Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Doc

Arriving home late, hauling a big bottle of red wine and a newly arrived beading book, the red light is blinking on my phone. Before I get a chance to check my voice mail, the phone rings.

It’s Iris, who is bubbling over with more news about Doc’s recent successes. He has become the darling of the governor’s office after helping, as a union representative during an election. He’d gone there, expecting to be pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, but instead, they give him an office and he organizes people in all the wards to pound and knock. Doc has a powerful intelligence and is a natural leader. He can read people at a glance. I wasn’t surprised he did it well.

He was buddy-buddy with the secret service guys and the campaign workers. They gave him the code to unlock the inner office and word was that he had the governor’s ear.

The other day, he was asked to help lobby for an increase in the minimum wage and when he arrived, one legislator said, “So. This is the living legend.”

But nobody knew Doc's past. Everyone, for the first time in his life, just judged him for himself.

He did alright for a guy who was down for 22 years. Doc is finished with his parole now – all the strangling ribbons that held him to the D.O.C. are finally cut. He doesn’t have to live with parole officers pounding on his door at 4:00 a.m., or calling him at work putting his livelihood at risk. He doesn’t have to live with the D.O.C.’s humiliating “mistakes” – like slapping him in cuff monitors after four or five years of spotless parole. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore.

But he does.

Doesn’t matter that he could have been the poster boy for the parole board. Kept a job and worked hard, went to church, volunteered, was faithful to his wife. Or that the time he went to visit his dying Aunt and witnessed a gangland shooting in the hospital parking lot he didn’t blow when the police dragged him in and abused him for 12 hours before they let him go. Didn’t blow when the remote to his car wouldn’t work and he called the police to ask what to do because he was in a white neighborhood and it was late. They came. With dogs to check his car for drugs. Didn’t give into need when he and Iris were hard up and he found a wallet with over $1,000 cash and new credit cards in it. He looked the lady’s address up, drove over and returned it. Not a single penny missing.

All that didn’t take the shadow away.

And now, he’s told the governor who he is and where he came from. Face to face and without skipping anything.

And it’s ok.

Integrity isn’t worth shit if it hasn’t been tested. And people whose integrity survive the kind of tests that Doc's been through, shine so bright that it’s the rest of us standing small in the shadows.

You’ll never read this, but you're my hero, Doc - and I love you.


Monday, November 27, 2006

The black hole in blogger

Sucked into the virtual blackhole, so far: Fatale Abstraction and Coyoboy. "Your links list looks much shorter," KD mentions. I'd caught the disappearance of Coyoboy the other day when I went to use the link - and today, repeating the same process, I discover that Fatale Abstraction is missing.

And I've put them back. But it's a mystery. Why just those? Are there more? Yes indeed. Chuck is among the missing, My Hiding Place. I'll fix that.

Is this happening if people move from "classic" to "beta?" Is it happening because they don't? Is it happening because a leaf falls onto a picnic table in Iowa and someone puts a dented can of stewed tomatoes in their shopping cart while at the same time, an old man sneezes furiously and reaches for Kleenex?

And PS. HELP NEEDED. I would like writing exercises. I will write one paragraph or two on any topic, sentence, picture or word you send me in comments. Thanks!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Quote of the day

"Sometimes the best teaching tool is keeping your piehole shut."
-Weedy

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pogo and Ghandhi

When I first ventured into the Beta version of Blogspot with The Hindenburg Effect, KD asked if it wasn’t time to change the caption beside “about me,” which is a quote from Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo – “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I horde quotes like some kind of literary packrat but I still haven’t found anything that equals Pogo’s observation for brevity and wisdom. It applies, for me, when I’m blocked in my personal or creative life; it applies to politics; it applies to activism. It applies. Period. And I need to see the sentence.

So when the Scorpio casually asks me, “How do you deal with your enemies?” I look at him, dumbfounded, speechless. Enemies?

“Well,” he says, observing my expression and the long pause, “I suppose you have to see them that way.”

Yes, you do. And I always suspect that if I can manage to see anyone or anything that way, I’m in Pogo territory.

Don’t misunderstand. I can be one hell of a hot head. I am not known for my aura of calm, for loving all living beings or for my approval of governments, institutions and political systems. I can be a bitter little piece of work on many subjects. But it's not useful.

Ten years ago, beginning to correspond with someone on death row, I came to some pretty stunning realizations about our modern level of enlightenment. During three months, when the lessons were intense, I lost about 30 pounds and stopped sleeping.

I preached and raved to anyone who couldn’t escape fast enough. I don’t, these days, write about the things I learned, but let me put it this way – Guant├ínamo came as no surprise to me.

