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The Universe Speaks in a Language You Can’t Understand

People often rely on “signs” to help guide them in times of indecision or difficulty. They’ll pray to God, ask the Universe, or otherwise try to speak a solution into existence. It’s a human quality to request guidance from outside sources when we are lost.

I’m not lost, per se, though I’m beginning to suspect the sign from the universe as not even close to what I was expecting.

2020 has already thrown a barrage of curveballs at us collectively between pandemics, political unrest,  a long burning fight against racial inequality is coming to a boil, and… *checks notes* murder hornets. It’s also had a toll on me personally between loss of beloved pets, dissolution of longtime friendships, and a never ending battle with balancing mental health.

And the scary part is it’s only June. There’s still half a year left, and I have a feeling there’s a hard left turn up ahead in the next few months.

I asked the Universe for a sign. That was the first problem. Let me explain the situation I’m sitting on:

I’m going to try to explain everything without getting longwinded, but it does require a hefty bit of exposition to understand where I’m coming from, so bear with me.

So I asked the Universe for a sign, let’s start there…

My son Zackary turned 5 last August. He started (and subsequently finished) kindergarten and grew socially within the class up until such a time that COVID19 required them to stay home. During his time homeschooling, he began to miss his friends. And certain Netflix kid shows featuring a more “full” family than ours gave him the notion to start asking, quite regularly, for a baby brother or sister.

My wife Jessica and I didn’t envision stopping at one child. But certain events happened that made the likelihood of Zackary being an only child rise. And the thought of changing it seemed perpetually tabled.

We decided to leave the decision up to the Universe whether we should or shouldn’t.

That’s Part 1: We considered having another child, but ultimately left it in the hands of the Universe.

Part 2 is a bit more… involved.

Let’s talk about my wife for a minute. Jessica is an incredibly giving and nurturing presence. She forms instantaneous and ironclad bonds with young children and babies without a moment of hesitation. It’s absolutely one of her most amazing qualities. She’s been in the field of childcare in one form or another since she was 16. And if you gave her enough time, I’m certain she’d be able to tell you all about practically every kid she’s ever watched, taught, or cared for… or at very least, a handful of her favorites from every place she was employed. And the bond wasn’t soon forgotten; we were in Aldi one time and when we ran across another family shopping. And the boy, probably 5 at that point, saw her and ran down the aisle and gave her a hug. When he left, she mentioned that he was from a center she hadn’t worked at in years, and that he was 2 when she had him in her room. She remembered him, and more shocking, he remembered her from such a young age and years later. It’s really a special gift she has.

Over the last 2+ years, she has been working as a Home Health Aide assigned to a family about four streets away from where we live. I’m going to be changing the names for “reasons”. She’s helping out a single mom “Maggie” with her two girls “Lisa” (then 9, now 11) and “Rosalyn” (then 4, now almost 6). Lisa has a litany of challenging debilitations, including autism (verbal), intermittent seizures, and defiance disorder; part of that disorder includes sudden violent outbursts. Rosalyn has ADHD and some minor complications stemming from being born several weeks premature. Jess also believes she should be tested for Aspergers Syndrome as she has shown signs of it at times. Maggie has several issues herself including Type 2 diabetes and, as Jess has observed in the last few years, early onset dementia that she is in fervent denial about. Despite her obvious need for a home nurse, Maggie never requested one. Jess was hired to help normalize life for the two girls, but because she is generous to a fault, she also helps Maggie with her shopping, meals, dishes, housework–all of which is NOT in her job description.

Side note: My number 1 pet peeve in this life is people taking advantage of others, especially watching people blatantly do it to my wife. People who take advantage of the kindness of others knowing they can’t say “no” is infuriating to me. Jessica gives and gives and gives until there is nothing left for herself. I’ve seen it time and time again by parasites who asked her to babysit 7 hour marathons without paying her, asking for money without paying back, and making audacious requests knowing she’ll say Yes. And yes, it’s unfortunately and obliviously happened to me (and my son) as well, and yes, I was just as peeved when I realized that I had done it. I’ve tried to check myself more often the longer our relationship has gone. The quickest way to get on my shit list is to take advantage of her.

