Sunday, August 30, 2009

Closure And Forgiveness

What better forum to stake out an unpopular personal opinion than a blog?

That word "closure" causes my bile to rise and skin to break out in a rash. It usually appears in newspapers at the time of jury trials when victims or families of victims are seeking a maximum penalty for the perpetrator.

"Justice", they say, "must be served.” Is this not the Old Testamont trade of eyes and teeth? The concepts of justice, closure and revenge have become conflated.

When the octogenarian driver lost control of his car and ran into a Farmer's Market killing a dozen people the survivors demanded "closure" as if his incarceration would bring the matter to a close. It wasn't enough that the man would never drive a vehicle again.

When the Lockerbie terrorist was recently released to die at home it caused a public outcry. The man will be dead by year's end in any case. How does the cruelty of punishment by the state serve to balance the equation? It serves only to perpetuate the cycle. Ideally the matter is settled only when forgiveness and redemption are extended.

I am not arguing for the release of all convicts. Clearly some are incorrigible sociopaths and need to be separated from society. However I submit that we have become a fear-based nation, armed as no other. Given our recent war crimes with elements of sadism along with a criminal justice system disproportionately administered a correction is in order. Punishment rather than rehabilitation seems to me our preferred design.

A few years ago a drunk driver killed a student in Santa Barbara. The mother of the victim expressed her grief by testifying on behalf of the accused. She did not want another life wasted behind bars.

This act of transcendence was her way of finding meaning in the tragedy. As our consciousness evolves I would hope that society embraces this notion; that we seize these occasions as moments of transformation. The quality of mercy is twice blessed........upon him that gives and him that takes.

Final thought.......... I'm coming to believe that life offers us moments when we can become more fully human; opportunities not to be squandered. It may be people to love or simply to meet, soulfully. Forgiveness is a form of giving and what we receive in that act is even greater.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Books

Call me nose-in-book. I can’t be without. It is needed oxygen. I love its feel, its heft, the way it lays on my chest when I nap. The transport it offers; the portal on the next page or light bulb. I must remember that phrase. I got it. I got it. I don’t got it but I know it’s there somewhere on the lower left…or was it on the right?

Maybe I am over-compensating for those lost years when I was a bibliophobe.Words were daunting early on. We were given paragraphs to read in the fourth or fifth grade with questions testing our comprehension. The clock was ticking and I remember going blank.

Growing up, something was missing in my house. We had no bookcase, no books. Newspapers, yes; some Life magazines and political pamphlets were always scattered about. Books were texts read for assignment or reference, for information to memorize.

I entered the Oz of books well after my college days; when I was done with rote.Now I could dare approach a book in my own time and give myself over to the author; or maybe not. I could wrestle with the paragraphs, have a lover’s quarrel, then kiss and make up by the last chapter.

About 25 years ago Peggy and I started collecting signed first edition fiction. We loved discovering new authors and following their progress. We loved the dust jackets, the end-paper, the physicality, the hunt. I put this in the past tense because ultimately one runs out of wall.

Now we either buy readers copies or go to libraries. We have bathrooms books and bedside books and the one or two always at hand. At night we read aloud some long-neglected classic or translation or tome that we had separately put off but find approachable as a couple.

Over the years I’ve become discerning; some would say a snob. I have low tolerance for sci-fi, detective novels or even most best-sellers. How -To and spiritual books are not my cuppa. At a certain age one takes a dim view of obese books of any sort unless in the hands of a master. Blow in my ear and take me anywhere.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why The Far Right Behaves As They Do

I wish I knew. I do have a few ideas and I’m opened to yours.

For purposes of sorting out the several factions in generic terms I am not focusing on the intellectual Republicans who have deemed that their self-interest is well-aligned with Conservative values and simply do not wish things to change under their watch.

I’m not addressing those who are defending their propertied and privileged life. These are the folks for whom institutionalized greed is regarded as a birthright. They are often bright professionals who regard their own success as proof of the perfection of the system. Those less fortunate are seen simply as lazy or lack the family values necessary to succeed. Compassion is not high on their list of concerns,except as a form of noblesse oblige.

