Transition to Acceptance

The sky is turning bright pink in the east. Earlier, it was orange and the trees against the horizon looked black, as if they were shadows.

The day broke in beautiful form. But then I made the mistake of opening a news website. I’m an idiot. A quick glance at the headlines distracted me from the orange horizon and the intermittent thin ribbons of dark grey clouds. Rage erupted in me like a geyser, or a volcano, prompting me to write a lengthy diatribe describing the people who are, at the moment, afflicting the aggrieved. We, the people are the aggrieved. I wrote a rather lengthy post in which I explained that I had modified an adjective into a noun and I called for some rather harsh treatments of the aggrievers.

But then I stopped. What good could it possibly do? So I returned to the sky. The now pink sky. The sky whose orange brilliance was visible, I’m sure, while I was writing about the ill-will I wished would befall certain people. Now, though, I am satisfied that a record of my thoughts exists. It’s not in a public place, but it’s in  a place readily available to me if ever I feel a need to ratchet up my blood pressure and cause every muscle in my body to get tense and ready for a fierce struggle. I would rather not feel that need.

Now I don’t need to ready myself for battle; neither verbal nor physical engagement. Now, I feel a desire (maybe a need, but I can’t differentiate between the two at this moment) to soften and to erase every hint of stress from my mind and my body. I want to be in love with the world again. I need to embrace and be embraced. I want to appreciate the horizon, morphing from pink to tan, fading into beige.

I want to erase “want” and replace it with “accept.” That’s it; I accept the beauty, even the hideous beauty, of the world around me. There is no ugliness; there is only another form of beauty, a natural mirror image of the perfection we see, tinted with imperfection and stunning brokenness. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi is a world view in which imperfection and transience are valued and considered beautiful. That’s the world view I readily accept as a replacement for the one that once occupied my mind. Easier said than done, of course.

There’s an inexplicable beauty in accepting everything in our paths and in our lines of sight. Not only accepting, but embracing and appreciating even the broken pieces of life and humanity. If I could feel that sense of acceptance and appreciation all the time, I would be more content with who I am. I could accept even the unlovable pieces of myself while trying to replace them with aspects worthy of love. That is, perhaps, the hardest part of acceptance; giving up the war against aspects of oneself that are unlovable.

I find fault with too many things and too many circumstances. Rather than complain, the best response to displeasure is to seek the lessons from experience. What will it teach me, if only I am willing to listen and contemplate? I do contemplate well, I think, if I give myself a nudge in that direction. Sometimes, though, I react instead of allowing my contemplative self to emerge from the wreckage of an unpleasant experience.

Goddamn it! Almost imperceptibly, I slipped from acceptance to fault-finding. And then to anger about it. This transition will be harder than I thought; it has always been harder than I thought.

Posted in Acceptance, Anger, Self-discipline, Serenity, Wabi sabi | Leave a comment

Molly Ivins Documentary

Last night, we had dinner with a friend. She served us wonderful chili and treated us to a documentary about Molly Ivins entitled, Raise Hell: The Life And Times Of Molly Ivins.  I have been a Molly Ivins fan for years. I cried when she died; not because I was a fan, but because I felt like the world had lost one of the bravest and most articulate observers (and critics) of politics whose words I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Several years ago, I received a solicitation, asking for donations to help fund the development and production of the documentary we watched last night. It was one of the only such solicitations I recall thinking was unquestionably worthwhile, so I donated. I don’t know how much; probably a very meager $10 or so. Regardless of how much I donated, though, I am glad I did. That having been said, on reflection after watching the documentary last night, I think the work could have been much better.

In reflecting on what we watched last night, I think too little attention was paid to the substance of Molly’s writing in favor of picking one-liners from her writing and videos featuring her. I understand the rationale behind using the one-liners; they are powerful and funny and memorable. But Molly was much more than a talented writer and deliverer of one-liners; she was a brilliant thinker and writer whose words should make us think about what we are doing to ourselves by electing the likes of Trump and Pence and the Congressional stooges who give the two men their undying loyalty, even after rightfully labeling Trump as utterly unfit for office. But that’s another story.

