Thursday, December 31, 2009

spikes of lucidity

It is the last day of 2009, there was a heavy snow storm this morning but it's powdery blanket has left the city almost as quickly as it came. I have seen Frankie everyday since Christmas. She continues to be made comfortable by medications and a caring staff, she also continues to deteriorate both physically and mentally. There are moments when it seems she has full mental capacity; she'll begin to say something or ask a question, but these moments of clarity are usually short, and just as quickly she'll trail off and recede into her metastases stupor.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with her. We talked a little, I fed her some soup, I read to her a bit, but mostly she slept as I sat with her. When it was clear that she was sound asleep, I left and crossed the park back to the West Side.

At about seven o'clock my phone rang, it was Frankie.

"Hi Honey!" I said excitedly when I heard her voice.

"What's with you?" she said, "why do you sound like that?"

"I'm just happy to hear you sounding so good. How are you feeling?" I asked.

"Sounding good? I feel awful, I can't get comfortable." she said fully alert, " When are you coming over here?"

"I was just there for a few hours today," I said "We talked and I fed you some soup."

"You were?" she cut me off, "Oh God, this is awful, I don't remember a thing. What kind of soup?"

"Squash soup," I said "you really liked it, you ate it all."

"I did? Oh no, that soup's awful!" She responded "This is all so terrible. It's like I'm on a different planet."

And then just as quickly she left. The words became difficult and she couldn't get them out. The nurse took the phone from her and told me that she needed to sleep.

Early on, when I took on the responsibility of being Frankie's health care proxy, I was told that metastases with brain involvement is often much more difficult for the family and care-givers than it is for the patient. The patient can be kept comfortable as the disease progresses, but they often drift into dementia, or slip into unconsciousness and mental deterioration. It can become increasingly more difficult for loved ones who are left to watch this happen. It seems that this is exactly what is happening to Frankie.

Today I was there again and she was much like she was yesterday. Her head remained tilted to one side and her mouth hung slightly open. She drifted in and out of sleep, and the few times she attempted to speak it was difficult and clearly frustrating for her as she couldn't string together more than two or three words at a time. I fed her some apple sauce, moisturized her hands, head, and face, and did some hand-holding and talking. I brought a sandwich with me and ate it in the chair next to her bed. I talked to her about the snow storm this morning, asked if she needed anything, and tried to make her comfortable. I noticed that someone had left a copy of "As Bill Sees It" in her room, so I read a passage from it.


A man appeared in the doorway, his face crinkled in anger and discomfort, resting his weight on a cane, a small woman standing behind him. Frankie looked toward the door and with full force and clear, crisp diction said: "Oh my God, Is that my brother Herman?"

I left the room and sat outside in the anteroom with Herman's wife. Frankie has been estranged from her family for years. I don't know the specifics of their history, nor do I want to, but as adults they have not been part of each other's lives. Herman's wife asked me about Frankie's condition, her prognosis, etc. I gave her brief answers and we just sat as Frankie and Herman spoke in the other room. After a few minutes Herman began to walk back out through the doorway but stopped as Frankie said in a loud, clear voice, "I just want you to know that I love you."

Herman turned around and reentered the room and said to his sister, " I love you too."


The wife took my hand and with teary eyes said, "I'm so glad he was able to say that."

Herman walked back out of the room and said over his shoulder, "Be good"

Frankie responded loudly, "Not much chance of that"

"Well if you can't be good be careful"

This exchange was done in such a quick and steady tempo that it suggested to me this may have been something that they said regularly to each other years before.

Herman and his wife left. The visit couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes, but the arrogant and curmudgeonly man that had entered the room just minutes before left an altered man. The short time with his sister had clearly been healing and transformative. It illustrated to me the importance of closure, and reconciliation, and the power of forgiveness.

I went back in to see how Frankie was doing and she was completely spent. The exchange with her brother had taken all the energy she could muster. I leaned down and asked her if she was alright or if I could get her anything, and she couldn't form words, her mouth made odd shapes and she could produce only weak sounds. I took her hand and said, "That was something, wasn't it?" She squeezed my hand, looked up at me, and smiled. I went out to get her some apple juice to give her a few sips, but before I could tear the paper off the bendy straw I saw that she was sound asleep. I kissed her on the head and left.

Friday, December 25, 2009

xmas morn

It's Christmas morning and for the first time in a long time I am not with my family. I woke up this morning with a dog on one side of me and a cat on the other side of me, (perhaps a personal joke from my Higher Power illustrating that I am not really alone) but no tree, no presents, no carols, no festive breakfast, and no drama. Admittedly I kind of miss all the holiday hoopla. The planning and arranging leading up to this day has always been wrought with drama, and even this year the build up has been difficult. But I'm staying home this year and doing what I need to do, I'm trying to hold steady to a personal idea of Christmas - an idea that what I bring to the table is more important than what I take from it - though the table may not even be where I thought it was.

My friend Frankie is in the last stages of cancer, and she was moved yesterday from an inpatient hospice facility at a hospital downtown to a smaller, longer-term hospice residence across town from me. I went to see her last night and she was pretty much incoherent. She has been heavily medicated for weeks now because of the extreme pain, but yesterday she was medicated even more than usual to make her transfer less traumatic. Frankie hasn't been able to get out of bed for a few weeks and she gets confused easily.

I tried talking with her a little but she was having difficulty understanding me. I gave her a few sips of apple juice, held her hand, and sat with her a while. The new facility is actually very nice. She's in
a rather pretty and small private room on the sixteenth floor with a big window facing west - a big unobstructed patch of sky - perfect for viewing sunsets. I put a few things around the room so that she might feel more at home when she woke up. Then I walked down Third Avenue about ten blocks and took the 86th street bus home through the park. There were crowds of last minute shoppers juggling bags and running into stores. I feel like I'm missing out this year - like something's passing me by, but it's really OK.

I walked Zeke down by the river early this morning. The frigid wind whipped around us as we walked the narrow paths that have been shoveled through the now crusty and hardened snow. I will treat myself to a quiet Christmas breakfast and then make my way back across town to check on Frankie to see if she's comfortable and getting settled in.

I've felt more than a little disappointed these past few weeks - treading new territory, unsupported - the holiday spirit has completely evaded me; no family plans, no trips, no church home, no holiday parties, no special someone to shop for - self pity is a default setting for me in the best of times, when I'm in an emotionally challenging place, and especially during the holidays, these settings have a tendency to get rigidly set and magnified.

If I take a few steps back, breathe, and look at the bigger picture, I'm able to see that this year, rather than being invested in giving or getting the grooviest gifts, I'm putting some packages under a big invisible Christmas tree - a tree of good conscience and right action, a karma tree, or since Frankie's been a practicing Buddhist for years, a bodhi tree.

This morning I'm opening a gift of perspective. As I'm unwrapping it I can see more clearly what it is to be blessed. It is truly a gift to be able to show up for someone who needs me, and though this isn't the way I would have chosen to spend Christmas, I realize that there is a greater Power and a deeper reason for me to examine the vital Christmas message that it is better to give than to receive.

