Live Long, and Prosper

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: for the poetry and philosophy contained in the world’s religions. for not having to believe in them. for the intimacy and wonder of holidays. for deep thinkers and their ability to change our minds, to see what we cannot. for the pain and struggles that teach us what’s important and what’s not.

Seoah made a bulgogi soup last night. Delicious. Each time she comes I think, “I’ll cook like that, too.” Then, she leaves. And my cooking returns to its Western, American ways. I’ve added few Korean dishes to my repertoire. Maybe, over time…

Murdoch bounces around, happy and energetic. His teeth still have the pointy sharpness of a young puppy. He discovered the loft the other day, came running in, wagging his tail, rushing around, smelling this, then that. And left. He’s come back. He may join Gertie for longer time periods if he can contain himself.

Stanford University has a recent initiative, A New Map of Life. I like it because it recognizes the three blocks of life I call first, second, third phase: education, family and work, and the third phase. Not retirement, at least not the finish line model, but a new phase of life previously unavailable due to shorter life spans. And, as a result, one without cultural guard rails or guidelines.

Their approach makes so much sense. They want to to redefine, reshape the cultural paradigms for all the phases, not just old age. “Longer lives present us with an opportunity to redesign the way we live. The greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.” WP article: We need a major redesign of life. Dec. 8, 2019

Will investigate in greater depth and report back. I’m going through what seems to be an annoyingly long rethink of my own life. This is the fifth year (in 12 days) of our Colorado mountain life. It has peaks and valleys (hah) and they keep on coming.

Old age doesn’t seem to be the real issue for me though it plays a role. What’s more salient is the unpredictable nature of our daily life and the difficulty of getting into a rhythm for creative work. Health span is a key issue. Kate, though much better now than six months ago, still has occasional nausea, occasional fevers and fatigue, occasional heartburn, constant weakness. I have bouts of fatigue, muscle weakness, and general uncertainty added with prostate cancer and COPD.

Not complaining, observing what’s real for us. How do we build a mutual life that reflects and respects these difficult elements without capitulating to them? There is a disparity between us, too. I am younger than Kate by three years and though I have my own serious illnesses I don’t get derailed by them as often as she does from hers.

There’s a question of mutual life and its outlines and our individual lives. I’m admitting here that our answers so far have not been satisfying. It’s a project for both of us and it continues.

I & We

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Monday gratefuls: Joe’s visit. Annie’s visit. Seoah’s staying on. Murdoch’s staying on. The engineers who designed our Rav4’s. The laborers who assembled them. Deb and Dave at On the Move Fitness who prepare my workouts every six to eight weeks. The oxygen concentrators that make it possible for Kate and me to live up here.

I’ve mentioned the Turkish TV series Resurrection (see the post for Oct. 21). It’s a long one, well over 400 episodes. A huge work of historical fiction, a novel on the small screen. It holds my attention, though I imagine many would stop watching over its persistent Muslim bias against non-Muslims, its more than occasional violence, and its often laughable translations. Immersion in it and our several years at Congregation Beth Evergreen have combined to make me reconsider individualism.

As an American, as a confirmed existentialist, as an ex-Christian, as a phenomonologist, as a thinker, as an introvert, the individual has always loomed bigger to me than the collective. The notion of a hermetic life. Yes. The life of a scholar hidden in the library. Yes. The life of a novelist obscured by working alone. Yes. Even a move to a mountain home far away from 40 years of friendship and memories. Yes.

The tribal life of frequent, intimate contact with many others has not been mine. Growing up among the 5,000 or so souls in Alexandria, Indiana had its similarities, but we were not bonded by shared purposes, traditions, and genetics. We were a loose collection of families and individuals who shared a common marketplace and a school system. Beyond that we divided into different Christian denominations, extended families, and had no intrinsic loyalty to a lifetime with the folks in town.

The Christian ministry experience is more complicated and I don’t want to go into much depth about it here, but the rise of Protestantism enhanced individualist tendencies as it clambered out of Catholicism in tune with the Enlightenment. Being, say, a Presbyterian is not the same (tribally) as being even a Catholic, and it’s very far from being a Jew or a Muslim.

Beyond those two, a small town childhood and the odd life of an ordained clergy, I’ve followed the path of developing my potential, getting analysis for my psyche’s troubles, and eschewing joining. Love of family and of my Woolly friends, though both dear to me, is not a tribal experience. And, they’ve been enough. More than enough, satisfying.

But. My first taste of tribalism’s benefits came in the year after 9/11, when my ignorance of Islam came into sharp relief. I read the Koran, the whole thing, over Ramadan, fasting during the day and reading it in the segments suggested. I read a lot of other things, too. Volumes of history. Poetry. Works by famous Muslim scholars. Lots of reading. What was the caliphate? What were the five pillars? How did Islam grow and spread so rapidly?

