Sunday, November 27, 2005


William Blake (1757-1827)
The Omnipotent
Oil on canvas, 1794 Posted by Picasa

I would like to beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. LIVE the questions now.

---Rainer Maria Rilke

Truth is something you stumble into when you think you are going someplace else.

---Jerry Garcia

Watching the moon
at dawn,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely:
no part left out.

---Izumi Shikibu

I'm not much of a joiner and never have been. I haven't sought out many groups in my life. Such pursuit never entered the picture much. My parents came from individually quite different backgrounds, weren't joiners either, and didn't bring with them any cultural baggage that got me involved in groups. They both were something like 3rd generation Swedes in America, but they didn't celebrate any traditions from the "old country" except smorgasbord at Christmas...and then it was at a paternal relative's house and not ours. Those people still could speak some Swedish, but I never heard but a few words in my house. Maybe the farming Swedes on my mother's side had been on these shores longer because I never saw a flake in them of any traditions except universally countrified ones. Their generation came out of the Depression and went to World War II, both of which catastrophes encouraged a style of surviving that was tightly knit to the institutions of the United States. My family was middle class America in the 1940s and 1950s, and if any "group" came out of that it probably was The Organization Man.

I suppose my father tried to "fit in" more than my mother did. She had had a career in nursing but stayed at home with my sister and me. She didn't feel compelled to do that, but certainly her girlhood on a working farm influenced what she thought a wife and mother should do. Occasionally my father encouraged her to return to nursing, but only because he thought she might find getting out of the house fulfilling. She didn't want to though. My father learned to play golf, because the guys at work did it. After he left that job he gave it up. Somehow he joined the Kiwanis Club, which is a sort of service organization, and maybe all males. He was becoming a prominent citizen in town and I guess he thought he was supposed to do something like that. Almost immediately people wanted him to run for mayor. His uncle was Mayor Emeritus of our town and he was an ideal candidate. He didn't want that though. He bristled at any feeling of obligation to people for special favors, and in his retirement told me he never really had a job he liked. I don't know what he wanted to be except a good father, and there didn't seem to be a group for that.

I joined the YMCA and the Boy Scouts, but only for the activities and because kids I knew were in them. I wasn't gung ho and never got attracted to the hierarchies or job opportunities with them. We weren't even members of any church, until I heard about a youth group at one that my girl friend went to. My mother was raised fundamentalist United Brethren and she didn't like it---obviously: she married an actor. My father I guess was agnostic, but did like to sing. I dragged them both into the First Baptist Church (not involved in any way with Southern Baptists) and they got my father into the choir. I was baptized (full immersion) in that church, but never felt much allegiance to it or any spiritual development going on.

My father spent World War II working in essential industry at home, building bearings for tanks, and spent no time in armed service. When I came to draft age in the late 50s, the Korean whatever was over...and we had peacetime until the Cuban crisis, which I sweat out at Harvard without deferment. I had been called for a physical in the runup to possible engagement with Russia over missiles in Cuba, and was categorized 1-A. I told the sergeants I was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, but they'd never heard of it. The Viet Nam lottery came later, but I wasn't called. So there's no tradition of the military in my history either.

OK, so I joined some radical political groups, but I kind of stayed on the outside of those too. I didn't write pamphlets and tracts or burn the midnight oil cranking the mimeograph for leaflets to pass out. I carried signs and went to rallies and demonstrations, which I loved. If I was a member of anything, it was the Alienated Generation. There were good traditions there, but if you lived in smalltown America you really had to look for them. I had discovered jazz and swing by accident before my teen years. I had collected stamps, butterflies, and autographed pictures of movie stars...and records came next. I came out of my room after listening to jazz, and my mother said I looked like I was on drugs. Well, a lot of jazz players were on drugs...and my parents worried. However, jazz musicians are among the most independent and individualistic characters on the planet, and the ideas I got through their horns influenced my life totally. I was in civil rights because of jazz.

