Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Neophyte Blogger Wonders What it's All About

A month ago a relative told me I oughta write a blog. She said it's fun and easy as pie, and she was 1000% right. At the time I had no idea what a blog was, and I still don't know, but I've been writing one for a month. Fueled on by her simple encouragement "Write whatever you're thinking about" I've written fast and furiously this month, for a handful of readers consisting mainly of relatives and old classmates. It's been a fantastic obsession so far.

All aglow, like a blushing bride, I rush downstairs way too early in the mornings to hunt-and-peck as if gathering gems. At night I sit at the computer happy as can be, eat some butterscotch candy, listen to Jeopardy and Keith Olbermann on the TV in the other room and type up a storm. A click of the mouse is so easy...just dispatch everything out onto the airwaves or whatever that thing is that Mr. Gore invented....send it out into the world with no expectations and not much to lose......but what is it?...How does it work? Am I putting myself out there for no reason? Will I be vandalized, plagiarized, aggrandized, jeopardized? Am I taking any chances by babbling to the air?

Once when I first got a computer in the nineties, I decided to figure out what chat rooms were but I didn't really want to chat with anyone, I had heard it was dangerous, people could steal your soul away. On a lark I did a search for SILENT CHAT ROOMS and actually found Iceland. It was my one and only chat room experience because I got scared out of my wits one night. I was just posting random tidbits of poetry and noone was ever in there...I figured they spoke another was completely empty...I loved it. One night I was babbling about the state of something-or-other, Everest expeditions and George Mallory's camera I think, and all of a sudden a huge scrolling script came on the screen and the words "What are you doing all alone in here, singing to yourself?" It freaked me totally out to have someone apprehend me in my solitude, speaking as if so near. And now that I've progressed to this point, I wonder: What is a blog? Is anybody going to bother me in here? How does all this stuff work? What. is. it?

Whatever it is, my five grown kids and their mates are very happy about it. I no longer send them long obsessive emails at 6:30 AM about all that's happening in their lives and my mind. They don't have to feel guilty and wonder what I'm doing when they are out and about. They have a pretty good idea where I am and what I'm doing. I can just play play play play play! The peripheral activities that come with a blog can keep you so busy that when you're not writing, you can be checking your stats in all kinds of places and ways. That means you can see where you readers are, maybe not exactly, but approximately. In the first week I woke up in the middle of the night, excited just to "check the stats". Basically, to make sure all five of my kids had read it. A little map helps to pinpoint your readers. If you get one two-second hit from your next door neighbor, the whole United States lights up, including Alaska. It's great if you happen to be in need of a few delusions of grandeur. You can pretend to be Arianna Huffington or David Ignatius, setting the world on fire.

You can really play! You can write and unwrite. You can do it then you can undo it. You can analyze and prioritize and organize til your heart's content. I could make a night of watching my site meter move up in tiny increments of visitors per hour. The whole thing is hysterical! And it's free! You can be in your own little Icelandic silent chat room. Stick some little ads on there for fun. If you build it they will come.

Once a few weeks back I blogged about raising chickens in a post-modern age. I told the story of my chicken-raising efforts when the kids were young, how I wanted to kill a chicken for Sunday supper like my grandmother used to do. I discovered through Google Analytics that some poor soul in India spent nearly 3 minutes on my site after doing a Yahoo search from a dial-up for "kill a chicken." Every time I think that someone clear across the world in Mumbai, maybe during a sleepless night listening to a neighbor's rooster, spent 2 mins 37 futile secs searching my little blog to find out how to kill a chicken, I feel grateful humbled and amazed.

I read about a ninety year old woman in Central America who started writing a blog and has thousands of readers. How? Who? What? When? Where? It's astonishing, it's
exhilarating. It's almost as good as my Soloflex Whole Body Vibration machine! It's really got me going. It's got me so I don't know what I'm doing. It's got me so I can't sleep at night.

Best Presidential Campaign Ever? (And Giuliani Makes me Feel so French!)

There's no shoo-in yet for either Presidential candidate, but some days it seems like a done deal. Then the tide turns, and it just keeps on turning. These folks are fighting hard. They're no sprouts. We're definitely going to have to stay on our toes for this bunch. It's so much fun, because the more you fine-tune your observations,the more interesting the wide-open possibilities become.

At first it seems obvious that a Democrat has to win. Democrats need to stamp out the mess that Georgie Porgie and his boys have made. For awhile, led on by the media, you thought it had to be the Clintons. "How could Hil-Bill-y lose? All that experience, his calculated charm, her brains!" But then you get vaguely sick just thinking of them in the White House again, her strident voice, her awkward faces, his cockiness, his unzipped pants, his thumb in the air.

So, after hearing a few good sound-bites, you realize that Barack, though young and relatively inexperienced, is hip to the jive and smart as can be. He and Michelle are definitely au courant.That's what we want isn't it? A hip president, son of an anthropologist, someone the Boomers can nurture and cherish?

Then there were those internet questionnaires circulating to help you pick your candidate. Almost everyone I heard of, Republican or Democrat, politically savvy or not, got Christopher Dodd. I suspiciously wondered if the Dodd campaign had designed trick questionnaires, or if Dodd really is the best man for the job. He's thoughtful, smart, dedicated. It's hard not to love him when you hear him in interviews. Not quite telegenic enough?

Then, Bill Richardson takes the stage and you wonder why you hadn't really noticed his presidential-ness before. He's always quick to let you know that he's comfortable as a negotiator on the world stage. Isn't that what we need? A big good-looking guy who's been around the block?

Of course we have to love John and Elizabeth Edwards, especially Elizabeth, who can take the bull by the horns and campaign forthrightly while facing down cancer. Joe Biden has given a lifetime of service to the nation and has the character that comes from overcoming loss and sorrow. Don't forget Dennis Kucinich, who could face down any aliens from Venus who decide to come on home.

