Hueman adaptation and the power of touch

Is it time to have the conversation about adaptation, our quintessential nature? Huemans of every color and persuasion have become increasingly connected, resulting in a dawning awareness of our inescapable togetherness. Frightening, apparently to many. Re-cognizing our shared humanity will move us through this dark cloud of fear, the deep and abiding lack of trust in ourselves and each other. It is more than a journey of faith, it is the embrace of our wholeness. It is the way forward.

In the meantime, we have created a nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from. Swinging between self-loathing and hatred of whoever’s handy, our endless wars will keep the savvy interplanetary traveler at bay, until we admit we’re all in this together and stop fighting. Those who think they exist above the rabble are still a part of us, there truly is no escape. As human beings, we have always relied on our adaptability for survival.  Adapt and evolve or decline and die. That’s our choice and it affects the entire world.

We have been trained to hate each other.  Perched on the fulcrum between animals and angels, huemans are clearly confused. Everyday we choose to express our bestial or spiritual natures. Like toddlers who hate a particular vegetable, we hate someone for the color of their skin. We don’t even question the absurdity anymore. Dominant white European/American cultures have assumed the role of planetary antibodies, attacking  “invaders”who dare threaten their empire. White people (I am one) have some heavy karma and we need to face it. Time to truly make amends.

The movie Arrival raises the specter of what can happen when more evolved beings come a calling.  There are many things I love about the movie: the way Dr. Louise Banks used her intuition to communicate with the visitors; learning their language and evolving beyond linear time; the way our hands and the 7 fingered others bring our mutual sense of touch to the foreground. I also really liked the army listening to a smart woman who kept us from destroying ourselves. A winning strategy we should try more often.

Touch lights the path to intimacy, feeling and empathy. In Arrival, Louise’s intelligence and her sensitivity allowed her to access the complex language of advanced, alien beings. She dared to trust her feelings and accept her vulnerability. As a result, she evolved. It gave her the courage to have and to love a child, even though she knew her daughter would fall ill and die too young.  Her husband was not able to accept this impossible choice and left, unwilling to deal with his own vulnerability and heartbreak.

In the movie Moonlight, we see Chiron (aptly named) trying to stay alive, bullied for being gay, chased and beaten whenever his persecutors could catch him. Touch, for him, was not tender.  Intimacy came wrapped in shame, when his first kiss turned into betrayal and more pain. Even the love of his mother was tainted by her addiction and neediness.  When he was taken in by Juan (a drug dealer) and his girlfriend, Teresa, Chiron found temporary refuge from the consuming hunger of his body and soul.

Juan took him to the beach for the first time and taught him to swim, his baptism into trust. Imperfect love is love nonetheless, and Chiron was starved for human tenderness.  While he quit his friendship with Juan, after realizing that he supplied his mother with the drugs that were killing her, Chiron found ongoing refuge with Teresa, who provided sanctuary and acceptance, no questions asked.

Chiron’s sexuality and his blackness (shining indigo in the silver light of the moon) mark him as a dangerous other.  When he finally attacked and beat the bully who tormented him, he went to jail and transformed his body to remove any trace of the vulnerability that haunted his childhood.  After his release, he took the path of least resistance and started dealing drugs, claiming respect and money, burying his emotions and his sensitivity.

That changed when his first love and childhood friend, Kevin reached out to him and they met at the diner where he was the cook.  Over a blue-plate special and a bottle of wine, they reconnected.  One was a father and both were ex-cons, living on opposite sides of the law. One of the most moving scenes in the film is Chiron’s confession that he never let anyone touch him after his night on the beach with Kevin, many moons ago.  He was so vulnerable in that moment and Kevin felt it.  He reached over and took Chiron’s head onto his shoulder and held him, stroking his hair.  Touch can heal a heart hard as glass, ready to shatter at any moment.  We fear our vulnerability, but without it there is no comfort, no connection.  It’s time to take care of each other and knock down the walls of fear and hatred.  Adapt, people. We’re all in this together.