My subject is the low-information, high-decibel, often pious, mostly rural voter.Is it fair to postulate that many of these good people were raised with a strong patriarch? I think so. The feminine component is subordinated, ridiculed or repressed. Empathy is dismissed perhaps because they are themselves not properly nurtured. Tears, forgiveness and expressions of love have been traded for a model of tough, taciturn and punitive.

These qualities find their home in the Republican creed. Guns?, of course. One needs to be defended because one always finds perceived threats. They are threatened by outsiders, by people who don’t look like them and by change; change of any sort; to our healthcare system, to our movies or music or these new fangled ideas taught in school.

These people, I submit, are easily bent to the will of authority. Be it from the pulpit or mass media or from grandpa who wants to leave this world the same way as when he entered it. There is a certain “speak” that their ears are opened to. They don’t recognize a demagogue when they hear one. They follow because the authoritarian paradigm is the familiar one.

They are also prone to scape-goating. Not adept at self-examination they find an easier path in blaming others for their miseries. An imagined enemy is always at hand, be it government, another race or religion or those darn intellectuals.

Permanence is, of course, an illusion and these are its sentinels at the gate. “Gimme that ole time religion. It’s good enough for me.” Too bad some of the Christian message got lost along the way. It created divisions and suspicions instead of compassion. The closing of the congregation foreshadows the closing of the mind. Indeed we are in an accelerated time of change. Whose fault is that? It's called technology, mass media, globalization. It seems to me corporations would have it no other way.

How agribusiness, oil and the other giants of corporate America have manipulated millions of people to reject unions, universal healthcare and green technology and then support imperial wars in which their own neighbors are sacrificed is the most remarkable and ugliest feat ever accomplished in our times.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Healthcare, Hope and The Whole Damn Thing

I have shied away from political comments only because it seems that all the words have been used up and degraded from their overuse. In the mouth of politicians and cable news pundits, rhetoric becomes bloated and limp with language itself, a casualty.

Now my threshold of endurance is being tested. Mendacity masked as free speech, complexity reduced to slogans and the repetitive decibels of noise all serve to silence discourse, numb the brain and ensure that no true debate takes place on healthcare or other imperative issue of our day.

When Obama was swept into office along with decisive majorities in both houses I felt we had, as a nation, reached a new level of consciousness. For nearly my entire adult life I regarded myself as misaligned with the tenor of the times. Election night was regularly an occasion for mourning.

I was reminded of my first (and last) venture running for high office, ingratiating the electorate. Did I dream this or was I a candidate for class president in 4th grade? My opponent and I waited outside the door while the votes were tallied. I almost remember voting for him, out of politeness, and losing by one vote. I knew then that my place would be out of the fray; an occasional scribe on some distant perch, far enough to witness the passing parade and close enough to note the gloats and sneers.

However in November I was enlivened with hope; not only from our president-elect but with a sense there was repudiation of our previous misadventures and misdeeds; that long-neglected domestic programs would receive attention and correction. It felt like an awakening from decades of slumber.

It may still come to pass but it does seem that resistance to change has engendered fear stoked by a conservative surge. I have to believe that it is fear that drives the folly and fear of change that has people clinging to bitterness, mindlessness and assault weapons. How else to account for half the population ready to shoot themselves in their wallet and trade their own common sense and well-being to recite the script handed them by insurance companies.

Language repairs in the years between the carnivals. Purple fades from the bloated rhetoric and suddenly a lofty phrase falls to earth and takes root in new soil. The bluster and piety vaporize and our nearly deafened ears sprout again hungering for sounds only truth can make.

The challenge I feel is to find a way beyond cynicism. There is always the diversion of sports and entertainment or the ultimate questions that the arts ask of us. More importantly one turns away from the macro to the microcosm of personal relationships for authenticity and intimacy. Will we ever reach a point where these two worlds merge? Where human relationships in society are aligned with our most honest and undefended selves?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's In A Name? Everything

I have a cold. Even worse, it's a common cold. I expect no sympathy for that even though my voice is basso profoundo, my nose a faucet and malaise enough to return me seventy years when the doctor made house calls with his tongue depressor,thermometer(my fever was 102, rectally speaking) and cold hands. He might have declared: sinusitis or pharyngitis or if I really wanted attention: The Grippe. No, not The Grippe but then again I had to hope I was sick enough to have gotten him out in such weather.

