Ladies of the Porch: Let’s step up!

Hey, Lori, AlaskaPi, the two Terri(y)s, Auntie Jean, Penom, and all the rest of you who have, a bit, just thrown in the proverbial towel… And, yes, even you, UAW Tradesman – so long out of touch, and now back as you’ve always been…

I have no idea why these spammers have gotten on this site, or why they want to trash it. I doubt they’re even humans. I have some idea of a bunch of computer-generated messages, just being pumped out there, with a collection of words that hardly make any sense, even though some of them are incredibly funny in their awkwardness. 

Actually, I think I DO know… This is a liberal/progressive platform. The old doughy white guys don’t like it. Eff ’em.

Let’s try to take over again, shall we? I know a lot of you have already done that. Want to let you know I’m ponying up, too.



Smoke and Mirrors, “Re-branding,” and That Little Guy Behind the Curtain…

Spoiler Alert: This is political. I try not to do much of this, which is pretty strange of me, because I AM a political/social creature, and I care a lot about this kind of thing.

The following is based on a post I did recently on one of my favorite other blogs, I wrote it in response to someone’s wondering why a health care “mandate” should be considered a different animal from any number of the many other legal “mandates” with which the majority of us manage to live, even if we don’t always like them. We usually accept them because we believe they generally serve the well-being of most of us. Taxes. Drivers licenses. Homeowner’s insurance. Folding up our tray tables for takeoff and landing. And so on… She didn’t think it should be, and neither do I.

We are a huge and diverse country, and we like to think of ourselves as a just nation, a fair nation, a nation that welcomes the oppressed and downtrodden, a unique land of vast opportunity for all. We look, with no small amount of prideful disdain, on countries where the rights of some are severely restricted; where innocent people are hounded, tortured, incarcerated, or even slaughtered, simply because of their ethnicity, their faith, or because of whom they love; where voting is difficult or even life-threatening; where industries treat their workers like so much disposable chattel; where a small percentage of very wealthy people indulge themselves while children go hungry… We call those countries “backward,” or “Medieval,” or “repressive.” And indeed they are. This is America, and when we see these things happening in some other country, we scorn them, and we scorn any “justification” for them, as well. But when laws are proposed, and even passed, that encourage and allow such things to happen here, something very interesting is usually involved…

In an attempt to make these mandates more palatable to the citizenry as a whole, they are frequently justified, and their real intentions obscured, by “re-branding” them, by draping them generously in the cloak of some long-standing, and widely-accepted, “American value” – something unassailable – something like the sacred vestments of “the free market,” or the armor of “homeland security,” or the costume of “individual liberty.” And then they are packaged and aggressively marketed, in their new outfits, like so much sugar-laden, fat-packed, “all natural,” breakfast cereal.

If you happen to feel that access to reasonably-priced medical care should continue to be an optional luxury, so be it; you are welcome to object to any sort of “affordable care” for anyone, including yourself. However, if you object not to the concept, but purely and simply to the individual to whose name that concept has currently been (correctly) attached, it is my humble opinion that you have been led astray, and on purpose. It was difficult to convince people that something called the “Affordable Care Act” is, in fact, a direct and overreaching governmental assault on their personal liberties, but “Obamacare” is an easy target, for reasons most of us know, and which don’t need to be enumerated, once again, by me – even though I’m tempted!

Here’s what I consider to be another good example of this kind of thing: Not long ago, the “patriarch” of the “Duck Dynasty” (a show I’ve never seen, and don’t plan to see, although maybe I should, just because…) incited a few moments of Public Outrage by making some pretty inflammatory remarks about homosexuality, and his personal opinion about the subject. Then, a few weeks ago, while checking out at my local grocery store, I saw the cover of one of the weekly tabloid mags, featuring a smiling photo of said “patriarch” and his wife, with the headline, “Defending Our Beliefs.” With just those three little words, homophobia was dressed up in the red, white, and blue, star-spangled, “American values” outfit, and a bigot was presented as a Great American Hero.

A majority of Americans find homophobia unacceptable. But what Real American can possibly argue with the idea of “defending our beliefs,” no matter how repulsive those beliefs might be? So the issue of what was actually said was quickly obliterated by subsuming it to a grand premise with which no Real American could justifiably argue.

