Letter to My Soon-to-be-Born Son, Who Will Only Turn 30 Two Months Before 2050

After midnight, 23 October 2019, from a freediver dad

son

Dear Son,

Later today you will be born. A couple weeks ago, in an ultrasound pic, I saw your broad face for the first time, eyes closed, hands folded like a Lil Buddha Mastermind. So peaceful, so deep in sleep you are, in your amniotic watery world.

What are you dreaming about right now? What do kids dream about before y’all are born?

Your impending birth fascinates and terrifies me.

Right now, you have no idea of the world you are about to enter. But you were absolutely intentioned, we did not do this lightly, and we absolutely believe in your future.

Our here, there is a lot of talk about 2050, a date that has become kind of a place marker for our Earth, the point of no return, especially climate catastrophe.

Even the oceans are supposed to have more plastic by weight than fish in 2050 if we don’t turn things around.

Out here, our world reels with chaos, crisis and calamity, from wars, racism, mass incarceration and mass disinformation to burning rainforests, ocean acidification, and mass extinction.

At the same time, our world is still achingly beautiful and alive and insistently determined to survive and thrive.

Each morning legions of people wake up and think “my life is not just for myself” and commit to working harder to make life better for others and our living planet.

Each day, people have friends. Each day, people fall in love, inhabiting the awesome, mystical, cacophonic magnitudes of human emotion and feeling.

Each day, people study for careers and plan families.

People live like there is a future we can count on.

Each day, our oceans, while depleted, still pulse with life, and electric blue silver yellow fish bullet through open water so fast they reach 60 mph, while others chill at the bottom on coral reefs full of color that aren’t bleached white.

Tonight you sleep inside your beautiful mother’s (alarmingly distended) belly (dads are kind of queasy about things like pregnancies), your other mom next to you, and it is quiet and night.

Much of the hemisphere on this side of the world sleeps with you.

All people, doers of great good or perpetrators of great evil, were once newborn babies. Where does innocence begin and where does innocence end?

All I can say Young Blood is that by taking care of others, we take care of ourselves. And that we can have the most exhilarating lives by getting healthy and giving back.

As your dad, I will do whatever I can to ensure you have the proper influences and natural earned confidence (which is very different from arrogance) to navigate, process and adapt to this world, and maybe if you are so moved play a hand in helping the world be better.

As a young man of color growing up in this chaotic world you will certainly at times be seen as a threat. And you’ll probably find that people’s reactions to you are never always one thing, especially as a mixed dude, so you may often feel like life is a minefield.

People, including at times police officers, may have already decided about you without even knowing you, and you will rarely know what those decisions and assumptions are because they shift like sand and vary from person to person. In the last few months I have been yelled at to go back to South America, approached at night by a concealed-weapon-carrying person who’d decided I was a black man about to rob my own car in my own garage parking spot, accosted at the airport like a Middle Eastern terrorist, called an East Indian “devil”, asked if I was Mexican, and more.

You will also find that some people will hunger for violence against your person just because they see you. But here is the key thing: not the majority of people.

Don’t let life harden your heart too much. The sensitive man is the tough man. Just keep enough ability to put somebody in their place, or neutralize the threat if you’re physically attacked. You have the right and duty to defend yourself.

But, like a wise older woman from Minneapolis once told me, “Be careful of whose energies you get pulled into.”

Sometimes defending yourself is simply walking away because you got too much good shit going on to be bothered.

Early on, it will be critically important to start creating a vision and plan, so that you lead yourself into your own life versus letting life just happen to you. That will save you a lot of stress, lost time and heartache.

Those ideas and plans will grow and even change, but they’ll give you a basic focused path forward. Goals matter. There will be shit all around that distracts or endangers your path, clawing and dragging at you. Try to be mindful and present, and choose what you engage with.

I would be lying if I said life hadn’t brutalized me. I’ve learned a lot the hard way. And I’ve always cared about the larger world, which often means double impact.

I’ll do whatever I can to gift you the tools, clarity, discernment, wellness, stamina and resilience to ensure life doesn’t brutalize you too, no matter how rough it gets.

Being a vegan athlete who’s been plant-based for 22 years has helped my unbreakability a lot, and I’ve pretty much discovered the fountain of youth. I still work at mindfulness, stress reduction, and not overthinking things.

The bottom line is, no matter how hard life gets, you keep going.

We’re all stronger than we think we are, and we all have extra reservoirs of strength inside us even when we feel we have nothing left. The key is to train and hone those extra reserves of strength so they’re ready and available when you need them.

