Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 24, 2017

“Take a Knee”–Pro Sports and Protests, 1968-2017

The Oakland A’s Bruce Maxwell, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, and (thank God!) the *owners* of the Golden State Warriors all just made Colin Kaepernick’s protest/ feud with Trump and the political establishment a LOT more interesting. 

Meanwhile, Trump has once again talked and tweeted himself into a corner, one that even King LeBron James is proud to put him into with a tweet of his own, and then put a dunce cap on The Don’s silly bobblehead.
Long story short: 1) Steph Curry went public with his desire to not visit the White House with his NBA champ Warriors. 2) Trump tweeted out an “uninvited” message. 3) The Warriors management backed their guy, made a generic but important statement about inclusiveness and free speech, and 4) are now opting not to visit the WH as a team. 5) Now their entire trip to D.C. (which  is still going to happen), will be a high profile act of protest. Aaaand 6) LeBron and other high profile athletes can and are safely backing Curry, who has a better rep (and more talent) than Kaepernick ever did.

Donald, you dope!

In another part of the SanFrancisco Bay Area, rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A’s just became the first MLB player to take a knee during the national anthem, though he did keep his hand over his heart (which is consistent with being the patriot and Army brat that he is).


Oh and lest we forget, MLB has it’s playoffs right around the corner. Plus 162!!! games NEXT season, ten times more than Kaepernick’s 16-game NFL season. Plus they have more teams than either the NBA or NFL… not to mention lots more moderately paid players at the bottom of each baseball roster– kids and veterans, some maybe without much to lose by joining Maxwell’s call for justice and free speech, if they so choose. It may raise their profile, in fact.

Come in from the cold, Colin Kaepernick. You did your time (despite the absence of a crime), and we thank you for it.

The Big Question: How long will it take for more *white* athletes (especially a superstar or two, those who are worshipped by Trump’s base) to start joining the Warriors’ management, to have the guts to kneel down?

Bottom line, this was never JUST a race issue. Not in the Civil War. Not in the Sixties. And not now. It’s about human rights, and it’s about money (isn’t it always?)

This National Anthem Dilemma all feels increasingly familiar, with each new development. Maybe it’s the very current and relevant (and superb!) PBS/Ken Burns & Lynn Novick Vietnam series that makes me think of this


That was at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. 

Here’s a bit of lesser-known background.

 ” In an immediate response to their actions, Smith (Gold medalist) and Carlos (Bronze) were suspended from the U.S. team by Brundage and banned from the Olympic Village. Those who opposed the protest said the actions disgraced all Americans. Supporters, on the other hand, praised the men for their bravery.

….Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who came second in the 200 m race, also wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony. Norman was the one who suggested that Carlos and Smith wear one glove each. His actions resulted in him being ostracized by Australian media[15]and a reprimand by his country’s Olympic authorities, who did not send him or any other male sprinters at all to the 1972 games (despite easily making the qualifying time)… In 2006, after Norman died of a heart attack, Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.” (Wikipedia)

Then there’s Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted, and his readiness to go to jail over it.

That was all before doping, or the sports marketing explosion, or Islamic terrorists, or trigger-happy police and vigilante private citizens gunning down unarmed black teens or drivers in the streets, who weren’t protesting a damned thing.

Meanwhile in 2017, the plot thickens. There are certainly many things that matter a lot more than grown men throwing a ball back and forth for money. Especially since the female half of the population (of ANY color or faith) barely gives a crap about LeBron or Ali, let alone Bruce Maxwell. But pro sports and the media that promote them are a key piece of the U. S. economy.

#Dolt45, The Man Who Would Be King, the former owner of the New Jersey Generals pro football team, one Donald J. Trump, just woke the bear out of hibernation. If he thinks he can demonize the likes of Stephen Curry, he may even find friends like Tom The Patriot Brady turning on him soon enough.

Some Great White Hope –please, somebody!– is gonna break ranks in pro sports, and soon.wheter it occurs before or after Special Investgator Mueller and his team find the smoking Kalashnikov gun, and bring down The Don, that’s anybody’s guess. 

Either way, at that point, cowardly athletes and plumbers and CEOs and soccer moms and insurance clerks and fickle “front runners” will desert Trump like rats from a sinking ship. 

Thank you, Colin, Stephen and Bruce. It’s like the Pied Piper himself just said there’s some good barbecue downstairs in the kitchen, so what are we doing upstairs listening to this racist, sexist billionaire as he insults us to our faces?

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I’M IN LOVE WITH KIM GORDON 

( by Mark Nielsen, 9-13-17… with a debt to the William Burroughs documentary “A Man Within”, (c)2010 )

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I’m in love with Kim Gordon,

who’s in love with the most, 

with more, always More

(with thirst on the moors, 

since Moore is less). 
I was once in love with Bill who Burrows,

who’s ever in love with Allen Ginsberg,

who’s only ever been in love 

with himself. 

