We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Next Year

Beltane                                                                      Sumi-e Moon

Kate and I went in early to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science so we could see the IMAX 3-D show, Jerusalem. This is an astonishing piece of film-making, packing in lots of history, contemporary scenes and with an emotional charge gained by using three young women, a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim as narrators for much of the film. If it’s near you, I recommend it highly. Here’s the trailer.

Official Trailer – Jerusalem: Filmed for IMAX® and Giant Screen Theaters from JerusalemTheMovie on Vimeo.

Say It Ain’t So, Bob

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20151022_101834Probably won’t be going back to Chainsaw Bob’s. Went yesterday to get my chain sharpened. They have a new deal, smart, where you leave your old chain and they put an already sharpened one on your saw. Supposed to save time. And it would if the guy putting the chain back on wasn’t trying to sell another guy a saw.

Gave me plenty of opportunity to peruse the new signs hung over the desk between the shop and the front. A picture of Hillary Clinton had these remarks. Hillary Chicken. 2 fat legs, 2 small breasts and lots of left wings. Next to it was a sign that read. Startling news! 25% of women in the U.S. are being treated for mental illness. You know what means? 75% are untreated! Under these signs a woman whom I assumed was Chainsaw Bob’s wife met customers, organized service and took money.

first-they-came-for-the-mexicans-and-i-did-not-10234171Sexism is still raw and unvarnished in many places, like racism on public display in Charlottesville, Virginia. Murica.

We live in our bubbles. The Big Sort, published in 2009, had the subtitle, Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Yesterday the Denver Post reported that the population of downtown Denver had increased by 3 times since 2000 to twenty-six thousand with 81% single, white and with an average age of 34. This is just a single instance of folks choosing to live among those similar to themselves in race, wealth and educational level.

This from Richard Florida and his excellent website, Citylab:  “Americans have not only grown more ideologically polarized over the past couple of decades, Republicans and Democrats are drawn to very different kind of places. Back in 2004, Bill Bishop dubbed the self-segregation of Americans into like-minded communities, “The Big Sort.”” Oct. 25, 2016

When I grew up in Alexandria, Indiana, during the 1950’s it was segregated by race, one black family in the town of 5,000, yet there were college educated folks living next door to factory workers who had, at best, graduated from high school. As a result, I have a blue collar sensibility that sets as deep in my character as the college-educated one I gained at home. Even this modest class diversity is rarer and rarer as suburbs and city neighborhoods, cities and rural areas grow more and more homogeneous.

electoral map

With a pussy-grabber in chief who sees good folks on both sides in Charlottesville, this sorted and ideological reinforcing America is ripe for a wave of extremism even more shocking than we’ve already seen. Trump’s approval rating is growing, still dismal, but moving up. The 30% or so of the U.S. who are his base may not seem like much, 70% are not his base, but Mao noted that only 3% of a country needed to be active revolutionaries for a rebellion to succeed. And he proved it.

What does this augur for our future as a nation? At a minimum it means a large percentage of the population will be unhappy with the government. At its maximum it could mean a white male populist revolt favoring Chainsaw Bob’s tilt to American politics. That’s close to where we are right now.

The Past is Present

Beltane                                                                        Mountain Moon

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yesterday. When Colorado throws out low humidity days, bright blue skies and warmth, not heat, the desire to play hooky from whatever it is your doing, even if it’s retirement, is strong. On these days Black Mountain is a tall, lodgepole covered green mass outlined against the blue, a few wispy cirrus clouds far above even it’s 10,000 feet peak.

TexasI’ve been reading a book by Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas. Wright is a writer for the New Yorker, a Pulitzer prize winner for his book, The Looming Tower, and a resident of Austin since 1980. His reporting, at least about Texas, has a wry sense of humor, expressing his obvious affection for the state without losing sight of its many quirks. I especially appreciated two points he made, the first about Texas culture and the second about Lyndon Johnson.

In talking about the distinctive Tex-mex culture that underlies current Texas life, country-western music, big belt buckles, Mexican influenced food, German architecture and antebellum south architectural influences, and the six-flags over Texas history of the Lone Star state, he posits 3 levels of culture. Tex-mex is level 1, the ur-Texas. Level 2 was the invasion of corporate capitalism, homogenized skyscrapers, symphonies, art museums, theaters, shopping malls. Level 2 was an attempt to become more mature, more European, more east coast driven by immigrants chasing oil money. Level 3, happening now, is a return to level 1 while retaining the positive aspects of level 2.

ricoeurIt reminded me, the reason I liked it, of Paul Ricoeur’s notion of second naiveté in which a scholar of religion first distances him or her self from his faith as a result of academic work, then returns to the texts after that distancing with a second naiveté, an embrace of the former belief now informed by reasoned analysis. The result, in both cases, is something new, neither level 1 nor level 2, but an amalgam.