At one point, the Universe, in its infinite wisdom, sent me a mentor – a lawyer who has been an activist his entire life, now in his seventies, he still works 16 hour days on behalf of prisoners and the poor (nearly synonymous terms, by the way). I began to write around the time I met James. I began to publish a little here and there. As my horror grew, I didn’t spare details and finally my mentor stepped in.

“You won’t change anything with that kind of writing,” he said.

“But, but…”

“People don’t want to read the gory details. They don’t want to know.”

Never let it be said that I’ll take wise advice laying down. I argued. Surely to God if people knew what went on inside prisons, surely it was just that they didn’t

James held his ground calmly. The point was, according to him, that prison was just a microcosm of what prisoners and soldiers call, ‘the world.’

“Whatever goes on in there,” James said, “is the same thing that goes on out here, only concentrated.”

In other words, the “problem” was not prison staff and officials so much as it was society in general. The mindset of the world in general. The mindset of the people in the society that allowed for these institutions and this behavior. We have met those people and they are us.

Once in a while, I can’t contain my sadness and fury at the stupidity and cruelty of the world. The callous ignorance of politicians makes my hair stand on end. The injustices visited on people all over the world makes me furious. The treatment of women, the abuse of children, massive hunger, war, environmental suicide are crazy-making things. And moral outrage, the feeling that I am right and these others are wrong, that I would bloody-well like to hand out punishment or my own idea of justice, lands me directly in Pogo territory. Polarity, rage, self-righteousness, intolerance and the big fat ego they rode in on have yet to hand us peace or decency in the world. The very idea that the problem is always something outside of ourselves, is someone else, is our most fundamental and tragic mistake.

I get on my horse to slay the dragon. But when I get there, the dragon is me.

Difficult as it is for a hot-head, better to take Ghandi’s advice, “you have to be the change you want to see in the world.”

I’ll never get there, but Pogo stays to encourage me to try.

**Note: James and his wife, T, now work as volunteers running cognitive therapy groups and meditation sessions for prisoners and correctional officers and work in the inner city providing classes in nutrition and life skills.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November self-portrait




Saturday starts with a white sky and clean hair. Colors leap out from the November fade. White sky. Grey pavement, the bare limbs of trees, the bricks of the building opposite, which seemed drab and almost colorless in the summer, are a rich red. I take a self-portrait because I cannot write and one has to post something before the rescue teams are dispatched. The photo turns out well. It is not a soft expression – it is a November expression - the red bricks, red hair and green sweater are November too. I like it – if it’s not a soft expression, it’s a typical one – a suggestion of defensiveness and skepticism as I face my own camera. Serious woman. I am more serious than you might think.

Or maybe I don’t know what you think or what impression I give out here.

Lunch with Weedy, a little trip to a new store selling stone beads. The beads are overpriced and the stock is sparse. A beautiful Indian woman, the wife, sits facing the window, making jewelry. Her husband, careful not to push, but proud of the store and the stock, shows me his best turquoise. I buy two beads at ten times the price I should pay. I succumb to their eager politeness and obvious dreams of a new business in a new country succeeding. “Lady Bountiful,” I say to Weedy, “and when I’m eating beans next week…” Well, when I’m eating beans next week, I can consider the fact that no good deed goes unpunished.

I tell Weedy a recent dream: I am standing in front of a mirror posing…arranging and rearranging a beautiful long silk scarf. It’s very teenage. I’m trying different looks out planning to charm the Sc…the love interest in my life. There are sliding glass patio doors at the back of the room and someone is there. Very carefully, I back up to the wall beside the doors, where I see a man pointing a gun at me. He takes aim and shoots. He misses me narrowly and I hit the floor, trying to stay down and get out of range. He keeps shooting, over and over and I’m thinking, Jesus! He’s got a clear shot. There’s no way I can keep dodging the bullets.

Weedy shudders. “Jesus.”

“Naw,” I say, “It freaked me out at first but it’s just one of my internal selves not liking the one at the mirror.” A spat in the ranks. The everlasting internal riot of conflicting personality fragments. I am thankful to KD for sharing the voice dialogue perspective on dreams. That one once would have made me nervous for days.

After lunch, we hit the wine store and supermarket and I pick up the laughable list of groceries I think will sustain me for another week, and later manage to settle down to writing the Dreaded Submission for Very Prestigious Specialty Magazine. During the week, I’ve actually burned pictures of my work onto a CD – a feat of great daring for me. (Here’s how: you put in a blank CD – and some software comes up and tells you what to do. Then you take the CD out. My problem was the part before putting in the CD, when every instinct told me I would manage to blue screen my computer – somehow).

The dreaded submission consists of a tedious list of techniques, materials, sizes and photo credits to accompany the CD, a “career overview,” and the loathsome “artist’s statement.” I write the last thing over and over. Then I write it over again. I add and embellish. I am now designing artworks on paper that I will be lucky to live to find the time to make. In fact, by the time I finish talking about these imagined artworks, I feel that I’ve actually made them already, so I’d be repeating myself if…

Saturday now. Black sky, blue robe, tired eyes.

