Monday, July 31, 2006

Spiritual Experience

On Friday, I mentioned my time in a sweat lodge, and described it as a
"Spiritual Experience"; I first wrote about that experience here. Sue, writing at "Inner Dorothy," describes a negative experience of a sweat lodge among her responses here (see her answers to #4).

She says she had felt pressured to have a "deep spiritual experience," which would be a "life changing moment." When neither of these things happened, she felt manipulated.

I understand this feeling of being pressured to have a spiritual experience. I can still remember when I was a freshman in high school, and a pair of Baptists cornered me. It became clear the only way I was going to get rid of them was to say their prayer and claim to have had a spiritual experience. 

I wonder what we mean when we say "spiritual experience". I suppose most of us picture something similar to scenes described in the Bible — Moses at the burning bush; Jacob seeing the ladder to heaven; Jesus on the mountain top with Elijah and Moses. And if we don't experience something like one of these "mountain top" experiences, we suppose that our experience has not been spiritual.

I suspect what is at work here is a common, almost Manichean, duality: our daily life and perceptions are worldly; the spiritual is something other. Heaven is somewhere out there, somehow above and beyond us. Humans are crass physical beings who rarely experience the spiritual.

I don't think the Bible supports this view. Take the Yahwehist account of creation in Genesis 1 as an example. Yahweh speaks things into being, beginning with light. It seems as if Yahweh is making distinctions between darkness and light, earth from sky, and land from water. We normally consider these things opposites, yet Yahweh refers to each thing as good; and at the conclusion of the sixth day (at Gen 1:31), Yahweh proclaims the entire creation "very good."

One of the things I understand this passage to mean is that physical objects have a spiritual origin. With the proper vision, I would perceive the spiritual heart of the physical order – including myself.

I suggest that a spiritual experience is not something imposed from outside. It is, rather, an openness that begins within us. People take pilgrimages seeking spiritual experience. People go into sweat lodges seeking a spiritual experience. People climb sacred mountains.

In each case, people push themselves to an extreme. These extremes may wear down defenses, and exhaust expectations. Which may help one be more attuned to spiritual reality, rather than the dull surface we expect.

Pushing oneself to these extremes is, to borrow William Blake's image, a means of "cleansing the doors of perception" so we perceive the world "as it is, "Holy."

I don't know that it's necessary to push ourselves to extremes. It's certainly unreasonable to pressure, or expect, a person to have a "spiritual experience" under these circumstances.

I should think the goal is to remain receptive. We could expect each moment to be an opportunity to encounter spiritual reality. We could follow the example of this artist, who carefully details the ordinary events of her day as a search for enlightenment (scroll down her page, and begin reading at July 20).

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Five: hot3

Courtesy of Reverend Mother

  1. What's the high temperature today where you are?
    It's currently 79°, at 8:20 a.m., CDT. The predicted high for today is 99°. Chance of precipitation is 33%. Temperatures have averaged between the high 90s to the low 100s for the past three weeks. Highest I'm aware of was 110.

  2. Favorite way(s) to beat the heat.
    Staying inside, with the Vornado fan on. While watching TV. Or listening to music. Or, occasionally, playing with Ms. Furry Fury.

  3. "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." Evaluate this statement.
    I reject such false dichotomies. I say it is time to think beyond heat and humidity. Might it not be both? Must we choose? This dichotomy tempts us to judge purely on human terms. This anthropocentric prejudice must be challenged!

  4. Discuss one or more of the following: sauna, hot tub, sweat lodge, warm-stone massage.
    I have been in a sweat lodge. The man officiating noted that the Swiss sauna was borrowed from the Native tradition of the sweat lodge. The difference being, as he understands it, that the sauna is done purely for physical reasons, and the sweat lodge is a spiritual experience.
       Late add, in response to Reverend Mother's comment. My entry concerning the experience in the sweat lodge is here; in brief, yes, it was a spiritual experience.

