Let Stories Happen

Radical womanA year ago on this day, I woke in despair and disbelief. I had planned on either literally or virtually wailing at the sky last night, to mark a year of despair. Despair had remained, but disbelief had turned into belief. That is, I broke denial and came to believe that the worst actually had happened. It was not a nightmare I would wake from. It was one I was living.

But then, another election happened.

It wasn’t simply that my “side” had won. It was that the true face of America had prevailed. The pale-pink-anger-contorted faces of men had been replaced by faces of many hues and genders, including the face of a transgender woman, and a red-headed man whose grief for the woman who was taken from him by a gun rose to action for gun control.

I don’t believe that women are better than men. Nor do I believe that the hue of one’s skin determines either inherent value or inherent racism.

What I do believe is that the voices, the authentic stories of women and people of color have gone unheard long enough. It’s not that the stories weren’t being told. They were being unheard.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Confederate statues isn’t our history. Slavery is our history.

Conquest of a continent isn’t our history. Genocide is our history.

Neither is a history that has been relegated to the past anymore than an abuser’s apology relegates abuse to the past.

We can only relegate our history to the past when we reconcile it. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution don’t make us a great nation. Our adherence to them is what gives us the tools for greatness. Not a greatness that means we are better than any other country, but rather, a greatness that strives to rise above fear of the other.

We reconcile and overcome our fear of the other by telling and hearing authentic stories.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Tuesday was preceded by a year of what I can only call awfulness. Charlottesville. Las Vegas. Sexual assault and predation exposed and condemned, except for the alleged acts of the man who holds the office of president. Bullying disguised as strength. Racism and xenophobia vaunted as patriotism. And then seven percent of a Sutherland Springs’ population was massacred within minutes, including 8 people encompassing 3 generations from the same family, within minutes.

And then followed the story told by opining politicians: we can’t politicize the massacre by talking about gun control, only by becoming a nation of armed citizens at churches, schools, shopping malls, and so on. We must always fear the other is that story.

That is not the authentic story. That is the covering story.

Fear of change is powerful. Especially if the change means a loss of power, or a perceived loss of power. So, we need to hear the stories those in fear tell, and receive them with compassion, hearing the sub-text behind the story, then transform them.

When I hear former general John Kelly tell the story of the sacredness of his son’s death in combat, underneath the stoic acceptance I hear the unfathomable grief of losing his son, “my boy” he called him.

That, to me, the unfathomable grief of losing a child, of having a child taken violently, is the authentic story—the story that Black Lives Matter is trying to tell. That is the story Blue Lives Matter is trying to tell.

That is a story that can connect us.

We need to change the cultural story from one that divides us to one that connects us.

The only thing that will prevent massacres like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs is to relegate assault-style weapons to their intended purpose: war. There is nothing sportsman about them. Period. Full stop.

In the late 70s Physicians for Social Responsibility used a medical model for arguing against the use of nuclear weapons: if there is no treatment or cure for a disease, the only medical option is to prevent it. I think we need to apply that argument to assault-style weapons.

That, I think, is how we can change that particular story.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” ~Anne Frank

The quote from Anne Frank’s diary is one of her final entries. I never thought she was foolish for writing that, for believing that. I think she saw that we all have, in our hearts, the choice of darkness or light, and that in the end, light would prevail, though it might come too late to save her. Her diary is her story. We owe it to her to tell the story again. Her family, like the families in Sutherland Springs, was massacred. As were the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, the concert goers at Las Vegas, the high school students and teachers in Columbine. Columbine is no longer one of the top 10 massacres.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Those Words of Wisdom

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That’s Mr. Fraser in the middle

The future does not seem as inviting as it once was. It’s not that I see the glass is half empty so much as I fear it is being inexorably pushed to the edge of the counter, not by a playful cat, but rather by a spiteful man with a heart that cannot humanize his experience of being human.

Fifty years ago, I read William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech. What we should write about, he said is the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. That alone is what is worth writing about, he says, worth the agony and the sweat.

I return to that speech at least once a year. The memory of it comes to me rather randomly. In a strange way, in much the same way that grief decides to pay a visit. But, unlike grief, Faulkner’s speech is welcome.