I do not like Maggie. I, of course, sympathize with her conditions, but I’ve learned to spot a leech a mile away. I’m sorry if that sounds insensitive, it’s not my intention. Maybe a good example to see where I’m coming from resides in this; Jess is expected to work Monday through Friday from 12:30pm to 8:30pm. From the get-go, Maggie would guilt trip Jess into staying late with no overtime, working on weekend days without getting paid, constantly bringing home her laundry to get done, buying food for her children out of her own pocket because Maggie didn’t go grocery shopping. Things like that wore her down, and that’s what ticks me off

(She’s also a flat-earther, but that’s neither here nor there…)

But that’s just what Jessica does; she does it to truly help people and not just half-ass it to get a paycheck like many other HHA’s unfortunately do. It’s admirable to an egregious fault.

Let me tell you just how egregious that extent is, and let this serve a precursor to Part 3… This past September, Maggie had an infection caused by some complications from her diabetes. She nearly had to get her foot amputated. But they saved the foot, and she ended up spending a month in a rehab facility trying to learn how to walk again.

That entire month, she was unable to care for Lisa and Rosalyn. Guess who did.

Lisa would come over to our house most of the day and then be dropped off at her grandparent’s home to sleep. Rosalyn… basically lived with us the entire month. Oh, by the way, this was also the first month of kindergarten for my son and Rosalyn, but because where Maggie lived crossed school districts, even though it was only four streets down, Zack and Rosalyn went to different schools. Absolutely none of this was required by her job; despite the setback, her job description still states 8 hours, Monday through Friday. By offer to doing this, she goes far above and beyond her call of duty.

So during the month of September, Jessica was effectively working 24 hours a day, getting paid for 8 of it, pulling double school duties, and having to keep Lisa placid; remember, her defiance disorder often led to violent outbursts, and I told Jess if she did that to or in front of Zack, I would lose it. And she agreed. It’s a big reason she spent nights at her grandparents; well, no, check that, she spent the night elsewhere because there was nowhere else for her to sleep. Even then, it took a lot of hemming and hawing from the grandparents to even agree to that; they practically “expected” Jessica to do all this extra mileage without assistance. I almost went apeshit on them, but luckily was talked down.

Maggie was eventually allowed to return home, and Lisa and Rosalyn returned home, and things returned to “normal” (what the fuck is normal?).

The job seriously wears her down. I often… literally at least twice a week… ask why she doesn’t just ask for a reassignment to a different case. She’ll always deflect and say that’s in the best schedule for us to take care of our son: 4 out of 5 days I work in the morning, and she works in the afternoon/evening. But that ability of hers to forge connections with the children in her care has every bit to do with it too. I see it. Those kids adore her, and though she’s a professional, Jessica does as well.

Ok, I tell you all of that information so we can catch up with the events of this past week…

Last week, Maggie tripped and broke a couple ribs. It was the latest in a run of unfortunate health matters. She went to the ER, though there’s not much you can do with broken ribs besides rest. They prescribed morphine for her to bring home. On Tuesday, it became apparent that she wasn’t in the best condition to take care of her kids once Jessica left. So she packed them up for a sleepover and brought them home.

They’ve been here since then.

Jessica went in on Wednesday to find Maggie was passed out on the couch, gauged up on morphine. So she kept her kids at our home for another night. The next day, same scene. Jess got Maggie’s mother involved. When she got there, she reported that Maggie’s blood sugar was through the roof after she, evidently, removed the insulin pump manually, left it on the floor, and took copious rounds of morphine. After consulting with her friend from church, she spoke at length about how Maggie told her she was feeling useless, hopeless, and tired of being sick and hospitalized. Jess, the friend, and the mother conferred and agreed she was trying to give up, and the act of removing the insulin pump was intentional.

