Thursday, January 29, 2015

We Are The World

Today, January 28th, is the 30th anniversary of the release of the recording, We Are The World/USA for Africa.  It was re-released in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, but with a new lineup of singers.  The original production featured artists such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder.  The later version, 25 for Haiti, featured more current artists who were talented as well, many of whom brought a distinctive rap style of their own to the project.  To name a few, they included, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, L.L. Cool J,, Busta Rhymes, and Kanya West.  Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus were among the young pop representatives in the group.  Not so much my particular taste, but creative, and very well produced. 

I’d recently seen Snoop Dogg perform in a concert on TV, and, even at his advancing age he was still unapologetically selling his theology of dope as the great cure-all for life.  I was reminded of his participation in the 25 for Haiti recording, and his influence on the world around him. 
Considering my admiration and appreciation for many of the artists involved in the We Are The World projects, I do take exception to the inclusion of Snoop, who has, probably more than all of the other artists combined, modeled for, encouraged, and led young people all over the world into the same drug indulgence, and subsequent addiction, that has so seriously inhibited the development of his own life and mentality.  He continues to do so to this day.  So, on the one hand he’s helping raise money to rebuild a people, and culture in collapse and decay, and on the other hand, in his concerts, and with his records, he’s raising money for himself while encouraging the collapse and decay of the lives of young people, the impressionable, the misguided, and the misinformed.   I’ve got no appreciation for that at all. 

Now, I don’t know Snoop.  I only know what I see and hear from him.  But for that I call him Soup Dogg, and I think Soup might be the personification of the person I’ve mentioned on occasion who sets minimally low standards for himself, never failing to live up to them, assuring that he will never be labeled as a hypocrite?
“But”, you say, “He recently bought some football equipment for some kids in South Central L.A. to help keep them out of gangs.”
And I say, “Yeah, but so what!”  Is he trying to justify his negative influence on a couple of generations by enabling a few kids to play football?  He’ll have to do better than that. 

Get a clue, Soup!  Your world is gravely conflicted.  How about issuing an apology to the families of those young people you have led, and continue to lead, down that yellow-brick road?  When you participate in an endeavor such as the recording for Haiti you must also remember the young people you have influenced to their own detriment.  Speaking for them I must remind you that,‘We Are The World’ too.

I know it may seem as if I dislike you, Soup, but I don’t.  In fact, I think you’re probably a very likeable guy.  I just hope you’ll eventually get it right.  With your charitable actions and concerns you’re getting the Do good’ part down.  Now how about completing the admonition to Do good, and Avoid evil?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Tempers of Men

 We, as men, carry our disappointments with us internally (women seem to talk them out among friends).  Not only disappointments, but we also tend to personalize someone’s disrespect of us, the most innocuous slight even, as if it were the difference between our death and our survival.  It can feel like that when we feel disrespected at every turn in any given day - wife, boss, kids, and strangers even.  We are built to fight back, but love and personal integrity inhibits most of us from lashing out at wife and kids, or at least it should.  Social protocol and business sense (self-preservation) do not allow us the satisfaction of figuratively pummeling our boss, and cultural standards repress our anomalous intentions towards strangers.  Thus we are left with an internal struggle to maintain calm while being assaulted daily (it seems), by others.

Because striking out at a boss will get us fired, and striking out at strangers will get us arrested, the most opportune alternatives we are left with are to either control our temper, which for many is easier said than done, or to take it out on those who cannot hurt us . . . . . . . . . namely, our families.  Of course there are other options available to regulate our anger, like a physical workout, or a hobby we are passionate about, but when it comes to needing to establish, or reclaim, some lost dominance for having been diminished, we generally find our families to be convenient victims.  The great majority of us, thankfully, do not strike our wives and children, but we make them the object of our tempers, nevertheless.  We do rain our tempers down upon them in various fashions.  It is inexcusable, and it should not happen, but men are human, and some are better able to control their emotions than others.  I don’t believe it is intentional in most cases.  Many very good men berate the ones who are closest to them.  And I do not believe it is for lack of love.  It is for lack of something, but not necessarily for lack of love.

I know men who are wonderfully sensitive souls, who care deeply about their wives and children, who work with children even.  But when the stress in their lives builds to unmanageable proportions they are just as quick to yell at their loved ones as the next guy.  They don’t want to, and they don’t plan to, but they do.  The tempers of men seem to be tied inexorably to their own need for respect, from their loved ones, and from the world at large.  When it does not measure up to their expectation of it it becomes like a fatal mix of chemicals that ignites and suddenly explodes indiscriminately.   I have been witness to this more times than I care to recollect.  It is not pretty, for the wife, for the child, or for the man himself. 