Despite my morning-after disappointment, I enjoyed the documentary and I think it’s worth watching. My point is that it could have been much better. But if I think it could have been much better, why didn’t I get involved in making it? Good point; I’m being a Wednesday morning quarterback, the sort of person who doesn’t have the wherewithal to do something myself, so criticizes someone who does. Yech!

As I consider who might be a current-day Molly Ivins, I can’t come up with anyone. The only one close, in my view, is Rachel Maddow. However, as much as I enjoy watching and listening to her, Rachel isn’t as “pure” as Molly in the sense that Molly focused on right and wrong, whereas I think Rachel focuses on right and left. Molly wasn’t afraid to be a heretical liberal, arguing against popularly-held liberal positions (through, for the life of me, at this moment I cannot think of a specific example). I lean far left, but I believe in discriminating between right and wrong. Just because something is embraced by the “left” does not mean it is “right.” That’s why, occasionally, I do not vote straight ticket; sometimes a Democrat is so utterly bad that a Republican is preferable, even though the Republican’s views might conflict with mine.

Back to the documentary: Something that occurred to me during the film, but was on my mind more afterward, was the fact that Molly adopted a strong Texas twang and behaved in stereotypical Texan style (she even mentioned her boots, pickup, beer-drinking, etc.). I think she had more of an impact on conservative Texans by behaving like them than she would have had had she behaved and dressed like the stereotypical Smith graduate (she was a Smith graduate, although certainly not the “stereotypical” one).  In that way, I think she connected with people who otherwise might have dismissed her entirely. She never presented herself as better than others; she never suggested her education and the family she was from made her a better person than “shit-kicker cowboys.” That lesson might be one today’s liberals could learn from. I tend to see or perceive an attitude (through dress and demeanor) that says “I’m smarter than you” when liberals engage with conservatives. And, to be honest, I often feel that way because I cannot for the life of me understand how a person who otherwise seems intelligent can possibly hold certain political views; I assume the “otherwise seems intelligent” is an erroneous perception on my part.  I have to try to do better.

***

I’ve been up since around 4:00 this morning and have written a poem I plan to read tonight at Wednesday Night Poetry. But after thinking about what I just wrote, I may revisit the poem; not because it relates in any way to Molly Ivins or politics, but because it may be too high-falutin’ to have any value.  Back to the drawing board and then, later, perhaps back to sleep.

 

Posted in Film, Politics | Leave a comment

Elbow

Elbow McMaster stood facing the front door, poised to spring upon the woman the moment she entered. His eyes, fixed on the peephole well above his eye level, noticed a momentary interruption in the light on the tiny circular glass view port. Elbow’s legs tensed and bent ever-so-slightly; he crouched in preparation for an attack. The sound of a key entering the lock was barely audible, but Elbow heard it and he leaped into action. As the door swung open, he lunged at the woman’s chest. The instant his taut body touched hers, the woman grasped him with both arms and pulled him to her. Obviously, he thought, she was expecting this.

Of course she was. This was a daily routine. Every day, at almost the exact same time, Elbow lunged at Caroline as she entered the house, home from work. Elbow’s tail, wagging furiously, swatted Caroline mercilessly and his tongue licked every bit of exposed skin from her face to the base of her neck.

But that was yesterday. Today, Elbow’s watch at the front door lasted much longer than usual. The sun’s light in the east windows of the house peaked, as usual, just about the time Caroline usually got home. And then, over the course of an hour or so, the light began to dim. As the minutes passed, Elbow nervously shifted his weight from one side to the other, keeping his legs in condition to spring the moment the door opened. But when darkness fell, Caroline still had not arrived home, so he knelt on the carpet in front of the door, resting his legs. Still, he kept watch, waiting for Caroline to arrive.

Around ten in the evening, Elbow heard a key entering the lock. He sprang into action, ready to cover her with dog kisses. But as he flew through the air at the figure entering the front door, he sensed something was different. This was not Caroline! This was Caroline’s friend, Mona! Elbow turned his head to the right and barked, just as his shoulder smashed into Mona’s chest.

“Oh, Elbow! Oh, boy, I’m sorry I’m not Caroline! I’m so sorry!” Mona kept her balance, even as Elbow ricocheted to the floor from her chest. Mona put her arms around Elbow and hugged him close to her. Tears flooded her cheeks and dripped onto Elbow’s furry back.