But...but...maybe all Republicans aren't so bad either? John McCain certainly isn't bad. He has his badges of courage and his scars from torture and solitary confinement in the Vietnam era. He has really been there and done that. He knows the enemy. He's given the nation years of service.

Mike Huckabee is all of a sudden fascinating, actually pretty astonishing. Can you believe, a Southern Baptist preacher from Hope, Arkansas? He's definitely front and center for me today. His eloquence in last night's debate, his sound and fearless clarification of Biblical allegory and his unflaggingly sensible responses brought me open-jawed out from the kitchen, dish-rag in hand.

Giuliani makes me feel so French- a pied a terre? A menage a deux? So? he's committed a few "crimes" of the heart- ain't love grand? And on top of that, you get a feeling that he could face down Tony Soprano, overlook some things, make a deal. We kinda need that too, don't we?

Mitt Romney has the looks. But his hurt-little-boy-look is getting on my nerves. How smart is he, really? Most candidates' flip-flops can be forgiven as human, but Mitt's steadfast Mormonism does not provide a logical backdrop for his changes on major issues like abortion. If you are steady in your beliefs, and you are selling yourself that way, then you better REALLY be steady. He's not.

Fred Thompson's lazy-hazy stardom and his lackadaisical approach are fascinating.Why do it? This is a new style of Presidential candidate- one who doesn't care too much! Then we have the nutty but interesting smartness of Ron Paul, bringing it home that the Constitution should be front and center.

It's just a wonderful run-up to the nominations, and a real education. I'll be sorry when it's over. Can't we just put them all together and pick at least three to be Co-Presidents?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Booming Past People Magazine

On Saturday mornings off and on over the last thirty years, I would run from the mailbox into the house, and dive back into bed to read my People Magazine. When my subscription ran out, I knew where I could get the latest issue on Thursday nights, what time it got delivered, and which salesclerk was quickest to get it out on the shelves. Sometimes I ripped it right from the packaging myself and rushed in a flush to the clerk.

For some reason, as soon as I got it in my clutches, a little guilt set in. I mean, after all, I didn't really need it, did I? I'd rather have The Economist and National Geographic any day, right? Who cares about movie stars?

I matured and rationalized as the years went by. What's so bad about People Magazine? It's not the National Enquirer or anything like that. It's fine to have a little escapist reading! But still, I would drop it surreptiously to the floor, cover down, if company came. And it was first to go when the house got cleaned up. It had a kind of junky look if you were in a high-minded mood, playing Chopin or doing yoga. Or when you got a flash in your mind of the strict teachers you used to have. But oh for a good juicy picture of George Clooney!

That was then and this is now. I still buy it, George is still in it once in awhile, but I skip a week here and there and never read it cover to cover anymore.I have absolutely no idea who most of the foolish little people are in there. I do look for hot Style gifts for my twenty and thirty something kids, but as for my own gratification, I hate to say it, but even Alan Greenspan looks more interesting to me these days.

Can't the People publishers do a Boomers Weekly? We may be getting old but we're still cool and we want to carry on a little legitimate non-AARP Boomer Escapism. Carry us onward. Tell us stories about ourselves, give us our own gig! Let us still have just enough mindless guilty pleasure that we hide Boomer People when company comes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Advent in Annapolis

As we head toward the winter solstice, light dimming gently day by day, we look to the light that will break forth soon, beginning our ascent to springtime. In the context of the approaching Advent season, in the beautiful little town of Annapolis, as cadets at the Naval Academy bend to the disciplines of their day, Mideast peacetalks will unfold. Israelis and Palestinians will come together to work for peace with nearly 50 other nations and some of the finest peace negotiators in the world, at the invitation of our President. Not everyone is sanguine about this. Hamas is not happy at all. But all reasonable people will hope that the main participants can find a common ground.

Georgie Porgie is hoping for a coup. He recently enjoyed a smiling photo-op side by side with could-be arch-enemy Al Gore. Georgie must be hoping that the gravitas of Mr. Gore's persona, his formidable accomplishments,his Nobel Prize,and his true grace will rub off on him. Not much chance of that. But one can dream.

Let's hope that Georgie is successful despite himself. Al Gore may have stepped bravely into the picture to remind people that the peace process transcends political differences and presidential ineptitude. Let's hope and pray that we will move, with age-old forces of nature, towards the light, the holy light of the solstice that's been celebrated by disparate civilizations since time immemorial.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Curiosity About the Amish

I have just survived a few days of obsessive and seemingly insatiable, almost morbid curiosity about the rural Old Order Amish in Western Pennsylvania. I’m almost cured now. I've ascertained that my sole frame of reference should not have been the movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis dancing around that car in the barn in one of the sexiest movie scenes ever. The Amish are people like any other, it seems. The fact that their life-style persists in our midst, and apart from the more commercialized and polished Amish populations elsewhere, can come as something of a shock to a sheltered Easterner.

At first they can seem to the uninitiated like a different species: aliens, inbred, backward or odd. But when the Lancaster County Amish were brought into the public eye last year after the school shootings in Nickel Mines, as they went voluntarily to the family of the shooter and offered acceptance, love and forgiveness, it became apparent that many of them are paragons of good breeding and behave with dignity and moral compasses superior to most.

This week we went in search of quilts, furniture, lumber, home remedies. We were fortunately and coincidentally dressed in blue jeans and black jackets and coats- no hats or sunglasses- so I hope, no I believe, that we were not too grating in the tableau. I’ve been to the Amish many times before. My mother and grandmother often engaged the services of the Amish for carpentry and needlework. In the sixties, of course, I thought sympathetically that the Amish were better than most people and knew the truths about the world. After all, they lived off the land, didn’t use electricity or running water, eschewed all modern conveniences and for starters, made their own clothing and soap, butchered their own meat, and could cut and plane wood better than anyone else. They were the real hippies. They were authentic! I wanted to be Amish!

