Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Big Ol’ Pot o’ Hope-Pride Stew in the House Chamber

I don’t know the technology behind MSNBC’s Audience Reaction-O-Meter. You know – that running line chart that shows the positive or negative reaction of an audience to a speech. Tonight the “React-O-Meter” showed the real time (Is it really? OK.) response of Obama voters and McCain voters to Obama’s first Congressional address. Again, I don’t know how it works, but tonight, the blue line and the red line converged solidly in the positive, and overlapped like worms wrestling each other to the surface. People agreeing? G’wannnn.

Maybe it was the guest list: Hope arrived on time like any good regular guest. Then determination and pride burst through the door, threw back their Scotch, laughed loudly, clapped everyone on the back, and sat down for a long dinner.

See, while reminding us that we need to focus on “Energy, Healthcare, and Education," and leading the cheer to “Rebuild, Recover and Emerge Stronger” (Gimme an R! R! E! S!) Obama added this call-to-pride thing.

The message was: “Time to get busy. No more pessimism. No more cynicism. Time to get up. Time to keep up. Oh, and get your ass back in the class room. No more slacking off with the pot and the video games. How old are you anyway? Can you graduate? Can you give me another year of school after that? This ain’t no rodeo, son. Tonight, I said that we are going to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. So, crack a book and show some pride. You need to help save our healthcare system. And find us a new source of energy. Ready? Go.”

And, then there were other guests, like that banker who gave his $60 million bonus to his co-workers, past and present. Oh! And, that 8th grader, Ty'Sheoma Bethea, sitting next to Michelle Obama who is stuck in an under-performing school where the adults admit that all is pretty much crap. She wrote Congress asking for help. She wrote Congress asking for help, because she and her peers want to succeed. She wrote Congress, and borrowed money from her Principal for the stamp so she could tell congress, “We’re not quitters.” The Obama/McCain voter reaction worms crawled off the screen, and broke the surface into the sunshine.

Of course, I’m a sucker, so I cried.

Go Team.

Oh, and Governor Jindal? Happy Mardi Gras to you too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All That Glitters ...

“In these challenging economic times … “
-- Everybody

To whom should I attribute the above quote – or pre-quote?

It has been used at least a thousand times this year to explain, warn, castigate, impel, compel, and excuse all manner of dire conditions. We can’t do X, because “in these challenging economic conditions …” We must do Y now, because “in these challenging economic conditions …” The economy, politics, international relations, health conditions, murder rates, porn, missing honey bees – OK, maybe not the last yet, but the list of things we must accommodate runs long. It seems the market is the turtle on which the planet rests. As goes the money goes the world.

And, tonight we anticipated one more accommodation. Tonight the Academy Awards visited the world on millions of screens. That lasting American icon and supposed wind-vane for the temper of America, that entertainment version of the mood ring, that televised allegory for skirt lengths swung by, and we wondered what she would be wearing. All week, “they” have been telling “us” that the Oscars would be having a dress-down day to honor the national mood in “these challenging economic times.” Who wants to see a bunch of toasties swilling down champagne in designer duds, and grabbing ten thousand dollar goodie bags when the flat-screen will be repossessed tomorrow, when the sheriff is driving down the street, when the shop where Grandpop, Dad, Uncles Ernie and Ted, and Mom had worked for, well forever?

Yet, there seems to have been a slight difference of opinion in the avocado-chomping backrooms of Hollywood. Some other voice, possessing the proper amount of muscle determined that toned-down fiscal responsibility is best managed from the Capitol and the boardroom. Tonight, the bling shone, Armani and Valentino made quite the respectable showing, and smiling humility was the favored accessory. The message: “Have hope. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and we have the juice to get there.”

And, you know what? Fine. Would it truly help our national disposition if Ally from Athens sympathized with Angelina in sack cloth? If Micky wore a button-down from Macy’s would we believe we are finally on the right track? Nonsense. I want to see Washington, Wall Street, Main Street, you and me thinking about the right things, deciding on the right things, and doing the right things. Leave Hollywood to keep spinning us illusions. After a hard day of harsh reality, we need a little respite.

Oh - and Slumdog Millionaire's Kung Fu is strong.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yo, Dad!

