Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Fight for The Future is About People

I had some typically unique experiences walking around New York City this week. Experiences typical of New York in their uniqueness.

I don’t even know if I should call all of them experiences. Some are observations. But, then again, many of the observations I make from day to day — especially when walking around the city, which I tend to do a lot — they end up affecting me to such a degree that they take on an aura of the personal. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. All the time, it’s just the way it is.

I was rushing down 34th Street the other day when I was suddenly stricken by the sight of a young woman, who was standing alone all the way to the edge of the sidewalk on the street side. She stood tucked between a signpost and a phone booth, hunched over a cigarette, which she pulled at with such care and such a look on her face that I knew instantly that it was the only thing in the world, at that moment, that could keep her from bursting into tears.

I can’t explain how I knew this, and neither can I explain my certainty — that this was not only true but exactly true. I didn’t believe she was going to cry. Not at that moment. She had the cigarette; to balance her physicality, and her chemistry at that moment, with the storm going on  behind her eyes. Maybe not a winning formula in the long term, or in the eyes of some people, but it was working.

She was in pain, or crisis, or both. It was striking — but I didn’t feel sorry for her. And it took me until just now to realize why.

I didn’t feel sorry for her because I’ve been there. And, retrospectively, I cherish the fact that I’ve been there. Do you know why?

Because the woman was fucking feeling something. Sure, maybe she was fighting it a bit, in order to keep herself together at that moment (with the help of the cigarette), but, she cared enough about something, someone…enough to bring her eventually to that moment that I witnessed.

I don’t often worry, anymore, about people who are processing their emotions. Feeling their feelings. It doesn’t happen enough, here and now. I know I’ve failed at it in key ways in the past. Just as I know I’m lucky, on several accounts, to have not failed at accessing my emotions in other key ways in the past.

If anything, she should have been proud. Everyone else on the block, myself included, was just rushing around under the spell of some device or another. With her, it was just what was in her head at that moment, and the cigarette. Life and a momentary break from it.

I also had a brief conversation this week with a handicapped drunk man. He was having the time of his life while the Bee Gees played loudly on the boombox he had balanced on the front shelf of a walker he was pushing in front of him. I’ve seen the guy before, talked to him before. He shows up in my building sometimes to visit my neighbor (also handicapped — he’s legless), and as far as I can tell they just visit and sit around and drink and listen to music. Sometimes my neighbor starts without his visitor, and falls asleep and doesn’t hear the bell ring. On those occasions, the visiting man waits in the hall, usually on his back, sleeping occasionally, until his friend wakes or someone else with a key shows up.

Both men love my dog. Last night, I helped the Bee Gees guy pull the walker up the stairs leading to the elevator. It’s interesting, how you have to go up and down stairs to get to the elevator, in a building where one of the tenants (on the top floor) has no legs. I’ve helped carry my neighbor to the roof before, to get to the other elevator in the building, when the one on our side isn’t working.

The last time I talked to him, he asked me a bunch of questions about Zelda (my dog) and then started telling me about a dog he had once, who was a little mean but protected his apartment. The Bee Gees guy never liked dogs until he met Zelda — just this week. That’s what he told me at least. He played with her a bit and said: “Now I know why they say they’re man’s best friend. Look how happy she is to be with us.”

And then, finally, I had a sad experience yesterday morning with a man on the street. He startled me, by grabbing my bag from behind — not a great tactic when you’re looking for a signature, which was what he was doing. I move quick, so I was a little thrown and upset by the resultant yank. I was minimally caffeinated and focused on fighting the day.

Essentially, what I’m saying, is that — prior to his talking to me — I didn’t feel like hearing what this man had to say.

Those of you who live in the city probably know the feeling — there are just too many people vying for your attention (and your money), for too many causes, as you move from place to place. If you stop, and you’re a decent person, your contact information and maybe some of your cash is going to go to whatever cause birthed the clipboard that the stopper person is holding. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, or that causes aren’t worthy — but I am saying that they can be wearying on a macro level. Especially when most of the time and resources you have already go into fighting for many of these causes in a different way.

So I started moving again, as soon as I saw what the man was presumably about.

And then he pushed the folder (it was a folder, not a clipboard) into my face. There was just a legal pad there, with some names and other information scribbled on it in ink. There was also a picture of a kid clipped to one side of the folder.

