Trump: our snake charmer

. . . he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

I have not written a blog in some time because I am focused, as a woman of a certain age, on writing a memoir. It takes up almost all of the space in the Puzzling Things Out part of my mind. Yet life continues around me, annoyingly so, and it has been disturbing.

None of us can pretend when we see evil and ignorance gathering that it doesn’t affect us, cause us to fear, to be amazed such things are happening. How many people are saying, “I never expected this in my lifetime”?

Pundits are having their say, and in the process reveal their wisdom or their calculations on how to be provocative and increase their media face time and their audiences. Some of these pundits, and many of my friends on Facebook, are far better writers than I am. Perhaps not in depth, but in words and information. It is intimidating.

Yet, my forte is how things work inside of humans on the personal level, so I venture out because it is time. My audience is small, and mostly liberal, and mostly with advanced degrees. If you are not in these categories, I welcome you and ask you to stay with me.

Let’s get to it. We are watching an uber-narcissistic con-man call up the snakes inside people. He sings them songs that mesmerize them, that tell them it is okay—natural, brave, and right—to hate and it is good to be violent against those you hate. He has vast circles of adoration that increase daily and allow him to feel he is a demi-god, answerable to no one and not to truth. He has his followers and that is enough truth for him.

I do not believe he is a carnival barker who takes cynical pleasure in toying with naïve people or scaring them with horror houses. I believe he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

Think about it. This is a man with the goofiest hair in the world and he doesn’t seem to realize it. This is delusion.

I’m not yet comparing him to Hitler, but I can’t help but think of that mustache that stayed on throughout the Holocaust.

Of course, the real issue is not a singular madman, but that he has watered and fed the possibilities in humankind to rise and hate en masse. How did so many of us as a people become susceptible to a snake charmer?

The mixed blessing of democracy is that it allows the worst to come out in people as well as the best. Pandering to fear-filled conservatives, Bible-belt prejudices, censoring of scientific truth, gun-toting urban cowboys and cowgirls, and xenophobia in order to get votes has come home to roost.

We have a large portion of the population who are educated by television reality shows and violence and Fox news.

We have a large portion of the population who gain their sense of power by open carry.

We have a large portion of the population who do not travel, learn other languages, study other religions, or read books.

We have a large portion of the population who are under-employed or trying to survive on a shameful minimum wage.

We have a large portion of the population who feel humiliated, correctly or incorrectly, by most of you who will read this.

We have a large portion of the population who are ready to believe someone selling them snake oil, someone even paying enough attention to them to sell them snake oil.

Is it too late to change this? Of course not, because it cannot be. Those of us with more influence need to spend more time caring and acting for mutual good and less time lamenting and accusing others of not being so brilliant as we are, tra la.

This is the time to acknowledge these people, to look into root causes, to expose Donald Trump for the malicious opportunist he is. This is the time to reach across our neighborhoods and our country, to invest dramatically in education and truth in media, to bring everyone into a democracy that is fair and equal, and to broaden lives and opportunities.

It is not only the right thing to do but we need to immune our democracy not only against people like Donald Trump but against people like Ted Cruz. He is even more scary because evil has solidified inside him. In Trump it still whirls like nauseous gases.

These people drink their own Kool-Aid. It is a concoction that makes them pompous, manipulative, power hungry, delusional, and dangerous, especially to those so looking for someone to help them that they cannot discern when they are being duped, when they are considered only to be a power base for personal power.

If we as a democratic people do not support and provide comprehensive education, financial opportunities, truth and depth in media, and exposure to other cultures, those of us who receive the least will continue to be susceptible to the people who would harm them the most.

Is it not a prerequisite of democracy that we care for all of our citizens out of common decency and mutual respect? Democracy is a responsibility. If we privileged do not come out of our comfort zone to help those with few comforts, we will have reneged on that responsibility.

 

Coming Out as a Mystic, or why I’m against all organized religions

My frustration with organized religions runs parallel to my pull to the transcendental. Religions attempt to codify what cannot be grasped by ordinary consciousness. These attempts come from the human longing to return into the energy that creates them, to reunite with “home,” to meld into love. We do this not only through organized religion but in our thirst for “soul mates” and meaningful relationships, our quest for resonance within the arts, our love of nature and sports, and our desire to tend others and do good in the world.

Yet, it is within organized religions where humans tend to go a little, or a lot, berserk, i.e., authoritarian, commanding, judging, ranting, “know it all,” harmful, and willing to kill others.

Within relationships, art, sports, nature, or doing good we allow variations, we don’t tell others what relationships they should choose (unless there is an overlap with religion) or what art they should buy, books they must read, or songs they can or cannot sing. Sports would fall apart if people didn’t back different teams, and we know good in the world has many aspects.

But in religion, we are willing to humiliate and attack others to stake our claim to the one true god. Systems of religion become inflexible, and then often corrupt, because they have too much power in the mysteries of greatest importance – how did we get here and how do we live in order to obtain the best option when we die?

People are terrified, we are desperate to know we are not going to disappear at the end of our lives. We want reassurances and protectors, and for them we will cling to our beliefs without questioning.

That is, since we cannot know in the conventional ways – using our brain and senses – where we come from and where we are going, we invent religions with doctrines and creeds to fill the gap between what we can know and what actually is, and we fight to maintain the status quo of our own beliefs.

It is not that there is no universal energy around, through, and in us. Everything is made of energy. It is just that we can only consciously absorb a certain amount of information about that energy at a time. It is as though energy is a polyglot and our brains have only learned the first three letters of any given language.

This polyglot of energy overloading our circuits leads to different experiences, often called religious, when our meager minds run the energy through filters that transform it into the spiritual experiences we expect in our chosen religion.

