Archive | 2014

Holidays, c.2014

Thomas-Nast-Santa-ClausHappy Holidays. Right.

All throughout my childhood, wishes of “Merry Christmas” were the height of insensitivity, to be borne with savoir faire, with lèse-majesté, with benign tolerance. I was to carefully restrict myself to the generic wish, “Happy Holidays”, and hope to receive the same, and let it go at that.

My childhood was such a giddy, madcap Victorian whirlwind! So elegant, so gracious, formal yet näive, even rustic in many ways…

Importantly, in my childhood, people regularly said things automatically, without thinking about them. “Merry Christmas” was the automatic thing to say, the thoughtless phrase spoken in departure. The rest of the year, the thoughtless automatic phrase was “goodbye”.

Sometime in the early 60s, people began to think about phrases they said all the time and never thought about. “Goodbye”, being somewhat obscure, attracted specific attention. It dates from the end of the 15th Century and could have been a contraction of “may God be with you [until we meet again].” Thinking about this eventually led to the use of the exceptionally lame phrase, “have a nice day”. Perhaps in reaction to and even unconscious resentment of being manuvered out of the use of an elegant and facile two syllable phrase in favor of the tedious and meaningless four-syllable one, “goodbye” took on an additional overtone. It has become an ultimatum of dismissal, not just an acknowledgement of the end of an encounter but a command from one party that the other quit immediately and leave, whether God has approved or not.

The difference in the values of the phrases can be seen most clearly in the inversion, I feel. If the thing to wish for is a “nice” day, the worst opposite would be an “un-nice” day, one filled with ugliness, inconvenience and raggedness, as opposed to “a glorious day”, the opposite of which could easily be a day of unmitigated hell.

We were made to sing Christmas songs from Thanksgiving through to the brink of the ‘vacation’. Yeah, the constant “Jesus” refrain sometimes got on our Jewish nerves, but face it. This is a body of songs from the most famous, most respected composers of the past two thousand years. Every successful musician from Palestrina to Aguilera has at least one Christmas album. All are successful even yet, and some are eternally great.

The imagery is beyond compare. I happily sang celebrations of heavenly miracles written by geniuses. And when they made us sing drab commercial crap about “dreidels”, I knew it was just lame politics – songs written to show the goyim, “See? We can sing our own songs any time we want to.” I didn’t hate the idiots who thought they wanted to, but they embarrassed me. After all did Irving Berlin write anything about Chanukah? Even in a letter?

Religion is the politics of faith. It’s repulsive to me that there is such an angle, but that’s where real free will comes into play. I guess.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Yeah.

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This Year’s Gift Sugestion

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On Ferguson

Ferguson shootingPreface: On August 9,, 2014, Michael Brown, 18, had an altercation with Darren Wilson, of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department. The confrontation ended when Officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown.

After hearing seventy hours of testimony from sixty witnesses, the Grand Jury refused to return an indictment against Officer Wilson, who had admitted firing twelve shots at Mr. Brown, hitting him eight times.

There is of course far more to the story. You can find it many places. These are my thoughts on the matter.

Rioting. Burning police cars and looted drugstores. This is what America wants to see in the aftermath of The Ferguson Grand Jury.

Anger has been described as “the most accessible emotion”. It’s easy to piss someone off – to piss everyone off. A lot easier than, say, making someone laugh, or cry, even think. So news-mongers do what’s easiest to attract viewers, and everyone’s happy afterward. Anger, after all, is the emotion of winners.

Fear is of course always available, too. Just as easily accessed, it is often thought of as a corollary of anger. Both stimulate the adrenal gland. Hey, that’s what amusement parks are for.

Justice was never the issue in Ferguson, only anger and fear. Michael Brown’s anger, Darren Wilson’s fear. I don’t recall those specific subjects ever being addressed though. I’m sure I heard a version of the events of August 9 in which Michael Brown attacked Darren Wilson. If Darren Wilson was not frightened by such an attack, then according to “Rambo”, he could have incapacitated Michael Brown without killing him. Of course, he would have been inhuman. Alternately, if Darren Wilson was angry, probably Michael Brown would have been scared. After all, Darren Brown was armed. I didn’t hear a version with Michael Wilson pleading for reason, however. I would have expected that. Anger and fear. Justice had no part in it.

Sandwiched in among the flames and rhetoric, ABC’s “Good Morning America” carried clips of an interview in the street in Ferguson with Brittany Packnett, a member of the Ferguson Commission Teach for America. In it, she said, “Dr. King said to a different reporter,’Riots are the language of the unheard.’ So what we really have to ask ourselves is what is being said in this community that has been suffering for so long that we haven’t heard?”

She said she saw “profound grief, utter anguish…people who didn’t think justice was served or that there was even a chance for justice.”

Chris Rock tweeted, ” A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect ” – W.E.B. DuBois.

The outstanding issues left on the table. When do we begin to face them?

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Robin Williams 1951 -2014

Robin WilliamsThis is the role that comes to mind these past two days. Patch Adams, the clown physician, Dean of the Gesundheit Clinic.

Why couldn’t he reach this guy Sunday, when he needed him most? Did he think the physician was just another routine, some character he’d invented and assumed, just another carnival false front? I’m sure, the Patch Adams I know was a lot more real to me than to Mr Williams. But there was another Patch, the one Williams knew, who he made the Patch I knew out of, and that one was absolutely real. Why couldn’t he reach him? Was he Out? Motherfucker. Those bastards are always Out when you need them.

