We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Expats

Lughnasa                                                                     Harvest Moon

arabia

arabia

Being an expatriate is unfamiliar territory to most citizens of all nations on earth. Though we were a nomadic species in our early development, political changes have tended to wed people to a place and its boundaries. Globally. Even here in the often depicted as unusually mobile U.S. it turns out folks don’t leave home all that much*. [The big exception here, of course, being forced migration whether for economic or security reasons.]

Yet, some do. Both my brother Mark and my sister Mary have lived the bulk of their adult lives abroad. Mary lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for several years, then moved a good while back to Singapore, where she has remained. Mark lived a long time in Bangkok, spent time in Phnom Penh, and several years, including this upcoming one, in Saudi Arabia. He has circled the globe many times, as has Mary. Both have traveled extensively from their homes abroad. Mark once took the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow.

452158While Mark’s visa application (always a hitch in the get along)  for his upcoming work in Saudi Arabia  undergoes review by the Saudi embassy, he and I communicate by e-mail. He’s currently living in Amarillo, Texas. I sent him a note that said the expat life has many oddities. He replied with the below which I found fascinating:

“Indeed, it does. I find it rather well exemplified in Martin Sheen’s opening performance in “Apocalypse Now.”  He is rather drunk, in then Saigon. He starts thinking of his ex-wife. He gets really wired, and starts smashing the mirror in the hotel. Martin, “When I was there, I wanted to be here. When I was here, I wanted to be there.” He then really smashes the mirror, and passes out. All the time, a fan is whirling above him. Coppola captured, I feel, the expat dilemma superbly.”

*”Internal migration has fallen noticeably since the 1980s, reversing increases from earlier in the century. The decline in migration has been widespread across demographic and socioeconomic groups, as well as for moves of all distances…Despite its downward trend, migration within the US remains higher than that within most other developed countries.” NBER

 

No Problem!

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

be thereHappy medical people. “Everything looks good. We didn’t find any problems!” Sounds good, right? Well, we’ve reached the odd juncture with Kate where these are not the exclamations we want to hear. We want to hear, “Ah, so this is what causes the nausea.” Yesterday’s endoscopy was yet another “positive” result. So frustrating. Another test in the near future, looking for something in the liver, gallbladder area.

After we went to one of Kate’s happy places, Appleby’s. A light lunch. 93 degrees yesterday down the hill. A fine July day. Except for it being the middle of September.

Back home I fed the dogs, changed shirts and drove on to mussar at Beth Evergreen. The topic was gossip. Jewish sages compared public embarrassment to murder. Seems extreme to me. Gossip is saying anything about someone that’s not there. Anything. Again, seems extreme to me. If I recall correctly from my long ago anthropology days, gossip is, like joking, boundary setting behavior. It’s one of the ways social cultures create and enforce norms. The sages, in this case, may be more scrupulous than usual. In the opinion of many of us, too scrupulous. Not a rant in favor of gossip. Just an attempt to soften the edges of the argument.

gossipIt seems to me that the more important issue with gossip is judgment. When gossip spreads a negative judgment about another, another who is not present to contest the judgment, then it becomes serious and harmful. The old cliche says it well, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I did show up late to the class, so I missed the early part of the discussion.

Rabbi Jamie has translated several psalms into a more contemporary, more in your face style. At some point here I’m going to share some of his work alongside other translations.

Brother Mark is inching toward the sands of Araby once again. I say inching because the visa process takes as long as it takes, even for those who’ve worked in the Kingdom before. When the visa processing completes, he will once again climb aboard a jet plane headed for what he calls SA. Good luck, Mark.

 

Crazy Rich

Lughnasa                                                           Waning Summer Moon

crazy rich asiansWe saw Crazy Rich Asians yesterday. A romcom with Chinese actors. Set in Singapore for the most part so it was not inappropriate for everyone to be speaking English. Handy for us.

Nirvana

Nirvana

Fun for Kate and me since we visited Mary there in 2016 after Joe and Seoah’s wedding. Many familiar sights. They did miss an opportunity however in not using Nirvana. It’s as over the top as any of the homes and clubs featured in the movie.

I liked it. Not sure I’d have seen it if it didn’t have the Singapore/Chinese thing going on. Romcoms are pretty formulaic and this one was, too. The usual, oh no they’re never going to get together, yes they will, no they won’t, oh they did. Yeah.

Building a Self

Lughnasa                                                                           Monsoon Moon

The basilica, Minneapolis. From my hotel room.