Don’t be a Beat.

Be like Mike Stipe. 

Don’t believe the hype. 
We are, all of us, 

a shitty, pretty, chaotic mess

(knots of neuroses, webs of lies, 

all shades of a type: rotten-not-ripe),

a miasma of cataclysmic phantasmagoric lysergic surgical merging

on the verge of collapse.
Stay away, for your own safety.

Don’t even think about joining us.

We don’t even want to be here,

where we are.

Except Allen, of course.

He only ever leaves to go looking for God’s pusher, 

aka Od Byblan.
What if the Prince of Peace 

threw a wedding and nobody came, 

not even the bride?

Would He call Crate and Barrel 

to see who had bought him gifts, 

but kept them for themselves?

Would he hunt down his bride 

and shoot a shot glass off her head?

Would he seek a hustler instead?

Take two Perky Dans and go straight to crooked bed?

Make some bread?

Stay with Yoko for a honeymoon week in bed?

Or grab a Magnum and end up… Republican?

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 3, 2017

Confessin’ and Redressin’

I was struck by the public prayer of confession we read in Church today. I was in a foul mood –still am, really — and this seemingly simple text is one of the few things that got through to me today.


.

I grew up Catholic, and there was plenty about it that was really worthwhile. I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time, but I was being taught and shown many essential and powerful life lessons. Like confession as a way to stay unburdened, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to be honest about ourselves. 

How Roman Catholics do confession as a sacrament is a good thing, although the reading of the above prayer today reminded me that at times, confession itself only goes halfway. The re-connection to community, to family, to my True Self and ultimately to God, is the real point. Confession enables repentance, and the guts and hard work of letting myself be changed. Confession is merely the doorway to healing. 

Ask any AA or recovery practitioner.  If you don’t let yourself be changed, and then KEEP inviting God to move the furniture around when necessary, then all the confessing and apologizing you could ever do won’t by itself keep you from picking up the bottle again, especially the next time you’re looking to hide from something painful.

To use a hockey analogy: if private confession and a prayer of penance are just treated like one’s time in the penalty box, but there is no repentance or personal discipline to change –like, if you’re the goon who goes right back out on the ice and throws another elbow to the next guy’s nose because, after all, that’s just how you play your game— then the sacrament (or the saying of prayers like the one above) is meaningless. You’re just going through the motions. 

Sure, you’re forgiven anyway because… let’s face it, God is that good. God forgives all manner of sin and sinner not because we deserve it, but because it is God’s inherently loving nature to forgive. God can’t help but to welcome back the Prodigal Son, as often as necessary, regardless of how or why or how badly the son strays.

Lord, change me. Make a clean heart in me, even the dusty corners I have not swept in decades. Amen.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 29, 2017

Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair

 

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Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair  – by Mark Nielsen, Aug. 29, 2017 

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There used to be these dance halls

in the cities of America

where a guy could go in

and dance with a dame for a dime.

The big band would be playing,

the girls in pretty dresses

who worked there would be waiting,

and asking a doll to dance

took no confidence at all.

It was just a business transaction.

“Here’s a dime. Hold my hand.”

.

Sometimes I miss those days–

even though I wasn’t born yet.

.

So instead I’ve built a Brain Ballroom,

in the Man-hattan of my mind,

and I go there when I’m blue.

I dance a little.

I chat with my inner citizens,

catch up on the news

(which is seldom good,

since my own Mind Mayor is blind and boorish).

I listen to the band,

which is technically wobbly but always amusing,

and at least keeps a good steady beat.

.

Mostly, though, I doodle

on digital cocktail napkins like this one right here.

And in my doodling,

my over-cooked noodling,

I often wonder why I came back here again–

back to this shabby joint out near my private muddy river,

back to the Bowery where I no longer belong,

among bare-knuckled mugs and bums from Palookaville.

.

I thought I wanted out.

I thought I’d gotten out.

Maybe for awhile I did.

But Park Ave is no different than Palookaville.

They just put on nice gloves before they slug you.

So I slunk back here,

tail between my legs.

.

Sometimes it helps to be here.

Mostly it just kills time.

The million waves of dead,

unfruitful hours in my wake are mind-boggling,

but I try not to look backwards too often.

.

Meanwhile the dames I pay dimes to dance with

are various equally-flawed fantasy versions of me

–all maudlin and mopey,

all fake-happy sad and slightly lost,

all familiar to me because I’ve made them all up:

they all have my nose or my sense of humor or my love of Stravinsky.

They dutifully dance and listen to my litany of complaints

(complaints by me, to me, and often about me).

They dance to keep me company,

but I know they’re bored with me by now.

Isn’t everyone?

.

For instance, Goth Girl Gabby,

who is me,

is all tatted up, with a sterling silver post in her ear.

