Tuesday, June 14, 2016

140 Characters

So many thoughts, songbirds fleeting, tweeting. Truncated to 140 characters by internal Twitter editor.  Too tempting a day to be closed in.  Air cushioned by just enough humidity at 10:36, real-time tweets unedited through open windows. 
Neighbor dogs yelp. Fuzzheaded morning tries to distinguish between ruffs, woofs, tweets, and chirps.  Daunting responsibility to be armed with only a pen and a notebook…how different it is when, seated upright, straight-backed, the seduction of dictionary.com beckoning. 
Battered by input, I feel exhausted by too much people time and not enough process time. Trying earnestly to recall dreams, details, days.  Can’t.
Can’t, can’t, can’t.
Can. Not.
Cannot recall a clear day, empty of obligations, full of Sabbath.
Can. Not. This week, there was no Sabbath.
Cannot recall a crystal-clear detail; everything is memory painted with the biggest brush. Nothing stands apart from its memory-castle surroundings. No crystalline dreams, the sharply colored ones which contrast solutions on my waking world.
Battered by too much input, the need to mourn things and people, things that shouldn’t have happened, people that should have but who were cancelled by bullets from a gun no one should have.
Each person touched the next person, a family, a friend, who had a family and friends and families and friends of theirs, and on and on and on.  Touching until it touched us, until, on and on, it touched me.

I heard the tweets. 140 characters of truncated touching, touching, touching. Touching ‘til the skin of the psyche, both universal and personal, is so personal, is so overstimulated by grief and trial, disbelief and trauma. Pages turn and pens trill in the quiet of Davistown, privileged university entrenched where liberalism and progress protest the guns.

Victims in The Pulse in Orlando heard no quiet except when the shooting stopped long enough for the murderer to assess his kill, and then go back for more, making the memory of the quiet not peaceful but hate-frought, a portent of more terror, more bloodshed, more tragedy.
The quiet where he counted his grisly harvest turned into the quiet that turned to cncellation, the void of death, the suffocation of real lives, of people who touched every day…touched their mothers, touched their lovers, touched their co-workers, children, neighbors, and the people who tallied their grocery bills.

Whole tribes of people:  trans, lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer.  Tribal terms turned into targets.
For silence.
Made to be cancelled.
Made to be still.
Made to be done touching, they are done tweeting, they have even had their 140 characters taken from them.
And from us.
The others who would fill the tender quiet they left when they were cancelled want to touch, touch, touch.  They want to poke and say, want to tear and prod and tweet, touch, touch, touch,
Touch then then shove and shout, touch tumulting and shove shouting.
No one can hear for the only silence is the silence of the slain, those who are cancelled.

The cancelled are quiet.

A whole tribe of people, a people who are portrayed as “other” because of their way of making and being made as all were made, without determination or choice. The tribe listens to the quiet and they question.  Where is our safety?  Why the cancelling?  Who is my friend?  Where is our refuge?

Questions.  Quiet.  Cancelling.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Seduction of Offense

As easygoing as I am, there are still many things in the world that prompt my "offense" reflex.  I am easily offended by any kind of violence against children or people who are in any other ways vulnerable:  those with mental illnesses, the sick, aged, and infirm.  Hell, I'm even offended when people of color are shot to death by vigilantes.  (Note the sarcasm, here) Other offenses include stupidity that affects people who would, under normal circumstances, have a reasonable expectation of being treated decently as they go about their jobs.

This last includes people with compromised immune systems who must go to work and are exposed to vintage diseases like measles, mumps, or whooping cough by anti-vaxxers.  Or people drawing distasteful cartoons who get killed in murderous attacks.  Or people in schools in Pakistan or here or anywhere else in the world going about their business of teaching children and get fire-bombed or gunned down.

Those things are just damned fucking offensive.  Oh-is the use of the word "fucking" offensive?  Well.  That begs a question.

