Friday, March 27, 2009

One's Good Name

One of the things I find fascinating about the human mind is its ability to respond to thoughts, issues and circumstances with such immediacy. By “immediacy” I mean what is going on in our heads right now. Sure, we can train ourselves - or be trained - to respond in a certain manner, according to pre-conceived and cemented notions. We are the Kings and Queens of Because-We- Have-Always-Done-it-that-Way. But, we are also infinitely capable of changing our minds, perceptions, and attitudes about any random thought that skitters across our minds. And, we do it just because we feel the vibe. We switch tracks with abandon and enthusiasm, with a sense of entitlement, and without warning.

And, as our minds go, so do our mores. To be sure, there are always legions of manner mavens, style sisters, political pundits, and intellectual icons willing to trot out in defense of the kingdom against all pretenders. We have an abundance of societal defenders, both earnest and passionate, acolytes who sing our praises and sweep away our garbage. Yet, we rise only to slip down. Time and again, we reach what we think is a pinnacle on the way to another pinnacle, only to realize too late, that what we call progress is only progression.

We start something new – continental foothold, nation, neighborhood, family. We have a vision, and we claw and cajole to realize the next logical bright new thing. We feel it when it is working, when the government begins to gel, when the crops take root, when our loved ones grow smarter, when we have change in our pockets, when life just feels so damned right. We want to leverage that feeling into the bigger and better: bigger schools, better libraries, bigger cars, greener lawn, and sports teams capable of championships. Scholarships progress to legacy slots at the Ivies. The swim club becomes the country club, and the ocean is no longer so far away.

And, we have been working on being right, of being just and true, morally solid, crystal clear about what is needed, what we should do, how we should behave. There is nothing better than a nice road map, eh? But, now we have started using MapQuest, and the directions are not so clear. See, the construction marches on like everything else, and those familiar roads have changed. Then, around some strange bend we find we're going wrong. Well, we find it when we are ready to admit that we are lost.

One day, we realize we have strayed from the blue and red snakes on our road map. What was right is now left. What was up comes crashing down. That beautiful field next door now contains five new houses, because someone needs a bigger place to hold all their accomplishments. What is good is what protects all the crap we have bought since – well, yesterday.

And, look: Now there are all these other people coming up who have their own dreams, desires and sense of being. They are not impressed by our history, our experience, or our beliefs. We appear jaded and tired. Color us cynical, greedy and obtuse. Why would they follow our map? We’ve been driving around in circles, looking for the entrance ramp. Or was it the exit?

We have lost the ability to present ourselves in simple terms, without qualifiers and apologies. Our bravado no longer serves us, and we grasp at promises for a better day in the hope that they will lead us back to where we diverged. Even when we know we are lost, and it's all our fault.

What we have lost is our good name in the eyes of everyone, ourselves included. We have frittered away. We have wasted. We have taken for granted. Under the weight of all that indifferent, misdirected ambition we know the only way to re-discover it is to retrace our path: down the superhighway, onto the surface streets, back through the neighborhoods, and into that small parking space in front of Mama’s house. Maybe the kin and family heirlooms will remind us who we are.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


KenMac creates this cool Greenwich Village Daily Photo blog with – umm, daily photos of Greenwich Village. And, beyond! He clicks what he sees, what moves him, what he provides for your own movement. Check him out.

Frequently, he decries the loss of the old architecture, the buildings with character fallen before the encroachment of what he calls soulless “condo-strocities". Not to mention the chic-shoppes and Club-O-Matics. Why maintain something grown from a life when the corporations cradle us. They are the new landed estates, sworn to support us mind and soul (Lords and Ladies, Dance your Boards!)

Today, Ken posted photos of ‘ruins’ (his descriptive): building with crackling, crumbling paint; with graffiti that says everything without appearing to say anything; with such beautiful workmanship of plaster, glass and metal that I wonder when we stopped thinking it worthwhile to do something beautifully when we had to do something at all.

