Thursday, February 9, 2017

Empathy and Compassion Are So 1965

It is obvious that emotions and states of mind come and go like hemlines, hairstyles and homophobia. Fear, anger and stupidity are the new black. This hit me while the Beatles tune Nowhere Man ran through my mind (recorded in October of 1965).

Lennon, who wrote the song claimed it came to him when he felt low and defeated. “I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then 'Nowhere Man' came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.” This wasn’t about rockers looking down on middle class, aimless wage slaves wondering fruitlessly to the grave. It came from a place of empathy. His heart went out to those who struggled and found themselves nowhere. Odds are, he was also drifting in a smoky haze, but that’s beside the point.

Being civil didn’t start in the 60s, of course. Some would say it ended there – at least by the late 60s. The common theme for every character Jimmy Stuart ever played was empathy and compassion. It used to be when we went to war that the people at home sacrificed and grew victory gardens remembering those who they put in harm’s way. The most important thing in every war was to end it as quickly as possible. Now, we’re encouraged to binge shop. It’s patriotic.

And that’s where we find the motive for the murder. Empathy and compassion didn’t die of natural causes. They were strangled so that the masses could be more easily manipulated into sending the poor to war; manipulated into bombing random countries for the profit of the rich. Hemlines go up and down so that people will buy new clothes. Empathy and compassion went out of style so that the rich could more easily justify the slaughter that makes them richer.

Of course, I’m not the first to notice this. What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding, after all?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sympathy for the Devil Within

I was watching an interesting TED talk today online when I noticed something unrelated to the topic the presenter was meaning to discuss, but still illustrated something for me. In the process of relating a story, she talked about having lived through a tragedy that had a huge impact on her life. She got through this story succinctly, and with no fuss whatsoever because it wasn’t the point of her story. What was important was that this experience had shaken her confidence for years to come.

It was not an emotional moment for her, this revealing of such a formative moment.

She then mentioned meeting another person who was experiencing a similar downfall and subsequent hit to her confidence. Revealing this part, about another person, nearly brought her to tears even as she worked to continue her talk.

My first thought was, how noble of her to feel so deeply for this other person. I imagined her to be a kind and honorable woman.

My second observation was that she had felt none of that for herself. And then I realized that I treat myself just the same. It’s easier for me to choke up about the struggles of a movie character than to feel deep sorrow for any struggles I’ve had in my own life.

Of course, if I ever met someone who felt in the opposite way – crying for themselves and feeling nothing for others – I would loath them. Can you imagine such a tool? (Visions of Trump loom in my mind for some reason.)

And finally, my third reaction was, why can’t she feel for herself as strongly as for others? What would be so wrong about that? It sounds balanced and self-empowering. I wanted it for her.

Hours later, I realized that I wanted it for myself, too.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Anxiety Gremlins

Something you might not know.

We each host an anxiety gremlin complete with pointy teeth, and claws, and foul dispositions. Maybe yours is so small you don’t notice it much. Some people are practically ruled by theirs. Under normal conditions these gremlins walk beside us kvetching under their breath about how the sun it too bright and someone is going to get killed not being able to see in such a glare. “It’s a wonder we don’t all have skin cancer already. Well, soon enough…”

And so on.

Some people have turned to guns to save themselves from their anxiety gremlin, but they’ll never manage to plug it. It’s not that simple. Some have tried numbing themselves but the gremlin only laughs. Both of these play right into its hands.

On our best days we manage to kick that bastard back a bit so that it trudges behind us scurrying to catch up as we turn our faces to the sun and drink in pleasure.

They are hard to get rid of entirely, though.

Sometimes they get in front and block our path, keeping us from moving forward. We feel stuck; frozen in the fears it whispers up at us. We begin to believe its lies. That’s when things get dark.

Then it can get away with more. It climbs onto our backs and digs foot claws into our sides. Grasping fingers as hard as roofing nails pierce our skulls and turn us away from the sun. “Looking at the light is pointless,” it hisses in our ear as it swivels our necks. “Look at the mess you have made of your life instead. You’ll never get anywhere now. What’s the point? What must decent people think of you? So useless.”

A gun won’t find it. The best we can do is rip that monster from our hides, sometimes leaving long bloody slashes as we pull it free and throw it down.

And never let it climb onto us again.

Which can be much harder than it sounds. Maybe your gremlin has been taking it easy on you. Other gremlins have insatiable ambition and need to be fought and defeated every single day.