The basilica, Minneapolis. From my hotel room.

Morning, Black Mountain out the loft window, cool air, dry. Home. Made supper last night. Pork cutlets, tomato, onion, cucumber salad, hash browns from left over tater tots. Put the dogs to bed. Fed and pilled the dogs a half hour ago. Took out the trash and retrieved the Denver Post from the newspaper tube. Sitting down at my desktop, ergonomic keyboard under my finger tips. Checked the calendar for the week and month ahead, plenty to do. Reinserted into mountain life. On the daily level it’s as if I never left. The stuff I do.

But. There’s now the 2018 trip to Minnesota. The one where I went to every place I ever lived in the Twin Cities metro. The one where I saw Tom, Mark, Bill. The one where Mark had his no good, terrible, very bad week. The one where I spoke at Groveland for their Covenanting Community celebration. The one where I discovered a profound grief about art, Asian art in particular. The one where I went into a funky basement room and listened to jazz. You remember. That one.

JazzCentral, Minneapolis

JazzCentral, Minneapolis

This slow accreting of memories is the essence of building a self. The same 4-year old boy who flinched when the dragon in the apartment building on Lincoln called for more coal has been collecting these moments for over 67 years. Throughout, of course, the strange fact of never leaving the present, never able to go back to any of those moments, yet holding them in reserve, as clues available right now about living.

Our Self is the internal agglomeration of that particular, that ultimately particular, set of memories, but not as static moments. No, they are the data we use to respond, to grow, to cry, to laugh, to plan, to hope, to learn what it means not only to be human, but to be the unique human that we are.

Have to go create a new breakfast memory. Gertie says so.

 

 

Home Again, Home Again

Lughnasa                                                                        Monsoon Moon

Traveling is such sweet sorrow, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Yes, it involves parting and parting and parting, but it contains within its partings a going to and a coming from. We cannot travel without a departure point, a destination, and, for most us anyhow, a place to return. I say most because I know my brother Mark and I’m sure there are more of his tribe, who depart, arrive, then depart and arrive again, only to be ready to leave again, perhaps never to return. I know he broadly considers the U.S. home and so does come back here from time to time, but that’s different from having a house, three dogs and a wife.

When I go, I leave the familiarity of the daily routine, the comforts of, especially, my own bed, the easy knowledge of local destinations and short drives for hours, sometimes days on the road, for strange pillows and bathrooms, for a place, even a familiar one like the Twin Cities metro, changed in unexpected ways. I’ve only recently learned that for some travel and the strangeness it brings is unpleasant.

My family of origin traveled some, a lot for an average income 1950’s family, including several trips to the then very exotic land of Canada. My brother and sister have seen a lot of the world and I’ve seen my share though less than them. It is the strangeness that attracts me. The language I can’t read. The foods I don’t know. The countries filled with citizens of another loyalty than my own. The places where history’s long arc has unfolded, often over spans of time much longer than that of the United States. Art that can only be seen in particular museums like the Uffizi, the British, the Louvre. Buildings and ruins of buildings. Somehow in that strangeness my own particularity becomes highlighted, more clear.

I suppose you can travel only to assure yourself that your place is best, finding the aspects of another land less than your own. If you do, then the real opportunity of the traveler is lost. It is the other, the literally billions of others, living their lives, loving and hating and hoping and dreaming, in places distant from our own in miles and cultural assumptions that offer us humility, new ways of considering old ways. What can you eat? How can you prepare it? What’s beautiful? What’s important? How does design affect daily life? How can you get from here to there? The great lesson of travel is that the other is not really other, only a different expression of the same creature, of the same species.

Travel could, I would even say should, erode if not eliminate our sense of superiority, of uniqueness, of being better than, say, Mexicans or Bolivians or Taiwanese or Koreans. These are all just folks trying to get through the day, figure out some purpose to existence, loving their families, making mistakes. Different, perhaps, in clothing, language, music, food, but at bottom, human. Like you and me.

 

Last Day on the road

Lughnasa                                                    Monsoon Moon

On the road until 7:15 pm last night. Got misdirected (by myself) making the turn south toward Hot Springs. This time, even with maps and a phone that was still charged, I ended up further west than intended. No matter. I drove down 385 on the west side of Paha Sapa, seeing the gigantic Crazy Horse carving on the east side of the road.

Drove through Wind Cave National Park. I took the tour there long ago. There were buffalo right by the roadside and a huge field of prairie dogs. They stood up, looked alert, scampered away on prairie dog business.

