Toils

I just got two rejections for short stories handed down by email – both within three hours of waking up. I guess it goes that way sometimes.

I like to talk about being rejected because I feel like you just have to be frank about it. No sense in posturing about this stuff. It’ll throw you a little, make you wonder if you were ever any good to begin with. But there’s thousands of people submitting shit every day, and who ever knows why something is rejected? All you can do is keep at it. I think I am writing things that are consistently just not what sells. I need to adjust that and do something else at least occasionally.

The world at large is a cesspool now. War and poverty. People dying and being displaced in Ukraine every day. No one has any money. Things are getting more expensive and even if you got a raise, you’re still probably feeling the pinch in your bank account. That doesn’t apply to the individuals who own all the wealth of course. They’re fine. Fine and insulated.

I was out at Lake James State Park in NC this past Saturday. First nice weather of the year. Shorts weather – as it always used to be back in Florida. I felt like I was back in my usual habitat right down to the sinus allergies that came on like fucking clockwork. It was good to be out there, though. There’s a lot of inner peace that can come with getting outside and away from screens.

Then I almost ran out of gas – I was spinning around those country roads, the needle dangerously in the red. I felt for sure this would end with me stranded out there with no cell reception and at the mercy of whoever’s house I happened to be by. I found my way back to the main road and ran into what I figured was a general store or a gas station, but which actually turned out to be a craft beer brewery. Nestled right there in the thick of the country. Everyone loves craft beer now. I helped myself to some before leaving, and after I’d somehow miraculously found a real gas station out there. It was a decent laid back afternoon once I settled the gas thing. It’s good to be able to go outside and enjoy this stuff again now.

I’ve been enjoying the new Sarah Shook & the Disarmers album, ‘Nightroamer.’ A great breezy country record that draws in all sorts of influences. It’s cathartic and seems to have a feeling of hope. And this Beach House album that’s just come out is good. A light listen like you’re immersed in a cloud.

And I’ve started thumbing through Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn collection of short stories again. It’s a killer collection of dark Western-styled stories, all with achingly great prose, very evocative, putting into words feelings that are complex and specific, luridly detailed places and sensations. Really good.

Time Allotment

I’m very bad at keeping up this thing, which was supposed to be a way to keep some interest in my site. But I haven’t had anything published in a while. And when I tried to upload a comedy video it was annoying and I ended up forgetting to follow through. So this all just seems like a pointless internet vanity project right now.

I can’t help it – I just have more fun actually tinkering with creative shit than doing stuff to build up marketing or whatever. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

It’s been a decent life as of late though. I did a few comedy shows – I drove two hours each way for shows two nights in a row, in different cities. It was like it used to be. There’s something fun for me in the long drives, the playing music, the stopping at random gas stations or hotels. It’s an adventure. I would probably get tired of it if I did it for a living month after month.

The world seems to be a bigger place out here (North Carolina, where I live now). In Florida it was literally narrow – you could drive up and down that state, but it was time consuming to go further. I used to work a desk job as a reporter, and I didn’t have time for it then. I could drive up and down Florida, that thin tube of a state, but the rest of the country seemed a big mystery a lot of the time. It’d been a while since I left.

Now I have the range to drive in different directions and potentially enter two or three other states. I visited Colorado last year and am going to Texas this year. It all seems broader now and I think you need that.

I have been reading a bunch of shit all at the same time – Marx’s Capital and a Keith Richards biography are two of them. It’s not so bad. The Marx is really something – he sure has a lot of ideas. I feel like I’m giving myself the forbidden education that was never in the curriculum when I was in school. I got the old fashioned American dogma so I’m going in another direction now. Here’s hoping a bunch of Republican senators don’t find out. The Keith Richards is good too. He’s a strong writer; funny and to the point. Rock stars can occasionally really pull this shit off.

