On Loss, Grief, And Being Broken

I don’t believe I’ll ever make for a very good “modern day” American. And for that matter, I’ll probably never make for a very good citizen of the world at large. At least the world “we” (don’t ask me exactly who the “we” is comprised of because I couldn’t tell you) are currently constructing.

By now you should know that I believe any society can be judged by not what it says but by what it does, how it lives out its said beliefs.

What story is America telling itself and the rest of the world when we put our elderly people in “retirement homes”, far away from the hustle and bustle of the younger and more “productive” members of this society? We don’t have time for our elders so we pay others to “take care” of them for us. What we lose in doing this is perhaps not immediately apparent but has devastating long-term affects on the social capital of our society. We miss out on their stories, their wisdom, their love and their values. As well, we miss out on a chance to share our lives with them.

I mourn this loss.

What story is America telling about its people when over 48 million of its citizens are literally afraid of getting sick or hurt? They are not simply afraid of sickness because of the toll it takes on the body, they are afraid of sickness or injury because of the potential financial bondage it will put them simply by receiving treatment. Half of all bankruptcies in America are due to medical bills. That number is growing.

Why does the country with the largest economy in the world punish its citizens with debt for falling ill? What does that say about how we as a people value each other?

This not only grieves but also baffles me.

And the last question is a bit more personal, not something everyone may be currently experiencing. What will become of the hundreds of thousands of young women and men across America who are looking for someone older, someone who has “gone before them”, to guide them, to mentor them, to help them navigate this rapidly shifting world? What happens to them when their search leads only to frustration from the lack of life giving mentorship to be found from sea to shining sea?

Where are our role models? On T.V.? In the Whitehouse? Who do we look to for advice and guidance given in a sane and loving manner? The people I need guidance from are too busy struggling to pay off debts or keep up with the Jones's to even have the energy much less time to care for the walls I keep running into.

You cannot ask an empty soul to pour out what it does not have.

This last question causes me not only to mourn and feel much grief; this last question has broken me.


Late October

If I still had the images I’d show them to you. Oh, you would have thought it beautiful I believe. I know I did. But something happened between London and Seattle, and these captured moments didn’t make it.

Skye, a small but popular island just off the west coast of Scotland, is where this memory takes place. Most tourists come in the summer, maybe even late spring or early fall, but certainly not approaching winter, when the clouds roll in low and dark carrying great cauldrons of water just waiting to make landfall.

So with my aversion to being pegged as a tourist I arrived in the “off season”. It was late October and I had not seen the sun (save for a glorious 2 hours the day before) in weeks. I took the bus from Kyle of Lochalsh (I tried to hitch but found it rather difficult to score a ride) over the white bridge and onto the Isle of Skye. Some kind souls at a hostel in Comrie told me if I made it out to Skye I must stay at the Sligachan hotel.

And to the Sligachan hotel I went. As my bus rolled over the narrow road that took me there I peered through the window trying to get a feel for what surrounded me. We drove through villages with 7 or 8 human sized houses and passed pubs that were already closed for the winter. I cannot now nor will I ever be able to properly describe to you how the weather seemed to be in a sort of communion with the land that rose up around me.

Rainbows appeared and then disappeared like apparitions, as if they did not want you to enjoy their varied hues for too long. Clouds mingled with fog, shrouding hilltops from view and leading me to imagine Munros that stretched skyward for miles only ending when they gave up their lonely ascent to live out a humble yet communal existence with the men who scaled their crags.

After rainbows and clouds and limitless peaks I finally found that which I had been seeking. A 175-year-old hotel built at the base of the Black Cuillin mountain range. Traditional stonewalls painted white supported a black shingled roof. I did not stay in the hotel itself (the Pound did not favor anyone traveling from abroad and the prices were too steep for me) but in a separate bunkhouse set back from the main road.