So what can be done to circumvent the dynamic?  Well, it is an individual problem that requires an individual solution, one that a man must work out for himself.  As with trying to correct any flaw in behavior, it must begin with recognizing the transgression and making an honest effort to understand it, followed by a sincere desire to moderate the action.  A plan can be developed from there.  I believe that intent of the heart is the most positive, and influential, driving force behind any true accomplishment in a relationship.  Any man who wishes to not be yelling at his wife and kids, who wishes to control his temper, and who possesses that intent will, alone, or with the help of others, arrive at his own solution. 

I have every confidence that he will.      

To Live For Stephen

 It was in the early eighties, 1983 to be exact, that I took a few months out of my regular life to do some traveling alone in Europe.  It was a bright, but cool, winter morning that I took the boat over from the port of Dover, UK, to Calais, on the coast of France.  From there I hitched a ride to Bologna.  After first settling into a small hotel I went out to find a bite to eat, and returned shortly thereafter to the hotel to finish writing a song I’d been working on.  It was quite noisy outside my window as the walls of the room were pretty thin, so I had a difficult time concentrating and decided to take my guitar back down to the town square where I’d had dinner. It was pretty quiet there.  In fact it was all but deserted at that time of the night.  I set myself down on a low ledge that enclosed a quietly trickling fountain and began working on my new song.

It wasn’t long before two young men came by, stopped in front of me, and just looked at me for what seemed to be forever.  They looked to be about nineteen or twenty years old.  They were not staring me down, or trying to intimidate me.  It was not like that at all.  They seemed in awe, really.  They seemed sad, and they seemed happy, all at the same time.  It was not something I understood, or could easily figure out.  They just stared.  So after awhile I said hello, and asked them their names.  I spoke a little French, but they spoke pretty good English.  They said their names were Patrice, and Philippe.  After a little more ‘get acquainted’ talk they asked if I’d sing some songs, and was it OK if they just stayed and listened. 

I sang a couple of songs for them, but they wanted me to sing some more.  And some more, and some more after that.  I wanted to accommodate them, although I wasn’t sure why.  They stood there intently listening at first, and then tears began rolling down their cheeks like rain on a moonlit window, and soon they were sobbing uncontrollably.  I was becoming choked up myself, very confused, but very curious as well.  Patrice and Philippe then began emptying their pockets into my guitar case, giving me all of the money they had.  That’s when I stopped singing and asked what was going on.  I didn’t want their money, but I did want to know what had been affecting them so profoundly.  They called me Stephen as they asked if they could take me to a nearby café to sit down and talk. 

At the café Patrice began recounting a tragic event they had been through a few days earlier.  It was life changing for both of them.  The two of them and their best friend, Stephen, had been in a horrific auto accident.  Patrice and Philippe both survived the crash unscathed, but Stephen didn’t make it.  He died in their arms minutes after the collision.  They’d buried him earlier in the day before coming down to the town square to wander the streets in search of their friend, to reclaim, as it were, some of the memories the three of them had created there together.  I was heartbroken by their story, and began crying along with them.  It was a physical grief.  Their pain had become my pain.  They were that vulnerable, that devastated, and that broken.

Patrice offered the stunning observation that I looked and sounded exactly like their departed friend.  “Not kind of like Stephen,” he said.  But,“ exactly like him.”  Stephen, like me, wrote songs and played guitar and sang.  Philippe said it was a miracle that I was here, and that Steph had come back to them through me.  I felt that the two of them were stretching the reality of what they were seeing and hearing because of their grief, and to meet their need for Stephen to not be gone.  I think it was a reasonable conclusion for me to arrive at.  And then Patrice reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a newspaper clipping about the accident.  Along with the article there was a picture of Stephen.  I gasped audibly, and kind of choked on my words as I tried to respond.  I was stunned, shocked, bewildered.  Stephen was me.  The photo and I were identical, truly identical.  Suddenly I understood the full scope of their agonizing expression.

We talked until the café closed, and then we talked some more back at the fountain where we’d found each other earlier.  They told me I would live for Stephen, that he would be alive, and that he would be remembered through my life. 

