Saturday, January 31, 2009
Not that there aren’t many roads to the Emerald City. Every aspect of our existence is colored by the pursuit of power. Politics. Business. Social issues. Religion. Art. Ethics. Sports. Morality. Music. Love. Saturday morning TV. Food. Medicine. Sex. We struggle to gather influence. We jockey for power within our families. We consolidate power in every organization, from couple to conglomerate to the United Nations. And, the bigger the organization, the more complex are the rituals and construct of authority. “Any time two people come together,” my Mother says, “There’s bound to be a power struggle.”
No wonder we keep killing each other.
We hold love, respect and cooperation in the highest regard. Then, we use them as a cudgel to shape our affairs. We create complex rituals and organizations to maintain amiable relations. Then, we use those same organizations as an instrument of control. Is there anything more influential in the UN that it’s Security Council, a small body of select member-nations that holds disproportionate sway over the military affairs of all other nations around the globe? Yeah – like that. We speak of peace as the ultimate gift we can offer each other, and forcefully deny the operations of our baser impulses, all while clutching a big stick off-camera.
We almost instinctually reach for power the moment someone (presumably more powerful) dangles it before us. Surely, the population of people who have rejected an offer to wield influence is not legion. And, when challenged and cornered, we spout high-minded motivations for wanting, chasing, grabbing, guarding power, and for seeking to mitigate that held by the “other”: We are protecting our own. We are guardians, stewards of the light. We rage against the darkness. Evil will not win on our watch. They wanted/needed it this way. We have every reason in the world to exercise our strength, our talents and authority in a manner that naturally – hell, even accidently – allows us to land on top of our fellow man.
Sometimes, we have no good reason at all. Sometimes, pure desire is enough.
We seem to have a hard time appreciating the perspective of those who land on the lesser end of our big wins. We avoid power-sharing as if it is blasphemous. We never envision a solution that does not involve our winning and others losing something, unless it is in pursuit of a deferred, yet greater, glory. And, we certainly have no capacity to see a time when our power wanes and Destiny propels us downward. If we ever did grasp any of these realities, we might lay down our sticks, and reach out in the sort of comprehensive cooperation we have not seen since Kindergarten.
But, hell! Then the other guy would just smack us in the face, and grab the cudgel for himself.
Friday, January 30, 2009
- Interviewed on an Arab TV News Station - half will say this proves he's Muslim, half will say it proves the age of panic is over, and the rest will be busy watching the Family Guy online.
- Signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, negating the Supremes ruling that you have to file unequal pay complaints within 180 days - whether you know you're being discriminated against or not.
- Established a Middle Class Task Force headed by VP Joe Biden. Someone made comment about putting Joe in charge of the garden instead. Wankers can type too.
- Signed four executive orders in support of unions. Must really be getting pissed about corporate greed.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
We all know we have a lot of work today. There is no time for retracing the same broken territory.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Like that the eagle is facing towards the olive branches, not the arrows
- Close the prison at Guantanamo within one year.
- Transfer control of trials for the imprisoned alleged terrorists from the Defense Department to the Justice Department (justice? Trials? There's a theme in there somewhere ...).
- Close the CIA "black sites" around the world.
- Discontinue interrogation techniques not contained within the Army Field Manual (read stop the enhanced interrogation that anti-terrorism experts have determine violate the Geneva Conventions).
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Obama's Day One to-do list:
- Ordered the cessation of "tribunals" in Guantanamo until they could get a good handle on what the hell is going on down there.
- Froze the pay of White House staffers who make over $100K, and, apparently received support from those affected.
- Told all his peeps and prospective peeps, that anyone who is a staffer with ambitions to be a lobbyist, or a lobbyist with ambitions to be a staffer must wait two years (andin some cases, until the end of the Obama Administration) to make a move. No more jumping from ship to yacht. Hell, the NCAA had stricter ethics rules before this. And, no more gifts to anyone in his Administration either.
- And, about that Freedom of Information Act. No more taking the negative, protectionist approach (i.e., looking for a reason - any reason - to decline a request for information. Look for a reason to release it). Oh, and, those rules apply to the President too (shocking!). Anything he wants to withhold must be deemed Constitutionally necessary by the Justice Dept. The fact that he or an agency can LEGALLY withhold information is no longer enough.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
For months, years (OK, centuries) people have scoffed at messages of hope as the naive hobby of the slow-minded, as the cynical tool of the exploiter, as the weak argument of the down-trodden. Hope is the message of last resort for those without the strength and weapons to bring about change, because hope requires and relies on nothing more than a wish, a prayer, or a wail.