And make sure you take a lot of quiet time! That right there is when you listen to your soul. Full scope health balances the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

I have no idea what 2050 will be. Even in the five years I’ve been here in South Florida, on the beach just north of Miami, the seas rise up out of the street grates a lot more than when I first got here. Definitely this place is the walking dead. Someday people will dive the ruins.

I’m a freediver. Fish are miracles and the underwater world is like outer space pulsing with alien life forms that blow your mind.

I’ll show you as soon as you get old enough. Fish swim right up to you, look you in the eye, electric colors rippling their flanks as if charged by some alien power source that might be God.

Sometimes I see nurse sharks sleeping on the bottom. Their full, supple bodies breathing in and out make me drowsy like I could fall asleep too on the surface right above them.

Sometimes I see sleek fish jump out of the water into the oxygen air and sunlight.

Do they hold their breath? Is air to them like water is to us?

They would suffocate in our air like we do in their water.

What do fish see when they come up into our world?

It’s likely none of them have ever heard of the Slave Trade or the Civil War or World War II or any of our madness, even while swimming underneath.

Across the globe, all this time, they’ve likely had no idea all of this has been going on.

Back in the 90s, I was so excited about the New Millennium.

Dr. Lewis Thomas, author of The Lives of a Cell, wrote: “Just get us through this century and into the next, then watch what we can do.”

The Year 2000 would be the start of this intensely new, green, fairness-based, and open-ended future. Our world would burst with health, communication, and renewal.

I believed it with all of my being.

Now, at the end of chaos-strewn 2019, you will be born, and only turning 30 two months before 2050! I have worked my entire adult life for that future.

When you reach 2050, I hope you can look around and say “we made it”.

You will be my first biological child. Living in Texas, I adopted your older brother K at the age of 2, and he used to fall asleep sitting on my shoulders.

His entire kid life we went down to Galveston to kick it on the beaches and in the Gulf of Mexico.

We loved the sun and the water. He is now 21 and has a daughter of his own.

My granddaughter will be two years older than you, my new son.

I don’t have the slightest idea what y’all will call each other. 😀

Can’t wait to meet you man. The last year was so rough there were times I didn’t think I’d make it.

Freediving underwater, if you don’t hold your breath, you’ll drown.

But all you gotta do is get to the surface.

The sun looks like a white halo up there through the light blue water.

I held my breath till you got here.

Looking at your sleeping little face in the ultrasound pic, I texted K: “Wonder what kids dream about before they are born.”

“Probably swimming,” he said.

‘Akhraj wazdahar. Nou renmen ou. 💙💙

© Jarid Manos, 23 October 2019
JaridManos.com
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I Could Be a Desert

by Jarid Manos

April 14, 2014

Originally published in The Huffington Post

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I haven’t had sex in over 2 years. By choice.

And before this past January, I hadn’t cried since 1999 and the Denzel movie The Hurricane.

Even if I get smashed by a pickup truck, my torn flesh may cry that clear liquid before red blood pours, but my eyes will stay dry.

It’s not like I don’t feel. Being an activist for so long under constant siege from problems, suffering and loss all over the world, you have to be passionate.

Before I came to Miami, I had a stone-cold moment: “You have to change everything.”

I realize I’ve always been drawn to unavailable men, and allow myself into situations that aren’t good.

This past 106-degree summer in Dallas, though it’s hard to admit, I fell for somebody I shouldn’t have, who gave huge mixed signals. Even though I knew we weren’t compatible, I got caught up. (Also he didn’t tell me he was seeing the dude of an old friend at the same time.) Def thankful we never slept together. It’s very embarrassing to like somebody so much you actually have to ask God to be freed of it, like it’s a flu. I never like anybody. I’m used to everybody liking me. Now I look back and think “what the hell?”

In January, a couple weeks before I left Dallas, a few months after getting over that “flu,” I rode my bike to the largely ignored Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial, a little park honoring freed slaves who’d built a community and were buried there. Years ago, nearby Highway 75 had obliterated many of the graves.

In the center a bronze statue rises of a barefoot, full-hipped woman kneeling next to a barefoot man sitting on a tree stump. Their heads are down, as if crushed by monumental grief. One of her arms is around his waist. He is holding her. His bare back is keloided in massive whipping scars.

In the cold North Texas afternoon, with a recent winter rain passed and mist dissipating over grassy areas, I sat on the granite bench encircling them and it was like they were a bronze upwelling from the Earth.