She seeks attention by being bad,

or at least seeming bad,

which is just her cover for being sad.

She’s a cutter,

and the blood gets on my zoot suit now and then,

but I don’t say nothin’

’cause we both already know the score.

I do the Pity Polka with Gabby now and then,

And it doesn’t matter

who’s pitying whom.

We take turns leading.

.

Then there’s Honey the Hick

–also me, mind you: a beautiful, self-possessed, simple girl–

but very elusive, of course.

Honey the Hick,

she does this trick,

where she puts her hands between her thighs

like a football center.

I grab those hands from behind her–

like the quarterback I always hoped I’d be–

and with a happy hillbilly yelp,

she kicks her leg backwards,

then over my head,

and comes back ’round to face me, giggling.

It looks fantastic

(to the crowd of onlookers in my mind),

and I feel like a million bucks every time she does it–

even though the only work I ever do

is holding on tight to her hands.

I’d do that anyway,

or even less,

just to be lifted off the floor a few seconds a day by that silly yelp.

But Honey’s dance card

is pretty full most of the time .

.

So instead I pick another lonely, more demure girl

from among the rent-a-doll dancers

waiting impatiently along the walls of the Brain Ballroom.

Then I listen to her sad stories,

we dance half-assed to a tune I don’t even like,

and I sulk,

dragging my feet,

plodding through less thrilling dance moves,

following the conventions of the day.

Together, this Soccer Mom Sadie and I

(still both me, both bitter and bored)

do the Telecom Twist or the Big Mac Mambo,

while across the room, Honey the Hick

lindy hops with a different guy in my head.

He’s the Not Me Guy,

(my nemesis, let’s call him Clark)

so of course he dances better than me.

And he sneers at me. The prick.

He’s taken over my own private ballroom.

.

But hey, what else am I gonna do?

Wait in line behind two dozen other Clark-Not-Mark’s

for Honey’s high-priced ten-second flight to freedom,

only to crash back to earth

when the next song starts and she moves on?

So I try to ignore Clark-Not-Mark and Honey the Hick,

but they’re real good

at making the rest of us ballroom bozos look pale by comparison.

.

I ought to tear down this whole damned joint.

But what would I build in its place?

Where would I go instead?

.

Besides– where’s the Me who will come home from the new joint with me

and hold my right hand, and not let go,

and then take the knife out of my left hand,

the Gabby hand?

Where’s the Me who can save me from me,

and from all the not-me’s,

inside and out?

.

It’s a rough neighborhood in here.

Plus I’m all out of dimes,

and running out of time.

 

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The following is an excerpted paragraph from the book Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, which inspired the above poem [especially the bracketed typo, which spawned the above dance hall metaphor].

.

“The advice to blame oneself, a scholar has written, assumes that a person is already ‘anchored in an essential disposition which puts one at peace with God.’ Thus ‘there is no guilt complex, since the *me* being blamed and accused is in no way the authentic me, the deep me, but the apparent me.’ This superficial me may show a confident face to the world but inwardly is plagued by fears and compulsions, and remains blind to its true condition. All too often, it harbors an acedia that arises from on acknowledged anger and manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Evagrius believed that acedia in its most dangerous form derived from a lack of self knowledge, ‘coming into being when someone does not perceive the meaning of his temptation and as a result fights against it without understanding.’ I am often without understanding in my attempt to navigate the [dance tickets] dense thickets of my good thoughts and bad. When I am mired in acedia, enthusiasm seems foolish and false. And it is no easy matter to spurn the comforts of pride even though I know that only a proper and balanced self-respect can free me to love myself as I am, and also better respect and love others. I am slow to respond to my heart’s wisdom, although I know that anything less is deadly. So, I struggle.”

-Kathleen Norris, _Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, pg. 139-140

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 25, 2017

Paris Terror, Iggy Pop, and the “Eagles of Life Metal”


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Today was a perfectly puky punk rock spit-in-The-Man’s-face sort of day. In other words, Iggy Pop dominated my playlist at work. The Chairman of the Bored seldom disappoints at moments like this.

However, it turns out I missed something important last year: his amazing collaborative album with the equally brilliant Josh Homme. So consider this a better-late-than-never catch-up entry, my way of keeping this August’s U.S. protests and counter-protests in perspective.

Video- Iggy and Homme on Colbert 

[Disclaimer: most of what follows is lifted direct from Wikipedia and cut down for brevity]

Post Pop Depression is the eighteenth studio album by American rock singer Iggy Pop, released on March 18, 2016. 

Produced by Josh Homme –of Queens of the Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal [the band on stage in Nov. 2015 Paris when 89 show attendees and workers were massacred by ISIL]. 

Consisting of nine songs, the album was recorded between January 12 and March 9, 2015.