If I saw them in the grocery store in town, their horses and buggies parked outside, I averted my eyes when I saw grocery carts filled with bushels of cheese curls and dozens of loaves of inexpensive white bread. I tried not to notice the Amish men standing outside the open barroom doors, staring in casually at blaring TVs. When I heard that Amish women were rarely treated in the area hospital, but the men were, I attributed that to a belief that women knew better how to cure and heal and that men got scared and bailed by going to the hospital. It never occurred to me that the women weren’t always allowed to go.

I eyed the local hustlers who “hauled Amish” in their vans and SUV’s, making a living by driving Amish anywhere they want to go more quickly than buggies can carry them. I wondered suspiciously if these free-wheeling entrepreneurs respect the religious tenets of the Amish or if they ever have, horror of horrors, lured vulnerable innocents into the seamy side of life where addictions could be lucrative for an amoral hustler: sex, drugs and rock n roll, whiskeys and cigarettes from the civilized world, porn on the backseat TV? Who regulates these things? Who protects the highly independent Amish from the outside world? I'm reacting emotionally, completely uninformed about all this, and am sure that local good citizens and the government protect the Amish. Nevertheless, it was a real shock for me, a semi-citified intruder, to encounter this subculture.

The Amish I've seen are bilingual - they switch back and forth from a German hybrid to a heavily-accented English. Last week I saw happy Amish children playing in a light snowfall in their schoolyard, next to two outhouses with handpainted signs for "Boys" and "Girls." This is possible in the U.S in 2007?!? The Amish pay some taxes but not Social Security taxes, as they take care of their own people during old age.They long ago hammered out that agreement with the U.S.government. They have their own insurance. However, in certain parts of Pennsylvania at least, they apparently don't put dental care high on their list of priorities for expenditures. Are they like other rural poor, uninsured because of expense, or do they neglect dental care because they believe it's too worldly ? Their businesses are lucrative, I've heard. They are hard to contact because their names are few, and shared. In one area you may have John Miller, John A. B. Miller, John B. A. Miller and John C. Miller. They all seem to be pretty much under the radar. It's a puzzle.

The Amish are usually hard-working and honest businessmen and women, but I have heard horror stories too. In one case I know of, an Amish woman accepted ten unfinished antique quilt-tops from an "English", as we non-Amish are called, to be quilted, she said, "after harvest and over the winter." The customer accepted the deal on faith, with no receipt. When springtime came the Amish woman denied ever having received the quilt-tops.

I guess what it boils down to is that the Amish are just like the rest of us in terms of character. There are the good, the bad, the high-minded, the low. Parents wrestle with the cultural influences affecting their young. They try to instill the highest values. Some fall by the wayside, some reach for the heights of ethical and meaningful living. When I think about the Amish, I'm awfully curious and I swing back and forth from wonderment and admiration to bafflement and disillusionment. The people who live near them and see them daily seem to accept them without much curiosity. But for those of us who have been drawn into a life where few or no Amish co-exist, they are surely startling, and worthy of our contemplation and consideration.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Morning After (Thanksgiving)

I am sitting in a snow-dusted wood, and, like many of you who are not yet wireless, typing away on an unfamiliar computer. Last night's dinner was a sublime gathering of forty in my sister and brother-in-law's house in the hills of Pennsylvania, a very piece of heaven. The evening was perfect, with family gathered from far and wide, aged 1 to ninety. Four tables for adults, and a tiny table for some very nicely dressed toddlers, were set with flowers,candles and name-tags. No flying saucers landed.

It all began with a champagne toast to "a succulent Thanksgiving", and our group, smart as whips though we were, was grateful for the reminder that "succulent" has other historic usages ("interesting, enjoyable") beside the usual. Grand turkeys and artichoke stuffing, roasted root vegetables, swiss chard, waldorf salad and much more preceded the best pumpkin and pecan pies imaginable. My sister and brother-in-law pulled it all off with the greatest of ease, and despite all of their hard work and preparation, it appeared to the rest of us to be effortless. Most of us toddled off to sleep quite late, after an hour of loud singing, assuming that the final round of clean-up will happen automatically without our intervention.

But oh how I missed my youngest child! A recent college grad, bound to her job in New York, she is one of the unsung heroes who return to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving, keeping the slowed world turning. Trying to put a positive spin on things, I advised her to have a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich yesterday. With a heavy heart, I imagined her carrying it back to her sixth floor walkup and settling in with a good book. I remember Thanksgivings when I was in my early twenties, adrift in the world, missing grand meals. Surely it builds character,surely there's a bright side, but it's hard for a mother to see. I give thanks for her and for all those whose job requires service at times like this. Thank you God!

And who knew that folks in the world at large do not have Whole Body Vibration machines handy? I miss my Soloflex!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Ramshackle Thinker on Recent Stem Cell Revelations, Reincarnation and Eternal Life

The breaking news from stem cell researchers in Japan and Wisconsin is comparable to the coming of the Christ for me. It has nothing to do with the ethical debate George Bush pretended to monitor. It's not that now all the politicians can breathe a sigh of relief. It's simply that skin cells can be transformed into performers of embryonic stem cell functions. This morning's report on msnbc says that skin cells, when mixed with just a few genes, could theoretically be changed into sperm and egg cells."But nobody is planning on doing that."

Fair enough. Obviously the science here is beyond most of us, and I, a ramshackle thinker, have absolutely no idea how they come upon these things. But we can grasp it, through a glass darkly, with a dim understanding that can be thrilling. Think about it for a minute. The most far-reaching implication is that a few microscopic cells could be ultimately reconstituted into a human being, a clone of sorts, you again? Doesn't this also have implications for the support of theories of reincarnation and eternal life? Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. And then a few lingering cells in those ashes become.... you again!?

