Little Life

What is a little life worth to you?
Do you notice if it goes?
Those people who are someone else’s
Daughter, granny, father, friend?
In the end do they matter to you,
Connected only by idle chatter
The driver, the stocker, the packer?
How many lives is your latte worth?
If they cough, will you worry?
Scurry away to your safe isolation?
How many coughs do they hear?
How much fear do they bear
Before they take it home to share?
How much is their worry worth?
How many must we bury
Before the cost is too high?
If you do not cry for them,
Will you at least ask why –
If you do not care for those
Who take care of you,
Why should they die for you?

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You Got Me Singing

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

You got me singing
Ever since the river died
You got me thinking
Of the places we could hide

You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me thinking
I’d like to carry on

You got me singing
Even tho’ it all looks grim
You got me singing
The Hallelujah hymn

I’ve been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen (may he forever abide in a dim, sultry club full of the world’s great poets). He totally gets it.

But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Struggling to come to grips with the outcome of the election…

I believe the people who did this to us aren’t evil – I know several of them. And while I can’t understand how they could be so willfully and cruelly blind, I’m beginning to comprehend some of their reasons for taking a pointed object to their own eyes:

Obama-hate – I knew this. It’s a poisonous mix of partisanship and racism. But I thought Obama’s election and re-election proved how much in the minority these feelings were. But they were only smoldering like a peat fire beneath our feet.

Hillary-hate – I knew this, too. It’s why I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, I knew she was an intensely divisive figure. I was rather hoping they’d join forces as President and Vice President, but even that may not have been enough to overcome the searing hate for Hillary.

Working-class angst – I knew this, though maybe not to what howling irrationality it had driven so many. America as a manufacturing power is gone – at least until the living standards in the rest of the world go up far enough, and ours go down low enough to make it economically feasible to hire Americans again. Protectionist policies can’t go far enough to make a difference, even if the corporate monoliths would allow them, and honestly, the rest of the world deserves a chance to claw their way out of the grinding poverty that we’re finally seeing diminish. Other solutions must be found. The thing is, Obama and the democrats would have loved to explore these options – but were blocked at every turn by the Republicans who wanted to prove that government didn’t work. Or, at least, government by Democrats didn’t work. But of course, only the first part of that message got through. I think this can be summarized by: America threw me under the bus. Fuck you, you’re coming under the wheels with me.

Anti-government sentiment – See above. Include subsets Tax-Anger and Urban Welfare-Blame (cross-reference, Racism).

Whitelash – It really isn’t all about racism, but I love this term. I think it’s really about the increasing volume of minority voices speaking the truth of the pain they’ve always experienced. Not only are traditional majority members losing band-width to them, they feel under attack, forced to apologize simply for being who they are. And they *hate* it. The delicious irony is, of course, is that this is what being a minority is all about. You are dismissed, drowned out, disregarded, and forced to apologize for being different, for being *wrong* because it doesn’t fit the majority world-view. Forced to hide, forced to change, forced away from the light. Hated for being who you are.

Okay. So in writing this, I understand. It is about hate. Hate hate hate hate. That’s what these people are feeling. With no room for reason.
So the answer, the only one, is love.
And love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
So, Hallelujah. Hallelujah mother-fuckers. I love you.

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The War for Peace

It is quiet here in my Mid-Atlantic suburban bubble. I read the news, but don’t watch it, which filters some of the impact. And unfortunately, this sort of thing happens here with disheartening regularity. We are a nation of guns, with a growing tendency to use them against one another, for no reason, and every reason.

We are also a racist nation – a rot at the very heart of everything that we wish to think of as good about ourselves. But I am not without hope. We are the country that elected a black president – twice. And he has shown himself to be greater, classier, and more presidential than any other leader in my memory. His presence is a daily reminder that a member of an oppressed population can be elected by a clear majority to the very highest office and make it his own. We did that. In this, at least, our country managed to rise above its racist roots. Thank goodness.

But there will always be some intractable idiots. As the rest of us are heartened by Obama’s leadership, they are horrified and outraged. They feel themselves to be losing ground to those they consider ‘other’ and therefore dangerous. With one of ‘them’ as president, ‘they’ will grow emboldened, demanding more than they deserve, tearing down our traditions and institutions, attacking our homes and families… . This is a big reason why Trump’s white supremacist rhetoric has found a larger audience than the rest of us thought possible. Those who have little are afraid of getting less, and having their voices drowned out by the louder voices of the ‘other’.

