Sunday, May 10, 2015

MotherHood



Hola Everybody...
Today it’s my dear mother’s birthday. I love you mi viejita querida
For me, the archetype of The Mother isn’t a merely a downward spiral into an extended rap on identity politics (justified or not). For me, the archetype has much to teach all of us, regardless of our location on the power dynamic.And to further clarify, at least from my perspective, motherhood has less to do with biology than many of us assume. Some of the most powerful mothers I have ever known never had children of their own. My aunt, Fefi was everyone’s mother. She raised more children than you can shake a stick at and if she were alive today and met you, she’d be your mother too. But she never had a child of her own, biologically speaking.
I had an aunt in Puerto Rico who received recognition from that Island’s governor – some kind of lifetime achievement award. She literally raised hundreds of children.
The woman my son calls mother is not the fruit of her womb. But she is as close to a mother he will ever know.
My sister Darlene never had a child but her instinct for nurturing and compassion is present in everything she does.
So motherhood (or parenting for that matter) is not just about biology, though I’m sure that’s an aspect of it. I think the Mother Archetype is instructive to all people in that it shows us the heart of the heart of compassion. A role model I certainly needed when I my then seven-year-old son and I were thrust together and I had to be a “mother” to him.
My own mother wouldn’t allow us to have pets, but she would welcome fragmented people into her home the way other mothers collected stray animals. The exiled, the unforgiven, the broken, the traumatized  — they were the cast of characters that populated my childhood. And as much as my mother helped these poor souls, a few would turn on her and I would shake my head and ask my mother why she bothered, and she would look at me and say, “There’s a God and He sees everything, it’s not for me to judge. You help because that’s what you are supposed to do.” I believe my mother’s life’s philosophy goes something like this: “If you can help someone but refuse, then you have wasted your life.”
It took me almost a lifetime to understand that wisdom…
Basically moms led a hilarious life with her children in tow -- here’s a story I always remember…
* * *
 
