Hokusai Says

Lughnasa and the full Harvest Moon

“Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says Look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it’s interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees. Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah
or the shadows or the trees
and grasses in our garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives
through you.
Contentment is Life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.”

~ “Hokusai Says” by Roger Keys

Heart ripped upward

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Listening to the cybernet radio. Right now John Mayer doing a soulful rendition of Sugaree with Dead and Beyond. These songs reach right into my heart and rip it toward the surface. Here I am! Sad. Worried. Glad. Joy running fast through the blood. Nothing between my skin and my interior, heart and mind connected. Tight.

Lives of Quiet Desperation

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Caveat: Got carried away here. Stuff that’s important to me, but long.

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper

Alienation is killing Americans and Japanese. The age of American despair. American life expectancy has dropped again. This is what life without retirement savings looks like.

Nope, not me. Headlines from articles I noticed over the last couple of weeks. Part of the story is told in the three factors most related to American decline in life expectancy: obesity, suicide, and drug overdoses. Summed up: living lives of quiet desperation.

In Japan the kids have disappeared and left the country to the old folks. People die alone. Unnoticed. Unseen. Unknown.

Ross Douthat, NYT conservative columnist and a voice I listen to, has this paragraph in his article, The Age of American Despair:

…the simultaneity of the different self-destroying trends is a brute fact of American life. And that simultaneity does not feel like just a coincidence, just correlation without entanglement — especially when you include other indicators, collapsing birthrates and declining marriage rates and decaying social trust, that all suggest a society suffering a meaning deficit, a loss of purpose and optimism and direction, a gently dehumanizing drift.” Douthat, NYT, Sept. 7, 2019

Douthat also says, and I agree with him, that: “Despair as a sociological phenomenon is rarely permanent: Some force, or forces, will supply new forms of meaning eventually.” op cit

He’s a Roman Catholic and a conservative so his hope will be that religion and traditional institutions like the family can reassert their culture shaping roles, provide forms of meaning relevant to this crisis.

Another conservative writer, David Byler, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that conservatives have already won the culture war. His argument rests on the positive opinion Americans have of the police, the military, and the continued strength of marriage, the family, and religion. These core institutions, beloved of conservatives, are ok, he says, and prove that conservatives have “the winning hand” in the next election.

Can this despair can be handled by leaning into the familiar, the tried, the true? Seems unlikely to me since marriage and the family, religious institutions exist now, are readily available, and yet the despair rises. And, neither the military nor the police can answer because their roles are defensive, reactive to social forces. They’re not shapers or builders. They’re enforcers after the fact.

I see this despair as a disturbing inflection point created by a world in dramatic transformation. Interlocked global economies. Populations shifting locations, putting immigrant pressure on receiving societies and draining resources from the sending ones. A planet shifting from one climate regime to a less forgiving one for humans. Nativist and xenophobic politics which express the despair through anger, rage at the other upsetting democratic institutions worldwide.

I appreciated Douthat’s reminder that despair is rarely permanent. New forms of meaning will arise, as he projects. But from where? Not sure I know.

Scott Nearing, economist and author of a favorite book of mine, Living the Good Life, proposes a mixed economy. The issue is not one, Nearing argues, of a single economic model to rule them all. Rather, we should be making decisions about what aspects of culture belong to which economic model. Roads and infrastructure, schooling, law enforcement, the military, the legal system operate within a socialist model where we all chip in to assure ourselves of educated children, decent roads and bridges, protection against criminals and foreign enemies. Selling cars, fast food, jewelry, books, bicycles and the like operate within a capitalist model. But what about affordable housing and medical care? What about support for the unemployed or the victims of Schumpeter’s creative destruction?

As in Nearing’s approach to economics, I believe the answer to the despair engendered by a transforming global culture lies in a mixed political response. That is, we need to support some institutions conservatives love: marriage, the family, law enforcement, and the military because they are core to a sense of social security, a feeling of safety. Let’s set aside religion for now. We don’t have to support those institutions in the same way conservatives would. That is, we can favor marriage between persons who love each other while recognizing the non-binary nature of human sexuality. Similar thoughts can apply to the other three.

But, these institutions exist in political and economic contexts that have profound effects on their well-being. Is housing affordable? Is there work for you that pays a living wage? Can you get the medical care you need when you need it? What it will be like for you when you retire? Can you retool yourself for a new career? Are your children receiving the sort of education they need to thrive?

