Saturday, March 1, 2014

THREE THINGS ARE LEFT TO ME

Compassion, gratitude, acceptance of what is.  Is equals God.  The vast, multi-dimensional tapestry of  "is" I will never comprehend.  I can only feel - eternity around me - infinity - everything - such beauty, such horror.  Such mediocrity, which may only be the corner of the painting where a mouse sits and grooms its whiskers while a television blasts DANCING WITH THE STARS.  A C-level celebrity with a big butt, so stretched with plastic surgery there's probably a little knob made out of skin in the middle of her back.  She wears a scarlet min-balloon and dances with a tuxedoed man who looks like he works at an Arthur Murray studio in Schenectady, New York.  Polar ice caps festooned with pretzels where white bears contemplate their imminent demise - energy and matter constantly merging.  I am stuck here for the moment.  Ego mind still worried because the saint is such a sinner, and someone is going to figure that out.  Going up to where vast clouds drift through the universe.  All the changes - all the objects breaking down to infinitely small powder - all the bursts of love from broken hearts creating rainbows in the misty sky.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF....


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…..

I have a friend who frequently blogs about her own life – holidays, vacations, family visits, memorable meals, surgical recoveries…She illustrates her blog with great pictures and enjoys a wide readership. In my case, I’ve never been able to believe that anyone would be interested in my everyday life.  Still, since almost no one reads my blog anyhow, I might as well take a crack at it.

There are difficulties.  First of all, am I going to tell the truth?  Hardly anybody does.  As Mark Twain pointed out, writers are professional liars.  In general, this is all for the best.  It’s important not to tell people more about you than they want to know.  There are anonymous message boards where people can talk about their anxiety attacks or their struggles with a spastic colon, and that’s all for the best.

Then there are confidentiality concerns.  What can I say about my life without embarrassing other people who are innocent or not-so-innocent bystanders?   Writers are always getting into trouble about that.  Still, I’m going to give this a whirl.

Yesterday.  September 13, 2013.  The thirteenth day of the ninth month of the 13th year of this millennium.  An important day in the Wiccan Calendar, in a month that will be marked by spiritual suffering, according to the ancient art of numerology.  My first memories of the day are at 5 a.m.  Gladiola wakes me up so that I can open his little cat door.  He will slide out into the night to have cat adventures in the green jungle of our backyard and the field that lies beyond.  I go back to bed, but getting back to sleep is not so easy.  The existential horror that has been part of my life for decades overtakes me.  I remember sitting in my second grade classroom and wondering what I was doing there. What is all this? Where was I before I was here? Where am I going?  What is death?  Other kids were cutting out paper bunnies.  I have never, in the intervening years, overcome this affliction.

I lie in bed and feel the earth whirling around me.  The ice caps are melting.   Friends are battling horrific diseases.  Half-naked teenagers are having simulated sex on national television.  Bombs are dropping.  People by the millions are sitting in their houses tweeting and twittering.  Homeless people are lying in the woods, surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes. 

I remember to thank God for this amazing bed, in this beautiful room, for the fan that sits at the foot of the bed blowing a gentle breeze.  For the miracle of indoor plumbing.  For a kitchen that has food, lots of food, too much food.  For my simple Freeman who lies beside me, gently snoring.  He has little existential horror at this time of year because it’s football season.  Then in the Spring there is basketball season. Maybe in my next lifetime I will be a guy.

I take three homeopathic sleeping pills and one Benadryl and eventually I am able to sleep again. 

I wake up to the smell of coffee.  Freeman and I take turns making coffee in the morning, a task complicated by our small herd of domestic livestock:  “Feed me.”  “Fill my water bowl.”  “Let me out.”  “Scratch my ears.”  When it’s Freeman’s turn to make coffee they get short shrift.  He’s not a morning person and he figures they will still be alive and well when I get up and see to their furry needs. 

We lie in bed and watch the hurricane news on the weather channel, and engage in desultory conversation about the coming attractions of day ahead.  Up front there is cleaning out the big thermoses leftover from the meal we took out to Tent City.  As usual, I beg him to clean out the ones that contained meat, a product I do not indulge in.  He wrinkles his nose.  I tell him that it would be even more traumatic for me.  He and the dog will carry out this task.  He power washes the thermoses outside with a hose while Beauregarde licks the ground and wags his tail enthusiastically.  I do the tea thermoses as befits my more refined sensibilities.