I may decide to use that word for emphasis, for underscoring an emotion, to shock, or just to let the reader know that the level of offense I feel is of a much greater degree than than the type of offense I may experience in a different situation.  That's my business and I have learned as time has gone by I am just not concerned at all how you might cringe when you read that word.  As some wise person
somewhere, once said, "What you think of me is none of my business."

Things you say may offend me, too...You may say a woman wearing a short skirt deserved to be cat-called (say, what?) or that a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist should have stopped making cartoons of Mohammed in order to stay below the terrorists' radar.

That's all right.  It's truly all right if you are offended or I am offended or if some guy half a world away or down the street is offended.  You, I, and he have the right to be offended.  BUT, here's what we don't have the right to do:

We don't have the right to harm one another over what we've said, thought, written, filmed, taken pictures of, blogged, debated, or sneezed.  We are a world full of people, many of whom don't think like we do, who draw things,say things, think things, write things, film things, take pictures of things, and sneezed at things which offend SOMEONE. It stands to reason that at some point, each of us will be heartily offended at SOMETHING.  It would be impossible not to run across such things.

Sigh.  Whatever shall we do.  (You have to imagine this being said in the voice of the heroine in the old melodramas, as Sweet Nell is presented with the foreclosure notice by the evil villain landlord)

What.  Shall.  We do.

Jesus, (in whom many people don't believe and that is not relevant here-believe or don't) once said something to the effect "If someone slaps your face, turn your head and offer them the other side too."*  What he didn't say was that the shame falls to the attacker, as has happened in the court of world opinion as the outcome of the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Oh, my.

He was saying, "Look.  We can decide how we want to respond.  For my money, show the other guy that you aren't going to rise to the bait.  Back away and let the tension fall off."   All right, that's not precisely what he said, but he might have.  Had he spoken English, I bet he would've put it that way.

And here's what he definitely didn't say but if he were the central character in a distasteful cartoon or something he just might, "Chill the fuck out.  It's all about HIM, not about YOU.  Don't sweat it." Not impossible to imagine.  So think about it....

I can get as offended as I want to about things, and there are times when I do.  I can't always offer the other cheek unconcernedly but I know you can't either.

But we don't murder people over it.  We don't attack each other's villages, we don't burn newspapers, shoot up schools, lynch people, or car bomb over it.  You still get to say as much as you fucking want, and I get to say as much as I fucking want.

We could wish that the other one would simply shut the fuck up.  But there's something better, something that's easier to do, than to try to shut each other the fuck up.

Turn the other cheek.  It's our right, it's our right to turn that cheek and walk away EVERY BIT AS MUCH as saying the offensive thing, drawing the offensive cartoon, writing the offensive blog, showing the offensive film, or any of the rest of it.  Are you offended?  You have the right to walk away and let the universe (God, Ka, the Higher Power, whatever) absorb that awful feeling.  It leaves us free to respond intelligently, humorously, tenderly, gently, broad-mindedly, and any other way we may care to.  We have that freedom.

We give ourselves more freedom if we resist the seduction of offense.


Matthew 5:38-42New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Concerning Retaliation

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There Is No Freedom Without Freedom of the Press

"Cut Short"

Today I pray for those wounded and the families of those murdered in Paris.

In case you missed it, there was another act of jihadist terrorism in the world today.  It was a cowardly attack against the satirical newspaper 'Charlie Hebdo' in Paris.  You can read the news story here.  This blog is not about news; it is about the particular brand of insane courage it takes to be a political cartoonist in this world. 

In a time when language itself is being pushed and manipulated into increasingly hyperbolic levels of dualism, there are often times when only an image can cross ideological divides.  Cartoons do this sharply and viscerally.  Satirical pieces often are poignant, provocative, irreverent, and candid.  

Some are biased.  Some are distasteful.  Some are mean-spirited.  Some are not.

So, in a country which defends the freedom of the individual's right to speak and the press' right to publish, many of us, myself included, sometimes question the wisdom of spouting off some of the opinions and judgments we see.  BUT it is still the right and responsibility of free people everywhere to support the right of all people to express, publish, draw, write, Tweet, etc.