Let’s return now to religion. And, the arts. Bread and roses. “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union of New York. Bread and Roses wiki

Positive changes to the economic and social conditions of oppression are, said another way, critical and necessary; but, they are not sufficient. The spirit must be fed, too. Everyone has a right to realize and live out their ikigai.

What religion does, at its best, is help folks develop a coherent view of life’s meaning and create a support system to help them realize it. At its worst religion pretends to have found the only meaning and creates a phalanx of enforcers for that view.

The arts also feed the soul. But they are often kept behind an elite curtain wall of high ticket prices, imposing museum corridors, and a presumed sine qua non of education to appreciate.

If we’re looking for areas outside the rough and tumble of politics for dealing with despair, both religion and the arts can play significant roles. It is here, I believe, that new meaning will arise, will begin to integrate world economies, help us adapt to climate change even as we fight its worsening, enable us to see the other not as a threat, but as a potential new friend, fellow worker, marriage partner.

I Recommend

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Three high quality but very different offerings on TV right now. On Hulu, the least strange show of the three: Veronica Mars 4th season. The first three seasons ended in 2007, so number four is set 12 years later. The show’s first three seasons are also on Hulu, which paid for the late addition.

characters in the 3rd season of Veronica Mars

If you never met Veronica, you’ve missed an iconic character in American television. Smart mouthed, brave, petite, beautiful, and brainy, she’s first in high school solving the problems of students at Neptune High. (California) In the third season she’s in college. Ditto. By season number four she has a Stanford law degree, but chooses to return to Neptune to work as private investigator with her father, Keith.

Four stars out of five. Four only because I like things a little stranger. So, a biased ranking. (But, aren’t they all?)

Amazon Prime Video put up Carnival Row on August 29th, so it’s brand new. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star. A British production, it’s loaded with character actors you might have seen on BBC shows and has a fascinating set complete with monorails, gritty streets, and an overall Victorianesque tone.

There’s been a long war between the fae with their human allies and the Pact, a mysterious and brutal enemy to both. There are pixies with wings, trotters with rams horns on their heads, lots of Midsummer Night’s Dream references (this is a British show after all), and yet another take on zenophobia. This last is a bit disappointing though I get it as an of the moment plot device. Disappointing, btw, in its overuse, not in its broader significance.

High production values, great cast, an edgy plot. Four and a half stars. Right now. I’ve not finished it so I may go up to five or down to four when I’m done.

As I said in yesterday’s post, Netflix has taken the biggest chances by funding shows and limited series from a diverse collection of nationalities and story telling traditions. My recent and so far all time favorite is Frontera Verde, the Green Frontier, made by Colombians and filmed in and near Leticia, Colombia’s southern most point. Leticia is the capital of the department of Amazonas, and borders Brazil’s state of the same name.

A detective from Bogota is sent to Leiticia to investigate the murder of four missionaries in the jungle. Helena Poveda was born in the jungle near Leticia, but sent to Bogota as a young girl and has not returned until this trip. The murder of the missionaries, from Edens Church, and the solution to them, does make this a mystery.

Solving the murders is a vehicle that takes us into the botanical mystery that is the Amazonian jungle and the lives of those indigenous communities who live there. The old days of rubber plantations, the current threats of rogue loggers and a secretive group intent on penetrating the mystical center of the jungle for their own purpose provide the villainy.

The story telling has a Gabriel Garcia Marquez inflection, magical realism often taking the story in surprising directions. Early on a hand, covered in black pigment, comes to rest on a root and the root glows and pulses. This is Yua, the eternal slave, and a guardian of the jungle. Ushe is his long time companion, both many decades older than they appear. Ushe’s murder, discovered by Elena while investigating the killing of the missionaries, is the central plot line though it takes a long time for that to become evident.

I love the undercurrents here. An indigenous detective has to choose between his police duties and his community, the Nai. Elena discovers the true depth of her home coming. “The jungle is in your heart,” says the indigenous detective’s grandfather to her. Yua and Ushe navigate the jungle’s essence, sometimes using magic, other times their knowledge of the communities, other times their vast botanical lore. Edens Church has a much different belief system than its predecessor, an order of Catholic nuns.

Ushe and Yua

The videography is wonderful. A slim boat travels quickly up the wide, brown Amazon. Ushe and Yua meet in a cosmic space held together by mother jungle. The jungle itself is by turns claustrophobic, vast, and alive.

