Archive | March 2021

The Lark Ascending

Lark Sparrow Adult
Lark Sparrow
(c) Byron Stone, Macaulay Library
Texas, June 28,2020

There is nothing more charming than a Lark Sparrow. Always nattily dressed, cheerfully singing, and wearing their heart on their (proverbial in this case) sleeve. They pass through Gran’s yard for a few days in spring on their way northeast and fall on their way southwest. They are said to be year-round inhabitants in California, but not my experience. This year we ended up with a large flock for a couple weeks. This I think was due to unseen forces.

Their breeding grounds were lashed by the recent terrible winter storms. I assume a check of the winds, humidity, temperatures, air pressure, etc all unseen, told them not to advance. As a result the few passers through each day quickly became a bustling throng eager to move on, but willing to wait rather than die. A pandemic pause is something the SO’s parents (and my cats!) are still going through. The Netherlands is being hit with a third wave of the unseen virus made visible by Covid. Plans to return have been shelved again to “end of summer, maybe Sept.”

I think Le Pere just really wants to go biking in the mountains this summer. But I know there are solid business reasons to stay and the SO values having his folks around. I really hope they will be there in the summer when I’m back. I look forward to having folks around again, even if they aren’t per se mine. And a job. And a life. Someday. But for today …. I’m focused the unseen forces in the garage. The mice. So far I’ve relocated 9 of them to natural accommodations. A 10th eluded me last night. The Have-a-Heart was sprung, but no mouse was captured.

Currently saving Futurama episodes for the post papal Easter mass period. I’m calling it the Leela-ster Day Marathon.

My first attempt at using the H-a-H overnight was a bit of disaster. I didn’t think about the garage getting cold. But it does get quite cold. Or about the cage being metal. Or about a small mammal with non-furry paws having no way to keep warm. It was grim. Tiny red paws gripping the cage side, eyes open. I felt awful. But being a person of science and faith. I put her in the early morning sun and reminded Jesus he was the Lord of the Resurrection and this was his season. Also, that the whole reason I used the H-a-H was to save mice lives.

Anyway, about a minute later, she began to jerk tortuously back to life. So I carefully placed her cold body in some warm leaf litter so she could raise her temperature up slowly, and eventually, cryogenic hypothermia worn off …. she ran into the underbrush. I’ve been releasing the rest of her family in the same spot nightly hoping they can reform their little colony somewhere cozy. FYI, I don’t ask for resurrections often, just for small animals that die suddenly. But you’d be surprised the number of times Jesus hollers back. I guess he likes doing the dramatic stuff, but so few people ask? I dunno.

I’m going to circle back now to the Tibetan singing bowl I bought last week now. It arrived. It has great sound quality. I plan to use it as part of my meditation practice. But I think I really need to explain that it is not a bowl, not Tibetan, and doesn’t sing. Tibetans use tingsha or flutes or even (what you’d call a dinner) hand bell in their Buddhist practices. Singing bowls don’t exist in Tibet. There are standing bells, which are used by Buddhists in Japan, Korean, China and other places, but again, not in Tibet.

Best Quality Bell & Dorje Set Buddhist Ritual Items image 0
Bell and Dorje. The only kind of bell you’ll find in Tibet

So how did “Tibetan singing bowls” come to be called so? And sold in dharma shops? Well, back in the 1980s a percussionist musician realised he could play the rims of standing bells. So he worked on creating tuned bells. Then the New Age movement decided they could use a tuned bell for each chakra and claim it was tuning or cleansing the chakras. But even if sound is healing (and it is), who is going to pay for a newly invented service (or a set of bells)? Nobody. So they had to attach their modern practices to some ancient, exotic, remote culture that no one could really check up on. Like, Tibet. Ca-ching.

Today, the “TSB” nomenclature for such items is so firmly rooted in Western minds that it would be difficult to change the wording. It’s what people ask for at dharma shops, even if what they mean is an Asian standing bell. The customer is never wrong, right? America is a melting pot. American Buddhists do Buddhism their own way. And that’s ok. But the effect of all this appropriation and melting is that now we have TBS. And how do you un-ring the bell? Is it even right to try and un-entangle it?

Strangely, at this point, Tibetan art imitating is American life. Tibetan exile communities in Nepal or other Himalayan areas are making these “Tibetan singing bowls” as a means of income. You can find bowls covered in Tibetan mantras and versions with the Tibetan Medicine Buddha, or other Tibetan artworks. It’s weird, but I get it. They are using the westerners to make money, who used them first to make money. As for the dharma? I guess it’s what the practitioner makes of it in the end.
Tune up that Lyre. The 25th National Poetry Month starts April 1.

So, why am I bringing this up? I think it’s important to understand there is a difference between melting pot of ideas and co-opting of a culture – in this case Tibetan – for purposes of re-branding and monetizing something that has nothing to do with that culture. People say where’s the harm. But I think the latter does huge harm. Tibetan people are fighting, have been fighting for 70 years, to keep their religion and culture and language alive. And you may well say, it’s just a name and Tibetans are making money too. Okay. I hear you.

Suppose NY state declared May a month where they’d talk about WWII, and the Holocaust, and how fascism is bad. That’d be good, right? And they’d call it Nazi History Month. It’s just a name, right? You’d certainly be talking about Nazis, right? I’m guessing everyone, except Nazis, would be angry and upset. That people would demand a change of name. People of Jewish heritage, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and WWII vets and their kids, would take to the streets in protest. And rightly so.

You’d think this example could never happen in the US but it already has, and as recently as 2010 in Virginia. Today, 7 states have Confederate History Month. Not Civil War History Month. Not Southern History Month. Confederate History Month. And let’s not forget Confederate Memorial Day is a legal state holiday in many southern states. These months/days and their names are asserting white supremacy, not about meaningfully exploring the lessons people might learn from the Civil War.