  5. Hottest you've ever been in your life
    That would be the afore-mentioned sweat lodge.  The remainder of that summer was tolerable by comparison.
Non-temperature related bonus: In your opinion... who's hot?
I was going to respond with the name(s) of one or two attractive women at church, but then I saw St. Casserole's response ("All the volunteers to come to the Hurricane Zone to help."), and I was properly humbled.

Cat Friday

Continuing the "cool cat" gag from last Friday, this historic image is from my 35mm archives. The "cool cats" in question are your lowly correspondent and the esteemed Dr Omed. I am the thin white dude; Dr. Omed is the mesomorph.

The year is 198*mumble*. We are in Denver, CO, both for the first time. We are donning our uniforms to serve in a friend's wedding. Julian and Jannette, both high school pals.

OK. Dr. Omed wasn't Dr. Omed yet. I'm not sure whether he had even come up with the name Dromedary Syndicate yet (cognizati will note the good doctor's name is hidden in that title). I wasn't Jonah yet. If anything, I was Jason. Or jac. Or, more often than not, my birth name.

We both fell in love with Denver. The architecture is astounding (compared to OKC, anyway). The mountains are young and tall (Oklahoma's mountains have shrunk with age). I don't remember who was driving, but we had to stop every so often to take pictures of the unique buildings. Like "Just Another Bar", on the edge of the city.

Dr. Omed did something about his affection for Denver. He moved there. He got a job as a baker. He flopped with the "J Unit" off & on. Seems like he was there a little over a decade. I stayed in Norman, OK, focusing on my (mind-altering) chemical studies. We wrote each other now & again, and Dr. Omed has an impressive collection of my scribblings.

He is blessed. He can read my handwriting. On good days, I can read his.

Anyway, it's possible some seeds were planted during that visit which helped form the current Dr. O. I'm sorry we're so hard to see because of the backlight. But these figures you are viewing are ghosts, after all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Election

I mentioned on Monday that I had distributed some reminder cards on Saturday for a friend running for the Oklahoma House in yesterday's Democratic primary. I am happy to report that Dana won.

Interestingly, her primary opponent mailed a flier late last week which claimed that Dana supported "any tax increases at any level of government (including hidden taxes, such as non-dedicated fees and deficit spending)", citing this survey.

Note that the survey question was "Do you support any tax increases at any level of government (including hidden taxes, such as non-dedicated fees and deficit spending)?"  The gist of the question is whether the candidate supports taxes, period; seeing as Libertarians oppose taxation in any form, the answer they are looking for is a simple "no." According to the posted survey results, this is the "Pro-Liberty" response.

I suspect Dana's Republican opponent will quote the accusation that she is a "tax-and-spend" liberal. I'll note that the primary difference between Republicans and Libertarians is that Libertarians are more philosophically consistent.

Somehow, the voting public has forgotten the connection between taxes and services. The equation is strikingly simple: to maintain a balanced budget, cutting taxes requires cutting services.

We would not expect to receive a service in the private sector for free. That's how the economy operates in a capitalist system. Most people understand that, at least at a very basic level.

The question then becomes: what services the Republicans have cut, or will cut, to keep taxes low. On a national level, the Republicans have cut programs such as Head Start; programs that benefit the poorest sector of our population. Meanwhile, farm subsidies are still paid to conglomerates. This same trend is reflected, to only a slightly lesser degree, on the local level.

Ideally, a representative's job is to see that their constituents get the best bang for their buck. Is the money supporting services that benefit people in her district? Is it being used in the most efficient way possible? Are there appropriate accounting measures and checks on how it is spent?

The job of a well-informed electorate is to monitor whether their representatives are putting the pooled resources (taxes) to the best use, in the best way feasible.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Idée d’jour

The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.
— Sonya Friedman
Seems a fair restatement of the Golden Rule. Some will tell you that some form of this guideline is present in the tenets of every major world religion (see The World Bible, published by Penguin).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Idée d’jour

A living language is like a man suffering incessantly from small haemorrhages, and what it needs above all else is constant transactions of new blood from other tongues. The day the gates go up, that day it begins to die.
— H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Political Volunteer

This past Saturday, I distributed cards reminding people in my precinct of the up-coming primary (tomorrow, July 25, from 7 am 'til 6 pm). A friend is running for the State House, and I agreed to help her by distributing these cards.