MirrorMirror – when SaunteringArts was Oblique Technique Productions

In 1985, I was one of many bohemian artists hanging around Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop, a music video show that aired on the now defunct Austin Music Channel. Working at the Amdur Gallery, creating satirical videos, drawing and painting, playing soccer and riding my bike (see Riffing on Patti Smith) – life was good.  And Austin was great! In honor of International Women’s Day, I offer the many faces of Sydney Wallace, starring in MirrorMirror.

Patriarchy – what does not bend, breaks

Human progress may unfold more obliquely than forward and back, but life is change. I suspect one of the reasons we have generations to discover who we are is because mortality is a key to our humanity. As David Bowie said, we can’t trace time.

Between fear and love, our greatest sins and most beautiful creations define us. We are so close, yet so far from our best – lost in the desert with God the angry Father, who is too busy putting his fingers in the dyke of our Abrahamic religions to teach us human kindness. The son of God made love the foundation of his message, with limited success and the caveat of a second coming, flaming sword in hand. That has certainly given man’s inhumanity some deep cover, and something to look forward to: a Day of Judgement, the End Times. Warrior cults are really death cults, despite their promise of resurrection.

Time to take another look at the Man in the Mirror
Michael Jackson 1988

After watching I am Not Your Negro and seeing the sneering, hate filled faces and the violence of white, American men, it’s easy to understand why James Baldwin lived abroad for so many years.

James Baldwin Paris Review No 78

BALDWIN
It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge.
INTERVIEWER
You say the city beat him to death. You mean that metaphorically.
BALDWIN
Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.

Yet we do not give up hope, despite our cruelty and our greed. It’s time to wake up and give our children a world built on peace, on respect and on kindness. Let the patriarchy go, make a place for all people and change is gonna come.

A Ray of Hope in a World of Shadows

It’s been a long time coming. Since Europeans came to the New World (new to them) and started killing the indigenous people, our collective shadow has loomed large, often obscuring the idealism that created our republic. During and after the decimation of Native tribes, European Amerikans captured and enslaved Africans, who were then used, abused, bought and sold. Women were also subject to the rule of white men, the only persons deemed worthy of owning property, voting and governing. So, it’s not surprising that another white male will soon be installed as “the leader of the free world.”

shadow2-psdDespite her qualifications, Hillary Clinton and untried Donald Trump polled as two of the most deeply disliked candidates in history.  They were ripe for shadow projections from people angry about many different things.  The  voters picked the candidate who best reflected their anger, fear and aggression, one who capitalized on a willingness to ignore important precedents like releasing tax returns or refusing to disavow the Ku Klux Klan.  PEOTUS did insist that these acts stop only after he was elected by pandering to white supremacists. And he still hasn’t released his taxes.

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When we try to explain “wha happened,” it defies reason.  Truth took a back seat to propaganda and there is no apparent end in sight. Propaganda targets the emotions, those racist dog whistles and fake news stories that were so successful in driving fearful, angry voters to the polls. They speak directly to the unconscious.    We chose to repress guilt, shame, truth and let territoriality and greed light the way back to Amerika’s greatness again. Rather than facing our ourselves in the twisting labyrinth of our collective unconscious, we project our fear, anger and hatred onto each other, manifesting the collective shadow.

‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963),  is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Two World Wars and the current escalation of violence testify to the terrible truth of this collective phenomenon. Since the turn of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a menacing resurgence of epidemic demonization or collective psychosis in the seemingly inevitable violent global collision between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular western culture, each side projecting its collective shadow and perceiving the other as evil incarnate. As it becomes harder to tamp down the strong emotions that remain unexpressed, autonomous complexes are created. These complexes can act independent of reason, morality and even self-preservation.”