Politics is the same as ever – endless culture wars dominate while the rich get richer. Seems like the status quo. They are talking about a war with Russia now. I’m sure that’s going to be an entirely noble thing, born solely of good will for the underserved people of the Earth. I’m also very glad our military budget is in the hundreds of billions while nobody can afford rent or health care. Great system.

I’ve been thinking more about anger lately. We all have to live in the world, and the last two years if nothing else have spotlighted just how bad a lot of service workers have it. The animosity directed at them. They get the brunt of the anger from short-fused, small-minded idiots and it sucks, because they are just trying to survive. Now, I would occasionally get drunk and send off some kind of angry email to a politician chastising them for being full of shit. But they aren’t reading those emails. The ones who got the brunt of my own wrath were hapless interns or something, also just trying to make a buck. So the anger becomes impotent. If you’re really deserving of that rage, you’re insulated from it. Money can be a buffer in that way and you can go on and do the same horrible shit you were before.

I think there might be a joke in that. This is how I write jokes. I just sort of type out a bunch of stuff and hope a punchline can be gleaned from it like a nugget of gold. It’s a work in progress.

Anyway, this has all been a hodge podge of random thoughts. Here’s some stuff I’ve been enjoying lately:

MOVIES: TITANE was good. Interesting and artsy and vague in the best ways. Art’s supposed to make you feel things and challenge you. This did that.

MUSIC: Right now I am playing the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album. There’s something to the brevity of it all. The simple, direct musicality. He had something to say and he said it. Also been playing some Voivod. Their Post-Society EP is so good. A true free-thinking band.

Allergen

(Originally posted 12/30/21).

Well a year ago I woke up with a nosebleed and then entered NYE in the ER because it kept coming back throughout the day and wouldn’t quit. By the end of it my bathroom looked like a scene out of a horror film. Out of control.

Turned out I had been way overdoing it on the Flonase allergy nasal spray drugs. I did them so much it burst a blood vessel in my nose. Hardcore shit man.

That also explained the insane out-of-body feeling that had been going on the previous month or two before that. Inexplicable anger sometimes, a weird floaty feeling in my head at others. I didn’t feel like myself. That’s some fodder for horror stories there. It was Cronenbergian type shit.

Looking back, I was in a bad way, doing those drugs earlier and earlier in the morning, later and later at night. Pandemic isolation just amplified it all. Nothing else to do and nowhere to go. And for years it had been slowly creeping up on me and making me feel worse when the allergies were bad. Dependency.

Once I walked out of the ER the second time on 1/1/2021 and then continued with life, I felt better and have become more clearheaded in every aspect. Then I moved to Asheville and have been making a new life there. I’m not there now; I am in St. Augustine being a beach bum, but even so. It’s good to root out the issues in your life. Sometimes they are shitty steroid drugs that slowly rot away your brain. You got to get out from under those types of things, whatever they are.

But I feel good these days.

At the end of the day, it’s just funny that this shit was the worst thing to happen in 2020 to me while covid was running rampant. I can’t ever go along with the mainstream I guess.

New Year

I spent New Years Eve in a delirious haze in my old alma mater of St. Augustine – which is a consummate beach town where I often like to spend a day or so when I get the chance. This time I was all about writing. I had a bunch of projects I was trying to finish up and just send out. I’d been slacking on it. It’s like sure you can be a writer just by sitting alone in rooms and writing. If you’re not putting anything out in the world, though, did it even happen? Like that old tree in a forest adage.

I spent most of 2021 partying and going on sightseeing adventures around Florida and elsewhere. I guess it was some kind of a reaction to the lockdown conditions from before – especially after I got a vaccine, it was like fuck it, why not, I’m driving most of these places alone anyway. Life’s only so long and I didn’t want to spend too much time cooped up. This is a personality defect, maybe, this need to constantly go places. I feel now like I really compensated for a lot of things last year. I was always on vacation. I had the resources from money I earned, so fuck it. Maybe it was a way not to think about anything in my life, as if to permanently put it off, kick the can down the road. So what if life was becoming an unstable, unpredictable mess? I can go visit The Shining Hotel. Maybe it’s really time for therapy now. The comedown. It took about a day and a half without lavish spending on hanging out in cool places to be like ‘yeah maybe therapy is a good idea.’ So I’ll see.