Intending to collaborate on a record about mortality and the legacy of an artist, Pop sent Homme some lyrics by mail, along with notes about Pop’s time working with David Bowie. Three months later, Homme sent lyrics to Pop, and they agreed to work together on recording songs in a studio. Pop and Homme self-financed the album.[8]

Dean Fertita [Queens of the Stone Age] recorded additional guitar and keyboards to Homme’s guitar work, while Matt Helders [Arctic Monkeys] recorded drum tracks. Homme stated that preparing Post Pop Depression was one thing that helped him cope with the aftermath of the November 2015 attack at the Bataclan.[4][6]

…They debuted their first song, “Gardenia”, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on January 21, 2016.[6][12]The song peaked at number 26 on Adult Alternative Songs. The album debuted at number 17 on the Billboard 200 making the album Iggy Pop’s highest charting in the US. It also charted highly in other parts of the world as well.

…Matt Wilkinson of NME praised the album and gave it a perfect score, describing it as “an intelligent, sassy garage rock record that’s obsessed with sex and death” and “a solid gold proof of his [Pop’s] genius.”

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 24, 2017

Middle-Aged White Male Christian Radical Centrist Party

I’m nothing if not idealistic.

.
For instance, I occasionally try to explain to U.S. people under age 40 the difference between fiscal conservatism (which I respect but don’t think works), theological conservatism (also respect this, but I don’t legalistically follow it), and proto-fascist white nationalist greedy murderous petty unimaginative terrified political conservatism (which dates back to WWII or earlier, and has been debunked more times than I can count). Most people on both sides of the racial divide, or the religious divide, don’t get the distinctions, nor could they. They’ve been trained to think in cliches and shorthand, like this:

 “old + white + Christian = hateful, racist, rigid and ULTRA-conservative “. 

There are plenty of old, wise, quietly influential and compassionate white  Christian males (let’s mention someone like Wendell Berry, Tony Campolo,… or even Stephen Colbert from my generation… who else? Help me out, people!)

Yes, they do certainly try to speak up. But a youth-oriented culture raised on memes, comic books, 15-second ads and pop-hop stereotypes just drowns them out. 

Even so, please keep reminding people the formula above is b.s., a bunch of false equivalencies. 
–signed, The Middle-Aged White Male Christian Radical Centrist (it’s a tiny fake political party, a coalition of about 50 decent dudes who just keep hangin’ in there with the youngsters…)
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

(P.S. will somebody with sick musical skilz PLEASE do an update of Gil Scott-Heron [see video above] for the Age of Trump?!)

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 22, 2017

Oh Pooh, You Silly Old Subversive Bear

!!!

It’s ON now, China! This means war!

CNN’s reporting last week on the Winnie Wars

You poor thing, Chinese President Xi Jinping. Your citizens compared your pudginess to Winnie the Pooh? How dare they!

So then in retaliation you go and ban Pooh entirely from your state-controlled social media?! Really? But I do get it. Internet bullies are awful.

However… Disney’s thug lawyers gonna be on yo’ ass shortly, and then you gonna be sorry. Mess with the Mouse, and you get the …umm… what? Chewed up server-farm wires? Bubonic plague?

Oh, yeah. Have you looked at the bottom of that Winnie the Pooh toothbrush that millions of our American toddlers are using? They all say “Made in China”. So what’s your endgame here, Xi Jinping?

Anyway, the point is: until now, China, we’ve let you suppress free speech to your heart’s content, all with the free world –as always– looking the other way, because it profits us to do so. In the name of commerce, we’ve been lenient about how tight your internet filters are, in what’s been called the Great Firewall of China (a censorship policy which negatively affects Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other MAJOR players as well).

But hey, at least you’re not running over your citizens with tanks anymore, right?

We’ve generally minded our own business, China, about how you bulldoze peasant homes to build Olympic facilities. We barely even try to make you kneel to world opinion on pollution or fair trade anymore. We keep our friends close, but our Chinese enemies closer.

Image result for Xi China president

…. Handshake deals to sell us down the river. The American Way….

Thus we’ve allowed your increased collusion and price-fixing with near-monopolies like Wal-Mart, because after all, business is business. We now let these two 800-pound gorillas control the zoo, because we don’t know anymore what could ever UNDO IT, now that bad trade policy and general deregulation have let it happen (since the 1980s, if not earlier).

Plus, when every American pop culture phenomenon under the sun is licensed, and packaged, and included in a Happy Meal… who CARES anymore that the manufacturing and packaging and exporting of those hard goods was all done IN CHINA. Too much of what gets made by multinational corporations–and then eventually tossed on a trash heap– is made by Chinese workers who don’t know,  nor care, about a closed plastic fabrication factory in central Tennessee. Or a Kansas wheat farmer who can’t get a decent price for his crop at market anymore.

The adorable and collectible Minions are still an American IDEA, right?

WE’RE STILL #1, RIGHT?!!!