Peace on earth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

La Ciudad

I have been so busy with school lately that I haven't been able to post anything for a while. Just to keep up I thought I'd share something that I wrote for my class: Race, Class, and Gender in American Film. The following paper is a response to screening La Ciudad, a 1997 film by director David Riker.



Loss, frustration, hope, and the promise of a new life in the land of opportunity are just some of the components of the stories that unfold in the four chapters of La Ciudad. Each chapter starts its journey from the central location of a photography shop that advertises visa applications and passport photos. Inside la photgrafia, false backdrops are put in place to help create the artifice that accompanies the smiles of these people who are ever-present but rarely seen. A montage of black and white portraits give us glimpses into the faces of Latin American immigrants longing for opportunity. These are faces worn away by poverty and suffering, yet filled with hope; these portraits provide a chance for us to see those who are otherwise invisible, and the photographs themselves are proof of their existence.

Riker’s searing depiction of Latin American Immigrant life is especially hard hitting. It is an unrelenting and often unpleasant, gut punch of reality to a nation founded by forefathers who fled their own homelands to create greater opportunity for future generations. The same manner of hardships and social injustices that were so difficult to overcome for the Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and Jewish immigrants of the last century, continue to impede Latin American immigrants today. It is ironic that Riker’s stories take place in New York City, the home of Ellis Island, historically the first major point of entry for immigrants, a city nicknamed ‘the melting pot’ to describe its densely populated immigrant neighborhoods, and a city that boasts and celebrates its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diversity.

The quartet of challenging and heartbreaking stories in La Ciudad brings to the surface an abundance of critical issues. As the agonizing lives of these new Americans unfold with an increasing sense of urgency, each segment is strung together, and floats atop the curious choice of romantic woodwind, chamber music. The plaintive call of an oboe leads the viewer from one chapter to the next, and perhaps this choice of a melancholy wind ensemble is meant to echo the sustained motifs of being lost, faith, disassociation from family, and the concept of ‘home.' Where is home? What is home? The answers to these questions about home are never answered directly, but it is revealed that home may be a station wagon in an abandoned lot, a housing project, faraway places in cherished letters, or more consequential, but certainly less tangible; the love of a child and family.

I was very interested to read about the casting of non-actors in the film, the challenges that that involved, and the various improvisation exercises that were used to help create a trusting and safe environment for the players to express their inner emotional life; intimate and painful emotions that were expressed and captured so vividly in the film. Especially moving to me was the description of the improvisation exercise in the church where the women were crawling under tables and chairs, remembering what it was like crossing the border at night. During the exercise one woman pulled off her earrings and put them in her bra to protect herself from being robbed, the other women saw this gesture, remembered the same experience, and began to cry.

La Ciudad examines illegal immigration, health care, and education; all vital issues that always carry weight and urgency but, in the current political climate these issues are perhaps more relevant than ever. Just this past September, South Carolina House Representative Joe Wilson interrupted a Presidential address shouting, “You lie!” when the President mentioned Illegal immigrants not being covered in the current healthcare bill. Xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment is so high that this kind of unwarranted, ignorant eruption should hardly seem shocking. The white, patriarchal, capitalist ideal is being threatened and its protectors will vociferously object, no matter how inappropriate or sophomoric.


I lived in San Francisco for ten years and during that time I worked in a number of restaurants. From my experience working in the food service industry I saw that behind the scenes, or in ‘the back of the house’, a number of the people who contribute to the successful operation of a restaurant are undocumented workers. It being California, most of these workers were Mexican. At one of the restaurants, where I worked for a number of years, there were several young Mexican men who washed dishes, bussed tables, cleaned the restaurant after hours, and a few eventually worked their way to kitchen staff. They lived together in an apartment with several other young Mexican men, they worked as many shifts as they could, and they sent most of their money home to help support their families in Mexico. These men, boys really, were always pleasant, good spirited, friendly, helpful, and sometimes worked twelve or fourteen-hour shifts. I can only recount my own experience in the food industry where the undocumented workers that I worked with were being paid and fed regularly, I have no personal familiarity to relate anything of the experience of the migrant workers who maintain farms all over the nation, or of the day laborers that I would see waiting for work in front of the lumber yards in San Francisco’s Mission district, or of the unfair and exploitative conditions of the many other undocumented workers, like those shown in the film.

I am baffled and infuriated by claims that Mexicans are crossing the borders and taking American jobs. I do not believe that an American is losing their job because an undocumented Mexican is willing to work fourteen hours a day as a dishwasher, or sewing bridesmaid’s dresses in a sweatshop, or picking lettuce. No one is losing employment because immigrants are being used, however illegally, to continue to grease the wheels of capitalism. Behind these misleading claims that immigrants are corrupting the nation and the economy is a world of ignorance. Those who champion these opinions may perhaps not recognize that many of the components that contribute to their own entitled lives may very well have passed through immigrant hands; the bricks that hold up their walls, the vegetables on their dining room tables, the dishes they eat off of in restaurants, or the take-out dinners being delivered to their front doors.

These same imprudent voices call for building walls at the border. Building walls at the border will only force immigrants to find other ways to enter the country. Workers will go where there is work and no wall will prevent this from happening. The continued misdirected anger at illegal immigrants in the name of patriotism is pointless and misguided. Migrant workers are driven by need and as long as there is work they will be there. Building bridges rather than walls is what we should be concentrating on. The United States is a market place and immigrants will be coming here whether it is legally sanctioned or not. Rather than continue this futile fight to protect our borders from the perceived enemy of an immigrant workforce, our nation might consider creating programs that will permit immigrants to work in this country and return home to their own countries to support their families.

Friday, September 18, 2009

the ever after

Every time I think to write something here I consider that my time might be better spent working on something for school - I have so much reading to do and papers to write. Why spend time writing something for the blog? No one reads this stuff anyway - then I inevitably lose focus and do something completely unrelated, like play scrabble on facebook or tool around some unmentionable website or other.


What comes to my mind when I do feel like sharing my thoughts here lately is transiency: the passing of time, aging, impermanence, change, death, and people who are no longer here. I know that this recurring theme puts me at risk of sounding like an octogenarian, a morose introspective one at that, but perhaps all of these recent celebrity deaths have something to do with it. Iconic figures from my childhood have been jumping off the edge of existence and into the mysterious dominion of the hereafter. This seems to have been the summer of celebrity casualties – Farrah, Michael, Senator Ted Kennedy, Bea Arthur - just this week we said goodbye to Patrick Swayze and Mary Travers. I’m flooded with remembrances and recollections.


This is morbid, I know, but sometimes I google people from my past and see what I can find. More than a few times I’ve discovered obituaries of people I didn’t know had joined the ranks of the ever after.