I left the year financially bruised and frayed. I’m 31 in early February. Got no owned home and no stable life – though at the least I’m trying to find one. I think last summer I had something of an existential crisis about all this. What was the point of planning for a future if climate change is going to keep accelerating and the pandemic isn’t stopping any time soon? I did whatever I wanted. I feel like it was aggressive hedonism. A way to fight back against the uncertainty.

But that’s no excuse. You got to have something. I spent a long time just sort of transient. Job to job and not much permanence. So maybe that will bear out. Or maybe it won’t.

The world keeps moving on. It becomes harder by the day to support a U.S. political party. I’ll always at least try to vote for whatever change we can get. But it is tough to support the Democratic party as some alternative to the much more insane Republicans, when the Democrats have mostly just thrown up their hands and shrugged at everything. But at the same time, here and there we’ve been able to bully Joe Biden into sending us things like masks and tests for COVID, even if we have no fucking clue when that will happen. I guess it’s still better than a Republican nakedly and openly hating us, but both of them are such rotten fucking apples anyway.

Like you got both Biden and Harris at this point just telling us to google where to find COVID tests. Yeah, awesome. The effort I’d put into telling a guy I disliked how to find a restaurant is what the government is putting forward. The press secretary openly scorns the idea of helping average people in the middle of an ongoing pandemic – the worst part of it thus far, even. What am I rooting for here? It’s like being asked to choose between which faceless corporate shill you think is mildly less offensive. My God. How great it is to be an American.

Whatever minutiae argument you make, a lot of the political system continues to seem like broken, groaning gears, just cranking out more for the wealthy, and yet inertia for everyone else. There are some who seem like they want more than that. I guess we’ll see if those ones make it further.

Until then, I plan to keep just enjoying life… there are many people not enjoying it right now, many stuck indoors, many with COVID. I do not have COVID as of this writing. I may wake up with it any time. I’m not too worried about it, but then again I have spent large portions of the past two years so drunk I barely cared anymore about the virus. It wasn’t the time to be sober. I’ve spent this particular night listening to the band Budgie and writing after hanging at a comedy open mic. I don’t know whether the writing or the comedy will lead anywhere. But it doesn’t matter for now.

The Grind

I’ve been slacking on trying to promote my existing writing because I have been undertaking National Novel Writing Month and doing new stuff instead. That’s the persistent temptation – I just love the feeling of chasing a new story.

It’s a 1920s historical fiction tale about a made-up blues guitarist back then. I am woefully unprepared for this kind of thing. I’ve never been a history buff and I’m also writing extensively about a Black man and racial issues of the time. All of it could go so wrong this thing may never even try to see the light of day. But I think there is a part of me that just really wants to go after it and try it. What is art if not trying things that could fail? Can’t ever be too safe.

Aside from the specifics of the story, I’ve just been thinking about writing in general. I feel like you’re not a good writer if you can look back at your stuff and be like yeah, all of it was good. My old stuff was good for the time. I can read it now and be like ‘well, there’s a lot I’d do differently today.’ I’ve been trying to shift my writing to a sort of show don’t tell mentality where I just describe things in a basic manner, have some dialogue, and let people figure out the rest in their heads – no need for a lot of inner monologuing from characters if I can help it. I feel like the best writing just transports you and makes you forget you’re even reading at all, skipping along like a rock on water, pure imagination. Too much wordiness or introspection from a character can, in the wrong hands, spoil that.

But on the other hand, the more I write and read, the clearer it is that there are no real rules for anything. Anybody who tells you there are is either an English teacher just trying to get you to pass a class or lying to you. There are infinite ways to tell a story. The fun part is getting it to the point where it can reach people. Maybe I’ll be able to do that some more sometime soon.