(Pay no attention to that Chinese, Swiss, Danish, German, Japanese, Swedish and/or Mexican puppeteer behind the curtain…)

Universal Pictures (“owner” of the Minions) isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy, so who cares if a U.S. toy maker, steel plant or farming entity is being edged out by cheaper goods from China? Do we have a right to protest goods produced by workers with nearly zero protection of their own human rights or safety? (Yes, but we won’t protest. Or certainly not in enough numbers to force you to listen, to hear us, above the din of our own governmental corruption. Money talks and bullshit walks, as they say… and your silent conquest of U.S. markets –with the complicity of our own CEOs and politicians– proves it.)

Our Winnie the Pooh Christmas ornaments are universally created by your “godless communist” Chinese factories, under a system propped up by a tightly controlled Chinese state economy, which undermines fair trade, true competition, and democracy [and chews up people of conscience and dignity (especially the poor) throughout the world]. This all happened under the radar of the average American, while we fretted about Y2K bugs, Wall Street’s well-known fraudulent tendencies, our own endless wars on drugs and terrorism, and Miley Cyrus’ right to twerk with whomever she chooses, wherever she chooses. It happened all because a handful of politicans and multi-national CEOs/thieves decided taxes and labor unions are bad for their bottom line, and thus they implicitly had our blessing in handing over the keys to the Chinese.

We were up for sale and we didn’t even know it.

Sure, China, we still tepidly rattle our saber when you’re caught spying on us, or gaining lots of ground in the new space race to install and control satellites. But then we dismiss all manner of what we used to call injustice at the hands of your government, corporations and international mining contractors, because we really LOVE our iPhones. Who cares if an African worker– paid a pittance by a Chinese company– had to die or lose a hand getting the needed component minerals out of the ground for my phone? [Full disclosure: I’m typing this on an iPhone. Editing it later on an HP laptop, both of which were …you guessed kit… MADE IN CHINA.]

Pooh's fight exc

Classic Pooh is clearly the underdog, but he may yet have a shot. [Excerpt of a Mark Tatulli 2008 “Lio” comic strip.]

.

But NOW, all that former leeway is hereby rescinded, China. You’ve brazenly taken Winnie the Pooh (!!!) away from your own internet users, while refusing to open your immense market of consumers to OUR products,… so we are thus FORCED to take our Beloved Bear away from you in retaliation.

You have now awakened the sleepy, distracted, sugar-junkie Disney giant. And he is not amused. But wave your keys around a bit, and see if he forgets what woke him…

WAIT! What’s that you say? The ban only lasted a day?

Let the Cnet tech geeks set us straight about the internet

So what! They lifted the ban after one day, cuz they’re smart businessmen. It figures that’s how it would go down.

Nevertheless, they still banned it in the first place! And they still have the absolute power to do that –and much worse– again. Not just within their borders, but eventually beyond them as well (and probably soon, if not already).

You can’t shake the hand of the devil and say you’re only joking. Or can you?

We’ve moved on. It was barely a news story at all. It went away. And thus you’ve successfully dodged another bullet, China. The Devil lives on. We’re too busy attacking the orange-haired DEVIL WE KNOW to pay consistent attention to the martial arts Kung-Fu Panda master of worldwide economic warfare that we definitely DON’T know.

You win, China. By default. Again.

If Pooh is what passes for a subversive statement in the REAL Fourth Reich nowadays, then what does a true dictator even look like anymore? While we in the U.S. wring our hands about Trump, Putin –between Twitter wars over whether that British kid makes a decent Spider-Man– meanwhile Saudis chop off the heads of minor dissidents, or refuse to let women drive…

…and then China *steamrolls us all*, economically, technologically, and human rights-wise, simply because they’re holding better cards in this deadly political and economic poker game.

.  .  .  .  .
In other words, too many smiles come followed by a cringe nowadays. We in the developed West smile or laugh whenever, however we can… then move on to hopefully making others smile by any means necessary. Long-term losses go undetected when we are paying no mind to the oil-baron/Cabinet member/Chinese banking mogul/lobbyist behind the curtain, sneaking bad policy in right under our ignorant noses.

So when does the Asian Elephant in the room get called out and held accountable? How long can our collective denial go on?

Maybe if China violates Dumbo’s copyright next, and puts him on their national flag, then the West will finally start to realize we’ve been duped for a generation or more, as the most populous nation on the planet pollutes without ceasing and pulls the rug out from under us.

That’s a mighty impressive magic trick, China. Hiding in plain sight, picking my pocket.

But I see you. I do.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 18, 2017

David Whyte on Adolescent America 


David put the essay below up on Facebook on 8-18-17. It captures enough of my own feelings and ideas –and those of thousands (probably millions) of people I consider peers — as to be a sort of temporary manifesto of the Radical Centrist.

