Friday Free-for-All #15

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What is the most important right our government allows for?

All right, random question site — normally, I don’t get political here, but you had to ask, so here we go, keeping in mind that this is the United States edition, but, really, the right I’m going to describe is one that all governments should allow. If they don’t, it’s time to topple them.

The right as I’m going to describe it is a little bit broad, because it’s going to comprise various Constitutional Amendments, laws, and court precedents, but the short version of it is this: Our most important right is the ability to freely and openly criticize our elected officials at any level, without fear of retribution no matter what we say about or to them, and our ability to get rid of them if they displease us, whether via voting them out, or recalling or impeaching them out.

So this covers the First Amendment’s right to free speech, press, and petitioning for redress of grievances for sure. It also scrapes in a few later Amendments, as well as includes the powers already enumerated in the Constitution for impeachment, trial, and removal of members of any and all of the three branches of the Federal government.

In this modern age, it means that any citizen can and should be able to tweet directly to any of their elective representatives and criticize them in the most colorful language possible (and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of that) and, whether they’re right or wrong, the one thing that should be true is that they cannot be arrested or punished for it.

Of course, the one big caveat is that those words don’t move on into threats. “Fuck you representative (name), you are a total asshole” is fine. “Somebody ought to shoot you in the face, and maybe it’ll be me” is not.

Subtle difference, but if we’re adults, I think that we can keep our guns and threats in our pants. Or not.

Now, around the world, several regimes have made it crimes to criticize their leaders — two countries whose English names start with T come to mind — and, in fact, they’ve even tried to punish citizens of other countries who’ve pissed two particular people off.

And that is just lame.

But… back to the U.S. Our most important right has always been the right to vote, but it kind of saddens me that thanks to political fuckery that’s been going on for the last thirty years, doubt has been cast upon two things: one, that voting matters, and two, that there’s any difference between the two major political parties.

Funny thing is that the people who buy into that crap are only politically involved once every four years, and only after their favorite non-starter pseudo third-party (but maybe fill in Republican or Democrat when it’s convenient) candidate doesn’t get enough votes to be nominated.

This is the major problem in the U.S. today: people who claim to be progressive, and yet will willingly toss away our single most important right and power just because their fandom didn’t make it to the finals.

So, ironically, they spend all of their First Amendment (though not really, because they do it on private platforms) rights screaming at people supposedly in the same party for being pragmatic instead of aiming their wrath at, well, you know…

Sadly, my country does not have the Right to be Protected from the Stupid, because that would require universal basic income, free education through grad school, and cheap health care for all.

This right has served us well in the past, though, and it’s been the avenue through which we have seen progressive goals achieved. Universal suffrage for women, unions and workers’ rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ protection and equal rights, among others, didn’t happen because people sat at home being polite.

They organized, they protested, and they let the government know that things had to change. In many cases, the protests and struggles took years, if not decades. And they weren’t bloodless battles. The labor movement, for example, saw many workers and organizers murdered, often at the hands of the private security forces of the companies they worked for. The civil rights movement has a long history of its organizers and supporters being lynched.

To quote Spider-Man, “…with great power there must also come — great responsibility!” No, that’s the actual quote as it first appeared in the comics. The real original comes from the   Public Safety Committee at the French National Convention in 1793: “Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir.”

It means pretty much the same thing, as it did when, in 1817, British MP Willaim Lamb said, “…the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.”

What I mean now is that this great power of ours to address and protest our government comes with an important responsibility: We must never use it in order to infringe the constitutional rights of others, or to endanger the health or well-being of others.

You probably see where this is going.

Protesting to ensure that unarmed, innocent black people are not gunned down by cops or over-zealous vigilantes is a proper use of the power. Protesting to make sure that legal protections are in place to keep transgender people from being fired or evicted is a proper use of the power. Protesting to make sure that corporations cannot underpay or exploit their employees is a proper use of the power.

Protesting because you can’t go out and get a haircut, or shop at Dillard’s, or sit down to eat at the Waffle House, or go to church in person when Zoom is available, or because you don’t want to wear a mask in public are not proper uses of the power.

Sorry, Karen.