I realized last night that by an odd coincidence Colombia is the foreign country I have visited most. Three times. Once in 1989, Bogota. Once in the 1990’s with Kate, Cartagena. And once in 2011, Santa Marta. Long before any of those trips I had found Marquez and his Hundred Years of Solitude.

Santa Marta, Colombia 10/23/2011

With those trips to Colombia, our two transits of the Panama Canal, and the 7 week cruise we took around Latin America in 2011, I feel I’ve had a modest immersion in the often strange world of this continent where the Portugese and Spanish ran headlong into indigenous communities. Might be why I like this so much.

I’ve begun a second watching of Frontera Verde, something I almost never do. It’s mixture of indigenous magic and shamanism with contemporary problems of the “earth’s lungs,” as the Amazon is often referred to in the stories about its many fires, makes it compelling to me.

Five stars. Good acting, wonderful landscapes, strange plotlines. Another world brought to life. Compelling.

I love TV

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

So. Television. The boob tube. Kill your TV. The great wasteland. Coastal elites love to hate TV. Oh, wait, that was from a Trump supporter. Anyhow, television.

Saw my first flickery images from the little box in 1952, election returns from the Eisenhower/Stevenson vote. Black and white. Dad and I stayed up until 3 am waiting for California. I watched Howdy Doody, Captain Midnight, The Cisco Kid, Sgt. Renfrew of the Royal Mounted, Sky King. This was very early for television in Alexandria, Indiana. My dad’s boss, Mr. Feemster, bought it for him because he thought a newspaper editor should have one.

In 1963 I was at home sick from school and reading Mallory’s “La Morte d’Arthur.” I watched the coverage from Dallas from the beginning. Moon landing. 9/11. Shock and awe.

We were like any television obsessed family, I imagine. Three hours a night together. Yes, I had to watch Sing Along with Mitch (follow the bouncing ball!) and Lawrence Welk. The horror.

Point is I’ve been watching TV for over 67 years. Neither proud nor ashamed of that. I’ve seen some amazing things, some awful things, but mostly schlocky episodes of dumbed down entertainment that had to appeal to families and fit within the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters.

Several years ago Kate and I cut the cord with Comcast. Too much TV, too expensive. And, real jerks at customer service. Since then, I’ve chosen what I wanted to watch rather than adapting myself to the broadcasters schedule and tastes.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. Those are my ABC, CBS, and NBC. Except. They have movies, lots of movies. Documentaries. TV shows. All that I can watch whenever I want. Or, not.

This is television’s golden age. The small screen has begun to compete successfully with Hollywood. There are many big name boxoffice stars now deigning to work in the used-to-be too stupid medium. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were among the first. Now: Orlando Bloom. Julia Roberts. Billybob Thornton. For example.

Netflix has made the key move, in my opinion. With their globe spanning ambitions they’ve funded original local television series. Marco Polo was an early one. Designated Survivor: Korea, a recent one, along with the also Korean Possessed and Strong-girl Bong-Soon. Better Than Us is a Russian cyberbot series. Not all of them will appeal to any one segment of viewers, but that’s ok for Netflix. You pick your own. Like the buffet at Country Kitchen.

I love to watch these Turkish (Protector), Korean (see above), Russian, Japanese (The Naked Director), South African (Shadow), New Zealand, Australian, Taiwanese, Thai, and most recently, Fronteras Verde, The Green Frontier, from Colombia.

Since they use local script writers, videographers, actors, and settings, there is an opportunity to see Colombian videographic tastes, the styles of Japanese and Thai actors, the streets of Johannesburg and Istanbul, the country side in Turkey. Not to mention the story ideas are ones that appeal to the particular audience in that country. All of this is a fair equivalent to travel, minus the Montezuma’s revenge and expensive plane tickets.

You may not use this golden era to travel the globe (take that flat-earthers), but I am. And I find it exhilarating.

Friends

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Got a card yesterday from the Black Forest, Das Schwarzwald. A get well card purchased at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts by my buddies in the Woolly Mammoths. They had gone together to see a show of Native American women artists, one of the more powerful exhibits in recent years my docent friends have told me.