Maggie is Baker Acted now and in the hospital. We’ve re-enacted the same childcare situation with Lisa coming to our house during the day and back to her grandparents’ at night while Rosalyn is once again a surrogate sibling for Zackary. Thankfully, Lisa is docile and peaceful at our house. Jessica does a great job keeping her from reaching the point of violence.

This feels way different than that September though. Having the Baker Act called on you is serious business, and it’s very likely DCF will be getting involved. There’s reason to believe that, even with round the clock health aide and assistance, that she’ll be deemed unfit to take care of her children, at very least in the interim.

Last night, Jessica was up crying because she worried what was going to happen to Lisa and Rosalyn. Working with them the past few years has enforced a strong bond with them despite how arduous her job is.

And she floated the notion of, should the situation deteriorate, fostering or straight up adopting them.

There’s still miles to go before that prospect becomes a reality… yet in this day and age, you can go a couple miles in a relatively short amount of time.

I’m beside myself at the moment, mostly because I don’t know how to process that what-if scenario, let alone that the chances of it happening are rising with every update. I’d rather not get into my feelings on the matter because it’s still just speculation at this point, and searching my emotions for something that may not come to pass is a torture in and of itself. As time goes on, if certain things come to pass, I may illuminate on my inner thought process.

But I’m stuck wondering… We asked the Universe for a sign. This is not the sign we expected, if it even is one. I think the fault is we, as a human race, expect the Universe to answer all of our queries in English written in black and white. Signs that we ask for are often ignored.

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Unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

This is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s been passed around on social media outlets a thousand times in the past week.

It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was murdered with a knee to his neck.

It’s been nearly 3 months since police raided the home of Breonna Taylor–“by mistake”–and shot her while she slept.

It’s been almost 4 years since the shooting of Philando Castile who’s only crime was reaching for his wallet.

It’s been over 50 years since King gave that quote, and sadly it’s still profoundly relevant today.

Yet largely the conversation has bypassed the continued racism prevalent in the police force, and has nestled into the riots that have occurred in the last week.

“It’s tragic that George Floyd was murdered, but the rioting and looting are despicable!”. We’ve all heard this from detractors. And the truth is the same as it always has been; they just don’t get it. And I’m beginning to suspect they just never will.

People are mad. People are angry. And they are tired of being ignored. It’s not like this is the first time they tried to fight this battle. They were ignored after Rodney King. They were ignored after Trayvon Martin. Ignored after Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They were given kind words of understanding from elected officials to calm them down, and zero action after the fact.

They went unheard. And as King assessed, rioting was the next course of action. And you can be damn sure they are being heard now.

Hearing something, and truly listening, however, are two completely different things. The riots are speaking, yet people are still missing the point.

“But why can’t they just get they just protest peacefully?”

Over a week of protests, and there are still plenty of people echoing this sentiment.

Here’s the fact, Karen: You just want a peaceful protest so you can ignore it. Quiet, well behaved groups of people are easily dismissed. Angry mobs marching, chanting slogans, and raising hell gets your attention.

And who are you trying to kid, you didn’t even want them protesting peacefully. Colin Kaepernick took a knee before a football game, and he was vilified by fans and blackballed by the NFL. People missed the point, and continue to miss the point, that his protest wasn’t about disrespecting America, but to bring attention to a plight he couldn’t ignore. Four years later, people are FINALLY understanding why he did what he did.

That was too appalling for the public. Wearing shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe” after Eric Garner’s death by headlock was too appalling. Hashtags and online petitions were annoying. There was always something snide to say about any attempt to protest these insidious crimes. So why don’t you say what you want to say: that you’d rather they not protest at all. Because it makes you uncomfortable. Because you don’t want to think about it. Damn, that’s some privilege you got there, Karen…

And, not to mention, for the large part, the protests have been peaceful. They’ve been rallies with fists in the air, moments of silence, moments and shouting names of the victims, marching, even dancing. A vast majority of the looting and fires began from troublemakers and opportunists–one example being a fake Facebook group claiming to be an ANTIFA group planning to destroy and loot stores was shut down and revealed to have been started by a white nationalist group.

