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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We know this narrative's path

It is Mr. Malleable's day of the week.  The skies are dark and cloudy, the roads glisten with wet, yet it isn't raining.  There are freshly-fallen leaves strewn about the sidewalks and, where there are no sidewalks, the sides of the road where asphalt meets gravel or grass.  They have certainly fallen since the last rains came through because they still move like free spirits, not yet wet and heavy.  They move like they still live high up in the breeze zone, they don't yet know they have died.

The transit bus in front of me must be trying to catch up with its schedule. A big boxy White Rabbit, it is moving along at an anxious full legal speed (plus a little).  The freshly-fallen leaves get caught up in the bus' swirling wake and dance up in front of me on the road before sweeping under my front bumper.  If it weren't so dark out I'm sure I would be able to see them behind me, now dancing in the wake of my car.


This is the season of dark mornings and dark evenings.  Of watching for shadows that move along the sides of the road (don't they know that all-black clothing, while fashionable, is totally invisible in the dark?) against the glare of on-coming headlights, on both the morning and evening commutes.  Caution mixed with impatience adds to the volatility of the road.
Even the swarms of kids have given in
To winter's big excuse, boxed-in allure:
TVs ricochet light behind pulled curtains. 
The days throw up a closed sign around four.
The hapless customer who'd wanted something
Arrives to find lights out, a bolted door. 
     - Maggie Dietz, from November
Gas prices are down again these days. Big and excessively-big vehicles fill the roads as those with short memories happily wrap themselves in 2 tons of aggressive sheet metal so they can once again tower over the rest of the traffic.  I shake my head, bemused. They will probably be making excessively-big car payments for much longer than the gas prices will stay artificially depressed, but as we've seen this same movie a few times already I can't feel too much sympathy.  Big, small, slow, fast, weak, powerful: everyone gets the opportunity to move at the same speed, which is precisely no faster than the car in front of you.  The only variable is how much gas you consume while you move in queue.
Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge,
and I took the road to the right, the wrong one,
and got stuck in the car for hours.  
Most nights I rushed out into the evening
without paying attention to the trees,
whose names I didn't know,
or the birds, which flew heedlessly on. 
     - from A Partial History Of My Stupidity, by Edward Hirsch
History has been on my mind a lot of late.  I fear we're watching a rerun of things that happened just outside the immediate memory of almost everyone living today, but not outside recorded memory we are all very familiar with.  Like the gas prices movie, like freshly-fallen leaves.  We know the path this narrative flows through, so we are without excuses.
An infernal angel passed in flight
just now along the avenure
in a crush of thugs; an eerie emptiness
lit and festooned with swastikas engulfed him;
the poor, defensless windows, also armed
with guns and war toys too, are shuttered up,
the butcher who decked berries on the snouts
of his slaughtered baby goats has closed; the feast
of the meek executioners still innocent of blood
has turned into a foul Virginia reel of shattered wings,
ghosts on the sand bars, and the water rushes in
to eat the shore and no one's blameless anymore. 
    - Eugenio Montale, from The Hitler Spring
We're in an uneasy quiet right now, a wait-and-see pause.  Well, I am.  Cockburn, singing at me this morning as I drive along, casts just the right mood:
Bell in the fire station tower
Rings out the measure of the racing hours
I slip through the door to the roof outside
To gaze at the sign hanging in the sky
That sailor on the billboard looks so self-possessed
Doesn't have a thing to forgive or forget
All's quiet on the inner city front.
    - from, All's Queit On The Inner City Front

Today's Playlist (all Bruce Cockburn):
  • All the Diamonds In the World
  • All The Ways I Want You
  • All's Quiet On The Inner City Front
  • Ancestors

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Winter-tired in my acoustic bubble

This morning's chill is sharp, in contrast to my dull tiredness, as the garage door rolls up and back. Its springs creak plaintifully above the mechanical chugging and the clanking of metal hinges and plastic wheels. I commiserate with them this morning.  For reasons outside of my control and somewhere just beyond my ability to conciously understand I woke in the middle of last night and then tossed and turned for a couple of hours before finally finding sleep again, shortly before the morning alarm.  Thankfully not a common problem for me, though today it leaves me feeling as winter-tired as a leafless tree.