When your breath can be as weaponized as you’ve made your white privilege and there are vulnerable people around, put a damn mask on and learn how far six feet is. Then deal with it.

If you want to complain and protest, then please address it to the federal government that whiffed the response in the first place and put us all into this situation, not to the state governments who have been trying to mitigate the damages ever since.

But FFS, stop harassing reporters, assaulting store clerks, or killing security guards. These are not legal acts of protest. They are domestic terrorism.

And that is one right that no American has.

Friday Free-for-All #14

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What do you attribute the biggest successes in your life to? How about your largest failures?

Well, this one is easy, because it’s opposite sides of the same coin.

Biggest successes? When I’ve let go of fear and just gone for it, despite my instincts.

Biggest failures? When I haven’t.

Or another way to put it is this: you can’t succeed if you don’t do, but you will always fail if you don’t. You may fail if you do but, surprisingly, those kinds of failures still lead to successes in teaching you other things.

And the fears that hold us back are not necessarily phobias or actual risks. They can be mundane as well — the fear of being inconvenienced or having to figure things out or whatever.

A big case in point for me was a few years back. It was just shy of a year after the little health scare that made me create this whole site in the first place, although not the event I wrote about in the prologue.

Basically, I had an opportunity to go to a resort in Palm Springs, spend the 4th of July weekend hanging out with a bunch of guys, and just getting out of town and relaxing.

I was fortunate enough that I could afford it, but what held me back was figuring out what to do with my dog. I mean, logistically, it was simple: Arrange for her to be boarded from Thursday afternoon through Monday morning, and I really trusted her vets to do that. Actually making the call to arrange it was another thing.

But I did, and made the trip, and wound up having a great time.

The same group was going to have an adult weekend camp in the woods near Big Bear around Labor Day, and by that time, after telling a neighbor about the whole previous thing, she told me that she’d be happy to board Sheeba any time, so this was suddenly not an issue.

But after I’d booked this one, I got an email from the organizer asking if I could give a ride to somebody from WeHo, since he didn’t have transportation up to the camp.

And I almost said no, because… how weird, right? I’m not an Uber driver. I don’t know this guy, and we’re going to be stuck in my car for hours. The only thing it seemed like we had in common were our first names.

But the lure of the experience was too much, so I said yes, picked him up, and in the course of the trip and the weekend, in which we wound up being the only two bunkmates in our cabin, we bonded, and he and I are still good friends to this day.

I’d call that a success. This was also the weekend when I learned that the late, great Sheeba actually liked cats. Who knew?

Other big wins have been when I’ve put fear aside to actually talk to people, and have managed to wrangle a few nice LTRs that way — and IRL, which is much scarier than via app, believe me. And good things have also happened when I’ve talked my way into talking my way into jobs.

Now, as for failures coming from fear, it’s obviously a lot harder to gauge when you’ve failed because you don’t really know it. If you never applied for that job, then you’ll never have heard a definitive “No.” If you never asked that person out, you can’t have been rejected.

Although maybe it’s not so much a case of fear stopping things, but rather lack of initiative — which brings us back to the do or don’t mention up top.

We can pretend that it’s fear that stops us, but that isn’t always the case. Often times, it can be laziness, procrastination, annoyance, or inconvenience. Like electrical currents, humans are quite fond of seeking the path of least resistance and, in general, this will lead to the lowest possible energy state, whether we’re talking people or electrons.

We’re certainly seeing this right now with people who are itching to get out of lockdown and go back to the life they knew. If that’s not taking the path of least resistance, I don’t know what is. They are letting inconvenience dictate their actions, not realizing that this will just lead to failure, not only personally, but systemically.

I can’t say what failures I’ve face in the past when I let laziness, procrastination, annoyance, or inconvenience win — but I can list every single case in my life when ignoring all of those and actually doing something led to a success.

How about you?

Friday Free-for-All #11

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would you do if had enough money to not need a job?

Make my own job, of course.

Ideally, it would be enough money to live off of after buying a house and equipping it with spaces for writing, making music, recording podcasts, and shooting and editing video. I’d probably also host a weekly writing workshop there and, given enough space, have a performance salon on site where interested artists could come and create in whatever media they wanted to.

