Saturday, July 31, 2010

On Activism [Sam Smith]

Note: I have been reading Sam for many years now (if you don' t subscribe to his review, you should). There are many times I vehemently disagree with him, but he always brings his “A game” and in the process, he challenges my thinking, or points toward a road not taken, a point of view not considered. This piece here speaks eloquently and passionately about activism. More importantly, it offers a counter to the hypocrites who sit back and tell us the world will end, that people are stupid, that there's no sense, but who don't lift a finger to make a difference. Check it out...

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-=[ Becoming and Living as an Activist ]=-

SAM SMITH: Talk at Active & Compassionate Teens Conference for Social Justice

March 6, 2004

You never know how it's going to work out…

About 16 years ago my youngest son, soon to graduate from high school, visited a used clothing shop with two buddies. One of them found a pink suit, pink tie, and pink fedora hat that fit him just fine and made my son's friend look like some strange character out of a 1940s movie. As a joke, he wore the suit to his graduation a few weeks later.

The other day, I picked up a copy of his school’s alumni magazine. There was a photograph of an African American girl in the pink suit with the pink fedora. For 16 years that outfit has been handed down from class to class to be worn at graduation by the person who best exemplified the spirit of the pink suit -- whatever that is.

You never know how it's going to work out…

In February 1960 four black college students sat down at a white-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in 15 cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to 54 cities in nine states. By April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Four students did something and America changed. Even they, however, couldn’t know what the result would be.

One of the four, Franklin McCain, would say years later, “What people won’t talk (about), what people don’t like to remember is that the success of that movement in Greensboro is probably attributed to no more than eight or 10 people. I can say this: when the television cameras stopped rolling, the folk left. I mean, there were just a very faithful few. McNeil and I can’t count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn’t get people to help us staff a picket line.”

Four people… That’s you and the students on either side of you and the one in front of you. That’s all you need to make history sometimes.

I knew a civil rights leader named Julius Hobson. He used to say that he could start a revolution with six men and telephone booth. He seldom had more than ten at one of his demonstrations. Once in a church with about 30 parishioners, he commented, “If I had that many people behind me, I’d be president.”

But between 1960 and 1964, Julius Hobson ran more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated a campaign that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers by DC Transit. Hobson forced the hiring of the first black auto salesmen and dairy employees and started a campaign to combat job discrimination by the public utilities.

Hobson directed campaigns against private apartment buildings that discriminated against blacks and led a demonstration by 4,500 people to city hall that encouraged the DC to end housing segregation. He conducted a lie-in at the Washington Hospital Center that produced a jail term for himself and helped to end segregation in the hospitals. His arrest in a sit-in at the Benjamin Franklin School in 1964 helped lead to the desegregation of private business schools. In 1967, Julius Hobson won, after a long and very lonely court battle that left him deeply in debt, a suit that outlawed the discrimination in teaching, teacher segregation, and the unfair distribution of spending, books and supplies. It also led, indirectly, to the resignation of the school superintendent and first elections of a city school board. A few years later he started a third party that got him elected to the city council. And a few years ago that party became the local Green party.

You never know how it's going to work out... or when.

In 1848 the first women’s conference took place at Seneca Falls in New York. 300 people were there but only one of the women present lived long enough to vote.

Usually I ask students: knowing what you know now would you have gone to the Seneca Falls conference or would you have said why bother? Would you have been an abolitionist in 1830, decades before emancipation? Would you have been a labor activist in 1890, a gay rights advocate in 1910? Or would you have said why bother?

I don’t have to ask you those questions because you're here even though you don't know how it’s going to work out. You have taken the leap of faith that is the necessary first step for progress: you have imagined that it is possible.

I’m not going to kid you. It’s hard. Producing positive social, economic, and political change in a country as locked down as ours is hard work. And your generation has already taken it in the chops.

With the sole exception of black Americans in the post-reconstruction era, no other generation has been so deprived of its constitutional rights and civil liberties. No other generation of young males has been sent to prison in such numbers for such minor offenses. And few generations of the young have been so consistently treated as a social problem rather than as a cause of joy and hope. Except for blacks in the post-reconstruction era -- no other generation has been so deliberately cheated of so much.

If you think I exaggerate, consider these figures from the Department of Labor, figures that you won’t see on the evening news, or read in the morning paper. The earnings of everyone under 25 -- black, white, Latino, male and female -- have actually declined over the past twenty years in real dollars, about 5% for the most part. But get this: the earnings of black and white males under 25 are down 17 to 21%. A typical white male is earning $97 less a week in real dollars than 20 years ago.

Your rights as a citizen of the United States have also been steadily eroded during your lifetime. There have been increased use of roadblocks, searches without warrants, wiretapping, drug testing, punishment before trial, travel restrictions, censorship of student speech, behavior, and clothing; excessive requirements for IDs, youth curfews, video surveillance, and an older drinking age -- all of this before September 11.

Yet the system that envelopes us becomes normal by its mere mass, its repetitive messages, its sheer noise. Our society faces what William Burroughs called a biologic crisis -- “like being dead and not knowing it.” And even as we complain about and denounce the culture in which we find ourselves, we are unable bury it or to revive it. We speak of a new age but make endless accommodations with the old. We are overpowered and afraid.

To accept the full consequences of the degradation of the environment, the explosion of incarceration, the creeping militarization, the dismantling of democracy, the commodification of culture, the contempt for the real, the culture of impunity among the powerful and the zero tolerance towards the weak and the young, requires a courage that seems beyond us. We do not know how to look honestly at the wreckage without a sense of surrender; far easier to just keep dancing and hope someone else fixes it all.

Yet, in a perverse way, our predicament makes life simpler. We have clearly lost what we have lost. We can give up our futile efforts to preserve the illusion and turn our energies instead to the construction of a new time.

It is this willingness to walk away from the seductive power of the present that first divides the mere reformer from the rebel -- the courage to emigrate from one's own ways in order to meet the future not as just a right but as a frontier.

How one does this can vary markedly, but one of the bad habits we have acquired from the bullies who now run the place is undue reliance on traditional political, legal and rhetorical tools. Politically active Americans have been taught that even at the risk of losing our planet and our democracy, we must go about it all in a rational manner, never raising our voices, never doing the unlikely or trying the improbable, let alone screaming for help.

