Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Open Letter from a US Marine mom

I am "yielding the podium" today to a neighbor and friend who has a very compelling, very touching open letter that she recently shared with us. I feel that everyone needs to see this letter... thank you Inger, for letting me share this with the world:

Letter to our government, members of Congress and Senators, and to all those in power to make decisions over our strategy in Iraq ( and also in Afghanistan); to all those who form public opinion in our country, and to all American parents:

Please do not sacrifice our soldiers, our sons and daughters, to save your pride! In the Middle East many bullies are fighting to establish their bases of power (directly or by proxy for other super powers). They fight, kill and destroy to inflict maximal damage on their competitors- over the heads of ordinary civilians trying to cope with daily struggle for survival. Our soldiers, all soldiers are used as tools and sacrifices for this power struggle. It is not a fight between “Good” and the “axis of Evil”. It is a staking out of claims by the most powerful to push their agenda on others. One player is not better or more virtuous than another, no matter what their religious leaders say.

Our sons and daughters, including my 22- year old Marine son, are being sacrificed to this slaughter. The governments of the United States and Israel seem to think that if you keep throwing more force, more destruction, and more blood at the battle, it will be won. This did not work during Vietnam. On the contrary- increased violence increased the determination of the Vietnamese to fight harder, more ruthlessly and finally chase the foreign armies into the sea (or helicopters from the roof of the embassy). There are countless examples of wars fought, where the occupying armies ultimately lost to the natural local populations. We know that even small forces can oust a powerful enemy (during our revolutionary war).

This brings me to a second item. During the revolutionary war, our soldiers maintained their civil rights as free citizens to return to their families when they were in need or danger, to go home when the battles became senseless, so they could save their own lives and those of their comrades in arms. There were also many real honest debates about the goals of the struggle, the real motives for the sacrifices made by everyone. Great generals have sounded retreat when it would cost too many lives to keep fighting. There is no dishonor in a sound retreat, a sound strategy for regrouping.

Yet, for some reason our current soldiers have no civil rights anymore. They have lost their rights to free speech and their pursuit of life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. They get paid minimum wage, often live on outdated, dry MRE meals and 3-4 hours of sleep for weeks on end and they have to suffer frequent verbal and physical abuse by their superiors. They go out on extremely dangerous, often futile missions. They are willing to die for their country yet they have no rights of freedom of _expression. As soon as a soldier or his/her family speak out against the War (any war), refuse to fight against their conscience or want to stay with their family in need, he/she is kicked out, locked up or worse and their families are called unpatriotic or “un- American. Which freedoms exactly are we fighting for!?

I lost my husband (Green Beret Special Forces), the father of my Marine son, to the war in Vietnam, the years of desperation still playing in his mind and soul. He committed suicide years later, still not being able to throw off the terrible things he had experienced. He hated the government for sending him there on such outrageous pretexts, often even denying he was there at all. Their mission: “to keep fighting so the others had not lost their lives in vain”- sound familiar!? The battle in Vietnam was long lost. Hearts and minds had not been won- on the contrary. Our harshness and increasingly alarming amount of cruelty and environmental killing had destroyed what little goodwill still existed for us. Are we going to repeat that kind of thing? Do I now have to lose the next generation to the same pig-headedness of the men in Washington DC?! Do our sons and daughters really have to be sacrificed for a lost cause again?! He is my child, bright, idealistic, well- educated and compassionate. He was going to be such an asset to this country- if we can just keep him alive and sane.

Please, members of Congress and Senate, have pity on your own citizens. Aren’t you parents too? Would you send your child into this kind of hellhole with no hope of “victory”? Please let us stop this madness, pull out now, regroup and rethink. Let us stop sending more missiles to Israel so they can kill innocent Lebanese farmers, women and children. Let us stop fuelling violence- which only begets more violence as the Good Book says. Please let us refrain from further escalation.

I am a freedom loving, law abiding tax payer in this country. My tax money is given to a government that sends it overseas to buy missiles to destroy other civilizations, and I feel responsible. It should be my right to withhold my support for such actions. I do not begrudge paying taxes, if it is for the upkeep of this country’s people and infra structure or even to support other needy countries or peoples. I just feel so powerless and so angry when my hard earned money is used to destroy and kill. I beseech you, please bring our troops home now, stop supporting foreign violence of any kind, and restore sanity, health and freedom to this nation!

No-one wants another world war, or even a Middle East all-out war. Stop all fighting now! Let us pick up the remnants of civilization and evolve. American soldiers are so often used to enforce dictators’ rule over rebellious populations. Military men and women are used as tools to protect commercial interests. There is so much injustice performed by our troops, in the name of patriotism. In this American society does not stand alone. We should be able to stop this insanity and bloodshed. Humanity is not meant to fall back into savagery each time someone cries foul. We are not meant to quote “Holy books” of any kind to devolve into animals. Human Beings are meant to solve the challenges of violence and learn to cope with life in a peaceful and creative manner, with compassion. That is the true battle for hearts and minds of the people.

This is a plea from a US Marine parent, together with many other caring and patriotic mothers and fathers. Bring our Troops Home Now!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hope... or Hate?

Whew! I really haven’t spent a lot of time on the web; I had not realized what kind of essays are being posted with the implication that they are reasoned responses to the world situation. There was a very frightening blog/essay on the Signs of the Times website, one that made me think of witch hunts, heretic burnings and mob lynchings…

It seems to be an attempt to distance the author (and “us good guys”) from a group of people that he wants to de-humanize. “What if the evil we see around us in the world is not born from human nature?“ Henry See writes. “once you have studied… a psychopath's methods and means of manipulation, once you have understood the individual psychopath and have traced its [emphasis mine] predation as the most successful ones move into positions of power in the law, politics, business, the police and the military…” Granted, these are not nice people -- psychopaths -- but to call them non-humans, and to use the pronoun “it” in referring to a psychopath, put us on the very same path as the psychopath has travelled to get to his/her disconnected, uncaring perspective that others are “things” to be manipulated and/or exterminated. If we call those who act in a way that suggests they have no conscience “non-humans”, as the author did, and specifically state that “we humans” are not and would never be capable of the actions of these “things”, as the author did, we are falling into one of the oldest traps of human psychology, that of projecting all of our evil onto another.

I am not in any way defending the actions or the perceptions of psychopaths or sociopaths (I have met several in my work as therapist; they are not pleasant to be around), but I am appalled that someone who calls himself human would so callously demonize another human just in order to state that he and “us good guys” are free from the kind of evil capacity that “psychopaths” are capable of. And, as is obvious in the essay, he has widely branded many, many people as “psychopaths” with no clinical proof. No, despite his "hope", we are not so easily able to say we would never, ever, do evil to another person -- none of us can guarantee that our minds will always be sane or clear, or that a huge grief or rage would never, ever seize us and cause us to do outrageous things. Yes, there are people who we have learned will do these things repeatedly, but they are of the same human species as we are, and no one has yet found a clear, indisputable cause for their actions. There is a case to be made that there is some biologic elements, but it is a huge leap from there to “non-human”! There is also much evidence that deviant behavior is learned, that psychopaths were not born with their behavior. There is evidence that damage to the frontal lobes of the brain can bring about such behavior -- which means any of us could end up acting as they do, after a certain kind of injury.

The fact that Henry See’s essay is entitled “Hope” makes it even scarier… because his hope seems to come from the possibility of “eradicating” these people, so that “humans” can live happily ever after… this is scary stuff… does anyone hear echoes of Nazi Germany’s “final solution?” Who gets to have the life/death decision in this process of first “isolation of such individuals” and then…?

I understand how frustrated and helpless many people feel right now, in the face of all this violence and runaway greed, but the last thing we need is to herd a group of people -- any group of people -- into some ghetto or to brand them as “other”. Until we learned we are all connected, on a very deep level, this kind of greed and violence will continue.

I hate to publicize his work, but in fairness since I criticized it, here is the link:
http://signs-of-the-times.org/signs/editorials/signs20060807_Hope.php You can tell me if I'm overreacting...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Labyrinths, Mazes and Life’s Path

I am a walker of labyrinths; each month I go to a nearby cathedral and -- to the sound of soft music and with the flicker of candles -- I slowly pace the winding pattern inlaid in the wood floor. I came to this about eight years ago, when a friend mentioned a new way to bring in the New Year, with meditation rather than fireworks and drinking. Once I had walked, I realized this was a wonderful process for me, since I can not sit in meditation.