I paid for my bed, was handed a key and shown the way up the hill. After crossing over an old stone bridge (everything in Scotland is old and made of stone, seriously) and walking up a slight hill I came to the “bunkhouse”. I went inside, found my bed and after a quick tour of the building realized I had the place to myself. Rain lashed against the windows as I stacked and lit lumps of coal in the fireplace to try and warm the place up a bit.

By 5 it was dark outside and my stomach was growling. I located the lights in the big empty kitchen and began to boil some water for the noodles I had brought with me. With no sauce I ate the noodles as they were and drank water from the faucet. I tried living on the cheap while in Scotland and even then found my money disappearing rapidly. After this simple meal it was time to venture down the hill in search of a pint and some friendly conversation.

Actually, the mystery of my disappearing funds could be attributed to not only a poor exchange rate but also two pint sized and unassuming words: cask ale. I discovered a wealth of these beautifully crafted and locally distinct ales in nearly every town I stopped at and had little to no self restraint in trying to not indulge along the way. This desolate outpost was no exception. They had a small pub inside the hotel that served ale brewed on premises from rain water that ran down the steep sides of the Cuillins. So with a local ale in front of me, the manager of the hotel telling stories next to me and a warm fire behind me I looked around and decided that it was good, very good.

And it was all very good until an hour or so later when I accidentally locked my keys in my room (not a hard thing to do with the door automatically closing and locking behind you) and had to trudge back down the hill in the dark, barefoot and cold, and into the pub to ask for a spare key. Of course there was a good round of laughter at the expense of the barefoot American, which was promptly followed up by a sympathetic bartender finding a spare key and giving me a lift back up the hill.

I slept fitfully that night, dreaming of the ghouls that surely haunted these strange and lonely peaks.

By morning the rain had tapered off enough and I stuck out my thumb in an effort to hitch a ride out to Uig, a small port that facilitated ferry sailings to the Isle of Harris. Harris was my furthest stop west in Scotland, and about as far west as you could possibly go while still remaining in Scotland. My time on Harris was dark and lonely, a story better saved for another day. An excerpt from a journal entry penned while staying there read as follows, The wind howled around my little caravan all night. I woke up at some point in the darkness wondering if my abode would simply be picked up and dropped into the sea…

But I wasn’t there yet and still had an optimistic outlook of the journey ahead. It took me three separate (but successful) hitches to get across Skye. A traveling teacher with a weakness for plastic tipped cigarillos dropped me off at the ferry dock. I thanked him and dipped inside the Caledonian MacBrayne waiting room where tickets were sold.

Later on, stinging rain whipped sideways by the wind slapped my face as I stood outside taking pictures of the dock and talking with an attention starved collie set to wondering the soaked through pier in search of company.

An hour later the ferry came in, slow and powerful, and I walked to the end of the long pier. I boarded, found a spot on the deck but out of the wind and watched Skye fade out of sight and back into the fog where it belonged.




The Forest

The train hummed along quietly through the early morning grey,

while out the window men drove machines stacking sticks.

As the yard passed out of view a voice whispered from somewhere far away, "I was once a forest".


The Last [Taco] Stand

“Good morning!” It’s dark outside as the fluorescent light above my head hums quietly, casting a pale blue/green hue upon my giant veggie burrito. It is not morning.

“I just woke up so I say good morning, been sleeping all day”

His eyes are the youngest part of him. He exudes the kind of friendliness that alcohol can sometimes afford. I watch his young eyes and puffy face as he talks about Alaska and where his tribe is from. He’s Native. His people have been here long before this land was called “America”.

Pat, retired Merchant Marine and friend of mine, talks ferry routes and islands with him. I listen as Pat tells a joke about the lack of women in Alaska. “The first time I was headed up there someone told me there was a woman behind every tree. When I got off the ship I realized there were no trees.”

This burrito is huge and I struggle to finish it. The white plastic picnic table is full now, an older man with glasses listens to our conversation while a young couple share a cup of greasy fries at the opposite end.