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Something happened to me. My throat began to grip and shake. I pulled my hood over my head. My face opened up like rain in the Sahara. But this was not just about the bottomless pain writhing over human beauty in front of me. I felt the world in that upwelling of perfect, transformational art.Soon I was helplessly crying so hard I couldn’t sit up. I actually fell sideways onto the red granite bench. It came in ragged waves, a storm. Took over an hour to pass. For several hours later I felt very weird — sinus passages, eyes, head. And dizzy. Drizzles came on and off into the night.

A few weeks ago I rode ten miles up to a Florida park beach to be alone and think. The broad sand was like a desert; at ground level you’d never know just over the ridge was a light blue ocean.

I swam about a hundred yards out. A similar but different situation like last summer was brewing. People hide sh*t, but damn. The aqua-clear waters were largely flattened by cold-front winds pushing out from shore.

I came upon a honeybee floating. Bright sunlight dazzling. Something made me touch her. Her legs moved. She continued drifting.

Bee colonies are dying worldwide. She could’ve been a hundred miles out. She could float to the Sahara, where my own blackness is from. She was just a bee. I’m sure I stomped my share of them as a kid with no proper influences.

I swam over and got her. She was very waterlogged, but once on my hand she showed life.

I put her on my thumbnail in case she got too feisty. Like a cat cleaning her ears she pawed at her black antennae that looked like the few curls of hair on my chest.

Holding her above the water, I side-kicked in. Dripping on dry land, I grabbed my shirt and placed her onto it, held her close to my chest.

As I carried her to the dunes she collapsed face down, arms spread out onto my shirt. With my hand I tried to cup her into the face of a yellow dune sunflower but she couldn’t hang on and fell between the sea oats.

I could never find her again. I parted as much of the long raspy grasses as I could to allow the Sun to reach her. She probably didn’t make it. No secret that most who are lost to sea, or at sea, never do.

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Dearly Beloved: 100 Years Ago the Last Passenger Pigeon Died

Dearly Beloved: 100 Years Ago the Last Passenger Pigeon Died by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

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A hundred years ago, Martha died. At 1 p.m. on September 1, 1914, the last individual of a wild blue dove whose flocks once numbered billions and blackened the American skies for days fell over dead in her Cincinnati zoo cage.

With the magnitude of her race’s extinction, the American story – which is particularly the story of people on the land – ripped deeper into loss.

Almost no part of early American life went untouched by the passenger pigeon. Nearly 40 percent of all North American birds were passenger pigeons. The fact that most people today never heard of them shows how quickly we get accustomed to poverty.

Not confused with the city pigeon (an invasive species from England), the passenger pigeon was our continent’s blue-winged exclamation – sleek, larger than a mourning dove, incredibly beautiful with an hourglass neck, iridescent blue body, apple breast, and white underside. In their billions – and they needed huge numbers to survive – they migrated north and south, creating their own wind and weather.

Integral to native peoples, it’s likely they also touched Esteban the Moor, the first African in Texas and former slave of Moroccan descent, who washed ashore with failed Spanish conquistadors in 1528. Thomas Jefferson ate them, as did most people in American colonial times. Look closely inside Toni Morrison’s A Mercy to see passenger pigeons mentioned for dinner. You could shoot once into a flock and kill several. Tecumseh, 1768-1813, the legendary Shawnee prophet and leader in the old Ohio Country, who tried mightily to bring Indian people together to protect their way of life, lived in the passenger pigeon’s heartland.

I sometimes wonder what enslaved blacks working in the cleared fields of Georgia or Kentucky thought as the gargantuan flocks flew overhead. Did they stop and look up as the first living thunder approached?

Did that bird’s wind seem like the blue breath of God as it pushed against their stiff clothes?

Before the gunfire of Gettysburg, were young, recently fledged passenger pigeons roosting and feeding in the oak and pigeonberry hills, their brand new feathers gleaming?

As a child in Ohio, I was likely already a goner by the time I read of the passenger pigeon. But when I learned of how they shook the world, right where I stood that now was so emptied of life, it perhaps gave a tipping point to my trauma.

I read how the term “stool pigeon” came into common lexicon. Hunters would sew a live passenger pigeon’s eyes shut then tether him to a stool, where his flapping would attract a flock to be shot or netted. When they’d nest in massive colonies, millions were killed by burning sulphur pots beneath them, shooting them, smashing them with poles, and more, to ship them to markets via the new railroads, at the same time their ancient oak, beech and hickory forests and tallgrass prairies were being destroyed. Advancing telegraph lines helped detect the last nesting colonies.

