Alone, unimportant to others, dealing with health issues that make every day life increasingly hard. The simple truth is, no number code, no prescription, and no hotline number will change any of that. Death is inevitable. It may as well occur before things get too messy / painful / humiliating.

What do I mean by messy? The guy across the hall from me had always been odd; his comments became less and less tethered to consensus reality. He always used a cane; he switched to two, and then a wheelchair. He lost at least fifty pounds, seemingly overnight.

Official-seeming people came and pounded on his door. I got no sense that they knew him at all, or cared about him, but, rather, that they had been dispatched by some social service agency. There were rumors.

Before he was finally wheeled out on a stretcher, there was an eruption of flies of every kind. They entered my apartment. On some days I had a hundred dead flies on my bottom refrigerator shelf. The smell from him was overwhelming. I don't know what this African immigrant, who appeared to have no local family or friends, died of. I know it was a mess.

Mind. I'm not arguing for suicide. And, again, when presented with a suicidal person, I've done everything I can to be a roadblock. I'm arguing for respect for those who choose it.

Final comments. I am not, right now, close. My cognitive functions are still pretty good. I can still lift weights. I can still work. So no need to hurl your body between me and the Passaic River. Thanks.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Drag Queen Story Hour: A New Horizon in Tolerance and Diversity.



Drag Queen Story Hour Branches Out
Groundbreaking Program Expands Its Outreach in Tolerance and Diversity

A hundred community members crowded my local library's public meeting space. Thirty or so toddlers nestled in the laps of their moms and dads in the rows of folding chairs. Teachers and administrators from local schools sat front row center.

A man in tattered clothing and a ragged cap appeared on a makeshift stage. He gave his name as "Jim Crow." His white face was covered with black paint. A large circle of white paint surrounded  his mouth, making his lips look twice their size. "Jim" arched his back so that his buttocks protruded; in fact, his buttocks appeared to be padded with pillows worn under his colorfully patched and threadbare trousers. He waved his hands about wildly – "jazz hands." The children in the audience laughed with delight at Jim's screwball antics. Moms and dads smiled indulgently. School administrators took notes on their cell phones. I could just tell that some were already planning to book Jim for their next school assembly. Heather Truwright, our librarian and hostess, wore a triumphant grin.

Next. Mr. Bones and Mr. Interlocutor entered. Whereas Jim wore the rags of a plantation slave, Bones and Interlocutor wore exaggerated suits, with wildly colored, outsized, and clashing vests, jackets, hats, and gloves. They were clearly costumed as the flashy nouveau riche, too gauche and ignorant to know how to dress properly. Like Jim, their faces were covered with black paint, except for the exaggerated lips. In their case, they used red to emphasize their lip size.

Next appeared perhaps the most beloved character of all: Mammy, a very fat woman (pillows tied under the costume contributed to Mammy's huge breasts, buttocks, and hips) wearing a red-and-white rag on her head, a red and black wool blanket as a shawl, and a white apron. Following on Mammy's heels were picaninnies, amusingly costumed children, each carrying his or her own slice of watermelon while being chased by a puppet alligator. The picaninnies ran and screamed comically.  

The toddlers in the library audience were fascinated by the visual stimulation and the broad comedy in this presentation, and their attention never flagged. The older kids improved their reading skills. The performance troupe read aloud from the children's classic Little Black Sambo, and then aided the children in making their own picaninny costumes out of construction paper, crayons, and Scotch tape. There was a supply of black face make-up, and white for wide lips. Kids had a grand old time blackening each other's faces and looking at their own minstrel show faces in a mirror.

I congratulated Heather on a successful program. She glowed. The troupe, though exhausted, and sweating under their black greasepaint, beamed.

"Folks," I said, "You've got a smash success here. And you're really teaching a very important lesson while having fun, aren't you? These kids have been exposed to tolerance and diversity."

"Jim" became excited. "Yes!" he agreed. "Tolerance and diversity is the whole point of our show. After all, here we are, a bunch of privileged white people, and we are, through the magic of costume and theater, showing kids how 'dress-up' can give you the chance to be something you are not."

"Exactly," I concurred, nodding at Jim's sage point. "Kids love dress-up, costumes, and make believe, and you are using the tools and activities kids love to teach them that race doesn't really matter. We can all be any race we choose to be. We can choose the racial identity we feel inside."

"Yes!" Jim concurred.

"Color doesn't matter," Heather intoned. "It's what's inside that counts."

"Amen to that," I said. "Listen. I understand that there has been some controversy around Minstrel Show Story Hour. Some bitter, hateful, fundamentalist Christians have protested."

"Some people are back in the last century," Heather said. "They don't understand diversity and tolerance."

"They call themselves Christians, but they preach only hate," said Jim.

We all nodded and paused to look sad.

Jim pulled at his ragged shirt. "See this? It's just a costume. This on my face? It's just makeup. Underneath my costume and the black greasepaint, I have a soul like everyone else. Why can't they understand that?"

"Hate and intolerance blinds them," I said.

Jim continued. "I follow a tradition that is centuries old. Mark Twain was a huge fan of minstrelsy. The Christian protesters don't respect art! What kind of society would we have without art, without dress-up, without make-believe?"