All Hallows

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t completely into horror and Halloween art. I remember being a little kid and reading the Goosebumps books – one story about a camera taking pictures and showing people how they’d die shortly after, I remember being unnerving when I was maybe six or seven or so. But I wasn’t repelled. Instead I just couldn’t quit.

I remember being around that age and finding this old book of ghost stories and jokes. One of them was about a woman with a ribbon around her neck. This old fable type of thing. Author Carmen Maria Machado did an updated version years later and it reminded me of being a kid and just having nothing to do but read that story. It’s crazy how this stuff, even as morbid as it is, follows us through the years.

At 12, I recall going to the library near my house at night, the sun having set early, school out and all. I checked out several Stephen King books. Back then there wasn’t really any social media – I spent weeks reading over Christine, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, with no distractions or anything else. I remember the feeling of just reading those completely without any other influences. It was transformative. Pet Sematary in particular was an insane gruesome trip. I read King himself didn’t even want to publish it at one point. At 13 or so, this was like crack to me. I couldn’t get enough.

As kids, everybody in the neighborhood would just go on huge epic treks of trick or treating. Nothing crazy happened, but I remember that strange otherworldly feel of everybody just wandering around after dark throughout our big old neighborhood. Long walks in the cold, everyone in some costume or other. It seemed mythical. After my sister, friends and I all aged out of trick or treating by middle school, I got into these books and then into movies, costumes, parties. I was just into all of it. I was into the whole aesthetic and vibe of the season. I’d always just liked the costumes and the decor and atmosphere. It was like stepping into another world.

In college I’d dive headlong into doing haunted house attractions. I rounded up everyone to go do that, every year. Still doing it now, even. Some of the tropes and tricks they do are the same, hospitals, meat grinders, old Southern cabins. I still find it entertaining. Once a year or so, and it’s gold. I especially love these indie haunts where I can just drive out into the middle-of-nowhere country and get lost in it all. That’s fun for me. I’d like to go further. Stay in some legitimately haunted places. See what comes of it. If nothing else, art might.

And the movies have been an undercurrent of it all. I’ve always just been voracious about consuming. The older I get, the more I find that’s so good. I feel horror can be a transformative genre. Movies like The Babadook, It Follows and Us, along with the long-form TV shows recently from Mike Flanagan, are examples of taking this genre and really wringing genuine depth out of a genre sometimes thought to be nothing but silly nonsense. Human and political truths about loneliness and family and love and connection.

Ultimately, I find myself just thinking about why I’m so attracted to all this horror stuff anyway. I guess it’s just in the human element. It’s a way to articulate the most difficult, thorny parts of life, through freakish metaphor. I like the way the genre can really show what we’re all about as humans. Primal survivor-mode stuff. There are plenty of stories about evil, but also plenty of characters fighting back against it. Making it through. I watch the 1978 Halloween every year and that’s an enduring thing because it’s about that struggle, about evil coming to town and some people fighting back. I can get behind it.

Blunt

As far back as I can remember, I never had much of a filter. I was always saying too much, occasionally saying the wrong things. A bit of a loudmouth. I just never had tact as an abundance. This, I think, informed both my journalistic career (got to cut to the heart of any issue) and comedy, in that I was always saying things when I maybe should’ve just shut up. But the point is that I just never liked beating around the bush. I’d say what was on my mind a lot of the time. Sometimes it got me in trouble, started fights with friends. It was just part of growing up – finding some kind of balance in this regard, of saying things truthfully but also learning to respect some general boundary. You do end up needing some tact in life, just to make sure you can still pay your rent and have something like a normal social life.

There’s a point where that goes too far, though. There’s large swathes of cold hard reality we as a society just seem to completely brush over.

Colin Powell died a few days ago. Here’s a guy who was a major architect for the Iraq War. Millions of people died because of that. Whatever misgivings he had don’t really matter to me. But every news report was mostly just this very stiff, straightlaced report on his life and legacy. People are complicated, but until we can just come out and say “this guy’s mistakes were murderous, horrific things that caused widespread death and pain,” I think we’re just pushing everything down, and that won’t lead to anything good.