Also, oh by the way, ANTIFA isn’t a terrorist organization… because ANTIFA isn’t an organization to begin with. It literally means “anti-fascist”. So every time you try to treat it like domestic terrorism, you’ll look like an idiot. Just food for thought.

And the violence is at least a 75/25 split with the very police they are protesting against. The amount of videos that are emerging from the protests clearly showing police officers in full riot gear inciting violence against protestors who aren’t even putting up a fight is staggering. There are crowds that run in fear after tear gas cannisters are tossed without prompt into a crowd clearly not spoiling for a fight. 2nd Amendment enthusiasts showing up in full combat gear packing rifles with full magazines of live ammunition, driving cars and trucks past barricades hoping to catch protestors underneath their wheels, and … fuck, is that a man with a bow and arrow aiming into a crowd screaming “All lives matter”?

The quiet fists in the air don’t make the news. The violence does. The perception of peaceful protesting is tarnished by the media.

“If MLK was here, he wouldn’t want the people to riot.”

If you honestly believe that, you honestly don’t know the first thing about the Civil Rights movement beyond “I Have a Dream”.

Some detractors have no shame in that lack of knowledge. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III have been taking to social media to comment on the protests and have been met with users trying to explain their own father’s message to them and why it was contradictory to what they were saying. How oblivious do you have to be to say “Well, actually…” the man’s own children?

“Rioting won’t solve anything!”

Rioting gives a megaphone to the people’s message. Without the people rioting, there would be no advancement for LGBT+, less strict labor laws… and no America. The Boston Tea Party, a favorite subject among elementary school history, was the tipping point that led to the Revolutionary War, paired with the “Boston Massacre”–which also led to riots. This country was founded upon a riot. To dismiss rioting as fruitless is simply not the case.

Despite how it seems, progress has never been easy. Complacency and “tradition” makes people comfortable with inequality. No one wants to riot. No one wants looting. No one wants wanton destruction and frivolous violence. Neither side wants to be there. But when injustice shows its face in such a malicious way as a man suffocating another man with a knee on his neck, sometimes the hand is forced.

We can only hope a little bit of progress comes out of all this.

#BlackLivesMatter

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I Can’t Breathe

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Everyone look at this picture. It’s hard to look at, I know. But really look at it. You see what I see, right? You see what everyone in America sees, right? Now ask yourself just one question:

Is this OK?

Even with zero context, even if you’ve been asleep the last 96 hours and this is the first time you’re seeing this, is this in any way OK?

If you said “yes”

If you hesitated at all

If you said “No, but…”

…Then you need a mental evaluation to certify you as the psychopath you are.

Now add the context to the story: His name is George Floyd–know his name. He was handcuffed and restrained. There were 3 other officers there as “back up”. He was arrested for a non-violent crime–an alleged crime that turned out to be false, by the way. This man was not a threat at any point in time.

The man with knee on his neck is named Officer Derek Chauvin–know his name too, because it’s the name of a murderer. His restraining method with a knee on a handcuffed man’s neck isn’t police procedure. He kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 fucking minutes. He did not let up when Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. He did not let up when he said his stomach hurt, or when his neck hurt. He did not let up when George Floyd screamed that he was being killed. And the three other officers stood back and watched.

Now look at the picture again with the context behind it. If your blood doesn’t even begin to boil, I can’t possibly begin to imagine how emotionally dead you must be.