We have lost much of what was gained in the 1960s and 1970s because we traded in our passion, our energy, our magic and our music for the rational, technocratic and media ways of our leaders. We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered others like themselves. The freedom schools of the civil rights movement. The politics of the folk guitar. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King.

Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple conversations.

Above all, we must understand that in leaving the toxic ways of the present we are healing ourselves, our places, and our planet. We must rebel not as a last act of desperation but as a first act of creation.

You can do it… in fact it’s pretty much up to you… you can tell when change is coming… it’s when the young demand it. We’ve had our chance and we blew it. And you’ve got at most about ten years to set things straight. Then you'll get busy with other things.

In fact, you have to do it.

I know it looks hard. We seem, as Mathew Arnold put it, trapped between two worlds, “one dead, the other powerless to be born.”

So how can one maintain hope, faith and energy in such an instance?

If we accept the apparently inevitable -- that is, the future as marketed to us by the media and our leaders -- then we will become merely the audience for our own demise. Our society today teaches us in so many ways that matters are preordained: you can’t have a pay raise because it will cause inflation, you are entitled to run the country because you went to Yale, you’re not good enough to go to Yale, you are shiftless because you are poor; there is nothing you can do to change what you see on TV, you don’t stand a chance in life if you don’t pass this test.

And what if we follow this advice and these messages? If you and I do nothing, say nothing, risk nothing, then current trends will probably continue in which case we can expect over the next decade or so:

More corruption, a wealthier and more isolated upper class, more homelessness, increased militarization, a growth in censorship, less privacy, further loss of constitutional protections, a decline in the standard of living, fewer corporations owning more media, greatly increased traffic jams, more waits for services and entertainment, more illness from toxic chemicals, more influence by drug lords, more climatic instability, fewer beaches, more violence, more segregation, more propaganda, less responsive government, less truth, less space, less democracy, less happiness, less love…

But what if, on the other hand, we recognize that the future of our society and our planet will in large part simply represent the sum total of human choices made between now and then? Then we can stop being passive spectators and become actors -- even more, we start to rewrite the play. We can become the hope we are looking for.

But how? Well let me offer a few suggestions, what I might call helpful hints for happy hell raisers:

- Discover that you are not alone. Begin right after my talk by introducing yourself to those around you. Find places where people like you can gather not just to commit social justice but to enjoy each other. Change comes not just from agendas, but from casual conversations, from communities of the caring, from having fun with people who share your beliefs.

- Even when you can’t change things you can change your attitude towards them. For example, we tend to think of the 1950s as a time of unmitigated conformity, but in many ways the decade of the 60s was merely the mass movement of ideas that took root in the 50s. Because in beat culture, jazz, and the civil rights movement there had already been a stunning critique of, and rebellion against, the American establishment.

Norman Mailer called such people “psychic outlaws” and “the rebel cell in our social body.” Ned Plotsky termed them, “the draft dodgers of commercial civilization.”

Unlike today’s activists they lacked a plan; unlike those of the 60s they lacked anything to plan for; what substituted for utopia and organization was the freedom to think, to speak, to move at will in a culture that thought it had adequately taken care of all such matters. To a far greater degree than rebellions that followed, the beat culture created its message by being rather than doing, rejection rather than confrontation, sensibility rather than strategy, journeys instead of movements, words and music instead of acts, and informal communities rather than formal institutions.

For the both the civil rights movement and the 1960s rebellion that followed, such a revolt by attitude seemed far from enough. Yet these full-fledged uprisings could not have occurred without years of anger and hope being expressed in more individualistic and less disciplined ways, ways that may seem ineffective in retrospect yet served as absolutely necessary scaffolding with which to build a powerful movement. In other words, even when you can’t act you can think, you can talk, and you can react in some way.

- If you want to scare the establishment, get people together who it doesn’t think belong together. If you have a problem with your principal or headmaster don't just go to his or her office with the usual troublemakers; walk in with some of the smartest kids, some jocks, a few punks, blacks, whites, Latinos, and, best of all, the kids who never seems to be interested in doing anything at all. Once when we were fighting freeways in Washington, I looked up on a platform and there was the Grovesnor Chapman, the chair of the white elite Georgetown Citizens Association, and Reginald Booker head of a black militant organization with a name so nasty I don’t think I can say it in school, and I said to myself, we are going to win. And we did.

- Have fun. Don’t be ashamed of it. You are not only fighting a cause, you are building a new sort of community. Back in the 1960s, a really good black activist told me, “You know, Sam, all I really want to do is sit on my stoop, drink beer and shoot craps.” After that, I never forgot what the battle was really about.

Our quarrel with the abuse of power should be not only be that it is cruel and stupid but that it takes so much time way from other things -- like loving and being loved, and music, and a good meal and the sunset of a gentle day. In a nation ablaze with struggles for power, we are too often forced to choose between being a co-conspirator in the arson or a member of the volunteer fire department. And, too often, as we immerse ourselves in the terrible relevance of our times, beauty and happiness seem to drift away.

- Remember the definition of a saint: a sinner who tries harder. You and your colleagues don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be always right, you just have to keep trying.

- And while we’re talking of saints remember what St Francis of Assisi said, “Always preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” Which is to say that words are not always the answer. Justice can be expressed in many other ways. For example, if you volunteer at a homeless shelter, you don’t have to make a big deal of it. Just the fact that you are doing it will have an effect on those around you.

- Among the other ways are art and music. Music is often the forerunner of political change. Billie Holiday was singing about lynchings long before the civil rights movement. Cool jazz was a form of rebellion. And when they write about what led up to the important Wilmington student conference of March 2004 the smart historians will give credit to punk rock. Because it kept the idea of freedom alive at a time when few others were interested. As the webzine Fast ‘n’ Bulbous noted:

“Punk gives the message that no one has to be a genius to do it him/ herself. Punk invented a whole new spectrum of do-it-yourself projects for a generation. Instead of waiting for the next big thing in music to be excited about, anyone with this new sense of autonomy can make it happen themselves by forming a band. Instead of depending on commercial media to tell them what to think, anyone can create a fanzine, paper, journal or comic book. With enough effort and cooperation they can even publish and distribute it. Kids were eventually able to start their own record labels too.”

In other words, it was a musical version of democracy.

