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This is Not a Cruise Line Advertisement

I disembarked from a five-day cruise two days ago. And I have one thing to say.

Ahhhhh.

Said cruise was my fifth in three years, and I have a sixth lined up in six weeks. As you might imagine, I have developed a thing for cruise vacations.

And now it’s my turn to indoctrinate you.

Before I went on my first cruise in November 2013, the whole concept was quite amorphous. Something about the word “cruise” connoted opulence to me, and so I did not seriously entertain the notion of going on one.

I am reminded of when my family first started going to Red Lobster as a kid. My mother, although very smart, was not a sophisticated diner and wondered aloud whether we even belonged in a restaurant of that imagined caliber. Over the years I’ve chuckled at her perception, but there I was, 40 years old and under the impression I could not afford to go on a cruise. Just like my mom.

That first cruise was an eye-opener. It was a pre-planned wedding cruise and I was simply tagging along. When I saw the price tag, my jaw dropped. It was reverse sticker shock. It was cheaper than the price of a lowball hotel room for the same length of time. And it included food… really?

My innate frugality was further egged along by the cruise experience itself; it was fun, it was relatively self-directed, and it was chill. I love chill. So I was hooked.

So that’s my addiction story in brief. Now to tell you in detail why cruises are the best vacations in existence. (Somehow, I think the cruise lines have missed a lot of opportunities to sell themselves, because their marketing materials never pointed out all these wonderful things in a way they resonated with me.)

