Going Bananas

February 6th, 2017

going bananas

Going Bananas photo by Todd

In Woody Allen’s movie Bananas, one of Woody’s earlier, funnier films, there is a scene in which the leader of a successful rebellion in a banana republic becomes the new dictator and decrees that henceforth everyone must wear underwear on top of their clothes instead of under their clothes. Watching their leader make this mad decree causes Woody and another of the victorious rebels to finally realize their leader has gone mad with power.

I thought of this scene today when I read one of President Trump’s recent executive decrees. To wit: any federal agency wanting to institute a new regulation must simultaneously revoke two existing regulations. If you want to make it illegal for companies to dump toxic chemicals in rivers, then you must revoke the ban on dumping toxic chemicals in the ocean and in the air.

Another movie that comes to mind at this zany time in our nation’s history is the 1992 Eddie Murphy flick The Distinguished Gentleman. Eddie plays a two-bit thief elected to Congress through an unlikely fluke. When he arrives in Washington, he knows nothing about how government works, but finding he has landed among others of his ilk—criminals—he is soon raking in money from amoral lobbyists and corporate vampires. Since this is a Hollywood comedy and not reality, Eddie’s character is eventually won over by a gorgeous woman with righteous values, starts doing good things for regular folk, clashes with the forces of evil, and prevails. But it is the lead up to his conversion from criminality to decency that gives the movie its zing of veracity.

Then there is the Kevin Kline movie of 1993, Dave, about a nice guy named Dave who has a side job impersonating the President of the United States. Through a fluke even more preposterous than the fluke that gets Eddie Murphy’s character elected to Congress, Dave becomes President of the United States, sort of. The corruption and dastardliness of Washington politics are revealed, and Dave eventually does the right thing after haplessly aiding and abetting the bad guys.

These movies are wishful fantasies about decency and kindness and justice triumphing over greed and avarice and criminality. In reality, emotionally damaged narcissists who rise to power in American politics do not suddenly change their tunes and become decent generous empathic people. They stay damaged and greedy and wreak havoc on our society and our world until they get too old to keep wreaking havoc or until someone or something dethrones them.

“There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.” Josh Billings

My brother sent the following yesterday. “I watch the news now as if I am back in the Roman Empire, and yes, we have another psychotic, psychopathic Emperor, so let’s see how this one gets taken down, by whom, and after how much harm to everything and everyone else. He certainly has surrounded himself with some of the most openly evil and openly hateful humans ever. The mini-series about the Trump presidency will have SO many parts for sleazy-looking actors.”

Sixty-two million people voted for Trump, so we must assume several million people are thrilled by how things are going so far. I don’t personally know anyone thrilled by what Trump is doing, but yesterday in the Harvest parking lot I happened to walk by just as two burly men emerged from twin gargantuan pickup trucks, greeted each other with High Fives and big grins, and one of them cried, “Old Donny Boy is kicking ass now.” And his cohort shouted, “Yee haw!”

Old Donny Boy? How about Crazy-Person-In-Chief?

Meanwhile, life goes on. The post office is still operating, correct postage propels letters and packages across the country and around the world, the ATM machine at the bank still provides cash for seemingly solvent people, the grocery store still sells food, restaurants still serve meals, beer still flows from taps at the pub, and gasoline remains under three dollars a gallon.

Marcia and I went for a stroll on Big River Beach today, the sun muted by dense incoming fog, the landscape of huge logs and driftwood on the wide expanse of beach much changed by the rain-swollen river in collaboration with super high tides. I happened to be on the beach eleven years ago, my first winter as a Mendocino resident, when a giant redwood trunk, sixty-feet-long and eight-feet-in-diameter came floating down the river and eventually landed near the stairs leading up from the beach to the Presbyterian.

That mighty log stayed there by the stairs, sinking ever deeper in the sand every year for eleven years. Then just last week, the river joined forces with massive storm waves to dislodge the huge log and relocate it some hundreds of feet to the east atop a crest of sand.

The seemingly unmovable has been moved. Something that seemed unchangeable has changed. And this is how I’m experiencing, so far, the reign of Donald Trump, however short or long his reign turns out to be. His madness, characterized by greed and avarice and racism and sexism and ignorance, is a mighty storm that will dramatically change the political landscape of America and the world.

Should we survive his mad attempts to undermine the Constitution and revoke the basic rights of the citizenry, will we elect better people to represent us? Or will we embrace the slightly less crazy people and terrible ideas that brought us to this historic embarrassment: the enthronement of an angry child who knows almost nothing about anything, trapped in the body of a man who has never known the slightest inconvenience, let alone hunger and poverty and discrimination?

Facts

January 30th, 2017

now i'm sailing tw

Now I’m Sailing painting by Nolan Winkler

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King

I recently watched several interviews with people attending the inauguration of Donald Trump, and I had to keep reminding myself these were not actors in Saturday Night Live skits, nor had clever cynics written the bewildering dialogue. These were real men and women, old and young, gay and straight, who were excited enough about the election of Donald Trump to travel great distances to witness the swearing in.

Each of the people was asked which of Donald Trump’s plans for America most appealed to them. One woman said, “He’s pro-Israel. All our other presidents have been anti-Israel, so this is fantastic.” Three of the men interviewed said they most resonated with Trump’s promise to strengthen the military, one of them saying, “I’m tired of us being so weak.”

One young man had traveled all the way from Georgia with his wife and son because, “This is the first president who ever cared about me.” When asked how he knew Donald Trump cared about him, the young man said, “Because he’s finally doing things for regular people instead of just rich people.”