Impressive, isn’t it? “Re-branding” at its finest. It works to make mixed-breed shelter dogs more acceptable to potential adopters (“Congratulations! You’ve chosen our very finest Franco-Germanic Sheltiepiterrier!”), and it too often works for prejudice and repression. People are inclined to buy into what things are named, not what they obviously are. Laws designed to prevent union organizing are called “right to work” laws. Brilliant. The “Heritage Foundation” has little to do with our “heritage,” unless you happen to consider our “heritage” to be one of justifying and protecting plutocracy. And, just to be fair, the “news desk” at The Daily Show is a platform that uses “news” only as the starting point for comedy and opinion. (At least the fact that the program is carried by Comedy Central gives us a fairly broad hint about that…)

This kind of “re-branding” happens ALL THE TIME. Universal health care is called “communism,” or “government overreach.” Corporations are ruled to be “people.” Spending money is determined to be a form of “speech.” Domestic spying is labeled a necessary component of “homeland security.” “The Market” is consistently declared to have “wisdom,” a trait formerly associated only with living human beings. And the more these things are repeated, the more we begin to feel they just might, possibly, be… “true.”

We are told, essentially, that we should “…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” as the scowling disembodied head continues to growl through the billowing smoke… But isn’t that little guy the one who’s really pulling all the levers…? Isn’t he?

Where, oh where, is darling Toto, when we really need him?


The Myth of Certainty

Who with question 6-27-10

Have you ever come across someone who just has to be “right” all the time? I’m not just talking about someone with a strongly-held opinion, even one bolstered by any number of well-curated “facts” and supportive “sources.” I’m talking about someone who makes it very clear, if inadvertently, that his or her entire understanding of the Universe and its functioning, and his or her place in it, will be totally obliterated by having to say, even once, something like, “I’m not really sure,” or “You have an interesting point there,” or even, “Hey… How should I know?”

Someone who has to be right all the time exhibits an impressive vigilance. In any disagreement, he or she may quickly summon a phrase or two as the first line of defense: (1) “If you knew the facts, you’d see that I am right,” or (2) “Everybody agrees that…” If these fail to persuade you (at least to give up, if not to agree), you are then likely to hear some version of, “I just can’t waste my time with you any more on this right now; I have to cut my toenails/blow my nose/go see if the mail’s come yet/check my emails/scratch my backside.”

People who must be right all the time do not recognize the validity of opinions, hunches, or intuition, because these things are not easily proven “right” or “wrong.” They do not have “opinions,” ever; they have “well-reasoned conclusions” based firmly on their collection of “facts.” (Fortunately, it is a relatively simple task for any of us to select any number of opinions, from anywhere, label them as “facts” simply because someone else said them, and proceed with our arguments.)

The older I get, the more comfortable I have become with the notion that I do not actually know EVERYTHING (although I know plenty); that I AM wrong from time to time, and that nobody dies – not even myself – from my acknowledging these revelations.

Real “facts,” I have come to believe, are actually few and far between – but many an opinion can be found all tricked out in a Shiny New Fact Outfit… Is the proverbial glass half full, or half empty? It’s both. Is the person who eats half a pizza really “on a diet” just because he used to eat an entire pie at one sitting? Yes… And no. Half a pie may well be a “diet” for that person, and considered wanton indulgence by someone else who regularly scrapes half the cheese off a single slice before eating just one.

Ideologies, religions, economic theories, moralities, and almost all of the other Big Things, are based on hunches, opinions, inclinations, and feelings – and on our backgrounds, both personal and cultural. Every proponent, of every position, brings along a suitcase packed with his or her personal load of “facts.” And then we argue not about the beliefs, but about whose “facts” are the best. Of course, we don’t know any more about that than we do about any number of other things, but it rarely slows us down…

Generally, our yearning for certainty causes little harm, and enables us to move along in our lives with optimism and good cheer. But when one, and only one, obsessive ideology is brought to bear in a given situation, and labeled a certainty, we are very likely to get into trouble – sometimes serious trouble. This, it seems to me, is why sound bites, clever phrases, slogans, and “memes” are so dangerous, especially when dealing with the Big Things. They are single-minded and exclusionary, and designed to shut down any possibility of thoughtful debate. In short, they suggest that they – and only they – are “facts,” and that they are CERTAIN.

I have never seen any real certainty, anywhere, in the living natural world. There are plenty of likely probabilities, and a world of potentialities, but I am hard-pressed to think of any natural law that always functions in precisely the same way, without fail, in every single case. Why would any of us think that only we humans, in the midst of all this, might find any real certainty?

It seems to me that the real wonder of life, and the essence of creativity in all its forms, is the very opposite of certainty – life is full of contradiction, mystery, surprise, unthinkable tragedy, unanticipated joy, unpredictability, unforeseen consequences, and absolute nonsense. I believe it was designed to be exactly what it is. Real certainty comes only when life ends – at least as far as we know!