And it can lead to profound political change. By the end of the 1990s, an unremittingly political band, Rage Against the Machine, had sold more than 7 million copies of its first two albums and its third, The Battle of Los Angeles, sold 450,000 copies its first week. Nine months later, there would be a live battle of Los Angeles as the police shut down a Rage concert at the Democratic Convention. Throughout the 1990s, during a nadir of activism and an apex of greed, Rage both raised hell and made money. In 1993 the band, appearing at Lollapalooza III in Philadelphia, stood naked on stage for 15 minutes without singing or playing a note in a protest against censorship. Other protest concerts followed. And in 1997, well before most college students were paying any attention to the issue, Rage’s Tom Morello was arrested during a protest against sweatshop labor. Throughout this period no members of the band were invited to discuss politics with Ted Koppel or Jim Lehrer. But a generation heard them anyway. So Rage T-shirts became a common sight during the 1999 Seattle protest.

- Be patient. You are not winning a game called justice, you are living a life called justice. Bertolt Brecht tells the story of a man living alone who answers a knock at the door. There stands Tyranny, armed and powerful, who asks, “Will you submit?” The man does not reply. He steps aside. Tyranny enters and takes over. The man serves him for years. Then Tyranny mysteriously becomes sick from food poisoning. He dies. The man opens the door, gets rid of the body, comes back to the house, closes the door behind him, and says, firmly, “No.”

- Be fair to each other. There's been a sad side to social activism. Some people get delusions of grandeur, some rip it off. And some don't apply the principles of which they talk to those around them. For example, both the civil rights and the 1960s anti-war movement were rife with behavior that denigrated the women involved. So remember the old Mahalia Jackson gospel song and you won't go wrong: “You can't go to church and shout all day Sunday, come home and get drunk and raise hell on a Monday. You've got to live the life you sing about in your song.”

- As far as getting along with folks of different cultures and backgrounds, listen to my old friend Chuck Stone. Stone really knows how to get along with other people. When he was columnist and senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, 75 homicide suspects surrendered to him personally rather than take their chances with the Philadelphia police department. Black journalist Stone also negotiated the end of five hostage crises, once at gun point. “I learned how to listen," he says. Stone believes in building what he calls "the reciprocity of civility.” His advice for getting along with other Americans: treat them like a member of your family.

- I can’t emphasize that too much. Show everyone respect and you’ll walk comfortably among every class, subculture and ethnicity in this land. Don’t show respect and you’ll live a lonely life.

- Part of that respect is towards yourself. Don’t apologize for who you are. Don’t be afraid to argue with someone just because they are of a different ethnicity. Arguing with someone is a form of respect too, because it means you really care about what they think.

- If you are a member of an ethnic or other minority, remember that as an activist your role is to provide solutions to problems and not merely be a symptom of them. To be a survivor and not a victim. It is hard these days because basically all the corporate and political establishment want any of us to do is to consume and comply, and the poor and the weak more so than the rest of us. For example, they not only want you listening to hip hop but to accept its culture as the outer limit of black aspiration. There is nothing wrong with hip hop except when all doors leading beyond it are closed.

Ethnic politicians have a similar problem. During the civil rights movement, black leaders spoke not only to those of their own culture but to many whites, especially young whites like myself. The most influential book I read in college was Martin Luther King’s “Stride Toward Freedom” and it wasn’t on any required reading list. Cesar Chavez had a similar cross-cultural appeal. But then as African Americans became more successful in politics there was an understandable but unfortunate tendency to retreat to a constituency you knew you could rely upon. And so black leaders became much less influential in the white community.

It’s an important lesson for any young black or Latino activist. Don’t let your story be ghettoized; instead take that story and find the universal in it, and use that story to move those who don't look like you but can understand the story because you made it theirs, too. The greatest ethnic success stories in America have come when a minority learned to lead the majority, as the Irish and Jews often did in the past century.

As an example, I hear over and over that blacks and Latinos can’t work together politically, but I can almost promise you that the next great ethnic leader in this country is going to be someone who ignores that cliché and creates a black-Latino coalition which, after all, will represent one quarter of the people in this land. Perhaps that leader is in this room.

- Look for consensus. There's a lot of either-or in political activism. But within your own groups, it helps to emphasize consensus. Before we got the national Green Party off the ground we held a conference in the early 1990s that many would have said was doomed to failure. We had 125 people from over 20 different third parties ranging from the Socialists and the Greens to the Libertarians and the Perot people. It was asking for trouble.

But we also had two rules: first, we were there to discuss what we agree upon, not what divided us and two, we would discover it by some form of consensus. And we did; by the end of the weekend we had come up with 17 points of unanimous agreement.

- Finally, trust in courage and not only in hope. The key to both a better future and our own continuous faith in one is the constant, conscious exercise of choice even in the face of absurdity, uncertainty and daunting odds. We are constantly led, coaxed and ordered away from such a practice. We are taught to respect power rather than conscience, the grand rather than the good, the acquisition rather than the discovery.

But as Lillie Tomlin noted, even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

Any effort on behalf of human or ecological justice and wisdom demands real courage rather than false optimism, and responsibility even in times of utter madness, even in times when decadence outpolls decency, even in times when responsibility itself is ridiculed as the behavior of the weak and naive.

There is far more to this than personal action and personal witness. In fact, it is when we learn to share our witness with others -- in politics, in music, in rebellion, in conversation, in love -- that what starts as singular testimony can end in mass transformation. Here then is the real possibility: that we are building something important even if it remains invisible to us. And here then is the real story: even without the hope that such a thing is really happening there is nothing better for us to do than to act as if it is -- or could be.

Here is ultimately a philosophy of peace and even joy because we have thrown every inch and ounce of our being into what we are meant to be doing -- which is to decide what we are meant to be doing. And then to walk cheerfully down the street, through our school, and over the face of the earth doing it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Friday Sex Blog [Censorship]

¡Hola! Everybody...
Every summer, I live (and often die) on the performance of my beloved Mets. I will say that these are a tenacious bunch; we need more hitting, however, if we’re going to make any noise this year…

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-=[ Unnatural Acts]=-
Censorship in America

There’s nothing more natural than the urge to express our sexuality. Almost as reliable as that urge is the societal urge to censor these expressions. I have written before about the more than 2,000-year Christian war against sexuality. I believe sexual censorship is mostly founded on the fear of the power of sexuality to liberate us. At the risk of being slammed let me add, while I'm at it, that some of the most repressed individuals in this regard are often Christianized people of color.

