The End Of The World As We Know It — Keep Swimming

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First a quick nod of thanks to R.E.M. for the song that’s been playing in my head for nearly a month.  Where would we be without our daily life soundtrack….

A few days ago, I posted a short piece to FaceBook that I later added here as a blog entry, talking about how I’ve finally managed to get past the election of Donald Trump, and get on with my life.  In that post, I said I’d had 2 “ah-ha” moments and I explained what I’d learned, then ended by saying there really was a 3rd big AH-HA — but it would take too long to explain in a FB status update.  After all the comments, Likes, private messages, phone calls etc from my friends & FBcontacts, I now realize that just about everybody I know — including even those who don’t live in the US or have US citizenship —  has been experiencing the same kind of PTSD reaction to this year’s election, and that maybe I should have taken the time and explained all three Ah-Ha’s.  Here we are, nearly five weeks after the fact, and people are still either in denial — still expecting some deus ex machina intervention or catastrophe to prevent the coming inauguration — or so deep into depression that they are considering a visit to their doctor to talk about SSRIs.  Or Valium.  or Xanax.  or medical marijuana.  or how to self-administer a lethal injection.

Not those who voted for the Don, I suppose.  But I don’t actually know anybody who voted for him.  Or who will admit to it, anyway.

The worst reactions are coming from those who have either been in abusive relationships and escaped — or those who have lived and/or worked closely with a narcissist.  (Not a slightly self-absorbed average person — a real, live, clinically pathological narcissist.)  For those people, the post-election season is a little like waking up in one of their own nightmare memories.  The evening news is like watching old home movies — playing out on a global scale.  People who have survived a marriage to a narcissist or a business relationship with a narcissist  know what’s coming.  It’s the Big Reveal.  Or the Big Run-And-Hide.  Enemies lists, revenge, retribution, long-game-I’ll-show-you, spiteful jabs, reputation destroying, enemies-closer, cyber-stalking, power-plays, victory laps, pep rallies, loyalty rewards cards, military parades, membership in Biggest Winner Fan Club, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together….

And they’re right, of course.  All of that is more than possible.  It’s probable.  Likely.  Coming to a theater near you.  And a market near you.  And a street near you.  Everybody needs to have their exit strategy laid out.  Keep the tank full at all times.   Have at least 3-4 weeks of food and water on hand.  Keep blankets and water and an emergency care kit by the door.

This is not a test.

But here’s the other thing that’s just as true:

The model still holds.

I am not going to explain the model in this post.  That would be like explaining particle physics in 20 words or less.  (lol)  It would be a 50 page (conservatively) snooze-a-thon for most folks.  There is a full explanation of the Graves Model here in my blog (start here, if you want the full monty) – but the essentials are these:

  • There is a developmental pattern shared by all of us.
  • The same pattern of human development is shared by groups — families, societies, species.  From individuals to villages, companies to governments, to the global village — each of us, and each of the cultural groups we belong to, all follow the same pattern of evolution.
  • The level of the model an individual operates at is demonstrated by their motivations, beliefs, and behaviors.
  • When the “tipping point” of any level is reached, the person or society that has reached that tipping point moves on to the next level. (much like a simple game, where the tiny explorer fights all the creatures and solves all the puzzles on one level, then discovers the doorway into the next level and so moves on.)
  • The levels alternate between inward focus and outward focus.  That is, Level 1 is all about my own personal survival.  Once that survival is secured, we look around and say “Is that it?  Is that all there is to life?”  And of course, the answer is always, NO.  There is more to life that just my own survival — but I can’t see that until I’m good enough at surviving to look around my own little 2-square-feet of real estate.  And Level 2 is born — the family group or tribe is born.  Level 1 is inward — just me.  Level 2 is outward and inclusive — US.  WE.  We survive and we do it better together.  We take care of our own.  We share the load.  We help each other.
  • Each progressive step upward reaches its threshold asking a question.  Odd numbered levels ask, “Is that all there is?” before moving up to an even-numbered level.  Even numbers ask, “but what’s in this for me?” and then move up to the next odd-numbered level to do inward/individual focus again.
  • Each progressive level is broader and/or more complex than the previous level.
  • The group — the US — of each progressive even number is bigger than the last.  Level 2 is about protecting and building family and tribe.  Level 4 is about protecting and building social order — church, state, laws, written morals etc.  Level 6 is about protecting and building for all humans and other diverse groups, acting together and for one-another.
  • The individual — the ME — of each progressive odd number exhibits a wider range of power, control, and participation in self advancement than simple survival.  Level 3 is about competition, conquest, and winning on the battlefields of sport, war, and pre-capitalist economics.  Level 5 is about competition, conquest and winning on the bigger playing fields of capitalist economics, science, and technology.  Level 7 does not exist yet on a global scale —  we have not reached this level in the broader evolution of our species, but in individual terms, it is about the competition and conquest of ideas.  We are playing on the bigger field of human ideas and understanding.  It is a world of figuring out bigger questions.  Bigger patterns.  Patterns over time and distance.   L3 is pre-capitalist.  L5 is capitalist.  L7 is — you guessed it — post-capitalist.
  • The Graves Model itself, exists at Level 7.  And yes, there is an 8, but neither L1 nor L8 is really relevant or helpful for this discussion, so we’re just going to drop those for now and move on.
  • In general, the harshest critics of any level are those who have just moved to the next level.  Like someone who has just managed to kick an addiction to cigarettes is the first to insist that smokers are enemies of the state.
  • In general, odd numbers see both the previous even number and the next even number as enemies of all they stand for.  L5 tends to see L4’s laws, regulations, and morals as strangling and ridiculously rule-bound; and L6’s concern with “all-those-not-like-me” as wasting their time, money and energy on things that don’t matter to the bottom line.  L3 felt the same way about L2 and L4.  L7 will, if we last long enough as a species, feel the same way about L6 and L8.
  • In general, regardless of what level we exist at, we are able to operate at other levels when called for.  For example, anyone who has survived (L1) is able to shift into L1 when their survival is at stake.  Anyone who has lived at L2 will return to L2 for family gatherings.  Anyone can play tennis at L3.  Everyone probably attends church or balances their checkbook in L4-mode.  There are certain activities that pull us from our general operating level into a level that works best for that particular activity.
  • We all tend to believe that everyone is just like us — but that some are doing it very badly.  L2s think the entire world exists for them to use for their group’s benefit — but some individuals or countries  just don’t understand.  L3 thinks the whole world is there for them to fight, defeat, and conquer — the one with the biggest stick or gun wins.  L4 thinks the world just needs to follow their rules.  L5 thinks money will fix everything.  L6 thinks we are our brother’s keepers, and everyone is our brother — but (L5 especially) just doesn’t get it.  L7 believes they can fix it if they can just figure it out — and any other pursuit is a waste of time.
  • And — this is the important take-away — Every individual, regardless of level, and every social or cultural entity, regardless of level — has one belief in common:

ANYONE (or any society) NOT OPERATING ON THE SAME LEVEL AS ME IS
CRIMINAL, INSANE, SINFUL, STUPID, USELESS, and/or WEAK.

And that, boys and girls, is where war and aggression come from.


And that’s the shortest explanation of the Graves Theory of Human Evolution I can give you.  It’s not complete.  I’ve made some outrageous simplifications.  But that’s the crux of it.  It’s a really REALLY complicated big picture cut down to a page or two of generalizations.

I thought I’d live to see the shift from Graves Level 5 to 6 as the dominant world system.  After all, we’ve been here at L5 since the Renaissance.  Sure, there have been many individuals who have existed happily and well at L6 and L7 for years — but not enough of those individuals for any but a few tiny countries or organizations to move up into L6 en mas.  Large collections of L7s work in close proximity in  few really forward thinking companies, research institutions or colonies, but in general they are Lone Wolf thinkers who specialize in pattern recognition, theoretical scientific work, and systems analysis and theory.

But since the Renaissance, L5 has been the dominant and overwhelmingly persuasive bully on the pitch.  In many cases, it has persuaded us that it is the only game in town — that if it isn’t working, it’s because it is being played badly — and with enough effort and elbow grease, we can get it working the way we want it to work.

But here’s the truth — the pattern holds.

The next step will be the de-throning of L5 as the dominant social system.

We were closer than we’ve ever been to that flip into L6 in 2016 with the candidacy of Bernie Sander for President of the United States.  With Hillary Clinton, we had a candidate who had split her time going back and forth between L5 and L6.  After all, her social ambitions were based firmly in L6 ambitions, but she spent her entire career fighting from within the L5 establishment.  With Donald Trump, we had a candidate playing solidly in L5 (albeit in a significantly unhealthy way.)  HERE is a write-up on Health at any Level.

But Bernie Sanders was a horse of a different color in this race.  He makes no bones about being post-capitalist in a capitalist dominated world.  And he made no bones about pointing out the flaws in that system — for his entire career in politics.  This made him the ideal candidate for all those who have individually moved to the Graves Level where protecting and building a world where everyone is on equal footing — has equal advantages and opportunities — equal rights and protections under the law.  And for the first time in human history, one of the most powerful nations on the planet came very close to shifting from Level 5 to Level 6.  In fact, if the L5 US had been a healthy version of L5, rather than a panic-driven L5 running without the constraints of L4 morality, he might have succeeded.  But neither the Democratic nor Republican parties felt bound by right over wrong, legal or illegal, truth over lie, or fair and just over self-interest.

In short, Bernie Sanders felt bound by the rule of law and the fairness he was running to create.  Neither of the other two major candidates or their parties felt the same way.  Hillary and Trump were running in and for an L5 world.  Bernie was running in hope of an L6 emergence.

So again, THE PATTERN HOLDS.  L6 is where we are all heading, both as individuals and as a species.