Recently, in Washington, D.C. for the launch of the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau, we were given a private tour of Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln, who hailed from part of the passenger pigeon’s northern homeland, was shot.

Afterwards, a friend took me to the Smithsonian, where Martha and two unknown dead male passenger pigeons are exhibited for their extinction centennial.

It was unnerving to have my body so close to theirs, just separated by a glass wall. The brilliance in feathers is faded.

As James, my friend, pulled me away, I lingered, my head crooking backwards. A white father and his two kids stopped and stared into the glass exhibit. Then a black father and his pigtailed daughter came and she jolted “OOH!” at the sight of the stuffed dead bird on his back. I thought: How tender and new this child was, not yet exposed to the world.

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which so hauntingly imbues us with the American story of people on the land, of motherhood, and grief, and the pungence between the three, Sethe struggles barefoot through Kentucky wilderness and human danger to get across the Ohio River to freedom.

It’s the same route passenger pigeons took north for millennia to their primeval nesting grounds.

At one point in the book, Sethe’s throat-cut daughter appears to return from the dead. Her neck is crooked and disjointed. The daughter’s gravestone merely says Beloved.

Today some people are trying to resurrect the passenger pigeon, mashing DNA strands with biotechnology.

But when they’re conjured back from the dead, made from cells and pieces, to face us in a world they don’t know, will their necks be crooked too?

So Thankful to God and Earth for Blessings

So Thankful to God and Earth for Blessings by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

I recently realized how much I love. It is possible to love so hard this love becomes holy.

It took years. My adult life has been spent navigating the violence we do to the Earth, each other and ourselves. As an informed activist who tends to live in the apocalypse with no shortage of daily traumas, my grown tack was to convert helpless rage into positive action. But that is different from loving.

Over the past few months, things began to change, like shedding another skin. I feel excited.

A couple weeks ago I was in L.A. to grind out the movie treatment of my first book with screenwriter Carlton Jordan, and also to visit a few area foundations and non-profits. I saw the city differently this time, a creative desert city by the cold Pacific.

The Pacific Ocean is always cold any month of the year, deep blue not bright, and briny. It even smells different from the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. The last day I drove an hour north to Ventura to visit Patagonia, Inc., one of the most conscious companies in the world, and a longtime non-profit benefactor. Afterwards, I walked to the beach.

Something about open, dry country in the American West. Afternoon mountains turn to shimmering blue dust.

Stepping across the railroad trestle tagged in Spanish graffiti above where the Ventura River meets the sea, the blinding white sun hurtled into me from 93 million miles away. To my left the cold Pacific washed onto the driftwood-like-bones beach. The blue dust mountain in the north soared to its sharp cut-off ridge line. Green reeds reached up from the fresh and saltwater mixing below while fish swam (fish are my friends), birds wheeled in the sky and the accidental date palm ahead like an oasis brought my body to bursting. The spirit is not separate from the flesh.

My heart hurts. It’s always been hard to be thankful in the moment. I want so much for people — especially people who have suffered — to experience the indescribable beauty and hope of Earth and being outdoors, both in places they feel they can’t go, and right at home in our neighborhoods.

Ventura is such a nice beach town filled with really good people, but I usually only see one black person.

Even down in very diverse L.A., there are people who’ve never been to the beach but live only several minutes away.

Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based non-profit, is helping South-Central L.A. residents who want to restore Compton Creek. You know Compton — that’s where, umm, loquacious Seattle Seahawks cornerback, and upcoming Super Bowl star, Richard Sherman is from, as was N.W.A. “Straight Outta Compton.” People now want to connect a green trail all the way to the ocean. That is what’s up.

Getting gas for my hybrid rental in Ventura, I finally saw someone black. A young thickish female, maybe 19 or 20 years old, obviously homeless or close to it, in old jeans, Converse sneakers, a v-necked t-shirt struggling to hold in her natural chest the size, of which seemed to bewilder her, and an old zip-up hooded sweatshirt. Her hair pulled back was slightly mussed. She was pushing a single speed bicycle.

Homelessness can twist you as hard as blackened sick-food feces wrenched out of guts in a hidden corner or under a bridge. But not yet for her. The furnace of her youth was still flushing red in her brassy cheeks, and her voice was light and sweet, girlish. She asked for a dollar. I wished later I had given her more.