I read it in my senior year of high school, in my English Honors class, taught by the lovely-hearted Mr. Fraser. I had also been in his freshman English class where he read us passages from the Shakespeare plays we studied—read them with the voice of an actor who understood that Shakespeare wrote about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself.

I was in his freshman English class the day JFK was killed. Mr. Snodgrass had rushed into our classroom to retrieve a radio just before the bell rang. As we pulled out our books, the news that President Kennedy had been shot floated across the hallway.

For the next twenty minutes, Mr. Fraser held that class of 14-year olds in his steady heart as we waited, not knowing what we were waiting for. First we heard he had been shot. Then we learned he had been shot in the head. Twenty minutes into the class, the news that he had died floated across the hallway.

The president has died, the announcement came over the school’s public address system. School is dismissed.

A few of the 14-year old boys sprang to their feet and cheered that school had been dismissed. I suspect their reaction didn’t come from malice, but rather a 14-year old boy’s confusion about how to react to his emotions.

Mr. Fraser, who had been so calm and comforting, pulled off his glasses and glared at them. He was barely 5’4’’ tall, but he loomed over the classroom at that moment. “A man has died.” He said it with his Shakespeare voice. “Respect that.”

Mr. Fraser was the adult in the room that day, though he was probably no more than twenty-four. What he spoke were words of wisdom.

I cherish my education at Granada High School in Livermore, California. It comprised literature, history, science, and civics. It gave me no absolutes. It gave me a foundation to think, and taught me how to learn. It gave me a way to be in the world, to navigate what was to come.

That is why I fear the glass is about to be pushed off the edge.

dad with still

My dad in his khakis — he wore them everyday when he went to work in Saudi Arabia. Here he is with his still—homemade hooch because alcohol was illegal in Arabia.

I come from a working class background. My dad was an electrician, a proud member of the IBEW. Whenever I hear that the working class white man is angry and feels forgotten I understand what that means. My father did get left behind. And it was Ronald Reagan who left him behind by weakening his union, breaking its ability to negotiate the value of his labor. He spent the last five years of his life without getting a cost-of-living raise. That ate into his pension and left him feeling that his labor was not valued and so he was not valued.

What I don’t understand is how that justifies the trope, “the heartland doesn’t care about whether Russia interfered with our election — all they care about is not being left behind economically.”

If that indeed is true, that those in the heartland feel that way, I say shame on them. My father never would have bought the bullshit that is being spewed by our current president. He never would have believed that this man-boy born into financial privilege was anything like the men who toiled as my father did, counting on their paycheck to care for their families. He understood that we are a self-governing nation. And he was proud of that and understood that meant vigilance.

The easiest way to gain control over a nation is to divide it. To convince those who have been left behind that that “other” over there is the one who took from them their God-given right to whatever was taken. God chose them, not the other.

What I learned in high school has never been more clear to me than it is now because I have never felt that what I cherish about my country is in danger of being overtaken by men and women whose conflicted hearts have been turned to stone—who have spurned the better angels of their nature.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”~Abraham Lincoln

Whether that glass is half full or half empty, once it is pushed off the edge, there is no more glass, nor what was in it.

I don’t know how to protect that glass or how to catch it if it is pushed over the edge. I have never felt so hopeless and helpless as I do now.

And then I re-read this by Joseph Campbell in “Thou Art That”:

We can no longer speak of “outsiders.” It was once possible for the ancients to say, “We are the chosen of God!” and to save all love and respect for themselves, projecting their malice “out there.” That today is suicide. We have now to learn somehow to quench our hate and disdain through the operation of an actual love, not a mere verbalization, but an actual experience of compassionate love, and with that fructify, simultaneously, both our neighbor’s life and our own.

So there they are—the words of wisdom I was seeking. And these:

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which (sic) have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. ~William Faulkner from his Nobel Prize speech

Write about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. Recognize the darkness that lurks in the heart, but glorify the better angels of our nature. To write is to hope. And so I will.

Post Script: Tom and I saw Mr. Fraser, by then we called him Bert, in 1995 while visiting New York City. Sadly, that was the last time we saw him. He passed away shortly thereafter, leaving the world a little poorer.