Still, the sun is out there. And we deserve that pleasure no matter how strong our gremlin has become. The fight is always worth it, and so are we.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Seriously, Twinkie Boyz? Who goes bankrupt selling whipped lard to Americans? My theory is, they didn’t actually go bankrupt so much as they mass produced all the world will need to consume for the next seventy years, so they closed shop to save money while sales continue. I’m pretty sure they’re still selling the ones they made back in 1974. Preservatives are a marvel.

But bankrupt? I don’t buy it. Not when you’re selling animal fat tubes two to a pack.

Have you ever tried one wrapped in bacon? It is to die for. Actually, I think that’s what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Bacon/Twinkie induced heart explosion. There wasn’t enough left of him to identify.

Well, if this turns out to ACTUALLY be the end, then Rest In Peace, Twinkies. The coming zombie apocalypse will not be the same without you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peace to You

Reposted from 2009.

A ship’s compass, a windrose, identifies the source of directions as solar sky paths at four key dates: Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. The windrose’s shape is echoed in sundials, stone medicine wheels, ceremonial containers woven from intent and Navajo wedding baskets woven from sumac. People all over the world have captured this pattern in many ways for many reasons.

Stones, stars, the directions, weavings, time – these speak to us out of the past. If you listen the words can be intuited; an alive spiritual communication.

How many times has the wheel turned – the sun aligning with the markings on the windrose and ceremonial containers? When will it end? What gateway experiences will happen along the way? How many times have people gathered for community, warmth and comfort on the longest night of the year? How often are they kept apart?

Blessings to you and yours. May your next trip around the sun be fruitful, enjoyable and peaceful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Manning the Door

I love holding the bowl on Halloween almost as much as I used to love going from door to door in the night. My high school son decorated with his usual panache using bloody body parts, skulls, snakes, life-like baby dolls, severed heads, giant spiders, tomb stones, strobe lights and a fog machine. I don’t mind leaving that to him. But let me see all the costumes on the wee, and not so wee as they cavort in darkness laughing and running up and down the street calling out; letting the clan know which house has the best loot.

First, I don’t hand out candy. I hold the bowl out and let them choose. So what if some of them fill their grubby paws and pull back 3 or 5 pieces? I won’t be there for the sugar induced meltdown. I just get to see the glee in their eyes as they score the big haul.

Some kids get a bit nervous around the decorations. They can be intimidating. First you’re blinded by fog and strobes. Then, a skull flashes at you from the rockery… and is that a severed hand over by that snake? Where’s the candy? Up those dark steps to the distant door? Only the brave make it that far.

Not to worry. I bring the bowl down for the faint of heart. One little mass murderer (Jason I believe) declined the journey, but he’ll be back next year and try again. One of my favorites was when two brothers came. The young one, dressed like a pirate stomped boldly up and raked in the booty. “My brother’s coming,” he told me. I looked, but the brother was not moving. He stood right next to Mom way down by the street staring up at his young sibling (the meeker one was a ninja). No trouble. I came out to deliver the bowl, following the pirate. “Joey!” yelled the ninja. “There’s a guy! Right BEHIND YOU!” I smiled and held out the bowl as I drew close. He looked up at me and smiled, seeing I was not going to chainsaw anyone. “Dude!” He said in relief as he picked a few pieces from the bowl.

Pirates: 1 Ninjas: 0, if you’re scoring at home.

We moved about 6 bags of cheap American confection in under 3 hours.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Open Letter to Anyone Moving to Seattle

Do you own a green Subaru Outback? First of all, congratulations on joining with your people. Your wandering is over. You have found your tribe.


I would like you to go out and take a good long look at your Subaru. What kind of roof-top carrier do you own? On which side of the car is it most easily accessed? The bike rack: what is the make and model? Scan your bumper. On which side is the tastefully mainstream liberal sticker placed?

Once you receive your Washington plates, memorize them.

Any one of these details may be the one that will help you to differentiate your car from the other 400 green Subaru Outbacks parked at the Whole Foods at any given time.

If the memory load seems like too much, I suggest you sign the side of your car with a two inch paint brush.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


When my son was in kindergarten, the United States was attacked. Now, he’s in high school and we’re still fighting two wars that were both justified as being necessary after that attack. The world is settling into the idea of war being not just inevitable, but permanent. Ongoing. Endless. Normal.