I passed into the mountain time zone outside Rapid City, regaining the hour given away on the trip east. At some point I also passed the 100th meridian, too. Until climate change began inching the line eastward the 100th was the point marking the change from the humid east to the arid west. West of the 100th precipitation averages less than 20 inches a year. That’s often not enough for agriculture.

Passing the 100th means a return to my home region, no longer the northland I had just left, but the American West, land of corporate mining, ranching, water wars, and well-armed citizens.

In a few minutes I’ll hit the road again, this time heading out through South Dakota, then Wyoming on blue highways. Along these particular blue highways there will be, off the road aways, small rectangular patches of land protected by high fencing, motion sensors and cameras. Within the fencing lies a missile silo. This land is the contemporary field of dragon’s teeth sown by the ancient king Cadmus. Up from them will emerge mechanical warriors, tipped with nuclear bombs and already targeted for some enemy or the other. I don’t find them reassuring.

There is a freedom to the road, a disaffected and depersonalized freedom though, one populated by unfamiliar landscapes, unknown people and the slight sense (at least in the U.S.) of being far away from help. In this cone of the strange (to us) we carry with us the intimate familiarity of our body and our mind, the memories and quirks that make us who we are.

Been thinking about an article on personalism offered by Tom Bugby, new Woolly whom I met Sunday at the Black Forest. Written by David Brooks, it positions personalism as a middle way between radical individualism (the enlightenment) and collectivism (evil socialists and communists).

It occurred to me that each of these positions commits what Whitehead called a fallacy of misplaced concreteness. That is, each would claim to be the way things are. We are radically individual, unknown to others and knowing others only through their persona, darkly. We are in relationship, cannot know ourselves outside of relationships. We are simply one of the many, important, yes, but the many takes precedence.

No. We are, in turns, a radical individual, highlighted right now for me while I’m on the road, a person in relationship, intimate ones, friendship, casual acquaintances, and, a member of a town, a religious community, a state, a nation. We move along this continuum every day, this activity emphasizing the individual, this one relationships, and this one the larger communities to which we belong.

Totalizing perspectives, we are only individuals or we are only in relationship or we are only part of a broader group, are really finger pointing, blaming this point on the continuum for the problems we face. In fact life is complicated, made up of diverse moments when this facet of ourselves or that one gets to shine.

OK. So I had a long time to think about this.

 

Unexpected

Lughnasa                                                        Monsoon Moon

70+ miles I drove yesterday morning. First over to Oak Grove, close to here, then to Stevens Square where I photographed the first Community Involvement Programs building, then the second one. I lived in both. Forgot the place on 1st Avenue, but I’ll get that. Over the course of the morning I visited streets and neighborhoods I’d come to know intimately, St. Paul, New Brighton, Andover, Minneapolis. More on the feelings from this homecoming later

The biggest surprise of the day came at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I got there about 2:30 or 3:00. Picking up my badge was long in the past, but my body remembered. Passed the guard desk by. The lobby area is completely, well, almost completely different. Tables, a big coffee shop, redone gift store. Pleasant.

I walked all the way back toward the rocks shaped in Lake Tai. Called scholar’s rocks their strange forms, curves, sharp edges, diversity reminded Chinese literati of the mountains, their power and mystery, but most importantly, of the Tao.

Up the first flight of stairs and I was in the Asian arts wing. It holds an extensive collection of Chinese and Japanese art as well as more modest exhibits of Indian, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Thai art. A collection I came to know very well. There were various Buddhas, some calling the earth to witness enlightenment, others with the mudras of reassurance, of wish granting.

A favorite part of the collection for me is the large hall containing Chinese paintings, just off the Buddhas display. Moving from one depiction of mountains to another, often scrolls longer than I am tall, there were the fantastical shapes towering up, up, up, with some small human, usually a lone scholar, sitting watching a waterfall, gazing up at the clouds. The closer I looked, and I examine these painting very carefully, the more an unexpected feeling crept me over me. Grief.

It was subtle at first, felt like simple nostalgia, a sort of sadness mixed with the wonder I’ve always felt among these objects. Slowly though, as I saw the Fergana stallions, the famed blood sweating horses from the area of the ‘stans, and noticed the upcurled lip of the copper sculpture, a rare, fine piece of work, and realized I’d never taken in his mouth before, the feeling became clear. I missed this place so much. It was an ache, a hole in my heart. Unexpected. Very.

The feeling stayed with me as I looked at a long scroll depicting a festival along a river, the Wu family reception hall, the new arrangement of the Japanese collection. It came most into focus when I looked at the tea implements, the tea house.