Such people are wrong.
Because, we know what hope is, and what it is not.
Hope is the initiator, not the goal. It is the thing that prepares the mind for action when all evidence, all opinions and every authority gather together and in one voice shout, "No!" Hope is what keeps us going, looking for another path to the goal, when the light fades and the darkest intentions of man rise like shadows on the road to break the will. Hope is the voice in our head softly chanting, "Just one more mile. One more yard. One more step." And, hope is the voice that feeds the next hope, whispering, "You can do this. Remember last time? When you thought you couldn't make it, and you did?"
Does hope replace knowledge? No. Does hope replace discipline? Decidedly not. Does hope replace perseverance? Preparation? Judgement? Insight? Creativity? Practicality? Determination? No, no, no, no, no, no, and no. All these things are required to succeed. But, it is hope that makes our successes imaginable. It is what drives us to stretch and realize the greatest manifestation of ourselves.
Hope opens a feeding program, then allows us to envision and push on to combine it with a clinic. Hope unleashes a stimulus package, while the harder work of building infrastructure and sustainable jobs progresses. Hope closes Guantanamo while finalizing plans to end the war that fed it.
Hope is the twin sister to faith, and the cousin of perseverance. It sustains us until we realize our victories. It salvages us while we recover from our defeats. And, it allows us to raise our heads before we climb the next mountain.
We have many challenges ahead of us. Yes, us. Because, while President Barack Obama brings us messages filled with hope and a determination to conquer the problems that face our nation, he can neither sustain that hope nor solve our problem alone. Of course not. No one can. Yet, there are those who look at him as the charlatan selling a sweet-smelling snake oil. The one who will fill our heads with bright rainbow visions of an impossible future. The one who will betray us, and break our hearts in the end. But, those that look on with mistrust, do not seem to recognize that it is our good intentions, dreams and visions for the future that we fight for.
Not Barack Obama's. Ours.
And, if we are to pursue our future, we must start, right now. We must conquer our negativity, our disbelief that anyone who rises to power can really want to do good, and our loss of trust in the face of so many past disappointments. We must open the blinds, look outside, step outside, breath in the air and think about what we want, and just what we can do about it. We must think, and argue about our definitions and goals, and come together, and support each other, and call a spade a spade, and work together anyway, and let go of fear, and work some more, and celebrate and fight again and commiserate, and get back to work the next day, and try, and try again until we are done. Then, we must get up the next day, and do it all over again.
And, we must accept that, when we succeed, it isn't a trick. No one's setting us up for future disappointment. We can do it again, because our eyes are open now, truly open now. We can see our future, and the road running toward it.
So today, and tomorrow, and every day after, let's hope without embarrassment, because we just kicked fear in the teeth with our silly hippie boots. And, it fell on its ass in the dust.
Monday, January 19, 2009
When are we formed? And, by “we” I mean total and complete beings with all of our essential-for-life parts. It is at birth? At age two? At 14? 25? 50? Ever? Never?
How are we formed? Is all that we are determined at conception by some roadmap etched into distinct polished marble facades by the fates? Or, we are a base model continually molded and upgraded by the endless trail of our experiences? And, does our ability to development, mutate, adapt, re-invent ourselves also depend upon our nature and our nurturing?
Perhaps, some us are born fully formed with all the parts and characteristics we will ever, ever have. Let’s call them Concrete People. And, maybe others come into this world as the proverbial formless blob, relying on time, people, circumstances, situations, and random thoughts to help them realize themselves. Let’s call them Mutables. Truth to tell, we are all probably some fascinating mixture of “Crutable.”
Wait – I lost my point ...
Oh yeah. I guess it’s this: To get through this life, we need all of our parts. We need to plumb the rich loamy depths of our nature. All of the gifts from some dark, mysterious seed bed origins we remember only in our whispered dreams. All the characteristics, talents, emotions and instincts we bring into this world. And, we also need all of the things we learn, see, hear, taste, smell, touch, feel, realize, understand, hope, fear, love, hate, wish, resist, and believe. It is the amalgamation that informs who we are, and contributes to our humanity (or “inhumanity”). All these things help us to rise up and see something beautiful and worthy, or dark and suspect, in a sunset, a stranger, a book, a thought, a river, a song, a badger, a tower, a dream, or the eyes of a brother or sister on a similar journey.
In the end, what is most important: where we came from, or where we’re headed?
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Dark winter night at Immaculata U
It’s been around 15 degrees all day. That’s Fahrenheit, for all you cool international types. Even worse, it dropped to 4 last night. 4 degrees. No mention of a wind chill factor to make us feel the cold, but not feel the cold. I thought there was something wrong with the thermometer in the car, because it only registered one digit. I almost tapped it (like a digital display would feel that). Oh. Crap, it’s cold.