After a long and emotional evening, after lingering hugs, we left each other knowing that we’d probably never see one another again.  But although we separated that night I have never felt that we truly parted ways.  I have kept Patrice and Philippe with me over these past years.  And Stephen has remained even closer, in many ways guiding my path.  Not in the literal sense, but throughout my life there have been countless moments of decision when I would access the memory of Stephen, and make the choices that I felt would honor him were he alive today.  And in many mysterious ways he is.

It has been an exercise in living at times for someone else.  And he has been for me a governor of conscience, of behavior, and of attitude.  For this I am grateful to Stephen; and equally grateful to Patrice and Philippe, my young friends
from long ago . . . . . . . . . . . .  and far away.

This is the song I wrote for the boys the following day.

Weep For Stephen

Took the boat over from the Port of Dover to the coast of France
Calais was the place where I landed safely half by chance.
Hitched a ride to Bologna, felt so alone, was tryin' to lose my past
Didn't know what I'd find but knew that I had to get there fast.

And I sat in the village square with my guitar and a prayer
and sang all of the songs I'd ever written.
Patrice and Philippe listened for a moment,
then they both began to weep for Stephen.
Friends they had been from the beginning to the end
they could not comprehend the lesson.
I sang about the years, the sorrow and the tears,
they stood alone and wept for Stephen.

Took me to a small cafe' to explain what was goin' on.
They'd been in an accident, could not prevent it, only four days gone.
Stephen did not walk away this time although he tried, with the two of them.
But fell forever silent, right before their eyes, they saw his young life end.

And I sat in the village square with my guitar and a prayer
and sang all of the songs I'd ever written.
Patrice and Philippe listened for a moment
then they both began to weep for Stephen.
Friends they had been from the beginning to the end
they could not comprehend the lesson.
I sang about the years, the sorrow and the tears,
they stood alone and wept for Stephen.

They said I looked and sounded just exactly like their departed friend,
that he's alive because of me and I would be the one to live for him.
Showed me his picture from the paper later, naturally I was shocked to see
Stephen was the man that I had never planned, but somehow had come to be.

And I sat in the village square with my guitar and a prayer
and sang all of the songs I'd ever written.
Patrice and Philippe listened for a moment
then they both began to weep for Stephen.
Friends they had been from the beginning to the end
they could not comprehend the lesson.
I sang about the years, the sorrow and the tears,
they stood alone and wept for Stephen.

They stood alone and wept for Stephen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

If Only Humans Were More Like Bears

I was watching a nature show about Alaskan Brown Bears earlier this evening. 
A pretty interesting program, really.  I was not disappointed.

A mother bear and her two cubs were the main focus of the film.  As is the case with most of these kinds of shows, the cameras followed the bears around through their daily routines of grooming, feeding, fighting, playing, sleeping etc.
There was one segment that showed the bears kind of cavorting on the beach.
One of the cubs wandered into the surf, but ended up a little too deep for his own comfort level.  The mother watched over him from the shore while he tried to make his way back again to shallower water.  He was unable to do so, and ended up just standing in the whitewater looking bewildered and afraid.
Mom calmly walked to where he was, picked him up by the scruff of his neck with her mouth, and brought him closer to shore; not all the way in, but a little closer.  She then walked back out of the water and watched the little guy get fresh footing, and a new acclimation.  After doing so, he got his courage back up, turned, and scampered out of the water to where she was waiting, a happy little guy for getting out of trouble, but maybe even more so for having done so much of it himself.

While I was watching this remarkable understanding of parenting by such a wild and wooly creature I was thinking ‘If only humans were more like bears’, and was reminded of the hundreds of times I’d watched parents supervising their children at playgrounds, amusement parks, lakes, beaches, back yards and in the woods.  Anywhere, really.  And I was struck by how many times I’d seen mothers and fathers rescue their kids from situations and predicaments the little ones had inadvertently gotten themselves into.  When I say rescued, I mean just that . . . . . . . . rescued.  The parents had extracted the child from their ‘dangerous dilemma’.  Unlike the mother bear, they did not ease the severity of the danger for the child, and then allow the little one to work his way out of, or move himself through, the remainder of the process.  No, they spared him the process, thereby robbing the child of the whole learning experience.  Really, the child learned two things from the predicament, but only two things. 
1. Never to climb that high again on the monkey bars.  And,
2. Mom or dad will always be there to get me down if I do.
No wonder so many kids are growing up to be dependent and afraid.

Hmmmm!  If only humans were more like bears.  