As I left the Asian collection and went into the excellent rearrangement of the African collection, the feeling dissipated. It did not return while I visited the Native American and Latin American galleries. Nor did it return when I saw a couple of my favorite paintings, Goya’s Dr. Arrieta and the MIA’s Kandinsky. I don’t recall its title. In theses collections I was merely a museum goer, a knowledgeable one, yes, one familiar with the art, deeply familiar in some instances, but no longer experiencing that hole in my heart.

I’m not sure what to make of it, but it was strong, very strong and it has a significance I’ve not yet sorted out.

From the MIA I went over to the Red Stag, sight of many Woolly meals over the years. Tom and Bill were already there. Ode, a colonoscopy prep victim on Monday, got good drugs at the procedure, enough to make him lose a whole day. He forgot. When reminded by Tom’s call, he came down.

It was a good visit, normal in its way. A place we’d been before, together. We’d been together many times, this was one more. Yet it was also abnormal since 900 miles separates me from this normal moment. These are life-long friends and life isn’t over yet.

Teshuva

Lughnasa                                                       Monsoon Moon

With gray skies, moisture in the air, lakes not far from any spot in the metro, far horizons, deciduous trees in abundance, no mountain peaks close by or in the distance, I know I’m back in the Midwest. The need to memorialize the coming of the monsoon rains would be pointless here. Lucky here.

Oddly, the club level of this hotel, which I am unintentionally on, has breakfast and substantial enough hors d’oeuvres to eat for a meal in the evening. Last night, over mushrooms stuffed with sausage, honey dew and salami, caesar salad, and a small club sandwich, I engaged one of aging’s priceless treasures. I turned off my hearing aid so the millennial buzz would soften. Ah.

Easing into the week here. Slept in until 7:30 (6:30 at home). Leisurely breakfast overlooking the convention center and Central Lutheran. Gonna get in the car in a bit and take photos of as many of the places I’ve lived in the Twin Cities that still exist. It will take a while. I moved a lot. Later on I’ll see Tom, Mark, and Bill at the Red Stag. Old friends in an old haunt.

Is it a pilgrimage when you return rather than when you seek a far destination? In Judaism the term for repentance is teshuva, return. Is this teshuva to the Twin Cities a form of repentance? It may be because it has the character, this time, of reliving, re-membering. Perhaps the pilgrimage to home literally re-members us, reclaims those pieces important to us that we left there, long ago.

When you make a move, as Kate and I did, to a new, very different place after 40 years, it involves, among much else, severing the physical cues to memory. They are out of sight, perhaps not out of mind, not entirely, but they are not refreshed. Coming back means seeing Central Lutheran and the convention center remind me of the visit of the Dali Lama, the time the Presbyterian General Assembly was here. I helped move a baptismal font, heavy marble, on a small wheeled dolly from Westminster to the convention center, served communion to a thousands. 40 years is a long time in human years.

So this is a voyage, a teshuva to mySelf, my soul, as well as a visit. The whole, at least in biological terms, is more than the sum of the parts, but it is also not less than its parts. I have parts remaining here and I want to return them to their vital place in my soul.

 

 

in the gopher state

Lughnasa                                            Monsoon Moon

Computer keyboard problems this am in Chamberlain, South Dakota. No joy when I tried to write this morning. Now, I’m able at least to use the laptop keyboard. The ergonomic keyboard crashes all entry methods. Sigh.

Appropriately for Lughnasa I drove through country with corn, beans, and wheat. The contract combines are out scything their way through early Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota wheat. Outside Ainsworth, Nebraska I had a rural moment when I started onto Ne. Hwy 49 and it was filled, both lanes, with a combine.

Right now I’m in the very opposite environment, on the 12th floor of the Millennium Hotel on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. I’d have to encounter a big street sweeper or an escaped Zamboni to have a similar experience.

I’m tired. The drive was long. Though I’ve done it many times, my body doesn’t seem to put up with the effort as easily. That’s ok, though. I’m back in Scandinavian inflected country, a place where the plight of each of us counts for something. The architecture here is more familiar. But, I didn’t feel that frisson of oh, I’m back home this time. Instead, I drove into the Welcome Center on I-90 just past the state line and felt like a tourist.