My friend had given me a list of addresses within a quarter mile of my house. I presume she had limited the list to Democrats. I also assume there's a lot more Democrats in this precinct than the small number of addresses she gave me. I imagine she wanted to keep the task manageable.

Some addresses were on the east side of May (a major north-south street), others were on the west side.  Addresses ran from NW 34th through NW 36th, on both sides of May. My house is on the east side, so I started with other houses on that side.

I distributed cards in my neighborhood first. Then I drove to 34th, parked, and distributed cards in a rough circle. Then I walked to 36th; all the cards for that side went to a low-income apartment complex.

Then I drove to the west side of May and followed roughly the same pattern. As I started this process at 8 am, I did not expect to meet many people. In fact, I only met three. I handed each one a card, saying it was a reminder of the primary, and thanked each person.

I listened to my iPod while doing this - NPR: Movies and Wait ... Wait ... Don't Tell Me. It was pleasant time in the fresh air, and the most walking I've done in some time. I finished the task around 9:30, which meant I missed the heat of the day - although I was relatively moist by the time I got home.

My friend, Dana, faces only one person in the primary - Joe. Based on their  campaign literature, they favor many of the same things: better-funded education, improved job opportunities, and health care.

Dana's campaign literature emphasizes her maturity (she's at least 20 years older than Joe), and her community involvement. Joe's literature emphasizes the fact that he joined the reserves following 9/11.

Yes, a local campaign invokes the sacred date of 9/11. No doubt the subtext is "Support our troops! Vote for Joe!"


That military connection also implies that he supports our current military adventure. Makes little difference at the local level, but enough reason for me to have some antipathy toward him.

Even if I did not know Dana, I could not vote for Joe on that basis alone.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Five: RevGalBlogPal Anniversary Edition

This is the first anniversary of the RevGalBlogPals. A history of the webring is here.
  1. What is your first memory of the RevGalBlogPals?
    Hmmm. Would you believe I can't remember? I suspect I discovered the ring through Reverend Mother. Or, possibly Reverend Mommy. In any case, it was relatively late last year.

  2. Have you met any of the other ring members in real life?
    Does meeting the husband of one count? I'm not sure that Fr. D is aware his wife and I have this tenuous connection. But there you go.
       I've met a few in the RLP chatroom, if that counts. Ones who come immediately to mind include Reverend Mommy, Reverend Stacey, Rev. Sparks and Lorna.

  3. Of those you haven't met, name a few you would love to know in person.
    I'd think it would be interesting to meet any of the people who have become part of this group (169 and growing). Since Emily and I live in the greater OKC metro area, it makes sense for us to meet. Like I say, I've met her husband, and I think it would be fun if the three of us met for lunch sometime.
       I'm also especially interested in meeting the gals I've visited with in the chatroom. I have this fantasy, for example, of Stacey and I performing for the troups.

  4. What has Ring Membership added to your life?
    A little over a month ago, I wrote about circles of common interstests, and how they over-lap. The ring is one more circle of friends/acquaintances who share a common interest, that is, the spiritual life. More particularly, the spiritual life as expressed through primarily liberal Christian denominations. Almost goes without saying that the only denoms that ordain women tend to be on the liberal end of the spectrum.
       Even so, I've been enriched by the breadth of theology expressed around the ring. Much I agree with; much I don't. But each essay has helped me hone my own beliefs. Or, at least, what I think I believe.