The Case of the Layaway Men

We were all crying because the bad men were going to take the TV away.
There was little else in that living room, I don’t think there was even a couch. We would sit on the plastic covered kitchen chairs to watch TV. And that’s what we were doing when these two strange men came into the room and started taking the TV away. I couldn’t have been more than five and my two sisters Darlene and Yvette were three and two, respectively.
We were crying.
These two big bad men were taking the TV away.
There were two things I remember most about that Lower East Side five-story walk-up apartment. One was that the bathtub was in the kitchen which made for funny situations during dinner time. The other was that it had this long, narrow hallway. So long, in fact, that I used it to ride a tricycle up and down its length. My mother was obsessively clean, the worn linoleum would gleam with floor wax, and we would take a running start in our socks and slide across that long hallway.
However, most of my memories of that apartment weren’t so good because it was the first time I would remember my father’s absence. And when my father wasn’t around, things were hard for my mother and we had less to eat, less furniture.
But we had this nice, brand new TV and these strange men were getting ready to take it away, so I cried, and my sisters followed suit. And my mother was standing there, not knowing what to do.
Then she started arguing with these men. At first it was more of a plea. She was actually begging these men not to take the TV away. You see, the TV was bought on the ghetto “lay-away” plan, which was actually a scam to rip off those who had nothing to rip off in the first place. You would put an item on “lay-away” and that would allow you to take it home. You paid for the item in weekly installments. The thing was that the weekly installments often added up to more than twice the sticker price. In fact, most of what you got on “lay-away” was used -- items that were taken away from other families who had failed to pay the weekly installment. Now, if the question occupying your mind right at this point concerns the wisdom of a poor family having a TV, I have no dialog for you -- you have no understanding of poverty. Fuck you very much.
Aside from the long, narrow hallway, it was the only form of entertainment we had.
Soon, my mother was engaged in an all-out argument with the men, who seemed to care less and weren’t even paying attention to my mother. You have to understand my mother is a petite woman who barely measures five feet tall -- not an imposing physical presence. So the men were ignoring my mother which made her more pissed off, which made us cry more.
“You can’t do this, Stop!” My mother yelled.
And everything stopped. We stopped crying because we knew that tone of voice. We had heard that tone many, many times before and it usually meant some shit was going to go down. So we stopped crying, curious about what would happen next. The men stopped because it was a defiant, authoritative voice. I guess they were used to taking orders and my mother had just barked one out that would’ve made a marine drill sergeant proud.
The pause lasted a split second, then the men continued preparing to take the TV, and we got back to crying.
I remember my mother tried pleading one more time to no avail and then I became scared because when I glanced over to her, she had The Look. I can’t ever sufficiently describe The Look. It was the look of death and it actually made my mother look taller, more powerful, but these guys just weren’t getting it, but we knew. We knew some shit was about to jump off. I felt so bad, I almost warned the men, but, having learned even at that early age that discretion is the better part of valor, I chose to stay quiet. My mother, seemingly defeated and frustrated, left the room...
And when she came back, she had the largest knife she owned in her hands. It was the same knife used for special occasions for cutting a pernil (roast suckling) or something like that, and she had this wild-eyed look in her eyes. I swear her hair was standing up!
“YOU’RE NOT TAKING THAT TV!!!” She roared. “You will take that TV over my dead body! My children are not going to suffer.” And with that, she yelled her death roar and made her charge, apparently ready to die.
Now, I was very frightened because I feared for my mother’s safety. My mother was small and petite and, after all, she was a woman. Surely, she wasn’t a match for these two big idiots who didn’t even know better. The men, who had until then been ignoring my mother, freaked out when they saw my mother charging them with this huge knife in her hand. They tried to calm her down, but it was too late. Shit, I could’ve told them that. She went after them and the funniest thing happened: The men ran!
Or rather, they tried to run, but my mother had them cornered, slashing at them with her knife and she meant to cut them. Through some miracle, they managed to elude my mother’s slashes and make it out the living room into that long hallway, whereupon they slipped and slid through the length of that recently waxed and gleaming long expanse. Somehow, they managed to make it out of the apartment, though my mother almost managed to stab the unfortunate one who slipped and fell.
But that wasn’t enough for her. My mother chased those men down five flights of stairs and down the street where they had their truck parked. They almost didn’t make it. By then my mother had ripped open her blouse and was yelling, “Rape! Rape!” at the top of her lungs which caused all the frustrated Puerto Ricans who happened to be hanging out on the street corner that fine summer day to join in on the chase of these two poor men. I know this because I was running behind my mother the whole time. I’m her oldest, after all.
They jumped in the truck making their final escape in a squeal of tires and a cloud of dust, never to be seen again, a mob of oppressed and upset Puerto Ricans on their tail.
There we were in the middle of the street, my mother with a knife in her hand, clutching her blouse closed. She looked at me and said, “C’mon, let’s go home.” Somehow, I remember, my mother managed to look regal, her head held high, and no one dared say a word to her.
And that’s what we did; we went home up those five flights to that sad almost empty apartment. She put the TV back where it belonged, plugged it in, and told us that we could watch as much TV as we wanted and that no one would ever take our TV away. She left and got some overpriced, stale meat and other things on credit from the corner bodega. It is said that Cuba, the proprietor notorious for once refusing credit to his own mother, took one look at my mother and decided that was not the best time to mention her credit was stretched too far. Later she cooked us dinner, with a Blackout Special as a treat.
And we were so happy.
That was the kind of mother she was: ferocious, fiercely protective of her children. Later in life, it was her power of example that maintained me and taught me never to give up when the odds seemed insurmountable. It was also her fierce love that nurtured and protected me, serving as beacon to a path for becoming a better man. I believe that if I were to carry my mother on my back for the rest of her life, I still could never repay her.
I love you Moms.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Semon [Fundamentalism]



Hola Mi Gente…
It is a lovely day and I’ll be heading to the seashore to take in the rejuvenation of the seashore -- eat some clams on the half shell.

* * *
 
Hand-me-Down Beliefs
Man is the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his ideology isn’t straight.
-- Mark Twain

What I find interesting when engaging the “holy rollers” is that it always comes down to this: According to the religious, I’m going to hell for daring to question their beliefs. I’ve had some actually say that (for my sake) I had better be right, because (presumably) God is gonna have his vengeance on my blaspheming ass. It has been my experience that “true believers” are more interested in defending dogma than actually living what they purport to believe. If you’re a Christian and you find a measure of justification in your belief that your God will sentence me to a hereafter of eternal damnation, then what kind of person are you? 