The second point was one about Lyndon Johnson. Wright, who was born in August of 1947, and I share some history as opponents of the Vietnam War and excoriator’s of LBJ. In fact, I remembered while reading this part of God Save Texas that the Hey, hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today chant has its roots in one we used against LBJ Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you today? Wright says he wishes we’d been gentler on LBJ. Me, too.

LBJ2Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and LBJ would be my top five Presidents, no particular order. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt and maybe Eisenhower are in a close second tier. I disagree with historians who rank Truman and Reagan above LBJ. And JFK is overblown. LBJ gave a damn about those in the U.S. who had less. In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan on May 22nd, 1964, he “… called on the nation to move not only toward “the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” which he defined as one that would “end poverty and racial injustice.” Miller Center, UVA

He made real progress toward those goals.* In his legislative accomplishments LBJ recognized that we are not a nation of individuals only, but a community, one in which the privileged, whether by birth, race or wealth, share with those lives were not privileged: people of color, seniors, the disabled among them. Since Reagan the attacks on this vision of the U.S. have come hard and fast, until now that sense of common ground has all but eroded into a grim, mean, racist society. We are poorer, literally and spiritually, for it.

 

*“There were environmental protection laws, landmark land conservation measures, the profoundly influential Immigration Act, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, and a bill to provide consumers with some protection against shoddy goods and dangerous products.

To address issues of inequality in education, vast amounts of money were poured into colleges to fund certain students and projects and into federal aid for elementary and secondary education, especially to provide remedial services for poorer districts, a program that no President had been able to pass because of the disputes over aid to parochial schools.” Miller Center, op cit

Woke

Beltane                                                                      Mountain Moon

classBack in the day, the now further and further away day, I always went to class. I might have missed a few, but it was rare. I enjoyed learning from lectures, getting in the mix of dialogue, thinking out loud. Last night I was the only student in the qabbalah class on Time.

Rabbi Jamie and I had a solid hour together talking about the nature of the sabbath, the notion of sacred time, and, hidden space-time. L’Olam va’ed, translated most often as forever and ever, has another translation, hidden time witnessed. The second translation, a qabbalist’s, points to the intersection of the three dimensions: space, time, and soul. Soul is consciousness in this frame. It is a nexus that is crucial to understanding existence per se. Without all three, space, time and consciousness, the fabric of the universe cannot exist, or, perhaps better, in my opinion, couldn’t be known as we humans know it.

The tao. The tao feels like the central idea that I have learned, even though it’s pretty damned slippery. Putting it into this qabbalistic paradigm, being one with tao is awareness of L’Olam va’ed. When our soul sees hidden time, we see reality as it is, a moving generative force and we can align ourselves with its flow, not impede it.

homosapienBeing human is a daunting task, steeped in misdirection, existential isolation, perception clouded by tradition, by language, even by our body. Qabbalists and taoists and ch’an buddhists have worked, hard, to peel the onion of our awareness. They are subtle, in their own way as subtle as particle physics or genetics or neuroscience, attempts to understand this task, the one none of us can jettison, save through suicide. They differentiate from the narrowing tendency of science by insisting on a full, a comprehensive positioning of this strange creature that we are in the wild.

Make no mistake, the universe is the true wilderness and we wander in it as innocents, thrown into it for what reason we do not know, headed toward a destination we do not understand and cursed or blessed with awareness, consciousness, soul as we travel.

girl-powerThought experiments like taoism, qabbala, ch’an or zen buddhism try to shock us out of our stupor, the life lived without seeing the wilderness for what it is, the life lived within the conventions of a particular time, a particular language, a particular place, a life lived without knowing what life is. Most people find little reason to peak behind the curtain of this emerald city that we think is what is. The apparent life, the one with family and money and the NFL and food and houses and sunlight and night, seems to be all that could be. We do not question, we try to paddle the little barque of our body on this river (life) often using only our hands over the edge of the boat.

wokeAnd yet there is more, not more in the sense of more layers or more depth, for those layers and depths, the wilderness, always surround us, are the water to which we are the fish, but more in terms of what we can know, what we can access, what we can use to help us become awake. Woke, in the current vernacular, not woke to racism and sexism and oppression in this instance, but woke to the true majesty and wonder of life itself, of this wilderness journey, this most ancient of ancientrails.