"A very bleak and lifeless society," Heather said.

A five-year-old girl burst into our interview. "When I grow up," she said, "I want to be a Mammy."

We all smiled.

"So, Heather, what's next? I know you have another innovation up your sleeve."

Heather winked. I was breathless with anticipation.

"We need something that will attract the boys, and, you know, boys just love uniforms, toy guns, rousing singalongs."

"Of course! And?"

"Wehrmacht story hour!"

And then I woke from this nightmare.

***

Drag Queen Story Hour was created in 2015 by Michelle Tea, winner of the  PEN / Diamondstein-Spielvogel Award. Drag performers read stories to children in public libraries. They then engage in craft activities, for example making a paper crown.

If you google "Drag Queen Story Hour," you can see photos. Biological males wear high, exaggerated wigs, with blonde, blue, pink, purple, and chrome yellow hair. Some of the drag performers sport heavy beards. One of the drag performers has five, sharp, red-tipped horns coming out of his head. Horns sprouting from the head is often seen in images of Satan; five is the number of points on a pentagram. The beard on one drag performer is made of glitter glued to his face. All of the drag performers wear heavy, opaque eye-shadow. Another drag performer features teeth covered in glitter. His makeup, like that of many others, is so extreme it verges on the clown-like, specifically the kind of clown encountered in horror films. Of course all the drag performers wear artificial breasts, some enhanced with plastic googly eyes or clam shells. In some photos, you can view toddlers pressed against a supine drag performer, groin-to-groin, fondling the performer's fake breasts. The so-called "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," a group of men who vilify Catholic nuns by dressing in sexually explicit, S&M nun costumes, read to children at the Boston Public Library.

In May, 2019, conservative author Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-born convert to Catholicism, protested against DQSH in a much discussed First Things essay. On August 17, 2019, Dorre Love, a YouTube evangelist, posted a video of himself protesting a DQSH event. One does not have to share the above gentlemen's Christianity to see problems with DQSH. In fact atheists and at least one left-leaning lesbian can and do protest drag.

Why protest? Well, first, of course, there is the hypocrisy.

"They're just costumes." "What's important is what's inside." The same folks saying this about DQSH would call out Antifa if a costumed troupe showed up at a library to read for Minstrel Show Story Hour. Costumes matter, as do pieces of cloth, as all those who faint at the sight of a Confederate Flag would have you know.

Proponents of DQSH insist that it is all about "diversity," "tolerance," "artistic expression" and "the kids love it."

As mentioned above, minstrelsy is also very much an art form with a long history. Minstrelsy was indeed favored by no less an authority than Mark Twain. Minstrelsy was "one of the central events in the culture of the Democratic party." Respected entertainers from Bing Crosby to Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg to Bob Dylan have had some relationship to minstrelsy. The web is full of agonized confessions by blacks and whites admitting that they find Amos n Andy funny – though they know they should not. So, just because something is art, or traditional, or appreciated by its audiences, does not mean that it is appropriate for children at a taxpayer-funded institution. I am strongly in favor of Holocaust education, rape education, and finance education, but I wouldn't support any of these being presented to toddlers.

Kids love DQSH? I'll be they do. Kids also love candy, playing with their own snot and pooh, and punching each other. Maturity grants its possessor the ability to recognize that what kids love and what is good for kids are often two different things. Exploiting toddlers to make some political or cultural point is abuse.

Someone needs to ask one of the brainwashed nincompoops mindlessly spouting prepackaged soundbites the following question. What is the ethical valence of the terms "diversity" and "tolerance"? In fact, "diversity" and "tolerance" are both entirely ethically neutral. One can tolerate a neighbor loudly beating his wife and children. There's nothing ethical about that tolerance. Leftists celebrated the election of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to Congress. I asked them why. Only one attempted to answer. "Their presence increases Congress' diversity." "So what?" I responded. "If we elect a Nazi or a serial killer, would that not increase diversity, too?" I received no reply.

"Diversity" and "tolerance," when used correctly, are always followed by a noun, stated or implied. Diversity of what? Tolerance of what? That DQSH employs virulently anti-Catholic, S&M-themed bigots, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, reveals that DQSH is not only not tolerant of the diversity represented by Catholics, it contributes to propagandizing that will diminish Catholics and Catholicism in the minds of the vulnerable. Would DQSH employ The Wives of ISIS, a group of gay, white, American men dressed in hyper-sexualized parodies of hijab? The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence give themselves names like "Sister Hysterectoria." Would DQSH employ men who call themselves "Mohammed's Child Bride"? The answer to these questions reveals that DQSH is not about diversity or tolerance at all. It's about indoctrinating children.

"Any insinuation that we have an agenda to indoctrinate children misunderstands LGBTQ experiences and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia," insists the DQSH page. Translation: "You disagree with me? I will not adduce facts to prove you wrong. Rather, I will smear you a hater: racist, sexist, homophobe, transphobe." Christophobia is not a sin in the DQSH handbook. Fans of DQSH are allowed, nay, encouraged, to hate Christians.

Hating Christians is not enough. One must also train guns on them. One DQSH event featured snipers pointing their weapons at Christian protesters. The Daily Caller reported, "A SWAT team of two snipers was stationed on the roof of a public library in Spokane, Washington June 15. Their mission, along with 30-40 police officers, was to defend DQSH from 300 concerned mothers and allies protesting the event." You can just smell the tolerance.

