10 Terrible Words that Shouldn’t Exist in Any Language

Digital text-illustration: 10 Terrible WordsOne person who hates is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. One who cares and shares? Perhaps the only antidote.

As I recently said to my friend Maryam: poverty—both of concrete, material resources like food and shelter, and of intellectual and ephemeral resources (education, spiritual enrichment, the arts, community engagement, etc)—seems to me to be perpetrated and perpetuated more by selfishness than by an actual shortage of any of those resources. The rich and powerful always want more riches and power, and what they do have makes them able to afford and acquire more and to keep their feet firmly on the backs of the have-nots. Plenty is never enough. The resulting imbalance is as old as history, and rotten as ever. Only those who will speak up and resist entrenched inequities and injustices will have any hope of making change.Photo montage: Wolverine & Badger

The badger and the wolverine have a reputation for being among the most tenaciously savage brutes of all the mammals. Yeah, Honey Badger even has his own meme to show for it. But let’s be honest: no beast of earth, air, or sea has a capacity for vile, rapacious cruelty rivaling that of the human animal. Even creatures of the natural enmity of predator and prey compete, fight, kill, and are sated. They have little apparent ideation of hatred and war to match people’s. A wolverine or badger will fight to defend, or to kill for food, but unlike the human, doesn’t seem inclined to attack indiscriminately outside of its primal needs for safety, shelter, and food; when the skirmish is done as efficiently as possible and the need assuaged, the sharpest of tooth and reddest of claw among them doesn’t do an end-zone dance to celebrate its pleasure in winning but will usually depart the scene or go to rest for the next time of need. The remaining food and shelter and other resources stay in place for whatever creature comes next, hunter or hunted, cousin or not.

Can we humans not learn from such a thing? I’m pretty sure that if we destroy each other and ourselves in our constant self-righteous, self-congratulatory belief that we deserve everything we can get our hands on, Honey Badger won’t be the only creature that doesn’t care.

We were So Civilized

Digital collage: We were So CivilizedNo matter where I am on the Fourth of July I am likely to think about the country in which I was born and have lived all of my life thus far: the United States of America. The Fourth is the official birthday of the nation, though many of the current states joined the union long, long after that July in 1776 when it was established by its founders. Like so many nations around the world, this country and its history are a tremendously complicated and varied patchwork of fact and fiction, hope and fear, two steps forward and one step back. Over and over and over again.

Imagine this: a pack of refugees from religious persecution left their homeland and sailed into the unknown across an ocean of which they also knew very little except that their passage across it was dangerous and miserable and killed plenty of them before they hit the new shore. When they landed, to their surprise there were already plenty of other people living on that new turf, and did that stop the interlopers from moving in, too? Of course not. I don’t expect it ever occurred to them, to be honest, that there wasn’t room for everybody or that if they took a ton of the resources around them that might just mean there were fewer for the previous residents of the land, folk who had, indeed, already long established a very different relationship with the continent.

That the illnesses and diseases the newcomers brought with them from Home would endanger and kill many of their new unwitting and unwilling neighbors could never have entered these interlopers’ minds, when they were so preoccupied with not only their current survival but their escape from the hardships and sorrows back in their own homeland. That they themselves would suffer privation, fear, danger, loneliness, and the loss of their lifetime homes, belongings, families and friends across the vast ocean they had crossed was a stark enough reality that perhaps they willed themselves not to think too hard about all that they faced next also affecting the long-tenured native peoples across whose lands they moved like human bulldozers.

The establishment of this new home was far from smooth and easy too, as anyone could probably guess, though I wonder if any of them really considered that the goal as much as simple escape from what they’d known before. Still, none of those inhabitants of North America—invaders or original denizens—could possibly imagine at the time, I suspect, quite how vast the whole continent was and what that meant in terms of creating new colonies within it, let alone new nations. In the years that followed, the westward migration confirmed the existence of innumerable tribes and clans of people not before known to the new arrivals, but also of wild creatures unimagined, of terrain unlike any they had dreamed possible, of climates that had been the stuff of legend until then.