Seagulls in the Rain

 I hear the squawk of their communion, the call of their pain. 
I hear the anguished laugh of tortured demons, like the tormented scream of a runaway train.  The talk around the neighborhood is that the sound is meant to keep other predators from feasting on the flesh of the naïve, or feeding on abandoned covenants; the lost promises that have been left laying in the sand like a dead seal tangled in kelp, strangled by the stench of regret, and the lack of any measurable remorse. 

It begins with an innocent sense of infatuation, and ends with an untimely death on the shore.  Yes, it always begins that way, the traditional mating dance, the conditional ritual of getting into someone's pants in exchange for a fancy wedding cake, and a place at the table of the in-laws.  If feathers get ruffled, or wings get clipped, at least we all can know it started with the squawk of seagulls in the rain, the call of their pain. 
And it ended when the cake collapsed.

Dance of Dawn

 I call it the dance of dawn as the sun rises teasingly in the east each and every morning.  When it sets they say, It nestles in the west.  They never mention its position between the two polarities, other than to say, The scorching noon day sun, at times, but only if they find themselves in need of shade. 
We dance and nestle, dance and nestle, frequently.  But the noonday doesn't scorch, it only warms.  It doesn’t really scorch until about one or two o’clock in the afternoon.  The mid-range doesn't offend.  It has no impact other than to go unnoticed.  We love the short and the long, the high and the low, the big and the small, the broad and the narrow.  But we don't really want to live with it.  We prefer the status quo. We love the unique character of the rising and the setting.  We cannot remain too terribly long in its company.  It challenges the senses.  It demands too much emotional response.  We love for life to go unnoticed.  It's comfortable and reassuring.  It allows us each to not be challenged.  We can count on having a break in the stimulation.  For me, although it brings relief, it also brings a sense of disassociation.
But, forget the sun.  When the rains come we all get wet together, whether on the fringes of life, or caught in the middle.  The rains bring a certain equality to us all.  Just a brief equality, but just enough to know we're not too terribly different from each other.  But again, I have to ask the question, Why do some get drenched, while others barely get their feet wet?  Plays itself out in class division, but not necessarily in the field of mental fitness.  We are fittingly mental, but we continue to think we’re mentally fit.  I know the subjective nature of mental fitness - a reality that ultimately defines one's station in life.  But there’s an enormous disparity between one’s perception, and how one comes to be defined by that perception. 
As can be expected, the supposedly mentally fit are usually all too pleased to acknowledge the difference for you.  Unless, of course, they are your friend, in which case they don't go near the subject for fear they'll find themselves on your side of the measurement, the fittingly mental side from their perspective.  When someone wants to be your friend it tells you there's a part of you in them.  They might recognize it long before you do, but your perspective may allow them to feel just a little bit better about their own condition.  It's possible your presence in their world answers their most feared and unacknowledged questions about themselves.  It's also possible they simply live that part of themselves through you, never really needing to make the hard inquiry, or shake hands compliantly with the subtle visitor who wakes up every morning on their couch.
I call it the Dance of Dawn.

A Frantic Band of Pilgrims

Looking out beyond the beyond I yawned and took a rusted lawn mower out from behind the shed.  I rode it nobly past the lookers and the mannequin-like ladies while they waited for a table at the mall.  They’ve been recently mining the moments of madness found in going both ways between the lorn and the forlorn, the storm and the sanctuary, the bare breasts of their sensual sisters and the naked loins of their lovers.  I cut the grass while I was at it, put every crass thought in a basket and tossed it heroically to the gathering crowd, along with cuttings for their compost, the leavings of my lost weekend, and the grievings of my organic speculation.  “My weak side is stronger than your strong side ever was,” I said to the man waiting for a ride on my mower.  “And my tongue is considerably longer than your muscle-bound neck.  But you already knew that.”  Larger men than me have made much smaller impressions of the object of their affections in the wet cement every other Sunday after mass.
But when church let out I parallel parked my rusty mower.  I parked it for the first time, and the last.  I left it there forever, never to be straddled by my rubber legs again.  No time left to ride it now.  Just too much friggin’ traffic, I deduced with my very own vividly precocious, and slightly remarkable mind.  Recently blessed General-Motors jockeys have been racing frenzied through the fog like a frantic band of pilgrims, stumbling blindly in a storm towards Mecca, wearing silly smiles, and stretching blocks like a vague mirage.  Blurs are all that’s left lingering when the caravan goes by.  Colors, once streaked and floating, now choking the breath from my lungs, the sight from my eyes, the life from my soul, stirring it up like a chilly wind, like a confessional of sin, and the wicked grin of madness.  All is lost now, it seems, except the sadness in dying, the death in being sad, the last one left in line before the window closes for another sorry night.  That, of course, and the perpetually hysterical pace of tomorrows chronic paupers waiting patiently to die.
Or maybe waiting for a ride on my now abandoned mower.
Whichever happens to be more important at the time, I guess. 