See, Winter comes to rule the varied year,
Sullen and sad, with all his rising train—
Vapours, and clouds, and storms. Be these my theme,
These, that exalt the soul to solemn thought
And heavenly musing. Welcome, kindred glooms!
     - James Thompson, from The Seasons: Winter
I've been listening to a shuffle of Sigur Rós tunes the last few days, leaving it as-is for this morning's drive. The rich and complex tapestry of their music rolls around my little car's cabin, creating a warm acoustic barrier against the dark pre-dawn morning.  The Fiat isn't much more than a little bubble anyway, but this morning it feels totally spherical.  Snug as a field mouse's winter nest, and me a claustrophobe who likes small spaces.
Ethereal globe of thinnest glass,
Sphere of air, yet visible,
What hand of nymph or fairy
Could mold thy fragile form,
Airy, bouyant, weighing naught?
And of what clay, if such it be,
Did thy creator model thee?
     - Frank M. Schoonmaker (10 yrs old), from Crystals
Today's playlist (all Sigur Rós):
  • Inní mér syngur vitleysingur (Live)
  • Sæglópur (Live)
  • Festival (Live)
  • E-Bow (Live

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The morning after and the luxury of ignorance

Wednesday morning came anyway.  I envy the birds wheeling around in the cloudy sky over my head this morning because they don't differentiate their days by what they fear or worry over, only by what actually happens to them when it happens.  They react when they must.  We people, on the other hand, parse the changing world around us in a much more granular and nuanced way, through complicated layers of what we think it all means for tomorrow.  This is one of those mornings, as palpable as a hangover, that feels not unlike the loss of a loved one.


How do we sort through this year's presidential election?  The pundits and analysts have been doing their best to make sense of it all since late last night, but for me it so far resolves into a couple of core thoughts:

First, never underestimate the willingness of people to enthusiastically vote against their own best interests when the issues become more complicated than their ability to follow them.  Like Hagrid says of the giants in Harry Potter, "...overload ’em with information an’ they’ll kill yeh jus’ to simplify things."

Second, closely related to the first, is a passage (the emphasis within is mine) from Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol:
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?” 
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here. 
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost. 
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. 
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more. 
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”
We cannot maintain the greatness of this nation (or, in the words of the man who we have apparently elected to be our next President, "Make America great again!") by continuing to vilify education and intelligence. The luxury of ignorance runs deep in the veins of institutionalized oppression, but it doesn't ever preserve or build. We grew to economic dominance as a nation on the G.I Bill and the educated workforce it created. Now?

Imagine, if you can, that you are one of the women who came forward to point the finger at the man who sexually assaulted you and that you have just now seen your assailant become the most powerful man in the nation and, arguably, the world despite his own recorded admission of sexual predation. This same man who threatened to sue you, if elected, is now President elect.  What does that mean for Title IX investigations of alleged sexual assault taking place across college and university campuses all across our nation at this very moment?

Imagine, if you can, that you are not a Southern Baptist with, as Bruce Cockburn says in Gospel of Bondage, a "mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above."  Where does your faith now fit into our national dialog when other religions have been so vilified by the man now our President Elect?  I saw a bumper sticker the other day.  It was the common "Co-Exist" sticker written with religiously inclusive symbols as per usual, but it had a Christian cross standing alone to the right of the word and a sword was crossing out the word co-exist. A sword!
so i find out what the luxury of hate is
as exciting maybe as doing the dishes
face toward window -- light received
you walk away to see a film see some
people see a man
stab in throat twist in gut all too clear
not too new -- all been done before
planet breathes exhaustion
staggers on
enemy anger impotent gun grease
too many thoughts
too dogshit tired
one small step for freedom
from foregone conclusion
   - Bruce Cockburn, from You Get Bigger As You Go
Imagine, if you can, you are not a white midwestern or southern male.  You have likely been viciously and ignorantly profiled throughout this campaign by the man who is now our President Elect. He has promised to build a wall to keep some folks out of our country, to enforce a religious litmus test for all immigrants, to keep women marginalized and objectified and, in the words of what I thought was a prior era, "in their place."

