Saturday, June 23, 2018

America: A Country That Eats Children, Part Two

(Photo from

In Part One of this essay, I wrote that a country born of genocide, built by slavery, grown by exploitation and cruelty, with its society fueled by racism and intolerance, may not be capable of being saved.  I begin Part Two here by saying that, if such a country cannot be saved and reformed, then it
should cease to exist.   Such a country is a danger to everything that is life-affirming, and should be challenged, both from within by its citizens and from without by countries who are more committed to the well-being of their people.

Stefan Zweig, an √©migr√© from the Nazi terrors in Europe, was deeply miserable in the United States, where he and his wife had landed after escaping first the continent, and then England.  He watched in horror as fascism and violence consumed everything he once knew of his life.  Europe, he wrote, was committing suicide.  It was only from a distance that he was able to see that the intellectuals, the writers, the journalists, had failed to recognize the extent of the threat early enough, had failed to sound the trumpets of warning while it still could have raised a successful resistance.  Many of those intellectuals, writers and journalists, ultimately, fell prey to relentless propaganda.  What he called  “the ‘doping’ of excitement” which was caused by what was by then a relentless incitement of anxiety and upset, created people who were psychologically and physically made sick and passive by despair.  Zweig saw the American people as largely unmoved by the plight of the people of the world – both those who had remained in Europe and those who had fled.

I would add to that my own assumption, since I think I know the American sickness well enough:  the only time that average Americans became engaged was when they identified with the “might” of the American military, heading over the ocean to enter the battles.  The American desire to “win” whipped the majority of people into fervor – not, I would suggest, out of a true compassion for the suffering or the ruin being faced by millions of people, but for the adrenaline rush of victory for its own sake.

In other words, we are a lot more like the Nazis in temperament that we want to admit.  And, if you extend that thought, we are committing suicide in a way very similar to the suicide of Nazi Germany.

Of course, not all Americans can be painted with that broad brush.  There were those who were deeply engaged in the human rights concerns of the world wars.  But, for many reasons that probably warrant a few other essays, our intellectuals, artists and journalists have been mislead, seduced, and silenced.  In this piece, I’m talking about the “average” American who remains either willfully uninformed, or habitually misinformed, who benefits from obedience to the current status quo.  Who are they, you ask?  Look around you now, in 2018.  See those people parroting the sound bytes?  Repeating the talking points of pundits word-for-word?  See those who hang flags all over their properties and from their cars and trucks, with bumper stickers like “America: Love It or Leave It!” or “My Country, Right or Wrong!” The nationalists, the supremacists, the militarists.  These are the ones easiest to spot.  These people are in the majority both here in the U.S., and I would venture to say, around the world.  They are the followers.  The worker bees.  Nature produces more of them in every species than it produces the leaders.  For now, let’s call them “the subjects”.  Every age has a majority of people who are “subjects”, who are ruled by the power players of their day.  Now, of course, within that population, there might be a few who are rebellious, who are resistors, who see the deep wrongs of their society.  But the majority of the subjects are willing to be ruled.  Desirous of being told what to think and how to behave.  That feels safe. They enjoy knowing and following the dictates of the time, and enjoy even more condemning those who don’t toe the line.  They take pride it this behavior.  They consider themselves “good” citizens.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is that simple.  You find the same sorts of sentiments in the corporate boardrooms, among the administrators of our corporatized colleges, on Wall Street, in the media monopolies.  In fact, it can be argued that it is the more subtle obedience by those power elite that is far more dangerous – because those are the people profiting from the misery the most.  Every age has these people, too.  They are not the “subjects”.  They are the nobles, the lords, the aristocracy of the day.  Their obedience and determination to uphold the current power dictates has everything to do with how much they benefit from the role they play.

These are timeless archetypes, and to see them in America is to understand what part of the cycle of history we are currently experiencing.  The “good” American mouths the lies about criminals at our borders, or about the ways in which these children are in facilities much more like “summer camps”, or that their parents “got what they deserved” for breaking the law.  They attack anyone criticizing the inhumanity of our government’s behavior as unpatriotic, anti-American, or….heaven forbid “communist” (despite the fact that most of these “good” Americans couldn’t tell you one accurate thing about communist theory).  These “good” Americans are dangerous, in that they are easily whipped into ecstatic hatred.  The power elite, however, are more dangerous still.  They create the narratives mouthed by the “subjects”.  They bombard the airwaves, the print media, even the movies and TV shows with the messages that control the masses.  They not only manufacture the lies, but they own the means of dissemination.  And, worst of all, they profit mightily from their role in this process.

All of this is meant to reveal the most relevant truth:  These “good” Americans don’t care about your families.  They don’t care about your children.  The everyday “good” American sees outsiders as a threat – to their economic security, to the safety of their neighborhoods.  Brian Kilmeade, a newscaster on the Fox News channel this week assured his viewers that it was okay not to care about those migrant families and the separated and caged migrant children, since they were not our children.  By that, he meant our white, privileged American children.  Images arise of the German children whose lives were little impacted as they played only yards from the barbed wire fences that imprisoned the starving children on the other side.

(Both photos from

Such German families, after the war, swore that they “didn’t know” what was happening.  The truth was, those Good Germans didn’t care.

Remember this week’s fashion faux pas of our first lady, Melania Trump, boarding a plane to visit the children’s detention centers in Texas while wearing a military- green rain coat with the words “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” scrawled across the back?

                                          (Getty Images)

Her press secretary replied to the outcry that no “hidden message” was intended.  It was just a coat.  The Good Americans will believe it, repeat it, scoff at anyone who insists differently, mocking their “conspiracy theories”.  They might even rush to the Zara website and buy that jacket themselves.

Was it a mistake?   Consider this:  Me Ne Frego was a motto of Italian fascism.  Giovanni Tiso writes a wonderful piece offering us the fascist history of the phrase “I don’t care”.  He writes:

“Four years ago, speaking at a First World War commemoration in the small town of Redipuglia, Pope Francis linked ‘me ne frego’ not only with the carnage of that conflict, but also with the horrors of Fascism, recognising its ideological and propaganda value for Mussolini’s project. This is the form in which the slogan has survived until the present day, as a linguistic signifier not of generic indifference, but of ideological nostalgia. And because the attempts in Italy and beyond to stem the spread of such signifiers have been comprehensively abandoned, we readily find those words appearing not just on seemingly ubiquitous Fascist-era memorabilia but also on posters, t-shirts…stickers…..The international neofascist movement is of course well aware of this lineage. By way of example, if you search for it online you’ll find a long-running English-language podcast called Me ne frego which recycles this imagery in support of arguments against immigration and multiculturalism, or to opine on the subject of ‘the Jewish question’. I don’t doubt that people close both to the Trump administration and this world are similarly cognisant of the uses to which those three words have been put. But even for those who aren’t, claims to indifference have a history which we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget.”

Coincidence?  Not bloody likely.  Our current First Lady, the former Melania Knauss of Slovenia, was born and raised in the only part of the former Yugoslavia that had been entirely annexed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the war.  Do you think there is even the slightest possibility that she did not recognize the Anglicized version of Me ne frego?