An Alternate Reality

            The Green House is where I lived after the Haight-Ashbury experience in the 60’s.  Me and my friends.  And it’s where most of them died after the Haight.  It’s where I had some of the best days of my life, and some of the worst.  It’s where I first found family outside of my birth family.  It’s where I initially found independence.
And escape from an authoritarian rule.

            Jim, and Jon.  They were my best friends.  There were several of us.  We were all close.  But Jim, and Jon, and I were inseparable.  We used to surf together, making the hour-long trek to San Clemente well before sunrise.  Sitting on our boards on the water, hours of ocean time and talking.  Riding waves and trying to describe the sensations, of the surf, and of the LSD rippling through our compliant minds.  It was all mixed together during those times.  It was all a blur of induced consciousness, natural phenomena and laughter.  It was all smiles and good feelings, hallucinations and exaggerated sensations.   Limitless expression.  Sometimes silence.  Total immersion in the flow.  Unqualified co-operation with the experience.  

            We surfed Trestles on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, and Cottons Point out front of Nixon's Western White House.  The Riviera and T Street a little farther north.  The Secret Service used to patrol the beach at Cottons.  We weren’t supposed to surf there, but the break was pretty far out, and they were not about to come out after us.  This was in the days before leashes.  If you lost your board at Trestles or Cottons Point you had a long swim into shore.  Not always the ideal situation, especially in big surf.  And especially when peaking on acid.  But we were not to be dissuaded in our pursuit of the ultimate wave, the endless ride, the perpetual thrill.  At Trestles the marines would wait on shore in their jeep, and when a board would wash in they’d throw it in the back and drive it about a half mile down the beach, leave it there and have a good laugh while we made the long walk after the long swim in.  It was like something out of a movie.  In our altered state of consciousness it usually felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone, rather than an actual event.  But for us it was really all part of the reality carnival that was our lives at the time.  

At the Green House we had an enormous living room upstairs, surrounded by several bedrooms and a kitchen.  The living room looked out onto a busy boulevard.  It was noisy, but provided a lot of cheap entertainment.  I was in a Life is a movie phase.  Everything reminded me of a script.  Relationships, experiences, feelings, everything.  It got to the point that I really began to believe it.  We had sofas lining the walls around the room, and one afternoon when everybody was gone I lined up all the couches in front of the window, facing out like theater seating facing a big screen.  I made some popcorn, took a seat in the front row and spent the rest of the afternoon watching, what I believed was, a movie.  Throughout the day, as friends began to wander in, they quietly took a seat on one of the sofas and stared out the window along with me.  No one ever really commented on the arrangement.  Everybody knew I’d been dancing somewhat out of sync for awhile.  The room was left that way for a few weeks.  Then it mysteriously returned to its original configuration.  Nothing was ever said.  

In the meantime, I had gradually returned to an acceptable level of insanity.  Life was not as interesting after that, but it was certainly more manageable.   

The Police kept a pretty close eye on the Green House.  Always had someone parked outside, under cover, and often not so under cover.  They’d actually gather outside at night, late at night, parked in their cars in kind of a show of force.  We always referred to it as a show of farce.  We were like the local donut shop.  Cops on duty, and even on their breaks, used to stop by to check in with each other, but while there, they would usually do their best to intimidate and antagonize us.  They would shine their spotlights in our windows, and talk to us through their bullhorns.  Always talking crap, always talking tough, but always with a sarcastic slant.  They seemed to like us in an odd sort of way.  Seemed to envy our freedom, even though they called us queers because of our long hair. 
We’d get tired of being kept awake all night, and placed quite a few calls of complaint to the station.  Obviously to no avail.  I can only guess it probably just fueled their resolve.  The spectacle of all those cops parked outside our house, day in and day out, left me really with only one prevailing conclusion. . . . . . . . . We must have put a lot of the local donut shops out of business.
The cops didn’t know what they were doing back then.  And neither did we.  This was all new to everybody.