A woman opined, “He’s about America first. Obama gave more money to other countries than to America. Trump will keep our money here and grow the economy.”

And there was a man who said, “Trump is gonna kick the corporations out of government and get things back to normal.” When asked what he meant by normal, the man said, “If you don’t know, I can’t tell you.”

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell

I ran into a friend at the post office yesterday. When I asked how he was doing, he sighed and said, “I miss Obama.”

“What do you miss about him?” I asked, thinking of those interviews with people who love Trump.

“Are you kidding?” said my friend, glaring at me. “Compared to Trump?”

“Not compared to Trump. What do you miss about Obama?”

“He wasn’t a lunatic,” said my friend, waving his arms. “Trump is a fascist crazy person.”

“Yes, but I’m curious to know what Obama did when he was president that you liked.”

My friend thought for a moment and said, “He pardoned Chelsea Manning.”

“I’m so glad he did,” I said, nodding. “How are your knees doing these days?”

“Much better,” said my friend, nodding with me. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Coming along,” I said, and then we spoke of the weather.

“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.” Dalai Lama

Facts, it turns out, are things people think are true because they want those things to be true. My facts are not necessarily your facts, and my facts are certainly not the facts of those who think Donald Trump is a wonderful guy doing wonderful things for America. Nor are my facts the facts of those who think Obama was a wonderful guy who did wonderful things for America.

And this is where gardening and the weather and rooting for the same baseball team come in handy. Humans enjoy agreeing with each other. My mirror neurons rejoice in agreement with your mirror neurons, and when our mirror neurons rejoice together, our entire body/mind/relationship systems rejoice, too.

When I was living in Sacramento a long time ago, I frequently went to McKinley Park to throw the Frisbee with a friend or by myself. I loved flinging the disc into an oncoming breeze and having the disc boomerang back to me. One morning on the greensward, I made an overzealous throw and my disc got stuck in a tree bordering the field, and by stuck I mean lodged in a dense tangle of branches about twenty feet off the ground.

I found a two-inch-diameter length of tree branch, about two-feet-long, and proceeded to heave that club at the tangle of branches in hope of dislodging my disc. I managed to hit the tangle several times, but the disc remained ensnared, and I was just about to give up when a man came sauntering toward me and raised his hand in greeting.

I had seen this fellow many times before because he was often at the park. I had never spoken to him, but I had seen him sitting in the bleachers watching tennis matches, sitting on a bench by the duck pond, and playing basketball on the asphalt court. He was often in the company of other men I guessed were unemployed, and I was afraid of him. He had never menaced me, but his clothes were ragged, his skin was dark brown, and he was one of the biggest men I had ever seen, and I do not mean obese. He was seven-feet-tall and his shoulders were so broad he must have had to turn sideways to get through a standard-sized doorway.

I stiffened at his approach and made ready to flee.

“Man,” he said, his voice deep and full of sympathy. “You hit that mess right on, six seven times. Wonder why that thing don’t fall down. Mind if I try?”

“Not at all,” I said, handing him my club.

“I seen you over here lots of times throwing that thing. You good,” he said, looking up at the tangle of branches.

Then he bent to one side, took aim, and hurled the club with such force and accuracy that the nest of branches was obliterated and the Frisbee fluttered to the ground at my feet.

“Wow,” I said, grinning at my hero. “Amazing. Thank you.”

“No problem,” he said, returning my grin.

“Would you like to play?” I said, miming a toss of the disc.

“I don’t know how,” he said, humbly.

“I’ll bet I can teach you in five minutes,” I said, not so humbly.

“I got five minutes,” he said, laughing.

So I taught him, and he was soon as good as I, and many times after we met on that field to play.

Circus Maximus

January 23rd, 2017

hattybirfday

Clowns drawing by Todd

“I remember in the circus learning that the clown was the prince, the high prince. I always thought that the high prince was the lion or the magician, but the clown is the most important.” Roberto Benigni

After over a hundred years as the premiere circus in America, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey will present their final performances in May of 2017. High operating costs and declining ticket sales made continuing the massive operation unprofitable. With the phasing out of elephant acts due to ferocious criticism from animal rights groups, ticket sales dropped dramatically.

Elephants, it seems, were a big draw. As a boy, I was in awe of those huge animals, but I especially liked the acrobats and tigers, and most especially the clowns. The last time I went to the circus, the aforementioned Ringling Brothers etc., I was in my late twenties and the clowns were bad, save for one. Bad clowns are like bad movies. Intolerable. But a good clown, a great clown, is definitely the high prince of the circus.

In the circuses I attended, clowns were mainly used as filler between acts—emotional relief from the tension of worrying about performers falling and breaking their necks or being mauled by lions. As the lion tamer and her big cats departed, the clowns came running into the ring to keep the audience distracted while the trapeze artists climbed to their swings high above.

Sometimes the clown acts were full of slapstick and pratfalls, sometimes they featured adorable dogs doing things to confound their clown masters, and once per performance, the alpha clown would perform a longer scene, not filler, but a star turn.

That last time I went to the circus, the alpha clown was a big fellow wearing an old floor-length coat, his face painted to express overwhelming sorrow. He entered dragging a rickety little wagon in which there stood a massive book with a black cover, nearly as big as the clown. And trailing behind the rickety wagon was an old hound wearing a little clown hat, his face as sad as the clown’s; and this hound was dragging a long rope at the end of which was tied an enormous pencil, four-feet-long and as thick as a man’s leg.

