Saturday, December 12

Inflammation of the Body Politic

Not long ago, a group of guys wandered in to my local bakery tired and sweaty after a morning of strenuous hiking. Red mud caked their boots and splattered their bare legs. Their water bottles clanked hollow and empty. They ordered, and then milled around the shop, some sitting at tables and others plopping down on the couch. The coffee table had some newspapers and each one had a headline or article about Donald Trump. His pumpkin colored hair and signature scowl (i.e., the constipated toddler face per Bill Maher) are hard enough to look at but the headlines below these images were worse. He utters words as if they were buckshot pellets, painful, deadly and wide ranging.

"Are you voting for Trump?" one of the guys asked his buddy as he casually stirred his coffee. The other man snickered and proceeded to talk basketball with two of his friends waiting at the counter. No one took the bait and I wondered at this reaction.

It felt good to be spared the grinding negativity and bombastic republican presidential campaigning of everyday American life since April 2015. A snicker is about all these republican "candidates" deserve. Not one of them have seriously addressed any issue of substance. They harp on nonexistent religious oppression, bad fat ladies and abortion, "the gays", "the illegals", Obama's failure to beat ISIS, and "the radicalized Muslims", all the while laying out the problems as they see them without substantive solutions. They out wing-nut each other with inflammatory fear-mongering making it seem that we should all just kill ourselves before middle eastern hoards swoop into Amurica and destroy our good, Christian, capitalist way of life.

The most inflammatory of them all is Trump. He knows how to manipulate the media with his "outsider", "tell it like it is" guise honed over the years of televising the divisive slug fest, The Celebrity Apprentice. He gets the most media attention and uses this platform to stir up more hatred and controversy. Based on discredited data, he made his latest, infallible, snap judgment that the Muslim religion is at fault and issues this "common sense" statement: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what [the hell] is going on."

He doesn't bother to break this down into anything that makes practical sense. Even if I supported this idea, how would we do it. He shoots off TV-ready quips and statements without any plan to implement them other than issuing lame reassurances - oh, ah, I can do dat and cheaper, too.

I don't support his billionaire beliefs. No ordinary person can relate to Trump's self-obsession or his verbal toss offs about a world that should revolve around his ignorant bluster. His latest idiocy is the most destructive political position so far. He's alienated one third of the worlds people, reinforcing the ISIS position that "the west" led by America wants to annihilate Islam. Great job Trump. Put our troops in Muslim countries in even more danger, ban our middle eastern allies, and give the world another reason to question the sanity and intelligence of Americans. He gives no thought about anything except winning, and winning at the expense of the little people. I'd snicker, but this situation is escalating into World War III territory, and the cause is not just middle eastern terrorism and aggression. The concept that America (i.e., Obama) is responsible for terrorist conflicts around the world is irresponsible and dangerous. It deflects the focus away from the unmanageable "why" of conflict onto a convenient scapegoat but does not address the conflict in a meaningful way. These words of obstruction, fear, and blame weaken America.

The American culture dismisses the power of words.  Hearing a powerful person disparage an entire religion is shocking to most of the world. To Americans, words are the boring parts of TV - where visuals and 15 second sound-bites capture and release our tiny attentions.  Words, literature, poetry, lyrics, the foundation of literacy are appreciated by egg-heads and "the elites" but hard working people don't have time to read a book.  They want their Trump to shout out a target for fear and loathing. They want Rush Limbaugh to distill the sour mash of political problems into a pain killing alcohol so his aging fans can get up in the morning and look for work or collect their social security checks.  Just because Americans ignore the power of words, does not mean the rest of the world ignores them.  Integrity is honoring ones word.  Where is the honor in Trump's hateful speeches.  What should be banned are the thuggish blowhards that pollute our TV screens and airwaves with lies (aka "opinions").

So, what does "shoot from the lip", old, Donny Trump hope to gain as President. It's a given he loves the big spotlight, especially now that he realizes he doesn't even have to have a coherent plan but can spout off about rich peoples' gripes (i.e., the browns, the blacks, the poor whites, the 99 per centers). The big tip-off on what he hopes to gain by becoming president is in his campaign announcement:

"I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall."

Guess who Mexico will have to pay if Trump builds this Great Wall of America? Get it? He wants to be the first CEO/Owner of America. Forget about becoming a "public servant." Never!  WTF?  - a servant to the majority of low life, low income, multi racial,..

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Hmmm, maybe Trump's ultimate goal is to remake the Statue of Liberty in his own image - minus the nutty poetry.