Then you can go further back and find all these examples of people like George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger being treated like they’re just these nice old statesmen. No mention of war or bloodshed. Bush gets to pal around with Ellen Degeneres and take pictures with Michelle Obama. Paints his pictures in the countryside. All these guys, they just get to live in peace, and the larger machine of polite culture will whitewash their sins and never really talk about the damage done by our wars and our presidents. It starts to become something out of a horror film. The terrible things unseen lurking below the surface. As if a kind of hypnosis has been cast over everyone, and the words of the truth would somehow breach a seal of some kind.

Then it bleeds over into just your average political discourse. You’re told to talk respectably to these people who are just content with the gears grinding us along into the oblivion of climate change and inequality, these people who just think it’s all business as usual and we just need to keep voting and that’s the only thing they really do. You can find reports of young people becoming increasingly anxious and despondent over the climate disasters that will be dumped in their lap by the time they’re in the position of true responsibility. But our political machine just churns along with these career, corporate-funded old men having debates and whittling down what they’re going to do about the climate and about inequality, and oh well, guess they tried. Keep voting, though! The levers of power having remained constantly in the hands of geriatrics who are increasingly removed from the material reality of the world is normal and fine!

There would be times at work they’d say never mention your salary. That’s a whole lot of propaganda and service for the company, isn’t it? And I never got why we weren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table. Those are pretty big parts of life. I think some more clarity there could be healthy.

I’m sort of just ranting at this point. But maybe it’s time we quit talking in such polite language about all of these things. Maybe we’d actually make some progress.

Starving Artist

I saw this Tweet thread this morning, reacting to the news of the Squid Game creator, who apparently struggled for years, had to sell his laptop, got rejected, et cetera before finally breaking big with his show recently. His show is about the monstrous ills and woes of capitalism, how it eats people alive, which makes a lot of the stuff he went through seem pretty personal. Almost meta.

But then, as the Tweets say, you get this narrative where it’s inspiring. People will say “never give up.” They’ll say “follow your dreams.” It’s a good general way to go about life in that we all need stuff to keep us happy and fulfilled. And maybe once in a while you do get published. I was glad to get the stories I’ve published out in the world. It is possible.

However, there was always the slight voice in the back of my mind telling me this was a bit annoying, the whole follow your dreams narrative.

It’s just in the kind of empty-calorie optimism in that statement. “If you just keep working hard, you’ll be on Netflix or published by Penguin Random House or have your own TV show or your dream job just like that!” I don’t know. There are ways to be fulfilled and there are ways to live a fine life. But the entertainment industry, and breaking big in any way – that’s a tough thing to do. Most of us won’t, in writing or comedy or film or any of it. I’ll see comedians make Facebook pages for themselves a year or so into comedy. That just seems bizarre to me. You don’t even know what you’re selling yet. Some comics do it for 10, 20, 30 years before they really get any success. It seems like deluding yourself.

And the world is full of these stories of artists not making it for decades or something. The entertainment system’s gatekeepers pick what they want at the time and other things inevitably get left behind. Loads of the things I like, movies or bands for example, I can go on their Wikipedia pages and see the same thing like clockwork, like the refrain of a song: “initially the work was panned and critics hated it, but years later it was reassessed as a masterpiece.” It makes you wonder if maybe nothing is ever objective. And it makes you wonder who else we’re sleeping on.

As I write this I’m playing a John Lee Hooker album. This is a guy who made music for literally like 40 or 50 years before finally getting a charting album in his 70s. That’s crazy to me. Inspiring, but wow, I don’t think he was planning on it taking so long.

The industry and art are like yin and yang – we need the industry to amplify the art, but the artistic instinct is very different from a business mindset. The industry, responding to the insatiable need for entertainment, has become a gigantic money-driven machine. This isn’t to make this all some kind of ‘fuck the system’ point – I can do that any old time. I’m just saying that maybe it’s all relative who gets success and we shouldn’t base our worths off that.

