Powerless

There are so many ways that we crave and try to wield power, we mortal beings. We think we’re in charge of our own lives, if nothing else. We are wrong.

Our short trip to Portland from Thursday through this morning provided me with a fine refresher course in this form of necessary humility. While our house is in utter disarray during our move to an apartment and our lives in mild chaos during a busy fall season of school, concerts, travel, and conferences, I am about as far from in control of my own little existence as I am from running the world. I did my very worst job of packing, for Portland, that I think I’ve done since somewhere around the age of four. If my parents were dumb enough to let me help pack my luggage then.

So I arrived in Oregon without several of my simplest toiletries, one pair of socks short of the full trip’s worth, and sans laptop power cord. Hence, my first series of several days without daily blog posts in nearly four and a half years. And I must tell you that I was plenty irritated with myself, and mightily disappointed to break the string of consecutive posts so unwittingly, if not witlessly. But you know, the earth did not cease to rotate on its axis. The rain and sun still did their little minuets, people still talked to me as if they genuinely liked doing so, and music still sounded magnificent and more than a little miraculous.

Because it’s not my power cord that connects me to the universe, and it’s most certainly not my power that connects the rest of the universe together. I can’t fix what’s wrong in the world, not by a million miles, but I am not the source of any of its strengths or its life force, let alone its myriad joys. I’m just the lucky participant and recipient, who (when the power is plugged in) gets to report on my view of it all. I’m happy to be back online, but I am reminded that the very best of what I enjoy in my remarkably blessed existence is not born of my own merit or power, and not even remotely connected to whether I’m plugged in or not, figuratively or literally. I’m just plain glad to be here.

Photo: Out of Gas

Yep, I ran out of gas. But I reminded myself, however inadvertently, that it takes letting go of my driven need for power, sometimes, to refuel my spirit.

Imperfections

Blood Grass

Short bursts of breeze in the long leaves,

the slightest of eddies as though

their pulse were pumping actual red cells

through the tall margins of the field—

Likelier that their real nature as flammable,

short-lived bursts of vigorous and

violent life, destined to flame

up, out, leap to cosmic oblivion, and die—

Are these our guides, or are

they mirrors of the flimsy, volatile existence

that we share? Only there, in

the margins of the field, do the flames

and shadows of our being have

a moment’s sway, for better or for worse,

of honesty out in the sun. Only there,

where the grass grows tall and yet

has not the strength or

depth of root to thrive, do we

see how little of the energy

with which we’d credited ourselves

really shines for longer than

a short, weedy season, bending

this way, bending that, and sparking

into sudden flares of incandescent

death

before returning to earth,

extinguished without

having distinguished ourselves, yet still

flying a bold red flag as if

we were something more.Digital illo: Japanese Blood Grass

We Imagine Ourselves Great

Digital illo from a photo: MonumentHow did We Get Here?

In our dreams, we were hip-deep in cotton picked by willing, happy, high-paid underlings and we smiled with satisfied benevolence

We were standing in the shade of magnolias and wearing our widest-brimmed Sunday hats and crisp seersucker and poplin even on Tuesday

We nibbled tiny toast points dabbed with pimiento cheese while a string quartet hummed like honeybees up at the portico

We fanned ourselves to keep cool as the sun sank, listening to mourning-doves serenade the arrival of the winking fireflies

We drank our bourbon out of snifters, neat, and never got more than a little bit hazy, what with having well padded ourselves with roast pheasant over a very long suppertime

We spoke in soft, lilting tones and said kind words to our mothers and children just because that’s how it was done

In our hearts, we were the pathfinders, the athletes who carved a road of freedom and justice across the plains to make new territories ring with accomplishment

We stood tall in the evergreens and set down mighty roots of dedication in lines running from the lakes to the mountaintops

We shipped on the seas and shouted joy with the birds of the air, and of an evening we were wont to watch the stars for signs of adventure yet ahead

We called ourselves hardy stock for braving the cold and wrapped our red-cheeked children in woolen blankets after a day spent in the bracing light of education

We wrestled with bears for the salmon that we ate, but then sat down to dine on it with all the gentility of our many foreign forefathers

We called our politics piety and our egalitarian philosophies a revelation even if everyone who didn’t qualify might not agree

And here we are today, being All-American but half-savage…

We live in the same states of grace but relish our superiority with self-congratulatory rudeness that would shame our imagined selves

