Feb 27, 2013

The Arf of war

Dear AAP-
My neighbor complains to the cops when I practice my drums in the garage but his dogs bark non-stop all day and night. It is bullshit. Hes like this crazy old guy who thinks everyone is going to hell and everyone should do what he says. He lives alone because my mom told me his family moved out when I was a little kid and I can see why. He is an asshole. He even says stupid stuff to me when I'm just walking up my driveway like I have to listen to every word he says. I told him to fuck off and he even said he would call the cops about that. I'm in highschool. Everyone else complains about their parents but mine are ok, they understand I'm not going to play football or something and they're ok with that, but this guy thinks he has to tell me that I'm some weirdo or a criminal or something, like he is the neighborhood cop or something and hes not. like hes not a guy whos family moved out who has ugly dogs that bark all the time I bet the dogs don't even like him because he never lets them in the house anyway.  I don't know what he does but he isn't any richer than us if he was he would live in a better neighborhood anyway or something. What do you do with something like this? - Sick of It.

Dear SoI -

First of all: Don't blame the dogs. 

I'm sure they are well aware that their master is a douchebag who, I'm guessing, makes their lives miserable too. From what you've told me, they don't sound vicious, they just bark a lot. Why not figure out a way to befriend them a little bit? Toss 'em some dog snacks or something. It might not stop the barking, but then again, it might. 

As far as the neighbor himself goes. It is a safe guess that he is a sad, lonely, depressed, disillusioned and broken man. Unfortunately for both him and you, the only way he knows how to express his pain and loneliness is to scream and yell and lash out at everyone and everything around him. That doesn't make it right, it is just the likely cause. I know you probably didn't expect me to say something like that, but I'm telling you I'm probably right. 

I know it is tough to really see this, but remember he wasn't always a grumpy old douchebag. At some point long ago he was your age. Try to imagine that. He had plans and ideas about what his life might become and I'm sure they didn't include: "I wanna grow up to be the angry divorced guy who lives alone and yells at the neighbor kid." ...that's just what happened. Sure, it is probably his fault it happened, but I promise you that wasn't his plan.  I'm talking about having a little empathy here, even if that doesn't sound very "fuck him" punk rock.

So what can you do about it?

1) Make sure all of his complaints are unreasonable. When are you practicing your drumming? If it is at 11pm on a Tuesday or 7am on a Sunday, I think even I would complain a little about that. Are you being a reasonable neighbor? -- OK, I'm sure you are, but I had to mention it anyway. 

2) Carefully track what he is actually saying and doing. Yelling and complaining and even calling the cops is one thing, but threatening you is something else. It didn't sound like he has done that, but you want to pay attention, and keep some kind of written record of your interactions with him, especially if he is in the habit of calling the cops, because he's going to  have his version of "the truth" when they arrive, so be sure you have yours. Also, since you do have a good relationship with your parents, do let them know of every interaction you have with the guy. You didn't mention whether or not he's drunk or sober when he is acting this way, so I'm guessing he's an ass even when sober... but if he is a drinker be careful because that always escalates and leads to bigger problems and more dangerous confrontations.

3a) When he does confront you. Don't take the bait. By now it is probably obvious that yelling back at him isn't going to shut him up or change his tune. All you can really do is pretend he doesn't exist. Do not react. Do not respond. Don't run away either, just pretend he is a barking dog on a leash. 

3b) If it is in your nature, try a 180 degree different response. Smile at him. Everyone from Buddha to Jesus to Gandhi will tell you that responding to anger with anger is a waste of human energy and potential. Remember what I said about him once being young too? A big part of him is probably jealous of you, of your youth, of the potential you still have that he no longer does, of the chance you have to not make the mistakes he most likely did. If you imagine that every time he yells at you he is really yelling at himself, how does that change your feelings about him? ... makes you feel sorry for him doesn't it? 