In the 1950s, there was Brando and James Dean, "adult" westerns, Beat poets, existentialism, Samuel Beckett, the beginnings of French and Italian cinema, "sick" comics, Jean Shepherd and Jules Feiffer, rhythm 'n blues, girls with rocketship breasts and cars with fins. There also were fraternities and sororities in high school. The normal kids joined. I got invited into one but hated the torture of hazing and quit almost immediately. Why would I want to give up all the wild stuff of the rebel outsider? I became an intellectual and read philosophy. I was a champion debater, and at my most ruthless decided to become a lawyer. But I didn't. Instead I stayed on the outside looking in. I got a job reporting for radio news during high school, and might have been good at journalism...but now that I see what happened to that field in this country, I'm happier I opted for various kinds of teaching jobs instead.

So through it all, I've enjoyed the privilege of knowing people as individuals, and most of my friends have been something like me. Unaffiliated. Recently I joined the Episcopal Church, but I'm hoping I'm too old now to get asked to be any part of a governing board or something. Most of my friends, especially after the 1960s, have been from different religions entirely. I was interested in Buddhism in the 1970s, and spent some time with the Kagyu lineage of the Tibetan variety. One day I asked a meditation teacher if it was possible to be a Buddhist and a Christian at the same time. He laughed softly, looked at me skeptically and said, "I don't think so"...with a definite overtone of Absolutely Not. I nodded and stepped spiritually a step back. I'm used to doing that. I understand that Catholic, Jewish, fundamentalist, pagan, and Buddhist friends do things, go to things where I really don't fit in and don't belong. There's an energy hierarchy in Hindu things, and I prefer not to get too close. I have friends who do though, and probably are "more" in the moment. Islam still is a mystery, but I'm learning.

Groups sometimes open...and then close. In the mid-1960s there was an amazing intermingling of white and black cultures in the US. I mean, it was possible if you tried. I went to work for a rather exclusive private boys school in Connecticut (it's now co-ed and probably totally exclusive) largely because it had a summer program of working with inner city youth, mostly black and Spanish. When I asked the dean of the school why they had the program, he shrugged and said, "Noblesse oblige." I took the job anyway, and got to work with an interracial staff that was the Dream Come True. Once we had a healthy, common working spirit formed---and that happened fast because of individual dedication---we began to open to each other and expose vulnerabilities. We became relentless with each other when that happened. We would pick up on stereotypical trash in one another that we'd say or do, and point out There Is The Problem. Everybody sweat in that spotlight, but what liberation came! And then we'd party. Shugie had us all down to his house in Old Greenwich, the "poor" side of town, where he dug a pit in his front yard and barbecued us ribs for 3 days straight.

But then backlash came, and Black Power was proud. Suspicions returned, disappointments, disillusion...and it was time to step back. OK, I was on into feminism now anyway. There were never any groups that wanted me to join, but I definitely developed an attitude to step back and make room, to advocate for women in places of leadership wherever I was. And there's backlash there too, and now each woman I encounter is an individual...and I need to be sensitive about offending her, either by something I do or don't do. I'm glad I've had this history as a non-joiner to help me be adaptable enough to continue to meet new and challenging people. I love the endless variety of humanity.

However, I'm writing this with a troubled mind. I really despise prejudice, especially in myself. It feels good to get it identified and rid of. The other day my attention was drawn to an active movement to point out anti-Semitism among liberals in the US. One's usual response to a charge like that, and mine is too, is to get defensive and deny stuff right away. It's impossible liberals could be anti-Semitic. Are liberals going around checking off Jewishness in their minds? Are we suspecting Bush's foreign policy is really a Jewish plot? Then one unloads some counter-charges. Jews accuse everybody of anti-Semitism if we disagree about something. They won't let us criticise Israel without accusing us. What about Palestine? Jews wanted us to attack Sadam...but any nation of Arab extraction will do as well. And pretty soon one does sound prejudiced.