I think the black rights movements have been growing stronger and more vocal, for a lot of reasons. Mobile phones and the internet are a big one. All the violence and injustice we are seeing has always existed, but was systematically unreported and ignored. When everyone has a camera and an internet connection, hush-ups and white-washing are impossible. The good people can no longer plead blindness and ignorance. And the black community is realizing the true scope of what they personally knew and experienced. There is a war going on, and the lines are being drawn.

We will see in our November elections whether our country is willing to accept open warfare against itself – to light the flames of a new Civil War. Or if we can usher in a new era of true Civil Rights. The right to live in peace, for everyone to go about their lives without fear. To believe in a legal system that strives to uphold the rights of all, and a justice system that fights to be truly just.

I hope we can.

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Second Chance

In 1982, I was a student aid for a 10th grade English class. I was sixteen and the class members were a year or two younger. For one assignment, they had to write about a personal experience to be read in front of the class.

One young lady got up, with the teacher’s encouragement, and began to read in clear, but accented English. She was Vietnamese. A few years previously, she had fled her country on a small boat with many other people. Out at sea, they were overtaken by another boat. The men came aboard and asked which of the women were not married. All the single women quickly paired up with the available men, but there was one girl left over. She was taken by the strangers and raped. The rest of them had all their money and jewelry taken and then abandoned on a small island with little food or water. They were eventually rescued by a fishing boat.

I don’t remember how she managed to get to the US, most of us in the class were shocked or in tears, but we clapped when she finished. To hear her speak in her soft, calm voice, and see such courage and strength in someone our own age, was incredible. And sobering. What were you doing when you were thirteen, while this young woman was struggling to survive?

Hers was one story. There were hundreds of thousands more, many of them even more horrific. And now it’s happening all over again, along with the arguments against giving them refuge among us. I was young, that first time, and I didn’t understand when I heard adults talking about the ‘Boat People’. But then I heard one girl’s story and that’s all that mattered.

Please, let’s learn from our past. You can try to close your eyes and ears, but the stories will only get worse. And when your child hears one and asks why it had to happen, why we didn’t do anything, what will you tell them? We have a second chance. Let’s share it with people who desperately need one.

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BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience

Still so hard to watch stories about 9/11, but this one shows how on our worst day, the best of us comes out.

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Unburied Treasures

Anthology of speculative fiction

Anthology of speculative fiction

We made an anthology, my friend Lydia and I. And her friend Isaia. And all of our friends Nyki, Jonathan, Barbara, Lesli, Daniel, Indigo, and Lindsey. And all of the people who helped and encouraged them to keep making up stories and writing. So yeah, very much a group effort. And the results are absolutely wonderful. I hope you will check it out, maybe even leave a review. Because we’d all really like to do this again.

Click on me!

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Defying Gravity

The movie, Gravity, was a stunning viewing experience. I went for 3D-IMAX, hoping I could hold off the motion-sickness. It didn’t turn out to be a problem, thankfully. Though the movie felt extraordinarily immersive, very real.

Well, up to a point, which I will get to anon. The sound was brilliant – everything came through the helmet, no ambient noise at all. The light was what you recognized from pictures and videos in space – no atmospheric blurring. The views of Earth were stunning, and such a warm, colorful contrast to the monochrome materials we send into orbit. All the little details were lovingly etched, re-created in excruciating detail to provide the ultimate verisimilitude of being in space.

Which is why I was so disappointed by being thrown out of such a divine experience by continual errors in logic and physics. I know it’s a movie. I know there must be a dramatic narrative along with the spectacular visuals – otherwise I should just go to the IMAX theatre at the National Air & Space museum (when/if it re-opens) and watch a documentary actually filmed in orbit.

