Friday, August 24, 2007

American History: The Bush Family Legacy

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Portrait of Napoléon on the Imperial Throne. 1806. Oil on canvas. Musée de l'Armée, Paris, France.

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

---Franz Kafka

To learn the way it is important to be sharp and inconspicuous. When you are sharp, you are not confused by people. When you are inconspicuous, you do not contend with people. Not being confused by people, you are empty and spiritual. Not contending with people, you are serene and subtle.


The best things in life are nearest. Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.

---Robert Louis Stevenson

In the past few years, many of us on the American Left have found ourselves looking for understanding to the writings of historian Juan Cole. Born in Albuquerque in 1952, John "Juan" Ricardo I. Cole is professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. Not only does he have a new book entitled Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East, but he also translates works in both Arabic and Persian, and maintains a popular weblog called Informed Comment [link] .

The other day Juan Cole posted an entry in which he offered notions of historical comparison that he couldn't help thinking about the Bush involvements in the Middle East, given what he'd learned about Napoleon. While I strongly believe the species' survival depends on learning at least something from history, I also think historical comparisons are a tricky business. Nevertheless the current Bush asked for it in his big speech the other day when he invoked Viet Nam as his latest scare tactic. If he wants comparisons, then let us hear Professor Cole's.

Yesterday Tom Englehardt posted the essay at his site, and Juan Cole is requesting any citation of it be linked to TomGram, so I'll do that. He'll be discussing his perspective this afternoon at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. Supposedly C-Span will be televising it live at 12:15 PM, and giving it an hour and a half.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Heavy With Child