But, as I’m well aware, this is just my opinion, isn’t it?


“The Hospital”

When I was younger, I used to watch soap operas during my self-assigned lunch breaks. I worked at home, and ate my daily sandwich as a visitor to “Salem,” a mythical small town populated by an ever-conflicted, and often curiously inbred, bunch of characters inhabiting the “Days of Our Lives.”

This modest all-American village, “Salem,” was evidently home to a magnificent “Hospital,” where most of the residents spent more than half their convoluted lives, suffering there everything from difficult childbirths (with questionable paternity claims), to potentially terminal diseases of suspicious origin, to psychosomatic nervous breakdowns, to severely disfiguring burn injuries and the inevitable accompanying losses of memory and identity.

“The Hospital” was a Parallel Universe in Salem. Almost everyone who lived in Salem was apparently a doctor, a nurse, a receptionist, an administrator, an orderly, an EMT, a volunteer “Candy Striper,” and, of course, at least a part-time patient, at “The Hospital.” (Many an episode ended with a slow fade on a close-up of a pivotal character breathing laboriously with a respirator, with his or her face entirely swathed in bandages…) “The Hospital” was a complex and mysterious labyrinth of patient rooms, operating rooms, waiting rooms, cafeterias, elevators, corridors, offices, and storage rooms, in which at least eighty percent of the interpersonal relationships in all of Salem were begun, nurtured, furthered, and sometimes – excitingly – culminated. Nobody important really existed, and nothing significant ever really happened, outside “The Hospital.” (If they did, they inevitably led directly to… “The Hospital.”) That’s the way it was in Salem and, I assumed, in every other hospital in the world.

At that point in my life, I hadn’t had much personal “hospital experience,” other than visiting my parents during their more frequent visits there, as they grew older. In the last few years, I myself seem to be growing older, and so have had more cause to find myself a “voluntary” patient in our local hospital. (So far, my visits have all been as an outpatient, and only one required emergency orthopedic surgery, so my experience is still somewhat limited.)

I never look forward to going to “The Hospital,” and I’ve often wondered why, considering that the reason for my going to “The Hospital” in the first place is inevitably to investigate and/or solve some problem that’s cropped up; the experience itself has never been particularly unpleasant; and the results – so far – have always been positive. So what’s my problem?

It’s this: Going to “The Hospital” requires that I actually enter that Parallel Universe, rather than just observing it while eating my sandwich – a place where I am a confused stranger, unknown by all, not knowing where to go or what to do, with no idea what’s going to happen to me. Yes; the Hospital Staff “explains” everything that’s going to happen, using words that are as unthreatening as possible… But I know damned well that an “entry site” is a HOLE, a “procedure” is really an OPERATION, involving sharp cutting instruments, and we all know what “you may experience some mild discomfort” really means…

But, more than that, going to “The Hospital” requires the voluntary removal and leaving behind of all the little talismans we’ve chosen, over the years, to display to the world who we’ve decided we are: Jewelry, clothing, nail polish, lipstick, all “identification” other than a medical insurance card and a credit card, and, of course, the sturdy plastic wristband that makes our total surrender perfectly clear to all. We must set aside being Our Own Person, and become The Hospital’s Person. We will go where they tell us to go, stuff all of our clothing into the plastic bag they’ve given us, wear the “gown” and the non-skid socks everybody wears, lie down where they tell us to lie down, for as long as they tell us to lie there, sit up, roll over, and take a deep breath when they tell us to take a deep breath. We will do everything they tell us to do, and nothing we may “feel” like doing. Our most strongly-held convictions are stuffed into that plastic bag with our sweatpants and teeshirt and underwear, and our rapier wit, our many accomplishments, our plans for the future, and our personal relationships, matter not one whit in The Hospital. The only things that matter are the beeps on the heart and oxygen-level monitors to which we have been attached, whether or not we’ve had anything to eat or drink in the last twelve hours, and the suitability of our veins for the insertion of an IV…

Of course, this is exactly the way everything SHOULD be. I want a surgeon who looks at “me” as an assemblage of organs, tissues, and veins pretty much like every other assemblage of organs, tissues, and veins he or she has ever encountered. I want him or her to be operating – literally – in very familiar territory, where there is nothing special at all, anywhere, about “me.” I want nothing to be amiss, or out of order, other than the specific problem he or she intends to remedy. (If there’s any place I really don’t want to hear anybody say something like, “Oh, s**t; what’s this?” it’s while I’m lying flat on my back, half-naked and half-stoned, on a table in the OR…)