Life worked itself out for me eventually, but I’m sad to say that was not the case for my friends, Jim, and Jon, who died before their time.  And I miss them.


A Recurring Dream

For many years I have had a recurring dream of crawling slowly down a gradual embankment towards a small lake.  Glistening, calm, breathtaking.  Upon reaching the shoreline on hands and knees, I collapse, lifeless, into about two inches of shallow water.  My body, like dead weight, pins my weakened arms beneath it.  My face drops forward into the suddenly dangerous pond.  My neck will not support the weight of my head.  My arms lack sufficient strength to push my torso upwards, or turn my body over to save my life.  I am frozen, and cannot muster the necessary will to live.  It wouldn't take much.  I drown there in that beautiful secluded pool, and it will most certainly be the site of someone's forthcoming holiday outing.  They say that in your dreams you're not supposed to die.  I say ‘Yeah, but what do they know about my dreams?  They've never even been in them before’. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Most Important Things In Life

The most important things in life?

I guess everybody has their own list, whether they realize it or not.
But, if truth be told, it usually amounts to what you do with your money,
and what you do with your time.
If you don’t know what’s important to you
make a list of those two things and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

Where your money is, there will your heart be also. 
What you do with your time is what you do with yourself.
And what you do with yourself in many ways defines you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

He Is Not Our Brother

Most of us are doing the best that we know how.
In this topsy-turvy world one finds the blessing wherever one can, the fulfillment, the satisfaction.  But the curse comes along sometimes like an undesirable uncle showing up unannounced at the door.  We knew he would eventually arrive, we just didn’t know from where, and we didn’t know when.  But we’ll have to live with that.  Like the promise of death, or ageing. 

But there is an even more sinister family member who increasingly insinuates himself into our lives.  He masquerades as a big brother.  And big brother has become a tangible curse for most people these days, just like George Orwell said he would.  He finds his way into our life most inappropriately, and at the most inopportune time, bringing with him new laws, taxes, fees, regulations, and requirements of every kind.  Listening in on us, tracking our every keyboard stroke or smart phone transaction.  But it’s for our own good, he says.  It’s for our own wellbeing, and to help with our own security.
Yeah, real nice brother.  Always looking out for us!

The main problem with that kind of brother is that he actually believes his own fiction.  He pretends to be a loyal, moral and ethical member of the family, working hard on our behalf.  And yet he wallows in his own self-importance stroking himself, and his buddies, for gratification, all the while thinking that we see him as the character he so disingenuously masquerades as for the rest of us.  The truth is, we can see him, but for whom he actually is.  The sad part is that for the most part we don’t care.  That is the real tragedy.  It’s how he’s able to continue being a disloyal, immoral, and unethical member of the family, entertaining delusions of grandeur, and working hard on his own behalf.  He is not our savior, by any stretch of the imagination.  And he is not our brother.  He has, in fact, become our master.

Most of us are giving it our best, just trying to get through life, and haven’t got the inclination to supervise the behavior of a government that insinuates itself into, and imposes itself upon, our struggling lives.  Big Brother knows that.  Of that you can be sure.   
And it’s really how he gets away with the charade.

But we, as the recipients of his untoward affection, must be aware of him and his spurious ways, 
and make the time and effort to resist his unscrupulous advances.
That is something we can and must do, and we must do it with vigilance, the best that we know how.

Monday, January 12, 2015


We’d all like to feel like we’re conscious, more so than the next guy, even if we’re not.  Consciousness is a relative term.  The next guy is just as conscious as, or more so, than I am, but in his own way, by his own experience and understanding.  His consciousness is uniquely his own, as is yours and mine.  One mans consciousness is another mans confusion.

Consciousness has always been relative, and that’s why it’s so easy to proclaim yourself to be conscious when those around you might consider you not to be.  By the same token you might consider them not to be.  They measure your consciousness by their own, as you do theirs by yours, whether anyone is aware of it or not.  And furthermore, theirs might be measured by a different standard -even apart from themselves- than you might measure yours by, a different standard of criteria, and by an innate personal bias that they are intrinsically incapable of taking into account in any self-assessment.

So rather than arguing consciousness, degrees of, or ownership of, let me just suggest that beyond any intellectual measure, emotional connection to, or conceptual ideation, a persons life will always be the best indicator of consciousness . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  or lack thereof.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Not Leading To Better

There was a person, and a situation, that left some extended family members appalled, not only because of the persons blatant attempts to unapologetically exploit other people, but to ascribe an innate holiness to the behavior as well.  Family members talked among themselves about the person, and not in flattering terms.  There had been a running commentary throughout much of the family, but nobody would address the situation with the person; choosing instead to gossip about it amongst themselves, while pretending that nothing was amiss when interacting with that individual.