One of the biggest bluffs L5 has run on humanity is the hyper-quotable: “Nobody ever said life was going to be fair.”

Really?

The idea that life isn’t fair  makes it easy for L5 to take what it wants, regardless of who it hurts.  So long as life isn’t fair — bullies reign.  If we start with the presupposition that there are winners and losers — then it’s okay within that presupposition for most of the population to be losers.  And it’s okay for winners to gloat.  And kick the losers in the butt to make sure they remember their place.

But the presupposition is a lie.  If life is sometimes unfair, it’s because its really really hard, not because it’s impossible.  And creating something that is really really hard and complicated and complex and far-reaching requires a higher Graves Level of complexity than L5 could manage.  It will take L6 — fully formed and reveling in the complications and tangles — to created fairness.

Expect justice to be the motive from healthy L4.

But expect fairness to be the motivation from healthy L6.

So if you are waiting for the  deus ex machina to drop down and save you from Donald Drumph, you can stop waiting.  This is all real and it is all going to happen.  His narcissism is going to be dangerous.  His ignorance is going to be a challenge.  But his presence is going to be.  Period.  The trick is going to be to survive it — both individually, and collectively as a country.  If there is homework, it will be waiting to see how far we can get the pendulum to swing.  Never mind “don’t let that pendulum hit you in the butt as you leave the White House, Donald!”  We want it to hit him so hard that L5 leaves with him as the dominant system in the US, and L6 is the only logical and reasonable step forward anybody can see.

So to all my friends that are still having trouble figuring out how to move on with their lives in a Trumpocracy — just know we are all still here, and the pattern holds.  We may not live to see it, but our children and grandchildren may yet discover that the world really can be a fair place.  A just place.  An honorable place.  A complex puzzle of life rather than a jack-bo0ted torture of a life.

The task ahead — the one that really gets us ahead, rather than earning us a spot in the loony-bin — is to do our best to live lives of fairness and hope, rather than lives of fear and victim-hood.  Do your L6 best — volunteer.  March.  Protest.  Give things away to people who need them.  Donate to organizations with a clear L6 focus and structure.  Support random acts of kindness and fairness.  Participate in your community and group and religion and school.  Feed somebody who’s hungry.  Learn constantly.  Reinvent yourself daily.  Save the planet.  Save the animals.  Save yourself.

In evolutionary terms, the only resolution to advancing complexity is to move to a higher level of existence.   Problems cannot be addressed from the level that created them.  It took L2 to create a place for L1 to live out their survival.  And it took L3 to progress beyond the boundary of the village.  It took L4 to stop L3’s conquests.  It took L5 to reign in L4’s structure.  Similarly, L5 can’t fix L5’s hoarding and bullying.  Only L6 can fix L5 problems.  And only L7 can harness the energy of all those minds and ideas held dear by so many people thinking and creating together.

If we can keep the planet alive long enough, we might be able to all live here together.  The pattern holds, and the pattern is bigger than this election.  It’s also bigger than the US.  Certainly bigger than any one mewling politician or disrupted event.  If you’re still stuck in the politics, pull up higher so you can see the bigger picture.  — and hold on to that bigger picture.  It’s the one that matters.

November — A Little PTSD In My Coffee

i-votedSo it’s no secret I’ve been having a hard time processing the 2016 presidential election. What I didn’t know was how many other people were having similar problems. Symptoms (mine, and symptoms gathered from others) include: disrupted sleep patterns, nightmares, problems with general digestion, specific problem with unusually high blood sugar or blood pressure numbers, pessimism, darker cynicism, generalized depression, absence of hope for the future, inability to talk about public policy and politics without panic or anxiety, extended periods of crying… you may recognize some or all of the list.

2 “ah-ha” moments in the last 2 days:
1. greed is predatory. that is, American capitalism has painted a very clear (and yet untrue) picture that for one person to have *more*, another person must have less. Greed says that in order for Person A to get more, it is okay to take from Person B — even if that *taking* means stealing from, lying to, tricking, bluffing, bullying, threatening, conning, tormenting, torturing, or killing Person B. Greed makes us into predators who do not kill-to-eat, or kill-to-survive — but who kill or do harm to others for the pleasure of acquiring more and more and more. For the clearest and most easily understood explanation of how this model is flawed, watch Ron Howard’s Oscar winning film “A Beautiful Mind.” It is specifically the notion that economics must be competitive and predatory that John Nash was arguing against.
It is greed (and not money or economics or capitalism) that is virulent and predatory. Greed is not an economic theory — but an amoral add-on.
2. politics is as addictive as gambling — and in much the same ways. The idea that you can’t win if you don’t play is very much like the idea that you can’t effect change if you aren’t actively involved in politics. Or the idea that the amount you participate in politics is directly related to your commitment to being a good citizen. –which turns out to be untrue. Like addicted gamblers, political junkies find it nearly impossible to resist the call to be angry, argumentative, defensive — and often ruthless — in their attacks on those who do not agree with their own personal ideology. It causes a myopic attention to current events. It demands absolute and obcesive focus. It leads to isolation and loss of outside interests. It requires an attention to narrow detail that obscures the larger (and often, the pleasures of) daily life.

even the dog was having nightmares and a big chunk of buyer's remorse after this election....  she would have voted for Bernie.

even the dog was having nightmares and a big chunk of buyer’s remorse after this election…. she would have voted for Bernie.