Elbow knew the meaning of tears. Caroline had shed tears when her friend, Skip, had left one morning and the police came that night to tell her he wouldn’t be coming home. Elbow knew Mona’s tears meant the same thing.

“Elbow, Caroline’s not coming home. Caroline was in an accident, Elbow. You’re going to come live with me now, boy.”

Elbow’s tears didn’t flow as easily as Mona’s, but they flowed, nonetheless. He hung his head, then raised his head high with his nose pointing to the sky and wept the way dogs do, with a low mournful howl.

Posted in Fiction, Writing | 4 Comments

Writing Like a Curative Drug

I once wrote, during a period of personal introspection and social observation,

Writing is like a drug; it can be a cure or an addiction.

A lot was missing in that simple statement. One missing piece concealed the danger of spare language.

As I reflect on that assertion several years later, I still believe what I wrote, but my attitude about writing has changed somewhat. I think it can be both a cure AND an addiction. It can be a treatment just short of a cure. And it can be an irresistible craving just short of an addiction. Would I have been more accurate to have written the following?

Writing is like a drug; it can be a cure or an addiction or it can be both. And, it can be simply a treatment just short of a cure or an irresistible craving just short of an addiction.

The simpler statement, “it can be a cure or an addiction,” presents a more powerful statement, but it conceals part of the truth. The statement was not meant to misrepresent reality, but unless one reads between the lines, it does. That is an attribute of a lot of writing, especially poetry.

Poetry, in its spareness and its economy with words, carves away explanation, leaving scraps of unsaid description behind, unable to disclose what was in the poet’s head during the writing of the poem.  On the one hand, that raw, skeletal, glimpse into meaning requires the reader or listener to think, filling in the unsaid words with her own. On the other, though, the remaining words can mislead the audience by omission (or, rather, the audience can allow itself to mislead itself).

In spite of my tendency to use thirty words when five will do, I believe economy with words is a more powerful way to communicate ideas. It is a more powerful way to engage emotionally with the reader or listener.

But, in the wrong hands, spare writing can be intentionally misleading and dangerous. Take, for example, the current administration. Quite aside from its raging current of blatant lies, the few trickles of truth tell only parts of stories we need to hear; parts that, without explanation, lead to erroneous conclusions and positions that have no basis in reality. Feeding empty heads with these lies and these trickles of truth, the administration molds unthinking people into weapons of evangelical disinformation. The “base” becomes a propaganda machine.

To  confront and overcome the disciples of evangelical disinformation, we need writing that looks and acts like a curative drug. Short, spare, simple, and catchy; attractive words that serve as bait, followed by short, explanatory words that overcome the lies with inescapable and irrefutable truth.

The explanation seems so simple. But it is almost impossibly hard. The power of words grows exponentially in parallel with the intellects of the people who read or hear them; their power is muted and smothered when confronted with stunted intellects. And that is the problem we face today. What curative drug can break through a shield formed by ignorance?

Posted in Lies/disinformation, Poetry, Politics, Writing | Leave a comment

Commitment

From time to time, I am surprised by the source of my own questions. This morning, for example, I asked (through Google) how Mexican per capita household annual income compares to that figure in the United States. I would not have had that question but for stumbling across something mostly unrelated; an article that asserted (or was it just suggested?) micro-businesses account for the primary source of income for large proportions of family incomes in impoverished countries. The article implied that “jobs” are few and far between in many countries and, therefore, people create or maintain their own tiny businesses to provide at least meager sources of income.

Before I go on, I wasn’t surprised by the facts and suggestions and assertions; I was surprised that they became sources for some questions I did not have when I awoke this morning.

At any rate, the article and my subsequent question led me to the website for an organization (a company, I assume) called CEIC. CEIC was founded in 1992 in Hong Kong by “a team of expert economists and analysts.” CEIC is a research organization that collects and analyzes macro-economic data from countries around the world. Some of those data and those analyses are available on the organization’s website; more data and more in-depth analyses, I suspect, are available for sale. But that’s an entirely different topic, so I’ll return to my area of interest.

According to data available on the CEIC website, the  per capital annual household income in the United States was $31,454 in 2018. In Mexico, the figure for the same year was $2,782.32. So, the per capita household annual income in the U.S. was more than eleven times greater than in Mexico last year. I knew the difference would be significant, but the size of the difference stunned me.