Do you want to wake up? Shake off the slumber of convention? Head out into the wilderness knowing it for what it is? If you do, there are paths to take, fellow pilgrims with whom to travel. I honestly don’t know whether it’s important or not to peel the onion, only that in doing so, I’ve become alive, able to see. And I prefer that consciousness, awareness to life as a long sleep.

 

Stuff From Out There

Imbolc                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

A few random finds. The first one sent by sister Mary. It appeared in the Guardian.

Romanian court tells man he is not alive      Constantin Reliu, 63, fails to overturn 2003 death certificate because he appealed too late.  Read the whole story at Guardian

And, two from Post Secrets.  The second because it breaks my heart. The first because I recognized the sentiment of feeling guilty because I did not suffer more. The thing to remember is that ignored mine would have done what all cancers do, take over my body and kill me.

cancertalk

The Work of Sadness. Of Grief.

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

Melancholy, Munch 1894

Melancholy, Munch 1894

The melancholy has done its work. Still listening, paying attention, but here’s what I’ve discovered this time. My life was out of balance. I needed more time working with my hands, using my body. Also, I had neglected reading of certain kinds, especially reading that advances my reconstruct, reimagine, reenchant project.

This latter work has gotten quite long in the tooth, has become more of a forever, at least until I die thing. And I don’t want that. I want to write at least some essays, preferably something book length.

20171217_175903It was also time to slough off some of the Minnesota based, second phase lingering work. Especially the political. I am going to the caucus this Tuesday; however, I no longer see myself as a dedicated activist. But, and I consider this great news, Ruth told me she was walking out on April 9th, standing outside Mcauliffe, her middle school, for seventeen minutes, one minute for each of the Parkland victims. She’s doing it in spite of the fact that adults tell her no one will listen. Go, Ruth!

And writing. Not giving that up, yet I feel the need now to shift at least some of that energy to the three R’s. I’ve felt this way before, yes, but something feels different now. Not sure what exactly.

20180303_171938The melancholy also uncovered a tension I’d been feeling between leaning in to the domestic, cooking, for example, and Kate and mine’s presence in the Beth Evergreen community, and what I consider my work. Recalibrating second phase expectations about work, which I have not yet fully done, feels like a task for this time. In fact, I enjoy the domestic part of our lives and it feels good to devote more energy to it.

Recalibrating. More on this as it continues.

 

 

Black Panther

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

Black-Panther-Cast-Marvel-Featured-Image-1024x639Kate took one for the team yesterday. She went to see Black Panther with me. I had two reasons for wanting to see it. One, it’s a Marvel Studio movie and, god help me, I really like them. Most of them. Two, it’s become a cultural sensation and I wanted to see why, if I could. Kate gave me a third reason. To lift my spirits.

Nothing like vibranium theft and lots of gratuitous violence in a movie filled with elegant looking black folk, a few Koreans and a couple of supporting white actors to counter the gray veil. Black Panther, with closing and opening scenes in Oakland, home of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, was ok. Not great. Might have been better if I could have heard all the dialogue. Where are my closed captions at the theater?

black-panther-0The plot was less important, I think, than the stage settings and the actors. From Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan to Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira the young black actors were both beautiful and powerful. Forest Whittaker and Angela Basset added gravitas.

It’s an interesting commentary on our global culture when a single movie, made with high production values, can garner so much attention and be hailed as a “defining moment.” For this white male, certainly born to white privilege though of a lesser amount than, say, Donald Trump, it was not a defining moment. It was a decent action movie. It was not, however, blaxploitation, like those 60’s and 70’s movies with mostly black casts. And, I suspect, that contrast gave it some of its power, too.

Did it lift my spirits? Well, it got me to ignore them for a couple of hours. And, I don’t feel as heavy this morning. Maybe it helped. Time, good ol’ time, will tell.

Inching toward 71

Imbolc                                                                  Imbolc Moon

As any who’ve paid attention to the top line of these posts over the years know, the moon has always been important for Ancientrails. The Imbolc moon, at 2%, will preside over my 71st birthday. I’ve just received a copy of Lunar Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao, meditation that follow the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.  I’m looking forward to both reading Ming-Dao’s work and considering how a similar book based on the Great Wheel might look.

The silly season is well underway. Caucuses here in Colorado are on March 6th. I drove over to Dorothy Lane in Evergreen yesterday for an event at Nancy Friedman’s. It was for Lisa Cutter, a candidate for the State assembly. She’s running against Tim Leonard who has the opinion that the government should not be involved in k-12 education. He’s part of the weirdo branch of Colorado politics, but a branch that includes many voters here, a Libertarian variant that has redolence of the range wars and anger about far away corporate control of Colorado.