I am an expert on this. I have been knocked to the floor by a hit behind my knees in a small Christian church and rolled around speaking in tongues (which is a lovely language, by the way, with a seeming syntax though I don’t know what I was saying); awakened from a laser of light that penetrated everything including me to find myself levitating a foot above my bed (and then I fell); been visited in a waking dream by a Hindu guru I had never seen or heard of who told me he was my guru (turns out he had died over a decade earlier and was – is? – one of the powerhouse gurus of India); spoken extensively in mudras, the Hindi hand language (though again I didn’t know what I was saying but others did and translated for me), and given up my local consciousness to enter the pulsing heart of love that pumps through everything that exists (an experience so profound I could not speak of it for months and then only with tears of joy).

Those are just a few of the experiences I’ve had, though it is more that the experiences had me.

I also healed minor injuries and illnesses like headaches, muscle ache, and small burns for friends. I had a fireball explode in mid-air between myself and an elderly Austrian Jewish philosopher across the room, and I’ve sincerely answered questions of people who, it turned out, had not yet said them aloud even though I had heard them crystal clearly.

Now, all of the above are experiences. They are not beyond experiences. They existed in the world of time and space and physicality. Not only did they exist in the realm of time and space and physicality but they could all have been amenable to various organized religions.

The point is, if I ONLY had experiences within Christianity or Hindu or another religion, I likely would believe that to be the true religion. After all, look at the amazing thing that happened within that framework. I would have been so stunned and overwhelmed – believe me I am leaving out a great deal – that I would not have been able to conceive that the experiences were going through humanly-conceived filters inside me of what to expect. I would have believed I was on the inside of what was true.

As it was, I had so many experiences in so many religions that I automatically parse religions for what is of value and what is not. I see how they were constructed and reinforced over millennia, and gained their own energies that are mixtures of both good and bad. Bottom line: love is good. Everything else is negligible, placebo, or crap.

Two things I take as real – the Here Now of physical reality within time and space (a place of definitions) and the What Is that is beyond time, space, and physicality (a place of no definition). If there is something in-between, it seems to be a juicy cocktail of potential possibilities that are, strictly speaking, not provable. I rather like many of them and, wow!, have I experienced them but they could all be by-products of the encompassing collective unconscious processing fantasies agreed upon by humans that are valid only so long as you are in human form. The human mind, individually and collectively, has amazing powers so long as it is alive. I’m not sure that power continues after death. That is, I am a mystic who is skeptical of everything between the Here Now and the What Is beyond time and space.

What I know is the What Is (the place of no definition) is real, more real than the Here Now. I’ve been there twice – though of course language at this point has no meaning because there was no “me” there, only knowledge of everything, and it was home. It is painful to speak of because even attempting to define it is a kind of travesty, a belittling, a hacking at.

In the meantime, you and I live here where my heart breaks – and yours, too, I know – when we harm each other because we do not understand we are on a planet infinitesimally small where we must love each other and tend each other in order to survive as a species.

We each will return “home” to beyond time and space. Whether we return again as the same capsule of energy or a different one or not at all, I do not know. It hardly matters.

What matters is that if we claim our religion is the good one, and true, and others are bad, and false, we have made a foolish mistake. It may feel like psychological safety but it is very dangerous and very wrong. God would not approve. (That was a joke.)

 

CUBA: Art & Soul

The beating pulse of artistic creativity permeates everything in Cuba. I am not talking about souvenir art like papier-mâché 1950’s cars in chartreuse, red, and royal blue to be used as desktop ornaments, or Cuban flags or Che t-shirts. I am talking of art that transcends the bounds of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary, art that draws back the veil.

A US citizen can still only enter Cuba from the US with a US-vetted educational group. My group was mainly Jungian analysts. I am not a Jungian analyst though I have my visions, and was as excited as the Jungians about the symbolism and archetypes of Cuban Christianity that overlay the African religions.

Sightings of Jamaya (Ee-mai-YA; also spelled Jamalla), the Cuban personification of the archetype of the Black Madonna, goddess of land and sea, led to ripples of excitement in our group. Her flowing robes, her golden aura, her white baby.

DSCN6914 copyDSCN7093 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It rained every day except one, but even on the rainy days we went singly, in duos, threes and fours, or as a group to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, and concerts, or strolled through old Havana, Cienfuegos, or Trinidad. We struggled to grasp the dichotomy to our Western minds—Jungian or not—between the vibrancy of the art, colors, tastes, and sounds with the dilapidated buildings, meager goods, and government repression.

I became obsessed with the question: Is creativity expressed most radiantly by indomitable people under duress? Perhaps because it is the carrier of life itself?

Even the most “transcending” art I saw, including of Jamaya, was infused with humanity, with human emotions, gestures, and instincts—humans merging with animals, Jesus sitting on a chair after the Crucifixion looking very worried.christ for blog
Unknown

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN6960DSCN6987

Sometime a wry sense of humor, or not, speaks to the current political situation. In the center courtyard of the magnificent National Museum of Fine Art in Havana is a sculpture that is a masterpiece of ambiguity. A rusted iron smoke stack rises as a steeple out of a small Monopoly-style church. Sitting at the top is Christ on a cloud, seemingly all of smoke. As my Jungian analyst friend Jean Shinoda Bolen said, “Holy smoke!”Jesus on smoke stack.

Yet, is it a write-off of religion as nothing but smoke? Or an embracing of the Christ spirit as generated by believers? Or something else?

Christianity has come back in force in Cuba, but remains vaguely frowned upon by some. Is this sculpture debunking religion or showing the tenacity of belief in something beyond the tangible, perhaps even manifesting something beyond the tangible? We went to a church service. The place was rocking.