What is prejudice anyway? The usual definition is "pre-judging." I decide something about a group or individual without facts, information, experience. Well, that's pretty negative. I'm thinking that prejudice is about some unanswered questions. The questions may be absurd, absolutely farcical, crazy even...but I haven't happened to hear the answers, and I wonder if I'm even allowed to ask. Getting the answers may be risky and painful. Giving such answers about yourself or your group may be humiliating or infuriating. But what I learned in that Upward Bound project in Connecticut is how worth the work the process is. Maybe that was a special time and a special place but it surely was The Dream Come True.


For information on Facing A Challenge Within: A Progressive Scholars' and Activists' Conference on Anti-Semitism and The Left, try

One of the most interesting people involved with these concerns is named Judy Andreas, and you can get acquainted at . The "Letter To Judy" there, from November 24th, is worth your time. Her essay "Opening Up Jewish Eyes," from September 30th, is receiving a lot of reprint on the Internet .

There are two other sites that are adding to my confusion. One is and the other is . Perhaps you'll see what I mean...or can straighten me out.

How serious is current anti-Jewish feeling in America? Try .

1 comment:

jazzolog said...

I received some most interesting comment online and by email regarding the essay I sent out yesterday. One guy in Alberta was quite lighthearted about it, calling my attention to a couple groups I had left out. I replied more seriously that I hadn't mentioned the homosexual community either and that I was sorry I hadn't. That brought a reply from my college friend Paul Quintanilla, and I share that with you now~~~


Captivating milestones
of growing up in the twentieth century. When I worked in San Francisco I had many gay friends and colleagues in the library. And I'm glad you haven't' forgotten the gays. Gay marriage will come about sooner or later. At least I hope it does.

What's wrong with it?

I certainly know that at one time I would have opposed the idea, thought it laughable. Like a woman being a cop. But gay people are not a passing fancy, nor do they "choose" to be gay, the way some far rightwingers seem to believe. They are with us and always will be. And if marriage will make some of them happy is there anything wrong with that? I'm sure you don't think so, Dick.

What's more, I know something about gay suffering. I grew up in New York’s Greenwich Village, on 8th Street, in the heart of it all, and my friends in high school, way back in the fifties, and I were often disgusted by the brutality with which "toughs from New Jersey*" would treat gays. And recall once seeing a tough spit into the face of a drag queen thinking this was all very funny. And, of course, punching a "fag" would be fine too.

This does not mean my friends and I approved of gays: we kept our distance. And in high school I would not have associated with any gay man. And, way back then, "bull dykes" were "bull dykes" and an object of scorn. I can see now why some of them may have had their hackles raised approaching me on the street from reading my face. Now I may understand.

But even then I knew sexual preference really didn't matter. That what people did in bed, among consenting adults, privately, was only their business. And that no one really had a choice over the issue.

But there was no such thing at that time as "gay pride." And gays remained very much within the closet. If a woman went above Fourteenth Street in the fifties wearing pants she could have been arrested for "impersonating a man."

We have come a long way, and I hope we forget our mean and unimportant scruples regarding "saving the family." And allow this bit of happiness - gay marriage - to take place. Did anyone see the photos of Elton John and his partner who married a day or two ago? Case closed.

Regarding "liberal anti semites" and "self hating Jews" there is Tikkun, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Haaretz for news and information on the atrocities the Sharon government have brought on the Palestinians. And Netanyahu is even worse. There is, after all, a progressive left in Israel which believes in Palestinian rights and the two state solution. That some American Jews employ anti semitism as a tool to defend rapacious activities in the Middle East, considering their history, is despicable.

We seem to be slipping backward in regard to minority rights in this country. Through benign neglect, an approach I believe President Nixon first advocated. Of course, the problems of the poor have been almost entirely forgotten. Has there been any great outcry at the deep cuts the Congress recently made in social spending? Food stamps? Medicare? etc. Only the reviled left has squawked, while mainstream Democrats have remained mostly quiet.

