The Song of the Hole in the Sky

Another take on The Election. A poetic, thought provoking one.

playsonideas

lines written for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump
January 20, 2017

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no truths:
That’s a motto I’ve tried to live by.
But up yonder there’s a hole in the sky;
And you want to hear how it got there.

I’ll tell you now—but don’t expect
The truth to put you easy.
It’s a tale with neither reason nor rhyme,
And nary a moral worth learning.

Up on that cliff—see that rubble and glass?
It used to be a lighthouse.
We villagers built her to keep ships safe,
And we took our turns as her keepers.

Don’t take me wrong—we weren’t good souls,
Nor generous nor kindly.
But we took our turns and shared her light,
And her beam shone bright and ample.

Walking one morning where we walk now,
I saw a gang of sailors
Crowding high by the lighthouse rail,

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After the Storm

storm

In Missouri and Indiana where I spent most of my life, fierce electrical storms crowd late March and early April—some wild enough to portend the end of the world to a woman caught in the boom and blaze show before the downpour.

street-rain

That is what the election felt like the night of November 8.

I awakened November 9 determined to welcome spring.

Two fresh green shoots:Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]
1. Money alone cannot buy elections. “How Trump won by spending half as much money as Clinton.” USA Today, Nov. 10,2016

Just when we thought Citizens United had made cash king

2. The people, yes. Nothing can stop the people

Death was in the air.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]

So was birth.

In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.

In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:   “Where to? what next?”

An excerpt from Carl Sandberg’s book length poem, The People, Yes written in 1936 when I was four years old and the Great Depression was going on eight.

Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tapped into a surge of discontent and longing from “the people.” I suspect Bernie could have ridden that sea of discontent to the presidency. Instead, Trump did.

Responses from people I trust:Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]

Daughter Meta: time to go local. Run for school board.

Friend Susie Nace: One party now controls all three branches of government. FINALLY, action. And with it, accountability.

Companions at Demos on election night

It’s all about education. We guarantee a dumbed-down electorate when we provide quality education only to those who can pay for it. Plus Grace and/or George’s Dylan quote:

“We’re idiots, babe. It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.” Bob Dylan lyric, 1974

Cited below:

The Guardian article and the Vance book help to understand the Trump vote.

Paul Beatty’s can’t put it down novel confronted this privileged white woman with systemic racism.

How welcome spring?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]

With open eyes. Open mind. Open heart. And ready to act

“Before President Trump, we fetch wood and carry water.  We also build resilient communities, model new futures, create new enterprises, produce more delicious food, support each other, build connections. We speak truth to power in calling out the absurdity of assuming economic growth and increasing emissions on a finite and ailing planet.  We reimagine and rebuild local economies, scaling up our efforts, we weave imagination and playfulness through all that we do, work to meet our communities’ needs rather than those of big business, we resist racism, xenophobia and discrimination. We invest differently, tell new stories, celebrate together. ”

Van Jones

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy; A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Paul Beatty, The Sellout: A Novel

The Guardian, The Big Con: what is really at stake in this US election by Ben Fountain

Van Jones: Trump, fetch wood, carry water.

Above it all, including the election

This blog came to me learning over my window at seat 37A marveling at the magnificence of the Rockies. I was flying from Denver to Albuquerque on the last leg of my return from two days with three of the remaining eight Union Queens, my high school buddies. One barely managed to join us after a hospital stay. It was clear that 2016 was our final reunion.

October 26, 2016 would be the twentieth anniversary of the death of Virginia Nora Neunuebel Browne— my mother. Both my mother and my father died during their 85th year; my 85th year began on October 21st.

November 2, Día de los muertos, the beloved Mexican holiday was days away.

skull

All pointed to the end of life, specifically my life.

Above the drone of the engines and the cry of a baby two rows ahead, a song played in my head, sung at a mediation retreat in the Sandia Mountains that surround Albuquerque.

The 121st psalm, set to music by Shlomo Carlebach:

Esa einai el heharim, 
me’ayin me’ayin yavo ezri

I lift up my eyes unto the mountains (Although, thanks to Southwest Air, I was looking down on the mountains.)

From whence comes my help?

Ezri me’im Hashem, 
Oseh shamayim va’aretz


“My help comes Adonai, Maker of heaven and earth”

Who?

And how will the maker of heaven and earth help me accept mortality?

I feel the answer: Knowing I am embedded in the mountains, and the whole of heaven and earth, gives my life and death value, connected as it is to the core of the universe.