Karl Brulloff. Italian Woman Heavy with a Child Examining a Shirt and her Husband Making a Cradle. 1831. Watercolour on cardboard.
Let us dig our gardens and not be elsewhere;
Let us take long walks in the open air...
Let us bathe in the rivers and lakes...
Let us indulge in games...
Let us be more simple: simple and true in our gestures, in our words, and simple and true in our minds above all. Let us be ourselves.
---Robert Linssen
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you should begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
---Ralph Waldo Emerson
Don't ask if I've ceased my wanderings;
already I've trampled all over the south.
Understanding should be what you yourself understand.
Mind is not someone else's mind.
There is a great benefit in writing...and it's not just another chance to tell people what to do. It's not even to inform friends and relations what you've been up to. The gift of writing your words is in the opportunity to collect your thoughts and work on them thus. Maybe you'll share it, maybe you won't. Here, in this writing, I will be heartfelt.
Presently my family is enjoying the presence in our home of the lady our son has chosen totally. And she has chosen him. They have been friends throughout their schooling in this town, and in recent years discovered their feelings were true love. They felt even more freedom together in that realization, and became joyfully radiant in celebration. Everyone around them knew it to be so and benefitted in their presence. Jeroch and Karen are a couple and you can see it strongly.
A few months ago a child decided to be born out of them, and Karen carries her now to fruition in December. They have a charming house chosen for this beginning, and they await final preparations for them to move in...probably next month. In the new style of American youth---that some elders are tempted to call cart-before-the-horse---they haven't gotten around to the stupendous wedding occasion that is sure to come. For one thing, her older sister also is getting married, and Karen is deferring to her in mutual agreement to have the first wedding. And who's to say the horse can't be in the back, pushing or something?
Jeroch is spending most of the summer in an internship at the esteemed Omega Institute for Holistic Studies . He's been emailing people throughout his experience about the amazing people and great sages he has met. It is clear he is growing in every direction. Karen had spent a month in Mexico earlier in the summer, receiving certification in an advanced yoga discipline. Together they are preparing for this birth, marriage and family in a most unique and individual way. Jeroch was here during the last week, and it was wonderful to enjoy their company in our home until he flew back to Rhinebeck Friday.
In the autumn and continuing, they may be able share these new skills with others as there is great interest in these things in this community of Athens. But they will support themselves simply, as Karen's university degree qualifies her for substitute teaching at this point, and Jeroch works in the managing of Crumb's Bakery, a business with rapidly expanding distribution.
For Jeroch's mom, his younger sister, and me, the challenge is to watch and participate in all this---hmmm, how shall I put it?---without worrying too much. I suppose families normally worry about each other, but the gracefulness of this caring mustn't become a burden for the loved one. I'm discovering it's hard to do. I never thought there was any special skill you had to learn to become a grandparent, with the rest of life...HELLO.
When your child is in the house, you tend to do all this teaching and regulating stuff. You've only got a dozen years or so to get it all packed in there---all the traditions, the rights and wrongs, the skills, the healthy lifestyle, the work and the fun. And at some point, the kid starts wanting to do it his way and not necessarily yours...and the tension about freedom surfaces bigtime. Then the child goes, and there's this period when father and son are just these 2 guys looking across at each other. Did it end up you can be friends or are there still tensions from the battles?
I guess the grandparent time is when I get to sit down and do the learning. Perhaps there are families out there in America in the 21st Century where the children proceed to do everything they learned at home...and just live it out the same way the family did, and maybe the generations before them. But I didn't do that and I don't think my wife did either...but not as radically as I had to do things my own way. I'm sure my parents laid awake nights worrying about me, but when they let slip that they did I didn't want to hear about it. Now it's my turn.
How many problems can Dana, Ilona, and I think up that might befall these 2 angels---soon to be 3? How anxious can we become about preparing them for the unexpected pitfalls? We mustn't spread such nervousness. We need to sit quietly, we need the silent strength within, we need to pray, we need to have and show faith. There is great work and growth in grandparenting. And isn't it great if you have a kindly aunt who actually cares about and spends time with you? This has been a huge summer!
May I conclude with a section of Jeroch's writing he sent out onto the Internet a couple weeks ago? Here he is talking about something called Retreat Week...and a meditation master whom he met, and it appears what Jeroch has to tell me is just what I need to hear~~~
Adyashanti is a teacher of one of the silent retreats. "Adyashanti is a dynamic and inspiring spiritual teacher who lives an ordinary life while demonstrating an extraordinary gift for transmitting a simple truth: liberation is the birthright of us all. His teachings have been compared to those of the early Zen masters and Advaita Vedanta sages. Over the last 10 years of Adyashanti’s teaching, his sangha (spiritual community) has grown to several thousand students worldwide, and he has published three books of his teachings: The Impact of Awakening, My Secret is Silence, and Emptiness Dancing." It just so happens that the day I chose to be silent, Adyashanti was giving a staff lecture hour. These staff hours are a tremendous blessing. It is always very personal, intimate and there are always moments of deep reflection. Adyashanti is a bright, shining light of a being. He radiates a simple truth. That inner silence leads to deep realization. I think almost the entire staff attended the discussion, it was packed. Many of the other staff members had also taken vows to remain silent. We had the opportunity to ask questions of him, so I took my pen and wrote down something I had thought of that had left me very curious. After two very emotional questions that he offered extensive teachings on, he said we had time for one more. I rose my hand and to my delight he chose me. I walked up to the front of the theater and handed him my inquiry. He read it. And then read it again. And smiled. And I smiled. And a moment of infinite love passed. He spoke into the microphone and read it aloud. " I love silence, love it! But isn't silence an illusion? Everywhere I go I hear my heartbeat." I will paraphase his answer. " All is silence. Reality is an Explosion of silence. When one has the capabilty to be silent inwardly, then one will be able to hear the truth. The truth cannot be spoken, cannot be summed up through words. Your heart beat, the wind blowing in the trees" He waved his hands above his head like the wind. "This is the explosion of silence." We bowed deeply to each other for his answer had filled my heart with joy. And for the rest of the day I enjoyed the explosions of silence. I learned much from my day in silence. Much that cannot be put into words, yet. Mostly I learned how important it is that we communicate our inner most feelings. Letting out that which is at the center of our souls. The Love at the center of our being. I have only a few more days here at Omega and am taking the time to enjoy every moment of it. I hope that all of you are having wonderful experiences living the lives that you love. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Love, peace and harmony through cooperation. Jeroch

Monday, August 06, 2007

America The Vindictive

The painting is called The Indian Prisoner, created by William Gilbert Gaul, 1899.