The audience laughed when the clown and dog and book and pencil first appeared, but as the clown and dog made their slow and ponderous way to the center of the ring, the audience fell silent. At last the clown stopped, and with what seemed to be every ounce of his strength, he wrestled the massive book out of the wagon and opened the heavy cover to reveal a blank page. Then he trudged past the pitiful hound to the pencil and dragged that pencil to the book.

Then he began to scan the audience, and after a short infinity, his gaze fell on me in the fifth row. I held my breath as my girlfriend nudged me and whispered, “Why is he looking at you?” Then my brother elbowed me and said, “He’s looking right at you.”

And then the clown hoisted the pencil onto his shoulder, placed the tip of the pencil on the blank page of the book, and made a gigantic check mark. Then he dropped the pencil, closed the cover, lifted the book into his wagon, and slowly dragged the wagon out of the ring, with dog and pencil following.

“We’re all going to die, all of us; what a circus. That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities. We are eaten up by nothing.” Charles Bukowski

Speaking of circuses, OxFam recently reported that eight men, most of them Americans, have more wealth than half the people on earth. Eight men have more wealth than 3.6 billion people. A billion is a thousand million.

“Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” H.L. Mencken

And still speaking of circuses, Donald Trump is now President of the United States. There were hundreds of events around the country protesting his inauguration. At many of these anti-Trump demonstrations, people carried signs saying Trump Is Not My President. What did those people mean by that? Were they from countries with presidents other than Donald Trump? I don’t think so. I think they were saying Trump was not their president because they didn’t vote for him and they don’t like him.

“Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.” P.T. Barnum

I think there is something dangerous about denying that Trump is our president, just as I think there is something dangerous about portraying Obama as something he was not. The eight years of Obama’s presidency set the stage for the election of Donald Trump, and the details of that stage setting are what we need to investigate in order to effectively react to the enthronement of Trump.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2016, Obama approved the dropping of 26,171 bombs in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. And every Tuesday, according to the New York Times, Obama selected the targets—men, women, and children—to be executed by missiles fired from drones.

Under Obama, more than 14 trillion dollars of public money was transferred to the coffers of Wall Street. Fourteen trillion dollars. A trillion is a thousand billion. A billion is a thousand million.

I think if that 14 trillion had been spent on improving the lives of all Americans, rather than enriching the top few percent, Trump would not be our new president. I think if Obama had pursued peace as aggressively as he pursued war, Trump would not be our president. And I think if Obama had really been the environmental president and vigorously promoted solar and wind and wave energy production rather than funding coal and oil development, Trump would not be our president.

But until further notice, Trump is our president.

Carrying On

January 16th, 2017

And the dog walked, walked… site

And the dog walked, walked… painting by Nolan Winkler

“Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.” William Stafford

We are feeling pampered and special because the power went back on after a two-day outage. We know there will probably be another outage when the next storm hits, but for now we’re on Easy Street. No more cooking on the woodstove. No more boiling water in the old kettle to wash dishes. No more writing by candlelight. Our computers work again. We can take showers. Luxury!

The first article to pop up on my computer when I ignited the machine after the outage was about Professor Guy McPherson who says, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change. We’ll all be dead in the next decade and there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

The second article was entitled “Why getting farmers to switch from tobacco crops is a struggle.”

Email brought an announcement from my niece, a yoga teacher, informing us that her Yoga and Art and Cooking retreat in Italy is sold out ten months in advance.

My sister called and told me of her summer plans to go camping in the environs of Mount Rainier. She is a biologist and knows well of the forces threatening the biosphere, but she carries on with her life as if we will all not be dead in the next decade. She catches her rainwater for watering her drought-resistant garden, walks to work most days, and looks forward to her children eventually producing a grandchild or two.

Speaking of grandchildren, since Marcia and I do not have children and grandchildren of our own, we enjoy availing ourselves of the offspring of our friends. For this holiday season we had several fun visits with Nick and Clare Bokulich and their nineteen-month-old son Vito. I was especially pleased to introduce Vito to the music of Ray Charles, Vito and I played some stirring blues on the piano, Vito ate many bananas and apples, and we had nothing but fun.

During the storm and accompanying power outage, a few large branches fell from our surrounding redwoods and narrowly missed the house. Then the pump in our well gave up the ghost, and despite the torrential downpour, the savants at Mendocino Coast Water Works rushed to our aid, removed the old pump and pipes, and installed a new and improved super duper pump and water transport system that will last for many years longer than Professor MacPherson says we have to live.

Marcia and I took advantage of not being connected to the outer world via computers to clean our offices and get a start on this year’s income tax. And I discovered the domain name of my web site Under the Table Books was about to expire. So I called the domain site people and spent a pleasant ten minutes talking to a nice young man who convinced me to re-up for another three years. He was pleased to find my piano tunes available for listening on YouTube and my novels downloadable to his Kindle.

Yes, our phones worked throughout the storm, though we had no electricity. We do not have smart phones or cell phones, and even if we did, there is no service for such here in the redwoods, but we do have good old land lines that for some reason almost never go down in these storms that routinely take out our electricity.

Hearing from friends about the latest sculpting of Big River Beach by high tides and a fantastic outflow of rainwater in the river, we trekked down to Big River to walk along the banks of the huge muddy torrent. Several dogs and their owners were out on the pristine sands, enjoying the sun and all that room to run. The formerly No Dogs Off Leash beach is now a prime destination for dog owners wishing to let their dogs off leash.

