Posts Tagged ‘human nature’

The Airborne Toxic Event

March 25, 2020

If you handful of people who ever read this recognize what the title of this blog entry refers to, then you’re miles ahead of everyone else.  Delillo’s White Noise offers satisfaction during this time on many levels (another of the novel’s countless running jokes.)  Although my copy had been packed away in … 2013, and I’d had no intention of unpacking prior to my still-fervently-hoped-for upcoming move, bizarre times required bold moves.  If the marginal comments and marks are any indication, the 20 something grad student who wrote her final paper on death in White Noise for a cultural studies seminar in 1991 wasn’t far wrong in identifying some worthy gems.  Arguably there isn’t one element of the entire book that doesn’t offer relevant insights to today’s moment.

One thing that strikes me now is how Delillo imagines his refugees all holing up together, whether in a deserted Boy Scouts camp as the toxic cloud backlit by tracers and towed by helicopters hovers or in crowded grocery stores where waves and particles flow or on highway overpasses where townspeople crowd to watch the sunsets whose breathtaking beauty is equally heightened and undermined by the real possibility that the lingering traces of the airborne toxic event or the microorganism dropped to devour it are to blame.  It makes the solitude we’re being requested to endure that much more poignant;  amidst this profound uncertainty we are being asked, effectively, to experience it alone.

Frankly, that’s another refreshing element of the novel:  no internet.  Thirty-five years after the novel’s publication, our lives are so permeated by various technological devices that even our dreams incorporate text messages, twitter and instagram posts and video memes.  To have the confusions of human life be ratcheted down just a few levels to television commercials, car crashes, Hitler studies, modern pharmaceuticals and the fear of death makes the trashy culture of the 80s look like children’s games.

There’s so much of significance to take in and the space to do it in this novel; the generosity and the abiding love for humanity is apparent even at moments of deep cynicism.  When the hero has to stop his German lessons because a metaphor his colleague Murray has used to characterize the German instructor overwhelms his senses (“What had been elusive about Howard Dunlop was now pinned down.  What had been strange and half creepy was now diseased”), he still feels bad about it.  There’s no certainty that Murray’s claim is true; it’s only a metaphor after all.  # Cancel culture is still a couple of decades in the future, although Gladney does note as he tries to gauge the ethnic background of his teenage son’s friend Orest Mercator, “It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people.”

I feel as if I’ve been in training for this moment in history for a long while with my nomadic lifestyle, my own free form version of social distancing, my insane frugality, my value system as portable and infrangible as a pinned on medal.  Or maybe it’s just deja vu.  Regardless, the hapless and helpless J.A.K. Gladney is as perfect a symbol for what any of us — prepared or not — may or may not be able to offer at moments of great significance.  While I can’t watch children sleeping at night to return a sense of peace to my fractured mind or snuggle close to a life partner, there’s a reverence modeled in this prescient novel one can’t fail to find sustaining.  Read, laugh, marvel, and love!


Call Me Invasive

December 18, 2019

I’ve discovered a new/old wonderment in my sunrises and sunsets:  the murmuration of starlings.

This is what the above photos attempt to capture:  a giant car pool of birds, all of them having arisen from their night roosts and gathering en masse in order to cross the river into the grain fields that will provide them energy to survive.  Raptors are not unaware of the starlings plans, so these long ribbons of birds, foaming like smoke and creating their own microclimates as they wheel to and fro, are also protective devices to confuse predators and minimize loss.

Last Sunday collected along the small town’s streets to watch the illuminated holiday parade.  Strands of lights detailed the local speedway’s monster car float and adorned various farm implements that chugged down the street.  I could smell the diesel fuel from my perch a block away.  Prior to the parade’s start, I watched as volunteers lugged bags of candy intended for the crowd and wondered why people would bother to drive into town to watch decorated flatbeds and grab for cheap candy but they wouldn’t step out each morning and night to gaze up at the masses of birds.

Yesterday I walked to the post office and saw quantities of unwanted candy and discarded wrappers littering the parade route.  Perhaps this trash is similar to the legs and feathers of starlings I’ve been spotting in the past month or so.  People will tell you the European starlings are invasive, introduced by some hapless human during the 19th century, and causing, like many invasive species, a certain amount of havoc in their adopted environments.