Recently I did a google image search and found a couple of pictures of my friend Noel Craig (see above). He was a Broadway actor and was featured in a few issues of After Dark magazine, an arts and theater magazine from the 70’s with a heavy gay leaning. Noel died in the spring of 2002, the same time that I relocated back to New York from California. I didn’t know that he had died and only found out when I tried repeatedly to contact him after my return. Noel was a mentor, a playmate, and a friend. He helped guide me, usually inappropriately, into my adult sexuality. We had a long history as running buddies and though he was just about crazy as they get, one of the many holes in my heart has his name on it.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

groff


I had another ghost sighting today. I had just finished a late lunch with a friend in the Chelsea Market and was looking around some of the food vendors when I noticed that the man buying vegetables next to me was someone I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years. Years, hair loss, and medications have rendered me relatively unrecognizable from what I was back then, and, though it might be generous to call this a mixed blessing, today I was grateful for it. He had aged dramatically, yet I recognized him immediately. I was fairly stunned. The years had not been kind to him. I began thinking about time, mislaid years, and aging. Lost in my head, I tumbled around in a brackish muck of self-pity and remorse - I tried to find my way back out but couldn’t.

I didn’t mention any of this to my friend and tried to simply shrug it off, but the memories kept coming back. I was shocked at such disturbing, visual evidence of the passing of time. I continued to stare straight ahead and walk through it as though nothing had happened, unaffected.

My friend and I climbed up to the High Line and we walked. We chatted, and we looked at the river, and we walked. We looked at the passing boats, and we talked about how we did or didn't like certain new additions to the skyline, and we walked. We noticed tourists and we stopped to take the occasional photo. I was still fighting the sour ball of melancholy that had lodged in my chest. The sun was hot and bright, and we stopped under one of the overpasses while my friend took a few photos of some building or other. I turned and saw another familiar face - this one much more recent and kind of famous. I took two steps forward.

“You are fabulous” I gushed.

I actually couldn’t help myself, the gushing kept bubbling forth, unstoppable bilious froth.

“My name is _____. I just saw you in "The Bacchae," and I also saw you in "Hair" last year. I think you are just fabulous”

“My name is Jonathan, Hello and thank you.” He took my hand in one hand and rested his other hand on my shoulder.

“Oh, I saw you in "The Singing Forrest" too!"

“Really?”

“I think you are just terrific, really. Congratulations on your success.”

He smiled, he may have said thank you again, I’m not sure.

“The world is your oyster and you should enjoy it.” Perhaps he thought I was a mad stalker; luckily he seemed sincerely moved.

It was only after the encounter ended that my friend, who witnessed the entire thing and needed to be told who he was, assured me that he did, in fact, seem genuinely touched. She then told me that New York Magazine’s Matrix had just trashed his performance as Dionysus in "The Bacchae" and that the show had just been horribly reviewed in today's New York Times.

This might have been a very difficult day for him. I’m not worried that it will last long for Mr. Groff - er - Jonathan rather (we are on a first name basis). This is a very talented kid with a huge rising star. This Friday, Ang Lee’s "Taking Woodstock" is opening and he is in it! "The Bacchae" is closing Saturday and by this time next week Jonathan's cute but awkward Dionysus and the accompanying bad reviews will be history.

If this was a difficult or lousy day for him perhaps my few moments of gushing brought some light in an otherwise dark afternoon. It certainly relieved me of the sour, disquieting feelings brought on by my earlier sighting. Sometimes not being able to edit might be a good thing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

august



Summer
in the city - I love it. While others complain of the oppressive heat and try to stay inside climate controlled spaces to avoid roasting I can’t help but think about the brittle, crackling cold that is only months away. I've been trying to spend as much time as I can outside. I slather my tattooed arm with sunscreen (sun exposure is the only thing that can damage tattoos) and I walk. I spend a lot of time walking around the city. I walk and I sweat, I stop to eat fruit and drink water and then I walk more. Different neighborhoods, parks, across town, by the river - I walk down blocks I think I’ve never been down before and all of a sudden I’ll see a familiar building or an intersection - visual triggers that trip specific recollections. In these past few warm weeks memories have been flooding my consciousness relentlessly. I’ve been visited by things, situations, times, and people that I haven’t thought about in years. It’s as if I’m caught inside a kaleidoscope of repressed experiences where colors and shapes flash by and let loose a cascade of forgotten moments and feelings: rolling waves, without space or reason, long absent sensations and emotions, rush and recede.

Sometimes it’s little things; an exchange with a stranger, the touch of a hand, the smell of popcorn or pizza fresh out of a wood burning oven, standing on line for a movie, I don’t remember whom I was with but I remember the movie, I remember the weather, I remember the time of day.

Names come rushing back - they wash over me: Hank,Tony, Todd, Karen, Nino, Bill, Barbara, Stephen, Sean. And, of course, countless faces I no longer have names for. What happened to them? Where are they now? Did they go on to have careers and families? Did they move away and create comfortable lives for themselves or did they make poor choices? Perhaps succumb to disease, addiction, or some other misfortune, as so many others, and pass away too soon?


The other day I passed a street corner and remembered seeing Tim Kramer on that corner. Tim Kramer was a tall, blond, sexy, sun-kissed, surfer-type, gay porn star of the 1980’s with a pouty, bad-boy smirk, mischievous eyes, and tousled, flaxen hair. He was one of the early casualties of the AIDS epidemic. I saw him on the street and we had lingering eye contact on that very spot where I was standing, maybe twenty-five years earlier.

I know that close friends who have passed on remain with me: their laughter, their touch, the knowing looks that friends give one another. I feel them, they somehow still remain; they're here.

What about strangers?


New York City is truly a melting pot year round but walking around the island of Manhattan in August, I’ve become especially aware of visitors from far reaches of the globe. Midtown in August - the pot simmers and bubbles to produce an especially concentrated, international reduction; just in the distance of one block one might hear Italian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Korean. Sometimes I’ll hear a conversation in a language that I can’t identify and I’ll walk alongside till I can either identify the tongue or give up. The clacking of foreign tongues, their diverse cadence and inflection, car radios, sirens, games being played in the parks, all add to the rhythm of the city. In August, even the heated traffic sounds different. I walk in an escalating tempo and notice that I'm keeping time to the beat of the summer street.


I came back from visiting my sister the second week of July to learn that a kid I have been trying to help get sober for the last 9 or 10 months, I call him a kid but he’s 30 years old, had gone out on a two week cocaine binge. He suffered some sort of a psychotic break and in order to escape the imagined boogeymen coming after him, jumped, naked, out of his third story bathroom window. He suffered three broken vertebrae, two broken legs, and was all cut up, as he actually went through part of the window. He has had five surgeries, titanium rods put in his left leg, repeated surgery on his back, and was recently moved to a physical rehab where he’ll likely stay for the next few months.


Being witness to this kind of senseless, self-inflicted suffering stretches the mind in unexpected ways. Being able to show up for him and his family, to sit through the awkward hospital silences and uncomfortable feelings - to watch everyone involved struggle through the consequences of drugs, alcohol, and bad choices reminds me that I really am one of the lucky ones. How is it that I managed to escape a similar episode? Is there such a thing as fate or is life experience just the luck of the draw? What is the difference between chance and grace?