Where are the namers of the world? They have overlooked the sufferers of seismic sneezes and the cluster of symptoms north of the neck. Calling it a "nasty" cold has some purchase but it will never rise to the level required for a Telethon.

My father once gave me the gift of describing a milk shake as a frothy, saccharine, lacteal secretion of a graminivorous quadraped. Why say it with two words when you can use six?

Many medical terms seem to have survived only in Dickensian novels. Catarrh, (nasal discharge)is one of my favorites. Others in the scrapheap are chilbains, dropsy and apoplexy. Look them up.

So, I have a cold. Get over it! The cure for the common cold which is common enough without the adjectival diminisher, is in the hands of the lexicographer. It requires a name that confers the gravitas it warrants. Would the dreadful A.L.S. receive any grant funding if it wasn't known as Lou Gehrig Disease? FDR, we are now told, may never have had polio. All those dimes in the collection box and none went to Guillain-Barre, one of the un-sung, under-funded ills waiting for a celebrity to be stricken to get its due.

I can feel myself turning the corner. If my life were a movie the vigil of relations in the room would be breaking up. The squabbling crows outside my window are replaced by a twittering dove and a new bud just popped on the bough.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Information May Be Hazardous To Your Health

It's so hard being good and it used to be so easy. I finished my liver so I'd grow up to be strong and prevent famine in China. I wore galoshes and three sweaters because everyone knew disease came from drafts and I swallowed cod liver oil to ensure that I'd grow up at all.

Now, with an alphabet of vitamins playing Scrabble in my bloodstream and trace minerals making noise like a heavy metal band, my life is threatened daily by new findings telling me I'm doing it all wrong. What's a person to do?

My email is full of messages from close friends I've never heard of urging me to take ancient herbs for longevity but my "gevity" is quite long enough, thank you.

I ponder this as I'm pedaling to the Punjab on my stationary bike. I'm staying out of the sun to prevent melanoma only to read that I need more sun to get that essential Vitamin D. I'm drinking water to flush my kidneys but wait. The water is suspicious. No it isn't. Yes it is. O.K., I'll drink bottled water but the plastic is toxic. I'm doomed.

Eat organic. Is there anything in this world that isn't organic? Then it must be other-galactic. I have an herb-garden in my gut. Where did the rumor start that "natural" is necessarily beneficial and harmless? Opium, Digitalis, anyone?

I'm drinking tea as fast as I can. Black? Green? Or was it Oolong that is supposed to oxidize those nasty free radicals? And we all know about free radicals.

The latest bulletin warns against drinking tea straight from the whistling kettle which can scorch the esophagus. Now I am sucking ice trying some tepid extract from the leaping frogs of New Guinea awaiting next week's latest breakthrough. Maybe a new study will prove how hot tea really extends life so I can die on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Fruit

For those of us already in the autumn of our lives, if not the winter, it’s understandable that we dwell a bit longer in ripe August with fruit trees heavy
to bending.

Have peaches always been this peachy? Freestone which doesn’t and Cling that does, to say nothing of those white Babcock and the flat Chinese. I had a drippy one just now that T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock dared. I slurped it all over me like a blessing. With their fragrance and fuzz peaches are a full body feast for the senses.

Then there are this year’s plums, red to purple-to-bursting; Satsuma or Santa Rosa. Eat them cold and forbidden like the one William Carlos Williams ate because man is not made for such denial. I buy mine at Costco by the dozen.It becomes a happy race to gobble them before they become prunes. My advice is to start eating when you get on line, then sell them door to door or better yet give them away.

The honeydews are uncommonly honeyed. Watermelons you could dive into and swim through its red sea, pits and all. And tell me if the cantaloupe each morning does not contain the sun.

Gather them while ye may. It, too, shall pass and soon rust and orange will rule the day. Earth will re-assert its tones and call down the leaves in their best amber and golden dress, soon gone to mulch.

