Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Season of Hope

Just one of many great photographs by local Portland photographer, Mark Ford.

(For other great photos, go to

Thursday, December 20, 2012

And Dream of Big Sur

It's been a difficult week...

It's been a difficult week, having to grapple with the terrible news from last Friday. I can't get it out of my thoughts. It bothers me. Things were sort of looking up since November at least - and then....I don't want to lump this together with all those other tragedies that happened in the year 2012. Why does the year have to end this way? Children dying because of a severely disturbed, unfeeling, angry, vengeful young maniac...Twenty children and six heroic teachers - that's hard to take. Hard to process. A huge pit in the stomach. The weather is slightly warmer this year, but otherwise dismal. Political gridlock and other disappointments continue...Some very relentless ideologues of the gun-toting variety (how they acquired public forums to speak in is beyond me) are hitting all the wrong notes on the topic of preventing more gun violence in America. Not to mention mental illness. It's getting harder and harder to concentrate these days...It's supposed to be a merry season and all, but the world seems a little unhinged. To help cope with all this absurdity - with the help of some basic logic and good will,  I've been looking at: The Trial by Franz Kafka....The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle... A Fanatic Heart by Edna O'Brien...American Prometheus - A biography of Robert Oppenheimer...We'll get through this...There's a lot of good people out there in Newtown and elsewhere...We have to find a way to connect...Literature can help...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Edna O'Brien on Leaving Ireland

"I had got away. That was my victory. The real quarrel with Ireland began to burgeon in me then; I thought of how it had warped me, and those around me, and their parents before them, all stooped by a variety of fears--fear of church, fear of gombeenism [small-time hucksters], fear of phantoms, fear of ridicule, fear of hunger, fear of annihilation, and fear of their own deeply ingrained aggression that can only strike a blow at each other, not having the innate authority to strike at those who are higher. Pity arose too, pity for a land so often denuded, pity for a people reluctant to admit that there is anything wrong. That is why we leave. Because we beg to differ. Because we dread the psychological choke. But leaving is only conditional. The person you are is anathema to the person you would like to be." - Edna O'Brien.  

 Read more at'brien?page=1#2q3oJd7UGdg4YtdM.99 

Edna O'Brien - author of The Country Girls, The Lonely Girls, A Fanatic Heart, 
Tales for the Telling, Wild Decembers, A Pagan Place, Time and Tide, Mother Ireland, 
The Light of Evening, The House of Splendid Isolation, and Country Girl: A Memoir.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Small Talk

Small talk is like a warm fire.

You see a crowd gathering around the glowing embers.

Red, yellow orange - you can't resist because you also are cold, vulnerable, alone in winter.

And what fire isn't warm - you ask yourself.

But this is a soothing, hypnotic fire in a plush public lobby.

With a nearby comfortable couch and a braided rug from that store that sends you catalogs.

The fire is blaring and crackling.

And there you are without an invitation.

The others are joining in already.

There is much to discuss: houses, movies, chairs, ceramics...

And perhaps you hesitate because it is all so natural...

Like yoga class without a mat or so you've heard...

Like the bingo party where everyone checks the same numbers on their squares all at once...

And perhaps even like children gathering around a teacher who is handing out prizes...

You also are not immune to this metaphorical bee-hive which is perhaps not at all like a hive so much as it is the cafeteria line at Ikea where people wait to place fresh fruit and Swedish meatballs on a tray...

And perhaps they will make room as well for your big feet and broad shoulders.

And will by subtle adjustments welcome you with muted acceptance...

And perhaps they are even now beginning to roast marshmallows or chestnuts,

Which you avoid impulsively out of fear - on principle that is - because your secret snobbery leads you to regard them as predictable and ineffectual...

(How will such combustibles move the dominant paradigm forward after all?)

This is indeed a ripe feast for listening - almost like unraveling a secret spy code...

Just be careful not to mention zebras, violins, Madagascar or the Chinese economy!

Just be sure to reference weather, football, traffic and grisly local news...

Do not boast of  any esoteric knowledge of insects,  Rothko or sub-atomic particles.

(On second thought, secret knowledge of planetary motions is okay - as long as it relates to love, career and friendship...)

Just be sure to smile and make persistent eye contact.

Do not attempt to crack a joke until you notice someone who laughs at anything.

And now you may draw near and nod politely as you nestle closer to the flames...

With your floppy hat and coat and shaggy torn pants much like those of the other pilgrims,

Hiding the fact that your plaid shirt is pine green interspersed with slight, subtle violet diamonds and brilliant vermillion hexagons... a fact ignored and overlooked by these other non-mathematicians.

So you decide to play it safe and utter a pleasant bromide...

Something about the fire perhaps or your favorite beer...

But instead you say: "I have a theory about  this ghastly dance of the straight-jacketed, manacled reducto absurdum of the langorous surrender to the non-threatening semantic machine - my fellows - my brethren!"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mid-December Bus Ride...

