I Should Know Better
I’m supposed to be at an age, 87, where little things of the world don’t bother me. That would be nice if it were true; but it’s not. For example, we got a new washing machine and the brand name, Samsung, was right there on the front panel with the A lacking the cross bar looking like an inverted V. Of course I let it go. At least I would have let it go ten years ago I guess but in truth, it bugged me. So finally I got out a marker and put the bar back in. It felt good.
But there’s something a lot bigger that is irritating me these days and the fact is, it’s out of my personal control. It’s not the rectal cancer I am currently living with, I’m sort of resigned to that going on, it’s the constant appearance and reappearance of former President and consistent moron, Don T in stories on the front page of the N.Y. Times and other publications. I don’t recall any former President getting that kind of coverage after a year has passed post office holding.
How is this idiot news worthy? Of course the moronetts, his supporters, hang on to every bit of drool that drips from his lips, but do the rest of us, a majority of readers, have to be subjected day after day to his name in bold on page one? There’s nothing he has to say that sells papers to anyone with some wits left any more than daily counts of how many rats scurry about the piers in the East river.
If you must, perhaps a blurb somewhere above the Obits in 10 pt. type to report on his latest fantasy, but other than that, why waste the space? Yes I know, some will say, “Well, he’s a public figure and so newsworthy.” No, he is worthy of nothing more than scorn and should be treated as such. All that keeps him going at all is a spotlight, of any size and wattage. Please N.Y. Times use your own black marker and cross him off.
The Genuine Power of Prayer in my Life
As I sat in the Conception Circle ceremony I suddenly began to have a vision of a building cloud of soot-tinged smoke in front of me. This cloud was made up of my fears and the primary make up of the cloud was the insistence that prayers did not work against cancer. That prayer and hope and best-wishes just couldn’t hold up against the power of cancer…after all, well respected writers had written best sellers about the false promises of prayer etc. What was the use of all this earnest energy against something as real and relentless as cancer?
Behind the billowing cloud I could make out, hanging on the wall of the kiva, my first “banner”. I seemed to remember that I was a child when I created it. Of course I was fifty, but my consciousness was that of a child so that’s how I remember myself then.
The banner was simple, a ball of red material in the upper right corner of the two and a half foot long green cloth. “Rays” of yellow material streamed from that red ball to a smaller one at the bottom of the banner. What it meant to me was that the love and energy poured from the Source of Life to me and I then poured it into others. (Smaller rays emanated from the red ball at the bottom.)
The next thought that came to mind was that “Prayers DO get answered. Your prayers have been answered every time!” and in that moment the cloud in front of me dissipated my fears with it. My chest was no longer constricted, I could breath freely. I hadn’t even realized how bound up I had felt up to that moment of release.
I looked around. Here I was sitting in a kiva, a spiritual space the construction of which I had once prayed for, and doubted could really come into form. Here I was sitting next to the woman I have loved for thirty years and all we have created together. Here I was surrounded by people who loved and cared about me, and prayed for me ALL as a result of what I have prayed for over the years. The evidence of prayers answered was everywhere around me, but the cancer that I had been told was back or might keep coming back had frightened all of that reality out of me.
Every morning I awaken about 4 with fear running the show. It’s always the same theme, the what-if scenario of how it was for most of 2020, the pain, the weakness, the debilitation, chemo, radiation, the drives to and from the hospital, the feelings of guilt about putting my family through all of it, the wear and tear on our relationship…..all of it balled up into thinking it was about to be happening all over again. And added to it, the proposition laid out by the docs that the only way forward was to cut and sew and leave me with a “bag” into which I’d “poop” from here on out.
Ironically enough, the day of the Conception Ceremony was just about exactly the anniversary of when the nightmare began a year ago.
I don’t know what the future holds of course. Though the docs, the “Cancer Board” will all meet and consider my “case” but the ultimate question on how to proceed will be up to me. They will be persuasive but there is an implied bias at work. They will want to employ their skill set which favors a major intervention and swift action. I will prefer a less invasive wait and see approach. Meanwhile the cancer will have its way as well.
I know I can’t wait long. Something will have to be done to slow or arrest completely any destructive growth. And I keep in mind that nothing may happen at all as was the case with my journey with bladder cancer four years ago. Surgery was performed to get the tumors in my bladder out. Then every three months, a check up. There was no return.
The CT scan I had after this last anal cancer “nodule” removal showed no cancer. How long this will be the case is an open question. That’s where the prayers come in.
My task, in the face of these persistent and pervasive fears, is to remember the equally persistent reality that my prayers HAVE been answered over and over again. My life is living proof of that truth. And I have to keep myself awake and aware of that every moment.