We were told that Cubans have freedom of speech (and, thus, of artistic expression) but they don’t have freedom after speech. That is, for the most part you can say what you feel and think, though it might need to be somewhat camouflaged, but you cannot ask others to join you in a movement and you cannot do active protest. This demarcation holds social protest in place, supported by years of masterful maneuvering by Fidel that makes most Cubans feel grateful to him and the on-going government for what they receive, including full free health care, an excellent free education up through doctoral degrees, and government institutions that support advanced art education in painting, sculpture, dance, and music.

The poverty line has been lifted way above where it was before the revolution and the people seem happy, though income discrepancies are rampant. Hotel workers, through tips, earn more than medical doctors. (Cuban joke: A man tells a stranger he is a bellboy. His wife clarifies, “He has delusions of grandeur. He’s really a doctor.”)

To continue: housing is, by and large, very decrepit, and luxury goods are not available. There are no large grocery stores, or, it seems, large stores of any kind.
chatreuse 1 copy

There are many car repair service stations, but you have the feeling every Cuban male has learned how to repair cars with tin cans and wire. The cars themselves are works of art.

Our hotel had a grand marble lobby and wonderful restaurants. Still, the light fell out of the ceiling of my bathroom and crashed in the sink, my coffeemaker didn’t work, and my curtains were missing a third of their hooks, and the apartment elevators were so slow I used the stairs from the fifth floor. We rejoiced with the general manager—a woman—the day the embargo on parts from the US was lifted so the elevators, and hopefully many other things, could be properly repaired. That said, the hotel spaces were filled with the best art—beautiful, creative, whimsical, celebratory, exquisitely painted—I have ever seen in a hotel anywhere.

Perhaps this containment of artists in a stratum of life where they can express themselves fully only through their art is like a greenhouse. The art is required to burst fully open, ignoring deprivations, expressing the world of beauty and so much more precisely because it does not have access to what is beyond the greenhouse. Then again, it could just be that Cuba is warm and sunny.

Surely it is the “warm and sunny” that has fueled the exuberant music that has supported Cubans throughout their history, but what blew me away was the choir Cantores De Cienfuegos directed by Honey Moreira. choir for blog, bestWe had a private concert with this a cappella chorus of angels!

They have won international contests, which seems beside the point when you are lifted in their embrace. (You can hear them on YouTube to get an approximation of this extraordinary experience of musicianship.) 

The last day we ate at a privately-owned restaurant that had three large prominently displayed paintings of Fidel Castro. On first look, even second look, they seemed simply to be photo-realistic paintings. Yet something was “off.”

Fidel tongue copyLooking closer at the profile view, I saw behind the straggly moustache that Fidel’s tongue appeared to be sticking out like that of a silly yapper. Perhaps it was that he has a strange lower lip. Perhaps the artist was leaving the question open?hands for blog fidel to crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

In the study of his hands, I realized his left hand is in his sleeve as though he has a trick up there and the thumb of his left hand has traces of red, like blood, on it. But then again, his right fingers have the same red. What to make of that? Nothing or something?

In the final painting the viewer sees Castro’s back with his arms raised before a crowd. His left hand points further to the left. He is exhorting his audience, which the viewer sees as faceless blobs as, the artist seems to be saying, Fidel saw them also.

Is this an artist “speaking” his truth?

Our group is gravely concerned about what will happen when the international hotels and luxury stores arrive, when Americans arrive by the tens of thousands, when ceiling lights no longer crash into the sink, curtains hang right, and new cars arrive.

I’m not sure the Cubans will know what hit them. How will their exuberant humanity hold against the onslaught? What will save Cuba from becoming Miami?

Perhaps there will be help from Yamaya who protects land and sea or Jesus who rises out of the ashes, but I suspect it will be up to the Cubans to save themselves and protect their humanity through their warmth, ingenuity, and creativity. For this, they do have one more god to help them, Elegua the Trickster, a direct import from Africa.

elegua:Jamalla for blog

elegua in room

 

 

 

 

 

Elegua is a child, either male or female. Here she is in the all-white dress of the Santeria sect of Christianity, sitting in the entry room of a small temple to Jamalla nestled between shops in Trinidad de Cuba.

Elegua should not be confused with childishness. She is powerful and uses wiles to make things right. I place my bets on her ingenuity. I place my bets on Cubans. I place my bets on art. It matters. Cuba is a triumph of creativity and humanity over circumstances. We have much to learn from her.

Cosby & company: my drug rape

Forty some years ago we were still in the era of sexual liberation pre-HIV. I was a strong confident woman just turned 30, capable of handling myself and the situation around me.

I met the man – whose name I have repressed or simply forgotten, or I would tell you – in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art a month earlier. We talked about Richard Diebenkorn. The next day we sat on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city and getting to know each other. There was no physical contact.

I mentioned I would be in NYC in a few weeks checking out photographers to be guest presenters at a master’s panel I was organizing for the Smithsonian Museum Adult Education program. He invited me to visit him at his apartment – he lived in NYC – and even to stay if I wished. What could possibly go wrong?

My day with prominent photographers took longer than I expected so by the time I was dropped off by cab at his address it was dark. The first thing I noticed was that the street was not what I expected – dark, unkempt, no traffic.

His apartment was in the basement of the building, and he had multiple locks on the door. I instinctively reviewed if anyone knew where I was and realized only a couple people had a vague idea.

Nothing felt right but there was no leaving, no running into the street. I was slightly comforted by his collection of Inuit art.

I sat opposite him with my feet pointing at him, legs crossed, on the round cocktail table between us. I kept the conversation impersonal and refused a glass of wine. I had not anticipated that he would put a drug in the delicious fish stew he made.

