Saturday, November 25, 2017

Are you really voting against abortion?

Please stop saying that you voted for Trump and other conservative politicians or will vote for Roy Moore because they are against abortion. If this is your one important issue, you should have been and should be demanding your elected officials:

1.      Increase spending on education, especially girls’ education.
2.      Increase girls’ sports and afterschool activities. Share the football money a little more.
3.      Provide clear and scientific sex education in all schools (public, private, parochial and home schooling). More than “keep your pants on” abstinence. At home, you would talk to your children honestly and openly about sex, sexuality, and procreation, especially your boys.
4.      Support Planned Parenthood and other agencies that provide education and medical services. Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions per year than your politicians and sign waving.
5.      Support research into women’s health issues and give tax breaks for research that reduces unwanted pregnancies rather than little blue pills.
6.      Increase health care and insurance for all Americans because having good health care decreases unwanted pregnancies. Provide Prenatal, Postnatal training and affordable childcare.
7.      Provide support for girls and women who become pregnant, whether planned or unplanned. If you don’t want abortions, you should ease the path for the child to be born.
8.      Provide support for mothers who want to keep unplanned children.
9.      Allow for easy adoptions of children whose mothers choose to not raise them.
10.  Assist men in becoming and remaining better parents. (Education helps) Enforce child support by fathers when they won’t.
11.   Reduce the stigma of unwanted pregnancies. In your community, schools and churches, you would fight for teens and young adults who become pregnant and reduce the judgment and condemnation of these women.
12.  Respect women and girls! Treat them equally, or maybe even better, than men and boys.

However, the actions of your elected officials, mostly Republican, have been adverse to all of these important actions to reduce and end abortions. If this is your primary reason for voting, you’re not getting the results you want from these people. You’d reduce more abortions by voting for Democrats and Progressives.

So, why are you really voting for Trump, Moore and the other old, white men who have no respect for women?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Towards a Sensible Second

[This is my response to the recent gun violence.]

As we celebrate another Independence Day and the anniversary of the Declaration, I’m thinking about Mr. Jefferson’s Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It seems to me that everyone’s inalienable rights must have some limits when it threatens life and liberty, not to mention my pursuit of happiness.
When some wacko can use a legally attained weapon to take the lives of dozens of people pursuing happiness dancing in a night club, watching a movie premiere or even children going to school, something is wrong. That guy’s unalienable rights are infringing on others’ lives and liberties.
When the founding fathers put the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights, I can’t help thinking that they didn’t think an individual citizen should have that kind of firepower.
It’s important to remember the revolution started when the British decided to seize the weapons from a makeshift armory in that hotbed of revolution, Concord, Massachusetts. Paul Revere and some other guy (thanks Mr. Longfellow) rode out to warn the citizens who grabbed their arms to defend their rights and themselves. A shot was fired, heard round the world and a revolution began.
When the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment, this had to be on their minds. This was the freedom they were trying to protect. If the government got out of line and the rule of law collapsed, then the citizens could ban together in militias and fight off the government.
Remember, the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution were the response to a break down in the rule of law, a lack of representation many attempts at redress.
The language they agreed on for the 2nd Amendment is:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Some folks read this as the right for every citizen to keep and bear arms. It doesn’t actually say that. People keeping and bearing arms is in support of a well regulated Militia. The murders in Orlando, Aurora, Newtown, et al. were not in support of a well regulated Militia. What I’d like to offer is a more sensible solution following what the Amendment actually says and offering a significant clarifying definition. (I’m not the first person to have these thoughts.)
A well regulated militia suggests an organized, trained and armed unit of citizen soldiers. Its purpose is to maintain and secure a free state. While this might mean the National Guard, I think that it suggests an organization that is not controlled by any government agency in case the government threatens the security of a free state. The militia is to be filled and run by the people.
The word I want to clarify is ‘Arms’. In this case, Arms is a shortened form of the word ‘Armaments’. While Arms and Armaments can mean many things, the principle meaning is offensive weapons intended to cause harm to humans. So for the purpose of the Amendment, I propose a definition of Arms to be limited to offensive weapons whose sole purpose is to harm humans. This would not include most handguns which have an intended defensive use or reasonable hunting rifles. (It seems to me sporting rifles should be sporting, something that will obliterate the animal or shoot it dozens of time in a second is hardly sporting.) It seems that the Founding Fathers weren’t talking about hunting rifles so much as weapons of war.
Therefore, here’s my solution:
Everyone should join a militia. I will happily join and pay dues to the Culver City Progressive Militia. I will train with them in preparation of a time our services are needed to secure the free state. Arms/Armaments should be held by the Militias. People can keep and bear their handguns and hunting rifles, but automatic rifles and other weapons whose sole purpose is to kill humans should only be kept and held by the well regulated militias. This could include rocket launchers, cannons and an F-16. I’ll put in my share for my militia to be well armed.
Armaments in this sense could only be sold to well regulated Militias. People would at first be asked to give their weapons to the well regulated militia of their choice. In time, it would become illegal for armaments to be kept and held by private citizens. The arms will be held by the militia and taken out for well regulated training.
As part of the well regulated part, there would be specific by laws as to when the militia would act in defense of the free state. While I can foresee some militias going rogue and fighting against our properly elected government following the rule of law, it would be a different experience than any wacko being allowed to have the fire power to kill and maim a hundred people at a time.
I think that the NRA, the anti-gun lobby and the courts should read the 2nd Amendment and follow it. Or, they should change the amendment and let it adapt as the Founding Fathers intended.