For those unacquainted with labyrinths, the earliest simple one is pre-historic; the earliest complex (12-fold) labyrinth is in the floor of Chartres cathedral near Paris. Click here to read about that.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path, no dead ends… and yet you can not really plot your course because it winds so cleverly that even though it looks symmetrical, you are not just walking switchbacks. As you follow the path, you are suddenly very close to the center, and just as suddenly, you have veered away and are walking near the edge. Sometimes the path reverses quickly, and sometimes there is a long unswerving section… because of the complexity, you can’t really see very far ahead, and if you focus on the long distance, you can lose track of where you are and end up going the opposite direction (by stepping onto the wrong section)… very much like Life, as many people have pointed out.

I am not a fatalist, but I do believe that I have a life path that is unique to me, and that there is something in me that knows my path. As I look back, I see so many choices that I had made intuitively, that seemed “off course”, were actually leading me closer to becoming my unique self. Thus, walking the Labyrinth reminds me that my conscious mind can not see very far forward. My job is to walk the path I see in front of me, and to trust in the wisdom of the Universe. Often, this is hard for me. The monthly meditation shows me how I can be close to the center of an issue, then suddenly feel like I’m back closer to the beginning, or visa versa -- I can be far from center, then without realizing, I‘m almost there. That is part of the process. It also reminds me again and again that this is not a straight path, that spiraling around a core self, a core issue, is much closer to Life’s process than the highways and other straight lines we build. It also is a metaphor for the process of moving away from the world to go deep into my core self, and then, once the center is reached, the process continues with a return to the outside.

Another reason for walking is a ritual of peace… many walkers believe that sending good energy into the world helps mitigate the negativity that abounds. The New Year’s walk especially is an attempt to begin the new cycle with positive, loving, peaceful energy. I know I can feel it when I walk monthly; the others are focused and mindful, and that helps me to focus and bring my attention and will into alignment with a wish for peace. Along with whatever other issue I bring to the meditation, I ask for peace.

It has been scientifically postulated that we humans understand visual symbols on a deeper level than words, because that is the earliest part of our brains. I think that walking a labyrinth reaches a deep part of the walker’s mind with an image of the process that words alone can’t convey. If you have not ever walked a labyrinth, or if it has been a while, click on these links to find a labyrinth walk near you.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Making Peace

It’s hard for me to avoid a kind of horrified voyeur attitude toward the Middle East hostilities… wondering when/if someone is gonna go “over the top” and cause the next World War. There’s a kind of helpless fascination, almost as if I’m trying to make it real in my heart, because the photos are ugly and sad, yet it’s still very hard to picture what the citizens of each nation are experiencing as they try to scrape together a “normal” day while fearing a missile strike might “accidently” hit them… we in the US have been so blessed that explosions and attacks are rare… even reading the blogs makes it only a bit more real.

But I read a blog yesterday that has a better attitude than mine - appreciaher response was to do whatever she could to create more “peace energy” in the world. And being a doll artist, that’s where she’s starting. She’s issuing a Peace Doll Challenge to anyone who wants to create a symbol of peace -- check it out at http://www.sacreddollsandbears.com/. I’m gonna do it, as soon as I can! I’ve uploaded an image of a shrine that I’d made a while back, along the same lines, so that’s a start… I'll keep you apprised of what else I do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Collage - Second class art?

The New York Times posted an art review last week, called, “Endgame Art? It's Borrow, Sample and Multiply in an Exhibition at Bard College”. Part of the critique caught my eye, because it seemed to lump all “found art” into one category, that of somehow avoiding artmaking. The critic wrote, “To call yourself an artist at all is by definition to announce a faith, however unacknowledged, in some form of originality, first for yourself, second, perhaps, for the rest of us.” http://www.nytimes.com

He went on to write, “Fear of form above all means fear of compression— of an artistic focus that condenses experiences, ideas and feelings into something whole, committed and visually comprehensible. With a few exceptions, forms of collage and assemblage dominate this show: the putting together (or simply putting side by side) of existing images and objects prevails...” and, though he used erudite jargon, he seemed to be implying that this was an inauthentic way of making art.

I have a different take on it: collage and assemblage is a way of acknowledging that things exist before we find them and that our changing them has an effect on the surroundings. Rather than the artist presuming that a blank canvas is in fact “nothing”, found art-making recognizes that we make art with materials. It is not the artist magically calling something into existence from nothing; even those who draw and paint use materials (though some groups work mightily to ignore that and others emphasize it), we co-create with the materials in whatever form we find them. Collage and assemblage merely make this more obvious to the audience, but as an artist, I’m aware of it in whatever medium I use.

Relationship with the world is much in our awareness these days, as we finally see what ignoring the world and its realities has done. When I do collage and assemblage, I begin by experiencing a relationship with a certain item (today it was a wonderfully zig-zagged twig); I know that I am meant to do something with that item. Rather than fear of form, I am recognizing form in something, and entering into a co-creating relationship with it. Then slowly, I bring that item into relationship with other items, allowing their form to show me the possibilities in re-forming and re-aligning… I see it as a metaphor for our age. It may be past the time when ego can be allowed to say, “I create” as if there were nothing used to get started or inspired. It is more realistic, more respectful and more grounded to say, “I co-create”, using what form there is and moving it into new dynamic interaction. Most of us will agree this world has been degraded by too many people demanding to change their surroundings without due attention and care to how those changes affect other living beings -- indeed, they often pretend there is no effect at all! Art has been a metaphor through the ages, and work with collage and assemblage (especially found objects) is, to me, a metaphor of a new relationship with the world around me, and as such it deserves more than second class status.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Inspiration, Enthusiasm, Joy

Last night, we went to see a local community theater production, a musical with lots of tap-dancing… the actors put everything they had into it, and their enthusiasm was catching, even from the back row where we sat. I was alternately amazed and inspired by their footwork and their unseen-but-obvious talent for sliding out of one costume into the next. It was a delightful evening. Live theater is so different from movies -- there is a relationship that develops between the actors and the audience that somehow beckons the ones who are seated to express our own talents, a kind of subtle “now it’s your turn -- go out and be creative!”

Last night, I wondered what gets a group of local people, all of whom have day jobs, involved in the kind of hard work needed to put on a live theater (or any other kind) of show? There are probably a few in the group who believe it is a stepping stone to greater stardom, or at least full-time work in the field, but they can’t all believe that they are on their way to Broadway… so I assume some are just delighting in the production itself. I did plays in high school, but not since; it’s hard work. I admire those who make the effort in order to bring fun and beauty to the rest of us.

This morning, I’m musing about enthusiasm -- about putting one’s heart in one’s work. Originally, it meant “filled with the energy/spirit of the gods,” (Greek en & theos “god”) it now means an emotional surge of energy toward some goal or idea, often overcoming rational reservations. We have a love/hate relationship with that attitude in America… you can see it in the many movies, plays and stories about the brash innocent who “wins big“, after being hampered by the experienced, cynical professional who may or may not be also “evil”. We want to believe it so, yet fear that it isn’t so. (Incidentally, rarely is the innocent portrayed as an older person; we see enthusiasm as reserved for the young, though in practice, I haven’t found that to be true). What I find when I talk to friends and colleagues is that few of us want to admit to being either character; we usually temper our enthusiasm with a few sentences of “of course, I know there are downsides to it…”, but we also find a lot of fault with the cynic, who seems poisonous. So we all waffle back and forth, a bit worried to be classified at either pole. Enthusiasm is suspect but enticing… an appropriate response, perhaps, to being filled with divine energy. After all, who knows where it might lead?

In my own work, I have experienced times when Time disappears, when the art-making or writing so catches me that I literally lose awareness of my surrounding, until something calls me back. It’s wonderful, and a little scary. It’s unbalanced, in the literal sense of throwing over all other priorities except the current one. It has a driven quality, and it’s hard to say exactly who/what is doing the driving. And when I return to a more typical state of mind, I wonder at the force that sent me off into unexplored areas of creativity. What, exactly, triggered it? What fueled it? When I’m in the moment, I can’t really examine it, but afterward, I look for clues about myself. The “me” that most of the time thinks it’s in charge is shocked to find that it was momentarily unseated. Yet the experience is filled with such joy that I can’t wait to do it again!