  1. They’re cheap–but only as cheap as you want them to be. Of course, I cruise discount. Discount cruise line, cheapest cabins, and don’t spend a lot on the ship. That’s great for me, because I enjoy the motion of the ship, the comfy beds, the included food, the shows, and looking over the deck at the water. When in port, I enjoy the views and walking the streets casually. I actively prefer the free stuff, and not just because it’s free. If your tastes run more expensive, you can certainly be accommodated. Cabin suites with balconies, $15 drinks and $20 steak add-ons, $100-per-person shore excursions, onboard shopping and gambling, art auctions, and so on. This creates opportunities for back-end sticker shock, but any vacation can turn expensive while you’re not paying attention.
  2. Your choices are pleasantly limited. The most exhausting part of any vacation is planning. If you love to plan an itinerary in advance, you have to arrange to hit all your marks once you arrive. If you don’t, you wake up each day in a hotel room and face the dreaded question: what are we going to do today? Then there’s the laggard on every vacation who wants to sleep until 1pm, which results in splintered vacation parties or frustrated sightseers. While you can’t eliminate these stressors completely, being confined to a 1000-foot vessel for half of your vacation certainly reduces them. While on the ship, there’s usually about one interesting thing happening at any given time. You can do that interesting thing, or you can eat, or lay out, or take a dip, or take a nap, or get a drink, or shop. It’s just enough to keep you from feeling trapped, but not enough to overwhelm you. And that late riser can just get up and join you when he’s ready–you’re never more than a three-minute walk from anywhere on the ship.
  3. You can only get dragged around so much at your destination. File this under spinning a negative into a positive. The most common complaint I hear about cruises is that you don’t have time to really get out and explore the ports of call. The customary time to be back on the ship is 4:30pm, although there are cruises (usually the longer and more expensive ones) where you can spend the night in port and explore the nightlife. For me, though, this limitation is a pro instead of a con. My sightseeing attention span is somewhere very close to the eight hours allotted off the ship. If you have travel companions who have no concept of time, this helps immensely. It’s not nagging on my part if the ship can literally leave you high and dry if you miss the re-boarding time.
  4. Your vacation is curated, with a beginning, middle, and an end. The cruise director plays a large role in successfully curating your cruise. He or she needs to hit the right notes at the right time: excitement at embarkation, wonderment at the ports of call, and a touch of melancholy and even reflection on the last night. Even if he or she fails (and our last cruise director was pretty ineffective), the itinerary is always right there, and even the most out-of-touch passenger has a general sense of the anticipation on the way to the ports and of closure on the return/destination stretch. It’s downright poetic compared to the let’s-plop-down-in-a-hotel-room-and fly-back-after-five-days stagnancy of a standard vacation.
  5. Dining is an integrated part of the vacation experience. Left to our own devices, we harried travelers revert to our home dining routines. How many times have you stopped at a convenient McDonald’s after an exhausting day of sightseeing just because you couldn’t imagine dragging the family into so much as an Applebee’s to put forth the time and effort (not to mention the extra cash) it would take to actually dine as opposed to stuffing your face? The cruise lines place a premium on dining, providing a free and formal-esque dinner experience each evening. In addition, although it’s often a tenuous connection, there is at least a cursory effort to echo the cuisine of the last or next port of call, or the vacation region in general. And for those passengers that just don’t give a damn, they can get a sandwich or a pizza or room service whenever they want it.
  6. The service staff is accommodating and attentive. I cruise Carnival, so all of my observations here are to some degree generalizations from my experience with that one cruise line. I have a couple of friends who have informally verified these generalizations, but service is different; it’s an intangible and subjective quality, one that leans heavily on the culture of the cruise line. That’s why I specifically qualify this point. Carnival, on the whole, does an excellent job hiring and training the service staff. They do such a good job, it’s jarring to step off the ship into the ports of call or to return home from vacation and adjust to the low bar of customer service at most other establishments.
  7. The ship is a floating cocoon of vacation fun. This last point follows directly from the preceding one. The cruise ship exists in a different dimension from the rest of the world. If you go on vacation to Orlando, you’re going to run into regular Orlando folks on their grumpy daily journeys. Same in Jamaica, Amsterdam, Australia, or Hawaii. On a cruise ship, the only people working on the cruise ship are the staff, and that barely counts because (1) their business is to make you happy; and (2) they themselves are on a finite stint on the vessel; they work several months onboard and then take time off, after which they may be assigned to another ship. It’s far from a vacation, but it’s dynamic enough to avoid the sort of rut most of experience in our employment. No one on staff is going to say, “I’ve been working on this ship for 15 years, and I’m sick of it.” If you inquire, the worst you’ll hear is something like, “I have five months left, and then I get to go home to my family.” I am not making the case that their working conditions are easy or even altogether fair. I am only saying that while you are on the ship, you are insulated from the stagnation and the drudgery of what has become known as “the real world.” Everyone is on a temporary journey and enjoying it while it lasts. It’s sort of a joyful microcosm of life.

Cruising is one of the single most fulfilling experiences I have had in life. If you haven’t done it, I highly recommend it. If you have and you didn’t enjoy it, what’s wrong with you? No, actually, it isn’t for everyone. If you’re an unfettered free spirit or an extreme claustrophobe, it can seem like prison (or so I’ve heard). If you are inordinately prone to motion sickness, it isn’t feasible. But other than that, I can’t find any good reason not to try it.

Counting the days until the next one (43!).

 

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Why Rhythm Nation Should be the National Anthem… Seriously

Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest has sparked a series of discussions on different topics. Most focus on the appropriateness of his actions weighed against the issues where he is attempting to shed light.

A side topic, one that pops up every so often in pop culture and social media, is whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” is even worth the reverence we are supposed to afford it in the first place. It was written by a slaveholding amateur poet who set his amateur poem to a British social club tune that was widely bastardized and had lots of other lyrics tacked onto it. Its more obscure verses (there are four altogether) have some unsettlingly normalizing references to slavery.

So–in short, our national anthem was written by a hack, the music was stolen, and it’s hopelessly out-of-date. (I dare any of the folks burning Kaepernick’s jersey to tell me what a rampart is.) Further, while it memorializes the resilience of our nation in the face of adversity, it also sort of glorifies war in the process and speaks to an American experience that most of the people singing the song can’t relate to. The America we live and breathe in does not generally have bombs bursting in air.