Each man wrote a personal message on the card. I read them all, smiling, seeing this gray head, that gray beard. The old smiles. Hearing the laughter. Knowing the Black Forest, probably outside at a round metal table, traffic whizzing by on 26th Street. Frank ordered a sausage, if memory serves. Maybe some spatzle, weinerschnitzel, lentil soup. St. Pauli Girl drafts.

And, felt sad. Wistful. I love these guys and know them. Well. In the way only 30 + years of being together could allow. It was a sweet sadness, one that told me these relationships still live within me, not extinguished, not weakened by almost 5 years in Colorado.

Ely, 2015

Regrets? No. An affirmation of life, of the power of friendship, of its durability. The sadness is real, as is my gladness at driving up Brook Forest Drive to our home on top of Shadow Mountain.

Both Minnesota and Colorado have wildness and wilderness at their hearts. The Northwoods, the Boreal forest, the lakes, Lake Superior. Wolves, deer, lynx. Muskie and walleye. Mt. Evans, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Wilderness. Black bears, moose, elk, mountain lions, fox. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Tibetan monks at Congregation Beth Evergreen, 2018

Colorado has Congregation Beth Evergreen. A quirky synagogue with a collection of folks who call themselves mountain Jews. It’s where I’m seen and where I see others. Deep moments of human connection, like the Woollies. Glad for both.

A Birthday Wish

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Another Yankee Doodle birthday. SeoAh turned 41. The U.S.A. 243. SeoAh’s birth culture is thousands of years old, as is Joe’s.

A Chinese
classical novel

We’re such a baby from a historical perspective. Our relative youth is on display in every interaction we have with China, an ancient civilization like Korea and India that has lasted into the time of nation-states. One commentator I read a while back refers to China as a civilization state, rather than a nation state for that reason.

China engages the world as a regional hegemon, a role its held for most of its long history. It abuts so many different cultures, unlike the U.S. Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Himalayan kingdoms, the Stans, Russia, North Korea, even Japan if you see the South China Sea from China’s perspective. It does not share the great geopolitical advantage of the U.S., world ocean moats on both eastern and western borders.

The dynastic period of China, begun during the mostly lost in the mists Xia dynasty, only ended in the 20th century with the Qing ending in 1912. Thus, there are patterns and assumptions built into even the Chinese Communist party that reach far, far back in the Middle Kingdom’s political experience.

Among them is strategic patience, a trait sorely missing from U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. The Chinese waited until its 99 year lease on Hong Kong was up, then reabsorbed this city-state. Not without difficulty, yes, but even the one country-two systems policy has Hong Kong, like Tibet, as an administrative district of the larger nation. They are also waiting to absorb Taiwan, sometimes patiently, sometimes not.

The world is big enough for China and the U.S. as regional hegemons, not big enough for either of us to dominate. China knows that. I’m not sure we do.

If I could have a birthday wish for the U.S.A., it would be a leavening of our foreign policy with the wisdom of history. Hard to pull off when our supreme leader doesn’t read, I know. We, as a citizenry, may have to exercise strategic patience with him and his followers. Trump and his base are not the vanguard of a revolution, rather they are equivalent of the village peasant in traditional societies.

By James 4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61859662

They are defensive in posture, that’s what America First means. You only wish for America First if you believe we’re already somehow less than others. I don’t.

DJT and his cult hold onto economic givens long out of date. Manufacturing and its supply chain, though still crucial to our economy, we’re #2 in the world after, guess who, China, has been in steady decline as an employer since the 1990’s, continuing a long slide begun in the 1940’s. see this Wikipedia article. Tariff man reflects a belief that the U.S. is somehow getting screwed on a regular basis.

They hold onto social givens like fear of the other, affecting immigration, race, and gender identity. The unearned privilege of the white American male is still regarded among them, and their leader, as a privilege given by hard work and innovation, rather than a teetering social contract based on patriarchy and ruthless oppression of minorities.

This is a passing phase, often at its strongest when its proponents sense their weakness, perhaps for the first time. Strategic patience involves doing everything possible to align their national political influence with their actual minority status. It means working against the Proud Boy in the White House and for politicians existing in today’s world, not yesterday’s. It also means not succumbing to despair or nihilism.

That’s tough, I know, especially with the climate crisis literally breathing hot air on our necks. But one way to not succumb is to do what is possible politically while focusing on those local and state level initiatives that will position us later for strong climate action.

Standing with you all in this, our 243rd year of a grand national experiment: Can a nation be built on political values rather than culture?