On the other side of the ocean, in Fukushima, a place famous for fresh peaches and lives woven into the sea, people can never go to the Pacific again. From there, who knows what spreads.

Separately, if the seas rise much worldwide, as expected, there won’t be beaches at all for a few generations. But no beaches will of course be the least of our climate-disrupted problems.

I love wisdom and a wiser older woman said before we ask God for something we should always give thanks. For me, thanks is letting myself be blown away by the beauty and blessings of life on Earth, and then working for renewal before it’s too late.

I have been given such a blessing of life; I damn sure am going to use it and make it count.

Brandy Gets Caught in the Media Fly Trap

Brandy Gets Caught in the Media Fly Trap by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

The media’s gleeful and jeering misrepresentation of what happened to Brandy in South Africa is a cautionary tale for those in the media, the public eye, and the public itself.

Recently, to cap the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day at the 90,000 seat FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, Brandy was slated to be the surprise guest.

The event’s organizers did not inform the public that Brandy, a major star, was appearing. After the football (soccer) and rugby matches were over, the crowd left, and by the time she came on only about 40 people remained. Nobody knew she was coming.

And so, in a story that has gone viral, the media shouted breathless headlines around the world giving the impression that Brandy was rejected by 89,960 people. Left to perform for 40 people and a sea of empty chairs. What a loser!

Not just sensationalist gossip sites but serious news outlets ran with this headline impression. You’d have to actually read deep into the articles (which few people do in celebrity gossip) to discern what actually happened.

This speaks to a larger issue of media responsibility, and how the media can run amok shaping a public conception that is not true. Years ago, when I was first getting started as an activist and writer, an advisor warned me, “You have to spoon feed the media.” Even when you do, they often have their own agenda — or jaded carelessness.

I’ve seen it time and again in stories about colleagues’ as well as my own work. I’ve also noticed that in nearly every article that my non-profit organization or I were involved in, there was always some detail — thankfully most of the time minor — that was incorrect.

At times, though, this can come with somewhat harmful repercussions, such as when a young ex-offender privately struggling to overcome depression and worse is paraphrased or quoted thuggishly out of context in a way that is not what he intended; this can be shocking to a person in recovery who is not used to the public blatherground let alone the public eye.

Or, even more dangerously, when the media does not get the facts right — or reports as fact, but end up to be a clear lie (say from a big polluter) instead of an opinion within quotation marks — in a life or death social justice or environmental fight. And other times, it can be simply aggravating and a little smh-funny, such as when a front-page story quoted me directly saying I used to sell “grass” earlier in life. That’s the reporter’s era, not mine. Nobody says “grass”; I said “weed”. Grass (America’s endangered native prairies) and our prairie urban youth are what this Ghetto Plainsman helps save! Direct quotes are supposed to be verbatim.

So, does this mean that a lot of what the public trusts as true in the media’s reporting isn’t?

As for Brandy, I am sorry that she got caught in a manufactured worldwide embarrassment that has nothing to do with her unique talent. I know it’s a shallow world and everybody’s just looking for the next thing to LMAO or gawk at, but for those who aren’t afraid to go a little deep, Brandy’s vibrational, even transformational voice — and the spaces she inhabits between sung words — resonates in the lives of people who experience the depth of human emotions. That’s pretty remarkable for a popular, mainstream artist.

There are actually a couple songs on her Full Moon CD that I haven’t listened to in 10 years because they are that powerful and haunting and beautiful. Back then, for a little while, I felt some kind of way, and I haven’t felt that way again. Like fine wine, I’ll save those songs for some other time, undiluted by familiarity. Their intense abundance will stand alone in a new moment.

Jail Me—Or Not

How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic? Jail Me—Or Not by Jarid Manos, for Center for Humans and Nature

Once in the Nevada desert at night, way out in the desert alone, and once in my dreams recently, I became aware of something so terrible approaching—which I could not see—that I became paralyzed with fright. Nothing in my body could move. I am not a loud (or fearful) dude, but I felt myself screaming to the end of the world. Soundlessly. Not a sound could come out.

When people actually drown, it’s usually not the Hollywood “HAAALP ME!!!” everybody thinks. People drown all the time within a few feet of loved ones who never know a thing until afterward. Sometimes it is peaceful. Your lungs fill, and suddenly this is what you are doing right now. The other world slips off and away just like that. And that’s okay. I know a beautiful brother who this happened to, off Galveston. He lived to tell me about it years later.

Prince Charles says we’re “sleepwalking into catastrophe.” I try not to watch, and just work.

