Learning To Listen

This time it was from Boston that he called to tell me about its colonial style houses and red brick buildings. He was excited about a city he thought I would be excited about. My relationship with American cities is tentative at best. I find most of them tacky and disconnected from everything: the past, the present and the future. My friend has a much more graceful perspective on Americas architectural dysfunction.

The conversation quickly shifted, on my prompting, to questions of immigration and his pending green card status. He had been jumping through all of the hoops the American Government provided for years now. Piles of paperwork, fees upon fees and endless months of being strung along had left my friend tired and frustrated. I told him that unfortunately he had happened upon America at a bad time, a very bad time.

Some seven years ago he came into a country that was quickly sliding into a place of fear, ignorance and increasing government control. Since then it’s grown considerably worse. Laws were being passed at a rapid pace that set out to make America an unwelcome place for everyone but a select few. The American government took up, and has since sustained, a stance that extended the middle finger instead of the olive branch to the rest of the world. And then it turned that finger upon it’s own citizens.

After some commiseration I reiterated my feelings of helplessness in moving the green card process along and tried, unsuccessfully, to lend some words of encouragement.

I said my goodbyes and dipped into the pub. It was Sunday night at Skylarks and that, as I had only recently discovered, meant traditional Irish music was being played. The music was lively and it soothed my perplexed spirit. I met a nice couple that had recently moved to Bellingham from Minneapolis. The music drummed on while Jason told me about working for Frito Lay and how most people didn’t know that his company owned Mrs. Vickie’s (they make some fairly tasty baked goods).

Then one of the mandolin players took a break and I took the opportunity to ask her about the troupe of musicians she played with. She had only recently begun playing but had a beautiful hand made instrument to learn upon. Her name was Mixie (she said “it rhymes with Dixie”). She was in her mid fifties and I could tell she had seen much in those 50 plus years of roaming around this planet.

We talked for a bit: about music, about the evening in 1995 when she and her husband were walking across the Golden Gate bridge and came across people mourning the loss of local guitar legend Jerry Garcia, about life in general. Just before I got up to leave she asked me if I was settling down in Bellingham. I told her I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to settle down in America. She didn’t ask why (the reasons where blatantly clear to anyone who was paying attention) but only suggested I consider Australia or New Zealand.

I thanked her for the advice, left a small tip for the musicians and trudged my way up the hill beneath a dark sky shot through with stars silently keeping watch over this wearied traveler.


Berry's Wisdom

I picked up a book of essays by Wendell Berry called "The Art of the Commonplace". I just finished reading through the first essay, A Native Hill, and needed to share a few quotes with you from this meditative piece of text.

This first bit is from the forward written by Norman Wirzba:

"The frantic, stressful striving going on all around us indicates that we are profoundly lost. We seem unable to ask with any seriousness or depth the question of what all our striving is ultimately for."

Now for Berry's thoughts:

"We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us."

"This peace is partly in being free of the suspicion that pursued me for most of my life, no matter where I was, that there was perhaps another place I should be, or would be happier or better in; it is partly in the increasingly articulate consciousness of being here, and of the significance and importance of being here."

This last one feels very applicable to many in my generation:

"The hill, which is part of America, has killed no one in the service of the American Government. Then why should I, who am a fragment of the hill? I wish to be as peaceable as my land, which does no violence though it has been the scene of violence and has had violence done to it."

This essay was published in 1969. We would have done well to heed his words so many years ago.


If I'm Honest

It’s finally grey enough for me to write. Yesterday and the day before it the Sun was too brilliant, the sky too blue, the leaves too on fire with the hues of fall for me to sanely consider holing up with my thoughts.

I returned from Canada to find a full mailbox: junk, voting pamphlet, voting ballet, voters registration card, and a copy of the Sun. It appears as thought my voting registration went through, as did my subscription change of address request. This was a bad time for election decisions, but a great time for the Sun.

Can we delay this election? Can we push it back until politicians are honest, until your average citizen actually believes that what they have to say is being heard (and maybe even acted upon)? Can we call a temporary halt to the onward march of this crazed civilization? Is it too much to ask for a week or two of national meditation and reflection on where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going?

A flash of emotions rushes through me when looking at the ballot. I want to do one of many things to it: fill it out and send it in, spit on it, set it on fire and light a cigarette from the burning embers or simply resign it to the recycle bin with the rest of the scrap paper that blows through my life.

I'm struggling with thoughts of my great grandfather. Tell me again why he left Ireland for America. I don’t see what he saw in this country. I don’t know that I ever will.

My thoughts straddle the border. Do I immigrate north and leave this despotic government to it’s own devices? How bad did it have to get before my Irish ancestors boarded the ship and set sail for the new world, how bad will it get before I do the same?

Here is an excerpt from Sy Safransky’s Notebook. It’s words like these that keep me sane.