I’ve never been vulnerable to addiction before, but I’m pretty sure this is it.
And just realizing this has helped a lot. (that, and deliberately walking away from any more than 10 minutes of political news per day, and choosing to only read headlines and abstracts of in-depth political news)

There was a 3rd “ah-ha!” — but it’s very specific to the Graves Model (a social and cultural evolutionary model) — so I’ll keep that one for myself. It takes a while to explain, and I’m sleepy….

Discovering My Life

I spent a great deal of my life being told by other people what I should do and not do.  What I should want and not want.  And what I should be and not be.

Which is pretty rich considering that none of those people was ever actually talking about me.  They may have been talking about themselves.  Or people they knew.  I have no idea.

But I know they weren’t talking about me because they didn’t know me.  None of them ever put the pieces together that I was autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) or dyslexic.  Or even asthmatic.  I spent my whole childhood on antibiotics that wrecked my immune system and damaged by teeth and bones irreparably — with no effect on the asthma, because no one thought to take me to an ENT, or even a competent general physician.

And since nobody in the 60s knew about dyslexia — nobody noticed.  They just chalked my grades up to being lazy or distracted.

Certainly nobody knew about autism.   If I hadn’t been mostly neglected as a child, they might have figured out something was really going on and had me drugged and institutionalized.  Lucky for me, nobody was paying attention.

Odd, now, that at mid-life, I am just now discovering what my life actually is — and what it is in life that matters to me.  My son and his wife, and my husband matter — that’s a given.  Without them, I probably wouldn’t have survived long enough to get to this point.  And I am outrageously lucky that after having been a single mom for over 18 years — after working back-breaking hours and creativity-killing jobs for nearly 2 decades — after living in cities I hated near all those people who were so catastrophically negligent and abusive for most of my life…

I now find myself in a place I chose.  A house I love.  A marriage I treasure with a man I adore.  — I even have a dog!

And I am discovering what I like.  What I choose.  What I want.  What I care about.  What I am afraid of and what I am fearless about.

What I am.  It’s an ongoing process.

so here’s the start of a list.

I like coffee strong, dark roasted, and very hot.  I like it with a lot of half & half, and real sugar or stevia — but very little of either sweetener.  I like “Italian Roast” best (as they all seem to be trying to taste like Illy Caffe) but I also like dark Sumatran blends.  I don’t care for black espresso.  And the only flavor I really like added to coffee is real cinnamon.  I like iced espresso drinks, but not ice-weakened regular coffee.

calder_mobileI love art.  I love looking at it.  I love making it.  I love artists and all their quirkyness and novelty.  I love museums, but not galleries; online art supply stores, but not brick and mortar stores.  I love pastels and watercolor and collage and line drawings and art assemblies and miniatures –and sculpture!  I love abstract art, and impressionism and post impressionism, and cleverly thought-provoking political art.  I love almost every painting I’ve ever seen by van Gogh, and almost none that I love by Pollack.  I am fascinated by Calder and Bourgois and Rauschenberg — and bored to tears by all but a few of Picasso’s.

I like my breakfast eggs over medium or poached.  But I love fried egg sandwiches late at night, and scrambled eggs with ketchup and Tabasco anytime.

I don’t want to go to crowded places.  Not crowded restaurants at the noon hour.  Or even a place where I have to have a reservation because every table is sold out.  Not shopping malls at Christmas or on weekends.  Not airports in the crush of loading and unloading.  I don’t want to stand in line in a crowded movie theater for a first run blockbuster, or sit on a full bench of strangers in a church — even for a wedding or a funeral.  I don’t want to wait in a crowded doctor’s waiting room or even go to the ER on the night of a full moon when all the loons are out.  I’d rather sit outside in my car alone until the crowd dissipates — or just stay home.

I like a small cocktail after dinner.  Not much — just enough to relax and enjoy a little reading before I go to sleep.  I like a salty and spicy Bloody Mary — and I also like a sweet cordial like Bailey’s or Frangelica or Kahlua & Cream.  I love the flavor of Southern Comfort — especially with lemonade.

I like tarot cards — especially the art.  But I don’t much like reading them for people as they seem to encourage people to accept the world as “happening to them” rather than as something they make happen.  I like that I do not see and experience time and causality the way most people do, but I sometimes regret not having such a basic thing in common with most people.  This is also true of the way I see and experience deaths.