I've been blessed since childhood, brought up in the way I should go. I have seldom doubted that there is eternal life, that there is world upon world, "more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio". I was always thrilled by the words "In my father's house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you." and "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." I've never been too concerned about clinging to my body or having it again in some earth-clone eternal kingdom. I do believe though in the communion of saints and the life everlasting. Mysteries abound.

I've been searching frantically this morning for a passage from Annie Dillard regarding Job and God's conversation about the foundations of the world. God asks Job "Where were you when I created the foundations of the earth?" Annie Dillard says Job should have said "I was there, God, I was there!" Because we are made from the very stuff of stars, we are part and parcel of the heavens, we are part of the thread of life that is made from bits and pieces of eternity. How could it be otherwise?

Didn't Einstein posit that energy can be neither created nor destroyed? So there's nowhere for us to go, except right here in the universe forever. Little bits of us are sloughed off every day as we go about our daily tasks. DNA can be retrieved from a hairbrush or a computer keyboard. We're leaving little bits everywhere. Everything is changing and moving and shifting and blowing. Who knows what wonders God hath wrought?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Flight

Back in the sixties I boarded a plane with great trepidation, since hitchhiking was illogically my preferred mode for safety. I remember one departure from Santa Barbara to New York when I felt extremely paranoid about flying in general and reluctant to leave my friends in particular. I wanted to turn away from the airport and shirk all responsibilities back East. I was surrounded at the airport by sixties-minded friends who encouraged me by saying words which comfort me still, and not necessarily illogically. One said “You hold that plane up with your mind.” Another proffered “We are all under the same sky.”

As Thanksgiving flights loom large before us, anxieties are heightened, but we may take some sustenance from the President for a change. Georgie Porgie has opened military airway lanes to ease congestion. Not that that eases the situation on the ground at the terminals, but let’s be grateful for what we’re given. Let’s assume we won’t be needing those air paths for anything more than reuniting Americans with their loved ones. Let’s help hold all our planes, trains and automobiles "up" with our minds, through positive thoughts and prayer. And if we are apart from someone we love, take comfort that we are all under the same sky. Then give thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Meditation

We all know the Thanksgiving jokes about the Norman Rockwell dinners that deteriorate into Wars of the Roses. We are joined together for that day with various and sundry parts of families, however the cards may fall. It's common practice to complain around the virtual water cooler about the obligations and precarious allegiances we must maintain. I like to imagine a different world.

When I think about past civilizations and their accomplishments- building temples to the sun in accordance with the movements of the heavens, for instance - it seems people used to have much different brains than we do. Who among us could simply gather a computerless team, meditate and calculate, conceive and execute such wonders as the pyramids, Stonehenge, or a Mayan temple, structures dependent on enormously complex mathematical and astronomical understanding? Maybe past peoples were better equipped to do these things because of a different brain structure. But we surely have the vestiges of that structure and the potential to activate it, at least on a small scale at the Thanksgiving table!

I imagine the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing a kind of group meditative state of wonder and thankfulness, moving thoughtfully and kindly and with spirits of profound gratitude for the life situation they were sharing. Children played and cried, plates were dropped,the dog grabbed a turkey leg, but the group meditation carried the day.

I remember a particular Thanksgiving in Santa Fe in the sixties, when, in the blush of new adulthood, and perhaps augmented by spiritual enhancements, that same feeling of wonder and gratitude for life pervaded our group, our minds joined in spiritual communion and gladness for our lives. A more-or-less Zen method prevailed as yams were mashed, onions and apples were chopped, imaginative stuffings were concocted. There was a transcendent feeling, activity in the spheres above and beyond our selves, angels among us. That experience taught me well, and has continued to inspire my perception of every Thanksgiving. And, really, isn't that what's always happened, in all our Thanksgivings, whether we were attuned to it or not?

I see glimmers of the peaceful joining of minds still, abiding above the complaints and chaos of Thanksgiving travels and preparations and feasting, immanent in the sometimes awkward prayers and efforts to remember what we're thankful for. It's there. I imagine that we all can grab hold of that ancient mindset that joined our ancestors together in productive communal endeavors , and feast with joy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dirty Dancing in our Dotage

Boomers can really dance for joy, it's an actual phenomenon. We've got rhythm and we've still got our moves. Give us a good band and we'll dance in circles til midnight unabashedly. We've got history galore and can do little moves from a hundred different dance sensations, we make funny faces, we're sexy as hell. Uhhh...that's true isn't it? You know, I think it is. Damn if it isn't.

After dinner and drinks last night, our group of four decided to peek in to the remnants of a party in an adjacent ballroom where a great band was still playing. We were welcomed by the folks there to dessert and the dance floor. Magic ensued. Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line" and some Chuck Berry got us going. We were transformed from a group of folks whose birthdates stretched from 1934 to 1954 into 20 and 30 somethings. (So actually, we were three Boomers and one Depression Baby.) Other dancers intermingled briefly in and out of our circle, and noone seemed to notice or care that we were interlopers from other generations.

It's heavenly to dance with abandon. All over the world and all through time, from ancient tribes in isolation to the highest spheres of civilization, from the youngest to the oldest, from the ridiculous to the sublime, we're all joined together in eternity by music and dance. We can't all be Nureyev, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, or Uma Thurman and John Travolta, but we can dance our hearts out and be ever so glad we're here to do it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Adjusting to serpents in the house

In an earlier blog, I told the tale of my famous laundry pile, calling it a good clean mess. There has to be a dark side to that laundry pile story. The word “clean” was in there a few too many times, very suspicious-looking if you ask me. Methinks she doth protest too much!