In any case, who reading this can honestly say they have never had a deeply moving experience during sex (any kind of sex)?

Let me start off by noting that numerous sexual activities between consenting adults are restricted and carry extreme legal punishments. Until 1961, all fifty states had criminal laws against various forms of consensual sex between unmarried adults. While it is true that many laws were repealed during the seventies, as recent as 1997, twenty five states -- half the states in the union -- still had laws on the books criminalizing unmarried cohabitation. Fornication, defined as sex between unmarried couples, and “sodomy,” defined as oral and/ or anal intercourse, were (and some cases still are) illegal.

What does this really mean? In eleven states around the country, married couples who engage in oral or anal sex in the privacy of their own homes are committing a criminal act, usually a felony. In Rhode Island, an unmarried man and woman engaging in anal sex can receive anywhere from seven to twenty years in prison. In Michigan, two women were sent to prison for enjoying oral sex in the privacy of their tent in a state park. In South Carolina, “the abominable crime of buggery” (not defined in the statute) is punishable by five years in prison. You might think that these are old laws that remain on the books because they haven’t been questioned and you would be wrong. In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples engaging in “sodomy” don’t have a constitutional right to privacy, upholding Georgia state laws in which consensual oral or anal sex between same-sex couples is a felony.

Today many sex educators are leaving the educational system because they are under a tremendous amount of pressure not to talk about sex. Imagine that: not being able to talk about the very subject in which you hold expertise.

For the most part, “sodomy” laws are used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and child custody cases, but they can be used to discriminate against straight unmarried couples as well. Considering the Supreme Courts resistance to upholding sexual privacy at the federal level, the best tactic for fighting oppressive sodomy laws is at the state level.

Sexual expression becomes a crime when the materials produced are legally classified as “obscene.” Obscene materials are exempt from First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The legal definition of obscenity and the manner in which this definition is interpreted, determines what sexual materials we have access to and what materials we can create.

The Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity, the de jure law since their Miller v. California ruling, allows states to regulate sexual materials according to their own community standards. These regulations must be restricted to works that “taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex,” that portray sexual conduct in “a patently offensive way,” and that “taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Only materials found by judges or jurors to meet each of three standards of obscenity may be deemed obscene.

Yeah, I’m shaking my head too…

These criteria are astonishingly vague. For example, the dictionary defines “prurience” as “an inordinate interest in matters of sex.” Wow! That’s very specific! Who or how one determines if a photograph has serious scientific value, versus merely scientific value is a road map for First Amendment violations.

If you think this doesn’t affect you adversely, then you’re probably doing a good imitation of an ostrich defensive measure (burying its head in the sand). Sexual censorship is used as a wedge for the sexually repressed to create intolerance and disinformation. One good example is the dismantling of sex Ed courses. “Abstinence-only” sex Ed, courses that teach only sexual abstinence, actually put teens at risk sexually. Teens attending abstinence only sex Ed calluses have been shown to engage in high risk sexual behavior at higher rates than their peers and are more prone to STDs and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

In addition, any writing or material depicting sex in an honest manner can be censored, not because of the sexual content, but because perhaps the ideas in the material are dangerous to the status quo.

Yes, Virginia, this is the 21st century and we’re still acting like juveniles.




American Civil Liberties Union - Non-profit offering educational and legal services to defend First Amendment rights.

National Coalition Against Censorship - grassroots anti-censorship group fighting for freedom of expression.

Electronic Frontier Foundation - Nonprofit protecting civil liberties online.

Feminists for Free Expression - Anti-censorship organization

The Spectrum Institute - Nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the rights of single adults and domestic partners with or without children.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


¡Hola! Everybody…
I need a vacation!

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-=[ Shame ]=-

We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins.
-- George Bernard Shaw

The whole fifth grade class was laughing at him. Including me.

His father stumbled into the middle of a spelling test arguing loudly with our teacher. His clothes were ragged and he was unkempt. He was there to make a case for his son, Kevin, who sat next to me. Kevin and I were the smartest kids in the class. Kevin was painfully shy and no one really liked him to begin with, so now everybody, including me, was laughing at him because his father was obviously a dope fiend and he showed up in the middle of a spelling test totally out of his mind. He was nodding out even as he argued his son’s case.

I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the shame. I still can remember the shame on Kevin’s face, the humiliation in the knowledge that now everyone knew his deadly secret -- that his father was a “junkie.” I remember my own shame too, because I felt hypocritical.

It’s so easy to join the mob, so easy to feel a part of the crowd at the expense of someone else. The mob mentality has no mercy. Just look at most of today’s headlines and you’ll be a witness to what the mob mentality, or the very human tendency to create scapegoats, can create.

The fact was that I knew too well that shame. My own father was an addict, and I remember when all my friends one day encircled me while chanting, “Your father’s a junkie, your father’s a junkie,” and I felt so ashamed, so humiliated, and so angry. I couldn’t resolve the anger and shame I felt about my father because I loved him so much and all those feelings were too overwhelming -- I didn’t know how to process all that. I just stood there in the middle of that circle tears of anger flowing until I lashed out at the first one to get close enough to me and I punched him in the nose. And that’s when the mob turned on me and I went home with a split lip and torn clothes.

Deep inside I hated my father for making me go through that, but I also adored my father. He was so smart. I used to love to sit on his lap and put my ear to his chest and listen to the soft rumble of his voice as he taught me something or spoke. My father was like a God to me. And now I hated him and I hated myself for hating him because I felt it was wrong.

I just didn’t know how to handle the inner conflict. So I guess somewhere, somehow, I internalized all those conflicting feelings and became ashamed of myself for everything: for my father, for my feelings, for my inability to fix it.

My father was a greatest storyteller and on some days, he would gather all the kids on our block and entertain us with stories. I guess it was a testament to his storytelling gift that he could keep us transfixed on that Lower East Side stoop and you could hear a pin drop. I was raised in a neighborhood where drug addicts were a common part of the urban landscape. As children we would place bets on how far a junkie would nod. Some junkies would nod so far, bent over by the waist that you would swear they would tip over and fall. But they never did.