As autumn steadily moves across the landscape a number of “lasts” follow along in its wake. Of course the hummers are gone and the oriels have left too though one young one showed up last week for a few sips.
The cottonwoods are well into gold and the aspens are done.
Did the last mower work yesterday and my weed wacking is done for this year too. I took a round on the tractor just to keep up the polo field look of the two or three acres I actually cut out of the ten we live on. There’s really not much point to it. If there were a fire there would be less to feed on but the junipers would explode anyway and our house would be a goner cut grass or not. But despite the very bumpy ride it is kind of fun to travel around cutting paths through the grass and weeds so Elizabeth can take the dogs on their daily trot.
Doug, the little white one doesn’t like the uneven ground, Yoshi, the Dali Lama dog just plows on ahead no matter what the terrain or conditions. He’s a dog-with-a-mission and will only pause at interesting scent stations. Doug, on the other hand, is sure some calamity may be at hand and just wants to get the walk over with. What’s weird is that he goes crazy when he knows a walk is just about to be undertaken, but as soon as he’s out the door his anxieties kick in. He’s a very strange creature. (There's a metaphor in here for me somewhere.)
As for my personal “lasts”, I am embracing each day at this time in my life, each one a gift to be sure. I happened upon Tammy Duckworth’s book, “Every Day a Gift” and it couldn’t have come at a better time. She went through sheer hell when deployed to Iraq, lived to tell the tale of terrible pain and loss (of both her legs and a shattered arm). Anything we, I, have to complain about is minor by comparison. Vote for her if you’re in Illinois, she’s in Congress now.
My “C” treatments continue. I MUST assume the best about all of this rather then fearing the worst, which is my usual strategy for dealing with this sort of thing. I finally discovered that I can spend my time in fear or I can spend it in hope. The latter gives me the reward of better days between now and the next "event". Still I have no scary symptoms and all seems to be fine. And, I have come to accept, that if everything is down the tubes and “C” will eat me alive I WILL have at least a year to embrace living and loving and knowing all my family a lot better. Seems like a good path to walk for either the short or long term.
Maybe this IS my “last” autumn……..but maybe not. However it turns out, I’ll dance it full out. That has always been my life and my “job” after all. I’ll follow Yoshi’s lead on this let the Doug in me trail behind.
Frogs….! Again, and at Last!
(Written in 2013, read to the end to find out why I've put this back up.)
It has been awhile, since we’ve heard the frogs. In fact the story which follows this little “intro” was one I wrote in 2008 and here we are five years later and the rains have come, not “monsoon” they say, some kind of weird “High” that has stationed itself to our East and is continuing to help cycle and recycle moisture so that the rain that has just stopped, this is the 8th of July, is the second in three days that has been a deluge, a downpour that lasted for about an hour, which may not be much in Portland but is a miracle here. It has filled our catchment tanks to overflowing and the nearby cattle tanks as well. This means that what I have been calling “The Land of Tan” is beginning to green…this is wonder-full.
The grass in New Mexico grows in little circles, “bunches” that hold the moisture, when it comes, so that it gets down to the roots. When there is no moisture, and I do mean none, those circles are nothing but dry crunches of light tan blades that lie flat on the dusty and hard ground. It all looks like a moonscape that at one time in the very ancient past may have held life but in the present seems without any hope at all.
And then the rains come…..and, if they are sufficient, more than just a few disconnected days of ten minutes of light drizzle, or a few large drops that make a sound like a small pebble hitting a piece of slate, if they are the kind of storm that begins with a steady constant rain which then increases more and more until it is a downpour and it goes on for an hour or so creating streams that run down old dog trials and fill every depression with running water….then, the hints of green begin to poke up in the tan circles and in a day or two, especially if that kind of rain miracle continues, they become the contributors to the Land of Green.
Back in 2008 we had such a season and I wrote this;
Monsoon season has finally kicked in here, it’s the time of year when our high desert country gets it’s entire ration of rain and it runs, it says in the Chamber of Commerce literature, “…..from June through September.” In reality, we never know how long it’s going to go on or how damp it may get. A few years ago we had a season that, for the first time since we had moved here, we heard this very weird sound after a huge storm. It was a sound like heavy static or electricity jumping across a power line break. Or maybe mutant crickets made giants by the sudden release of ozone after the storm. We could not imagine what the source might be. It went on all night that first night and continued on the next day so we followed the sound to the source and discovered a cattle tank about half a mile south of the house which had filled with run off and was now crowded with bellowing frog males advertising for mates….”Open for business NOW! No time to waste!” etc. As soon as they spotted intruders, and this was from a lot further off then most frog observers would expect, about twenty yards I’d guess, they signaled “Dive! Dive!” and in an instant the pond was silent and not a ripple left to betray the presence of amphibian suitors beneath the surface.