I re-post it here as a placeholder, a sort of cairn of words and crucial ideas, stacked up precariously– but powerfully symbolic– by one of my favorite Irish/English/American/Earthling poet-prophets.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” -Pogo

Check this space in five years, and again in fifty years. How did we do, in 2017, when the stakes were high and we had to choose?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

CHARLOTTESVILLE

The Signature of Our Time


‘Sometimes everything 

has to be inscribed 

across the heavens
So you can find the one line, 

already written inside you.’

     -David Whyte
     -From ‘The House of Belonging’

There is every reason to despair not only from the tragedy of Charlottesville, VA but from all the present events that march across our screens and that seem completely out of our control, but there is every reason to hope that with attention and discipline and a more profound understanding of the fears that undergird hatred, we can bring ourselves and our societies, back into the realm of choice.  

First, the easy part to address, our despair: the world at present seems to be a mirror to many of our worst qualities. We could not have our individual fears and prejudices; nor our endless wish to feel superior to others, nor all our deepest flaws, more finely drawn and better represented in the outer world than are presented to us now in the iconic figures and even the weather patterns that dominate our screens and our times.
Our present despair takes many forms: a torch lit procession carried by those who wish to illuminate nothing but their own prejudicial view of others, Donald Trump, a man with the worst qualities of the ever present adolescent, that live unfortunately, deep down in all of us, but terrifyingly, are now placed into a position of power and prestige, where they can do incredible damage – a damage magnified by the sense that he actually represents the opposite of despair for a significant part of the US population: then our oceans swimming in a refuse that almost all of us, environmentalist or not, order from Amazon every week: then on our screens, poor migrants, fleeing the consequences of our corruption and our climate, swimming through those waters onto the shores of the privileged: now Kim Jong-un, as the crazed part of us, when, without a moral compass, we first get a gun in our hands – and the literal, overarching despair, of our everyday skies – the weather becoming more extreme every year – seeming to work in concert with our penchant for individual extremism – and given the same unconscious boost from our unheeding everyday actions. 
As for our technological frontiers with space: many of our fantasies of exploration seem nothing more than immature masculine fantasies of escape from the necessary heartbreak and vulnerabilities of the conversation we need to have on this earth. 
As to hope, there is plenty of it, but hidden beneath a reflection that seems necessary to outline all of our very worst flaws. 
This is a time for us to learn self-knowledge, which is always an examination of our blind spots, our vulnerabilities and our flaws as much as our virtues. Nevertheless, despite the inherited human difficulties writ large across our heavens and our screens, we have never lived in a time, when more people as a proportion of humanity have been as well fed or housed or presented with astonishing possibilities of which their ancestors could only dream. Looking at my daughter’s face I would not want her living in any other time in the whole of recorded history than this one; she has more opportunity, more chance of being treated with respect in her work than any of her long line of struggling female ancestors going back before the Neolithic. She lives in a world of feminine autonomy that Jane Austen, only two hundred years ago could only imagine. It is only a matter of time, if we follow through on this conversation, before most of her less fortunate sisters in the world have the same gift. Taking this last example alone, fully fifty percent of humanity has a more dignified, more empowered, more respected future than ever before. The present pseudo-science from a Google engineer, even if it hovered within stretching distance of the truth, ignores all the equivalent disabilities of the masculine in the world it has shaped, it is representative of a last rearguard shot before we embrace the reality of women taking a full place in the shaping of our society. As to the natural world, it is not all bad: in the North of England where I grew up, all of the polluted rivers of my childhood have been cleaned up and are beginning to burgeon again with life; Bald Eagles soar over my present house near the Pacific Ocean, where there were none just decades ago, and very personally; in this very personal human life, looking at the portrait looking back at me on my desk, my mother could come back today and experience none of the prejudice she would have felt as a young Irish girl on first coming to England in the fifties.
Despair or hope aside, the great, underlying question of our time is whether our human identity, with its admixture of fears and prejudices, courage and generosity; shaped by millions of years of pressure, and brought to its present domination over the planet and its inhabitants through an almost virtuosos ability to see itself as separate and superior, can overcome its instinctual and until now, seemingly necessary tribal prejudices, and survive significant aspects of its own essential nature, into a future that is made by courageous choices, and not by our inherited and deeply instinctual fears of the world and of others. 
Looking out into a galaxy seemingly empty of signals from intelligent life, it is a fair question to ask if the emptiness signifies, not the absence of intelligent life, but the inability of any civilization to live beyond the present technological threshold upon which we now find ourselves. We could therefore, either be about to disappear in the next century, or, as spur to inspiration, survive a transition that no other intelligent species has yet managed, at least in the near universe.
The strategic, controlling mind, naming things and people to keep them at a distance; objectify them and dismiss them, has been part of the way we have survived in a very fierce world of competition and evolutionary pressure. It takes only a magnified and extreme form in the torch lit Nazi parade in Charlottesville. These people marching, feel overwhelmed by the otherness of the world and have allowed the worst proclivities of their human inheritance to come to the fore. 