My father would nod when he told my friends stories. At first, we would sit there for what would seem minutes because invariably there was a punch line, a lesson, or a resolution to the story. At first, my friends wouldn’t say anything, but then my father’s nodding got worse and one day while arguing over a game or a rule, as boys are won’t to do, it came out: the outspoken truth that my father was a “junkie.” It was a hard lesson to be learned at such a tender age.

Yet I sat there and laughed at Kevin just like everyone else did and even at that young age (5th grade), I knew it was wrong. I knew that I was being a phony because I didn’t want to feel that shame anymore, I wanted to be like the others, so I joined in on the cruelty. In making Kevin the scapegoat, the rest of us were saved from confronting our own shame. I wanted to reach out to Kevin, but he refused, sensing something worse: that I pitied him. Eventually I told Kevin my secret and while we never became close friends, in the fifth grade we stuck it out together. I did so even though even talking to Kevin made me an outsider, but that was OK, because I think it was at that time I decided I would always be an outsider. I reasoned that no one could really know me if I was an outsider, so fuck them.

And in that way, I began to build a wall of protection that kept others out so no one could ever know me -- a fortress surrounding my heart.

Shame is a prison. I don’t know for sure, if this was all the beginning, or the setting of the table for my own life, but I certainly know that our secrets kill us, as surely as cigarettes or drugs. Secrets kill because embedded in our secrets lies our shame.

If you notice I’m not that particular about who reads this madness, but I am particular about making someone -- even a stranger -- feel excluded because I know that feeling intimately. It has haunted me for most of my life. Not many people can successfully accuse me of not having a sense of humor, but I abhor humor at the expense of another.

Even now, sometimes it’s easy for me to join in with the mob and feast on another’s soul so that I could feel better about myself. It’s the easiest thing because it trips that “You belong” mechanism. I've done it before and felt stupid after when the object of ridicule was kind to me.

But really: how many of us are laughing or forming cliques, or creating scapegoats because we too have secrets? How many of us can say we’re not turning away from our own shame at some level?



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Sermon [Sex, Spirituality, Ego ]

Hola Evertbody…
I don’t know about where you live, but here, at the Center of the Known Universe, it’s been hawt! Don’t get me wrong, I love heatwaves, love the beach, the humidity – the full catastrophe of summer in the Big City.
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Sex, Your Higher Power & Ego
We moan, we grin, and we roll apart
for some small talk
after our little piece of dying.
It is a feeble reach
for the rational,
some tiny piece of evidence
that proves we are
still alive,
once again in possession of our
separate selves,
once again intact.
-- Edward-Yemíl Rosario ©

Your Higher Power, however (or if) you conceptualize it, is love.
When we are relating to the things and people around us with care, compassion, and consideration, we naturally radiate that love and joy. When we are not handling things in that manner, our spiritual life -- our consciousness of the ever present energy of the Universal Principle -- will be blocked by our apathy. In the interest of honesty I will say that there are times when I do not embody such caring, but I am trying.
To go off tangent for a moment, I know of at least one woman who probably doesn’t like me too much these days and most likely would rather not hear from me… ever. I said at least one, but there are most likely more. The irony is this: until we can undo the karmic entanglement we have created, we will be forever linked. The relevant point being that if you want to be rid of me, then you’ll have to love me first. LOL
I laugh, but I’m serious -- but I digress…
By not caring or being inconsiderate, we create an environment equal to that of a psychological pig sty. In that sty of negativity, not caring often means casting judgments on others. Anyone who’s ever been in a committed relationship will agree that this can be clearly evident as an expression we have taken to bed.
Part of intimacy in bed, aside from the obvious, is sleeping together, something both men and women often take for granted. In actuality, sleeping together is a profoundly intimate, trusting experience, although we have all at one time or another abused that intimate comfort.
How many times have you been in bed, irate because you knew the person next to you was “wrong” but wouldn’t admit it? What did that get you except righteous indignation, as you maintained this intimacy with a bad taste in your mouth, or a tense stomach? The fact is you could have bypassed that righteous indignation.
Perhaps your response might be: “I tried. I mean, if s/he would only admit s/he was wrong, everything would be fine.” To that, I will only say that I’m not talking about trying in that way. That’s just exacerbating the conflict.
Or, another response you might have is, “If only he’d stop being such an arrogant asshole, I might let him in.” To that I would say that’s not “in”; that’s merely allowing your lover out of the judgment jail you put him in the first place.
There are other ways, if you’re willing to put down the defense.
When you’re lying there with your lover in bed, you might instead opt to give them a light massage and as you’re doing that saying something along the lines of, “I don’t like being separate from you. I don’t care anymore about right and wrong. All I know is I want to be with you and to care for you, and for you to forgive me.”
Your response to this might be to object, to say that why you should be the one to forgive if you were the wronged or injured party. Another person might say, “Give Eddie a massage?!! After what that psycho muthafucka said to me?” My response to you and to that form of thinking is that the best thing you can probably do is send the ego packing. To paraphrase a wise person, people say, “I want to love.” I say, drop the ego (I), do away with the desire (want), and what are you left with?
I will say this: be careful about sticking to your guns because you might then find yourself locked into playing the role of gunslinger for the rest of your life. And believe me, once you get with the way of the gun, there will always be another relationship around the corner for you to gun down or to gun you down at the not-so-OK Corral.
I’m just sayin’
If you desire to be with someone in warm, loving, caring, caressing support, I suggest you step out of ego-centered world of the Mini Me, and opt instead for that tender moment.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Naked is the Night

¡Hola! Everybody...
Some of the worst, most atrocious examples of writing can be found in the social sciences. I think a large part of the reason is that social scientists try too hard to make their writing sound “scientific.”