After attending a three day conference on Islam at the University of Minnesota, I went to a break the Ramadan fast event at Dar Al-Farooq mosque near the U. The congregants welcomed me warmly. I sat against the back wall as the men prayed. The women were downstairs. A small boy came over to me, smiled, sat in my lap, and asked, “Are you a kafir?” An unbeliever? Yes, I said. I was. His eyes got big.

The meal was good, eaten on the same floor where the prayers had been offered, covered in clear plastic sheeting. Afterward a group of men talked to me, took me to a library, offered me books to take home, answered questions. It was a warm and inviting experience.

Resurrection shows the same warmth in the Kayi and Dodurga tribes. Their lives are for each other, with each other. They also fight, intrigue, and betray. But the benefits of a tribal identity and life are obvious.

At Beth Evergreen the sense of tribal identity probably doesn’t occur to most congregants. It’s just there. They know the holidays, some of the rituals, know what a b’nei mitzvah is, maybe have some knowledge of Hebrew. Islam permeates the tribal life in Resurrection, but observance is a good deal more casual in this Reconstructionist synagogue.

Think of this. When they read the Torah, it’s a book by and about their ancestors. Yes, maybe its more myth than fiat, but it’s still about the development of the Jewish world and the Jewish worldview. While eating in the Sukkah, they recapitulate a harvest festival celebrated centuries before the common era, by their ancestors, in the promised land. See that? I slipped in promised land. Well, it was promised to them, their ancestors.

On a more immediate basis the caring among members of the congregation, as expressed by the Mitzvah committee, the e-mails and phone calls we’ve gotten over Kate’s illness and mine, the connections outside of the synagogue among members, like my breakfasts with Alan for example and Kate’s time with her friend Jamie, evidence a degree of intimacy and community I never found in a Christian church. I’m sure there are some that have it, I’ve not experienced it.

In rereading this I noticed the theys and theirs in the paragraphs above. I’m not a Jew, nor do I want to become one. But, I love these people and they are my people. I’m not of them in the formal sense, however.

Instead of leaning toward individualism, I may be standing up straight, inclined toward Self and community in somewhat equal parts. That’s still not the tribal modality. In that case the collective overwhelms the individual and their needs. Not gonna be me.

And yet.

The Day After

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: the water in our broken granite aquifer and its replenishment by rain and snow, the rocky mountain on which we live and its brother and sister mountains around us, the Arapaho National Forest that covers them, the regular coming of day and night, the winds of yesterday.

The day after. The paper plates and plastic cups, the napkins with the turkeys on them. All in the trash. Jon and Ruth left on Friday night, but Gabe asked if he could stay over. Sure, but you’ll have to sleep on the couch. That’s ok. Annie and Joe are here till Monday. Seoah will stay until mid-December when she will leave from DIA for Singapore.

The mood changes when the holiday is in the past. Less ritualized, more homey time. Sitting around with casual conversations. Joe talking about his comic book collection. “This one’s worth $4,000,” he says, showing me an old Avengers I gave him a couple of years ago. The old comics in the attic routine. Turns out mine were were worth some money. Several thousand as it happens.

It’s compensation for that Michael Jordan rookie card I wouldn’t help you buy. He’d wanted me to help him buy a $200 Michael Jordan rookie card now worth thousands. I said no. It’s a running joke (sort of) with us.

Joe and Seoah went to H Mart, the big box Asian grocery store in Aurora, near Jon’s house. Annie and Gabe went with them. Gabe went back home and Annie got her first taste of Asia.

H Mart, with its bins of durian, dragon fruit, lemongrass, its coolers with various meats and cuts not available at King Sooper, its aquariums with fish and shrimp, boxes of instant white rice and seaweed, stacks of fifty pound bags of basmati, has a pan-Asian clientele. East Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Filipinos wander the aisles looking for food they cooked back home or food their parents cooked back home.

H Mart has Korean owners. The first time Seoah came here we stopped at H Mart on the way home from the airport. I remember her delight when a stockboy talked to another employee in Korean. Her face lit up. My language! In America.

The original plan for Thanksgiving was to have Seoah cook a Korean holiday meal instead of the whole capon, side dish thing. When I realized they would arrive on Wednesday, the day before, I wrote back and suggested we wait on that. She agreed. Instead she made the dish last night

Chopche is my phonetic spelling of what she called it. Which, I just looked up, is not too far off: chop chae. Mixed vegetables and beef. It’s one of those Asian dishes that has most of its time in the prep work. She thinly sliced carrots, thicker chunks of bell peppers (red and yellow), mushroom, green onion. Transparent sweet potato noodles. Long, narrow slices of beef. All stir fried, one at a time, except for the noodles. A zucchini cut into slices, breaded, and fried.