In a June, 2019 First Things article, Ramona Tausz took on the "there's no agenda" comment. "Videos of past story hours reveal pornographic adult entertainment: provocative outfits, sexual dancing, and twerking. Some drag performers even wear clothing used for BDSM, such as dog collars …Two of the 'queens' featured in story hours in Houston … were later exposed as convicted sex offenders and pedophiles."

Tausz cites the research of Lisa Littman. Littman discovered that adolescents are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure to identify as transgender. Many of these adolescents later regret self-identifying as transgender, and "de-transition." De-transitioning is, of course, harder if the child has already been giving puberty blockers, had surgery to have key body parts removed, and taken hormones that have changed the child's body for the rest of her life. Tolerance? Diversity? Littman's work was suppressed. She was speaking truths that run counter to the leftist gender police code. She had to be punished and excluded.

More notes from the tolerance and diversity crowd. St John's library in Portland, Oregon chose to censor photos of a drag performer lying supine on the floor as children lay atop him, groin to groin.

It's always intriguing to watch the left's hierarchy of victimhood laid bare. In 2010, African American journalist Juan Williams humbly confessed that when he sees airline passengers in "Muslim garb," he gets "nervous." NPR fired Williams and NPR's CEO said he needs a psychiatrist. Williams' name was dragged through the mud. Leftists otherwise privilege African Americans, but Muslim identity supersedes black identity.

Leftists have similarly been bashing lesbians who dare to critique men who identify as women. The left is a faithless, fickle, two-timing ally. Men claiming to be women trump real women.

A lesbian in that lefty bastion, western Massachusetts, objected to a drag performance as part of a Pride event. In a June, 2019, Hampshire Gazette essay, J.M. Sorrell identifies as "a feminist first" and as "a social justice and cultural competence trainer." Sorrell's objection to drag has nothing to do with Christianity. She came to western Massachusetts, she writes, "in 1982 as a young lesbian and budding feminist, and I remain in awe of the women who established organizations and safe places long before I arrived … visitors are greeted with the sign: Northampton: 'Where the coffee is strong and so are the women.'" Sorrell's objection to drag: "I have a problem with men ridiculing women as sport."

Just exactly what the left really thinks of "tolerance" and "diversity" is revealed in the comments section. Poor Sorrell is raked over the coals in one fact-free, ad hominem post after another. One accuses her of "vindicating the patriarchy." Another says, "I hope you talk to a therapist." Another, "It is completely unacceptable for a TERF to complain. … You should be ashamed of yourself." TERF is a hate term directed against women who refuse to acknowledge males as women. TERF, of course, sounds like "turf," or dirt. The term "TERF" is often accompanied by threats of rape, assault, and murder. See here and here. One poster responding to Sorrell claims that she supports "Freedom of expression FOR ALL" and then says Sorrell is "asinine" for exercising her freedom of expression. Another calls Sorrell's piece "inflammatory garbage" and accuses her, simply, of being "white." Another poster who celebrates inclusion says, "No to TERFS!" Another makes an economic threat. Another supports this economic threat with "To all others commenting, thank you for brnging [sic] the conversation back towards creating a loving and inclusive local queer commnunity [sic] for all." Yes, loving and inclusive of all, except those with whom we disagree, whom we will turn into non-persons.

The funniest gripe: "Sensationalist journalism like this is exactly the reason why Trump got elected." Really? Really? Lesbians objecting to drag in a western Massachusetts Pride event is why Trump got elected? The pundits sure missed that one.

The remarkable, or perhaps not so remarkable thing is that in all this vitriol, there is not one single fact. "Drag is good for a Pride event because … " no one completes that sentence. They just denigrate the woman who dared to point out that "men ridiculing women as sport" is a questionable contribution to a Pride event.

Nothing throws drag's defenders into a tizzy so much as comparing drag to minstrelsy. The comparison is made often. See here, here and here. The reason drag and minstrelsy are compared so frequently is that they have everything in common.

Minstrelsy arose during slavery. Whites, the relatively empowered group, imitated blacks, the disempowered group. In drag, men, who are relatively empowered, imitate women, who are relatively disempowered. No, no one is arguing that women's status is comparable to that of black slaves. Please note use of the word "relative." Whites weren't just more empowered, they were also the ones doing harm to blacks, by enslaving them. Men, relative to women, are the ones more likely to do harm. No, I'm not arguing that all women are saints, and I'm not arguing that women today are treated anything like how slaves were treated, but again please note use of the word "relative." Men are more likely to beat, rape, stalk, and discriminate against women than women are to do any of those things to men.