For starters, there was a snake at the bottom of the celebrated laundry pile. In a rare cleaning frenzy one winter before dawn, I got to the bottom of the pile, lifted up the last towel, and there he was. He was a sleepy young thing, looking up at me, surprised and unwilling to move, as was I. I wondered fleetingly if I could escape into a state of suspended animation from which I might never emerge. We stared at each other for a good minute. I knew, as my life flashed in front of my eyes, that he, a child snake, could not be the only one. I also feared, with a glimmer of dead-certain clairvoyance that all of my children sleeping upstairs could be surrounded by walls filled with snakes, and needed my protection immediately. And last but not least, I felt the presence of the mother snake, an eight foot long monster who could be above my head at that moment, ready to drop from the heating pipes overhead and slither into my bathrobe.

I lived through it. None of my worst fears came true, it doesn't work like that. I got the snake out and it’s true there were others through the years. One time a dyed-in-the-wool city boy was here in the sticks for dinner when a snake crossed along the dining room wall. Each member of my family, tainted by my phobia, clambered noisily onto their chairs at the dining room table, while the city boy, who had been sent to nature camp in his formative years, caught the monster, wrapped it fondly around his wrist, and took it outside without a fuss.

It’s horribly true, too, that these were not garden variety snakes, but black snakes that could grow to be quite large. Naturally I called in experts and did my research. My son and sons-in-law have come to the rescue more than once. A brave neighbor lady came over to get one from under the dryer, and without even asking how big it was, just reached in and got it. My neighbors divulged stories of seven foot snake skins found in their attics. The years went by.

No big snakeskins here. I know the mother of all snakes is in here somewhere, but my snake is tidy and keeps her private parts private. In fact she keeps her whole self hidden. She's demure and helpful. I have no mice. When I jump on my Soloflex Whole Body Vibration machine in the mornings, I sometimes even imagine her down in the lower chambers of the house loving the vibe that is trembling through everything. I imagine that she is old now and past her reproductive years, that her gentleman suitor no longer calls in the spring, that my Soloflex might sterilize her just in case, that she stays under the house in a far away corner and exudes a radar that draws the mice to her, so she never has to go anywhere. I called the state wildlife agencies back in the phobic days, and learned that snakes are territorial and there’s only one big one per house. Some cheery fellow there said most people don't ever know that they have a snake. That’s the good news from the dark side.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Loving a good clean mess

I love a good mess, if it’s slightly under control and things are basically clean. The house looks ok when you first walk in. You would swear the tenants were sane. It’s the mail pile and the laundry pile that’ll make you wonder.

In the broadest sense, I don’t open mail and I don’t fold laundry. That’s fair to say, if you qualify it. I don’t open most mail. I don’t fuss over the clothes. I do fold them, in half at least. I figure that as far as these things go, if the utilities haven’t been shut off and I am dressed when I go outside, my job is done.

I’ve come a long way from the days and follies of my youth. Back then, even a certified letter didn’t interest me enough to get opened. If I was at the beach, I would strip almost all down and wrap a scarf around my top. Who needs a beachbag of paraphernalia? I didn’t care what anybody thought. I was young and good-lookin’, footloose and fancy free. And then I gave birth to five happy healthy smart funny kids and we all entertained each other 24-7. These were great years. Nothing else mattered. Mail is usually clean. What are a few overdrafts and late fees compared to a happy home?

I had more than one friend who visited from afar when the kids were little, and asked politely if he or she could photograph my basement laundry room. It was completely out of control, but pleasantly so, I thought. However once when my parents were visiting and preparing to take us all out to dinner, my two year old realized she didn't have on any underpants. When my mother asked where they were, my daughter said "Oh they're down in the basement, all moldy." (Cute, but God help me, not true!)

I loved that laundry pile, and fell asleep on it more than once. Occasionally someone would just walk over top of me. Whether we were looking for a tutu or a t-shirt, we would gauge its location by what month we saw it last. "Oh you wore that over Halloween, it's probably about twelve inches deep over there." Not a problem. The stuff was clean, just maybe not all-the-way folded. The kids always looked great to me. I never heard any complaints. You have to let some things go.

Now in my dotage I am slightly less cavalier, though still no good at laundry and the mail. I check to see if my socks match. I look in the mirror while I apply lipstick. I open certified mail. I'm just more grown up. I don’t nurse babies and change diapers while I drive. And I don’t walk out the door emptyhanded and hitchhike cross-country on the spur of the moment, as I did a few times pre-babies.

But I am still a renegade. I like to see the flashing eyes of other happy renegades, even though they can’t always see me, since I have reached the age of glorious invisibility. And I like to cheer up the unhappy ones. Give me a mother who is ashamed of a messy house and I can make her feel good about it in about two seconds. And even if it’s messy after the kids are grown, so what? As we all know, old habits die hard. I like to see clutter and to brush aside some clothes or papers as I sit down in someone’s house. So comforting! But the big piles? Shove it all in a garbage bag and forget about it, that’s my theory. Put the bag in a closet and learn to sift through quickly on an emergency basis. Have faith that things will rise to the fore when they really must. Enjoy.

Feeling Smart: A Bertrand Russell Primer

If you’re anything like me, your bookcase was bejeweled at some point in the last twenty years with a copy of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” Mine sat around bedside for awhile, then made its way to the coffee table for admiration purposes, and finally to the bookshelf where it is presently covered with ashes from the fireplace, fallen bits of incense and what look to my overactive imagination like they might be bat droppings.

We can all understand why we bought the book. It was affordable and fairly small. The cover photograph was compelling: Stephen Hawking under the stars in his wheelchair, his Einstein-ishness fascinating in the context of his disability. And the eminently user-friendly Carl Sagan wrote an introduction! (You haven’t forgotten him, and that plaque he sent out into the heavens, the Voyager Golden Record, have you?) But above all, we bought the book because it made us feel smart. For a moment, we thought we might actually be able to understand it. Mine looked very good up against my copy of “The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics.” And of course, we wanted a little of it to rub off on our kids.

Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and mathematician who died in 1970 at nearly 100 years old, is just as formidable an intellect as Mr. Hawking, by my simple figuring. And, with all due respect to Mr. Hawking, more so, because he had such broad ranging impact. Russell co-authored “Principia Mathematica” and wrote “History of Western Philosophy.” Above and beyond his achievements in mathematics and philosophy, he was active in opposing the Vietnam War and nuclear armament, and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.

His autobiography is a little dry but quite readable. And I assure even the most hesitant reader that you can share, understand and cherish some of this brilliant man’s deepest thoughts, and you'll feel mighty smart when you do. He elevates us with his eloquence. You need only read the following few beautiful paragraphs - the prologue to his autobiography- and I know that you may be moved, as I was, forever. Then add a supersmart book to your library that you can reach for, knowing of a page you can read to the kids.



“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.”

-Bertrand Russell

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Confucius on love and truth

"Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids."

"Things that accord in tone vibrate together. Things that have affinity in their inmost natures seek one another. Water flows to what is wet, fire turns to what is dry ... What is born of heaven feels related to what is above. What is born of earth feels related to what is below. Each follows its kind."

Confucius. I Ching, Great Commentary

I first encountered these lines from Confucius when I was young and throwing the I Ching obsessively several times a day. "Throwing the I Ching" is a thousands-year-old process of tossing some coins or sticks six times, and "reading" the result. There is some math involved and a text to consult to interpret the deeper meaning. Carl Jung worked with Richard Wilhelm to create an extraordinary text for this purpose. The fact that the great psychologist Jung, a hero for many in our generation, got so involved with this edition of the I Ching was reason enough for me to pay attention. Wilhelm's interpretations of the sixty-four possible juxtapositions of the coins or sticks are eloquent enough to deserve a very close read, even without sticks or coins.

I allowed the quotations from Confucius, above,and many other individual lines from the I Ching, to synthesize with other influences in guiding and inspiring my life. One of my favorites is the hexagram "Inner Truth" which begins with words that can still shake me to the core:

"The wind blows over the lake and stirs the surface of the water. Thus visible effects of the invisible manifest themselves. The hexagram consists of firm lines above and below, while it is open in the center. This indicates a heart free of prejudices and therefore open to truth. On the other hand, each of the two trigrams has a firm line in the middle; this indicates the force of inner truth in the influences they represent.

The attributes of the two trigrams are: above, gentleness, forbearance toward inferiors; below, joyousness in obeying superiors. Such conditions create the basis of a mutual confidence that makes achievements possible.

The character of fu ("truth") is actually the picture of a bird's foot over a fledgling. It suggests the idea of brooding. An egg is hollow. The light-giving power must work to quicken it from outside, but there must be a germ of life within, if life is to be awakened. Far-reaching speculations can be linked with these ideas."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Larry King dedicates a show to UFOs

Larry King opened his platform to believers and non-believers on a recent show, and didn't mind giving some credence to the mysteries that abound. My son has asked me to republish my UFO blog from last month, it's his favorite. So here we go:


Well no, I haven't seen one for sure. But I wish I did. I thought I did a few times. I hope I will. Poor Dennis Kucinich tried to explain with dignity the other night, from the platform of the Democratic debate, that he had seen a UFO, and then tried to validate himself by saying "Jimmy Carter saw one too!" He pretty well cooked his goose with that one. But now that UFOs are fodder for presidential debate, then laughed off and brushed under the rug by everyone in the media or the public eye who wants to be taken seriously, I think there needs to be a little affirmative action for those of us who still believe. We are innocents in a cynical world!

Eons ago, when I was ten and had a fearful heart, I asked my eight year old sister what she would do if a flying saucer landed and a martian started walking up to her. This question was not really so odd coming from an introspective child in the first few decades after Orson Welles sent a nation into panic with his Halloween '38 broadcast of the War of the Worlds. And the topic was a schoolyard curiosity for those of us who had heard whispered denials about Roswell.

My sister's answer was so good that I was nearly consumed to ashes by flames of jealousy right then and there on my mother's kitchen stoop. She thought for a little bit, coyly twisting her beribboned blonde ponytails as I, an intense and ribbonless brunette, stared at her from behind bandaged eyeglasses. "Well," she said, "I would get a chair and ask him if he wanted to sit down and then I would ask him if he wanted a glass of water."

This made so much sense to me that I immediately decided to find this little martian and outdo my sister's hospitality, come hell or high water. And I did date a few. But alas! never found my own personal E.T.

Who knows what wonders God hath wrought? There's universe upon universe, the scientists are saying now. Surely a few unidentified flying objects needn't send us into a lather of defense. Anyone smart enough to get here could very well teach us a thing or two. It could be fascinating and exhilarating for every single person on earth. Clap your hands if you believe!

So I'm watching the skies and loving Kucinich. He doesn't need to be president but I'm glad he got a shot at stating his case. If those aliens ever do land, I hope it's in my sister's field. She'll set a pretty little table and treat them good.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Finland? They have guns and YouTube there?

I’ve always been in a fog about Finland. Ever since Bob Dylan sang "If you're travellin' in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline," I imagined northern countries like Finland, rugged and tender places where people loved and lived better than most of us. I imagined wholesome Finlanders, Liam Neeson-esque, carrying oil-burning lanterns out to the seawall to watch for ships on windy nights. They chopped wood and sat by the fire in the evenings, reading the classics, eating fresh herring and swilling vodka temperately. The Helsinki Accords of 1975 and the Helsinki Citizens Assembly were just vague terms to me, unschooled in Finland’s noble history, its current social successes, its struggles, its actual presence. And anyway, isn't Dylan’s north country just a state of mind that we all have shared, where love flows freely in the howling winds?