Mad Women #metoo

at 19

My mother at 19.

What if you had not been afraid to go down that street, go into that bar alone, wear that outfit, be there at night, apply for that job, sit alone at that movie, ask for that favor, drive through that neighborhood, take that creepy prof’s class, knock on that stranger’s door, sit in that seat on the bus, take that trip alone…how different might your life have been? What was lost because you were-are-forced to wear the cold shackles of fear?

Mad Men is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have one friend who didn’t like it for how it portrayed women. She’s 10 years younger than I am, so she missed the era in which it takes place.

Mad Men accurately portrays the culture of the 60s—a culture that was emerging from the emotional fallout from the Depression and World War II. One of Lily Tomlin’s characters referred to the 50s as 10 years of foreplay. By the time the 60s arrived, there was, shall we say, a lot of pent up frustration, along with the Pill. One could have sex, it seemed, without consequences.

I turned 20 at the end of 1969. A whole lot hadn’t changed. Help wanted adds were categorized as “Help Wanted Men” and “Help Wanted Women.” At the University of California San Francisco in 1972, one secretarial position requirements included being multilingual, knowing medical terminology, and having a college degree. That was in the women column. A janitorial position, in the men’s column, required a high school diploma. The janitorial position paid more—because it was assumed that men had a family to support while the woman was just marking time until she got married.

I overheard one of the doctors say that the best secretary you could get was a single mother. She would stick around no matter what because she had a child (or children) to support, and was less likely to get married because what man would want to take on a woman with a child (children)?

Fast forward to 1987. I worked at American President Companies, a company steeped in nautical tradition, including a submission to hierarchy. When you’re aboard a ship, you want the Captain to be in charge. But the hierarchy always had men in charge. So, what cascaded down was an unspoken but firmly embedded sympathy for men and what they had to endure.

I had already proven myself as more than capable. I had taken my assignments and run with them, raising the quality of the publications that were coming out of the department to a level that caught the attention of Corporate Communications. The company was leading the way information technology was changing the shipping industry. Corporate Communications wanted to make sure that internal communications helped shape the cultural change that resulted. They recognized that I had given the Information Technology newsletters a higher profile.

After my success, my supervisor told me that if I learned new technology, I might be promoted. Not I would be. I might be. He told my coworker, a man who was less technically skilled than I, that if he started coming in on time he would be promoted. They both were married with children.

When my mother entered the workforce, she thought there were the “front-office girls” and the “not-front-office girls.” Front office-girls were hired because they were eye candy for whoever walked into the office. Cheered the place up.

My mother thought of herself as a “not-front-office girl.” She had to rely on her skills to make her way in the world. And she resented it. She thought that held her back from realizing whatever dreams she might have had. She thought I was one of the front-office girls. She considered me to be pretty, so thought the way would be paved for me.

That was very confusing for me. I thought I had to choose. I could not be both pretty and smart—a truism reinforced by the culture. I definitely didn’t choose the paved path, but I also didn’t choose the path of embracing being smart. Off and on throughout our lives together, my mother resented me for not choosing to have my way paved as well as for what she thought was an option for me.

I had kept a lid on my smart. Lesson learned not just because of my relationship with my mother, but from the culture. It wasn’t until I was 60, after my mother had died, that I finally made the choice, when I finally embraced that I was smart and talented and was entitled to those gifts. It happened when I directed and produced a production of The Vagina Monologues. Sadly, my mother had died by then. I think she would have enjoyed it. And, may I say, if you look at the photo of my mother at the top of this blog, one would wonder why she didn’t think she was attractive. She was Lauren Bacall-sultry attractive.

I say this not to diss my mother. Or to whine. I say this because I feel like my decision not to choose came from a lack of courage. I was afraid that I would somehow diminish my mother if I showed her that the point was not to be the front-office girl, but to be a woman who is not afraid of her own power. And if I diminished her, I would lose her. I know that last sentence is true because I am on the verge of tears as I write it.