In 1989, Janet Jackson had a nifty idea–create a reboot of the national anthem, updated for what’s important in the U.S. in the latter 20th century. She even went so far as to codename the album she was working on “The 1814 Project,” so named because that was the year Key wrote the other anthem. That name carried through to the final title of the album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. (To my mind, this is still the most awesome, spine-tingling album name of all time.) The title track, written by a trio of actual songwriters (Jackson, Jam & Lewis), became the second single from the album, reached #2 on the pop charts, and was accompanied by an eye-popping video that is singularly iconic in its stark, gestural choreography–half pop-locking, half military drill routine.

The album just celebrated its 27th birthday this past week. And, as it happened, I was discussing the Kaepernick protest with a good friend on Facebook when I, to lighten the mood, mentioned offhandedly that maybe if we had a better anthem, I’d be a little more offended about people protesting during it. “Can you write us one?” my friend asked. “Janet already did,” I replied.

It’s been a ha-ha-funny joke for the past 30 years that I take Janet Jackson WAY too seriously and that my ultimate fandom dictates that I lobby (against all good sense and reason) for “Rhythm Nation” to be the national anthem.

For the first time today, I wasn’t laughing.

I began reviewing the lyrics in my head. Each and every line is universal and speaks to the heart of what the United States of America has always, at least in principle, aspired to be. The musical genealogy of the song is brashly American (as opposed to Key’s British rip-off), with equal parts funk, R&B, pop, and hip-hop. As noted above, it’s nearly 30 years old, so it can now rightly be called a classic. And perhaps most importantly, the people who grew up listening to the song and being inspired by it are now middle-aged (or in my case, approaching middle age–ahem), so whatever we say has to be taken seriously.

So I’m dead-frickin-serious. This needs to be our national anthem:

With music by our side/to break the color lines/let’s work together to improve our way of life

Our nation has usually at least paid lip service to equality and inclusiveness. That needs to be institutionalized in our anthem. Explicitly acknowledging the role of music is another no-brainer; if we didn’t think music had the power to unite people, why would we go to the trouble of singing the same damn song before every sporting event or assembly? And people have historically come to the U.S. from other places to improve themselves, and in the process, improve us all collectively.

Join voices in protest/to social injustice/a generation full of courage come forth with me

Our nation was founded in protest of the injustice of British colonial rule. Nothing more American than that (except maybe magically switching gears and calling protest un-American when it makes us uncomfortable, which is the point of protesting in the first place). A good old fashioned rallying cry is also inherently anthemic.

People of the world today/Are we looking for a better way of life/We are a part of the rhythm nation

Hello!? Can’t you just hear thousands of people singing this in unison? So much more interactive than listening to Christina Aguilera apply super-deluxe histrionics to the word “glare.” [Editors Note: I adore Xtina, but she is an easy target when it comes to national anthem singing.]

People of the world unite/Strength in numbers we can get it right/We are a part of the rhythm nation

Unite! Strength! Right! Nation! What part of this is not screaming anthem?

This is the test/No struggle no progress/Lend a hand to help your brother do his best

This completes the checkbox for acknowledging difficulty and overcoming adversity. This is just about all the current one-note national anthem does. Janet dispatched it in one line. Plus, as a bonus, an ostensibly Christian virtue, helping one’s brother, is referenced without showing religious preference. Win-win.

Things are getting worse/We have to make them better/It’s time to give a damn/Let’s work together

OK, fine. These last lines are a little problematic. Problem one–we can’t have an anthem that forever has us bemoaning things getting worse. Simple fix–add the word “when” in front to make it conditional and therefore universal. “When things are getting worse, we have to make them better.”

Last problem is the word “damn,” which I suppose some people don’t want their children singing. I think that bit of prudishness is rapidly vanishing, though. It’s really almost a regular word nowadays, and usually excusable if used for emphasis–like in a rousing verse of a national anthem.