“This kid got killed two days ago,” he said. “Don’t you want to help?”

It all happened very fast. I said I was sorry and I kept walking.

I felt bad. But I didn’t see how anything I could do, then and there, was going to help that dead kid get undead. Also, to be honest, all things considered, I wasn’t sure the man was legit.

I had been in a typically frenzied head space when he had yanked me, thinking about Sophia, thinking about all the many reasons why I must tell her story, and, related to that, why I do what I do. I was thinking of all the big things I want to do with my life, to help contribute to the creation of a better place for myself and for others than the one we see in front of us these days.

And the man had upset me with the yanking, and then again by shoving the folder in my face, and…he even seemed a little combative…and…

…I don’t know.

Sometimes I can handle these things. On other occasions, I can’t. Sometimes, it’s just too much, too quickly, and there’s not much more that can be said about it.

But I wonder what it says, about me and about us, that the overwhelming weight of the fight — and of our lives within it — can cause us to fear the time it would take to stop for a moment and listen to and communicate with someone who is right there, in the flesh, and needs help. Or needs help helping.

Then again, New York City is a big place, throbbing with life, with more joy and more pain that any one person can absorb and parse at any one time. The girl with the cigarette was okay. The drunk guy with the walker was mostly okay. He only needed a little help, and maybe, a little companionship. The kid, if he really is dead, has already been lost.

Which leaves me just where I started, if a little wiser. I guess what I’m saying is that this week I was reminded that the fight for a better future doesn’t exist only in the abstract. It’s not about statistics, it’s not about what you see on the news, or about what’s trending on your social media channels.

It’s about people.

Have a good week, everyone. Get angry and speak up.

Tell Me Your Furies

Hello, beautiful and/or handsome readers. I am exhausted today, and have a very long week ahead of me. I’ve been sitting here, thinking of what to say to you this week, and, unfortunately, nothing is coming.

I may just be tapped out for the moment. And I think I need to pay attention to that and take a breath.

However, I do have a question:

How has the blog been working for you?

What do you like? What could you go without? Do you miss the weekly links? Can you live without them?

What posts did you particularly enjoy? Is there something you want me to cover that you haven’t seen here, but think might fit into our themes of American social dysfunction, the state of “the arts” and/or the responsibility of contemporary artists, inequality, injustice…etc?

Please take a moment to drop a line and answer any or all of these questions. Or answer one I didn’t ask, that I should have.

There haven’t been too-too many comments since The Furious Romantic Returns launched. Which is okay. But I know many of you are reading (I creep though the stats) and I appreciate it and I want to give you more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.

So, let’s hear it. Hit me up on whatever channel you want: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…or email me at michael [DOT] dibiasio [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Responses will be kept private. After some time has gone by I’ll reflect on everything and report back to you.

And, remember, honesty is the best policy. Be nice, but if you have complaints, let those fly as well.

Please take a moment. Write as little or as much as you want.

Let’s reach out through The Screen.

A Small Crash In The Night

Well, Furious Faithful — where to go from here?

As established by last week’s post, things have changed around here. No more weekly links. I have put on the blinders.

There is only The Mission, from here on out, until the day Sophia The Great is loosed upon the world — because Sophia The Great is my greater contribution to the task of doing what I feel needs to be done, saying what I feel needs to be said, here and now. To make the damaged world we live in a little more recognizable. So we can start to talk about it, together, with a little more honesty.

That sounds dramatic. It should. I’m about to spend the next few years of my life working to shepherd the creation of a story forged in fury, fear and sadness. The script feels done, which is always the hardest part, until the next one comes along.

Now, we begin to work on strategy. Planning. We begin to seek help, we pursue collaborators — we do everything possible to provide the story with what it needs.

So, where to go from here? What happens to this space? Can it persist, without all the links, that lead to the latest news of American social dysfunction? Can our relationship persevere, without the complementary links that shine a narrow light on small beacons of hope?

At what point does it all become a distraction? At what point do we ask ourselves — why all the chatter? Why don’t we just fucking do something about this already?

Well, it’s not as simple as that, unfortunately.

We live in strange times. We live — a few steps outside of life, don’t we? What do we experience more viscerally than our entertainment? What is more important to us than our television shows, our music, our celebrity culture, our businesses, our devices? Is it our families? Our friends and lovers? Do we even experience ourselves, on average, in a direct way?