These are the opportunistic burrowing frogs of the desert country of course, which, like the grasses, flowers and other survivor plants of the desert country, wait deep in the hard baked clay which in dry times gives up nothing but a dust cloud to a passing boot, but in wet times is blanketed by every form of life hardly imagined, life that is always present, but bides its time awaiting the precious gift of wet.
When I first came to the Southwest it was to the low desert country of El Paso, Texas which at that time, in the early 50’s, was in the middle of a spell of deep drought. I didn’t know this of course. Being a city boy, I just figured that nothing grew there. Ever.
About two years passed and the drought ended with, as always, a huge monsoon season, torrential rains and vibrant rainbows flooded and framed the desert country and overnight an explosion of life turned barren dunes into verdant hillsides. Wildflowers sent a sweet perfume into the air so strong it was almost too much to bear. Honey mesquite bloomed sweet and pungent, creosote bush cleaned the air with its fresh, clear scent, miles and miles of sunflowers goldened the desert roads and flowers I’d never seen before burst out of rock cavities and from under desert “willows” that were nothing but sticks a few days ago and now were festooned with orchid-like blossoms. That’s part of how I came to fall in love with the desert country. Discovering the magic that you had to wait for, magic that you had to seek out; have patience to find.
And that’s when I first came upon the frogs.
I was out in the desert after one of the big storms, out in my four-wheel Scout and I turned off the engine to listen to the silence and take in the bath of wet sand and new plant life, and then I heard this strange sound, loud in the empty silence of the desert and totally unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I got out of the car and began to try to trace it, being careful to mark my path over the dunes back to my vehicle. I must have walked in circles for half an hour before I came upon the mini oasis. A pool formed in the lee of a dune and some boulders, a pond which must have been forming in that spot for….well, who knows how long? Decades? Centuries? It wasn’t more than twenty feet long and maybe ten feet across. No more than a foot deep at most, and it was filled, or at least it was until I happened upon it, with frogs. I had to back off and sit behind the dune for about thirty minutes before they ventured out again, but when they did a more stealthy approach allowed me to spot about fifteen or twenty croaking males sending their love song up and out of that shallow wet spot. Frogs in the desert! What a find. I thought I’d stumbled on one of Natures incredible miracles. Of course I had, but it wasn’t quite the rare event I thought it to be. Over time, and many monsoon seasons, I’ve come to expect desert miracles, but they remain serendipitous nonetheless. Right now, during the last gasp of July, we’ve had more than three inches of rain in a week. It looks like Ireland around here.
Of the many gifts I am given by this place add solitude and silence and the wonderful spread of vista….and, well, perhaps you get the picture. If not, drop in some time. Call ahead to see if we are in frog season for added ambiance.
Well that was 2008. Here we are in 2013 in the midst of another drought, though some prognosticator I heard the other day said “This is not a drought, this is the new normal.” Well that scared everyone of course. But the “elders”, those guys in the local pueblos, say, this will be a very wet time in New Mexico. At the U. of New Mexico, the long range predictors, I don’t know if there are any “elders” amongst them, say this state will be very wet as a result of global warming. What we know is that we hadn’t had any moisture, I do mean NONE since February and that is a very dry spring even for us. So maybe this is just a little localized “thing”. Maybe we won’t see rain again in 2013….I don’t know…and apparently nobody else does either.
In the meantime, in between guesses, we will celebrate the frogs that are very here-and-now just as they and those other survivors of thousands of years of whatever weather comes down the pike, the New Mexico grasses celebrate; by giving thanks with our songs and growing.
Note: We had another “Frog Rain” in 2014 but then I either stopped keeping track or we didn’t have any more. I suspect the latter. No more frogs.
Last night we got a downpour. It was like a war, flashing lightening, crashing thunder, pouring rain for about an hour. We felt greatly blessed. (I will mention, our dog Doug wasn’t appreciating any of it.)
Tonight, July 6th, 2021, after Men’s Circle I stepped out of the front door and saw something HOP away……a frog!
No Hallelujah chorus from the stock tanks, but the miracle of a single frog hopped across our desert landscape and reminded us that there IS magic available now and then. Frog, the spadefoot variety we have here, stands for Persistance and Patience. A fine blessing any time.
Was Lincoln a Racist?
The question has been asked by many a historian and by many not educated in that field. The Emancipation Proclamation, was it simply a political consideration or was there higher consciousness involved in its creation? To not put too fine a point on it, was Lincoln a racist and political opportunist. Or perhaps, simply, as it has been said in order to excuse a few statements attributed to him, a man of his time?