 

I admit this idea seems ludicrous in first imagining. We’re just so accustomed to the pacing of the maudlin battlefield melodrama of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” slowly building to a high note none of us can actually hit, resolving with a swift denouement. “Rhythm Nation” is a dance-pop record that some us can remember dancing to in our rooms when we were teenagers.

But it’s a song we can all sing. The message of the song is direct and speaks to things we can actually do after we leave the football game to show ourselves as good American citizens and world citizens. It also doesn’t require a dip in the energy of the events where it is sung–it can be reverent and rousing at the same time.

And to Colin Kaepernick’s point, it leverages and recognizes the value of protest in patriotism. Apparently a lot of Americans need a lesson in that.

Navel-Gazing: Part 468

This post is not so much for public consumption, but if it goes viral, I’ll accept it. I’ll be embarrassed, but I’ll accept it.

It’s fascinating how each of us has a universe that exists in our own minds. We all draw our own conclusions, make our own intimate connections of fact, of cause and effect, of punishment, reward, and indifference.

Sometimes, when we feel comfortable with another soul, we will leak our personal universe out, one conclusion at a time, often prefaced with “You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I’ve always thought…”

When I was a kid, I distinctly recall one night while I was in second grade. My father took me and my mother on a Nashville dining adventure. We went to a sprawling complex called Cajun’s Wharf, an elaborate restaurant-cum-spectacle with multiple nooks, crannies, set pieces, video games, etc. I had a blast and was celebrating life.

That was my last night as a carefree kid.

When reconstructing our autobiographies, I believe most of us are wont to make reductive statements such as the immediate above. It’s all part of our personal universe construct.

But I truly believe there was a sea change in my personality following that night at Cajun’s Wharf. On the hour-plus car ride home from the restaurant, my jubilation was stopped cold by a sudden feeling of illness. We pulled over by the side of the road at least once because of my raging nausea, which didn’t consummate until I got home.

I spent an icky night at home, before backtracking most of the way back to Nashville the next morning to see my pediatrician, who diagnosed me with strep throat. I don’t recall much about my recovery. I only recall the emotional devastation of being so happy and then having it snatched from me arbitrarily.

In the face of such powerlessness, I constructed a large part of my personal universe in response to that night. I needed to at least create the illusion of control, so I made a deal with God: if I promised to not get too happy, I would be spared that sort of experience in the future. I became a stoic child overnight.

Somewhere in my mind, there was something much more rational at play than a deal with God. Practically speaking, if I didn’t get too happy, I wouldn’t have as far to fall if I became ill or otherwise unhappy. I hedged my bets, sacrificing unbridled joy to prevent a breathless fall into misery.

From then to this day, I’ve always expressed my happiness in carefully measured increments. As an adult, I’ve allowed myself to experience happiness without guilt, but I have remained measured about expressing it, and there’s always a voice in my head telling me to beware of the next awful thing lurking behind the joyful moment I’m experiencing.

This sort of brings us to the events of the last month. I was feeling content and in control of a great deal of my life about a month ago. I had instituted a life-priority plan which would allow me to focus on personally important things rather than getting jerked around by deadlines and lack of focus. I executed two weeks on this plan and was getting the hang of it. As a serial self-improvement buff, it would be a meaningful accomplishment for me to launch a plan and stick to it.

Another piece of my personal universe is that I feel like I am a divinely ordained target for petty annoyances and sabotage. The way I put it, nothing truly tragic ever happens to me, but any way the universe can find to annoy the heck out of me on a day-to-day basis, it will find and execute.

As an example, I find that I can visit a shopping mall at 8pm on a Tuesday night when there are only a handful of patrons in the entire place, and somehow, someway, I will find myself maneuvering around three other people who have converged at one bottleneck near a stairway or escalator, making it a challenge to just walk from point A to point B in a deserted public space. Infuriating.

