Saturday, July 9, 2016

Murder, American Style

It resumes - the American way of police officers murdering black men.

And then - the murder of many police officers in Dallas.

And now - the futile and (likely) cynical statements of politicians that "we are all in this together" - we are not - and "we are better than this" - we are not. This is exactly who we are as a culture: violent, intolerant, racist and immature. And an aspect of our immaturity is our refusal to see that we are not all in this together - we are riven by class problems and privilege claims, but many of us are safe from the direct impact of our class and race problems. Another aspect of our immaturity is that many of us believe that we are better than this because we have religious beliefs that tell us we are better than this; but those beliefs do not prove themselves, and facing our ineptitude as fellow citizens and our racist and other privilege claims requires setting aside the beliefs we have in ourselves and in the exalted condition many believe we are in because of our religion.

We will not become the better, more caring, less violent and less race-and-class-based culture than we are currently in until we grow up, value education again (as we once did), recognize dangerous weapons for the danger they create, and live by the values we have long claimed in our founding documents but not yet lived beginning with the belief that all are created equal. We have never lived that, never believed it; but we have complimented and soothed ourselves by saying we believed it. Enough of childishness - our egos - and enough of childish things - weapons made only to kill.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Death of a Friend ... and Great Human Being

My friend Janis K. G. Loo died last night of ovarian cancer. She was a remarkable person, a hero of goodness & caring ... and strength. Janis & I met in 1978 and stayed friends over all those years despite her residence in her native Hawai'i and mine on the mainland. We seldom saw one another but stayed in contact, sharing our lives. I remember when she met her husband and when each of their five children came to them. I remember their two trips to China, a few years apart, to adopt two of those children. I remember when she gave a kidney to a stranger - because it mattered & she could do it; so Janis did it. That's the way she was. I remember all the times when she gave me support as I endured troubled times. She was always there for so many people, and now she is gone; and it hurts.

Janis was extraordinary in so many ways, but perhaps what most stands out for me is her constancy in caring. She did not vary or fluctuate in her caring, her presence, her acceptance and love of people, yet Janis did not lose any of herself - she was not a martyr; rather, she had a very unusual capacity to care, actively, without damaging or diminishing herself, while building up others.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Being "the Other"

I just talked by phone with my daughter Emme (who is gay) and was on her way to the vigil in downtown Los Angeles. The horror, the sadness, the confusion, the fear - among other feelings - that she, at 29, has experienced yesterday and today are ghastly. The cause of these emotions - LGBTQ-phobia, murderous lack of acceptance of "the other," & the pathological immaturity of a culture that permits war weapons in civilian & disturbed hands - is appalling & outrageous.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Wonder of Wonders

I have a lot of active dreams in which I am traveling or walking or interacting with people. The other night I dreamed I was watching a ballgame, and the announcer and director cut away with the story of how well Stevie Wonder was doing in minor league baseball. The announcer talked about how remarkable this was, given that Stevie is blind. Then they played a recording of Stevie batting ... wearing a short top hat.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Great Man You Likely Do Not Know

A great man died yesterday, and I am fortunate to have been well acquainted with him. Charles Derleth was a painter and a longtime teacher of art at John Burroughs School in St. Louis County, Missouri. Mr. Derleth taught my daughters and thousands of other people in their adolescence. When new students (the school is 7th-12th grades) said to him, "I can't paint," he kindly and candidly said, "I can't paint as well as I would like, but with practice I can get better and better." He meant it, and they did.
15 years ago, while cutting branches off a tree in his back yard, Mr. Derleth fell and became paralyzed from the chest down. He had been a very active man, always participated in the School's weeklong programs at a rough site in rural Missouri, teaching kids ecology; but he lived the next 15 years in a wheelchair. He missed most of a year during his convalescence and rehabilitation but then resumed his teaching, and taught for another seven years. On one of my visits to the nursing home during his rehabilitation, he laughed and said he hoped to be released from "the medium security institution" by the end of the week. I remember laughing with him and also being astonished that he could laugh and joke.
Charles Derleth was as kind and supportive of people as I can imagine, and that was before his accident. He remained all that but added heroism, continuing to love and support - and TEACH - his students. He also continued to paint, and paint he did. He was marvelous.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Reading About Writing