Those photos naturally made me think of all the worthwhile things we toss in pursuit of the new, the better, the young, the more. The More. That’s it, isn’t it? In our souls, we are children, and, like Oliver, we want more. Saturday morning TV was created by geniuses familiar with the human mind. What better gig than to give the new to the ones starved for it? What better purse than the bottomless one constantly filled by the coin of insatiable consumers perpetually driven to chase about for the next thing?

It does not even have to be the next great thing. We disengaged ourselves from the pursuit of things like quality years ago. Good and long-lasting are no longer characteristics we have been trained to expect. New! Fresh! Unexpected! Whatever your neighbor hasn’t yet discovered is a treasure.

So, what have we given up in the pursuit of the fresh? What is disposable?

People? Certainly. We trade-in our friends, our spouses, our children at the first opportunity to upgrade. We now live so long that we don’t know what to do with our parents. We turn over employees like playing cards, while sneering at those sensitive souls who don’t get that it’s just business. We step over the homeless, pity the unemployed, and can’t seem to empathize with anyone who doesn’t look, talk, act, dream like us.

Animals? They have been disposable – well, forever. Don’t be fooled by those willing to drop $15K on a kidney transplant for their Shiba Inu. The shelters are unrelentingly full, and my vet’s assistant cares for 46 cats. Our plains are full of wild mustangs and buffalo, but they are in pens awaiting slaughter. Animals are commodities, no matter how smart, cute, fast, strong, brilliant, or endangered. Is it cynical to view it all as critter marketing now?

Plastic, metal, paper, energy, land, whatever? It’s a bit difficult to take recycling, conservation, sustainable energy drives/policies/pleas seriously when only the most earnest or the most paid can muster up a semblance of enthusiasm or fury.

You have to know, because even children know: When you throw away everything, sooner or later you end up with nothing

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who IS that Woman Walking Down the Road?

Last day of Winter 2009 in Malvern, PA

I must blog now, because if I HAPPEN to awake before the Vernal Equinox (7:44 AM, EDT), I will almost certainly still be abed, sans contacts, and bleary-minded.

But my morning lethargy is not indicative of the warmth with which I greet the most magical of seasons.

Surely there have been longer winters, but never have I waited for Spring with as much yearning as I do tonight. Why? Why, I have no idea. I am neither injured nor particularly wanting. I seek no external magic to improve my life. In fact, these days I seem to be counting on my own energy to raise me, not some vibration on the breeze. And that is never a bad thing.

But, that vibration on the breeze ... Is that ever a bad thing either?

So, why is a turn of the planet so meaningful to me? Maybe because rebirth, re-invigoration, renewal – tcha! all those “re” words – feel so damned necessary. Maybe, I need the progression of the season to partner with the sense of optimism I feel. And, maybe the promise of blue sky, warm sun, sweet-smelling breezes, rampant flowers, and clamoring fertility is just plain right on time.

So, here I am, waiting on this busy Pennsylvania road, where we rushrushrush to get wherever we think we need to be now. The sun plays tag with us, and then goes inside to watch Judge Leroy Brown. The trees are sleeping – or maybe they are just ignoring us. A few brave strands of green push through the soil with such faith that the fates will align in their favor. The grass is that 70s appliance green-brown that we would never choose to see again.

And, IwaitIwaitIwaitIwaitwaitwait.

Wait – Who IS that crazy-looking chick strolling down the road? See her? I think I know her. Do you know her? And, what magic compels the sun to come out just in time to highlight the flowers in her hair?

Welcome home, Sister Spring.

Hey, can I get you a drink?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inspirational Voodoo

No, not yet. Just a flashback photo from last summer, but soon ...

Is there something in the human brain that responds to the stimuli built into sappy, inspirational songs?

So, I’m driving home from class after a long day, flipping through the radio (because the thousand songs on my IPod aren’t enough,) and I hit on one of the – what? – five stations running De-lilahhhhh in the evening. Yes, She of the low, narcotic voice that brings the romantic, the maudlin, and the neurotic in droves (notice I did not say suicidal or psychotic. I don’t judge). Usually she’s murmuring to or about some lovelorn supplicant who has found their soul in the music or on a matchbook, and I can flip past, because she’s not talking to me.

