Monday, June 29, 2015

Listening

Now the ears of my ears are awake
And the eyes of my eyes are open.                          e.e.cummings

They branded me a Listener in the 7th grade, banished to the back row where I was allowed to lip-sync only. It could have been worse; they might have used duct tape. Being so designated I listened harder but it didn’t help me carry a tune. I was probably capable of ruining, Happy Birthday. No wonder I didn’t get invited to parties.

Over time I must have decided to turn it around and wear the moniker proudly. My father was a world-class listener. I watched him in the pharmacy and I saw the faces of customer/patients being received. When I came to my father I always felt heard.

Listening fully is a high art. It requires moving into the other’s space. Being with them, taking on the weight of their words. It also demands attention be paid to their modulations and pauses. It is a kind of communion. Sometimes it asks for no response other than a good ear, a nod or a re-framing and certainly not advice or judgment. Other times it calls for more than that. Knowing the difference is a gift.

My deaf daughter has learned how to listen with her eyes….sometimes even with her nose. During her recent visit she said she heard the burnt toast. She listens watching lips move and fingers dancing as calligraphy.

John Boehner and Lindsey Graham were at the Charleston church in the audience when Obama spoke last Friday. I wonder what they heard. I regard the president’s eulogy as one of the great orations in recent history. He was fully with his audience, laying out the Black experience and had them rocking and clapping responsively.

At the same time he also captured the hearts of all Americans with his perfectly pitched eloquence, both soulful and transcendent. He soared and he sang in phrases of the Christian faith. He spoke of Grace as an open heartedness; that which forgave the assailant and moved officials to finally take down the Confederate flag. A Grace not willed or earned but a kind of receptivity to a larger awareness as if it were that balm in Gilead which healed the sin-sick soul. It would have taken a great effort not to listen. What did Boehner and Graham hear?

There is such an excess of verbiage these days. An avalanche of exhausted, limp words coming at us. We have learned to meet them with deaf ears. When language is charged we know that too. It doesn’t happen often even with so-called poems. It happened last week in Charleston.



Saturday, June 27, 2015

The War of 1912

One hundred years after that other one which took place on the high seas, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and New Orleans harbor at which time the Brits came over with a box of matches and toasted the White House and Tchaikovsky named his overture commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleon……

came the big fight between two American heavyweights, William Howard Taft tipping the scale at 330 and Teddy (the Moose) Roosevelt. 550 pounds of flesh might only be rivaled by Chris Christie in the ring with Donald Trump’s ego. Teddy and Will were bosom buddies four years before but times were changing rapidly back then and T.R. wanted back in after his seven year tenure as POTUS.

We are children of history but many Americans have orphaned themselves as if they just fell to earth with no antecedents. I want to know about those years that led up to where I came in, the prequel movie and ones before that.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, The Bully Pulpit, brings to life these two larger-than-life figures in those turbulent years beginning the last century. Both T.R. and Will were Progressives in the Republican Party. They were joined at the hip fighting against corporate Trusts in oil, railways, meat-packing and mining. They railed against corrupt machine politics with city bosses controlling elections.

Yet temperamentally they were on opposite poles. Roosevelt was pugnacious, impulsive, robust, living out loud. Taft was deliberate, judicious yet affable and most certainly ample. Their relationship was complimentary and both had wide constituencies, often the same people.

It shocked the country when they went head to head in the election of 1912. Together they got the majority of votes but Woodrow Wilson won with 42% of the total. In fact all three candidates embraced reform. It was to be the last Progressive peep from the Republican Party... with the single exception of Wendell Willkie in 1940.

The rift between the two owed as much to T.R.’s ego as to the complex issues of the day. His out-sized personality did not easily lend itself to compromise. Every plank in the platform of the Progressives, radical as they were at the time, has long since been adapted as law.

Happy to report that Taft and Roosevelt patched-up their differences six years later. Taft’s magnanimity risked T.R.’s big stick and overcame his bully. After Roosevelt’s death in 1919 Taft went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1920-1931). This was his calling all along. He had turned down appointments to the high court from Roosevelt three times before due to other obligations.