May all beings know love and peace.

Monday, October 19

Minor Disappointments

End of the Season
"Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything." - Kurt Vonnegut

"I'm a perfectionist," he said proudly.  "That's why I'm disappointed in my peach cobbler.  I scoured the internet for the perfect recipe, found it and when I went to put the pie dough on top of the peach filling, it was mouldy.  I couldn't use it. Then I remembered that some recipes used Bisquick and I put that on top of the peaches and baked it."

"It's delicious," the dinner guest chirped.

"Really good," said his own mother who seldom missed the chance to advise and criticize.

"Are you fishing for compliments, honey?" queried his wife scaring him with her stfu glare.

"I'm just disappointed," he mumbled as everyone stuffed their faces with the end-of-season, delicious peach concoction.

Later that evening, watching the newscaster talk about the mistaken beating and killing of a Palestinian migrant, the unfortunate loss of some football team or other, and a weather filled with floods, mudslides and insect infestations, he examined his minor disappointment over the peach cobbler incident.  He realized that he was damned lucky to have peaches in a world of hurt and crisis.  He recalled a wise man saying an attitude of gratitude makes one a happy person. He got a smile from his wife when he said he was glad she liked his peach cobbler. Her smile reminded him of the law of attraction which is the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life.

He took a peek at the recipe he had used, the recipe for disappointment, he thought, and threw it in the trash.  I'll be more careful next time, he vowed. Wait a minute. I am never going to make #@!! peach cobbler again.  As he turned out the lights before bed, he realized how very lucky he was and couldn't help wishing that his luck was predictable.

Monday, September 7

Words in Transit

“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.” 

The angel came again last night. A beautiful, sculptured, calm, and expressionless being without sex, androgynous, ethereal.

“You will lose all sense of words, one by one, each by each,” the angel whispered and as I listened I felt a tearing and wrenching. One word struggled out of my consciousness. It heaved itself from the bloody brain tissue and bored into bone and hair leaving a microscopic pinhole of air where it had lodged itself years ago. I felt the loss and worried about the hole left behind.

“Will you come each time I lose a word,” I asked the angel with a quivering inner voice I had never heard before in dreams or visions.

The being shimmered, waved like a fish beneath a flowing stream changing shape and dimension until it broke the surface of the flow and answered, “No. You will not know when these words escape until you try to catch one and then you’ll be left with a pinhole of blank space filled with a tiny pencil point of light from the outside. Over time you will carry a halo of tiny light spears wherever you go because the outside light will fill the blanks and give you a crown of thorns, thorns that puncture more than your brow. You will be a beautiful blank, unable to reflect the outside world. You will become a magnet for celestial essences of which there are many and more.”

I gazed inward, horrified, bereft, yearning to capture the angel in a bell jar, a snow globe, an enclosure transparent and shining. As I gazed, speechless, the angel moved further to the back of my mind. It was a black and white mindscape filled with pinwheels of soft light and as I tried to discern the flowing clothing surrounding my messenger, I thought I saw white wings or blowing clouds, robes maybe. I could almost feel what they were. Bandages!

“Who or what has wounded you, angel?” I asked. Within seconds I knew of one of the many culprits. Without any speaking, the word “attachment” presented itself like a block of carved, black granite, almost impossible to see but as my mind felt the smooth surface, letters and meaning became clear.

“When or if this word escapes from me, the hole it leaves behind will be huge,” I thought.

“It is not about you,” whispered the angel and its words reeled me in from the cluttered tunnel my awareness had wandered into. It was a channel of static, a snapping place, seldom quiet and never dark. It was a comfortable place where I spun and bounced and felt but never stopped to know. I did not want to go where the angel dwelled, not now.

I felt the messenger fading as it grew larger in my black and white dream space. As I breathed in, the angel’s gorgeous face expanded and as I breathed out, the angel and its bandages grew faint, small and grey. I held my breath.

“Will I be with you again,” I asked.

The angel expanded and contracted with each breath until a silver shower of tiny bits of light formed into a faint sunbeam, particles rising toward the outside darkness. Pinwheels, meteor showers of white against blackness filled the vision. Over time, blackness remained relieved only by the granite shine of that one terrifying word.

“What was that word I dreamed?”