What? It’s an open-ended question, so I’m dreaming big.

Another nice feature would be either a guest house or a couple of bedroom suites for hosting visiting artists or housing local artists who just need a break from paying rent for a while.

And all of it absolutely dog friendly.

Now, if that Lotto win (and that’s the only way this would ever happen) went beyond the mid-seven figures into anywhere with eight figures or more, then the next step would be to give the L.A. Writers Center a permanent home and endowment while making sure that ComedySportz L.A. also had a home space for, oh, I don’t know — a dollar a year?

If I had enough money to not have a job, then I would be able to do what I love — which is creating — except with the ability to give away the output for free, or at least at cost with no net profit.

Oh, hey… I’m doing that giving it away for free part right now even as you read this!

But given funds beyond my wildest dreams, I could do so much more by supporting local theatre by self-producing my stuff on their stages and then maybe even making every show pay-what-you-can among those who could, and totally free to those communities who need to be exposed to the arts.

I’ve had way too many people tell me that I should be a teacher, and while it’s a noble idea, I know that it’s not something I could actually do in person for a couple of reasons.

One is that while I have no problem speaking in front of a large group of people, my stream-of-consciousness tends to hit the rapids really quickly, at the risk of leaving everyone behind to drown when the raft overturns.

Another is that I’m a really fast talker, and I have this weird hybrid accent that makes a lot of people in Southern California ask me, “Where are you from?” Welp, I was born in Los Angeles and grew up here, but for some reason I inherited a weird combination of my mom’s nasally east coast speed-talk with a few strange vowels, then had that layered with a heavy dose of my dad’s mother’s flat Kansas twang.

Filter that through the actual SoCal accent and it turns into a weird fast nasally drawl of no particular time or place, but for some reason people try to peg me as Southern.

Well, yeah. Southern California, not Southern U.S. Big difference.

Anyway, the more into a subject I am, the faster I talk about it and the sharper the corners on the transitions. Or, in other words, I should never be allowed to stand in front of a crowd and spontaneously teach people.

This is why I’m a writer. Although I also type really fast, somewhere north of 90 wpm when I get going, so even in this format, I can sometimes shoot five hundred miles off course before I realize it and have to reel myself back in.

I have the same issue going when I work in Excel. The formulae and whatnot are planted into my brain so that I just go on autopilot, and dog forbid anyone ask me to explain what I’m doing while I do it.

But when it comes to composing music (not improvising) and editing video, I necessarily have to do it much more slowly, and if I were able to refocus on these two elements again thanks to no need to “work” for money, it might be a good thing. The thing about both is that they involve basically creating larger works in tiny increments, with lots of layers being put down over the same territory, over and over.

I’ll give a music example. Even if you’re creating digitally, you need to do it track by track, and depending on the complexity of the score, you can easily hit 8, 16, 24, 32, 64, 128 tracks or more.

Now while you might be able to math out a track for a whole song, you’re still going to need to listen to it to make sure there are no glitches. Let’s posit a song that’s three minutes long.

Okay, track one — probably percussion or bass — laid down, review, then fix.

Track two will probably be the one not chosen for track one, bass or percussion — lay down, review, then fix.

Track three and on upward will probably start with the backing instruments the supporting chord progression, and then you’ll finally get to the lead lines and solos.

And, again, at every step of the lay-down, you have to listen to the whole damn thing to spot glitches and fix them, then listen to see if the fixes worked.

So if you’re doing a three minute song with 24 tracks, expect to listen to each track at least twice, and… you’re looking forward to at least 30 hours editing time, if not more.

Video editing? Complicate that further, since you’ll be combining several layers of video, effects, and sound effects, and again reviewing every one of them multiple times.

Writing? Much simpler, I suppose, since at least you only have one track to keep reviewing and editing over and over, instead of a group of tracks that keeps growing on every pass.

So… given enough time and money, I’d love to teach people on pre-recorded video or audio, but I’d probably hire an editor to whom I could give guidance, because I just haven’t had the patience to do it, and even this late into the lockdown, I’m not sure I still do.