I know that I am not alone. I guess I've not yet done what I've been put here to do and so I keep walking. Those who have gone on before me and those who are still here, they walk with me; they benefit from, and are all a part of, that same thing which allows me to walk in this continued unmerited favor.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

spiritual windowshoppers


These spiritual windowshoppers, who idly ask, How much
is that? Oh, I'm just


looking. They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping. But
these walk into a shop,

and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment, in
that shop. Where did you

go? Nowhere. What did you have to eat? Nothing much.
Even if you don't know what

you want, buy something to be part of the general exchange.
Start a huge, foolish projest,

like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what
people think of you.



-RUMI

Thursday, July 2, 2009

georgia

I am spending the week in Georgia. It is the first week of July and the midday temperature here hangs at around 100 degrees. The air is thick and sweet and wet and the black roads reflect the intense heat like a searing griddle.

I'm here in Georgia because I'm visiting my younger sister. She is a Ph.D. student in literature at the University of Georgia and lives with her fiancée who is also a student at the university. She has lived here for four years and this is the first time I've come here to see her. We see each other during the holidays in New York and we've seen each other at other times and other places but this is the first time I've come to her home. Her home is lovely. Athens is a charming, comfortable, and friendly college town. I'm here now because just over a week ago my sister had a bi-lateral mastectomy. I'm here now because I want to be helpful. I'm here to cook and to clean and to wait on her if she needs me to. I'm here to do what I can even though I feel helpless. I'm here because I love her.

Yesterday my sister asked if I would like to see her scars. She was lying in bed propped up on pillows, she opened her special, zip-up-the-front "mastectomy bra" and showed me where they’d removed her breasts. Her fiancée was in the room and he turned away, not because he hasn't seen them or because they're hard to look at, he has bathed her and cared for her since her surgery, but because there was an awkward intimacy, a sharing of something that has been lost, an acknowledgment of the passing of youth, of innocence, an admittance that she, I, we, have all been changed.

Her scars are not mean or gruesome – not red or angry. She has two clean horizontal incisions, 8 or 10 inches long, across each side of her chest. She has no nipples; only the healing slash crossed with steri-strips at about half inch intervals, like tracks. She is not flat chested, as I was expecting. She’s planning on having breast reconstruction surgery and she already has small implants, called expanders, that were put in before she was closed up from the mastectomy. She was a D cup and now she is, maybe, an A cup. As I understand it, the plastic surgeon will slowly increase the amount of saline in the expanders at various intervals until they have reached the desired size. The stretching of the tissue and skin is supposed to be a painful process.

She asked me to take pictures of her scars. She said that looking at pictures of other women’s procedures had helped her so she'd like to be able to share pictures of her procedure with other women in the hopes that it may, in turn, help them.


There is no manual or guideline of appropriate response or behavior for this type of thing. No one is prepared for the physical, emotional, or spiritual challenges that accompany a life threatening diagnosis. Having had my own experience with a scary diagnosis I understand, to some extent, the personal trauma, fear, loss, the wondering if the illness will return, the helplessness, and the delicate balance one must maintain so as not to be seen as a victim. I don't, however, have any idea or understanding of what it must feel like to have parts removed, parts that relate directly to one's gender identity, self esteem, and sexuality.

If there is any good in all of this, and I have to believe that there is, it is that the cancer is gone, she is being cared for, and she is safe. What is, for me, perhaps the most significant outcome of this tragedy is that I have not felt this close to my sister since we were children. My sister and I have had a difficult relationship in recent years; we’ve disagreed, argued, and avoided each other. Through her recent ordeal; the diagnosis, the chemo and now the mastectomy, we've gotten closer and I’ve come to realize that I have a bond with her than I was, till now, unaware of. As siblings, we share something that no one else can.

I’m glad she’s going to be ok. I’m glad that I’m able to be here for her, however inadequate my help may be. I’m glad that I now realize how much I really do love my sister.

Monday, June 22, 2009

rain

Francis Bacon- Second version of triptych 1944

New York City, June 2009 -

It has rained thirteen out of the last fourteen days. The weather has been cloying and humid, the streets have been dark, slick, reflective, and the people who have dared to endure the elements have been walking with heads down; quick, wet, irritable, and dejected.

The Metropolitan Museum is currently running a centenary exhibit of Francis Bacon. Last week I crossed the park twice to walk through the exhibit. It spoke to me so strongly that I was pulled back for a second visit just two drizzly days after the first. I slowly snaked my way through each gallery of twisted gnarled faces and bodies, shoes wet from my walk through the park I studied the affliction, sexual urgency, confinement, and grief expressed in Bacon’s triptychs and towering canvases.

Thursday evening I met with two dear friends and the three of us went to the New York Philharmonic to hear the second symphony of Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer. Composed in 1900, this popular work is thought to have been connected with Finland’s struggle for independence. It was written at the time of Russian sanctions on Finnish language and culture. Whether this was Sibelius’ intention or not is widely debated but the repeated motifs and the lush orchestrations churn and eddy to an emotional, gut-wrenching crescendo.

My inner emotional life is often greatly affected by my environment but now my external setting seems to be an extension of my internal condition. I have been grappling with some personal issues; my younger sister’s mastectomy and the family drama surrounding her pain and trauma, repeated alcoholic relapses of people I feel close to, as well as my own continued self-doubt and discontentedness.

Bacon’s twisted viscera and Sibelius’ whipped orchestrations lock-step with my inner condition and all this frustration and turmoil appears to have expressed itself as the heavens have been wringing out and washing over the city day after day after day. Not only a reflection of myself but also an extension of what I see happening across the globe in Iran, in the continued suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan, in rapidly rising unemployment and poverty here in the U.S., in a tumultuous national political climate, in escalating economic unrest, it rains and it rains.

More rain is expected today and though little has changed since I went to sleep last night right now the sun is shining. Clouds are quickly moving overhead but my perspective seems to have varied and even as my momentum can remain steady the trajectory of my destination can alter. I spoke with my sister earlier this morning and her spirits are lighter than would be expected - through it all I am reminded of my own powerlessness. Something greater than myself has allowed me to identify with the beauty in the torment of Bacon’s twisted vision, in the urgent discord of Sibelius’ strings. Something greater than me will care for the suffering across the globe and that same Great Something is allowing me to be present for those who need me.

Something has been lifted. Change is inevitable. All things pass.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

domestic terrorism

Earlier today, 88 year old James Von Brunn, an anti-Semite and white supremacist, walked into the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., less than one mile from the White House, and opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle killing security guard Stephen Tyrone Jones. Von Brunn was immediately shot by other guards on duty and he is now in critical condition with wounds to the head.