In both minstrelsy and drag, the empowered person creates an image of a relatively disempowered person that is designed to replace any real image of the disempowered in the viewer's mind. I've never seen a minstrel show, but when I think of enslaved African American women, I don't think of archival photos of real slave women, women looking dignified but thin, worn out, and terribly sad. I think, rather, of Mammy: Mammy in Gone with the Wind, Mammy on Aunt Jemima packages, Mammy-shaped-and-painted ceramic cookie jars. Again, The Mammy image has been jackhammered into my brain by popular culture. You may ask, "So what? So what if you think of that Mammy image? What's the harm? It's a lovely image. She's maternal, caring, and pleasant." She's also always smiling and buffoonish. I reread Gone with the Wind for the third time recently. It's the most seductive book I've ever read – the pages turn themselves. It's also toxic in its depiction of African Americans. Mammy is pleasant and maternal, and Margaret Mitchell, more than once, refers to Mammy as an ape. Thanks to minstrelsy's aesthetics, that is the paramount image of an enslaved woman in my head: a happy, smiling ape, willingly giving over her life to white people's happiness.

Drag performs the same toxic work. Drag, just like porn, teaches the viewer: this is what a woman is. Given the expertly honed and undeniably stunning visual appeal of drag, its powerful images can supersede reality in the viewer's mind.

Minstrelsy wasn't just about entertainment. It was about obviating, for the white audience, any human fellow-feeling they might experience for black slaves. As long as the image in your mind of a black person is a ridiculous stereotype of a shiftless, comical, singing and dancing buffoon, you will not shed any tears over thoughts of those humans being bought and sold. DQSH is propagandizing toddlers just as minstrelsy did. DQSH is teaching vulnerable children that women are exaggerated, comical stereotypes.

Drag and minstrelsy are not the only artforms in which a member of a more empowered group presents an ugly stereotype of a member of a less empowered group. In Poland I witnessed a traditional, folk Christmas play. "The Jew" was played by a Pole. This Polish actor wore a beard, forelocks, yarmulke, caftan and tzitzit. He adopted exaggerated qualities a non-Jew would associate with a Jew. He was crafty, he liked money, and he tricked Polish peasants. At one point in the play, he was kicked in the buttocks and fell flat on his face, to great laughter.

In the 1940 film Jud Suss, Ferdinand Marian, a German, non-Jewish actor, played the part of a Jew. He, too, imitated exaggerated qualities Germans would associate with Jews. As with minstrelsy and drag, the goal of Jud Suss was to create in the viewer's mind a stereotypical image of a Jew that would overcome any encounters viewers had with real, live Jews. Joseph Goebbels himself ordered and oversaw the production of this film. Jud Suss was shown to Nazi soldiers before they carried out an aktion, or roundup and deportation of Jews. Jud Suss has been called the most successful Nazi propaganda film.

Members of groups with relatively greater power performing their stereotyped version of members of groups with relatively lesser power is a trend with a very dark history. Why, then, do leftists excoriate blackface and elevate drag? Because blackface was acted out by white men. White men are objects of leftist hatred. Drag is performed by gay men. Gay men, in the leftist victim hierarchy, rank much higher than minstrelsy's presumed-to-be heterosexual white male performers. If the only performers of drag were rich, white, heterosexual, Southern, Christian men, leftists would despise and condemn drag as vehemently as they anathematize minstrelsy.

On those rare occasions when leftists attempt coherent speech, rather than insults, soundbites and threats, to defend DQSH, their defense runs like this: there is this institution called "The Patriarchy." The patriarchy is evil because it assigns greater power, privilege, and prestige to heterosexual men. These men go on to rape and oppress women and destroy the lives of homosexuals. The patriarchy must be destroyed. Drag contributes to the destruction of patriarchy.

Drag's fanatical defenders could not be more wrong. Drag is misogynist and ultimately supportive of the very macho male superiority and female inferiority that it purports to undermine. Mind: when I speak of "macho male superiority" I'm not agreeing with drag's defenders' assessment of men. I don't think all men are macho oppressors and sexual hounds. Rather, I'm writing about how drag's defenders view heterosexual men.

Drag performers take as their starting point, their a priori premise, that macho men matter more than gay men and much more than women. Drag performers rely on presumed, stereotypical macho male contempt for women qua women for the power of their routines. Without this macho-male-on-top, female-on-bottom structure, drag would not make any sense at all.

Some drag performers want to pass as women and employ less exaggerated versions of wigs, costumes, makeup, and prosthetic breasts, buttocks, and hips. Others want to look like hostile parodies of those feminine ideals found in the fashion and cosmetic industries. Drag performers do not choose to look like average women. They choose to look like French maids out of Playboy cartoons rather than real cleaning women, "hot" school teachers rather than real educators, "hot" nurses rather than health care professionals in scrubs and sneakers who save lives, MILFs rather than real mothers, shoulders stooped and eyes baggy from lack of sleep and wearing sweat suits stained with blobs of regurgitated baby food. Drag performers do not choose to use prosthetics that supply them with real women's less than perky or asymmetrical breasts or stubby legs. No. Drag performers want either to look like, or to look like parodies of, young fashion models and actresses who have the visual power to sexually arouse heterosexual men. By insisting on focusing on that tiny percentage of women as the only female model worthy of their attention, drag performers privilege what they see as macho male's presumed sexual fantasies above all other values.

