Friday, September 12, 2014

Regard All Dharmas as Dreams.

I got very worked up yesterday about this new war, very angry and hurt. This blog post by Noam Chomsky, maybe surprisingly, maybe not, made me feel much better, sort of forcing my vantage point back to a reassuring philosophical distance. Noam Chomsky is one of really few public intellectuals I always trust, ever since reading the mind-blowing and undeniable Manufacturing Consent in my late 20s, and, though I know there are some who see his name and roll their eyes, I'm too old to care. A prophet who isn't widely considered a crank is likely not a true prophet.

C. took me to task yesterday for writing somewhere on Facebook that I was angrier at Obama than I'd been at Bush. What I meant to express is that I was more deeply hurt because this new war is the last thing I expected from Obama whereas with Bush it was no surprise and I never liked him anyway so he couldn't hurt me. I guess I thought it was self-evident that Bush is the greater evil. I was just talking about my feelings.

And that's the problem. Why am I taking all this stuff so personally? I've been thinking about my blog post from yesterday, about how I reacted somewhat blandly to the events of 9/11. Because I was off the grid. Because I was in a beautiful forest. Because my own life was distracting me from world politics. The lesson that I seem to be trying to teach myself -- again -- is that it's not about me.

I will try to watch these world events unfold and not experience it all as a personal insult. You all know how I feel about this war and other wars, and now I will try to keep in check my moment to moment outrage.

As always in moments of anxiety about the world around me, it helps to return to my Lo Jong slogans. The operative one here is "Regard all dharmas as dreams." Pema Chodron, with Chomsky in my pantheon of reliable and always pertinent teachers, says:

Whatever you experience in your life—pain, pleasure, heat, cold or anything else—is like something happening in a dream. Although you might think things are very solid, they are like passing memory. You can experience this open, unfixated quality in sitting meditation; all that arises in your mind—hate love and all the rest—is not solid. Although the experience can get extremely vivid, it is just a product of your mind. Nothing solid is really happening.
Words to live by as we glide together to the end of the Holocene.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


On September 11, 2001, I was staying in a state park just outside of Ithaca, New York, with Jay and Roger. On the road, we lived more or less without media, except for the radio in the van which is how we heard about the World Trade Center attacks. We'd been living on the road for nearly two years and in that time had made two circuits from Nashville to the West Coast and back around to the East.

That September, we were on our way to the city for a show at HERE Arts Center. I think I've told this story here before, watching the dirty smoke rise over lower Manhattan as we approached on the New Jersey Turnpike and the bruised, sad eyes of our dear friends when we reached the city.

As we all do, I think about those days every fall. The way I commemorate the events is to renew my vow to avoid images of the planes crashing into the towers, the flames and smoke, the people jumping. We had no way of encountering those images at the time, but in conversations with traumatized friends in the days following it seemed clear to me that their trauma was caused as much by looking at the photos and video over and over and over as it was by what had actually happened. I decided I didn't need to see it.

As you can imagine, it's been impossible to completely avoid the pictures. They ambush me at newsstands, sneak up on me in commercials. But I look away quickly; I take in as little as possible.

I used to think that the reason I was not as revenge-crazy as it seemed the whole country was in 2001, and still (if slightly less) in 2003, was that I hadn't felt the visceral blow of seeing the attack. But last week, don't ask me why because it's not like me and it didn't even really seem voluntary, but I looked at the video of James Foley being beheaded, and I still don't have a taste for blood.

I'd say it's just temperamental, that I'm meek and tender-hearted, but that would be disingenuous. I can think of half a dozen times I've felt homicidal rage when I've been attacked or slighted or insulted or humiliated. I'm capable of it.

The video was shocking, and certainly justice is called for, but my feelings are somewhat abstract. I'm not angry. I guess I just don't feel like anyone did anything in particular to me.

I'm angrier at President Obama this morning than I am at ISIS. I probably shouldn't admit that today, but it's true.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Scarlet Tide.

This song is from the Cold Mountain soundtrack and was written by T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello. I was obsessed with it when it first came out, and I rediscovered it a few days ago while I was looking for something else. I think it's overwhelming beautiful. If nothing else, it's an antidote to that feeling that sometimes rises that the artistic output of some other time was better than that of our own.

Look at this bunch. I don't love the liberties Rufus takes with the melody, but still.

And this line-up, good god, at the Ryman. (Fats Kaplin again, on accordion. It's a Fats Kaplin week.) Listen for the added 3rd verse -- in case anyone in that Nashville audience forgot that it's an anti-war song.

And bare bones Elvis. There may be a few songs as good as this one, but none better.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Drunk Heterosexuals' Babies.

We're all abuzz about the ruling by federal judge Richard Posner striking down the gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, and yes it's a pretty great takedown of the absurdity of the arguments these anti-gay yahoos trot out, less and less credibly, every time. But I got stuck on this particular passage:

At oral argument the state‘s lawyer was asked whether “Indiana’s law is about successfully raising children,” and since “you agree same-sex couples can successfully raise children, why shouldn’t the ban be lifted as to them?” The lawyer answered that “the assumption is that with opposite-sex couples there is very little thought given during the sexual act, sometimes, to whether babies may be a consequence.” In other words, Indiana’s government thinks that straight couples tend to be sexually irresponsible, producing unwanted children by the carload, and so must be pressured (in the form of governmental encouragement of marriage through a combination of sticks and carrots) to marry, but that gay couples, unable as they are to produce children wanted or unwanted, are model parents—model citizens really—so have no need for marriage. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.