Will we scream when it’s too late to hear ourselves? Or will we slip beneath the waves hardly knowing a thing?

Right now I’m in Dallas for six months. I’m working to bring the greater Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex into a last-ditch effort to save this 10,000-plus-year-old prairie known as the Fort Worth Prairie Park. The Texas General Land Office wants to sell it to developers. We’ve kept these 2,000 acres alive for seven years. This last prairie on the backdoor of six million people offers an Eden of wildlife and sun, wind, grass, and blue sky. Our coalition’s goal is to create a regional grassland park for all of North Texas and a national epicenter for Ecological Health.

From Canada to Mexico, and from just east of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountain Front, the prairies have been ripped up for monoculture crops or overgrazed to lifelessness, their legions of wildlife trapped, poisoned, gassed, and shot. You swoon for the open space then realize you’re fenced and squared in.

In the big, relatively new American city all around me, the world seems to hiss and whisper and breathe, like the secrets of cities do. My hand brushes yellow-white blocks of Texas limestone pulled from rich Texas soil and cut for new or historic walls. I know where the natives are. My eyes connect to a string of life dots: planted live oaks and post oak trees and accidental hackberries growing out of the concrete city, and the yucca plant and fugitive native prairie grasses pushing aside the railroad scrabble.

My local and national job—getting Americans to care about a land it has so violently killed—is not without its, umm, challenges. From Canada to Mexico, and from just east of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountain Front, the prairies have been ripped up for monoculture crops or overgrazed to lifelessness, their legions of wildlife trapped, poisoned, gassed, and shot. You swoon for the open space then realize you’re fenced and squared in. And the cities? It bugs me that the majority of the Great Plains states and cities have created so few parks—even city parks—in general, and have protected almost no wild prairie of any size in particular. I “brain-sweep” from my mind the darker thoughts of a deeper murder—a worry that the original American prairie was so full of abundance and wildlife, so free, and populated by such healthy, self-determined savages whose existence counterpointed stories other people were telling, that all traces must be extinguished. People should have no freedom on the land.

But I know better. Every day I insist upon an ultimate goodness in people.

In the Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln speaks about how the Washington establishment was continually looking for  “…Further proof that my husband and I were prairie primitives, unsuited to the position… [and elevated by] an error of the people.”

Mrs. Lincoln and the President hailed from twenty-two million acres of Illinois prairie falling beneath an advancing frontier of settlement, its grass jungle of ten-foot-high big bluestem, bison and wolves still fresh in the nation’s blood. The prairie wilderness was part of the common American story.

If fellow Illinoisan First Lady Michelle Obama said that now, nobody would know what the hell she was talking about.

In President Obama’s second Inaugural Address, pledging action on climate change, his American words soar over our nation: “…our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.” The breadth of the country has a gap. Our prairie middle is erased from culture and memory. Recently, as the President (at last) unveiled an Executive Branch climate change plan, he reduced us again. “Croplands.”

Our prairie middle is erased from culture and memory.

I take people out to the last of our living tallgrass prairie here in the DFW, where they can walk a few miles in a land that is ancient yet fresh and alive as if born this morning, and connect with the power of something almighty. Breathe, work. Let themselves soar. Then I help them see that even in the city, we still live on the prairie—so we can keep it in our hearts. Our bloodstreams flow like creeks. We all live downstream. Prairie storms consume us from overhead. Sometimes I work with young felons or other troubled youth who feel like they are at the end of their lives. We try to learn two things: to take care of body and Earth as one, and by taking care of others, we take care of ourselves.

Years ago, driving cross-country in early spring to New York City, escaping the Great Plains torment once again, I stopped at a roadside rest area in cultivated and pesticide-sprayed Illinois. A sign described the former twenty-two million acre tallgrass prairie. I walked to the fence to look over the endless horizon. Harvested feed corn stalks were mashed into the soil that awaited another year of plowing. Looking down, I noticed the corner of the fencerow. The machines couldn’t reach there, and a browned thatch of prairie grass stood. Something else caught my eye, shining, yellow, black-banded, and wet with mud. Down in the grass, holding on to what’s left, two bull snakes three feet long were wrapped around each other, twisting and fucking in slow motion, constricting the life out of each other, into each other, to make something new.

Thinking of Whoever Sewed My Drawers

Thinking of Whoever Sewed My Drawers by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

I have a thing about boxer briefs, especially Premium sport style blends of cotton and spandex that wrap you up good like compression shorts but give a little more breathing room. If you ever see me walking into Target or Sport Authority, you know where I’m probably headed.