I got a sharp awakening about Finland from the Aki Kaurismaki film “The Man Without A Past” a few years ago. It’s a startlingly odd and quirky film, starring a startlingly odd and endearing actor named Markku Peltola, about very modern people living in destitution in old shipping containers on a beach in Finland. It shows off the Finnish coolness factor while telling a bittersweet and universal story about the plight and redemption of disaffected and disenfranchised people.

This week in Finland, after giving some indication of his intent via YouTube, a disturbed teenager has killed seven students, the principal and himself in a school shooting that will draw the world’s attention to that distant latitude, and remind us of other shootings that have scarred us so deeply already. The debate will arise in earnest about personal expression, YouTube, our media-driven society and the universality of school shootings.

When I was young, we had air raid drills in school when we had to hide under our desks to practice for a time when the Russians might bomb us. But they never did, we were just being extra careful. It was scary, and actually hopeless, but we felt smug and self-sufficient as we folded our 50 pound bodies into safe little lumps, covered our heads with our skinny little arms and waited for the roof to cave in.

Now in schools, kids have Code C drills, when they have to practice what they will do if a shooter comes down the halls and kills some of them. This they know for sure can happen at any time, because it’s on the news again and again, and many of them have seen the media images. A quick look at Wikipedia’s entry under “School Shootings” shows dozens of incidents of killers gone berserk in the last twenty years.

Dialogue will reach a fevered pitch in the weeks to come about the Finnish teenager’s use of YouTube to post threatening tirades before his rampage. Where does the fault lie? What are the common denominators between Columbine, Virginia Tech, Nickel Mines and so many others? What is really going wrong? How could it happen in the north country fair?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Let us Now Praise Famous Men

“Let us Now Praise Famous Men.” Quick. Where does this famous quotation come from?: Julius Caesar? Winston Churchill? Walt Whitman? John F. Kennedy? James Agee?

If you’ve been reading from the bottom up, you know that Steven Spender put in his two bits on the topic, and sang the praises of transcendent and fully aware souls who have come and gone, moving among us throughout history, leaving “the vivid air signed with their honor.”

But the famous "speech" about praising famous men came much earlier. You may have heard it somewhere this week, because it is trotted out and read, in accord with the seasons, at the time of Halloween and All Saints Day, in churches around the world. It’s Biblical era stuff, read this week in autumn, when the depths of the earth are churning midway between equinox and solstice, and the spirits are free to roam, stirring and wakening our memories.

The famous passage also takes into kind account those who aren’t famous, those who lived in obscurity, those who toiled in the shadows like most of us do, and lived lives that were good.

The passage is from Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha, which the Anglicans accept as part of the Biblical canon, but even if you don’t, it’s still as old as the hills. And curiously comforting, if you let it be:

1 Let us now praise famous men,
and our fathers that begat us.

2 The Lord hath wrought great glory by them
through his great power from the beginning.

3 Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms,
men renowned for their power,
giving counsel by their understanding,
and declaring prophecies:

4 Leaders of the people by their counsels,
and by their knowledge of learning
meet for the people, wise and eloquent
are their instructions:

5 Such as found out musical tunes,
and recited verses in writing:

6 Rich men furnished with ability,
living peaceably in their habitations:

7 All these were honoured in their generations,
and were the glory of their times.

8 There be of them, that have left a name
behind them, that their praises might be reported.

9 And some there be, which have no memorial;
who are perished, as though they
had never been; and are become as though
they had never been born;
and their children after them.

10 But these were merciful men,
whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

11 With their seed shall continually remain
a good inheritance, and their children are
within the covenant.

12 Their seed standeth fast,
and their children for their sakes.

13 Their seed shall remain for ever,
and their glory shall not be blotted out.

14 Their bodies are buried in peace;
but their name liveth for evermore.

15 The people will tell of their wisdom,
and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

Ecclesiasticus 44 1-15

Musharaff can suspend the Constitution? Let's keep it quiet!

Let’s hope George Bush has a bad case of tinnitus today or is otherwise indisposed, and won’t be able to hear the news out of Pakistan. Musharaff has declared a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution. It’s pretty scary to picture what our president’s reaction to such news could be. Can’t you see Georgie Porjy with that perplexed look on his face, then the little light bulb going on above his head and that smile dawning as he thinks “Wow, that's cool! Suspending the Constitution?! I never thought of it! I wanna do that too!”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Did Steve Fossett Find Shambala?

One of the greatest adventurers of all time, a man who pushed himself to achieve physical feats that noone else on earth has ever achieved, has vanished from the face of the earth. He apparently removed his Breitling wristwatch with its Emergency Locator Transmitter, grabbed a bottle of water, jumped on a single-engine plane and disappeared.

Did he really crash into a remote Nevada cul-de-sac where even the best technology in the world can't find him? Or did this world class adventurer enter a place where he languishes in peace and from which he may still emerge? A man so interested in human limits as he was might not have ignored accounts of mystic transfigurations and superhuman accomplishments emanating from the Himalayas.He was a good-humored and down-to-earth businessman and family man, but certainly not a simple man. He could have read the most esoteric literature on earth for all we know. Few could know the heart or mind of a man like Steve Fossett. How many of us could inspire the likes of Richard Branson to engage with Google Earth to create a special set of all new high-resolution images so that computer-savvy people world-wide could conduct a search for his missing aircraft?

And yet, he's gone. Some conspiracy theorists say Fossett disappeared into Area 51 near Roswell. Some say maybe he had enough, was growing old, and went off to his own private island to live in obscurity with a newfound friend. Would a man of his caliber do that?

There are far more intriguing possibilities. For instance, ancient accounts tell of Shambala, a paradise that is not visible on this earth, to which entry is gained only by the achievement of certain levels of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines through yogic techniques. Why couldn't it be something like that? In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, the objectivist philosopher, wrote of a utopian society created by brilliant industrialist drop-outs who used illusion and mirrors to hide access to their mountain kingdom. How about that?

Listen to Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And finally, remember the words of Christ: "In my father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you."