Von Brunn has had a long and well-documented history as a white supremacist and anti-Semite. As well as having his own despicable white supremacy website, he was arrested in 1981, and convicted in 1983, for attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board with a knife, revolver and sawed-off shotgun. He served six years in prison.

Today's reprehensible and politically motivated shooting takes place not even two weeks after the killing of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas. Threats of violence against abortion clinics have increased greatly since president Obama's inauguration this past January. The far-right, militant, pro-life tactics against abortion clinics, clinic workers, and their clients have escalated at a staggering rate and, still, local law enforcement officials continue not to treat these threats as serious. Every time any violence against clinic workers or abortion providers is carried out it represents a failure of law enforcement.

In April, the Department of Homeland Security released a report focusing on right-wing extremism. The report warned of exactly this type of terrorist act yet it was so heavily mocked and criticized by the far-right that Janet Nepolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, was made to apologize to veterans. The report singled out veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as susceptible to recruitment to far-right extremist groups.

People are being gunned down in churches and museums by politically motivated nut-jobs! Who are we worried about offending and why?

These recent acts of violence are terrorist acts. Plain and simple - there is no other word for it. Just because these unspeakable acts of violence have been carried out by good ol' boys who call themselves Christian doesn't make them any less terrorist than the Taliban. These depraved, immoral criminals believe they are involved in a Jihad for Jesus!

Imagine if Dr. Tiller's murderer or today's Holocaust museum shooter were named Mohamed or Akhmad rather than George or James. This country would be in a full-swing, code-red, lock-down tizzy. Network news reports of these recent murders aren't referring to these gunmen as terrorists, however, they're calling them pro-life activist and anti-Semite, respectively.

What more needs to happen before federal protection around women's health clinics becomes standard operating practice? What more needs to happen before the mainstream news media has the balls to call this burgeoning movement what it is?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

lunatic fringe

I'd like to write something reflective about the sprawling and colorful gardens in the park and how the city's turning green makes me feel renewed, or how the sound of the spring rain on my window lulls me into a peaceful sleep, but I'm far too agitated by things like doctors being gunned down in their churches, and their murderers being canonized by the ultra-right lunatic fringe to wax poetic about such niceties.

Aside from the Dr. Tiller atrocity I've been especially unsettled by a number of other things that have been happening in the news lately; former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a man who didn't speak much when he was in office, is continuing his torture talk tour. Now that Cheney is a non-office holding citizen he is speaking non-stop, while sitting atop a pile of lies, trying to revise history and convince the world that he was justified in his initiation and support of torture.

I also continue to be disheartened by the slow response of the Obama administration to tackle any of the LGBT issues that the President promised to address during his campaign when he admitted to being a "fierce supporter of gay rights". Also unsettling are the disgraceful discreditings by the usual suspect, suspects of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. These malicious and absurd accusations are beyond what anyone would consider educated or rational.


That the news media continues to take seriously the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich or even Dick Cheney, none of whom hold an elected office, is contemptible. Limbaugh is a hate-mongering entertainer, Gingrich; an angry-old-white man, puffed up like an irritated turkey, is trying to elbow his way to the top of a struggling party, and Cheney, aside from being a loathsome revisionist, is attempting to protect himself from being tried as a war criminal. Why the mainstream media continues to take these self-inflated windbags seriously is baffling.

There are, however, a few silver linings in all this cloud coverage. Yesterday, New Hampshire became the sixth state in the union to legalize same sex marriage, Judge Sotomayor's nomination as the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court is in itself a hopeful sign, and this morning, President Obama's speech addressing the Nation of Islam from Cairo University is a huge milestone in foreign relations for the United States. Although his speech this morning is an opportunity for his opponents and the familiar, blathering, bobble-heads to take offense (already there are charges of un-Americanism, weakness and accusations of his being too apologetic). In his speech, Obama called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims and he encouraged Muslim nations to educate and respect women.

The world is a confusing place and continues moving at a dizzying pace. My response to national and global conditions is only heightened by the challenges in my personal life. Things don't always go as I think they should. That's probably a good thing. Without being challenged there is never growth, without struggle there is no progress. I do believe, however, that hypocrisy should have a light shown on it whenever possible. My immediate challenge is to keep the focus on myself, breathe and try to enjoy the blossoming flora that the season is offering me as a lovely distraction from these troubling difficulties.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

inside solitude


A human being is like the rod Moses held, or the words
Jesus said, the outer just


a piece of wood or mouth sounds from a country dialect.
But the inner can divide


the green ocean and make the dead sit up and smile. You
see far-off tents of an


encampment: you go closer. There's a dust shape, someone

walking. Closer. Inside


that, a man, bright eyes and strength of presence. When
Moses returns from the

wilderness where he goes alone, Sinai begins to dance!


-RUMI

Thursday, May 7, 2009

25:40

The teachings of all the major world religions can be melted down to having one inherent common thread; The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Christianity punches this home especially hard with examples like Matthew 25 where Jesus says, "Just as you do to the least of these you do to me". This suggests, in the words of Jesus no less, that the most hated be shown forgiveness and mercy, even love. How then, with this model at its core, does the Christian faith continue to accept, indeed often encourage, the tradition of homophobia, marginalization and oppression of Christ’s gay and lesbian brothers and sisters?

The Reformed tradition is tied to the acceptance of an antiquated anti-gay credo that seems to be the antithesis of Christ’s teachings and though some clergy, bible scholars and educated church folk concur that the sentiment expressed in Mathew 25 is the correct way to lead a Christian life, there is a reluctance, even refusal, to speak to congregations about all this pesky gay business.

Why challenge people? Do we really need to talk about unpleasantries and risk things getting uncomfortable and ugly? It is in this attitude that false Christianity keeps its momentum. The Christ story is all about personal challenge and expanding one’s comfort levels.
Is it possible to stand in the shadow of the cross and claim superiority to anyone? It seems to me that the most difficult thing about a Christian way of life is the requirement to love others even when others continue to be unlovable.

The ministry of Jesus was uncomfortable two thousand years ago and it is uncomfortable today but that discomfort doesn’t give us a free pass on doing the right thing. I am told to love my brothers and sisters – I don’t get to choose who they are!

From the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to the evangelical mega-churches, from Joel Osteen to Rick Warren and all throughout the black church, with it’s rich tradition of fighting for social justice but where loathing someone based on sexual orientation is customary and where members of that community have, traditionally, had to choose between their gayness or their blackness, change is urgent.

The world is changing at great speed as evidenced by the rapid shift in local and regional legislature concerning same-sex marriage. In a world where so few demonstrate and celebrate fidelity shouldn’t the church be leading this movement?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

busy day

I haven't written anything here in a while mostly, I think, because I keep thinking I should have something to say about this ever-unfolding torture business. So much has already been said about it recently and it's probably pretty clear, to any of you who know me, where I stand on the issue. Also, I really don't believe I can offer anything new that hasn't been said better elsewhere. Today, however, things are happening at breakneck speed and I'm not sure I can pick just one thing to write about but I gotta write something.