I don’t know. I feel often as if it’s a chore, to live a life kept in one piece. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I feel compelled to craft a story about a podcaster — about a lonely, disaffected young American who turns to a medium where you speak out alone, or with a few friends, to an unseen audience of other lonely disaffected souls wandering in the dark along their own fractured timelines. I think we arrived at this pre-condition through a series of civil failings. The individual in America, in my opinion, is in certain ways more alone than he or she has been in a long time, tracing back through our history.

We are so often…so very isolated by our divided lives. I do not know that we are yet completely capable of mounting the sort of action that is needed to change those things that so desperately need changing in our country, in order to rescue the present and future from the iron grip of the past and those who own it.

But I think it’s worth noting that I, and I think a few of you as well, believe it’s possible. I think it’s worth recognizing that there is a desire for a better world out there, here in America and throughout the globe.

Power is power, and to fight those who wield it unjustly, we must foster an equivalent power of our own. This cannot be achieved without community action, and community action cannot be adequately empowered without enough empathy and enough courage and trust to render obsolete the divisiveness that keeps us, in so many different ways, split from each other — at the same time that our plight is for all purposes the same.

We need to talk. If we must start dumbly, then we must start dumbly. If we must proceed carefully, because we are afraid and because there are real consequences to revolt — then we must proceed carefully. Fear diminishes with time and distance. It becomes less grave when shared.

I’ll go first. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I’m not strong enough or smart enough or lucky enough to see my contribution through. I’m afraid I’m wrong, or crazy.

But I’m fucking going for it anyway. Because they want us to be afraid. It allows them to hold onto the power. It allows them to keep shouting down the truth, smothering it with money and lies. And that pisses me the fuck off. Life needs breath. If we smother it — or allow it to be smothered, consciously or unconsciously — with so many blankets of falseness…well, what happens then? What happens to the animus of life? How do we move freely and without fear when weighed down, and suffocated? How do we adequately reach out to each other for help?

By calling out in the dark. By feeling around for a hand to grasp.

Where to go from here? Anywhere. Wherever. Just not here. Or backwards. The Furious Romantic isn’t going away. Never again.

I’m making Sophia The Great because I want to talk. I want us all to talk. On a large level, about large, uncomfortable, difficult and delicate subjects. I want to talk to you. I want to help you. I want and need your help.

I suspect, if we succeed even a little, that something special will happen. I don’t have particularly high ideas of what that might mean. The film may end up nothing more than a small crashing sound, heard in the distance in the black of night. So be it. At least they’ll know — on all sides, in some small way — that we’re here.

Revolutions have been started with less.

Perhaps that last part is a little dramatic. What can I say? I’m a dramatist.

Thanks for reading. I love you for it. Have a great week.

A Graduation Speech From Your Drunk, Crazy Uncle

I think about the future a lot. A lot. Some days, I worry about the end of the human race. That we’ll blow this whole place up before we find a way to get off the rock and find some other habitable planets to blow up. This does actually go through my head.

Other days, I scale it back a bit. I think about the near future — mine, as well as that of the coming generation of young adults. Perhaps I am thinking about them, particularly, because it’s graduation season. The time when young college graduates in particular exit the buffer that exists between life as a child and life as an adult. I worry for this group, because the adult world the majority of them face is nothing more than a tall wall of shit.

Look. I’m not being dramatic. I’m telling the truth.

When I try to think about the near-future, on a larger national level, I find it nearly impossible. Thinking about the future, for so many Americans, invariably results in being yanked back to the sad reality of the present and past. There is little to look forward to, in terms of the old narrative of The American Dream. For most Americans, there is only more of the same circumstances they have had to live with for decades.

You work. You go home. You get up tomorrow and you do it again. As this cycle repeats, you increasingly receive less in the way of compensation for your work, even as you are asked to give more. Prices go up, the cost of living increases, and wages go up insufficiently in proportion. You borrow, and you cut expenses. You make do. Then, for all purposes, it’s over.

Subsequent decades of life — if you’re lucky — will be represented by a trustworthy repetition of this pattern. Along the way, you will be lied to — more so via lies of omission or misdirection than direct deceit. It’s going to be fine, they’ll say. It’s necessary. Things will get better. You can still save. If you work hard enough, or if other non-workers stop weighing us all down, it will be all right.