I'm not telling you he is going to change if you're nice to him. This is the real world, not some dumbass feel-good Hollywood movie. I'm not telling you he is right in acting the way he does. I'm just trying to give you some insight into why. I'm saying don't add fuel to his fire of delusion, so that when the cops do come (again) it'll be clear to everyone who the real problem is. 

And keep in mind that, in a few years, you'll be finished with high school and you'll move on to bigger and better things somewhere else... while he'll still be stuck in a purgatory of his own making, and his poor dogs will be stuck there with him. 

Feb 20, 2013

Loosening my religion

Dear Ask A Punk -
I live in the bible belt. I grew up with church stuff three nights a week and all day on Sunday. I came to the conclusion that it was all hypocrisy and bullshit by the time I was 12. I started arguing with my family about it by the time I was 14 and now that I'm almost 20 I ignore the whole thing completely so of course my family thinks I'm going to hell and tells me so every day and they blame punk rock and my friends for turning me into a tool for satan. The thing is I'm not a bad person at all. I work and I'm nice to people and strangers and I put on punk rock shows and benefits for food banks. I think we're supposed to help each other, but not because f-ing "God" tells us to and not because we'll burn if we don't. I know for a fact that I lead a more moral and good life than half the liars I would see at church praying and praising jesus every weekend and then spending all week lying and cheating to make money and fucking their secretaries and stuff. I moved out of the house last year finally, but my family tells everyone else that they threw me out, see? more lies to create the imagine that they're saintly and stuff when the truth is that they're liars as bad as the rest of them. I'm pretty sure I could be happy living the rest of my life without ever talking to either of my parents or aunts and uncles again. I do miss a couple of my brothers and cousins though, but they're not "allowed" to be in contact with me, so that sucks sometimes. I'm not going back to any of it, but I don't know how to go forward and really get away from it either. = Punk Heathen

Dear PH-
Congratulations on making a tough call that I'm sure wasn't easy, but be careful about seizing the moral high ground too self-righteously, otherwise you'll be no better than them.  As good and noble as we all try to be, and as clear-cut as such things seem at 19, life is a struggle for everyone, all the time. You're absolutely right that most people fall way short of the morality they claim to have and try to thrust onto others, and that most organized religions have an agenda that really has little to do with the alleged basic tenets of their faith. 

As humans, we're actually hard-wired with a need to believe in something. Throughout human history, in nearly every society, this simple fact has been exploited by a small percentage of people to control and manipulate a large percentage of the rest. They feed on that human need to "belong" and to be part of a group... a need so powerful that humans have been willing to surrender their free will, common sense and even their lives... for reasons that might not even be clear to them. 

The truly sick part of it is that every major religion (and most of the minor ones) have the same basic "rules for living" here in the present that boil down to a few standard themes: 

> Be nice to other people. 
> Help those less fortunate. 
> Don't kill each other. 

It is really that simple. These things make perfect sense, and if every religion stuck to that philosophy of how to act in the here and now, we wouldn't have most of the troubles we do.  

The problems start when religions try to then explain the "truth" about the past and the future. Especially the future. Think about it: Most organized religions exploit one question about our most basic and universal fear: What happens to us after we die?  ...It is the one thing that is really unknowable until it actually happens to you, and yet every faith with tell you it knows what will happen... and that it'll be very very bad "unless you do as we say." Once they convince people of that (false) truth, they can manipulate the masses to do anything they want, all in the name of God and/or their fear of a bad "afterlife." Nearly every human atrocity in our history has come down to a clash between groups who disagreed on something none of them can actually prove and millions/billions of otherwise innocent souls have been sucked into the maelstrom. It is our biggest human failing, well, that and disco. 

Jesus was a great guy. He had a simple idea: Love everyone. I've got 30 bibles in an app on my phone and I can't find a single quote where he says "Love everyone, except _______ " Don't let the real message get lost in the additional layers of human-created self-interest, manipulation and pure-ass bullshit that masquerades as "righteousness" here in the world. 

I am finally getting around to actually answering your question. Thanks for your patience.