It is President Obama's 100th day and finally, after much resistance from the Republican party, former Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sibelius, has been quickly sworn in as Health and Human Services Secretary in the midst of a pandemic of swine flu. The first US death from the swine flu, or the very recently re-named H1-N1 virus, has been reported this morning, a 23 month old toddler in Texas. Yesterday the usual suspects of the ultra-right media madness, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, started using the current health scare as an opportunity to spread racism and fear by bringing up that old war horse topic of illegal immigration. Immigration, illegal or otherwise, is not an issue in this current health crisis. Mexicans are no more responsible for the swine flu than gay people are responsible for AIDS or black people are responsible for crack. It's an argument that doesn't hold water but that doesn't stop the blubbering, bobble-heads from spewing their hateful rhetoric.


It's been nearly two weeks and I haven't written anything about the installation of New Yorks' new Archbishop, his Excellency, Timothy Dolan, a friendly fellow who vows to challenge any same sex marriage bills proposed in New York. Take that separation of church and state.

Yesterday there was the really big news that Arlen Specter, who after serving as Republican Senator from the great state of Pennsylvania for 29 years, has decided to switch his party affiliation. This is seemingly very good news for the Obama administration as Specter will make the 59th democratic seat in the senate and when Al Frankin is, one day, finally, seated as the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota, that will give the Dems a 60 seat filibuster proof majority. Good news right? Perhaps. Specter is, however, a true Republican moderate. He claims he's changing his party affiliation because the Republicans have moved too far right (good for him) and his moderate principles and his beliefs fall more under the heading of Democrat now that the Republican party is a dwindling assortment of floundering wing nuts and extremists.

After taking a closer look at Specter's voting record, however, one has to consider that this may not be such a great move for liberal lefties, like myself. Specter supported the Supreme Court Justice nomination of Clarence Thomas and has a long record of voting straight-up, old-school Republican. The real notable difference, especially as far as the regional, reactionary, gun-totting, party of "NO" is concerned, is his support of a woman's choice, admittedly a hot button, divisive issue for the Republicans who insist on shouting "Baby Killer" in the direction of anyone who supports a woman's choice.

So Specter's switch is good news in theory but it certainly doesn't insure filibuster proof voting on the Senate floor. Senator Specter is an honorable, responsible man of integrity who, I believe, does have the best interests of his constituents at heart. That being said, I believe that he will support Obama's health care initiatives just as he supported his stimulus package.

It is disappointing and disconcerting that the Republicans, who had an opportunity to nurture and support the likes of Senator Specter and encourage more like him to join their ranks, chose instead to deride him for his values, his integrity and his independent thinking. The GOP could be expanding their base by welcoming moderates instead of pushing them aside. I believe that the United States is a country that, ultimately, benefits from a two party system. What is going to happen when one of those two parties has so marginalized itself that it is no longer representative of those it, supposedly, serves?

Friday, April 17, 2009

tea party

It's one thing to have right-wing nut jobs loudly objecting to anything that makes sense. This is America and they are, after all, constitutionally entitled to shout any crazy thing they like from rooftops, provided it doesn't incite violence. So I'm pretty much used to that and I'm not so much worried about the Tea Party fanatics who think that Obama's stimulus budget and tax plan will be their undoing. Looking at these protesters, however, it is my guess that the majority of them will actually benefit from the new tax plan as they don't appear, to me, to be folks who make more than $250,000 a year.

So they are wrong - so what? So they're carrying around offensive signs that liken Obama to Hitler and are calling him a Muslim
(as if being a Muslim in itself is completely and utterly evil) and a baby killer and a traitor and some are even calling for his death, not impeachment, mind you, but death. This is all pretty disturbing stuff especially as this Tea-bagging business was not a grassroots movement at all, as Fox news claims it to be, but a planned protest initiated and orchestrated by Newt Gingrich, Dick Army and Fox news itself.

On some level it is amusing to watch the arrogant Grand Old Party unravel frenziedly, but my amusement is overshadowed by the underhanded, manipulative tactics that they are using and the hatred that they're inciting.
What I find particularly scary is not that there are misinformed, misguided, angry regular folks shouting hatred out in the streets but that Governor Perry of Texas is publicly mentioning secession! That Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama says that he has a list of seventeen socialists who are members of congress! That Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota says that President Obama wants re-education camps for the youth of America!

These people are elected officials! Have they never heard of McCarthyism? Do they not see the similarities here? They are supposed to be working in the best interest of their constituents yet they are talking like uneducated, uninformed, lunatic fringe, bat-shit crazy wingnuts!

When did right-wing extremism become mainstream? Is what we're hearing from these people the desperate voice of the legacy of white supremacy losing it's grip on United States politics as it frantically tries to hold on and simultaneously circles the drain? Is this why there is such an urgent attempt to incite fear and anger however it can be mustered?


Shouts of un-Americanism from people who support secession is laughable but those shouting don't seem to see the irony. No one let them in on the joke that re-instating a confederacy is un-American. Perhaps they are just too focused on what the implications of a confederacy would have to a country that has elected a man of color to the nation's highest office.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

status update

Is making donuts... Has spring fever... Wrestles with the grumpy bunny... Eats too much breakfast sausage... Smells like strawberries...

Every morning I wake up, log on and wonder what I should say about myself, in the third person, for the rest of the world to read. I have found myself spending, wasting really, way too much time fretting over this particular puzzlement.

Is this, perhaps, a sign that I'm just not authentically part of this new social networking generation? Do those younger, hipper, twittering cool kids agonize over their status the way I do? Am I just trying too hard?

I could always clear my previous update and leave it blank but that seems so... blank.

Clearly, there is no immediate resolution to my status pickle so I'll just have to go back to scanning song lyrics and famous quotes till I find something just right.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

european tour

Presidents Obama and Sarkozy in Strasbourg, France April 3, 2009

For most of the twentieth century the United States assumed the role as leader of the civilized world; the best in industry, finance and policy. Other nations might look to us an example of what is good and right. A Beacon - America the best, the bravest, the boldest, the boss.

In more recent years, specifically following the attacks of September 11, when other nations saw an opportunity to embrace us as an ally with a common goal, it seems our nation moved from being an example of leading to dictating how others must fall in step with our agenda. That moment of opportunity had vanished and anti-American sentiment began to develop throughout the world, particularly in Europe, where the United States was once held in high regard.


A “war on terror” was waged, troops were deployed, soldiers were killed, countless Iraqi lives destroyed and fear and anger turned to suspicion as the United States, the example of what is good and right, broke its’ own constitution and began holding people without charging them and torturing prisoners in Guantanamo and other undisclosed locations around the world. Times had changed and who could blame others for pointing out the arrogance and hypocrisy of the great American nation?

That suspicion and anger began to fester here at home, in cities and towns, across the Great Plains and from sea to shining sea till this last November when America voted for change. (Obama’s decision to put players who helped to create financial deregulation in a position to fix the economic crisis isn’t, exactly, the change I can believe in but that’s another post)

The previous administration has left power, the Bush-Cheney justice department is being scooped out like a melon and discoveries of their dishonest, corrupt and nefarious deeds keep unfolding.