We have always had to name the world to make its more unpalatable qualities make sense, we have always had to believe in the names we gave it to make sense of the swirling, surrounding powers of an often, overwhelming world, even if our names were wrong, and even if other people suffered because of our names. Now the consequences of this naming and the evil it represents can be fully seen, remembered in the context of the way it shaped our last century’s awful course and most especially, can now warp our possible future. We live in a time where we are learning not to diminish otherness if we want to survive, because we are all being placed into an intimate conversation with the way we suffer when we diminish the ‘otherness’ of the world, whether it be in factional civil wars between ourselves or a factional war with the ‘otherness’ of the natural world. This foundational learning may be what marks our global transition from adolescence into adulthood.
My adopted country, The United States of America, in particular, has come to an existential, adolescent breaking point, it is at the same place as its President: faced with the mirror reflection of its own immaturity, when it only wishes to be seen as the fully perfect and powerful representation of humanity that it would like to be. Like a human being growing into the world, trying to be something it is not, the rest of the world has already seen through it. Like a mature human being it has to learn the world still wants its best and most extraordinary qualities, which are manifold, but not at the expense of having to live with its overblown unrealities. The hardest travail for Americans at the moment is in letting go of their own well massaged but false image of perfection, both of its now unworkable and extremely flawed form of government, but most especially the idolatry and false worship of its very flawed constitution and of the self-delusion that it made for itself through the writing of that contradictory document in the first place. We have to face the fact that we created this constitution of equality when one fifth of the population were in chains, would remain in chains for two further generations, and would carry their then invisible chains on into the present day. This is the foundation for a proper and mature adult conversation and perhaps for the rewriting of that, marvelous, ground breaking but very flawed document.   
But the whole of humanity is just as involved in trying to grow out of its difficult adolescence as is America, including this author sitting at his desk facing the edges of his own maturity: I face my own flaws as does China, with its overweening need for social control; Russia with its governmental penchant for gangsterism, Africa and South America for their virtuoso corruption, Europe and Britain with their settled sense of cultural superiority – Australia with its merciless treatment of refugees – at the foundation of it all – each one of us is implicated in our own private, prejudicial lives, whatever culture we have been born into. For this we need to take a fierce, unvarnished look at ourselves: President Obama’s ‘most liked’ tweet of all time, quoting Nelson Mandela: that we are none of us born with prejudice, is a lovely sentiment, but unfortunately not scientifically true. 
Science tells us that we are shaped biologically, very early on, to prefer the facial characteristics, the accents and the skin tones of those who nurtured us. But what is more inspiring and is also scientifically proven, is that we can learn to trust faces, learn to trust and even enjoy words that are at first not familiar, and learn to live with different tonal qualities other than those that first brought us into the world, and that this extends to the non-human world of nature of which we are also a part and which gives us the foundation of the very air we breathe. This necessary education into ‘otherness’ is mostly effected by parents or societies learning not even to name the ‘other’ people in our lives as black or white or anything in between, and that this radical act of un-naming inclusion, both in parenting and in our societies in general, might be the most central, the most difficult and the most courageous and crucial conversation of our times. 
Life is fierce and difficult and gives us every excuse for defensive prejudice and easy hatred, but there is no life we can live without being subject to its griefs, its losses and heartbreak. Half of every conversation is mediated through disappearance. Thus, there is every reason to want to retreat from life, to carry torches that illuminate only our own view, to make enemies of life and of others, to hate what we cannot understand and to keep the world and the people who inhabit it at a distance through prejudicial naming –but – it therefore also follows, that our ability to do the opposite, to meet the other in the world on their own terms, without diminishing them, in celebration and in creating something new, is one of the necessary signatures of human courage; and one we are being asked to write, above all our flaws and difficulties, across the heavens of this, our present time. 
This threshold in history, this brief time upon the planet in which we can read these words, and think about our future as if for the first time in the light of the fact that we understand everything is at stake, is a fierce and unforgiving epoch, it is at times overwhelming, at times terrifying, but at times astonishingly inviting. We seem to be asked to live at this moment in history, without choosing between being afraid and being courageous, it is after all, not only the signature of our time, not only its essence, but of all the time there has ever been in the world, the only time we have.

© David Whyte

http://www.davidwhyte.com


Dawn Light
Photo © David Whyte

Barga, Province of Lucca, Italy

October 2015

Anthony the Great, founder of Christianity’s oldest monastic movement, the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt.

In honor of the Feast of St. Ignatius today…
A freaky little freeform meditation below.

I suppose it’s on asceticism, hedonism, monks, inner peace, and distractions from the mystical and highly-focused Way of Jesus:
“[1] Have no confidence in your own virtuousness.