So, in a series of events that feeds this paranoid piece of my universe, after two strong weeks on my new plan and three relaxing vacation days from work, I was struck down with fever and chills, followed shortly by a red, sore spot on my leg. I had a skin infection, and it upended my world for two weeks. The very thought of reading or blogging (two primary components of my plan) made me panicked with stress. I was struggling just to keep current with my work emails and not fall behind paying my bills and other subsistence activities. So I dropped the plan cold. I needed to survive. [Note: the infection was not serious, and I believe I was only suffering mild malaise from the infection and the antibiotics. I’m just not accustomed to feeling unwell and I overreact.]

On another level, I gave up because I felt like I was being punished for being happy again. For daring to think that I could outmaneuver life and prioritize activities that were important to me.

I am well aware of how dysfunctional this sounds. But this is part of the personal universe I have created. In addition, being aware of these thoughts brings up other questions about my illness. Did I create the conditions internally that allowed the infection to take place? Did I sabotage my own well-being because I was scared of succeeding?

On a certain level, I want to believe that I sabotaged myself. First, self-sabotage would indicate that my natural resistance is too high for me to have gotten sick in the absence of said sabotage. Second, albeit in a perverse way, it demonstrates that I do have control over what is happening to me, that it’s not “God” or “the universe” that inflicts these obstacles. I only need to truly believe and be fearless in my pursuit of my happiness and I stand a better chance of getting there.

There’s a lot of labyrinths to all of our personal universes, and I thank you for traveling with me down a few of mine. There are no absolute answers to be had, but the mere awareness of some of the dynamics at play is inherently valuable.

It could be that the biggest takeaway here is that my personal universe (and yours) is the single biggest prism through which I (and you) see our actions and the larger world we share. It stands to reason, then, that “creating your own happiness” is far more than some New Age-y mantra. Instead, it’s a reality-based assessment of how we use our minds to process the world around us.

I’m feeling better now. I didn’t even mention the two wisdom teeth I had extracted a week ago; that was an added physical impediment to my personal focus. All seems to be resolving, and now I have allowed myself the luxury of the reflection you read here.

With any luck this post is one of the final pieces of my recovery and a step toward the rededication to the path I set out on last month.

PC: causes, symptoms, and treatments

Donald Trump has a number of pet peeves, real or adopted, that he has articulated (using the term loosely here) during the current presidential campaign. One of them is political correctness, which is enjoying a revival as a discussion topic due to the Republican nominee’s focus (again, loose usage) on the issue.

Since conservatives want to treat PC like a disease, it may be helpful for the purposes of this discussion to use the paradigm of epidemiology to organize my observations on this understandably volatile topic.

Definition

Political correctness is the display or attempted display of sensitivity toward marginalized groups by steering clear of offensive labels, descriptions, or implications in one’s speech and actions. An act may be described as offensive due to its pejorative, stereotypical, or subhuman descriptive content, or it may be an act that communicates a generalization about a marginalized group.

The immediate question regarding this definition that presents itself is why PC is presented here as a disorder. The answer is far from exact or satisfying, but it relates to a perception of excess. Notably, other activities or actions performed to excess are re-classified into disorders such as compulsions or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Oddly, political correctness, when diagnosed, is taken as its own unique disorder, regardless of degree. Hmm.

Symptoms

The most common symptom across all types of political correctness is empathetic outbursts. These may manifest as correcting another’s speech or actions, or pointing out potentially hurtful messages or labels.

Other symptoms, which usually co-exist with these outbursts, include thinking outside of one’s personal experience, and chronic identification with marginalized groups. These congruent symptoms may culminate in an inflamed liberal political outlook.

It must be noted that actual members of marginalized groups are not classified as politically correct when they point out hurtful comments or actions directed toward their own identities. They are simply complaining and making excuses. (Please see entry for “hypochondria.”)

Causes

Political correctness is either contracted communicably or it is self-inflicted.