I say that this spirit of “not caring” is the construct of propaganda that creates a willful maintenance of a blank mind and conscience.

There is the fashion statement, and there is the fascist statement.  And if there is a profit to be made by selling this message in everything from its most blatant to its most coded forms, well, then, all the better.  That’s always where the American elite enter the story, isn’t it?  Profit.   The monstrosity of profit is never better illustrated than by exploring the behavior of Amazon.  Check out their Me Ne Frego offerings here.

The American elite sees everything as ripe with profit potential.

For-profit prisons and detention centers are raking in billions in government contracts for the warehousing of asylum seekers.  All the attendant services that are provided -- the food, the clothing, the equipment, the furnishing, the custodial services – mean more government contracts and more enormous profit.  Then, there are the health providers – medical services provided at great cost to the government (read that: the taxpayer) – who, by most accounts provide little actual healthcare to these poor detainees, but who profit mightily from the pretense.  Also, let’s not forget the pharmaceutical companies who are, apparently, providing massive amounts of drugs that are being used to dope the children against their will – psychotropic drugs, for instance, in huge amounts, forced on these helpless people….even children barely out of diapers.

And then, of course, there is the profit to be made by reporting all of this in the media – the TV news channels, the online new sources and social media sites, the organizations slamming the information, complete with horrifying photos, into emails appealing for donations to “fight” for the children.

In America, human beings are only valuable to the extent that they can be commodified.  And if they can commodified in multiple ways, so much the better.

And, lest we think that this is only true regarding the way we treat “outsiders.” I’d suggest that you take a long hard look at the way our own children, with their American citizenships, are treated.  Our children are commodified from the time they are zygotes.  Companies are eager to sell expectant parents thousands of dollars worth of baby products.  Once born, the children are being advertised to with alarming  frequency.  They are not valued as the young, innocent little humans they are, but for the marketing potential they represent. Once they reach school age, they are subjected to “education” that is, at best, suspect and , at worst, a disgrace.  They are  diagnosed, pathologized, medicated, manipulated – all while still being marketed to, shaped emotionally by relentless media influences.  The cattle shunt into college begins in elementary school with standardized testing, tutors, music lessons, dance lessons, language lessons, sports activities, expensive summer camps, and finally to SAT and ACT training programs, college admission counselors, all of which drive the majority of students into obscenely expensive higher education and the ensuing student debt penury, then, finally, into a low-wage job market, where they become yet another generation of desperate, miserable, often still medicated adults.

And those are the lucky ones.

The children born into white families….even the poorest white families, still have a better life than those born into black or Latino families.  The scourge of poverty, the disease of racism, the blight of poor neighborhoods, the constant struggle of living in an occupied police state….all lead to the greater likelihood of violent death (often at the hands of police), or incarceration.

The Good Americans don’t care about any of this.  They believe what they are told about why such things are the way they are.  College is expensive, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Wages are low because that is what the market dictates.  It’s all about staying competitive.  Anyone who complains is just too lazy to work hard and earn a good living.  We need a huge military because our national security is at great risk.  All those dead black boys must have been doing something wrong.  Police are only doing their job.  If the number of black and brown bodies in our prison system is exploding, it is because we have finally gotten tough on crime.  If people are homeless, it is because of bad choices and personality flaws. And probably drug abuse.  Poverty is a personal choice.  Everyone, after all, has an equal chance to make it in this country, right? The Good Americans sleep securely at night, in the knowledge that things are as they should be, because that is what they are told.  The elite Americans keep growing wealthier by finding ways to profit on the status quo. So, even though they know the secret, they certainly aren’t going to breathe a word of it in public.

I believe that what Stefan Zweig saw in the 1930s and early 40s, he would see today right here on American soil.  He would recognize the fascism faster, seeing immediately that we welcomed it into our protective borders in the form of Nazi scientists and theoreticians during and after WWII. (No hostility toward those immigrants!) He would speak out about the financiers of the U.S. who laundered money for the Nazi Party, who continued profiting by serving both sides of war, and whose banks and agencies have continued on, perhaps with some name changes along the way, until this very day.  He would recognize the latest embodiment of fascist principles in this country’s social Darwinism and genocidal practices, its power hunger, its militarized hegemony, its disdain for the needs of human rights abroad, or for sustaining a healthy environment, healthy business practices, healthy citizens at home.  He would recognize the leering face of cruelty and evil beneath the plastered smile of the pundit, the CEO, the politician.

But Stefan Zweig committed suicide in 1942, despairing of what had happened to Europe, and made hopeless by what he observed as the future of humanity.  He had completed his memoir, The World of Yesterday, the day before his death.  He and his wife took an overdose of barbiturates and died, holding hands.  Maybe that was their message: that they were leaving this life while still believing in each other and believing in the possibility of love….if only in the next world.

So, yes, America is committing suicide – but the problem is that this suicide is more like that of the kamikaze, who willingly dies while in the act of creating widespread destruction around him.

Yes, it is natural to despair.  The increased number of suicides in the U.S. in the past ten years is proof that large numbers of people see no hope for the future, and are tired of the enormous amount of pain they are suffering.

But we have to live for the children.  We, those of us who don’t identify ourselves as Good Americans -- who are vilified each time we raise our voices in protest, whose heads are broken by police batons, whose Facebook and Twitter pages are surveilled by our intelligence agencies, who are sick nearly to death of what we see happening around us – we have to remain defiantly alive.  We have to hold our gaze on the unspeakable, so that we can speak it.  We have to fight even the most seeming unwinnable war.  We have to rescue the children being served up for devouring.

We have to be proud and determined to be the Bad Americans who finally heed Zweig’s lamentations and work to reverse what he so feared for humanity.

Yet, there is the very real possibility that we will fail – and that will mean either that the world itself will be in cinders or that Europe, rebuilt and restored, but not forgetting the errors and evils of its own recent past, will rise up against the United States for the sake of protecting its own well-being.   When Germans failed to end the horrors that began within their borders and then spread like disease through Europe, it was the other countries which rose up to fight.   If we can’t reverse what is happening in the United States, if we can’t begin to reverse the ways our destructive behaviors have already put the world at risk, then we have to confront the very real possibility that others will take on the responsibility themselves.  That could well mean that the United States, as it exists today, would cease to be.

Do you think anyone would care?

Friday, June 22, 2018

America: A Country That Eats Children


When my daughter was about four years old, she took it into her head to hide from me in a children’s clothing department at a Macy’s Department store.  For what only could have been about 2 minutes, I searched for her, called her name, enlisted the help of the saleswomen in the department.  The terror I felt was indescribable, fueled largely by the fact that this department was right near a triple set of glass doors leading out of the store and into the parking garage.  I was shaking with fear that my little girl had been taken, abducted.  My ordeal ended when a very tall man, who was walking through the department, saw us searching.  Being very tall, he was able to see down into the center of a circular clothing rack, and asked, “Is your little girl wearing a purple sweater, does she have long dark pigtails?” as he leaned in and scooped her out in one quick motion.