By acting out this sexual fantasy female, drag performers communicate two kinds of contempt: "Heterosexual men, you are so gullible. I am a male. I have a hairy chest, a deep voice, a penis and testicles, and yet I am able to arouse you sexually. What does that say about you? That you are a cheap fool and all your cant about the sacredness of the heterosexual marital bond is hogwash. Oh, and I can lead you around by your dick." Drag similarly insults heterosexual females. The drag performer says to women, as a twist on the old drag joke goes, "I'm more woman than you will ever be, and I've had more men than you will ever get." The ultimate compliment to a drag performer: "He is prettier than, and looks more real than, a real woman." The drag performer's goal is to replace the image of a real woman in the viewer's mind.

Drag performers' privileging of presumed macho male values, and their contempt for female bodies, is reflected in their stage names. Online lists of the best drag names include the following: Farrah Moan, Anna Bortion, Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, Avery Goodlay, Malestia Child, Annie B Frank, Phallic C---, Penny Tration, Panti Bliss, Eileen Dover, Lucy Stoole. Women are nothing but sexual objects: Farrah Moan. Women are whores: Eileen Dover. Women are toys: Trixie Mattel. Women exist to be used sexually: Penny Tration. Women's bodies are disgusting and diseased: Lucy Stoole and Sharon Needles. This last performer makes himself up to look like a female corpse and drools blood onstage. The American Library Association says that DQSH is all about "creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society." I'd love to see them explain the names Anna Bortion, Molestia Child, and Annie B Frank to a roomful of toddlers.

Drag's stage routines and jokes similarly reflect privileging of presumed macho male values that view women as nothing but sex objects, worthy of contempt. In one drag performance, a man dressed as a woman prances about a stage, wiggling his buttocks and fluttering his hands. The message: women are trivial, almost childlike, but without a child's innate dignity. The drag performer is asked, "What is your aspiration in life?" The "woman" is overwhelmed. "She" can't answer such a deep question. She flutters her hands in confusion. She says she wants to be happy. A male voice tells her, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Don't you want to be pretty like all the other girls out there? Your tits are way too small, and your c--- f---ing reeks." The "woman" is overwhelmed. Her hands flutter some more. She begins to cry loudly, bends over, and juts out her buttocks, as if to be spanked. Indeed, she reaches round and begins to spank herself. The destruction and humiliation of the pretend female is complete. The male audience guffaws and applauds. The "woman" has been put in her place, using presumed macho male standards for female worth.

Drag's denigration of biological females is carried to extremes by Vander von Odd, who in a Facebook video, dresses as a seductive female witch. Black leather gloved hands insert metal hooks into his back. He is then suspended from the hooks. Subsequent photos show close-ups of his purple wounds from having hooks implanted into his back. Self-mutilation is a real problem among young people. Is celebrating Vander von Odd good for toddlers? Just ask the American Library Association.

Drag performers' humor is built around presumed macho male complaints about women: women are fat, women are too old, women are sluts, women are stupid, women are dirty. One joke after another along these themes of fat, old, sluttish and stupid can be heard in RuPaul Drag Race Roasts. "You are so old your colostomy bag is made of wood … Happy ninetieth birthday … You're a whole lot of woman [directed at a fat woman] … You look like you are carrying twins [also directed at a fat woman] … You have lost weight but your vagina is still big … You are such a slut that gonorrhea clinics know you as patient zero … You have had more dicks in you than a urinal at Dodgers' Stadium. The only difference is they get cleaned up after a grand slam … You call your pubic hair the Garden State Expressway … You got carpal tunnel from giving out hand jobs … You are a tired ass ho." I could go on but you get the point. Women are old, fat, stupid, dirty, sluts. There are no jokes on any other topics. The mostly male audience whoops and applauds.

Drag's hostile contempt for women is also reflected in drag's vocabulary. RuPaul's Drag Race awards contestants for "Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent." Spell out the acronym. And then imagine the howls if whites had an Emmy-winning reality show that awards other whites for imitating blacks and exhibiting a series of qualities that spell out the n-word.

In a Guardian interview, RuPaul, perhaps the most high-profile proponent of drag, reveals the depth and intellect of someone who has devoted his entire life to clothes and makeup. The Guardian reports that RuPaul regards the Kardashians as "culture." RuPaul offers a spiritual brief for drag. "It's about recognizing that you are God dressing up in humanity, and you could do whatever you want." Women, however, are not God in the Church of RuPaul. Asked if he would allow actual women to compete on his show, he said he would not. In this arena where women are excluded, RuPaul reports that drag performers say of each other, "'Oh that bitch is c---, she is pure c---', which means she is serving realness … It's the same way that black people use the N-word."

Again. Please imagine the counterfactual dystopia you would have to utilize sci-fi magic to enter in order to encounter an Emmy-winning TV show featuring a white man who encourages other white men to act out hostile stereotypes of black people as sexually promiscuous, diseased, stupid, and frivolous. Imagine that man applauding his contestants referring to each other by the n-word. And imagine real, live black people barred from that arena – because it "serves realness" to keep blacks off a white-controlled stage that defines blackness and appropriates black vocabulary.

I'm one of many Christians who respects the full and equal humanity of gay people. Respecting gays and lesbians does not include allowing drag performers to propagandize children in taxpayer-subsidized, misogynist brainwashing sessions.