I’m not sure who has more to learn about invasive species and their capacity both to captivate and repulse:  the parade spectators or myself.  I can only say I’m still in the running, trying to learn on the fly and continuing to marvel at how much life has to reveal.

beyond miracles

November 13, 2017

Just a few hours since the Venus – Jupiter conjunction in early Scorpio.  Last night I went to bed not long after reading one astrologer’s take.  Although I’m Scorpio Rising, since the conjunction is occurring in my 12th house, I read the Sagittarius one.  Within his brief listings of possible manifestations, the astrologer used the word “miracle,” so I started joking about it with George the cat.

“Do you have a miracle in your back pocket?” I asked.

He started scratching.

“Well, that’s where your back pocket would be if you had one,” I conceded.  “Check and see if there’s a miracle there.  You know I share whatever good fortune I have with you.”

Being the sort of obsessive thinker that I am and knowing this alignment was coming up, I’d been wondering how it would present itself.  Additionally, I’ll admit, I’ve spent too much time gnashing my teeth that whatever good luck might sweeten my life, it wouldn’t be in the form of partnerships or money.  In my 12th house, it could be as quietly hidden as, say, not stabbing myself with scissors while walking with them.  Too often the words of an old song seems to apply: “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

As I fell into sleep, I thought about what I might point to in my past experience as a miracle.  Yellowstone seemed less like one and more like winning a ticket to a thrilling adventure.  The Indigo Night job, offered 9 months after the interview and 5 days after I’d decided to take in my kitten Bandit?  Yes, that felt like a miracle of sorts at the time.  But more accurately, it was more an answer to my prayers.

Prayers are funny things.  What we’re convinced we need to make us happy – love, money, forgiveness, attention – are what we’ve identified as what’s lacking.  So if we give ourselves love, respect, justice, etc., eventually, in some form, it will manifest.  Can we call that a miracle if like the little red hen we’ve cultivated it ourselves?

So maybe those aren’t miracles.  The miracle was Bandit and my seeing that, my refusal to give him up when it seemed the only logical thing to do since I had no income and my housing was ending.  The miracle was continuing to hope the park service had an adventure in store despite the misery of my first season.  The miracle was holding onto former lovers despite all the ways we’d misunderstood and hurt each other so that now when we need reassurance, we can draw from that deep well of love.  The miracle was allowing my father to help me last winter in spite of a lifetime spent in grief and anger over his cruel neglect.  The miracle is that there are still moments before the sun rises, no matter where I might be, where I believe I have something to offer and that there is a place where I belong.

In my dreams last night, I was absolved of the charges my park supervisor made and reinstated at the park.  As the day begins, it appears more like the kind of joke I was making with my cat.  The miracle is that I’m no longer there, can no longer be bullied or forced into silence.  What happens next will be the answer to my prayers.

sunrise over the Potomac

messages from the world of spirit

November 11, 2017

from this morning’s journal:

Strange dreams and more of them than I can recall.  The final one: I’m traveling with someone and we’re in some Scandinavian country.  My companion is there to visit friends.  The day we’re departing arrives and for the flight I choose the strangest outfit:  a bustier with garter straps (unused), a black down vest, and my grey and white pajama bottoms.  At one point, I wonder why I’ve dressed this way, then decide that since we’ re traveling, comfort is all that matters.

We’ve been staying with my companion’s friends, and we’re about to leave when I realize I never brought my passport.  I can see in my mind’s eye where it is still wedged in my organizer basket.  Now it will be at least a few days before I can leave.  While I’m waiting, I’m still at the home of my companion’s friends.  When something strange and complicated occurs very quickly, I am the only one in the room.  From what I can recall right now, one of the men of the family – husband? father of the wife? – comes into the room and collapses.  Before I can do anything to assist, a large object detaches itself from the ceiling (?) and falls, piercing his chest and killing him immediately.

Faced with the prospect of trying to explain this outlandish chain of events and then being accused with murder, I decide to leave, friendless, without a passport, not knowing the language or the land.

