It’s Summer now, somehow, in this, the longest year that there has ever been. I hope that you are safe and healthy and taking steps to help the world improve. I usually do a fun intro where I talk about where I am, but it’s the pandemic, so I’m home. Like always.
I was obnoxious on Facebook for a bit, angry-posting about the protests, about police. It’s not helpful. One of the things I think might be helpful for us white people to do during this time, is to inventory all the interactions we’ve had with the police and wonder if they might have gone differently if you hadn’t been a white person. And if you think “no, it would have gone the exact same way” you should think about it again or maybe get a CAT scan.
I have never had anything but positive interactions with the police, even when I was actively the reason for a cop talking to me, here are three such examples:
- I am drunk in public and a cop decides I should be not in public. I’m not proud of this. It was a long time ago and I don’t drink anymore. But it happened and I don’t remember much of it other than the cop calling me “Buddy” the whole time. In the report, which the cop never officially filed, it mentioned that I resisted his corralling me. I am 6’2” and was probably 260lbs at the time.
- I once had to call the police, not knowing what else to do, because someone had shot a gun at my parked car, the bullet entered the door where I’d have been sitting had I been in it at the time. “Are you involved in any gun-related activities?” “No.” “Okedoke.” No follow up questions, didn’t check my car, didn’t raise his voice. He just pointed out that it would have entered my left lung, just under my armpit, and killed me horribly. He did this so he could watch my reaction and laugh at me. He was just kiddin around with a pal.
- Walking to the grocery store, I am stopped as a possible suspect in a crime. I matched a description. “Is your name Jeff?” “No.” He didn’t ask for my ID. “OK, we’re looking for a guy that looks like you, hoodie, bald white guy, glasses, around here.” He never left his car, just drove away, and waved at me when he u-turned. This was in a section of Oakland that was not-so-slowly filling up with guys who looked just like me. If you had to guess my name at random, Jeff would absolutely be in the mix.
The common thread in my experiences is that the police treated me like “we’re a team!” even though I may have been a suspect in a crime, a person involved in some sort of gang war or a drunk on his way to nowhere. Every assumption was made in my favor.
This is likely why the idea of defunding the police seems insane to people whose interactions lead them to believe the police are dutiful, friendly citizens and not an antagonizing or invading force. It takes two seconds to think of it from another perspective, and I encourage you to do that.
Arming our public servants with military weaponry to divide us into arbitrary boxes isn’t helping anyone but the people who sell weapons. We don’t need the police to be in some arms race with other police departments around the country, convincing themselves that they are at war the general population. It doesn’t benefit us and might be giving well-meaning police PTSD for no reason.
We should instead focus on making American life an even playing field. We should all feel like we’re all in this together, but we’re not, and that’s dangerous for some of us and bad for all of us.
Defunding the police sounds aggressive, but maybe it’s better for us if the guy showing up to take a stolen car report isn’t wearing forty pounds of tactical gear, ready for battle. Maybe it’s better for him too.
Since my last post, I published this piece. And then a very good writer was nice enough to include it in her favorite things of the month. It was flattering. I should submit more. I always say that and then don’t submit more. Careful is probably the piece I’ve submitted the most times in my life. I don’t know how many times but I always liked it and I’m happy it found a place to live.
Also, my novella is available for pre-order on my publisher’s website. It’ll be up on the assorted book sites soon, and you can request it from your favorite local bookstore whenever. I’ve been working through the editing phase and it’s been an interesting experience. I feel like the whole process has been making it ok for me to write another, longer book. I am very excited to start, it will likely be about almost the same exact things as this book. I might be one of those writers who explores like three thoughts his entire life. I’m ok with that.
Something that’s already happening is people are asking if the book is autobiographical. It’s written in first person, so I think it’ll happen more and more. I know this is something that happens a lot to writers, especially with first books, but it feels like a good day to point out that the book is not autobiographical. There are some real-life experiences and locations sprinkled here and there, but those things are taken and warped into new things, worse things usually.
The central pillar of the book is a brutal relationship between a father and son. They both hate each other, but are tied to each other, because nobody else wants anything to do with them. So they just sort of circle and slowly destroy themselves. They meet for breakfast every week and taunt each other about their failures, pick at old wounds, and help the other to stay exactly the same, to wallow in the past and endlessly repeat mistakes. It is a nightmare relationship, and it’s very much the opposite of the relationship I have with my father.
To be fair, I do meet him for breakfast on the weekends pretty regularly. That part is true. We have much better taste in diners though.
Other than that bit, I wrote the story while thinking “what if the worst parts of my life became my whole life” while we were on vacation together. My dad rents a beach house every other year so we can all spend a week together. I sat on the deck that overlooked the ocean, writing a story about a pretty awful family, after I’d spent the day hanging out by the pool with my actual family that I love.
Writing has always been a part of my life and at nearly every major milestone, my dad has been the person I’ve turned to for advice and the person who encouraged me to pursue it. “I’m going to major in writing because I am dumb and don’t understand money.” “Do it, do what you love.” “I’m going to move to California to be an unpaid intern for an indie publishing company, with no real plan” “Do it, go, you have to go do that.”
There are other things in the book that could be misconstrued as autobiographical, and I don’t care about those too much. I have a great life, writing is responsible for almost all of it, and I wouldn’t have pursued it if my dad hadn’t made me believe that it was something I should do.