I’ve worked hard recently to put aside the notion that I must somehow present myself as The Best Patient Ever, or the Nicest Patient, or make sure the doctor “knows” me, to reassure myself that he or she will do an especially good job on me – a notion based on what I hope is the profoundly mistaken idea that a surgeon applies a level of competency determined by how much he or she “cares” about a particular patient. I’ve never felt successful in this effort on my part, and for that failure I now realize that I am grateful. What I really want, despite all my ego-driven (and therefore misdirected) attempts to the contrary, is a surgeon whose focus is unshakably dedicated to the success of the job at hand – every job – and not on his or her appraisal of the worthiness of the client, even if that client is my usually charming, and ever-so-special, self. In my own professional life, I’ve done some pretty terrific work for clients I didn’t know well, and even for some I grew to detest. I doubt that anything’s much different, after all, in “The Hospital”… I may need to think I’m “special,” but those who work in “The Hospital” know that I am, in the most basic ways, just like everyone else – no better, and no worse. On the table, with life and death at hand, we are all pretty much the same.

And that’s worth remembering.




I thought I made up that word; I didn’t, as a quick internet check revealed. It’s the first word that appears under “dyss,” for whatever that’s worth.

The entire universe of “somnia,” “insomnia,” and “dyssomnia” meant absolutely nothing to me, until 2:30 AM, one night toward the end of June – when I sat bolt upright in bed, wide awake, in a state of total panic, for no reason, whatsoever, that I could discern. My heart was pounding; the brain hamsters were full-tilt-boogie on their wheel in my head, and I had no idea what was going on.

I am usually fairly skilled at determining what’s happening with me, having spent decades working on honing my ability to do that, but not this time. We were in the middle of a quick holiday, staying at a place I love in New Hampshire, and I could think of no reason why I should be awake at that hour, and near-hysterical. I calmed down somewhat, after not too long, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat in the dark, looking at the clock, watching the digital numbers change, one by one. Dawn eventually came. I was exhausted.

The next night was the same. The third day, we came home, as planned. And nothing changed. I dug into the internet, the perfect thing to do around 3:30 am. There is an unbelievable amount of information on “sleep disorders” out there, as some of you may already know. I tried all kinds of things; I lay in bed, wide awake, thinking if I just lay there long enough, and didn’t move, eventually I’d fall asleep. Didn’t happen. Our bedroom was already the recommended “cool and dark,” with no TV… And that didn’t seem to matter, either. The nights wore on. I felt worse and worse. The weeks began to add up – stuporous days and sleepless nights. I dreaded getting into bed, convinced that I wasn’t going to sleep. I began to worry that I’d forgotten “how” to sleep, knowing that thought was ridiculous. Several times I found myself in a state I’d never experienced before: I really could not tell whether I was awake or asleep.

One very early morning (and they all were, by then), something, from the Great Somewhere Else, came to me: For the first time in decades, I was afraid of the dark – in dreadful fear of abandoning myself to that darkness by yielding to the relative oblivion of sleep. I wasn’t afraid of childhood monsters, or of losing my way, or of being jumped from the shadows… I was afraid of the darkness itself, of entering the Valley of the Shadow of Death… Then it all began to be interesting. This meant something to me; I felt I was being shown something very important.

These past few years, I have become more and more aware that Mr. Death has been sitting on my spiritual porch all along – not pushing to come in just yet, but there, nevertheless. Just a presence, neither malevolent nor benevolent. Just there. I think the dyssomnia has been the Universe insisting that I need to take very conscious note of this fact, whether I like it or not. Oddly, I don’t particularly dislike being aware of this. I very much don’t like not sleeping, but that presence on my porch doesn’t bother me much. Trying to ignore it, with all my most willful and determined efforts, was taking far more energy than just acknowledging it. Besides, there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.

This was no “cram course” in reality. After more than two months, things began to gradually return to what had always been “normal” for me, and that I had so taken for granted. I almost wept the first morning I realized I’d slept for almost six hours. During those months, not being able to sleep was an absolute obsession. The only time I wasn’t thinking about it, and what to “do” about it, was when I was so exhausted I couldn’t think about anything, period. I had “done” a lot of things: I started working with a naturopath; had all kids of lab testing done; started taking a lot of herbal supplements; and changed my diet drastically. Some of these things – or all of them – probably had an effect, but I have no idea how to connect any of those things specifically with the gradual withdrawal of my sleepless nights. I don’t know why those nights came when they did, and I don’t know why they stopped. I don’t know if they will come again. I suspect not, because I think I may have gotten the lesson… And, if they do, I will be at least in familiar territory, if not a comfortable one.