On Mad Men, Joanie was one of my favorite characters. She personified what my mother thought of as the front-office girls. They were the beauties, the women who brought men to their knees with their beauty. They had it made in the world. They would be taken care of. They were safe. They were paid for their beauty.

Joanie’s reality was, of course, far different, as was the reality for all those front-office girls my mother longed to be. Joanie, however, persisted and she prevailed. She found the success she thought was only available to men.

But what a price she had to pay.

Which is why #metoo happened this week in response to Harvey Weinstein.

This is not about Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein does not just happen in Hollywood—Hollywood just reflects the culture that casts women aside once they reach their 30s.

This is not about men. I am married to a man who cherishes me for being smart and tells me every day that I am beautiful and he worries that I don’t know that I am.

This is not about alpha men. Alpha men are leaders. And by leader, I mean one who has the best interest of the pack in their heart. They are the Mufasas. The Trumps, Weinsteins, Cosbys, Iagos, and so on down the road are the Scars—aware enough to know they don’t have what it takes to be an alpha, but simmering with resentment because they don’t.

This is about a culture that has become so poisoned by the fear of beautiful smart women that it enforces a code of silence when women are brutalized, raped, and emotionally bullied to humiliate them. To put them in their place—rob them of the dignity of their life spirit. And, by beautiful women, I don’t mean the front-office girls. I mean the beauty of a soul that has not been brutalized into submission.

I’ve been angry for a long time about my choice to not choose. I own that. But now, I’m choosing. And I’m mad. I’m mad because we are allowing a sick, festering culture of meanness to prevail.

I’m a Mad Woman. And it’s time for Mad Women to rise and rid our culture of the festering meanness.

Wonder Women, indeed.

The Patience of the Vineyards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s more than the pleasure of wine.

There’s an ambiance to it. Different than beer. Different than a cocktail. You pair it with a meal. Or maybe you just fill glasses with your favorite wine, regardless of how it pairs or is rated.

I lived in wine country in California. The other wine country. Livermore valley. It actually has the oldest wineries, but during Prohibition, Napa-Sonoma overtook it.

This is my favorite time of year in the vineyards around Livermore. The dying leaves turn vibrant yellows, oranges and reds, and the autumnal light makes them glow with a softness that contrasts with the gnarly twists and turns of the eternal vines.

The vines are old. I don’t know how old, but they are old.

It occurred to me one day as I drove along Arroyo Road that producing wine is an act of faith and patience. The vines have to survive late frosts in Spring. Too much rain or a drought. Heat that might shrivel the grapes into raisins.

Once the grapes are harvested and crushed, one has to let them sit years for them to transform into the wine that delivers pleasure.

It takes more than faith and patience. It takes extraordinary faith and patience. It gives one hope for the future.

I thought of that as I’ve watched the fires ravage and consume the lives and land north of San Francisco.

This is a scary time of year in California. There are really two seasons in that part of the state: dry and rainy. So when October comes, and rains are still a month or two out, the beautiful golden hills covered with live oaks are also kindling waiting to be ignited.

I read that the fires that started in the middle of the night on Sunday traveled at 40 to 50 miles an hour. One doesn’t think of fire as something that can travel like wind. But it can. And when it does, its wildness is ferocious. It’s appetite insatiable.

I remember the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991, watching as fire trucks sped past houses burning bright because they could not save them.

A firestorm.

I cannot read about the course of the fires without weeping. Towns with familiar names are being evacuated—places where people were surrounded by the patience and faith of the vines. At one winery, the fire consumed vines that originated in the 19th century.

The fires haven’t spared the apple orchards, where trees that gave us apples for over 100 years stood helpless in the path of its fury.

And, of course, it hasn’t spared the suburban homes and hotels with names like Hilton that sprang up around the vineyards. Sprang up to enjoy the faith and patience of the vineyards.

It’s apocalyptic people are saying. A black scar that once was filled with the colors of vineyards in October.

One can hardly catch one’s breath.

It is apocalyptic, what we’re seeing. There’s a depravity to it because climate change is certainly driving the apocalyptic tone of what nature does. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires happen. But they are becoming increasingly ferocious as the earth adapts to human-created changes in temperature.