Much as you think it might have been, or even as it might have appeared, it wasn’t time to go.

What could Robin Williams have been thinking? Did he see himself surrounded by unfulfillable demands? Inexpressable loves, unutterable poems can appear sometimes as a pack of starving wolves. I, who have never been agile enough to climb a tree, appreciate the hopelessness of such an array.

Hanging yourself is more complicated than hanging someone else. Not quite as complex as televising yourself, but with many of the same difficulties, lots of preparation involving stringing lines, making platforms, staging and performing all on your own. It’s a very schizophrenic activity, requiring you to constantly take a detatched view of the tasks you are, at the same time, doing. The preparation takes a lot of energy and time, usually leaving ample time to talk yourself out of it. Energy well spent, if it leads to abandoning the effort.

Now that it’s too late, I’d give most of my left side to be able to sit down and talk with you. I have a million questions …

Did you really become close with Jonathan Winters? Did you really get down with him? I ask, because Jonathan Winters did not kill himself. He died at 87, last year, and performed in that year.

During his early thirties, Winters spent eight months in “a private institution”. Eight months. That’s a long time, time enough to feel like you’d never lived anywhere else. How long did you spend in rehab?

It says here. They didn’t have a diagnosis called “bipolar” at the time, though it says There that cases of “manic-depression” and “melancholia” are documented in the 2nd Century. Last month, you committed yourself to a rehab. I’m guessing, you were relying on your personal history of success and the feeling of safety you associated with the place, and hoped to gain your own balance in familiar, safe surroundings. This is far and away my preferred guess, over the one where you deliberately chose an ineffective route, to justify to yourself your eventual suicide.

I”m not down on suicide. My father decided when he would die, and I hope to do so myself. There’s no point to going beyond your …

I’m having trouble stating that limit. It’s there. I actually know it, but I can’t name it. In my mind, though, I thought I saw its form.

going beyond your humor If there’s no punchline, why continue the joke?

Is that what was bugging you, Bub? All you saw was a dry lake bed of whining, no thing that was funny?

Dying is easy. Comedy’s hard. Live it, or live with it.

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Today’s Handout: Your Task

your task

Your Task

My days now center around Facebook. Whether this is or is not healthy shall remain moot for the moment. I regard Facebook the same way others regard the clock, an indicator of passing relevance on a minute-by-minute scale.

First, an item from the San Fransisco Globe. An artist who had worked in forensics for the SFPD quit his job some time ago.

Recently, he’d obtained sponsorship to establish himself in a vacant office space, where he set up two adjacent areas. A curtain hung between them. In one area was his drawing table. In the other was an easy chair. One by one, women came in and sat in the easy chair. Each described herself to the artist. He would ask her the questions he knew well, eliciting details of her face.

When the portrait was done, someone else would come in and sit in the easy chair and describe the woman he had just drawn, and the artist would draw her again, this time following the “eyewitness” description. The drawings were exhibited then side-by-side.

We only saw a couple of them, but those consistently showed the self-described faces as being harder, angrier and/or more depressed than those drawn from the observer’s description. The subjects noticed this, too. “She saw a lot more joy in my face, didn’t she?” said one woman.”I wonder how to be not so hard on myself.”

Next, an item from my friend Trudy. Ram Dass, once a psychiatric researcher and colleague of Timothy Leary at Harvard, where they used LSD, first on their subjects and then on themselves; now, a philosopher. He is quoted from an interview he gave in January, 2012.

“Question: How can I judge myself less harshly and appreciate myself more? “

“Ram Dass: …When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are. “

I’ve quoted the whole thing, when I could have made my point with the question alone. I apologize.

Then, there’s Jack Morris. He pitched in the American League for 17 years, mostly for the Detroit Tigers. He was known as an angry guy, cranky, bad-tempered, who didn’t get along well with the press. I admired him. He was a real good pitcher.

Today, he is no longer cranky or angry. He looks like an ordinary, well-groomed prosperous gentleman. His face is very alive. Whatever he’s doing, he’s not retired.

“I thought, if you said that your work stunk you were admitting that you weren’t any good, and I certainly didn’t think that, I’d just had a bad day. I learned that all I had to do was say, “I had a bad day”, and it was alright. Sparky taught me that.”

He was talking about a manager of his, Sparky Anderson. “Before a game, I happened to be on the infield after a three-game losing streak, when Sparky came by.

“‘Cactus’, he said. I was Cactus; everybody named Jack was Cactus to Sparky. ‘Cactus, what’s that bright round thing up there in the sky?’

“I said, ‘I think it’s the Sun.’

“‘Ohh,’ said Sparky. ‘So it came up today.’

“‘Don’t be so hard on yourself.You expect to be perfect every time you go out there. Do you know anyone who’s perfect? That’s not the point. All you can do is your best. That’s all that’s required of you.'”

== # ==

The Tao Te Ching says, “Do your work, then step back.” You are not your work. Your work isn’t you.

Each of us has Things we must Do. The product of that Doing is our Work.

Those Things come to us in four ways.

– 99% of them come from other people: jobs, taxes, errands.

– 99% of the remainder come to us from ourselves: haircuts, new clothes.

– 99% of that remainder is completely arbitrary: watch a ballgame, eat a donut

– the remaining 0.001%, come to us from The Universe: God, dumb luck, it’s up to you. But whatever it is, it’s not optional. It’s what you Have to Do.

This is what came to me today. In this order.

Links

Forensic Artist’s Portraits

Ram Dass on Self-Judgement

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