His action terrified my daughter, who had no idea that a stranger could so easily hold her in his grip.  Once he handed her over to me, all I could do was clutch my child to my chest and hurry from the story to the garage, securing my little girl into her car seat, and then sitting in the car, sobbing.  I have no idea how long I cried.  From the back seat, my little girl’s voice kept repeating, “I’m sorry mommy.  I’m sorry.”

She was only being a child.  She was following an impulse to be playful, with no idea of how dangerous the world in which we lived was.

I was reminded of this episode this past week as news of the depraved actions of our border authorities taking children away from families seeking asylum began to appear.  These are families who know full well how dangerous the world is, who make long, arduous, life-threatening journeys to a country, The United States, which they imagine and hope will offer them a safety that they have rarely known, a place to make a home, to raise their families and live in peace.

Instead, their children are ripped from them, and they are themselves held in prison-like facilities for extended periods of time.  The dream they had of a world of welcome and peace is shattered, and now they have no idea if they will ever see their children again.  The children themselves are being warehoused, living in trauma, and we are now told that these facilities are drugging the children with high doses of psychotropic drugs – forcibly – I assume to keep them from screaming and crying and expressing the trauma that they are experiencing.

I remembered – with a full visceral reliving – the terror and helplessness I felt in those brief moments when I thought my child was lost to me.  I know what these parents felt in those first few minutes of shock.  But my ordeal lasted only a few moments.  What if that tall man, instead of handing my child back to me, ran through those glass doors into the parking garage with her, and my child disappeared?  What if I was restrained by others who prevented me from even attempting to follow, to chase after her?  What if I were thrown into a detention facility myself with no one who could tell me what had happened to my child?

 (Photo of native children confined in an "Indian School" from Equal Justice Initiative)

For many of us, it is beyond comprehension that the United States of America could be guilty of such actions.  For others, however, it presents an opportunity to remind everyone that this is, in fact, a continuation of policy that gave us the Pratt Schools, where native children were torn from their families and forced into institutions where they were forced to assimilate to the “American” dictates.  Places where the “Indian” was beaten out of them, and where many children died of abuse, illness and despair.  Of course, the practices during times of slavery in the U.S. included separating families and children, selling children away from their parents, selling fathers away from their families.   What about child labor, where many children were living in squalor, working more than 12 hours a day – essentially being worked to death?  How about the Japanese internment camps?

It doesn’t take long to realize that what appears to be a shocking new turn toward evil in the USA is, in fact, just a refashioned, very old policy that shows no mercy, no compassion, no love for the “other” among us.   It is a deep depravity that is more truly American than any of the fairy tales repeated about our welcome of immigrants, or our love of democracy.

We have to face the reality of our own history fully, without turning away.  Those of us who are horrified by what we are seeing happening to these immigrant families must acknowledge both the current expression of our country’s inhumanity and our long, dark history of that same behavior.   We have to work to end the immediate evils.  But we can’t stop there.  We have to work to pull out the root and stem of this evil, if that is possible.  I don’t know if it is, since our country was born of genocide, built by slaves, grown by exploitation and cruelty, and has a large number of citizens who remain in willful in denial about what we owe to those we’ve harmed, or what we must do to right ourselves as a nation.  The challenges are great, and the goals may not be achievable.  But those "better angels of our nature" call out to us.  We have to try.  There are many of us willing to take action to oppose the continuation of these evils.  Look around you:  see which religious organizations are involved in appropriate activism, join organizations that focus on human rights and direct action.  Write to your representatives.  Make phone calls.  Attend demonstrations.  Do whatever you can with whatever talents and abilities you have, with whatever gifts you can share.  Without rebuilding this country entirely, none of our children are safe.  There is no justification for what our government is doing now, or the crimes against humanity it has committed in the past. But it is essential to understand that rebuilding this country is not possible until we tear this old country down.  The evils and practices of that old America have to die in order that a new country dedicated to the well-being of all life can be born.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t go back to sleep.  We need you.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

On a Refusal to Blog

                                                Evgeny Chirikov, by Ivan Kulikov, 1904

It’s 3 in the afternoon on one of the first really gorgeous spring days in Philadelphia.  I’ve opened my windows for the first time in a few weeks because the tree pollen count is horribly high, there are trees beneath my bedroom window, and I have terrible allergies.  Last week, I had a singing performance to give, and was being extremely careful guarding my voice – so no dairy, no alcohol, no outdoors exposure to pollen, lots of steaming with eucalyptus, drinking throat coat.  This week, with the performance behind me, I have returned to enjoying some dairy.  Okay….a LOT of dairy at first – a cheese board, ice cream, more cheese, more ice cream -- which has since modulated itself.

I’ve determined to enjoy the outdoors, or at the very least, enjoy letting the outdoors in at times when I have work to accomplish at my computer.  So, this morning, I opened my windows wide, after checking the tree pollen count and being informed that it was “very high”.  I really didn’t need to check the weather channel to know that. In a very short time, my sinuses and ears closed up, my breathing became raspy, my sneezing began and escalated.  But I was determined.  I powered through with tissues and saline nose spray and steaming a bit – just so that I could keep those darn windows open.  But, eventually, the allergy attack subsided, my breathing returned to normal, the sneezing stopped.

And then, through the window came the songs of birds in those troublesome trees.  The glory of an oboe, being played and practiced upon by a neighbor across the street.  Then a clarinet.  The man plays several woodwind instruments, I thought....Good for him! And good for the rest of us, who get to listen as he rehearses. The smells of cooking from the many restaurants below (there are four on the block, three more around the corner to the north, another five or six if you continue straight down my street….you get the picture.) A broken-hearted child sobbing to his mother, “But I want my ‘nana!  I want to eat my ‘nana now!  Can I please hold my ‘nana?”  This was followed by neighbors greeting each other, and their dogs staging a bark-off.  Then, the music of young girls’ voices, in unison, singing the famous Whitney Houston song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.   It was a typical beautiful spring day on South Street in Philadelphia.

Life was coming through my window, as I sat working on some research and some writing, planning a day of full “occupation”, determining which physical exercise to do, which projects to work on, which correspondence needed my attention.  Yes, it is Saturday.  Yes, I work every day. But the word “work” is something that deserves exploration (and I’ll explore it on these pages at some point soon.)  When you are occupied in ways that offer satisfaction, provide hope and anticipation, there is little to find unpleasant.

But this morning, I was thinking about something I found unpleasant: “blogging”.

First, I was thinking about how I don’t like the word “blog”, although I have several blogs of my own, covering various topic areas: arts, education, culture and aesthetics.  I’m not sure if this is a form of synesthesia or not, but the word has a sticky, unpleasant tactile feel to it, a creepy feel.  The word itself is unpleasant to my ear, sounding like “blah” with a gag sound afterward:  “blah-guh”, and feels unpleasant in my throat when I say it.  Unpleasant in my head when I think it.

So, the idea of “blogging” summons up this feeling of “gagging up” undigested ideas and thoughts. Not something I find particularly pleasant to think about, and certainly unpleasant to do.