And now, Americans are dying in Puerto Rico because they do not have clean water available to them.

I want to restore my faith and patience in my country. But right now, we are being held hostage by a man who has a festering wound in place of his soul. A man with a heart so tiny, it doesn’t exist.

I watched a couple of episodes of “The Newsroom” last night. It’s seven years old, and it eerily predicted where we are now.

The fourth estate, the journalists, right now are keeping us from tumbling off the precipice of self-governance into an oligarchy. We are blessed to have military leaders who take their oath to protect and defend the Constitution seriously.

If we are to be self-governing, we need to respect governance. Otherwise we end up with a self-serving oligarch whose festering wound spreads its lethal infection to the earth, and thus to us.

My patience for Trump’s learning curve expired months ago. To be honest, I never have had any patience for him. His actions are leading us to the brink of nuclear war. My patience for his party’s Congressional leaders has long expired. We are dependent on them to act, and they aren’t. They are stuck, it seems, in a La Brea tar pit of cowardice. They are not upholding their oath to preserve and protect the Constitution.

I’ve always had faith in my country, believed that it had the mechanism that would lead us to the better angels President Lincoln urged us to heed.

But, my faith is shaky now. The wine country shows us the ferocity of fire. Puerto Rico shows us the ferocity of wind and rain. Compassion is our only hope, but the man with the power to care is threatening to cut off aid to Puerto Rico.

We have given extraordinary power to this man who has a festering wound in place of his soul. As a journalist pointed out this morning, the president’s powers are limited by institutions in everything but initiating a nuclear launch.

I want the patience and faith of the vineyards to be restored. I want to feel the extraordinary faith and patience that a future will be filled with the autumnal colors of the vineyard. Not one scarred by the ferocity of fire or wind or rain—of nuclear winter.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

“Words lead to deeds . . . They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness.”

St. Teresa

words of wisdom

Let it be. That’s how The Vietnam War documentary ended. After leading me through the minefield of emotions that is that time period for me. It was appropriate to end it with Let it Be. Seeking words of wisdom, let it be, let it be.

I planned on writing about it. My experience watching it, long buried memories revealed, heart wrenching open.

But, it’s hard to catch one’s breath these days. Events rise to overwhelm and outrage. I like that word outrage. There’s enrage, which keeps rage burning inside. And then there’s outrage. Move the rage outside to take action.

Then, Sunday night, another mass shooting. Fifty-nine people were killed and over 500 wounded within minutes at an outdoor concert. Listening to music. Celebrating it.

Five people were shot, three died in Lawrence, Kansas Sunday night as well. There have been more than 1500 mass murders by gun violence since Sandy Hook. And, as someone said, once you shut down debate after 20 children were shot dead, bodies mutilated beyond recognition, you show you accept that gun violence is acceptable.

Gun violence, explosive violence, man-made mayhem has been a part of my life, a part of my country’s life, since I was old enough to be aware of a world outside my home.

Civil rights activists gunned down

Four girls my age bombed into oblivion during Sunday School

Medgar Evers

John F. Kennedy.

Malcolm X

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bobby Kennedy

I was 14 when Medgar Evers and John F. Kenney were killed. Eighteen when King and Kennedy were shot dead two months apart. It seemed like hope died when Bobby was killed.

And the violence continued. In Vietnam. In Central America. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. In America.

Columbine

Oklahoma City

Virginia Tech

Sandy Hook

Florida

Las Vegas

And then there’s the underlying violence of “otherism.” Dog whistles it’s called. Puerto Ricans are suffering because they just want to be taken care of. They are brown skinned and speak Spanish, after all.

It’s as if every day, a rogue wave sweeps me out into a churning sea, drops me into a riptide of furious impotence, then spits me out to experience another day of events that arise from the depths of human indecency and depravity.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. They offer no consolation for the afflicted.  It just means, Thank God it wasn’t me this happened to.

 

“Remember, too, that little-used word that has just about dropped out of public and private usage: tenderness. It can’t hurt. And that other word: soul — call it spirit if you want, if it makes it any easier to claim the territory. Don’t forget that either. Pay attention to the spirit of your words, your deeds. That’s preparation enough. No more words.”