Then there is answering email and reading newspapers online.  There is avoidance behavior, like compulsively playing FreeCell and Gold Miner.  In Gold Miner a little guy with a fishing pole captures prizes that are worth money.  At every stage there is a minimum amount of money he must make in order to stay in the game.  I pretend that I am an 18-year-old Vermonter whose parents have tragically died in a car accident.  Can I make enough money to save the farm?  Will I be able to raise my younger sisters or will they be carted off to Kinhaven, the Vermont State Orphanage?  The little man and I fish like mad. 

This is just a little bit thin – it cannot ward off reality for long.  To do that, you need bigger dramas, and at age 68 I no longer work on creating big dramas.  Now there is running loads of laundry, emptying waste baskets, cleaning the cat litter pan, putting stuff back where it belongs, throwing out dead food, planning what to fix for dinner.  There is also music.  I love to play the “Shuffle” station on Pandora Radio.  I listen to a Bach cello concerto and then to Jimmy Rodgers wailing about “A Six-Pack to Go,” and then a Gegorian chant, and then some Dave Brubeck, and then Frank Sinatra remembering a White Christmas.  This station definitely helps me avoid getting into an emotional rut.

The day goes on with errands and television and trips to the garden.  I fix a big egg salad and Freeman makes a garden salad to go with it.  We are having a sandwich and salad dinner, enough food in this heat.  In the evening we plan to go downtown and listen to a Beatles cover band play in the downtown community plaza. 

The music is good but extremely loud.  We sit across from the plaza, in front of the giant clock, with our friend Pat, who has a big cooler full of ice and bottled water.  He has propped two signs up against the clock base:  FEED EVERYONE  and FREE WATER.  The public fountain in the plaza barely works, so he brings this water for the homeless people, or anyone else who is thirsty. Sometimes people give him money, which he uses to buy more ice and water.  He has various friends sitting with him, including a renegade lawyer who used to defend death row inmates, but now has chosen to live outdoors and walk – sometimes 20 or 30 miles a day – for reasons that are not apparent to anyone.  Strange karma, but no stranger than activities people regard as ‘normal,’ such as watching many hours of television a day – surfing from accounts of cheerleaders murdered in 1964, to the adventures of SpongeBob, to talk shows where loud young women proclaim that they slept with 47 guys and want to know which one fathered their baby.  It’s even more confusing now than when I was in the second grade. 

Michael, a young homeless man who is a writer, stretches out on the sidewalk in front of us to take a nap.  We encourage him to move behind the clock, where he will be less likely to attract a curious cop, but he chooses not to.  Homeless people come by and get water.  Snooty housed people walk by with their faces averted.  We are a seedy looking lot.  Old friends come by and chat for awhile.  It is a little like the front porches of my childhood, where people sat out in big rocking chairs while neighbors strolled by, stopping to talk for a few minutes.  We don’t have much of that in our twittering, tweeting world, and I enjoy it.

Tonight, though, there is a slight vibe of danger.  Some teenagers fighting about money, the smell of pot drifting down from a neighboring bench, a guy with a dog on a leash.  He is talking nonstop and waving a half-full bottle of beer.  The dog escapes and runs into traffic.  I bury my face in my hands.  The dog makes it back to the sidewalk and the drunken man walks on.

We decide to go home and eat some ice cream.  It’s been a pretty good day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crack Track Blues


Crack Track Blues

At 9:30 this morning there was an old white woman sitting on my doorstep, weeping in anguish and ringing my doorbell over and over again, wanting money for her “medicine,” as she has before.  She never brings me a receipt because this medicine is crack.  She always tells me she lost the receipt.  She’s a retired hooker a few years younger than me.  I’ve known her for 20 years.  She is called Mom on the streets because she is kind to other homeless people, particularly those who are old and frail. 

She rings my doorbell over and over again, “Please, Miss Arupa, please, please, please,” through her sobs.