After the all-day tournament in mid-December 
where from within the strangely cold, synthetic, white-walled classrooms and hallways
judging rounds, sitting, standing, eating, pacing, ...filling out final ballots - then waiting
until the awards ceremony convenes in the cramped theater
with much fanfare and zany audience participation...
surrounded by young, raucous debaters and theatrical types
speech-makers, performers all - intoning, emoting, opining,
spilling out into the dark and misty, vaguely sprawling parking lot
with their quirky-funny hats, their bow ties, their business suits and shoes that go click
the aspiring smiles, the confident gait,
girls arm in arm laughing, boys sputtering with mirth
the loud banter and spontaneous laughter of future successful adults in the making
this energetic, dressed-up crowd scene
giving way to school buses slowly exiting
the dark patch of nowhere in particular.

Through creeping fog the school bus winds and weathers up hill
on some sad, forlorn, anonymous wet stretch of road
past warm-lit houses a mere stone's throw away from the reach of traffic
their kitchens and living-rooms exposed,
bearing the movements of restless festive strangers within
those who are already enjoying their dinner and "down time" as they amble about
and on their homes, the front facade, the lights
the bright, brilliant glow of red and green and white
of encouraging, enthusiastic, waving snowmen, Santa's reindeer and elves
here and there in a vast commercial montage mystery of humankind's fantasy wonderland of winter
adorning the trees and porches to mark what "everyone" here calls their "favorite season"
making their mad rush for the 25th...
for yuletide amid the dim darkened north
And we, the bus passengers, bathed in perfect darkness
enveloped by the nighttime such as to feel our own oblivion,
but not so much as to note the sad terror of being completely forgotten
draw down (literally sink) into a state of hypnotic repose.

It is strange to lose one's ego at such moments
as when your bodily frame is somehow merged
with the rumble and hum of a bus engine
as if no one knew at all you were there
(or were ever anywhere before that or would be somewhere afterward)
melding into some anonymous perch on a bench seat
this could be the bus ride to forever.
There in that moment of calm
losing all sense of self-image and appearance
or accomplishment or reputation or public glare...
by breathing you mark the absolute fact
that millions are not keeping track of you
have never heard of you, will not inquire of you...
even the whispered remarks of those few, your fellow passengers...
makes you think of the rowdy entourage that just entered a hotel someplace
and proceeded to ask for towels and ice and a king-size bed...
while calmly you sit, forgetful of yourself because others are preoccupied
and by some miracle, this does not induce in you a panic attack
or that moment of terror - that usually you encounter at this dim-lit time of year

How strangely calm, how perfectly natural for one so obscured
to ponder (for long intervals of time) the countless myriads of human beings...
that fill up this world - who enter and depart like so many tourists
playing out so many vast untold stories and adventures
enduring what for many proves to be an agony, a struggle
either a swift succession of predicaments or mind-numbing, slow-moving monotonous rituals of suffering
and what for you are the exponential, boundless unmapped trajectories of sheer possibility...
this too is the sort of calculation you perform in your head almost effortlessly on long bus rides...
It is so calming, so very uncanny to be released from your typical mundane attention span
the closest thing to a mystical out of body experience that one can imagine...
lasting approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes -
And then - the bus ride ends.

You return once again to your familiar car and your familiar self
And you drive home in traffic - inhaling somehow the same wet dark and the night's ether
And with the glare of lights and the radio pounding out random songs,
you find again that you are the exact same person as before:
half awake, unmindful, disheveled, freezing, panicky, exhausted, spent
almost panting while running inside "that someplace" you call home
immune from the nighttime's cloak that wrapped you in a blanket of nothingness
You fetch a glass of water feeling the warm artifice of indoors
You stare at the familiar faces of wife and children who stare back at you with equal wonder on your present condition of spacey disorientation...
You pace back and forth or stop to lean over the counter
this time asking: who are we, the ones who are tired from riding buses on weekends
lost in uncertainty, clutching for answers...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fiscal Cliff-Jumping, Anyone?

"Fellow bravehearts, men of iron, you amazing specimens, you, my stalwart congressional brethren - you loyal true-believers, undaunted by satirists, late-night comedians and feckless bloggers,  ready to accomplish any mission, no matter how difficult or messy or's time to go fiscal cliff-jumping! Who wants to be first?"

"Cliff-jumping. Oh, my! I feel faint...'


"Yikes...that edge is steep, chief!"

"Has the other side made a proposal yet?"

"A cliff! A cliff! My first real fiscal cliff! How exciting, how vibrant, how manly..."

"I haven't felt this level of brinksmanship since the Cuban Missile Crisis...and I don't even remember that episode..."

"Never saw Dr. Strangelove - huh?"

 "Ya. Ya. This is a job for guys like us: the few, the proud, the Super-Uber-Congressmen on steroids!"

"Me first, me first, me first....I want to go first!"

"Who said that?"

"Uhm...on second thought... I was just kidding....we're gonna wait until the 11th hour as usual - right?"

"That's the spirit. Wait until the other side stumbles - then we'll make our move."

"Our non-move you mean..."

"I mean our counter-move to their move."

"Which is simply to negate their forward movement."


"Leading back to stalemate?"

"Ed - have you ever heard the old saying: don't let the actual attainable good stand in the way of the perfect-utopian-fantasy-dream-world that no one has ever seen?"