But, tonight she stops murmuring, and plays this song called The Time of Your Life. Well, I’m driving down the highway and changing lanes, so I am slow to flip to the next, and just like that, some harmonic combination hooks into the reptilian vestige of my brain, and "Oh Please" turns to "Hey, that’s kind of …" without any sort of transition. I at least have enough brain activity left to realize that I’m nodding my head and smiling a silly smile. Great. Next I’ll be adding it to my blog (yeah – laugh it up, Monkey Children).

But I’m not bitter, just ridiculous.

Why do we need sappy, inspirational; tunes? Because, sometimes we need a life line. Sometimes, we let life pull us a little too low for our own good. And, sometimes we let life push us a little too high. And sometimes, it’s not life sending us to either extreme; we jut feel like sinking or soaring. And, that’s fine, until it goes on too long or too far. Then, we have a tendency to act up (or down), and that’s when all the trouble starts.

So we, or God, or the Mother, or the Daughter, plant all these interesting bits of stimuli in our path to keep us on an even keel. Maybe, it’s a song, a painting, a photo, or a poem. A slant of light, running water, warm sun after a long winter. A political sound byte, a religious sound byte, sex (good or bad), food, wine, and we’re back to song again.

Whatever. No really. Whatever.

So, thanks, Delilah. May your name be inscribed in some quiet, echo-y marble hall, where the goddesses are cool and where supplicants murmur your name in warm, round tones.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, lads and lassies. Be safe, 'cause there's three more days until Spring, and you don't want to miss that.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Americans Need to Love Themselves, Not Medicate"

Yes, I am wasting time again when I should be reading or writing or something (and yes, you do NOT want to know what I am wasting time on!) In the background, CNN is running on the TV. Why not music? Because talking heads blow by me like mist. Music, on the other hand, distracts me, sending me into other thought-paths, and I am trying to CONCENTRATE.

Yeah. OK. I lie. I am not trying to concentrate at all. I am floating on some rogue thought-path that does not even promise to end in something worth while. Yeah. So?

So, on CNN, they are doing some story about the Mexican drug wars that are spilling across the border into the US (Shocking.) Funny, how we can remark about bad long-distance news when it is … long distant. But, when it crosses the border into our peony-laden lawns (read that: HOME,) we freak out, call in the National Guard, demand Congressional hearings, as if the problem just reared its misshapen head yesterday.

CNN has embraced Twitter (must have a significant chunk of stock, and no, I will not provide a link. Google it.) And, someone on Twitter twittered (has Merriam-Wagner blessed that new word yet?): “Americans need to love themselves, not medicate.” Yeah. We do. We need to love ourselves, not a lot of things.

We need to:
Love ourselves, not start wars unilaterally.
Love ourselves, not sink our economy in pursuit of mega-yachts.
Love ourselves, not treat our country’s problems like an opportunity to make political hay.
Love ourselves, not hate the “different” neighbor with the eggplant-colored door.
Love ourselves, not ignore safe-sex in pursuit of sensation.
Love ourselves, and love each other.

Owww! So HARD!!

Suck it up, buttercup.

The thing about the “War on Drugs” is that it is more about misdirection than direction. We want everyone to be healthy and sane. We want everyone to be clear-headed and balanced. We want everyone to be at 100% focused and productive/effective/successful. Theoretically. We want everyone to be wonderfully conceptually. We want everyone to be happy and fulfilled – at a safe distance. We want everyone to soar as long as it has ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT on our high-flying lives. We wish everyone well as long as they are a reasonable facsimile of us.

So, when someone says, “Americans should love themselves, not medicate, “I hear: “Americans should live within the established parameters, and not start any shite.” March. Adhere to the predominant society-speak. Live your lives. Work your institutionalized work. Drink your beer, wine, or commercially prescribed spirits. Cheer your local teams. Watch highly-rated TV. Read the NY Times best-sellers. Maintain your Facebook account. Attend your 20th High School reunion. Quit smoking. Cut down on processed foods. Adopt a shelter-dog. Go to church. Be in bed by ten. All within the rules. All within the rules. Stay the hell within the rules.