Why do I know that in my deepest heart of hearts?

Not a clue, but being confident that the force variously called HaShem, Adonai, Shehekianu Lord, Allah, and all names forgotten through the ages, binds this mighty creation into a whole is enough for me.

And in the words of Nat King Cole song,

“That’s all there is to that.”

And why do I depend so much on the lyrics of songs?

Never mind.

Ándele.

katrina

Why Trump? And what now?

In my rarefied world of liberal sympathizers, no one plans to vote for The Donald.Trump

That may explain why I cannot understand why he would attract a single vote.

That bothers me. I am out of touch with a powerful movement.

I know there are disaffected citizens in my home country that are in pain, that feel many backs are turned on them, who feel dismissed as ignorant bigots who do not deserve a hearing.

But, that many?

And why turn to a candidate of such low moral character? A man, who, to my ears, is full of empty promises?

My early choice, Bernie, also captured fans from the discontented, but with a difference. Feeling the Bern is all about ideas; Bernie himself seems the least egotistical politician imaginable.

As a writer and a human who struggles to connect, I recognize this longing to be seen and understood. Both Bernie and Trump supporters yearn to be heard. They feel alienated not only from their government, but also from the old-style communities that have faded away with small town America—the church down the street where everybody knew your name and the family dinner table.

Yet nostalgia masks the dark side of the old fashioned small town: exclusion of many who were different, refusal to acknowledge evils. The commentator who responded to Michelle’s words about waking up in a house built by slaves with “but those slaves were well fed” recalls my beloved Kentucky-born grandmother’s reminiscences about the Old South: “We loved our slaves; they wanted to stay with us after they were freed.” She was born in 1886, too young for this to have been first hand memory—probably passed down as family history, maybe even learned in school.

I knew she was wrong about the slaves; God alone knows how many other tainted truths I swallowed whole from my family and culture.

From this moment, I resolve to look at my fellows with un-shuttered eyes, to try my best to quench my lifelong snobbery about brains and culture and all the appurtenances of my privileged white, liberal life, and pull those thorns from my heart.

To wander in the fields of flowers, pull the thorns from your own heart.         Rumi.

For a novel solution to an alienated citizenry, read Arthur Waskow, rabbi and activist, who proposes ways to rekindle closeness—grants to form community groups, sponsor community art projects—a promising route.  Waskow post

Many thanks to reader and friend, Marianne Koerner for nudging me to keep blogging.

 

Books as life rafts

booksBack when I retired, I could not read a book during the day. Reading had been a reliable, if obviously addictive sleeping aid for so long that whenever I picked up a book, even my beloved Agatha Christie, I was asleep within ten minutes. Besides, only bored housewives read during daylight hours while eating chocolates and smoking cigarettes.

But my T-shirt does not lie.

The shirt comes from the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis, purchased on a visit with my high school buddies, the Union Queens—all graduates of Union High School, classes of 1950 or 1951. A plaque announced the museum was built with money from the 1903 World’s Fair of Meet Me in St. Louis fame.

Two books shook my world this week:

  1. Cloud Atlas, a novel that Shona, my eldest grandchild recommended for years before I gave in and checked it out of our local library*. A fabulous read by a fine writer, David Mitchell. Highly recommended. On the last of its 509 pages, a character, Adam Ewing, sailing home to California from the South Pacific in 1850 after escaping death by a hair, writes:

“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earthy and its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.

I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”

He vows to pledge himself to the Abolitionist cause when he gets home, knowing his pragmatic father in law will assure him his plan is hopeless, that his efforts will amount to “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.”

”Yet,” asks Adam Ewing, “what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

Amen, hallelujah, ándele.

If you are an American citizen, get to work on the upcoming election: Your drop is needed in that murky ocean.

  1. I visit the library twice a week for an equally fabulous Spanish class, where after class, I am drawn to the used book sale table like a mosquito to a sound sleeper. Last Thursday, I brought home The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman, one of Modern Library’s World’s Best Books. Who could resist?

Last night (still have trouble reading in daylight), I read in James Gleick’s Introduction, the key to why the current bombastic sureties from politicians turn my stomach.

He quotes Feynman.

“Physicists had hands-on experience with uncertainty, and they learned how to manage it. And to treasure it—for the alternative to doubt is authority, against which science had fought for centuries.”

From a jotting on a notepaper: “teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed.” Gleick notes: “This became his credo: he beloved in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing.”