I addressed the situation, the dishonesty, with some honesty, and some truth.  And some of the family members became afraid of me for having spoken so frankly.  In my opinion, that in itself is cause for concern.

 “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”
- George Orwell

Not to pat myself on the back.  That’s not what this is about.  I take no pleasure in calling someone out for their disingenuousness.  But untruthful people still don’t get it, that honesty is in their own best interest.  Others, who are privy to their untoward behavior are so afraid of being thought of as judgmental, or of being shunned, rejected, or excluded, that they will hide behind silence to protect themselves.  And they will often disassociate themselves from those who dare to be honest.  But they really only protect themselves from their own insecurities, and in the bigger picture they do themselves an enormous injustice, inhibiting their own ability to breathe freely. 

In defense of avoidance, people will say that honesty hurts other people, other people’s feelings.  In truth, sometimes it does.  But in order to accomplish anything in this life we must be willing to risk something.  In order to help someone else we must be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves.  So if a person is unwilling to risk hurting the feelings of someone who is raising disingenuousness to levels we don’t even want to be around, then the unwilling, and everybody else, will have to live with the behaviors of, and the repercussions from, the one choosing to be so mendacious.

What of the drug abuser or alcoholic whose self-centered behavior damages the lives of his entire family?  We wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings?  Or the family member who continually lies to those who love him the most?  Or the religious people who choose to exploit other people for their own gain?  Or the social climbers who want to look good in the eyes of whoever they choose to use to get ahead?  Should we be overly concerned with hurting their feelings?  Or is it that we wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of somebody we might want, or need, to remain associated with?  Should we just remain silent so as not to disrupt the status quo, so as not to mess with the illusion of bliss while embracing the elephant in the room, and enhancing the level of dishonesty rather than bringing humankind closer to living in the realm of truthfulness.  Maybe the question should be “Why would I not want to deal honestly, straightforward if you will, with someone who is less than genuine with me?”

There is no power to be had over someone who has nothing to hide.  That person can live forthrightly, and in good conscience.  That person is free to be honest.
Some people put no value on honesty.  They put value only on whatever it takes to get by, to get ahead, or to make themselves look good.  I feel very sad, and very sorry, for those people.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that ‘A person is only as sick as his secrets’. 
Maybe you haven’t.  But you have now.
Silence kills . . . . . . . . . eventually. 
Yourself, and others.
A little bit at a time,
like infection poisons the blood.

How many times have we refused to respond to an issue someone has created for fear of causing drama, trauma, upset, dislike, disdain or rejection?  How many times have people allowed lingering resentments to fester like an ugly wound, only to have the infection take root and become a much greater problem than if it been had addressed properly, honestly, to begin with?  Honesty is not only the avoidance of telling lies.  It is about the manner in which we live, the manner in which we conduct our lives.  It is about the attitudes and innuendos we construct, and the impressions we project for others to define us by.  Honesty is a casserole of self-assessment, attitude, belief, and behavior.  It’s unfortunate that it gets reduced down to lying, or not lying.

I choose not to live with lies, deceit, or dishonesty, with myself, or with others.  And if it hurts somebody’s feelings to address it, or if it isolates or alienates me, so be it. 
I can live with that.  I mean them no harm.  They cannot be hurt by honesty if they embrace honesty as a trusted companion.  And I cannot be hurt by them if I’m not afraid of what they think.  I do not consider myself to be righteous, self-righteous, or even un-righteous.  I am simply doing the best I can with what I know, and with what I have.
And I believe it is better to have one good friend who is honest with me than to have a myriad of friends who are not.

Anything short of honesty is not leading to better. 
It may sometimes seem like it might be for the best, but we must ask ourselves,
‘Better for whom’?

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Angel Gabriel

It had been raining for seven days and seven nights.  I was in Morocco, northern Africa, traveling low budget through the small towns and big cities alike.  I’d been hitchhiking, and was soaked to the bone when I arrived in the town of Tetouan, about 60 miles east of Tangier, and positioned just a few miles south of the Straight of Gibraltar.  I’d been shivering all day, like a wet dog shaking forlornly on the streets of Chicago in the dead of winter.  I was in the throes of hypothermia when I finally found a place to stay.  It was not a typical rain that had enveloped the area, but, rather, a deluge of somewhat biblical proportions.  A rain they had not seen in memory.  A rain that washed the mundane daily concerns from peoples minds and replaced those concerns with anxiety about their own lives.  Would they be O.K? 