I love stories.  All kinds of stories — but especially fantastical stories.  From fairy tales and science fiction to alternate realities and mythical heroes — I love a well-told tale, whether it’s a book, a story told by friends, a great play or musical theater piece, a movie or television story — even a ballet or opera.  As long as it’s a story with a beginning, middle and end — I’ll be there.

I love sitting on the porch and watching the dog do dog things like sniffing each blade of grass and licking the dew off every last one until his face is soaked.

I like wearing socks.  And soft shoes with laces.

I don’t like brown rice of any kind in any recipe.  Period.  I do like white Basmati rice, Texamati, Jasmati, Jasmin, and Arborio.  And I like whole barley, either pearled (hull-less) or hulled or made into rolled flakes like oats.  I like steel-cut oats, Irish Oats, and just about any thing else you can do to oats including oat flour, oat cakes, oat meal, oatmeal hot cereal, oat bran, oat bread — even sweet oat soups.

I’m not too crazy about babies and children.  I liked mine okay — but I knew him really well and he was interesting and intelligent and funny.   Most others — I should probably wait until they’re grown-up to talk to.

I don’t like “skinny” lattes or non-fat cheese.  I’d rather eat or drink half as much and have real food.  I like butter but not margarine or “spread.”  I like cream and half&half and buttermilk and whole milk — even 2% milk — but not fat-free or 1% except for Organic Valley’s 1% chocolate milk.

I like to sleep on the sofa or in a recliner chair.  I like reading until I fall asleep.  I like cotton blankets.  And I like sleeping in the room with a dog that lets me know if there is something I should be paying attention to.

I don’t like chewing gum, but I like hard candies and mints.  I don’t like any commercial candy bars except for a Mr. Goodbar or a KitKat — but I do like organic extra dark chocolate in small amounts.  And I really don’t like milk chocolate or any of the cheap chocolate flavored candy that’s made with paraffin or other wax, or that’s had all the cocoa butter stripped out and sold off — then replaced with cheap tropical oils and hydrogenated fats.  I don’t like any of the artificial sweeteners, and I’d rather drink alka-seltzer than a soda made with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar-free substitutes.

I like orange.  And green and purple.  In fact — I like just about every color there is.  And I like the all at once.  All over the place.  I like colors that vibrate and others that are subdued and grayed or silvered.  I don’t much like animal prints on anything but the original animal.  And I don’t care for sequins and rhinestones.  Or real stones, for that matter.  I like representational jewelry — silver and gold that has been cast or carved or etched to look like real things.

I like to visit other places, but I’m not crazy about traveling.  I hate airplane travel and everything associated with it.  But I love wandering around in new cities and driving through beautiful and unusual territory.  I love the ocean, though I’ve never been on an ocean worthy boat.  I’m not crazy about lake-boating, and could go the rest of my life without it.  But I do like ferry boats and riverboats.

I love to play games and cards — but I don’t like casinos.

I love live shows, theater, the circus, and baseball.  I love amusement parks, aquariums, zoos, picnics, and outdoor cafes.  I like factory tours and seasonal festivals and state fairs and carousels — but not roller coasters or ferris wheels.

I like having a large breakfast/brunch, and then a bowl of soup or a salad for dinner.  Three meals a day turns out to be 1 too many for me.  Though I kind of like a cookie. or a piece of cheese and a cracker late in the evening.  And I like a cup of milk in the middle of the night when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

I like to keep the house at about 64 degrees F.

I like ice in just about any drink except hot coffee or tea or chai or cocoa.  And even those I like iced as well as hot.  And I like a lot of ice.

I like Mac computers.  And smartphones — but especially the iPhone.  I like being paperless and not owning a printer.  I like having the world of information at my fingertips all the time — and I like what a different way of experiencing the world that is from every generation that’s ever come before.

I like sitting in a quite room and reading or listening to an actor read a book aloud in and interesting way.  I like driving while listening to stories and books.  I like listening to some books read aloud on CD or iTunes — and listening to them again and again like bedtime stories that are full of familiar and friendly characters.  I like knowing what happens next.  And I like the surprise of a writer telling me a story I’ve never heard before — and that I can’t imagine the ending until it’s all told.  I love genius and exploration and invention.

I like whole days to go by without having to know what people want or are thinking.  And without having to guess at the things I’m probably missing.  I like not having to be something I’m not.

I like my life.  I’ve always liked parts of my life.  But now — the parts I didn’t like or couldn’t understand seem to have faded away.   And it’s a very different existence without all those things.

“An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A” — and the Dilema it Leaves Us

This is a letter by someone I don’t know.  But he represents such a vast number of people I do know and care about —

JOHN PAUL – An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A.

This presents a dilemma.  I know why Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.  Anybody raised in a fundamentalist protestant church knows why.  Because somebody wanted to “keep the Sabbath holy,” but didn’t know enough to realize that the Sabbath meant Saturday.  And besides, what fundamentalist wants to share a day off with a bunch of Jews?  And what lunatic would close a business on Saturday?