Raymond Carver

I am seeking words of wisdom.

Words that lead to deeds.

That prepare my soul.

Make it ready.

Move it to tenderness.

Tenderness. That’s what went missing on January 20, 2017. What got banished. With each passing day, tenderness as a national value has been driven deeper into the wilderness.

I have just started to emerge from the deep well of despair I fell into on November 9, 2016. I don’t really even know how, or why, I emerged. I suspect it has something to do with my heart. Not allowing my heart to be irrevocably broken by the tiny-hearted.

I read that the temperature of the fire that will cremate a body is determined by the heart. The heart does not go gently into that dark night. Its density makes it linger.

There is no closure. No magic moment that tells us, okay, that’s done, now you can move on.

There is only experience. It’s never done. You never move on from it.

It’s always there in our hearts and souls. The best we can do is have compassion for the experience, and learn to live with it, to weave it into the tapestry that is our life. Be willing to love knowing that love is not the answer. It’s just what we do because our hearts can endure it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am seeking words of wisdom.

Words that lead to deeds.

Prepare my soul.

Make it ready.

Move it to tenderness.

From the Microcosm

King Lear_HARRY MELLING_FRANK LANGELLA_STEVEN PACEY _PC Richard Termine

Photo Credit: AP—Frank Langella as King Lear

Gloucester
Oh, let me kiss his hand!
Lear
Let me wipe it first. It smells of mortality.


 

We are at the mercy of the elements. They are raging all around us. For some they are raging right where they are.

It is not so much that the elements are out of control as that we are not in control.

The stormy heath reflected the storm in King Lear’s soul. This is my stormy heath: Hurricanes. Floods. Wildfires. Earthquakes.

It reflects the storm that has been raging in my soul for lo these past few months. I woke in despair pretty much every day. Woke being a relative term since my sleep was something less than—well sleep. Night and day merged into one endless unsettling dream state.

And then, rather suddenly over these past two weeks, a calm came over me. I slept. And then I woke. And then I went about my daily life.

I became the eye of the hurricane.

I started each morning writing in my journal. I wrote two blog posts, which meant I had something to say again. Or perhaps more, that I could articulate what was swirling in my head and heart.

A darkness descended on the world with the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. I’m not going to apologize for that statement or even qualify it as an opinion. I think one can observe the world and see it is just the truth.

Religious opinion trumps (you will pardon the expression) science. Mansplaining is getting institutionalized in law. Women are told to shut up and know their place (she was warned, yet she persisted). The very narrow world of white, male privilege is being venerated (Charlottesville, repeal of DACA, Joe Arpaio).

I think these fools thought they could build an impenetrable wall around a very small universe that once was. The Jim Crow, father-knows-best, you’re-such-a-pretty-girl-why-can’t-you-make-a-good-cup-of-coffee, god-hates-anyone-who-isn’t-like-me, climate-change-is-a-hoax universe. A wall that would keep life out.

And then came the hurricanes, the floods, the wildfires, the earthquake. Not to mention nuclear weapons in the hands of two infants in men’s bodies.

I learned about the philosophy of the microcosm and macrocosm from my high school English teacher Ed Brush—aka, Mr. Shakespeare. And that’s what I thought of when the chaos and destruction began.

The microcosm is the world of the mortal. We live in our own microcosm as well as a collective one. The collective one right now is particularly micro because the “leader” of the free world has, as Bill Moyers says, an open sore in place of a soul. He has no respect or compassion for mortality.

The macrocosm is the land of the immortal. That which will continue with or without us. It encompasses life and death and ambiguity. Earth is steady and has earthquakes. Wind is gentle, and it wrecks havoc. And, in its absence, keeps sailing ships in the doldrums. Fire warms us and consumes us. Water sustains us and overwhelms us.

We are rarely in control. Not being in control is the essence what it is to be mortal, to live in a microcosm.

Feeling that lack of control is what brought me to a place of calm. Not the calm of the doldrums, but the calm of the eye of the hurricane. Mortality gives us definition. We have a beginning and an end parenthesis.