The best thing you can do is to continue to live the way you're living. It is possible for humans to live a "moral" and helpful life without the threat of hellfire if they don't. You also have to forgive your family. Yes you do. Always remember that capital "F" Faith is not a rational thing. It does not respond to facts or logic or the example you're leading. There is a reason religious (or even political) training starts so young - that is when the brain is really wiring itself together and if the powers-that-be can inject their brand of truth/faith into your deepest source code at that early stage, then some version of it will live in there forever. Not many people have the self-awareness to call bullshit on something they've been programmed to believe since before they could walk. What I'm saying is you're not going to change them, you can only be a living example of the life you think is possible. 

Also keep this in mind: Time is a factor. As your cousins and siblings get older, the people not "allowing" them to contact you will start losing their power. Keep the lines of communication as open as you can - even if it all one-way for a long time. Sooner or later things will change, and that goes for your parents and all the other "hypocrites" in your life. Yes, I'm aware of the irony here: I'm telling you to turn the other cheek, even if they've lost track of the true meaning of their own beliefs.

Forgive them. They know not what they do.

Good luck.

Feb 13, 2013

Sixpack Chopra

I was happy to get so much interesting feedback and email about last week's post, any and all of which would have made awesome comments for everyone to read. Come on people, don't be shy. Re-typing all the excellent and clever things you said here in the weekly post would take up too much space (and time) and be a bit too self-aggrandizing.  Here is this week's question.

Dear AAP-
This isn't a punk rock question exactly but I have the tattoos and stories and battle scars to qualify as a punk. It is how I still identify myself even though I'll turn 40 this year and haven't been a regular scenester for many years. This is because I was probably too much of a scenester when I was younger and paid the price with some wasted years and sobriety problems. Now I'm still punk but I feel awake and alert and not like I'm killing myself accidentally on purpose. I even quit smoking cigarrettes which might sound dumb to say, but it was harder to quit than anything else, harder than my daily booze, or other drugs (I was a dabbler in the usual big ones), or even bad boyfriends.  It may sound trendy and lame, but yoga has really turned it all around for me. I've been sober for almost 2 years.  I would even consider it my "higher power" and I probably even got out of hand with it for a while. I would sometimes take 2 classes in a day or freak out if I missed a day or had a bad class or stuff like that. But I'm feeling better now. I would be tempted to learn how to teach the stuff and spread the love but I know that is too trendy and there are about 700 million yoga teachers in this area already. And I haven't even gotten to my problem or question yet - and it is this: When I'm doing yoga I'm there for me and I'm trying to get as deep into it as possible. The physical benefits have been obvious but I also know that yoga is about the mind and spirit mostly, or at least it should be, but all anyone cares about is how it makes them look and it seems so superficial. I also have to practically run out of the studio after the class is finished because it feels like it turns into a singles bar or something and that is so not why I'm there, and that vibe just ruins my post-class good feelings. Don't suggest I try another class or something like that because I have, I've been all over town and it is always the same thing it seems. -Yogini with Mohawk

Dear YwM-
First of all, congratulations on finding a way out. I hope your road of recovery is long and smooth. As far as higher powers go, you've picked a pretty good one: Yoga has been used has a healing art for what? Five thousand years or so? Stick with it. I'm not going to pretend I'm a yoga expert, but I do like it a lot. I haven't been able to bring myself to a class but I've spent a lot of time doing, or trying to do, yoga DVDs at home in an attempt to keep my own jacked up muscles and joints more-or-less working in harmony. I do know that you are right about one thing: The outward, physical benefits of a steady yoga practice are only supposed to be a small part of the whole package, but here in our Western, beauty-obsessed culture, most people look at yoga just as the latest "fitness craze" like spinning classes or kettlebell workouts... just something to give them a better-looking ass or bigger arms etc. That is just our culture at work, but I think, for most people, better that they do yoga for perhaps the wrong/superficial reasons than not do it at all - The practice has a way of becoming deeper even for those people over time. 