What relevance does all this have, I hear you (me) ask? It teaches me that History comes down to people, in turn shaped by their moment on stage. The new technology and industrialization of the early 20th century led to upheavals in the lives of everyone. Crises in financial markets followed years of abuses and wanton greed. The average worker earned $8 a week or $400/year. Sound familiar? Income disparity was outrageous.

When we study the past we see how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t. Progress happens but the clock can also be turned back as it recently has in terms of buying elections and voter suppression. The same arguments in 1912 against social progress are being dusted off and re-tried today. It helps to recognize the echo.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bedside Cocktail

The cup was there to wash down my Melatonin, right at my bedside where I always keep it. I took a gulp and then looked at the water. Dozens of living creatures were frolicking on the surface playing water volleyball, I think. I had swallowed an entire team. Too late now. They can continue their game in my gut. I shall regard it as an organic protein drink.

Too small to be ants but certainly macroscopic; maybe fleas, mites or some species as yet un-named. They have joined the throng of other organisms who have found a homeland in my entrails.  I had no time to inquire if they were the good guys or those dreaded ones.

It is now 5 days later. I have a slight nasal drip. Is that you, Glopnik, you undocumented fellow you, who I abruptly yanked from a happy splash to my inner sanctum? Maybe you’ve found your way out through one of my orifices. Or perhaps you are now part of my intestinal flora. It’s my gut feeling you slipped in unnoticed to join your ten trillion sisters, and your cousins and your aunts.

Ten days out I’m still alive and mild-mannered, convinced I didn’t poison my well. It makes me wonder how those among us so filled with toxicity got to be that way. What Kool-Aid did they swallow filling their heads with such virulent racism? Their brains must be flying at half-mast along with that Confederate symbol of pathology.

When visiting Charleston some years back I found it oozing with Southern charm masking a simmering hatred for Mr. Lincoln’s war on the South.  There was a palpable longing for those good old antebellum days, in dress and customs. During a tour of the city the guide spoke of how well slaves had been treated and how they fought side by side with their masters against the Union army.

This sort of pernicious falsity plus a gun-crazed society lends tacit acceptance for repeated lethal acts by police and now by an addled good ole boy. It will continue until this country comes to terms with the abomination of gun violence as well as our past crimes against humanity. Anyone wishing to turn in their arsenal is entitled to a sip or two of my bedside cocktail. Apparently, it can’t hurt.



Friday, June 12, 2015

Same Old Story

I am currently reading three books. One at my bedside, another during the day and a third Peggy and I read aloud every night. In addition we just finished a semester in Greek drama reading works by Sophocles. The characters are all cross fertilizing in my head along with our nightly Netflix.

Teddy Roosevelt took an arrow from Hercules but bulled his way (like a moose) through a stump speech. Whatta guy! Then he brought two oceans together. A man, a plan, a canal, Panama. Zeus spelled backwards is Suez and his letters are suspiciously close to Jesus, God knows! But neither deity would help the double agent spy in post war East-Berlin who is being choked by a Russian on page 288. I got the large print edition from the library so I’m only about half-way through and certain the good guy will outwit the bad guys by page 559.  Why do I read such books, I asked myself. They answer the question, and then what, then raise the question, who cares? Leaving Berlin is a page-turner diversion which has taken me away from a stack of scrupulously un-read New York Review of Books.

Saul Bellow’s, Augie March which we are reading together, is a picaresque novel. He is a kind of Huck Finn floating down the mean, but adorable streets in an urban shtetl of 1920s Chicago with a cast of bootleggers, hoodlums, pimps, petty thieves, retards, cheaters and womanizers…..all with ventricles and auricles of gold struggling to get a piece of the rock. The neighborhood smells like the sort that Lincoln Stephens would investigate for McClure’s Magazine and Jacob Riis would have wanted to clean up. A sober Dana Andrews would have exposed it as a crusading newspaper editor while Teresa Wright waits for him with a re-heated pot roast in the oven.

Kevin Spacey plays a modern day Odysseus, ever-duplicitous and uber-ambitious with hubris to spare and blood on his hands. His White House is made of cards.

