Apatico’s Den

Amazing to see what a flippant comment on election day can produce! Granted, there are people out there who refuse to vote but do tremendous work outside or within the political sphere. As the title suggests, this poem/rant is directed at a very particular audience.

Lounging in hubris
Apatico’s den
Shunning calls for any action at hand
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I get out of bed?”

Understanding our faults
Apatico’s den
Yet our fingers, not scheming, but still
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I think with my head?”

Convinced of half-truths
Apatico’s den
While half-lies are what guide your thoughts now
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I care if I’m fed?”

Primed for extremes
Apatico’s den
Doing nothing to make it more real
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I do what I’ve said?”

Whining, not acting
Apatico’s den
And the world just goes on getting worse
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Who cares if one day we’re all dead?”

Pokemon, Innocence, and Idealism

Unless I’m the only target to a very consistent marketing campaign, people are being made aware of the fact that Pokemon is turning 20 this year. There’s even a Super Bowl ad coinciding with this milestone. While its been some time since the last time I played a Pokemon game (Gold, in case you are wondering), I couldn’t help but recognize that there’s still something special about Pokemon as a larger narrative and why it, at least to me, still seemingly has an importance today.

Of course, this could all just be wistful nostalgia, but let’s see where the rabbit hole leads.

The first place to start would be with the Super Bowl ad itself.

What’s particularly striking to me about this commercial is how little of it is actually connected to the content of the Pokemon franchise. The repeated mantra of “I can do that” calls back to the driving force behind Pokemon’s original narrative. For anybody who watched the original show back in the late 90s, the not-so-subtle inclusion of “Like No One Ever Was” is a direct reference to the lyrics of the theme song for the television show.

Aside from the obvious nostalgia angle, the decision to focus on these components of Pokemon is significant because it reinforces the open-ended nature of the protagonist’s (or the player’s) ultimate goal: to be the very best. The commercial shows people running, playing chess, gearing up for a football game, and engaging in a stadium-style Pokemon battle. How are all of these things connected? They aren’t, and that’s precisely the point.

The Pokemon television show back in the 90s introduced a protagonist, Ash Ketchum (because puns were funnier back then), who was driven towards being a “Pokemon Master”. Given that this is the character’s primary motivator for the first couple seasons, you would expect some specificity as to what conditions need to be met in order to become said master. You would be wrong. Between the two broad goals of capturing as many of the various types of Pokemon in the world and winning Pokemon battles, there is a whole lot of time dedicated to efforts that directly go against even these two enormous feats. On top of that, the show’s protagonist DOES NOT win all of his battles. He DOES NOT capture all the Pokemon ever, to the potential chagrin of completionists everywhere. But that’s okay. The goal of being of “Pokemon Master” is still out there, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his prioritization of his human companions, his Pokemon, or the world at large.

What’s equally enduring about Pokemon is that it’s not afraid to show us that world and, with each new generation of Pokemon introduced, seemingly expand it out further. The primary goal, of being the very best, takes on new significance when you realize just how big the world can be. However, the response by Ash (as well as the player in the Pokemon games) is to go out and engage that every growing universe. While there’s a certain level of naivete that comes along with a show predicated on a bunch of pre-teens wandering the world with nothing but what amounts to fighting pets by their side, 1) it’s a children’s TV show and 2) the lesson to be drawn from this messaging is that it is better to go out and see the world than to be afraid or averse to what it has to offer. If it strikes people as idealism, it is; but what would the world be like if we didn’t raise children to think they could be anything?

“Being the very best” is an open-ended goal that is largely defined by the person who takes it on. That was demonstrated in the TV show, the 20th anniversary ad, and is important when considering the population of people who grew up with Pokemon (myself among them). There are certainly a number of idealists out there who are pushing and fighting to achieve their dreams. Whether it is to be self-sufficient or to make the world a better place, they are out there, engaging the world, being their very best. Where I suppose this becomes “problematic” is when that aspirational and idealistic drive runs up against the realities of the world. The world of Pokemon is certainly not the real world. There are a multitude of dangers, threats, and crises that would, when taken collectively, scare anyone from ever leaving their bunker of a home. However, these dangers are more a product of the world we live in than they are necessary constants. The world as we know it now has always been changing, and those changes are often driven by those who aspire to change it.

It is worth reiterating that Ash lost most of his high-stakes earlier tournaments (it’s possible he became an unstoppable winner in later seasons but I doubt it). In spite of those early and narratively significant losses, he learned from his shortcomings, strengthened his bonds with those closest to him, and moved forward as a better person. What made that growth possible wasn’t just a robust support system, but a constant yearning for self-improvement. While I can’t speak for every idealist out there, I understand that “being the very best” is a long and challenging prospect. I can imagine plenty of people are working through some significant challenges right now and still maintaining their belief in a better future for themselves.