“No matter who’s elected president, daffodils will bloom in the spring. Men and women will fall in love and, sadly, out of love. Inconsolable grief will still be inconsolable. A broken heart will nonetheless keep beating one hundred times a day. No matter who’s elected president, writers will write. Painters will paint. Three in the morning will still be three in the morning. The door in our psyche we don’t want to walk through will still be just down the hall. No matter who’s elected president, life will hand us the invisible thread that connects us all; love will hand us the needle.”


In Context

I am listening to the most recent Bill Moyers podcast and just had to share one very poignant segment from the show with you. It was a great example of the kind of critical thinking we desperately need to be having in America. Listening to Moyers is beginning to restore my belief in the power of journalism to effect positive change.

BILL MOYERS: This week, speakers at McCain rallies were consistently using Barack Obama's full name, Barack Hussein Obama. Now, that is a fact. That is his name. What takes that into the realm of dirty politics?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I worry whenever someone stands up and treats the name Hussein as if somehow that's illegitimate, as if that constitutes an indictment. We've really failed when a name that many, many, many Americans have, a perfectly legitimate name, is somehow now automatically associated with terrorism. Why should it? Why does it?

BILL MOYERS: Well, it shouldn't. No, I agree with-

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It means there's something so wrong-

BILL MOYERS: What's wrong with being a Muslim, for example?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That, well, that's the other problem. I mean, look, every time someone says, "Senator Obama is not a Muslim." You know, how dare you say that he might be a Muslim? How do you hear that if you're a Muslim? We ought to be able to say Senator Obama is Christian without making being a Muslim something that is something we've tagged as being a negative identification.

We've taken all these categories and we've let people use them to prompt inferences to tie to 9/11, tie to terrorism. And we've taken a whole part of our own community as a result, people around the world who identify with us as well, and we've labeled them on arbitrary grounds to be something that we ought to despise and worry about and oppose and react viscerally to. The failure in this discourse is that we even let these kinds of inferences sit out there unexamined when they first started percolating to the surface. I'd like to be able to use anybody's name and not evoke 9/11 without a problem.

note: This interview takes place on the second half of this weeks podcast. You'll have to skip past an earlier interview with George Soros to hear Kathleen Hall Jamieson speak.


(Un) Civilized Discourse.

Is this the modern day lynch mob?


Going For Broke

I’m glad the sky is grey and huddling close to the earth today. The day is darkest at what should be its brightest point. Sleep came in fits last night; I woke once or twice with a tight chest and labored breathing. I am sick and I am tired and today is a good day to be both of those at once.

In all of this sickness I am grateful. I wake to read the news that this system, this finite, greed driven system, is collapsing all around us. I'm not grateful for the collapse (although I do see the silver lining of a much needed humbling for the excessive and ungrateful nation we have become).

This gratefulness does not come from seeing those who have tried to live wisely, tried to live simply and tried to live honestly only to watch the greed of others bankrupt their best efforts. No, I'm not grateful for that in the least. I am angered by it.

No, today I am grateful for shelter, for food, for friends and a family that loves me. I am grateful for the simple things we as a people have forgotten to be grateful for.

As the American dream becomes a waking nightmare the things mentioned above will be what I will continue to cling to. And as a result not too much will change for me. I have strived to position my life in such a way as to value not what society tells me I should, because as anyone who has ever stopped and looked at the past will tell you societies are fickle and fleeting, but instead to focus on that which I know to be valuable.

America may very well be on the fast track to financial poverty. Personally, I see this time as a perfect opportunity to become a people who once again focus on being “relationally rich” rather than monetarily wealthy.

Loving your neighbor doesn’t cost a dime, so love often and love freely.


Warehouse Redemption

It’s been some years now since my father and I worked side by side beneath the buzzing fluorescent lights of the Richs warehouse. He had a contract repairing all of the leather furniture that was damaged. We would get sofas, recliners and loveseats that were dropped, cut and cat scratched and turn these monstrosities from something salvageable into something sellable.

At the time he had this beat up old radio that would blare out sound to help pass the time in this oversized metal warehouse and every now and then he would tune it to the local “classic rock” radio station. These were the very songs my father some twenty years earlier had listened to while hauling semi truck loads up and down the eastern seaboard from one port to the next.

I grew to appreciate not only the skill exuded
by the likes of Peter Frampton and Eddie Money but the inherent early rock history which was conveyed to me by the hearing of these time tested tunes.

I remember the only song I ever called in to request was “Touch Of Grey” by the Grateful Dead. It was 2000 and I was a Dead fan in the making.

One other song that brought me out of the haze of those long, blue-collar days was the “Roadie Song” by Jackson Browne. This was a song my father and I could both agree upon as being something great.

Sometimes I miss those sunless days in the warehouse, pulling busted up furniture off of the slow moving steal assembly line tracks. It’s only now that I can look back and truly appreciate those days for what they were; a brief moment in time to work next to the man who had used his two hands to raise me from the curious baby boy I was into the wide-eyed man I would eventually become.

Thanks Dad.