image: Wikimedia Commons
waiting for the reader's breath
to stir it to life
(7 January 2017)
in the barnyard the odd duckling flaps her stubby wings and yearns to fly
she hears the river and longs to swim, hungers for grubs instead of grain
a peck to her head calls her back to where the hen demonstrates once again
how to scratch the trampled dirt with your claw-tipped toes
how to use your sharp beak to nip the kernels from their gravel bed
how to shake your short thick neck just so and settle stone and corn alike in your crop
the migrating flock disappears into the setting sun, their song of freedom fading into memory
behind a barricade of wire and wood the duckling sinks into the dust, dejected
and yet the fence protects her from the river's swift current and the wolves that lurk on the bank
the hen's wing hides her from the hawks that circle overhead; she is sheltered from the weather
in the sturdy barn, where every night a man in a yellow hat pours out sweet corn like gold
and bars the door against the gathering darkness
the lantern's light is lost behind the closing door, and all is quiet on the hill above the river
where my houseboat is moored for now, tied fast against the tug of the current for a few slow years
time to get my ducks in a row, to wash the dust of travel from my feet and implement the lessons learned
how to scratch things off my list of tasks to do each day
how to use experience to sift through clutter and find the essential
how to shake off dejection and focus on the wonder of the world around me
but the river is rising, and the wolves are howling in the distance
the dark clouds pile up to hide the moon, and thunder grumbles, readying a storm
and now my memories are all of decades past, when walls divided families
and wars divided continents, a frosty stalemate holding back the hot actinic flash;
when science was still fiction, and all that we could hope for was a quick and bitter end
no time for games when hungry people roam the rubble the day after darkness falls
perhaps it's time to duck and cover
to keep my head above the surface of the sea
where monsters rage and foam; to keep my head
no boat, no barnyard, but belief
that still somehow the sun will rise again
that we, that she, that I
(2 January 2017)
photos: Tangent, Oregon (May 2008) / Lasseubetat, France (October 2013)
what we know at two
we forget by twenty
that there is no work or play
just what you are focused on
in the moment
what you want with all your heart
is the only thing that matters
in that moment
you are the only thing that matters
in this moment
you are made of matter
you are made of fragments of faraway stars so long gone
that your place on the universal timeline of expanding space
that infinite Möbius loop of existence
is no more than the flash of a firefly lost
against the blazing slash of the galaxy's edge
as you gaze up, your hands behind your head
relaxing into the prickly cushion
of a new-mown summer lawn
E=mc2 existence = momentary chances chosen
feel the moments streaming past you
each instance of equal importance (and as equally unimportant)
feel the brush of feathers in your hair as they fly by
each beat of their wings is a beat of your heart
feel the pulse of dark matter pulling you, the unknown that makes
each choice uncertain, dark energies that make the choosing necessary
to live in the moment is to bathe in the light of a billion stars
creation spans infinity and vibrates through the galaxy of atoms in us all
electrons whirl around each dormant sun, neurons spark into impulse and idea
listen to the ringing of the scattered shards — the universal bubble broken and still settling down
listen for the singing hum inside of you that resonates in harmony with that eternal tune
when ten thousand million voices laugh together then
the angels weep with joy
stars light thy path
(25 December 2016)
I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart ; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.
- Gitanjali #37 by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
nude beach at Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England (May 2007)
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Don't assume anything. Reality may be quite different from what you expect it to be so don't act on preconceived notions and wait for cold hard facts.
- my horoscope for the week of 12/11/16
It's hard to make plans for the future when the present is so uncertain. Things are playing out behind the scenes, and all we see is the front of the stage, where a washed-up television star is trying to hold the crowd's interest by rolling out all of the punchlines that worked so well in the past, his sweating face reflecting the gleam of the sequined curtain behind him, gold and silver spelling out the logos of the show's corporate sponsors. There's a good chance he'll be replaced before the season even starts; his understudy is the one who goes to all of the rehearsals. They find it useful to have the audience focused on the glitter and the flash - it keeps the rubes from noticing how quickly the price is going up on their non-refundable tickets, the ones they bought by selling their souls.