It’s important to think about where we come from collectively as a people, what forms our values, our fears, and our scope of imagination. When it comes to the idealism of the young, I think we were collectively well-served by the hopefulness, the determination, and the idealism that Pokemon presented. Whether that role is still filled by that franchise or another, it is important to our development as a people to never stop pushing for that level of excellence that seems just outside the realm of possibility.

The End

This is the way, the world it will end
Not with a bang but with laughter
The last man alone with his jokes
(And yes it’s a man, let’s just be clear
That the women, they were smart and they left)
But the last man will laugh
Between coughing bouts
For the air of this world, all afoul
“To whimper is weak, and these tears that I shed
They’re just from the smoky dense air.”
Even at last, man is over-absorbed
With his pride, even if all alone.

This is the way, the world it will end
Not with a bang but with glitter
The party is raging for emptiest minds
Who prefer the bright colors to truth
Damnation rain down
Or rise up from the sea
To engulf the orgy-porgy of now
The dancers will dance
Drugged minds in the trance
Ignoring the end that engulfs.

This is the way, the world it will end
With ignorance reigning supreme.
We’ll ignore every sign
Even as our best die
For we’re enamored so much with ourselves
Come hell or high water
We just can’t be bothered
‘Til the end, when it’s simply too late.

The Gilded City

Actually surprised that this poem wasn’t posted earlier as I wrote it back in 2013. I can thank Mayor de Blasio for reminding of this poem with his latest headlines.

Spires rise from the darkest of nights.
A city struck by crises in the dawn of an era
Looks to recover the innocence it has lost.

But while the building goes on
And life attempts to restablize
An incessant pursuit acts
As cure to our ills.

The mantra to buy
Or to simply engage
A marketplace of petty baubles.

Light is restored to the darkened regions
As rebuilding does goes on
But for all our will to come back better
We are drawn like flies to fire.

Our goals, to acquire
To continue the monotony
Of the rat race to which
We have all been played.

While abstract numbers reach new record heights
And mirror the rise of our fallen ashes.
We still allow our neighbors of this fair city
To be ignored by the march for a new Gilded Age.

Hang banners of patriotism and superiority
Hold true to the dream that crafted our crises.
History is dead. The good times are coming.
Forget the losers of the Great Rat Race.

How can it be that such a powerful place
A center of commerce, culture, and life
Can fail to invest in its very own future?
How can the greatest city on earth
Forget its responsibility to humankind?

There was once a dream
For a city upon a hill
Shining and glowing
For all the world to see
To believe, to aspire

While our centers of finance continue to blossom
Our hubs of education fall into decay.
As our stores grow larger and with more variation
Salaries and pensions are cut by the year.

As buildings rise to greater heights
In an effort to show our unbreakable will
To our foes both near and those afar
We neglect our own friends who seek shelter below
In the tunnels and subways that span the Great Gilded City.

What can be done to address this challenge
Without subverting the promise the city does bring?
How can the gold that gildes our fair city
Go deeper and into the streets without?

Through the Fields

It’s never quite simple
To traverse through the fields
Dark, unkempt, labyrinthine
And the muddy footprint
Provides no bearing or hint
For that print could be yours or be mine.

Grasses made firm
From unhindered growth
Majestic, impressive, unrestrained
They won’t bend to force
As a matter of course
For these stalks never cared if it rained.

The everlong field
Which engulfs us whole
Excessive, ill-equipped, ill-conceived?
It’s reliant on us
So to end all this fuss
The solution is true, if believed:

The taming of stalks
To walk through the fields
Unwavering, unbeaten, unafraid
Takes joining of hearts,
Minds from all parts,
And the activists lending their aid.

Today I’ll Write a Poem or Song

Yes, I’m still here. While I can, I’ll share a throwback Thursday poem/song. Enjoy.

To you, my dear
I would give you the world
Serve it on a silver platter and a drink with the swirl
The moon and the sun, if I could add them too
But today I’ll write a poem or song.

I know it’s rough
Right now we know
The money’s tight, sleep ain’t right, we’re feelin’ low
But just stay right here, ‘cause the skies they’ll clear
So today I’ll write a poem or song.

Hear me out with my poem or song
The sunlight’s coming out here before long
Today it’s a word, tomorrow brings the songbird
You’re the reason for my poem or song.

You’re beautiful
Even if you’re stressed
Far-flung, stretched thin, or just plain depressed
We’ll make it someday, just you and me
But today I’ll write a poem or song.

It’s coming soon
I promise you that
We’ll have it all and bring along our lovely cat
Our days full of dreams, and plenty of ice cream
But today I’ll write a poem or song.

Hear me out with my poem or song
The sunlight’s coming out here before long
Today it’s a word, tomorrow brings the songbird
You’re the reason for my poem or song.

How Not Talking About Religion or Politics Made Us Worse At Both (Pt. 2)

Politics can be a beautiful thing. As the Supreme Court this week just upheld critical components of the Affordable Care Act and ruled on the constitutionality of banning same sex marriage, there is a great deal of excitement and discussion going on. One can only imagine just how historic this weekend’s NYC Pride Parade will be as it celebrates a tremendous achievement in the advancement of gay civil rights.