Cartoonists are vulnerable because they put their images, in a few strokes of the pen, right up in the face of the entire world.  Once a piece is in the newspaper or on the internet, it's no-holds-barred from that point forward, and the piece stands alone to be interpreted by every individual viewer who runs across it.  The cartoonist doesn't have the luxury of seven inches of column space or any other forum to explain or unpack what s/he was thinking when s/he drew the thing.  The gift they give us is letting us view and cogitate on an image and make up our minds for ourselves what we think about the subject.  

We respond with anything ranging from nasty Tweets to letters to the editor to death threats.  

This time criminals sought to silence the writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo with automatic weapons.  They sought to frighten off others who might share their opinions.  

This will not succeed.  It will not succeed because there are pencils, pens, markers, drawing programs, photo illustration apps, and the artists who wield them.  Allons-y.  Grab a tool!  Whether your expression is a quick sketch, a photo, a letter to the editor, or baking a pie, won't you join me in lifting up artists of courage everywhere in love and light?

 Il n'y a pas de liberte sans liberte de la presse.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Asshats and Liabilities

Every so often a word comes into popular usage that is just so appealing in its ability to describe or the sound it makes when it rolls off the tongue or even the way it flows through one's fingers and onto page or keyboard, it becomes a new favorite.

This is true of the word asshat.

I confess that, as much as I believe in the free use of language as art, I would never want to censor the use of profanity or obscenity, as I believe that the judicious sprinkling of a few, well-chosen swear words over the vast surface area of one's body of verbal work can add interest, emphasis, and even style, upon occasion.

Think about it.  Depending on who a person is and her/his position, the well-chosen expletive can serve a beneficial conversational purpose.  Take David Letterman's occasional "Damn" or "for God's sake".  It punctuates and draws attention in the same way that a pinch of cayenne pepper makes a difference in a vegetable dish.  When we say "Amanda Fucking Palmer" we mean that Amanda Palmer is a seriously iconic performer and musician.

Yet, profanity and obscenity are often overdone and coarsened. When every other adjective is a four-letter word (I can think of many that exceed four letters, but you get the idea) the ability to season the conversation is lost.  The objectionable no longer shocks or exclaims.  It blends in and is lost; moreover the user loses credibility since the ability to use vocabulary is one of the measures by which we tend to pay attention to a speaker.  If language is saturated with profanity, meaning is diluted.

We suffer as the speaker loses credibility.

I do not employ profanity lightly nor do I enjoy the use of profanity as the major component of others' vocabulary.  I like my swearing concise and relevant.

Hence my attachment to asshat, implying, as it does, that someone's chapeau might be more suited to his derriere than to his head.  It's more humorous than its more insulting parent noun, and begs the hearer to snicker knowingly.

It also sounds intriguingly similar to ASSETS, which we all know are things of value.  They're the opposite of liabilities, which are debts we owe.

I seriously hope that going into the new year that you have more assets than liabilities and that you can tell your assets from the asshats.  Keep those who are definite assets close to your heart, and cast the asshats as far from you as you can.  Peace and prosperity to you and yours!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Strong Finish and Promising New Beginnings

In the olden days back when I still served the Presbyterian Church, (USA) as a religious educator, more than once I got very bogged down in tasks of varying levels of urgency.  The paradox often was that something could be urgent without being particularly important.  Sometimes, too, tasks could be clearly of high importance without seeming urgent in any way.

Every job has those urgency vs. importance issues.  Every job, likewise, has its significance issues, which sound like they might be the same as importance, but they're really not.  Something can be grandly important in the overall scheme of things without having much personal significance to the one who is charged with its execution.

Then there are those things we do because we simply must do them.  Into this category of neutral necessaries fall things like paying the insurance premium, changing the furnace filters, and checking the oil in the car.  They're not important in terms of achieving our long-term goals, and unless they're overdue they don't get to be urgent, and unless checking your oil really floats your boat, they're hardly significant.  Yet a life is made up of necessaries.  (Try not doing them for a year and see what happens)

I once discovered that my entire existence was made up of the urgent, the important, the significant, and the necessary.  What was it that was missing?