We believe we live only in the light, should love only the light. We do all we can to dispel darkness wherever we find it. We work “night shifts;” commerce and travel go on twenty-four-seven; we start “holiday shopping” at midnight on Thanksgiving night, or earlier; clubs don’t even begin to start “happening” until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. We push ourselves into the night to study, to party, or to work. We have constructed all kinds of “night life,” all of which have absolutely nothing to do with accepting the darkness, and what that darkness has to offer us. I did all of these things for years, without a single thought about “defying the darkness.” I think we have forgotten what darkness is about, how essential it is to our lives and well-being, and how to be in it, and of it – at least, evidently, I had.

All of life begins in darkness. We come from the darkness of the womb; we return to the darkness of death. Darkness is the great incubator, the great healer. Without darkness, we would not know the light we so embrace. We would not even see the stars were they not cast against the great darkness of space.

The author China Galland has written, in her book Longing for Darkness/Tara and the Black Madonna, “This is a multivalent darkness. This is the darkness of ancient wisdom… of space, of the womb, of the earth, of the unknown, of sorrow, of the imagination, the darkness of death, of the human heart, of the unconscious, of the darkness beyond light…”

This the darkness I’ve met and, difficult as the introduction has been, I am grateful for it.


“The horror… the horror…”


Marlon Brando says these words of Joseph Conrad’s, near the dark end of the deeply powerful film Apocalypse Now…

What happened last week in Boston was surely the act of a heart of great darkness.

But an uncomfortable thought still sits with me, even after the death of one, and capture of the other, of the alleged perpetrators… I’m surprised how strongly I’m feeling this – how this Demon In A Box just won’t go away. I want to be filled only with patriotism, and shock, and grief, and – now – some sort of relief. On some level, I am… But not entirely. There is this Demon that will not take its leave of me…

This Demon is the awareness that this kind of thing happens all the time in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Miserystan, and all over the world. It happens where people gather to pray, and at markets, coffee shops, weddings, funerals, anywhere… Eight-year-old Afghan children are blown to bits in an instant; Pakistani mothers have their arms or legs torn from their bodies by concussive weapons; hundreds of people are killed, or suffer horrendous injuries, with soul-numbing regularity.

And none of them are taken to Mass General, or Brigham and Women’s, or Beth Israel, or any of the other world-class medical facilities that exist in Boston. They simply bleed and die on the streets of their villages… There are no non-stop “special reports,” no massive manhunts, no promises made that those responsible will feel “the full weight of justice.” Their families and loved ones feel only the crushing weight of grief.

And we feel next to nothing.

When this kind of thing happens here, it is an “unspeakable crime against the innocent.” When it happens there, it is “collateral damage” – just another news bite, before dinner. Then, suddenly, we feel the Universe has tilted, and that something has somehow gone horribly “wrong,” when it happens in our front yard, in what has become, for at least a week, our Boston.

It’s horribly wrong when it happens anywhere… That’s the Demon thought that refuses to leave me alone – that the Universe sees no difference between Kabul and Boston, and does not judge the good or evil of any human action on the basis of geography.

This Demon will not let me sit comfortably with the thought that Boston is somehow “different”… That, somehow, bystanders in Boston are more innocent than bystanders in Kabul… And that the perpetrators of such carnage here are more evil than the perpetrators of the same carnage there… Especially if those perpetrators, in some cases, are ourselves.

I think this particular Demon must be my conscience – and today it does not seem willing to be contained.


A Helpful Device


I came up with the little item pictured above a while ago, and it’s something I really wish I possessed in a form more operable than a drawing… It’s The Serenotron (trademarked and patent pending, just in case), capable of monitoring and displaying the overall stress level in a person’s life, 24/7, if desired. It lets you know how close to – or far from – achieving true Serenity you are at any moment of the day or night. (Hmmm… Suddenly, even that idea is sounding a little stressful… Thus underscoring the very reason I need it!)

The Serenotron is basically absolutely silent, glowing with a soft ambient light, but is also capable of playing appropriate music, when so directed – everything from Philip Glass on the left, to Buddhist chants on the right. It is fully manufactured and operable without consuming any fossil fuels; assembled and packaged by reasonably-paid individuals over the age of eighteen, working in well-ventilated, comfortable establishments with their own employee lounges, fitness centers, and free, locally-sourced, organic cafeterias; work days no longer than six hours; and a work week no longer than four days, with two weeks’ paid vacation to start. The unit is offered at a modest price, and available at no charge to those struggling in financial straits – who probably need Serenity most of all. (I like to at least try to think globally and responsibly…)

The various categories on each unit are custom-tailored to each purchaser’s individual specifications, based on responses to a detailed questionnaire. (Sadly, the completion of that questionnaire, in itself, often eliminates the need for purchase of the unit, but I’m willing to suffer those consequences, for the greater good.) It’s apparent here that there are some highly personal categories of my own on the unit pictured above – but I know exactly what they are – and you would know yours equally well.

