Sunday, December 11

Winter Is Coming

"The long night is coming, and the dead come with it. No clan can stop them, the free folk can’t stop them, the Night’s Watch can’t stop them and all the southern kings can’t stop them. Only together, all of us, and even then it might not be enough but at least we’ll give the f---ers a fight." — Jon Snow from "A Song of Ice and Fire: A Dance With Dragons"

Saturday, October 8

Horror Show

When Crack Was King

1994 - Mandatory - Three Strikes - Black Brown Reign of Terror

Read Between the Lines

It was a slow day in the elections office. Several volunteers were on the phones calling democrats and independents, urging them to register to vote and to vote for democrats. One volunteer named John wandered into the reception area. He was a good looking, older man with a lovely British accent and he sat in front of my desk munching on potato chips, sipping water. He had just phoned a rabid republican voter for Donald Trump and had suffered some minor verbal abuse. I could feel the confusion and anger radiating from John and got ready for a rant. It came pretty quickly and I was not surprised.

"How can anyone vote for Trump?" he said, and he proceeded to catalog all of Trump's more egregious violations of human decency in recent times. He finally concluded that people voting for Trump were racists and misogynists and the most alarming thing about them is their numbers. We both agreed that no matter how offensive and thuggish Trump was, his base of white supremacists were counting on him to uphold the dominance of white males in America and they do not care how he does it. We agreed that our only hope is to continue working to get Hillary elected. I didn't want to bring up the glaring issue of what will happen to the defeated Trump supporters. We both knew, however, that this election simply shines a harsh light on America's festering wound: racism.

I'm white and I'm old enough to remember traveling through the South as a little girl and being told that I couldn't drink from the "colored" drinking fountain. I don't think I was able to read signs very well then, and hadn't been trained to look for them. I was thirsty. Our family had stopped at a park in a Texas town on the way to our grandmother's house in Buffalo, New York. I saw people drinking and went where the water was and got a drink. Somehow, this was wrong in this strange place. I remember running back to my mother and thinking she was mad at me, but she later said that she was mad at the lady that called me a "nigger lover", and she was concerned about where we could use the toilet, and she was trying to figure out where to get bread and bologna for sandwiches, and she worried about where to get gas for the car.

These basics of human interaction were regimented and regulated and unfathomable to any person not familiar with Southern segregation. My father figured out the gas situation and we left the town in a hurry. All of us had to use the side of the road as a toilet, but anything was better than being in that stifling, threatening place. Apparently, we'd missed the signs in this hell-hole which said "No Colored - No Jews - No Dogs." My parents made it a point to read road signs and avoid towns in this part of America for the rest of the journey. That was the last time our family took the Southern route from the west to the east coast.

Ava DuVernay’s documentary "13TH" explains the roots, branches and leaves of the tree of racism in America. I've experienced only a small fragment of this bile in my lifetime and I can't image the despair depicted in this film. It's a sad, horror show of man's inhumanity to man and a warning that dismissing the message of the "black lives matters" movement, continuing to look the other way while people of color are demonized and exploited, and supporting a punishing prison industrial complex will be our downfall.

What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Wednesday, June 22

People Without Water

Walnut Canyon National Monument - Flagstaff, Arizona

Walnut Canyon Island Trail

Sinaqua Cliff Dwellings

Window on an Ancient World

One of 25 Rooms

Signs of Life Along The Canyon Walls

by Faron Sulu, Namingha is his Hopi name

Across I stand and see
Faces of mesa cliffs
Each face has their own song
They sing in turn
Loloma* they sing
Qua-qua* they sing
All is one.

*loloma means good
*qua-qua is male way of saying thank you

Monday, May 30

Ms. Kathy's Wild Ride

Fast Lane

Let’s call him Keith. I knew he was a bullshit artist after our first conversation.

“You know, um, I really like your voice – very sexy. I’m making a video for a friend and you would be great as the nightclub singer. Let’s get together soon and talk about it, eh?” He claimed he was from Vancouver, Canada and had just moved to LA a few months ago.