Since I have been striving for balance in my life, and since I have experienced that “flipflop” (technically enantiodromia) when too much enthusiasm falls into cynicism, I have been looking for that point of enough but not too much… I’d love to hear if anyone has thoughts on it.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Hoping a Picture is worth a Thousand Words...

Not liking to just babble, and not having had time to write another short essay for this blog, I instead offer a couple of my recent floral photos for your enjoyment: A neighbor's iris and lily (she has a lovely garden!) and poppies that seem to have volunteered in the veggie bed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Iraq Villanelle

This is a villanelle (a very tight poetry format) that I used to create commentary on the war... despite the strictures of rhyme and meter, I was pleased at how it flowed.

Iraq Villanelle
I think that Bush and Cheney understand,
despite their parochial, privileged lives,
the total candor that true peace demands.

They didn’t find the weapons, as was planned;
now rumors are that underlings connived,
but don’t doubt that Bush and Cheney understand.

Our mop-up army (daily ambushed) and
Iraqi townsfolk need -- to stay alive --
the total candor that true peace demands.

Afghan’s still in shambles, and the Holy land’s
aflame with harsh, pre-emptive drives
that I think Bush and Cheney understand.

Yet partial fact, Code Yellows carefully planned
are what they give us; does this seem contrived --
this “total candor” they know we demand?

Are we too numb? Or don’t we understand:
of all the noble reasons, none survived
the total candor that true peace demands.
Oh, I think Bush and Cheney understand!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Summertime and the Living is Easy...

Mid-morning, as the air and ground began to heat up, giving a hint of the 100 plus degree day it was going to be, I sat on the patio and watched a flock of pine siskins swoop and plunge through the dappled leaves. They were so small and swift that at first I thought they were hummingbirds, but my binoculars confirmed the little twitterers were more fluffy and plump. Impossible to count, but there seemed to be from thirty to fifty of them, swirling like leaves in a storm, uttering little cricket pips. Ironically, it was very restful to watch all their frenetic activity; there was a just-so-ness about it that settled me. Knowing I wouldn’t get much done in the day’s heat, I stayed and watched their antics, grateful that they had convened in my grove. For a moment, I was a “being”, not a “doing”.

And somehow that reminded me of the opening scenes of “An Inconvenient Truth”… I know I’ve written about it before, but I’ve noticed that since I’ve seen it, I look at these grace-filled moments in a different light, with the sense that I could lose them entirely. And even if not me, then the next generation, or the next… my thoughts meandered to the trip we’d just taken through eastern Oregon, through the vast rolling Palouse hills that take such enormous effort to raise the wheat we depend on so carelessly. Because it was about 100 degrees that day, my husband and I commented on how easy it seemed for this all to become total desert, with just a couple degrees more heat. We, who are so used to driving to a nearby store for all our sustenance have no real notion of how much work it takes… We were returning from attending a Renaissance Faire in Richland Washington, where again I had been reminded (by things like hand-spun yarn and hand-forged bracelets) of how much more labor is involved in everything we eat, wear and use. Granted, it’s not done by hand anymore (mostly) but still, mass production takes a lot of work in its own way… and we just pluck things off the shelf like they were magic.

So, what if all this began to unravel? It wouldn’t take too many months of extra heat and a sudden unavailability of water to mess up the crops. We’ve already had extreme weather, and the destroyed crops have cause grumping about the high prices… but what if they were just unavailable? None of us are used to empty grocery shelves, as some countries are. But just a couple degrees change could make our lives much more difficult. How easily could we adjust to small, mealy apples or bug-holed string beans, if that was all we had? We toss all that food now, as being un-sellable… I write this not to be a Cassandra, but just to get folks to be more aware of the ease of our lives (which we -- or at least I! -- sometimes forget in grumbling about minor annoyances) and to ask if it isn’t worth a bit more work in order to keep it. Anyone who has not yet alerted your Congress rep. or Senator that global warming is a big issue for you; it’s time to speak up. By the time we really notice it, it will be too late.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Equality, Liberty, Validity

Too often lately, I’ve heard people talk about everyone’s opinions being “equally valid”, by which they seem to mean that by right of being a human, each person is intrinsically equal to each other.... thus their perceptions have equal weight. However, this seems to confuse process with product. As equal members of the human race, we have equal rights to perceive and to express our perceptions; but those perceptions (products) do not have equal sagacity, clarity, and validity. Some perceptions lead us down a dead end; some lead us to greater awareness and growth. Those are not equal!

This assertion of equal validity keeps coming up whenever science and politics collide, for example the global warming issue. It is all too common through the ages that governments and authorities try to suppress discoveries that cause them trouble (look at Gallileo!). Authority has a weakness for one-sided arguments. But I am concerned about the number of people who seem to get no material benefit from ignoring facts, who are being swayed by this erroneous idea of giving “equal weight” to both sides, as if there will always be an equal preponderance of evidence. That’s one of the things I liked best about the debate club in high school -- it was necessary to back up your point of view with evidence, and the best evidence won.

Over and over, I hear that we must give both sides equal rights. Equal right to speak is a benefit to us all, yet once the hackneyed phrases have turned out to have no factual backing, it’s time to put them aside. Defenders of this confusion will point out that in history, too often people were wrong about the value of an idea; that something ultimately turned out to be the opposite of what they thought. They use this to say we must not make judgments, but simply support each opinion equally... until when? We can’t suspend judgment until after our lifetimes; it’s impossible, and judgments after that fact are irrelevant to our lives anyway.

No, despite the possibility that we may be wrong in our judgment, we must make one, as best we can, in the circumstances. To abrogate that is to allow our unconscious to do the job, for -- as our behavior shows -- we make unconscious judgments in all cases where we won’t consciously judge, acting out our preferences. “Not to decide is to decide” , as the old saying goes. And the corollary to that is to admit when we have made a wrong decision (are you listening, Mr. President?) and change our perceptions as new facts become available. To live as if everything were equally true is to live as if nothing is true.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

None So Blind?

This evening I indulged in one of my favorite “sunset celebrations”: just sitting on the patio looking at the thick grove of cedars and maples that separate me from my neighbors. I never noticed it any other place I lived, but here the setting sun hits a spot where it illuminates the underside of the leaves. Shafts of light angle up and turn the usually shadowed sides of alder leaves and pine needles golden; they glow like something out of Lothlorien. It’s magical; there’s no other word for it. Tonight it felt a bit different, because I had just come back from seeing “An Inconvenient Truth”, the very powerful documentary on global warming. And so tonight I could picture this treasured copse of trees browning, struggling for life as the climate gradually became too hostile. I thought of my other treasured spots in Nature. I’m not a hiker, with rare exceptions, so I tend to hang out at lakes or in groves not far from roads, but even there I can find the kind of deep quiet and peace that heals me when I get “fried” in the city. And all of those spots, even the ones that are “protected” by being designated National Park or Forest, are in danger, as the effects of global warming make crazy changes in the climate.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I urge you to do so. You might say, as I did, “I already know those facts”, and yet the information is presented in a form that sears it in your mind. Between the charts of precise measurement and the before/after photographs, you will be sobered. But it’s not an unhopeful movie; almost-President Gore did not run all over the globe bringing this message because he felt there was no hope. He lists many things that can be done to reverse the trend and avoid the worst effects, if not all of them. As he mentioned, it’s not really a choice between economy and ecology… if we lose our planet or even much of our planet, to the catastrophes of an unbalanced climate, we end up losing both! I don’t expect much of an administration that talks about selective nuking, but I can’t believe that the average American is so blind and arrogant as to believe it’s “someone else’s problem”… even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, it is not morally defensible to leave it to our children, or grandchildren (or grand nieces and nephews, in my case)… it seems that recently, every time I see a toddler or infant, I wonder what kind of world they will be living in… it frightens me. Until I saw the film, I was like many and felt I couldn’t do much. But I have renewed energy after seeing the possibilities… check it out. I’m putting a link on my site to make it easier for you.