My Father was born on Valentine's Day in 1929.

He grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, played ball in school, ran the streets, and hung out with jazz musicians (to his father's horror) ...

Then he turned serious,

Married my Mom, and moved to the suburbs,

Had two kids (I'm playing off to the side somewhere),

Lost his parents and brother within three years (wreaked havoc within) worked for National Rolling Mills for 35 years,

Welcomed his first grandchild, was divorced, retired,

Re-married my Mom ...

My father loves family,

All family.

Even other people's family.

And, he wonders why he, the one who always got into trouble, still lives when all the upstanding members of his family have passed on. We tell me he is here because we need him.

Happy 80th Birthday, Dad!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Using What's in the Room"

Pile of crap in a corner

Tonight, I went to see a play to fulfill an assignment for my acting class. Life is tough.

The play, Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, presented the myths of Ovid as romantic and lyrical, while managing to retain the raw and brutal nature of the gods. Okay, so maybe that won't be in my paper. The play was well written, well presented, and well acted; however, the thing that struck the loudest chord within me was in the program notes. The playwright mentioned a line from Willa Cather's Song of the Lark, where a character remarks that "she will never be the artist she was as a child." Zimmerman translated that into her own: "I am at my best when I am unselfconscious and using what's in the room."

Interesting. How often do we tell ourselves - and others - that things will be PERFECT, if only [fill in the blank]? How often have we delayed our plans until X happens or arrives? How often have we deferred something until the time is right? Until the package arrives? Until the planets align? How often have we forgotten what we are even waiting for for all the waiting we do?

Perhaps - just as an exercise, mind you - we should try "using what's in the room." Look around . What do you see right there in front of you? What is there in your room that you can use? What can you do with it? What will you do with it? Don't think so much! Don't think about time slipping by; think of yourself slipping by while you wait for the right time, tools, mindset, people, opportunity. Maybe what you are looking for is right there in front of you, on the shelf waiting for you to pick it up. Literally.

C'mon. Don't you have something to do?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prisoners for Sale

Kurt Kruger, jailed for being with a friend who shoplifted DVDs
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Once upon a time, I recall being horrified when I heard that we were outsourcing our prisons. Prisons? For money? Locking people up to turn a profit? Yes. Those institutions necessary for civil society, those necessary evils that make nervous the patriots among us. They were now Enterprise.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. The business of America is business, and we are always on the lookout for new ways to construct a profit. We will turn every stone, explore every hole, climb every tree, sell anything that smacks of advantage, and then turn around and laud our behavior as some sacred ritual that keeps the wheels of commerce – and, so the world – turning. Like Ezekiel’s. Limits are something to be explained to children who cannot yet understand our holy quest, this place we call reality.

But, this BUSINESS of paying someone to keep another being, another citizen imprisoned? Whoa! Let me recap: I get money if I send you away? I get money if I KEEP you locked up? Wow. OK. Let me ask another question: I have the majority vote and the regulations deciding whether or not you remain in prison? And, I have the power to tack on the extra time that equals extra profits for me and mine? Cool! I am ALL IN!

To say that it is the height of immorality is like saying rape is an infringement. Those who would seek to make a profit from the suffering of others – read that: suffering that they can control and extend – are damned. Those who set up a corporation in order to profit from the windfall dumped upon the heads of shareholders are running their own circle in hell.

Current events example? It seems that
two judges (not a solitary, errant, hypocritical gnome, but two – oh let’s call them –demons) in my home state thought it perfectly acceptable to send thousands of kids to a private juvenile hall, or wilderness program, or whatever other cute name they created to trip up anyone who would think twice about the circumstances. These two judges thought it perfectly A-OK to send kids away for the minor crimes other judges would refer to parents, counselors, and anyone else who could possibly give a damn. Perfectly acceptable to do so at more than twice the normal rate of incarceration for such crimes. What? That’s part of the job, right? Judicial latitude.

Did it set off any alarm bells to find that social workers AND prosecutors complained about the off-scale rates of incarceration? The complaints did little to stop the flow of kids into the private prisons for years, until someone discovered that the judges had extorted fees from the owners of the private juvenile programs. Yo! Pay me, and I'll channel kids through your systems in numbers sufficient to turn a profit. Everyone's a winner - right?

