Thursday, February 11, 2016

Visceral Reflections From Today's News

It's only mid-morning, but already there is news that has unnerved and distressed me, led me to gasp in wonder-horror. Carrier Corporation - maker of air-conditioning systems - has announced that it will shut down its giant plant in Indianapolis, eliminating 1,400 jobs over the next two years. It is moving this plant's operations to Monterrey, Mexico.

NAFTA, we more than know ye. American "corporate citizens" - we know ye too well.

In Maryland yesterday, a 67 year old man shot an officer who approached him in a restaurant, then fled. He was pursued by another officer, and the 67 year old shot him, too. Both officers died. As it has been reported, the first officer was not attempting to arrest the 67 year old, but asked how he was, and was then shot in the head. I have no information about the man's motive(s) or mental state.

I have no wisdom about these events, but they are exemplars of two of the major political-cultural issues of the U.S. in our time - employment/corporate behavior and availability of guns.

Regardless of Carrier Corporation's prospective improvement in its bottom line, removing 1,400 families from the ranks of the employed middle-class cannot increase the number of families that are available to purchase air-conditioners from Carrier. And it will not only be the 1,400 families' purchasing power that is affected. I recall the time in my childhood in Evansville, Indiana, when Chrysler Corporation closed its local automobile assembly plant. It did not affect my father's employment with Peabody Coal Company, but when we had to move because my father was transferred, two years later, my parents could not sell our house because the housing market in Evansville had crashed with the closure of the Chrysler plant. In fact, it was after two transfers, and two moves for our family, that my parents were finally able to sell the Evansville house - at a loss - 4 years later. So, there was a ripple effect of that plant closing that damaged the entire region and affected people's ability to buy houses ... and air-conditioners.

It has not yet been reported whether the Maryland killer had a concealed-carry license, or whether he had a mental health (or other) condition that should have prevented him from owning or carrying a gun. If he had a concealed carry license, clearly he should not have had one. If he did not have such license, he still carried a concealed weapon. If she should have been disqualified, he still carried a concealed weapon. The common variable: the existence, presence and possession of a gun ... an artifact of our society's culture of gun specialness.

As it is plain to those who will see that racism is endemic in our culture and has had, and continues to have, enormous and deleterious effects on people who are not white, it is plain that corporations doing whatever they choose in order to pursue profit has damaged and is damaging our society. As is just as plain, the presence and unique position of guns in our culture is killing us - individually and as a whole. We are not an 18th Century society without a standing army, needing a citizen militia. We are not an 18th Century society that possesses only single-shot, muzzle-loading firearms. We are a society that has not grown up; we have a culture of adolescence - we cling to laws and rules from another time that we simply hold onto because some of us want what we want and refuse to grasp that we can only prosper (in all senses) from recognizing that we are a community. We can be healthy as a community - a group that recognizes our sameness and supports ourselves generally - or we can continue our dysfunction as a failed proto-community that nurtures self-destruction. We can care and be oriented to the health of a society, or we can seek our individual desires and demands. We can choose "us" or "me." We cannot choose both.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Fortunate Result of Being Mindful

Holly Troup and I were walking back from the library (again) and passed a man who appeared deep into middle-age sitting on a metal railing along the sidewalk. The bus stop was across the street, not hear him; and something about him simply did not look right. So, I walked back a few steps and stopped in front of him and said, "Are you all right?" He responded, "No, I'm really not. I'm sick and don't have enough money to take the bus to get my medicine." I told him I did and got out my wallet. I asked him what had happened, and he pulled up his shirt, revealing two significant scars near his waist. I asked if he had been shot, and he told me he'd had colon surgery. We talked for another minute, and then introduced ourselves. I told him - candidly - that I was glad I had met him; he said he would remember me. I believe I'll remember Mr. Wayne. (In the deep South we often append a "Mr." or "Ms." to a first name.) I am glad I paid attention to my awareness that something was amiss. It was good for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to View - or Happily Live Through - the Democratic Race

I read a lot of news and commentary, so I am aware of an alleged fight between "bots" or automatic nags of Sanders and Clinton supporters. These people apparently are saying mean, harsh or untrue statements about their opposing candidate. Being a Sanders supporter I am sensitive to those labeled "BernieBros" who supposedly are for Sanders because they *HATE* Hillary Clinton (and will lie or do anything harmful to her campaign). This alleged hatred is supposedly mean, nasty and horrible - much like the members of The Group W bench in "Alice's Restaurant."