Every once in a while, however, you run into some great writers who also happen to be great social scientists. Case in point, Luc Sante’s Low Life, the story of New York's Lower East Side, circa 1840-1920. Sante may not be a “social scientist” in the strict sense of the word, but damn! his insights and how he brings to life the culture of the streets that continues to influence our contemporary popular culture, is a rare and wonderful fusion of art and science. Check this little gem of a paragraph…

* * *

-=[ The Naked Night ]=-

The night is the corridor of history, not the history of famous people, or great events, but that of the marginal, the ignored, the suppressed, the unacknowledged; the history of vice, error, of confusion, of fear, of want; the history of intoxication, of vainglory, of delusion, of dissipation, of delirium. It strips off the city’s veneer of progress and modernity and civilization and reveals the wilderness. In New York City it is an accultured wilderness that contains all the accumulated crime of past nights… and it is not an illusion. It is the daytime that is the chimera, that pretends New York is anyplace, maybe with bigger buildings, but just as workaday, with a population that goes about its business and then goes to sleep, a great machine humming away for the benefit of the world. Night reveals this to be a pantomime. In the streets at night, everything kept hidden comes forth, everyone is subject to the rules of chance, everyone is potentially both murderer and victim, everyone is afraid, just as anyone who sets his or her mind to it can inspire fear in others. At night, everyone is naked.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Friday Sex Blog [The Big Bang]

¡Hola! Everybody...
Some may find the first part of this post offensive. No apologies offered. I want to thank a dear friend and former lover for allowing me to use her photo and part of our story for today's blog. She read it in advance and actually enjoyed it (helped me edit some of it) -- thought it was important to share. She doesn't live in the US, but we had an intense, loving affair one summer a few years back...

* * *

-=[ The Big Show ]=-
... I feel like a storm, like the ocean, the waves... I want to fuck everything into my womb. A woman suffers not giving her love. To be fully satisfied, she must absolutely live in the depth of her love.
-- Jennifer Garcia

She’s beyond beautiful, she’s feminine sexuality itself, but throughout all our sexing, there’s always this holding back. Sure, she does everything to please me: she happily goes doggy-style and lets me penetrate her deeply and she revels in my deep thrusts, looking back over her shoulder and urging me on, thrusting back herself. She takes me into her mouth to the point of gagging and even swallowed my sperm -- all for my pleasure. But somewhere inside, this is all something dirty and she’s afraid to be a slut for me because some part of her is ashamed.

I want her to show me, to tell me what she wants. I want to know her -- the real her. I want her to grind her cunt against my face and take her pleasure. It’s a gradual process. Little by little we talk, communicating openly, talking about what we like and what we want and who we are and she begins to open. At first, it’s just a little bit -- like when she looks into my eyes while we’re fucking. Or when she squeezes the opening to my cock and smells it, or licks at my pre cum greedily -- all things she was ashamed of doing before.

She opens slowly and I wait patiently for the day when the floodgates open. She tells me she’s never met a man who was so curious and interested in her sex and at first it frightened her, but she enjoys the openness, the permission to be what we want.

One day, while I’m fucking her from behind, she pleads for me to stop. She throws me on my back and tells me, “It’s my turn,” and proceeds to ride my cock in the way that brings her most pleasure -- on top of me, facing me and all I ask is that she stays in the moment with me, looking into my eyes. I lay back, a passive tool to her aggressive grasp for pleasure, and she takes the reins of our sexing and rides me for all she’s worth, not caring, throwing caution to the wind. I feel her moistness. She scrapes her fingers against my chest. Eventually, she takes me on waves of bliss until she comes in violent bursts, her petite taut body trembling, pulsing, and I can feel the walls of her vagina vibrate, exquisitely wrapping my cock in a tender and tight moist cocoon...

All sex, in fact all life, is about the meeting of masculine and feminine energy -- the yin/ yang of life. I envision masculine energy as consciousness and feminine essence as light. This does not mean that men always embody the masculine, or that women only embody feminine energy. What it means is that sexual union is always about a conscious (masculine) presence penetrating a yielding, loving surrender. With some couples, one partner holds more masculine energy, and the other feminine. Some more sexually conscious couples will alternate who is the leading, masculine polarity and who is the yielding feminine polarity. This has very little to do with physical positions and more to do with attitude -- disposition.

As soon as a woman becomes more assertive, initiating, and penetrating with her presence, and as soon as a man relaxes, waits, becomes soft and vulnerable the sexual polarities have been reversed. This can be a great thing to practice intentionally, to experience more deeply the opposite sexual essence. For a couple that has learned to polarize and merge, sex changes from merely a personal act for intensifying pleasure into something quite different. Orgasm is a glorified sneeze when compared to the potential that arises once we step out of the box of rubbing genitals to release pressure or to connect.

When partners are willing to manipulate and cultivate sexual energy, they both arrive to a sexual meeting of fullness. In this scenario, the man has not only realized himself as empty consciousness, but he has also brought that realization down into his body. The woman has not only experienced love and connection, but she has also practiced opening so much that she radiates love itself, from her whole body. She actually becomes the body of the divine feminine: the supreme strength of absolute surrender.

This is not a matter of imitating or acting out in a certain way, rather it is relaxing into your natural essence -- to your genuine essence. This takes no effort at all, only conscious practice. In this form of sexing, the couple isn’t meeting in order to get something from each other. They are not meeting to get off on waves of physical pleasure. They are not even meeting to love each other in the sense that we normally think of love. Sex in this context is being offered at the altar of spirituality itself.

This is why I pray... LOL

This form of sexual union is the “human replication of the union of consciousness and light.” This union can occur within an individual and in our hypermasculine world, this was as good as it got. People became unified within themselves and presented themselves to the world. But the sexing I’m speaking to here is quite different. When we consciously choose to embody the union of consciousness and light, both partners are releasing a gift that is universal, rather than personal. When a man and a woman sex in this way, the two offerings become a full circle, and there is a unification of consciousness and light, of yin and yang, something much greater than could ever occur within an individual. The masculine gives the feminine a deep trustworthy consciousness presence, through one’s body, and the feminine essence gives the masculine deep love and light. In that way, ego boundaries finally break and they pour into one another.

Man, freed by the realizations that, no matter what, he can still fully give of himself is no longer afraid to open into life and finds the union of consciousness and form. Woman, finally freed of her longing to be fully penetrated by God, allows a fuller love to move through her. She realizes, in the unconditional giving, that her world is already fully penetrated by divine consciousness all the time, and always has been. In a way, she becomes the Divine Goddess, the feminine principle itself, open in radiant love. By consciously surrendering to the masculine principle, she is transported beyond her longing to be loved into being love itself.



PS: Sex is good for you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 12 Steps for Everybody [Step 6]

¡Hola! Everybody...
Thursday is actually my hump day. It’s the longest day of the week for me and also the most strenuous. Thursdays I run my women's prison workshop at a women's facility and that's always a challenge. Later, in the evening, it’s my men’s group. I am fortunate in that it’s a labor of love. I’ll be away for most of the day. Make it a great day, people, there's a vicious rumor going around that tomorrow isn’t

I forgot to post something on the 6th step in June...