Thursday, August 20

Under the Mesquite Tree

View of the North


Under the Mesquite Tree

"The Sedona Fire Dept. is urging people not to hike during monsoon storms. Not only did fire officials have to sleep last night in cold heavy rain, but so did the six stranded hikers, authorities said." - NBC News 12

It's hard for non-desert residents to realize that there is water in these dry hills and arroyos. Average rainfall in central Arizona is 18 inches a year and snowfall varies from over 100 inches in Flagstaff to 12 inches in Prescott to no snow in Phoenix.

Arizona is famous for its monsoon seasons beginning in sizzling July with windstorms that create fearsome "haboobs" or giant dust storms.  The heat and winds trigger the monsoon weather pattern causing cloud bursts and thunderstorms from July through September.   This year, the monsoons started a bit early creating a wetter summer and more vegetation and more food for rattlesnakes.  For the first time in the 20+ years I've been in Sedona, I saw two blacktail rattlesnakes, one coiled to strike, both right next door in our neighbors weed patch.  

Arizona is a surprising, harsh and beautiful land.  It's a place that requires one to become educated about its geology, weather, animals, reptiles, insects and people.  I've found "field guides" are useful.  Making friends with people who love this quirky place is an even better and more enjoyable way of getting to know this land. 

Monday, July 13

Lighting the Candle

68. Lighting a Candle
Lighting this candle,
Offering the light to countless Buddhas,
the peace and the joy I feel
brighten the face of the Earth.

I stood outside last night just before true darkness deepened the sky.  The bright planets of Venus and Jupiter seemed to be gazing at each other, casting their soft iridescence between and around them, creating a shine on the rocky horizon, a deep blue shine so gorgeous my heart expanded and my breath flowed, yearning to be in that glow.  When I closed my eyes I felt the night moving into deeper darkness and the two bright lights of the planets impressed themselves on my inner sight like flameless candles - no flicker, just illumination.

I went home to my dark house, turned off the fans, disconnected the appliances and created a darkness as vast as that outside night, a darkness of the familiar. I lit a white candle scented with lemongrass and I watched it flutter and sputter, struggling to ignite.  Then like a strong, brave spear of beauty, the flame grew tall, unbending and bright. It showered my ordinary bookcases, TV, couch, pillows, chairs with magic, with a ray as yellow as a spring daffodil and as majestic as the Milky Way spiraling toward Polaris on its nightly path through the Orion Spur and onto the universe.  

Sunday, June 21

Song of My Father

On the Jetty with Dad

Today is Father's Day.  There are lots of sales and promotions and greeting cards and other nonsensical commercial traditions that really miss the point of celebrating fathers.  In my family, Father's Day was a time that Dad could relax.  Mom would make his favorite foods, and we'd show our appreciation for his daily work and care by gifting him with ties, cologne, and as time passed, acts of kindness - how many ties can a Dad have!

A legacy of my Father is his abhorrence of violence.  Although an avid boxing and football sports spectator, senseless killing seemed to disgust him.  When my brothers would wrestle around, often getting out of hand, he'd lecture about avoiding violence. That meant no cop or cowboy shows on TV and no hunting or guns.

Two phrases were repeated daily as I was growing up: "No violence" and "Don't tear it up."

Because life is sometimes hard, people get violent and destructive and situations get out of our control.  We were expected to use our brains and avoid or deflect such confrontations, not an easy thing to do.  

I recall a time at Church in the hot summertime when I couldn't sit still and Dad took me to the vestibule probably for drink or just to keep the noise down.  There was a man, raving and pacing, a very frightening scene for a young child.  

"What's the matter with the man?" I asked.
"Ah, he's drunk poor soul," said Dad.

He took me to the bathroom and asked me to stay there for a minute while he helped the man outside.  Somehow, he was able to talk to him and get him to calm down without further fuss.  When he came back for me, he explained that people who drink too much beer were not themselves and should be avoided or left alone until a grown up can help them.  There was no hatred or disgust in his voice.  He made it clear that it was a problem, though.  He made it clear that compassion and kindness was how to handle people problems.   

Throughout his life, he tried to be an example of compassion and kindness and it was very hard work for him.  My father had a terrible Irish temper and it seemed his job and often his children tried his patience almost every day.  He lost it sometimes and resorted to the violence he hated.  The real lesson I learned from Dad is that an adult with enough humility and self awareness can change.  He worked hard to control his temper all of his life and was successful more often than not.  He found ways to keep his children occupied with positive and productive pursuits:  work, music, sports, the outdoors, travel. He and Mom were a loving team, often exhausted, but always united in providing a comfortable and safe home where people could make mistakes, learn, and develop self confidence and awareness of others.  Luxuries and "extras" were not stressed.  Being helpful, accountable for our actions, and loving were what we were taught to value.