“I’m still unpacking, you see. Not sure if I like my place. I may move to the beach – Venice is looking good right now. Lots of up and comers. I like the energy. What’s your name again?” He was of above average height and looks with an attractive crooked smile, straight white teeth, and several pieces of gold jewelry scattered about his person. Really good looking at first glance until he started talking. Red flags flew out of his mouth along with mismatched thoughts about himself and the world that revolved around him. He was like a lot of people in Los Angeles – hyper, transient, and unknowable.

I was in the process of breaking up with my husband, Gerard, a musician like me, and my partner in several bands over the past decade. Although we both realized that things between us were irreparably broken, we couldn't seem to go our separate ways. We had just moved to Los Angeles and neither of us had the money or energy to find another place, so we tried an “open marriage”, something we’d read about in Cosmo or some pulp mag. It was convenient. It was terrible. It was sad. We were not alone in this hell. We had a baby son who was enduring this latest upheaval while learning how to walk, talk, grow, and open locked front doors.

Gerard lived in disappointment. He had moved here to back up a female vocalist, someone who was making a record, and had local club gigs to pay for studio time and rent. He was her side man not her musical director “as promised.” I was not the backup singer she said she needed before we moved from Phoenix to LA. She had to scale down her band, she explained. I was sidelined, sweating the rent and utility bills and groceries.

Dopes, duped, dupes, super dupers, idiots! We had fallen into the crushing maw of the music money machine, unprepared in the land of routine broken promises. Our marriage was one of the casualties of this murky soup of malaise. Our road-rat musical partnership had ended and we wound up right where we had begun, in Hollywood shuffling along the sidewalks with the ranters, pan handlers, and aimless wanderers. The operative word was aimless. After the dream of superstardom disintegrated and reality set in, Gerard searched out a soft landing. He needed a relationship change-of-scene and found a well-employed attorney/divorcee with two young girls in a fine house in the South Bay and abandoned our sinking ship of a seven year marriage. She wanted to be a part of Gerard’s rock n roll fantasy lifestyle. I wanted out of Gerard’s real lifestyle of poverty and neglect. It worked out eventually, for all of us. Well maybe not for our baby boy who grew up without the benefit of a father’s child support both financial and psychological. That’s a story for another day.

The “open marriage” phase of killing off a marriage is always tricky. Gerard had one slim pinky in our house and the rest of himself in “the other woman’s” house. A small part of me continued to pursue music, and Gerard. The rest of me was in survival mode seeking full-time, regular paycheck office work so I could afford to move to my own place, pay for gas, groceries, utilities and babysitting. Our personal pursuits often prevented us from crossing paths and when we did wind up in the same room, we'd argue, usually about money. By this time, I had stopped going to his gigs. I never seemed to have the time and it was painful watching his girlfriend gaze with unflagging adoration at him. Besides both of us being in one place spooked the band.

I met Keith at a last minute job I accepted in San Bernardino. I was filling in for Christa, a singer I knew, who had been clubbed over the head and robbed by two twelve year old black kids in the underground parking garage of her Hollywood apartment. She had called me from the emergency room while she was waiting to get four stitches in her head and begged me to sub for her for a few nights until some of the bruises faded a bit. Gerard had nothing going on right then, so he agreed to watch the baby and I agreed to drive 65 miles each way to San Bernardino and sing with an unknown group of musicians. My hope was that they knew most of the songs I knew; I wouldn’t bomb completely; and I’d get paid. As it turned out, the band and the club liked me better than Christa, and Keith wanted to produce a video of the band, but only with me in it.

Driving home on the I-10 that night, 3 in the morning, tired and confused, I wondered if I should screw over Christa, take her gig and do the video. It felt wrong and I rationalized that this feeling was probably because I was so far out of my comfort zone, the zone created by partnering with Gerard for a decade. I had to make my own way without Gerard as a partner and maybe this was the opportunity to break away.

As I approached the gang-banger paradise of Pomona, a dark car began to ride my bumper. I changed lanes and slowed down. The dark car sped up, changed lanes in front of me and slowed down. There were no other cars on this eight lane highway, just me and them. I had always hated our 1970 Pontiac Catalina, a big boat of a car with a broken radio, but it had one thing newer cars were missing – a powerful V8 engine. I maneuvered into the fast lane and took off, going from 60 to 90 in seconds. I made the mistake of looking in my rear view mirror and was horrified to see the passenger in the dark car hanging out the window pointing a shiny, silver, gun-like object in my direction. I changes lanes, accelerated to 100 and hunched a bit lower in my seat, expecting a bullet to crash into my skull at any second, but I outran them and as I approached the 710, I finally looked in the mirror again. No cars anywhere. Safe. Slow down. This is a sign. Do not take that gig in San Bernardino. Good luck Christa.