Okay, it’s a movie, there has to be a story – difficulties to be encountered, obstacles to be overcome, tragedies to be narrowly averted or absorbed with breathless disbelief. Tension, conflict, struggle, failure, sacrifice, grief, triumph, resolution. The movie had all of these, packed incredibly tightly, along with tropes belonging to every disaster/thriller/horror movie you have ever seen. I think the plot fell somewhere between Armageddon and Apollo 13, with some of the cooler elements of The Red Planet tossed in. I enjoyed all of those movies, for what they were. But I wish Gravity had aspired to be another Apollo 13, rather than imitating the overwrought smash-fest of Armageddon.

Remember Apollo 13? The movie where everyone *knew* how it ended, and yet we were still on the edges of our seats? One disaster (one!) with a cascade of subsequent emergencies, each one requiring enormous ingenuity to solve when time and resources were so desperately limited. Ron Howard had the benefit of being able to show the earth-bound reactions to the crippled moon-shot, which is where a great deal of the emotional resonance was created. We could relate to the cold, stranded astronauts in their cramped lunar module, but mostly we were one of the people on the ground, looking up, praying for them to find some way of making it back home. Because that’s a more familiar view for us, looking up through a cloud-swept blue sky, not gazing down from an airless black void.

But that’s where we were during Gravity. Alone, cut-off, isolated from everything that made life possible, except for those few tiny, scattered bubbles tossed up there and forever falling downwards. It is a compelling, terrifying image, and I appreciated the effort made to take us to that place, to show us what it would be like to be adrift in an environment that will kill in seconds without heroic measures to prevent it.

And that, I think, is all the tension truly necessary. There didn’t need to be a new disaster a new deadly obstacle every five minutes. I think I could have forgiven some of the eye-rolling orbital mechanics, if only the number of devastating catastrophes had been reduced.

This is space. We have seen what tragedy results from even the smallest of impacts. You don’t need an earthbound sense of scale in an environment where there simply is no margin for error.

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For Art’s Sake

I went to see an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art a couple weekends ago. I like the style and subject matter of most of the ones I’ve seen, and I’ve had a framed Rossetti print hanging on my wall for years upon years, so I was curious to see the original, on the chance it was included.

Now when it comes to art, I acknowledge that I’m not a very sophisticated viewer. I like pretty things and pictures that tell stories. Bright, layered colors make me happy. I enjoy realistic portraits, or at least paintings that demonstrate a high level of skill and mastery of the craft. I stare at modern art, hoping to catch some glimpse of the artist’s intent and artistic ability, but more often than not I’m left simply befuddled.

For me, this exhibition was a mixed bag, with some paintings being a bit rough-looking or cluttered with Christian symbolism. I’m fine with religious art for the most part – the deep-rooted stories and powerful sentiments appeal to me – but I suppose I was looking for a bit more pagan splendour here.

The first things I really liked turned out to be some vast tapestries designed by Edward Burne-Jones and produced by William Morris. The scale was astonishing, but it was the colors that captured me. I had the same reaction when I saw the medieval Unicorn tapestries in Paris. Such fine detail and beautiful, intense shadings – how do they do that in thread? Pale robes with delicately graduated shadows of peach and mauve. Angels sporting wings that cascaded from light pink to deepest red at the tips. Beautiful stuff.

The last room contained the ‘Aesthetic’ paintings, which were mostly portraits of the same few ladies in various feminine guises, including the original of my print – ‘Monna Vanna’ (vain woman). I stared at it for some time, thinking about what made this viewing different than looking at my copy at home. There definitely was a difference, I could feel it quite strongly. This was a portrait of a living woman, conceived of and painstakingly created by a living artist. These two people, the artist and his model were in the same room, face to face, and this painting was the result of that interaction.

It was as close as I would ever get to those people, to that moment in time. It really felt like I was standing in front of a window to the past, to a unique expression of human inspiration. And the idea that this painting was the only surviving witness had a strong effect on me. It’s like that question – when the house is on fire, do you save the Rembrandt or the cat? The cat, of course – a living creature that knows fear and pain, that depends on you, takes clear precedence over any inanimate object.

And yet…the loss. The last true record of a moment of sublime creation. I felt an odd sort of sadness, leaving the museum, looking at paintings I’ve seen so many times they’d stopped having much meaning for me – so fragile, and all one-of-a-kind windows to the minds and hearts of the people who not only created them, but helped create the world we now inhabit.

Yeah, art. Pretty cool.