Fortunately, the dogs we encountered were all friendly or disinterested in humans, and one dog in particular, a magnificent roseate Malamute, ignited my dog-owning fantasies. But then I recalled the enormous dog I used to take care of in Berkeley when his owners were out of town, and how that delightful mutt ate more in a day than I did in a week, so I let my doggy fantasies go.

Home again, I got the fire going and found myself thinking about life in the context of everyone being dead within ten years—virtually all living things on earth extinguished by super heat and lack of oxygen; and I became immobile with grief.

When I was in my twenties and thirties and forties, I persistently lobbied my friends and politicians and the Sierra Club and local, state, and national government to take action to address the problems of overpopulation and our earth-destroying dependency on cars and gasoline. My proposals were received by nearly everyone in those days as the ravings of a nutcase, and I eventually stopped trying to convince anyone of anything. I came to realize that people, for the most part, believe what they want to believe, despite evidence to the contrary.

Now that my ravings, which were based on the work of many farseeing scientists, are shared by millions of people, and there is still little being done to address the processes that have brought us to this frightening phase of human and planetary life, I realize that whether Guy MacPherson is correct or not in saying we will all be dead in ten years, what is true is that Nature, not humans, will take the lead in saving the biosphere.

Perhaps some humans will survive the coming environmental crises, perhaps not. In the meantime, the sun is shining, the first plum blossoms have appeared in Mendocino, the ebullient teenagers swarm down from the high school to buy lunch at Harvest Market where gigantic pickup trucks crowd the parking lot and a hardworking fellow assiduously cleans the market windows.

Captain Fantastic

January 9th, 2017

Vito & Todd

Vito & Todd photo by Marcia

“We may divide thinkers into those who think for themselves, and those who think through others. The latter are the rule, and the former the exception.” Arthur Schopenhauer

As the inauguration of Trump fast approaches, many frightened Americans talk of moving to Canada, in much the same way frightened Americans spoke of moving abroad when George Bush became President. But Canada and other safe haven countries only want us these days if we are wealthy or possessed of highly desirable technological skills. Thus we common folk must consider other responses to the new regime.

One vision of a response to the madness currently gripping and deforming American life is the 2016 movie Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross, a California writer, director, and actor who lives in Berkeley. I mention where he lives because I seriously doubt that a writer/director living in Los Angeles could have written a screenplay as far outside the Hollywood box as Captain Fantastic. That Ross also raised millions of dollars to make this fairly outrageous movie and was able to land a distribution deal resulting in the film turning a profit is nothing short of miraculous.

I will not spoil the film by recounting the plot, but I will say that Captain Fantastic bears some resemblance to the excellent 2003 American film Off the Map, and the dreamy Swiss/Italian 2014 film The Wonders. All three films involve adult couples seeking to live independently of the dominant capitalist paradigm, and each of these movies focuses on the children of those seekers as they collide with the outside world.

I found Captain Fantastic by turns funny and sad and disturbing and uplifting and maddening and deeply moving; and twice during the movie I had to get up and go outside to catch my breath and calm down, but not because the film is violent; it is not, thankfully. Marcia and I have been talking about the movie for several days now, and that alone makes Captain Fantastic a rare American film for us.

Meanwhile, here in the so-called real world, we are facing a Congress, a President, and a Supreme Court poised to wreak havoc on our already inadequate healthcare system, dismantle Social Security, remove constraints on industrial pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and enact laws to benefit the wealthy and further punish the beleaguered lower and middle classes as defined by income and assets. These same dangerous people are anti-women, anti-minority, anti-peace, and anti-anybody other than white Christians. And that is why so many people are afraid, and why so many people wish they could leave the country.

“There are three kinds of economist. Those who can count and those who can’t.” Eddie George

I am currently writing a new screenplay, having recently rewritten an old one for a director in Canada. I had not immersed myself in the screenplay form for more than a decade, and the rewrite got those juices flowing again. And though the odds of getting a movie made of anything I write are not quite as good as the odds of winning the national lottery, should I ever buy a ticket, I do enjoy the screenplay form and love imagining the scenes I write coming to life.

Yesterday, under the influence of Captain Fantastic, I read what I’ve written so far of my new screenplay and thought: I wonder if I’m writing this story in lieu of trying to flee the country.

Speaking of fleeing the country, it was recently reported in various mass media outlets that Ford Motor Company was about to spend a couple billion dollars opening a new plant in Mexico. Then President-elect Trump bellowed at Ford for being un-American, Ford cancelled the Mexico plant, and instead says they would invest 700 million dollars in upgrading a Michigan assembly plant. This would reportedly save at least 700 American jobs and give a much-needed boost to the Michigan economy.

Was any of this true? Maybe some of it was sort of true, but probably none of it was true. Ford Motors now says they are proceeding with plans to increase production in Mexico by enlarging their existing facilities there and not opening a new plant. Does this give us more reason to doubt Trump’s credibility? Yes. Ford Motors stated they prefer doing business in Mexico because they feel oppressed by so many federal and state regulations in America having to do with decreasing pollution and increasing safety and requiring the payment of taxes, and they are hopeful that under Trump they won’t have to worry so much about those annoying things.

So what are we common folk to make of all this? I think that henceforth we must assume anything we hear or see or read in the news (not counting really good fiction and neighborhood gossip) is probably not the whole truth, or even part of the truth. Did Donald Trump save 700 jobs in Michigan? Unlikely. Why did Obama expel dozens of Russian diplomats for something that may not have happened? We don’t know. Why are automobile manufacturers still allowed to make cars that run on gasoline? Because unregulated capitalism cares nothing about the environment.