[Please also read my series of essays on Violence in Entertainment and why I think we have an increase in the violent shooting. It begins with]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Driving Over the Hill

[This is one in a series of stories/essays I’ve written this past year. They are very personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]

He was driving over the Sepulveda pass on his way to class. His Jeep was speeding with the flow of traffic.
Music was blaring. He liked it. Peter Gabriel. What was the song? He knew it, knew it well, but he couldn’t grasp the name. It was from NEW BLOOD, the symphonic album Peter Gabriel put out a couple of years ago. It was a compilation of his songs orchestrated with strings and brass, no guitars and no drum kits.
The darkness still has work to do” he sang loudly. What was that last line? He often had no idea what the actual words were, but he sang the vowels and consonants with abandon. Without abandon? Whatever. “The darkness still has work to do, the knotted cords untying.” Yes, that’s what it was ‘knotted cords untying’. That’s a good line.
He put on his turn signal and shifted over to the left lane to avoid a slow truck climbing the hill. He wondered what his knotted cords were that still needed untying. He had a visceral sense of the knot in his stomach, but not words to describe what they were. He sang, “The signs of my undoing had been there from the start.” He knew that. He wondered if it was all planned or fated? When you set up a person with all of the flaws he possessed was fate simply inevitable?
He sensed on his right there was an erratic driver. For him, driving was an act of listening, intuition, mind reading, what used to be called ESP. Part of his brain was listening to every driver on the road near him taking in their thoughts, their feelings, trying to anticipate what they would do before they did it. This was his form of defensive driving. The car coming up quickly to his right was erratic. Slow, fast, trying to figure out the lane. Was this an aggressive driver, someone in a hurry, or just pissed off? Or, was it someone who was so unconscious and on auto pilot that they weren’t really paying attention. He tuned into the driver and realized no, it was fear. The driver was afraid of the road and responded by being wild and uncontrolled. Driving with fear was the worst and cautious fear was even more dangerous than fast fear. He edged past the driver and put another car between his and her. He knew it was a young woman who was fear driving. He checked to be sure he wasn’t just being sexist, projecting, no it was a young woman.
“In the Blood of Eden,” he sang, “lies the woman and the man the man and the woman and the woman and the man.” He stopped to wonder how the song went from darkness to the woman and the man. This blended with him and the woman driver. How was Peter putting these things together in this song? Brilliant. He thought of hearing this song when Peter Gabriel played the Hollywood Bowl. That was a great concert, best he had ever seen, heard, attended, no experienced.
His thoughts went to tonight’s concert. The crew was setting up for the concert in his theatre. He’d have to work it tonight. He got a sense of agitation, something was going on, there in Santa Monica. He tried to key into it as part of his brain was telling him it was just an association with thinking about the Peter Gabriel concert nothing more. He tried to see what was the matter. He sensed the producer of the concert was pissed off about something. Well, he was always pissed off. That’s not worth a worry. No, it was something with the construction workers and the baseball team around the entrance to the parking lot. He wondered if he should call. He tuned in and felt that his staff would work it out.
God, he was scattered. He needed to focus. He would need to write something in class today and he had no clue. He was so far from the book he was writing. He tried to key into where he was last working, have some idea with the book. The problem was the narrative voice. He’d never developed one. Being a playwright and an essayist, he’d never really needed one. But this novel needed a narrator, someone to help tell the story, to explain, but he knew that he tended to over explain.
A car merged in front of him and slowed down quickly. He had to put on the brakes hard. He had been watching this old man, sensing him, as he entered the freeway, but he had not anticipated him pulling in front of him. He simultaneously braked to not hit the old man in the Volvo while checking to make sure the guy in the black car behind him was paying attention and not spaced out or looking at his phone. The black car was slowing. He checked to his right, but he already knew there was a pickup truck there in the lane beside him.
He felt his feet in his shoes, his hiking boots, depress the brake pedal. He shifted his foot back to the accelerator and wiggled his toes. He wasn’t going hiking today, he just liked the shoes. They made him feel more rugged, athletic, like a guy who would hike the AT or the PCT. Is that what they called the Pacific Crest Trail? Was this a knotted cord?
And then, he was hiking with a heavy backpack over a mountain, the ocean was off in the distance to the left, the sun behind him to the right. He figured it must be the Pacific. He felt good. He took a long breath. The air was slightly chilled. This was him and not him.
He was back driving and thinking about hiking. He had to get out and away sometime soon. He needed a drivabout: get in the car, tell his wife he’d be back in a few days and drive. Driving and hiking. Of course there wouldn’t be camping, he might like the shoes but he wasn’t in for sleeping on the ground, no showers and being cold. But time away. Time to focus.
He needed to figure out what he’d write this morning. New ground or old ground? Something from the first book or the second? He thought about Fred from the second book, then Tom from the first. They were very different. Perhaps the narrative voice could be like Tom talking to his higher self, future self? no higher. Whatever that meant. His critic chimed in loudly, All knowing narrator, what the hell is that? And yet, he felt like there was some part of him that made sense of all of this better than he could.
A Tesla changed three lanes to the right and pulled within inches from the car in front of him closing the gap from four car lengths to one and half. He tried to key into the Tesla driver and found nothing. Teslas had recently supplanted in his mind BMWs and Lexus drivers as the biggest assholes on the road. He wondered why he couldn’t connect with the driver of the Tesla. Who was this person? Then the tesla pulled to the right cutting off the car next to him and sped away.
He had to merge into the turn lane to go from the 405 to the 101.
This is all a mess. I should be back at my desk outlining the first book. Trying to reengage with it. Why am I going to class? I have nothing new to say, I’ve missed the last few, working too much, he shouted in his brain. I guess I need to return to the pack.
I don’t really write plot. Just situations that express thoughts.
Then, he was in a pill box, shining the machine gun, making sure that it was in working order. It was mid-day. The attack should come that night. The French and Americans would storm the hill. Though he knew that they wouldn’t come during daylight, he still scanned the horizon trying to see movement, hear sounds, sense the energy of the attacker. He took aim on a bush about 75 meters away. A flutter. Probably, a bird. Maybe a scout. It was too early for an attack. He caught a glint of something shiny. He squeezed the trigger in and out for a short burst, ten bullets streaming loudly from the muzzle toward the shrub. He heard a scream and saw a figure fall to the right.
“In the Blood of Eden, the union of the woman, the woman and the man.”
God, I’m really distracted, he thought, too much going on in my head.
He took the Laurel Canyon exit.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The End of the World as He Knew It

