Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Living from the Perspective of Death
I’ve been doing that for a very long time, and it does strange things to you. It makes you not take very seriously all the tickings and crankings of the world: what others think of you, your social status, products, money, petty personal joustings . . . In fact, not anything to do with tomorrow, which remains only a nebulous concept.
Just think about it. We all take for granted that there will be a tomorrow for us, that the alarm will go off and we’ll make it to work, get our sweetened coffees, follow the usual routines, and come home again. But obviously, that is not going to happen for some of us. In fact, at some point or another that is not going to happen for all of us. How can we so adamantly cheat ourselves of the reality of death? Only death can give us a full appreciation of the things that really matter, can help keep us in alignment with our own inner passion—whatever that is for us. What we call “reality” is a farce.
I don’t know if they still do it, but there used to be some order of nuns that ate with skulls on their dining table. Of course, their concepts were warped with body-as-sin ideas, but still, I think that’s a wonderful image. I also know someone who’s lived with a potentially fatal disease since childhood, who does suspension—hanging from hooks in the skin—and he says that for days afterward, he’s exquisitely aware of everything around him. How much of our lives are we conscious at all, are we true to whatever matters to us?
Whatever you consider “reality” in your life, put it in the presence of death and see what happens to it. If it shrinks to nothing, discard it. If it still stands, speak to it on a first name basis.
Yeah, living this way can make you out of synch with the world, but the world is so askew, crooked, off kilter, who the hell would want to be in alignment with it? You’d have to be crazy.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Third World Prices Mean Third World Wages
Please shop responsibly. Do not shop at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest company and uses its monopoly to lower wages and the standard of living for American workers, to ship many jobs overseas, and to destroy local communities. How?
Wal-Mart gets many of its products from overseas. It is the largest importer of goods from China, where it can pay workers in sweatshop conditions as little as 13 cents per hour, lowering the standard of living even in developing countries. U.S. companies that employ U.S. workers cannot compete with such prices.
When the FTC charged Wal-Mart with not appropriately identifying the country of origin on some of its products, the company chose to remove the items from shelves rather than disclose where they were from. Don’t believe Wal-Mart’s claims about its standards for factory suppliers, either. When Wal-Mart “inspectors” visit overseas factories, they warn them ahead of time; the whole thing is a farce.
For every two poor-paying, bad-benefits job that Wal-Mart creates, three decent community jobs are lost. Small local businesses cannot compete with Wal-Mart’s prices and frequently go under when this giant moves to town. Once Wal-Mart has forced out other local retailers, it can raise its prices.
Wal-Mart, with over a million employees, is the largest private employer in the country. While Wal-Mart eliminates decent local jobs and pays its CEO millions of dollars, the average Wal-Mart worker employed for 40 hours a week only earns about $15,000 per year. Many Wal-Mart workers are also kept under-employed. Although it claims that 70% of its workers are fulltime employees, Wal-Mart neglects to mention that it considers 28 hours a week as “fulltime.” Only about half as many Wal-Mart employees have company health insurance as employees of other large companies.
Wal-Mart, which made over $240 billion last year, has a retail monopoly in this country. When offering large contracts to other retailers, it advises them to also cut quality, lower wages, end benefits, fire workers, close plants and stores, and ship more jobs overseas to keep product prices low.
Does this mean a lower cost for specific products? Yes, but at what cost to us and to our children in the long run?
Wal-Mart is creating a different America—one without a middle class, where there are only the poor and the rich. What America do you want your children to inherit? We are all building it now. Just say NO to Wal-Mart.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Nestlings with a Foreign Smell
What are we? Who knows? Are we merely evolved apes ala Darwin, or are we soul-evolved cosmic dust and anamolons ala the poets and the new physics? Or are we a combination of these and parts unknown? . . . All unanswerable questions unless we can place them within the context of our own lives. Theory has no validity otherwise; don’t trust those buggers on their own say-so.
One of the problems in theorizing is determining its true applicability to our own experiences. Do we ever distort our experiences to fit the theories of consensual reality? Of course, we all do that. But what if we try not to do that? What happens then? What if we choose Other Roads outside normal social parameters?
