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Monday, January 30, 2017

That's the trouble with normal

Kris Kristofferson wrote, "There's nothing short of dying, that's half as lonesome as the sound, of a sleeping city sidewalk, and Sunday morning coming down."  I suppose, but I also think Monday mornings in the winter carry a similar sense of isolation.  Driving in, I pass clusters of downcast-eyed and slump-shouldered students waiting for buses, almost none talking to each other, just standing in the cold and dark. There is something excruciatingly empty about being alone in a small crowd.  Its like so much dark matter, holding them all together and holding them all apart.

Having spent last week out ill with some sort of viral crud, it is nice to be moving again.  This past week was a bad week to have extra time on my hands, time for keeping up with current events.  Any doubts about the staggering lack of qualifications (or the intentions) of our new President and his minions have now been thoroughly erased.  No President in history has ever hit majority disapproval ratings in 8 short days, until now.  It usually takes several hundred days to get to that point of electorate disillusionment.

"I'm just saying, look out the bloody window, George." - John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There's a parasite feeding on
Everybody's bag of rage
What goes out returns again
To smite the mouth and burn the page
Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows 
I can see in the dark it's where I used to live
I see excess and the gaping need
Follow the money - see where it leads
It's to shrunken men stuffed up with greed
They meet and make plans in strange half-lit tableaux
Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows 
You've got no home in this world of sorrows 
   - Bruce Cockburn, from All Our Dark Tomorrows
On the plus side, this administration's cavalier handling of the Press (and facts, in general) has re-awoken at least some journalism in this country. That, and stirred the pot of democratic protest, raising a collective voice of resistance. We're going to need to sustain both, I think.
what do they care about art
they go from being
contemporary baby kissers to
old time corrupt politicians
to self-appointed censorship clerks
who won't support art
but will support war
lung cancer
and toxic sludge
that's their morality
that's their religious conviction
that's their protection of the public
& contribution to family entertainment
what do they care about art 
   - Jayne Cortez, from, The Oppressionists
By casting the world in dystopian words and visions, whipping up unrealistic fears and, importantly, "enemies" with branded names and faces, they sell a return to "normalcy" that profits a few and takes from the many.  Give up your freedoms and rights and we will protect you from [insert contrived horror]!

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse 
Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local Third World's kept on reservations you don't see
"It'll all go back to normal if we put our nation first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse 
   - Bruce Cockburn, from The Trouble With Normal
That's the trouble with normal.

Today's Playlist:

  • NPR, Morning Edition

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hope for the drive, for the day, for the future

The side streets were still icy this early, dark, cold morning, but the arterials were, in the main, just wet. I listen to NPR on the way in, and wonder why. I'm not sure if I'm too lazy to tap the screen and switch back to music or that I'm just that compelled to listen to news out of that other Washington (the one ending in DC), like people do when they slow down to get a good look at a horrific accident scene. I'm not enjoying the news I hear, but I can't quite look away from it either.
When everything finally has been wrecked and further shipwrecked,
When their most ardent dream has been made hollow and unrecognizable,
They will feel inside their limbs the missing shade of blue that lingers
Against hills in the cooler hours before dark, and the moss at the foot of the forest
When green starts to leave it.
     - From Half Omen Half Hope, by Joanna Klink
I'm listening for hope, I think. I'm driving here in my little car on a dark and icy morning, listening to news I don't enjoy, hoping for something I consider positive before I turn away. Like eating fresh strawberries that are disappointingly tart, but continuing anyway hoping to find one sweet berry that you will finish with. Looking to leave a good taste in your mouth.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
   - Emily Dickinson, from "Hope" is the thing with feathers
So be it, then.  I will hope in the long gift, as articulated by Miller Williams:
Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. 
All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget. 
   - from Of History and Hope, by Miller Williams
I hope for a safe commute on this icy morning, I hope for a productive day that makes a positive difference in the lives of others, and I hope for a future that isn't overly overshadowed by the bad decisions being made today by those to whom power has been entrusted.  And, bird in hand, I will work for all three.

Today's Playlist:

  • NPR - Morning Edition

Thursday, January 5, 2017

An appropriate dose of stolidity to play against chaos

Impatience.  If every commute is really an experiment in chaos in which a different key word is hidden each day, a keyword that can be deduced from the millions of random interactions between drivers up and down the (in our case) I-5 corridor and surrounding communities, like a chaos pattern, then my guess for this morning is "Impatience."  Or maybe, "Inattentive."  Though I think the latter is a static condition of the experiment.

I witnessed several encounters between drivers this morning that left me shaking my head like a bewildered theologian. Near misses caused by folks apparently too impatient to take their place in the plodding queue. Giving the finger, sometimes literally, sometimes via their actions, to each other.   Like the planet Pluto (back when it was still accorded the designation of being a planet) when its orbit placed it in 8th rather than 9th place (distance from the sun) for a roughly 20 year period, as colorfully articulated by Fatimah Asghar in the poem, Pluto Shits on the Universe:
Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.
My bad. Your graph said I was supposed
to make a nice little loop around the sun. 
I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can
chart me. All the other planets, they think
I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped
moon, running free.
There is attitude in that poem (do follow the link and read the whole poem) that mirrors what I see in this morning's commute:
Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.
I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel.
Speaking of head-shaking theologians, I got my turn when a church bus pulled out of a side street directly into my path. If you want to practice living prayerfully, folks, that's fine with me.  Just pray with your eyes open while you're driving, please.

The perils, I suppose, of having a blog revolve (more or less) around the morning commute is having to acknowledge some of our less-best behavior as a collective community.  Like holding penalties in football, which they say could be called on every play but are usually overlooked unless the infraction really stands out.

Is poetry a rescue this morning?
As for the million others, they are blessed:
This is their age. Their slapdash in demand
From all who would take fright were thought expressed
In ways that showed a hint of being planned,
They may say anything, in any way.
Why not? Why shouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they?
Nothing to study, nothing to understand. 
And yet it could be that their flight from rhyme
And reason is a technically precise
Response to the confusion of a time
When nothing, said once, merits hearing twice.
It isn’t that their deafness fails to match
The chaos. It’s the only thing they catch.
No form, no pattern. Just the rolling dice 
Of idle talk. 
     - Clive James, from A Perfect Market
Fitting and applicable, but it doesn't do much to shift my attitude.  What about music, then?

My commute music today was all from a Sigur Rós streaming playlist, with all the songs that popped up having single-word titles taken directly from the physical world: Obsidian, Iceberg, Surface, and Storm.  Yes!  A pattern emerging from a random process!  An appropriate dose of stolidity to play against chaos.

Today's Playlist (all by Sigur Rós):

  • Hrafntinna
  • Ísjaki
  • Yfirborð
  • Stormur