Japanese Massage: What Are Shiatsu And Anma Exactly?
Shiatsu a genuine type of Asian massage. It was a profession limited to the blind early on, as it was one of the few ways they could earn a living.

So, these things. These words, names, language, they matter. Lots of cultural and political ideas are unseen things, we’re almost blind to them, but they really matter. When we accept ideas, sight unseen. They can have dire consequences. Think back to when you first heard the breaking news: “There’s an active shooter situation in Georgia at some massage parlours.” Did you think in your mind, “Oh of course, the shooter is a white woman and the masseuses at the parlours are South American men”?

No, of course you didn’t. You’re probably laughing at the very idea. But that’s the point. American culture is ingrained sexist and racist, that to most of us it’s laughable that the shooter would be imagined as anything but a white male and the workers anything but women of color. And that’s not our fault. The US was founded by White men with property to preserve the power of White men with property. We still live with the racism and sexism of two centuries and more of their ingrained ideas, enshrined in law that mis-shapes our culture today, still.

Even today in political discourse, we have the pejorative of the “Nanny state.” Any state embracing the 51% of the female population, and 51% workers who value caring for the young, old, poor, disabled, refugees, and think govt should provide sick leave, family leaves, child care, help society as a whole and not just white men, is a nanny state thinker. Many white male politicians prefer a “Bully state.” The only people that matter, whose needs should be catered to, are men, the healthy, rich, and the white.

These are from the CDC last April. When only “approved” data was allowed to be seen.

If you think I’m wrong, review your recent pandemic history. The former administration and its adherents openly said they were okay with elderly people dying to save the economy. And they were clearly ok with people of color, and those who had pre-existing conditions, dying (not their voters, drag on the economy). The above chart is from a year ago. It’s per 10K, not the more typical 100k. Because the previous administration felt that hid more of the truth. Age >84 in 100k would have been a whopping 400. And this is not the worst surge. They were still in the future.

When we look at a case like the Georgia shootings, already a shooting in the distant past to many, we often get a news bite which then becomes about a political theatre battle about gun rights. We aren’t asked to look at the all the unseen influences that led to the outcome, 10 dead. These are smoke and mirrored away, so the we don’t ever bring to conscious mind those influences. Because if they came to mind, the public might have to demand change. And the people in charge, still mostly men of the bully state mindset who profit, would rather things stay as they are.

I’m going to walk you through some unseen things about the tragedy in Georgia. I’ll tell you what I think. You can make up your mind what you think. I’ve been thinking about these Asian-American women’s murders since they happened them. I think the reporting, nationally really let these women down. Because it didn’t confront the realities that created the circumstances that led to the crimes. That part was all swept away in a banner of “Asian-American hate crimes.” Like the TSB story, there was more to it than that.

Carey smiling on the red carpet
Drew Carey. Yes, he’s a Buddhist. Didn’t see that, did you?

The murderer was born a white male in the southern state of Georgia. He’s born into a culture of white male supremacy. He is by virtue of no more than that at the “top” of the geopolitical establishment’s cultural heap. He is raised in a Southern Baptist Church, again, that’s the go-to religion of the geopolitical establishment. He grows up in that church. He eventually chooses to join himself.

The SBC maintains that it is not racist or sexist. The reality is different. For a white SBC to reject with words but condone with actions makes its both racist and sexist. The SBC agreed this year that racism is bad, but rejected Critical Race Theory So, “racism is a bad thing, but we have no intention of losing any of our white supremacist leaning, tithe-paying members” is the gist. The SBC has always rejected women in important roles, but especially as preachers. So, “we’re not sexist, but women are not equal.” If you missed Beth Moore’s very public departure this year, have a read.

As an extremely conservative church, sex outside marriage is a sin, abortion is a sin, teaching sex education causes young people to engage in fornication, science is the enemy of God, psychology is mumbo jumbo liberal Satanism, and non-Christians (the non-white world) will burn in hell without Jesus. Hmm, so, if you’re a young white man, tormented by your inability to non-sinfully express your totally normal sexual desires, who has been raised to think of himself as the top of the cultural and religious and political heap, with women and other races of lower or no value and non-Christians as burn-in-hell material? Well, what could go wrong?

Peter Coyote at Durell Vineyard, Sonoma, April 2019.jpg
Peter Coyote. Not just a Buddhist, an ordained Zen priest.

It’d honestly be pretty hard for anyone in this situation not to develop a sexual addiction leading to a psychotic break. Which of course, he does. He frequents the massage palours to vent for his sexual frustrations with women of color, in this case Asian. He understands his actions are “sinful.” He has shame and guilt over his sexual “sin.” All this is a problem. So, he goes for counseling, not to a qualified person that could help him, to his church. Sadly, a person with a sex addiction isn’t cured by a dose of Jesus.

Being more in the anti-science camp, I doubt very much his SBC councilor suggested he go into real, science-based, licensed psychotherapy. Being a white Christian male it’s okay to have a sexual sin problem, but a genuine psychological problem? Oh no. That’d be impossible. I’d like to think, if he’d been agreeable to real help from a real doctor and short of cash that medicaid would have been a safety net. But Georgia has rejected expanded medicaid. Thrown up obstacles to using it. So I do hold the state responsible there.

On the other hand, this white man could afford a gun. Definite proof he at least had the cost of a gun, that could have been spent instead on psychotherapy. Had he wanted to. Had his church counseled and encouraged him to do. He could have paid over the phone. Professional mobile mental health therapy is available through online. Confidential sex addiction therapy was available, 24/7. But, as is common, the white man didn’t want to own his problem. And because the state of Georgia encourages white men not to own their problems, but to buy a gun and “solve” their problems. The next step was clearly buy a gun.

Tina Turner 50th Anniversary Tour.jpg
Tina Turner, yes, a Buddhist.