As it turned out, Christa called me the next day with my night’s pay. She didn’t need me to cover her gig anymore and could I come by and get my money. I almost told her to keep the cash rather than venture into her parking garage, but we needed the money. As I rang her apartment door bell, Keith came toward me on the stairway. I hid my shock and surprise and wondered if I was hallucinating.

“Hi babe! Nice job last night. You really helped Christa out. She would have lost the gig without you.” He babbled as Christa cracked open the door. Her left side was swollen, bruised and a large swath of hair was shaved exposing black stitches. She looked scary and exhausted. I was not invited in, instead, she shoved an envelope full of money at me.

“Thanks for covering for me. I heard you did okay. Here’s for last night and I included gas money. We’ll talk soon, okay?” and the door closed.

I did not count the money in front of Keith, but slid it into my coat pocket and backed away from the door. He looked like he was going to knock on Christa’s door, but changed his mind.

“Well! She looks like hell, doesn’t she. We’re neighbors you know. I told her to let you stay on the gig until she feels better, but she’s got rent due. I think she’s got a wig, so that’s not a problem. Maybe I’ll drive her to the club tonight.”

The good thing about Keith’s self-absorption was that I did not need to respond to his commentary. I discovered that he answered his own questions, never bothered to check for a body language response, and lived within his own drug addled dream world. I left quickly, never expecting to hear from either of them again, but I was wrong.

Sunday, May 8

Botanical Healing

Desert Botanical Gardens - Phoenix, AZ

Blooming Pincushion 

Blooming Penstamons

Finch on Agave

Cactus Sundial

Water in the Desert

Blooming Cholla

To The Saguaro Cactus Tree In The Desert Rain

- James Arlington Wright

I had no idea the elf owl
Crept into you in the secret
Of night.

I have torn myself out of many bitter places
In America, that seemed
Tall and green-rooted in mid-noon.
I wish I were the spare shadow
Of the roadrunner, I wish I were
The honest lover of the diamondback
And the tear the tarantula weeps.
I had no idea you were so tall
And blond in moonlight.
I got thirsty in the factories,
And I hated the brutal dry suns there,
So I quit.

You were the shadow
Of a hallway
In me.

I have never gone through that door,
But the elf owl's face
Is inside me.

You are not one of the gods.
Your green arms lower and gather me.
I am an elf owl's shadow, a secret
Member of your family. 

Saturday, April 16

Off Center

"At least 32 people have died in the latest Kyushu earthquake, according to Kumamoto Prefecture's disaster management office. The magnitude-7.0 quake hit early Saturday." - CNN

"At least 28 people died in Ecuador when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the country's northwest Pacific coast late on Saturday, causing 'considerable damage' near the epicenter as well as in the largest city of Guayaquil." - Business Insider

There are moments in life that scare me. Times when something or someone or some thought pushes against my heart's chamber and makes me listen with my whole being. The something that truly lifted the veil of the illusion that I am safe on this planet was the Northridge, California, earthquake at 4:30 am on January 17, 1994. It was a 6.7 magnitude monster that killed 57 people and injured thousands. The power and water grids snapped and were out for days. Unstoppable fires painted the skies with lurid grime and grit blanketed the area. Aftershocks further damaged structures and people's nerves so badly that whole families lived in tents in their back yards for weeks afterwards. I remember feeling unhinged dreading that each step would anticipate an aftershock and this feeling persisted for months, years really.

Nature in all her majesty and wonder shrugged her elegant shoulder and millions felt her indifference. People were angered. They wanted a reason for this disaster. Pat Robertson preached that this scourge was God's punishment for the gays, the pro choice advocates, for perversity. Tiny minds mired, in simplistic questions and answers could not grasp the vastness of an expanding universe and accept the insignificance of the human species. An earthquake was an affront to godliness somehow, a punishment when in reality this natural phenomenon is but one of millions of manifestations of a vast and complex universe incapable of stopping itself to focus on the speck of dust that is earth. I am comforted by the unknowable cosmos. It is a comfort to be but one tiny stitch in an endless fabric of diversity. I don't fear nature. I fear the reactions of terrified people when distressed.