Let's hope that Mr. Fossett is somewhere in the universe reaching the new heights that he deserves to reach. I often take heart from this old Scottish proverb, and I hope Mr. Fossett would at least be able to say: "I am wounded but I am not slain. I shall lay me down and bleed awhile, then I shall rise and fight again."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Raising chickens in a post-post-modern age

Some years back, in a deep and reverent bow to my long-gone grandmother, and as a life-lesson for my children,I decided to raise chickens. I had fearful yet fond memories of my grandmother preparing for Sunday supper by raising an ax on Saturday morning and chopping off the head of a chicken. I wanted to raise an ax like that, with a noble purpose, food for the young 'uns! I remember the incomparable taste of truly fresh chicken and dumplings, and I was willing to learn how to make it from scratch. And if I couldn't make it that far, at least I could harvest the eggs.

I have a decent sized yard, I love the sight of a lone chicken pecking in the yard at dawn and dusk, I love the little hen stories of childhood, and nothing beats the sound of a rooster crowing. How cool would it be to have a sloppy sign on the fence that says "Brown Eggs, $1 a Dozen"? How hard could it be? I was living the American dream- five beautiful, smart, and funny children, a white picket fence, an American flag, a tire swing in the tree,a pie in the oven, and now chickens in the yard!

After buying some chicks, I spent an afternoon with a brilliant chicken farmer who showed me with surgical precision how to kill a chicken humanely then clean and prepare it for cooking. I was ready to go. It was heaven for awhile. The chickens grew feathers, the kids carried them fondly around the yard, splendid photo ops abounded! There's something transcendent about a beautiful child with golden curls carrying a glistening young Rhode Island Red, opalescent in the evening light!

My children allowed me to transform their playhouse into a chicken coop. All it took was some chicken-wire fencing. But little chicks grow astonishingly fast. They grew, put forth and multiplied. The eggs were bountiful. The egg sign hung on the fence for awhile, attracting surprisingly little interest. Too many chicks turned into roosters. The neighbors were kind, and tolerant of the 4AM cockadoodledoos, but I had to find takers, and try not to wonder what random folks did with the free roosters I gave them. Too many chickens flew the coop and slept on the back porch railing at night. They loved us and wanted to be near us, we knew, but they sure do leave a mess! I never quite got hold of my inner chicken-raiser. A coyote came one night and got all but one dear little hen, my story-book hen. Life was manageable again, she pecked in the yard and kept me company while the kids were in school. As long as she was there, I felt a wonderful calm, and no need for an ax. She lived a good comfortable life as a pleasant and demure old maid until one day the sky fell in, and I saw her laying mortally wounded in the field next door, done in by the neighbor's dog.

My friend Warren has a much more successful venture in Connecticut. 80 free-range chickens, 7 Shetland sheep, a vegetable garden, 8 cats and 2 barking dogs, all just in spittin' distance from a Dairy Queen. Good to know that the American dream of yesteryear is still honored and even achieved by a rare few. I'm here to tell you, it's not easy to pull off. But even a little try has its rewards.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great, by Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.


Been there and done that? Love the Dennis Hopper ads about hanging on to your dreams? Still love the music and all the folks who are hanging in there? But do you ever feel those pearly gates getting closer and start to think that it's too late, that we missed the boat, that we're on the way out, that Georgie-Porgie made us cry and that with the upcoming presidential election and our aging bodies and minds- this isn't shaping up to be any Age of Aquarius?

The new generations, our offspring, mind you, are doing fine. They've outdone us in certain ways, they've had the fruits of our labors to spur them on. But they're curious about us. They (occasionally) want us to share what we know- especially from the safe distance of a blog, and not when we have them trapped in our car.

We remember when cyberspace was just a dream, the next generation is immersed in it. We sought to be authentic and to change the world, they wonder what exactly we mean by that. Most of them will never know what it was like to start things from scratch the way we did: to learn reading, writing, 'rithmetic, get a classical education, to think in broad terms of distinct civilizations and cultures. Social policies have subtly altered some of the most fundamental learning processes and are almost surely affecting evolutionary patterns. Genealogy charts are interesting, but to what end? It's a brave new world, a glorious mish-mash. There's been a mutation in mankind, don't you think? It's hard to define, but whatever it is, it would show up on a graph a million years from now.

We're different from the dignified WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors who have sat and reminisced for Steven Spielberg and other documentarians- We are Vietnam-era, issue-sensitized, drug-culture survivors. It definitely doesn't have the same ring. Nowhere near as many WWII vets ended up drug-addled and overly tattooed on Harleys or blank-eyed in wheelchairs at Saturday flea markets. God knows, many dignified Vietnam vets have exemplary, successful and fulfilling lives and may drive Harleys and work flea markets, but you know of the ones who didn’t feel like heroes, and didn’t succeed. The unfortunate stereotype is out there. And how do you think our Iraq veterans will fare as the years unfold? If the scenes and stories of neglected veterans at Walter Reed Hospital are any indication, we're not learning from our mistakes.

For all its strengths, our boomer generation has been strident and self-righteous at times. Some of us got cheapened and weakened - albeit temporarily-by our culture, by some of our shrill and misguided liberal policies, by the assassination of our beautiful young leaders, and by a relaxation into faithlessness and a consequent lack of discipline that nearly lost us the battle of our lives. But we had the best music, didn't we? And so many of our musicians are still kickin' and inspiring new generations. Wasn't it Mick Jagger who once said that people over forty may as well die? If so, he sure changed his mind about that! He's struttin' and frettin' his hours upon the stage, mighty strong and alive as he nears 65, doing us all proud.

Youth won't marginalize us if we use their tools to go on helping to broaden their worlds. We can still leave so much behind, even just sitting at our computers- whether we have blood-pressure meds and anti-coagulants on the shelf, or running shoes and turmeric. Step into the hurly-burly.