Instead, I enjoy creating writing that is more crafted, more polished, more essay-like.  But therein, of course, is the challenge.  These sites are meant to support regular sharing of ideas and thoughts, not carefully crafted, longer essays, right?  But to me, my preferences are more lofty, more artistic in their inclinations.  So, this morning, I gave myself permission to refuse the “blog” form with all the disgusting implications it brings up for me.  But, then, how to provide more regularly shared thoughts and ideas? How to conceptualize what it is I offer if I provide those shorter forms?  If I write only in long form that takes a good amount of time, my sites sit empty for long stretches of time, feeling like the empty halls of an abandoned home.  What to do? Thinking of other creative short-form models, I thought: there is the lieder rather than the etude, prelude or concerto.  There is the prose poem rather than the epic.  There is flash fiction rather than the short story, novella or novel.  

Those brief offerings bring gifts too – a different kind of presence on the page.  It is a brief flare of light rather than a long, steady glow.  A flash of illumination can suggest a fuller vision, but the vision itself is not revealed for the reader…or for that matter, for the writer.  Instead, that “flash” invites each person to explore what their own experience of illumination might be, to travel their own darkened paths to their own greater experience of light….enlightenment…their own visions.  Think of a mantra, or a koan.  The finger pointing at the moon.  

It occurred to me that each of those experiences I spoke of above – the child’s tearful lament about his banana, the group of singing girls, the neighbor alone in his apartment, standing by the window, practicing his oboe.  Each of these offer glimpses of deep and expansive life, each suggests provocative mysteries and promise powerful truths.  Each is a prompt for a story, an inspiration for a dance, a flash of promise, like a many-colored bird darting deep into the bush.  

So, I think I’ll be exploring such moments here in addition to the longer pieces, because there is a kind of beauty in that darting bird, that brief phrase of music. In fact, there just might be a particular kind of beauty in such things that can be found nowhere else.

I just won't be calling it a blog.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Life With the Lost Boys, Reviewed

(Photo from cast of "Hook")

UPDATE:  I wrote the original post in 2014, and am reviewing and updating it largely because I am struck by how the situation of 4 years ago has, in some ways become worse and, in others, is finally being addressed by large and very vocal populations of women who are at long last seeing overdue consequence happening to some of the worst of these predators.

The original article, updated:

I begin with a warning.  This writing pulsates with hostility for which I do not apologize.  I started with a desire to acknowledge the recent discussions of the ways in which women in 2018 are still harassed, disrespected, molested, raped, and generally brutalized. The #YesAllWomen movement of a few years ago has morphed into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, all of which have raised the issues of misogyny, sexual predators, and continued female struggles powerfully and revealed what most women already know, but seldom descry so loudly – that this abuse of women remains widespread, constant and socially condoned.   The personal exploration this invited was one that has brought me to a place of long-held anger, and some of the things I have to say are not befitting of the socially-accepted “nice” girl image we women are taught to maintain.   In some places, you may feel that I am painting with too sweeping a stroke, making the reviled “broad generalization”.  That’s your prerogative.

I remember the first time I became aware of the brutal male gaze, and the male objectification of females. It was way back in Paxon Hollow Junior High School, a suburban school in Marple Township, Pennsylvania.  Every morning, the boys would line up at the entrance door and yell out their “grades” for the girls’ attractiveness as we entered.  They would also yell out why the girl got a “low” grade:  “Fat butt!”, “Moustache and body hair!”, “Flat chested!”  or “Falsies!”

None of the adults tried to put an end to this.  Not the teachers, not the vice-principal, not the principal.  No one suggested to these boys that such behavior was unacceptable.  This was in the mid- 1960s.  What came to be called the "second wave" of feminism had already begun.  Women not much older than I was at the time were gathering on college campuses, in homes and coffee houses to discuss taking action against the misogyny and sexism of our society.  But, apparently, these ideas had not found their way to Paxon Hollow Junior High School.

The behavior of these boys caused more anxiety and humiliation than I could bear at age twelve,  because although I was gifted academically, and considered intellectually “advanced”, I was painfully shy and timid, and extremely introverted.  I walked the circumference of the school every single morning and entered through the gym doors in the back, which were always open because of the early-morning practice sessions of whatever sport was in season.  After this went on for a while, my gym teacher, Miss Kostenbader, pulled me aside one day to question me about it.  I told her the reason, and she was incensed.  She tried to make an issue of it, in order to put an end to it, not only for me, but for all of the girls.  The boys, she told me, had no right to behave that way, and should be stopped.  But Miss Kostenbader had no influence.  She was not a “gym-teacher-cutie”.  She was what one of the male gym teachers called a “She-Man Jock” – which was reason enough for her voice on this matter to be entirely ignored.  It showed me something more disturbing than the freedom of those boys to humiliate the girls on a daily basis.  It showed me that even adult women had no voice or power that wasn’t gifted to them by men, and only then if those men deemed the woman “worthy” by their own standards of measurement.   It also showed me that the other women weren't rallied to Kostenbader's argument, and allowed her to stand alone.

Thinking about this episode in my young life, I then traced back the way this message -- about the importance of beauty and appeal -- existed much earlier.  Even when I was in elementary school, my parents were approached often about how “cute” I was, and told that they should “model me” because there was lots of money to be had.  At our swim club in the summer I was badgered because I wouldn’t join the yearly “beauty contest”.

My father didn’t understand my reticence, and asked  “Why? Are you afraid you won’t win?”

It was beyond my ability to articulate at that time, and clearly beyond his ability to comprehend, that my refusal had something to do with my innate sense of dignity rather than a fear of failing to meet some external standard of beauty.

And here we are in 2018.  Over 50 years have passed.  Women still move through this atmosphere, enduring this message from cradle to coffin. And far too many men still feel that it is their inalienable right to remind us of just how well or poorly we are doing adhering to their standards of attractiveness, or to their demands for our acquiescence to their attentions.

HOW is this still widespread and sadly pervasive in 2018?  Because our culture is woven through with many threads all creating a weave that must be entirely unraveled.  No one thread can be removed.

I married relatively young, but that didn’t stop the inappropriate attention of other men.  At first, I was stunned at how there was a continued kind of “tree pissing” activity that went on – how men at parties, even at family events, would place their hands on me, or stand too close, and how my husband either would, through body language, lay claim to me, or how he wouldn’t.  I began to realize that there was a kind of wolf-pack activity that went on in public situations….an alpha-male contest that took place constantly.  This went on even as we got older, and as my husband started practicing law.  At cocktail parties, bench bar conferences, other social/professional events, while he was still a young associate, some of the partners of his firm, or elders in the legal community, would behave inappropriately – putting their arm around me, or doing that thing that men do – sliding the palm of their hand all the way down a woman’s back while talking and acting as if they are doing nothing out of the ordinary.  I began to notice that my husband’s “claiming” behaviors altered, depending on how much more “senior” the lawyer who was groping me was.  I honestly don’t think that he was conscious of the way in which the alpha-male/wolf pack behavior was operating.  But I did take notice that, during those times when he stood and allowed this sexual behavior aimed at his wife,  his anger about the situation would ultimately then, be aimed at me, as if I weren’t the one who had personally endured the disrespect, but I had somehow invited it, and brought dishonor to him.  He began to be more controlling about what dress I wore, or how much makeup I was wearing.  Being in public, then, even as a married woman, didn’t guarantee protection or respect; in fact, it was fraught with the complications of the never-ending male territorial struggle that extends to a woman’s body as terrain.