[This is from a series of stories/essays that I’ve written this past year. They are personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]

It’s the end of the world as we know it,” the band sang, he forgot which one. R.E.M? He never liked R.E.M. He thought, Little did we know at the time how right they were. The world was changing, had changed, drastically since he was scream singing that song at some drunken party in the eighties.
He was spinning his “End of the World” playlist on Spotify through his Iphone. Spinning, what a quaint word. It used to refer to actual records spinning, pressings of vinyl. When music went digital, CDs and hard drives spun for a time. These days, only he was spinning.
A friend suggested he add a happy, poppy song by Lenka to his playlist. She sings “At the end of the world, I will be there with you. And, we’ll throw a party to celebrate the things we used to do.” It would be a great contrast with the many doom and gloom songs in the list.
This playlist was his favorite. It included Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World,” The Turtles’ “Eve of Destruction,” Blue Oyster Cult telling us “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and Dylan singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. He was most proud of the covers of classic songs, Diana Krall with “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” or Rod Stewart crooning “For All We Know” where he sings this might be our last moment so we must enjoy it. It was not strictly an end of the world song, but he liked the sentiment. It fit.
He wondered again about his obsession with The End of the World as We Know It. For him it was a less a fear than a fantasy. What would happen if all of this changed? When he thought ‘this’, it was easy to imagine civilization as we know it changing. He could even see his house, jeep, job and city going away. Losing people was a harder swallow, but why not? He tucked that image away as being too callous and unloving. He buried the entire thought underground and got on with the myriad of responsibilities rushing towards him every moment of his existence.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Yeah, he thought, I’d be fine.

He was shopping at Smart and Final. He made a Smart and Final run about once a month for large items in bulk. His house didn’t have enough storage to shop at Costco. He grabbed a couple of those 2.5 gallon water containers. His wife had used two of them last week for some event. He needed to restock their earthquake supplies: one gallon per person for seven days, fourteen gallons. He put three more jugs of water into his basket. He was buying five to go with the two left in the closet. He thought, This is pretty silly, we’ll never need these. He thought, This won’t be enough if it really happened.
If the big one happened, if the ground really shook, he knew it wouldn’t be about the first week. Yeah, some unlucky people would die, be squashed by cheap and old construction, the roads would fail, and there certainly weren’t enough Red Cross workers to create shelters and feed the 8-12 million in Southern California.
The real problem would be week two. A major break on the San Andreas would sever all roads, water, electric, gas and data lines running across the fault. It would take months to recover. In that time, no amount of boats and airlifts would be able to supply enough water and food. Combined with the lack of communication, anarchy would be around the corner. Institutions and the very structure of society would not have the resilience to recover.
Standing in the aisle of the Smart and Final, he thought, Perhaps, I should finally wander into that relic of a gun shop on Washington Blvd and buy a gun, a few guns or maybe Home Depot for some gas cans and portable generator, a tent. Could we make it to the in-laws in Mexico?
Once again he asked himself, Is this fear or anticipation? Right beneath the surface was an excitement. The big one would bring big changes. Weren’t we ready for a reset?