I'm reading Douglas Kennedy's The Moment, some of which is set in Berlin in 1984. The protagonist is a writer, gone to Berlin to observe and take in - to find a story. He lodges in the apartment of a painter, and - watching him one night - notes that, "Every so often there is a here-and-now in the realm of creative work .... A strange switch is thrown in your brain. You are not pondering or cogitating or thinking about what happens next. You are simply doing. The work has taken you over.... That's it. The moment. The most unbridled form of romance imaginable. Pure mad love." [italics his]

I remember that experience during the writing of numerous essays and humorous writings, an experience reminiscent for me of what I have heard sculptors say, that the work of art was already there in the stone, and they were freeing it by their pounding, chiseling and cutting. (I drove past an abandoned gas station-truck-garage-restaurant complex in the desert, killed by the Great Recession of 2008; and I saw that the work of art was there, turned around and went back to photograph it - and it was there, just waiting for me to find the lines of sight, and I did. I knew as soon as I saw it - at 65 miles per hour - that the piece was there, waiting to be seen. Finding the lines to capture this tragedy was simple, just a matter of being open enough to see the loss and emptiness. Attention had to be paid.)

The moment is what matters.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Being There, Glad to Have Been There

I was part of an unusual and nice occurrence today. I had just left our home and turned the corner to walk to a medical appointment a couple of miles away when a car pulled to the curb next to me and a voice asked me a question. A man and a woman were in the front seats of a medium-sized car, with people in the back seat. I walked towards the car, and the man driving asked if I knew where Children's Hospital was. The man and woman appeared to be Latin American - Guatemalan was my guess - and I noticed that the woman did not speak. I said I knew where that hospital was and began to give directions. At the same time, the right side rear window began rolling down, and I saw a young girl there, looking with curiosity and what seemed to be enthusiasm. Through the front passenger window I saw a second young child in the back seat. Although the man spoke English my efforts to give directions seemed to be failing. So, I said I would show them if he would like for me to ride along. He did, so I got into the back seat. He followed the turn by turn directions I gave, and drove to the hospital, perhaps half a mile. When we arrived, I started to get out of the car, but he insisted on driving me back to my home. I resisted but soon saw that he wanted to do this in order not to have inconvenienced me more than the few minutes since we had met. So, he drove me home, and we all - I would say warmly - wished one another well. The adults were grateful; I was gratified to have been helpful to these nice people. The two daughters seemed enthralled by the adventure of it! Both had been smiling for minutes and waved good-bye.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hallmark Days

It is the beginning of the period of #ExceptionalAmerica days - Mother's Day [gag], Memorial Day ['Merica is the Greatest Country in the History of the World, By God], Father's Day [Allow Me to Make Fun of You'all with a Paper Necktie; Have a Beer], Independence Day [We Are Not Only *Still* the Greatest Country in the World, By God, but for Now and All-Time, By God, We Are the Empire that God Loves], and then Labor Day [When We Pretend to Admire the Crum-Bum, Dirty Working Man on Whose Backs the Elite Stand, Sneering]. If anything identifies us, it is our love for these phony days of idealization and idolatry.

Each year - I am about to be 68 - I try - sometimes hard, sometimes harder, sometimes my very hardest - not to look down on our (my) culture or express my birthright of pain from the 1950's Eisenhower era of seeing no evil, hearing no evil and (especially) saying no evil about the middle class, conservative, upwardly-striving, suburban, status-conscious, longing-to-be-elitists among whom I endured a childhood of abuse and condescension in a culture of self-congratulatory self-righteousness and keeping up with the Joneses. This year, I won't even try. I no longer give too much of a damn about the feelings of those people, nor do I give too much of a damn about not toeing any lines or being inappropriate - in order not to be un-Amurrican or un-Christian or immodest in my rage.

I *HATE* these holidays. I especially hate Mother's Day with all its jewelry advertising, flower bedecking and mother-placing-on-pedestals AS THOUGH something about giving birth anoints mothers to be caring, present, sensitive and protective guardians of tiny-then-small people. Nothing so anoints mothers, and not all of them have any/all of those qualities. The damage and wreckage is bad enough; the damage and wreckage from having mother and father who had none of those qualities is worse. The requirement to celebrate mothers on Mother's Day - in church, in ads, in AA and Al-Anon meetings, at ballgames - is mind-bendingly horrible, akin to the horribleness of ever-present Christmas carols during "the holidays" for those damaged by Christian religious people/fanatics.