Dad also believed in one other thing:  humor.  All of us kids love to laugh at the world, especially when times are most grim.  Our humor is not the silly, lighthearted kind but a darker and more cynical perspective.  Maybe it's our Irish roots poking through.  Or, maybe it's living in America from one war to the next, or one mass murder to the next.

Today is Father's Day.  May all Fathers know love and peace, and may they teach their children to be loving and peaceful. 

Wednesday, May 13

In the Weeds

White Iris

Desert Onion

Desert Honeysuckle

California Poppy

"Charlane McGregor: Why don't you get a job at the Burgerrama? They'll hire you! My Lord, I saw on the TV - they had this little retarded boy working the register.
Lelaina: Because I'm not retarded, Mom. I was the valedictorian of my University!
Wes McGregor: Well you don't have to put that on your application."

 - from the movie "Reality Bites" (1994)

I remember watching the movie, "Reality Bites" when it first came out in 1994. Those were the days of the Gen Xers, kids who witnessed the dreaded nightmares of the Boomers: a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, AIDS, and a government betrayal in the Iran-Contra scandal. These kids grew up with Ronald Reagan at the helm of their ship of state, a president who proudly worked to advance the interests of his mentor, General Electric, and the corporate takeover of America. Through this president's charisma and his genius propaganda machine, the old master/slave economic theories of the 1900s returned, better known as "trickle down" economics.

In this movie, Winona Ryder's character comes face to face with the real world in which the angst and self-obsession of post-grads mean nothing. She documents her self-obsession, along with the obsessions of her roommates and comes up with a messy and boring video. Her MTV producer and wannabe boyfriend, played by Ben Stiller, finds a way to turn her psychodrama into a marketable piece of eye candy, something corporate vs. indie. Keep in mind, these were the days when MTV had music videos and very few "over the top" reality shows. 

Anyway, the 20-somethings live-and-learn that the true center of existence is security (i.e., shelter, food, transportation) all of which require cash. That's the reality part and the "it bites" part is the classic scene above, in which Lelaina discovers that her university education does not guarantee the high-paying job she was promised. To add insult to injury, she realizes that flipping burgers/waitressing, all of these jobs that seem so menial, are actually hard. She's not prepared for the humiliation of distrust, of being monitored, of being forced into a background of subservient scrounging. The biggest humiliation of all is the pay. She is expected to endure all of this difficulty and ego pounding for poverty wages and it bites.  It bites hard.

Fast forward to 2015, over twenty years later and those crafty corporations have solved the problem of post-graduate angst. They own the political process and have waged war on public education, particularly in red states. The trick is to uneducate America.  Remove critical thinking from the landscape.  Promote believing, faith, "trust me" mental blindness.  Let the propaganda machine achieve the corporate dream of a third-world America.  Go back to a place where the world is flat, where children do better homeschooled, where worker's rights are radical, where war is perpetual, and the  right to vote is useless.  And, let's really put the clamps on worker wannabes and saddle them with a lifetime of student debt just so they can submit a resume for one of the few remaining jobs not shipped overseas.  The old-school boomers waste time searching for the logic in this topsy-turvy tea party.  The Red Queen in Alice's wonderland requires that workers must have a degree, but she withholds any rational means of acquiring one.  The old ways of navigating through chaos using logic and reason are gone.  Cutting is the operative word. Read any news article and count the number of times the word "cut" and its derivatives are used. No wonder kids are self-mutilating more than ever. Reducing, cutting down, eliminating, scrimping and saving are today's American signposts.

We are now into the "Millenial" generation. Today's resilient folk, these dumpster divers, tiny house advocates, tech nerds have witnessed Columbine-type school shootings, 9-11 terrorism, multiple Middle East wars, a worldwide economic collapse in 2008, and the FoxNews fear mongering noise machine. They are pessimistic about the future, impervious to criticism, tethered to their iPhones, removed from social contact by their germaphobe parents, yet insightful, supersmart, and non-judgmental. Perhaps their disinclination to judge causes them to avoid politics, religion, marriage, any activity that requires a decision and a commitment. For millennials, blind faith, is an old rock band their grandparents listen to, not a thought process. This skepticism has resulted in an unprecedented rejection of organized religion and a loathing of politics. It is clear that all generations are absorbing the new reality of a waning American imperialism, but none have been more negatively affected than today's youth and young adults.