So I've switched the broadcast off for the most part. I've got a few trusted people I turn to for analysis of the previews we've seen as the cast is introduced, but I don't know if there's anything I can do to stop the producers of the show from running it on all channels 24/7 come January. I don't know that there's anything any of us can do. And since that is a profoundly depressing thought, I am choosing not to think it.
If there were a way that I could personally make an impact I would do it. The Republicans have already ensured that the planned Women's March on Washington can't be held at the Lincoln Memorial. There's a march scheduled here in Portland as in many other cities, and it's on my calendar. In pencil. In this bizarro world where half of America swears that up is down and the sky is green because their orange god told them so, it seems nothing is certain.
What is certain is that when I focus on my immediate present and put all that is outside my control in a waterproof container labeled "to be dealt with later" it is easier for me to maintain my equilibrium. A false sense of security, no doubt, but one that helps me stay positive most of the time. The container is built out of detachment and ahimsa and Matthew 7:12 (see also Luke 6:31, Hadith 13, Analects XV.24) and it floats when my ship of faith gets capsized yet again, dousing me in the salty waves. I've been adrift on this ocean before, and I know what it's like in the sunless depths, and this time I will not sink.
mono ni mo tsukazu
above the empty field
suspended between earth and air
a single skylark sings
- Matsuo Basho
Dartmoor, Devon, England (August 2014)
Listening to Scott Simon's interview of Mitch Albom this morning, in which the 2016 election was discussed, made me remember that even NPR, long held up by the far right as the bleeding-heart liberal socialist commie bandwidth of the radio dial, can suffer the same biases and lack of balance as the right-wing radio shows that most NPR listeners love to mock. The indiscriminate lumping of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same "today's politicians, amirite?" category by both the guest (explicitly) and the host (implicitly) made my stomach hurt, as it was so emblematic of just how unbalanced the coverage of this campaign has been, and how casually this imbalance has been accepted and normalized.
Scott Simon's question, in brief: Are there concerns that you feel have not been raised during the campaign?
Mitch Albom: "Where do you begin? I think every major concern has been overlooked in deference to tawdry things and comments and who said what on a TV show or an open mic or a snippy remark in a debate. To raise one, and it would just be one, I haven't heard a word about education in this entire election season. Every now and then you hear Hillary Clinton talk about about a plan for colleges and that's about it. Being here in Detroit, our public education in this city is - it's shocking and the oversight of it and the oversight of the teachers and the funding is nonexistent. And the priority that's put on it is so low ..."
Then Mr. Albom talks about the fact that education isn't sexy, so it doesn't get coverage, but that literacy and learning to read is the true key to success in school and life in general. He advocates for free community college, and for more emphasis on early education, and early literacy education in particular. All this could still have been a commentary on the state of today's media.
On how the media have provided Trump, who rarely speaks about policy at all, much less education policy, with essentially an open mic, only recently beginning to fact-check and call out his lies instead of just letting him spew out over their airwaves.
On how at the same time the media have not bothered to cover Clinton's public policy speeches for the last two or three years, but instead have devoted 24/7 coverage to the repeatedly debunked email “scandal” or rumors of her health or whether she smiles too much or doesn't smile enough, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton actually has been discussing the topic of education for several decades and has detailed policy proposals on her current campaign website.
Since that's in fact what has been going on, I first agreed with Mr. Albom, assuming he was only speaking about the poor job the news outlets have been doing in making education a topic of conversation in this campaign. However, Mr. Albom then revealed that he himself must be paying attention only to what is being broadcast on those media outlets he's complaining about, since a simple Google search for “Hillary Clinton education plan” brings up a wide range of articles on both her current stance and her history on this issue. Either that, or Mr. Albom is a Hillary Hater. How else do you explain his answer to the follow-up question?
Scott Simon's question, in brief: Any last words on any of the various presidential candidates?
MA: "I have not been more disappointed in a pair of candidates in my adult life. You know, I'm very lucky, Scott, I get to travel around and I meet a lot of people and – I can't tell you how many times, and gosh, in your job, you have to do this too – how many times you have a conversation with somebody, and after they leave you go, 'wow, what an impressive person, what an incredible set of values, leadership, accomplishment, whatever' – and none of these people ever end up running for president."