But it won’t be all right. Not unless you — we — make it all right.

This is not the way it used to be; and it is definitely not the way it’s supposed to be. If we push forward despite the uncertainty, and think anyway about the future that the current generation of young professionals entering and/or floundering in the American work force face, it’s not even the worst scenario.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news and on the web this week, about surveillance. Spying. About the implications of the ability of the government to leverage corporate data to know who you are talking to and when, for how long. What you do online. Whatever.

It doesn’t bother me.

For a few minutes (and not much longer), I wondered why it didn’t bother me. This news seems like something that should bother all of us. But, do you know what I realized? It doesn’t matter.

What are they going to catch us doing? What do we do, other than acquiesce, daily, to this unjust, rigged system of indenture — wherein, in the supposed “land of the free” we live forever yoked to The Market?

Who among us, who isn’t at or near the “top” of society, does anything but quietly play along by all the rules, everyday — who can afford not to?

I have grown weary of the tired, lazy comparisons to the dystopian future forewarned in Orwell’s 1984. I found them wearying during the Bush years and I find them wearying again now that they’ve cropped back up in the news.

It’s a brilliant book — but it’s also just a book. It remains chained to the constraints of the page. By virtue of its medium, it remains beholden to the need, on the part of its author, to both suggest a chillingly possible future, and yet paint a picture of that future that is limited to the point of view of one main protagonist.

Winston, the protagonist of 1984, lives at one point in time, in a particular place. He experiences a limited set of mounting tragedies that, even if they are poetically drawn and made to approximate the universal, cannot ever encapsulate the breadth of what it is like for millions upon millions to suffer a similar fate at the hands of totalitarianism. Definitely it can’t measure up to the actual tragic fate that millions throughout history have suffered at the hands of totalitarianism. Ultimately, Winston’s world disappears from our immediate view when we turn the last page, even if its lesson lingers.

We do not live in a time that recalls the dystopia of 1984. Our time is in most ways much, much better; and in certain, albeit tamer ways — a little worse.

The students graduating today face a very different job market than the one I just barely squeaked into seven years ago. And I’m a pretty smart, hard-working guy — who graduated from one of the best colleges in the country. But I also used to be a naive guy. I used to believe the narrative, that these two qualities, with perhaps a few others appended to them, were enough to succeed, and be happy, in America.

Students graduating today? I’m sorry, but I’m here to play the role of your drunk uncle — the guy yelling the truth in some corner at your graduation party while everyone else pretends he’s the crazy one (in their defense, he should stop drinking).

Our latest crop of graduates should be proud of their accomplishments. Getting through college, for most of us at least, is not easy. It wasn’t for me, at any event. So, graduates — be proud. Celebrate. Rest a bit.

And then, once you have celebrated and rested, get on your feet and prepare for a fight.

Your country is not with you or for you. I’m sorry to have to say that. But at least right now, it is against you. Investment in the future is being withheld as a means of preserving the past. The present hardly exists. It too, withers in the grip of past. The last several years, for those holding all the power and money and influence, have been about little else but storming the walls of the fortress and drawing the ladders up behind.

This post started as the usual recap of What I Liked This Week, which as we all know by now, is just as often an ironic title than a genuine one. That’s been bothering me, lately. As much as I default to it at times, out of habit — I dislike irony. It does not fit our current plight. Like the Orwellian comparisons, it is lazy, and it misses the point. Irony fails as us much as acquiescence.

There is no reason to fear a future in which all lived cowed to an image or a character akin to Orwell’s Big Brother. As readers of the novel might recall, the character himself is but a symbol of oppression, wielded by a plutocracy of a few in order to exploit, keep down, and control — the many.

And so, I admit to playing a little loosely with the example to better serve my point. I know that 1984, like so many fine examples of science fiction, is meant as a warning. I know that it’s meant to be only a dramatized expression of the very real potential repercussions of a failure, on the part of those living in the present, to protect ourselves and the future from oppression and institutional control.

This post was going to be about two news items, that I meant to include as follow-ups on previous items about the looming student debt crisis, the severe repercussions of rampant income inequality on the future, and the decision by members of the elite (Congress) to take food from the mouths of the poor in the name of reducing a budget deficit caused by the wealthy. Essentially, this post was going to be about pointing at the fortresses and disappearing ladders.