It turns out that what was missing was the joyful.  Those tasks or activities which one does which go beyond being simply significant in a life...the things that make you soar, the things that stir passion!

For several months I tried and refined an exercise to balance out those area of my schedule that were devoted to the urgent, the important, the significant, the necessary, and the joyful.  I used a very large (11"x14") calendar for a whole year.  In each day's box, I wrote appointments, tasks, office hours, visits with students and their families, my own personal time, and time for my art and personal spiritual development.  I also included uncommitted time each day to allow for the urgent, which don't often tell us ahead of time when they're going to confront us.

Then, I took highlighters and color-coded my tasks according to the areas they fell into.  Work or office hours were orange.  Personal time for family, recreation, and friends was green.  Art was hot pink, my favorite!  You get the idea.

After a couple of months I got used to seeing at a glance where I was over-committed, where I might need to pull back, or where I could add in some fun.  It was also quite apparent that I was liable to the same threats as so many of my families, both parents and youngsters...too much scheduled time, not enough play!  Sometimes I had a whole week devoid of pink or green.  Often I had more orange on my pages than Cal-Trans has on our highways!

This year, my prayer for this quiet winter solstice and holiday season is that we each can find the space and quiet for the joyful, for the significant.  I hope we can ratchet down the urgency penning us in on seemingly every side, and start the new year with enough space built into our lives that we will be strong together as we face its challenges and opportunities together.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Speaking of Strong...

I don't often find content that I think is worth sharing on my blog, but this article from  ANEA BOGUE, B.ED., M.A. is worth the read, especially as we think about the new year.  Hope you enjoy!

Let me know what you think.  The article is here:http://www.ivillage.ca/living/9-resolutions-women-who-want-to-reclaim-their-power-2015

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Stronger You

Do you think about strength?  What characterizes strength for you?  Is it toned muscles?  Is it resilience and the ability to rebound from exertion?  Could it possibly be flexibility and the capacity to adapt to new challenges?

Today in my morning pages, I noted that three times in the last two days my eye has been drawn to articles about strength.  They had clickworthy titles like "15 Things Strong People NEVER Do", "This Is How You Can Become a Stronger Version of Yourself", or "15 Things Strong People ALWAYS Do".

Apparently my inner wimpiness has somehow connected with the algorithms of the internets and called this kind of self-improvement material to my laptop.  It remains a matter or mystery to me how it got here, but this I know:

Sooner or later we all confront losing strength.

Muscle mass shrinks with aging.  Mental processes lag a little.  Joints wear. We fear every instance of absent-mindedness.  Even our ability to roll with the punches can flag as we become less adaptive to changing conditions.  (More set in my ways, I am.  I know, I know.  I still play CD's)

It is now December 1st, one month away from 15 years into the new century.  15 years ago, what were you doing?  Were you freaking out that your computer, your digital watch, your flip-top cell phone would crash?  (It's okay, everyone did, because Y2K)  Fin du siecle stuff compounded by not enough digits in everyone's computers.

I recall having very different ideas back then about living life.  I had not yet completed the Artist's Way.  I was still living in Salt Lake City, working for the Presbyterian Church and studying at seminary.  I was single, raising my two sons.  I lived 20 minutes from my mother.  I worked out at the fitness center 5 minutes from my house.

Except for the fact that I was broke all the time, worked about 50 hours a week, didn't have an art practice, and was deeply lonely, life was just fine.

As we're staring down the barrel of 2015, I recall how strong and invincible it felt to be me back then. Funny the difference a mere 15 years can make!

I realize that, as 2015 comes closer, I am redefining strength for myself and reevaluating its significance as I plan and imagine how I want to move through and experience the coming years.

When stripped down to its muscular essence, being strong seems more about wisdom, health, and adaptability than about independence, power, or achieving goals.  It seems that the process in which one engages, the decisions one takes, and the relationships one cultivates have a lot to do with it too.