He explains this phenomenon by saying that we have created a system where only thick-skinned people like rampant egotists or lifelong politicians will ever run, because these other more virtuous people he's been meeting are so smart they realize that if they run for office the media will rip their lives apart in the search for sensationalism, and "all of a sudden 50 or 60 years of hard work and accomplishment go out the window, and so what I have to say about these two candidates is summed up in a sentence that probably many people utter: 'This is the best we can do?'"
How can he believe that Clinton is just like Trump? If he doesn't believe that, why did he say these things?
Does he literally not know anything about Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, former Senator, who has an incredible set of values, who shows true and collaborative leadership, and who has a history of accomplishment that more than equals Mr. Albom's? I would think that his philanthropic soul should at least be drawn to her work with the Clinton Foundation.
President Obama, who is one of the most accomplished and capable people to hold that office, made his opinion clear at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America." Perhaps Mr. Albom missed the media coverage of that event.
Scott Simon definitely missed the opportunity for clarification with regards to whether the first quote above was meant as “the media are not covering education enough” (true) or as “neither candidate is talking about education” (false). If Mr. Albom truly believes that neither candidate has been talking about education, then he just hasn't been paying attention. But because he so casually lumped Hillary Clinton – and by reference her history as an advocate for children, for education, for women's rights, for universal health care, and more – with Donald Trump, whose lack of values, accomplishments, or qualifications on any level should make this not even a topic of conversation, I'm going for “Hillary Hater.”
This is the first time I've written to NPR on this topic, though it's not the first time I've yelled at the radio when a host has not followed up on statements that leave the impression of something that is demonstrably not true. But to have a guest essentially say "Trump and Clinton are equally unqualified to be president" and an NPR host not say "are you REALLY saying that? because it's not true at all, you know" doesn't mean NPR is being "fair and balanced" to me, because that unfair statement was not balanced by Scott Simon's questioning of its veracity.
I'm interested in hearing the other sides of the story, and wish I could talk directly with both men about values, radio production, interview strategies, and education. Since that's not likely, I'll keep listening, and keep writing letters.
What brought this country to a point where so many people admire one man's openly admitted lawlessness and dishonesty in pursuit of his individual gain, no matter the cost to others?
That's the sentence that started what was going to be a medium-length Facebook post to follow up an article I linked to that referenced how Trump supporters seem to be incapable of criticizing him; when provided with made-up examples of things like writing off a white Siberian tiger for Putin's birthday as a "business expense," they instead list their own reasons why such tax-evasion schemes are actually good things.
"I'm a selfish person and much of my time and money goes towards pursuing my own goals and desires," that Facebook post would have gone on to say, "though I like to think that I'm getting better at not having this create a negative impact on the people around me." I would also have added (in an increasingly moralizing tone, I'm sorry to say) that at least I'm always aware that I am part of a larger society, and have a role and responsibility towards it, and ... and then I realized that I, too, have avoided taxes in the past (the IRS don't read blogs, do they?) and justified it in various ways. I, too, have expressed biased and even racist views, often those I'm not conscious of within myself at first, others that I've recognized and continue to struggle with. For example, I'd automatically assume the author of the linked piece, who describes himself as "a Southern white male veteran who lives in a very rural area," is a Trump supporter, or at least embodies some of their characteristics, just because of that description. Instead, he subjects those supporters to some trenchant castigation, and I'm once again left facing my assumptions, and questioning why they're there. It's true that when you see the clumps and colors on any demographic map, "southern white male veteran rural dweller" does tend to tick all the Trump-supporter boxes, but that's no excuse for my looking at those words and assuming that any individual person does.
There are many other words today defining the ways that we categorize and describe ourselves, some of which weren't part of the language when I was growing up. Agnostic. Republican. Feminist. Catholic. Vegetarian. Latin@. Gun owner, PETA supporter, single, married, transgender, genderqueer, male, female, other. Other. And that's really what it boils down to, isn't it? "Othering," another word that's younger than I am.