To what extent can we do that outside the normal human field? How far can we travel those roads and still belong to humanity? What if, say, we invest—as humans frequently do—in one particular human being as the potential repository of certain sums and values of our experiences? What if they become a mirror of our own self-value and affirmation of all that we hold beautiful enough to make existence possible? What if they then hold up a mirror of eyes filled only with disgust? What does it matter what generates that disgust? Whether it’s man-made religions or social conformities or loyalties to one human being or group of human beings to the deletion of all others in the world, the end result is the same: disgust at Other. What if all the wildebeests of imagination can find no noun for the experiential conclusion but the one of disgust? We look at ourselves through another human being’s eyes as a control of sorts, and all we can read there is disgust. Disgust at what we think, at what we feel, at what we hold beautiful, at everything we attempt; at what we are. Disgust. And only disgust.
In this sort of human box, there is no room for anything else, only black and white answers. We are bad and only bad in the eyes of the world. Should we lie down and die? But the artist in us must stubbornly persist. Perhaps no longer as an individual, as a person, for that must be a luxury only for those who acquiesce to the world to some extent. But perhaps as a force for the things we love, if we can only love them passionately, purely, disgustingly enough. Enough to say no to the small-minded theories that make and remake things in the images of those socially accepted ways, enough to willingly choose to be fools in the eyes of the world. Fools in ways that will be interpreted wrongly, and which we cannot reply to, knowing our words cannot be heard anyway. All we will have is self and whatever there is in the beingness of things that resonates to that self; the forgotten and the neglected, the shadows.
What if the heart is broken in places beyond the heart? What if nobody can ever hear us speak? Ever see us? Do we continue to exist? How is it that we live? Does everything real within us exist only in a place apart from other human beings? If so, then we must become a force for those things we love and keep our secret selves hidden, our human selves relegated to silence, echoed only in dim, distorted realms of the Other, or in Art. We do not even know if this is real. We do not know how to define “real.” Still, we must find the courage to move on utterly alone in such explorations. If you can live any other way, I personally would recommend that you do so. If you want a comfortable existence, take it, live there. Take what comfort you can. But for some of us, there seems to be no choice, or perhaps it is a choice made long ago. We are nestlings with a foreign smell, rejected, and do not know where we belong.
If we give such power to other human beings, no matter the results, we must bear the responsibility of choosing their eyes within the core of our beings. We must not turn away from them having once chosen. They will always remain there, however they look, through everything that we do and say and are.
Maybe we all lie to ourselves and to others, lies we cling to until the jolting reality of our deaths. Maybe that is all we ever really have, whatever we can take with us through that light repellent to lies. Maybe all we can take there is a stubborn plea: strip down all that I am, and this is left; I can be no other: disgusting love, foolish love, love enough to die for with no platitudes or illusions.
This is a hard road.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Humans, Blue Tits, and Milk Bottles
I like to imagine sometimes everyone everywhere stopping. Just stopping for one minute to think about something more profound than what our minds are usually cluttered with. Can you imagine the power of that? Say, if everyone at once contemplated that we’re always spinning around in space but never remembering that fact. Or if we simply took time to become aware of our own hearts beating, or our breath moving in and out without any conscious effort on our parts. If we all did something like that at once, I think this whole ugly story we’re spinning out from the clutter of our minds and emotions would grind to a halt. We’d hear the whole ugly story of the world stop speaking and then—from its absence—we’d know that it’s just a story we’re creating, that other possibilities exist.
There’s this English biologist named Rupert Sheldrake who says that even the so-called “laws of nature” are really only habits, habits that can change. It all depends upon how large of a context we’re looking at things through. He also makes what I consider a very convincing case for something called “morphic resonance,” the concept that each species has a collective memory and learning process, a collective mind. If you automatically harrummpphh at this idea, please lend me another hypothesis for the following well-documented phenomenon.
In England 1921, it was first reported that a Blue Tit (this is a bird, people; stop that) had torn off the cover of a milk bottle on someone’s front step to drink the cream at the top. Other local birds began adopting that habit and soon it was a point of interest for birders to report and document. The Blue Tit habit was nationwide by 1947. Although these birds only travel as far as 15 miles, the habit was also taken up by Blue Tits in Scandinavia and Holland. In Holland, due to the German occupation, milk bottles were not delivered to houses for eight years. Despite the fact that Blue Tits only live for three years, when milk was again delivered to homes in 1948, within a matter of months Blue Tits throughout Holland were tearing caps off the milk bottles.
Experiments along these lines--like rats taking an average of 200 attempts to get out of a maze, but the grandchildren of these rats only taking 20 attempts--suggest that time and space aren’t barriers to learning within the “morphogenetic field.”