The Republican state of Georgia has, apparently, zero real gun laws. What a surprise. If there had been a background check, a 5-day wait, and then 2 days of mandatory in classroom gun and range training classes, maybe he’d have been stopped from buying a gun, or coolled off and made a different decision. Maybe someone would have realised this man had a problem. But, ya’ know, white men and guns. White men want white men to be able to get guns like they get beer. On demand. Buy today, execute your “problems” tomorrow.

Now, I want to say here that had the man been a Scripture-reading Christian, he might have used his new gun to shoot his genitalia off. I kid you not. Jesus said, “If your eye offends you pluck it out.” Jesus was big on you, owning your problems, and stopping yourself. Jesus doesn’t let you project your sinfulness onto others and then off them as expiation or propitiation. (Sorry, getting near Easter, these big theological words just come to mind.)

Alternatively, if this man had truly been bent on doing the right thing, he might have committed suicide. End of his problem. But, apparently he deemed the suicide of his “saved” white male Christian self as far worse than execution of 8 Asian-American woman (mostly Korean-American), who he probably assumed to be Buddhists (even though only 6% are. 70% of Korean-Americans are Christians, 60% are Protestant evangelical bent, 23% are unaffiliated). And I want to be really clear here, he shot these women in the head – execution style. Because he viewed them as criminals.

George Meredith - Wikipedia
George Meredith, author of The Lark Ascending, Diana of the Crossways, and The Egoist.

So to nutshell, rejecting actual, available therapy to work through his Christianity-induced sexual addiction, he buys a gun, and to “save” himself from his own sinfulness, he executes innocent people he deems worthless — women, of color, non-Christians, who were in his mind going to burn in hell anyways — for tempting him, the white man, and corrupting his Christian virtue. Sigh. Eye roll. This is where you end up you don’t examine your religious, political, community culture for unseen forces. These bred in the bone underlying assumptions can result in epic tragedy.

And I think it’s worth pointing out too, that this young white man executed women who were two and three times his age. At some level, I think he was trying to kill his mother. These women were in effect substitutes for her. She’s the one that raised him in the church. She’s the one that, in his mind, loaded him down with the sexual guilt and frustration. I don’t think he was consciously lying when he said he was just killing women, not Asian-American women. His hate crime was against women first, Asians second or incidentally.

And so let’s talk about the women. These were loving mothers who had children, spouses, and meaningful lives. I imagine they would have liked better and/or better paying jobs. You don’t see massage parlors full of older men waiting for young female clients. Because men have job opportunities. They make better money at better jobs. They aren’t being trafficked for sex. Pushed in to occasional prostitution for a little extra cash for their family during a pandemic, in a tough economy.

Practice Solidarity to Stop Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans
Solidarity, stop Asian-American, Pacific Islander hate.

The state of Georgia could require all massage parlours to be staffed only by fully qualified masseuses who went to school and got licensed. I’m guessing they won’t. Because white men like cheap massages (and cheap sex) from Asian ladies. Minimum wage in the Peach state is $5.25. It could expand medicaid like a normal state, to help all people not just those with addictions or in crisis. It could make better gun laws. It could work with the SBC churches to establish parameters for personal counseling beyond which they could refer out to professionals.

I’m sure none of this will happen soon, in white-Republican conservative Christian Georgia. These aren’t vote getting policies. They won’t bring in large donations from White male GOP donors. Which is why more women, especially women of color, need to run for every office, every election, as Dems. It’s the only way change happens. Women of all colors and backgrounds need to be seen, heard, and able to make decisions about their own lives. Again, this runs counter to everything white male conservative SBC Georgia stands for. But is has to happen. And not just in Georgia.

Ok, so, I realise this was probably more than you wanted on the Friday before Palm Sunday, before the start of Holy Week. But I think it’s important to understand, unseen forces can hold us down or lift us up. We can’t change those forces till we make them visible somehow. But once visible, there is hope. We can change those forces. We can make a better world for everyone. We can make a world where the unseen forces are built to help us all ascend.

Take an English countryside break. George Meredith wrote the poem. RVW made it sing.

This entry was posted on March 26, 2021.

It’s Magic

Lemon Meringue Pie Recipe | Land O'Lakes
Lemon Meringue? You betcha.

This week began with Pi Day on Sunday. Math and pie. How could anything be sweeter? We went lemon meringue, after the neighbors donated us a bunch of lemons. Our pie didn’t turn out quite this perfect. Gran got a little Schwarznegger in True Lies with the culinary torch. But let’s just say that pie was reduced to 3.14 crumbs pretty quick. Monday it rained. Yea! More rain. And lots of wind. The roaring lion of March is still with us. But I do like lions, so… all good.

Tuesday at 4 pm, Gran was officially as antibodied up as possible – 2 weeks post her last Moderna shot. And my Da told me he had scheduled his 1st Pfizer shot for Saturday. He said he had to refresh the CVS pharmacy page every half hour for about two days but…he felt it was worth it. Weds was St Pat’s. We had a Irish soda bread, a shot (maybe 2) of Penderyn’s (Welsh whisky) and potato soup made with Kerrygold Irish cheese for dinner that night. And then we watched our favorite, not so little, green man, the Resident Alien.

Weds also our county went into the rosier red tier. One down from plague purple. It’s good, it means we’re improving. People are hoping to hit the more optimistic orange in few weeks. But I have doubts. Taking a walk around the neighborhood at St Paddy’s I could see and hear lots of large drunken parties. I even saw one woman walk to her car, turn on her engine, sit there a minute, open a beer bottle and have a big swig, just before putting it in gear and driving off. Call me skeptical but “pandemic responsibility” seems to go out the window 100% of the time in the face of an open bar.