Beliefs can be a motherfucker sometimes… 


As a matter of habit, I do a “belief spring cleaning” at least once a year. What that means is that I take an inventory of my beliefs and get rid of the ones that have no foundation. Now, this is no easy feat. Over the years, I have had to throw away some cherished beliefs. One such belief was my belief in me! I used to believe that “Eddie” existed, but when I sat down to look for “Eddie,” I couldn’t find him. What I found instead, when I suspending my belief, was an on-going process -- a series of beliefs -- which I managed to cobble together to create this entity we’ve all agreed to call “Eddie” (as well as some other choice names). In fact, what I found was an amalgam of defense mechanisms, beliefs, fears, personality quirks, that when played fast, looked like what I consider my personality -- or “Eddie.” It’s a lot like a film. A film gives the viewer the illusion of movement and substance because the individual frames move at a very fast rate through the projector.


But when I sat down and slowed the process down, suspended my belief system, what I saw wasn’t “Eddie,” but a bunch of different components that added up to what I call an “Eddie.” At first that was a fucked up revelation. How could it be that I don’t exist?! I must be seeing things wrong, I surmised to myself, so I began researching this. After all, I was very much attached to the “Eddie” I had created.


But nowhere could I find the basis of Eddie. From a science perspective, I discovered that the brain/ mind has no specific function that creates “Eddie.” There’s no central processing area in the brain responsible for the creation of a personality -- an “Eddie.” It’s all made up! At first, this was a very scary revelation. I mean, how will “Eddie” go to heaven if there is no “Eddie”? But then, upon further reflection, I realized that this kinda/ sorta liberated me. I mean if “Eddie” was something I made up as a way to cope with life, then that meant I didn’t have to defend myself as much. “Eddie” was a story I made up in order to explain shit, but it wasn’t really who I was. Sure, I use “Eddie” for stuff like paying the rent and crossing the street, but “Eddie” is still just a story, a movie I made up.


And that’s how I lost my “Eddie.” Or my belief in it.


Another belief I lost much more earlier in my life was the hand-me-down belief in an invisible person that lived in the sky somewhere and who either punished or rewarded us according to our behavior. That one was a lot easier than losing “Eddie.” I realized that belief in a Divine Hierarchy that needed to be prayed to in order to curry favor was pretty much a juvenile construct. And that shit about the world being created in seven days? Yeah right! And why He gotta be a man?! What’s up with that? What I came to experience and realize was that we’re all part of a Divine Spark, that God isn’t somewhere out there, but here inside of me (and everyone else). And some day, who knows, maybe even that belief will be discarded.


Any hand-me-down belief system is a subtle appeal to your deepest fears and longings. It’s like a parasite that wraps itself around your mind -- almost like a demonic possession.


Don’t get me wrong, certain belief systems contain important truths, questions, and sometimes even answers. Yet, at a very deep level, they are not your truths, questions, or answers. An unquestioned belief system is like eating free bread, it only masks the real hunger we have for spiritual fulfillment. This basic human hunger can only be satisfied by our own efforts, by the planting and cultivation of our questions, by the harvesting of our own answers, and by coming to our own truths. Only then will you earn the right to live consciously, mindfully, and call yourself truly alive.


Blind faith is, well, blind.


Hand-me-down beliefs are a lot like spiritual trash: easy junk-food handouts offered to us by outdated belief systems and thought constellations that keep us dependent on the spiritual dole and rendering us incapable of fending for ourselves, incapable of coming into contact with our own potentials and gifts. If we, in our thirst for spirituality, agree to drink the Kool-Aid of guilt, shame, and fear they serve us, we will live as zombies -- dead from the neck up.


Face it, most belief systems are the rotted remains of what one person sorted out in deliberation and mindfulness for themselves. Will you be content to live on the rotted meat of their long-lost labors?


The unexamined life is a second-hand life. It is second hand because it is dependent on other things for meaning. Take away the hand-me-down beliefs and you take away dependency. An examined life is meaningful because it is the examination and personal exploration that gives it genuine meaning and grants dignity. Do you really believe in or want off-the-shelf, one-size fits-all truths, or are you going to explore and discover your own?


The choice has always been yours.


My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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