However, I cannot tell whether these people (1) exist, (2) are mean, nasty, horrible and dishonest, or (3) *HATE* Hillary Clinton. One of my problems in trying to grasp this alleged phenomenon is that I have read many statements, posts and tweets by people favoring Clinton that say that the act of posting exact quotes of Clinton is harassment, sexist, evil, cowardly, awful and unfair. I also do not know whether those who claim there are terrible "BernieBros" mean to imply that all terrible "BernieBros" are male. (It might be difficult for Clinton supporters to claim that female Sanders supporters are sexist, but I am not young enough - or cool enough - to know whether or not that would be difficult for her supporters.)

Another aspect of this situation is that the Clinton supporters whose words I have read deny that any of them do, have or even might ever say anything underhanded or mean, despite statements slandering, quoting, disparaging and denying Sanders' ideas and actions. When Bernie supporters assert that Clinton supporters have "gone negative" against him, some Clinton supporters claim sexism or flat denial; others say, "He started it!"

For a few days I wrote asserting certain facts about Clinton's career, and that was not productive. Recently, I have made a point of addressing supporters of both candidates to the effect that it is harmful in the long (November) run for anyone who intends to vote for the nominee to be divisive or destructive of the reputation of either candidate. Some people have responded positively to this idea; others have not. I understand the frustrations of hearing seemingly untrue statements made about one's favored candidate, and I feel those frustrations from time to time. But few partisans are open to learning or hearing about the warts on their preferred candidate or are interested in being reminded of the contradictions or flip-flops on positions that inevitably appear to exist. One thing that I thought both groups of people could agree on was being non-destructive. I was wrong.

So I have decided to view this contest - and indeed the upcoming likely *TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD* general election campaign - from a perspective of hope ... and amusement. Nothing I do or say is likely to affect the outcome. Regardless of how it goes or how it ends it should be a very interesting, dramatic and possibly fun experience. I do not have an idea what the resolution will be, or who the main participants will be. I expect to feel exhilaration, bewilderment, fear, anguish and ... at some points, condescension. I may feel part of this - a human involved in and affected by this process. At certain points I may feel so bewildered that I find it difficult to grasp that I am part of this group/gang/mob who are simulating self-government. Probably some of the time - hopefully not at the end! - I will look down on the nitwits who nominate or vote for one or more the candidates. (Will another Quayle/Palin be chosen for Veep?)

But I intend to be, although partisan, not demeaning or despairing of a cataclysm. That is my story on February 3rd, 2016, and I believe I will stick to it. Of course, I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Carnival Time in Our NOLA Neighborhood

The Mardi Gras spirit goes on for several weeks before the actual day, and people - friends, neighbors and strangers - regularly wish everyone they pass, "Happy Mardi Gras." The spirit is real in south Louisiana, and most houses are decorated; people here feel Mardi Gras; it is real, and at least as vivid as the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The major parades - 33 of them in the New Orleans area - go on for more than two weeks. Our neighbor, however, adds to this pageantry by hosting two (minor, unofficial) walking groups that parade annually during this time. He states a simple formula for attracting these wildly-outfitted groups that march to music that they provide - beer, tables full of glasses of beer.

So, these wild-and-fun 50-80 people draped in gaudy and beautiful robes, hats and other outfits - shout and smile and converse with all who mingle with them (including Holly and me), drink beer for 15 or 20 minutes, and then proceed on their route that goes for two miles or more through Uptown New Orleans. One of these groups arrives at a reasonable hour, but the other usually arrives next door to us at 7:00 a.m., noisy and excited but always fun, and always cheerful and friendly.

Mardi Gras is much, much more than rabidly shouting tourists in the French Quarter; it is an annual groundswell of good-will and merry-making for people of all kinds and all ages - and all mixed together - almost universally friendly and safe and joyous ... and communal. Mardi Gras is part of who we are, from Mobile, Alabama (home of the first Mardi Gras parades), through all of southern Louisiana to the Texas border. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another Day

It was another day in Amurrica - a day dominated by reports of the Witless One From Wasilla screeching, blaming, lying and failing to complete a sentence.

