Stars Everywhere

Photo montage: Stars in the DarknessThis world is a dark place. War and strife, fear, hunger, hatred, greed, self-righteousness, and poverty gnaw the bones of suffering people on every continent at every hour. And all of these menaces are, in accordance with early expressions of the idea of Tragedy, nearly entirely the making of our own species.

Little hope, at least in my mind, of that sorrowful truth changing as long as our species continues to dominate the planet. We are deeply flawed. Even the finest among us tend to forget themselves and their mortal limits at time; regardless of how educated, high-minded and genuinely well-meant their attitudes and actions may be, it’s sadly true that underlying those attitudes and actions is a firm belief in their rightness. Only natural that it’s hard, from that perspective, to allow that others might have an equal possibility of being right, or at least as wise and well-meaning, as they themselves are, and to show them the full respect of that acceptance.

What, then, of accepting life among my fellow flawed beings in this imperfect world? No comfort is found in denial or in persistently, aggressively resisting what may not have the possibility of ever changing. But to accept this grimness as an eternal truth and let it lie like lead on my soul is no help, either.

I look to the stars.

Physical stars exist in a surprising number of places, many lower and commoner than the depths of the sky, and I look to them and rally as I realize that they stand, every one, as beacons reminding me of what is good not only in the nature in which we imperfect beings live, but what is good within us as well. Small as our fineness may seem, individually and corporately, at times, it does exist, and if there is to be any hope of overcoming the dark, it must come from the nurturing of every little glint seen starring that darkness.

I look to the stars in the indigo distance of the sky, sparkling like promises of better things as they look back at me. I look to the lesser stars of reflected light that dazzle on earth, the  diamond dashes on every body of water and glimmering in every eye, never mind among real gems and the many things made expressly to be beautiful and good and positive. I look, more than anywhere else, at the multitude of stars that shine from the hearts of good and true people, people who are thoughtful and generous, merciful and hardworking, and kind and loving, sometimes despite and against the dark things of this world, and often, wonderfully, for the sole reason that they were made to be such earthly stars.

Hope Lives in Unexpected Places

photoTo the Astonishment of Angels

Where in the wilderness of life an adumbration points the way

From our benighted place, our strife and sorrows, to the sun of day,

A banner flares out on the breath of some great strength to give reprieve

To wearied lung and heart, from death to lift us to where we believe

Once more that goodness lies within, that kindness is courageous love,

That generosity’s akin to calling stars down from above

And handing them to needy souls to light their way to higher ground,

And that small songs pierce blazing holes in prison walls with their mere sound—

Here in the bitter night and cold, when such a beacon lights a spark

To guide us forward, as of old, let us rise up and leave the dark

And carry all our fellows, too, to those bright, grand palatial places

Where in the wilderness the true angelic joy renews its graces.photo

Light in Dark Places

photoWhat possible purpose can Daylight Savings Time serve in this day and age except perhaps the most mercenary sort? I really dislike the artificial shifting of the daily schedule (time itself being quite independent of our constructs meant to explain and regulate it), with one small but significant exception. That little thing?

Knowledge of the power of the tiniest speck of light against the dark.

When the days become naturally short, night long, because of the turning of the earth on its axis and the change of the seasons, the sense of being trapped in almost-perpetual darkness inevitably begins to creep upon me; add to that the government-mandated spin of the clock to steal yet another hour of sunlight, and I begin to wither and feel a little like sorrow and solemnity, gravity and groaning will also steal my sense of belonging to the day at all. This spell of coldness and heartless eternal night could certainly drive a person mad.

And yet, the smallest spark renews my will and hope. One little star piercing the indigo sky becomes a beacon bright and powerful enough to pull me from the dark and back to day. That winter’s also the season when so many cultures, faiths and kinds of people find new reason to light more than a candle, more than a fire, and call upon the grandest graces of their inner best is no mistake or accident. The contrast with that terrible beauty that is felt and seen in lightless space is something far beyond the sun of day–against the coal mine dark, a pinpoint is all it takes to seem a seam has opened into warmth and goodness once again. And in my little heart, I do believe that any one of us determined enough can learn to be that tiny, so-essential fleck of light.photo

Sleeping Angels, All

drawingThe assertion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is cynical in its assumption not only that bad things will happen and that people will do bad things, but that this is where our greatest interest lies as well. To a certain degree, I will concede it.