But, we will still have all of our political, economic and societal problems. We will still be rampantly undisciplined. Some of us will still need a cheesecake, a drink, or a joint to feel whole. Most of us will not be able to fit into a size 4. And, you know what? For all our foibles, all our breaches of societal norms, all our bad habits and behaviors, the sun will rise the next morning like nothing ever happened. We will have a new day to try to figure out who the hell we are, what we want, and what we believe we should be. And, it will have nothing to do with artificial prescriptions against behaviors that never touch the things that really need our attention.

“Americans Need to Love Themselves.” Period.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Unlikely Encounters

My brother coyote TRXTR of Groundless Observations sent me a story that you may have come across. The Washington Post won a Pulitzer for, Pearls Before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten. Weingarten wrote of a social experiment conducted in the subway where superstar violinist Joshua Bell posed as a street musician. The point? To see how passers-by would react.

Fascinating! What a great thing to blog about (I’m sure bunches did when the story ran in 2007, but who cares?). What a perfect illustration of man’s inability to appreciate the beauty at the side of the road and all that. Except Weingarten pretty much covers it. Yeah, Pulitzer. Please give it a read if you have a few minutes.

OK, I will say one thing - or so. You could take this story as just another sad sign of our society’s inability to appreciate the fantastic world on the other side of our skin. Disillusionment galore. I do not think so. I think it’s beautiful. Yes, we fail to appreciate. Yes, we prioritize the wrong things, rushing by the extraordinary on the way to the must-be-endured. Yes, we forget – or refuse – to use our senses, to dream, to be, to rise. Yes, yes.

But, every once in a while some thing happens. We encounter something that pulls us up short. We slow down for a minute for no apparent reason. Every once in a while a story like this comes along, or we hear music in the underbelly of the city, and we see what we have become and what we have given up. And, if we are smart or lucky, we get an inkling of what’s our there for us and what we can be.

That one moment of jaw-dropping insight or Mack-truck lesson is worth all the empty bullshit we have allowed ourselves to be buried in this year. But only if we stop and listen next time. I wish I were one of those confronted with their own deafness that day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stepping into the Irish Sunshine

Photo: Peter Morrison/ap

To My Brothers and Sisters in Ireland:

Oh. No. Not again. Who is that dragging you down that dark lane again? Down where the shadows are thick, and the big dogs and hard men wait? Who dares to drag you back to the place of guns and bombs ? Where the shattered lives and all the pain carried down from father to son to mother to child stains the ground with the blood of decades? Who would do such a thing - again?
Oh, please, please! Do not let them take you down that lane again.

See, y’all have been getting on so well lately. Your brightest stood up and called a peace. And, when you all said, “Peace? “ and the other side nodded, looking you straight in the eye, and answered: “Peace.” a funny thing happened. People watched for a bit, resisting the recalcitrant who sought to keep the “troubles” boiling. Then they started to believe. They peeked out of their doors, walked out into the sunshine, and grabbed hold of their lives. Working. Playing. Laughing. Living. Loving. Sitting in pubs and cafes. Talking – really talking. Nodding to each other on the street, Catholic and Protestant. To each other. And, while doing all that, you let the fear slide away into the gutter.

No, you did not give up your armories, but I figured as long as you did not use them, I don’t care what you have hidden under the hill.


It seems that not everyone is walking on sunshine. Not everyone has put the darkness to rest, letting go of the pain and the grudges. Because this week two British soldiers and a policeman were killed in separate acts of protest against the Northern Ireland peace process. Protesting the peace process. As if all the decades of injury and death weren’t enough. As if eleven years of peace and children who don’t have nightmares of bombings were worth nothing.

What would come next? Reprisals? Another generation dragged into darkness, bitter and stunted by a hatred that should have been broken long ago?

No. No? No.