If you're thinking the information must get passed on through the genes, Darwinian physical evolution doesn't work that fast, neither hypothetically or according to our present science. Sheldrake's idea is that physical genetics and the brain work more as transmitters of certain types of information to whatever lies within the morphogenetic field, and as receivers for all species information within that field. It's the morphogenetic field that also gathers information from the environment and can respond quickly for the benefit of the entire species. If Sheldrake’s hypothesis is true, then we all have a lot more power than we think to affect our species and this ugly world story we’re perpetrating.
Humans, let's go forth and begin to tear those caps off the metaphorical milk bottles!
If you’d like to read more on these subjects, check out the links below.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Prison and its Haunting Aftermath
Note from Gail: Chase Murray, our guest editor this week, lives in Roseville, California. The following essay is from a 100,000 word manuscript about his prison experiences called Connecticut Yankee in Folsom Prison. Chase is currently looking for a publisher for his book.
For some who have not been locked in its steely embrace, prison life may seem like a romantic departure from the boring, bourgeois life outside, a life of danger and excitement, a chance to prove oneself in the “big house.” But after doing five years and three months in California prisons, most of it in the notorious Folsom State Prison, I learned that “doing time,” whether in jail or prison, is not cool or chic.
My arrival at Tracy State Prison in 1998, at the age of 32, was my first foray into the netherworld of prison. I was an ex-infantry soldier, college graduate, published writer and teacher who had taken a big walk on the wild side. In 1997, I traveled to California from Connecticut by car, and ended up, after much frustration trying to acquire a job, robbing two gas stations at gunpoint. For these crimes I was sentenced to six years in prison at 85%.
Even the rough-and-tumble world of the infantry had not prepared me for the hopeless, degenerate milieu of prison. Tracy was one of the prison-reception centers for Northern California, and I soon learned just how far down a man’s life could go. Throughout the day and night, sirens whined as guards rushed to break up fights. Sometimes, I would see the brutal fights between inmates; still others I would only hear the cracking sound of heads being bounced off concrete walls and steel doors by hostile fists and boots, accompanied by the occasional scream.
The rest of my stay in prison was followed by endless double-dealing, lies, treachery, thievery, and the omnipresent violence that surrounded all of us, sometimes in the form of threats and intimidation, while still others were graphically real and bloody. Add to this the guards who could steal our food and supplies with impunity, sometimes in so called “cell-searches,” and you might get a small inkling of the psychological picture of what prison is like.
But with all of the horrors others and I faced in the iron-house, there is a horror I have experienced that one seldom associates with the prison experience. No, it is not rape; I never saw nor heard of anyone being raped in a California prison unless they were in a maximum security, level 4 facility. No, the horror I speak of is the aftermath of prison.
I am presently halfway through my parole term of three years. I have suffered no violations. In fact, by ex-con standards I am a success. I married the woman of my dreams nine months ago, and I have published some essays and articles. All appears well. But I still suffer two factors hidden from the average person: my recurring nightmares, and my inability to feel true, naked joy, the kind I was capable of before prison.
Since I have two strikes in a state where three strikes would get me life in prison, most of my recurring nightmares are based on receiving a life sentence for some unknown crime. It is a strange, eerie feeling to be constantly revisited by prison nightmares. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep.
Then there is the matter of my feelings of loss and estrangement from joy. These perplexing feelings assault me frequently; it is probably the most bizarre sense of alienation from myself I have ever felt. Prison taught me to be harshly cynical and pessimistic. It forced me head-first into the bowels of the Earth, the most fetid sewer of humanity in existence. Though I struggle hard to break free from prison’s insidious influence, an influence that reaches far beyond the steel-and-concrete confines to invade even my civilian life like some alien virus, it is much easier said than done.
I never considered, before or during my crimes, the nasty, venomous aftertaste of prison. I never visualized how it would alter my view of humanity forever, and fill my head with stark, repulsive images of a world gone mad at a level only imagined by those who have had the misfortune of “doing time.”
As a warning, I say to all out there who believe that prison is a badge of honor with the tough guys you wish to impress: think twice. While you may learn some important lessons about survival and people, they will forever jade and scar you. You will never be the same again. You should also know that the world does not forgive easily. I am not allowed to be licensed in anything because of my previous felonies, and I have not been able to secure what I would call gainful employment for a college graduate, and I may never be able to. And remember: friends who think it’s cool to see you go to prison aren’t your friends! They will not help you when are in prison, a painful lesson many inmates learn.