The unit is not operable from your laptop, tablet, cell phone, or other mobile device. In fact, any time the Serenotron senses any of those devices in operation within ten feet of its location, its needle begins to move inexorably toward the left… This movement takes place no matter what the specific nature of the activity being pursued on said device – checking Facebook will result in exactly the same amount of movement as working on your dissertation. (We thank the inventor’s creative wisdom for the inclusion of this particular feature. In the world of The Serenotron, there is no “good stress” or “bad stress.” There is only Stress…)

It should be noted that the Serenotron does not, and cannot, register any of the following: The weather; the time of the month; any upcoming holidays and/or relatives; anything anyone else just said or did to you; the receipt of any robocall; “news” from any source; the course or result of any political campaign; any knock on the door; or any physical anomaly, of any magnitude, occurring at any time in your body, among many other things. The Serenotron is oblivious to outside events; its only focus is YOU. That’s the whole point.

I need this little device, since I am so often totally unaware of those moments when my needle begins to move inexorably toward the left, until the unit – and I – are both already well on our way out of “Iffy,” and heading for “Bad”… And then, so often, beyond…

We’ve become accustomed to our little devices that remind us of all our appointments, all our phone numbers and email addresses, tell us where we are (so to speak), and inform us of every single thing that someone thinks is happening in the Universe – from a meteor’s striking Siberia to the ongoing debate as to whether or not the currently pregnant Kim Kardashian is getting fat. It seems to me that we could all use some little reminders, from time to time, to PAY ATTENTION to what’s going on within ourselves. The Serenotron is designed to measure just one thing, and one thing only: Its owner’s current spiritual location anywhere between “Really Bad” and “Buddha World.” And that’s why I need it – because where I am on that scale is the only thing that really matters.


In The Land of the Red Queen

Illustration by Carol Nicklaus from Out of Order, by Dale Carlson, published by Bick Publishing, 2014

Illustration by Carol Nicklaus from Out of Order, by Dale Carlson, Bick Publishing, 2014

“We are all mad here.”
The Cheshire Cat, from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

I woke up this morning with my mind in the strangest place… It was “curiouser and curiouser”… A real wonderland of confusion, and I was quite astonished that I’d never really noticed some of this strangeness before.

It went kind of like this:

Many people have said – and more so, recently – that they feel they need weapons, and lots of them, not only for sport or self-defense, but to stand against “the government,” should our government decide to take over the country. And I thought, “But isn’t the government already sort of in charge of the country? And, if we’re patriots, and we love our democracy, isn’t one of the things we love most is the fact that We, The People, actually choose our government? Isn’t the fact that our government has been designed to represent us the very thing that makes our country so special? And, if that’s the case, why would anyone think we might need to protect ourselves against that very thing?”

“Well, yes,” I then thought, trying to make some sense of this line of thinking, to myself, “There are certainly some things that ‘the government’ does that we don’t particularly like, but isn’t that what’s so unique about our democracy – the ability of citizens to change what the government does, in a peaceful and democratic way? Isn’t that what makes us different from Mali, or Iraq, or Syria, and one of the primary reasons we are always so sure that we need to convince other countries that our way is better, even if we have to blast them into oblivion while doing that convincing?”

Our way is better, isn’t it? If it is, how could anyone think our government is going to turn against us? Isn’t that very thought kind of – you know – unpatriotic? And if our system really isn’t better than other systems, then we’d have to become a country full of heavily armed paramilitary cells, fueled by paranoia, ever ready for armed combat with genuine or imagined enemies… OMG! We’d be Afghanistan! That would be awful! Then the government really would have to take over…

And then I thought… “Uh-oh…”

And then I got even more confused… What about our flag? Doesn’t that flag symbolize our government – the government we choose to represent us? If that flag doesn’t represent us, and our government, why are some people waving it, with special fervor, over their personal, and secret, arsenals that they’ve accumulated in order to protect themselves from… The government?

