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.

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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). 

Song for a Big City Boy Gone Fishin’…

THE LAWS OF COUNTRY MUSIC

(By Mark Nielsen, (c) 2017 )

There are laws in nature, and in Nashville, too.

So if you wanna write a country song, here’s what you do:

Don’t even touch your guitar till you’re sad and blue,

Then write your way outta the hole you done fell into.

     [Chorus:  ]
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass–

Hey Bartender, fill up this glass!
My daddy used to tell me put away the pedal steel,

Just use a regular slide and stay awake at the wheel,

bend them guitar strings and make a high lonesome wail,

And do your best to stay sober and stay the hell outta jail.
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass,

Hey Bobby, you’re playin’ this too fast!
Next you make the drums swing just like Bob Wills,

And don’t let the damn bass player take them pills.

Get a fiddle if you wanna but don’t make a fuss.

And keep all them dirty groupies off your private tour bus.

       (Spoken over a fiddle figure or tame guitar part) :

     They’re liable to steal something, right? Or take a picture and sell it to the tabloids. Ruin your …umm… squeaky clean public image…

You get big brass balls and an iron fist, 

you don’t understand it all but you get the gist,

Make it a little heavy metal with a peppermint twist

Add in some honky tonk piano, is there anything else I missed?
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass,

Just don’t let nobody call them low class!

        (Spoken over the band’s wailin’ outro) : 

Aw damn! I broke my own rule and wrote this tune too dang long. They ain’t never gonna play this’un on the radio. Better call up my manager, have him see if one of his other artists wants to buy a song cheap to fill out their record. I’m overdue on my rent this month, need to make me a quick $300.

Kevin Max, formerly of dc Talk, covers a great song from one of the greatest “alternative” (i.e. Non-Nashville, non-plastic) Christian bands ever, The Call.

Covers it well, too! With some Bob Dylan, Rich Mullins, and other great stuff on the the forthcoming “Serve Somebody” EP.

btw, go find the original by The Call, while you’re at it… it’s a beautiful contrast to this version.

Like like LIKE. Thanks for including such diverse voices on your new covers EP, Kevin Max. It’s about time believers and seekers got out of our private, silly debates over who’s a legit Christian and who ain’t. If it’s praise, it plays. If it corrects, it connects. If it rocks, don’t you dare stop it.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 23, 2017

Fear the Living

.

Whether it’s Trump and the 49% who voted for him, or the warmongering Saudis, the desperate fearmongering Israelis, the bombers AND attendees at dipshit teenybopper concerts, the grunge rock prophets who are their own worst enemy, the despots and thugs in our homeland and throughout the world (especially the Third World), or the noble elitist thugs on Wall Street and running the Swiss banks, the nihilist libertarians and godless communists lying in wait in every nook and cranny… what does one do when one loses faith– not in God –but in humans as a species? 
One takes one’s medicine, then watches The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Homeland, and learns of human nature. Then one gathers one’s family close, one shows up again –for now– at the latest McJob, and one waits for clarity while licking one’s wounds. 
Save us, Jesus. We screwed it up again.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell’s Blackest Day 


. (Aka “Hope is a basement window, broken, to exit out of a dark alley”)

Fell On Black Days -video, acoustic solo, Chris Cornell

        https://youtu.be/gu4Qmy2UGdA

Whomsoever I’ve cured I’ve sickened now

Whomsoever I’ve cradled I’ve put you down

I’m a search light soul

They say but I can’t see it in the night

I’m only faking when I get it right

Cause I fell on black days

How would I know that this could be my fate

Fell On Black Days, Soundgarden, on 1994’s Superunknown

Chris Cornell has died, reportedly by his own hand. Who will be able to replace that beautiful wolf now, howling at the moon, trying to pull it down and ingest it whole?

.
In My Time of Dying -article detailing his final performance

  • [Article linked above is about Cornell’s final show, just this week… and his carefully chosen swan song, a plaintive shout-out to God.]

There are musicians. And then there are artists who transcend their chosen genre, field, form or medium. 

And then there are the great souls: greatly influential strugglers, battlers, many of whom bear the burden of an entire generation’s struggle to find or create meaning and hope amidst the chaos. Kafka. Picasso. Shakespeare. Cash. Beckett. Stravinsky. Hitchcock. Marley. Eliot. Dylan. Monet. Ramone. As unhappiness stalks them, they invent entire new art forms and movements, by the sheer force of a fierce imagination and a hunger to expose some elusive truth on behalf of us all. Or at least they strip away our illusions, so we might have a chance to glimpse the truth on our own thru the fog (possibly made by an onstage fog machine).