In the scent of plum blossoms,
Ah! the sun appears---
the mountain path.


When we have seen Reality, there is not a grain of dust which has not a sublime meaning.

---J. Vanderleeuw

It is like archers. If they start out competing, they'll never become marksmen. It is only long after practice, with no thought of winning or losing, that they can hit the target. Same with the study of the Way. If even a single thought of winning or losing appears, you will be chained by winning and losing.


In one of the first essays I ever attempted online, I mentioned how I happened to come in contact with the famous folk music collector, Alan Lomax. I said at one point he called me "puritanical" and how stung I was by the remark. It still bothers me, but I've soothed myself somewhat with the balmy knowledge that he knew of my New England education---and I was aware of how he felt about New England. I've also tried---and been forced by reality---to ease up on the rigidity of my views of 30 years ago.

I'm glad that at the time I did not begin a range war with Alan, since Texas always was home to him. I doubt any Texans have been called puritanical (unless one happened to be born and educated in New England before relocating----hmmmm) but we do know something about justice in the Wild West. Whether or not the scores of Westerns I saw at the Saturday afternoon matinees gave me an accurate history, I've grown up thinking resentments are a particular weakness in the American fabric. I think we tend to be a people that transfers our problems rather than inventories them in order to change. We go to workshops that teach us to transform failures into opportunities for growth and expansion. We spin.

When I came to Southeast Ohio, I learned that until recently spanking students with big wooden paddles was legal and routine. At first I thought they were joking. No teacher ever laid a hand on me in New York, and I couldn't conceive of it. One time in Lincoln Junior High a science teacher made a kid stand in the corner on his head for a while, but that's the worst I saw. When I worked among people here, who didn't necessarily go beyond the local high school education, I was similarly amazed when they spoke of "beating" their kids, specifically the boys I guess. I didn't think it was my place to ask for details, but I thought maybe again this was a term for strict discipline but not actual physical pain. "Beating their butt" is common parlance around here among many parents.

I've been feeling that during my lifetime the American character has changed markedly and the rest of the world is noticing. Maybe we all were mistaken, having been mislead by World War II propaganda---as Clint Eastwood hints in his film Flags Of Our Fathers. We were the fun-loving Yanks liberating Europe with dollars and chewing gum. If we never were that actually---or even if we were---do others feel we now are vengeful opportunists, motivated essentially by getting more for me and mine? Do we care if injustice is done to others in our name? Do we listen intently to testimonies of people released from our "detention centers" about what was done to them for years---or don't we want to hear about it? Have we gone off the deep end and become cruel?

I've worried about this and tried to deal with it personally, convince myself the behaviors I endure everyday by others driving cars are just momentary. The aggression will fade away when the war on terror is won and we all return to normal. But maybe it's something more permanent, a trend not so easily reversed.

And so it was this morning I came upon an article in the Boston Review. Well, maybe Boston is the best place to review an oppressive morality! The title is simply Why Are There So Many Americans In Prison?, and was compiled by Glenn C. Loury who is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences in the department of economics at Brown University. A 2002 Carnegie Scholar, he brings very recent statistics to bear on how Americans are using punishment to solve problems.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Year Without Tagliabue

Amid hectic preparations for a move to Providence, Rhode Island, Professor of English Emeritus John Tagliabue---the muse of Bates College for more than forty years---and his wife, Grace, took time out for portraits by Phyllis Graber Jensen in the garden of Muskie Archives. The caption, a fragment from a poem in John's book New And Selected Poems: 1942-1997, reads "...a breeze hails our way,
we lift our sails;
we hold on to each other for dear life." (Bates Magazine, Spring 1998)

All of us are watchers---
of television, of time clocks,
of traffic on the freeway---but
few are observers. Everyone is
looking, not many are seeing.