And yet.

There is a part of me too that believes in the other having equal weight: the kind and good, the innocent and the pure. Our every moment of disaster, whether natural or human-made, brings out this good in force. It is the sleeping angel inside that emerges on call to offer aid to the suffering, comfort to the weary and food to the starving. I think that maybe, despite all appearances, it’s goodness that is actually the one inexhaustible resource.

I certainly hope so; in this is the promise that our history is not quite at an end.graphite drawing

Noirish

Here Lies a Haunted Man

First thing in the morning a perfect blue sky,

with a few sheepish clouds and a breeze,

gives no indication of what, when or why

we believe we must hide in the trees,

to disguise from what enemy, storm, or what foe,

or to vanish from sight for which reason;

we know none of that, but we certainly know

we have entered a paranoid season.digital artwork

Dreamscape

Out of the leaves of a banana tree

A mysterious Eye is staring at me;

I have some magnetic pull, it seems,

For the kind of stuff that makes up dreams.

Ten past midnight, and all is well

Except that I’m under the nightly spell

That thrusts me onto those strange savannahs

Where pursuers send me stark bananas.

Dangerous Desires

My little retelling of the story of Hansel and GretelYes, I prefer a slightly less virulent interpretation of the tale than the early versions focusing on the stereotype of the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ and a father cruel enough to go along with her determination to abandon the children. After all, there’s still plenty of blame to go around when ordinary and seemingly decent people do thoughtless and stupid and even horrible things without considering the ultimate consequences, and even a fairly charitable interpretation of the story seems to me to illustrate that quite handily. And, lest I be accused of excessive softening of what is, after all, a pretty grim [!] tale, I left off the traditional cozy ending, to keep the pointy parts more firmly entrenched in any conscience that will allow them. Wink, wink.

graphite drawingLaw of Unforeseen Consequences

Late, when the children want to play, When chores are a burden at end of day, Why, what harm can come of it, anyway?

Who would begrudge their choice, this chance To lay down the work and pick up a dance? Who would look on this sweet play askance?

What if their Schottische, when lightning flashed, Upset the pitcher and milk was splashed? Ah, suddenly, their mother’s lashed

At them with her anger in surprise At such wild waste of the poor folk’s prize, And tears are smarting in all their eyes!

The rich folk scarcely would give a fig At spilling milk over one swift jig, But their consequence never did loom so big.

No innocent children ever guess That a tiny slip and a modest mess Will afford their mother such deep distress,

Nor mother foresee that her sorrowed scold Will send, heavy-hearted, into the cold Her little ones, lost to the family fold.

And how could their father know what would fall If they failed to answer his panicked call And foraged instead far from safety’s wall?

Too distant from hearth and garden run, Could the children know that their crimeless fun Would lead to endangering anyone?

So off to the forest’s gloom, replete With wild strawberries, so good to eat, They skip unconcerned, when a wilder sweet

Appears before their young, hungry eyes In the most appealingly false disguise Of a gingerbread palace, whose luring lies

Present irresistibly tempting charms To lead them directly into the arms Of the wicked witch whose most horrid harm’s

The deceptive sweetness her cottage seems To hold in its sugary halls of dreams–What covers in icing the children’s screams!

(How could these tender young cherubs guess That under the sparkling prettiness Was a ravening monster intent to fress On their flesh and bones in a gory mess!)

But the most nefarious in the tale Was also most ignorant that such frail And tender tidbits might possibly fail

To end up feeding her heart’s desire, Instead being fueled by fear and ire To shove her into her own oven’s fire!

The story is old, that in unformed youth We may lack the wisdom to see in truth, That apparent delights may be foul, forsooth

But we still hold on to our foolish ways Of dreaming and hoping in wishful haze And never considering that this daze

Can blind us to sanity–in its mire, Can lead to such unexpected, dire Results–unintentionally, Desire Makes us leap from the frying pan into the fire.