This election was bought and sold by every trick of our collective shadow.  Half of eligible voters stayed home and half of the remaining voters succumbed to our collective bias toward bipolar rule.  Unconscious sheeple are easy pickings for the big bad wolves of Wall Street.  Didn’t we just learn that lesson? Wake up already. The shadow demands our attention so we can become whole.

About that ray of hope.  Thanks to the leadership of the water protectors at Standing Rock, American Indians confronted corporate Amerika and won.   The world was watching, and many came to help.  Then hundreds, thousands of war veterans marched to serve as human shields for those who stood up for the river.  They were willing to shield the water protectors from the water cannons, the dog bites and the rubber bullets of the storm troopers, to protect the right of the people to resist incursion.  These veterans then  publicly acknowledged the genocide, the broken treaties, the brutality.

They apologized and were shown forgiveness. Our soldiers fought the shadow: the guilt, shame and horror and were forgiven by its victims. This is an act of consciousness, a light shining in the shadows that threaten to control us.  Tears streamed from my eyes as I watched Wesley Clark Jr. name the violence  we wrought on the Lakota Nation. As he kneeled before Chief Leonard Crow Dog, everyone was moved to tears. His radical act of bravery, of truth began a healing, “World Peace” as Leonard Crow Dog announced with his blessing.  We are indebted to the indigenous people who should receive reparations from the government instead of more betrayals.

Owning the truth begins withdrawing the shadow projections, the blame and the shame and offers  hope for beginning anew. The shadow is in and all around us. It thrives on ignorance, fear and rage, in violence and despair. Calling it out, naming it and beginning to make amends goes a long way in repairing the damage our denial perpetuates. These warriors and community activists will go to Flint, MI next, where poor people (largely African American) do not have potable water and the mayor is talking about not providing drinking water for his citizens who have suffered from lead pipe contamination for years. White Amerika must also acknowledge the horror perpetuated by slavery.  It is time to make amends to our people who continue to suffer the sins of white entitlement, of privileging the few over the many. Only when we confront our ongoing immoral, opportunistic policies will the shadow begin to lose it’s power and be integrated into a mature, responsible society.  It’s up to us, this battle is worth waging.

Clawing Back Beauty – from Consumption to Sustainability

The phrase “clawing back” surfaced during the congressional hearings about Wells Fargo bank account manipulations.  It refers to taking back a portion of the golden parachute entitled CEOs receive once they leave a company, trailing a raft of shady deals behind, made at their employees’ expense.

Clawing back because men have set the standards, defined the form, the value and their desire to possess beauty for centuries. In this “men’s world”, beauty is visually focused and sexualized. It’s about having your cake and eating it too. Beauty, defined as:

an object that portrays a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.

It’s the shiny skin, the package, but mostly the wrapper.  We see it, we want it, we will have it.

From 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman:

Dominant culture directs men to access beauty through the other, in sexual union with women.  Even inner beauty is largely portrayed as feminine. Those stereotypes are changing, but the current state of political discourse has shined a spotlight on men’s fears that electing a woman President will put the brakes on grabbing what you want.  It’s a threat to beauty as a commodity, which is used and then discarded like any old  wrapper. Their entitlement is waning and an increase in misogyny and violence against women reflects this resentment.

Beauty is different for women. Women are encouraged to embody beauty and have a more nuanced and relational visual representation, as portrayed in Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc‘s Atlas of Beauty.

We come closer to being in rather than consuming beauty as:

the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).

In our current culture,  beauty’s spiritual qualities are largely ignored, save the occasional nature scene or an emotionally tender moment that evokes the union of love and beauty.  Again, the visual element predominates but the feelings sparked by love or awe bring us to the threshold of another kind of union, less tangible but powerfully moving. Being in beauty calls us to experience the connection we have to life in all its forms.  Less object oriented and individualistic and more part of the greater whole.  In a world that seems more fragmented and conflicted every day, wholeness seems out of reach.  This has not always been so.  This Navajo prayer reflects life rooted in wholeness and in beauty, a more sustainable approach:

Walking In Beauty (Blessing)
Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.