When do you make this? Any big holiday. New year. Death. Birthday. Happy occasion. Tasty. Worth learning. Her cooking seems simple, but it’s not. She has a lot of knowledge picked up from her mother and now many years of cooking herself. Her moves have an economy to them that only comes with much practice. I watch her, trying to pick up at least some of her skill.

“I like to organize,” she says. When I try to wipe off the kitchen counter, she says, “Not needed.” Spreads her hands indicating the kitchen, her domain. “It is my pleasure.”

Always Something to Celebrate

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Thursday (Thanksgiving) gratefuls: Annie, who came yesterday. The snow on Tuesday. The capon that gave its life for our meal. The winds that howl through the forests this morning. Orion, faithful friend and his good dog, Canis Major. The folks who designed and built our Rav4’s, especially Ruby, whose AWD makes her surefooted. Those who care for them at Stevinson Toyota. And, on this day in particular, for all those who sustain traditions and holidays, moments out of ordinary time.

I asked brother Mark and sister Mary what Thanksgiving, a very American holiday, looks like in lands Asian and Arab. Mark said Thanksgiving probably got celebrated in Aramco compounds. Here’s Mary’s reply from Singapore:

The big hotels serve Thanksgiving dinner & it needs to be reserved way in advance; Brits have Christmas dinner which is also involves Turkey so food is authentic- with all the trimmings- here Halloween and St Patrick’s Day☘️are also widely celebrated- in addition to Asian festivals- so pretty much there is always something to celebrate

Mary has made this comment, always something to celebrate, before. When I visited Singapore for the first time in 2004, I was there the first week of November. Christmas decorations lined Orchard Road, the big commercial street. It was also U.S. election week, so the American Club had a big breakfast spread so we could watch the returns live. You know how that turned out. We weren’t celebrating. (though right now GW Bush looks like a political genius)

These paled in comparison to the Arab quarters celebration of post-fast Ramadan. We found shisha smokers lounging on the sidewalks and had a good Arab meal, probably lamb and rice, but I don’t recall.

Little India had a huge arc of lights over its main road marking the holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights, also underway. There were stalls selling sweets, Diwali lights, and Hindu related religious artifacts. I bought a Kali medallion, a Vishnu and Shiva medallion. We had a vegetarian meal in a Tamil restaurant where we ate with our hands. Our right ones.

Not sure whether it was Diwali related or not, but much later that night, in the early a.m., Mary and I went to the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, Sri Mariamman Temple, built in 1827. According to the Temple’s website the firewalking was on October 20th this year.

Due to changes in population over time it happens to sit now in the midst of Chinatown. There were lines blocks long of men in various sorts of clothing, all holding branches of some kind and, if I recall correctly, lemons or limes. At the very end of these line were a few women.

I stopped to talk with some of the women. “Oh, yes. Now we can go to the firewalking, too. But they didn’t want us. We insisted.” This was about 3 am or so. Mary and I walked along the lines of devotees waiting for their turn.

We got to the temple and watched folks walk across the bed of coals, then into a milk bath, and finally into the arms of priests and fellow firewalkers. The moist night air, the early morning quiet, and this strange (to my eyes) sight is a special memory for me. Afterward, Mary and I had Chinese food at a big hotel.

Ramadan, Diwali, Christmas, firewalking, and the American election. It was my introduction to Asia and underlines Mary’s there’s always something to celebrate.

Bring Out Your Dead

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The Feast day of All Souls. The Christian version of Samain. Diluted from the original with its tension between the dead/faery realm and the living world. In the Christian version All Souls are those faithful now departed from this plane. It attempts to place a limit, a passport on those dead we know. Only the faithful.

Not so the ancient Celts. They knew both faithful and unfaithful (in whatever way that term might have meaning to them) can return, impact our this wordly lives. Tomorrow on dia de los muertos the Mexicans and Latin Americans remind us again of the Celtic knowing: they, the dead, are here. Those who loved us and those who wished us harm. Those who were indifferent to us and those who desired us. Both. All. Not just those with acknowledged acceptance of creed and savior.

The Chinese festival of hungry ghosts is the inverse of the Christian All Souls, imagining a time when certain dead who’ve committed evil return with an appetite for bad deeds. It is celebrated in the 7th lunar month of the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars.

Contrary to what seems true, all of these celebrations imply, the dead do not leave us. Rather, they remain puissant, able to impact our lives for good and for ill. We know this whether we agree with the metaphysics of the various celebrations or not. That parent who loved you. The one who treated you with contempt. That aunt who sent you books. The friend who knew you well. They do not leave you. And they return at certain times, reminding you you were loved, or held in contempt, or known.