Pats tamales are gone and he starts in on his burrito. He tells me I should try the hot sauce, it’s amazing.

I want to ask this Native guy some more questions but I don’t. I just listen and shake my head as he tells tales of roadside inebriations and kind cops. The good people at the Chief Seattle Club gave him a sleeping bag. He said he’d sleep anywhere as long as he has his sleeping bag.

A cyan Natural American Spirit bag is produced and he rolls a loose tobacco cigarette right there on the table. Pat finishes his burrito as I slog through the last bit of mine.

Its time to go. We say goodbye to our taco stand friend and duck out from beneath the illuminated white canopy. We take off across the parking lot in search of a movie, he takes off down the street in search of a place to sleep, and all three of us disappear into the unusually warm and quiet night.


Mother Zucker!

NBC: Olympic Advertisers Unfazed By Protests.

And so blares the insensitive and completely disgusting headline from the Reuters article.

I don’t plan to do multiple posts about protests against Chinas human rights violations but I just had to say something about how sad this article (and many others) makes me.

I’ll pull just one excerpt from the article and then reflect on how I interpret what is being said.

“Zucker [NBC’s CEO] told Reuters in an interview that Olympic advertising prices have been "incredibly strong" despite political tensions and anti-China protests ahead of the August games in Beijing.

"The fact is the Olympics are a sporting event on the world stage," he said. "It's not surprising that some would try to use that stage to further their own causes, and we understand that, but at the end of the day this is about the event and both the advertisers and our viewers understand that."”

I see this article as nothing more than the empire talking back to the empire. By that I mean its big corporate investors communicating to other big corporate investors via the corporate media with a message that is basically saying, “don’t worry about your investments, your money is in no danger. We are selling advertising spots and making you richer, don’t worry about “the people” of the world and what they are trying to say. We both know that in the end it is us, the ones with the most money and hence the most power, who will have the last word.”

And when Zucker refers to his lack of surprise that “some would try to use that stage to further their own causes” I want to scream! What the hell is wrong with this man? He makes the protesters sound like freaks, like they are the ones in the wrong because they are using the media to get their message out to the world. “Their message”, what about it is “theirs”? Because it is coming from the protesters mouth that makes it only “their” message?

Since when did human rights and freedom only become a message of the few?

These protesters are their voicing their opinion because they cant not take a stand!

I’ve been following Big media coverage of these protests and been paying attention to the language they use to describe protesters. They are repeatedly being referred to as “Anti China” or “Pro Tibet”. Which is interesting because Tibet and China are countries, pieces of land, not people. These demonstrators have taken to the streets not against pieces of land but for the rights of the people living within these man made boundaries.

If I were to name the protesters with any appropriate measure I think “Pro Human Rights” might fit the bill.

Does anyone else read the news in this way, with a critical eyed turned toward what language is being used and whose voice is being reported? If so what do you think? Do you think the protesters and “their” message are being unjustly marginalized?


Chinas Torch

It’s Sunday in London, a city that has been hailed as the most cosmopolitan metropolis in the world, and the protestors are out, those pesky nuisances to “proper and civil discourse”.

Chinas Olympic torch is trying to make its way through these crowded streets with the aid of athletes, television and films stars and an assortment of other people someone has apparently deemed “important enough” to carry this flame from one block to the next.

The torchbearer is surrounded on all sides by Chinese security guards, and those security guards are flanked by a bevy of British policemen on “foot, on bicycles and motorbikes.”

Nice to see all the effort that has gone into protecting not a person but a flame. No, that’s not right is it? They’re not just protecting a flame are they?

Well, of course its not that simple, it never really is.

No, they’re protecting an idea, a symbol of what China says it is and hopes to become, but is not yet. Chinas human rights record is deplorable at best and horrific in reality. Chinas recent (and long term) actions toward Tibet have caused uproar amongst people around the world.