To anyone inclined to recommend therapy, please try to understand that I have endured the work of therapy for decades ... and am happier and healthier than ever before. To anyone inclined to recommend medication, you are reading the words of a veteran of legal, psychoactive meds. Some things don't go away; fortunately, some damage can be ameliorated ... and fortunately in my case has been. To anyone inclined to recommend "taking it easy," please understand that this is a (now) fairly rare expression of intensity that I decided to express on this day of days.

To anyone inclined to urge me to celebrate how much less terrorized and haunted I am now than ever before, I say, "You are correct, but PTSD does not go away; and I have not forgotten."

To anyone inclined to remind me that I have also had advantages that many people had not, you are correct - and I have not forgotten. Life has improved, and my life is better than it was and better than it might have been. I do not minimize that.

In my opinion, we are still a culture of seeing, hearing and speaking as little evil as possible, preferring almost always to seek the closest-as-possible-to-Hallmark views of us as possible. I say to hell with that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

One American Story

In 1940 a family moved out of their neighborhood in north St. Louis because the only boy of the family - age 11 - came home with a black schoolmate after school one day. The family moved into an all-white neighborhood, and on the day they moved into their new house the 16 year old daughter (oldest child of five) of the family looked out her bedroom window at the 14 year old boy cutting the grass in his yard and (supposedly, according to her version, repeated in the "good times" of the '50's & '60's) said to herself, "That is the boy I'm going to marry." Whether she said it does not matter to how she saw her own - their - story. She had picked him out as her partner and pathway to her goals.

Four years later, while he was in flight training in the U.S. Army Air Corps, she married him. She was sure he was the one who would rise through the ranks of the business world once the war ended and he had gone to college. It was the way most women of that time who were inclined to upward mobility plotted their way to success and prominence ... and money. Although there were independent professional and business women, they were severely limited in their access to the ladder of success that was a part of the United States mythology.

The war ended while the boy was still in flight training - he never left California's Army airfields - and the couple returned to St. Louis where he enrolled at Washington University and she prepared for the birth of their first child, a girl. For three years, the woman tended him, their first child, their small GI-Bill-purchased house and their second child, a boy. For three years, he worked full-time as a mechanic in a gas station and went to school in mechanical engineering with a load 33% greater than full-time. Eight months after the second child was born, he graduated; and their striving up the ladder of success (Registered TM) began. They moved from St. Louis - the first move of a great many, all dedicated to rising up the ladder of success - to Alexandria, Louisiana, where they lived for one year. Over the next 16 years the family would live in 8 states.

The woman and man did not consider the impact of all these moves - uprooting, loss of friends, chronically being the new kids at school, differing school systems' orders of learning - on their children, the girl and the boy. The parents often said that all these moves were for the benefit of the family: the father's advancement would benefit them all. When the boy was 8 and the girl was 10 they rebelled when told they were moving again; this warning was added by the mother: "Don't ever tell your dad that you don't want to move. It would hurt him, and he couldn't take it."

All family decisions were based on the father's advancement, gender roles and the family's money supply. Thus, the boy's raggedy lower teeth were not fixed with braces because orthodontia was expensive, and lower teeth did not show on boys. When he gave a used baseball to a friend who had just gotten his first baseball glove - but had no ball - the mother hit him and screamed that he should never again waste the family's assets. "Assets" - yes, that is what she said. He was 8 years old. The daughter - a good and enthusiastic athlete - never got a baseball glove because "girls don't need those." Eventually, the daughter went to summer school and took correspondence courses so that she could graduate from high school one year early and get the hell out of Dodge - out of this family that was all about the advancement in money and prestige of the parents.

Fast-forward to 1968. The couple live in a fine English Tudor-style house in an old, exclusive near-suburb of St. Louis, and the man - only 42 years old - is the #3 executive of a large corporation. Because of a crisis in one of the company's major assets - in Australia - and because of his excellence of his work, he and other company leaders decided he was the one to go fix the situation. The asset was major, the crisis was major and the success of the man in fixing it - over a period of 16 months - was major. His salary was increased 50% as part of the agreement for him to go. For 1968 and 1969 he received a bonus of 1/3 of his expanded annual salary. He returned to St. Louis a hero.