  5. Describe a hope for the future of the WebRing.
    A number of RevGals have mentioned the idea of a mass meet-up. One potential location that has been mentioned is Texas, since several of the ring's members live there. Since Texas is a little closer than the NE Coast or Georgia (for example), I'm definitely down with that. If they meet within a reasonable distance of Brother Dave, all the better. And since Real Live Preacher should be an honorary member, and serves near the Austin area, I think we ought to invite him as well.
       Various ring members have floated ideas for a third book. I'm especially anxious that the current book, Ordinary Time, be made available through Amazon. This anxiety is entirely self-serving, as my church bookstore seems reluctant to order multiple copies until it is offered at Amazon. This is a special concern because I may be leading a book study based on it, beginning next week.
       Once that minor detail has been resolved, I'm in favor of any of the ideas that have floated so far (in the Rev Gal blogs I've read),e.g., a "best of my blog" collection, or original essays concerning women in the ministry.

More Poetry Photos

Picking up from the picture of George & me in the previous entry, I want to direct you to more pictures from last Friday's poetry reading, now available here.

Prayer drum
Above is the first picture in the series. I call it "Prayer Drum." You see, prior to the reading Susan explained that every event at the Jacobson House is preceded by a prayer. She explained that normally the prayer would be lead by young men sitting around the drum, singing in the traditional way. But, she said, the young men were out of town - mostly at the Sundance. "So you'll have to make do with me." Strikingly, the prayer she offered was within the Christian tradition (e.g., she invoked the name of Jesus).

I had no objection. I suppose those poets with non-traditional spiritual leanings (or none at all) accepted it as the cost of being Blue in a Red State. Such things are fairly much accepted as part of the landscape in Oklahoma, the buckle of the Bible Belt.

The poetry reading on Saturday did not include a prayer. Unless you count the music David played, or the words of Woody Guthrie (which George read). Perhaps my poem "Praising the Muse" would count as a prayer, but it wasn't read until near the end of the reading.

Cat Friday

Here's a couple of cool cats, at the poetry reading last Friday evening. I'm the guy imperceptibly smiling on the left; George Wallace (former poet laureate of Suffolk County, NY) is truly smiling on the right. You'd hardly know we only see each other for a few hours once a year. Well, we e-mail poetry back & forth, as the mood strikes.

I'm holding my fancy-dancy camera in my right hand. You can see the lens cap on top of my hat. I took several pics of poets at work. Imagine that. This particular shot was taken by Carol H—, one of the organizers (with George) of the readings.

In the event you prefer seeing an actual feline, here's the queen of the house. Taken by available light, just this morning.

We watched the American Masters program on Marilyn Monroe this Wednesday. You suppose our favorite furball's pose was influenced?

Thursday, July 20, 2006


On Tuesday, I mentioned that the "Ramblin' With Woody" image would soon be available as a t-shirt.

If you are as savvy as Dr. Omed, you could create your own t-shirt. As he says at the link, all you need is an iron, some transfer paper, and a cotton t-shirt. The image I've posted is not at an ideal resolution or quality for this project, but maybe that's not vital to you.

"But Jonah," you say, "I don't have an iron!" I am sympathetic; I don't own an iron either. Therefore, I have chosen to put Cafe Press to work.

Ramblin With Woody t-shirt
Pictured at left is just one of the short-sleeved shirts now available at my Cafe Press "shop". This particular model is 100% cotton, and Made in the USA. At least that's what the folk at Cafe Press claim.

I don't expect to make much money from this. In order to keep prices at a reasonable level, I don't have much of a mark-up. However, should I make any money from the sales of these short-sleeved shirts, a portion will go to the Huntington's Disease Society of America.

Keep in mind, I won't even receive a check until profits have reached $10. But if I ever get that $10 check, at least $1 (10%) will go to HDSA.

We now return you to regularly scheduled blogging.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Yesterday, I mentioned that, while I was in Norman on Friday, I visited a few places I once lived. And I promised you pictures.

I lived in campus dorms off and on for my first three years of academic life. I lived in a converted Navy barracks, called Worchester House, which was torn down over ten years ago.

My first non-campus apartment was located above a restaurant. Technically, this was illegal. I guess the slumlord greased the fire safety inspector in some fashion. Ron (good-fellow college chum) and I lived there one summer. When school re-started, we moved to an apartment complex.