When contracted communicably, it is the result of exposure to other politically correct individuals who present the core ideas of the disorder in a rational and/or persuasive manner and pass it along to the affected individual.

When self-inflicted, it is the result of one’s own rational thought and inherent, although sometimes dormant, sense of empathy.

Risk Factors

There is no consensus on the risk factors for PC behavior. Growing up in a diverse environment involving contact with marginalized populations is often cited, but some individuals develop the disorder without a high degree of heterogeneity in their environment.

A controversial theory links political correctness to intelligence.

Treatments

There is no known cure for political correctness. As has been cited by folk wisdom, once one’s mind is open, everything can, in fact, fall out. The pervasive human predilection toward empathy also reinforces the often irreversible impact of political correctness.

The most potent treatment is recruitment into white nationalist groups or other such bastions of homogeneity that seek to reinforce identities that are already central or predominant in the individual’s social context. (Some people are saying that Donald Trump’s rallies are anti-PC-geared events using this treatment method. I don’t know… you tell me.)

Secondary treatments include verbal harassment by conservatives, shaming by one’s overbearing mouth-breathing uncle, and large doses of Fox News coverage.

Prevention

Planting one’s head in the sand and operating in a world devoid of context and nuance have proven to be invaluable tools in the prevention of political correctness.

You Can’t Deport Me, I Quit

I am too frightened to do the research on this, but apparently there is a hashtag movement afoot regarding the deportation of Muslims from the U.S. It may be an exaggerated threat or a couple of really loud jerks drumming up support, but I simply can’t do the necessary heartbreaking research. This is one of those shooting-fish-in-a-barrel posts, but, simply, NO.

I grew up in a family and community that generally despised or at best was leery of Muslims. Even in his later years, my father jokingly called the Arab owner of his neighborhood gas station “The Terrorist.”

Regardless, in all my years of confronting ignorance and bigotry as a wide-eyed child in Tennessee and an adult in the Atlanta area, not once have I heard anyone–my father, my parents’ friends in Gamaliel, Kentucky, or Lafayette, Tennessee, any member of the regressive fundamentalist churches I had occasion to attend as a child, anyone–call for the deportation of Muslims or of any religious group. This is beyond my comprehension.

My partner has a Muslim first name and was brought up in a predominately Christian environment with a healthy exposure to Islam due to his mother’s temporary conversion prior to his birth.

I work closely with at least two Muslims at my job. I value their friendship and respect them as two of the most principled, thoughtful, and kind people with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work.

Rumors are that my lifelong idol and role model, Janet Jackson, has converted to Islam under the influence of her husband, Wissam Al Mana. Presumably while under this Muslim influence, she created the 2015 album Unbreakable, her finest album in over a decade, full of idealism and social responsibility.

Almost to a person, the most inauthentic and hateful people I’ve known in my life have claimed Christianity as their religion. Every spoken or physical act of violence I have ever witnessed has been committed by a Christian. This may have a lot to do with the overwhelming preponderance of Christians in my environment, but still…

In lieu of saying something cute or clever, I’ll let all of those observations stand on their own. I’ll point out that almost all the Americans that have ever been killed, marginalized, brutalized, disfranchised, disenfranchised, bullied, silenced, tortured, and discriminated against… almost all of them have suffered their abuse at the hands of people who identified as Christian.

So which religion’s members should we be deporting, again?

Answer: even still, none of them. And if U.S. leaders, in their infinite wisdom, decide to deport Muslims because of their religious identification, I’m going with them.

You can’t deport me. I will quit.

The Solitude of Clinton

The flip side of my aversion to Trump and the way he blusters through life, seemingly without comprehension or consequence, is my identification with Hillary Clinton.

It’s quite a neat flip side.

Of all the outlandish political plot points that have littered fiction through the years, none seems as contrived and orchestrated as the Clinton versus Trump storyline. The two candidates couldn’t possibly be more different. The know-nothing, charismatic yet heartless braggart faces off against the measured, cerebral public servant who is privately warm and caring.