"No - I never heard it said that way - is that our new talking point?"

"Weren't you listening to Rush this morning?"

"Mums the word ... here comes an innocent bystander..."

"Gentlemen...I'm confused...What is the meaning of all this?"

"We are doing the will of the people, sir I assure you."

"The will of the people?"

"Yes - the will of the people who gave me this Orwellian headpiece that I'm now forced to wear - with the talking points reverberating in my mind until I just can't take it!"

"And you accept the fact that you're being held hostage by a vast minority of primary voters with no clue as to how a modern economy operates???"

"You're talking massive government outlays intertwined with public sector budgets and private corporate welfare?"

"Of course, for people like us who just lost the election, I can't see what else you'd rather have us do? We have earned the right to be angry, disgruntled and obstinately non-cooperative given our recent showing at the polls..."

"So this plan of yours to not raise revenues in any way and to cajole the other side into making the first move on entitlement reform .... all that will help jump-start the economy then, if we follow you guys on your latest foray into obstructionism and nay-saying?"

"Quite the will unleash a series of draconian budget cuts while allowing the prior middle-class tax cuts to expire (something we used to vociferously support by the way) - sort of like an anti-stimulus package - strong enough to plunge the economy back into a major recession thereby further discrediting the incumbent."

"And it that the goal - your only goal?"

"What else would you have us do? We are men of principle after all..."

"Mr Speaker - is that your position also?"

"You know...I was outside just a minute ago...and I saw this little girl holding an American flag...and something about the way she was looking at I was going to do the right she believed in my sincerity...and did not suspect...for one moment... that there was anything fraudulent about my made me get kinda weepy all of a sudden."

[a voice from within chambers]: "Mr. Speaker - your handlers would like a word with you!"

IT happened AGAIN

So I'm minding my own business - not even watching the news when IT happens again. And it's not like I've been keeping track of events like this because - when this type of thing happens, everyone is supposed to come together to find a "solution" of sorts - or at least confront the problem, i.e. admit that we've got a situation on our hands that keeps giving us nightmares in the form of actual, hideous scenes of carnage. This time it was an NFL player who shot (with a gun) his twenty-two year old girlfriend upwards of nine times in front of his own mother and baby daughter, thereby murdering her before driving over to the stadium in Kansas City to inform his coaches/employers and despondently thank them for all they had done for him, prior to ending his own life - again with a gun. Before this it was the angry guy who killed members of the Sikh community in Wisconsin with a gun ; prior to that it was a mentally deranged young man in Colorado who shot up a movie theater with a gun; before that it was another mentally deranged young man who shot Congresswoman Giffords in the head, killing innocent by-standers, including a little girl, with a gun. And in case anyone is starting to think - "well hey, that about does it for recent gun violence," if I happened to include the not-yet-completely-forgotten Virginia Tech massacres (with assault weapons) or the Fort Hood shootings (with a gun), would that get us thinking about the weird continuity of events? Do you happen to see a pattern developing here, folks? Does anyone think it's time we advocate for a mental stability litmus test of some sort to go along with with waiting periods and back-ground checks? Is that too much "gun control" for us to withstand? Maybe this shouldn't even be spun as a "gun regulation" issue so much as a "mental health" epidemic. Everyone has issues with anger, anxiety, stress and depression - and maybe for some of us, a gun is not the best item to always keep ready-to-hand. I've heard the line "guns don't kill anyone without people pulling the trigger," and I suppose that's true enough, but for those who subscribe to this point of view - just out of curiosity -would you not also agree that "people who happen to be using guns kill people more ruthlessly and effectively than people who are reaching for knives and clubs"? Remember that terrible news story about the insane person who went completely ballistic with a kitchen knife in a public place? Hmmm... I don't remember that one either. Or how about the guy who took a sword and took down several innocent shoppers at Walmart? Nope. That doesn't ring a bell.  How about that bloody domestic dispute where the boyfriend grabbed a chainsaw and just went nuts? Or the one involving a disgruntled ex-employee who showed up to work wielding a 2X4 and proceeded to mow down dozens at a stretch? Strange....I don't remember any such case of random violence in America involving those weapons - or at least nothing that can even approach the no-questions-asked availability of guns - as  the weapon-of-choice that people in America reach for when something inside of them "snaps." But now you're thinking: "fine just go ahead and take my guns away and leave me vulnerable to that day when the jackboots start knocking on my door and dragging me away in the middle of the night. How am I suppose to defend myself against a fascistic governmental raid on my person and property???" My response to this sentiment is twofold: 1) if things have gotten THAT BAD in America, it's time to either emigrate to Australia or build a fall-out shelter in upper Montana (as many have already done) and 2) anyone who thinks that owning a single gun or rifle or stockpile or arsenal of automatic weapons would improve their odds in the event of a standoff with the Feds,  (putting aside for the moment all accusations of paranoia and magical thinking) gives indications of actually believing that a person could shoot their way out of what many neutral observers would call death-by-government-search-and-seizure-firing-squad. I admit it. I don't understand THIS LOGIC...