Never mind the preservatives and pesticides. I don’t want to hear about the sulfur dioxide additive to enhance the color. Let’s just savor summer for what it yields, its many birth days. Pass the grapes; they were never so fat and firm and succulent. This is a season to cling to, like the peach, to our essence. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life On Hold

In the Depression decade when breadlines were the headlines we had up to three mail deliveries a day but no telephone. Instead most people depended on “runners” who hung around the drugstore hoping to make a nickel tip, They would dash up the stairs of our four story walk-up to convey messages or summon people to the community phone.

During the war there were none available so I was fourteen before we had a phone in our apartment; a party line, of course. With all these impediments I’m not so sure it wasn’t a better system than what we have today. Fewer digits to dial, friendlier operators to whom you might ask the meaning of life (on a dare) and phone booths where Clark Kent shed his merely mortal self.

Over the years we’ve witnessed one innovation after another from colored phones to match the bedspread to push-button to answering machines along with a monthly bill higher than our old rent.

Answering machines are a symbol of our age; a soliloquy addressing the elongated silence. First it’s just you and the beep. And now it’s your turn to grab the open mike without Interruption and say your piece, or burst into song, wax poetic or rant.

If you are calling a large company you are generally told how important your call is. This is what goes through my mind while on hold:

I’m glad you have a chance to get away from your desk. May I ask why you change your menu more often than my local deli? I’m sure you’re experiencing a high call volume. No, I can’t call back between mid-night and three. You’ve put me on an elevator with your music. Perhaps I was abandoned as a child and you have just opened up the wound. Is it my numb ear you are monitoring for quality assurance or my withered arm? Seasons have passed; my arm is in its foliage. I’ve finished the newspaper, the police blotter, weather reports in Asia and the obits. I’m almost mentioned. The grandchildren have grown. Life is slipping away. There’s no one left but that great operator in the sky and all humanity is on hold with faith that their call will be answered in the order received.

Instead, this could be an occasion for retreat and contemplation rather than reaction, a time to reconnect with a more elemental sense of who we are away from the buzz. Might it be that we are too connected and at some level crave the aloneness?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Money Enough

Money is sexy, it juices us. It represents security and makes the world go around or at least pays the fare and makes music jiggling.Or "It really doesn't matter," as my mother would say, "you should only have your health." I knew then that money was actually in first place....as long I wasn't sick.

Money means power and privilege to most people. It's the mother of all metaphors yet a taboo word for many poets. The object of derision for artists who live in garrets, wash at the Exxon station and dine at the Automat on hot water and ketchup.Some worship the almighty buck and others romanticize its absence.

For me, money is an abstraction until I spend it or don't have any. On the board game of life I'm sailing between Baltic and Mediterranean but docking at Marvin Gardens.The trench coat in the shadows trailing me for sixty years would be a rich man today if he had noted all my buyings and sellings ....and done the opposite.

It takes a special skill to have lived in Southern California for the second half of the twentieth century and not made any money. It's like being unable to find a restaurant in San Francisco.

I sell before the souffle rises. A psychologist friend tells me I need to love money more. Regress me, then, to my days as milk monitor when everyone got cookies, coin or no. I'm with the queen eating bread and honey while the others are in the counting house playing with their money.

The teacher said to pay attention and my father, in kindergarten, heard it as ,"pay a pencil." When he found out he passed the good news along to me of what is free....pencils and all those other blues and greens. To make of life an art; and when you're spent to know the "voluptuous destitution" of having plenty of nothing; that place where we start and finish and in between it's enough to have just enough.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Geography 101

Psst....there's a map on your back. When my wife and I scratch each other's back we call out the location by states. Her itch is usually in South Dakota down to Nebraska and over as far as Illinois while mine tend to range from Kansas across to Kentucky. Just writing this has me reaching for my back-scratcher.

Strange the way our states are shaped. There's a story behind every border. The original colonies look the way they do as a result of squabbles between European royalty. Further west the lines seem penciled in by surveyors, sometimes without a good night's sleep.

Deleware, for example, was courted by both Maryland and Pennsylvania. Settled by the Protestant Dutch they resisted Papist Maryland and the Quakers of William Penn. In fact Maryland lost every dispute on its flanks.