The end of the world and its aftermath was everywhere: in the books he read (THE BONE CLOCKS, STATION ELEVEN), movies (MAD MAX, THE ROAD, WALL-E) and television (The LEFTOVERS, THE WALKING DEAD, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD) he watched. Even if someone wasn’t drawn to the idea like he was, it was impossible to avoid.
This new age seemed particularly fragile. We could easily be rocked back to the days before electricity. The dark ages seemed more feasible than keeping up this technological wonder that we called ‘life as we know it.’ It all seemed so very fragile.
He wondered what the catalyst might be: A Major Earthquake? Aliens? Zombies? Solar Flares? Perhaps a killer virus that wiped out ninety-plus percent of the population? Or just the stupidity of war?
He was a smart guy. He knew the reason the idea of an apocalypse proliferated the world consciousness was that the world as we knew it was changing. We’re predisposed to be afraid of change. Technology, communications, power structures, societal roles and prejudices, well everything, was changing. The world was not the world his grandparents had on the farm or the world his parents lived through in the fifties and sixties. The world was different now than it was than he was a kid in the late sixties and seventies. The past twenty years had seen so many changes, such as his Iphone wirelessly connecting to an internet, gay marriage, a black president. Change was happening and it was rapid.

He remembered a book he had read, DREAMING OF THE END OF THE WORLD: Apocalypse as a Rite of Passage. It was written by a Jungian Psychologist who had collected thousands of dreams from people who had dreamt about blowing ourselves up. They ranged from the horrific to the sublime. He wrote that we were creating a new myth to deal with our fear of change.
While nuclear annihilation/apocalypse/holocaust seems farther away, it has been replaced with a plethora and smorgasbord of cataclysms. He thought, Why not? Everything is so new. Of course, there is a shadow of fear and trepidation.
Technology was changing our minds, our perceptions of reality, how the world works, and our very thought about our existence. Physicists kept telling us that what we see is not what we get. The universe is happening on a level we can’t comprehend and all of this might just be an illusion that we constructed to calm our existence.
But as he had said the other day to his friend at lunch, “The cracks were showing in the illusion, and it could break.”

He had a dream the other night. There was a large pile of storage in a theater where he worked. The pile was smoldering. He knew it could burst into flame and destroy the building along with all of the people on it. Or, it would put itself out. But for some reason, he couldn’t put out the fire. All he could do was wait, prepare for the moment it burst into flames, a conflagration. Then, he would need to have a plan to get the people out of the building, to save the most precious items. But for now, all he could do was wait. He sat across from the smoldering mass and waited.
When he awoke, he understood the dream and the symbols all too well. He knew that the dream wasn’t about a fire or about the end of the world in a larger sense. It was about the end of his world. It was time to move on, change jobs, change his world.
He had this world view that he couldn’t shake. It went, when the universe tells you to change, you need to change. If you don’t, the universe will change you, and it won’t be easy. He wondered where this world view came from, some vestige of the wrathful Christian god he was brought up to believe in as a child? Still, he knew he was the god/universe and that larger part of himself was letting him know he needed to change.

He didn’t know how, but he announced to his larger self, to his universe, he was ready to change.

He was ready for the end of his world.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Their World Collapsing

[This is a series of stories/essays I’ve written this past year. They are personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]

Nancy witnessed their world collapsing.