That all being said, it’s unfortunate that excitement, let alone discussion, of political issues comes after major decisions are made. Significant efforts had to be made to get the ACA case up to the Supreme Court. Years of organizing and jockeying outside the Court similarly elevated the importance of gay marriage. Admittedly, one can make the argument that to discuss gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act would be unfair, especially as it seems that, out of this week’s decisions, the greater focus is on former rather than the latter. While the ruling on gay marriage is, in fact, an historic achievement for the gay community, its scope really only falls within the (admittedly large and growing) gay community (unless you are one of those straight people who believe that gay marriage in some way will personally affect your marriage or relationships).

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act is an enormous document that completely changes the playing field for people who want or need healthcare. In other words, just about everybody. While the scope of the Court’s decision on the ACA is tremendous, I imagine the predominant narrative out of this week will be primarily on gay marriage, a decision that will not directly affect nearly as many people as the protection of the ACA. This also says nothing of the fact that with this fresh surge of ‘good’ news, it will only encourage the media, and by consequence, the general public, to move past the ‘bad’ news of racially motivated violence and inherent racism in this country (but we’ll get back to that in a moment).

The comparison between the ACA and gay marriage rulings isn’t meant to belittle the significance of one issue or the other. However, it does seem to illustrate a problem with how people in general address political issues. By and large, we don’t like talking about politics. Similarly to religion, we expect our beliefs and values to be respected for what they are. Unlike religion, however, the practice of politics is inherently between people; one can practice religion in a vacuum as they only need connection to his/her god(s). A person practicing politics by him/herself is just a person with ideas.

This distinction matters because while there can be some limitation to the challenging of one’s religious beliefs (example: you can worship that pancake that came out in the form of the Virgin Mary all you want), there are considerably less limitations to the challenging of one’s political beliefs (example: your political beliefs lead you to believe that people of color are inferior and we should establish laws to keep them to their rightfully lesser place). A person in the former example is pretty much harmless in a political discourse; a person in the latter is a serious threat to a free society.

The coupling of religion and politics has caused people to look at the values and beliefs in either to be treated exactly the same. In other words, my religious beliefs AND my political beliefs are sacred; to criticize either is an affront to my spiritual being and direct challenge to who I am. This is absurd and breaks down the possibility of being able to have an intelligent conversation about either.

In a time of social media and sharing of everything, this mindset is on full display whenever someone makes a ridiculous post. Luckily, such posts are not difficult to find in the immediate aftermath of the gay marriage ruling

gay marriage

Aside from the immediate frustration at the contents of the meme being shared (which itself could be a pretty sizeable blog post), the statement made by the poster is pretty childish in and of itself. “This is just my opinion. I’m not open for a debate so don’t bother commenting if you have something negative to say.” To voluntarily take up a hot-button issue like gay marriage but then request to only take feedback from people who are being positive is ridiculous. I can understand that people like to live in a bubble, but in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of people use facebook and the internet as a whole. If you want to live in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with what you say, you’re not using the right medium. If you don’t want to get into a discussion (let alone a debate) on serious issues, don’t post about serious topics.

The reason for sharing the above picture is that people who fall into this type of category, the “Here’s my opinion but don’t respond to this unless you’re going to agree with me” crowd are the unfortunate byproduct of narcissism, social media, and a lack of engagement on political issues. The priority for these people isn’t to engage in discussion of political issues, it’s to project their feelings of these political issues, to the point that the priority is their emotions, not the issues. Granted, there are plenty of people who are celebrating the decisions by the Court who have worked hard on getting to this point (and they certainly should be celebrating). However, not every person who is either celebrating or condemning the Supreme Court this week is willing to engage in dialogue on why this issue matters. Posts like the one above illustrate that clearly.

While people like the one above don’t wish to engage in politics at all, you then of course have your “socially-liberal-but-fiscally-conservative” people who will raise the alarm at the first instance of social injustice but shy away from the deeper discussion that necessarily follows any discussion on how to implement social changes. For a real-time example of how this happening, look at how the broader discussion that could be happening on systemic racism and whitewashed history in the US has become concentrated into a campaign to take down the Confederate flag.

Discussion of politics from a perspective based solely in social issues is the equivalent of saying that you’re swimming when in fact you’re just wading at shallow end of a pool. (For more on this issue, I’d highly recommend reading this great piece from Greta Christina).

In essence, we need to roll up our sleeves to engage in discussions of religion and politics. Without intelligent conversation on religion, we will repeatedly demonize, distance ourselves, and fail to reach common ground with those who are different from us. Without conversation on politics, the essence of our discourse becomes nothing more than another place for people to talk about “me, me, me” and less about what is actually going on in the world. We can’t do either of these without engaging with each other on the issues. And that means first opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong (or right!).