During the years when I was working from home, raising two children and running our household, I was also constantly fending off the attention of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, landscapers, roofers.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I write this, not as an indication that I was some sort of femme fatale who had a kind of irresistible allure to all men.  I write this to say that no matter what the conditions, no matter what the circumstance, women are not safe from the unwanted attentions of men, even in their own homes.  Even when they are the “boss” paying the invoice.   The term “entitlement” has entered our vocabulary, and has clarified my thoughts on this matter.  Why does a total stranger, called to a home by a woman in the midst of a plumbing crisis, a woman who is simultaneously dealing with two sick children, wearing old jeans and a t-shirt, no make-up and probably some mismatched pair of 1980-style slouch socks, feel that he has the right to be “flirtatious”, or to say inappropriate things like, “I bet when you dress up, you are really hot.”

This is a business transaction, and I’m writing the check, you asshat.  So, fix my fucking plumbing, buddy, and get the hell out.

In other words, Know your place.

And no, I don’t mean “your place” in the patriarchal socio-economic hierarchy of money and status and power.  I mean know that you have no right to make personal comments or overtures of any kind to a woman you do not know.  Didn’t anyone teach you that you should respect a woman the way you would want your mother or sister or daughter respected?  Know your place.  That place is one of a stranger who should practice courtesy and respect and deference to another human being; it is what we should all practice in regard to each other.  There are levels of intimacy which have to be earned, and you haven’t made it through the first gate.  In fact, you are in the far distant field, so much an outsider that you are barely visible.  Know your place.

And yet, as women, we often don’t even register the inappropriate behavior; or, if we feel it, we don’t reveal our anger.  Instead we smile that perfunctory smile all women know.  We change the subject, as many times as is necessary, since most men don’t “get” that we are not willing to entertain the conversation they want to initiate.  We endure the unwanted, untoward, inappropriate.  We endure the public bullying.  That gauntlet we junior high school girls had to pass each morning at Paxon Hollow Junior High is exactly what we endure for the remainder of our lives, walking past a construction site, or any gathering of men – whether it’s at the office coffee maker or at a train station or bus stop.  The menace grows with the men who follow us, verbally harass us, try to paw at us, or threaten us with attack or rape.   This is what the #MeToo actions brought into the light so powerfully, when millions of women spoke up about their own personal experiences of sexual harassment, sexual threat, sexual abuse.  The powerful men of Hollywood, of the media, were exposed as sexual predators and many of them lost their positions.  But I echo what many other women said -- it was the privilege of those women celebrities and stars who were listened to-- not because they were telling the truth, but because they were celebrities and stars.  And because the media felt it financially savvy to publish articles about this, for the resulting financial gain.    The high-profile men of all occupations are predators; that isn't news to any woman.  But there are predatory men in every walk of life, using what little power or influence they might have to force their attentions on women who often have little power to fight back.

Some of the more radical feminists of the second wave claimed that all men are inherently rapists.  Ti-Grace Atkinson once wrote that marriage is nothing more than accepting a permanent relationship with your rapist.   I understand her point more and more as the years go on.  It’s not only about the physical act of rape.  It’s about our rape culture which sees everything you are, everything sacrosanct about your self, your being, as that which can and should be plundered.  It’s the way those in positions of dominance treat everything and everyone who comes within their reach.  It’s suggested that this is the permeation of capitalist values, or as some would now call it, neoliberalism, or free market fundamentalism.  Everything is commodity, everything is there to be pillaged.  It begins with the patriarchy, which has found its full flower in the vicious brutality of unchecked capitalism.

It’s there, at the very earliest stages of our culture.  For instance, the Iliad begins with Achilles storming off the field of battle, not because of a dispute about a war that raged senselessly for ten years, but about Agamemnon’s claim of Briseus, the woman Achilles saw as his rightful war booty.

Does this behavior, this objectification and commodification of women, have its roots in the earliest stages of the hetero-patriarchy, or as a friend of mine recently suggested, the kyriarchy (meaning a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission)?

If so, then we have to address the socio-cultural issues of these entrenched values of domination, oppression and submission in a larger sense in order to begin to successfully undo the treatment women in 2018 still endure.  We have to dismantle and rebuild our socio-economic systems entirely.  I’ll use the term hetero-kyriarchy here, to indicate that the issue is with straight men, largely, who see it not only as their right to abuse women, but also to abuse men whose sexual orientation is not the same as their own.  (That extends, sadly, to the male-identified women who absorb and imitate those values.  You know who they are.)

Or, I wonder, do the roots of this behavior go even deeper than a socio-economic system?  Is it possible, with the patriarchal cultures that gained dominance through their wars, their weapons, that the primordial roots of male behavior were given free rein?  In other words, is it possible that this is inherent nature, encoded somehow in the hetero-male dna?

If that is the case, then we have to acknowledge something even more dire.  We can no longer allow the heterosexual male a place in the halls of power -- not in the legislature, or in the gleaming towers of finance, or in the rooms where war and peace are measured and weighed, or in the palaces of commerce.  If the primordial hunger of the hetero-male is for domination, oppression and submission, then they can’t be trusted to share governance over a society of peace, shared prosperity, social good, high culture.  Consider this.  We see evidence of what I’m saying in the ways in which women’s bodies are treated as male territory by (primarily male) lawmakers and judges, even sometimes by doctors themselves. We see a rampant disrespect for the earth, for all forms of life by corporations run by these men – a rape of our environment and of nature.  We see the actions of the plundering culture in the behaviors of Wall Street, again largely run by this same sort of men.  It exists in the domination practiced through imperialism and colonization, through these endless, devastating wars.

I can hear the yowls of protest even as I type this.  The cry of “not all men are like this” rings through the air.  I know; yes, that’s true.  But far too many are like this. So even though there are “good guys” out there (I even know a few), I suggest that these “good guys” in a patriarchal/kyriarchal/capitalist world are as weak, powerless and without effect as the liberals and progressives of both genders are in our current society.  Without clear identity, sinking into the shadows, lacking a powerful narrative or plan, you guys may as well not exist at all for all the good you do to redeem your gender or help the rest of us save our world.

So, what is to be done?  I admit:  my personal response to these issues has been somewhat unusual.  I’ve entirely withdrawn.  This year marks the fourteenth anniversary of the night that I decided to go solitary, and to, essentially, marry myself.  I even performed a private ceremony.  It was sometime around the Summer Solstice of 2004.

Yes, I have been happily man-free for nearly fifteen years.  Women have been doing this for centuries.  In the Middle Ages, aristocratic women would retire to abbeys after their children had grown, to live out their years in peace.  Eleanor of Aquitaine did it; in fact, many of the Plantagenet women did it.  And can you blame them, given the brutality of the Plantagenet men?