Her task was clear. She had to empty out her parent’s home to return it to the bank. 
Six months before, her mother had “gone to be with the Lord,” as her mother would’ve said. Two years before, her father had passed. They were binary stars, to be seen together, to live in relationship.
The irreparable damage had occurred and their world was slowly collapsing in on itself.
When possibilities lose their probability, the waveform collapses, entropy takes over, and everything erodes to nothingness.
Nancy sat on the floor of her father’s study surrounded by piles of paper. Five boxes lined up in front of her, a box for each distinct category: a box for financial records needed to close out the estate; a box for files to shred, those sensitive documents that must be destroyed to protect against identity theft. Nancy wondered whose identity remained to be stolen; there was a box of papers for the essential writings and work of her parents, their intellectual essence, papers that might still inspire and teach; and there was the trash, words and documents that could be discarded lacking in any remaining importance, energy or impact. Every page, every file got reviewed and sorted. Most landed in the trash.
As she worked on the papers, the contents of the house made its way out the door, helped by friends, family, colleagues and the strangers whose jobs consisted of collecting the detritus of some to help and mend others.
Her parents had lived lives of service and learning. Their work had touched many people. They had made an impact on others. As her parent’s passed through their world, they had changed many other worlds.
Nancy imagined the tens of thousands her parents had impacted in subtle and profound ways. Perhaps it was a moment in a checkout lane or years of friendship, their lives had touched others. This large group stood in contrast with the millions they would never meet or see. The possibility of those encounters ended and part of their world fell away. For one’s world includes both the concrete and possible. When the possibilities are no longer feasible those alternate experiences collapse. This huge volume of potential evaporated.
The casual encounters that had existed in moments and did not grow, the mention of their name, the passing on the sidewalk, every moment when her parents took in another, and every moment when they we’re seen as people standing in front of another; these moments faded and disappeared.
The men from Goodwill came to the door at the appointed time. Nancy showed them the scores of boxes and furniture set aside for them. The men grumbled about it being more than they were expecting and about the heat of the day. Resignedly, they loaded their truck taking more belongings from Nancy’s parents to anonymous receivers of goods and furniture. They would never know the energy and care her parents had given to those items, their stories or the times they sat on that chair, used those scissors or admired that painting. As these items left the house, Nancy was overcome by the feelings of loss and relief. And another part of the world collapsed.
Henry, a man Nancy had known since she was 13, piled up boxes of papers and books. He had trained with her father and considered him a mentor and a friend. In many ways, he was more heir and offspring to her father than she. To him was entrusted the papers and work of her parents. He had promised to go through them and share them with other colleagues and students. In this way, her parent’s intellectual work and ideas might continue, might remain. She helped him load up his red truck until it was as full as it could be. She hugged and thanked him. As Henry drove off with his red pickup full, Nancy felt another part of their world collapse.
As the house emptied, it felt as if it was being drained of the blood that had made it a home.
Debra came up to Nancy clutching a blue vase. With tears in her eyes she asked if she could have it. She went on to tell how she and Nancy’s mother had found this blue vase at a thrift shop. It wasn’t worth anything other than the memory of days when these two best friends would share lunch and conversation. Debra said, she’d paid the quarter for the vase, because she had a quarter and Nancy’s mother would have to break a dollar bill. As tears welled in her eyes, Debra wondered why she would remember such an inconsequential moment, but she remembered saying to Nancy’s mother, “This is my priceless gift to you.” Debra said, “This blue vase has no value. It is only valuable to me.” She asked Nancy if he could have it. Nancy knew that Debra would care for the vase until Debra’s daughter would give it away on a day like today. Until then it would hold the energy of their friendship. As Debra left with the vase and other priceless items, Nancy felt their world collapse some more. She knew that while this world might collapse, remnants of it would remain in other worlds for a time until they were no more.
Aunt Susan rifled through boxes and albums of photograph. She gathered up the ones she deemed to be “keepers”. She promised to have them scanned and distributed. One was picture of them as children feeding the ducks with their mother, Nancy’s grandmother, at the creek a half mile from the house where they grew up. Aunt Susan figured she was five and Nancy’s mother was eight in the photograph. It was taken at the start of long journeys for each of them.
Nancy helped Aunt Susan to her car, placed the boxes of keepers on the back seat, hugged her cousin, Susan’s daughter, and waved as they drove away. They were the last to leave. When she turned around, the house had begun to fade.
Nancy picked up the remains, tossed them in the pile of trash and began to sweep. It was the final task before walking away. As she swept, the house itself began to fade, the very walls and ceiling opened up until she was sweeping the weeds in a lot where a house, a home, had never been. Nancy turned and looked at the world around and watched it all fall away and erode until it was gone. And nothing remained.
Nancy evaporated out of their world to a world of her own, filled with family, friends, colleagues and all of those she might encounter before her world would also collapse and fade.

[I wrote this after returning from cleaning out my parent’s house and after a dream that put it all together. Names and my gender were changed. It came out that way.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thoughts about GO SET A WATCHMAN

I listened to GO SET A WATCHMAN on Audible read by Reese Witherspoon.
I also listened to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD read by Sissy Spacek. I had last read it thirty or more years ago.
I chose this moment to dip back into the world of Maycomb, AL to coincide with my return to Jacksonville, FL, my hometown. I went there to clear out my parent's house.

GO SET A WATCHMAN is not a great book like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And yet, it is an important book.

It's literary importance is as a road map of how an interesting idea and impression was taken and crafted to be the book it became. It is fascinating to see what was discarded and to suppose why.

WATCHMAN like it's progeny is also a political book. Had Ms. Lee stayed with this book and honed it, it could have become a very good book, but I doubt it would have been published or had gotten much notice. Being a Southerner, I appreciate WATCHMAN's complexity and complicity of response to race and the threat to the established way of life.

MOCKINGBIRD, while still holding subtlety and complexity, has a child's simplicity. Part of its power is that a child's point of view is clear, right and wrong is obvious to a child.

WATCHMAN attempts to illustrate how maturity and socialization leads us to the necessary evil of compromise. Cognitive Dissonance is the way of adulthood. While a mistrust of the other might be genetic, prejudice is honed and taught through experience and ambition. Racism is treated as necessary. Suggesting it isn't is naive and childlike. As any adult must know, it's obvious.

MOCKINGBIRD has been credited with having a strong impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Published in 1960 between Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act, it provided greater awareness and understanding. Reading it now made me wonder what would have happened had Harper Lee returned to the story of WATCHMAN after publishing MOCKINGBIRD. Set some twenty years after MOCKINGBIRD in the late fifties, Scout gains a deeper understanding of the racism in her hometown. I wonder what would have happened if America had been confronted by a honed and completed WATCHMAN in the mid-sixties? Would it have helped explain the complexity of racism and helped us to transition more quickly?