How healing would this life in beauty be? I will follow the beautiful words of this blessing for a month and let my words tell the tale. May your words and your walk be beautiful as well.

Inside Out

Willow Seeds
Inside the soft fluff of the black willow blooms lie the seeds, little black dots that might become a whole new tree

Why do we live life on the surface,
reaching for the next shiny thing
forgetting the fruit that lies within?

The juicy sweetness obscured
by the color of our skin
and the place we call home

So, we starve for love
and hope is scarce,
because you are a banana
and I am a pear

The fruits of our thoughts
the kindness of our deeds
can heal the wounds of hate
and fear

If we embrace both many and one
our hearts will grow enough
for all the love we have to share

P1030625Turn down the noise,
go outside – listen
Make neighbors friends
and smile at the old
for many are alone

The world is our teacher
she is the source of every
gift we give and get

So treat her gently and
thank the stars for all we
are and all that we might be

Independence Day Blues

Cheers- it’s Independence Day, 2016. So how do we want our freedom to ring? For a few, for the many, for me and you but not them? Truth – we’re in it together –  people, other living beings, the earth, our known universe.

I’m remembering Dr. Martin Luther King today and the practice of non-violence in pursuit of freedom for the people of his beloved community.  He speaks of both, below:

In a 1957 speech, Birth of A New Nation, Dr. King said, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.” A year later, in his first book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King reiterated the importance of nonviolence in attaining The Beloved Community. In other words, our ultimate goal is integration, which is genuine inter-group and inter-personal living. Only through nonviolence can this goal be attained, for the aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of the Beloved Community.

In his 1959 Sermon on Gandhi, Dr. King elaborated on the after-effects of choosing nonviolence over violence: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.” In the same sermon, he contrasted violent versus nonviolent resistance to oppression. “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”

The core value of the quest for Dr. King’s Beloved Community was agape love. Dr. King distinguished between three kinds of love: eros, “a sort of aesthetic or romantic love”; philia, “affection between friends” and agape, which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative”…”the love of God operating in the human heart.” He said that “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”

It’s time to earn our freedom from denial and work together to create the beloved community. What’s stopping us? Whatever does not make us free.

When my heart aches, wondering if we can actually become humane beings, I am grateful for the blues.

Happy 87th Birthday Miss Lavelle White. We love you.

J. Charles Jones & the Soul of Charlotte

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Charlotta Janssen’s portrait of J. Charles Jones

Last week I had the great good fortune to meet the Hon. J. Charles Jones, a civil rights legend living in the Biddleville neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina.  Bordered by historically black  Johnson C. Smith University, Biddleville struggles to keep its character while integrating young families seeking a perch close to downtown. My daughter and son-in-law are among them and were warmly welcomed by Mr. Jones on their first day in the neighborhood.  Charles lives across the street, tending to koi ponds, both indoor and in his gardens and was one of the first people in Charlotte to install a solar energy system, which provides most of his energy needs. C-Span interviewed him in 2011 about his contribution to the civil rights movement,  part of their Historic Charlotte series ( linked to the photo below).

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Click on photo for interview

When Mr. Jones welcomed me, he told me a little about his history with the movement, his marriage of 38 years and his love of the earth and of people.  His storytelling style is poetry in motion, conducting the conversation with orchestral flair.  My imagination was already piqued by his lush garden and the mysterious greenhouse structure than runs the length of his family home.  Charles’ openness, spiritual presence and charm are a powerful reminder that there are many humane beings in the world and that a heart to heart connection will always bring a tear to my eye.  He is a wonderful goodwill ambassador, helping to build Dr. King’s “beloved community,” with  love.   The Historic West End Partners, neighbors and the city of Charlotte are working together to mitigate some of the side effects of increasing property taxes and keep the character of this historically rich black neighborhood alive. Support of long-time residents is important to both old and new neighbors.