Sadly, even those who have the info staring them in the face are sometimes blind. As I waited for the movie to start, one of the two ushers cleaning said she’d heard it was a powerful movie. The other usher said, “Which one?” “This one -- the one on global warming.” “I didn’t even know we had a movie on global warming”… at that point I couldn’t resist; I said, “You’d better stay and watch it -- it’s your generation that will have to deal with it.” But I’m hoping that my generation -- that I -- can find a few more things to do before we pass this crisis on.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Love Song of G. Dubya Bushwack

In honor of Dubya's visit to the Mideast, I will resurrect a pastiche I wrote four long years ago.

Love Song of G. Dubya Bushwack

(with apologies to T.S. Eliot, who nonetheless had a sense of humor)

Let us go then, USA,
While the nation’s fed up against this guy
And like a patient etherized on CNN cable
Let us go, through Bagdad’s half-deserted streets
Their muddling retreats
And restless blight of greedy oil cartels
And vapor masks and mortar shells:
Ambassadors follow with a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us pay Iraq a visit.

In the room Dick Cheney comes and goes,
Plotting Saddam’s overthrow.

The pettifog who silks his back with undeserving gains,
The callow dog who’s spying at your window panes
Sticked his nose into the corners of all your believings
Lingered by the fools who chat on trains
Let fall upon his back the chump who falls for brokerage
Schemes in the office, made a sudden leap
And seeing that he’d informed on all his friends to Ridge
Curled back under his rock, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the callow dog who slides along the street
Grubbing for tattle tales through your window panes
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to fool the faces that we beat
There will be time to murder and create
Excuses for all the works of covert hands
That lift and drop the onus on our plate
Time to press the U.N., and time for me
To steamroll past a hundred indecisions
Ignore a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of Ar Ramadi.

In the room Dick Cheney comes and goes,
Plotting Saddam’s overthrow.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and consult with Blair
With Ariel Sharon still in my hair
(They will say, “How his reasoning‘s growing thin!”)
My flack, dear Fletcher, will take it firmly on the chin,
And Rumsfeld, rich and modest, but asserting that we’ll win --
(They will say: "But what happened to ol’ Bin?")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a Minuteman will reverse.

For I have known the real players, known them all:
Have wooed them evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out truth with coffee spoons;
I know how to win the whole Congressional
Gang with the profits from an oil boom.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the liberals already, known them all--
The critics fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spin out my version of my crazy ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have bought the arms already, bought them all--
Arms that are massive, launching in midair
(That made my cronies billionaires!)
Is it Hussein’s sheer excess
That makes me so digress?
Arms that seek out depots or on civilians fall.
So should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have sent my spies through narrow streets
They watched the smoke that rises from the plants
Of devious mobile fact’ries leaving Bagdad in fleets? ...

I should have made a loophole clause for
Scuttling Resolution 1441 with ease.

* * * * *

And meanwhile North Korea sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by grift bringers,
Asleep ... expired ... or it malingers,
Stretched toward nuclear mischief, here beside you and me.
Should I, after Chirac criticizes,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have fumed and blasted, frowned and brayed,
Though I have seen my head (through digital prowess) brought in upon a platter,
I reap the profit -- and they’re no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the electoral Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
But being rich, was not afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the briefings, the leaks, the planned duplicity,
Among the Congress, the talk of Homeland Security,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed my rationale into a ball
To roll it towards Dems’ overwhelming questions,
To say: "Here is Halliburton, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, they shall tell you all" --
If one, handing me a billion as a figurehead
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the protests and the emails and the orange alerts,
After the polls, after the court challenges, after the stock prices that trail along the floor --
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible that they say just what they mean!
But as if a media spindoc turned the opposition to applause on a tv screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a lawsuit or shaving off a decimal,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Lincoln, nor was meant to be;
Am an covert planner, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the GOP; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall watch the consequences of the war unfold.

Shall I leave my notes behind? Do I dare to get impeached?
I shall privatize the gov’ment, and leave the budget beached.
I have heard the Four Horsemen singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When nuclear wind blows the water white and black.
We have malingered by the piles of war debris
By sea-gulls wreathed with oily seaweed dead and brown
Till Apocalyptic voices wake us, and we drown.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gift Horses

As I climb the learning curve associated with online selling, I have encountered many offers for assistance, and the old saying about gift horses has come to mind more than once recently. “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” must’ve meant for the oldsters what “listen to the spiel, take the free camera and go” means for us. And yet… if they end up with unresponsive horseflesh, at least they could make leather and glue… if I give my info over the internet in order to get “free listings“, I could end up with less than I started with (so, alright, the dead camera could be taken apart for assemblage bits). It’s perplexing, and the rules are different for this kind of offer. My usual technique is to chat with the person and get a “gut feel” for whether they’re con artists… how does one do that online? Behind the cute kitty avatar could lurk someone wanted for Ponzi schemes in three states…

“Free is a very good price” as a local car dealer says, but I also remember “TANSTAAFL”, which, as sci-fi buffs know, is short for “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”… they take it out of you somehow… so how cautious is cautious? The advice/assistance coming from other artists on the thousands (literally!) of mailing lists and e-groups is likely to be legit -- I rate it “green” because they have nothing to get from it… the advice listed in the help pages of various webs have a “yellow” rating, because they are there for the long run (and as such open for inspection by anyone) but might have self-serving advice (leaving out competition, for a start). The advise/offers I get via email or in ad banners has a “red” rating -- a definite stop sign unless/until they are checked out or validated by a user. An example is the free Auctiva service that some of the Ebayers are using… that “free” made me really suspicious until I checked with another artist, who said she’d had good luck with it… I honestly am not sure how “free” it is (they could be using my info as demographics), but I have not found any catches yet, and it works well…

The sheer volume of the advice is another drawback… as if someone ran a whole herd of gift horses into my yard! Even if they are all good, I can’t deal with that many! And so my bookmark file expands like Harry Potter’s Aunt Madge as I file away possibilities and run out of time to explore them… I’m not complaining about the opportunities, mind you… just saying that it’s causing me to rethink/rework my process of examination. How do I prioritize what I’m gonna try first? Of course, there is no shortage of advice in that area -- several groups (including my local community college!) have classes on how to sell online like a pro, or how to double your earnings in a few weeks… implying that they have found the list of priorities that I agonize over…. Yet I’ve never been a “one size fits all” kind of person… in those old “paint by numbers” kits, I would experiment and re-arrange… who wants to end up with what everyone else has? So there’s an inbred resistance to follow-the-dots… and in the end, I’m back to just throwing my hat into the ring (another old saying… ), but making sure I start with a cheap hat, just in case it gets stomped.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Graduating, Ending and Beginning

Several family and friend graduations this month have me remembering my own graduations and thinking about that transition… the incredible excitement of finally finishing years of intense work, seeing a big blank space open up in front of you, full of potential but also of the unknown…. the rush of emotion as they do that whole corny ritual of “pomp and circumstance” (I always thought they said, “pompous circumstance”… and perhaps that fits better…;-)) and you realize you won’t be seeing some classmates ever again… the pride when you walk across the stage and get that piece of paper (which ends up in a bureau drawer or, in my case, thumb-tacked to a bookcase)… Suddenly family and friends are focused on you, on your accomplishments, and it feels a bit embarrassing but immensely satisfying as well… I remember thinking I wouldn’t go to my Masters degree award ceremony, since I’d done graduation once already (twice, counting high school), so I was totally amazed at how deeply it affected me to parade up the lawn and into the chapel at Marylhurst… there is something in ritual that touches the marrow, tells us on some molecular level that something has changed. We don’t have enough ritual in America, that or the ones we have are commercialized, unconscious or both. As someone who is shy and not good at rituals, I nonetheless see their very powerful effect and believe we need some at the important junctures of our lives… and it brings up so many themes for me, but today I’m focusing on the idea of ending and beginning.

