Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Sometimes I think I’m a closet preacher. I don’t like that voice but I let it out every now & then. If I could say my piece from a personal experience I would but even that would have a whiff of the sermon in it. I forgive you for not forgiving me.

Back then and still, we trade eyes and teeth, walking around blind and toothless. Call it revenge, honor if you must. Some call it justice or closure. Is it Human Nature that summons that endless chain of retribution? Yes, but so is forgiveness.

Mark Twain said that, Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.

Hatred is a poison. We may think it is all directed outward but it also spreads within. It can metastasize and attach itself to other people or issues. The act of forgiveness need not be thought of as altruistic. Think of it as a self-serving gesture leading to a path, an antidote to rid the psyche of toxins.

It ain’t easy. And it’s not a single, simple act. It’s a kind of journey into a higher consciousness. Forgiveness is first the recognition that the perpetrator is not all that different than yourself. We all possess the same human capacities. It doesn’t help to demonize the other. That’s too easy.

Rather than dwell on the punishment it’s more important to consider how to cleanse the wound of the victim or survivors. When we are wronged I believe it is important to call the bad guy to accountability. He must admit to his wrongdoing with an open heart. That admission calls for an equally open heart by his accusers.

The two are bonded, like it or not. Only by finding one’s own humanity can a healing take place. Otherwise the injury festers. It takes its secondary protracted toll. Vengeance, however measured, does not satiate it only incites an opposing response.

In Nazi Germany there were men who read Goethe, listened to Beethoven then went to work as concentration camp guards. Similarly slave owners might have been church-going men and loving fathers who walked into the fields becoming bestial. The task is to help those compartmentalized men to see how they have strayed from the better version of themselves.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa held the torturers and oppressors during Apartheid to come forward and face their victims. In some cases reparations were assessed. Amnesty was granted with full disclosure.

The series of trials did not satisfy all the victims of abuse but the process, I believe, represents a giant leap in human civilization over the punitive model.

After 27 years of incarceration Nelson Mandela embraced his jailer, guards and prosecutor. The day he walked away from prison he let go of his hatred because he knew he would have otherwise remained their prisoner. It took an enormous strength to reach this point, an evolved heart.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tempus Fidgets

I love my clock for its transient numbers. It sits on my bedside table laughing at me. The numbers change as the angle of my vision changes. It is digitally post-modern the way it won’t hold still. It moves randomly, not chronologically, allowing me choices. From one position on my pillow it says 5:32. If I lean an inch it could be 6:54 or 8:45. My clock has me traveling through three or four time zones. It’s a good thing every day is Sunday and I have nowhere to go.

In my working days I woke at 7:40 every morning according to some internal buzzer. I retired that one years ago. Discarding it has untethered me.

This one costs under ten dollars. The bright red numerals surface and recede as if in some sort of peek-a-boo competition. Time is no longer an objective reality; it is a subjective projection. A construct. An agreement between me and my clock.

During the night I get up a couple of times in obedience to my bladder. If I glance at my clock I always guess the right time within six minutes. I think my clock adjusts to my silent estimate just to make me feel good with myself so I can return to easeful sleep.

Punctuality has always been an issue for me. I’m rarely tardy. Tardy is a word I haven’t heard since elementary school. It was a grade on our report card like, Running with Scissors. The very least we can do in this world is not be tardy. Or so I thought.

Now I know better. One can be scrupulously late, especially for parties. Blame it on the traffic. Given the gridlock in L.A. one has to risk being twenty minutes early in order to arrive on time.

My clock is trying to break me of this compulsion. It may be too late. I’ve only been living on arbitrary time for about ten years. Besides, once I leave my beloved clock at my bedside, I’m captive of the other house-clocks and computer which adhere to the agreed-upon lie of fixed time.

What folly! Time is a rascal. It drags in an MRI and flies when I write. In a basketball game the clock is of another order. Four seconds can take ten minutes with time-outs and commercials. Peggy has transformed that annual clock, the calendar, into a supreme fiction. If I could make a watch out of my clock I might, with luck, be late for my own funeral.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Those Ferocious Tangoes

In his poem, The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, August Kleinzahler writes of, Ambiguity and Reason, locked in a ferocious tango. The dance floor might show other partners in a similar embrace, Fate and Free Will, Imagination and Reality, Revenge and Forgiveness. Faith and Doubt, mustard and mayonnaise.

(When I was a know-it-all, age 17-30, I thought we had to make a choice. Now I know that mayo can coexist with that yellow stuff.)