The most popular American movies nowadays are animated films featuring animals behaving like goofy people and speaking English, live-action films set in other galaxies featuring humans with British accents, films about wizards and vampires rife with astonishingly bad dialogue, and films about impossibly strong and violent people who say very little as they run amok. Oh, yes, and films about morons and bimbos are popular, too.

Captain Fantastic is entirely about Now and full of real people dealing with the many and complicated challenges of being human. In this way, the movie reminded me of my favorite movies from the 60s and 70s, movies exploring contemporary society from the perspectives of people for whom the dominant cultural paradigms do not serve—movies about eccentrics and rebels and artists and innovators who are questing, as many of us were in those days, for ways to live healthy and meaningful lives on spaceship earth.

Earth Sorrow

January 2nd, 2017

Winter Buddha

Winter Buddha photo by Todd

 “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau

Today is a beautiful sunny winter day in Mendocino. The town is full of tourists and locals, college kids are home for the holidays, the pace of life has slowed since the coming and going of the annual frenzy known as Christmas, and if I didn’t know what I know about human-driven climate change, and if we hadn’t just returned from visiting Marcia’s mother in Santa Rosa, I would be tempted to say all is right with the world.

But we did go to Santa Rosa, and that once bucolic town is now a sprawling mess of roads and housing developments and malls and a permanent kind of frenzy gripping the populous—a frenzy born of out-of-control growth with no real care for the future. And in that way, Santa Rosa is a microcosm of what humans have done and are doing to the entire planet.

We made it back to the hinterlands safely, and the first article I read upon our return was about the incredibly high temperatures being recorded right now in the Arctic, temperatures some fifty degrees higher than what used to be called normal, temperatures approaching thirty-two degrees—the melting point. Climate scientists are debating the ramifications of this fantastic temperature increase, but there is wide agreement that such elevated arctic temperatures in the depths of winter do not bode well for the global climate picture and are probably the cause of the current ferocious cold weather in the lower northern hemisphere.

On our way home from Santa Rosa, we passed the rail station in Cloverdale that was built several years ago for the train that was supposed to run from the Bay Area to Cloverdale, but the project has never been completed because…

Well, in general terms, the train does not go to Cloverdale because mass transit is still not a priority for most people in California, and therefore is not a priority for most politicians. How can this be?

I like to imagine getting on the train in Cloverdale and chugging down the tracks to Larkspur, walking onto the ferry, sailing across the bay, lunching in Chinatown, spending the night with friends, and sailing and training home a day or so later. That will almost surely not happen in my lifetime, though such travel is the norm in most countries in Europe, and has been the norm there for several generations.

Which is all to say, I have a case of what I call earth sorrow today, a sadness that colors everything I do, knowing I am a member of a species that might have avoided our demise had we collectively chosen to do things for the greater good and not for individual short term gain.

When I share my earth sorrow with friends, I get varying advice about how to cope. One friend points out that since there is nothing I can do to reverse the forces already set in motion, I should learn to accept the ruination of the biosphere as I come to accept my own inevitable death.

Another friend suggests that this global crisis is a necessary passage for our species to navigate if we are to ever take the next step of living in balance with nature on earth. If we can’t figure out a way to successfully take that step, we will go the way of the dodo. So be it.

Another friend avers that the history of life on earth is the history of species coming into being and going out of being. Some organisms have been around for hundreds of millions of years, but most don’t last so long. Tigers, for instance, have been around for about three million years and are soon to be extinct. That human beings might have made other collective choices and did not make those choices is simply a matter of the nature of our species—not something to be mourned, but understood and accepted.

These suggestions help me intellectually, but my sorrow remains, especially because there are human societies outside of the United States where people are making enormous strides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generating most of their energy without burning fossil fuels, riding trains and buses instead of cars, sharing the wealth, and so forth.

The other source of my sorrow comes from being awakened fifty years ago to the environmental, financial, and social problems we’re dealing with today. These problems and solutions have been known, and well known, for virtually my entire life, yet despite the best efforts of many people over those fifty years, the solutions have been largely ignored and the problems made worse.

We can blame the corporations and our government, but that, for me, is to blame people we elect and do business with as the causes of our problems. I am more comfortable, rightly or wrongly, blaming our lack of imagination for the mess we’re in, and a lack of imagination may simply be a limitation of our species.

Countless studies have shown that our brains and nervous systems and senses have evolved to support our living and surviving in the present moment, reacting to our immediate circumstances with little concern for what happened a week ago or what might happen a year from now. Yet concern about the long-term consequences of our actions seems to be something all long-lived indigenous societies had as an integral part of their social and spiritual systems, a concern for the future developed over thousands of years of experience. i.e. You don’t shoot all the deer around here or there won’t be any deer for the next generation to shoot. That kind of thing.

But nowadays everything is measured by the split second, not by the decade or the century. And maybe that is the source of my sorrow: things go way too fast now for the likes of me.

Here’s To You

December 26th, 2016

You You

You You by Todd

“We have not all had the good fortune to be ladies. We have not all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.” Mark Twain

I would like to propose a toast to the coming year, 2017. May this be a good year for you and your loved ones, and for your neighborhood, your community, and the world. May this be the year we start to turn things around as a species living on a planet of finite resources and a biosphere overtaxed by greenhouse gases.

It seems to me that sharing is the not-so-secret key to solving many of our problems, both as individuals and as a society—not just sharing the wealth and ride-sharing, but sharing our ideas and feelings with each other.