What I really want to talk about is your reaction to their experience. I get the feeling your sobriety is still fairly new, and you're feeling pretty raw about everything. You're waking up. You're looking deeper and it bothers you that other people are, in your newly bright-eyed opinion, still "asleep." You have to stop worrying about why the person on the mat next to you is really there. You have no way of knowing what is really in their heads and hearts, just as they don't know what is in yours. You're projecting a low opinion onto strangers. That isn't Zen at all, now is it?

Consider this possibility: That voice in your head telling you "These people are hypocrites" might actually be the whisper of your addiction trying to find a new way back in to your life - trying to poison your opinion of yoga and the people around you... so that you'll start to resent them. Then resent yoga. Then - voila! - resent being sober. As I said earlier, you don't really know what is going on in other people's heads, so why not give them the benefit of the doubt? At least they're doing yoga. Please keep that in mind, and this: In the early stages of sobriety any hostility your feel, any aggravation or annoyance is more than likely to be the first step in a series of rationalizations that will lead, like magic, back to the darkness of your addiction. 

I can understand your distaste for the "singles bar" vibe of the classes. This again is probably something that feels more noticeable in your raw/sober state, and you're probably not used to dealing with that sort of sexual energy - in any situation - sober. Part of the learning curve of sobriety is also figuring out how to deal with all sorts of social situations without the numbing comfort of chemicals, but I also realize, as a guy, that I don't quite know what it is like to be hit on at times or locations when you're not at all interested in romance, dating or even just hooking-up. Being sober also means relearning how to be comfortable around people in general and how to create healthy boundaries with strangers, friends and even family, without coming off as angry or strange. You have every right to be open and friendly with people without that being automatically interpreted as being flirty. This is often the sort of thing people learn how to do earlier in life - but you're going to have to start figuring out how to do that now. Know that you have every right to stick up for yourself and call people out on inappropriate behavior - always - but if it is an innocent flirtation that you're not interested in, simply say that as kindly as possible, no need to bust out the flame-thrower just because someone smiles at you and says a lingering "hellooo."

And finally, you're correct about the glut of yoga teachers, but the impulse to spread the love and be of service is right on. Assuming you're not thinking about yoga as a career path to actually pay your the bills etc, you might want to consider getting certified enough so that you can bring your love of yoga to people who need it but might not otherwise have access to it - maybe give classes in women's shelters, hospices, sober societies etc. 

Let go of some of the anger. Spread the joy. Stay sober. I've got a good feeling about your chances. Good luck.

Feb 6, 2013

The Bantam Menace

Dear Ask A Punk
I don't have many friends, but I have a small steady crew that we've known each other since we were kids. We're not in a band, but we go to shows together and most weekends we're doing something because thats what friends do together and there aren't alot of things to do where I live. the problem is that one of my friends is constantly getting into problems and fights that he can never win, but he always thinks that we all will automatically back him up because we are his friends. He's like the smallest guy anyway and I know if I was him I wouldn't start trouble all the time. I'm not a pussy or anything but I don't want to be in some dumb fight every weekend just because he is being an asshxle to some people who I don't even know and probably wouldn't have had any problems with otherwise. What do you do here? We have told him to stop but he doesn't. Sometimes I just want to let him get his ass kicked or something. 
=no fight club

Dear NFC-
The first quick cliche' that most people would jump to here is that your friend has a Napoleon complex, that he is over-compensating for being so small by being an over-sized ass, but I don't tend to buy into that. I've known plenty of overly-aggressive, total assholes who were tall/huge. Automatically labeling your friend's issue as a Napoleon thing is sort of like the male/female double-standard. If I guy is pushy and driven he is somehow impressive, but if a woman exhibits the same characteristics, she is "a bitch."  It is a a little too reductive and "easy" to just throw these labels on human behavior.  I'm not saying your friend isn't an ass. I'm sure most people have had that one friend who is always causing trouble for everyone else - either by picking fights or by just coming up with really bad ideas that he (or she) expects everyone to be on board with. 