So we all knew that Chick-Fil-A was run by those kinds of arbitrary rules.  And I understand that.  There is and will always be a segment of the population who believe they have the one and only true truth in the world, and everybody else is either choosing to disregard the truth, is too stupid to know the truth, or have been persuaded of a lie.  They are a very absolute people.  Everything in their world is solid black and solid white — like the little cows in their ads.

And that’s fine.  They’re entitled.  It is, as they say, a free country.

And as long as I didn’t know all the things discussed in this open letter and the supporting documents linked in it — it didn’t matter.  They make good food for a fair price.  No MSG.  No trans fats.  Lots of fruit and veggies.  They’re reliable.  They have a gluten-free menu.  They try and treat their employees fairly.

But now, having read and searched out to be sure of all the things in this letter — I know of other things in their black and white world which are counter to my own beliefs and practices.  And I can’t ever un-know what I know about Chick-Fil-A.  And I don’t think I can ever drive through one of their outlets again without being reminded where my dollars may get applied through their charitable giving.

And I have no idea how to resolve this.  No amount of boycotting is going to change their black and white beliefs.  They would rather lose profits and even go out of business than waver one iota from their absolutes.

And I know that I (and we — my family) inadvertently support other businesses who channel money into things we wouldn’t approve of — if we knew about them.  But we don’t — and so life goes on.

And we DO know about Chick-Fil-A.  And it makes me a little sick to think such a well manged and honestly good little eatery will be off the list of choices — but it has to be.  Because I can never not know these things about them again.

If I cared so much about the crimes being committed by banks that I would move my money to a small, locally owned bank or credit union — if I care so much about the business practices of other institutions that I would take my business elsewhere , then it’s not really a choice.  This is like leaving a country club that wouldn’t allow people of certain races to be members.  Or choosing a different university based on prejudicial admittance policies.

It’s such a little thing — but little things are important.

The Curse of the Internet

Not so long ago, I went on for a bit about people who use God, the gods, or whatever deity people think will give gravitas and the appearance of veritas to their own personal agenda, bias, belief, or politics. (See: A Few Words About Using God)

I have another holy bone to pick.  This one is about the bizarre American mind-fuzz on the subject of cursing.  That is cursing (as in: I call on the God of all that is right and just in the universe to damn you to a life of suffering and pain as the only righteous payment for the evils you have done….); not cussing or going on a God-damned rant.

Somewhere along the way after we came to the undergrown fork in the road between British English and American English, we immersed ourselves in intentional cultural amnesia, and forgot what cursing actually means.

When little hunched-over hags in fairy tales spit between their fingers into the dust of the road and pronounce a curse on someone — like “You will spin for a thousand lifetimes at your spinning wheel and the wool of your sheep will pass through your fingers until they bleed, and the bones wear down to nubs wrapped in shards of flesh — and not one inch of wool will ever skein into thread.”  Now THAT’s a curse.

Calling somebody an asshole — not a curse.

Calling on powers and universes and gods and demons and angels to inflict pain and torment and suffering and eternal damnation?  That’s cursing someone.

Telling somebody to go to hell — not a curse.  Just venting steam is not cursing.

Truly pronouncing punishment — passing judgment single-handedly and pronouncing the sentence for that judgment — that is pronouncing a curse.

And regardless of whether you are passing judgment in the name of your clan, the church, the party, the family, the brotherhood or sisterhood — no matter who you hold yourself up as speaker and judge for — unless you are the duly elected law or an actual god, pronouncing a curse is not your job.  And even if you are duly elected law, your job is not to curse.  –Your job is to exact justice — a punishment that fits the crime (after it has been proven legally), and then only punishment that is not cruel and unusual.  Payment of time, liberty, choice, possessions, fines, community service, the respect of your peers — that resonates as justice; the just payment for the offense is justice.

A curse rarely has the cool detachment of law.  And justice is rarely the goal of a curse.   A curse smells of revenge, emotion, and the heat of the moment.  It can even masquerade as fervor on behalf of the wronged.  A curse in the hands of someone out to avenge a wrong will never be just payment.  It will be born of hate, whether long-burning, or heated in a flare.  It will come of anger — unbalanced by grace, and fear — unbalanced by mercy.

We lost track of our history of using language to suggest to others their destiny.  We lost track of our ability to use language to emotionally hurt and metaphysically wound one another.   It’s no wonder we have such bullies in our schools, streets, and political debates.  It’s no wonder we spend hours of bandwidth on RANTS AND ANGER.  It’s no wonder we have music made of negative emotions, fears, violence and the injustice of the streets.

We’ve lost track of the power of what we create with our words, and the Pandora’s boxes we open with our words.

Worst of all, when we pronounce our curses into the airwaves, into the bandwidth of the internet or the twittering drivel of short-word damnation,  we are asking for agreement.  We ask for those we know to say YES! — and lend the power of their words, their upward-pointing thumbs, their LIKEs, their re-posts, their forwards, their shared empathy, their soul’s own energy, and their emotions — to our pronouncements.