So much of what shapes our ability to be honest occurs long before we are capable of this kind of self-reflection [Ed. Note. Or perhaps it's just that I'm coming late to the party, and this is a realization that usually happens in one's twenties or thirties. I wouldn't be surprised.] and gets normalized and buried in the mental category of "just the way things are." Some things in this category can't be changed: I'm white and female and over 50. What can be changed are attitudes like "... and therefore superior to non-white people" or "... and therefore should behave in a certain way" or "... and therefore must believe what this other over-50 white female believes," all of which I would resent were they assumed about me. If I am honest with myself, I will be watching for these inbred instincts and consciously working to get rid of them, to retrain and reshape the paths in my brain that click in those specific neural patterns when presented with a certain image or idea. There have been times in the last few months when I've found myself spontaneously quoting scripture, of all things (not always the Bible, but usually), as the random access database that is my brain spits out what it thinks to be information relevant in the moment. If all of that and more is in there, and comes out of my mouth without prompting, what other learned language and behaviours am I demonstrating without realizing it, every single day?
Who's defining the word "honest" these days? Here's what Merriam-Webster says: free from fraud or deception; reputable, respectable; creditable, marked by integrity, marked by free, forthright, and sincere expression. In other words, someone you can believe in. If I'm not honest with myself (and others), how can I believe in myself? If I can't trust that other people are being honest with me, then I find it harder to believe in them. At the least, I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but it will color every interaction from then on. And I am sure that other people have come to that conclusion about me in the past, which is one reason that it's something I'm thinking about now, and working on improving. Yet there has been a new definition added in recent years, where "speaking your mind" and "telling it how it is" now mean "being honest with your listeners" even when the mind of the speaker is filled with hatred and bigotry and a terribly warped view of a fearful pseudo-reality and the purpose of the telling is to incite even more hate and bigotry and fear in those listeners.
If someone honestly believes a lie, and tries as hard as they can to convince others of the truth of that lie, are they a liar? That's different from someone who is desperately trying to convince themselves of a lie, and who needs everyone else to believe that lie so that they can be validated in believing it too. Or who just doesn't give a damn about the truth, and lies with impunity because they can and it's getting them what they want, or because it amuses them to lie to others and manipulate them.
What I do not understand is how a person can look at the well-documented history of Donald Trump's lies, including lying about the fact that he lied when the contradictory lies were both caught on tape [Ed. Note. There's another blog post in that somewhere, about English expressions that are still being used, but no longer have physical cultural connections to the things those words represent.], and still use the word "honest" to describe him. And if they can't use that word, why is "honesty" no longer on their list of important qualifications for the presidency?
Finally [Ed. Note. Thank god.], what responsibility is placed on the listener? It's just as important to listen honestly as it is to speak honestly, and we do so little of that in our lives, unless we're called by vocation or profession to do so. To simply listen to what people are saying, and then to try to hear both what they are saying out loud and what they are saying with their body, their intonation, their phrasing, their choice of words. To work through what was said, with the other person, until both sides have a clear understanding of exactly what is being communicated. This is not necessarily agreement with what was said, but agreement on what was said. But it's irresponsible to listen and believe something without questioning it, especially when it comes to politics instead of personal relationships. This is also why I do not understand how a person can look at all of the well-documented history of Hillary Clinton's honesty and discard it in favor of the rumors/lies about her without also questioning their own motivation and their reasons for doing so. "Well, I just don't trust her," that person will often say. Why? And if their answers to that question are things that I can refute with the equally well-documented proof that the specific rumor/lie is indeed just a rumor/lie, and they're only left with their "gut feeling" then there's something at work here other than the question of honesty, in my opinion, something in that person that's probably manifesting itself in other gut-level feelings like fear and unhappiness and worry about the future, all of which are playing into the hands of a person who's promising to solve all of their problems, starting by getting rid of all of those "others" who are causing them.
What brought this country to a point where so many people admire one man's openly admitted lawlessness and dishonesty in pursuit of his individual gain, no matter the cost to others - and we, as a country, are only now getting around to talking about it seriously, rather than mocking it? This is a problem that will not go away by itself after November, and it's something that America needs to address as part of who we are as a society, and how we want that society to look in the future.
How do you define honesty?