I took a room in an ancient hotel, stripped off my frozen clothes, and soaked in a hot bath for what seemed like an eternity, warming my bones, and renewing my resolve.  I ate a meal of crackers and canned sardines, and put myself to bed for some much-needed rest, some much-needed dreams, even. 

Traveling alone in a foreign country with a pack on my back and a guitar slung over my shoulder is not easy, by any means.  It’s romanticized in the recollections and retellings of they who have traveled those roads, however, it is anything but romantic.  It is early mornings and late nights in the middle of nowhere.  It is cold, and it is hot.  It is tiring, and frustrating.  It is lonely and foreboding.  It is dangerous and frightening.  It is certainly uncertain, and it is, in many ways, putting your fortune in unknown hands, tossing your fate to the wind, if you will.  It is, above all else, I think, a continuous examination of your self, a deeper examination than most men are even able to bear.  You are confronted with your own shortcomings, your failures, your frailties, your weakness, your fuck-ups, your missteps, your ethics, your morality, and, ultimately, your own mortality.  It strips you down to your very core, and redresses you in unadulterated truth.  It is like running a gantlet with all the ghosts of your past lining up on either side of you while you try your best to make it unmolested through the fray.  But you will not make it through unmolested.  Not if you’re honest with yourself, which, ultimately, you are forced to be.  The road is not a frivolous place.  It is not designed that way.

In the morning I woke to brilliant sunshine flooding through my window, and the sounds of celebration in the streets.  The rains had stopped, and the people were out in the streets full force, most likely for the first time in those long seven days.  I was situated in an ancient part of the city with narrow cobblestone streets lined with rug shops and open-air vendors selling exotic food and hawking their wares;
the food, admittedly exotic to me, but common fare to the Moroccans.  I just wandered around for the better part of the morning, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and hustles.  Every rug shop I passed sent a couple twenty-something young men out to follow me and solicit me to come and have tea in their shop, look at the rugs, and, hopefully, make a deal.  After ten minutes or so they’d give up, and the next rug shop I passed would send out their own detail to engage me.
The streets were narrow and maze-like, winding, meandering, with no particular discernable pattern.  But it was such a joy to be roaming around among them. 

When the rug merchants finally gave up on me I was able to relax, slow my pace, and take in the intricacies of the town, the minutiae that gets missed and overlooked when distracted by other concerns.  As I moved along I heard what I thought was a child’s voice.  It was faint, but stuck out somehow among the hustle and bustle of all the other voices in the streets.  I thought I heard the words, ‘Mr. Americano’.  I turned around to look, saw nothing related to the sound, then began to continue on my way.  There was an old 4-story hotel that caught my interest just ahead on the left.  I thought I’d check it out with the idea of possibly moving in there if I liked it.  I liked where it was located, and maybe it was cheaper than where I was.  In any event, I took two or three more steps towards the hotel when I heard the child’s voice again, but more urgent this time.
‘Mr. Americano, Mr. Americano’.  I stopped again, turned around, and saw a six or seven-year-old child -standing about thirty feet from me- calling for my attention.  As I saw him, and connected him with the voice, the ground suddenly shook with a deafening roar as the old rock and mortar hotel crumbled into the street in an enormous cloud of dust, just a few feet from me, leaving me in disbelief, with about 50 people in the street buried beneath an enormous pile of rubble.  Needless to say, I was stunned, as was everybody else.  People ran to help, but it was daunting and dispiriting at best.  I tried to help, but, being an obvious foreigner not speaking the language, was held back from the rubble.  

Rescuers arrived quickly and took control of the situation.  They were not uniformed, organized groups, but, nevertheless, men who knew what they were doing.  Organized fire and police came later, but this cadre of volunteers found rescue efforts to be futile for the most part.  So many ended up just standing around with an ever-increasing crowd of mourners. 

After a couple of hours, and still in shock, with tears flowing uncontrolled down my weathered face I began to wander around the town listening for that familiar voice, the voice which had stopped me in my tracks, and spared me such an ignominious fate.  I walked around for the next couple of days, all day, looking for the boy, the angel, that saved my life.    

Today I call him Gabriel.