But I think I’m done with the news. And with screaming into the void.

There will be no more lists of links in this space, no more distractions from the real work of doing what is urgently needed, here and now, to help free ourselves and future generations from our (partially self-imposed) oppression. We must focus not on what has happened, but what must happen. We must take a look around us, catalog what is available, and begin working together to build new ladders. Beyond that, we should be thinking of what new fortresses need to be built — and how tall their walls should or shouldn’t be — as we consider what we as young Americans want this place to look like once it is finally ours.

We, the young, are almost completely on our own. We have each other, and we have new technologies and new paradigms of thought and collaboration to help us grow. It will not be easy to fix this mess, because we did not end up on our own by accident. We were — and are being — left behind. For the last several years, through no fault of our own, we young adults have been left to enter a world that has been wounded and picked clean by the greed and obliviousness and the cowardice of those who came before us, and who now refuse us entry to the future that is supposed to be ours.

Do not fear Big Brother, America. Fear yourselves, for you are unfortunately complicit. Fear your mothers and your fathers, no matter how painful that suggestion may be — no matter what you owe them. Any American parent who truly loves their children should be worried for them right now. Their intrinsic need to want to see their children safe, to see them thrive…if this need cannot subsist under the light of the truth — then it was never fully there to begin with.

Most of all, fear the aging lords and ladies scheming in the board rooms of your major cities. The government is not trying to control your life. It can’t. The government is a hostage. The fact that the government is spying is worrisome. The fact that it must ask permission from corporate interests, in order to do so, is more worrisome.

Fear the machinery that the lords and ladies wield against you. Fear Big Business. It’s oppression is not symbolized by a boot that stamps on a human face. The genius and the horror of its power is its omnipresence and omnipotence in your life as a consumer. Most of us, in one way or another, owe Big Business our food, our medicine, our debt, our homes and our livelihood. It used to be that your consumerism was desired. Then it was expected. Then assumed. Now it is demanded. 

This is what’s frightening about the future. I have made it a point to leave clear indications on this site that I am not anti-business. I am not even anti-corporation. A well-run corporation, with the right leaders and mission, can do amazing things. But banks that are too big to fail, and small groups of mega-corporations with few competitors, who together own entire billion-dollar industries like oil and agriculture, and thus wield incredible power over the direction of the country — well, let’s just say there’s a reason we had a historical precedent for not allowing organizations to grow to the levels they’re at now. When business gets too big, and too consolidated — and thus too influential — those in control become too far removed, from the lives their businesses affect, to be trusted.

From a high-level, social perspective, business is supposed to exist in order to provide us with a means of assuring a livelihood. We do not exist to ensure the continued livelihood of business.

If we really want a future for ourselves, a real future that is ours, we’d do well to think about the perversity of our current relationship with the world around us. We work, we go home, they give us less, they ask for more. In between, we spend. We do not invest, we do not create, because we have little opportunity or capital. We are the capital.

Nothing will change unless we change it. Future generations will continue to be fed into this increasingly vile system, if we do not work together to free ourselves and them from the shackles of debt, of living-to-work instead of working-to-live, of existing in unnatural opposition to our fundamental desire to be free. If we do not fight, do not scratch and claw and stand up for ourselves, while at the same time supporting and embracing new, community-based, disruptive ideas for building a new, open infrastructure of commerce based on fairness and equal opportunity — it will get worse.

The artistic world, as it often does, has begun to lead the way. The tools are out there, and (obviously) so is the need. It is just left for us to do the work. I’m not afraid — not anymore. Are you?

It’s okay to be afraid. But it’s okay to get angry too.

Have a good week, Furious Faithful. Thank you, forever, for reading.

Help Me, I Got Too Angry

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because it’s not really worth my time (or yours). But I’ve learned a lesson lately that I want to share.

Last week, I made a mistake. I don’t regret said mistake, because I value the lesson that came from it — which could have come at a far worse time — but I still think sharing the experience is the right thing to do. If you recall, one of my goals here is to keep myself honest.

I want to talk about poisonous people. I want to talk about the importance of removing them from your life. And of not engaging with them, at any point. I don’t care who they are. Poison begets poison.