It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to find a healthy and positive relationship.  When my marriage ended, I attempted to date, even had two “long-term” relationships which I ultimately ended.  But it hasn’t been until this decade of my life, where I have chosen to be a renunciate of the so-called “romantic relationship”, that I feel as though I belong fully and completely to myself.  During this time, I’ve shepherded both my beloved children into their successful adulthood years.  I’ve completed an additional graduate degree.  I’ve taught Humanities courses to thousands of undergraduate students.  I’ve grown my arts organization (Hidden River Arts) so that it now includes live arts events, cultural outreach programs, workshops, classes, tutorials, literary competitions and an independent small press and a blog.  I’ve written and published a collection of short stories, Other Likely Stories. I’ve completed the first of a trilogy of historical novels and “roughed out” the other two parts. I’ve written a contemporary novel, and am half-way through completion of a suspense novel and another novel of historical fiction. I’ve started a second collection of short stories, called Crossing the Line. The first short story of this new collection, "Do It Yourself Finishing School" can be read online at Adelaide Literary Magazine.  Another "Beverly at the Fair" is forthcoming at Stoneboat Literary Journal.  I’ve revised two full-length plays and written a new one; I’ve written three short plays.  And yes, they’ve all been performed.  I’ve written two short screenplays which have become short films.   I’ve been working on a feature-length documentary and companion book, both of which should be finished within the next few months. I’ve traveled the country giving lectures, readings, screenings, conducting interviews. After several decades of only singing around the house, I've returned to singing publicly, in cabaret, as one of the voices of Cabaret Divas.  I’ve formed wonderful, creative, productive, joyful friendships with truly magnificent people.  I’ve moved from the suburbs back into the city, where I’m enjoying the vibrancy, the energy, the opportunities of the arts, culture and society.  Life is very good, I find, when it is man-free.

I’m not saying that this is every woman’s best choice, but it has certainly been a good choice for me. I’m an artist, a writer, an educator, an activist. And this is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to be those things without any pushback from some guy telling me that I’m not giving him enough time or energy.  It’s been my experience that the men with whom I enter into long-term relationships all have the same things in common: a genuine alpha-male profile with entrenched narcissism and self-absorption, and a side order of dictatorial tendencies.  They are charming and romantic and exciting, until they don’t get their way.  Then they became bullies and wardens.  Their needs were more important than mine.  Their schedules more important than mine.  Their work certainly more important than mine. Their bank accounts were bigger, which was offered as proof of all those other assertions.

I wondered: was I just attracted to the wrong sort of man? The alpha-male of the neoliberal capitalist world is hardly the most enlightened choice. Maybe the fault was with me.  But, I don’t think so. I scanned back over the other men I had dated after my divorce.

They were Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.  All of them.

There was the one who brought his ten-year-old son on our dates, and talked about how his “other girlfriends” couldn’t stand the fact that his ex-wife lived in a cottage on his property, and vacationed with him.  Another who ripped my blouse and whipped out his penis at the end of our “date”, and said, “Wouldn’t it feel good if you sucked this?”  A third who showed up for a dinner date dressed in the sweaty t-shirt and shorts he wore when he mowed the lawn, who proceeded to get stinking drunk as he told me how much he couldn’t stand shiksas like his ex-wife and was happy to finally be dating a Jewish woman – completely oblivious to the fact that I was raised as an Episcopalian.

There were those who wanted a harem of women in competition with each other over that golden male attention.  Those who thought buying a woman a cup of coffee entitled them to sex.  Those who assessed your weight and age, out loud, despite the fact that they were paunchy, slovenly and at least a decade older than you.  Or, on the other hand, those who wanted to immediately plan a life together.  (Sometimes during the initial exchange of emails.)  Those who assessed the size and status of your home, the value of your job, even the model of your car.

Not a worthy man among them, in my opinion.  So, okay.  I’ll admit that my idea of a worthy man these days is Liam Neeson, as Rob Roy.  Unless you’re exceptionally good at fighting with medieval weaponry and look hot in a kilt, that’s hard to live up to.  However -- what I find truly attractive in a character like Rob Roy is his devotion to his wife and family, his honor and integrity, his willingness to stand up to wickedness, even risking his own life in order to fight the honorable fight.   But the guys I've known? It doesn’t matter how old they are.  Far too many are pathetic cases of arrested development, stuck in some adolescent stage where navel-gazing, self-importance, tantrums and frat boy behavior seem perfectly acceptable to them.  In fact, they are damned happy with themselves.   We see this in our government, and certainly in our current president.  We see it in the executive offices of every major corporation.  We see it in the military.  We see it everywhere in a socio-cultural climate where sociopathy is rewarded richly.

These Lost Boys try to wow you with their income, their professional position, their new Mercedes (or their Harley and its straight pipes), their ability to bench press some ridiculous amount of weight, their summer share in Antigua.    They never wake up to the fact that acquisition is not the same as achievement. That material success is not the same as maturity.  That wealth is not the same as wisdom.  In fact, it’s been my experience that these things are actual deterrents to real growth.

Pull the lens back further and you realize:  These men don’t know their place because they don’t know themselves.  They mistake all the things our culture has told them give them privilege, their heterosexual male-ness, their assets and acquisitions,  for the stuff of real value. Yes, this is a culture that provides men -- particularly, of course, white men -- with far too much entitlement; but it is also a culture which has denied them a working knowledge of their souls.  It is that combination which is truly deadly.  Why?  Because the world is changing, and these child-men feel as though everything they’ve been taught to value, everything they’ve understood as theirs by right, including their right to vulgarize all experiences of life, is being threatened.  Their very identities and existence are under threat.

The Lost Boys Starring in the Lord of the Flies:

This is where we talk about the issue of guns.  The issue of white men and guns.  The issue of young white men who are mass murderers with their automatic assault weapons.  The issue of guns as phallus extensions.  The issue of guns as an extension of the rampant and endless sexual aggression. The issue of guns as an expression of the kind of violent, abusive masculinity that is held up as the shining example of alpha-malehood in America.   The issue of “rape culture” extending far beyond the tragedy of women and the constant threat they face.  It’s about a culture in which “rape” extends to the rape of the consumer, the rape of the environment, the rape of the natural resources of other countries.  Rape.  The violent taking of what does not belong to you.

There will be another post focusing entirely on the issues of guns in America where these ideas will be explored more fully.  But for the time being, let me just say that when we focus on the issues of white male prerogative in regard to the female body, to his right to take what he wants no matter what, his right to overpower, violate and exult in this behavior, we are talking about a very serious issue that is yet a microcosm of the larger world in which this behavior reproduces itself again and again.

Because, even when they aren’t following you down the street, cat-calling, or groping you in an elevator, or saying “Smile, honey!” as you walk down your block, the Lost Boys are behaving like boy-savages, ravaging our society, our economy, our country, and our world.. They veer from one pursuit to another, never satiated or satisfied, never recognizing limits, or understanding that there is a soul’s hunger beneath the faux-hunger created by Madison Avenue or Wall Street or the Pentagon or the NRA.  A growing need for ever-more high-risk behaviors characterizes the “dominant” men of our culture; and our culture rewards their actions by protecting them from the ruinous consequences of their behavior, “externalizing” the cost of it onto those less powerful. On a personal level,  it's been my experience that, when you attempt to enter into actual relationship with men who operate within this value system, their callous risks and endless demands threaten to overwhelm your life, just as they threaten and overwhelm the world at large.  These men are predators.  They are a cancer.  