* * *

-=[ Willingness ]=-

We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The readiness is all.
-- William Shakespeare

I believe that the concept of willingness is one that isn’t given its due -- especially when it comes to relationships. Willingness here not being the narrowly defined ego-will we might think of when we think of “will.”

Willingness is important enough in everything we endeavor whether it be spirituality, self-improvement, learning, relationships, etc. Our willingness or lack thereof, is key in all our activities.

But because of the nature of this post, I'll try to confine my reflection in the area of human relations.

I remember reading somewhere, or someone telling me (I forget which), that it was not enough for me to believe, that I had to be willing to believe. At that time, I was a bit confused about this, “Do this mean I must muster up my willpower?” I asked myself. This was during my early process of attempting a relationship with myself, which I will label here my spiritual journey.

Over time, I have come to understand willingness differently. For me, willingness entails two important components. One is surrender, the other acceptance.

Surrender/ Acceptance

By surrender I don’t mean hopelessness or humiliation, or “giving up.” Surrender, in this context, is knowing, in a very deep sense, that the concept of control is flawed -- ineffective. Surrender in this sense is clearing the way to create an open space and preparing myself to be in more harmony with the world. Realizing that there are aspects of my self and my loved ones over which I have no control, I can become ready to be changed by surrendering to this truth. In surrender, I become ready (willing) to be changed.

That makes all the difference...

I can be wrong, but my own experience has shown me that love, true love, is about change, about transformation. It’s only when we try to control it that it eludes our grasp. I could be wrong, though.

But surrender is not enough. It’s not true willingness unless it contains another ingredient -- acceptance. When I accept the truth of surrender I am already changed, I am more in line with nature and the universe. I can’t force family harmony into my life, but I can become ready to be harmonious. I can’t make a lasting love appear for me on command -- I can become ready (willing) for such a relationship when the opportunities appear.

This is what I look for most in a relationship. It’s more important than looks, than whether she can cook or not, or her attitude, or her sexual prowess -- all of that is superficial for me. When I see the internet profiles that go on at length about the qualities being sought, I am completely, utterly amazed. Sometimes it seems that some of us are looking for “The One” who will fit our wish list of qualities.

Here’s my Christmas wish list, Santa!

It’s as if we’re still little boys and girls buying into the myth.

But my question to you is really quite simple: are you ready to surrender? Are you truly willing? Willing to become completely vulnerable and naked before yourself? Because what I am trying for is to become ready -- not perfect, nor to satisfy my superficial list of ego needs/ wants. So, my question for you is...

Are you ready?



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Voodoo Economics

¡Hola! Everybody...
I wrote the following some time ago and thought it needed some dusting off.

* * *

-=[ Of Laffer Curves, Cults & Crackpots]=-

What we might call, by way of eminence, the Dismal Science.

-- Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) Scottish philosopher on economics

One day, spurred by a comment left on my blog, I called my friend who works on Wall St. My friend is a staunch conservative who majored in economics. His wife, bless her soul, doesn’t like me too much and thinks I should be excommunicated for my sexual views. LOL!

Anyway, I’m not very bright when it comes to economics and finances, I believe my ex-wife is correct in her observation that I should never be allowed to handle my own finances, let alone talk about them. Whenever I have a question on economics, I always call my Wall St. friend. Lately he hasn’t been returning my calls, but I was able to reach him yesterday and he agreed to talk to me on condition that I would never tell his wife we met and if I didn’t interrupt him with my “radical” views. I agreed and even offered to buy him lunch considering the market is right now more radical (anarchy!) than I could ever dream of being. LOL

We met at a popular eatery near Wall St and when we sat down, I immediately blurted out, “Laffer Curve! Tell me about it!” That prompted a hush over the mid afternoon crowd -- nervous glances from others in the restaurant. My friend begged me to lower my voice, “Eddie, things are pretty much volatile around here these days, please don’t start a stampede.”

I promised to be quiet and he began to tell me about this mysterious, all-knowing talisman -- the Laffer Curve.

Now, keep in kind my friend, though a conservative, believes supply-side economics to be the biggest con ever perpetrated on the American people. He’s an “old school” republican: republicans that concerned themselves mostly about such things as deficits, inflation, and excessive spending; republicans who didn’t care much about cutting taxes and were quite willing (like Eisenhower and Ford) to raise taxes in order to balance the budget.

I laugh and and my friend assures me that such men existed, but that they have become an endangered species (extinct?) as the GOP has essentially been hijacked by a cult.

All sects have their founding myths, my friend assured me, and the cult in question can trace its roots to a Holy Trio (like in Christianity!) that met in Washington, DC in late 1974. That trio consisted of Arthur Laffer, an economic consultant, Jude Wanniski, a high-strung Wall St. Journal editorial writer, and, yes, Dick Cheney, who was then Ford’s chief of staff.

Wanniski had no formal training in economics, but he had taken Laffer as his mentor. His choice of tutelage was curious. Laffer had been an economics professor at the University of Chicago since 1967. In 1970, a colleague brought him to Washington to serve as a staffer in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). There he quickly distinguished himself by making a wildly unconventional calculation about the size of the 1971 Gross Domestic Product. President Nixon, ever the craven opportunist, jumped on Laffer’s number because it was far more optimistic than other estimates and suggested an economic boom under his watch. It was discovered that Laffer had used only four variables to arrive at his figure. My friend tells me that most economists used hundreds if not thousands of variables -- inputs.

When his calculations turned out to be horribly wrong, he became the laughingstock of Washington. He left government in disgrace facing the disdain of his academic colleagues. Still, he stayed in touch with Wanniski, the two having met in Washington, and continued to tutor him in economics.

At this point, I gave my friend a patented Eddie ::blank stare::

My friend shrugged as if to say that no one can ever understand the underpinnings of human motivation.

In 1972, Wanniski had an epiphany that led him to believe Laffer was a brilliant economist who had developed a blinding new insight that would turn the economic establishment on its head. Wanniski and Laffer believed that it was possible to simultaneously expand the economy and hold down inflation by cutting taxes, especially taxes for the wealthy. Respectable economists -- even conservative ones -- considered this laughable. Nevertheless, Wanniski was convinced of its truth. He promoted the doctrine through his high perch on the respected (and uber -conservative) Wall St. Journal Editorial page and in articles in the equally conservative Public Interest (published by the Godfather of the NeoConservative Movement, Irving Kristol). Both were highly influential media outlets.