I Mean It. Don’t be a Meanie!

Ebenezer Scrooge was far from alone. And the holidays are certainly not the only time when Scrooge and his ilk get wound up. Still, big events and celebrations are and always have been pretty predictable catalysts and triggers for bad moods and attitudes of any sort. If we aren’t happy, we’re remarkably good at being as far opposite to it as we can figure out how to make ourselves. High horses are not so high that people don’t try to climb aboard them mighty often. High dudgeons are terribly popular dwellings with the general citizenry, who move into them and dig in our heels as though to that manor born.

Add to this our natural gifts for finding clouds obliterating every one of our silver linings, and t’s not much of a stretch to think that many of us are in a cynical competition to see who can be the snarliest, gnarliest meanie in existence. We’re always looking for the way to shoehorn yet more nasty junk and grim excuses for hideous horripilation into the darkest corners of ourselves and the universe. And when one looks for something hard enough, one almost always finds it. We may be a crotchety breed but we’re still good at some things. The latest news reports are always brimming over with greed and violence and hate. We make the news and we eat it up, too. More’s the pity.

graphite drawing

Captain Crankypants, the Crabbiest Creature in Creation

Why even mention it? Because we have choices. And now, in the shadow of the latest awful tales of murder and depravity and betrayal and any sort of human ugliness you can (or maybe can’t) imagine, it’s holiday time once again. Christmas, yes, and Hanukkah, Ramadan, the New Year (westerners and the Chinese, for example, celebrating it in full gear), Kwanzaa, Tet, a birthday or two zillion. So many opportunities for blow-ups and melt-downs and general cussedness. And we don’t have to succumb to any of them. We can be better than that.

And we should. We should, most of all, when it’s time for all that holiday innocence-wisdom-love-light-and-warmth, stuff that can both exacerbate and offset darker things, choose to enhance it rather than the opposite. The greatest possible gift we can give to others and ourselves for any celebration is to be agents of innocence, wisdom, love, light and warmth instead of any passing urge to give in to crass or cranky behavior. Hugs and kisses are the order of the day. Make peace; be nice–it’s a holiday. Give in to it!

“Siete tutti testimoni!” (You’re All Witnesses!)

[Ed: including to my bad pretend Italian]

monotype 1982

. . . the question is: what did we just witness?

Once upon a time in an Italian bar/cafe, there was a bit of a dust-up. A woman spray-painted into clothes that could conceivably be construed as the work uniform of a Professional sort of woman was becoming very vocal in her criticism of the bartender who would not fill her order for a drink refill. As it was still quite early in the forenoon and it was perfectly evident to even the least astute detective in the place that she had already quaffed quite a number of drinks, the knowing grins around the room were clearly in support of the barman’s side of the difference, but that interested la dama not at all, if she was capable of noticing. This was highly unlikely, given how much energy she was devoting to berating and abusing the barman and impugning his humanity, his virility, his lineage, his bartending skills, and anything else she could think up to fling at him in epithetic form, all the while storming back and forth as though onstage in her own melodrama. I, for one, didn’t need to know any real Italian to know either what the situation was or how graphic her language. Finally she did decide to appeal to the cafe patrons for support in her cause, and spun around, all wild hair and spandex, screaming “Siete tutti testimoni!”

And indeed we all were witnesses. It’s just that she failed to realize we were witnesses not to any crime or indignity being perpetrated against her but quite the opposite, had witnessed her being a noisy louse, a jerk, e una idiota estrema.

Keeping a low profile with our badness and stupidity is never easy, no sir. Keeping a secret, always on the verge of impossible; otherwise there would never be any big deal made of it. But we all have plenty of times when we’d far prefer no one were paying us any attention. Don’t tell me you’ve never said or done something dopey or rotten and then fervently wished the earth would open up and swallow you. If that were so, your halo would be blinding the rest of us and eventually you’d be shunned and banished from the general company, because tolerably ordinary mortals make mistakes and have faults.