Now our nation is being represented to the world by a new face of America, one that other nations may not have seen before. After attending the G-20 summit in London, President and Mrs. Obama continued their European tour and yesterday President Obama held a town-hall style meeting in Strasbourg France.

In his opening remarks in Strasbourg he said,
“America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive… But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious…So I've come to Europe this week to renew our partnership, one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies.”

It’s like I’m dreaming. I watched the presidents' opening remarks last night, staggered, my mouth agape. We now have a president who seeks to listen and to learn, a president who sees humility as a strength. Hail to the chief.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the haunting


I don't remember when I joined Facebook but since that time I've been being visited by ghosts. People I went to high school with, old friends, lovers, cohorts, work associates, acquaintances and even people I don't think I ever really liked when we were traveling in the same circles some twenty-odd years ago.

I currently have 277 friends and 50 pending friend requests and numerous friend suggestions. And this is after editing them down to only people I actually know. Several times!

277 friends? Really?

When something happens and I feel like I need to talk to someone there are about three or four people I think to call. When I'm lonely or bored or think it'd be a good day to go to a movie there are about three or four people I think to call.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word friend as one being attached to another by affection or a favored companion.

Ok, so maybe we've become a little lax with our modern use of this word friend. I don't believe there's anyone I've accepted as a friend on facebook with whom I feel hostility. That's something right?

I don't want to be rude and I certainly have no interest in hurting anyone's feelings by ignoring their friend request but just because I remember someone doesn't mean that we're friends.

Almost daily, more ancient spectres appear before me as I sit in front of my computer monitor, mouth agape, not sure what to think or do.


More perplexing still is how to properly respond to the messages I've received from some of these long past
friends. Again, it really doesn't serve me to be rude or hurtful or even dismissive to anybody but how, exactly, am I supposed respond to "What have you been up to all these years?" when my acquaintance with the person asking was so many years ago and peripheral at best?

It seems the rapid advancement of technological social networking has far excelled the speed with which the human psyche has advanced. Is there a standard, appropriate, contemporary response to such requests?

I usually end up writing something like:

"Wow. Thanks for saying hi. So good to see you on here. Things are really great. Thanks for the friend request. Later"

More evidence that being completely honest without hurting people's feelings in a modern world can be a very problematic undertaking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

michelle

Remember last year when the consensus seemed to be that Candidate Obama's wife Michelle would surely mean his demise? There was all that business of her never having been proud of her country and being a terrorist fist-jabber and then she was awarded the ultimate, inexcusable title of angry black woman. Oooh, scary.

Over the course of the last several months, specifically since her husbands' installation as leader of the free world, that scary, angry black woman has fast become America's sweetheart. Mrs. Obama is proving to be a new brand of First Lady.

I don't mean to imply that the accomplishments of previous First Ladies should appear petty or insignificant. Elenor Roosevelt transformed the role of First Lady and fought for the rights of underprivileged people of all races and all nations. Hillary Clinton certainly brought intelligence and competence as she tried to take on the national health care system with assurance and command, a refreshing respite after Barbara Bush's authoritarian, grandmotherly gaze from atop her three-tiered, pearl collar. Rosalind Carter, a charming southern woman, took a strong interest to promote programs to aid mental health and the elderly as well as championing the performing arts. Betty Ford did terrific things during her tenure as First Lady to promote awareness of breast cancer and substance abuse issues and even Laura Bush showed kindness, generosity and compassion, working to end literacy during the time her husband's administration was gutting our judicial system. Many previous First Ladies have accomplished great things in their chosen areas of charity and in the agendas they've championed.

Filling such an iconic role as the first black First Lady is no small feat but Michelle Obama seems to be pulling it off effortlessly. Her journey from the south side of Chicago to Princeton, Harvard Law School then into the role of lawyer, mom to two beautiful daughters, Sasha and Malia, while being a devoted daughter and loving wife seems almost super human. Add to all this the significance of the fact that she is a descendant of American slaves and she is living in the White House! Is it any wonder that this woman is on, seemingly, every magazine cover?

Voices from the GOP continue to bad mouth and trash the Obamas. Rush Limbaugh, with three divorces and a well documented prescription drug addiction history, continues to throw ugly verbal stones at the Obamas while they, seemingly unaffected by these accusations, appear to live in idyllic Eisenhower-esque married bliss.

Have we ever had a First Lady from an urban, middle class, blue-collar background? I don't know. We've certainly never seen a woman bring this level of education to the role of First Lady. Sure, Hillary was an educated woman with a law degree but her lack of softness and the almost twenty year age difference between them creates the contrast of one who is a feminist lioness and one who shrugs it off.

If carrying off the improbable roles of educated, modern woman, super-mom, devoted daughter, loving wife and American icon simultaneously wasn't enough, a couple of weeks ago Mrs. Obama served food to homeless people at a soup kitchen in Washington DC. Of course this was arranged as a press opportunity but Mrs. Obama possesses a certain amount of sincerity and down-to-earth-iness that simply cannot be manufactured. She wasn't only feeding homeless people because some public relations guy thought it would be a good idea she wanted to be there.



Just last week our First Lady left the capitol for Fort Bragg, North Carolina to commence her agenda of reaching out to military families. The news footage of her greeting these military families tugged on my heartstrings particularly hard and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because of just how genuine and approachable she seemed as she was shaking hands and embracing these military men and women and their spouses. Maybe it's the still, surprisingly emotional punch the image of an African American First Lady has. Maybe it's just the simple authenticity and freedom from hypocrisy that emanates from her smiling face after these previous eight years of questionable, even nefarious government conduct.

Mrs. Obama seems to be striking a chord with her focus on the needs of military families. In her first television interview since her husband took office Mrs. Obama told ABC news, after
hearing about military families on food stamps:

"It hurts. It hurts. These are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps, give their lives _ the ultimate sacrifice. But yet, they're living back at home on food stamps. It's not right, and it's not where we should be as a nation."

"I encourage everyone out there, within the sound of my voice, to reach out on your own _ through schools, PTA, Little Leagues, churches, workplaces _ and find out if there's a soldier or a soldier's family right there in the community who needs a little extra support," Mrs. Obama said in her speech to community leaders in nearby Fayetteville. "They're there. Something as simple as offering help with car pool duty can make the world of difference to a parent who's trying to hold the family together during a very stressful time."

"Our soldiers and their families have done their duty _ and they do it without complaint," Mrs. Obama said. "And we as a grateful nation must do ours _ do everything in our power to honor them by supporting them."

Topping off the news coverage of her Fort Bragg visit Michele Obama was shown reading "The Cat In The Hat" to children
ages 3 to 5, at a Fort Bragg child development center. Seated on the floor she said "I used to read this book to my daughters" a small boy ran up to her, hugged her around her neck and said,

"I know Sasha!"