Still, Wanniski’s new doctrine, later to be called supply-side economics, failed to catch on beyond a few loyal devotees.

Then came that fateful Holy Night. Wanniski and Laffer were working hard with little success to explain the new theory to Cheney. At this point, Laffer pulled out a cocktail napkin and drew a parabola-shaped curve on it. The premise of the curve was simple. If the government sets a tax rate of zero, there’s no revenue. And if the government sets the tax rate of 100 percent, the government will also receive zero tax revenue, since there will be no incentive for anyone to earn any income. Between these two points -- zero taxes and zero revenue, 100 percent taxes and zero revenue -- Laffer drew an arc (“The Laffer Curve”). The arc suggested that at higher levels of taxation, reducing the rate would produce more revenue for the government.

At this point, Cheney could have raised several questions. First, he could have noted that the Laffer Curve was not... ummm ... correct? Yes, a zero tax rate would obviously produce zero revenue, but the assumption that a 100 percent tax rate would produce zero revenue was categorically false. I mean, c’mon, I tell my friend, Cheney had to be familiar with communist Soviet Union, with its 100 percent tax rate.

My friend sighed, patiently trudging on. While he assures me he’s no socialist, the soviet revenue scheme may not have been the model of efficiency, but it still managed to collect enough revenue to maintain an enormous military, enslave half of Europe, fund ambitious projects like Sputnik, and so on. Second, Cheney could’ve pointed out that even if the Laffer Curve was correct in theory, there was no evidence that the U.S. income tax was on the downward slope of the curve. My confused look prompted my friend to explain: there was no proof that rates were then high enough that tax cuts would produce higher revenue.

But Cheney didn’t do any of these things. Perhaps, in looking back, like most conservatives, he likes theories that confirm his ideological stances. You can almost picture Donald Rumsfeld drawing a Laffer Curve showing that only a small number of troops would be needed to occupy Iraq.

I digress, but whatever the case, Cheney saw the light and became an immediate convert. For Cheney, the Laffer Curve provided an easy to understand frame for the messianic power of tax cuts. The significance of that Holy Night wasn’t that Cheney was converted, it was the creation of a powerful symbol with which to spread the gospel of supply-side economics. The mantra was irresistible:

Lower taxes! Higher revenues!

The Laffer Curve swept through the republican ranks like wildfire. Kristol would write later, in almost theological terms, of the conversion of Ronald Reagan. And in that way, the totally untested and utterly ideological notion that cutting taxes for the rich is always a good idea came to life. Call it an economic Immaculate Conception.

That is how what Bush the Elder rightfully called “Voodoo Economics” came to being and it would go on to dominate U.S. economic policy for the next 30 years.

So, my friends, the next time one of the goober zombies start blurting crap about the Laffer Curve, or how tax breaks for the rich is a good idea, please know it was something that was literally pulled out of a failed economics professor’s hairy anus.

There’s more to this story, but this is already too long, but I love stories -- especially myths. More to come...



Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Sermon [La Ofrenda/ The Offering]

¡Hola! Everybody...
When I first wrote this, I had some responses along the lines of, "it was just some deranged lady... " And I guess, perception is an important consideration. However, being present (which is what this post is really about) is everything. Life is like the Lotto, you gotta be in it to win it...

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-=[ The Offering/ La Ofrenda ]=-

What you think you are is a belief to be undone.

One day, a couple of years ago, I played hookie from work. It was one of those early spring days and though it started with rain, a jealous sun was attempting to break through obstinate clouds. It was lunchtime in one of my favorite reading spots in The City in Union Square Park. There’s a life-sized statue of Gandhi there and people often put fresh cut flowers in its hands.

I have done this many times. I have several “power spots” throughout the city where I go read, observe, and contemplate, alone yet surrounded -- stillness surrounded by frantic activity. On that day, no sooner than I had settled on a bench, a woman with long white, wild hair came shuffling toward me. I was hoping she wouldn’t sit next to me; I didn’t want to smell yet another homeless person (such is the way we make people invisible). Perhaps reading me, she sat down rigidly across from me. I wanted to get back to my reading. But she stared at me intensely. Then slowly, reflectively, as if following some unknown anointment ritual, she emptied a bag of birdseed on her shoulders. It was a strange sight even for La Gran Manzana -- the capital of woerdness. I noticed how the seeds clung to her hair and clothes, pooled onto her lap, into the folds of her worn clothes, and scattered over her soiled sneakers. Then she leaned back and, after fixing me once more with that intense gaze, she stretched her arms and closed her eyes.

A brief moment passed and first one pigeon flew to her and then several more, and then a dozen or more. They congregated on her arms, pecking at the seeds and one another in a feeding frenzy. Soon the edges of her body were blurred in a flutter of wings. I sat there transfixed thinking this was an act of madness -- clearly this woman was crazy; it seemed as if the birds were devouring her. At the same time, the act took on an air of magic. All the while she was disappearing into this chaotic mass of feathers, she was whispering an incantation in a language I couldn’t make out. I sat there hypnotized, my open book now forgotten.

I noticed that others were staring also. People glanced up from their paper bag lunches or reading their newspapers and gasped. Young mothers pushing strollers stopped and gawked. It was a gesture of such tremendous force that it took us out of our little protective shells, from the cocoons of fearful lives and we forgot ourselves for that brief moment. Her audience -- witnesses to what I call her offering -- came together for that brief time and we were connected somehow. It was as if her act served to break down the walls between us.

In a few minutes, the birds had their fill and one by one, flew away, and the woman calmly grabbed her bag and shuffled away.

Such was the power of her act that for hours afterward I felt as if in a dream and the streets of The City seemed to me new again.

And such is life in The City -- if we stay here long enough, we become immune and lose our sense of awe and forget even that we possessed it. Then something happens to shatter the routine: a blizzard, or a blackout, even a terrorist act and for a few miraculous hours, we come together as our lives are upended and we notice each other’s presence and come into the awareness of the possibilities of human connection. Strangers reach out to one another; aid is offered without condition, hearts are opened. In a sense, this awareness, this presence, is a form of meditation in action.

I guess part of the reason I live here because the challenge of The City is to figure if this experience of openness can be cultivated and made to last.




[un]Common Sense