What wouldn’t any of us give to have our own permanent magician’s assistant devoted to diverting the universal attention from our every slip and slight! Lacking that sleight-of-hand, though, we continue to make our every faux pas and fumble right out in front of everybody, and even those failures seemingly accomplished in private tend more often than not to be exposed with astonishing speed. If we were to be visibly dirtied by our every inward flaw, we would look like nothing so much as a whole race of ambulatory mud pies.

graphite drawing

So many ways to get into trouble . . .

The Age of Communication, despite sounding like the cheery promise of more perfect interaction and dialogue between us, has instead mostly created a false sense of remove and anonymity within which many people shed their garments of civility and openly abuse the supposed cover by being ever bolder and more crude in exercising their own imperfections with great abandon, all the while excoriating others whose flaws don’t match their own. Trolls, flamers and lurkers abound.

This isn’t, of course, new. Criminals and miscreants of every flavor have existed since the beginning of recorded time. We merely update our approach to use these newer electronic tools in order to make our awfulness easier to enact or to use new methods that seem to offer better cover for our creeping nastiness.

A fellow blogger recently ‘went public’ with the exposure of one such despicable attack, made via a “comment” on her blog that was nothing less than a vile spewing of personal hatred in the form of threats against her and her child. One can, I imagine, debate endlessly about cause and culpability if one wishes to wade through the possibility of such an attacker’s being non compos mentis or under duress from such-and-such mitigation–while we’re all demonstrably fallible we like to think no real, healthy, normal human would do such a thing to another let alone do so before the eyes of the world. Why and how, however, seem to me to be less helpful questions to ask first than “now what?”

No matter how much we’d like to sweep ugliness under any available rug and forget it, it doesn’t cease to exist–nor do we, however unwittingly or inadvertently or driven by whatever illness or desperation, cease to create more ugliness. The question remains, where do we go from here? Lady Macbeth and all the rest of us know that What is done cannot be undone, so how do we move forward?

Recent events have nagged me into puzzling more than usual in this vein lately. The hideous mass murder in Norway a mere few weeks ago was a terrifying reminder of the ever-present ugly underside of human nature. Americans have been publicly obsessing over how to acknowledge and commemorate the decade-past monstrosity of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Crime waves go up and down but as seasick as they make us we never seem to stop them.

The blogger who published her attacker’s wrong, it seems to me, was wise. She knows that there is a much larger community of people that choose kindness, thoughtful discourse, mutual support and what we believe to be a fundamental good among us that can’t be destroyed by the bad. That we will rise up and, each in our own way, say so when we see someone saying or doing horrid things or being terrible is the only reasonable recourse–silence is complicity or at the very least, acquiescence. And so I must stand with my fellow blogger, and with all my fellow believers in a certain kind of peace, and say to all enemies of that peace that hatred and violence of any kind are not welcome here. In the ether, or on the earth. Not anywhere

Weird and simplistic and naive as it sounds, I think the only way to stop people from doing really evil things is to make them want to stop doing them. [Huh??]

I am making no miraculous proposals here. I own no magic potion, know no transformative incantation, have no universal antidote to hatred and cruelty and incivility. But what I am beginning to learn at this ripe old age is that only by making the first incremental move toward a solution do we have any hope of finding or creating a solution. The only such move I can see that’s feasible for non-magicians is to confront and oppose meanness and wickedness when we see them. Merely standing in open defiance of what we believe is wrong is all that some of us can do, but we surely must do it.

So even though I abhor wallowing in public maundering over unchangeable griefs and agonies past and will not likely take a lot of visible action in response to the 9/11 anniversary or the Norwegian rampage, I will resist the witness-intimidation tactics of both my own passive don’t-get-involved nature and that of the would-be wrongdoers out there and say, Choose better. Being a jerk or worse yet, an openly abusive or cruel or vicious person, has no place among real people. Deliberate kindness and goodness are actually meant to be the norm and should be practiced. Sounds childlike, maybe, but I just have to stand as witness to this.

We’re all witnesses.

As American as Whaaaaaa…???

Digital collage of eagle, flag, baseball, etc + text

So much for inalienable rights . . .