Back to the Inner Glow

Summer and the Recovery Moon

And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.

My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.

Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.

Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.

A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.

He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!

I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.

Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.

Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.

A Skeptical Realist

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

32 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain, raining. Fog grays out Black Mountain. So far our usual summertime foe, wildfire, looks less formidable. At least for this year.

Office, Edward Hopper, American realist

And, yes, if you, reader of Ancientrails, are tired of the medical overcast here, so am I. However.

As Kate and I talked yesterday, I told her about my new friend David, who has a prostate cancer situation more dire than mine. His has metastasized. He said, “I’m good at compartmentalization.” I’m not. Don’t want to be.

I’m a realist. Neither optimist nor pessimist. I want to know what is. There’s good evidence in psychological studies of depression that realists end up depressed more than optimists. That optimists are happier than realists or pessimists. May be. Still can’t look away.

That’s what you’re reading here. My attempt to see. Inside and out. And, even though I learned from Cosmos and Psyche that skepticism is a tool, not a lifeway, surprise; it’s a tool I’ve used so long that I can’t put it back in the toolbox, hang it on its little outline on the pegboard of my mind. Skepticism and realism have never made me the life of the party. Debbie Downer might be more apt.

Yet some deep commitment to honesty, learned I’m not sure where, keeps me realist and skeptic. I don’t like being manipulated, by others, by institutions, by myself. So I long ago chose to deal with the psychological fall out of the examined life, a fair exchange in my world. Not always pleasant, but cleaner. Candid.

Ikigai

Beltane Cancer Moon

This Morning

It’s been this kind of May. And it looks as if June will be cooler and wet, too, according to Weather5280. Good news for us, not so much for those lower down when the huge snowpack starts to melt.

Got further along on print Ancientrails. Am now in late 2017, quite a ways in. Then, print spool error. Again. Well. Gotta go back to whatever I did that solved it once. Tried so many things I’m not sure which one worked. Something did. For a while. Soon though. Then, I’ll take everything for three hole punching and decide what kind of binders I’m going to buy. Each folder with month tabs.

Also figured a way to unzip Superior Wolf and focus on Lycaon’s story. Don’t know whether I’ll follow up later on Christopher and Diana. The hunt for immortality is almost a cliche these days. And the central conceit of their story, a hedgefund group that funds Diana’s research, is not fiction anymore. Geez.

That means I’ve got months of work ahead, maybe years. My ikigai. A Japanese word that means reason to live. This article talks about ikigai in more depth as an explanation for Japanese longevity. Squares with my own intuition. Purpose keeps you alive and flourishing.

The Japanese have a lot about life figured out. Ichi-go, ichi-e is another favorite of mine. It comes from the Japanese tea ceremony and means each moment is once in a lifetime. No such thing as an insignificant experience with another person.

Sekkyakushi, 15th century, Muromachi period, Metropolitan Museum of art

Reading a book right now by the wonderful travel writer, Pico Iyer: Autumn Light, Season of Fire and Farewells. It’s a follow-up to his The Lady and the Monk, which I have not read, in which he recounts meeting Hiroko, the Japanese woman who would become his wife. He had moved to Kyoto to immerse himself in Japanese culture, sensing, as I do, that their approach to life is worth learning, perhaps adopting. Twenty-three years later he lives in Japan with Hiroko six months out of the year and six months in the U.S., caring for his mother and working for the New York Times. Recommended.

Each time I dip into some aspect of Japanese culture I find I want to know more. The MIA’s Japanese collection gave me a chance to interact with tea bowls, tatami mats, sumi-e, Buddhist and Shinto sculpture, put me deeper into my own Asian pivot.

Zen itself has not intrigued me, but I did follow Zen back to its roots in Chinese Chan Buddhism, a melding of Taoism and Buddhism. The Taoist aspect of Zen, and Chan. Yes.

Tomorrow. The CT scan. Probably the last of the imaging work. It will either show metastatic disease or a localized recurrence in the prostate fossa. If the former, one kind of treatment. And, prognosis. If the latter, 35 days of radiation and a possible cure. Hopeful, of course, that it will be localized, but aware that it might not be. In either case I’ll know. That’s been the hardest part of this time (well, no, that’s not right. The hardest part has been dealing with insurance and the hospital’s “benefits” office.), knowing the cancer has reasserted itself, but not knowing what that means for my life.

Will be glad to have this work done so I can move onto what’s next.