The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — January 2011

Seeing with God’s Eyes

I have a therapist friend who treats, among others, LGBT clients. Because I am eternally curious, I wondered aloud how she viewed her trans clients—I suppose because I still have an aversion of sorts. Was she attracted, unattracted, merely tolerant? None of the above, she responded. How a person presents herself is only one aspect of her personality. It is the whole person who interests me.

Her answer rang my bell. Professing tolerance is, in itself, a form of intolerance. I was a kind of Pharisee. Unenlightened. Then I had a small satori. We are all equal in the sight of god—all of us, without exception. Real acceptance means seeing the Buddha within.

January 31, 2011   Comments Off on Seeing with God’s Eyes

Because We Are Family

An important ethical question we face as social beings is the extent to which we should consciously shape our behavior to accommodate our fellow humans. Naturally, to live in society we must recognize the needs of others. Our everyday lives revolve around obeying rules, laws, and mores, and getting along with friends, neighbors, relatives, and spouses. We must cooperate to survive. But to what extent must we do this? Should we always act so that we minimize our impact on others? Must we invariably focus on pleasing others to keep them appeased? Or is there something intrinsic about our personalities and beings that demand expression regardless of consequences?

I don’t have the answer. No one does. Each of us draws the line between obligation and expression in our own unique ways.

Still, it is puzzling.

Now that the dynamics of my family have changed I’ve noticed a great deal of resistance to allowing members to assume new roles, even when there is a need to do so. We fight to keep everyone in their places and demand that they focus on our needs rather than their own. We fight. No one will give in. Communication becomes a form of espionage. Concessions are made in the manner of exchanging spies across the Berlin Wall. As a family, we are both sublime and corrupt. Deeply buried motives that have incubated for a lifetime are acted upon. Everyone wants to have influence and be the one in charge. Sense and sensibility don’t exist. Rationality is lost. Suspicions scatter like chickens trapped in a hen house with a fox.

Of course, we muddle through. It is how it is with humans. There are no villains or heroes. Everyone has impure motives. Even though we pretend otherwise, we are all shits. And yet, we survive and hold together.

Why? Because we are family.

January 31, 2011   Comments Off on Because We Are Family

Un Peccato

Father, I’ve done a bad deed for which I expect to receive eternal punishment.

While waiting in line at Chipotle (which, incidentally, has only a fraction of Hispanic workers than before employment records were checked), I made fun of two teenaged boys in line ahead of me. It was mostly innocent stuff. One of them was wearing a hoodie with a logo from the high school in my part of the city, so I assumed he could take it. I asked if he were really an Edinamite in disguise ([a denizen of a hated suburb] similar to the other mites in the Old Testament, although I didn’t say this last part). He had no idea what I was talking about. (Frankly, I don’t think anyone else does, either.) I waited for him to ask me what I meant, but, instead, he turned a shade of dull pink. I couldn’t figure out what had embarrassed him. Was it not knowing what I had said? Or had he imagined something really terrible? I’m sure if I had been his father he would have known what to say to me. Shut up, old man. Or worse. The poor kid pulled his head into his hood like a turtle, hunched his shoulders, and turned away as if I were gay and hitting on him. I tried to explain to his buddy what I meant, but by now it was too late. Perhaps they’d never seen Monty Python or met a twit before.

It was a slow line. Lots of burbanites and their kids (plus me and these two high school boys) waiting to order our burritos. Finally, it became too much for the young man, and he fled by ducking under the tape, taking his companion with him. Now it was I who was embarrassed. I had transgressed against the rules of proper social discourse. You must never talk to strangers in Minnesota. And, above all else, you can’t say anything weird.

Please don’t be too rough on me, Father. Really, I was only trying to make conversation. Assign me a few Hail Marys and I promise never to do it again.

January 29, 2011   Comments Off on Un Peccato

Mystery Caller Number 9

Who is this poor sod and why is his wife so unhappy? Why did the Bush administration spend so much time trying to bring him down? What did he know that the rest of us did not? What does it say about American politics? Anyone know?

January 28, 2011   Comments Off on Mystery Caller Number 9


The freight train’s voices
Screech to the dog at my side
To run for her life.

January 26, 2011   Comments Off on 312


Pools of clear water
On a crusted, snow-covered face:
January thaw.

January 26, 2011   Comments Off on 311

A Blighted January

Our safe little world in Minnesota is falling apart.

Garrison flubbed his monologue the other night and, worse still, forgot the punch line to one of his jokes. The weather has been abominably cold. Michelle Bachmann, the raving lunatic from the long stretch of prairie just above the Twin Cities, is running for President. Bob Dylan—who peaked in 1965 and is now a sad caricature of a caricature of a caricature—keeps performing to increasingly bored audiences. Our former governor, Tim Paulenty (Mr. No New Taxes), is running for President along with Bachmann. (Sad to say, national voters aren’t much impressed with either.) Brett Farve has finally hung up his boots. The Timberwolves—the most mismanaged team in the NBA—can’t win a game. Cars won’t start in the mornings. So much snow clogs the thoroughfares that there’s only a single lane for traffic. My local coffee guy is running out of money. My favorite barista can’t afford a car (I’m thinking of giving him mine). The Minnesota legislature is dominated by Republicans (Noam Chomsky said the results of the last election portend the end of civilization as we know it). Deer are starving. So are wild turkeys. Those I love with all my heart are dying. And the unscrupulous always win.

Do you know why? Because we let them.

January 24, 2011   Comments Off on A Blighted January

Love Never Dies

At my local food co-op I met a young man in the cheese department who is a professional squatter. He lives in abandoned buildings. Like Europeans, he said. He dreams of hitchiking across Canada on the Trans-Canada Highway. He said someone tipped them off about an impending police raid and they disposed of everything that might be incriminating. He offered to cut the rinds off the cheeses I was buying, because I said I hated rinds. He then repackaged and repriced them. It reminded me of how we were. Fearless and full of ourselves. Squatters, he said, were becoming as radical as hippies. More power to you, I said, love never dies.

January 23, 2011   Comments Off on Love Never Dies

The Truly Brave

© 2010 Stephan Alm

It is really only the very young–with so many fears to overcome facing a world that is much larger than ours–who are truly brave. Remember what it was like the first time you did something as a child you thought was impossible? Bring it to mind now, if you can, and keep going forward. Refuse to give in. Never give up.

January 23, 2011   Comments Off on The Truly Brave

Not Going There!

I’ve had trouble with the concept of “turning the other cheek” since I first heard it as a boy in my Lutheran congregation. Although I had passivist tendencies (and still do), this was definitely not something I was ever going to practice. If it meant not being a Christian, that was fine with me.

Later, when I read the “Book of Acts,” it was easy to visualize what this might have been like in practice. The early Christians were spat upon and reviled, so turning the other cheek made practical sense. Of course, Christ meant that one should refrain from any kind of aggressive response, both inwardly and outwardly, even if someone slapped you in the face.

I still can’t do it. It goes against the grain. Since my early twenties, my motto has been “don’t take shit from anyone.” But I’m changing. Turning the other check has begun to signify something less Gandhi-like than Christ suggested. For me now it means simply not getting sucked into someone else’s drama. All I need to do is say, No, I’m not going there. He or she can be batshit crazy, but I’m not participating in the craziness. They can find someone else.

January 19, 2011   Comments Off on Not Going There!