This week, I did something I haven’t done in a long time — something I explicitly stopped myself from doing for many (obvious) reasons. I sent an angry email.

I will leave it to you to imagine what an angry email from me might look like. You’ve seen the anger here. You know I’m capable of breaking things down analytically. Throw those two things together, add a touch of the personal and…let’s just say it’s a talent I’m not proud of, but I can be very good at hitting the target with written personal attacks.

Luckily, I was raised to respect people, and also to take responsibility for my actions. I rarely attack anyone, and when I do, it’s almost always after being provoked. I’m not saying that to excuse myself — well, partially I am. I think it’s an understandable, if still inadequate, reason for losing one’s cool.

On this particular occasion, someone did something to intentionally hurt my wife. An angry email was actually the only idea I was able to come up with that wouldn’t have serious repercussions for her or for me.

I explicitly stopped short of threatening violence in the email, stating my reasoning: because it’s wrong. I also suggested another reason for physical restraint — that I found the person so contemptible that I didn’t want to dirty myself by touching him. This second part, in retrospect, is in fact regrettable. All I managed to do there was bring more drama to the situation, which is all this person probably wanted in the first place. To rationalize the darkness in himself by drawing an excuse for it out of others.

I get the guy. He’s messed up. He’s had a tough go of it, in certain regards. For this reason, my wife and I — who have also had our share of struggles — ignored several telltale signs over the past year or so that this person’s poison was indiscriminate. We failed to realize that, until and unless he takes steps to cure himself, he will always be someone who destroys others. All others, at one point or another.

I should have just let it go, as my wife did. I should have immediately followed suit when she determined to cut him out of her life. I didn’t do that, because I’m still battling occasionally with my own poison: The Fury.

So, what happened after the email? Nothing. Except I’m pretty sure the guy went onto IMDb and messed with the rating for my second film, Sex and Justice. Our audience for the flick was relatively small compared to some other films, so we only have a few ratings. If and when someone rates the film a “one out of ten,” the overall rating plummets. This has happened before, on another occasion when I sent an angry email to someone, who also thought the adult thing to do would be to attack my film in this way, despite not having seen it.

Lesson learned, this time. Don’t engage at all with poisonous people. Know the signs (lack of respect for others, immaturity, obliviousness to their own flaws — the list goes on) recognize them early, and get out before they hurt you. Nothing is worth the anxiety that comes with keeping such people in your life. Everything is gained by pushing them out to make room for someone better.

Are both these malicious down-raters assholes, for doing something so unfair and stupid? Yes. But I’m the one who’s never going to get the chance to explain what they did to some producer or support program if they go check out Sex and Justice on IMDb and see a very low rating where there used to be a very high one.

If I had done nothing — or at the very least waited until my anger had subsided before I did anything — we wouldn’t be talking about this. I was wrong.

However, I was a lot less wrong than the fuckhead who started all this. Another thing this site is about is justice.

And so I humbly ask that you help me show this guy that positivity and community can go a long way in repairing the damage done by a few negative individuals (my momentarily relapsed self included).

Over 1,000 people saw Sex and Justice when we were screening it in 2008 and 2009. Almost 400 different people have visited this site, and I’m sure there’s a lot of overlap between those two groups. If you saw Sex and Justice, and you liked it, please consider rating the film on IMDb. As I mentioned earlier on Facebook, I’d rather the rating reflect reality and not the inability of someone else to act like an adult.

I just didn’t realize I was talking about myself as much as him when I wrote it.

Thanks for reading.

What I Liked This Week: The American Nightmare

Would you rather wake up from a nightmare or from a wonderful dream?

No one likes a nightmare. Or, perhaps, given what I’m about to suggest, some people actually do. Given the choice, however, I feel as if most of us would rather enter the day on the heels of a wonderful dream.

Or is that presumption too quick?

Our most wonderful dreams tend to overlap, however concretely, with our deepest wishes. Just as our nightmares often earn their name by how fully they represent our deepest fears.

So what is better? To deal with the worst while in the comfort of our beds, while we are unconscious, and then the wake to face the aftershocks? Or would we rather experience something akin to pure joy — at least in the narrative sense, however loose that narrative may be while unconscious — and then wake up to find that it is gone?

Perhaps there’s no difference. In both cases, what happened in the mind during sleep was not real. Though that is a tricky statement in itself.