It will be (darkly) interesting to see how this new Republican party handles what I suspect is a worst-case scenario for many in the party.  It's easy to obstruct and throw rocks when you are not in control of all three branches of government.  Now they are (or very soon will be) in control and suddenly the threats they have issued either have to be carried out (for which I think there will be significant consequences) or they have to find a way to back down.  And with their new leader in the White House, that's not going to be easy to do. Unfortunately, this is a train wreck we're watching from seats on the train.

We've really done it to ourselves this time, and now we'll have to see what the consequences shape up to be in the coming months and years.  We will have to find a way forward.  Maybe this will finally bring the majority coalition together tightly enough to get us over this last-gasp ass-clenching of the formerly-entitled.

Just as it is for the birds above me this morning, each day will follow the last and we will respond to each situation as it emerges.  Maybe we'll learn something more about ourselves in the process, something we can use to start moving forward again.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The rose above the sky, prints of a cat, and a freewheeling derby

The ghost-prints of a cat--two individual paw prints, to be precise--keep reappearing in front of my eyes as I drive in this morning.  After every swipe of the wipers they shimmer there for a fleeting second or two and then disappear as the rain overtakes them.  No idea what the cat had on his feet that left such a lasting imprint on my windshield overnight but its faint and ghostly residue, reappearing with each swipe, haunts my drive like something from a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

There are two musicians/groups I listen to more than any others, enough to have a playlist (each) of their music ready to hand: Sigur Rós and Bruce Cockburn.  Today was a Bruce Cockburn playlist sort of day.  Really good, really familiar music is one way to escape the constant turmoil of the simultaneously most-ridiculous and most-frightening presidential election in living memory (which, unfortunately, is saying something).  The mind, though, has a knack for making order out of random, shifting the magnetic letters on the fridge door into sentences.  Like the last scene in the BBC film of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where pulling the scrabble pieces out of a bag randomly brings up a totally cohesive and totally wrong sentence, this morning's playlist let lyrics leap out at me, pulling me back to thoughts of this election:
Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky 
'Til the Rose above the sky
Opens
And the light behind the sun
Takes all 
    - from The Rose Above the Sky, by Bruce Cockburn
Gutless arrogance and rage, indeed.

Fall in the Pacific Northwest is mostly wet and gray, with scattered days of clear-ish skies. Inconsistent weather, wet but not cold, makes for indecision about what to wear. I'll carry a coat again today, not wanting to wear it because I don't need its added warmth and weight, but knowing I'll probably need its ability to repel rain.  I'm reminded of a poem a wrote, well... at least 35 years ago, Deliverance of Derby:
An inverted wind-blown hat
Lies like a catch-basin under a rain gutter,
Cocked by a passing sidewalk breeze,
Straining to free itself from underneath
Its liquid load. 
Feet passing by in frenzied
Haste, some irresponsibly clad in last season's
Less-warm fashion, splash on through winter's
Rains. One, less agile than its counterparts,
Sets free the hat. 
In a shower of stale rain
The cascading derby dances over the lazy
Foot, drenching it in gratitude,
Then quickly catching upon another
Breeze, off it flies.
Come to think of it, I envy that derby, gratefully cartwheeling down the sidewalk while tossing off the things that worry-weigh it down.  Now I have today's goal fixed firmly in mind.

Today's Playlist (all Bruce Cockburn music):

  • The Rose Above the Sky
  • Free To Be
  • Nicaragua
  • You Get Bigger As You Go
  • Get Up Jonah