Calling for agreement on a curse made of emotion in the moment —

That is not our job.

Curses — judgement — justice.  None of those things are our job.

You can observe and comment — always.  You can research and offer an informed opinion — always.  You can have an emotional reaction –as long as you acknowledge to others and to yourself that your words have lost their detachment and any hope of objectivity.  You can promise to look again with a cooler head and with more evidence.  You can promise to look at the situation from the outside, the inside, and every other side available.  You can step into the shoes of everyone involved.  You can be the cooler head, take the high road, use your faith or your intellect or your goodness to always forgive and move on.  There are a million choices.  There is always another choice besides naming yourself a judge, jury, and executor of the Will of God.

To claim to know the judgment of God — the way we’ve all see the folks at Westboro Baptist Church claim to know the judgment of their god — is to break the law of the god whose name one uses.

Go sit on a jury — and you can pass judgement.  Go to law school and you can plead for justice as you see it.

Otherwise — it really isn’t your job.

Art, and Artists Making Art

This is a copy of my paper on the relationship
between art and brokenness.


Brilliant Insane Genius Lunatic Creative Mad-as-a-March-Hare
Inventive Abnormal Artistic Nuts Innovative Just Plain Crazy

I am writing this, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity.  I have heard the idea that genius and insanity were linked, in one form or another, all my life.  Whether people claimed the two were flip sides of the same coin, that the relationship was cause–>effect (though it is never clear which is the cause and which is the effect,) or that there is some as-yet-unknown neurological or genetic link; the effect is the same. Both the general public and artists of all stripe seem to buy into this notion at some level – if not consciously – then lurking somewhere just below the surface.  This presupposition changes the way we, as artists, think about our work and our existence; and it certainly has an effect on how we, and our work, are perceived by the public.

I believe the best potential counter argument to this culturalized belief is the claim that humans are, without exception, all broken or damaged.  We all experience pain, loss, damage, broken faith, unfortunate circumstances and misunderstanding; of the world around us.  We all experience death, fear, anger, and sadness – and some experience much more than others.  We all enter the world made of chemicals, genetic patterns, electricity, water, and breath – and the world being what it is, we all enter with glitches, skips, breaks, gaps and holes.

In reading about and considering the very full lifetime of work by artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), it is brokenness and the damage of her early life which is trackable in her art – not insanity. In fact, her genius is tied most closely to her handling and expressing her own past, rather than some Freudian suppression of it.

According to Leonard Cohen’s poem Anthem: “There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”  (This is a kinder and more optimistic view than Yeats’ entropic fatalism of The Second Coming, which observes that “things fall apart.”) It’s true. Things do fall apart. Entropy is a real thing – but the more complete truth is that as humans, we have some say in how and where entropy moves, and whether we are engulfed by it or ride it like a wave.  If our inevitable brokenness is where “the light” gets in – whether it is the light of innovation, invention, and creation; or the light of faith and hope; it is this shared crack in everything that makes it possible for us to minister to each other by way of cathartic Dionysian ritual (theater/art), the spiritually cleansing catholic confessional, or the psychologically purifying  therapist’s couch.  We may not be able to control what happens in the world around us, or what happens to us; but, we can control how we respond to it.

And it is that response which makes Bourgeois such a glorious counter-example to the presupposition of insanity/genius.  In her own words,

All my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood….  My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.

At first glance, we might assume from this that Louise lived an enchanted childhood. The reality, however, is that the magic of her childhood was made up of a revolutionary feminist mother who did her duty by her husband and had two children, then left him to find himself a mistress. Further encumbrances of motherhood were not on Madame Bourgeoise’ list of coming events. The mistress also served as a live-in caretaker for the children, tutor, and governess.

Strident and independent Mother was foreign, cold, and absent; the Mistress was a villainous pseudo-stepmother; and father was not just cold, but abusively cruel to the children born so dutifully by his ultra-social wife. This was a house full to the brim with angry, self-serving adults, and a couple of clueless children who only pieced together the truth of the arrangement as they entered puberty. The only magic I found in this childhood is the near miracle that there were no poisoned apples, huntsmen, or cinder-covered hearths involved.  Louise left home in her teens to paint live in a house full of surrealists in Paris (the house full of surrealists.) Not surprisingly, hardly anyone noticed she was gone.

It is only been in the last 200+ years that painting could be thought of as self expression.  As soon as the self, the mind, and the intentions of the artist began to become important players in the making of art, all sense of trade and craft disappeared from all the arts. Meaning became the subject of a work of art rather than some object or model being copied.  Since this was happening just as the unconscious mind, mental health, and general psychology were creeping into everyday the 1st World cultures, it’s no wonder that artists were perceived as breaking the rules and wandering into the sinful landscape of the criminal and insane. Vincent van Gogh was the poster-boy for the insanity/creative genius camp right up until the culture of the 1st World grew and discovered he might have been bipolar or schizophrenic. Then he became the poster boy for physical chemical imbalance. Whether it was a serious food allergy, and/or PTSD/abuse/neglect-induced fugue states, those are late 20th and early 21st Century understandings of his life.  The more we learn, the less insane, criminal, sinful, and weak van Gogh looks. (see Wilfred N Arnold’s  Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity for more on van Gogh’s relationship to his own biology.)   At the beginning of the 21st Century, Vincent is an unfortunate victim.  If we could choose for him and pick a different century for him to be born, would we give up his art works in order to allow him a peaceful, balanced life?  Is it a fair trade?