We sneer at gentility as outmoded and write polemical pieces about each other with no sense of irony left in the spaces between the hard-edged words

We forget the flaws that taught us our cultured best’s fragility and instead of learning from the mistakes, we widen them as far as our waistbands and pockets can stretch

We turn a critical eye on the wounded world and manage to keep it keen despite the moral blind-spot toward our contributory, if not our sometimes causal, role

We are a nation of would-be saints dressed in brutes’ clothing…but perhaps in that, we may not be entirely alone…

If there is hope, it’s that we’ve gotten here at all, for surely those in our hearts and dreams must have been real somewhere to seem so tangible in imagination

We might still embrace the justice and benevolence we thought we had, if we are willing to strip away delusions of grandeur and the lust for power

We could take a moment, while nibbling our toast points and standing conqueror on our latest promontories of success, to offer a meal to the hungry and a foothold to the poor

We ought to care less about self-image, and more about wholeness and devotion to the betterment of those people and privileges we say we love so well

We are capable, if we watch the exemplars before and around us whose courage and kindness walk arm in arm instead of standing on opposing distant shores

We may yet become the greats that we imagine we should be, if only we stop pretending we are so and humbly take to walking toward it on the faint horizon instead…

It was Only a Dream…

Photo: Waking UnderwaterA short meditation: The Oarsman

When I opened my eyes, I saw a cedar boat ahead, a craft of sleek and patinated wood; I was ashore, looking, watching without knowing why, standing on the verge with the clear salt sea touching my feet and on its cold breath casting up an offering of tide-polished stones and shells moved into patterns like a prayer shawl.

The cedar boat drew near, and in the boat, a man whose solemn joy preceded him and made my thoughts lie still.

Only the scent of cedar broke the salty air. I waded out to catch the prow and saw the oarsman watching me, and I was humbled but not afraid. He said nothing. I didn’t think to say a word, myself, but caught the boat and slowly pulled it ashore.Photo: The Scent of Cedars

The oarsman wore a long superlative braid that rose and fell on his breast; I made fast the boat to a spike of driftwood at the verge, tying the painter in a braid as like his own as I could make it.

When he stepped from the boat, the oarsman put his broad hand on my head, wordlessly, and I felt, too, his solemn joy.Photo: Solemn Joy

Righteous Doormats & Violent Cupcakes

digital artworkThey’re everywhere, I tell you, misunderstood geniuses and wolves in sheep’s clothing. The former, naturally, are a self-identifying group and the latter generally people who pose as, and more often than not, sincerely believe themselves to be, benign when they are in reality malignant. And it amazes me yet more profoundly to note how many humans manage to occupy the intersecting subset. A veritable embarrassment of riches, I say.digital artworkThe Misunderstood Genius [MG] sorts I have known range from those with certifiably stratospheric IQs to  folk I would deem more simply ‘certifiable‘, yet the number fitting into the truly brilliant bunch continually astonish me with their ability to be fantastically endowed with intelligence and ignorant or downright stupid in perfect simultaneity. The clear and incessantly demonstrated fact is that a high IQ has nothing to do with self-awareness, social skills, political acumen or just plain being right. While MGs are busy nursing their indignation over being ignored and repressed, made the scapegoat, under-appreciated, envied, maltreated and squelched by their personal versions of The Man, and muttering imprecations into their shiny academic loving-cups, their supposed inferiors are burnishing less impressive tools to get something real accomplished or merely live life.digital artworkMeanwhile, since the universe would so clearly be better (!) if it accepted MGs’ greatness, these people tend to see themselves as benefactors of the universe, if not its modest deities. Being misapprehended and under-admired is not proof, after all, that one isn’t fabulous. This is where the intersection of neglected magnificence and false-faced kindliness is nurtured. While there is a whole range of persons who present themselves as sweet and cuddly and kindhearted and are anything-but, right on up to full-blown sociopaths, there is this weird zone within it that is the dwelling place of those who think themselves unfairly ostracized or disliked. Whether they do so consciously or not, it seems to me that many MGs also build up quite a repertoire of acts wherein they play at sympathetic and philanthropic and other deliciously, invitingly admirable roles, all the while keeping a hand free to check on the availability of their ‘concealed carry’. It’s not only the guy in the clock tower that’s picking off passersby with his rifle but, more often, the one armed only with attitude that picks off everyone around, one chip of the communal atmosphere of support and collegiality and congeniality at a time.