Maybe social media has played a role in it, giving us all a platform to feel like we have bullhorns to say whatever. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature to want to be recognized for something, in some way. I dunno. The comedian Sara Schaefer had this podcast where she outlined the details of how TV shows get made, with all the various steps, rewrites, meetings, consultants, people it has to go through – and that sometimes, even after all that, the show still doesn’t make it to the air.

I can go on writing forums and social media threads and there are hundreds of comments all talking about their books and projects. About how far along they are and their ideas. All of them miniature universes living in minds and laptops and cell phones. It’s inspiring. I hope all of them get finished to satisfaction. And beyond that there are the mountains and mountains of published works that are not touted as masterpieces or remembered by the ages, but they’re still there, still definitively in the world. And maybe humanity is a vast and wide thing and a great mountain of experiences and the creation and expression of art is its own virtue, and it’s fine just to be happy with whatever you do have, the sheer electric experience of creating and the validation whenever you actually do accomplish something.

But yeah, it’s just Hollywood and NYC that decide everything for us – if you’re not in those cities you’re not making it, apparently. What a small thing that kind of world seems like to me.

Anachronism

I feel like a man out of time.

This isn’t supposed to be one of these ‘fuck all that newfangled social media’ old-man types of posts – but it will seem like it.

Thing is, it seems like everything I do naturally just happens to be the opposite of what you need to do to be successful on social media. TikTok videos have become popular – they’re short by nature. I am verbose and like longer-winded content, big essays and articles. I enjoy words and giving myself the space to elucidate. On Facebook, the algorithm doesn’t seem to like it when you post links. Or at least the ones I post never seem to get much interactions anymore. But I keep doing it. Like picking a scab. I can’t help it. Then I get very little engagements and I just leave the computer and do other things. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The longer I spend online, and the more I just find myself tired of it all anyway. The same old repackaged unfunny memes. Man, I know everyone finds them funny, but after a while, if I see a meme or a joke repeated too many times, it’s physically painful to me. It’s an irritant like my seasonal allergies. I just want to take those really over-used jokes and shoot them into the sun.

And the political stuff. Man, is that eyeroll-worthy. Do you know how difficult it is to change anybody’s opinion on the internet? I can scroll through Facebook and Twitter and these ‘debates’ are primarily just people shouting over each other. Pure ego masturbation. There’s almost never any real value in it but to rack up Likes from others who share your point of view. I’ll find myself succumbing anyway sometimes, as the urge grows too strong. Then I kick myself because it’s pointless. I wasted time arguing for the Likes when I could’ve been outside looking at a lake or something.

So with all that said, over the past few years I’ve tried to really look at my own ways I used social media.

There was a point when I realized there was very little value in just posting serious political missives like “x should do this,” “they should do that,” all this kind of loud bullhorn stuff, as if I am a political dignitary. Last I checked, I wasn’t. It started to seem fake and like I was preaching to a choir, not really moving any dials. These days I just post what I find interesting. I like learning things and reading about what’s happening. That won’t change anything. I’ve realized that now.

And for a while, when I started comedy, I was always thinking ‘well, alright, what content can I do to try and get more engagement?’ That quickly got snuffed out. Thing is, I just couldn’t think of anything to do that wouldn’t seem artificial, corny or gauche to my standards. This isn’t to bash anybody else. I’m just bad at that kind of thing.

My thoughts on that aspect of comedy ends up being like well, why do we need to brand ourselves so much anyway? Is that all there is to life? Branding every aspect of yourself into some manufactured, processed and marketable facade? That’s some creepy, dystopian shit to me. But some people really make it work. At some point I just have to admit it’s a ‘me’ problem. Other people have that skill and I don’t. My brand is just what I choose to post online, and the stuff I post has alienated people all the time and also made me some good friends over the years. That’s all I can cop to here.