For years, I’ve been convinced that the karmic reason so many marriages of my generation failed was so that a whole generation of second wave feminist- enlightened women could raise their sons free of the daily Lost Boy/Lord of the Flies influence.  But I wonder, now that our sons are young adults:  have we succeeded?   I hope that we have, but remain unconvinced.  I'm witnessing men in their late 30s and 40s acting like they are in the cast of Mad Men.  These men were raised on violent video games, many of which not only numbed them to violence itself but sexualized that violence so that their young minds equated violent action with sexual pleasure.

Reading the #YesAllWomen stories,  then, four years later, the #MeToo stories, seeing the way that campus rape is rampant (and oh so protected), hearing the stories of my female students, watching how women are still portrayed in movies, tv shows, talk shows, commercials, print ads – I’m feeling as though my generation of women may have failed.  How long will it take, and how far must we go-- must we completely dismantle this society in order to fix these evils?   I say yes, since that society is pornographic at all levels.  It is obscene and vulgar at all levels.  There is little held to be sacrosanct or sacred.  Little thought to honorable behavior or ethical action.

Obviously, it takes many generations of effort to change a deeply entrenched acculturated “reality”. We’re talking about something older than the works of Homer, for God’s sake.  We’ll continue to work toward goals of equality, of respect and courtesy, of safety. But, if #YesAllWomen and #MeToo are any indication, we're not going to be so polite about asking for those things.  With four years between those movements, we see that there has been progress.  Men have met with consequences -- albeit after decades of being protected in their vicious behaviors.  Really pissed off, determined women are rising around the world, not only to push back against the physical brutalities we endure at the hands of men, but to fight against the corporatization of our larger lives, against the pervasive war-mongering that ruins our economies, our cities, our children’s safety. In other words, we fight against the wide-spread suffering caused by the hetero-kyriarchy in the broadest sense.  There are signs of progress. And, the most hopeful I've been in a long time is due to the newest movement of young people, rising up to fight the callous uncaring of our government against gun violence in our country.   The March For Our Lives event took place only this past weekend, and it was planned, run and attended by our youth -- those as young as 11 who spoke publicly against the culture holding us all hostage, subjecting us to trauma and fear on a daily basis.  Their march was the largest since the D.C. march against Vietnam - and it was replicated in major cities around the country and around the world.  Young people of all economic, social, racial, religious and sexual backgrounds came together and raised their voices.  Young women and young men refusing to be silent in the face of a culture that elevates violence and protects the weapons of violence - whether that is a man's penis or a man's gun.

Still, we have a long, long way to go; we can’t stop now. These young people will register to vote and may very well change the country through the voting process.  But voting has proven itself to be of little help without the choice of candidates who stand with the citizens and not the special interests, corporations and lobbies. We can't back down or consider modulating our tone.  The generations of frustrated, angry women who are out of all patience – from grandmothers to middle school girls -  those saying, #TimesUp, have to come together with a new generation of youth who are fed up with the violence and vulgarity of the country in general,  to demand more sovereignty over themselves and their lives, to refuse to endure these miserable conditions for one more moment.  Whether it is the continued brutality of a hetero-kyriarchal culture, or a more deeply ingrained core hetero-male behavior, we need to see this Lost Boy/Lord of the Flies behavior and the culture that encourages it for every horrible thing it is, identify everywhere it is, and continue to shine a harsh light, exposing it in all its many forms until we can overcome its pervasive existence.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To All the Fatherless Women on Father's Day

You know who you are.  Those of us who begin to feel a deep kind of sadness surface as Father's Day approaches, who realize that the sadness is always there, deep within, every day of our lives. 

He can be alive somewhere, or he can be gone, but he was never really there.  At least not for you.  You were invisible.  Or disappointing.  Or simply too unimportant.  He's the reason, the therapists tell you, that your relationships with men are largely and often completely fucked.  Why you chase the unavailable man, or the man who judges and shames you, the one who disregards you, and tells you it's all your fault. 

He's the reason you find it hard to trust anyone, or believe in yourself.  He's the reason you are too easily swayed by external judgments about your beauty, your intellect, your worthiness.  He's the reason you have Superwoman syndrome and a drive to be perfect, coupled with the crippling fear of your own deep and abiding imperfection. 

There are millions of us, you know.  In fact, despite all those "Happy Father's Day, Daddy" messages that clog social media,  the women who had loving, supportive, proud fathers are in the minority.  We are an army of wounded women - carrying the fatherless wound into our adult lives.  It doesn't matter how old you are, either.  Inside of you there is a deeply wounded, mournful little girl who needs to be acknowledged and loved. 

And since the reality is that your father will never heal the wound he left you with, it falls to you, yourself to begin a process of healing so that you don't expect anyone else to be responsible for fixing that gaping hole in your psyche. 

There is writing about this, of course, since there is writing about every subject.  H. Norman Wright's book, Healing the Father Wound is one.  The book talks about "father-shaped holes" and different unhealthy ways in which fatherless girls respond to their wounding.  Some become promiscuous, confusing sex with love; others go in the opposite direction and become asexual, never able to trust intimacy.  There is the superwoman syndrome -- always pushing yourself to have the 4.0 GPA, or the most billable hours, or the most perfect body - and sometimes ALL of those things and more.  There is anger management difficulty, and boundary issues, on-going depression, the wreckage of failed relationships.  A full review of the book can be read here:  Healing the Father Wound

Other books include Pamela Thomas's Book Fatherless Daughters: Turning Power to Forgiveness. 
To tell you the truth, the sentiment leaves me cold.  I like the idea of drawing our own power from the terrible wounding of childhood; I do not like the idea of forgiveness.  To hell with forgiveness. 
Jonetta Rose Barras provides a racial focus, talking about the black woman's struggle with fatherlessness in  Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl  A review of Barras's book can be read here.

So, it's probably a good idea to check out the advice available.  Become aware of those fairly typical behaviors found in the fatherless daughter.  Work to heal them, and to correct any behaviors that can be causing you further harm.   Get help if you need it.  You are worthy of being happy, whatever that takes. 

And when Father's Day comes around, celebrate yourself instead.  Celebrate your strength, your beauty, your unique abilities.  Realize that your father's imperfections and inabilities, your father's failures are in your past, and don't have to define anything about you or your life now. 
Then, resolve to make that true. 