Recently, after a day of athletics, as I peeled off a pair of black boxer briefs that fit perfectly, I stopped and studied them. With the catastrophic clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh, I’d read about the question of why making clothes wasn’t more automated, and somebody saying, “Nothing beats human hands.”

Turning my somewhat fragrant drawers inside out, I realized I had never really thought about them. And I think about a lot of things. These were made in Bangladesh. White and silver stitching in the elastic waistband and thigh bands, and double black thread stitching around the pouch. Peering closer I saw the human hands at work inside my drawers — you could see the near perfection but still see they had been handcrafted.

For somebody who needed his son to teach him how to use the toaster oven, I became fascinated with such intricate technical skill by a person I would never know, her tactile hands all up inside my drawers, putting together the supple fabric that would take care of me, hold the most intimate parts of my body. All I’d done was scoop a two-pack off the Target rack and whip out my Visa. $14.99 + tax.

I consider myself a progressive, fair-minded person who is pretty conscious of everything around me. And without driving myself crazy I’ve tried to vote with my dollar. In fact, since reading a column in 1996 by former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert about Nike sweatshops in Vietnam (reprinted in the free Colorado Springs Independent, of all places), I haven’t bought Nike. (My son’s mother laughed and said “You just gave it to God, huh?” when I came back just once with a pair of Nike football cleats after being unable to find any other brand of the kind he needed.)

And one time, in California, as I was driving through Oxnard on my way to visit Patagonia, Inc.’s foundation in Ventura further up the coast, I saw all these Mexican workers with eyes so red it almost looked like they were bleeding as they bent over, their bare hands picking the pesticide-soaked strawberry fields. To this day I won’t buy non-organic strawberries, not even in a Jamba Juice smoothie.

I know this is all selective in a world of impacts everywhere.

But whose touch is on what we bring into our lives so intimately?

And how are we touched by words? Remembering Mr. Herbert’s column, and that it has reverberated in me all these years, makes me think the word might actually be more powerful than the sword. My non-profit’s board chair has chastised me, saying, “One writer is worth several activists.” As an American writer who is also founder of an Ecological Health organization, I’ve simply been too overwhelmed to write more.

Like boxer briefs, I guess I’ve got a thing about body integrity, words, hands, intimacy. The placing of hands on others is such an intimate act.

I keep things close, and won’t let just anybody touch me. This extends outward too, in my own touch, to being a longtime vegan. I would feel like a zombie if I ate meat.

Which brings me to my own death. What am I going to do when the time comes? I viciously cannot stand the thought of someone putting their hands on me against my will or outside my control. What am I going to do when people are pulling my dead body somewhere with their live hands and looking into my dead face and touching me and undressing me and all that and I can’t defend myself, keep them away, be in control? Jeez. And God forbid, an autopsy would be worse than rape!

I don’t feel the spirit is separate from the flesh.

I’m sorry for those who have been crushed.

It’s Not About Gay Sex and Gowns

It’s Not About Gay Sex and Gowns by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

The seething violence against LGBT people that ripples under the sweating brows and gnashing teeth of some church pastors is an uncomfortable reminder of the Bull Connors and George Wallaces of an earlier era. Circumstances and victims may be different for sure, but the hate and its effects are the same. Many churchgoers come struggling with trauma and crisis, and need honest spiritual help more than the church needs their dollars, yet a lot of pastors obsess about oppressing gay people. The Black church in particular has been such a pillar of healing and change throughout American history. Where is the empathy? People who hate are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the new millennial future that society — especially younger generations — are working so hard to build. Meanwhile, church enrollment continues to decline nationwide.

A majority of the American public backs President Obama’s support of same gender marriage. A narrative thread is emerging, even on the street: it’s good to see the President of the United States reflect on American social progress and our collective evolving history, engage in critical thinking, and “stand up for something” on the basis of careful thought and social justice principles, even if the political calculus is a high wire. Introspection is a rare trait in modern American society — we need so much more of this from our leaders!

I’ll admit I did not get the whole gay marriage thing for a long time, and in fact was a little dismissive of it, when daily I fought against such catastrophic violence being waged against the Earth and our children’s health and future, along with the severe problems facing young people I worked with. In my opinion, gay marriage still isn’t nearly as important as these life or death issues, considering our civilization’s sustainable survival is at stake; but it sure is part of a more just society and future. Personally, I have zero interest in “marrying” a dude. I only understood when, in New York a couple years ago, I heard some straight black politicians speaking to a crowd about supporting gay marriage, and one said it’s not about walking down the aisle in a gown, but about equal rights and protection from harm under the U.S. Constitution, being able to take care of your family, and receive equal treatment as others.