"You know Sasha?" she replied.

And the two continued to hug as the other children sidled their way in for hugs of their own.

Mrs. Obama's iconic persona seems to have become a conduit for the message of this new era. This message is not just ringing true for military families or women or black people or even Americans (think back to the crowds gathered for then Candidate Obama's speech in Berlin or the celebrations in Kenya on election night). This administration's promise of authenticity, encouragement and inclusion, this message of hope, is being felt by everyone - even children.

Monday, March 9, 2009

give it up

Lent is the period in the liturgical year of Christendom, the forty days that lead from Ash Wednesday to Easter, that represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert enduring the temptation of Satan before he began his ministry.

Traditionally, Christians have used the forty days of Lent to prepare for Easter through fasting, both from foods and activities, and by other acts of penance, as a time to grow in their awareness of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to be on a spiritual journey. It is not uncommon for some people to give up a vice or add something that might bring them closer to God. This is often done by giving time or money to a charitable organization.


Having explained all this, I have been trying to figure out what I might give up for lent. What could I remove from my daily life that would be a penance to remind me of my faith during this season? This season leading up to Easter; spring, a time of renewal and new life. "I've got it" I thought, "Fried food! That's it! I'll give up all fried foods". The truth is I've already, pretty much, given up all fried food and being more stringent about this dietary practice might only lead to more weight loss, more physical pride and more vanity which wouldn't be a very spiritual reminder of my faith at all.

So I've been seriously thinking about what to give up that would strengthen the awareness of my faith as I consciously abstain from it and the thought came to me that I might give up using the words hate and should. I find both of these words to be negative, accusatory and overused words that tend to be corrosive and hurtful.

The word hate is so overused that it really seems to have lost it's meaning. How many times a day does one hear "I hate when that happens" or "I hate when people do that"? If a word, which is meant to express the most intense dislike, is constantly used to describe inconveniences and bothersome situations then, in my view, it really ought to be given a rest. I also find it rather unattractive to be bringing attention to people, places or things which I dislike intensely so for these reasons I've decided to try to eliminate the word hate from my vocabulary. This has proved really not as hard as I imagined and only became difficult recently when Ann Coulter was being discussed. Spewing and inciting hate is, after all, what she seems to have made a career of.

The word should, however, is a little more difficult to avoid. It's so much a part of our daily vocabulary: "You should try this", "You should go this way instead of that way", "You should stop smoking", "You should eat more vegetables." All these things may be true but It has been brought to my attention that when I use the word should I am automatically making the other person wrong. "I know better. My suggestion is more valid. What you're doing is bad." If I'm using the word should then I'm judging and insinuating that
the other person is wrong even if I am trying to be helpful. Unsolicited advice is always heard as criticism. No one likes to be judged or told they are wrong. This makes people feel bad. So for this reason I've decided to try to eliminate the word should. So far so good.

This motivation of not wanting to make anyone feel bad brings me to the biggest decision I've made about what I want to try to give up: Speaking ill of anybody. Yep, you read that right. I don't want to say anything bad about anybody. This is the big leagues now. This is way more difficult than no meat on Fridays or not using specific words. Not speaking badly about anyone is proving to be very hard, indeed. Inevitably I find myself in situations that upset me. The challenge is to keep the focus on myself and my feelings instead of focusing on other people's choices and behaviors or what they are doing wrong. This is harder than it sounds. I can be upset with a situation and even express my feelings of displeasure about that. That is very different, however, than saying "That guy is a moron!"

Perhaps this idea of not speaking badly about others was brought on by the whole gossip thing. I don't know. I am going to try to keep this up, at least, till Easter. Who knows? It might even follow me into the next season and the next. Not making others feel bad is certainly a commendable step on a spiritual journey and could only lead to feeling better about myself. Even if I fail at eliminating this last indulgence I'll have cause to remember that I wanted to have it removed as an affirmation of my faith.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

gossip

What makes gossip so tantalizing? Why is it that talking about someone else's business to a third party makes someone feel better about themselves?

I know something you don't know therefor I'm more important because I have privileged information.

Poor So-and-so, we're so much better off than them.

Did you hear what happened to whats-her-name? What a shame.

Recently a lady, who I know just marginally from walking Zeke in the park, came up to me and asked me how my sister was doing. Last month my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and she's now currently undergoing chemo treatment. I've spoken to only a few people about this. I feel like this is a personal and delicate matter that I'm not quite sure I've processed myself yet let alone feel comfortable discussing with peripheral dog-park people. I felt violated.

I said "Excuse me?" She said "Oh, I just heard about her and wondered how she was doing." She scurried away. I must've shot her a threatening look, she has avoided me since and the subject hasn't been brought up again.


This morning another one of the dog-park ladies tried talking to me about yet another dog-park lady. She asked if I'd heard something about her and began trying to pull me into a conversation by making fun of the other lady, setting me up to take verbal jabs at her.
I identified the impulse to engage but almost immediately got angry at her for encouraging this behavior as well as at myself for being susceptible to it.

Is feeling better about oneself at another's expense an inherent human trait or is it learned behavior? Does everyone naturally fall into this trap or is it a character flaw engaged in by only the morally weak?

I don't like the way it makes me feel. Being someone who talks about other people's business is not the kind of person I want to be. Having just recently been on the other side of this I'm more convinced now than ever how hurtful it can be.

Should I confront these park gossips about their nefarious chatter or just try to be an example by avoiding their indulgent clucking?

Gossip! I don't want to do it and I don't want to hear it. I realize I might show more compassion as these ladies may only be talking about other people's business because of a lack of substance in their own lives. Still, I find myself annoyed and offended.


Every morning Zeke and I walk briskly around the park as the same cluster of neighborhood ladies stand in the same spot and jibber the same jabber. Their dogs run around them as Zeke and I circle; down the stairs, along the river, up the path, around the playground, up the stairs, down the path. Two or three times we do this and the ladies gab and cluck.

I'll not be drawn in. I'll not be affected. I'm there to walk not talk. If I can make just a small difference by not even listening to it then I've done something good.

Friday, February 20, 2009

arbolé, arbolé,


Tree, tree
dry and green.

The girl with the pretty face
is out picking olives.
The wind, playboy of towers,
grabs her around the waist.
Four riders passed by
on Andalusian ponies,
with blue and green jackets
and big, dark capes.
"Come to Cordoba, muchacha."
The girl won't listen to them.
Three young bullfighters passed,
slender in the waist,
with jackets the color of oranges
and swords of ancient silver.
"Come to Sevilla, muchacha."
The girl won't listen to them.
When the afternoon had turned
dark brown, with scattered light,
a young man passed by, wearing
roses and myrtle of the moon.
"Come to Granada, muchacha."
And the girl won't listen to him.
The girl with the pretty face
keeps on picking olives
with the grey arm of the wind
wrapped around her waist.
Tree, tree
dry and green.

~ Federico Garcia Lorca