The tango has always been faintly subversive rising as it did from the tenements of Buenos Aires with African as well as Caribbean and European provenance. The abrupt pauses, angular movements against soft curves, control and abandon all with unsmiling demeanor reflect a sense of longing. Eros is tangled with melancholy.

The containment of opposites is an uneasy state. Keats called it Negative Capability. It involves the overthrow of categories so that what seemed mutually exclusive begins to enlarge one’s capacity. It involves an ease living with uncertainty and the unknowable without the need for resolution.

We live in an age when the ferocity of the clash can drive one to despair. The three Republican front-runners, malignant buffoon, brilliant imbecile, and merchant of deceit leave a voter famished for sanity; all of them destitute of intellect and humanity. The alternative seems to be the limp rhetoric of mind-numbing demagoguery. What would Keats say to this morass? Maybe that’s why he died young.

The tango is a fierce language. It speaks of couples enacting a tamed violence, an erotic confrontation with an indifferent world.

(I resist slipping back into that shuttered, doctrinaire mindset vestiges of which still plague me. I abhor absolutes yet ... It isn’t that I thought I knew everything just that I had to be right in what I knew. If I was wrong about anything I might be wrong about everything.)

On the larger stage I make room for fate but insist it be randomly issued not by the gods but as a contingency of being alive. We don’t get our way but we don’t stop trying. Free will drives us but also runs out of gas. What happens next isn’t ordained; it is improvised.

The dance of accountability can be tempered with forgiveness. It is a move toward grace; that step, unstrained and twice blessed.

As for faith, mine is close by, not in the firmament or the parchment. It is in the daily YES that prevails. And when it doesn’t it confirms my inherent doubts. We live within that ferocious tango.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Everything Contained in Anything

If I had arcane knowledge of 11th century Turkish lutes or was an aficionado of bird-life…their nesting habits, mating dances and migratory patterns I might find the whole universe there. As it is I don’t know a sparrow from a swallow. But I do know my baseball, this confluence of stick and orb. It is bred in my bone, in my mother’s milk. In a previous incarnation I was probably a great swatter of flies.

The current state of the game reflects divisions in our society. More and more we see youthful exuberance and flamboyance contrasted with the old virtue of containment.  The pull of Caribbean players with their bat flips and joyful antics against the push-back of the stoic traditionalists.  

Baseball has always been a draw for statisticians. The new generation has taken it many steps beyond batting average, fielding percentage and pitching metrics. Sabermetrics is the new analytics. Enter the nerds with their algorithms and fractals. Every move is measured, weighed and assigned a numerical value.

The unintended consequence is that the once hunch-filled, seat-of-the pants, character-driven sport is moving inexorably toward a bloodless exercise in probabilities and prognostications.  The human factor is being factored out or at least consigned to the margins in the equation.

A case could be made that the Dodgers will not contend in the World Series because of it. Having charted the batting patterns of certain hitters the new front office out-thought themselves. They shifted the infield leaving a single man on the left side and the opposition won the day using a tactic unknown to the sabermetricians. It’s called common sense.

I know, it is time to go back to Bible class starting with Ecclesiastes which tells us to put away childish things. But it is in my bloodstream and besides what is more childish than the Bible.

No, I must learn to live with defeat, that field of littered dreams. Baseball is a lesson in failure. It has been said that the hardest thing to do in all sports is hitting a baseball (with authority). The best fail 2/3 of the time. Not unlike our elected officials.

The season is, for me, an essential diversion from that other reality where avarice, ignorance and deception are rewarded. In fact the hedge-fund statisticians long ago figured out how to rig the system so 1% are born on 3rd base and rest of us never get past first.  


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Complex Oedipus

It doesn’t take a Jungian to know that life is enriched living it symbolically. We live rational, hum-drum lives for the most part yet at the same time we sense there is something else going on of a different order.

Sheldon Kopp wrote a book in 1972, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. In it he argues that anyone with all the answers, guru / parent / psychotherapist, must be metaphorically killed.

Oedipus does it unwittingly thinking the person who blocked his way was a bandit. Unconscious as it may have been the act was an essential moment on his pilgrimage to selfhood. Along that road we must overthrow the constraints that come naturally to a father however much we may love him.

I loved mine and in many ways tried to emulate him but also needed to defy him. His cautious, deliberative nature wasn’t quite my prescription. In some ways my mother, with her strong animus, was the more dominant voice in the house. It’s a tricky business.