To this day I do not know what the drug was. I remember exactly what I remember and I know there were things I never knew. I remember in the course of a minute losing control over my body. I could not move. I could not talk. I could feel horror.

I do not know how the cocktail table was moved or how I became naked on the sofa bed. I remember being raped.

My first words while still under him, “What was that?” meaning the drug. He answered, meaning the sex, “It’s what bodies do.” I said nothing more. Neither did he.

I forced myself to stay awake the entire night, rigid, in terror, while he slept. I felt he could suffocate me if he woke and I were asleep. It seemed likely.

At the first light I stirred, testing my body and hoping he would wake. I would need the door unlocked. He did. I dressed in silence. He let me out in silence. There were still no taxis. I walked for blocks.

Much of the next day is lost. I sat next to Richard Avedon at a conference at MoMA on photography. I went to the bathroom stall and the black and white checkered tile on the floor started moving and re-aligning itself. I was still drugged.

I got on a train home to DC with a bladder in full seizure. Mysteriously, two hours later as I was begging some caring god somewhere for relief the seizures stopped.

Not mysteriously, I never once considered pressing charges. It was to be put behind me, though the memory of the terror has a place in my cells.

Besides I was an adult, I went to his apartment willingly. I had simply made a colossal miscalculation. My instincts had failed me.

There was no way to win in a court. No way. I had no bruise marks. It would be his word against mine.

I knew that. The women raped by Bill Cosby knew that when it happened to them.

If you are looking for a moral to this story, or a word of warning or of advise, I have none except rape of anyone – women, men, children – is the act of cowards meant to control and demean – even split the souls – of those they rape.

I was lucky – a strong woman in a western culture who got out. But there is no statute of limitations on harm done. Writing of this now, I feel the fear, the horror of being incapacitated, the violation of my body and psyche.

Please help vulnerable people find safety, shelter, and acceptance – and justice. Please do not be a wiseass about women, or anyone, filing for suit years after a rape. Repeat: there is no statute of limitations on the harm of being raped or otherwise brutalized.

Rapists are criminals.

 

Strange Gods and Manifest Destiny

Several years ago a woman served me apple pie from a recipe of her cousins in Chicago, the descendants of her great-aunts and great-uncles who fled to America after yet one more Russian pogrom. She left more recently, only a decade or so ago. She is a Jewish settler on the West Bank. She explained to me that the land around us was all part of Greater Israel promised by God to the Jews. She returned home to a place she had never been.

As she spoke, my mind and senses disassociated from each other. The sweet smells and tastes, the kindness, and her patient sincerity in explaining this God-given truth, did not fit for me with the root meanings of her words, i.e. this land is a Jewish right that trumps the legitimacy of the non-Jews who have lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years, so we are reclaiming it.

She wished no harm to the Palestinians. In fact, she wanted to join them in one state. They could even fly their own flag if they wished, though they wouldn’t be allowed to vote, of course, or run structures that would govern their lives. When she saw my perplexity, she added, “At least not at first.” That is, they would be disenfranchised second-class citizens on their own land, which would be called “Israel.” That the land had been called “Palestine” for two thousand years had no substantive meaning to her. “If you read the Torah you would know . . .” she said, that Greater Israel extended even into Jordan and Lebanon.

Manifest Destiny is a dangerous concept built on myths of entitlement.

In the name of Manifest Destiny, northern Europeans decimated the native populations in North America, and the Spaniards and Portuguese did the same in South America. Pox in blankets. Death marches. Death as slaves in gold mines. Betrayals. Confinement on barren lands. Outright slaughter. Separation of children from parents for indoctrination. But, of course, the white man is superior. We are entitled to be savages.

Combine Manifest Destiny with self-serving human distortion of the teachings of a group’s chosen god and you have apologias for mass brutality. We live in this world now. The fanatical fringes of the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism – grant themselves free rein to murder and oppress because they have created their god in their image, with their prejudices, greed, and lust for power.

God, whatever It may be, has nothing to do with war, hate, and land-grabbing. If such a sentient Lording-Over-Us Being exists, there is no way He/She/It could have created a world in which love exists so bountifully while also advocating slaughter – or poverty, prejudice, hate, or dispossession.

To be plain, Israel was promised to no one. America – neither south nor north – was promised to no one. The counties Germany claimed during WWII were not part of an Aryan right. The nations Russia claims under Putin are not an inherent part of a greater Russia. Neither India nor Pakistan have a heaven-endowed right to Kashmir. China does not have a Manifest Destiny to claim Tibet. The clashing interests and claims in some nations in the Middle East and Africa have no justification from any god.

It is a myth. It is all human invention. Whatever Source created and propels an expanding cosmos of more than 10 trillion galaxies – a number used but generally considered a gross underestimation – is not interested in real estate apportioning on earth.

The woman who served me fresh apple pie did so while a guard with a gun sat 8’ away because the law of the settlement required a guard when “outsiders” visited. She saw nothing wrong with her perception that the West Bank was Jewish property. She did not make the connection that the reason a guard was necessary was because her belief might not be heaven blessed. To her it was the highest perception possible. God-given, and, Lord knows, God is above secular rule.

When we create God in our image with our prejudices, our demands to be recognized as superior, and our lusts for control and ownership, we create a petty god. We create excuses not to share, have compassion, or love. The belief that we are an elevated people chosen to follow the dictates of a god we ourselves created tramples “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Syrians are slaughtered, refugees fleeing horrors from their home nations are turned away from other nations, fanatics behead people who don’t follow their beliefs, barrel bombs are dropped on civilians, and gun killings in the US explode in numbers – and are justified.