There is a threshold between ending and beginning; most of the time we just glide right over it without noticing (as when we leave a business group or end a one-time class), but sometimes it’s good to pause on that threshold and be aware. It’s interesting in this culture that we focus a lot of attention on beginning, on the excitement of something new, and don’t often acknowledge that it requires an ending of some kind. If we don’t consciously close one door before we open the next, we risk confusion and even conflict. The old us, which may have become entrenched and almost invisible to us, is being replaced -- and that’s not really something we can choose; it happens when we trade one identity (“student)” for another (“worker”, or even “unemployed”). But sometimes we keep acting, on autopilot, with the old identity. And conflicts arise -- the “student behaviors” don’t fit in the work world, or it’s hard to let go of the “scholar” identity when you suddenly are working behind a counter. This results in minor shocks, or even major setbacks… I recall the let-down, a decade ago, when I put down the diploma and took up the want-ads… and felt like I’d fallen off the mountain with its powerful vistas, into a wasteland of restaurant and telemarketing jobs -- not having the savvy to hustle myself a job before graduation (heck, I was just keeping up with the internship and papers!), I was one of too many who eagerly sought a “good job”… my identity changed overnight, from star student to just-another-applicant… what a blow! Had there been some time taken to help me over that threshold (or even a warning by a heads-up teacher that I needed to be aware), it might not have hit so hard… the graduation ceremony, meant to celebrate success -- and it does a good job at that -- does not help us all the way through the transition… I’m dreaming of some kind of mentorship, a helping hand by those who have gone before, to meet with recent grads, check in to how they’re doing, and be encouraging until that first hurdle, “the first job” is found and navigated… Anyone else think that’s a good idea?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More thoughts on time

As we are all struggling to pull our lives into some meaningful shape, the obstacles, although seemingly many, maybe fewer than we think. In order to make good choices, we need to have time to think them through, a community to bounce ideas off and get feedback, and the inner organization that is called integrity” (i.e.: walking your talk). And in fact integrity might be impossible without the first two.

Everyone agrees that our lives have speeded up substantially, even in the past few years (let alone decades), but have we calculated the side effects of this? Besides the costs to our health and sanity, there may be a serious and far-reaching effect on out societal structure. When people do not have the time to 1) seek out accurate information, 2) digest that info and 3) plan actions based on their convictions, we get a nation of people acting out of the most primitive instinctual basis -- certainly not citizen participants! Yet we continue to allow business to bully us into working faster, working with less information, and rarely seeing the end products of our work (which give us feedback for improvements). And this ties into community: it used to be that at work we had a ready-made community to give us feedback on our actions; now, everyone is too busy to even see what their fellow workers are doing, except in egregious circumstances.

And the other “communities” in our lives (family, neighbors, social groups, church) generally see only a piece of us, and so it is hard to get feedback about our integrity (which in Webster’s is defined as “the quality of being whole”) -- basically because we no longer have the time to spend any length of time with them. Here are just some ideas I've been batting around:

What would it look like to shift into a mode that allowed for good decision-making?
1) slowing our work pace until we are not making knee-jerk responses.
2) clearing our minds of the thousands of “to-dos” and distractions
3) having a block of time daily to discuss our lives with others
4) having a block of time daily to do inner reflection, review, and decision making
5) getting rid of so-called “time saving devices” that actually take up our time to maintain

The trade-offs:
1) less “status” as a “go-getter” - possibly being seen as incompetent & slow
2) less time for distractions: tv, computer, etc.
3) less groups so that more time can be spent with each group
4) possibly losing friends who don’t understand
5) possibly less money
6) increase awareness (and anxiety?) of the problems of our society

How to move toward new mode:
1) each day, set aside .5 to 1 hour for reflection (different from meditation - not clearing mind, but reviewing). Possibly journal to record progress.
2) review social groups -- how many contribute to self-awareness? Consider dropping those that don’t
3) each week, have 1/2 or full day of quiet (Sabbath) -- don’t distract self, don’t rush around... do tasks mindfully, spend time reading books for reflection, journal.
4) find support with friends, possibly find or form a group
5) make a list of your personal beliefs and how they are expressed in your life. Review these on a monthly (at least) basis. Ask friends for feedback.
6) start getting rid of things that need time you don’t have. Simplify.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Slow Down

Authorities continue to warn us of terrorist threats and encourage us to scrutinize our surroundings, including mail, more carefully. I am wondering if we could get some good out of all this bad. Perhaps this slow down isn’t a bad thing -- what might happen if we actually took the time to be aware not only of the mail that comes in, piece by piece, but the other small interactions that fill the day? What would your day feel like if you could cut your pace in half and actually pay attention to each of the small things you are doing? (And if you say, “It would be overwhelming”, how can you begin to cut down/cut out until it is less so?)I can already hear those who’ll protest that they can’t slow down, because the rest of the world won’t and then they’ll be behind. That’s why this is such a good time to begin -- everyone can use the excuse of needing to be more aware of their surroundings and interactions --everyone can begin to slow down. Don’t you feel like you’ve started running down a steep hill and now can’t stop? Do you know anyone who doesn’t feel like Life has gotten entirely too “speeded up” in the last few years?

We’ve gotten so good at, and taken such pride in, our efficiency and speed that many of us haven’t noticed the price we’re paying for this: we’ve become more frantic, more tired, more isolated (lack of time to visit and chat), more irritable (input overload) and often more sick.In the name of efficiency, we’ve speeded up our meals until they can be eaten with one hand, adapted to multi-tasking until we feel incompetent if we’re only doing two things at once, and reduced our communications with others to the barest minimum needed to get work done. (Raise hands all of those who work for a company that schedules lunchtime meetings. When was the last time you ate lunch with a co-worker just to chat? Remember coffee breaks? Or was that before your time?)

And yet it’s the moments when we’ve slowed down that we remember, those moments when we are totally present with the moment. I can remember summer afternoons under the trees as a child, and quiet moments with friends, and a recent trip to a lake -- but all those rushed-through moments at work have become one fuzzy blur. So - how much of your life to you want to remember as a fuzzy blur?

There’s more than enough research to point out the dangers of living at the speed that we’ve “achieved”: high blood pressure, neurological illnesses, and more accidents, divorces and broken relationships (to name a few). But each of us must check our own lives, and make our own decision as to whether the price we are paying is worth the benefit of moving through each day at double or triple speed. And if the answer is “no”, let’s each take a small step towards slowing by taking a full minute longer with each interaction, each activity today.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Organizing and the Chaos Theory

My studio has finally gotten so bad that I can’t make art in there… time for a thorough re-organization! But first I’m gonna sit here on the patio for a while, avoiding it by blogging about it. ;-} I have never had much luck with organization of supplies… and I blame it on permutations. As most artists know, sometimes the beads (paint, fabric, paper) all want to go by color, and other times they scream to be gathered by type, or shape…. In order for my creativity to have full range, I need to lay out my supplies/inspiration in novel ways… and then it’s usually such a chore to put it all back that I… just… don’t. And the end result is an almost frightening pile of unknown, fragile, spillable, sharp, etc. stuff -- my husband won’t set foot in there, and I have hesitated at times, too. The occasional landslide that I set off by knocking the ironing board with my hip, or brushing past an extending sheet of stiff paper is frustrating, awesome, and keeps me reminded that we live in earthquake country. (And if we have an earthquake while I’m working, someone will have to come in and pull me out!) On the good side, I have quite often found a wonderful new idea lurking just off to my left… I turn my head and the neon yellow fabric is laying across the deep red pottery grotto box… it’s not something I’d ever choose, but it’s dramatic, powerful -- I have to push aside other projects to play with that!

And so it goes… It’s not that I don’t try -- I have shelving that allows me to stack vertically or horizontally, boxes both open and closed, opaque and see-through; I have mapped out where each thing needs to go in order to allow me room to walk… but it’s not enough… the stuff spills from every container… it just may be that I’m harboring elves, or gnomelets who have a hankering to play with yarn and fabric… or possibly the fabric itself comes out to play! (How else to explain that one corner that’s knee-deep?) There is some force working against a neatly organized studio… I swear I turn around and it’s piles again (the literature is right -- piles are painful).

Okay, I confess… too often I buy supplies without knowing exactly how I will fit them in… or, even more compelling, I get gifted with supplies (my husband is a part-owner at a book bindery and I’ve told him that throwing end rolls and scrap board away is sinful!)… I can’t just toss them! But I’m getting better at moving them on if I’m not gonna use them in the foreseeable future… there’s a wonderful place called S.C.R.A.P.S. here in Portland that allows teachers free or incredibly cheap access to whatever folks donate, and artists get some great bargains, too… so in the next week or so, I’m hauling another truck-load to them… But I’m sure the forces at work in my studio will just close over the gaps I make and shift like colored sand into new configurations.

