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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Something New Comes Along

Just when I think there is nothing left to be old, something new comes along.

I wonder what creates a memory. When I wake in the morning, and there is nothing left to hold, nothing new to see, to comprehend, to learn, when there is nothing left to remember about time, will I really be awake or will I actually be dead? Is that the final samadhi I see before me, or just another aimless hallway lined with the disposable images of a past I watched while in repose in front of my television?

I spent the past week in the DC area, and went to the National Portrait Gallery one day. There we saw portraits of presidents, Civil War personalities and other American icons, like Jimi Hendrix and Gore Vidal, Jackie O. and Josephine Baker, Angela Davis and Katherine Hepburn. I remember a lot of the individuals, captured in paint pigment and photo emulsion, from my own lifetime. Here they are with the legends of a young nation, captured in time as if they too were cornerstones of proud nationalism and not temporary soda pop bubbles rendered into Styrofoam pylons supporting an age of plastic time. How Warholian!

So this is how history is written now. As 2007 slips into 2008, I guess we all need to pay better attention. The dimly lit Chinese restaurant on the neighborhood street corner, or the half-moon hanging over the leafless-tree that grows from the broken concrete stoop of a run down tenement, are all images I carry with me that - in some future context - could hold historical value, and those are only a couple of the ones my mind captured in the last 48 hours!

That anything from our living past can become grist for the historical mill is both ridiculous and overwhelming. For example, one could say it is ridiculous that 2007 could be remembered as a the year when a well run football team's glory will overshadow the glaring mismanagement of a poorly run nation. Likewise, it is overwhelming that tragic events, from Darfur to Pakistan, can crack the shell of our otherwise oblivious Humpty Dumpty lives, so that by the time we muster our horses and men, we will have fallen off the wall, leaving the hungry inconsolably weak, the weak uncontrollably desperate, and the desperate unalterably dangerous.

I'm sorry. It's hard not to be cynical. There's a lot of possibility for 2008, though. I don't know if hope alone is enough, or experience, or justice, but I do believe that we can move to heal the inconsolable, the uncontrollable, the unalterable, if we first resolve to heal ourselves.

Revolution only succeeds through resolution. The only way to create a new story is to commit to being a force for changing the current story.

Look at a recent picture of your family. Is there anything you could do to change the current story of your relationship to them?

Look at your bank statement. Is there anything you can commit to, to change the story of your relationship to money?

Look at your front lawn. Is there anything you can choose to do that will change your relationship to landscaping?

If you resolve to create change in your life in those or any small, personal area, then you can choose to play bigger in your next commitment. The new revolves when the old resolves. Rather than revering the past for its own sake, maybe we should venerate it only as the source for what we have become, are becoming, can become.

As we approach the fortieth anniversary of a notable year of joy and horror, it is appropriate to quote Bobby K. (also in the National Gallery) in his famous call to action, as a way to help us add context to history, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."

Happy New Year! Why not make it a historical one?


Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Undigested Bit of Beef: Fear, Reality and Scrooge

" '...You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'

"Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones."

-Scrooge's reaction to the presence of Marley's Ghost
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, Plain Label Books, pp. 35-36.

Like Scrooge's unwelcome visitor, it comes as no surprise that George Bush's and Dick Cheney's chains are weighted with a 21st century version of old fashioned corporate greed, but they have added to Marley's burden of "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel."

They also drag on the floor the shears that shredded our rights and our values, and their shoulders hunch from the weight of the coffins of the more than 6,000 American dead of September 11 and the Iraq War. Shattered lives dangle from the tattered cuffs of their muddy blue suits, which reek from the mildewed walls of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Like Scrooge, we sit incredulously in fear, pouring out our wit through pen and punditry to try to cope with the chill rattling through our collective bones. Were that we could dismiss it as "an undigested bit of beef." But cuisine plays no cameo in America's misfortune these last seven years. Fear is now an institution in our country. The scary status quo from semi-transparent politicians is a warning not to make our institutional fear Constitutional.

Like Bob Cratchit, the faithful buy their turkeys and hams and plea with us to reform our waggish ways. They hold up their children, their future, and ask us to embrace it. "God bless us, everyone." It is important to them that we hold that ideal closely.

Last year's election was our "Bah, Humbug" to the Bob Cratchits of this country, but after a year it seems that the halls of Congress are haunted by ghosts who take our representatives into a nightmare scenario, leaving them terrified of lying beneath the lonely headstone of un-Americanism or worse: un-electability.

It seems so unreal, this nightmare of congressional capitulation. Thank God, there's still some sanity in Washington. You won't see Russ Feingold or Dennis Kucinich running out into the snow Christmas morning looking to appease the fearful. If not for the few who act fearlessly to extinguish the flames of unreasonable paranoia, we would be the goose Scrooge brings to Christmas dinner.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Voting in the Shampoo Aisle

"Political marketing is a fairly pure analog to commercial marketing. I'm looking at a package of shampoo the same way I'm looking at my next leader."
- David Remer, chairman of Lucid Systems, from a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Perhaps Mr. Remer can be forgiven for his glibness. His company is trying to sell a program that tracks certain biological responses of people to the stump speeches and debates of the 2008 presidential candidates. According to the WSJ article, several of the campaigns are using this kind of uber-focus group technology to try to hone the scope and delivery of their message.

It's like turning trial balloons into biometric reporting weather balloons.

It seems that we just want to feel good about our candidates. It's not just a candidate. It also cleans your hair. My scalp is all tingly just thinking about it.