How are your dead remembered, puissant in your life? Do you ever set aside time to visit with them, to let them enter your life consciously? Even the frightening ones, the ones who disturbed and disturb your life need attention. Otherwise they work in the shadows of your life.

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

Waiting

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Hard to lean into life right now. My ikigai is faint, a shadow flickering from the last log on the fire. Whether it’s lingering effects of the radiation, the Lupron, or the dismal psychic space of too much stress for too long, my motivation level looks like the bathtub ring on Lake Mead. I can see where it used to be and can’t imagine what will fill up the lake again.

The feeling is not despair or depression, rather it’s like I’m witnessing my own life right now. Not a full participant.

October, 2016, Mitigation round 1

Fire mitigation entails a lot of manual labor. Which I like. Work with the chain saw. The peavey. Wheel barrows. Lifting, pushing. Moving rock. The heat we’ve had and the weakness I feel in spite of continuing my workouts has made it seem too hard. I can feel the pressure of fall turning into winter pushing back at me, reminding me that this work is seasonal and that season is now.

Ancientrails, two million words worth, sits in year stacks on a long desk/table. I got that far, but haven’t done more. The years need to get drilled and put into binders. Superior Wolf, too. I want to revise it, take it apart and put it back together, but when do I do that? I just turn away from the task.

Cooking is fun again. I’ve done some painting. My bagel table prep work has gone well. I’m ready. This blog gets written, every morning. I read. Finished Second Empire, the fourth in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Listening to books on my phone, through blue tooth in the car. I have meals with friends.

Even with these though I feel like I’m waiting for something. Something else. Something more. A new pattern of life, a new enthusiasm.

The trick is, waiting is wu wei. Sitting beside myself as my life flows on around me. At some point my ikigai will resurface or reform. I know it will. But waiting? Still hard.

Pupating

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Work out yesterday. Wore myself out. Guess that’s the point. I made a promise to myself that I would hit all of my workouts during the radiation treatments. I did that. Ready for the new set of exercises. See Deb on Tuesday at 10 am.

Made spaghetti bolognese last night. Tony’s bolognese sauce and an Italian durum pasta. Vegetables. Easy. I’m enjoying cooking again. It’s not the slog it was during the early weeks of radiation.

The post below outlines my current dilemma. Hanging from the yardarm, neither on the boat nor in the sky. The ocean beneath both. Won’t last. Just like my current, I’m a TV critic level of watching won’t either.

Serious illness spins a chrysalis around us, a secluded darkness in which matters of previous importance drop away. All energy focuses on transformation, altering the sick person and his past, imaginal cells bending and twisting, changing. What will he become?

Zhuangzi

I’m impatient for my wings. Guess this is a good opportunity to practice the middah of the month, equanimity. Back off the accelerator. Lean in to the healing, transformative moment, even if the moment lasts months. Practice wu wei. Yes.

I’m not impatient for angel wings. So, yes, the chrysalis moment is necessary. The caterpillar can’t envision the butterfly.

Ikigai

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Radiation done. Lupron still on board. At least one more injection. Oct. 1st. If that’s it, three months after January 1, I’ll have a PSA that tells the tale of the radiation. Did it work?

Hot flushes, the occasional flash. One drastic mood swing. All I have to show for the forces of life vs. the forces of mortality. Leaves me in this in-between place. Cured? Maybe. Can’t know until I’m off the Lupron. Cancer still stalking me? Can’t know until I’m off the Lupron. So. Caught between knowing I have a reemergence and not knowing what my oncologist’s treatments have accomplished. In the quickest scenario it will be a year from the diagnostic PSA in March of this year.

Though I feel calm, not agitated or anxious about this, that’s not to say there’s no effect. The chief of which is a floaty, not grounded sensation. Am I living or am I dying? To be sure both are always true, but in this instance I’m not sure whether the dying has gotten the upper hand. Leaves me unmoored. The dirigible of my Self has broken loose from its tie down on the Empire State Building and has drifted out to sea.

Result. Not sure what comes next. Motivation hollowed out. Sense of purpose broken up like ragged clouds in a high wind.

Ikigai (生き甲斐) – Reason for Being “Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self-discovery and reflection… The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile… In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life.” from Creative by Nature.

Right now the reason I get up is to feed Rigel, Gertie, and Kepler. After that I write Ancientrails. On three days I follow breakfast with a workout. After that my day begins to wander, to pull away from my choosing. Not used to that. At least not for any length of time. I don’t want to be at this in March of next year.

Maybe my ikigai right now involves finding my ikigai for a place between life and death. So the search is the thing. Not the destination? I don’t know. Wish I did.

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?