I was in the grocery store the other day and looked around at my fellow shoppers, and I realized we were all kind of ignoring each other, not in a malicious way, but in the way that has become the habit of people in our society. Even when I smiled at people, most of them were unaware I was looking at them, so they didn’t see the smile I was giving them.

I’m not suggesting you start going around smiling at everyone, unless you want to. I am suggesting that in 2017 we might try to be a little more aware of other people in our lives, people other than our friends and family—just random other people. I have no hard facts to back this up, but I have the feeling that our unawareness of each other is one of the sources of unhappiness in our society—a general sense of disconnect from each other and a disconnect from the totality of our each-otherness.

Now and then I will strike up a conversation with someone shopping near me. A few days ago in the produce aisle, I said to the man hunting vegetables a few feet from me, “Isn’t the red leaf lettuce spectacular right now?”

The man looked at me, and not recognizing me as someone he knew, he frowned. Then he looked at the red leaf lettuce and said tentatively, “Yes, that is some fine looking lettuce.”

“I just had to exclaim,” I said, laughing.

“I know what you mean,” he said, smiling.

Then we went our separate ways. Nothing profound. But I felt good about connecting with him. I liked that we got to exchange smiles. Some minutes later, when I was in the checkout line, I saw the man leaving the market, and he saw me seeing him leaving, and he raised his hand in farewell and I raised mine.

“Always remember there are two types of people in the world. Those who come into a room and say, ‘Well, here I am!’ and those who come in and say, ‘Ah, there you are!’” Frederick L. Collins

I had a friend who ended his answering machine message with, “And remember…be good to yourself.” The first few times I heard his message, I winced at what I took to be excessive schmaltz, but then at some point I stopped wincing at his message and allowed myself to think about what he meant. I came to realize that I was not often good to myself, and that I frequently beat myself up for no good reason. I understood his message as, “Stop treating yourself poorly. You’re a good person. Open up to that idea and see what happens.”

The Buddhist practice of sending thoughts of loving kindness to others requires the sender to first get comfortable sending those loving thoughts to one’s self. When I first undertook this practice, I found it difficult to say, “May I be loved. May I be supported. May my suffering be at end.” I felt I was being greedy and selfish to ask for these things for me.

Why did I need to get comfortable sending myself loving thoughts before I sent loving thoughts to others? I came to understand that the practice was preparing me to be a conduit for sending love. If the conduit is clogged with self-recrimination and fear of being loved and supported, my sending loving kindness to others will be freighted with those fears.

“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your identity as one who blesses and is blessed in return. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.”  Alan Jones

When I lived in the Berkeley, I would go to Evensong at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco a couple times a month to hear the fabulous boys’ and men’s choirs accompanied by the grand cathedral organ. At the end of Evensong, Alan Jones, the Dean of the Episcopal, would make a brief prayer urging us to open our minds and hearts to the miracles in our lives, and to be merciful to those less fortunate than we.

I was always touched and empowered by the singing and Alan’s words, and I would walk out into the night feeling great tenderness for my fellow humans. My walk down the hill to Market Street was always a processional full of wonder, the ride home on BART enjoyable, the company of my fellow humans at least fascinating and often a pleasure.

Yes, our society and our government are in big trouble, and our precious planet is in even bigger trouble. But we are not powerless. We can be kind to each other and supportive of each other, and we can make a positive difference, each of us, every day, somehow or other.

Here’s to you. Happy New Year!

Reflections

December 19th, 2016

dancing in the shadows

Dancing In The Shadows painting by Nolan Winkler

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.” — H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1921.

Since the election of Donald Trump, I have been haunted by aphorisms. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is connected. There are no accidents. Life is but a dream.

More and more, as Trump’s inauguration approaches, I am reminded of the days following the election of George W. Bush. Okay, so George wasn’t technically elected the first time, but he was elected the second time. Remember? He won twice. His cabinet was a horror show. Yet so many people seem to have forgotten that, along with everything else that happened before last week.

Trump’s election is hardly unprecedented when it comes to electing narcissistic morons. Does the name Ronald Reagan ring a bell? And though he was not a moron, Bill Clinton would give any other narcissistic ruler in history a run for his or her money. Marie Antoinette may have said, “Let them eat cake,” but when Bill Clinton pushed through NAFTA while dismantling Welfare, thus relegating millions to poverty, he essentially said, “Let them eat nothing.”

Oh but Trump is worse. Worse than what? The Obama administration, it is now revealed, subsidized dirty coal and dirty oil all over the world to the tune of several hundred billion dollars, yet Obama-wan calls himself the Environmentalist President. Reminds me of Trump calling himself a feminist.

But more interesting to me than our general forgetfulness and gullibility is the question posed by the Mencken quote at the beginning of this article: do these narcissists and liars and morons we keep electing represent the inner soul of the American people? Are we essentially a nation of dishonest narcissistic morons?

What is a narcissist? Narcissus, so says the myth from whence comes the term narcissist, became enamored of his own reflection to the exclusion of all else. He did not fall in love with his essence because he had none. He could only see and relate to his reflection—that which he appeared to be, not what he actually was

Narcissists are incapable of empathy because empathy requires an inner-self capable of bonding emotionally with others. And why would so many people in America repeatedly choose emotional ciphers to be our leaders, our lawmakers, and the stewards of our futures? Why would we choose people incapable of being kind and generous and thoughtful?

