How I Learned Not to Censor

When I was just a kid, maybe eight years old, my mom got a call from Tommy Degan’s mom. Tommy and I lived four houses apart, and along with several other pals, we played together daily. We pretty much always got along, and Mrs. Degan knew me well. But she was distressed by Tommy’s report of one recent visit to our house. And to our bookshelves.

It seems I had shared some pictures from my doctor father’s medical books. I had focussed on illustrations of bizarre and frightening diseases (of course), and chief among these were photos of African men who, because they suffered from a particularly grotesque brand of elephantiasis, were forced, if they were to leave their homes at all, to carry their horribly engorged genitals in wheelbarrows. Such images had titillated me, not because I cared much about genitals at that time, but because I was chillingly enthralled by any awful suggestion that the world could turn traitor on my body, or on those of my friends. Testes as large as sides of beef certainly fit the bill. I knew that Tommy would share my hair-raising thrill at the sight of balls that filled a barrow.

Tommy was indeed excited, even to the point of telling his mother all about it. And that inspired his mother’s call to mine.

I was not privy to that conversation, but I knew its upshot. After consulting my father (and perhaps after viewing the relevant illustrations herself), my mother told Mrs. Degan that, should she want to protect her child from medical pictures of medical realities, she should, if at all possible, make sure that Tommy never came inside our house again. My mother explained that the books on our shelves were available to her children, and to all their friends. She and my father were not in the business of keeping science from anyone’s kids. I actually don’t know how Mrs. Degan responded. I do know that Tommy and I remained playmates.

I can’t help but be proud of my mother—as if I should take credit for the woman she was.

I think my mother shared this story with me quite soon after Mrs. Degan complained. I think she believed that even an eight-year-old was entitled to know that I had corrupted no one at all by sharing truths I’d discovered while rambling through library shelves. I certainly know that she had thus affirmed my exploratory impulse, my looking for answers to any questions, for any truths that I could find.

I’ve long since lost touch with Tommy Degan. His parents divorced when he and I were in fourth grade, long before divorce was socially acceptable, much less the norm. My family moved away from their neighborhood soon afterward, and I, in various towns we moved through, became increasingly comfortable with the fact that we didn’t always think like everyone around us. That difference didn’t make us special, didn’t make us superior. But it made us independent. We thought for ourselves.

What other way is there to think?







Will I Always Vote Democrat?

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), to which I have often contributed, quite clearly favors Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Which is not surprising, but is somewhat distressing.

I am not anti-Hilary.

I expect to be thoroughly happy casting my vote for her in November 2016. But I greatly admire Bernie Sanders and will almost surely give him my vote in the Connecticut primary, simply to make my admiration clear to the powers that be. As a result, I am distressed to see the DNC pulling the rug out from under the Democratic Socialist’s campaign. (After all, I, too, am a Democratic Socialist, and have been since completing, in 1968, my high school history project on Norman Thomas. My grandfather was called a socialist for helping to establish, decades ago, the first teachers’ union in Alberta.)

But why am I distressed? Why do I fear the party’s bias?

First there is the DNC’s scheduling of most candidate debates on Saturday nights, when only the most wonkishly devoted political nerds will tune in. As a result, the rank and file will not hear the well-elucidated alternatives to Hilary’s presumptive party platform.

Secondly, in today’s news I learn that, while hackers have made all Democratic candidates’ information open to the competition, only Bernie Sanders’ campaign—which already fired a staffer for taking advantage of that open invitation—has subsequently been denied access to the information that any candidate needs in order to reach the voters.

I understand what really guides decisions by the old-boy-and-[recently]-girl network of the DNC. I know that they know I will vote for Hilary, or any other Democrat, no matter what neanderthal the Republicans cough up. My vote is secured. So why should the DNC fear alienating me?

Well, I urge the DNC to think long-term.

I am not devoted to the party. I am not convinced that Democratic candidates are typically or usually less corrupt than those from the opposition.

I, too, am a disgruntled and alienated voter – and have been for years.

The DNC must not assume that the present madness of the Republican candidates guarantees a fixed place in my heart for the Democrats.

You must, Dear DNC, build your role in our republic by refusing to play the tawdry game of one-ups-manship that sours almost every voter on politics.

You must, I urge you, build a secure place in our hearts.

In our sense of principle and concern, and of the health of the nation.


Facebook Pandering

Here’s an image that showed up on my Facebook feed this afternoon.

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It stands out among those infuriating postings that call me to take action, to express empathy and concern, for people who are in fact being ridiculous and self-aggrandizing.

I am of course not indifferent to the little girl who holds up the poster which has so clearly been written by an adult desperate to modify her father’s behavior. If we actually believe the poster’s announcement, it was written by that father himself.

Did he actually do this—actually write the announcement, actually pose his lovely daughter holding it, and actually promise to do what any intelligent parent would do, but only if those thousand “likes” pour in? Oh, lord!

If a thousand likes will do the trick, please, Dad, simply do it yourself. Don’t make your daughter carry water for you here. Whoever you are, we don’t want you to dodge emphysema or the Big C solely because you have a delightful little girl. We’d oppose your carcinogenic choices even if you had no family at all.

Here’s what you should do: Quit smoking for her. And for yourself.

Whatever you do, please stop suggesting that if we don’t “like” her supposed efforts – if we don’t honor her needs in this tawdry way – you’ll simply go on killing yourself.

And thus neglecting her.



Another Shooting

tonight I stood in my bedroom and shed my clothes
to stand naked, pink and hairy and supposedly innocent
before the tall mirror on my closet door

and listened to reports of the latest mass shooting
this time in California but like the last time
in Colorado and those other times in Newtown

and Charleston and Seattle and New York and on
and on and on and who cares where within these
United States of Hysteria where guns are a right

while nakedness is sinful and hopeless flesh
is always a target and I, in this bare room,
as bare as any target, as any trembling soul

alone in this torn world could be, wonder
about the other just plain folks who might take aim
and mow us down, tear us down, mow us down,

tear us all apart, tear us into tattered parts
and so we are
not whole