You have to try to figure out the real reasons why your friend is acting out. If he is small and yet still insists on starting trouble and picking fights with people he knows he can't beat, that sounds more like a self-destructive streak than anything else. When it is just you and him and the rest of your pals, with no tempting outside targets around, how does he act? Does he put out a lot of negativity about himself? Do you get the feeling he would punch himself in the face if he could? If yes, that might explain why he tries to find other people willing to do it for him. Figuring out where that impulse comes from would be the next step - and a lot more complicated. What are things like for him at home? Does he live in a personal war zone? If his home life is OK, what about his personal habits? - Is he drinking or otherwise medicating himself more than you might realize? As I asked earlier: How does his personality change when he is: 1) out in public, 2) hanging with just you and your friends and 3) when he is one-on-one with just you ?  Are there major differences between the three? I'm not saying you will be able to figure this stuff out, but it helps to at least try to figure out where his impulses are coming from. 

Getting back to your basic question: What can/should you do about it? Here are some steps to consider:

1) Sit down with him one-on-one, when he's got no "audience" and won't feel like he has something to prove - and when both of you are sober, then just ask him why he is acting out. The key here is to have specific examples. Don't just comment on his general behavior - Pick out the latest incident and ask him what happened. Let him talk. Let him talk a lot. Let him plow through the excuses I'm sure you always hear from him "They started it." etc. Then, as calmly as possible, tell him YOUR version of what happened because here is the thing: He probably isn't consciously lying to you. In his head his version of the incident is what really happened. You'll probably have to walk him through several examples. Your conversation probably won't go very well and he'll probably then try to pick a fight with you. Don't take the bait. 

2) After the one-on-one, if there still hasn't been any progress, you have to talk with the rest of your friends. You have to make sure they are all seeing the same things you are, because maybe your frustration with your friend is clouding your judgement of the situation. If everyone is on the same page, you have to decide what you're ALL going to do about it, and this is where it gets tricky. I understand that, once an incident has started, you can't just abandon your friend and throw him to the wolves, where he might actually get seriously hurt. What you can do is keep those situations from happening by not taking him along in the first place. I know this is very difficult territory. You're all friends and you live in a small place. I'm definitely not saying you should sneak around and not tell him - In fact I'm suggesting you do just the opposite. Tell him. Tell him you're all going out to a show or whatever and that you all want to have a good time without an altercation and that you don't trust him not to ruin your night. He'll call you all assholes. He'll tell you you're over-reacting. He might even apologize and swear that he won't start any trouble. Then you have to decide whether or not to believe him and bring him along anyway. 

The bottom line is: First you have to listen. You have to figure out if all this aggro nonsense is a symptom that your friend is in trouble or pain. Then you have to talk - directly - about what he has been doing and give him the chance to either listen and change or not. If the answer is "not" then you have to decide how badly you do or don't need him in your life. I know that sounds harsh. I know that friends have to stick together and accept each other for who they are... but I also know that you don't have to let their idiocy take your life hostage and maybe even put your life in real, physical danger. Friends are supposed to enrich our lives and make them better and we're supposed to do the same for them. If the relationship becomes a one-way street then guess what: You're not his friend. You're his pawn. You have every right to go out on a Saturday night with your friends and not have to brace yourself for war.

I'm not going to tell you that any of this is easy. In the past, even the recent past, I have had to disconnect from some very close friends for various, but serious, reasons. It can be heartbreaking ...and, truth be told - In the past some of my friends have likewise had to disconnect with me and, at the time, they were probably right to do so. You have a right to decide who you're going to surround yourself with. People who view your friendship as a given and as something they can then take advantage of will, sooner or later, turn on you anyway for not being supportive "enough." Save yourself the time, heartache and potential fistfights. Deal with this directly and humanely and then, if you have to - move on. There are seven billion people out there. You'll find more friends.