Living in a commune four decades ago I was taught that if I believed I was God, I was correct because we all are made of whatever God is, but if I believed only I was God, I had gone insane.

I believe this principle expands to: If you believe only you and people like you have the inside track with the Source – call It whatever you care to – that created us, then you are on a path towards harming others, harming the earth itself, justifying your damage, and never coming into full awareness of love, sweetness, and wonder. It is more than a waste, it is a self-imposed cage of insanity.

 

 

Song of Miracles: being here is enough

We each have a song that is our own and that needs protecting from the clang and falseness of the world. When the noise is too loud we cannot hear our own melody, our violins, triangle, bassoon, our cello providing the soul-filled bass.

Many of us idealize the pastoral life, the convent, the walk in the woods – places where we can not only hear ourselves think but can hear our own song, consciously or not. We are refreshed and returned to our inner harmonies through the quiet of meditation.

Some people’s songs are strong enough to hold their own against the roar of the crowd. They even change the melody of the collective. We trust these songs. They inspire us, enlighten and lift us up to actions. They reveal underlying truths of inclusion and caring.

Yet, other people have songs that are also powerful but call us towards prejudice, harm, and power. I don’t believe these are true inner harmonies. They are sirens that cajole us to fear and lure us to greed and exclusion.

Discerning the difference between the song and the siren is harder for some of us than others. It is, perhaps for all of us, the most important struggle of our lives. It determines how we experience life and what we create. It forms our morals, ethics, and beliefs.

Do we recognize truth from fantasy? Generosity from greed? Joy from self-aggrandizement? Love from power?

My own song is delicate these days, a thing of lutes, flutes, and countertenors – a circumstance of physical and emotional issues.

I rest, see new doctors, take new medicines, and contemplate limits. If I listen, I hear my melody again.

Such times make us re-evaluate our history, our friends, our priorities, how kind we are, what we expect of life, if we are doing what we are meant to do, if we care and love adequately.

They make us examine our long-held beliefs, whether of God or personal strength, and prompt us to divest of anything that may be false. I have a ferocious need to strip down to what is, to shed what I may wish, hope, and fantasize. I want to touch rock.

In the process of losing much, some long-held beliefs remain. These include:

Black loam is the stuff of life. Ask any crow diving for worms behind a plow.

Betrayal and abandonment may on rare occasion be necessary, but they are always sins. Whether or not there is a God.

Education should be free as a right of all humans. Brains require the light of knowledge.

People with perfect color-pitch exist just as do people with perfect tone-pitch. And these people suffer when colors clash as much as people with perfect tone-pitch suffer when something is off-key.  

Parking angels exist. But you must believe and must say “thank you.”

No god exists that cares if you believe in Him, Her, It, The. It only matters to you.

Nothing can be explained. Though some things can be known.

Forgiveness requires that you ask less of others than you do of yourself. Annoying, but there it is. No choice.

Everything is energy. From thoughts to stones.

People who died a couple generations back are pretty much forgotten. You are fodder to the future.

There is value in doing good even though you will be forgotten. Love really is the way, the truth, and the light.

Each person is many people. Talk to other’s best selves.

Universal love has great power. But crazy fundamentalists often operate on a different frequency.

Prejudice relies on being willing to lie to yourself. As do a lot of lesser things.

Life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

That’s my bottom line: life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

Sensing there is a miracle somewhere, we construct an exterior God that watches from someplace else – a God small enough to contain inside our imaginations when the truth is that existence itself is the miracle. This is it. This is the rock that lives.

I want to relish what is right here right now, no fantasies, no compromises, beyond comprehension. I celebrate that perhaps the most I can know of what is beyond me is the song inside me. Ah, yes, where does that come from?

 

Paris, after being with Syrians and Palestinians

I sit by the Seine on a chilly day with a blue sky and languid clouds overhead. I love my new coat, a motley blue and black fuzzy thing, wrapped around me. The river runs grey.

If I do not write today, it feels I may never again. It has been months since I have written as I have sunk deeper and deeper into a vast well of being without expressing that I feared and resisted, even as I knew I, somehow, chose it. I was – wasn’t I? – meant to achieve something with my life, to be not only a contender but at least in the semi-finals.

Instead, I am coming to terms with . . . being. Only that. Not achieving, not defining. It is a state not subject to interpretations, comparisons, or judgements. Out of it something discernible is starting slowly to bloom. It has no relationship to what I expected of myself or how I defined myself. Whether it is a result of a lessening of faculties or a gaining of new ones I have no idea, and I hardly care.

It is a sensuous state that is not actually sexual. Sex? What is sex? Will it ever return to my life? Do I wish its disturbances?

The issue that slightly rankles is not being anyone’s #1. That is different in nature than lying in bed with someone, being held, having dinners together, deciding together which movie to watch. It is having some one person who knows, more or less, where you are and what you are thinking, though I don’t believe anyone knows what someone else is thinking fully, which may be a good thing. Thinking is over-rated.

I lied to you. I am not by the Seine, not yet anyway. I am in an apartment a couple blocks from the Seine with intents to go to the Seine. I described the sky accurately though, and I do love my new coat. See, you believed I was by the Seine even though I wasn’t.

My little deception is nothing like the terrors (damn that word, so sick of it) happening to the women from Syria I was with the last week of August. We were in Turkey. I was one of a team of people giving leadership training and trauma healing to Syrian women in Gazientep, which has hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in it and seems to be the site of the Syrian government in exile. We presented more than 20 male leaders, including the Prime Minister of the government in exile and the President of the National Coalition, with a statement and plan on protection of civilians and we told them they needed the help of women. We brought all these male leaders together in one room for the first time. Everyone needs the help of women to get things done, including other women.

