When I was in high school, my little group of friends and I were all into hard rock and metal, at least the metal of the day. KISS was the band we became friends through, but then we went on to bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Rush, etc. Quiet Riot put their "Metal Health" record out the summer we put our first rock band together and our minds were blown. We felt like we were on the bleeding edge of something, if not new, at least cooler than what everyone else was into, because Quiet Riot was the opening band for that year's Loverboy tour and no one in Missoula knew who they were. We of course knew every word, every riff, from the beginning to the end of that classic album (don't challenge me on that "classic" tag, I will fight you). I remember running into a group of kids from our high school after the show and they were amazed because QR's singer, Kevin DuBrow, was saying "Fuck!" from the stage. Into the microphone! Scandalous! Amazing!
This was the mid-80s, so America was just on the cusp of the hair metal craze. In fact the summer we moved to Seattle to "make it big" was when Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" came out. Cinderella's "Night Songs." David Lee Roth's "Eat 'em and Smile." Ozzy's "The Ultimate Sin." That's when that whole glam-inspired movement really got rolling, with Poison and all the other shlock soon to follow.
While we were still in Montana, we felt like we were outsiders because no one listened to what we did or looked like we did. We had long hair. Mullets, specifically, before "mullet" was even a word. Back then it was just cool. We had denim jackets with the sleeves cut off. We wore leather bracelets with studs and spikes all over them. Bandanas rolled into headbands. We were accused of being those "greasy pig dirtheads from Frenchtown" even though we didn't drink or smoke or do any drugs.
We couldn't wait to get away from Montana and find more people like us. We were certain that among people who liked the same things we did we'd finally find a place to fit in. Of course we were wrong. In any kind of "scene," most of us are lucky if we connect with maybe a handful of other people "like us." We may think we do, we may buy into a look or an identity and try and squeeze into it as best we can, but if it doesn't fit it doesn't fit. Eventually, hopefully, we figure it out before making complete asses of ourselves an irredeemable number of times.
I am really hoping that there are millions of people who voted for Trump, who voted Republican up and down the line—specifically in Montana, where we went deep red this election after decades of our politics being more nuanced than that—who are starting to think that this idea of what “being Republican” means, of what they've hitched their Republican identity to, isn't what it seems. I'm hoping that there are many people who were in D.C. last week who look at what happened and are thinking that that isn't what they expected. Isn't what they wanted. There can't really be that many people so full of hate, can there?
At least that is the idea I'm clinging to. That not all of those people in D.C. are irredeemable. Because I'm still trying to live with compassion. I believe people should be held accountable for their actions, but there has to be a place for them when they atone. It sounds naive, I know. My knee-jerk reaction is another hot take on those events to the tune of, "It's fucked, they're fucked, we are all fucked." I deleted those paragraphs. Who needs that? Didn't we see enough hatred and anger last week already? What we saw at the Capitol is what "tearing it down" looks like and I want to find a better way to a better world.
I remain surprised by how upset I was by the images that started appearing on the 6th of January. I make no secret of my disdain for the myth of American greatness, of American hegemony. As angry as I get when I see the American flag flying over the entrance to the Little Shell community center in Great Falls for what that flag has tried to do to us, has done to us, America is still where I live. It is where, with a handful of exceptions, everyone I love the most lives. I want people to be happy. I want people to be looked after. I want people to be safe. I want people free to be the kind of people they want to be. I want people free to love whoever they want to love. I want people free to be in control of their own bodies. I want people free to fly their freak flag however they want, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else, and be unafraid to do so. I want America to be something like what so many have been duped into thinking it always has been.
I'm ashamed of how, after taking a month off social media to get my head cleared, my immediate reaction was to wage an all out verbal assault on the Republican contingent Montana currently has in D.C. Yes, their actions are reprehensible and they should be removed from office, but being an asshole on social media isn't going to make that happen. I knew this already yet there I was, seeing how creative I could be in my insults and getting lots of likes for it. Then I saw a video of a woman from a Danish television station trying to report on what was happening, and there was a Trump guy disrupting her efforts with boorish behavior. I was humiliated. It's never okay to be a boor. No one is going to be swayed to thinking differently through sarcasm and snark. So I deleted my posts and vow to be better.
Paying attention to what is going on in the world is really, really hard. I'm no political junky. I get stressed out and I'm not sure what my relationship with social media is going to be. Fantasizing about my own retreat, as I often do, I found this quote from the great Japanese hermit poet Kamo no Chōmei, writing in his Notes From a Ten Feet Square Hut about 800ish years ago. He writes:
To follow the world is a hardship to oneself, to disregard it is to be counted a madman. Where or how shall we find peace even for a moment, and afford our heart refreshment even for a single second?
So all this hand-wringing over paying attention vs. not paying attention is nothing new. There is some comfort in that, I suppose. Even though I, in my less than calm moments, rail at the people who say, "I don't care about politics.... " as if they are indeed mad. Or just too damn privileged.
Where indeed shall we find peace, even for a moment? In compassion. In holding people accountable, but being there to help them understand. And probably in loving the people we love even harder.
I’m ready for the fight, but I want it to be quiet and immovable. Subversive and unmistakable. That has to be the way because there’s really not much difference between one a-hole swinging a weapon from another, is there?
I'm not going to spend a lot of energy looking to find common ground with the guy who dresses up like a D&D character to go "storm the castle." But I can be kind to my neighbors, people in the next county, everyone, even if we disagree. Especially if we disagree. If they choose to be rude and boorish, that's their problem. If I don't try and approach my everyday interactions with love and compassion while firmly standing my ground on the things I care about, then I am just living in fear and outrage and I don't want to live like that. It's hard. But what isn't?