The grossly unintended irony of them being depicted as the spooky ghost twins from The Shining in a meme almost made me hyperventilate. They are not interchangeable–not personally, not politically, not quantitatively, not qualitatively. No way, no how.

I provide this background in order to come clean about any pretense that I’ve poetically assembled Trump as the representative of everything I am not and Clinton as many things that I am. This companion post to the Trump post from two days ago practically writes itself.

I grew up in rural central Tennessee and southern Kentucky, in a working-class household. There were no environmental indications that I would be a brainiac academic over-achiever; it just turned out I was really good at school–I paid attention, I followed instructions, I turned my empathy into good test-taking skills, and I thought about stuff, even when it wasn’t a homework assignment.

Insert Hillary’s family background and her academic achievement HERE.

I went to college with a mission to change the world. Racial justice and promotion of diversity were my passions. Perhaps feeling like an outsider myself due to my being a gay, lower-middle-class, introverted nerd, I had minimal adoration for the white male privilege I was apparently supposed to be defending. It was no struggle at all for me to come to terms with the fact that everyone deserved respect and equal opportunity. I majored in African American studies and reasoned that, since I was good at school, I could just stay in school forever and become a professor, using that platform to advance my do-gooder impulses.

Insert Hillary actually following through and becoming involved with the Children’s Defense Fund and other social-justice legal causes HERE.

Unfortunately for me and my impulses, I hadn’t allowed myself a a chance to be human. The few friends I had regarded me as robotic, asexual, and, well, Spock-like, to be frank. In reality, I was Pinocchio, waiting to be a real boy. Once I understood that graduate school was an endless cycle of begging for money, coughing up money that you couldn’t get by begging, and writing mind-numbing research papers, I was scared off.

I ended up working in the ice cream shop, the mailroom, the restaurant. I started dating  (and “dating”) and trying to have relationships. I made friends who never went to school with me. I built a respectable distance between me and my nerdiness. I learned how to be a real boy. And my hopes of changing the world started to fade.

Then I went back to school to get a business degree, leading to a now-ten-year career as an accountant. I re-embraced some of my nerdiness, but those who knew me never stopped seeing me as the robot. Only my closest friends saw my more vulnerable side.

Insert Hillary becoming the first lady of Arkansas, then of the nation, then an active politician. Insert also the perception issues that she has struggled with constantly HERE.

Of course, the narrative is well-known that Hillary fails to wow crowds but is charming and personable in more intimate settings. I feel her pain on that. So intensely. I am wooden at social or professional gatherings of more than three people. I only open up readily when I’m with one or two people at a time, and even then only after a sufficient warming-up period.

I don’t have delusions that Hillary and I are twins, but there are sufficient points of identification that I feel like when people attack her, they are attacking me. Whatever self-esteem issues I may grapple with, I am proud to be a thoughtful, quietly caring person, and I resent Hillary’s being berated for being that type of person.

Most acutely, though, I feel some of the solitude that she must feel. There’s literally no one else in the world with remotely the same life experience that Hillary has had. It has to be lonely knowing what she knows, knowing how MUCH she knows, and to some degree feeling victimized because of the absolute singularity of your experience. Shades of Michael Jackson.

I’m not as unique as Hillary, but there also aren’t hordes of Micahs out there in the world. I am not much of a joiner, because there’s no groups that I totally fit into. I am a bit of an oddball, and I get that she is, too. It endears me to her.

It is an absolute certainty that I am not exactly like Hillary. But I’m with her, for sure.

The Parade of Trumps

I won’t try to convince you that this is not a political post. In some ways, it is.

In fact, it’s a desperate political post.

Not desperate in the sense that I’m beside myself with fear that The Donald will become The Commander in Chief. Desperate in the sense that I have found no way to penetrate the  aura of his appeal. I find it inexcusable that even one American would vote for him.