Let me go out on a limb and say that I think this sucks. Crazy talk? Maybe.

I’m not going to rehash what got us here. Opinions are so polarized at this point that perhaps the less we talk about that the better. Why argue and separate ourselves even further when it will do no good?

But, can we agree that it is a sad state of affairs? I mean, is it possible to feel good about forever killing? There has got to be a better way to spend the rest of our days. And I believe we can get there. Even now.

It’s going to take thousands of baby steps to do it. You’ve heard of death by a thousand cuts? This is life by a thousand hopeful acts. (Did someone say points of light?)

Whatever else you believe in, spend some time and try to also believe that peace is possible. Giving this a thought and acting on it is timely for some – the season of peace on earth, good will toward men. Everyone else has their time and place to do the same. Please us it. I would like my son to remember a time in his life when there was no active war.

Give it a try. What can you lose? A thought for peace has to cost less than blood. Consider this blog post a flicked lighter in a dark crowd. Flick your own. Spread the glow.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


Friday night found me at the “palooza of percussion” also billed as “an all star concert featuring Japanese Taiko by Kaoru Watanabe and the legendary Kenny Endo, with Asako & Ringtaro Tateishi; Senegalese Sabar by Thione Diop and Yeke Yeke; and Indian tabla by Samir Chatterjee, an internationally-acclaimed virtuoso and noted historian of Indian music.”

I have taken up drumming for ceremony in a Native American context and it was beyond thrilling to see the ceremonial aspects played out from the perspectives of different cultures. That is the dry way of saying, I just wanna bang on da drum all day.

Or, as a fellow drummer put it, “I bang the drum, you shake your booty!”

A quick Google on drumming turned up this perspective…

“Drumming is an occult practice used in pagan rituals. Designed to connect people with earth spirits and other demonic forces. Such circles are associated with witchcraft and shamanism. Put simply, this practice is not Christian.”

I bet J.C. wouldn’t have minded if someone pulled out the toms while he was multiplying fishes and loaves. Sounds like just the time to get a good beat going if you ask me.

The African drummers called in the four directions plus the as above and so below (heavens and earth) just like the Native American circles do. As they did this, the power of their intent was palpable. They created a ceremonial container for the entire audience and show.

At the end of the concert, all musicians played together. Their stage presence and styles were very different, and I doubt they all spoke the same language, but there was never a dropped beat. They built in each group, one at a time, then they let solos sweep over the stage as each group became the lead in turn, and finally built to a chest vibrating crescendo and BAM BANG BANG BAM. Full stop.


And the crowd jumped. It was one of those group-as-one moments. I can still feel the applause that we washed over those drummers.

My mother was Native American by blood only – not culturally. She told a story of being an infant in her grandmother’s care in the back woods of Alabama while her parents went to work in a cotton mill. The grandmother took her to a field that looked just like any other, but her grandmother knew where to dig. She placed my mother on a blanket, and she dug. Soon, she found pots, arrow heads, knives and skulls. These she placed by my mother and told her to rub the dirt off. In the afternoon, they took these down to the big road and sold them to rich white people.

Grave robbing.

My mother told me that story in a monotone when I asked about our Native American background and finished with, “I never did like that old woman.”

Beyond that disconnect, I look more like my Norse grandmother from my father’s side than anyone from my mother’s side. Another blue eyed Indian.

Still, a twisted hairs lineage out here has a need for drummers. They reach out to other people and share the various teachings that they have pulled together (like twisting hairs together to make a stronger cord). So, I drum with them. The slanted Christian perspective quoted above did get some points right. It does, “connect people with earth spirits and other demonic forces.” Maybe I take exception to the word demonic, but I’ll own up to the rest. Natural forces would be more accurate.

As the Go-Gos put it…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Warm Wishes

At this time of year our home contains a spirit brought into existence through ritual. Many of the trappings and practices were first put into place thousands of years ago, in many corners of the world. The earth remembers these rituals and answers to them.

We invite representatives of nature into our home and give them places of honor. Wreaths herald the return of the sun – the distant king of our winter sky. The queen, the evergreen, is festooned with silver and gold. She perfumes the air with her dying breath - a sacrifice has been made as the old year dies away. A Yule log is sparked to remind us of the returning light.

Family and friends gather and exchange gifts to help each other through the cold months to come. Groups make a joyful noise to drive away evil and brighten the long night.

The very best of the season to all.