Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 2009

This year's Halloween saw me dressed as a bad ass biker (whose sidecar rider was decapitated in a bad accident. Look close and maybe you can see the head in the helmet). My team at work all did biker costumes and hopefully I can get a copy of the group shot to post on here. Jim and I have decorated our entire lawn and the trees leading up to the door. Spooky music, figures with glowing eyes, four pumpkins, a hanging ghoul, tombstones...the works!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Okay, this one's pretty intense...

The tone of the poetry I've been writing this Autumn has been very dark. Here's an untitled poem I just finished. It's inspired by someone who was very close to me and a really bad situation they got themselves into and refused to rectify. If you know me, you know who it is. It's the saddest thing when you realize someone you care about is beyond help.

Because you've suffered,
you absolve your hate and
fondle its jagged edges
with lusty wounded fingers
time has given up healing

Again you cut yourself
explode and shatter it--
only to be outraged
by a thousand new shards
you can cut yourself upon

I reach out
as you entomb yourself,
but you swear you are right
white-knuckled fists
oozing black blood

You are a paramecium
screaming self-inflicted stigmata,
anger-blackened eyes blind
to your inverted crucifixion

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins The Nobel Peace Prize

Wow! I'm stunned. Surprised. Elated. Although like a lot of people - including Obama himself - my first reaction was to think: 'What has Obama accomplished to win this prize?'

As I thought about it, I came to realize that the change of direction his vision for the US and its role in the world represents is hard to overstate. The fact that he has a vision - and has actively put it into practice across the world - from the way the US deals with our allies to a host of very difficult issues on an incredibly dangerous world stage has the potential to reverse the direction of the world's drift.

Think about it. When Bush made his 'Axis of Evil' speech, he set off a domino effect of tragic consequences. First, an erroneous and bungled (in terms of the leadership, not the soldiers) invasion of Iraq, which made it impossible for the US to finish the correct and justified invasion of Afghanistan. Remember Osama bin Laden? The guy who masterminded 9-11? We NEVER caught him! Part of the reason for that failure is that we got distracted by the mistake of Iraq.

After that, the other members of the Axis of Evil (North Korea and Iran, the latter now surrounded on two borders with hostile US troops), re-engaged overt nuclear programs. With our military forces stretched too thin, the US could do nothing. Worse, the Bush administration had destroyed US leadership and credibility around the world, including among our allies. Not that we were acting like a leader. The primary efforts to control North Korea had to be taken up by China and talks with Iran had to led by France. With the US modeling a 'my way or the highway' stance and shattering a formerly solid and powerful coalition of allies, hot spots sprung up all over the world: the horror of Darfur, open warfare between Israelis and Palestinians, feisty military moves by Russia, and more. Not to mention the US repeatedly threw its ideals under the bus by engaging - and then trying to justify - torture and also imprisoning people for years without cause and without access to legal counsel. Not very inspiring.

Obama's vision and what he has done to put it into practice are incredibly important. He's the President of the United States, a man with unparalleled influence on the direction of the world. For him to stress diplomacy, unity, alliance, and working towards peace (while not being blinded by the harsh realities of the world) is a huge change in the direction things have been going for a very long time. Want proof? Since Obama's election, leaders from around the world, both allies, former allies, and even those critical of the US, have been quoted saying they notice and welcome the change. The potential for solutions, rather than further conflict, has been laid.

But is that enough to win the Nobel Peace prize? Shouldn't Obama have 'accomplished something' to win this? I would answer by arguing that the Nobel Prize is not an achievement award. Kin Dae Jung won in 2000, partially for his work in building relations between North and South Korea. Well those two countries are not exactly the best of pals so what did he accomplish? The 1998 winners were named for working to end conflict in Northern Ireland. Well, the place isn't completely settled so what did they accomplish? Nelson Mandela won the award before apartheid was ended and after spending years in a jail cell. What did he accomplish?

All these recipients have one thing in common, a vision for peace that was actively put into practice. Some of the issues they tackled do remain unsolved, but they received the Prize as recognition of their vision and what they had done up to that point to put it into action. I think it is fair to say that Obama has vision for world diplomacy that he has clearly articulated and has put into practice all around the world. For a US President to do something like has obvious potential for the way the world moves forward, and the world takes notice.

In the end, it can be nothing but a benefit to the US for our President to be recognized in this very visible and affirming manner. It'd a sad comment on our country if we can't unite - regardless of what we think of Obama - and feel pride that such an esteemed award has been given to our acting President. How can you be American and not take pride in that? Go Obama!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Moon

poem 9 from The Ancient Elm

Past midnight,
crownless and craftless,
away from the Court of the Sun,
I stare into
the black sky…

I can’t sleep,
for the secrets I seek
only speak
in the silence
of aloneness…

It is my voice:
“Return, invincible Wizard-Knight,
you who know power
is like the father moon,
potent even in moonless skies.”