Now for how I interpreted this:

Fear of being accused of something one didn’t do doesn’t come naturally.  At first we believe in justice.  We think the truth will out because our innocence shines as brightly as the sun.  But then experiences teach us something else, something that doesn’t draw from within but is forced upon us from without.  People, hungry for restitution from lives twisted by wrongs rush to satisfy their desire to blame and to punish on others.

One’s own faith that justice will prevail begins to erode.  Everyone, one learns, has a point of view where they are the wronged person, and even if adjudicating the situation in front of them won’t erase the stain of wrongedness, they will take what small pleasure they can get.  The pleasure will be even sweeter if the accused “thought she was better than we were” (which could be translated as “she was different in some way we couldn’t measure,” ie, an outsider).

What I learn from this, I hope, is not to join in the blood fest of fear.  The pain I’ve endured as an outsider has been hard and beyond my capacity to describe.  Even my ex husband threw me to the wolves rather than negotiate his next wife’s insecurity over our lingering friendship and past dependency.  To justify his shameful behavior, mine had to be wrong.  In his construction, my hands had to be covered in blood; my heart must have harbored hate.

Yes, my heart has harbored hate.  I am human, with the full spectrum of all that’s implied with that condition.  But I have struggled, alone & unwitnessed, to address that particular kind of guilt.  And while there have been too many instances where I’ve failed to master my worse behavior, there have been many others where I have succeeded.  And most of all, I try, try, try to leave space for others to evolve.

“Forgive but not forget?”  Is that the answer?  Let wind and water disperse the resentment.  But we must testify.  We must say there is a better way of being in the world, a better way to understand ourselves and others.  If we don’t, how can we hope to survive with grace the horrible storms that most definitely lie ahead?  And how will we account for our lives at the end if our actions have not matched what we know to be true?

Know peace. Know justice.

November 3, 2017

I have just started a fascinating book entitled American Taxation, American Slavery.  To paraphrase poorly her argument, the writer, an historian @ Berkeley, uses her examination of how tax codes were written and implemented in the colonies and then the newly formed states up until the Civil War to illustrate how today’s anti-government rhetoric is a narrative that can be directly tied to the elitist, pro-slavery, anti-democratic governments of the southern states.

For me, having returned to the south and with my own connections to slave-owning founding fathers (including living 4 miles from Robert E Lee’s birthplace), this a timely link, but I think it is also an illuminating way to perceive how racist assumptions underlie what’s transpiring in our culture.  It’s also a useful reminder that until we ALL work to pull apart these complicated skeins, this stain of injustice/abuse of power will remain and pollute our possibilities toward peace.

I had an interesting dream I’m still processing. It was quite disturbing, although the graphic elements were mercifully absent. At a celebratory party (maybe my birthday), close friends and I treat an outsider in a dismissive way. As others laugh at him, I do too and he gives me a look that I register as hostile and aggressive. After the others are gone, he comes in through an unlocked door, holding a bat. Because I cannot bear the thought of being beaten, I submit to his raping me. As time goes on, this situation continues, with me saying nothing to anyone. My friends wonder why someone so unpleasant is permitted to hang out with me/us, but I’m too subdued by guilt and shame to say or do anything. At one point, a group of us discover the bodies of girls who’ve been tortured and murdered in an empty building, and I am sure the perpetrator was him.  I realize that by allowing him to abuse me, I have not minimized his capacity for violence but instead in some manner increased or at least continued to conceal it.  I confide in one friend, and together we begin to devise a way to bring him to justice.

This issue of justice is one I’ve been allowing to remain in my peripheral vision, the way one yearns for beauty or love or community as an ideal. For instance, what’s happened to me in my various park positions are examples of power being abused and of my allowing the situation because of some degree of guilt/shame. My growing interest in the subject of slavery also involves the abuse of power,  finding it threaded through the stories we tell about our country when we talk about “founding fathers” like Thomas Jefferson & George Washington whom, we explain, hated slavery but couldn’t find a feasible way to free their slaves (a story that desperately needs to be re-framed). What I’ve found, however, in my own heart, is that when I think about justice, I allow myself to accept injustice being perpetrated in my own line of sight because, I argue silently, “the world is an unjust place.”