While the publishing of WATCHMAN today seems like nothing more than a money grab by an atrophied industry, perhaps its view of racism might help us face the racism our country still deeply harbors.

I recognize the people in WATCHMAN. I still see them in America (and not just Southern America). It made me mad and embarrassed. And, I was thankful to be confronted by this more realistic/adult view of our society.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Seven Years in the Wilderness

Seven Years in the Wilderness

[I’ve taken the last six months away from the blog to write a play. This essay contains the basic theme of the upcoming play, currently called ON CALYPSO’S ISLAND.]

The Batman went underground. He shuttered himself off from the world. To defeat the Joker, he had become like him. He took the blame for Harvey Dent’s death rather than expose the white knight’s two-faced insanity. He had allowed the woman he loved to die. In shame, he went underground. The third film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, begins with Bruce Wayne locked in his castle. He has closed himself off from the world for seven years. Only a new threat to the survival of Gotham will rouse him to pick up the Cape and return to the world.

Our Hero was doing just fine. Then, he wasn’t. He wasn’t sure what was wrong. He had had successes and some failures like most guys. While his big dreams remained beyond his reach, he reveled in the small dreams he had attained: his relationship with his beautiful wife, his family, a dog and he had a good, responsible job, necessary if not glamorous. And yet, he felt lost, overwhelmed, no longer capable of keeping up. He thought this might be some mid-life thing, but he wasn’t the type of man to solve it with a young mistress or a sports car. He wasn’t going to be a cliché. He felt lost. He was walking around in his life, though he was no longer there.

The thought seemed silly at first: was he like Bruce Wayne, like the Batman? There was something common in their experience. Seven years is not random. It is symbolizes the time it takes to complete a creative act. Is that what he was doing? Do other men and mythic superheroes go underground for seven years?

About midway through a life or a quest, the hero goes underground; takes a time out; descends into the wilderness. Myths, movies and stories are full of examples of heroes going into the wilderness. Even Ron Burgundy in THE ANCHORMAN suffers a loss of his career, his dog, his colleagues and himself before reemerging as a hero. Stories that continue through the end of the journey (after they’ve told you that they lived happily ever after) include a time when the male goes underground. [i]

In one version of the myth, Sir Lancelot flees into the forest after his love for Guinevere is discovered. Having defiled the rules of chivalry and betrayed King Arthur, he becomes a recluse, a hermit. He stops being who he is, the greatest knight of his generation. Seven years later, Mordred’s attack on Arthur calls him back into action. [ii]

Going into the wilderness is not only common in myth, it also happens to most men in their life’s journey.[iii] Since going underground is by nature a removal from view, this stage is the least discussed and examined in the man/hero’s journey. It is also the least understood and explained. Most men go through this phase alone. They think they are the only person going through it.

Midway through life, the hero/man must pause. Going into the wilderness is sometimes a literal journey, most often it is psychological. This time mirrors and is as traumatic as his transformation from boy to man. While some actually drop out of society, most just drop out emotionally and energetically. This usually happens in the forties, though it can range from the late thirties into the fifties. It usually lasts seven years or a complete cycle. Some men never leave this phase, they just disappear.

In his twenties and thirties, a man pursues career and relationship. He seeks a partner and to reproduce. He makes himself into who he is and gains fame and notice for the individual he becomes. He climbs the proverbial ladder to success. Most men, who have left the initiation phases of adolescence and college, find some level of success and make a life for themselves.

Parsifal stumbled into the Grail Castle as a young man, but failed to ask the question and claim the Holy Grail. The next morning he awoke in the forest. He realized he had lost the Grail. He then drops into a deep depression. He continues to do his work, wanders the countryside rescuing virgins and slaying evil knights, though it is said that he is doing it without joy. He does this for about seven years. After fully confronting his failure, the Grail Castle reappears. He asks the important question of the Grail King, (“what’s the matter?”) and he is entrusted with Holy Grail.[iv]

A traumatic incident often begins this phase. Fighting the dragon, our hero is wounded and must retreat. The failure that precipitates the drop goes to the foundation of the hero. The flaw that causes his downfall was there from the beginning. Up to this point he had been either unable to see it or unable to change it. Something needs to fundamentally shift before he challenges the dragon again.

At some moment, a man hits a wall. He bumps into a ceiling in his rise for power or is slowed: he might lose a job or have to change careers; a marriage might fail; or it could be an injury or illness that reminds him he is no longer a young man. Or, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water who doesn’t know to jump out as water goes from cool to boiling, the passion of daily life succumbs to the challenges of raising children, caring for aging parents or just meeting basic daily needs. He is expected to do more, know more and achieve more. He starts to realize he can’t be everything to everyone. He can no longer be who he thinks he is. He is not as good, smart, capable or brilliant as he thought. The demands are just too many. Whether it is a dramatic incident or a slow creep, the fire of life is diminished.