November.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The space where something was and the space where something is trying to be



My morning walk to work. This space where a building once was fascinates me. If you click to enlarge, you can see how many textures and colors there are in this small abandoned space. And I love this plant...fighting to find the light between the slates of a blind in a bank office.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mirror, mirror is the world

Catoptronia.

Give a Gemini a language & idea puzzle, like what do we like instead of “Pronoia” (the suspicion that the universe is constantly conspiring to make you happy)? What would be the word for suspecting that the world is a film you’re making? That “reality” is only what we believe, mirrored back to us. Catoptronia – “the suspicion that reality/the external world, is a mirror.” KD, being a Gemini, loved the puzzle of finding the word, having Scorpio rising, she has the genes of a relentless detective. It’s as perfect a word can be if it's stitched together from ancient Greek by an American.

I’d told KD about my big Ah-ha moment of the week. In September, when I was taking "coffee breaks" at the dockside to weep out the stress overload, I seized on a small incident at work that motivated me to keep showing up. I blogged about the student who asked me “Is anyone going to show us how to use this library?” I wrote that it reminded me I didn’t work for the university, I worked for her – for all the students who needed that little bit of help. So shoot me, I’m a hallmark card.

Or shoot me because two weeks later, when we gave orientation tours and talks, she was the student standing at the new book section, reading and paying no attention whatsoever.

Lately, I’ve connected those incidents with a sequence from Crash. A Persian immigrant shopkeeper, thinking a locksmith has been responsible for a break-in at his shop, hunts down the address of the locksmith and tries to shoot him. The locksmith’s child, seeing that her father is in danger and believing in an invisible cloak he’s given her, telling her she safe and bulletproof because she’s wearing it, runs and flings herself in front of her father just as the shopkeeper fires. Unknown to the shopkeeper, his own daughter has filled the gun with blanks. In the next scene, the shopkeeper’s daughter finds him sitting on the floor at the back of the shop. His life has utterly changed. His eyes are filled with tears, his face shines with the light of peace and redemption because he believes the little girl was an angel, sent to save him. It’s illusion after illusion after illusion.

And here’s the thing that was the Ah-ha to me – It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that I romanticized the student’s distress and found in it a positive reason to keep pushing myself out the door at a time when I was scared that one more day at work might bring a heart attack. And it doesn’t matter that it was only the shopkeeper’s illusion that redeemed him. It only matters that consciousness changes. It only matters to find strength to keep going, and to keep going with a little hope in your heart.

See KD's blog and her definition and quotes on the word she's so diligently constructed here.

This is for you, DM.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Peace


My father was drunk the night he meet my mother. He was an officer stationed in Brandon, Manitoba during World War II. The day he heard the news that two of his brothers, both of them pilots, were M.I.A, he pleaded with his commanding officer to go to Europe, to the front. He had the crazy idea that he could find them. His commanding officer refused the request.

At an army dance that night, my father tied one on. He was navigating a treacherous piece of heaving floor when he saw the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen in his life talking on a pay phone. That’s how he described her – after he got past the habit of telling my brother and me that he’d rescued my mother in a train station after overhearing her ask for a ticket to the Old Maid’s Home.

The happy ending was that he married the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Uncle Stan came home alive and well. The sad part is that my Uncle Eddie didn’t come home at all.

My father denied this ever happened, But I came home one afternoon when I was only four or five and my father was sitting in our big green armchair, crying. My mother was perched on one arm of the chair with her arms around him. “Your father is sad about your Uncle Eddie dying in the war,” she said, "Sometimes it's good to have a cry." I remember this clearly because my father, as far as I knew then, never cried.

In a good-looking family, he was the youngest and most handsome, the one, my father said, every girl in town dreamed about. I could believe it when my father showed me the photographs. Dad said he was sweet tempered, too and easy to love. If my father was 21 or 22 when he enlisted, and Eddie was younger, then how young was he when he died in a sky over Europe?

Much later in life, as dementia began to claim my father’s mind and shortly before he died, his wife told me that he’d get up every morning very early and creep around the house trying to be quiet. “He thinks he’s been sleeping beside Eddie every night, and he doesn’t want to make noise and wake him up.” They’d bunked that way as kids – on a poor prairie farm there were only so many blankets and an excess of cold.

When I heard about Eddie’s reappearance, I thought the veil gets thinner at the end. I knew my father would die soon and my sense was that Eddie’s presence was a kind of reassurance. I didn’t for a moment think he was imagined, or a product of the dementia or dreamed. If it’s my imagination, that’s all right. My truth doesn’t have to be the truth, or anyone else’s truth.