Was he educated to become more sensitive to the condition of the slaves in both the North and the South by Douglass? Did the Civil War raise his consciousness? What DID Lincoln believe about African-American people?
The answers can be found, at last, in Ronald C. White’s book, “Lincoln in Private”. White explores the collection of notes written by Lincoln in his early years and much of what Lincoln said in the debates with Douglas. (Why this source has not been closely examined is a mystery.) Douglas was an out and out racist and Lincoln refuted his bigotry publicly over and over again. His was not a popular stance to take in the 1830’s, ‘40’s, and 50’s. Or during the Civil War for that matter. Yet, Lincoln DID take this stand and risked both elections in doing so.
I note that one statement about the Proclamation is quoted as being evidence that Lincoln did not care about those kept in slavery. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
What is surprising about this I wonder? He was first trying to save the Union. Without doing so the country would have been lost and this had to have the highest priority. But ending slavery was always Lincoln’s agenda and well before the first shot at Sumter. It was, in fact, his life’s work. This is what he said when he signed it, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he declared. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it." This wasn’t just about preserving the union. It WAS about finally ending slavery in the U.S..
A little more than 6 months later the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. As a condition of re-admittance to the Union southern states were required to ratify. All of this was Lincoln’s doing, even after death.
Just a Lucky Fit?
I was between schools having finally finished up my BA and having been accepted into the MSW program at the U. of Houston. But I had a year in between and I was out of work and money. I wasn’t quite frantic, but I was certainly anxious.
A friend of mine told me that there was an opening for a “Technical Assistant” in with a contractor at the local Army base (Ft. Bliss). I had no idea what a “technical assistant” would do, but I did know one thing, anything “technical” was not up my alley.
He got hold of the job announcement, which spelled out the skills any applicant for the position had to have. Here’s a paraphrase:
“To be considered for this position the applicant must have had;
Experience in radio and or TV.”
I had worked in radio for fifteen years.
“An undergraduate degree in a behavioral science with a minor in human behavior.”
My B.A. was in Sociology/Psychology.
“Be actively pursuing graduate studies in a human services program.”
I would be after my Masters in Social Work in a year.
“Have a private pilots license.”
I had a Commercial Pilots license.
It went on to say that the job needed someone who was mature, meaning more than a teenager I guess. I was 40 at the time, and should have “some experience in group and family dynamics.”
I had been trained in both and had been married for twenty years. Not successfully, but I did know something about “family dynamics”.
And the job would only last a year. End date was one week before I was to be in Houston.
It was as if I had written the job criteria.
I must insert here, because I am, at base, a person who is primarily a logical thinker. It IS possible that the person who wrote that job applicant description actually knew me. I don’t have a clue on who that might have been but I had had a popular radio show years prior to embarking on my undergrad. work. That would have been something like ten years prior……but maybe a “fan” with a long memory? I mean it’s possible. But perhaps that’s an even longer stretch than a belief in miracles. I don’t know, but I have to throw it in as a consideration. But; at the time I considered that whole thing to be a miracle. One of the real ones. In addition, it turned out to pay me the most money I had ever made in my life. As I write this many decades after the event, I guess I still think it probably was. A miracle that is.
What brought this all to mind today was the realization that I really feel that I have been led, directed, nudged into, called, I don’t know how best to say it, perhaps “presented with” this spiritual path I am on.
Thirty years ago when that job showed up I had no inkling that one day I would be leading sweat lodges, vision quests, ceremonial dances, reading Tarot cards, performing marriages, or creating rites of passage for teens, or holding memorial services for the bereaved, none of this was on my mind, in my vision of the future, or in my heart’s desire. I wanted to make a difference in the world, but had no clear idea of how I would go about that kind of journey. Much, much later there came a time when everything came together and it seemed I had been presented with another “job announcement” which required that such and such a person should have these certain qualifications to be able to do all those specific things; and I found myself to be that person.
Now you could say, “Hey! Just because you do this stuff doesn’t mean you’re qualified!” And, of course, that has been my major internal struggle all along. I have always felt “unqualified” both as a worker and a human being. I’d bet you’ve been haunted in the same way.
This journey that led me to where I am now began shortly after I finished my two-year graduate school program. It began after I endured my first sweat lodge and met the first shaman, which also meant I had to overcome my distrust of same. I was trying to understand and be open to the new worldview I had been presented with as a result of that encounter when that door opened to yet another level of challenge when I became a student of the first Medicine Man I’d ever met.
What followed was experiencing many vision quests, dances, drummings, ceremonies, which all became interlaced with what was going on in my “regular” life as a therapist, began to change my view of how the whole thing, Life, my life and all of life…..and then the sorting out of what worked for me and what didn’t….what was me and what was not me and so would not work, would not be honest….all of that was training.