Overwhelmed, our hero goes underground. Going in to the wilderness is a very difficult phase for a man. It is disorienting, depressing, and feels as if he has come to the end of his life. All in all, it really sucks. However, if the man is patient he can grow and learn what he needs to know to get back into the fight and become whole. He can reorient his way of being in a way that makes him stronger and more capable than he was in prior to going underground. As painful as it might seem, this step is vital to the journey.

After orchestrating the Fall of Troy, Odysseus is driven from one calamity to another. He is kept from returning home. What most people remember of his Odyssey (if anything) is him fighting the Cyclops, going to Hades, or having his men turned into swine by the witch, Circe. However, the bulk of the ten years between fall of Troy and his return home to Ithaca is spent on the island of the goddess, Calypso. She “holds” him there. The book describes his time on the island as seven years of sitting on the beach weeping. During this time, he faces his part in the war and in his travels. He needs this time nurtured by the goddess to remake and prepare himself for his return home.

While the experience in the wilderness feels different to everyman, there are some recognizable experiences that all men have:

·         Loss of Company – The hero loses his fellows and companionship with other men. In the myth, all of his partners and fellows are killed in the last assault; or his friends abandon him due the disgrace of the loss. Whichever way it occurs, he feels as if he is alone. A man seems to no longer have the close friends, mates, buddies or pals of college days or young adulthood. He might still have a few guy friends, though he probably rarely sees them and not in a situation where they can connect. At work, his colleagues are co-workers and not friends. As he climbs the ladder, his responsibility separates him from others. His relationship with his parents, especially his father changes as his father is going through his own steps leading to retirement and old age. Even at home, there is a growing isolation. His children are shifting consciousness from being dependent children to independent adolescents. Coming to the end of childbirth and early child raising, his wife is confronting a new phase in her own journey. Their relationship shifts. In the midst of a crowded house and robust work place, he feels alone.

·         Abjuring Society – The hero goes into isolation. In some cases, the man actually abdicates his life and escapes. He leaves the city and goes into the wilderness. In some cases, he loses the ability to speak or hear, or might even pretend to be dumb. In extreme cases, he becomes a hermit. The isolation might come from being shipwrecked or imprisoned. Whether by choice or circumstance, a man becomes isolated. Mostly, the transition is internal. The man is still present in his life, but he is not there. Feeling alone and overwhelmed, he disconnects from the world around him. The man finds himself in the wilderness before he knows what is happening. He is surprised by emotions of fear and despair. Like waking to find oneself in a hole, he neither knows how he got there or how to get out.

·         Rise of Emotions – Emotions that heretofore have been kept at bay rush in and overwhelm the hero. He feels rage, despair and grief. He must weep. Extremes of emotion are uncharacteristic for our hero who has been known for his stamina, resolve and steadfastness. They are surprising and embarrassing which amplifies the impact of the emotion. In extreme cases, our Hero is initially so overwhelmed by these strong emotions that he becomes catatonic. Much energy in Western masculinity is spent controlling and containing emotions. A badge of manliness is in remaining even keeled in the face of strife. Boys are taught not to cry and young men must learn to master their anger and fear. By the time men reach their thirties they have become expert at bridling and conducting their emotions. The challenge with controlling the “negative” emotions of fear, sadness and anger is that it also diminishes the “positive” emotions of joy, desire and love. By their forties, many men have made themselves numb. Going underground, the man is often overwhelmed by emotions. The intensity stuns the man. He must develop a new working relationship with his own emotions. For many men, this is the biggest challenge. It makes him feel weak and unmanly. If a man can come into relationship with his emotions, this phase will be easier to pass through, still painful, but easier.

·         Practical work – Once the hero can get up off the ground, he often returns to work, though the work is usually not what he is called to do. During this internal phase, the passion and fire for his work has diminished. He might continue to be successful and highly productive, though his work lacks joy. If he does continue in his work of saving damsels in distress and combating the evil knights, he does so without joy. It becomes just a job. He might turn to practical work, such as manual labor, something with his hands like carpentry or farming. Or, he might shift to being in service of others, a caretaker’s role often thought to be reserved for women. During this time, the man might take up a hobby, something with his hands. He commits to the physical chores of improving his home. Special projects take on a greater significance during this period. It becomes the one thing that he can do right, where the rest is impossible.

·         Owning the Shadow – In the previous phases, our Hero fought the shadow, the dragon or the enemy. In this phase, our Hero realizes he contains the shadow or is also the shadow. The shadow is his innate evil and shortcomings. Mythically, this might occur through recognizing a relationship with his evil twin brother or he might learn he carries the poison from a wound received fighting the dragon. The acknowledgement that he is the shadow brings a feeling of complete and abject failure. He knows that he is fully capable of doing wrong, not keeping his word and hurting those around him. The man knows, he’s the asshole. He is capable of complete failure. This phase is deeper than the earlier phase when he came to terms with his own potential to harm. In that phase, he had to recognize that there were times when he had choices to make that hurt others and himself to achieve his goals. The ends sometimes justified the means. This phase is different. He comes to realize that no matter how hard he works or how much he tries, he will still do harm. He is incapable of doing right all of the time. Even a man, who has embraced his “dark side” and own situational ethics, will find that the rules he has made for himself must be broken. The man knows himself to be a failure. Even men that externally appear successful must confront the experience of being a failure. For the demands placed upon him at this time are insurmountable. No one could be successful at the tasks placed before him. The bar is set too high. The overwhelming feeling of being a failure is a difficult passage to navigate.