---Peter M. Leschak

You ask why I live in the mountain forest,
and I smile and am silent,
And even my soul remains quiet:
It lives in the other world
Which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom.
The water flows.

---Li Po

My nature is subdued
to what it works in,
like the dyer's hand.

---William Shakespeare

And so a year has gone by. A year without friend and poet John Tagliabue. A year without Tagliabue and the sun has shined its radiance with slight dimness. Music of the spheres has played less sparkling. The dancers whirl without shout. His death last year was certainly at his time, but it has meant a year without my teacher pushing me closer to the edge.

Besides a flutter of poems tumbling out like petals from blossoms, his letters and conversation always contained what books to read. He urged them as he did his assignments, shrugging off your foolishness if obviously you didn't read them. There were exhibits at the museums and he would tell you. Dancers and actors on the boards, and he needed to share with his own advertisements. There were foods and people from so many countries to visit. Be sure to have pad and pencil for jotting down impressions of human scenes on the train.

One time, when I was a junior at Bates College, where he taught and I learned, he decided he wanted to see Martha Graham dance in New York. It might be her very last time. We were in Maine. John had a car but he never learned to drive. Refused to. Usually his wife Grace took him somewhere he needed to be, but for some reason this time he asked a few of us students if we wanted to drive him. And we'd see La Martha of course.

As I recall there were 5 of us on the expedition. Two couples and my roommate. We would drive all day, stay one night, see the company's performance, and then drive all night back to Lewiston. I can't think how we fit in that small car. On laps I guess.

When we got to Manhattan, John had us drop him off at his sister's apartment...and then we were left on our own. This was a surprise to us, and hardly our idea of a school field trip. Don lived in New Rochelle, so he just took a train home. Paul's girl friend, like mine, was a sophomore, but he thought he could just bluff his way into a hotel room with her...and he did.

This was 1960, and I wasn't so sure I could get away with it. So Bonnie and I stayed with the car, and drove all over the place looking for a secluded spot to park for the night. Neither of us knew the City. Finally I came to a place near the water that appeared to be a kind of parking lot, at least during the day. It was deserted. Across the bay were a thousand lights...and in the bay stood the Statue of Liberty, far out there. I would later learn this was The Battery, but that's where we stayed---in our fog-windowed coupe. We were not disturbed.

Martha was wondrous, dancing one of her Greek things, but unfortunately barely able to get back up once she had lain down. I never had seen anything like this, but I knew a little about myth and things by then...and sometimes you had to go to the Underworld, and maybe that was happening. The music, also original and strange, sounded underworldly and then maybe rejoicing we were back up. I think dancers waved streamers around or got wrapped in them.

Don drove all the way back. He chainsmoked Camels or Luckys to stay awake, keeping the side vent open to flick an ash or the butt. I think I was in the front seat with him, and maybe Bonnie was up there too. John was in the middle of the back seat, and must be Paul and Carol on either side. We all slept and Don drove. At 3 AM, wherever we were, suddenly this great improvised Kabuki chant shouted. Tagliabue had stirred and needed to announce it! He always made up his own Japanese, whether dance, poem or song. After the fright, we laughed on for miles.

A Japanese friend spoke at John's Memorial Service in Providence a year ago, and said the poet always spoke to him in Japanese. Through all the years he knew him he did that, and the friend would politely reply. But finally the truth could be told: in all those years, he said, he never had understood one word John uttered. But of course that didn't matter. The meaning was clear, always beautiful and somehow about love.

Here's a poem Grace sent to me recently, carefully calligraphied as she is so expert to do~~~

With infinite Play,
with infinite Presentations

Loving to communicate,
loving to touch, to see,
to hear, to be active sensible,
loving to touch with his feet
the Divine Ground, to dance,
to read this to you, he
returned often; as often as
music in the bodies of lovers.

---John Tagliabue