It's kind of a perfect illustration of the tension between the 2 schools of thought about what marriage is. The sentiment that has been so incredibly fertile for the "marriage equality" movement is that marriage is a special and sacred privilege or reward for people who are in love and should be extended to everyone who falls in love, no matter who they fall in love with. The other view -- and it's the view I've taken most of my life, though naturally it has been complicated by events in my personal life -- is that marriage is a form of social control. A way for men to control women, for women to control men, for the church and state to control people's sexuality and family and intimate lives.

I think marriage is certainly both, and many other things, and mostly it is what we want to make of it. So Posner loses me a little when he ridicules the idea that marriage provides some pressure on men to support the babies they make even if they hadn't considered the consequences before the fact. Because it is true that straight people are much more inclined to reproduce accidentally, and if the state has an interest in the welfare of children (which neither side in this debate disagrees with), then its support of marriage for heterosexuals has a quality not necessary for homosexuals. That seems pretty straightforwardly true and when he dismisses it so snarkily, I think he undermines the seriousness of the implications of laws and policies governing marriage and family life.

The "shotgun wedding" aspect of marriage is maybe outdated in most cases (now that single mothers and divorce are so ubiquitous and accepted) and it's obviously only one among many reasons that people might want to marry, but I think it at least deserves to be addressed seriously. I think this is the first time one of those Christiany "it's for the children" arguments has struck me as even ever so slightly convincing.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

News Flash: New Yorkers Are Rude.

Not that I haven’t been irritated often enough by men who sit like this on the train, but I hate how these complaints become gendered, as if men are the only rude people on the subway. New York is full of rude people, filthy with them. In spite of whatever so-called corrective you’ve heard to the so-called myth that New Yorkers are rude, New Yorkers are rude.

It's exhilarating when you first move here from the Midwest ("Yay! I don't have to give a shit about anybody else's needs!"), but I think eventually it's spiritually corrosive. I'm not the first to suggest that regularly feeling nothing more than annoyed at a young woman with a baby in her arms asking for money or an old man with no shoes or toes shuffling the length of the subway car begging for food can't be good for the soul. But that's another conversation.

I want to take apart this vitriol toward men who sit on the train with their legs spread, taking up 2, sometimes 3, seats.

1. A lot of it is expressed in a way meant to ridicule men’s bodies and question their masculinity: “Nobody’s balls are so big that they need to sit like that,” etc. (I’ve even said this kind of thing, so I’m addressing my criticism to me as much as anyone.) I don’t claim to know anything about the real estate requirements of women’s genitalia, but I do know that men’s are on the outside, and, no matter the ball-size, sometimes need a little room. Maybe not this much room.

2. Women are rude too. For every man with his legs spread, there’s a woman with a huge handbag poking into your ribs. (I definitely don’t want to create a boys v. girls who’s ruder contest. Again, rudeness is genderless.)

3. Though it has no gender, sometimes rudeness has to do with gender. These complaints usually come from women, and I can’t help but connect them to the strange brew of female entitlement that comes into play on the train more than any place I can think of. It’s that glare I get not infrequently from women who are obviously half my age but think I should stand and give them my seat. Because they’re female and I’m male. Not only am I a feminist, I am an old man, I’m tired, my feet hurt, and it’s a long ride home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


C and I flew down to North Carolina last Friday for his family reunion -- well, my family reunion but you know what I mean -- in a Hampton Inn by the Raleigh/Durham airport. It was the first trip we've taken in a long time when there hasn't been some thunderstorm or hurricane or whatever to deal with.

We came back Sunday but C went straight to the Pines for 4 days. He’ll be back tomorrow some time. While it's probably not bad for our marriage to have time away from each other from time to time, I miss him every minute when we’re apart. I really still do.

I’m watching a lot of “Chopped.” I could easily become addicted to “Chopped.” Every time they open a basket, it’s another story. And before you know it, another one has started and I want to know how it ends. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more.

The only channels I can watch when C is out of town are the Cooking Channel and the Food Channel. Like I literally don’t know how to make the TV do anything else. TVs got really complicated in the years when I wasn’t watching TV and I never got back up to speed. Their workings are opaque to me, the learning curve too steep.

Husbands are the best argument for gay marriage I can think of.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I’m finding all the outrage about the opening of a Starbucks in Williamsburg hilarious. Like a Starbucks will finally make Williamsburg no longer hip. Like Williamsburg has been anything approaching hip since like 1998. At this point, even Starbucks is hipper than Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the stinking corpse of the idea that there can ever be another hip neighborhood anywhere ever again.

I recently made myself a secret promise that I’d tone down the complaining about gentrification. I guess I just wasn’t ready. Sorry.