Those women have more to deal with than small lies and the picayune problems afflicting a woman with a new coat and a warm apartment a couple blocks from the Seine. These women had family members murdered because of the work they did and they choose to continue. These women have lost husbands, brothers, fathers, and cousins if not to barrel bombs, snipers, bombs, gas, and drones, then to the irreconcilable differences of being on different sides of the multi-faceted divides.

I wonder if the pharmacy is open Mondays. I need to replace my LeClerc compact (color: Ivoire) that I got a year ago.

I have a new Facebook friend who chastises herself for feeling great pain over her losses when so many people in the world are suffering such larger losses. I don’t know her but I like her and assured her, pulling up remnants of wisdom from that which remains and seems so far away as to be up from my big toes, that a loss is a loss and the Syrian women know this, too. They equated the death of one team member’s brother as a teenager to a car accident to their own losses. They cried together.

I’m reading “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit. It was recommended to me over and over when it came out a couple years ago. Now I’m reading it, safely ensconced in the 6th arrondisement, after having spent last week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It takes a Jew to tell Jews that Jews have and do perpetrate terrors (damn that word). They did it deliberately and calculatingly in the claiming of Israel and they do it today in Palestine. Mass slaughter then and picking people off daily now, one by one, in the West Bank. Gaza is excluded from the ping here and ping there death. Gazans are, instead, cyclically slaughtered in mass.

Right! I have to remember to call my grand-daughter who, due to a decision by her mother when she was 12, is Jewish. Today is her 7th birthday. 

I had my first up close and personal experience with tear gas 10 days ago – my god, was it just over a week ago? – in Beit Jala alongside Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers were on all the rooftops waiting for our quiet walking protest of 150 or so people to approach their police tape. Not touch it, just get within 10 feet of it. No conversations, no give and take, no telling the marchers to back off. We were instantly bombarded with tear gas, front, back, center, and sides. The intent wasn’t to disperse, it was to punish us for holding any thought that civility and rationality would have any influence on where they build the wall, that nonviolence had a chance against an establishment determined to divide Beit Jala and to appropriate parts of it. Land grabbing is as routine as chewing gum. Take over Palestinian villages that existed for hundreds of years through generation after generation? Did it in 1948, doing it now.

The inside skinny on tear gas is that it is worst than you imagine. Well, worse than I imagined. There was the moment when I thought my lungs would implode and I would die. Then there was the moment when I realized my lungs were not going to implode, nor would I have permanent eye damage and the skin on my face probably would not peel off – all while running uphill for two blocks with a younger male colleague pulling me along, and the fuck moment when I realized the canister in front of me and rolling towards me was going to explode at my feet just as I reached it.

It’s unfortunate the Picasso exhibit at the Grand Palais doesn’t open until the 22nd. I know some more cerebral art critics pay little attention, but, give me a break, the man was a god. An annoying human maybe, but a god. Gods tend to be annoying. 

So Germany is leading the welcoming of Syrian refugees to their country. Isn’t that amazing? Has the middle of the human populace attitudinal bell curve in Europe shifted enough so people in some nations can gather together and act as humanitarians? Our hearts thump louder at the possibility even as I am among those getting pissed as hell at the wealthy Arab states who allow in zero Syrian refugees even as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon stretch and stretch and care.

And the US? When did such a large portion of our populace, and our representatives, become stingy? What, we’re afraid people who are better educated and more resourceful will come in and help our economy and standard of living?

I need more protein. Not eating four legged creatures and finding fowl less and less appealing . . . the health food store at Place de Furstenberg should have tofu, or a protein powder. Ah, there’s Yen and that incredible thing they do with tofu where they make it taste like . . . well, nothing else I know, but so delicious.

I have the right to mourn my losses. Friends have died, few close relatives remain, my ex-husbands are forgettable, my beauty requires good sleep and good hair days, my body weakens, the avalanche of words is sometimes a dry bed creek. I am no one’s #1. It is the bane of almost every incredible woman I know over 65. Not all of us, but most of us. If we have not already come to terms with living alone and dying without having rocked the world, we need to do it now. Otherwise, all realization of existing beauty now and in the future is lost – not only our own beauty, but that of being here in what, on the best days and even most of the worst, is an incomprehensible miracle despite the killing and slaughter and madness and, yes, terrors.

The grey Seine

Today’s grey Seine

 I need to go out.

Will I think of the Syrian women and weep by the Seine? Has this writing released the damned flood? What will become of us all?

Paris has survived terrors.

I wonder if that place that gives Thai massages is still open on rue Christine.

Why I Don’t Trust the Republican Establishment: an exposé

Know from the get go, Republican establishment, I am cutting you no slack. I learned of your dark hearts when I was 27. You’ve had to work to gain trust from me ever since. You haven’t succeeded.

I am not speaking of rank-and-file Republicans, those Americans with hankerings for pure capitalism and fears of big government who hold a vision of our nation being settled by self-reliant individuals protecting home and property. For the most part, I respect these Republicans and I am related to some of them.

Nor am I speaking of lower income Republicans, though I don’t understand why they are Republicans since their party has not benefited them in decades.

I am speaking of Republican policy-makers, big donors, elected officials who set agendas, stir up fears, have no trouble propagating mass delusion, block programs to help people in need, and who know “trickle down” is a scam. I’m talking of people who connive.

Here’s how I first learned of them.

In 1965 I was 23 years old and hired for my first real job in DC, the city where I had arrived from Iowa two years earlier with no employment, no place to stay, one suitcase, and $500 of borrowed money. During the first year I was often unemployed and occasionally a receptionist or cocktail waitress. The second year I was an editorial assistant for a trade magazine. I was fired from that job one year to the day while typing my resignation letter. My boss was right, I never took corner pharmacists, our clients, to heart, but the real reason I wanted out was she was a tyrant who kept trying to give me shoulder massages.