He also returned to St. Louis an alcoholic. 18 months later, he was passed over for the presidency of the company when the president suddenly died; the presidency of that company had been the couple's goal for 20 years. 18 months after being passed over he was fired for alcoholism. His ladder had dry rot, and he and his wife suddenly had no position, no prominence, total disgrace (she took on his disgrace; her prominence once based on his position) and no income. Dramatically let down by her partner of 28 years, the wife was undone, resentful, embarrassed, enraged. They sold the big house and moved to the country to try to make a living raising cattle, something of which neither had any knowledge or experience. They toiled and fumbled for five years. She tried to control his drinking. He hid the extent of it - bottles hidden in culverts on the ranch & under the hood of his truck. (She continued to drive the Cadillac of their past life.) She cooperated in denying his drinking - each time he fell over, unconscious, she declared that he had had a stroke. (He "had" 63 of them, she told the son.)

During one of those years, he got a great job in Los Angeles and lost it the first day for drinking. Her rage grew. His rage grew. Their frustration and pain grew. On weekend visits, each would separately take the son for a ride and seek his opinion, "What should I do?" The son responded to each, "Get a divorce." But they didn't. On one visit the son warned the woman of the dangers of the shotgun in the house of this frightening, drunken, bitter man - "He will kill you or himself." She dismissed the warning. After five years on the ranch he killed himself with the shotgun. Both of his adult children, always terrified of him & resentful of their parents living their lives for money and prestige, were relieved. Each had long believed that he would kill them one day - but now he wouldn't.

The woman had been in the hospital when he killed himself, badly injured by a cow; and it was a year before she was able to move from the ranch. With the proceeds of life insurance and partial, then complete, sale of the ranch, she could live indefinitely in her beloved Hawai'i. Within two months she met another man with visions of wealth in his mind. He also had alimony and child support payments in arrears, no assets and a delight in hard drinking. This man had something that the first man had not - an eye for the get-rich-quick scheme, and a player's attitude towards the world, not the driven, workaholic attitude of the first man. He was 12 years younger than the woman, and he had the salesman's gift of seeming to make dreams about-to-come-true. Four months after they met they married. She merged her dream of wealth and prestige with his dream of wealth from investments (some of which were ruses) and schemes.

They lived high in fancy rented condos on the water on the Big Island, and used her money and their joint dreams & shared delusions for some years, till the money ran out. Then, they borrowed from banks willing to accept "stated assets" on a loan application as actual assets, the couple staying ahead of the game by hook and crook. (Except that time when the woman called her daughter and said, "If I don't have $_______ deposited in my account by bank opening on Monday morning I'll go to prison." She was in her mid-60's. The daughter wired 2/3 of her inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather.)

As with the first marriage, this marriage lasted 34.5 years, at which point the husband died. And the final accounting of the woman's lifelong quest for wealth and prominence - which she had talked about and planned for in the early years, flaunted when she had much of both, then plotted and dreamed again - and deluded herself - for many years? Their multi-mortgaged house had no equity, the husband's children had been paying the utility bills for months, and the couple's credit cards had a balance in excess of $60,000.00. She has no assets, her dreams extinguished, everything lost, one (now old) child completely alienated, the other not alienated but not in a position to assist much.

How many families in the heady days after World War II had goals, beliefs and values based on unbridled ambition and the belief that wealth and prominence would follow for those who were white, Republican and Protestant, who worked hard and played by the rules they thought applied? I don't know. This is one family.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bernie-Shirt Reactions

I wore one of my Bernie shirts today and walked to a doctor's appointment & then the library. On the way a couple of guys gave a thumbs up. In the medical building a white 20-something woman with a toddler in the elevator said something that seemed positive but that I could not decipher; so I said, "And we all need to get together to elect whoever wins the Democratic nomination." She noticeably physically reacted and said, "Not Hillary, no matter what they do to me!"

Outside the library, a black woman 35-40 smiled and said something positive about the shirt as we were walking towards one another. I smiled and said, "I'm hopeful." She said, "I am, too; and I just can't go for Hillary, anymore. There was a time, but not now. But, you know, we need for this sniping and attacking to stop. We're starting to look like the Republicans." I agreed with that.