The crunching and grinding of the earth beneath my feet on that morning, the groaning walls and roar of erupting earth, the ripping and collapse of engineered structures designed to shelter and nurture us, brought me and my neighbors to one point. Are you okay? Are you alive? Do you need help? I feel sad for my neighbors in Japan and Ecuador today. It will be a long time before they rest again.

May all beings know love, peace and comfort.

Saturday, February 13

Out of the Mouths of 87 Year-Olds

Mehdi Hasan:  "So, you're an optomist about the future?"

Noam Chomsky: "Look, you have two choices. You can say I'm a pessimist. Nothing's gonna work.  I'm giving up.  I'll help ensure that the worst will happen. Or, you can grasp on to the opportunities that do exist, the rays of hope that exist, and say well maybe we can make a better world.  Not much of a choice."

- Noam Chomsky interview, January 30, 2016, by Al Jezeera English

You may have to pump up the volume to hear Chomsky in this interview, and the slight strain is definitely worth the effort.  He has been a consistent voice for change throughout his long career as a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, logician, social critic, and political activist.  As a proponent of direct democracy, oriented toward the worker, he is considered by many as America's counterculture icon, and at 87, a dying breed of game changers. I agree 100% with his view that our only choice for survival is to make things better - for everyone, not just a select few.

A few years ago, I observed an acquaintance at his 65th birthday party.  For the first time in years, he looked forward to getting a medical check up, even if it turned up an ailment that needed to be fixed.  I recalled that he had been "retired" from his last job and had been "freelancing" ever since then.  Gainful employment is hard to find for anyone let alone a 60+ year old with a high school diploma.  He and his family called this celebration his Medicare Party.  He could now get government funded medical care, and just in the knick of time before everyone's savings were gone.

He had been in real estate sales, basically self-employed, and like most commissioned workers, he resented tax-and-spend Democrats. He voted Republican, working to save America from a government that wasted its capital on the lazy poor, the foolish elderly, the self destructive minorities, the baby killers. He even campaigned with his fellow realtors for both Bushes. He liked to provoke the two oldster, liberals in his sales office and debate the merits of social security and medicare with them. Both of them had spouses that collected fat paychecks and benefit packages so making a sale and then having taxes taken out did not infuriate them like it did everyone else.  They could afford to believe the hippie commune propaganda that Americans need to care for the less fortunate.

In 2008, the housing market died and he limped along, scrapping for financing, trying to flip a house or two on the side and going in the hole year after year.  He tried to sell insurance and that worked for a a couple of years and then he was offered early retirement two years before his sixty-fifth birthday, an offer he couldn't refuse.  Even then, he held on to the Republican ideology of cutting taxes, eliminating social security, getting rid of medicare, "thinning the herd" he used to call it. He continued to vote Republican because he couldn't stomach the opposition's acceptance of abortion and gay marriage.

"If it's every man, woman and child for himself in your Republican world, why do you care about individuals choosing abortion or gay marriage?" asked his mystified kids.  They had been helping out Dad financially for years now and suffered the consequences of Republican tax cuts and shredded safety nets that were designed to ease the burden for the middle class. They were working twelve hour days, having stay-cations, foregoing that new car, staying afloat by doing more with less. They understood that every citizen is vulnerable and community is needed to help the vulnerable.  They could not understand how a man, struggling to survive would revile the idea and reality of assistance.  

"You can't afford to be Republican," his daughter pointed out.  "People your age need government assistance otherwise your whole family will go broke.  Don't forget, you paid for social security and medicare when you were working.  We pay for it too.  These are not government handouts, Dad.  They are good programs that the people asked the government to put together to help out."        

Like a miracle, my acquaintance has grown more "liberal" as he gets older. He now begins political conversations with rages against those "tea party" destroyers who want to take away his Medicare and reduce his Social Security benefits and what about a freakin minimum wage for people trying to support their families.

I now realize that everyone becomes a Democrat once they collect Social Security and Medicare. Too bad these same "sink or swim" people don't realize sooner that we are all in this leaky lifeboat together and that we need to take care of ourselves and others in order to survive.  We really do not have a choice.