After an hour of reading about this, I left home to walk to a doctor's appointment and found America, again. I spoke to a man sitting at a bus stop who was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap, and we talked about the prospects for the upcoming season. He asked about the Cardinals when he saw my cap. It was a nice interaction, one I initiated because I wanted to be engaged in this place that I love, that is home, and be back in America again, at least for awhile.

It had rained sometime before I was awake, so the streets were partly wet, partly dry. It is winter, but in New Orleans that means that it is likely not to be too hot to wear jeans; it was about 65 and very pleasant.

I went on to see my doctor and had a good talk with her; as usual, she had worthwhile suggestions, including "accept yourself; you are okay and fairly normal. You are handling things/life much better than you once did." She listened well, and I felt more accepting of my situation by the time I left. I was intending to walk home, but drizzly rain began so I took the bus, which luckily arrived just as I got to the bus stop. 

When I got home, I took a nap, which felt good. The craziness is still going on in Amurrica - two nitwits gave speeches blaming Obama about nearly everything, and at Oral Roberts Looniversity, to bad. What a mess; what a country.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Tired, Valued Friend

Holly and I were walking to the library and encountered our friend, the first person we had met when we moved here - and a man who feels like an anchor to us in our neighborhood. Our friend (who I choose not to name) was a civil rights worker in the 1960's, after quitting school at 16. He worked throughout Mississippi and south Louisiana. In his 20's he completed high school and went to college up north. He became an architect and built multiple dwelling buildings in poor areas that surround the college where he taught, in a major northeastern city.

Our friend told us that his father had passed on almost two weeks ago. He seemed thoughtful and calm, and he told us he was relieved. His dad was 96 and had been bedridden in our friend's home for three years. Our friend's mother had also been bedridden in his home until her passing two years ago.

Our friend said he had confined himself to his home since his father's death, only coming out - like just now - to get food. He has been reclaiming his house, cleaning and putting back in order things that were put away when his parents moved in, one by one. He said he did not want any help, wanted only to clean baseboards and walls, replace items in their original position; and he wanted solitude.

It was a gift for Holly and me to see and spend a little time with our friend. It was gratifying to see him relieved, and to hear him say, "I accomplished what I set out to do. Dad did not get sick or have to go to the hospital for the three years I took care of him. He did not die in agony. He was peaceful and died in his sleep."

Now that is a blessing.

Chicken Dreaming Corn, a novel

I was reminded of this book by Roy Hoffman, which I consider to be The Great American Novel, when I read a tweet this morning by the NBC foreign correspondent , who mentioned a bakery founded in Brooklyn by a Syrian immigrant. Chicken Dreaming Corn is the story of a neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama, that featured a number of immigrants from several countries. I always feel glad when I remember this amazing book because the story is great while the feel is very, very personal. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Some Benefits From Being There

"Wake up. Wake up, Rick. Our neighbor has been in an accident and needs us." That was the beginning of this morning ... or, more accurately, that was the beginning of the part of the morning when I was willing to become awake. I had been awake shortly after dawn but settled back into sleep - and into one of my traveling or movement dreams, a pleasant one. When the wake-up call came, with soft pinches of toes and rubbing of feet, and a gentle but alarmed voice by my loving partner Holly, I rose readily although gingerly. It was 8:30 a.m., and I knew I had had enough sleep to be able to function as our neighbor needed me to do; but I was a bit stiff and not yet alert.

I got dressed, washed my face to get more awake, then went into the kitchen to heat some coffee to help more with waking up. Holly told me that our neighbor was not hurt, but that her car was damaged; and she needed us to pick her up. So, we drove to where we thought she was, called from the car when we did not find her, and then got to her location, where she was talking to a police officer.

The sky had been grey, and the temperature mild when we arrived. As time passed, while we waited for the AAA man to load her car onto the tow truck, the sky finished clearing, but it seemed a bit cooler. There was no more spattering of rain, so I had left my Cardinals baseball cap in the car.