I don’t mean to whine, but we’re not used to these temperatures down here near Philadelphia. Isn’t 30 cold enough? Anything below 30, and I have to put on my coat. Coats are bulky, unwieldy, and often require companions like hats, scarves and gloves. Wearing accessories for something I didn't want to wear in the first place makes me cranky. Anything below 25, and my nose hair freezes. Most of the time, I don’t even notice that I have nose hair. When I do, I stop reveling in the crispness of the air, the naked trees against the morning sky … and get crankier.
Who said seasons were supposed to be painful? And, who decided we should leave our cradle of civilization in Africa in the first place. Sure, there are sandstorms, hostile tribes, famines, bizarre diseases and monsoons, but things are tough all over. The point is: it’s warm. Trade winds. Jungles. Unrelenting deserts. OK, that last one started the pendulum swinging back in the other direction.
Hey, I just looked up the temperature in Niger, home base for Esther of Ishtar News, and it’s going to be 96 tomorrow (Road trip!). Not feeling the Dark Continent? Then, how about Hawai’i? Trade winds? Surfers? A balmy 77. Rio? Beaches? Dancing? 84. Australia? Sea and sharks and cool people with cool accents? 91. Mexico? Hot people with hot food and cool accents? A quite sensible 64. Recovering New Orleans? More cool people with cool music and cool accents? 58. See? There are scads of places where mittens are not required.
I know. I know. The struggle to survive in inhospitable climates has allowed the human race to adapt, innovate, conquer and progress. Blah, blah, blah … And a temperate climate exists in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the world. Places with deep, green deciduous forests and daffodils, soaring mountains and skiing … blah blah blah …
In the interest of full disclosure, please note: I will be singing a completely different tune come May, when a soft breeze carries the scent of lilac and the trees are filled with birds. And, I find no hypocrisy at all in my seasonal opinions, thank you. Also, I’m cold enough to complain, but not to move, so maybe I do just want to whine.
As I write this, the temperature has risen to a balmy 19 degrees. Could Spring be far behind? Please?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The short version: Sullenberger's plane took off from New York en route to Charlotte, North Caroline, and minutes later clashed with a flock of geese. The geese lost, but took out BOTH engines of the plane as they went down. A disaster movie in the making? Yes, but angels in the vicinity relaxed their wings, because pilot Sullenberger rode the helm. He, with 40 years of experience, including fighter jet pilot, Safety Chair of the pilot's union, and crash inspector. Definition: providence.
It’s the – what shall we call them – “Bear Days of January.”
The holidays have faded. Winter stretches out like a highway in Nebraska, running so far and flat that you can see the curvature of the planet in the distance. This year has yet to deliver the unseasonably balmy weather of the last few winters. It is COLD. The sun shines. The sun disappears within pearly grey skies. Either way, every time I look at the temperature it’s sliding somewhere between 19 and 31. The 40s hang back somewhere in the blue shadows of the 5:00 sunset, waiting for a brighter 6:00.
Oh, let’s not complain! Let us breathe in the crystalline air! Let all who were cheated out of a White Christmas do a ‘snow dance,” courting Jack Frost with cute little leggings and fake fur (because PETA said so) earmuffs. Let us wax poetic about the stark landscape, the bare trees (call it: fingers reaching to scratch an itching sky, for God’s sake). Let’s ski and ice skate and snowboard and practice curling (Whoever thought up that Olympic sport was high on somethin’). Let’s watch our breath morph into clouds before our faces, and yell, "Hey! That one looks like a dragon with a cigar!"
Or. We could just hide inside, where the insulation shields us from the wind. We can strike up a fire (umm … where’s the flue again?), throw on a … throw, watch independent films ONDEMAND, and brood about the color green.
I’m liking the second alternative.
Hey. I like making snow angels. As a matter of fact, I like snow so much, I used to run barefoot in it (don’t mention this to my mother. The passage of time has no effect on her outrage). I love the clear air. And, yes, the stark trees and grey-brown landscape do contain a certain rough, quiet beauty. But, I am an impatient hostess for winter, and January brings thoughts of fobbing Jack off on my friends in the Southern Hemisphere. Not to mention, a new year has dropped on top of the last strangely brutal/funny one. We are who we were last year, and we act like it. Our world has not changed. Local, state, national and global issues remain, like an annoying neighbor who just won’t move. And, buying a new calendar in Borders doesn’t change a thang.