So the husbandly-personage and I were talking about Libertarian ideals and as usual, the conversation drifted as we meandered the miles homeward through another hot afternoon. I think you know enough about me already to guess that I’m generally less than hot on talking, or even thinking, politics. Always a topic for argument, disagreement, divisiveness when I’m out of the safe environs of my own little twosome. Even within it, occasionally. And I just plain don’t relish conflict at any level. When it comes to politics, that’s also occasioned by its being one of those few areas in which I am admittedly cynical and tend to lack my usual annoyingly perky attitude of perpetual be-nice-ness that assumes all the best of all humanity. I think when it comes to civility and unselfishness, ours is a race of creatures ill-suited to follow our best instincts.

Which is to say, I think a great many political systems, even democracy for cripes’ sake, look fabulous on paper. There are lots of admirable aspects not just to democracy but to constitutional monarchy, to communism, socialism, even anarchy, not to mention a whole slew of sub-categories within each. And don’t get me started on all of the world’s religions and pseudo-religions and cults, which I may have mentioned in crankypants moments I find are often freely intermixed with political, social and more personal beliefs to the point that I’m quite convinced few (any?) living beings have any clear concept of what any of the aforementioned means by definition, let alone in their originators’ intended forms, any more.

The problem–you can see where I’m headed–is that despite the beauty of many ideas’ intentions, they are very seldom enacted with anything near the purity of heart they might require to actually work. We Homo pseudo-sapiens just have a tremendously powerful tendency to do things to please and satisfy our personal inclinations. We work hard to define wants as needs, to translate privileges into not just constitutional rights but, by cracky, as pretty much divine rights and Not To Be Messed With, Dammit. It’s in this world that, while I think most thoughtful persons will agree that focusing on anything other than actual driving while driving is potentially dangerous not only to the persons in the vehicle being driven but to any others sharing the road and its vicinity, I still had this afternoon the not-at-all-uncommon opportunity to look over at the next lane and watch a driver assiduously texting from behind the steering wheel without the remotest indication that he was worrying himself about whether that was risky for him, let alone aware that we were in a car not one metre distant from him and hurtling along at the same mad freeway pace.

This is the same world where plenty of people know perfectly well that it’s an iffy proposition to suck tar and nicotine into your lungs but do so willingly and regularly and are quite content to share all of their available leftover smog with nonsmokers’ adjacent lungs without even having to be asked for the gift*. *(In this setting, feel free to assume I’m using the Norwegian version of ‘gift’, in which language the word means poison.) It’s the same world full of people well-versed in the basics of their home countries’ and counties’ laws who are still completely willing to flout and break those laws if and when they think they can get away with it.

Crotchety? Oh, yes, I certainly am when it comes to assuming people will do the right thing if left to their own devices. But I’m not exactly sure there’s any cure for that, least of all within any political, legal, religious or social system we’ve yet discovered, and even the most would-be benign autocracy slides off into murky territory and rots from the inside without a great deal of delay. Am I dark-minded enough to say It’s Just Our Nature? Just the way we ARE? Sounds like a quitter talking, at best. But yeah, there’s an element of defeatism or even fatalism involved when I see how far we’ve come along the ol’ human timeline, how many Golden Ages have crashed and turned to ethereal gnat poo in how many stupendous civilizations, how often the stubborn and unsanitary insanity of self-interest has brought down the greatness of the moment . . . well, fill in the blanks yourself. I told you right up front, now, didn’t I.

Meanwhile, I would like to reiterate my longtime belief, what perhaps you could almost legitimately call one of my few real articles of faith, that the majority of people are weirdly, strangely, pretty good at center. Go figure. That’s the basis for my muddle-through theory of salvation–well, continuity. It’s simply that, no matter how awful and disgusting we’ve managed to be as individuals, let alone to one another, and this also on a global level, despite the number of massive historic failures to succeed in being simply ongoing nations and cultures, somebody always seems to carry on. How improbable! How bizarre! How heartening. Okay, alla youse guys, I guess that means we have to soldier on in our own limping, screwy, fatheaded mortal way. If every one of us manages to be just a little bit less self-centered and, what the hey, less often deserving of placement in the time-out corner of life–well, I think we might have a shot.