Texas gave up land in four states to its north just to remain a slave state. Land grabs and grants and broken Indian treaties define much of the jigsaw we now take for granted.

I have known people who remind me of Utah or Colorado with margins rigid and absolute. There are times when order trumps folly and I'm glad we have such states. But I couldn't live with New Mexico or Wyoming for long. I can almost hear John Philip Souza's ump-pa-pa marching along their perpendiculars.

Give me New Jersey or Michigan which obey no ruler. They seem to be exploring themselves, stopping by for a drink or, like Florida, dribbling off for a nap.The swampy bottom of Louisiana seems shaped by an improvisation from South Basin Street. And just what does West Virginia think it is doing with Kentucky, in public yet while all the time Illinois is laughing into Missouri.

The Pacific Northwest is still a work-in-progress, P.C. green in my atlas as if those tiny islands might attach themselves by the next edition. Perhaps the coast has been bitten off and these are the indigestible chunks or the pieces of an argument that resist containment like an organism that won't hold still for a minute.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Unanswered Questions

There are certain Qs for which there may be no A. For instance, where do dead birds go? Or more importantly how did my collection of bumbblegum cards disappear? Or what happens to failed poets?

I shall tackle the third proposition since I am intimately acquainted with the species. in fact, I'm one of them. Some of them (us) are running workshops instructing others how to be one. There's nothing wrong with a nation of failed poets.

Most are unrecognizable having been absorbed into the hum-drum life. Perhaps that guy in the market who waters the lettuce is one or the checker who let me in the express lane with eleven items. Ordinary folks... of this world but not quite in it.

It needs to be said that by most measure's in our greed-driven society the term successful poet is an oxymoron. At best we put up with them as court jester or some nuisance on the far margins.

Before taking my place in line I generally let others speed through the checkstand in a happy stupor with bar codes beeping obediently. I prefer the queue that barely moves horizontally but offers vertical flight instead; where else but from my weekly fill of tabloids. A cursory glance at the headlines convinces me that I have located the sanctuary of failed poets.

If there isn't a story about inter-galactic visitations then it's another citing of JFK or Elvis or the nonagenarian child found frozen on the sunken Titanic.

I'd love to sit in on the meeting room of the fabulists, that garden of fecund minds where gossip grows wild and baby alligators are hatched into our plumbing. I knew I was on to something when I read about half a mermaid found in a tuna fish sandwich.

One less question to ponder; as for dead birds maybe the answer is in the tabloids.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Counter-Intuitive

I can handle having an e-mail ignored but it's tough when your neighborhood hummingbirds reject your feeder. I was scrubbing it and replacing the sugar water when a friend remarked that all my attention to the tiny birds was counter-intuitive.

He explained that my red plastic flower look-alike was destorying the birds natural survival instincts. I was stopped in my tracks. One more time I did it all wrong.

As an urban creature I have long been two with Nature. I can't even recall being attached to stuffed animals. My idea of camping is to go to a motel and sleep with the windows open. I couldn't tell dog poop from bear droppings. But I digress.

The subject is counter-intuition. By "intuition" I mean common sense or a hunch; an opinion based on scraps of information often indistinguishable from a wish. The "counter" must therefore mean that which contradicts the gut feeling which itself could be oppositional to received wisdom. Already I'm getting a brain ache.

Thus with 4th down and inches the quarterback goes for the bomb. Ah ha,the element of surprise. The manager pulls his clean-up hitter and sends in the guy at the end of the bench to pinch hit. Maybe it's nothing more than the triumph of the unexpected; going by the seat of your pants rather than by statisical analysis.

In the case of the beloved hummingbird who works so hard just to stay still isn't my friend simply weighing in with new information? And all for the ultimate well-being of the fluttering wings. So why call it "counter" anything?

Maybe the counter-intuitive is yet another phrase to describe the innovator, one who sees around the corner; who picks up whiffs of tomorrow's news. The Swiss who had 80%of the watch market at one time lost it to the Japanese who took the transitor and ran with it. Five years ago we would have called that kind of vision,"intuitive" and let it go at that.