This week, Representative Charles Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, led the sit in to protest obstruction to gun control legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.freedom_11944cjonesprofile_med  The struggle for justice and equality is real, just as hard as it was in the 1960’s.  When someone who has faced the blindness and the hatred of prejudice holds out his hand in friendship, it is both humbling and hopeful.  The relentless media focus on hatred and violence undermines opportunities for trust and mutuality.  It seems, lately, that we have taken several steps backward: in women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, LGBT and labor rights.  Perhaps there will come a time when we can move forward again, together.  Charles Jones and John Lewis make me believe that time is now.

A summer saunter around Charlotte, Cornelius and Davidson, NC

 

Barton Creek and Blunn Creek – January 2016

It’s always nice to enjoy the trails along Barton Creek in January, when the weather is so very fine. Kids of all ages and their dogs swarm the greenbelt like happy bees with spring almost in the air, sun shining down like honey .

There were fewer people on the trail at the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve, an urban oasis in South Austin and one of several ancient volcanoes that dot the area from St. Edward’s University to Stacy Park in Travis Heights. My favorite oak, probably 500 years old, is queen of the forest and was too big to fit into my camera’s frame.

Water Meditation – Flowing

Shamans of the Avant Garde – Miro and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown

woman_bird_star_AS03162Art is never more obscure than when it invokes the language of the unconscious. Thankfully, we have guides – shamans who venture into the unknown and return, inviting us to join them . Avant garde artist Joan Miro is a shaman of symbolic art.  I saw his “Experience of Seeing” exhibit at the McNay Museum in San Antonio and entered the realm of the body/mind in order to see it.  Joan Miro acknowledges:

It is difficult for me to talk about my painting, since it is always born in a state of hallucination, brought on by some jolt or another – whether objective or subjective-which I am not in the least responsible for.

Joan Miro - BirdArt critic Waldemar George described it in 1929 “as the painting of a physical vacuousness that easily balances out its interior magic, with ties to cosmic sentiment and the intuition of mystery seen in the ancestors, like those who painted the caves of Altimara, whom he specifically mentions on one hand and to “congruent paintings, brought to life by strange homunculi and fantastical plants on the other. In this defining moment there came to be an encounter between the escape from speres and the attraction to the abyss.”
Miro, Joan-Head in the NightJacques Dupin elaborated, “There remains a space where things and beings can abide and encounter one another through a series of exchanges and metamorphoses, and this passing site is none other than the earth: neither sheltered from the risk from below, or the beckoning from above.”

Arthur Brown knows something of above and below, exhorting us to hold a vision in our heart, to face our fears and join him in the formless depths of Zim Zam Zim.

Miro’s paintings and found object sculptures beckon us to see space as a psychological landscape – to respond without preconception to what comes our way, as children do.

I will make my work emerge naturally, like the song of a bird or the music of Mozart, with no apparent effort, but thought out at length and worked out from within . . everything becomes strange, shifting, clear and confused at the same time. Forms give birth to other forms, constantly changing into something else.

ShamanArthur Brown invites us with many of the same numinous symbols as Miro: the spirit bird of our imagination, woman, sex and the fire of fear, rage and ultimate annihilation.  An existential burlesque that finally asks, “Who the fuck am I?” in this montage from his Strange Brew show in Austin (without his full band).

As we traipse from day to dreams, through all the stages of our lives and our imagination, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy dose of humor amidst the drama. So why do we even enter into the shape shifting realm of the unconscious?

Quoting Miro, ” As Kant said, it is the irruption of the infinite into the finite. A pebble, which is a finite and immobile object, suggests not only movement to me but movement that has no end. In my paintings, this translates into the spar-like forms that leap out of the frame, as though from a volcano.

That volcano is the fire of creation  in the heart of Zim Zam Zim.