In those many decades of carving out new paths and territories, it was inevitable that, just as it had been with the foregoing generations of various indigenous peoples, there would be struggles over who had access to what, who could live where, and who belonged together with or as far as possible away from whom. No surprise that this led not only to separated towns and enclaves and ethnic, religious, political or philosophical communities but also, in turn, to a wild array of accents and ideas that might as well have been different languages and different species altogether.

Amazing that all of this could remotely possibly coalesce into what is known as the United States of America. Today’s states are still so diverse, even sometimes from county to county or one side of the railroad tracks to another, that it’s nearly laughable to call them United. We fight like pesky siblings with each other all the time; it’s a miracle, in my book, that the so-called Civil War, one of the most uncivilized events in the country’s history, hasn’t simply continued from its beginning to the present day. It does, perhaps, at subtler levels. Just because the invasion of the continent by a bunch of frightened Pilgrims who only thought themselves seeking freedom from tyranny didn’t destroy the whole land and kill every one of them off outright, and because the various internal skirmishes that led to, but were far from limited to, the Civil War didn’t complete that annihilation doesn’t mean we’re not still perfectly capable of incredible incivility at every turn. We try, we fail.

On the Fourth of July, I think of how astounding and—generally—good it is that this messy nation has managed to survive this long without self-destructing. But I can’t help also thinking this of most of the rest of the world. Humans just plain are messy. We form and break alliances; we argue over being Right instead of being compassionate or practical, let alone pursuing justice. We blunder around, hog resources, ascribe privileges and powers to ourselves and our chosen comrades that we willfully deny others, or just pretend the others don’t exist, and thanks to our weirdly, wonderfully diverse array of accents, when we do get around to discussing the least of these things, even those who ostensibly share a language can’t understand each other half of the time anyhow.

Just possibly, our life form may have been civilized at a few choice moments. There is plenty of potential in this odd species of ours, I like to think. Even we Americans aren’t entirely irredeemable; we keep bothering and beating up on each other like so many brothers and sisters, and yet most of us still manage eventually to just agree to disagree and, in moments of precious lucidity, even to see each other’s point of view and operate in an environment of respect and hope. As rotten as we can be to each other, we care enough to wrestle it out and try to find ways to go forward. Together, even. If that isn’t a family worth saving, I guess I don’t know what one is. Happy birthday, USA. Go forth and get a little more civilized, if you can.

Blue or Not, that Rare Moon

Digital illustration: Rare Moon Seeing the moon at its showiest as often as I have lately makes me immeasurably glad. At the level of pure appearance, its resemblance to a magnificent pearl hanging on the breast of the sky makes that nacreous gleam a beauty of which I can never tire, any more than I would grow weary of taking slow, deep breaths after a spring rain when the lilacs have newly opened. It’s as though all the finery ever worn by all the goddesses of myth has fused into that one palely magnificent, ethereal yet endlessly potent jewel in the sky, so powerful that it can be seen sharply delineated at the height of day, yet as delicate as hoarfrost or needle lace in the faint patterns of its glimmering surface. And like the poets, philosophers and writers who preceded me, as well as those at whose feet I now sit, I remain in awe of the very idea of the moon; its mysterious pull on tide, time and spirit all at once never fails to startle me when I stop to think of it. I would like to sleep every night directly under the moon, staring until my eyes can stay open no longer, if I could really sleep there: while I imagine it might be impossible to close my eyes with such magisterial magic before me. Even when the moon is at its slightest, at nadir or waning to a hairline, it keeps its mystical hold on my imagination. Sleep or no, I can only expect I would dream. The glory of the moon demands dreaming, and whether I rest or not under its wondrous beams I will always delight in seeking to replenish my store of dreams, and by such restoration, to renew my own strength by the welcome, fabulous light of the gleaming moon.