If my income were reduced to one-eleventh of what it is today, I would either starve or go on public assistance or both. “But the cost of living in Mexico is much less than it is in the U.S., so it wouldn’t be that bad,” some might say.

Sure. Housing in Mexico does not cost one-eleventh the price of housing in the U.S. Nor is the cost of transportation or food in Mexico equal to that fraction of the cost in the U.S. The bottom line is that the economic lives of the Mexican people at large are radically different from the economic lives of Americans. An article in Borgen Magazine discusses food poverty in Mexico, reporting: “In 2008, 18.2 percent of Mexican residents lived in food poverty. Food poverty is defined as not earning sufficient income to purchase nutritious food, even if the total income is used.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reports on its website that 11.1% of Americans lived in “food-insecure households” in 2018. Granted, the data are separated by ten years and by definitions that may not completely correspond to one another, but they offer some interesting (and painful) insights.

I was surprised that the percentage of people who live in “food-insecurity” (I’ll adopt the USDA term) in the U.S. is not even double the percentage in Mexico. Given the enormous income disparity, I would have thought Mexican food-insecurity would be many times greater that American food-insecurity.  I am sure there are reams of data that might help explain why my surprise is unfounded. I wish I knew where to get those data and how to interpret them so I might better understand what, to me, looks like an inexplicable discrepancy. In the absence of both access to the data and the knowledge to properly analyze them, here’s where my mind is going: the vast majority of what I’ll call “excess wealth” in the U.S. goes toward non-necessary expenditures. We know it doesn’t go toward savings; the last figure I saw said U.S. savings amounted to less than nine percent of income, on average. And if memory serves, the Mexican savings rate is actually far greater, somewhere around twenty percent.

So, without the benefit of information and analytical skills, my take is this: Americans engage in wasteful, frivolous spending at a far greater rate than do Mexicans. Back to the source of my original left turn into economic research: if Americans were to divert just a portion of their frivolous spending toward lending money to micro-businesses in Mexico (and many other countries), it might go a long way toward reducing those disparities. I’ve been doing just that for a few years by making loans through KIVA. But none of my loans have been made to micro-businesses in Mexico. I’ve made loans in Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, Columbia, Solomon Islands, and the U.S. All of the non-US loans have either been repaid in full or are being repaid. The only one for which I’ve not yet seen any payments is one I made for an agricultural enterprise in the U.S. While I feel good about doing what I’ve done, the amount of money I’ve lent through KIVA is truly embarrassingly small.

After this morning’s excursion, wading through data I don’t entirely understand and making conclusions I can’t entirely defend, I feel compelled to do more than I have done. But will I do as much as I think all Americans should? No. I won’t. Because, like almost all Americans, my personal comfort and desire for personal and familial financial security is greater than my concern for those who are less fortunate. Some people might say, “You’re being too hard on yourself; you should be proud of yourself for doing more than many do.” I would respond by saying, “No, I’m not being hard enough on myself and on everyone else who has the financial wherewithal to help lift up others and who choose, instead, to “invest” their money in luxuries and other non-necessities. ”

But maybe I am asking all of us to be saints; and I don’t believe in saints. I just wish we all would do more than we have done. I know many of us donate food and clothing to help impoverished people and we may give money to organizations that help people find temporary shelter or even longer-term housing. While that’s admirable, I think longer-term solutions are better “investments” in humanity. Micro-loans can help people generate their own income, buy their own food and clothes, and secure their own housing.

So far this morning, I’ve spent my mental energy comparing the economic behaviors of the U.S. with its Mexican counterpart. The problems of poverty are global. They will require global intervention if they are ever to be solved. And this rambling rant won’t even begin to make one iota of difference; it doesn’t even make me feel good. It doesn’t even strip away some of the feelings of outrage and impotence and sadness that accompany the recognition that we live in a world that is so far from imperfect that it might be the model for inadequacy.

Ach. There’s no value in beating oneself up for one’s failings. The best way forward is, always, a commitment to do better and to do what one can. And so I close this unhappy diatribe with a promise to do what I would have others do.

Posted in Economics, Poverty, Rant | Leave a comment