Louise Bourgeois, on the other hand, turned those magical, mysterious, and dramatic bits of her childhood into art by choice – by all evidence, fully aware of the metaphorical connections between her art and her past.  Her cold, alien mother became Maman (colloquial fr. for mother)

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

the giant spider that seems to wander through forests of cement and steel.  Her installations are   experiences to be fashioned between the individual and the place/object.  They are her home.  Her rooms.  Places of memory and rite, built to elicit feelings and ideas to be shared between the artist and the single audience member.  She has built these places and made this art so people will understand and build relationship through these intensely personal conversations. We all experience her isolation and loneliness with her – and we recognize it because we have felt it, too.  Bourgeois’ father appears in her art – though not in the dramatic and shocking form of her monster mother.  Instead, his presence is felt in these rooms and in many of her other installation. He is a tangle of objects and a claustrophobic lie of a room.  He informed Bourgeois through every action and word that being a girl – a woman – was to be grotesque, useless, ugly, ungrateful, unwanted, foolish, stupid, and disgusting.

Red Room installation, by Louise Bourgeois

Listening to Bourgeois as she demonstrates her father’s trick with the tangerine reveals a pain so deep that after 7 decades – it still reduced her to a weeping child.  There are some pains – some breaks and rips in our being – that, like a wicked witch’s spell, never lose their magic.

The Father and the Mother are responsible for Louise Bourgeois reaching out to communicate with the rest of the world.  Had they been loving and affectionate – she might never have picked up a paintbrush or sculpted a frail hand.

Why?  Because there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.  It’s the light (energy,) memory, and emotion that travel through those cracks that connect us. That’s where we meet –and where communication happens.  Those universal cracks are where art does what art does, and where artist and audience share and survive together.

I believe that the question about the relationship between genius and insanity is an old, out of date question.  It presupposes that what is not normal can be labeled criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless and/or weak. But that’s a 19th century understanding of normal – and a 19th century understanding of insanity.  By starting with the wrong question – there is no chance of finding a right answer.  The real question artists, critics, audience, and history have to start asking has to do with understanding and choosing how to express and relate to our own individual and cultural breaks, cracks, quirks, skips, and bumps.  What is the relationship between brokenness, health, and the making of art, invention, and creativity?

I know that we must have care with the words we choose and the presuppositions we make.  If we start with the question: What is the relationship between brokenness and making/creating (or just between brokenness and art), then we have changed the playing field of presuppositions.  Brokenness carries a few negative bags of its own – but it also carries the solution for itself: it carries the presuppositions of repair, mending, re-finishing, correcting, and healing. A broken pot can be fixed.  A broken window can be replaced and made good as new again.  A broken person can be brought back to health.  An insane person just gets more insane until s/he finally succumbs.

Some people presuppose that artists and other creatives somehow experience more deeply.  They are especially sensitive and have a stronger emotional life than an accountant or a short order cook.  I have no idea how true/not true those assumptions are.  But I know that artists in all the arts find a way to express what is inside their own minds and guts in a way that is recognizable and creates a link to others through Leonard Cohen’s cracks.  I don’t believe artists make art as a means of self-therapy (though it may sometimes happen as a side effect) – but I do think there is something to be said for extending a helping hand to all those accountants and short order cooks through art, music, story, poetry etc.

Art requires us to be generous and to be able to need without shame, simultaneously.   This is a very great evolutionary step.

As for how my own thoughts and self expression relates to the life and art of Louise Bourgeois, I suppose the first point of contact is that we share some of those “magic” childhood experiences.  There is something about profound neglect and intentionally inflicted pain that is, as Bourgeois says, never lost.  What we choose to do with those experiences makes the difference between her building giant, alien looking mother-spiders, and Van Gogh at his most disturbed eating tubes of chrome-yellow paint.  While Louise Bourgeois spent the first 30 years of her 70 year career just learning to use her tools and talent to express what was going on in her mind; I spent those 30 years learning what was going on in my mind, and about the minds, motivations, and puzzlements of others.  It has only been the last 5 or 6 years that I have begun looking for materials to start creating expressions of those things.  I am just now comfortable with the tools of the trade.  But like her, I know the language of metaphor.  I understand the layers and pieces of the puzzle, and I have a long-running intimacy with opening boxes.  Communication, in whatever form, has always been the crux of what I have done, said, made and searched out.  Whether that ultimately makes art or not is another question.  But it is certainly fun trying.