I’m not trying to be some old-man bitching about the modern world. I like the connectivity of social media. I try and embrace new things. As a person with hearing aids, I kind of have to like technology. I’d be fucked without it. I hope it goes further and I can fully get bionic ears someday and not even need the hearing aids.

And at the end of the day, despite everything I said about social media, I guess this blog is a bunch of self-indulgence, too. So maybe everything is relative.

Radical Empathy

I’ve been reading Mariame Kaba’s “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us,” this new book about the abolition of prisons/police/etc. It’s all stuff that has existed for some time, but that is coming into prominence more as we see the increasing violence of police against Black people in the news all the time. The book looked interesting because I always want to explore the furthest reaches of what’s possible, of the roots of evil or injustice in the world. It makes the case that abolition of the cops and prisons wouldn’t mean some new, violent world, but instead trying to put in place a world that doesn’t need them anymore.

I think when I was growing up, it was a more innocent time. It usually is, when you’re a kid. I remember always being curious about things, but never trying to offer expert opinions when I was younger. I didn’t pretend to know anything. This partly came from being hard of hearing. It was like I never really knew the world, everything just a bit out of focus, so I had to really try to learn and to soak things in intensely. I remember in high school being frustrated that I didn’t know very much about politics or the news or anything. But looking back, I was just taking my time. I had to do it my own way.

By college I was starting to pick up on things. I just took it at my own pace and began really just sort of throwing myself into the world. It wasn’t really a coherent ideology. I just started to sort things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and seeing what the issues were little by little. By 2014 or so, with the rise in mass shootings, that was the impetus for a lot of my views. That and seeing how women, minorities, etc were wronged. These things were easy ways to let the ideology form.

All of this is just to say that we come by the path of righteousness in various ways. Nobody’s perfect at first. Learning and education are the thing. “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us” doesn’t mince words about the need to abolish police and prisons. These are things I myself might have qualified or whiffed on even pretty recently – there’s this thought that it would lead to some horrific outpouring of violence, an unjust society. But the book doesn’t think so. Instead, the roots of most crime could be soothed and eventually go away and we wouldn’t need police or prisons to act as external tools to punish anymore.

One of the things that’s stuck out to me in the book so far has been the anecdote about Martin Shkreli, who jacked up drug prices to comically, criminally insane rates. He got thrown in jail – but only for some kind of white-collar upper class reason, not for what he did to the drug prices. And the drug price issue hasn’t disappeared. Throwing him in jail didn’t do shit.

Punishment is unnecessary. How much do I need the state to act as some kind of a blunt hammer to make me feel OK? I’ve never had to call to the cops and I’ve lived in plenty of out of the way places by myself with nobody I knew around. The idea of sticking somebody – even Sirhan Sirhan, as the recent story went – in jail out of purely moralistic, punitive reasons, doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I remember I used to worry about recidivism. This comic book idea of the killer coming back and killing again. Jason Voorhees shit. I think this is the kind of base-level puerile emotional appeal we should avoid going forward.

I remember in Orlando some time back, there was a case of a guy who’d shot and killed a pregnant police officer and had beat up his girlfriend. He got totally pulverized by the cops a while later. They put out his eye. The reaction at the time was something like ‘man, good riddance, he got what he deserved!’ I was apprehensive. I remember thinking ‘well, what happens next time when they get the wrong guy?’ Cops aren’t inherently good, or even mostly good. They go on power trips all the time. And extending from that – maybe this guy in Orlando doesn’t need to be brutalized by state sanctioned troopers anyway. Maybe the justice system should be impartial.

Instead maybe we need a new system where things are more fair and people aren’t scrounging to survive. People are inherently troubled and flawed, and the external crises going on, poverty, climate, etc, don’t do anything to alleviate this. Maybe we need to quit blaming the individual. I titled this “radical empathy” – trying to not have this draconian medieval view of individuals if I can help it. But maybe it’s not that radical at all.