I watched the tow truck operator, impressed at the skill he showed in his work: one wheel and tire were at a cock-eyed angle, and he had to remove them and guide the car up the ramp of the trunk without causing further damage to the suspension or other under-carriage parts of our friend's car. This took a number of different actions on his part, using a multiple-step process of leveraging the car and clearing space. He was patient and careful, and he did his work competently without rushing. As someone with few physical skills, I admire people who can actually do things, can take something that is not working, or not working optimally, and cause it to function well. This man could.

Holly and I were at the scene for a little over an hour, our friend and neighbor more than three, when we were able to leave and return home. We were both impressed at how calm and accepting our friend was, although we knew that this accident had caused - and would cause - substantial stress and inconvenience to her. For the second time today, I was impressed with the skills of another person.

The three of us talked through the detritus of having been through the accident scene: did she need food; verifying that we would be home all day should she need us, confirming that we would be available to take her to see her doctor should that need arise today or tomorrow. We all expressed gratitude for being one another's neighbor - and friend - there to help when one of us needed it.

Then Holly and I went upstairs to have some coffee and go on with our day. From my point of view the day had started off very well.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Living Through an Anxious Day

Yesterday, after an early surprise, I confronted the anxiety I felt and found a surprising response: "regardless of result, it will be all right." So, I ate regularly, read a lot, moved around a little, waited awhile, read some more, contemplated a nap ... did not take it, but read some more.

In earlier times I have had trouble handling anxiety - lots of trouble. I have spent much - way too much - of my life wondering worriedly "What if?" (This worry has not led to commensurate accomplishment.)

A valued result came yesterday from fearful but direct and honest action the day before. Some insight came to me as a result of committing to open communication yesterday. Some freedom resulted today from lessening of the power of yesterday's anxiety.

So, openness has been fruitful in results and in feeling at (relative) peace. I will endeavor to be more peaceful ... and therefore fruitful.

[I continue to be grateful for the words and wisdom of Alan Watts, Gail Wilson and Jason Weston.]

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paying Attention to What We Need

I know that I ought to - no, must - eat at least every two hours. My body does not work like the bodies of most people, so I eat every two hours. That seems simple, and usually this does not cause any problem. Yesterday, though, I lost track of how long it had been since I ate, even though I had eaten a good meal and did not feel hungry.

So, as we were walking back from the library I became, without any warning, ill at ease, a little bit physically unstable and anxiously aware that I needed to eat, right away, in order not to fall over. We were half a block from our destination - La Boulangerie - a wonderful bakery in our neighborhood. We went in, and I hurriedly picked something, something sweet with quick-metabolizing sugar. I had time to pay and walk to the table. I thought I had time to do those actions and eat, and thus be okay, but I did not. I was able to eat but not able to stave off what had already begun. After eating and taking some glucose pills we walked home, and I drank a glass of water and went to bed. Three hours later, I woke up and felt fine but was, in fact, worn. After staying up till bedtime, I slept ten more hours.

This is just one of those things - really, it is not too bad, and not dangerous. But it is something that changes the days of people with Type II diabetes. Everyone gets hungry; but if I wait to eat until I notice I am hungry it is likely too late to avoid an incident like this, resulting in my body needing a lot of sleep in order to get back to what seems to be normal functioning. I say "seems to be normal functioning" because that is just a guess, because during the extra sleep time I am neither eating nor hydrating - another requirement that diabetics must do regularly, not only when they are thirsty, to avoid becoming disoriented.

Aging, of course, makes changes in our bodies and in what is normal for each of us. I have been fortunate in not having too many things go wrong. The onset of diabetes a few years ago gave me a glimpse of how bodily deterioration can go. Of course, it could be much (and may later be) worse, and for many people it is. I remember thinking - really believing - that if I were ever faced with a malady or affliction that required a major change in my habitual behaviors I would simply thumb my nose at that ... and say, "Do what you will" to the disease or debility. But, as I have with alcoholism lo these many years, I have found myself willingly adjusting to The New Me. I am not the "me" I used to be, nor am I the "me" I intended or hoped to be. But I am okay with the "me" I've become, the one who needs regularity, more sleep than before and is more a human being, less a human doing.

As to this latest change, it's just one of those things.