In a newsletter he sent out early this morning, an astrologer whose cultural critiques I find perceptive in an intuitive way wrote about the Trump-Manafort news in terms of justice. I’m not quite sure I can completely agree with the assertions he made in this instance, but he provided an observation that’s provided a useful description of the path my mind is tending:

Having faith in justice is in part the result of being a just person, since if you’re not personally connected to something, it’s difficult to imagine its existence.

That this issue of justice and each person’s connection to it are fascinating and fruitful to me I can feel in my heart which feels tight with possibility. It’s a scary feeling, one I can sense others (and me in the past) would easily turn away from.  If I take what the wisdom this astrologer has offered here and my own intuitions, I know the difficulty involves working through and moving beyond one’s own collusion with injustice (through the vestiges of our guilt and shame) so that we can stand on the side of justice.

I hope I can find the courage to commit to unearthing the layers of the stories that are offered to me as a means of testifying to a different way, a better way.

Of herons and hermits

September 9, 2017

Too often my new landlady behaves like a scared bird.  When a creature is scared, it forgets all knowledge of itself, reacting only to the demands of survival.  The voice of accumulated wisdom that might chart an easier path can’t be heard above the din of raucous fear.

I guess I’m thinking in terms of birds more now that I’ve moved to the shore of the Potomac.  Wide and brackish with the salt water riding up the Chesapeake, the river draws life with which I’ve yet to become familiar.  Sure, I’ve seen bald eagles in Virginia and in Yellowstone, ducks and gulls everywhere, and even blue herons most recently who roosted in the field adjoining my adobe in northern New Mexico.  But here they have a presence that quickens my attention more than the transplanted retirees and natives who’ve never left this sleepy small tourist town.

The past 2 mornings, under clear-ish skies, I’ve ventured out well before dawn to watch Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Regulus rise.  While I skipped seeing the totality of the solar eclipse from fear of the crowds and have so far been cursed not to see the aurora borealis, I’ll be damned if I won’t drag my ass out of bed to at least glimpse Mercury before it starts to slip below the horizon.  Today I stopped beneath the shadow of an oak, straining my eyes east as the approaching dawn began to tint the horizon.  The houses behind me were mostly dark, and only the wind provided sound and movement.  Then that changed.  The darkness next to me shift slightly and I realized I wasn’t the only sentinel awaiting dawn.  Some 20 feet away from me was a blue heron who accepted my company silently.  The two of us stood as close to each other as humans and birds can be expected, sharing the same primeval impulse to gather ourselves in order to face the day.

When my landlady reacts, when she makes declarative statements and implicit commands, I think of how she’s reacting to a threat that’s echoing from her dim past, not from what’s in front of her.  No matter her insistence on Jesus’s love protecting her from colds and other disasters, what her behavior suggests is that she’s afraid this putative boundless protection will dissolve in an instant and she’ll be left alone and defenseless.  She hoards food, clothes, tchotchkes, photographs and other souvenirs of her past as if it will keep her safe.

I’m far from the calmest person in the world, and the force of her fear has thrown me off center enough times that I’ve gotten angry, mostly at myself, for forgetting what I know matters.  Still when I retreat from her clamor and get right with myself, mostly in the middle of night, I remember what I’ve learned about the importance of stillness, and this gives me just enough strength to handle the stresses of the day ahead.

I did a tarot card reading soon after I arrived here.  My journey back to Virginia involved one major disaster, small disappointments, and a lot of exhaustion, and I arrived to a situation I’m not sure I would have signed onto if I’d known all the details.  In the middle of my reading was The Hermit, with the card that followed being the High Priestess.  How dispirited I was, learning that once again my life would comprise solitude and self-reflection.  But when a site I go to often suggested that one must be alone with one’s self (The Hermit) in order to access the wisdom offered by the High Priestess, I tried to reconcile myself to more deep journeying.

This morning, bidding good day to the heron, I returned to face my landlady’s impending clamors and the stresses of my new work situation with another image to set beside that of The Hermit.  A blue heron awaiting dawn, full of the knowledge of what it means to be itself, giving another the space to stand quietly by and know herself.