Which brings me to chaos theory. According to online sources, chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data. I believe my studio process is brilliant at creating the underlying patterns necessary for me to create art -- and it has to do with my random gestures, including dropping things on the floor. (I’ve always believed God invented gravity for that reason… it certainly can’t be in order to help my middle-age appearance!) When I take a step back and examine the piles, there is a richness of color and texture that I can use for my next project… and then those piles get reordered, churned… much like a compost heap, and with the same result.

The Butterfly Effect, much touted as a weather source, has its effects in my studio as well. For those of you not familiar with it:

“The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does.” (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141)

The online article goes on to say: This phenomenon, common to chaos theory, is also known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. So what happens is that the little seed bead rolls under the table, where it seems to attract the scrap of painted paper, the tangle of red thread, the safety pin I drop unawares… and this somehow leads to the eventual landslide that takes weeks to sort out. Very like a tornado (or like the fan I turn on when the heat has melted my brain sufficiently to forget about thermodynamics…). It’s all physics, when you get down to it… the Universe has a vested interest in creating chaos patterns, and I am just its humble conduit…

… and now I’ve managed to blog long enough that I have to dress and go to a lunch date… the studio avoided one more day… ;-}

Friday, June 16, 2006

Mixed Media

Even though I’m a person who loves silence, I notice that 98% of the time, I put on music when I’m creating -- instrumental when I’m writing and either songs or instrumental for artmaking… Aside from just amusing myself, I find that the music can inspire me (and it’s important to get the right music), and it also keeps my mind on the project better than silence. I’m sure this is no surprise to other writers or artists, but it’s something worth exploring. There is something about music that stimulates the right brain in such a way that brings up images, connections and ideas that I don’t seem to have access to as easily in silence. I’m sure it’s not just the connection between the good feeling of a familiar sonata or memories brought up by the piece. Nor is it simply the energy created by bright rhythms and sprightly melodies… no, I’m convinced that it truly taps a part of my brain that I need for creating and that therefore I work better, more holistically if you will, when music fills my studio.

I seem to be able to let go and allow my creative impulse to lead when I’m listening to music. The linear, verbal thought structures move to the back as I follow the melody with part of my mind and let my eye and hand work together to move the art project along. Over the years, I’ve begun to differentiate types of music, too. If I have a sense of the kind of art I’m looking to make (for example, if I want to do assemblage that represents Nature or conversely represents War), I will choose the music that in the past has helped bring up those images. (Not surprisingly, there is a messy stack of tapes and CDs in one corner of the studio.) If I’m not sure what direction I want to go, I have a couple tapes with music that seems to bring up deep impulses and surprising images (Anugama, and Adiemus are two artists).

A good example of this is an art therapy exercise, painting to music. I’ve used it as a way to help teens understand that music affects their mood even if they’re not conscious of it… Basically, you select five really different pieces of music and set up paint, pastels or any free-flowing, colorful media (collage, pencil, clay don’t work quite as well). For each selection, you allow the music to suggest the color and the gestures you make -- literally empty your mind and “follow” the music as best you can. No need to do representational art; abstract forms are fine. It won’t take too long to see how different the images are -- some music produces jagged, angry-looking pieces, others very flowing, soft-color pieces.

Another technique I use to get started is to page through books and magazines that have a lot of varied color and texture… doesn’t have to be art books/mags… quite often books on nature, or alchemy or even kitchen gadget catalogs work just as well. The important part is looking at the juxtaposition of shapes, colors, textures… it seems to flip a switch into the right brain, allowing me to shut down the linear process of “if this, then that” which is wonderful if I know exactly what I want to make and have a plan, but is very unhelpful when I am looking to “play” or to allow something new and unknown to come up. I find that my work is more powerful, more individual when I allow for “play days” on a regular basis… sometimes I end up with “something”, but just as often the process results in some colorful mess that I doubt anyone will be interested in. Sometimes I can recycle it into other art, but if not, I’m content that I have strengthened my art muscles anyway… One day, I laid out sheets of 22”x36” clay-coated paper, grabbed a handful of postal twine (that had gotten utterly tangled and was otherwise useless), dipped it in watered-down acrylics, and swirled it all over the papers -- it was lovely! And so much fun! And I got to use the paper in collage and for wrapping paper… so, you never know… If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Family, Lies and Damn Lies (Statistics)

I’ve spent much of this weekend inputting old genealogy info into my new computer software. I had mostly dropped genealogy in 1992, after a decade of intense work that was primarily done by hand; looking at microfilms and hand-writing any info that seemed to be about family. Copies were 50 cents each and the films about $3, so I had limited myself to handwriting, which I’d then typed into the old Apple IIe (maybe I’d moved up to IBM by then…) Anyway, my hard drive got corrupted (hardware; this was before internet) and I lost years of painstaking documentation (I had backed up not knowing the files had already gotten corrupted, so the copies were also bad)… and I gave up in frustration. Then just this year, my mother finally sent me two shoe boxes of old negatives, and I figured out how to scan them into the computer using my scanner and a flashlight (okay, not perfect copies, but enough to print and ask Mom to ID -- no one knows where the photos went). Then I discovered an inexpensive family history software that allowed me to incorporate photos and all kinds of tidbits, and which kept track of my to-do list and also made family trees instantly and a document to upload onto the web to share with others (that software had been in the experimental phase, very clunky, when I left off genealogy). I was just gonna input the facts that I knew… and before I knew it, I was hooked again.

Genealogy, if it grabs you, becomes a real compulsion. Everyone I know who does it says the same thing. I have two cousins who work on my father’s side (no one on Mom’s side has shown an inclination), and we have individually at some time: sat in the National Archives for 8 hours straight looking at census records; gone through microfilms of NYC directories from 1865 to 1910 looking for family names and businesses; written to every known family member asking for stories, photos and info; spent 12 hours driving to Salt Lake City and then another 12 hours pouring through genealogy records before closing tired eyes for six hours and starting again (that last was me)… it’s kind of nuts (some of you are thinking, ”kind of??”)… but when I look out our cabin window, I see fisherman drifting in rowboats, a fine cold rain pouring down on them and I think my hobby is no crazier… maybe no saner, but no crazier… (esp. if they have to throw them back). And there is something so satisfying about finding your great grandfather’s signature on some document, of finding out that you still have cousins in some small town in Ireland. It’s like a treasure hunt or archeology without all the mucky digging. Or like fishing, without the worms

Anyway, back to the title -- it’s a tricky thing to get information out of relatives… one reason is that anyone who was motivated to remember the stories correctly is already a family historian, so the other relatives only remember fragments and their stories keep changing; another reason is that they are suspicious of why the stories are needed, or they don’t want anyone to “dig up dirt”… somehow it never occurs to them that two generations down, the readers will see the stories as charming and quaint, not “dirt”, will be desperate for any story about a great-grandmother, however trivial… and by then it’s too late… So stories get “watered down” or deliberately forgotten, the extra research it takes to find the facts feels like “busy work”, when all the aunt or uncle would have had to do was to admit to some fact or another… and the public documents themselves are so full of inaccuracies that occasionally I want to throw up my hands and find a simpler hobby, like particle physics! Birth and death certificates don’t match up; census records make it even a worse muddle… I spent much of yesterday just trying to mediate between piles of old lists of facts that didn’t jive… Since my husband and most of my friends aren’t interested, I do sometimes ask myself why I do this… my tongue-in-cheek answer is that if any of my sibs or my nieces or nephew gets famous (or infamous), I’m ready for the reporters’ questions… my real reason has more to do with the feeling of solidity in picturing a whole family tree, extending back into the history books that I studied in high school, back to the events on PBS shows that I enjoy watching… “we were there,” I tell myself, “we lived through that”. In a world where everyone has his 15 nanoseconds of fame, the list of ancestors and relatives, spreading out behind me like a fan, or like a web, seems to give my own life more weight, more meaning… or so it seems.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Corruption, Collusion and Denial

The news that Lay and Skilling have been found guilty is reassuring, but the government response is appalling: "The administration has been pretty clear there is no tolerance for corporate corruption," said White House spokesman Tony Snow, commenting on the Lay & Skilling convictions.