But no amount of “training” can make a spiritual path real. There is another important, actually essential, element, which can’t be set up or planned for, and that is an experience of a deathing. This isn’t necessarily a physical near-death, but rather the death of who one has believed himself to be, an abandonment of many of the self-definitions and sureties.
This gives rise to the phenomenon fundamentalist Christians call “being born again”. This certainly is not something they have cornered the market on and there may or may not be a spiritual aspect to it. But it is a precursor to clearing the psychic decks for an opening to a fresh way of seeing reality. My near-death(s) involved losing everything I held dear, more than once. This was not a singular epiphany but a series of them. And it included my own waltz with suicide-as-an-option.
Having experienced all of that and come out the other end, I became (mostly) ready to take in whatever was offered. And, little by little, in a very short period of time relatively speaking, in it all came.
And, little by little, life and training molded me into the person who could walk this path…not always knowing it was right and true; but sometimes realizing that indeed it was and is.
So, today was one of those days of trusting and knowing. Today I had that feeling of knowing that I was in the right place at the right time. That I was (am) doing exactly what I am “qualified” (born) to do and be. When I have a day like that, I consider it to be yet another real miracle. No, it doesn’t happen every day, but it happened today and that will suffice for now. I’ll worry about tomorrow when I get there.
Might be a miracle waiting 'sted of some monster waiting to kick my ass.
The Good Old Days
The tendency for those of us who look back over decades of time is to think that those days back there were “simpler”. But unless you were raised in some sort of cocoon in actuality there were no “simpler” times. We were, back then, simpler beings of course. I didn’t have a tough time as a kid. We were poor, but comparatively speaking, not as poor as some (we were all pretty “poor” in the late 30s) we certainly weren’t one of the “haves”. (Yes, there were those in the 1% then too but not as many as today.)
The complications of life back then being dealt with by a young boy were just food for fantasy. WW II was high adventure for a kid not experiencing it first hand. Just another version of cowboys and Indians. I hate to admit it but the Germans were the cowboys. (Just shows how clever the uniform designers were. The black and silver and simple, strong symbolism appealed so readily to the primal mind.)
Yes, they were simpler times for a kid. And of course they morphed, shortly after some aging, into the good-ol’-days. My mother never thought so though. In fact, as time went by as she and my dad built a more successful living situation, she avoided all references to those days. She just wouldn’t talk about them at all. Those memories were too hard for her to re-experience.
So please don’t try to convince me that things used to be better. They were just a different kind of hard. For example, now and then someone will come across an old picture of, oh let’s say a gas station out of the 40’s, and right there is a sign that says, “Cokes, 5¢” and invariably they will remark “And gas was only 25¢ a gallon!” and will imply that it must have been easy living back then ‘cause everything was so cheap! There’s never a consideration for the fact that .75 cents an hour was considered minimum wage. Or that $100 a week for a 40-hour job was really top pay for a lucky few and you could imagine yourself a millionaire with such a wage.
Yes, it has always been relative….and the good-ol’-days were that because you survived them. They provided stories with lessons….or at least they resolved into something that ultimately became useful in some way. Of course it’s hard to find any useful stuff like that when you’re in up to your nose in the septic tank. All the good stuff comes later….when you find you’ve survived all that useful experience relatively intact.
No, there were NOT any better days than these right here. But I hear this all the time, especially now when the political system in our country has been in a turmoil. But when was it not? 1860? 1929? 1939? 1945? 1950? 1968? 1975? Pick a year, check out the stories in the papers of the day……anything look “better”? More placid? More hopeful? “Well, we had a strong middle-class then.” True. But pick a time in the 50’s and note that we also had the ever-present threat of nuclear obliteration. Remember bomb shelters?
One of our daughters’ lives in a house that has a concrete bunker built into her back yard….complete with ventilator shaft and heavy steel entry door. What did the builders of that thing think they were going to survive to experience? Into what kind of world would they have emerged post apocalypse? Remember all that? Probably not. But yes, we DID have a “middle class”.
Detroit built lousy cars…remember that? You were lucky to get 100,000 miles out of that Classic ’57 Chevy. I know, I had one, amongst almost a hundred others. Rattle traps every one of them; literally. There always seemed to be something loose in the dash or in one or more of the doors. It could never be found and it never stopped. But the romance about them continues to this day. Yes, I know they were beautiful….even when they had the hood up and were on the grease rack….which was most of the time. “They cornered like a mud slide.” was one mechanics memory of those Classics.