After walking into Nancy’s, I remembered a reason I stopped going to these events. I couldn’t hear. Even with my hearing aid, the crush of people and noise, her dining room, living room and kitchen were full, hit me like a flood, physically repulsing me. I spoke to Lisa, put my check in the bowl, greeted other members of Beth Evergreen that were there and left.

Kate’s been gone since Friday. This morning I’m driving back to Buena Vista to pick her up. The road there is beautiful, a drive I look forward to.

 

 

Splitters and lumpers

Imbolc                                                                           Imbolc Moon

splitters2Last night at Beth Evergreen three presenters, a University of Colorado Regent, a newly hired diversity specialist for Jeffco schools and an Evergreen woman, formerly a philanthropist and LGBT activist, now working in corporate social responsibility spoke about labeling and identity. It was, in some ways, disappointing.

Though the focus was on labeling, someone or something else (like census forms, school boards, the dominant culture) describes you, and identity, you describe yourself, the topic veered rapidly into a mode of doublespeak. It’s difficult to describe, but identity politics has become a minefield of careful positioning, trying not to cause offense, and further and further journeys into talking but not changing. Each person in the room last night, presenters and audience included, brought authentic concern and a willingness to be part of a solution. But, to what?

I kept thinking of the hoary argument in plant classification between lumpers and splitters. The same analytical dynamic plays out in many fields. Lumpers look for commonalities, seek to reduce the number of categories in any particular area of study while splitters look for differences, for nuanced distinctions that allow uniqueness to flourish. Neither approach is right or wrong, it’s almost a psychological tendency, I think, rather than a reasoned stance.

splitters3In identity description the nod now goes to splitters. As one presenter last night said, “I see gender like the stars in the sky, some may be brighter, more prominent, but there are many stars in the sky.” That’s breathtakingly broad.

A key word that emerged last night was fluidity. It basically means that the ground shifts frequently in this conversation, not least because people claiming their own identity often make different distinctions as they learn more about themselves and their community. There are, too, regional differences and age cohort differences. It’s a splitters’ paradise.

Here’s why it was disappointing to me. It felt like conversations from the mid to late sixties, though those were blunter in their focus. They were, at least at first, focused on civil rights for African-Americans, or Blacks, or Black-Americans. The power moves involved in labeling versus identifying were in bold relief. We’re not niggers or coloreds or darkies. We’re Americans with a particular historical background.

Remember Black is beautiful? Afros. Kente cloth. Angela Davis. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Last night was the contemporary version: male, female, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, intersexual, asexual. Gay. Lesbian. It all felt depressingly familiar, as if we’d moved in time away from the sixties, but not in content.

beltane2017gorbachevThat’s not to say that “racial” distinctions were absent from the conversation. Not at all. Unfortunately. The strange, weird thing about this is that race is a nonsense category, not supported by genetics at all. So creating a splitters nomenclature for various “races” reinforces a non-existent and damaging conceptual paradigm. Of course, the culture, in diverse ways, uses race as a placeholder for attaching secondary characteristics to others. Of course it does. But how do we move away from that convenient slotting, or lumping of people based on skin color? Does it happen by emphasizing color? It cannot. Does it happen by ignoring the racist who does? No.

And that was the problem I had with evening. There seems to have no movement forward in the land of identity politics, only movement crabwise.

I did not ask my question, because it occurred to me on the way home, naturally. “Has identity politics by the left contributed to, even caused, the rise of populism now roiling our nation?” That is, have we, in slicing and dicing the particulars of personal difference blinded ourselves to the plight of working class Americans? It seems so to me.

A movement against oligarchy, plutocracy and autarchy must be first made of lumpers. These lumpers must find, express and celebrate the commonalities among those who suffer as a result of concentrated wealth, purchased power, dynastic ambition. Right now we have given away our power with a navel-gazing splitter mentality. Of course, we must be able to define and describe ourselves. Yes. But we must not only reach for the unique and particular, but for the broader and more universal. No political change can come without joining hands, so the more difficult, the more necessary task in the Trump era belongs not to the splitters but to the lumpers.

 

 

 

No Neutral Ground

Winter                                                                        Moon of the Long Nights

mlkToday Richard Spence, DJT and their shithole ilk wake up to a holiday honoring Martin Luther King. I can only hope their blood boils, their teeth clench and their testicles shrink. Here’s a link to a poem titled “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” which should go out as an earworm to them all.

I can’t even.

 

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