But… I do digress. If I no longer needed to work for a living, then I would art in order to live, and help friends do it. Ooh. There’s your TL:dr. Enjoy!

Friday Free-for-All #7

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most annoying noise?

Let me get two classics out of the way: fingernails on a chalkboard and rubbing a balloon don’t really bother me. Anyway, the thing that really skeeves people out with the chalkboard isn’t the sound. It’s empathizing with what dragging your fingernails across a surface might do to them.

It’s not our ears that hurt at the noise. It’s our fingers that cringe at the thought of having a nail ripped off.

I’m also tempted to mention country and (anything)-metal music, except that since it’s attempting to be music, it doesn’t really qualify as noise, because it’s too organized.

I could go political and say “Any words out of the mouth of the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” but I try to avoid those as much as possible so that they won’t annoy me.

This goes for any ridiculous, inflammatory, hateful, conspiratorial, or utterly stupid words to come out of the mouth of anyone, and those come from all sides.

Working my way up on the annoying scale, number three has to be the alarm clock in the morning. Why? Because it’s the sound that tells me, “Okay, wake up from those interesting dreams, get out of your nice warm bed, and go get ready for the day.”

The only mitigating factor is that I use the annoyingness to counteract the fact that I’m not a morning person, and I have two alarms set. One is the alarm in the bedroom with the standard “Beep beep beep” and nine minute snooze, although I’m more forgiving to it, because it also serves as my white noise machine when I’m going to sleep.

The other alarm is my phone, which I leave plugged in on my desk out in the living room, and it’s set to an alarm ringtone called “Donkey” that I find to be completely obnoxious. But that’s the entire point. When it starts to go off, it gets me out of bed and out into the living room to turn it off, and that’s usually enough to keep me on my feet.

Usually.

But that’s purposeful annoyance. Number two on the scale is purposeless annoyance and if you allow it to continue, you’re bad person. I’m looking at you, parents, because most annoying sound number two is a screaming child, and that covers the range from infancy on up until whenever they stop doing it which, I hope, is once they hit school and the overworked and underpaid teachers won’t put up with your crotchfruit’s shit anymore.

We’ve all experienced it, though. Sitting in a restaurant or, riding on the subway, or trying to enjoy a movie or play. Then all of a sudden, a shrill klaxon rends the air in two, our eardrums bleed, and some tiny shit in a onesie decides to exercise their lungs and vocal chords for no good reason.

Modern parenting being what it is (read: crap) the response is frequently a meek and meaningless, “Indoor voice, Jayden, indoor voice,” which accomplishes nothing. There’s that, or the eating disorder in the making response of shoving a juice box or carrot stick or other treat in the kid’s face to shut them up.

Okay, I get it. The direct response of going all drill sergeant and shouting “Shut the fuck up, you little asshole!” right in the kid’s face is frowned upon, but if you’re in a public space, the immediate response should be to evacuate. Grab that thing — they’re portable — and haul it as far away from people as possible.

“Baby rooms” in movie theaters were the best innovation to ever hit the industry.

The funny thing, though, is that some people maintain this tendency for life, and this brings me to most annoying sound number one: A large group of people being loud and shrill in conversation while being totally unaware of it.

In other words, the adult version of the screaming infant.

My weekend job is doing box office for an improv company in the lobby of a building with a much larger theater — but if you’re a regular reader, you know that. I get to see this phenomenon all the time when they have a big crowd for their show. It’s a 360 seat theater, and once it gets over half-full, their audiences can be the worst before, after, and during intermission.

The annoyingness crosses all demographics, although I’d have to say that the absolute worst are teenage girls, because they still do the infantile screaming thing as well. And I feel sorry for you if you get within range of their actual conversations, because they are as content-free as the most blatant of clickbait “Can you believe (celebrity) looks like this now?” articles.

Of course, if you toss in some alcohol, the adults can get just as bad and loud and annoying. And yes, I’m judging you for that if I see it. Deal with it.

So I suppose that the worst noise ever would be my alarm clock waking me up to a baby in a screaming match with his teen-age sitter, and they’re both drunk. Hey, it could be worse.

No. It couldn’t.

So what noise is most annoying to you?