So this Remembrance day, I send my love to my Uncle Eddie. I send love to Randy in Missouri who, in one short ride to and from a prison visit, shared feelings about Vietnam I don't think he'd ever shared with anyone and touched my heart. I send love to George Fowler from Connecticut – whom I knew before the war and saw between tours of duty in Nam and who I searched for many times over the years afterwards but could never find, and to all the men and women the world over dying bravely and honorably in wars that, no matter how just or not the cause, have never, in the end, brought us peace. May you all have peace and joy now. May there be an end to war.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Life on earth: a report

If you’re hoping for something profound, something inspiring, you should know right off the top this isn’t going to be it.

This is upkeep. The I’m-still-here entry.

While Herhimnbryn (for instance) dwells in dog and plant-filled bliss, (reading her blog stirs both a sense of relief and envious longing), a constant stream of mail from the Federal Government is arriving at my address. None of the government mail has friendly dogs or plant vibrations enclosed. In comparison, it is a strip mall - and I am, apparently, condemned to visit it daily.

Today, I'm finally compelled to call and talk to the Feds. Ask why I’m getting a second Goods & Services tax report form when I already submitted one in October. After determining my mother’s middle name, matching my DNA , inquiring as to the name of my very first doll and other top-secret information and asking how many fingers the phone lady is holding up so that my identity is not in question (no such luck), the nice lady on the phone says, “It wasn’t filled in right.”
“Pardon?”
“You missed lines 101, 105 and 108.”
“Was anyone planning to advise me of this?” Come on folks, it’s been nearly a month.
“Well, usually they send a letter.” Usually, but not this time? Usually within four months? A year? Ever?

We determine, the lady and me, that I have not put zeros on those lines and this is the problem. Of course it is. And if I need help, I can always go in person to Customs and Revenue, where they will have me take a number, and then, when it’s my turn, direct me to an office with a phone – where I can call the same 1-800 number I could call from home. I’m serious. They "helped" me this way only last week. For one hopeful moment, I suspected that I was the unwitting participant in a Monty Python sketch.

I am making some fundamental mistake, am I? With my life, I mean?

I am home from work with a stuffed up head, a headache and a good case of what might be called "November."

I decide to touch up the roots of my hair. Hell, something has to clear my sinuses and the aroma of hair dye would take the paint of a car. I smear toxic chemicals on my head and set my timer for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, the bell rings and I proceed to the bathroom to take the clips out of my hair and…what? The crap on my scalp has not turned the color of drying blood, the shade that indicates I have successfully matched roots to strands and shortened my life span by willful self-poisoning for the sake of vanity. Bad batch? Cursed by god? No. Apparently, instead of mixing color with the developer, I have mixed conditioner. As Weedy says, rather like trying to dye your hair with yogurt.

Now it’s funny. In a spraining your ankle tripping on a banana sort of way.

I get an email saying that my last teaching cheque is in the mail. I file my copy of a contract for the exhibition in January, which, to my utter shock, states that I will receive an artist’s fee for letting them display my work. Money for nothing and your chicks for free, I think. Let me get this straight, I loan you my work, I get it back, and you pay me? What a concept.

The Scorpio and me are getting along famously at the moment and I am in like. Not that I mention that ever.

Teaching my last beading class was a complete gas – I loved watching the women get hooked on my favorite addiction, heads bent, excited by creating in spite of snarled thread and a few oh-ohs. I found I adore teaching. I actually like picking the knots out of thread. And I love deciphering what it is that someone just learning doesn't understand and figuring out how to clarify it for them. It's fabulous to watch the light go on.

Pleased to say, I am, so far, fulfilling Marko’s personal ambition for the decade of his fifties – “not being dead yet.”

So life is…

Mixed.

The Democrats gain ground /versus the general temperature of the world increases more significantly, alarmingly and suddenly than it has in 1200 years. I find a beautiful, perfect Maple leaf so achingly red it would make you weep for the beauty/ versus the bureaucracy of business and daily life is making me crazy.

To quote Vonnegut, “and so it goes.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dancing at the end of the world

I am not entirely convinced that Rob Brezsny of "Freewill Astrology" actually IS an astrologer.
Not that it matters in the least. I quote below from "Pronoia Therapy for Beginners"

"3. Eat a pinch of dirt while affirming that you are ready to kill off one of your outworn shticks -- some idea or formula that has worked for you in the past but has now become a parody of itself.

4. Using crayons, paints, scissors, glue, collage materials or any other materials, create a piece of large-denomination paper money, good for making a payment on your karmic debt.

10. Build an altar devoted to beauty, truth, and love in one of the ugliest places you know."

Ten. Most of all, I want to do ten. Failing being able to place art in an actual prison, I need to determine what might be next on the ugliness scale. Ideas welcome.