Faulkner said that writers should banish fear, the fear of being blown up by nuclear weapons, from their workshop, for only then can we write about the human heart in conflict with itself—only that is worth writing about. I learned that from Bert Fraser, another high school English teacher.

It feels good to not be afraid. It feels good not being in control. It feels good to ride out my own life, my private microcosm, to have faith that my life matters regardless of where the parenthesis ends.

To know that being human is to have a heart in conflict with itself is to have compassion for what it means to be human—to embrace our microcosm as part of the gigantic macrocosm that existed long, long before we did, and will go on for a long, long time, with or without us.

The Story 

fire and flood2There are two sides to the story, “they” say. But really, there’s simply the story, driven by yearnings challenged and yearnings thwarted.

I thought of this after hearing a Houston couple (my age or older) interviewed over the weekend about what it meant for them to meet 45 (I cannot write his name). The husband glowed from having touched his (small) golden hand. The only thing that would match her husband’s feeling about this hand touching, his wife said, would be when he meets Jesus after he dies.

I could not find charity in my heart for them. My most uncharitable thought was that Darwin was wrong in his theory of evolution: this was a profound example of survival of the least fit. They had, I was certain, already procreated so their genes had replicated. You can’t fix stupid.

Then I thought, Jesus would roll over in his grave if he heard himself being equated with this man who, as Bill Moyers says, has an open sore in place of his soul. But Jesus rose from the dead, or so the story goes, so there is no grave in which he can roll over.

I find myself in this dilemma: as a writer, I must have compassion for my characters. I need to feel deeply that the character is right from the character’s point of view. I need to become god-like in the world I am creating, with a heart so open, I grasp the ordeal it is to be human and find some shred of compassion for being human.

Being human in a world that has no sense in the way we want to make sense of things. This happened because of that. If we do that, this won’t happen. God does things with infinite wisdom so that’s why He loves us more than those people over there who look so different from us.

I do believe there is an Infinite Wisdom out there, but it isn’t a being that is hamstrung by hubris. It isn’t the god of Abraham who asked that he sacrifice his son to show his absolute fealty to the Will of god. I’ve always thought that god was a total asshole.

The Infinite Wisdom I believe in is the one that comprises life and the inevitability of death. Humans, like all living creatures, planets, stars, and so on, begin and then they come to an end. And, now, having just written that, I wonder if the story of Abraham was a metaphor for my version of the Infinite Wisdom. In the end, we are subject to the Infinite Wisdom and sometimes that means we suffer the incomprehensible—losing a child.

I keep trying to wrap my head around the Abraham and Isaac story.

But, I digress.

I’m having a real hard time feeing charitable to anyone who voted for 45 and still believes it was the right decision. I especially feel that way towards those that associate Jesus with you-know-who.

This isn’t political. It’s moral. The story being written is sadistic, cruel, and profoundly solipsistic. It is a secular story disguised as sacred text. A retelling of the Midas touch, only people forget the end of the tale—the daughter of Midas runs to embrace him with love, and dies—the embrace turns her into a gold statue.

This story that is being written by he-who-I-shall-not-name does not end well. Holocausts never do.

The media this weekend fell all over themselves lauding you-know-who with praise, hoping against hope that he was learning to be presidential, that he was learning empathy. Well, Joy Reid didn’t fall for it. He’s 71 she said. This is who he is. He’s the man with the Midas touch—the touch that kills love. (She didn’t say the Midas touch part, that’s me.)

I don’t know what to do. I have been filled with blind, impotent rage, waiting for the Republicans in charge to choose country, love, morality, kindness over crass desire for power. They tend to be white boys and it is my belief that what they want is the power to make the world conform to their own image. To have the Midas touch.

This latest decision to betray the Dreamers is the final straw for me. I cannot abide anyone who doesn’t see or feel the cruelty in that decision.

I was hoping by writing this I would be able to find my way through—to finding just the right action to take. I haven’t.

What I have done is let go of the pressure to see that there are two sides to every story. No. There is just the story—and where that can take us.

Right now, the story we see unfolding is a secular one disguised as sacred text. Finite wisdom.

The Midas touch—the fires, floods, and destruction lurking behind them.