Even the middleclass is falling behind, this being the natural falling out when great power and wealth are allowed to concentrate. I think this is the true objective of the Bush administration. With an added touch of Christian fundamentalism to keep us on the moral straight and narrow. (Though they may lies us into a war they will protect us from gay marriage.) On the Iraq front have you heard that the UK and the US are negotiating with the Iraqi government to allow Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell to run the oil production show there?

Naw, that's just an aside in our selfless, humanitarian efforts to bring democracy to the long suffering Iraqis. And how blessed they should feel considering we haven't even imposed democracy on those allies of ours who set them free.

I think you're right. Open debate can be scouring, but it's necessary. I know the burning feeling too.

*"Toughs from New Jersey?" Could that too have been a prejudice on our part? With age I hope we grow, and tolerance based upon understanding is something we should strive for.


Of course the suffering that was endured...and sometimes not even worse. Until recently nearly everyone I know had been touched by the death of a friend from AIDS, sometimes contracted in homosexual relationship. Here was and continues prejudice at its worst. Reagan refused to acknowledge this plague because he thought it was a gay disease (and what it that were true? do nothing?), refused to listen to contrary arguments...and 2 of my closest friends, a couple in relationship 20 years, had to die because of his delay.

Getting back to Paul, if you're looking for a calendar or 2 for 2006, he's offering a couple at his site featuring his father's extraordinary art . Just scroll down briefly there for more information.

Another reply came from online friend Judih Haggai, who is described this way at one of the many sites that feature her splendid poetry~~~

"poet & artist judih haggai lives in kibbutz nir oz in israel. i first became aware of her wonderous work on the action-poetry forum that is a such an integral part of the web site judih's poems are by turns playful, spiritual, humorous, erotic & surreal, characterized by sweet puns & dueling wordplay, his and her's psychic sacrifice, & dominated by a cosmic feminine goddess instinct. judih is spontaneous light, god-mother & angel overseer to many of the poets that post on litkicks. i'm pleased to share with you this collection of 25 poems from her voluminous body of work."

Which MarkK then does here . Here is her comment~~~


This is my response without going through your links, jazz:
it takes a wide opened mind to notice when the goosebumps start to bristle and when an unknown inner voice of suspicion begins to be heard.

What makes me fear the unknown? Why do I react so strongly to those who see the world from an entirely different perspective?

What is prejudice, anyway? Is it the self-made borders of "This, I won't listen to" or "that person is entirely wrong"?
Is it an objective recognition that whatever that person, nation or philosophy says is utter nonsense?

Is prejudice present when a group of people are judged by their customs?

Example: We have Thai workers on our kibbutz. They come here to earn money and send it home. They build hothouses or work the tractors in our fields (alongside Israelis) and choose to live separately. This group of people has no intention of assimilating into kibbutz society. They cook separately, live separately and stick together. They've been here barely 2 years.

Well, what's it gonna be? Can earthy, political communal Israelis open their houses to those who live as males separated from their wives and children?
Can a relatively homogeneous community embrace an entirely different culture?

What stops most of our community from interacting except during work hours?
We live different mindsets. We're very separate. These factors create division.

Yet is there prejudice? Is there a pre-conceived decision to avoid interaction? Is there fear?

Some are mixing. Musicians are playing together. Art always tends to speak when language can't.

Heal prejudice by art. A new project?

Very interesting post, Jazz. Fascinating bio, as well. I quite identify even though my fill-in-the-blanks are different. But still, all of us have been raised within a culture of some sort. We're all faced with a need to clean out inbred bias. It's part of this lab-work called life.