The kids lost months and years in the programs. The judges made money. Hundreds? Thousands? No, Millions. Millions of dollars for sending some punks away. All good, right? Peace maintained.

No. Yea! No!!! Charges have been filed.

One judge did the apologetic “What was I thinking?!” dance. The other is silent. On the advice of his lawyer, of course. I guess he hopes for a judge that shares his sensibilities. Did I mention that a number of the kids did not have lawyers?

Perhaps we should just dig properly portioned holes for these two, Just to move them closer to their circle.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snow Moon or Hunger Moon?

Moon over Malvern

“They” say February is the month in which we receive the heaviest snows; therefore, February’s full moon is named “Snow Moon.” Just when we stalk the yard, looking for the first flower; a hint of the first breeze that doesn’t blow directly from the icy mouth of Jack Frost; the first day that doesn’t end with the sun scurrying over the horizon at 6:00; February laughs, and dumps snow on our heads. Not in December when we are enraptured with visions of sugar plumbs, snowboards, and snow-hushed Silent Nights, but in February when we are slush-weary and pale. OK, Okay! Yes, there are hardy souls out there who delight in one more snow fort, one more toboggan run, one more ski jump, one more skate across the pond. Good for you.

“They” also say that the heavy snows of February severely limited hunting, causing starvation within the tribes. February’s full moon is also called “Hunger Moon.”

As we protest the snow, or dance through it, let us remember and reach out to those who wish complaining or cheering the weather were foremost in their minds. Food banks feel the economy too.

Friday, February 6, 2009

First Friday Philly Drive-by

Tonight, I went down to Old City to see a friend's brother's art
opening at the Painted Bride Art Center.

Naturally, I had to take a few photos for Lori Skoog, and it was quite easy to accomplish, since traffic was a nightmare.

Did I mention the traffic?

I know. Must stop whining about 4 o'clock traffic.

At least the skyline was fine in the setting sun.

Yeah. I had plenty of time to enjoy it.

Can never drive by without ogling my favorite building, the Circa Centre

Can you spy Ben Franklin's head?

Random public art yearns for street lamp. If only someone would loosen her bonds ...

And, just like that, I'm here.

Robert Raczka gathered together objects and paintings that attracted him, and constructed an experience titled Cultural Artifacts. Every step contained a discovery,

In another gallery, Benjamin Pierce presents Transfigure (well, InLiquid presents Benjamin Pierce, so ... OK,) photography that riffs on the human form in ways that expose our interior landscape.

Naturally, no photos permitted. So sad.

Of course, I love to watch the people watching the art and each other.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Street Called Bliss

Bush Gnomes in Low Light in Ridley Creek Park, August ‘08

My Literature Professor assigned us the first reading of the Villanova Literary Festival. Ethan Canin read from his new novel, America America, and provided witty answers to questions about his process of writing. He was articulate, his reading was engaging, and he made me wonder what I had been doing with the hours of my life.

See, I have been writing since before I could write. When I was three, I wanted to write so badly that I would draw strange cartoons with bubbles for the dialogue, and would beg my Mother (truthfully, it didn’t take much begging) to painstakingly spell out the words I put in my characters’ mouths. I wrote poetry in 4th grade, plays in 6th grade, strange stories in 10th grade and in college. And, writing was like air. It was right there in my head, but required little attention.

Yet, life flowed, slowed, and flowed on. And I wrote, and didn’t write, with abandon. Left to my own devices, I would doodle, and write, and write about my doodles, and stare at the sky, the forest, the ocean, or at nothing at all. I would write in the silence. I would write in my head. I would pour out my mind in the noisy hubbub that filled the bars where I read poetry to the inebriated. Nervous, unsure and knees knocking was I at the podium with a cloth-covered journal of my heart rendered.

Life definitely interrupted, and I let it. Twenty years later, I have a bunch poetry, stories, and plays in my pocket, and a large grey blob of uncertainty about what to actually do with them. Silly me. I really do know.