As the American people now enter into a new conversation related to its treatment of same gender oriented people, it would be good if the mainstream public could try to delete pre-conceived stereotypes and look with a new eye. Many same gender people are just as “straight” as a straight person; they only happen to be “gay” on the inside. Don’t look now, but they’re standing right next to you… on the basketball court or football field or rapper’s mic or in your business office. All along you’ve been trying to tell them about them, violating them into little boxes, and choking the life out of them. Others, who are obviously gay or lesbian, are often smashed to nothingness.

Also let me say this: stop obsessing on sexual acts and reducing same gender people to sex. Being “gay” is a lot more than just a sex act. Celibate people are still same gender.

As for the “gay community” (whatever that means, because it’s so diverse), with increasing public acceptance and legitimacy comes responsibility. A lot of straight folks have stuck their necks out for LGBT people, so it would be helpful if they could be supported with dignity.

At the least, it would make a difference if the public, especially people of color, could see more examples of same gender men and women beyond the outrageous stereotypes. That means more of us need to step up, as uncomfortable as that may be. It just might save the life of that young buck who wants to kill himself like I did for so many years.

I Was Homophobic at My Son’s 15th Birthday Party

I Was Homophobic at My Son’s 15th Birthday Party by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post

I write this with shame, and I did try to fix it once I realized my kneejerk reaction. At the outdoor birthday party my son’s mother was throwing for him in a park on the far west side of Houston, I was safely inside my tough guy role, as Lil Man and his friends came over from playing football. My son’s mother is an out lesbian, and she had also invited her circle of friends. All women. But then these three obviously gay dudes arrived. Without thinking, I withdrew to the back. I saw my son go up and dap them, say hello, like nothing. Like I should have.

OK, just so you know: In the moment, I failed. My automatic reaction was they might recognize something in me, and give me away to my son, and that was just not how it was going to go down. I keep things separate. Yet even in that moment I felt self-disgust.

Privately I often feel trapped in my own same-gender orientation. I just don’t fit inside the public’s choking stereotypes. Life is rough enough. And to have one more hateful thing precede you? This is even more complicated, because I have professionally traveled the country helping people, including many LGBT youth and adult groups, on paths to self-acceptance and a deeper health.

But I don’t feel my personal life should be a focus when it comes to my son, and kids in general. What really matters is them doing well in school, staying out of trouble, avoiding life’s dangerous pitfalls and bad choices, and developing enough critical thinking and boundaries. (Unlike me at their age.)

Street level, our young men need a hard wall of boundaries they can innately respect, along with just enough open coolness from us to let them know they can come talk and that we ‘got their back.’ Hell no can I have my son’s friends whispering about his dad, or people saying sh*t about me. I’ve earned my dignity and pride. OK, I know how messed up this all sounds.

A couple years ago, I thought he knew about me, because I hadn’t been bringing around any females, and it’s also not a secret in the media, but one time when we were buying him some new Jordans he said something that made me realize, wow, he really didn’t know.

So how do I get out of this? I’m not “putting it off” because I don’t even know where to start.

I am (cowardly?) stuck inside the expectations and assumptions people have of me, especially my son. I know all the blah blah about how you can still be tough and be ‘gay’ (a baggage-heavy, emasculating word IMO), and I know all the things people will say to me after reading this article — because I have said them to myself. But let’s be honest; street level, it doesn’t work like that. Street level, you don’t walk backwards into respect.

For a lot of the first part of my life, I was devastated and emasculated and ‘less than’ and second-class, and I just can’t have any of that. I just can’t.

I was so ashamed.

I am so ashamed.

Today, my entire life and work is centered around progressive social change, so I should know better.

Nobody except me noticed what I did at my son’s 15th birthday party, but to correct it, I later walked up to the dudes while they were playing spades and let them know in my own way that I was one of them. Not that they need crap from me.

All I can say is I am ashamed, and writing this is my penance, and I will continue to try to be a better person. In the meantime, Lil Man is turning into a star athlete. He shines on that football field like the powerful coastal prairie skies over Houston. He’s doing much better in school; he wants to go to Stanford. It’s crazy how we wear the same size 12 shoes now, and also how he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. He’s growing into a well-developed young man.