Chakra Clearing Tibetan Singing Bowl Masterpiece - DharmaShop
Tibetan Singing Bowl

Also on Weds, I found the IRS had sent my tax refund, after almost 4 weeks, and Treasury had sent my stimulus money (because I’d filed my taxes). Definitely this will keep the ship afloat. Grateful to all the Dems in Congress for getting this legislation passed and keeping their campaign promises. Also, grateful to all people working at IRS because they are so darned slammed. And in the spirit of gratitude, I stimulated the economy a bit (ew, that sounds inappropriate!).

Thursday, I bought an inexpensive singing bowl from a dharma shop, thus helping Asian American businesses and Asian artisans abroad. I sent some money the Guardian‘s way, thus supporting journalism and democracy across the English-speaking world. And I donated to Cornell’s bird lab, to keep scientific research and birds thriving in the US. Not big money spent in the scheme of things, $100 total, but I’m doing what I can afford to help the world beyond my little bubble. Contributing to the common good.

Of course things have not be entirely rosy in the red zone this week. I discovered a mouse has taken up residence in the garage. Minka is intensely interested and has put the mouse on notice. I’m hoping her skulking around will encourage the mouse to move on. I tried using Have-a-heart traps last night, which were sprung, but no mouse was caught. I was however left a tiny taunting poop. So today I’ll send for some Loraffe mouse chasers. Hopefully they’ll convince my mouse to find better digs.

Spacious abodes available (By David Zinn, who has a Chalk Art Handbook coming out June 1)

I also discovered this week that I might be, what my Gran calls, a fairy child. If you don’t come from a European background, I’ll explain. In Celtic and Germanic lore, the fairies would steal beautiful babies and replace them with fairy lookalikes. The lookalikes tended to be “different” in some respect. Usually mentally. I guess it was a way for parents to disown a less than perfect child in a time when imperfections in children were seen as the result of sins of the parents.

These “fairy children” often died young or “disappeared.” I use quotes on disappeared because I don’t think these fairy children magically vanished back to or were recalled to their own fairy land. I think their parents killed them, because they were overburdened, impoverished, and simply couldn’t care for them. Those children who were loved and grew up were still often different. Hence the “He’s away with the fairies,” saying meaning mentally not all together present in reality.

So, at this point you might be thinking, “Geez, you’re Gran is kind of insulting you.” No, actually she saved me a trip to doctor. I’d been kind of sliding downhill since I got to California. I thought it was mental stress and sudden climate change and that it’d go away. But I kept getting more and more tired. Then on Pi Day, I had a slice of pie and after a short time, I felt much better. And I said that to Gran. “Why is it when I’m avoiding sweets, I feel like crap. But when I eat pie or cake I feel way better?”

A portrait of a fairy, by Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1869)

My Gran said, “Do you? Have another slice and tell me how you feel.” So I did. I felt even better. “Hmm,” said my Gran, “Do you always feel better after wolfing down pastry.” Hard to know what to say there. German background. Pastry is like the go-to for everything. I don’t “wolf down” pastry a lot but when I do… “Yeah.” Gran let a out a long sigh, as if she’d been holding in a secret fear for many years and finally it was out. “You’re a fairy child. But don’t tell your mother.”

I’m not sure what I was not supposed to tell Mutti. Since I didn’t know myself what we were talking about at that point. She then had me go and get one of the ancient family albums and showed me a picture of her sister-in-law. My grandfather’s older sister. Drop dead gorgeous. Skin like moonlight, hair like a raven’s wing, eyes the color of violets. Beautiful face, lovely figure. She radiated a warm kindness mixed with a strong will.

I’d heard of her in passing, long ago. Aunt Francesca, aka Fanny. She was jilted, subsequently lived in a darkened room, and died a spinster. That was the story. I always thought it must have been a very sexist telling of her tale. I never thought her picture and the tale told about her matched up. Turns out, I was right. She was a wonderful, talented, intelligent person. She had her pick of suitors. A wedding date was set, for late in summer. But she had a secret. She was a “fairy child.”

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Summer weddings? Not in my family.

It was a very long, very hot summer, unusually so. Wedding arrangements and various parties caused a lot of stress. Fanny started to get ill. The family took her to the seaside in hopes that would help. Things got a little better. But right before the wedding, just after the rehearsal dinner, she became ill again. And that’s when her intended dumped her. And yes, she did go up and spend a lot of time in a darkened room, because she had migraines and the light bothered her. But after awhile, she came downstairs again.

She swore off the idea of relationships and marriage. She got a job as an admin. She (and her mother) paid for the two brothers to go to college. They graduated debt free. She bought some land in another state and built a small summer house for the family. She lived a long happy life, without a husband or children. She took care of her mother. She was well beloved by her brothers as a kind, smart, sassy, sister should be. And yes, she got tired and sick sometimes, but it wasn’t her fault. It was the “fairy” in her according to Gran.

In fairy tales, fairies are always extremely averse to iron. This is why an iron pin was always attached to a baby or infant, to prevent the fairies taking them. If a person reacted adversely to eating a normal amount of iron, to my Gran, that person was a fairy child — it was kinder than saying Great Aunt Fanny might have had hemochromatosis. That moonlight fairy skin? Probably a silvery hue from iron build up. And what made her feel better? Pastry, which knocked back iron absorption. That rehearsal dinner? Probably an iron-rich meal that made her really sick.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.
Back in the day, Sears sold kit homes.

It actually made a huge amount of sense. Great Aunt Fanny was never diagnosed though. Gran said she probably didn’t want to know for sure. Sick = sin = shame. It wasn’t going to change her life for the better, knowing. It would just cost her hard-earned money to find out. Practical German, she bought real estate instead. That would do more for her (for any single woman!) and her family. So was Gran possibly right? I dunno. Hemochromatosis can be inherited. I decided to start by checking nutritional info on boxes in the kitchen.