It seems you Irishmen like your sunshine. Turns out the Irish sunshine is stunningly beautiful. And, you hate that long, dark lane. So, there you are standing against the return of the troubles. Catholic and Protestant standing
shoulder to shoulder at the cordoned-off murder scenes. Peter Robinson, former deputy of Ian Paisley, and Martin McGuinness, formerly of the IRA, standing shoulder to shoulder. So many standing for Ireland and against the darkness. Flowers flooding in from all over Ireland and Britain in support of THE PEACE. With one voice you all are saying, “No more.”

And we, your brothers and sisters from around the world, stand with you in your sunshine.

“No more.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dancing (In the Middle of the Road)

“In these challenging economic times … “

I know!

People are hurting. People are worried. People are scared. People are hunkering down, counting the cash, renewing their Cosco memberships, selling Aunt Virginia’s earrings and Uncle Rick’s coin collection, Cutting up credit cards is the least of it. The Bitches of Orange County are slinking off to the private auctions with their husbands’ third Rolex, and waxing grateful for the cash in hand. Things are tough all over.

In these challenging economic times, there is nothing for it but to grab our asses, husband our losses, hang on to the rim for the long haul, and pray that we are left with healthy remnants of our former lives. Can you hear the Little Match Girl sobbing in the snow?

OK. Stop. Just Stop.

Do you really think it must be like that?

Have our lives descended into black and white depression-era film clips of reincarnated Oakies running from the Dustbowl into the jaws of some carnivorous California? Have we lost our ability to help each other and ourselves simultaneously? Have we fallen so far that we are incapable of recovering? And, after flying so high in the first place?

No. Don’t buy it.

We have not fallen so far from the path that we have forgotten who we are (us!), where our resources spring from (within), where we are going (here, there – oh, and there too), and what we will do when we get there (whatever is in our dizzy little head). I say it only takes an act of will to remember ourselves.

I say we get busy.

Because, the only way we will ever crawl, limp, and walk out into the sunshine is to first turn towards the sunshine. The only way we will regain our optimism is to remember what optimism feels like. The only way we will raise ourselves up is to understand the definition of up. And, the only way to do all that is to regain our sense of self. Of soul. Of smile. Of laugh. Of life.

I have a suggestion: Why don’t YOU go outside. Out of your room. Out of your house. Out of your office, your cubicle, your building. Out of yourself. Our of your comfort zone. Out of your mind.

Are you out?


Now see that road? Right there in front of you. I don’t care whether it is in your mind’s eye, or in your physical eye – as long as it is right in front of you. As in: Your Road. Hell, this is your reawakening. Step up. Step out. Right into the middle.

Are you there?

Good for you!

Now, stand straight. You’re slouching. OK. Inhale. No, I mean really inhale. Deep. Deeper. Jesus, you still have lungs, don’t you? Breathe DEEPER!

Yeah, like that. Good.

Feel that cool, deep, tingly air down through your chest and stomach and hips and thighs and knees and ankles and toes. Tingly. Go on. Curl your toes. You know you want to. Good.

Now, I need you to close your eyes. Close – c’mon. No one’s here. Close your eyes. Feel the sun? The warmth? Even in this last stretch of bitter damn!-it-snowed-again Winter? Like a kernel of the sun growing in your belly?

OK. Get ready. Breathe. Breathe. Again.

Do you feel it?

That … what? Magic? Rhythm? Yeah, rhythm. Something coming, coming to the fore. In you. Spring – yes, a seasonal change just over the horizon, but somehow more personal, don’t you think? Wow. Drum and pipe and blood running. Mind stuttering, falling back. Limbs loosening. Core swaying.

Feel it? Yeah?

So, now what are you going to do? What do you want to do? What else is there to do, but dance? Yes, I said dance.

You can’t? What do you mean you can’t?


It’s your road. Who else should/could/would dance in the middle of it?

Silly? Pfft. Then be silly. I don’t care what you look like. Stretch out your arms and legs. Turn around. Hell, I’ll turn around if you don’t want me to see, you baby!


Now where are you?