·         Nurturing Goddess – The goddess or a woman other than his wife or lover nurses him back to health. This feminine influence is essential and helps him to reconnect with his feminine side (his anima in Jung speak). Through most of his life, the man has often found his bond with his feminine through his relationships with the women in his life, his mother, his girlfriends and his wife. He projected his anima on them, worshipped them while not seeing them clearly. At this phase, it is time to stop projecting and build the relationship directly with his own feminine. Balance between his masculine and feminine is essential. In the myths, there is often a goddess or kindly woman who comforts him during his time in the wilderness. This is a feminine influence. It can rarely be his wife for that relationship is too entwined. And, it usually can’t be a twenty year old mistress because then he is just continuing to project his immature anima on an immature woman. There are many stories where the daughter helps to redeem the father. She reminds him who he was, who he is. He needs to come into balance with his own feminine.

Our culture does not prepare men to go through this phase. Most men go through it poorly and some get stuck in the wilderness never to return. There is a real need for patience all around. The man has to accept that this is where he is for a period of time. The best he can do is keep doing his work, maintaining his family and seek to grow into this new way of being.

There is a recognized scenario of a man going through this period poorly. It has become known as the mid-life crisis. The man dumps his wife of years and finds a young trophy wife. He buys a new sports car or speed boat, something that makes him feel youthful and reckless. He tries to return to the man he was in his twenties or thirties. He takes unnecessary risks. All of these choices are intended to ward off the phase and pretend it is not happening. Another way is to numb his way through the experience with drink or drugs. The opposite tack is for the man to embrace the change fully, dumping his old persona and finding new ways of being. He dives in head long into new religions. This is often portrayed as the businessman who loses the coat and ties for tie die and headbands; loses the corporate job for life on a commune following a spiritual guru. While this can work, this swings the pendulum so far that is it hard to find the needed balance.

Once a man has gone into this phase, the next question is how to get out of it. In the myths, a god or goddess prompts the Hero to get back on the path. This symbolizes a higher part of the man’s self. It is a renewed call to action. The problem or challenge that consumed his life and which he failed to resolve rises like the dragon to be confronted again. Some way the man has to get up off his butt and get back into the game.

Taking all he learned in the wilderness, the man can confront the challenges and passions of his life. There is a different approach to the quest than there was before. He understands that he can’t solve the problem with only masculine muscle, but also with feminine compassion and wisdom. By going underground, the man can achieve his goals and his complete his personal journey. What he gained during this mid-life passage is essential to his success.

Parsifal gets the Grail. Odysseus returns home. Batman saves Gotham again and can finally hang up his cape. And, our Hero finds a new joy and passion for his life.

[i] The hero’s journey is representative of a man’s journey through life. Using symbolic language and told by the means of mythic stories and characters, the hero’s journey mirrors the challenges and phases encountered by every man in his transition through life. This is why the myths exist and are so instructive. (It is also why science fiction, superhero stories and action adventure movies are so popular. They have incorporated the mythic journey into a popular art form.)
[ii]  In another version, Lancelot disappears into a hermitage and becomes a priest. He remains there through his death, including presiding at the burial of Guinevere. This is an example of the hero never returning from his passage underground.
[iii] A man’s journey lives in the juxtaposition between the literal and the mythic. While we might most easily witness our concrete and mundane lives, we simultaneously exist on a mythic-symbolic level. This experience is often hard to see as we get up every day to go to our jobs and take care of our homes, though the peak moments of our lives are played out in mythic proportions and high stakes. Part of our challenge in this new era is to be able to consciously live in our literal and mythic world concurrently.
[iv] During this period, Parsifal gains such renown for his actions that word gets back to King Arthur, who sends out four knights in the four directions to bring him to Camelot, to the Round Table. Once they find him he is brought back for a feast to celebrate his good deeds. In the middle of the feasting, an old woman interrupts the joyous occasion. She recounts all of Parsifal’s failings and inadequacies culminating in his failure at the Grail Castle. Parsifal leaves at once, renews his efforts and once again finds the Grail Castle.
[v]  This essay is about the Hero’s journey and a man’s time underground. A woman’s journey as expressed in the heroines journey has some characteristics to the hero’s journey, though is entirely different. This is why men and women who are partners are often in conflict during this phase. They each have their own path that is at odds with the other. Our living longer forces us to confront this time and the time after more fully. It is also why we are living longer: to give us collectively the time to get to the other side of the journey.