In the Oedipus myth he inadvertently marries his mother and fathers four children. On a symbolic plane males also need to cleave with the feminine principle to balance their more aggressive side. In a reversal of type I found these attributes more available in my father.

When our Greek protagonist discovers his wife/mother, Jocasta, hung from the rafter he proceeds to blind himself in self-recrimination. Looked upon metaphorically I take this to signify an act of attaining an inner dimension.

Earlier in the play we meet Tiresias, the blind prophet. A loss of sight brings with it compensatory faculties. I want to think of Oedipus in this way having attained a certain vision beyond the worldly.

So he is now ready to make his way, orphaned, yet having come to terms with his night of dread, a darkness we all know as we confront and stumble through this opaque and mysterious life. I'd like to think of it as the birth of existential man.

I would hope my own three daughters have, each in their own way, staged a palace coup and dethroned me. Of course it wouldn’t hurt if I have re-entered their lives, stripped of authority but there as a fallible but loving presence.

Friday, October 9, 2015

To Be Met or Not

That is the quest. Nothing matters more for a fulfilled life. To find that person or the several with whom we feel fully met, embraced, received. It is also the occasion when we can experience the reciprocal meeting, the love and wonder of another.

It was either Aristotle, Nietzsche or Yogi Berra who gave advice to a slumping teammate, Try swinging at strikes. True for baseball and even more so for life. When a strike comes along don’t let it go by.

Peggy came into my life like a fastball right down the middle of the plate. I swung. It was a meeting of ball and bat. True souls which admit no impediment, as the bard put it. As Bogey said, Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine.

To be a seeker is an honorable state but being a finder is even better. Not everyone seems to recognize the strikes right in front of them, the answer to the call, to listen to the flower, hear the veil of fog lift. Not as a final destination but these are moments to pause and open the senses, heart and mind.

Even if lucky enough to be met there is always a part retained, left hanging out there unmet, unanswered.

In the 1983 film, The Year of Living Dangerously, Linda Hunt plays a half-Asian, half Western photographer. He/she sees the Australian novice-journalist, Mel Gibson, as the unmet friend. In cinematic language the filmmaker, Peter Weir, renders the turmoil and mystery of Indonesia during the closing days of President Sukarno's regime. The movie works on multiple levels.

The unmet friend is bewildered by the spirituality of the people as embodied in the shadow puppets. He is told to fix his eyes not on the puppets but their meta-narrative, the shadows on the wall. How to see is the central theme of the story. The Western eye sees surface from a singular perspective. Only when Gibson’s character loses sight in one eye does he begin to have a fuller vision into the many dimensions of the situation. The photographer, as a stand-in for the director of the film, is tasked with being puppeteer. He must evoke the unseen elements of this Third World country at the same time as he searches for a universality.

Perhaps the otherness can never be fully met. That’s not a bad thing. Meeting the challenge is enough.e is told to fix his eyes on He ggg

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"A" for Authenticity

That word, Authentic, has been rattling around in my ever-diminishing brain for a while. Trump is deemed to be one along with Bernie, Yogi and the Pope. That’s quite a choir of disparate voices. The two candidates claim authenticity by virtue of speaking truth to power seemingly unscripted though at distant poles from each other. One lies, the other doesn’t. But the rhetoric, at least, sounds fresh.

Yogi blurted. Francis intones. Either one gets them in column A. Authenticity is apparently the virtue of the day. Hillary can’t quite fake it. Sloppy dress, messy hair, stubbled face all qualify. Film-makers have hit upon a sure way to gain the Authentic label…an obligatory vomit scene. How about an un-zipped fly? A sliver of spinach on a front tooth? The poet, Charles Bukowski, would urinate while on stage. Nothing more authentic than that. Or is it? Sorry, addiction or alcoholism doesn’t necessarily confer authenticity in my annotated book.

Public displays of authenticity such as this are over-rated. They can be a schtick, an inauthentic affectation. After a while they don't pass the smell test.

On the other end of the spectrum is Artifice. We don’t like pretension, the ornamental and adorned yet artifice is the stuff of art. Get over it. The fiction tells a greater truth. The curtain goes up. Actors act. It’s OK to suspend disbelief. Let the alchemy happen. Open the book and enter an alternative world, sometimes alien, sometimes actual. Afraid of being labeled archaic, me thinks, poetry has become too conversational and anecdotal. Audacity ain’t bad if it’s meant to astonish and amaze…. short of anaphylactic shock.

The irony is that authenticity is merely being oneself. It suggests vulnerability. It doesn’t require exertion. It is inclusive because the Self includes multitudes. Amen.