YES! Certainty poisons and leads to crusades and jihads. A modicum of doubt keeps us from the abyss. Never trust the man who is sure of everything, an ignoramus like He Who Is Not To Be Named so as to give him one more iota of publicity.

Doubt trumps dogma every time.

*my much beloved Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende, GTO.

Eyes on the Sky

paris

Paris from satellite, photo credit ESA

It becomes easier and easier to know anything—almost all the world’s knowledge is available online. A late blooming learner, I recently finished a course on Monitoring Climate from Space. I heard about it from a newsletter to which I subscribe from the European Space Agency.

site

One of ESO’s telescopes in Chile, photo credit, ESO

ESA runs the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a facility in Chile’s Atacama Desert—one of the driest, darkest places on earth, making it perfect for viewing the sky. Although a longtime stargazer, turned on by my seventh grade teacher, Sister Carlene, I had never heard of the site, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, until a photo from ESA turned up on my StarWalk app. BTW; if you want gorgeous pictures of sky subjects, subscribe to their feed, ESO publicity.

The course I took describes how satellites monitor and predict ocean temperatures, iceberg fields, and much else, collecting hard evidence of climate change.

cells

Blood cells before being launched into space to the International Space Station on Space X Dragon satellite, purpose: to learn how cells react to living in space., photo credit, ESA

I just began a second course from the same source, Future Learn, on the abdomen. A bit late to be finding outside what is inside my stomach, but I am vague about where my liver or gall bladder is, and about time I find out while they are both still functioning. The courses are all free; the two I have tried well organized and well taught. Most of my Profs had British accents, music to my ears after Downton Abbey.

Among new courses recently announced: Shakespeare and his World, The Mind is Flat; The Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology and The Power of Social Media.

Check them out at https://www.futurelearn.com.

P:S:

Hope some of you saw E. O Wilson, the star of my last blog on PBS. He and his book, Half Earth were featured both on the NewsHour Weekend, and the April 28 edition of the PBS NewsHour. What fun to scoop PBS.

Half Earth is a fit for WinterBloom, since the blog’s theme—“late bloomers” describes Wilson’s daring proposal at 86. No late bloomer himself, Wilson had a long and distinguished career as a naturalist starting as a boy in his native Alabama woods.

PPS. Eyes on the Sky mimics the title of an excellent movie starring Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky, highly recommended by me and Rotten Tomatoes 94%. About drones, not telescopes.

Of ants and plants and life on earth

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It’s been a long stretch between blogs.

The San Miguel PEN series in January and February soaked up hours of time and energy, and then the San Miguel flu season slowed me down. Happily, all is now sunshine and jacarandas in San Miguel, and I have two topics to share.

The first: a newly published book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson. For years and years, E. O. Wilson, the myrmecologist (ant guy) has been my hero. His writings made me a devoted fan of the leafcutter ant. My then husband Harry and I saw these little critters marching along a path in a Costa Rican national park carrying leaf pieces over their shoulders (wrong word) like swords. The staff in the park, were caretakers rather than naturalists, so when I asked the park ranger what they were doing, he replied, “hormigas” (ants.) Period.

I have since devoured Wilson’s wonderful writings baring the secrets of these amazing animals, examples of what he has termed “superorganisms.” These social animals arose more than 200 million years old, and were successfully farming their fungus gardens when us humanoids were scrounging in the woods for fruits and berries.

Highly recommended, but not the subject of his new book.

Edward O. Wilson, Harvard's Pelegrino University Research Professor and Curator in Entomology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology inside his office, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. Staff Photo Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office

Wilson’s new book is a plea for saving the nature he has dedicated his life to—not just the ants, but all of our rich and varied fellow occupants of Mother Earth. It is a call for a radical solution; moving all the humans to half the earth, and leaving the other half to the species we are presently pushing to extinction. Now 86, writing from a retirement home, where he has turned out a book a year for 13 years, he pleads for the planet.

Quotes from the review in the Audubon magazine, September-October 2015, by Claudia Dreifus:(https://www.audubon.org/magazine/september-october-2015/eo-wilson-wants-us-leave-half-earth)

Half-Earth is Wilson’s answer to the disaster at hand; a world re-imagined in which humans retreat to areas comprising one half of the planet’s landmass. In many ways this respected scholar is risking his reputation of a lifetime with such a radical idea. But he doesn’t think he is the radical.

If there’s an urgency driving both his writing and his activism, Wilson says its because he feels he press of time and he’s still got a lot to do.

“I may not have many years left,” he says. “So whatever is important to me the arguments to be made must be done now. I’ve done it. I am feeling pretty good right now.”