And, at this moment (lucky me!), I just happened to be drawn to a crossroads. This road that meets an other unfamiliar road at the cross, that continues on to the visible, predictable horizon, is no longer as mildly attractive, fulfilling, certain, comfortable or dear. But, that street that crosses my path, that path that has erupted from the brush and disappears into the wild-land? That road that seemed too … gossamer, incongruous, uncertain, disconnected from the present? That road looks really like home. It vibrates, actually thrumming with a rhythm like something forgotten, almost recalled. Like my heart.

Imagine that.

So. What to do? What to do? What to do?

God, why is this so hard? I’ve been straying from the path all of my life. Wouldn’t it be interesting to do so with intent? Slip off the well-beaten path, sidestep the brambles that always present as the second choice, and forge my own path?


But enough about me. Where is your bliss?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Photos by Lisa Jack

"As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down thereto hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might."
– Marion Anderson

Today, my mother sent me an email containing early photographs of Barack Obama. They were taken by a student photographer in 1980 at Occidental College in Los Angeles. The photos were interesting (I find most photos are), but it was the closing quote of the email, attributed to Marion Anderson, that captured me.

It’s a cautionary thought, akin to: “Do unto others …” and “As ye reap, so shall ye sow.” Yet, it is a much more compelling statement. Yes, we should treat each other as we would like to be treated. There is judicial synergy there. And, we must understand that whatever we send out will come back to us in some (usually stronger) form. Those messages are clear. Do well. BE well. Don't you realize that your energy defines you?

Dig a bit deeper into that soil, however, and there is a profound truth: What we do reflects back, bounces back, because we are all so very connected to everyone around us. We cannot interact with each other, impact each other, even brush by each other without touching, on some level. There are countless strings that bind us together. The connections may be superficial and transitory, or sturdy and persistent, springing from the enduring bonds of emotion or karma. Others are fortified by our blessed or wicked intent. The point is: what we send out swings out. Then back again.

Yet, when Marion Anderson speaks of the reciprocal damage visited upon those who seek to subjugate their fellow man, she warns of the twice-cursed. Those that cause pain to others will receive retribution, to be sure, but the very act of holding down another, is the very thing that cripples their own souls.

And, who in hell is sufficiently warped to pursue that?

Do you want to rise? Do want to soar over the treetops toward some exalted birth-height? Do you imagine yourself gliding through the wild blue yonder of your personal chunk of heaven?


If you hope to fly, then you know you have to get up off the ground and the other guy first, right?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fear of Fire

Tom Kelly IV/Daily Local News

Like everywhere else, Chester County, PA is a study of contrasts. The storied Main Line terminates in Paoli. The Devon Horse Show, Radnor Hunt and countless equine farms celebrate the horsey set (think Kentucky Derby Winners Smarty Jones and the tragic Barbaro). Longwood Gardens, nestles like a jewel in our signature rolling green hills.

Phoenixville rises from the ashes of its lost steel industry, transformed into a funky restaurant/coffee house/bar/shop/gallery burg. Another abandoned steel mill in Great Valley is morphing before our eyes into the high-end manufactured community of “Uptown Worthington.” Meanwhile, Coatesville, a small, economically-challenged city now has more to worry about than an insufficient tax base, lagging schools, and political corruption.

Coatesville is on fire.

It’s not a California wildfire tracked back to carelessness. It’s not Centralia, with its weird, forty year-old mine fire that no one can extinguish. Coatesville is on fire, because an arsonist is at work amid the tightly packed row houses. Over 30 fires have been set since 2008, more than half in the past month (15 homes were lost in the fire last week shown in the above photo). What the residents find most frightening is the fact that the fires are set right on rear porches, using their own trash cans.

Less than 20 miles from where I sit, children lie awake in their beds, fearing fire; parents wonder how they will replace lost belongings; and citizens call for the National Guard. You know people are desperate when they ask for National Guard patrols in their streets. Seems they want action more aggressive action than thee declaration of a State of Emergency and requests for residents to keep their porch lights burning.

But, there are two pieces of good news.

  1. The feds are bringing resources and expertise to the investigation.
  2. There were no fires today.

Today is always a good start, but not yet quite enough to extinguish the fear.