Okay -- I just can’t let that comment slide; I hadn’t wanted to get into politics so quickly in my blogging career, but my god! Can anyone say, “denial”?? After Halliburton, after the blatant skimming that constituted these first years of “Iraq reconstruction” (that by itself seems quintessential denial), after the oil barons‘ subsidies… what’s pretty clear is that Bush and Cheney chums can get away with anything. But rather than bashing this rank corruption in government (others are doing that so much better than I), I want to ask what social/cultural dynamic allows this to continue, over and over, in our faces every day. What’s going on inside of us that we (many of us) scan the news, shake our heads, and then start planning the errands? Or don’t even read/view the news anymore?

I have been musing about the “Frog in a Pot” syndrome a lot recently (that incredible experiment where a frog will immediately hop out of a pot boiling water but when placed in cold water will allow itself to be slowly cooked)… we rarely make the connections necessary to understand how bad things have gotten. I saw an article about a new technique to help asthma sufferers (by “melting” off cells in their bronchial tubes - ugh!) which noted the substantial increase in cases in the past few years -- but no mention of the thousands upon thousands of new chemicals released, the years of older but untested chemicals building up... in short -- nothing at all about the environment that is almost surely creating this condition that requires such invasive procedures. The “water” which is our environment and our social/economic structure is rapidly “coming to a boil” (in the case of global warming, quite literally)… and we haven’t really noticed. I’ve always loved the bumper sticker “If you’re not angry, you don’t understand the situation”… I’ve become very angry recently… but then what?

Because when we do make the connections, we often feel too small and helpless to respond (and yes, I realize I’m speaking of myself as much as anyone). How can we, as a people, start an uprising if we don’t actually feel like a “people”? I don’t know the neighbors on my block; barely see them around, and I admit at times that it’s tough for me to think of my city/region as “my neighbors” because so often the local annoyances get in the way. How do we put aside the very-present but smaller conflicts in order to address the much larger problems?? Obviously, so far, we haven’t been able to (although I am very encouraged by some of the city resolutions passed recently, opting out of the national spy network or voting to censure Bush for his greedy power grab). I worry that those with lots of power have in fact made it impossible for the rest of us to pull together… the multi-national corporations and power brokers have managed to make our lives so stressful that we simply can’t find time away from the daily struggle to protest.

Yet I do understand that we -- that I -- have choices, even within the shrinking set of resources available to us. I have social groups for various interests, but we don’t act together on social issues because we come from such varied backgrounds that even discussing politics can be considered rude… we opt to “keep the peace” because we choose to pursue “relaxing pastimes” or “broaden our lives”… sometimes I wonder if this self-enhancement is yet another veil over our eyes. But if we knew that the hot water we are in is about to boil? Would we move then??

This is a time of great need for our so-called middle class to speak up, loudly, about the way resources are being siphoned off, leaving us to scramble to stay afloat while still being helpful to those who are already sinking. The information is out there… we just need to piece it together and realize the extent of the problem. There have been government scandals, greed and corruption since America was first formed, and there seem to be cycles of uprising, housecleaning and re-structuring… I fervently hope that we are approaching such a period now. And I hope that I can continue to do whatever I find to do that might help.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

History, Repetition, Revision

As the spring and summer months appear on the horizon, my Renaissance Faire costume comes out of the eaves (see photo on my home site) and I start looking for occasions… and again wonder at my strong urge toward history. I’ve just finished writing a mystery set in Portland OR in Civil War times, I have been the family genealogist for years, I’ve made quilts, crewel and stump-work embroidery, candles and other ancestral crafts, and I would prefer a history museum to a mall any day. Some of this I come by naturally: as I recall, my first book aside from Dr. Seuss was Bruce Catton’s “Civil War”, one of my father’s special books that I paged through as a toddler and kindergartner… Even then, I loved photos of past times. I sometimes joke that it’s an overcompensation for mid-life memory loss… but it’s a fact that other times/other places have a fascination.

On one level, it’s an escape from the pressures and ordinary-ness of daily life (and no more “trivial” than sitting through hours of tv and movies, which I don’t do). There is just something fun about donning a costume, a persona, and strolling around in a leisurely tour of outdoor merchants sans animated billboards, boomboxes and traffic. Or even a stroll through a historical house is a way of lowering the blood pressure -- rarely do I see “controversial issues” in these places, though I often see something that puts our current pickle in perspective…. (( hmmm…. “Pickle in Perspective”… sounds like a good name for a Dave Barry rock band….)). But more than that, it connects me with the fact of generations of ancestors, of wave after wave of ebb/flow, bloom/fade that balances our myth of linear progression. As someone who moves relentless forward, I often need to be reminded that life is not like that; that one generation as often reveres what was reviled as visa versa; that we think ourselves so unique, but our history chides that ‘tis not so. Reading that the Portland City council in 1861 was concerned about “lewd establishments” in certain parts of town, I realize we have always had our “adult entertainment” dilemma. Reading that Florentine parents often put themselves in debt for lavish weddings reminds me parental devotion has been extravagant long before the “shrimp, steak and pure silk dress” issue. Although there are glaring differences, there is an amazing similarity in human nature over the years.

Another part of this for me is seeing patterns. My first major in college was philosophy/psychology -- I have always been fascinated by patterns, especially human patterns. Noting the differences and similarities in ideas, putting them in relative position with other cultures’ or times’ ideas… fascinating! Since I don’t generally do that for a living, it has become a hobby. I haven’t had much of an outlet for talking about it though… maybe this blog will become that for me… Currently, I’m noticing that the mental health field is doing one of its cyclical “return to community” trends; trying to build wrap around services for those in need. That happened in the 1850’s and ’60’s -- NYC’s “House of Industry” in Five Points, and since then it has gone back and forth several times: the orphanages closing and orphans shipped off to adoptive/foster families on huge “orphan trains”… then a return to larger institutions when it was clear that community alone did not have the resources, then a decrying of the “inhumane conditions” of the large central services and call for community-based services… even the United States, a relatively new country, has had this cycle many times… it’s fascinating and humbling to see how one tendency swings back to the other, with no easy “solution”… helps me not to become to inflexible about my point of view…

Anyway, history is on my mind today as I make a new coif for my outfit and review some new information on my Hedigan family tree branch.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Creativity, Value, Scraps

This is just a thought about my creativity, how it affects my life and perhaps others…. I don’t remember a time when I was not brimming with creativity; I would rather invent, make or design something than do any other kind of activity. I couldn’t tell you where that urge comes from; I know that other members of my family have it, yet at the same time it was somewhat trivialized. My mother was always downgrading her talent and saying she didn’t have time to be creative. Too often I was praised for making something predictable but not for experimenting -- that was a “waste of materials”. I have, unfortunately, absorbed a strong fear of wasting materials -- on the one hand, it helps me when I do assemblage, collage and other scrap craft, but OTOH it stops me from experimenting if I can’t see some ultimate value for the outcome (the best I can do is to “promise” to use it in scrap craft, ie: my paste paper experiments and monotypes become collage papers).

I know I am happiest when I am being creative. Give me a whole day to make art or to write, and I will pass up a trip to the coast, or a free shopping trip… or even a hot fudge sundae! And yet, I still find it hard to allow myself that time… and I want to know where that interdict comes from. Some of it is a pervasive “time is money” point of view; not just me, but many people believe the time one spends on something needs to “pencil out” somehow. I’ve been more successful lately in pulling away from that Celestial Accounting Book myth; seeing the value (as calculated in sheer joy) of allowing myself to move from color to texture to words and back, seeing how it revives my spirit and (even though much of the time is spent alone) reconnects me to my fellow humans has taught me that “value” ain’t just dollars and cents.