Mid-January 1965 I became a writer-editor at the Office of Economic Opportunity established in 1964 under President Johnson. Led by Sargent Shriver, those of us at national headquarters and on staff throughout the U.S. were filled with fervor to help the poverty-stricken and the under-served gain what they needed to raise the quality of their lives – to give the poor a chance whether they lived in the inner-city, Appalachia, migrant camps, or on Indian reservations. Whether they were white, black, Latino, young, old, or in-between.

We started the Head Start Program, VISTA, Legal Services, the Community Action Program, and Upward Bound. We were the War on Poverty. Working directly with and organizing those in need, we worked for justice, equality, financial opportunity, and early education. We gave people a chance.

The man who hired me left a month later. He had been the in-house photographer. When a call came from Shriver’s office that they needed a photographer in two hours for photos with the civil rights leader Roy Wilkins, I unlocked the closet that held the Nikons, called our photo agency, and asked them how to use a camera. At 1:00 pm I appeared in “Sarge’s” office and introduced myself as our new photographer.

Here’s the crux of it. As the in-house photographer, in addition to being a writer, I hired free-lance photographers to document the many forms of poverty across the nation, and to document our programs that were helping people change the course of their lives.

Every day I studied incoming contact sheets (36 negative-size black-and-white photographs per sheet) of poverty and programs. I selected the photographs to be printed as 8″ x 10″ glossies for distribution and publication.

I was the person, more than anyone else in the world, who knew what our nation’s poverty looked like. The contact sheets came to me, I examined them, and chose the best. I looked at between 500 and 1000 images a week.

We had a photographic archive equal in quality and scope to that gathered during the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We had many hundreds of photographs the quality of those taken by Dorothea Lange. The photographs were tragic, inspiring, revealing. They did what the best photographs do – reveal and convey the unique humanity of every person within the circumstances of his or her life.

This was my job for two years before I stepped back to start a marriage and a family. The process of getting photos slowed down, but continued.

In early 1969 I was 27. Two months after President Nixon took office, I received a call from one of my top free-lance photographers who was visiting the offices: “Patricia, they’re taking the photographs. They have a huge bin on wheels. I saw it going down the hallway filled with photos dumped in it. I grabbed an armful, but they stopped me. They are throwing everything out. Everything. The filing cabinets are empty. There’s nothing left.”

I called the photo lab instantly. It had been two years, but they recognized my voice immediately. Before I could ask, my guy there said: “Patricia, they just left. They took every negative.”

“Every negative?”

“They walked in and demanded them. We had no way to stop them.”

An historical archive of the American people was obliterated. A national treasure was destroyed.

Not only did the Republican administration set out to destroy the evidence of poverty in the U.S., it set out to destroy the Office of Economic Opportunity. Some programs were dismantled entirely, others siphoned off in pieces to other government departments. The War on Poverty was over.

Has anything changed?

It seems systemic to the Republican hierarchy to disempower and disenfranchise minorities and low-income people by gerrymandering voting districts, setting up discriminatory voting restrictions, exporting Latinos, putting Afro-Americans in prisons, having unequal criteria for providing loans for homes and businesses, refusing to support affordable advanced education, endorsing a tax system where it is corporations and the wealthy that get breaks, promoting Islamophobia, and fighting a respectable minimum wage while protecting the right to accept unlimited donations from extremist right-wing billionaires who promote their personal agenda.

I do not understand how people come to hold perspectives that dehumanize and denigrate the needy and under-privileged. I do not understand how people are willing to denigrate their own humanity by shutting off their empathy, understanding, and compassion.

I do not understand people who do not experience other humans as real and valuable, and I pray I never learn what that is like. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to believe only people like you matter.

The loss of understanding and compassion for all members of the human family, each desiring opportunity, justice, fairness, and love, would be horrific. I think it would be even worse than the loss of irreplaceable photographs that revealed and celebrated all the members of our human family.

That is why I dislike the Republican establishment. I have been watching them closely for more than four decades. They haven’t gotten better.

 

The Dalai Lama and My Soul are Running Buddies

My soul insists that the 14th Dalai Lama is a personal friend, is kin. The Dalai Lama turned 80 a week ago, but my soul says the two of them are the same age, timeless. They are running buddies. They have stories they could tell each other but neither bothers because they already know each other’s stories, infinite.

If an age were demanded of them, if they were forced, they would probably say they were 11 years old because of the mischievousness. Or something over 2000 because of the knowledge they have that I cannot normally access.

The Dalai Lama and I had our moment. It was a few miles north of Santa Fe in 1995, maybe 1996, and started over a breakfast of huevos rancheros at a five-star resort in the desert.

Out the dining room window I saw Tibetan flags leading towards the mountains. Moments later, monks in orange robes walked by the window.

I grabbed a waiter, “Is the Dalai Lama here?”

“He’ll be here soon.”

“What’s happening?”

“There’s a press conference.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“It’s private, it’s closed.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“Talk to those people over there.”

Abandoning huevos rancheros and my husband, I rushed to the very official looking people “over there.” They had clip boards and check off lists.

“I’m supposed to be at the press conference.”

“It’s closed.”

“But I’m a reporter and a photographer,” I sort of, vaguely, exaggerated, even as I knew I was supposed to be there. I was.

“Show me some i.d.”

I don’t remember what I showed them. I think I rattled off places where I worked years earlier.

“Okay, but you better get in there. It’s starting in five minutes.”

I sprinted out the door to my room among the cacti, grabbed my Nikon, and sprinted back past the monks, and slipped through the double doors as they were being closed.