Yet. We must really, really want a change. Maybe we want more than one. We made champagne buckets full of resolutions in search of changes of a most personal nature. Sure, we questioned our choices after the New Year’s hangover wore off. All that stuff about exercising more, eating less, saving more, bitching less, loving more, fearing less, traveling more, writing more, embracing more is daunting. And, all those promises we made to ourselves (or, mumbled about, for those of us who feared to step beyond the construction phase) may be a distant memory by May. Still, we made them. We took the step, if only in our heads. We made them, because we recognize the need to move forward.
We want to go … somewhere. We talk of incremental changes, but really we want to streak across the sky like a star, or (at least) a shuttle. We want to move, just to see who we are somewhere else. We want to fly to see if we will break the stratosphere, or get burned like Icarus, ignorant and far beyond our means. We want to try, and hope we have the fortitude to keep trying when no one else is looking or listening, or helping or caring. We want to move, because moving is life, and stillness is lassitude (just another word for death). We want to live, and dance and love and fuck and feel. We want to be, and have meaning in the being.
So, like sharks, like winter winds, like stars, like tentative lovers on the dance floor, we find some way to keep moving, driving across that stark, winter Nebraskan landscape toward the very curve of the world, in search of treasure (in all its many forms). In search of whatever’s out there.
“Hey, where ya going?”
“Why? You wanna come with?”
Monday, January 12, 2009
Saburo Teshigawara's Luminous
© Dominik Mentzos
The kind that elicits a “fight or flight” response that originates somewhere in the very pit of my soul. It manifests itself as shaking knees, breathlessness, and a projected personality somewhere between a mummy and a rabbit eating a carrot in your garden as your German Shepherd strolls out of the door. I can pretty much talk to anyone one-on-one, two-on-one, ten-on-one, around the table, on a conference call, in a park. Fine, fine and fine. But prop me up in front of a group of people, and a deer illuminated by your headlights on the darkest road has Prozac running through its veins compared to me. Add a podium, and ... well, I'll hate you.
All right! I am working on it. And, no – I have not tried Toastmasters yet. Shut up.
Also, I write plays (on the side – way on the side), and have no desire to ever step on the stage. It does not jazz me. My ego is not fulfilled by the thought of applauding audiences (OK, I could probably bear to get up on stage for Maestro Oscar, Tony or Obie). But, I have felt for some time that my writing would be improved by a clearer understanding of actors, their processes, and their needs.
So, the spring semester has begun, and I have elected to take Fundamental Principles of Acting. Aren’t I brave? We met for the first time tonight , and I must say that I am looking forward to it. It helps that we will work in a small “acting room” – whatever the hell that is – and not on a stage. And, I am neither going to think about, nor sweat out the fact that I can look forward to embarrassing exercises and a final performance in front of a class full of limber, indifferent post-teens. None of it signifies. It’s the actor's process, world-view, and needs that I seek to understand. Nothing else matters, right?
Uh-huh. We'll see in two weeks when we each must sit in the center of the room, and be barraged with personal questions while attempting to represent “psychological gestures” (unconscious tics we all occupy ourselves with whilst conversing, zoning out, or merely breathing). Oh, and it's not our own psychological gestures we must slip into the conversation; it's those of random classmates we must demonstrate. Yeah. Great.
Ooop! I meant “Yea! Great!”
Friday, January 9, 2009
Shells from an unused still-life
It’s 19 degrees outside, and all I want to do is huddle under my blanket, and think silly thoughts. Or, read "erotica". Yeahhh - let's go with silly thoughts.
How far back into the past must we go to find the answers we seek about ourselves?
If I ask myself why I am who I am, should I look at the circumstances, the pursuits, the relationships, the yearnings that populate me now for guidance, or must I look to those visceral experiences of my childhood for the markers?
Behaviorists inform us that all we are is patterned in our childhood. So, was it the womb of my family that formed me bold and shy? Was it the tumbling over the handlebars of my ten-speed that nutured a tolerance of pain in all its forms? Was it the discussions, musings, and readings with my mother that tattooed me a romantic? Was it the distance of my father that drew me aloof at the most (in)opportune times? Was it the surrounding fields and woods that planted a favorite, quiet peace in my heart? Was it the sex and drugs and rock and roll? Was it the national "story" that filled me with optimism, regardless of circumstances and situations? Or, was it some soul-seed, immeasurable and undeniable, planted deep in the untraceable territory within, that programmed the essence of me?
And, what does that mosaic of experience mean to the future? Are our patterns carved so deeply, that they are inescapable (like a maze or a comfortable blanket)? Are the roads we travel programmed into our heads like last week’s GPS, or tarot card reading, or astrological chart, or clairvoyant? Or is it all just so much regurgitation of who we are?