I know the details and I know the generalities.  Ninety-percent of all prostitutes were the victim of long-term sexual abuse in childhood.  Hookers are controlled by pimps who feed them drugs, beat them, and take their money. I know this woman’s innocence and know what her life has been.  There is not, within reason, a damn thing I can do for her.

I still feel like Simon Legree.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Enormous Room


The Enormous Room

I first heard this phrase spoken at a lecture at Bennington College, more than 50 years ago.  I did not hear another word of this lecture, except to dimly know that it was about a book by e e cummings.  The walls and the ceilings of the old carriage barn, the ‘room’ of this lecture, dissolved and I found myself in a vast space, alone and with others, who sat in attentive rows, their faces lifted toward the speaker.  I knew the enormous room:  this world, this universe, this infinite and eternal space wherein I found myself, knowing nothing. 

I have spent the rest of my life in this enormous room, sometimes decorating the walls, sometimes erecting a tent in which to huddle, terrified, sometimes as an anthropologist observing and analyzing the behavior of the others who swirl around me.

Jesus is in this room, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tzu… Maps have been made and these maps are worshipped.  Small rooms are erected, within which people pretend that nothing else exists.  Wars, symphonies, forests, dinner parties, festivals, foreclosures, stock markets, farmers markets, the massacre of children, vast tomes, oceans, the auctioning of guns and chamber pots, elections, selections, educations, prisons, cathedrals, insurance policies, covered bridges, hospitals, boats, plots of marigolds….

I forgive everyone.  I forgive myself.  Within this enormous room, who is to blame for anything? 

Vast tumbleweeds of thought dance and crash.

Rutabagasontologicalanorexicaltheoreticallocovoriousrutabagasmillipedestitanicmilitariousphilodendronmagnificentblasmphemygodloveitoushelliferousrutabagablindingnesssnowromincoushollywoodrutabagasbiliousoceanic….rutabagasrutabasrutabagasdeath….

Blownhome…

is

Sunday, June 30, 2013

WHAT ARE ATHEISTS AFRAID OF?

Recently an association of atheists put up a monument to atheism, with quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Madalyn Murray O'Hair in front of a local courthouse that also has a monument listing the Ten Commandments.  I believe in the First Amendment and the free marketplace of ideas, so I support their right to establish such monuments.  Still, why, in my secret self, do I wish atheists would keep quiet about their convictions?  I think it's because most atheists I know embrace a philosophy that sucks the wonder, mystery, and hope out of life.    Life is difficult - a road and a landscape that, for all it's beauty, is blighted with pain and all manner of tragedies and all kinds of questions that have no answers.   To me, their philosophy adds up to the lines from Shakespeare:  "Life is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I am also troubled by the extreme dogmatism of many atheists.  It is possible to debate spiritual questions - Is there a God?  Is their life after death?  Are prayers answered? - with agnostics, with Episcopalians, with Lutherans and Presbyterians and Jesuits... and probably with some atheists.  But Those I have known either get angry - they think I am trying to convert them (I'm not) - or let me know that the subject is boring or too silly to be worth their time. 

In reality, it is not possible to prove, in  a scientific sense, that there is a God or that there is not a God.  Rigid theism and rigid atheism are both based in belief in things unseen and unprovable.  There is empirical evidence for the reality of reincarnation, but most spiritual beliefs and disbeliefs cannot be empirically validated.

In my opinion, the rigid beliefs of fundamentalists are often based in fear.  In such a vast and often terrifying universe it is comforting to think that one has all the answers and a sure-fire map to Heaven.  Fundamentalists tend to get aggressive when their beliefs are challenged.  That is the response of fear and secret doubts that must be drowned out at all costs.  A reality-based belief doesn't need to be defended.  Water does run downhill and if someone chooses to believe that it doesn't, I can live with that.  I have no need to defend truth.  Truth is its own defense.  The beliefs I must defend are those that I suspect may not be true.

So what are atheists - not all atheists but the kind I privately think of as 'fundamentalist atheists" afraid of?  Are they afraid to hope?  Are they afraid of the part of their mind that would embrace irrationality?  I have said in my poems, a time or two, that life belongs to poets, lunatics and saints.  Are my atheist brethren afraid of finding themselves among that number?  Afraid that they will no longer pay their bills, mow their lawns, go to work - but will be walking down fourth avenue in white robes, chanting the ten thousand names of God?