Being who I am, I don’t expect to convert one person away from Trump. I am the America that Trump speaks of when he says that we are weak, that we are soft, that we are losers and whiners and overly tolerant of the negative forces that threaten to consume us.

Put another way: I’m a rational, thoughtful person who doesn’t view everything unlike me as suspect and who doesn’t regard everything that doesn’t turn a profit or gain notoriety as a failure. Our nation, and the world, is varied and complex and nuanced. Any attempt to embrace or explain that complexity is not obfuscation; gross oversimplification, for sure, is the most facile and lazy form of obfuscation that exists. It’s the tool of petty tyrants.

And no one is more petty than Donald Trump.

And that sort of brings me back to the subject of this non-political political post. You, either as a Trump supporter or devil’s advocate, may argue that I don’t know Donald Trump and can’t judge him as a person.

Oh, but I do. And I can. And I am.

There’s nothing more frustrating and inhibiting for an introspective person like me than people like him. And I have spent 43 years dealing extensively with people like him.

There was my high school history teacher, who apparently believed that stilted, didactic, precise speech was a substitute for substantive knowledge. Our first class quiz demonstrated that she didn’t understand the principles of latitude and longitude, and she stilted and didacted me into acquiescence with her faulty understanding.

More shockingly, there was the doctor of history (I am not bothering to capitalize), teaching at one of the pre-eminent institutions of higher learning in the nation, who recited to us, his class, in one of his unfocused, rambling lectures, that the initials “A.D.” were an abbreviation for After Death. I almost died.

There was a succession of managers at the ice cream shop, and then at the mailroom, and then at the restaurant where I worked as a younger adult. All of them had the key to success, the quick answers to any number of problems. At first I marveled at their expertise. It took a few months’ experience on the job to expose the song-and-dance each of them were putting on. This was particularly entertaining at the ice cream shop, where I worked for seven years. I knew that job so thoroughly that my BS detector was impeccable.

Now I’m in the corporate world, dealing with professionals who can boast credentials as long as your arm. Finally, I feel like I’m dealing with some genuinely competent people on a somewhat regular basis. But I still have a number of facepalm moments each week. And my company has missed out on some terrific insights while listening to any number of loud, energetic (not to mention expensive) consultants and executives and ignoring, overlooking, or flat-out contradicting me.

Then there was my father, who despite his many wonderful qualities, was an authoritarian bully whose ultimate goal was to prove that he was right and to get a rise out of everyone else. Sound familiar?

(Disclaimer: before you become too aghast at my dishonoring my father’s memory, he was actually a very intelligent and loving man behind all of his bluster. In fact, the dangerous part of his rhetoric was that he actually knew what he was talking about–at least enough to cogently argue his point. So, yeah, not really so much like Trump.)

See? I’m talking about my daddy issues now. I told you this wasn’t really a political post.

And now for the really personal part. All of these blowhards, bullies, and big-talkers have played a large role in stunting my personal growth.

Of course, I must take responsibility for all of my decisions. And I do. The way I’ve lived my life, I believe, reflects that much better than this whiny essay.

Bear with me. I’m whining with purpose.

The tricky part of figuring all this out, especially when you’re younger, is that you must learn from those around you with more experience and knowledge. Trump, to me, represents an especially blatant example of those who prey on that authority vacuum and suck up all kinds of suckers.

As a child and young adult, I had no choice but to endure a regular parade of false teachers, because I just didn’t have the judgement to separate them from the real ones. As a naturally shy, quiet person, it was easy for them (and still is, sometimes) to run roughshod over me. I resent that.

Because of this parade of Trumps throughout my life, I have struggled with self-doubt and insecurity. I have often had to stop myself and wonder if I was delusional or out of touch with reality, because my conclusions differed so sharply from these folks who seemed so confident. And successful. And forceful. And loud.

I don’t want Trump to stunt America’s potential in the same way that the parade of Trumps in my life have threatened to stunt mine.