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Following My Friend

I wish I could write like my friend Indigo. He’s just started up his own blog and as happens whenever I read his writing, I was blown away by his style, his wit, and his fearless honesty. Unlike me, he isn’t afraid to throw open the door to his life and let you see his hopes, his fears, his strength, and his vulnerability. He’s always been like that, amazing and astonishing me from the very first. I find it incredibly affecting and powerful, the way he carts it all out there and lets us rummage through his experiences and emotions. His first post was about how everything that happens to us, good or bad, can be a valuable learning experience, and knowing him has been a huge one for me. No one has ever taught me so much about courage and facing challenges with humor and determination. He taught me the importance of being the hero of your own story by showing me how it’s done.

He also writes fabulous fantastical fiction. The title of his blog ‘Narrative City’ is the setting for many of his stories. He is as yet unpublished, but when that happens (as it will, dammit!) you’d best be sitting down, for the world will shift on its axis. He writes heroes that stride across the land in seven league boots, even as they are crushed beneath the weight of their terrible burdens. Abandon all your prevailing assumptions, for nothing is etched in black and white. His villains evoke sympathy, his monsters are tormented and yearn for love. And if you are paying attention, you will see yourself in all of them.

I wish I could write like that. I’ve been trying to discover his secrets for years now, but I think it really does come down to courage. To be unafraid to face your darkest fears, lift them up into the light, and let the winds scatter them like the weightless ashes they are.

Someday, Indi, I’ll get there. Just don’t ever stop writing.

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On Dwarves

I have to say, Peter Jackson’s version of Tolkien’s dwarves impressed me. They come across as much more tough and courageous than in the book. And they have other qualities that I find fascinating. The way they work as a group, for one. We first see this demonstrated at Bilbo’s house, when the younger dwarves start throwing plates around like frisbees and the whole thing turns into the ‘Be Our Guest’ number from Beauty and the Beast, with dishes and flatwear flying everywhere. It looks like chaos, but nothing gets broken or chipped and everything ends up clean and neatly piled by the end.

The dwarves don’t even need to look at one another, they catch and juggle blind. It’s like they have a sense of where they all are, like a school of fish or flock of birds. It would certainly be a useful talent when working together in the darkness of a mine – being able to coordinate your movements and actions as a team, without having to see or speak. There was a distinct rhythm to their movements that turned into the beat they pounded out and evolved into the song they sang. Maybe that ‘Hi ho, hi ho’ trope from Snow White wasn’t so far fetched?

This extreme level of coordination occurred again during the fight with the trolls. Whenever a dwarf was in danger, another one would immediately come to his rescue. I saw a particularly dramatic maneuver where Dwalin jumped over the fire, landed in a crouch and Thorin uses him as a springboard to attack a troll who’d grabbed Ori. (Something similar happened when the dwarves were scrambling up into the pine trees and one of them used Dwalin’s head as a mounting block – tough and solid, these dwarves). In the troll battle, it was Bilbo’s capture that forced them to stop fighting – as if no one had been looking out for the hobbit, because he simply wasn’t on their radar screen.

In the caves of the goblins, when Gandalf cries for them to take up their arms and fight, all the weapons dumped in a pile by the goblins are thrown through the air into the hands of their owners. Axes, swords, pikes, slingshots tossed and snatched – It’s like the Flying Karamazov Brothers, times four. And during the escape, fighting a running battle against hundreds of goblins, Thorin or Dwalin only need to bellow a word or two and a dozen dwarves act as one.

It’s an amazing portrayal of close-knit unity. And one that gives a hint of how difficult Thorin’s leadership role is. He is taking his friends and his kin into incredible danger. To lose even one would be like the amputation of a limb. We see this during the battle of the stone giants when it seems they’ve lost half their number – including Fili’s brother Kili. The relief when they prove to be safe is immense. As is Thorin’s fury after he must risk his own life to rescue Bilbo. He doesn’t *need* any more burdens, not when he can barely manage to keep his own people alive. But it’s also a moment that shows how close Bilbo is coming to being accepted as one of them. Thorin had declared that he could not guarantee the Hobbit’s safety, but it’s become clear how much he is willing to risk in order to do just that.

Because these dwarves look after their own.

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