By the way, if you can find an old magazine, I mean something like a Saturday Evening Post from around the 1950’s, there you will find the car ads romancing about the wonders of the latest dream car, the ’54 Ford or the ’59 Chevy. A completely restored version of one of these cars today, according to Hemmings Motor News, would run five figures. And what would you have? The same problems you would have had when it was new, problems no longer encountered in the cars of today. Why would anyone want that? Well, anyone with more money than sense I’d say.
It’s important to note too that this good-ol’-days nostalgia is usually coming from white people. For people of color, these days are far and away better than those days. Yes, bad as they STILL are in comparison to white experience they are a whole lot better than the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and the 90’s for black, brown, red, and Asian people.
Looking behind us for the good-ol’-days keeps us from knowing that we’re living in the best days available to us right now. And I’ll bet, things will get even better.
Let’s keep hope alive at least.
Last week I saw a reference to LBJ that claimed to be uncovering little known facts about him. These “little known facts” were that he was seen as an s.o.b. when in college because he was ruthless and manipulative. If you read a biography about Johnson whether by Caro or Goodwin (two of the best) you will find that these facts are true….but that’s not all that was true about LBJ. They were not the only things that defined him over his lifetime. After all, he was also the man who got at least two important laws through Congress that were laws that JFK could not and never would have gotten through. And he did it because, 1. He knew how to do it. He knew how to operate the levers of power in the Congress. And 2. He knew how to use the power and force of his personality to push things through. And 3. Perhaps most importantly, he was known and respected by many of the members of Congress.
Those two acts he got through were the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act two measures that changed our country for the better. And, this has to be considered, he was a SOUTHERNER! He was not expected to pull either one of these things off. Because of this; southerners, especially those in Congress, saw him as someone who betrayed his heritage. (Not a small thing in the South.) He did it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
So these things were also facts that have to be put into consideration when thinking about who LBJ was. But many stop short of getting this much bigger picture of the man because they’ve already been informed by that simple headline, He was an s.o.b. in college…….and that takes care of what is needed to know about LBJ. That’s about the extent of what passes for education these days.
At about the same time last week, an opinion writer from the New York Times (it’s important to note that this was an African-American writer) classed Lincoln in with Washington and Jefferson who owned slaves and Teddy Roosevelt (because he was considered to be an imperialist and a “racist”) because he, Lincoln, had once said in the Lincoln-Douglas debates that he didn’t think a black man could ever be considered the equal of a white man intellectually, socially or politically. I objected in the “Comments” section that the writer should have considered the whole of Lincoln not just one statement made by the early version. To know more of the man read the words of his Second Inaugural.
If anyone were to define me at my current age (86) by who I was in 1960 I’d be labeled a chauvinist, and an undereducated racist (though I wasn’t a racist by any stretch then, after all, I was married to a Mexican-American, but still I knew little of white privilege). Very few of us stay frozen at 18 or 20 over time.
Well, I may have to reconsider that “few”. Seems the previous White House resident (you remember Caligula right?) had a 45% backing in the polls so almost half of us ARE “frozen”! Guess that’s no surprise. The same percentage refuse vaccination against Covid and a substantial number seem to rely on “Q” as a source of valid information.
As you’ve gotten older you’ve no doubt noticed that wisdom comes slow as a rule and never reaches those who are closed to it. I suspect that it has always been that 45% cannot be swayed by facts or truth or common sense. (Which either Lincoln or Twain said was actually quite uncommon.)
This is important to know because that 45% are quite conservative as a rule and are stuck there, and they vote in lock-step no matter what. This means that liberal thinking about mounting a third party is always going to doom progress. (Nader cost us Florida which gave us Bush over Gore. Jill Stein cost us the key state votes that would have put Hillary in over the nightmare we wound up with.)
If we self-described Progressives just team up and motivate, we can easily defeat even the voter suppression attempts going on right now. We CAN win going forward. Make it impossible for the Know-Nothings* of today to gain any more leverage.
*They were the white-power “nativists” of the early 1850’s, anti black, anti immigrant, anti democracy for that matter. Mitch McConnell is a charter member.
Education IS the answer and it doesn’t stop after formal graduation. It’s an on-going process. Stay awake and informed and don’t be fooled by the real fake news or by attempts to discourage by ploys to promote apathy. In the end, if we stay the course we can easily keep moving ahead. We DO outnumber ‘em after all. The rest of it is just to outwit them. Not hard once you look at their leadership.