And isn’t the Second Amendment itself part of the foundation of that government? If so, why are some people “defending” just that one part, and not the whole thing? And, if we all have the right to bear arms, why would anyone be worried that the government might find out how vigorously he or she is exercising that right, and object to documenting, openly, the extent to which he or she is doing so? Are there any other rights we feel we are granted, but must exercise only in secret, lest the government sweep in and take them away from us?

This was all making less and less sense to me, but it just wouldn’t go away…

“Okay,” I thought, still trying to figure it all out, “Maybe the government is secretly being taken over by liberals or Jews or commies or fascists or Hispanics or Asians or blacks or bankers or homosexuals who want to take away all of our guns so only they will have them, and we’ll be helpless.” (And then, for a moment, I got somewhat distracted by the image of a bunch of LGBT activists in full camo, carrying assault weapons, roaming the streets and menacing our children and pets and the American Way of Life… And then I was brought back to this seemingly growing-ever-more-strange confusion of the morning, by the realization that not everybody finds that image as unlikely as I do. I also think the idea of a “zombie apocalypse” is equally remote, but, by this time, I thought I might be losing my grip…)

Still, it didn’t stop there. Next, I thought, “Well, if the government really decides to take over, how would they do that? They would use American troops, wouldn’t they? And wouldn’t these be the same troops we all support, especially if we’re Real American Patriots? And don’t our troops pledge to support… the United States of America…? Isn’t that what they fight and die to protect? If that’s not us, who is it?”

If American soldiers came to our front doors, to enforce the “government takeover”… What would Real Americans do then – try to kill them? Our own troops!? And I wondered how many of the people stocking up on weapons and freeze-dried food packets and batteries and toilet paper, against the possibility of that “government takeover,” are veterans themselves, who swore to uphold that very pledge…

And I wondered how anybody could think that he or she, even with dozens of hand-held “assault weapons” and endless ammunition, would last very long if seriously attacked by the full force of the United States military machine, the most powerful in the world – with planes and ships and ground-to-air missiles and drones and tanks and chemicals and nuclear weapons… As well, apparently, as possibly having to fend off tens of thousands of their less-prepared fellow Americans, who would be clamoring desperately at their doors for food and shelter… Fellow Americans who had obviously been less than sufficiently Patriotic and prepared, and therefore must also be considered “enemies”…

It was right about then that I realized that my mistake was probably looking for reason, where only conviction exists.

And that’s when I thought of the Land of the Red Queen, and the Cheshire Cat.


The Wisdom of Bears


I’m thinking these days that bears may be on to something… Hibernation. The older I get, the more appealing that idea becomes. There’s always Florida, or innumerable other year-round warm places, but I’m looking for the best way to live in the environment I’ve come to love – a place of cycles and changes – of greening summers and frozen winters.

So here I still am, once again, probably more than halfway through what really hasn’t been a “bad” New England winter. As was the case last year, we seem to have gotten our big snows around Hallowe’en. But, that aside, as always in a place like here, the days get shorter until they hardly seem to matter at all, and nights now begin in what used to be the middle of the afternoon. And it’s cold – everything from “chilly” to, “Damn! It’s freezing out there!”

I am not a winter sports person. I do not look forward to layering on the thermal underwear and puffy jacket, strapping on special footwear, and well-waxed extensions to that footwear, and swooping down anything. (I am actually quite concerned about the possibility that I may accidentally “swoop down” my own front steps.) I made my last snow angel probably more than forty years ago. I find looking at snow-covered evergreens quite lovely, and so is the sight of the red flashing light on top of the snowplow grinding its way down my street. My idea of a Perfect Winter Day includes (1) Not having to leave the house; (2) A big fire in the woodstove; (3) Something delicious simmering away in the slow cooker all day long; and (4) A really good book and/or a functioning computer.

Given these facts, I find the idea of hibernating – say, from December 1 through March 31 of any given calendar year – more and more attractive. Just hunker down and rest, in a warm and quiet place. Prepare for it. Eat a lot. Acquire the required stores of fat (something I seem to be inclined to do, anyway). Then go lie down where we won’t be disturbed, and hibernate until Spring is just around the corner once more – that great awakening, that seemingly-always-miraculous reappearance of life and growth, that annual natural rebirth – and become a quickened part of everything, once again. And we’d be ready for it… Because we have rested, and have lain quiet and dormant. We will awaken refreshed, full of energy – hungry, eager, and ready to go, to take our places, fully alive, in the Universe. Maybe some serious stretching and limbering would be needed when we reawaken, but that seems a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Might we be wise to take a lesson from the bear, from the badger, some frogs, hedgehogs, and even some moths? (I do realize that they do not “choose” to do this, but “bear” with me, for the sake of my narrative…) Do we really need to be “awake” twelve to fourteen hours a day, or more, all year ’round? Mightn’t eight months of that be enough for us…? And good for the planet, as well?