Ojala that more of us octogenarians “feel pretty good” about what we are doing to help the planet!

The book will be available for lending in San Miguel’s Biblioteca Publica as soon as I have finished it. Also available on Kindle.

And check out those leaf-cutters. You won’t be sorry.

leafcutter-ant

The second topic, next blog: Free courses full of good stuff.

Photo credit:

Edward O. Wilson, Harvard’s Pelegrino University Research Professor and Curator in Entomology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology inside his office, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. Staff Photo Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office.

Paris and Compassion

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turkey

May God bless Francois Hollande. I just listened to his speech to the French president’s to his parliament. God bless BBC, too, for carrying it live.

What warmed my heart were the words he spoke warning France NOT to take this terrible incident as an excuse to hate. It is only, he insisted, by closing ranks and strengthening community, embracing all religions, races and ethnic groups, that France will defeat the ugly forces that did the deeds. (my words, not his. Could find no available text translation as I write.)

ISIS may have made a fatal mistake.

As John Oliver put it, if ISIS is engaged in a culture war, and they have chosen to go head to head against France in a contest of culture and lifestyle, “good f=$&ing luck!” France has  John Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wines and Camembert on a very long list.

A friend commented how ironic that the whole world ignores the constant violence in other countries—Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the school children in Nigeria, the horrendous toll of the drug war in Mexico—but reacts big time to the killing of 129 souls in France.

Well said, but, maybe this is one time that the prestige and power of the first world can work for Good—to call attention to other ISIS crimes , and more importantly, to the successful recruiting of young people using the prejudice against Muslims and immigrants that is at the root of the problem.

As my hero, President Obama observed in various statements:

“overblown rhetoric … could be a potent recruitment tool for the Islamic State group. …”

“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, …that’s shameful,” the President added.

Already, the bad news from Paris has brought a message of compassion from two presidents.

May the Force be with us.

Good Tidings of Great Joy …

And Christmas is still four months away.

fz

Thanks to my buddy, Elizabeth Starčević’s loan of the book, I just finished, In Defense of a Liberal Education. I am a big fan of the author, Fareed Zakaria; I try never to miss his Sunday program on CNN: GPS, the Global Public Square. This, his latest book is as timely and to my taste as his TV program. His arguments for liberal education are cogent; I won’t repeat them here—read the book.

Instead, here is a quote from the chapter, “Knowledge and Power:”

After an anecdote about how in 1685, Charles II of England’s physicians’ treatment inadvertently killed him with medical skills that were the best in the world at the time, Zakaria goes on,

“Life expectancy around the time of Charles II was about thirty years, and it remained roughly the same until 1900. Live expectancy today is seventy years for the world population as a whole, and higher for people in advanced countries. Recent material progress has been astonishing. Before the turn of the millennium, the United Nations estimated that global poverty had declined more in the second half of the twentieth century than in the prior five hundred years. The average Chinese person today is forty times richer and lives thirty years longer than he or she did fifty years ago. China’s progress is the most remarkable, but it is widely shared. In 1960, nearly one in five children died. Today the ratio is one in twenty. It is quite possible that extreme poverty—life on less than $1.25 a day—will be extinct in a generation.”

Take that, you gloom and doom-ers. And no, I am not so swept away by my Pollyanna bent that I do not realize that there is much work to be done. All is not roses, and something is rotten in Denmark and everywhere else. BUT,

Let’s hear it for the good stuff!

It gives me renewed energy to work for change in the new year about to begin in my Jewish calendar—5776.

¡Ándele!

And a sweet New Year to all.

THAT Soliloquy — Is it About Suicide?

A fascinating new take on an old question, from a writer friend with a sharp mind and sharper pen.

playsonideas

“To be, or not to be—that is the question …”

… but what is the question, really? What is Hamlet actually talking about? I was pretty slow as a teenager, so when I asked a high school English teacher this question, of course he told me, as teachers always do …

Hamlet is contemplating suicide.”

The trouble was, I couldn’t quite make sense of it. Yes, I understood what all the words meant—that “quietus” was a settlement of a debt, a “bare bodkin” was a dagger, “fardels” were burdens or loads, the “undiscover’d country” was death, and all the rest of it.

First Folio, 1623 First Folio, 1623

But wasn’t taking “arms against a sea of troubles” a rather odd way of describing suicide? And what about those “enterprises of great pitch and moment” that “lose the name of action” that Hamlet talks about at the end? Surely, I suggested, Hamlet wasn’t talking…

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