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery

This essay first appeared at Front Page Magazine here



Saturday, August 17, 2019

Death, Sex, and Cool



Death, Sex, and Cool

Recently I met someone with an unusual name: "Lancelot" (pseudonym). The meeting was pleasant and fortuitous but also a challenge because I had known someone named "Lancelot" decades ago. My encounter with the previous Lancelot wounded me. Think of open flesh dripping blood. I've got that inside, somewhere. I can't reach it so I can't fix it. For that reason I relegated the memory to a locked chamber. Meeting someone new with the same unusual name penetrated my sturdiest locks. I posted about this previously, here.

When I met that previous Lancelot, I was young, I was unguided, I made a terrible mistake, and I've been paying for it ever since.

I was in my twenties. I had never mattered to anyone, except my Uncle John. I am dyslexic and that had always been understood as my being retarded, defective, obstreperous, comic relief, a burden, and simply incapable of white-collar work. There was no one to say, "There are coping skills you can practice to alleviate the impact of the dyslexia. You should do so because even though you think you are retarded, you actually do have a fine mind and can contribute to society. You should go to graduate school, work on your writing, and become a college teacher. That's a job you can do well. Just be careful of the politics, because you do have a tendency to speak your mind, and coming from where you come from, you do not see things as those in power see them."

I've still got the diaries I kept in those days. I've been re-reading them. The years that I spent in Peace Corps Nepal were eventful. I almost died twice.

First near death: hypothermia. Eric saved my life.

Second near death: erysipelas. Fever of 105 Fahrenheit, the most extreme pain I had felt to date, my leg swelling up to twice its normal size, all in a remote village with no electricity, running water, or way to contact the outside world. I could sense my ancestors coming for me. I put my hand over the center of infection and prayed, "Jesus heal me," and I am here to tell the story.

Another big life event occurred while I was in Nepal. My brother Michael Goska died at age 34. My brother Phil, a husband and father, had been killed on my 17th birthday. Michael was also a husband and father. His death occurred only eight years after Phil's.

I lost my sister Antoinette in 2015, and my brother Joe in 2018, and both deaths wreck me to this day. I don't see myself ever recovering from Antoinette's death, or from the sadness I feel over Joe's death. Losing a sibling is hard.

Losing Mike while I was in Nepal was – as described in my diaries – a dystopic phantasmagoria.

***

I think cool was the most prized attribute for Peace Corps Volunteers. Not compassion. Not service. Not effectiveness. Cool. Compassion, service, and effectiveness were admired – if combined with cool.

Many of the Peace Corps volunteers I knew were young, fresh graduates from Ivy League and other renowned universities. Your lover leaves the country and you never will see him again? Be cool. You poop out a giant roundworm? Be cool. A "host country national" crawls into your window one night and rapes, beats, or robs you? You win points for being cool; you lose points for showing vulnerability.

She was painfully thin, quiet, and shy. The rumor was that if she complained at all, or made any noise about her rape, Peace Corps would rescind her "readjustment allowance." I don't know if that is true, but I have no real reason to doubt it. I saw Peace Corps administrators put cool above compassion too many times. And I've read too many articles like this one: "'Targeted, Bullied, and Terrorized': How the Peace Corps Fails Rape Victims … former volunteers and employees say that the global volunteer program is failing to protect and support those who have been sexually assaulted or raped while on duty."

Peace Corps culture's emphasis on cool over compassion was not communicated only in callousness towards rape survivors. That emphasis was communicated in tiny little gestures about tiny little aspects of everyday life.

There was this cheap, bottled, fruit-flavored drink I used to buy, "squash." "Squash," as an Indian Subcontinent word for fruit drink, is left over from the British raj. I bought and drank this sugary, vaguely fruity syrup because it lessened the smoky taste, and enhanced the appeal, of lukewarm, boiled water.

J, one of the coolest Peace Corps Volunteers, came to my place one day, saw the empty squash bottles, and sneered. "You sure like squash." He said this with complete contempt, and judgment.

Drinking squash was not cool. Coffee, cool. Tea, cool. Boiled water, cool. Raksi, Nepali moonshine, cool. Fruit juice: not cool.

Dave was a very cool Peace Corps Volunteer. I casually mentioned to him, just in the course of lighthearted banter, that I missed peanut m&ms and that when I got back to the states, I looked forward to eating them. Dave looked at me as if I were a sinner in need of flagellation. "I have different priorities than you. You value m&ms. I value the work I am doing in this beautiful country, far from Western corruption," Dave said. Rumor had it that Dave was not above consuming the occasional acid tab. Drugs, no matter how Western, were very cool. Peanut m&ms were not cool.

In the first week of service, we were all just meeting each other, just getting to know each other. We would spend most of our time in-country in remote villages where no one else spoke English. No electricity, no running water, no roads. We walked to our posts, packs on our backs. We'd spend our first three months in-country training together, and then see each other only during conferences or vacations that occurred periodically throughout the year.

So we fed on each other, ravenously. We told each other the stories of our lives.

It was during one of these sessions that I was asked what college I had attended.

Again, I was among Ivy League graduates, and graduates of other elite institutions.