What’s more real to each of us than these polar opposite considerations — that which we most fear and that which we most desire? How much more difficult does the question get in dark times, or how much harder is it to decide for those of us with darkness in our hearts?

Personally, I think I would choose the nightmare. A day of reprieve seems preferable to a day of letdown. I would rather proceed recollecting my worst fears at times, then finding the commonest anxieties pale in comparison. It seems just as frightening to me, to dream of wonderful things, and then to wake and be forced, for the rest of the day at least, to pretend that a smile is as genuine as it could be, a laugh as potent and pure, when in truth you experienced something while sleeping that can never be so simply or completely gotten while awake.

Then again, the best answer may be both. Life is never so simple that we can split it into such easy questions. Adult life, at least, doesn’t proceed this way.

This fact does not, however, excuse us from action. Too many nightmares ruin the lives of too many people every day that many of the rest of us walk around as if in a dream, here in America. Too many days go by wherein the world could be much better and safer for others if a few only realized the extent to which they are perpetually chasing the demon of their supposed happiness. With a vision of their most wonderful dreams in mind, they keep everything in the way of the realization of this vision apart from their lives — at all costs.

The result is a world that lacks a necessary deference to reality.

This is a good segue into the first item I liked this week, this article by George Packer, titled “Celebrating Inequality.” In words that are far more concrete than those I just used in the preceding paragraph, it explores our sick relationship with the celebrated individuals who we all-but-worship in our society. We make this fatal error, hundreds of times a day, through so many tiny, unconscious decisions, despite the fact that doing so helps hasten the widening of the gap between “them” and “us”; despite the fact that the last remaining doors, through which “we”, via hard work and enterprise, should be able to go through as well, are closing behind them as this “super-class” of Americans continue to help only each other.

That is the irony of our plight. We, the many, are split and isolated — even as we bump up against each other day in and day out, holding tightly to the shared nightmares we think belong to us as individuals only. Meanwhile, the wealthy and the powerful do little else but help each other, for a price — that is more often taken from us than from within their ranks. We, the many, sit idly on the mountain of power that is our collective voice, because we fear. This is understandable. But consider what just a handful of us can accomplish, when we are brave…

I liked this Georgetown convocation speech by Brit Marling, an actor and indie filmmaker who has done well lately after collaborating for years with a few special friends — who she makes the central focus of her speech.

Speaking of collaboration, I liked this poignant article from Slate, about the genesis of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, which eventually spawned two sequels that further explore the relationship of its lover-protagonists, Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Before Midnight, the latest installment, was written by all three artists, as was the middle film in the trilogy, Before Sunset. What began as a unique experience between two people — one of whom has passed from this world — turned into a collaboration between three (and more, since we’re talking about three films with an entire cast and crew behind each) that touched the lives of so many. It’s easy to forget, in an age wherein we are constantly bombarding ourselves with images and “stories” from The Screen, that we tell stories in the first place in order to make some sense of life, and to do this together. That used to be the idea, at least.

Then again, we also tell stories to expose the nonsense of life. Something else I liked this week was John Cassavetes’ Shadows, which was on my watch list for Sophia. If I start writing about the experience of watching this film, we’ll be here forever. There’s plenty of literature about it out there, anyway. The point here, despite a case that could be made to the contrary if you aren’t paying close enough attention, isn’t to write about or talk about making movies. The point is to make movies, and for the right reasons. Shadows was made in 1959, and over five decades later the nonsense it portrays (racism) is still alive and well in America, despite clear and measurable progress. More can be done, especially on the part of our filmed entertainment, to advocate for the sort of real-life narratives that are woven by a film like Shadows. Our current plight begs for a consistent daily doses of reality. And I’m not talking about the “reality” we see these days on television.

In reality-reality, America is not doing as well as The Screen would lead you to believe. For millions of people, reality is a heavy burden, an ever-present anxiety built upon the uncertainty of survival. The majority of us are not wealthy, most of us are stretched thin — many of us are barely getting by. I say this not to guilt anyone. I say it because it’s true.

The last thing I liked this week is one of those “I don’t actually like this” items. Unsurprisingly, it’s about something that politicians have done — nominally in the name of saving money but secretly out of an inability and/or a refusal to sympathize with the less fortunate on human terms — that will have the actual impact of not only costing money but probably lives as well.