I checked the things I’d been eating the last month. Turns out, if I tallied it up, it was rather high in daily iron. Curse you, high-iron protein drinks during Lent! Maybe it was not an excessive amount for a normal person. But maybe with my gene pool, it was too much. I have a lab pulling my blood later today to see what was going on. I prefer facts to fairy tales. I won’t hear for a week. Meanwhile, I’m on a very Irish diet. Potatoes, cheese, milk, and other things that are super low in iron. I do feel a lot better, so hopefully it was just a one time, one off, slight iron overdose.

I’m glad it happened though. Gran’s the last person left to tell the truth about Fanny, to set her free. I wish Fanny’s boyfriend hadn’t be a jerk, but getting jilted led her to a way better life in the end. All the good stuff everyone wants – family, love, adventure, independence, security – Fanny had in spades. So a few called her spinster in pitying tones. So what? Most people secretly envied her, I’d bet. As for me, I know the SO wouldn’t bother jilting me even if I was a fairy child (rather than just an idiot who accidentally iron-overdosed themselves). He prefers to have a little magic in his life. As I think this Friday’s love song proves.

This entry was posted on March 19, 2021.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Easter Iris?

This past week has been full of surprises. At the end of last week, the Governor turned up in our county at a library a few miles away. The state okayed our covid safety plan to reopen local High Schools this week to voluntary in-person learning. Grades K to 8 had been doing voluntary in-person since Nov. Then a large storm system moved through. We don’t usually get much rain after Feb, and we didn’t get much this year anyway, so we’re still teetering on drought, again, but….we’ll take it. And finally our health dept announced it’s opening up a new group of vaccine eligible persons (ages 16-65 with health conditions) March 15. So, I’m hopeful I might get fully vaccinated by the end of May. All good stuff.

And of course I can’t overlook the fact the American Rescue Plan bill passed almost fully in tact (minus the $15 min wage). I actually broke Lent, just for an hour Weds night and celebrated with a small 1/4 glass of wine and some Hersey’s chocolate Easter eggs. Why? Because when God does something that great for so many, after so long, and despite so much resistance, you just have to take a moment and celebrate it – even during Lent. I’m hopeful HR1 (and all the voter rights legislation), as well as the NLBR, infrastructure, health care, climate change, ERA and other important legislation will pass as well. America is about 70 years behind on democratic progress compared to other Western nations, so it’s good to be catching up finally.

The biggest surprise this week however was what turned up in the garden. Gran’s garden is full of yellow bearded iris she planted 40+ years ago. Nothing ever comes up but yellow. Until this year. We looked out and there in the center of the garden circle, bold as brass in the morning sun was a purple iris. Gran’s dubbed it her Easter iris. It’s purple and gold (the traditional Christian Easter colors). I’m not sure what it is frankly, sport, mutant, miracle (maybe a 1920s “Indian Chief“-named after the motorcycle?). She says it’s a sign of Easter blessings. I’m onboard with that. My grandfather died around Easter, so Easter can be tough for Gran. If this makes her feel better? Sure. Thanks, God. But I was still curious about the bloom’s origins. About how it came to be. It seems to want to be a yellow iris, and you can see that in its buds. But for some reason, it just blooms out purple.

This strange iris’s stranger arrival in my Gran’s garden got me thinking about origin stories this week. Speaking to my Da, this idea hit home with me a bit stronger. We were talking about Amazon, unions, and MLK, Jr. MLK, Jr was a big union supporter. His last speech, the night before he was killed, was to sanitation workers forming a union. And at that point, my Da said he thought “MLK, jr was assassinated for being pro-union.” Uh….what? He mentioned Loyd Jowers. Uh …who? Thus it was, I found myself looking up the Loyd Jowers’ trial.

It was interesting reading. I mean, I don’t believe it’s true. But my Da is Welsh, and unions and violence against union organizers and members is part of his cultural origin story. So murder by Pinkerton by anti-union business owners is what makes sense to him. And the fact that the King family believed it? That too made sense. The Black experience in America, still today, is police violence against innocent people of color (they don’t even have to speak out against abuse or demand the same rights and justice as every other American to be killed). This is a cultural origin story.

Because it’s Lent, I started thinking about religious origin stories. In Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, we have a lot of stories about him, but really Abraham’s story begins with the birth of Isaac. We call him Abraham, father of Isaac, or Father Abraham. But he’d lived 130 or so years before becoming a father. In Moses, we have early stories about him as well, but only when he comes upon the burning bush does his origin story actually begin. And he’s well past his prime then. But it’s that Moses who finally faces his past and leads Israel into freedom and nationhood.

In Ruth, we have an origin story that begins with her as an adult woman. A childless, married woman, who becomes a widow and then faces a worldwide famine as a foreign woman, caring for her deeply depressed mother-in-law, in a Jewish man’s world. Ruth goes from pauper to the mother of all the kings of Israel. The mother of Jesus. And In Jesus, while we have a few early stories, really his story begins at age 30. That was considered an older man in those days. If you weren’t married with kids by 30, people thought you had real issues. And yet, at this “advanced” age, probably facing questions by society about his sexuality, at a wedding in Cana … his story begins.

I think the genius of Stan Lee is that he, at some level, understood that origin stories don’t begin with our birth. They begin when we’re in full flower, as adults, and suddenly, like the iris, we turn out different than expected. Maybe we were always different. But typically, life knocked us down, around or sideways and when we got up, our story began because we were different. Captain Marvel was already an adult with mad aviation skills and living a life in service of her country, when by a twist of friendship, fate and fatal crash, her origin story began. Dr Strange was in his 40s and a successful surgeon, when his origin story began, with a car crash. Bruce Banner was a middle-aged scientist with PhDs, when the gamma rays hit. (Kudos to Avengers: Endgame for allowing Bruce and his shadow Hulk to merge, a lesson to us all.)