Now my challenge is to be able to sustain that POV in the face of our culture’s marketing mania. I have had some of my happiest times when giving my stuff away to friends and family, and having them tell me that it made an impact. I feel I’m at my most creative when I’m trying to come up with a special birthday or Christmas gift or card. Some kind of connection is made between what I know of the person (or maybe between their spirit and mine) and I create something that doesn’t seem to arise when I’m creating “for the market”… so creativity is definitely about connection, for me…But, speaking of “time is money”, I am now late for a board meeting, so I need to end this and run.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Art, Ebay and virtual communities

Having just begun to sell my artwork on Ebay and artbyus.com, I have had a massive dose of electronic communities in the past two weeks… I am now Web-lified. Every day I have to learn a new, complex process as I refine the face I put out to the world. It’s like playing a video game non-stop except that all those dollar figures are actually coming out of my bank account. Who needs SimCity? I’ve got SimSelling! It’s wild enough that part of my mind keeps flashing back to when there was no world wide web, and our only computer game was Zork (yes, that’s dating me…but it‘s only 20 years, folks!).

I now seem to be living in front of my laptop screen, plugged into this huge virtual community, reading advice, uploading photos, downloading programs -- and I suddenly realize my butt is killing me and I’ve been at it for five hours straight! Incredible that I can point and click to create the kind of polished full-color “flyer” that I used to spend three days pasting up with rubber cement; unbelievable that potentially millions of people could see it by tomorrow! Living at the speed of light, indeed…

Before this all gets to be completely taken for granted (too late, Cath!) I want to think about how it affects me to have almost unlimited choices, almost effortless ability, and completely unseen communities surrounding me daily. For one, it makes the dishes seem really boring.. but seriously, has anyone else noticed the sensation of living in two places at once? There’s a kind of “reality” that’s divorced from the body sitting in the easy chair; there’s a fast-paced sale-barter-cruise process that makes me feel like I’ve been driving around town (around the world?) all day, and when I realize I haven’t moved (most often because my knees don’t want to unbend), I’m slightly discombobulated. And writing back and forth to people who I will never meet, and trusting this vast infinitude of ones and zeros with my art, my career, my sanity (alright, that’s not much recently)… what a huge leap of faith! And how casual it all is! For some, that is.

My friends seem to be divided into those who are afraid even to look at my stuff on Ebay for fear of making a huge mistake, and those who have already pointed out the myriad flaws in my site, my listings, and have gotten so “pro” that I don’t even understand their acronyms. And the gap is widening… will this new “everywoman’s web” actually create a new sub class of “those who have never bought on Ebay”? Will artists start to split over “online sales” vs. “a gallery was good enough for my grandfather”… like writers once argued over computers/typewriters? Am I looking for trouble? Probably… It’s interesting, anyhow. And I’ll have more to say about it, I’m sure.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

My Virtual "Daughter"

For the past twenty years, approximately, my husband and I have been receiving mail for “Katie McGuire”: first it was a congratulations on her birth, despite a compelling lack of evidence of any natal (alright, I was hefty, but not that fat!). Then it moved to suggestions for infant formula, diapers and car seats. Then basic books and toys for toddlers, then ads for pre-school placement, etc.

We tried at first to send these back with explanations that we were childless by choice, and the fact that we had married a year before this junk mail started pouring in did not by itself guarantee a baby in the works. After about five years, we gave up, and I’ve been watching with queasy fascination as “Katie” grew up in the eyes of the merchandisers: ads for “American Girl” dolls, and summer camp slowly morphed into important-looking envelopes for “The Parents of Katie McGuire” that asked, “Have you considered how to pay for college?” (Being aware of the tuition increases, since I was taking a Masters degree, I was really glad we didn’t have to consider that!) Even after we moved, those advertisers found us -- though I guarantee you I did not send them moving notices!

And then the offers from the colleges themselves poured in, and offers to tutor young Katie for those dread SATs. I guess “Katie” must have made her choice, because recently the declining volume of her junk mail tends to ask her if she’s made up her mind on career choice or needs special training to get that certificate to enable her to get a good job in the current market. In some ways I dread the day when the Über-List decides that she has finally moved away, and we no longer get to watch her phantom growth from infant to young industrious womanhood. And what if they shunt me to another list? Do I want to know I’m a “grandma“?

Joking aside, I wonder about this amorphous meta-list that somehow tracks the development and habits of a large part of our population. Obviously not flaw-proof, demographics has become increasingly insistent that it knows what we are about… and with some validity. The recent Google and Yahoo decisions viz. releasing information on online searches reminds us that this information is being collected daily. The amount of information actually collected would be frightening if we had any way to track it [Testing... testing.... is this sentence being monitored?].

Yet for some reason, the privacy of the data collection agencies is much, much more protected than that of our individual families, so we can never find out how much that is.And there seems to be no compulsion about using the info to target us for “an offer we can’t refuse”. I have started to get those AARP offers -- oh, for the good old days when I could lie about my age! Has technology outpaced our awareness of and decisions about how much we want strangers to know? Have we all just passively accepted that this data collection will continue because corporations “have the right” to assemble dossiers on us? Is there no balance that can be struck between privacy and acquiring facts?

It’s all well and good to say, Just Use Cash, Just Avoid the Internet… but don’t we have the right to participate in our society without giving up privacy? The new HIPPA laws, touted to increase the privacy of the individual, in effect does the opposite. Having worked in a hospital, I can tell you that the comprehensive consent form that you sign in order to have any medical procedure done effectively allows the hospital to spread your information farther without a specific consent form that it has ever been able to do. And how many of us are willing to give up going to the doctor? I have read through some of those forms and there are cleverly-worded phrases that give them the right to give your information to their development office for fundraising, their advertising unit for more junk mail and to “third parties with which we work”… all without your knowing that it happened. And then suddenly we’re getting mail for medical assistance devices!

I fear that the industries with a vested interest in grabbing all the information they can get have inundated the average person with “obstacles to saying no” until he or she has just given up, noting that they are giving up privacy when they sign for a shopping card, doctor’s visit or online computer game, but not knowing what to do about it. And it will be continued until we put the effort into stopping it. Don’t let the corporate data-mining honchos re-frame (what an innocuous-sounding word!) the discussion such that those who seek to maintain some control over their personal information are “people with something to hide” or “fringe fanatics”. I am a very middle-class, middle-age, middle-everything person, and it’s starting to scare me. This issue concerns all of us. By the time you discover that too much information about you is out in the public, it will be entirely too late.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thoughts on isolation and community

Reading about court challenges to drug testing in students, it again occurs to me that these issues arise because we have split from community, isolated ourselves and created huge “cities” that isolate our children such that we can’t tell when they’re using drugs, because we don’t spend enough time with them.
The kids grow up without a community of adults who care about them and who talk to each other, sharing wisdom and observation about the kids. I know some teachers still do this, and do it well, but they will be the first to tell you it’s an uphill struggle with the setup of the schools. No one person, no matter how much they care, has the energy or wisdom to help a struggling teen; it takes a community. We form teams, which are attempts at temporary communities with specific goals, but the limits on knowing our teammates limits our ability to act meaningfully in the lives of kids.

A related issue is our attempts to isolated ourselves from the effects of others’ behaviors (including teen drug use). It becomes a vicious cycle: we no longer know our neighbors, and therefore their behavior seems random to us, so we isolate further, require that our neighbors not impact us in any way, which is impossible, so their behavior, which may seem more frightening because we don’t understand them, continues to impact us, we make more laws, etc.

The only way to break this cycle is to form smaller communities again; risk knowing your neighbors and spending enough time with them so that their behavior does not seem so unpredictable to you. Have schools small enough that teachers know their pupils and don’t need testing to see when they are acting drugged; random drug testing then isn’t needed.

Accountability without caring doesn’t work. Think of yourself and of who you feel accountable to -- the ones we really feel we owe our best behavior to are the ones we care about, and who we know care about us. Fear-based accountability only works as well as its police-ability; once the authority’s “eyes” are not glancing our way, how many of us continue to uphold the rules exactly? (Those who do, I believe, are actually holding themselves accountable to their community of loved ones, in the sense of not wanting to let them down, or to see themselves as less than worthy of that love.)

We have had a least one generation’s worth of “quick fixes” that haven’t worked. Laws, experts, time-limited emotion-management groups -- none of them connect us to each other. It’s time to explore the more difficult but ultimately more deeply effective process of re-connecting with the people in our lives by creating smaller, more stable communities and schools. And by slowing down and taking time to get to know a smaller group but know them well.