And some of the advantages of a period of human dormancy for four months a year…?

No shoveling or car scraping. No broken bones from falling on ice. Trillions of dollars saved on the production and consumption of fossil fuels. (That alone would probably bring the rate of global warming to a more reasonable pace.) No forced joviality at holiday gatherings with family members we don’t even like the rest of the year. No New Year’s Day hangovers – and no obligation to make those pesky resolutions, since we will awaken well past the date most of us have forgotten about them, anyway. Turkeys could look forward to living out their natural years, and our children would not be trained to believe that the sole purpose and reward of good behavior is getting their hands on the latest electronic device.

Human hibernation would offer a regular annual hiatus, of significant duration, from all our conflicts, our agendas, wars, politics, needless consumption, planetary destruction, our relentless depletion of natural resources, personal bad habits and animosities, ideological extremism, the blathering of pundits, the stock market, brutal competition, and all the general havoc we humans wreak daily on the planet that continues to do its best to support and nourish us, no matter what.

Frankly, I think the Universe would welcome an annual respite from us and our activities.

I still have a few questions: Would we dream? Would we need to get up to pee every six weeks or so? Would we continue to age as we hibernate? Would it matter? What things might we forget? What might we remember…?

The older I get, the more the Universe apparently insists that I understand the potency of dormancy, of Darkness, and the inevitability and value of it. We are foolish to fear it; the Universe invites us to welcome it. All birth, and rebirths, come from the Darkness, and it is the place to which we inevitably return. Even as it is the unavoidable destiny of all living things, it is also the source of all our beginnings.

This is the wisdom of bears.




As one calendar year passes away, and we embark upon what we choose to consider a “new” one, I am reminded of a life that suddenly ended this time of year, not long ago. The following was written on the death of someone I barely knew, but who was deeply loved by someone I love. I send it to you in remembrance of all the lives that began and ended in the past year, and appreciation for all that will begin and end in the days to come. Many of those lives we never know, and never will, but, like all of our lives, they inevitably carry their portions of grief and joy. They are all sacred. May yours be filled with the richness and deep mystery of life.

“We are grateful for your loving presence here, to honor the life of a singular man. We have come together to reflect on a life about which each of us knew only a part. Many of you never knew him at all – but only knew of him, through your friendship with his family. His long separation from his family was his choice, and he worked hard at it. We may never know why he made that decision, but it was his. And, now, the Universe has brought us all here together to remember him.
What we do know is that he was a son, part of a family, a brother, a co-worker, and a friend, and – beyond that – maybe even much more. Only one person knew the whole story of his life: The child, the boy, and the man, who lived it. The entirety of his life belonged to him alone…
We do not honor him because his life was perfect, or close to perfect, and we need not even try to pretend that it was. None of our lives are. But his was, by any sacred measure, a real and valuable LIFE!
As we all try to do, he did the best he could with what he was given, one day at a time. He had brains and charm, secrets and shame, a will to survive, great courage, and many challenges. His deepest struggles, and his greatest victories, he took on, and accepted, alone, for many years. I like to think that he often found strength in what we have learned that he loved: His belief in magic, in mystery, in things that none of us really “understand,” but things that could be possible – life in the stars, worlds beyond our own, heroes and heroines and mythical creatures able to conquer all obstacles, in any circumstances…
And a belief that all problems may surely, somehow, some day, be resolved, if we are diligent, determined, hard-working, and hopeful.
I am sure he was all those things, even when his life may have sometimes have been unspeakably difficult, and lonely, and full of anguish.
It has been this man’s great gift to remind me, yet again, that each of our lives inevitably holds within it the possibility of both excruciating pain and of exquisite joy; that every life is truly sacred; that the Universe is full of magic; and that each and every one of us is a blessed part of it all. I am grateful for what I have learned of his life, with all its flaws, all its struggles, all its dreams and accomplishments, all its failures, all its hope, and all of its humanity… What I have learned of his life is enough, for it has given me strength, and courage, and hope.
If we grieve, perhaps it is for the realization that none of us may, now, ever know more about this very unique individual. He guarded himself carefully, and gave to each of us what he was able to share. His gifts, we have learned, were many.
When we look for comfort, let it be in our remembering that every life – however long or brief – is a great, and sacred, and joyous mystery, and that every life, including our own, merits our most profound love, our thoughtful attention, our deepest gratitude, and our greatest honor.”