Over and over we see it, not just in stories, but throughout history, when life as we know it suddenly collapses out from under us, when the apocalypse happens, there comes with it also revelation — about our world, our culture, our religions, our politics, our life, ourselves. Whole societies pick themselves up and start again. And if we choose, that’s the point, no matter how advanced our age or unfavorable our circumstances, that we can choose for our origin story can begin. From seeming chaos and collapse, we can seize an opportunity and end up not just okay, but Olympian.

CSS Only Mobile Friendly Comic Book Layout – CodeMyUI
Code My UI

Wherever we are in life, whatever has happened, we can draw a line under he past and start with: “In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I . . . .” The rest is your call. “I survived, and …. I was on the frontlines and…. I left my job to help my kids with school and …. Someone I loved died and ….. I had to leave school and ….” There’s always an “and.” That “and” is up to you. It’s your origin story. Imagine your “and” life about 5 or 10 years from now. Who will you be? Where will you be? What will you be doing? Who will be with you? What will your nation be like? What about your world? If now is the start of your origin story, where is it heading in the future? What’s your story arc? Can’t think that far ahead? Ok. What’s in your next panel?

I keep a list of people who saw their life take a turn, maybe saw it all burn down, but rose up from the ashes. Sometimes literally. It teaches me people are, I am, more resilient than I imagined. My favorite phoenix is the artist who had his studio and all his work burn down — when he was 70. It’s a big loss for any artist. He was older, he could have given up. But he rebuilt, and created more and better things. This was the story of Katsushika Hokusai. His quintessential work, known the world over, is of people in boats, swept up in a Tsunami. This was a person who understood, you can ride out the worst. It’s not about the size of the wave, it’s about the tenacity, courage, and unity of the people on the boats.

I’m not a Pollyanna. Just the opposite really. I know there will be an Easter/Passover/Spring break wave of death. Driven largely by anti-mask states and variants and stupidity. People are just not understanding that most people aren’t fully vaccinated, variants might resist the vaccine, and the J&J vaccine keeps you from death and hospitalization, but you can still get ill and in your illness, you can pass it on to other people. So right now, if you go out unmasked, don’t social distance, etc, there’s 90% chance you could catch covid and you could spread covid. It’s sad, but that’s reality. And it’ll be that way for months.

Tsunami by hokusai 19th century.jpg
The Metropolitan Art Museum. Tsunami by Hokusai 19th century.

My guess is the US is on track for nearly 750K covid deaths before this all ends, really ends in 2022. That’s based on the vaccines actually working enough to stop the spread and chop the head off the variants. And people behaving themselves before and after getting those vaccines. When I tweeted last year that I expected, based on the govt’s non-response at the time, 500K deaths, people thought I was absolutely mad. Nope, just basic clear-eyed math and logic. But here we are. Bad govt, lots of death. Better govt, less death. But a govt is only as strong as it’s people. It always comes down to people.

People individually decide if they are (or are not) their brother’s keeper. The politically anti-mask, anti-vax folks? Not their brother’s keeper. Not their mother’s keeper. Not even their significant other’s keeper. It’s the highest order of selfish, anti-Christian, anti-democratic, anti-American behavior. When your neighbor’s field needs harvesting before the storm comes, you get out there with every member of your household and you pitch in. When there’s a fire, you join the bucket line. When a herd goes missing, you drop your own work and join the search party. That’s American.

When people tell me their hesitant about vaccination, I always bring up Steve Rogers. I remind them that what transformed him wasn’t his dauntless spirit and patriotic attitude. It was being brave enough to choose to endure an experimental treatment that would permanently alter him (maybe kill him) as well. Which he choose to endure, because he loved his country. He wanted to save others, and save his country. No risk was too great if it moved America toward that goal. So, for anyone wanting to start a transformation, your origin story could have no finer beginning than, “I chose to brave vaccination, for America. And then I….”

One of the things I’m most hopeful about, most looking forward to, is the next generation. The children of the last pandemic (1918-1919), became the Greatest Generation (they were born 1901-1927). Will this current pandemic generation (born 2002-2028) be our next Great Generation? Will they do great things because they grew up understanding they are fundamentally their brother’s keeper? Will they care about their whole world and everyone in it, the way the last GG did? Will they save the planet and make the world a better place?

From what I’ve seen so far? I think yes. I think they will. But of course, to do all that, they have to live. People have to live to be in the fight for justice, civil rights, climate justice, change, democracy, truth, equality…. And not just the kids, their generation of parents too. The only way they’ll live to make a difference is if we win the war on covid. And while we have masking, and distancing, and hand washing, which are all great public health tools. The scientists have given us the only real ammunition we have to end this, vaccines. So when your number comes up?

Grab that ammunition, solider. Get your vaccine. And we’ll all stay free.

Praise the Lord and pass the VACCINATION.

This entry was posted on March 12, 2021.

Me and My Shadow

Welsh Cakes Recipe - Great British Chefs
Welsh cakes. Always good with tea.

This weekend Gran and I spent time in the kitchen. The white petals of the ornamental pears beyond the windows had been mostly blown down in snowy drifts by the end of February. But now the garden is full of bursting yellow daffodils and bearded irises. The perfect backdrop making Welsh favorites, like cawl, or leek soup, or Welsh cakes, or bara brith. I shipped out batches of Welsh cakes overnight UPS on Monday, St David’s Day, to my parents and SO. And the SO, had arranged for Les Amis du Fromage to send me and my folks some Welsh cheeses, so St David’s was followed by a good St Non’s (David’s mum) and St Chad’s (David’s best bud, disciple).