I named my college. It was a 130-year-old teacher's college. It was well known for taking first-generation Americans, including many African Americans and other poor and minority students, and giving them the teaching degree that would earn them a place in the middle class. It was not a prestigious school; it was a blue-collar school. My oldest brother, Joe, had received a full scholarship to a "Public Ivy." I lacked Joe's intellectual chops. I was hamstrung by my learning disabilities and abuse-engendered shyness. But I had finished at this humble college in the allotted four years. I had finished magna cum laude. I had finished in spite of being homeless my senior year. There had been a particularly bad beating at home the beginning of that year, and I ran out into the night with nothing. With that nothing, sleeping on floors, in woods, and in public places, eating from dumpsters, I had managed to pay tuition and score straight A grades.

I named my school. My humble college.

"Danusha graduated from the best high school in the state of New Jersey," J said, as soon as I named my college. There was no hesitation, and no apology. I was put in my place among the Peace Corps elite.

I was so not cool.

One day I was in the Peace Corps office. I was told that Dr. Theresa, the Peace Corps doctor, wanted to talk to me. I picked up the phone and she told me that my brother Mike was dead. I began to cry.

Rose, another Peace Corps volunteer, picked up the phone I had thrown down and began to critique my crying to Dr. Theresa. I was crying too much and too loudly. I was standing right next to Rose as she lambasted my lack of cool.

I flew home to the States, for a grief leave. Of course by the time I got back Mike had been eulogized and buried. Mike was my mother's favorite; I was the pregnancy she would have aborted were she not Catholic. She told me as much. She said some harsh things that hurt me a lot. She also tried, in her uniquely wacko way, to be kind. She handed me a pair of second-hand jeans she had bought at the Pompton Lakes Salvation Army, and said, "Here, take these jeans back to Nepal with you."

"I can't, mom," I said. "They want us to wear Nepali clothes."

"Wear the goddamn jeans! Wear them on the plane!"

I took the jeans and found two hundred dollars stuffed in the pocket. My mother insisted, absurdly, that whoever had donated the jeans to the Salvation Army had left the money in the pocket.

Nepal is halfway round the world from NJ. I'd have to break my return flight somewhere; I stopped in the UK.

I had met Dr Fox in Nepal, where he was volunteering his time, without pay, in a provincial hospital. He was, in short, a humanitarian, like a Peace Corps Volunteer. He had since returned back to the UK and was working in a hospital in Wales.

He wasn't prepared to do or to say what one does or says to someone who is in deep grief. I don't know why and perhaps he didn't know why, either. One night I cooked him dinner – pasta primavera. He looked me in the eye as I ate and said, "You eat too much." One plate of pasta primavera. Too much, and not cool.

This visit, just after my brother's death, was the end of our relationship. That dark, emphatic line taught me a truth I'd see proven again and again throughout my life: people reject you when you are in pain.

I flew back to Nepal. D, P, and M, friends, invited me on a road trip to India.

Before we left, there was a party. There were always parties. I thought of M as my best friend in country. She was, like me, a tall, smart, outspoken woman. Except she was taller, smarter, more outspoken, Ivy League, and unburdened by my cognitive glitches and working class and ethnically incorrect roots. And, unlike me, she was a classic beauty.

At the party, M got drunker than I had ever seen her. M told me that two nights before she had had slept with Dan, whom my diary describes as "Tall, lithe, gorgeous, dreamlike." I wish I had recorded Dan's last name. I'd love to Google him and find out if he is still lithe and dreamlike. M flirted with Dan but also with a different D, whom my diary describes as "burly," and with a Mike, not my brother Mike, but a "cool, Italian, macho" Mike.

She alternated sitting in various men's laps and making out with them and coming over to me and saying, "Women don't need men!" or "I'm gonna take a guy home tonight, I don't know who yet, I'm gonna fuck him, I'm gonna enjoy it, but from now on for the rest of my life I’m only gonna sleep with women," and "All men are rapists."

As far as I knew, M was in a committed relationship with J, a man I thought of a as friend, a man whose feelings I cared about. J, for his part, had been "womanizing," as reported by P and D. "If it's not in the same zip code, it doesn't matter." J was not in our zip code. It didn't matter. All part of cool.

J, by – allegedly – cheating on M, had been cool.

M, by flirting with all the men at one party, was being cool.

I had lived the zip code rule myself. Years before this party, B used to be my boyfriend. B slept with a host-country-national prostitute. He later told me he had slept with this prostitute. He told me he had to do it because if he went back to the states without being able to tell friends that he had sampled the local women he would never be able to live it down. He told me he paid her with a piece of cloth, in order that she might sew a new garment for herself. A piece of cloth was the standard payment.

I responded by sleeping with another man when apart from B. What I didn't realize was that B, whom I thought was at least a day's travel away, had decided to pay me a surprise visit. B entered the house where I was upstairs on a mattress on a floor with another man. B never revealed any hurt to me – saying "I'm hurt" to a woman would not be cool. An acquaintance, Steve, told me how hurt B was. I learned the hard way that the zip code policy was bogus.

But the B event was years before. Other parties. Other men. Other drugs. Other dances.

This party, the one I'm telling you about, was just after my brother Mike died.

I was sitting on the floor, observing, feeling alienated and blank.

A fellow volunteer offered me drugs. I declined. "C'mon, Danush, it's good stuff. Have some fun!"

I've never been into drugs. I said that my brother just died and I didn't want to do drugs during this period of mourning.