.
Then there are also the paired powerhouses, who –simply by being contemporaries, or foils, if not partners– challenge and collaborate and compete and make each other better, and bring millions of us along on their wild, conflict-filled ride:

Miles and ‘Trane. Kahlo and Rivera. Simon and Garfunkel. Dali and Magritte. Bird and Dizzy. Dylan and Cohen (the original “twin sons of different mothers”). Lennon/McCartney. Mick and Keith. Townshend and Daltrey spawning three generations of punks. Plant/Page. Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. Pryor and Carlin. Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. I’m sure I’ve missed dozens more in various fields. 

Even more rare: trios like Bowie, Iggy, and Eno. Or Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.  Moe, Larry and Curly.  (I’m only half-joking here. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.) 

We may not like everything –or maybe anything!– that these giant souls did (or are still doing), either together or in parallel. But still, they must be reckoned with.

.
And now I would add Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (plus Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and some excellent solo work) to one or all of the above lists. 

    What we have now is A trio in search of a fourth.   Cornell. Cobain. Vedder. If there is a Mount Rushmore of what used to be called alternative rock and is now called Modern Rock, Chris Cornell is on it, with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on one side of him and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on the other. Auditions for the fourth face on the mountain shall begin tomorrow, at a Seattle warehouse near you. 

In other words, we can discuss Alice In Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Nine-Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Cornell’s pals Linkin Park, or various metal, nu metal and post-punk music till the end of time. But for average fans and casual Facebook browsers, from now on (partly because Cornell was likely a suicide), the historical, sociological and creative connections between Cornell, Cobain and Vedder now bind them together in our minds. These symbolic and yet very traceable links between them far surpass those with any of the other equally talented but less influential musicians to emerge from their era.

Cornell was the captain of this rag-tag team, too, in my opinion. The more level-headed, less popular elder statesman of the movement. Based on my understanding of what came to be called the grunge scene– and Here I point directly to Cameron Crowe’s excellent “Pearl Jam Twenty” 2011 documentary for testimony of this– Cornell was the glue. He was the Zelig, the class president, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon guy, the guy everyone knew and almost everyone loved. A superb writer, and the best pure singer of the bunch, by a mile.

I’m actually much more of a Vedder/PJ fan, but even I can admit that Chris’ vocal technique and diction are better. And while I can also admit that Nirvana was important, I think that Kurt’s  “influence” points more to the screwed-up nature of our culture than to Cobain’s ultimate talent (which was substantial, but not enough to canonize him like some folks have). Compare him to James Dean: not a very large body of work to point to, not every performance brilliant– but a tragic end made cult heroes of both men before they had time mature or to “fade away” (and yes, the Buddy Holly reference is intentional, though he was likely the most important of any of the above “tragic end”  figures–with Holly more on a par with Prince, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or John Lennon, to cite a few other tragic ends in music). 

Yet somehow, as I put it to my sweetheart today, this Cornell thing is different for me. He was more of a “quiet giant”. He had suffered from clinical depression for a long time, as I do, but by all accounts seemed to be kicking depression and addiction’s twin asses for some time now. Here’s what I said to my fiancé:

It’s not a big deal, but in my case, it’s like: Jeez, I didn’t realize how much I liked that guy (Cornell) UNTIL he died tragically. A weird feeling. Different than someone like Lennon, Bowie, Cohen or Prince.

Plus, he was my age. 52. (I’m 51, but let’s not split hairs… I don’t have any to spare!) If he hadn’t conquered his demons by now –like his equally awesome Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello apparently has– then that suicide makes a depressive and aging “starving artist” like me pretty frickin’ nervous. 

I read Springsteen’s memoir a few months back, and he too talked about mental health as a daily battle, but a winnable one with good support. Cornell appeared to have that support. I’d like to believe I have it figured out too, that I’m winning the war (despite losing some battles, at multiple stupid  day jobs and one “failed” marriage). But what makes a man like Cornell take that leap into the abyss? As blogger, actor and ubergeek Wil “Star Trek” often says: 
Depression lies

So we keep asking questions, looking past those lies, to the foggy outlines of the truth out ahead of us. The divine Presence has not and will never abandon us. Cornell sang his way toward that, with songs like “Higher Truth” on his terrific 2015 solo album. 