This week, the Senate unanimously accepted an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill proposed by Republican Senator David Vitter or Louisiana. The amendment cuts certain convicts off from food benefits for life. This is in addition to billions of dollars that are already being cut from the program. To be completely honest with you, can hardly write about this.

I’m not going to go into all the reasons why this is wrong. I’m not even going to waste time explaining why I believe that a person convicted of a crime — especially through our travesty of a criminal justice system — still deserves some help getting food when times are tough. I’m not going to expound upon these things because I believe life is often very, very hard for the people who end up in our jails — and I’m talking about before they’ve become criminals.

I’m not naive. Those who commit heinous crimes should be punished. But not only should they not be starved — they should not be punished beyond their sentence for past transgressions. Further, their children should not be punished any more than they already are or will be.

Just because it is difficult and morally challenging to legislate areas of life that frighten us — which include the lives of people who for several different reasons end up significantly implicated in frightening circumstances — does not mean that we are excused from our civil responsibility to take care of others. This legislation is about food. Specifically, it is about helping to provide food for Americans who cannot fully afford to feed themselves and their families.

What this legislation basically does is take food away from the “lowest” members of society — leaving they and their families behind in the completest way possible short of actually killing them — at the same time that corporations and governments continue to get away with crimes that are arguably just as abominable and deadly on a big picture level as the equally horrible on-the-ground crimes committed by a single, sick individual.

And what of the unfortunate souls whose only crime is having suffered from a failure of justice? Do we further fail these citizens by refusing to help them feed themselves and their families, in a country where we are just now getting around to ending the practice of paying farmers to not grow food?

I liked Paul Krugman’s short, angry column in The New York Times that more succinctly summarizes all the facts in the overall war against food stamps  — and the ugly political truths hidden beneath those facts. But I didn’t hear about this situation from the news.

I heard about it from a college friend, who in conducting dissertation research on women involved with the criminal justice system with addiction…learned of a few real-world cases in which this short amendment, agreed to by a room full of comfortable, well-fed bureaucrats, would have serious consequences for real people struggling “on the ground.”

Below is her testimony about a case that should make us think twice about leaving this group of “rapists and murders” behind for life. I’ve edited each anecdote slightly for clarity/length.

One of them has three kids. She gets $200 in food stamps twice a month. She barely has enough to get by at the end of month; most of the time she has to go get food from friend’s houses or from church food pantries. She is pretty enterprising in fact. She has been incarcerated in the past for something dubbed “violent”: she was on drugs (methadone/benzos) and lashed out when cops tried to take her out of a club when she was 17 years old.

Another woman gets food stamps and was incarcerated for four years in state prison for knifing her abuser as he was shooting and stabbing her. She would lose food stamps that have been helpful in fulfilling her “basic needs”. She’s now four years clean and is going back to school to be an addiction counselor and trying to get her life back together and get educated, help others. She would be affected by this lifetime ban on “violent” crimes when in fact she beat back against her abuser in a domestic violence situation.

So, in the first case, a stupid mistake at 17 translates to the woman and her children being punished today with less food — under the proposed amendment to the farm bill. In the second, a woman in the process of getting what appears to be a very hard life onto a better track, loses some of the support we as a society have given her in order to make a success story possible in such terms.

As I said earlier: complex moral issues. Such situations are hard to conceive, for many of us. Certain politicians and certain reporters — particularly on the extreme political right — like to pontificate about details. They like to poke and prod at testimony, reports, statistics…until these already second-hand sources of information are confused by so many ideological ideas of what is right and wrong, and where, after that has been decided, the money should go.

How about, though, we make sure everyone has had something to eat first? As hard as things have been in recent years, are they so hard that we can’t help feed our hungry? We can’t tax the wealthy equal to the rest of us, but we can take food away from our neediest citizens?

What is the scope of the morality play that is contemporary American crime? Does the man in the tower, whose financial manipulations led to hundreds of thousands of job losses, which led to thousands of depressed white American males feeling useless and rejected by society, such that they took their own lives — is this man more entitled to his preferential tax treatment than the children of a murderer-of-one, who has paid his debt to society, are to food?

I’ve asked the question before and I’ll keep asking it: Is this nightmare our legacy?