[2] Do not worry about a thing once it has been done.

[3]Control your tongue and your belly.

–sayings of Abba Anthony (The Great), the 4th century Egyptian “Desert Father” monk and Christian mystic [as quoted by Kathleen Norris in _Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life_, (c)2008, Riverhead Books/Penguin… I recommend this book highly, especially to those who struggle with melancholy or depression]

….
Regarding the three sayings or challenges above, perhaps the best that we lay people in the cities, suburbs, corporations and denominations can hope for –esp. in our distraction-soaked postmodern era –is about 70% mastery, on just two of Tony’s three challenges above, at any one time.

Or am I being too lenient?
What do you think?

.
An extra BONUS challenge below, to the Post-Hippie Jesus Freaks like me out there:

.
The above 3-part mantra may be sung/prayed to the tune of “Spill the Wine”, as sung by the Overfed Long-Haired Leaping Gnome, Eric Burdon of the band War (probably while lying in a field, tripping on acid).

That song– which played in the background as I read Anthony’s challenge– seems the worldly, immature, post-modern antithesis to the original “Turn on, tune in, drop out” mystics and monks in the desert.

—–     —–
Here is a partial lyric quote, with my own monastic/contemplative **notations** and [contemplative conversion comments] .

     Spill the Wine

(Eric Burdon and War [1970] )

“I was once out strolling one very hot summer’s day
When I thought I’d lay myself down **to rest**
In a big field of tall grass.
I laid there **in the sun** and felt it caressing my face.
As I fell asleep and dreamed,
I dreamed I was in a Hollywood 🎥 movie
And that I was the star of the movie
**This really blew my mind**
The fact that me, an overfed long-haired leaping gnome
Should be **the star**
[Are you a star in the eyes of God?]
of a Hollywood movie, hmmm
But there I was.
Hmm, I was taken to a place
The **hall of the mountain kings**.
[What is your “sacred space”, either real or imagined?]
I stood high by the mountain tops
**Naked to the world** [note the vulnerability]
In front of
Every kind of girl
There was long ones, tall ones, short ones, brown ones
Black ones, round ones, big ones, crazy ones
Out of the middle, came **a lady**

[Consider the traditions that consider The Holy Spirit as the feminine element of the Trinity…]
She **whispered** in my ear
Something crazy
[Are you a “fool in the eyes of the world”? Could you be?]
She said,

SPILL THE WINE [of Communion], TAKE THAT PEARL” [of great price]

— — —

Finally, from Wikipedia…

*Hesychasm* (from the Greek for “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”) is a mystical tradition and movement that originated with the Desert Fathers and was central to their practice of prayer.

For personal practice, see, feel, say and repeat with intention as necessary The Jesus Prayer (or Prayer of the Heart), well-known to Eastern Orthodox Christians, which is rooted in the Desert Fathers’ and Mothers’ practices and ideas:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Just add water, maybe fast (one day a month?), then stir and serve, perhaps 20 minutes a day, along with the original mantras from Anthony, suggested above.

Have no confidence in your own virtuousness. Do not worry about a thing once it has been done. Control your tongue and your belly.

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 26, 2017

After the War, poem by David Dwyer [for Kathleen Norris]


After the War
by David Dwyer {to whom Kathleen dedicated her 2008 book, _Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life}
             A vision for Kathleen
The sickness will come to all of us, out of the air;

we will have poisoned what we live in—a thing

no rat would ever do. That silly book 

of Nevil Shute’s will turn out true, and even

the worst imaginings of Orwell and of Aldous Huxley

will seem utopian.

              Despairingly, we’ll sort through the proverbs:

a cat will still be able to look at a king,

but no one will know the way to the dairy, no one

will tell the emperor the truth or hear the truth

if it is spoken.

           It will not be spoken. Secretly,

each of us will absorb what she must. The pot

of gold at rainbow’s end will be radioactive

and death to touch; the miraculous child will not

be born; disappointment will spread, will become the natural

state-of-things. Expecting salvation, a few of us

will pray to the empty sky; believing in reason,

a few will write strictly accurate accounts of the sickness.

Still, the sickness will come to us all: to the young,

the beautiful, the cheerleaders and the quarterbacks, the ill-

at-ease, the all-too-confident . . .

                          At the very end,

simple kindness will count for something: unable

to help each other (could we ever?), we will share

morphine and alcohol and silly jokes . . .

I hope I will have the strength to wipe the blood
and sweat and so on from your face and lie to you;
I hope you will do the same for me. The others
will ask each other: “Did we win? Did we win?” I hope 
that you and I will know.

     David Dwyer (1946-2003) lived in Lemmon, South Dakota. His Ariana Olisvos: Her Last Works and Days (Univ. of Mass. Press, 1976) won the Juniper Prize (1980). 

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