So I create…Nothing
and go outside
to find it is inside:
that ancient power
before language named its secrets,
before cuneiform,
before music,
before cave painting,
before the dawn of ritual,
before any way
to experience it
but to run outside,
bellow in the wilds
flooding sky and canyon
with echoes
I am
once again

The speaker found himself in a position that was similar (obviously dramatized) to where I found myself before going on the Pete Retreat and getting into Zen. Now I wanted to show how I feel I broke out of it. It was really the same solution as to how the speaker broke out of illusion, because regardless of whether you are powerful or powerless, striving to achieve something or having achieved things, illusion is what ends up pulling you away from truth. It takes different forms, but it's the same thing no matter what form it takes. You have to throw it all away and get out of it ('crownless, craftless, away from the Court of the Sun') in order to think and reflect. I often wonder how many relationships end because people are unable to do this, and they have to throw it out EVERYTHING in their life in order to think. Of course, I guess getting two people lost in illusion to 'get outside' and then come back together would take massive coordination!

The speaker finds that when he allows himself the silence necessary to hear himself think in honest terms that his voice is still there. He knows what he has to do; he just has to listen to himself and let himself know it. This is kind of what I meant in my rant about cell phones in another post. I feel people often use such devices to fill time and that keeps them from 'creating nothing'. Instead of being silent and thinking and listening to themselves, they anesthetize themselves with a lot of meaningless 'input'. I think it's extremely unhealthy, and that people who are confused or not happy stay that way because they keep themselves from thinking abut it. They start thinking: "It's just the way it is. I have to work 50 hour weeks every week and never talk to my family/friends and not be happy most of the time."

Then again, maybe they don't think that. They're probably not thinking at all, which is the problem! I would imagine they are totally on auto-pilot. But reality has a way of bringing even the most comprehensive auto-pilot system to a crashing halt. I was never as bad as what I've depicted above, but I was (and still am - though to a lesser degree) influenced by illusion. Once I realized it, I had to face where I was and decide if I had the balls to make things different. It took a lot of effort from me. Finding a new job, changing how I dealt with people, changing my goals, making myself get off my ass and DO things I've wanted to do but 'didn't have time for', etc. It's not easy to take back control of your life, but I did and Zen was a huge part of how I made it happen.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

At Long Last: The Autumn Poem!

It took me a while, but here it is at last! A while back I wrote about how Autumn had begun and a poem popped out of me. It was a toughie to finish because it seemed to demand a lot of rigor in the meter and rhyme, which I usually don't get real technical about. Plus there was a lot of imagery around music I had to figure out and bend to my purpose, which was a challenge. But here it is...probably not completely finished (though very close)...and as yet untitled. Send me a title suggestion if you like!

I've written a thousand songs,
but nobody must know.
They mean for me to take up law,
yet I would set the tempo
and live like a crescendo.

Like metronomes and prayer beads
they press a harmonious match,
when I know contrast and tension
give the movement passion
and build the highest climax.

Doctors fear I court a madness
and unstring my harp and mandolin.
Take my quills and parchment!
Though I greet, parley, and grin
yet I surge and score within.

The thunder claps past midnight,
and I cannot be found.
I finally broke from these salons
where every poem's bound
and nothing alive resounds.

They will find me on the morrow
when the storming finally stills.
I laid beneath the hosta leaves
and took November airs until
a rest my every measure filled.

And now they sing their songs:
all threnodies and sotto voce gall.
Valves and reeds will speak for me,
and all they tried to silence in me
will long outlive them all.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Learning To Fall

Surprise twist in hapkido class last night. We did kicks and teasing and everything, but we spent about half the class learning how to fall. This was my introduction into being on the other end of the flipping and teasing I've been doing. It was fun and surprisingly challenging, because you really have to fall, slam your arm down, and even flip yourself in a somersault kind of way. It's not a belly flop kind of landing, but it's not real gentle either.

It's much more difficult than it sounds! First of all, I found there's this instinctive recoil from falling down. A couple times, when someone was flipping me, I hesitated before allowing myself to go over. Sort of like when you are at the highdive board for the first time and you have to take a second to psych yourself before you dive. Second, you can't just toss yourself down. Your hands, arms, and legs are all in certain positions so, as you're flipping and twirling, you have to remember to do this with your right hand and that with your left. Not very easy at all, but I actually enjoyed it. It's all part of getting used to the physicality of more complex stuff.

Another thing that's started happening is having more actual contact when 'sparring'. When we pair up with senior belts to trade kicks, I often end up paired up with this one guy who encourages me to make contact when I kick him. He also makes me back up when he kicks at me so that I learn defense, and he always says on the jumping high kicks "C'mon, you can go higher!". When I do, he's like "Goooood!!!" He's really into it, and it's energizing to practice with him!

Anyway, after all the falling, I was a little stiff. I woke up this morning with bruised elbows and an ache across my shoulders and triceps. It felt real nice, but how funny is it that I have to learn how to fall?