Of course the government of the United States has been “stern yet balanced” in response to Chinas glaring human rights violations, including the most recent ones happening in Tibet. Which makes sense since the States is basically owned by China (we owe them Trillions of dollars meaning we are in debt slavery to them).

A New York Times article spun it like this on behalf of the British government,

“Caught in the middle [of Sundays protest] was the British government, which like many others around the world has sought to find a middle way between fostering good relations with China by supporting the Beijing games, and placating those at home who oppose holding the games in a country often cited as having one of the world’s worst records for punishing dissent.”

What the reporters were really meaning to say was that the U.S., Britain, and a handful of other world superpowers support China and remain spineless and damn near silent on this issue because they are benefiting massively from Chinas lack of human rights laws. Think sweatshops, and when you think sweatshops think Nike or Disney or any other corporate monolith that has set up shop in China precisely because they can get away with paying the workers virtually nothing and treating them however they want to.

Don’t let the “Olympic Dream” blindside you. Don’t play victim to the “this is Chinas time to shine” speeches. If anything this is the time to shine a glaring spotlight upon the darkest places of corruption and greed that have ruled the long night for too many of Chinas people.

And in other news that you probably don’t want to read about much less hear me rant about the government of the Unites States is trying (and doing a fairly successful job might I add) to push through an act that would virtually outlaw blogs like mine from seeing the light of day. It would also give the government the right to deem me a “homegrown terrorist” or “violent radicalist” dependent upon what mood they were in that day.

This is serious stuff folks. Its called the H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (also known as S 1959) and it would basically give government the power to dub anyone who so much as even thinks a subversive thought against the U.S. government to be deemed a “Violent Radicalist” to dealt with “accordingly”.

Scary, scary stuff. I like how they added “violent” before the word Radicalist. No one likes violence, right? Hence you throw the word violent in front of Radicalist and voila! you’ve redefined millions of radical citizens (when I say “radical” I'm thinking of people like Martin Luther King, Saul Alinsky, Pete Seeger) as a violent group of terrorists looking to destroy not only the government but also the people of the United States.

It’s all about words and how you use them, and the government knows how to use them.

If I were you I’d get informed about this act. You can track its progress through Senate at this nifty little site: Govtrack. It just might affect you more than you’d like to think it would. Get educated, get active, and get out there and start talking to others.

Silence and apathy are our two worst enemies.


The Porch

I sent this story in to the Sun a month or so back. I figured if they don't publish it at least I can put it on here.

The theme for the story needed to based around the idea of a porch so I wrote about a summer spent on a broken down old porch in the quickly disappearing farmlands of Habersham county. Here goes:

The Porch

Two years after graduating from high school a good friend of mine found himself living in a worn out double wide trailer with a makeshift porch tacked to the front. We spent all of one hot Georgia summer shoving cigarette butts and beer caps through the gaps between the planks. The porch sat low to the ground and was covered overhead by a gently sloping shingled roof. Carpenter bees, the big fuzzy ones with black behinds, drilled holes and made homes in which to raise their offspring in the soft pine wood beams that supported the roof.

Humid afternoons and evenings gave over to great thunderstorms that rolled in from the Plains or up from the Gulf. With the first signs of those ominous thunderheads gathering in the west we would pull up our chairs beneath that low slung shelter and watch rain slide off the gutter less roof in sheets, slicing up the earth beneath it with such ferocity that veins of thick red clay burst to the surface, turning puddles and pools the color of blood.

On quieter nights, nights when we ran out of alcohol and money, I would sink into the dusty red recliner that had a permanent home on the porch and listen to the boards creak beneath my slow gentle rocking. Staring into the darkness I would listen to the distant sound of whippoorwills calling to each other from some invisible place beyond the reach of my sight.

For a time, this porch became the stage on which we were the main characters telling our stories, getting drunk, getting sober and acting out one long summer of our then young and foolish lives.