The Great Boot Adventure
It all began with my buying a pair of Abilene Bison (leather) boots some time ago, maybe three years. The reason? I had bought a used pair of Tony Lama boots about twenty years ago from a little boot store in Muleshoe, Texas. They lasted me about twenty years (and might have been that old to begin with) and I was very happy with them. (I’ve been wearing boots for about 60 years and love ‘em because they’re comfortable and very useful in snake country, not that I’ve ever stepped on one (a snake that is) and I had the experience of being “protected”. I don’t even know if I would be but they feel “safer” then low-quarter shoes.
So my Lama boots had finally given up, the uppers were separating from the soles……by the way, boot wearers, who REALLY love their boots often just get them rebuilt because of these love-affairs can become obsessive but I’m not quite that far gone. Anyway, I finally found a pair I liked. They would have to be a sort of all-round boot, not-quite-a-work-boot which would be something I’d paint the house in and not worry about splashing paint. I have a pair of those, they’re old Red Wing boots that I found at a thrift store for $49…..good ones but not “dressy” in any way.
I also have a pair of custom made “dressy” boots that I had made in El Paso for only $100! (Got a pair for daughter Lia too!) They were quite a buy, made by a good boot maker during a promotion he was doing. I had the style copied from a pair of Lucchese boots I had been given but that were too narrow for comfort. (my repeated attempts to stretch them just never worked so I wound up giving them away to my son in law who has a narrow foot.)
As an aside here, for those who don’t have a clue about boot costs, a good-to-fair pair of boots will run about $160. Good to better around $200 and up, “classy” boots like Luccheses will go for 400+. The sky is the limit when it comes to the custom mades. They can run into the thousands.
OK, on with the story, so I got these all-round boots in Albuquerque. Boot buying is something seldom but carefully done ‘cause they last a long, long time and must fit perfectly. I wanted a pair that would be low maintenance, so didn’t need polishing, and sturdy (dress boots are neither. Dress boots are for dancing and for “class”.) I found a pair of Abilene bison boots…..and liked them…BUT! my OCD overcame my laid-back concept and after a month or two I made the mistake of polishing them. This turned them into quasi-dress boots. So then I kept spending time taking-care of them. Dumb.
One day, fed up with the taking-care thing I sanded all the polish off. But the “damage” had been done. Now they didn’t look right for either dress or roughing it. So, back to the polishing routine. Then I decided to sand them again having forgotten that it didn’t work the first time. Results? Same.
Then we, Elizabeth and I, made the BIG mistake. She suggested we try Palm oil. I concurred. The outcome? Boots were now a dull brown that would not even polish……..in short, butt ugly…..not even fit for work duty. So I took them to a boot shop in town. They said the only thing that could be done would be to “strip ‘em” meaning apply acetone to get the oil out of the leather. “They might not shine though.” the guy offered.
He was right, they didn’t. Now they were just to the left of “butt ugly” like “Ugh”. So; I decided to buy another pair of boots, by any maker and LEAVE THEM ALONE!
That was when I discovered that the boot business had changed considerably over the years. American cowboy boots are no longer made in America. They are made in Mexico and/or China! Old well known American boot companies, Tony Lama, Justin, Lucchese have all moved out of the country. Lucchese boots are made in Mexico AND China, though they claim a factory in El Paso. Ariate claims to be made in the U.S. but they are designed here and are made in Mexico, China, and Italy.
Tecovas are promoted in magazines and on TV as “American” but are made in Mexico. The ONLY boots, made by a major manufacturer in the U.S. are Abilene boots (made in Pennsylvania).
By the way, it’s not that boots made in Mexico are badly made, they are not. Mexico has a long history of good boot making. (China not so much.) According to a salesman I talked to at the local “Boot Barn” who has been in the business for “49 years”, “Quality, whether from Mexico or China, has suffered”.
I wanted Made in the U.S. boots and FINALLY found the Abilene’s I wanted and ordered them on line. And that’s when I discovered something else about this whole boot-buying journey; I buy a lot of my shirts, not my pants, at the Salvation Army thrift store right down the road from us. Many of those shirts have never even been worn, I often wonder if the guy who had them last just up and died and his stuff had been donated. I imagine that’s how my “stuff” will wind up too. Now that I’m 86 I suddenly realized that these were very probably going to be the last boots I would ever buy.
For the first time in my life, I would not be outliving my boots. That makes the “issue” of mortality a very tangible proposition indeed.
Outcome? I think I will enjoy them as fully as I can, every day and in every way. And just to keep the whole experience as smooth and simple as I want my remaining years to be………….and I WILL NOT polish them! They will not be bronzed I’m sure. They won’t wind up in Muleshoe either (they’re out of business.) But one day, somebody wanting a really good pair of 10.5 “D”s will be walking around in my Abilene’s. He won’t know my story but I do hope he won’t be dumb enough to polish ‘em.