Not a single chair was available. Everyone was silent, waiting His Holiness.

I stood alone against the wall inside the double doors. They opened and six monks entered. Together we stood in a line against the wall.

When the Dalai Lama entered, he came in with his head down and palms together in front of his chest. He bowed to each monk in turn without raising his head.

Orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe . . . to levis. The Dalai Lama was bowing to me.

He looked up, surprised and curious, his head 12 inches from mine. Then he smiled.

He smiled just for me, his eyes sparkling. The Dalai Lama and I shared a joke, a visual joke, a quiet joke, a timing joke. A joke of the misplaced and unexpected. Fifteen minutes before I had been eating huevos rancheros.

His eyes have been called “laser eyes.” It is true. Their amusement and curiosity etched into my mind. It was only a moment, but it was timeless.

And the memory, the reality of the memory, returns now with good timing for I have been weighed down by the suffering in the world. Old questions such as “How can any of us be happy when so many of us are in misery?” are unanswered and seem to me to be unanswerable.

Yet, the Dalai Lama tells us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. He shows us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. But he’s the Dalai Lama, it’s his job description. How does it become ours?

In the last week of my father’s dying, he laughed in that time of the dark night of the soul around 4 am. It was a muffled laugh. He had only one-half of one functioning lung.

But it was enough to wake me on the cot next to his hospital bed. Well, I was in a listening sleep and heard his every breath.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“It’s a joke. It’s all been a joke!” He was in bliss, radiant, and highly amused by his 82 years of life.

The next morning a nurse asked in that loud voice nurses sometimes use, “Howard, are you in pain?”

“Why be in pain?” he answered.

Only a week before he had been remembering every injury ever done to him. He started with my mother and worked his way backwards through time until he was in his twenties. He spoke of people and things I had never heard of. He was angry, resentful, and fed up. He was not going to leave this earth without letting someone – me – know every time he had been cheated, betrayed, humiliated.

After three days, I asked, “Dad, is this how you want to do it?” He stopped talking to me for the next two days. Then in the dark, he muttered something incoherent, a guttural sound.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“I’m trying to get my head on straight.”

Two nights later, he saw life was a joke and he abandoned pain. Three days after that he abandoned this physical life.

The Dalai Lama and a farmer from Iowa have the same message. The difference is one has had decades to tell it to millions while the other had only a couple days and told it only to me.

But the message is the same. Everyone has a right to be happy, joy is possible, the suffering do not wish us also to suffer, it is ego to think our sadness helps their suffering. It is also ego to turn away from those who suffer.

My soul is quietly saying, “Go girl, you’re getting there.”

Joy is not a luxury item. It is as basic as corn and potatoes were to my father, and as the twinkle in his eye is to the Dalai Lama.

I think, yes, that the point where we do not belittle those who suffer by thinking they are different from us – that we are greater and, therefore, somehow guilty –  but that we realize we are all equally deserving of joy, it is native to each of us, that is the point where we have gained a little bit of new understanding.

To take on suffering gratuitously that has no benefit to others is its own hubris. It is saying I think my suffering will make a difference when, in fact, it is our joy that makes the difference.

None of us is god, and each of us is god. My soul and the Dalai Lama have this conversation all the time. Perhaps I am just starting to hear a little bit of it.

When we feel joy, we are not ignoring those who suffer, we are keeping the light bright. We are accepting our natural state, and it is from this natural state that we have something more to give than our grief. It is light that clears darkness, our own and other’s.

 

What I Want: from Richard Gere to urban wolves

I want to lie, lazy and nearly naked, in the languid embrace of a sleeping lion with a scratchy mane, sweaty flanks, and the rank smell of wildness.

I want to regain for a moment the moment when I was 21 and walked into the sea wearing a black bikini of two 5″ bands across my white body and every head turned to watch.

I want the Israeli government and the Hamas and Fatah governments put on a boat and dumped on a small sandy island with only flowered shirts and baggy shorts to wear and packets of freeze dried hummus and bitter lemons dropped on them at random intervals. You might call it a blockade.

I want my ex-husband who is with a woman twenty years younger to know I’ve had the best sex of my life in the six years since I found out about her and left him.

I want Richard Gere to move in, wear white linen shirts, bake bread, and come up to me every day with a wine bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

I want to swim again with the sea lion that whirled and twirled in front of me and looked into my eyes, stopping only to chase off two small sharks beneath us before returning to me to whirl and twirl again.

I want every poet, musician, artist, father, mother, farmer, and dreamer killed by war and violence – and all of their offspring who never were – to be returned to us.

I want addicts loved, the homeless sheltered, all sexes embraced, all ethnicities valued, and all children to be fed.

I want fewer liars and deceivers.

I want my dog to love me as much as he loves the people who take care of him when I am away even though I don’t walk him as much as they do or take him on paths where he sees deer.

I want the polar bears to survive, and wolves to proliferate so much that they enter urban centers, still with a glint in their eyes but politely moving to the side on sidewalks as they sniff out the nearest park with good water, or a coffee shop if they prefer.

I want to lie on my belly on new grass, my toes wiggling in a divot of mud, and hear the earth whisper that she will tend us the best she can even though we have not tended her.

I want the courage to hear the music that must exist across the cosmos of pain, grief, loss, desire, longing and even more of joy, brilliance, ecstasy, and light. I want it to permeate me but not vaporize me so I can return and try to tell others.

I want to accept. I want no child to lose his or her parents. I want love to prevail more often, more quickly, more evenly, and more obviously.

I want to hear every birdsong as though for the first time.

I want Richard Gere to move in, bake bread, and come up to me every day and say, “Baby, I miss you.”