Electricity

Strung more tightly than violin strings, the two sweeping the darkened, smoky room in a feral arc know a dance that defies all others. Piazzolla provides the backdrop of sound, but the pulse is found far deeper inside–somewhere near the center of two souls, perhaps. Will the world implode in this, their passionate spin? Love, darkness and brilliance compel their moves; time will race or freeze and stars may blaze or die, but as long as the dance goes on, the night will be filled with mystery and animal joy that only these hearts could possibly make. Let the music stalk on, and learn to live and die of love: here in the night, the tango burning in these two will keep a world of beauty pulsing long beyond their lives.

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Happy to Defy Stereotypes

photoMarry Go-Round

Here we go round the daily ration

Of crashing through the underbrush

Hoping to hit a note of passion

In our enigmatic rush

Wishing for luck to strike the attempt

And so imbue the chase with meaning

As we run about unkempt

To catch a star in our careening

Here we go around and over

Under through against away

Wishing always we could hover

Hidden for another day

Off we ramble on our mission

Just as though we had a clue

How to go from fact to fission

I don’t know it though

Do you?photoTo be perfectly fair and honest, yes I do know. In my case, the How To was found perfectly simply in locating, partnering with and marrying exactly the right guy for me. Fission accomplished! Not to worry, though–I only mean the explosive quality of the energy found in splendiferous joy.

Good Conduct Medal

graphite sketchesEvery season of music has its marvels, masters and moments. In my life of following a conductor and his fellow artists around, I am privileged to be on hand for more such fine pleasures than most, and I never forget that this is a great bit of good fortune indeed.

Still, not every instant is guaranteed to be a glowing example of the highest and best of the musical arts. After all, there is all of the practice that must come first, and to be fair, no amount of practice can assure us of perfection. Mistakes happen; if  we’re lucky, learning happens as a result. But the distance between first-try and performance may be a long one indeed, and sometimes the distance isn’t quite long enough.

So I am grateful all the more when I attend a performance and hear something magical and meaningful and magnificent. I know that it took the performers a lot of concerted effort to come from wherever they started the process to this peak, and I am all the happier and richer for it. I know and appreciate, too, that it takes massive amounts of effort and energy and other resources on the part of organizers, managers, fans, logistics handlers, boards, angels, financiers, educators, ushers, ticket dealers, audience members, and all of those other assorted friends of the arts needed to make this work pay off in any way beyond the artists’ own satisfaction in the process, and that’s yet another level, another realm of generosity entirely that makes my little spot in the aural universe fuller.graphite sketches

Most of all I give my fervent thanks to all of the singers, players and conductors who strive to make this miracle happen again and again. Without your dedicated pursuit of the musical muse, there would be no such happy task for all of the friends of music who are not musicians ourselves. And unquestionably, the world would be a far less beautiful place.graphite drawing

What Not to Say and When to Say It

I know, I know: I’m remarkably gifted. I have a peculiar talent for saying just the wrong thing at any given opportunity, to the degree that some might think I’d developed a fondness for the flavor of my own toes. I just say what I think, and it’s often not the most politic or informed approach to do so.photoThe upside of the equation is that I have no power or influence, so most of the time there is little danger or harm in my being quite so thoughtless and flippant. Most of the time there isn’t anyone who will take offense or any business that will be tanked by my foolish unedited blundering. Much of the time, it’s as obvious as the dumb things I say that no damage will come of it.antique book page (photo)Still, I know how much power one tiny little word or deed gone astray can have. So I keep trying, knowing that there may be those who think themselves even smaller, weaker and less significant than me and who can be vulnerable to the slightest scratch from an unvarnished remark. If I get lucky, being slow to reveal my dull wits and blunt feelings will become my real trademark and even if no one knows it to thank me I will be able to feel grateful myself for having sidestepped a pointless unkindness. It’s worth a try.photoGood thing everyone’s so generally forgiving, in the meantime.