Finally, I'd like to share another comment that came by email from an online friend I thought still was in London, but he says he's moved to Cape Town. I've written about Lionel Snell before...and how he originally popped up, through the marvel of Google, at an article I wrote 3 years ago . He writes occasionally, and even sometimes sends astonishing books. Here's (edited) what he had to say yesterday~~~

"Your piece on prejudice reminded me of something I published a while back. I append it here. Also a short extract from my more recent Little Book of Demons because it relates to the anti-Semitism bit.


"Another big topic of this year concerns the rise of neo-nazi racist gangs as a symptom of a more general upsurge of softer forms of racism.
"After all the previous talk of morality I feel like suggesting we give morality a rest and talk tactics for a while.
"Imagine that you were Prime Minister of England and that you really wanted to declare war on France - how would you bring public opinion onto your side?
"I suggest that the easy, but dangerous, way would be to start a big anti 'European' campaign. It would be easy to trade on current fears about losing our identity in Europe, and recent anti Common Market feelings, and all this could be turned towards mobilising the country for a war on France.
"The danger in this easy approach is that naming 'Europe' as the initial enemy could in fact invoke the whole of Europe against us. Although it might be a bit harder to focus public rage on the land of claret, Boursin and Peugeot cars, at least it might be possible not to estrange other potential allies in the process. By naming 'France', instead of Europe, as the enemy we might even get the rest of Europe onto our side.
"Here is my analogy. I feel upset when I hear about violent racial attacks and I want to declare war on this activity. The temptation is to name the enemy as 'prejudice' because everyone hates prejudice and will be quick to rally to the call. But I suspect that prejudice is actually a natural state, it is an almost universal quality....

"The demon effectively bought Bush by offering mutually advantageous terms. He, in return, boosted Al Quaeda by recruiting most of the world’s population into its ranks with the words 'if you are not with us, you are with the terrorists'. Take myself as example: I had not voted for Bush because I am not American, I live in Britain and had no interest in his politics. So in no sense was I with him. He then insists that I am therefore his enemy and a supporter of Al Quaeda, and I resent that. Unfortunately I’ve no contact with bin Laden, so have not been in a position to hand in my resignation from his organisation, nor do I know what the status is of people like me who have been volunteered into Al Quaeda’s ranks by President Bush - I’ve not received any further instructions or official papers. The example is growing tedious, but it illustrates the way that demons grow stronger when attacked according to their own terms.

"There is another recent example that harks back to the Hitler demon. I heard a woman on BBC radio speaking angrily about the resurgence of anti-semitism in Europe. It turned out that she was not referring to skinhead gangs so much as to media pundits diasapproving of the policies and activities of Sharon’s government against the Palestinians. Now antisemitism is a powerful demon in the West, and her invoking the support of this demon to her cause had got her onto prime time radio and was certainly triggering debate – but at what cost?
"The price she was paying was to make antisemitism respectable by association. Whereas for people of my generation antisemitism evokes images of neo-nazis, skinhead thugs and violence on the streets leading to the horrors of Hitler’s final solution, her message was that antisemitism simply means disagreeing with the policies of the present government of Israel. As with Bush’s declaration on Al Quaeda, myself and a majority of reasonable people including many Jews and even citizens of Israel had thereby been re-labelled as anti-semitic and were thereby forced to re-evaluate the word. The label ceases to describe a demon to be feared as it becomes more a mark of tolerance and decency uniting a vaste swathe of human classes and persuasions.
"The only good thing to be said for that woman’s efforts is that they have not been very successful."

The following is a rather sensible piece of biodata on Mr. Snell~~~

"Lionel Snell is a communications consultant who also maintains a lifelong interest in occultism and the relationship between rationalism and magic. He was plucked from an obscure corner of the Cotswolds by a series of scholarships that led to studying pure maths at Emmanuel College Cambridge, then teaching at Eton. He has also been a civil servant, an aircraft stress analyst, technical author, Waldorf class teacher, publisher and copywriter."

The comments by Paul and Judih are from the online posting of the essay at this site~~~