There must be something we, the general we, mistrust about genuine kindness and generosity and thoughtfulness; and there must be something we find attractive and reassuring about narcissists. And I think these tendencies begin very early in our American lives.

Do you remember the first time you realized that being smart and creative was appreciated by your teachers, but not by all of your peers? Do you remember seeing someone being teased for wearing glasses? Or maybe you were teased or bullied for being smart or wearing glasses.

In high school, I hung out with a gang of people who loved poetry and music and art. They were sensitive, thoughtful, empathetic, self-effacing, and appreciative of each other, while the general high school population looked upon them as strange and flawed and weak. As you may have guessed, none of them pursued careers in politics.

We, the general we, also do not like complex solutions to complex problems. Nor do we like complex explanations. We don’t really want to know the details. We are an impatient people. We want instant results, and if not results, then the promise of results. Or maybe we just want promises. Maybe because we were raised on promises, not results, we learned to value promises more than the fulfillment of promises. Trump promised to build a wall to rival the Great Wall of China. Now that is an amazing promise, one he will never keep. But maybe we like being amazed by impossible promises that can only come true using special effects in super hero science fiction fantasy movies.

Maybe we, the general we, no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy, between promises and the aftermaths of promises, between what people say and what people do. Maybe we choose narcissists to rule our country because they are not constrained by truth, and those who are constrained by truth seem weak and might wear glasses and listen to classical music and have complex explanations for why something will take more than a minute or two to fix.

Jimmy Carter, who was not a narcissist or a moron, told the nation we needed to start taking action to address the limits of natural resources. We needed to stop plundering and start regenerating. He talked about complex things, such as the interconnectedness of everything. Huh? This sounded strange and weak, so we replaced him with Ronald Reagan who said we could have anything we wanted without limits, that there was no reason to worry about the environment, that America was the strongest and the best in the world, so go for the gusto. Have it all.

And if you were poor and disadvantaged, that wasn’t Reagan’s fault. Just as nothing will ever be Trump’s fault and Trump will never be wrong, just as Bush and Clinton and Obama were never wrong. Narcissists are never wrong. They look in their mirrors and see knights in shining armor.

Then they stand before us and say, “I am a knight in shining armor. I’ll slay the dragon, build a giant wall, give everyone jobs, lower taxes, rebuild the infrastructure, and make you happy. I promise.”

And despite history and reality, many of us will believe those narcissists, over and over again. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe the tendency goes back a million years to some crucial moment when a big stupid narcissistic ape appeared to save the species, when our real savior was the little ape wearing glasses and writing a poem.

There We Were

December 12th, 2016

La Entrada

La Entrada (Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company) ©2016  David Jouris / Motion Pictures

“It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso

When Marcia gave me the news of the terrible fire and deaths of many young people in the Oakland warehouse that had become a haven for artists, I first worried about a few young people I know in Oakland who would have been attracted to such a scene. When I confirmed those few were alive and well, I settled into grieving for those who died in that conflagration.

Their tragic deaths are no more tragic than the thousands of deaths in Syria and other war zones around the world, no more tragic than those dying in shootings in cities and towns in America and many other countries, no more tragic than those dying from lack of access to decent healthcare, but the death of those dozens of young people hit me especially hard because when I was in my teens and twenties, the artistic ferment in that warehouse scene would have been highly enticing to me.

When I was twenty-two, I rented an old three-bedroom house in Santa Cruz with my friend Thom and we invited seven other people to live with us. The garage became a bedroom/potter’s studio, the sunroom off the living room became two bedrooms, the master bedroom became two smaller bedrooms, and the basement became a bicycle repair shop and art studio. We got an old piano to go with our many guitars. We often had several overnight guests, and we were the in-town mail drop and crash pad for two rural communes.

Our collective took shape spontaneously, was highly imperfect, and ultimately dissolved, but for a few years we provided a safe, warm, stimulating home for young artists and those intrigued by living in ways counter to the dominant cultural paradigm—none of us with much money.

Men’s groups and Women’s groups and musical groups used the living room for meetings and rehearsals, we dined communally, we had a big vegetable garden, we helped each other through illnesses, and we encouraged each other to pursue whatever it was we wanted to pursue. People came and went; we adjusted. We were trying to figure out how to be happy without following the dictates of our parents and societal norms aimed at making us obedient and unimaginative servants of the overlords.

Nowadays in California, nothing is cheap. That house the nine of us rented for four hundred dollars a month in 1972 is worth at least three million dollars today. For young artists and fringe dwellers without much money, California is no longer an easy place wherein to find a niche. And yet, there in Oakland, in that unworthy warehouse, something kin to our Santa Cruz communes tried to happen again in response to the exorbitant cost of living in the Bay Area.

We have an odd culture. In nursery school and kindergarten and through the first few grades in American schools, making art and music and inventing games and writing fiction and poetry are encouraged. These are the most formative years in our lives, so no wonder the seeds of making art take hold in so many. But then, strangely and abruptly, the message is reversed. Art is not practical say our parents and teachers. Making art, writing stories, making music, those are games, not real work. Furthermore, except for a lucky few, society and economic reality will not support those who try to make livings as artists.

But the seeds of artistry have taken hold, and happiness for many people is bound up in focusing their energies on being creative artists. Those who can be happy making art as a hobby while working at so-called real jobs will not be so conflicted as are those who identify themselves as artists in a society that does not support artists. Self-identity drives us. Those who must be artists will live in garages or derelict warehouses rather than take jobs that have no meaning for them.