The vol looked at me with total contempt. He let me know that I was not cool.

Eventually M, close to passing out, came and sat next to me, giggling, hugging me and kissing me all over my face and hair, and said, "I love you! I love you! You are so you!"

So many people were not talking about Mike, I was close to a mental breakdown. I had to say to M, the woman I relied on as my best bud, whose friendship I thought of as my last anchor, "Why did I have to go home to the states?"

"You really don't know?"

"Just answer my question."

"Your brother died, Danush."

And that was all that was said.

Eric came over and kissed me. M said, "Eric, you're an asshole. All men are assholes."

I loved Eric, but this was not the night I wanted him to kiss me, or at least not in this way.

M disappeared for a while and then came back. "He was frantic, wild, pushing really hard. He scared me," she said, of burly D, the man at the party she had selected. "So I told him to come, and he did."

M abandoned our road trip to India. She decided she needed to travel to J's post and tell J in person that it was over between them.

I was left with D and P, both guys. One day, during one of those interminable train rides over Indian rails, I reminisced about my folks back home in the states. I mentioned my Aunt Rose and Uncle Rudy, favorite relatives who had one foot in the Old Country and one foot, just barely, in America. Uncle Rudy used to claim that Archduke Ferdinand was his godfather by proxy. I have no idea if that is true, or if one can even be a godfather by proxy. But I loved to hear Uncle Rudy talk about it. Uncle Rudy conjured embroidered aprons, whip-fast cimbalom tunes, steaming dill soup, and horse-drawn carriages into any New Jersey living room he visited. I mentioned to D that Aunt Rose and Uncle Rudy lived in Garfield, New Jersey. I cherished Garfield because it was home to these two great characters.

D kind of huffed.

"What?" I asked.

"Garfield? It's just a grimy, working class town."

Having Bohunk relatives in Garfield, NJ. Not cool.

***

I just googled the guy M chose that night, the guy who, in my diary, I described as "burly." The guy M ordered to come, because he was pushing too hard and scaring her.

In his Facebook photo, he is now bald, with a fringe of white hair. He posts photos of his meals and his vacations. His meals are exotic, as are his vacations. He is married, with adult kids.

***

When I was at my post, I never heard so much as a plane fly overhead. This scratch in a Himalayan hillside, not even a village, at seven thousand feet, was frequently shrouded in mist and fog. I wore wool in August. I loved teaching, but school rarely functioned. My house was so remote that the loudest thing I heard on any given day was the water running in the brook and the wagtail bird that patrolled that stream. In the evenings Sarada Madam and I would gather around her fire and she would pick lice out of my hair. There was no remedy for the fleas that constantly crawled on me under many layers of clothing. Pockets of pus pocked my legs: infected flea bites. After my visit to the US for Mike's death, an exterminator had to fumigate the room I had stayed in.

Other volunteers, more remote than I, lost body parts in-country. Once they finally got to a doctor, either walking, sometimes on broken limbs, or carried by porters, their malfunctioning part had to be removed. A couple of dear folks did lose their hold on sanity, and had to be "psycho-vacked." Some found so little food they had to be evacuated because their weight dropped below safe levels.

During those few occasions per year when we volunteers gathered together, we had long talks about saving the world, we drew up ambitious plans, we sent off grant applications to bring outhouses or stock animals to our villages, and then we partied very hard.

I loved almost every PCV I ever met. They were exciting, sexy, smart, idealistic, and good-looking.

But reading my diary pages about Mike's death, and how my Peace Corps family reacted to me, stuns me. I don't know how I survived.

I had nightmare after nightmare. The plot was always the same. The nightmares began with Mike alive. Slowly but insistently, he worked to convince me that he was dead. In one dream, he made me bury him.

I can't help but note the irony. We were all idealists, ostensibly working on saving the world. Extending a word of compassion to a fellow in grief was apparently not part of our mission.

Postscript:

My brother Mike Goska was over six feet tall.

He was a carrot top.

He had freckles.

He had strong facial features and a fiery personality. He looked a bit like Burt Lancaster.

He was a high school athlete and a sci-fi fan.

Cops used to harass him and his friends so he made a human shaped dummy, and, in the woods with his friends, with cops watching from a distance, beat the dummy till "blood" (paint) came out.

When there was no money to buy shoes for me, and I was going around barefoot, he carried me on his shoulders over the broken glass near the candle factory.

When there was no money to buy food, and we were subsisting on government surplus white rice and government surplus margarine, he squatted down before me, told me that there was a fire inside me, and I had to eat this slop to stay alive.

When the kids across the street gave me a hard time, he phoned their father and threatened to beat the crap out of him.

He was an arrogant, argumentative atheist till he became an arrogant, argumentative Baptist. He was studying to be a minister when he died.

He loved his daughter so much he stayed alive, his body wasted and in pain, just long enough to hold her in his arms.

My brother Mike was cool.

***

***

This blog post aroused many questions.

Was I cool? Did I show compassion to others?

How can I claim to be Christian and talk about having had sex with men before marriage?

Is it helpful or harmful to read, think, write and contemplate about the past?

Does it help or hurt to think about Lancelot-related emotional trauma?

I hope to answer these in a subsequent blog post.