And yet there are people out there who are trying to justify his death, or rationalize the officer’s tactics. There are people who wanted to “wait and see” what the story is, or posited “You don’t know the whole story. What happened before the camera started rolling?” Honestly, this is a picture that needs no story. This is a white man in a position of authority with a figurative and literal boot to the neck of a defenseless black man. This is a police officer killing a man as he begged for his life. There’s no need for the story of what happened beforehand. Because, regardless of what happened, there is no crime deserving of this instant, torturous execution. If he had even broken the law, his punishment was for a judge to decide.

Some still doubt or downplay the fact that America has a major problem with racism. I don’t think one image in recent memory confirms how prevalent it remains better than this one still image.

This image will haunt me for the rest of my life.

***

I’ve been watching the entire time. I remember hearing about Rodney King when I was growing up. I remember Amadou Diallo, the first real case of police brutality I could understand.  I remember Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Ahmaud Arbaury, Botham Jean, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, and countless other “high profile” cases in my life. And each time it pained me to watch these cases of profiling, excessive force, and quantified racism go unpunished.

But as much as it pained me, I stayed silent. I didn’t get involved because I didn’t think it was my fight. I thought my input would be disregarded and my opinion would be unwanted, even though it often reflected the same disgust that the majority felt.

I am a white man in his mid-30’s. I fully recognize the privilege that comes with that distinction. I didn’t always have that cognition though. When I was younger, I would get defensive at being called privileged because it sounded like I had it easy, which I most certainly did not. But over time I was able to redirect my perspective that none of my hardships had anything to do with my skin. That living without fear of repercussions simply for the crime of being black or brown or tan or non-white is a built in feature of being born white.

I was able to see that, and recognize that it’s there. But many others refuse to accept that white privilege is very real. These people are able to do the exact same mundane things–get groceries, go for a jog, sit in their own home with a jug of ice cream–without a single thought or fear that it would be their last moment on earth. The fear of being executed for simply existing is very much alive in the black community, and the examples that are justifying that fear are growing by the day.

I stayed the sidelines as I watched the storms that followed each and every brutal unjustified killing, and I stayed quiet because I didn’t think I needed to say anything.

Then I saw this image. A knee on his neck. And I cannot stay quiet anymore.

Black lives fucking matter.

If this image makes you uncomfortable, then speak out, get involved, sign petitions, make phone calls, donate money, or… and here’s an important one… listen–really LISTEN–to the reactions and the stories and the feelings of everyone invested. Understand their anger and frustration without patronizing, without justifying, without marginalizing, and without drowning out their pain.

But don’t wait as long as I did. Don’t be silent. Because this is not OK.

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Maybe You Should Blog About It

Seems like every time I sit down to write a blog post, I get three sentences in before I bail on it. I’ll reason with myself that it’s a waste of my time, that I could be using the time on other projects, and that no one would bother to read it anyway. Well, I’ve never written to please other people–of course, I’d love to be read by others, but I’ve always written for myself first and foremost. And as for being a waste of time… well, I guess that all depends on the content. And that’s something I make no promises about.

Sweet. I made it past 3 sentences!

To say the least, 2020 has been a trying year thus far–and we’re not but a third of the way through. After several dips in the depression pool last year, I was hoping to have a better handle on my mental status this year. And so far, it’s been more successful than otherwise, though not without its challenges. I’m still suffering after losing 3 pets since the beginning of February, and the state of the world and the circumstances its having on me and my family is obviously weighing heavily on me.

I think in order to keep mental maintenance, I owe it to myself to keep updating, even if the content isn’t there. Sometimes I keep things pent up in my own brain until it becomes to big and weighs me down mentally. If I’m able to get the words out of my brain, even if it’s just word vomit (much like this post is), it won’t be able to fester. Much like my writing, it’s more for myself than anyone–I mean, if you’re here reading it, high five, and sorry this is so short and uninteresting. Consider this me saying “Yeah, I’m back in the saddle” to a room full of empty chairs.

Stay safe, and wash your hands.

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The 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time: A Prelude

Happy New Year! It’s officially 2020! We say goodbye to the 2010’s and enter a new decade destined for new trends and new eras of social culture.