Here there are memories, so many memories. They tumble over each other. The old Chestnut Tree restaurant a couple of blocks from here. The 25 year plan for the year 2000 that I helped guide into existence-in 1975. The IDS which I watched emerge from the ground when I lived in the Mauna Loa apartment buildings across from the old Northwestern Hospital, now gone. Westminster Church and its associations with my work for the Presbytery. Getting married there to Raeone to Handel’s Water Music. And that’s all just in a few blocks from where I sit now, high above my past.

I’ve decided on my brief speech for Groveland. I’ll write out here before I give it.

Gonna go to bed tonight, then get out and start roaming around tomorrow. Probably over to Loring Park, the Sculpture Garden, eat lunch at the Walker. Like old times.

No pics for right now. I forgot to bring the cord that connects my phone to the computer. When I get back.

Home(s)

Summer                                                                      Monsoon Moon

monsoon clouds in Aurora

monsoon clouds in Aurora

The last day of summer. Lughnasa, which starts tomorrow on August 1st, marks the beginning of the harvest season. Though the growing season is not at all over, gathering in has begun and will only increase as we move through Mabon, the second harvest season and then end the harvest on Samain. Samain means end of summer and that name holds the history of the ancient Celtic calendar which had only two seasons, Beltane (the growing season) and Samain (the fallow season).

In the mountains we do not anticipate the beginning of the harvest season so much as we mark the beginning of the monsoon season. The monsoon pumps moisture from the Gulf of Baja and the Gulf of Mexico northwards until it cools and falls over the Rockies. This marks the end of the high fire season.

20180616_133209Taking off today with age nipping. The incident yesterday (see post below) means I have to pay attention to myself in new ways. A bit disconcerting. Not to mention that I occasionally leave the refrigerator door open. A common thread here, oddly, is hearing. The refrigerator has a come back and shut my door melody it plays when the door is left open. Trouble is, I can’t hear it unless I’m right by the door. The truck’s engine is obviously on when I step out with it running, but the call back that its noise would generate for others is only background for me. So a combination of distraction and hearing loss. Time to adapt. Again.

20150911_174834If I go to Indiana, I go home. Home in this case is the place of my childhood, a place, with Heidegger, into which I was thrown without choice by decisions my parents made. Indiana home, the banks of the Wabash, the sycamores, Harrison Street, mom and dad’s graves, the years of growing up, basketball, the Indianapolis 500 and lots of hate has a sort of giveness to it that makes it seem inevitable. Of course I grew up on Monroe Street, called down bats with stones thrown in the air, cheered for the Tigers, worked for the Alexandria Times-Tribune, P.N. Hirsch and Johns-Manville.

Gertie, Vega, Rigel in Andover

Gertie, Rigel, Kona in Andover

If I go to Minnesota, I go home. Home in this case is the place of my adulthood, the second phase of life focused on family and career. Minnesota was a choice and has none of the inevitability of my Hoosier life. I could have chosen differently. I tried New York City for example. I might have gone to graduate school at either Brandeis or Rice, both places where I got accepted in Anthropology graduate programs. I could have headed overseas as did Mary and Mark.

Instead, I chose seminary in New Brighton and continued to choose Minnesota in decision after decision. Now the land of sky blue waters, the western shores of Lake Superior, the northwoods and the timber wolf and the moose, the Twin Cities, two marriages, the adoption of Joseph, years of political work, immersion in its cultural life mean home.

When I stay for 5 nights at the Millennium Hotel on the edge of Loring Park, I’ll be in the midst of my own history, a neighborhood where I chose to live, where I participated in its politics. Within walking distance will be the Walker Museum of Modern Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts two institutions that shaped my aesthetic. Close by, too, is the Minnesota Church Center where I once had an office as an executive of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.

The Woolly Mammoths, the docent class of 2005 at the MIA, and various political cronies, mostly in the Sierra Club during my last years, the members of Groveland UU are the web of relations that make Minnesota home.

Mountain Home

Mountain Home

When I leave Minnesota, though, and head west again, it will be my used-to-be home once more. I’ll be heading home to the Rocky Mountains, to the land of mountain Jews, lodgepole pine and golden aspen, of black bears and mountain lions, mule deer and elk. Ruth, Gabe, Jon, Kate, the dogs. They’re all far away from Minnesota, in my third phase home.

This is another place of choice, a home determined by decisions that Kate and I made.  We will have been here four years on the Winter Solstice. We will have owned our home here for four years this Samain.

I have three homes: Indiana, Minnesota and Colorado. Each from a different era of my life, a different phase, each shaping me and, being shaped by me, in diverse ways.

Today I’m leaving for home and when I head out on the return trip I’ll be leaving for home.

 

 

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