Fear not, atheist friends, it takes a long time, probably many lifetimes, to reach the stage where you will feel impelled to grab your begging bowl and head for 4th Avenue.  Being open to knowing that one does not know, being open to the infinite possibilities of this vast and mysterious universe,  being open to receiving wise counsel from the deepest parts of the self, where the still small voice of Spirit lives, has no downside. 



Saturday, April 13, 2013

RACISM: A PERSONAL MEMOIR

My first encounter with racism occurred in Vermont, in 1949, on the green and fragrant lawn of a Bennington College professor, in a little cul de sac where the neighborhood children ran from yard to yard, blown along by the Tao of childhood.  I was four years old.  I suddenly saw a black child, a boy about seven.   I was absolutely thunderstruck with amazement.  I walked straight up to him and said, "What happened to you?"  The professor's wife pounced on me and pulled me off to a far corner of the yard.

She got up in my face, her hands on my shoulders, and said "Jeremy is a little negro boy.  You must always be nice to him and never say anything about him being negro or about how he looks.  Do you understand?  You must promise me."

"Yes Ma'am.  I promise."

I later learned that Jeremy was a Herald Tribune Sunshine Fund child.  That now defunct New York City newspaper sent low-income inner city kids to Vermont every summer, to give them a vacation out of the city.  Another reason for incessant niceness - on top of being disabled and having some kind of skin condition, Jeremy was poor.

Polite, genteel racism was the custom in Vermont in the fifties, at least on the rare occasions a person of color appeared among us.  Everyone was nice.  Vermont did at least have a long history of support for civil rights.  The house I lived in was over a hundred years old, and was believed to have been a station on the Underground Railroad.  It was said that, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, black persons on their way to Canada were hidden in our coal bin, down in the cellar.  I often went to the coal bin - I dreamed of finding a piece of coal that would still have the lacy imprint of a fossil fern.  While I was there I would lie full length in the coal and imagine that I heard the dogs of the slave traders baying in the distance.  I would tremble and pray to be delivered, and compliment myself on my incredible courage.  By this time I was eight and knew that being black was not a disability or a skin condition.

In June 1963, after I graduated from high school,  my grandmother, who had raised me, sent me to Oklahoma to live with my mother and her new family.  Oklahoma was a shock.  My first day there I picked up a copy of the newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman.  On the front page was a story reporting that the Oklahoma State Legislature was having a formal debate on whether or not Heaven is integrated.  Much like our own legislature here in Florida, this deliberative body was not made up of rocket scientists.  This debate was occasioned by civil disturbances in Oklahoma City, by black teenagers who wanted to be allowed to go to the city's amusement park, where they had ferris wheels, a roller coaster, whack-a-mole games, cotton candy....  Black kids were not allowed to go in and enjoy these delights.  They formed groups, described in the newspaper as 'mobs', who tried to rush the gates of the park, described by the paper as 'riots.'   I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to keep kids of any color out of an amusement park.  More evidence that I was growing up on Planet Crazy, a place run by the inmates. 

I got a job that summer working for a temp agency called Manpower.  They sent me to a textbook publishing company to run their office copy machine.  This was shortly after the U.S. Congress had passed a fair employment act, stating that companies could not discriminate in hiring based on skin color.  That first day of a grownup job in the grownup world, I walked in to a large room filled with desks.  On the wall over the rows of desks hung a sign:

 
WORK WITH VIGOR
 
OR YOU'LL BE REPLACED
 
BY A N****R!
 
 
The sign didn't have asterisks in the final word.  
 
 
It was a lousy summer.   My home life was fairly questionable, and the temperatures stayed over the hundred degree mark for most of July and August.   The District Attorney offered to give a medal to an old white man who defended his convenience store by shooting a Native American boy, a sixteen year old, in the back, because this child was trying to steal a 6-pack of beer.  I hunkered down, like a person who finds herself behind enemy lines, and got through that summer of 1963.
 