Another "last" to recognise, We just bought a new washing machine. The average life-time of one of these is about 10-14 years. This one will probably outlast me too.
Thinking About What’s Going On
Here’s a little thought experiment. One morning you’re taking a shower and you reach up with one arm to soap your hair and suddenly realize that your skin has changed color. (Let’s start out here with the idea that you are a white person, but this journey works the other way too.)
You look down and you see that you are unbelievably, a person-of-color! (Yes, white is a color too but very differently perceived and reacted too as you well know…..or at least will soon discover.)
Note your first response to this occurrence. What is it?
Franz Kafka wrote of this experience in “Metamorphosis”. If you haven’t read that horror story, it’s about a guy who wakes up one morning and discovers that he has been turned into a cockroach! Unsettling would be a massive understatement. How do you think the rest of your day, and then the rest of your life will go?
Imagine all the circumstances and note what you might feel in every interaction with people, not just strangers, but friends as well. How might things you felt about every aspect of your life be different just because the color of your skin is “different”.
If you believe that nothing would really BE different, then you are not understanding the reality of a person-of-color. You are denying their experience.
Here’s a small example, when a white person uses the word “cool” as a description of how he or she feels about their response to something as in, “I’m cool with it.” Or as in a general expression of a way of being, this is a different personal experience for a person of color. “Cool” for the white person means “I’m calm. I’m laid back.” For a person of color it means, “I’m going along with this constant insult because that’s the way it is for us.”
I “got” this one day when I was refused service at a funky drive-in restaurant because the person sitting next to me was black. I was outraged, agitated, gritting my teeth and I turned to him, “How in the hell do you stand this? I’d be wanting to kill people who treated me this way!” I growled.
He said in a calm matter of fact voice that took me off guard, “You just do.” That’s what “cool” meant for him and for every other black person who has, day after day experienced this kind of treatment both overt and covert. It’s what must be done to deal with the “attitude” day after day all life long in many an interaction with white people. Cool. As in, “You just keep on.”
Louis Armstrong once recorded a song called “What did I do to feel so black and blue?” and in music the people who can REALLY sing and play the blues, are people of color. The blues for we white folk are usually about lost love or feeling down about life in the moment. The blues for black folk are about LIFE….all the time. We skate on the surface of this only empathizing, a kind of knowing, to some extent, and caring, but not really KNOWING what this daily experience is like. We can guess about it and that’s about it.
The author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin found out about racism the hard way. A white writer, he used chemicals and dyes to color his skin dark and then went out into a world he thought he knew well, and as a white person he did. But as a person-of-color he was shocked to discover he didn’t know it at all. If you’ve never read that book, get a copy and learn.
My first wife, a dark-skinned Mexican-American girl born near El Paso, Texas knew about this stuff but as her white husband I did not. When it came to everyday interactions with white people her irritability, about the way she was sometimes not so subtly, treated, both by the Border Patrol agents around El Paso and white people in Chicago where we lived for a time, used to bother me because I felt she was creating trouble over nothing. I couldn’t understand, and did not see, literally did NOT see or feel or hear what she did. I blew these “little “ insults off. I really didn’t “get it”. Yes, now we have a phrase for it, “White privilege” but that term doesn’t really say it. It’s white ignorance and white arrogance that denies that this is going on all the time for people of color. ALL THE GODDAM TIME!
Every day, in almost every situation, social or commercial interactions have embedded in them this “attitude” that white people direct at non-whites that most non-whites react to by being “cool”.
It’s no wonder we whites are so afraid of black anger that our response is to overreact, like the woman in N.Y.s Central Park who felt so threatened by the black birdwatcher who asked that she leash her dog that she called the police in a panic. Yes, we know damned well that if we were on the receiving end of this “attitude”, we’d be full of rage. We don’t know HOW to be “cool” about such a thing. We don’t know, as I didn’t know, how we could stand living with this situation.
I only know about this at an intellectual level….at an emotional level I can hardly talk about it without choking on my own impotent anger and tears, but I have the luxury of not having to live it, I am only imagining it, imagining how I would feel to not be white in our society.
Try this “imaging” for yourself. To the extent to which you can inhabit the fantasy, you might begin to have an inkling of just how “cool” you would have to become in order to get through life as a non-white person and respond to even subtle racism by all the “just dos” that are necessary to be able to get along. …and just how long do you think you could………just get-along?
What I have been doing as sort of my one-man-"crusade" is that when I spot a black person, male or female, (I select older people usually) I sidle up to them (so that I'm not felt to be intrusive) and say; "Just thought I'd let you know, your life matters to ME!" The responses I've gotten range from, "God bless you and thank you!" to, "Man, you have just made my day!"
It's a good thing to do.