I suppose it might seem a kind of cheating on Lent, to break it up with a 3-day fete of Welsh holidays. But, we’re Welsh. It’s what we do. So, I don’t have a problem with it. For the record, we also celebrate St Patrick’s too, 2 weeks after, because St Patrick was Welsh, even though his mission field was Ireland and people forget he wasn’t an Irish person. Really, given how much the pandemic has taken away, I think a few celebratory holidays were warranted. Of course if you’re not of Welsh extraction, you’ll have to find your own excuses.

Even in our celebrations, we didn’t actually break Lent. In fact, the hardest part this year was finding things to give up. Sex and meat were already off the table. So I gave up booze and all forms of chocolate. An exception made for the small amount cocoa in the Red Velvet Cake Gran made for me for a belated Valentine’s Day. I’m still debating cracking open the nigori my neighbor gifted us, for paying for the tree trimming. I mean, it’d be rude, even un-Christian, not to try it and let them know how it was, right? So yeah, good faith efforts hopefully leads to a faith that’s good.

Gran got her second Moderna vaccine shot on Tuesday afternoon. To reach the pharmacy less than 1 mile away at 4 pm, we had to start at 2:30 pm. Yep. That’s what it’s like dealing with someone in their 90s. Things move, but slowly. And then there was getting home and settled again. All totaled, 3 hours. But we had nice weather on the day. It was 14 degrees colder and rained the day after so, we were blessed to have a fine warmish day.

After 24 hrs Gran’s injections site was red and swollen. She said it felt like someone punched her in the arm. By 36 hrs, the red and swelling was 6″ in diameter around the site. But she has had no fever, muscle pain, tiredness, or any other listed side effects. So, I think things have gone rather well. Fingers crossed. I do confess to sense of relief. I know Gran is very lucky. Only 8% of the US is currently fully vaccinated. The SO hopes I can get fully vaccinated in the US in May before I return home. If I got back unvaxed, I’d have to wait till August or Sept.

He’s basing that hope on the current US vaccine manufacturing deadlines. But my guess is, I’ll miss that window. BC has a rational, not overpromised vax plan. And I’m fine with it. It’s really ok if it ends up being September in the US. So many groups of people are more at risk and need that vaccine so much more than I do. People of color, people with disabilities, prisoners, homeless, military, meat packing plant workers, farmworkers, undocumented immigrants in cramped housing conditions. I don’t mind being last in line. Vintage Poster - Rosie The Riveter 1276 - Premium Luster Photo  Paper Poster (18x24): Posters & Prints
Roll up that sleeve and get vaccinated, America.

In other news, I did finish up reading Jim Manney’s book. It was good. I’m using the examen this month. It’s in my planner. I’m not sure Jim knew it when he wrote the work but … St Ignatiaus? Very Buddhist-y. I was surprised. Maybe only a Buddhist would notice though. I really only had a couple quibbles (which I sent straight to marginalia). The was a major sticking point though. It had to do with an ancient pagan Greco-Roman point of view about man’s (and I do mean man’s, not humanity’s) place in the world order.

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

The First Principle and Foundation.

This was a common view in St Ignatius’s day, so of course it would turn up in his writings. But, it’s an idea that science and scripture has long actually rejected. You don’t save your own soul by your own means, there’s Jesus for that. The earth was created and man was created of earth to tend it. Treating everything as only good if it useful to a man’s goal and otherwise garbage to be ride of is how we got to the sorry state of modern Christianity and on the verge of ecological, planetary collapse. So yeah, there’s that.

I’m not sure why the author failed to notice the saint was wrong. Perhaps because he’s so used to the idea of accepting what a saint said is infallibly correct, he can’t realise it’s false? People can be followers of Jesus, and still be dead wrong. It happens — a lot.

John Singer Sargent drawings
Nice shadow. John Singer Sargent, “W. B. Yeats,” charcoal on paper, 1908, Private collection.

Anyway, that blind spot of the author got me thinking about shadows of the past, and shadows in general. I find shadows interesting. For an artist, without shadow, there’s nothing. It’s just a white page with lines. It’s shadowing the brings out form, that fills out the picture, that brings it to life. And that’s something that’s true of real people as well. To be fully ourselves, we need to understand and accept our shadow half. Shadow selves are something we all have. I use the term here to mean that which is usually unconscious. It’s there, but we don’t acknowledge it. We don’t want to see it and have to own it and deal with it. Whatever “it” is. But choosing blindness can often lead to tragic outcomes.

In the portrait of Yates above, we see a study in blindness. It’s the only image of him without his glasses, without which, he was blind. Why did he let Sargent draw him this way? In 1889, he met a girl and fell in love. She refused repeated marriage proposals, and ultimate married another in 1903. But they never really fell out of love. Maud’s marriage was disaster. Ultimately she ended up in Paris, in 1905 asking for a divorce. There, in 1908, she and Yates re-connected and finally consummated their 10-year relationship. But after that night, things fell apart. For Maud it was one and done.

And so Sargent gives us a portrait of Yates as he was, as he could see Yates was, blinded. Yates ignored the fact Maud married another. Ignored her conversion to Catholicism. He lived in a fantasy where Maud, heiress, actress, suffragette, Irish revolutionary was his muse. But she was really, I think, a reflection of his shadow self. She was in life, the person he wanted to be but couldn’t allow himself to be. Without her, he was in darkness, blind. He preferred not to look at his own shadow and change. Sargent was a master of pulling shadows of truth out of people, and putting them on canvas. So of course, in general he was disliked for it.

Scarlet Witch In Doctor Strange Multiverse, Wandavision
Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch

For anyone watching WandaVision (a show I confess I have not seen, I just read about the episodes on Wikipedia), you see a portrait of someone resisting their shadow. Wanda went through a trauma, the death of her lover, Vision. The pain was too much to deal with, so she shut off to that painful reality. To do that, she had to shut off her shadow self, The Scarlet Witch. But the SW is what makes Wanda fully, truly her 3-D self and not some 2-dimensional sitcom version of herself. The SW is the shadow she won’t acknowledge.