So I keep seeking and questioning  myself, too: 

  • Why do I want what I want? (To write novels and/or screenplays, in my case.) 
  • If it never comes to fruition, am I still a valid human being? (Hint: YESSSSSSSS! Next question please…)
  • What are my own safety checks and support needs?
  • And do I need to check myself before I wreck myself? (For example, watch for substance abuse potholes, liars who tell me I’m a failure, or shame-bound/perfectionist tendencies within myself.)

I have to put this to rest, for now. I’m doing okay. I am writing in the right direction, “singing for my life”, as Christian folkie Bob Bennett once wrote.

Nevertheless, we lost a good one this week. If grief leads us to greater gratitude, then Chris’ death is not altogether tragic. We will never have the whole story. But we will have his songs and performances forever. 

Mystery loves company… take my hand. We’ll get through this.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 28, 2017

We Take It Apart, Then God Rebuilds

.   .   .

From Fr. Richard Rohr:

“God is in some very real way suffering. God is not watching it, but in it! Did your church ever tell you that? How else can we understand the revelation of the cross and that our central Christian image is a naked, bleeding, suffering man? Christians strangely worship a suffering God, largely without realizing it; and Christian mystics even say that there is only one cosmic suffering, and we all share in it, as Paul also seems to intuit (Colossians 1:24).”

  • “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24, NIV)

… … …

My Marking Time Meditation, reflecting on the above:

There is always suffering (or struggle, or work, if we want to be modern or existential about it), and with it there is love, which always leads to progress (if not always to unqualified joy or complete, immediate success).

We (or perhaps sin, or False Self, or Ego) are the cause of that suffering, either our own suffering or that of others–usually both.

God does not cause the suffering, but God does see and feel and even inhabit it. Sometimes God even heals the wounds that suffering has caused.

To counteract suffering, we get grace, gifts (both material and spiritual), and the compassion of a Creator and divine parent. All of these and more are available to every human, regardless of religion, geography, or economics. But it is we who refuse such gifts. Or we buy and sell them, commodifying what was always supposed to be free, denying them to many people, thus prolonging or increasing their suffering. We take the gifts apart, we devalue them, we ignore them, we hoard them till they rot in our silos, we even destroy them (our own, or those of our “enemies”).

Then despite our foolishness, God puts those gifts (both concrete and spiritual), and puts us, back together yet again. And again. An endless cycle, but more like an upward spiraling trajectory. This is the divine dance of history.

Even modern physics and the laws of thermodynamics bear it out: nothing –no matter— can truly be created nor destroyed. Matter is only transformed. We are matter, and we matter to an inherently compassionate and creative Universe (which is God, hiding in plain sight).

Through struggle, through sacrifice, through God’s own suffering, and all upon a foundation of love (either from others or direct from the Source), we are rebuilt. Civilizations are rebuilt. Our houses, our careers, our families, our relationships, our hearts, our very identity –all of these deserve nothing less than to be built and rebuilt upon the firm foundation of God’s love. And when they are, our suffering is lessened, we have more help, and the struggles bear good fruit.

Yet whether we build on rock or on sand, still all of these gifts –indeed all of creation– will be subject to suffering. They will fail, due to our own sin, or to the ravages of time, and will fall apart again. Yes, we are blessed to notice and add to their beauty, or their functionality. But like us, our creations are subject to death, the pendulum swings back the other way, “things fall apart”.

To quote George Harrison: “All things must pass.”

Only love –the God-ness in me, the Person-ness of God– is eternal, unchanging and strong enough to make Something out of the chaos that has always existed.

Love is the Biggest Bang, the sacrifice that leads to a new creation (umm …that new creation would be you, if you want it), the joy disguised as suffering.

Why else would Jesus’ incarnation, death, and bodily resurrection be necessary?

Suffering either means something, or life itself is meaningless.

Me, I choose to let my struggles –and God’s struggle right alongside me– mean something. What’s more, I choose because I was first chosen.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 25, 2017

Nothing Is Wrong (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)


 .                              .                               .

Nothing Is Wrong   (4-25-17)
Nothing is wrong.

I have seen and felt Something that is right. 

Something–

some wave, some rhythm, some rhyme, 

some treasure, 

too sublime to measure–

that is not wrong.

There is a bright and shining Something

smack dab in the middle

of this nothing

(or at least in the same neighborhood).
Not everything is nothing.

Something is always something,

whether or not 

it is a whispered sweet nothing,

whether or not we

see that it is good.
Something is right.

Some thing is true. 

Real. Reasonable. Right.

Not just right but right here.

Right now. Now right. Forever.

A solid something. Fixed.

Alive.
I knew what it was once.

This string around my finger

is here to remind me.

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