We are our own continuum, straggling off into the distance on both ends.
And, this “now” we trumpet as the righteous goal of all who seek some self-actualized Nirvana of “comfortable-in-my-own skin”? It’s just another moment, perhaps particularly valuable as a respite, and – if we pay attention – gifted with precious clarity, but really just another snippet, pregnant with who we are.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
“The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost
My name is Felicia – Latin for “happiness”.
Although my mother claims that I literally slid from the birth canal with a smile on my face (do spare me the lecture on “gas” being the source of the newborn smile), that was not the genesis of my name. My father liked the actress Felicia Farr, and (after vetoing my Mother’s choice of Melody – Melody Rivers? Sounds like a cowboy movie!) that was that.
Even so, I am quite happy as a matter of habit, or construction, or some such. Even on the rare occasions when I am sad, maudlin, discouraged, it does not take much to lift my mood (think: clouds, running from the sun on a high-blown wind). My blues muscle is weak and underdeveloped (42 muscles for a frown; 7 muscles to make a smile!). Yeah.
Even so, like everyone else, there are always two roads that lie before me. One is sunlit, leading over a hill that rises into the bright blue sky. The other is hemmed in by brambles on either side. No brainer, right? Who would slog through a swamp, prickers pulling at the clothes, bee-stung, hungry, tired, and in need of a Porta-potty when the alternative is to run in the sunlight, roll in the warm green grass, commune with the birds, build castles in the air, and drink wine in the cool, blue shade of a grape arbor?
Maybe there’s a lesson amid the brambles. Maybe there’s some needed truth in the shadows. Maybe the blackbirds and beetles and gnarly crowded oaks have something to whisper in my ear. I peer down that brambled path.
Maybe the sunlight conceals a trap. Of stunted growth, of opportunities lost, of a particular breed of boredom that slowly cements the soul. All this bright light expected; all this daily complacency; all this blatant normalcy. Is it as nourishing as it was when I was a child? Is the dance rote? Is the song a wheel-rut too well-worn? Does the flurry in my belly at the very sight of the bramble, rambled path constitute a neon sign in the shape of a finger pointing in my face, reading: “Hey You! Get the off the sweet path!”
Or, maybe I’m just itching for trouble.
Monday, January 5, 2009
I stand in a deeply wooded area. It is late spring or early summer, and the trees are just far enough apart to let in the sunlight brighten the leaves. The road ahead curves, and crosses over a green metal bridge.
Modern times? Only until I cross the bridge.
And, I am in the kitchen of a low, long wooden home, the only woman in a crowd of men. Dressed in a long maroon gown, I am warm and dry, but unsettled by the air of tension and waiting in the room. These men are my husband’s men, and we await his return.
I offer them food – beautifully cooked meat on a platter, but they draw back, offended. “You offer us a dead animal?!”
I turn, and pick up a large metal can (similar to one that holds anchovies today, complete will roll-back lid). “Flowers, then?” Large beautiful pink flowers float in a warm honey liquid. They are mollified, and begin eating.
The room fades, replaced by a vision of a black book, with the word “Crocus” embossed in gold on the cover. The word letters glow, as if by firelight. Something within me recognize it as my husband’s name ...
I have no idea why the dream has reamined so clear in my mind, but for years, I have searched for some reference to "Crocus". I checked Encyclopedias, random books, and, later, the internet. I knew it was not the flower. Perhaps I mis-remembered? Maybe, it was Croseus? Of Lydia? No … that didn't seem right.
Until last year. Last spring, I remembered the dream, and Googled “Crocus” - just for kicks. Hey - a hit! More than one hit. Apparently, given enough time, the Internet catches up to everything. Crocus was the King or Head Chieftains of the Alemanni in 3rd century Germany tribe. They battled the Romans, and later supported Constantine the Great in his campaign through Britain and Scotland. That feels right.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Let us be resolved.
Let us be resolved to live our lives truly.
Let us be resolved to care fully.
Let us be resolved to love freely.
Let us be resolved to see clearly.
Let us be resolved to …
Open ourselves, our hearts and minds and spirits, to one another.
Substitute creation for destruction.
Discover the internal, rather than revere the exterior.
Forgive and forget.
Take a long-avoided risk.
Take a walk instead of taking offense.
Read a random book and listen to unfamiliar music.
Step toward something that brings happiness.
Stay up all night exploring.
Dance and sing, even if we like the way we do neither.
Let go of a portion of fear.
Listen and breathe.
Witness and pass along truth.