The shadow self is powerful, too powerful to ever be shut down completely. The shadow can be a creative force for good, when recognized and worked with. But it can be a destructive force when rejected and suppressed. But how do you find your shadow so that you can work with it? Good question. The shadow self turns up, makes itself heard, in all sorts of interesting ways. I’ll try to give you some examples.

I happened to catch a few minutes of a Sunday morning politics show this weekend. The host, a woman, was interviewing a male GOP US House member or Senator. And when she’d ask a question, he’d reply, “We have to win. We have to win first. Then we can enact our agenda.” Political parties run on their agenda. They win on the strength of their agenda. But in his mind, these had become two separate things. The winning was completely apart, divorced from, the normal rational agenda. The obsession with winning made clear the shadow self knew the agenda was nonexistent or so repugnant it could not be said.

The Al Jolson/Billy Rose version.

A few days later I happened upon a snippet of a dot dot dot media interview with the Q shaman, who is now in prison. When asked if he regretted his allegiance to the former president, he replied he didn’t regret his allegiance at all. He then went on to say he was picked on as a child at home and in school, and he saw the media as picking on the former president. In other words, the shaman was projecting his own issues onto — the most powerful man in the world. Instead of recognizing his shadow — an adult with agency, a white male with inherent societal privilege — he chose staying in victim mode via the former president.

Many Christians make rejecting the shadow self a full time job, even though “in the love of Christ and his forgiveness” is exactly the kind of place you want to be when exploring the shadows. You don’t see Christians picketing divorce lawyers or billionaires, even though Jesus talked a lot about divorce and greed. They’re focusing on things never mentioned by Christ and not at all or barely mentioned in the Bible (abortion, gender identity, bathrooms, stem cells in covid vaccines). Rather than face their own shadows in their own lives, and those in their faith, the Church has them externalize those shadows, into fears and hatreds foisted onto innocent others.

Colin Kapernick taking a knee was a man showing a light. But whenever you show a light, you see the shadows. I didn’t care about his taking a knee. I didn’t have a problem saying yeah, racism is real in America. But other people sure did. And that is often what happens when people see their shadows. Even if you’re not a racist, maybe you come from an area that traditionally practices racism as part of the culture. You carry with you an unresolved shadow of guilt, shame, anger. But instead of dealing with that, acknowledging you are not racist, but racism is a societal problem. You get defensive. You suddenly make it about America, you start “defending America.”

The 1619 Project wordmark.jpg
Maybe read it, and consider, before you let your shadow self out.

This is where I think the 1619 Project hit a nerve. People who can’t stand to hear the bad as well as the good things about America have probably overly invested in “American” as an identity. And they do this to shut down the shadow self, all the rest of who they are. But when the shadows are made plane about America, these folks tend to freak out. It’s not about 1619, slavery, racism or even America. It’s about their sudden confrontation with the reality shadow causing an identity crisis. Healthy people can say honestly I’m American. I love America. I have no problem with people pointing up difficult things about America.

I suspect this kind of “shock of the shadow” identity crisis happens a lot with military and law enforcement. There’s an ideal image of self, as hero, savior. People go into theses professions for noble reasons. But then reality sets in. Lines get crossed. The noble reasons start to paper over or hide shadows we don’t want to see, our love of control or violence. We feel shame. We bury it. And when the shadows are buried? Instead of being dealt with and incorporated to allow us to be more fully human, they become rejected and angry. And then things get way worse.

Jan 6th was an example of whole lot of people, Christians, law enforcement, the military, Q anons, all running from their shadows. Like Wanda, when you have people who can’t face themselves, they certainly can’t face reality. Therefore, they inhabit a partitioned self. And that’s always a fragile state because at any time, the wall might come down. People would rather believe the election was stolen, so they can be saving democracy. They’d rather believe in a satanic pedophile ring, so they can be saving children. They want to see themselves as heroes, to be seen as such. But the only way to be a hero is to first be fully ourselves and face reality as it is.

From 1962 version. It’s about interracial friendship in a time when the Civil Rights movement was in full court press mode. It’s bringing out in the open an issue that’d been in the shadow.

If you want to know more about your own shadow self, consider your dreams. Dreams often come from the unconscious mind. Dreams can be the silent part, talking aloud. Another way you might see your shadow is meditation. Stuff comes up in mediation. People find themselves suddenly laughing or crying and don’t know why. The Shadow knows. A fun way of catching a glimpse of your shadow is just by watching TV. Pick an episode you really enjoyed this week, and watch it a second time a few days later. What really spoke to you the first time you watched it, that when you re-watched seemed quite different to what heard and saw the first time? That first impression, might have been your shadow trying to point itself out.

I’m going to wrap up here with a couple thoughts about change and acceptance. Things change, about our world, ourselves, everything. We can accept that, and we can become fully ourselves, shadows and light, in the real world. We can have agency. We can be a creative force for good. Or we can reject change, reject reality, reject ourselves. We can become a weaker, less stable, even mentally unhinged version of ourselves. It’s a choice. It shouldn’t be a difficult one. Reality will go on being real, whether you accept it or not. Night becomes day. Winter becomes spring. Old ways give way to new ones.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Through the long night of pandemic, we have clung to the light in each other. But when the sun finally rises again, do not be afraid to see your own shadow. It was there all along. There was always light, even in the darkness, and darkness even in the light. The interplay, the balance, the dance of light and shadow is what makes us all real and beautiful and magical.Through the long night of pandemic, we have clung to the light in each other. But when the sun finally rises again, do not be afraid to see your own shadow. It was there all along. There was always light, even in the darkness, and darkness even in the light. The interplay, the balance, the dance of light and shadow is what makes us all real and beautiful and magical.

Ar Hyd y Nos (sort of spirit of, English version)

This entry was posted on March 5, 2021.