Like a swamped server at a popular bistro, millennials are in the weeds in America. If our society hopes to have a good future, boomers, genxers, everyone must help them deal with overwhelming negativity.  One step toward sanity is to promote competent and effective community leaders concerned with economic and social opportunity for all. Another step is to shun the false "dream" of aimless excess exemplified by those wacky, selfie absorbed, Kardashians.  The best forward movement is to acknowledge that reality of 2015 hasn't changed much from 1994; it is still a world of inequality verging on a dog-eat-dog harshness that demands serious attention.

“In dreams you don't need to make any distinctions between things. Not at all. Boundaries don't exist. So in dreams there are hardly ever collisions. Even if there are, they don't hurt. Reality is different. Reality bites." ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Thursday, March 5

The When...

Under the Weather

Hole in the Sky
"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back
 and laugh at the sky." - Gautama Siddhartha Buddha

I was thinking about the common saying, "You either laugh or cry."

I think of this phrase when I watch the news on TV or when the simple challenges of life happen - a bad cold, a flat tire, a forgotten bill - the basics.  All of these challenges make me feel uncomfortable. They prod and nag and itch in my mind until I realize that I have to "get a grip",  look at my automatic reaction, and do something... or not.

In many ways, these five words sum up my philosophy of life.  I have choices.  Even when faced with death, I can accept it with a smile or not accept it and suffer.  The key and the hardest part of life sometimes is acceptance.  The "when" part of the Buddha's wise observation above.

Sunday, February 8

Turn on the Light

Mellow Minimalism


Undecided Yellowness

Being Present

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)

A family member who seldom grumbles or expresses her anger blew a gasket the other day.  She had just gotten off the phone with an old friend.

"She's always asking questions:  what'd I have for breakfast; did I sleep well last night; have I gotten my flu shots.  My god!  Does she think she's my mother? " she fumed.

I proceeded to reprogram her TV remote, the true cause for her frustration I thought, and mumbled something like, "Oh, she just cares about you, Bea."

"I think she must be bored.  I know I'd be bored if all I could talk about is how wonderful it is to sit in my back yard and watch the birds, for gawd's sake," and before she got much further with that complaint, a light went on for me.  Bea does not enjoy simply sitting and watching.  She must be talking, moving, entertaining, finding drama wherever it may lurk.  A quiet moment with the birds and bees, or taking a few minutes to focus on breathing, or any contemplation minus chatter is boring, non-productive and a bit scary.  Noise, rummaging, arranging are only three of the grenades she lobs at the dark loneliness and fatigue lurking around the edges of life.  

And, Bea is not the only one that uses furious activity to drive out the unhappiness that is a necessary part of life.  I do too.  Most of us fight boredom and weariness with even more boring and un-conscious doings.  We resist the suffering life delivers.  We shun it.  We banish it.  We bury it with mindless games, clutter, chatter, unfortunate habits.  I overeat, under exercise and binge read like a trained seal at the least inkling of conflict or pain.  Others drink - use - multitask - shop - run like rats in a maze and, like me, criticize others for their frailties at the drop of a hat.

The Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh discussed the concept of embracing suffering as the only way to find peace in this hard world.

"I would not like to go to a place where there is no suffering.  I would not want to send my children to a place where there is no suffering.  Without suffering you have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.  The kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and, therefore, suffering should exist."

He further explains that the fear, hatred and violence we see in our world may not be diminishing, but rather than despair and give up the notion of a non-violent, harmonious world, we begin the peace process with ourselves.  We do the work to become mindful, to notice the miracle of life, and let that wonder become a tangible peace.  We become the eye of the hurricane, the calm center, embracing and directing the energy as it completes its natural cycle.

"Do you think your friend is healthy, Bea?" I asked.

"Oh yes.  She never gets sick."

"Maybe watching the birds and caring about you keeps her healthy," I mused out loud and Bea paused for a moment, shook her head, and finished sorting and folding her laundry.

Monday, January 5

Winter Elements

Happy New Year - January 1, 2015

Where the Sun Don't Shine

Blackberry Surprise

Little Survivor
January 1, brought the beautiful surprise of  a heavy snowfall - nothing more beautiful when it falls on red rocks!  Here's a heartfelt wish for health and happiness for all creatures big and small now and throughout the new year.

This time of year always makes me wonder about the future, where I'm going, and how I'll get there.  So, when in doubt about the future what better reference than astrology.  Yay!  So here's the link to SunSigns 2015 Astrological forecast.