It feels only right on a momentous year like the turn of a decade to look back and review the best of the other decades. And to me, an obsessive yet indecisive musicophile, that means doing the absolute impossible:

Ranking the Greatest Songs of All Time

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It’s actually not that impossible. In the early 2000’s, I ranked the 100 greatest songs ever and posted in on my LiveJournal (shut up, my LJ was the best!). And again as the year turned to 2010, I ranked and posted the best 365 songs of all time on Facebook, one per day.

So 10 years later, it only feels right to revisit that idea and declare, now 33 years into my musical obsession, and find out, thrice and for all, what are the greatest songs ever. But 100 was suddenly impossible, and even trying to cut it down to 365 was harder than it was a decade ago. I had no choice to expand the range to 500.

I began by “nominating” songs that I loved and truly believed could wind up in the top 500. I made certain to only nominate my absolute favorite songs…

I somehow wound up with 2,193 “nominations”.

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I briefly wrestled with the notion to make it the greatest 2,020 songs of all time (as an ode to the decade, but also making it easier to cut 173 songs rather than 1,693 of them). But I knew that was neither practical nor applicable. I decided that 500 was a nice round number, and doable within the span of a year.

The cuts began easy enough. But as I got down to about 1,300 songs, it became very difficult to keep cutting. I made playlists, listened to songs back to back trying to find the ones I loved but were overall weaker. I began this process in August, and I just barely cut the 501st song off the list right before Christmas.

There was a process to picking which songs made the list, and how they were ranked from 1 to 500. For me, a song becomes my favorite by hitting on a number of elements

  • Energy — Music has to have energy and flow. A song that doesn’t move is flat and stagnant. Don’t take this to mean quick tempo. True, fast songs have natural energy, but there’s a certain dark energy that exists in andante and moderate songs as well.
  • Emotion — There is no creative medium that expresses emotion greater than music. Not acting, not writing, but music. The best songs of all time plucks heartstrings as seamlessly as strumming a guitar.
  • Musicianship — As a musician, the construction and performance of a song is always fascinating. The bigger and more complex it is, the more fascinating it is. However, the complexity of a song needs to be necessary. A song that is unnecessarily complex can be distracting. And there is a certain beauty in musical simplicity.
  • Sentimentality — A song can evoke memories and feelings of times past. And sometimes all a song needs to be memorable is to be the score to a perfect memory.

I listen to everything, from rock to rap to classical to new wave to flamenco and everything in between. However, my favorite genre is definitely rock, and there are many variations and sub-genres of rock represented in the countdown. However, there are a few surprises peppered in between hip-hop, country, EDM, and…. neo-classical?

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Perhaps it’s a spoiler, though if you knew me at all, this won’t come as a surprise at all: the band with the most spots on the all time list is Led Zeppelin. I apologize for nothing!

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So how many spots does a band of historical greatness like The Beatles have on the list?

One. Just one. And the song on the list is not one you’re thinking of. It’s not an indictment on my distaste for the Beatles–they had several selections in the pool of 2000+ nominations. I only felt one really represented the Top 500.

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The oldest song on the list was released in 1958. The latest song to crack the Top 500 only needed a year and a half, released in 2018. The shortest song on the list is 1 minute, 54 seconds, and the longest is 17 minutes, 28 seconds.

This countdown is going to be taking place throughout the entire year of 2020. I will keeping track weekly Facebook (/robertjrelyea), Instagram (@rob.relyea.writer.chef), as well as making frequent updates here on the ol’ blog. But I will be dropping songs daily on Twitter (@robertjrelyea), so you can keep up with it there. I also plan on creating a continuously updated playlist for Spotify some time down the line.

Obviously, no one will truly agree with this list. This is my personal opinion with no other outside council deciding. But these 500 songs are, without a doubt, my pick for the best of all time.

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500 for 2020! Let the music play!