Not the sort that T. R. knew according to Doris Kearns Goodwin. He was too busy busting railway and oil Trusts. Like our country, itself, he was a man filled with contradictions, despised by Wall St. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but loved the rest of the week for setting us on a path of global policing which has dwarfed the Greeks at their peak passing from hubris to chutzpah to super-power domination.

He revered the wilderness but hunted animals heedless of the ecosystem. He begged to lead the cavalry across German trenches not understanding the century had changed. Eventually walls and empires come tumbling down, power is an empty grail and all books become one.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Take A Letter. Please.

Don’t look now but I think we are approaching a universal language, not words but a shorthand….IMHO. It’s not so much a language as A Speak.

Did all this start with FDR when he created the N.R.A., W.P.A. and C.C.C.? Back then he was president of the United States, not POTUS. Soon came WW II where the R.A.F flew in U.S. B-47s and G.Is landed on D-Day capturing P.O.Ws including the dreaded S.S. I could handle that. Even V-J Day.

There were no SATs yet or BMWs. I was riding the E or F train in Queens where we had no BMT. I graduated from B.C. P which is part of L.I.U. Already I was getting a brain ache memorizing the U.S.P and N.F.  (United States Pharmacopeia & National Formulary). My life reading Rxs depended on a fluency in Latin abbreviations such as q.s (a sufficient quantity), b.i.d. (twice a day) and o.s (left eye) etc...

Our brains can process a mere 120 bits of information per second and there are now 300 billion-billion bits out there floating around. I’ll take their word for it. Where’s my fly-swatter? At this rate acronyms will soon become a second language or maybe a first.

I’m reminded about that old story of an annual convention of visiting firemen where members would get up and tell the same jokes year after year until they decided to just give each one a number. When one guy stood up and said 23, nobody laughed. Why no response he asked and was told he didn’t tell it right.

Until last year I was fluent in the language of baseball. My friends and I would talk about RBIs (runs-batted-in) and ERAs (earned run average).  Now with the new Sabermetrics articles I’m lost in WARPs, WHIPs AND VORPs. They even measure the velocity of a hit ball. Consider me struck out.

According to Daniel Levitin in his book, The Organizing Mind, in 2011 we took in five times the amount of information we did in 1986 which is like reading 175 newspapers a day. Do I really need to know my PSA, LDL, A1C and BP from my HMO or PPO? All this glut fatigues the brain. Where’s my delete button? I want to leave this realm lighter and not in slow motion but PDQ.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Open

If there is such a thing as a favorite word mine would be Open. It carries special meaning for me. Not that I’m anxious to have open-heart surgery, open up a can of worms or even an open-face sandwich. But think of an open-house, an open mind or that Open sign on a store-front. I have two personal reasons for embracing the word.

When my youngest daughter was born deaf my wife and I set about to teach her how to lip-read and speak. We were guided in creating situations in which Janice was urged to say the word, open, to make the world move for her, to make it her own. We confronted her with boxes, drawers, lids and doors…anything that would lift at her saying the word as in Open Sesame. Open became her first word and a portal to the hearing world.

Years later when my eldest daughter, Shari, sought to adopt children I was so pleased that she went the route of Open Adoption. The concept of Open Adoption enabled me, as a grand-parent, to enjoy an extended family beyond anything I’d imagined. Shari went on to become executive director of the agency which operates in Oregon and Washington. They now also facilitate adoptions nationwide including many same-sex couples. Here is the link.......... Www.openadopt.org/open-adoptees 

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Faith, the birth-mother of my grandson, Gabriel, over the years. Though we are separated by many miles Peggy and I have joined her for Thanksgiving dinner as well as other shared experiences.  I hope, someday, to meet my grand-daughter, Adrienne’s birth parents as well….another opening, another show.

Open in all its dimensions suggests inclusion, and a welcoming. One knows it is right because open arms feel better than clenched ones. It’s a joining, a bringing together without needless walls or secrets. As in the case of my deaf daughter, an open adoption is a way for a child to make a life of his/her own. Children enter a world of transparency with the option of a wide reach of half-brothers and sisters in loving relationships.