In the Fall of 1963 I enrolled at the Unversity of Oklahoma.  That first semester I joined the Students for A Democratic Society, and started doing actions to integrate clubs and restaurants around campus. I particularly remember one blind date I went on, to a popular bar called "Louies.'"  The owner, Louie, looked like a classic Oklahoma redneck, straight out of central casting.  No one had ever seen a black patron at this bar.  I was assigned to go there on a date with a black kid from OU's basketball team.  I am a horizontally challenged person, at barely over five feet tall, and Bernard, my date, was well over six feet tall.  We looked like Wilt the Stilt and Shirley Temple out for a night on the town.  We were served beer and fries just like everyone else.  Either Louie recognized a set up when he saw one, or maybe he wasn't such a bad old boy.  I was disappointed that we didn't get thrown out.  I loved drama. 
 
Maya Angelou once said that racism is like a cobweb that you walk into, or more that you are born into.  You keep pulling it off, this strand and that strand, but you can never get all of it.  Over the years, since my debut as a civil rights activist, I found out how true that is.  My first lesson was in an English class.  The black guy sitting next to me slipped his hand under my skirt and stroked my knee No worse than that, but still unwelcome.  He stared straight forward as if I didn't exist, and I sat frozen.  If he had been a white guy I would have decked him, but I didn't dare risk an incident where I would come off as a racist white girl accusing a black guy of something.  I just never sat next to him again.
 
When I started dating black guys, I was amazed to discover that they could be jerks, just like their white counterparts.  I had bought into positive stereotypes about how all black guys are deep and full of soul and poetry.  Even in my thirties, when I moved to the south, I remember meeting my first black nerd, with the black shoes, white socks, thick glasses and a pen protector in his shirt pocket.  I was surprised.  Even black guys who are jerks, are cool, or had been in my limited experience.
 
I joined the coalition of artists who ran the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, a grassroots, cross-cultural theater where I found myself working along side black artists from the community, as well as in theater projects based in the gay and lesbian community.  I found out that there's a lot more to integration than wearing slogan t-shirts and marching in parades.  It's in actually working with people that the old resentments and old stereotypes - strands of the cobweb - come to light and can be eradicated.  It also takes accommodation.  When Kathy Freeperson and I put on large shows involving straight and lesbian women, black women, working class women and single mothers, we discovered that having onsite child care was a necessity.  Also, providing transportation to those who didn't have it.  Far too many amazing artists go unrecognized and unchallenged because of such barriers to participation.  If you do what it takes to give these artists a chance, the results are rich and various.
 
It is no different in the business of providing services to homeless and hungry people.  At 68 I'm still pulling off strands of the cobweb.  Racial profiling seemed so outrageious until the day I found myself doing it.  I realized that - all unconsciously - I thought a young black homeless guy was more likely to sell a donated tent to buy crack, than other demographics.  In reality, I could name a couple of old white homeless women who have sold tents for cracks.  That experience, of me doing racial profiling, horrifed me into raising my consciousness.  I discovered that to stay out of the cobweb I have to be with another human being in the moment, tuned in to the individual they are, a snowflake like no other in the universe. 
 
 




Saturday, March 16, 2013

STALKED BY JESUS


STALKED BY JESUS

(first installment in an ongoing series, stay tuned…)

 

When I was seven I left the church, but only inside my own head.  I continued to attend church for another six years, having no choice in the matter.  I left because I found out that, according to the God of this church, my little Jewish friends were going to be cast into a pit of fire for all eternity.  In fact, the rules were so strict that hardly anyone was going to Heaven, and certainly not me.  This was not a God I wanted to be associated with.  I would go to Hell with my friends.

 

I didn’t discard God and Jesus though, and certainly not the Holy Spirit, whom I understood as an invisible cloud of love and goodness that kind of floated around like Caspar the Friendly Ghost.  The Holy Spirit was my favorite, or maybe Jesus.  Jesus said things that brought tears to my eyes, like “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He was kind to sinners, healed the sick, gave people food, and asked us to love one another, and not to judge and condemn others.  Judging and condemning were major activities in the small town where I lived, and I wished we could get rid of them altogether.  I was a little fat kid with a crazy grandmother whose mother had run away with a guy who sold magazines, so I had a personal stake in lessening the amount of judgment in the world.  Anyhow, if I gave up God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit I wouldn’t really have any friends at all.