This is not to suggest our society should be more supportive of artists, but to say I understand why those young people chose to live and dance in a death trap. I understand why I chose to live on little money and no health insurance and no car for much of my life: so I could be an artist first and foremost.

When I dropped out of college to pursue my dream of becoming a professional writer and musician, my mother was heartbroken. Several times over the next ten years, she urged me to go back to college and offered to pay my way if I would do so. In my thirties, she started suggesting I join a trade union and become a plumber or an electrician.

“Write for fun,” she would say. “Play music for fun. You don’t want to be poor when you get old. We are young for a short time and old for a long time. Being poor when you’re young isn’t easy, but when you get old, being poor is unbearable. A living death.”

But it takes all kinds. We do what we do. I think of those young people, many of them artists, dancing to original live music in that warehouse, and I am filled with sadness that they died so young. I see myself there, dancing with them. I see my artist friends dancing with them, too. I hear Joseph Campbell saying, “The path of an artist is one of great danger.” But so is it dangerous to stifle our passions, for that, too, can be a living death.

 

Just Us

December 5th, 2016

The Magician

The Magician (Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company) ©2016  David Jouris / Motion Pictures

“In 1978, Proposition 13 passed with almost 65% of those who voted in favor and with the participation of nearly 70% of registered voters. After passage, Proposition 13 became article XIII A of the California Constitution.” Wikipedia

We’ve been picking up our neighbor’s Press Democrat while he is away in Idaho hunting elk. The headline article of the Sunday edition is about the shortage of rental properties in Mendocino and all over California and America due to so many people choosing to go the Air B&B route with their rental units rather than rent long term to locals.

What does that have to do with the famous Proposition 13? In my view, the Airbnb phenomenon is the grandchild of Proposition 13, and the election of Donald Trump is a sibling of Airbnb.

There once was a concept known as the Greater Good, otherwise known as our community. Before the passage of Proposition 13, California had excellent schools, universities, parks, healthcare, mental healthcare, and public libraries, along with many other public goodies, too. Ten years later, those public systems were collapsing as the wealthy fled the public sector for private systems only they could afford—to hell with the middle and lower classes.

I recently fell into conversation with a woman who, upon finding out I owned a house in Mendocino, asked if I had a cottage to rent? “Or even a garage that doesn’t leak?”

She was expensively dressed and driving a new BMW, so I doubted she was looking to rent something diminutive for herself. “We decided to go Air B&B with our cottage,” she explained. “So now we have to kick our renter out and I’m hoping she can find another place around here so she doesn’t have to relocate. She’s the greatest person. I hate to do it, but we need the money. She’s paying twelve hundred a month. We can make five thousand a month doing the Air B&B thing.”

“Lot of work,” I said, smiling wanly. “Sheets to wash, cleaning up after…”

“With the money we’ll be making, we’ll get someone else to do that,” she said, shrugging. “Really hurts. She’s the best renter we’ve ever had.”

Yes, for some people doing the Air B&B thing is a necessity, but for many people doing the Air B&B thing is simply a way to make more money than they were previously making. And making more money at the expense of a vibrant community and great people is precisely what people did when they passed Proposition 13. In the short term, property owners got to keep more of their money for themselves. In the long term, they wrecked our society.

The great appeal of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and the Georges Bush and Ronald Reagan, who might be called the Uncle of Proposition 13, was the message: you affluent folks can have anything you want and need not worry about the less fortunate people we destroy here and abroad so you can have your anything.

The appeal of Bernie Sanders was that he reminded people who remembered or had heard about that Other Time, the time of The Greater Good. And he suggested we could have another such time if we designed our systems of governance and taxation so everyone paid their fair share of the cost of a system benefiting everyone.

Alas, too much time had passed since the days of fair taxation, since the days of banks being banks instead of gambling dens, since the days of stock markets reflecting the actual worth of companies and commodities, since the days of high school graduates knowing how to read and write, since the days of superb public libraries, since the days when, truly, there were no homeless people—so in this last election most of those who voted opted for a continuation of privatization, voted for continuing to deny what is really happening to our world and our society, voted for a fantasy that capitalism can bring prosperity to more than a fraction of the population.

Now there is a movement afoot to recount the votes from the Presidential election and prove, some people hope, Trump didn’t win and Hillary did. And I marvel at the outpouring of money and support for this ultimately futile process, as if the system as it is now constituted would allow for a reversal of a national process predicated on the fantasy of fairness.

Fantasy. My hobby of monitoring movie trailers and ensuing box office results show that the most successful movies of the last two decades are fantasies about wizards and super heroes and invulnerable strong people (mostly men) battling the forces of evil. The public can’t seem to get enough of Harry Potter and the aftershocks of that pre-adolescent fantasy of kids using magical powers to conquer the nasty meanies of life, magical powers gained not through practice and wisdom and insight, but just because, you know, wizards are, like, granted magical powers because, you know, because they’re, like, chosen.

This pre-adolescent fantasy stuff is profoundly related to the election of Trump, for if we grow up believing important things only happen because of magic (luck) and not through clear intentions and hard work, we cannot possibly understand how things actually happen in this reality, nor do we know how to make things happen. And we grow up believing wizards or Super People will save us, save society, make things better.

I think we, the people, are now so passive and misinformed and entrained to stare at screens projecting fantasies, the spectacle of Trump versus Hillary was the best we could hope for. Bernie Sanders was too down to earth (and I don’t mean Middle Earth) and what he envisioned would have required us to share, to be part of a larger community, a society of equals. No wizards. No waving of wands for the easy fix. Just us working together and sacrificing together for the greater good.