We are an army of wounded women, but we are also survivors.  We might carry our wounds like shrapnel, but we can move through these experiences and gain a lot of strength and wisdom.  Shift your perspective away from what you didn't get, try seeing how your own strengths developed to make you unique and strong.  Be proud of the strength that rose up within you as a guide; be compassionate about the frailties you carry as you work to heal them.   As for gratitude or forgiveness for the father who created the wound -- no way.  I'm not grateful that my father was too much of a narcissist to care for anyone beside himself.  I don't forgive his cruelty or coldness, his judgmental perfectionism, his emotional absence.  Fathers like this don't deserve anything but condemnation and shame, not just on Father's Day, but every day of their lives. 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Buying Nothing

My life provides me the opportunity to do many things.  I write.  I direct.  I sing.  I run an arts organization, Hidden River Arts, which I founded.  And I teach.  Often, I teach undergraduates; and in a few of my classes, there are discussions, readings, videos and film viewing about the consumerism and out of control capitalism of our culture.  I show them videos about Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, who used his uncle's theories of the human unconscious to manipulate and control mass behavior in two particular areas - shifting America from a needs-based to a wants-based society, and maintaining a level of fear in Americans about the ever-growing external threat - from communists, from terrorists, every age has its own boogey-man --  that creates consent for the kinds of extensive war-mongering our military is now addicted to. 

We discuss the possibility of a no-money culture.  We discuss conscious and controlled buying habits.  We discuss the dangerous situation with our agri-business dominated food supply and the need to be ever-vigilant in the way we approach our food realities. 

We watch The Story of Stuff and discuss the chain of production Annie Leonard illustrates.  We watch The Story of Bottled Water and discuss the way in which we are manipulated, the ways in which a product like "water" can be sold by creating 1) fear of the free water and 2) a status item out of bottled water.  I see my students becoming painfully aware of a new level of responsibility in their decisions and actions. 

With all that, when I suggest that they try living without buying anything, most of them look at me as if I'm out of my mind.  There are necessities, of course, that have to be purchased -- food, personal care items, etc.  But the reality is that the majority of what is purchased in the U.S. ends up as trash almost immediately and simply IS NOT NEEDED.  Why should we buy new furniture, which is made shoddily, and which we often are required to build ourselves, when we can buy used furniture in thrift stores, used furniture stores, etc?  Why should we buy new kitchenware when thrift stores and flea markets offer more than enough?  Why should we buy clothes new - most of which are made in sweat shops under horrifying conditions by girls who are elementary school age -- which enrich companies practicing labor abuse, environmental ruination, consumer disrespect? 

Buy nothing new.  I've followed that model now for nearly five years.  I didn't realize that there was a movement where people took a pledge about their refusal to purchase new items.  I just stopped buying things unless they were absolutely necessary; and when they were items I could find used, that's what I did.  In Philadelphia, where I live, there is a thrift store, Philly AIDS Thrift, where the items are wonderful and the money goes to medical research and community support for AIDS victims.  I have purchased clothes, kitchen and cookware, glassware, books, furniture -- all really high-quality stuff, for low cost and a good cause. 

The most recent factory fire that kills hundreds of abused workers raises a cry to boycott the companies whose clothing is made in that factory - but why not take it farther and simply boycott buying altogether?  These companies have no interest in human rights, in anything but their financial bottom line.  So, they'll get their PR people feverishly working, make some cosmetic changes and express dismay, apologize....maybe throw some money at a memorial for the burned dead girls, and people will feel as though they've accomplished something - made these companies ashamed of themselves.  It's laughable.  Stop shopping.  Period. 

Obviously, there are going to be things that you have to buy.  Sometimes you have to buy a dress for a wedding, and need to go find something new.  You may never be able to find pants that fit, and have to buy them from a store. one pair of pants.  Two. 
Buy that dress but no other.  Then, wear what you buy over and over again.  We've been brainwashed to think that this is an embarrassing way to present yourself.  I don't agree.   Try wearing the same dress to a few weddings.  The people who notice will be fewer than you imagine, and what are the values of those people?  Do you care about them? 

Anyway.  The point here is that I try to plant this non-consumerist idea in the minds of my young adult students.  I'm gratified when I see it start to take root.  Usually the signs of the shift come within the semester -- papers they write about shopping more carefully for their food, refusing to buy processed food.  Or their conversations about tracking where their electronic goods are coming from.  One of my students helped form a group who demanded, and got, a promise from the university that they would no longer purchase their college clothing lines from companies guilty of using sweatshop labor.

Whether that promise will be kept is now their concern; they are ready to act as watchdogs.  This student is a business major, and weathered a lot of hostility from her professors for what she was doing.  But her goal in business now is quite different -- she wants to study sustainable business models, worker-owned business models -- and knows that this is not the value system being presented by her business school.  It may very well cause her to change schools, or to find appropriate business mentors to guide her in her quest for better practices.  There is something about this student which makes me believe she will succeed.

For myself, I continue on, refining ways to avoid consumer practice.  My thrift-shop clothes, my flea market kitchenware, my  natural cleaning products - baking soda, white vinegar, Dr. Bronner's pure vegetable soap.  Next will be experiments with hand-made face creams and perfumes.  This has gone beyond a decision, or an experiment.  It's become a way of life that provides more satisfaction and peace. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Last night was Twelfth Night, the beginning of the celebration that marks the ending of the Christmas season, or the end of the Yule/Solstice celebrations.  Some traditions say that for each of the "12 days of Christmas" there is an omen, and that each day's omen offers a message for the 12 coming months of the new year.  By the time we reach Twelfth Night, those omens have been received, we tuck them away for reflection as the months pass, and we prepare for the work of this new year that will unfold before us.  

In Pre-Christian ceremony, Twelfth Night, or Wassail, is the night when we re-dedicate ourselves to our calling.  We all know what that calling is -- even those of us who proclaim to be clueless.  We know, at our most quiet and internal moments, what voice calls to us, what dream beckons.  Twelfth Night is the night to declare your dedication to that calling.  
There is feasting involved -- Fish, and greens and potatoes and apples and King's Cake. 

So, each Twelfth Night, you ask yourself -- what is calling me?  To what must I re-dedicate my energies? When we make this rededication a ceremony, a prayer, it carries a lot more power than a "to do" list.  It sanctifies the calling, and calls the power of the universe to your declaration.  Light a few candles.  Burn some incense.  Play some music that empowers your prayer.  Just do it, and you'll experience for yourself the difference in the energy you experience.  

Twelfth Day is known as Epiphany on the Christian calendar.  It is the day that Mary presents her child at the Temple.  I see this story as metaphor -- the "mother" within us, which has labored to bring forth even the slightest inspiration, nurses and cares for this new light for 12 days, and then presents it to the altar, to the All That Is.  Still vulnerable, still in its infancy, still in need of nurture, protection and love, this new light must be presented to the Universe because the kind of blessing needed for this light to survive, grow and thrive can't be found in the limited power of the human.  It's the day we expose the dreams which are the most filled with light and potential, ask that they be sanctified, that we be sanctified as we nurture and care for the dreams that have called to us, have been born through us into the world and now must grow and mature.  

What this holiday reminds me is that our dreams are holy.  We conceive through a holy spirit (some call it inspiration, or intuition) that enters and lives within us - sometimes against our own will, despite our fears and refusals.  Mystics in all traditions know this - that inspiration comes to us, comes through us, but has a much greater source -- it is not born OF us, but through us.  

Spend some time today thinking about what those callings within you ARE, and dedicating yourself to nurturing them.  Say a little prayer -- do a little ceremony -- it doesn't matter which tradition.  What matters is that you realize just how powerful and magical those callings ARE, and how they illuminate the path to the most significant life you can lead, that which you are called to be.