We named the apartment "Channel 27". It was our first experience with cable access, and neither of us had a great deal of self-control when it came to tv. The movie channel was locally produced at the time, and they only had a few movies available. I've lost count of the number of times I watched Endless Summer and Gimme Shelter.

That was also the time when I started "dropping" LSD. By this point, the psychedelic was being cut with strychnine, which made the high a very interesting experience. I remember one time when I thought I was going into rigor. Or my muscles were petrifying.

Moved back into the dorms after this. Lived in Boyd House (also torn down). Had a dark year, which bled into the following summer when the future Very Rt Rev Dr. Omed and I rented an duplex from a notorious slum-lord. Dr. Omed worked for a pizza delivery place, and I began my employ at the Infernal Bookstore.
House at Sante Fe & Apache
From that duplex, I moved to this apartment, on the NW corner of Sante Fe and Apache. This is where I wrote the first poem in what would become the Saturn Sequence, "I sleep under the sign." Here, my primary drug of choice was alcohol. Primarily beer, but also Windsor Canadian Whiskey (a preference I inherited from Padre).

The white arrow indicates one of my windows. Note there was no air conditioning unit in place when I was living there. I propped the window open with a thick stick. A different twisty branch became a keep-sake on the window sill, and eventually inspired the referenced poem.

From there, I moved to a house several blocks away. I rented the house with Dale, who was a co-worker at the Infernal Bookstore. It was a fair-sized house, with a defunct furnace in the living room. We each had our own bedroom. The living room and dining room were about equal in size.
The Green House
After we had lived there for some time, a friend related a bit of the house's history. This information was incorporated into the poem The Green House. If you click on the link and scroll to the end of the poem, you'll see a before and after picture of the house. It was torn down within a year after Dale and I moved out.

Dale got a year-long scholarship to go to Germany. Rather than seek another roommate, I chose to move again. I moved just across the alley to another old house that had been broken into apartments. The house is on Jenkins Street, just a few yards north of Boyd.
House on Jenkins Ave
The house faces east. I lived around the back. The fire escape was at my bathroom window; to the left of that is my bedroom window.

This is the house I lived in when Mary and I started dating. She eventually moved into an apartment on the first floor, near the front of the house. With her two teenage boys. A little over a year after she moved in, we got married. Then moved to a house on the south end of Norman, at Chautauqua and Sonia Dr.

We married in 1985. Mary went to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English as a Second Language in 1995. To the best of my knowledge, she is still there. We divorced in 2000.

Which may explain why I did not choose to take a picture of that particular house.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Poetry Readings

As I have mentioned a couple of times, there were two poetry readings held this past weekend in connection with the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. One reading (and chapbook collation party) was held Friday evening, at the Jacobson House in Norman. The other reading was held Saturday at 1:00 at the First [United] Methodist Church in Okemah, OK.

The chapbook collation party was scheduled to begin around 6 p.m. in Norman. Norman is a bedroom community for OKC. The trip is about 45 minutes, except during rush hour. Since temperatures are topping 100, I thought it wise to leave OKC around 4.

I still hit a bit of traffic congestion, but got to Norman about 4:45 or so. I decided to visit a few old haunts. First – Hastings, a book/cd/video chain that has yet to make it to OKC proper. I successfully avoided spending money. Second - places I used to live when I was attending college in Norman (I tell people my major was "mind-altering substances").

I took pictures of the place I lived when I wrote "I sleep under the sign". I took pictures of the plot the Green House once occupied. Then the place I lived between the Green House and my marriage. [Pictures of these places will be posted in the near future]

Then I went to the Jacobson House, a Swedish and Native American cultural center. It may seem an odd combination, but the Jacobsons were Swedes who had a great love and respect for Native American traditions. Their former house now has one of the premier collections of Native American arts and crafts not in a museum. It is also a venue for poetry readings, especially by Native Americans.

Over 30 poets were expected. Now - do the math - if 30 poets read for 5 minutes each, how late would we be going? Since the reading started at 8, it's probable the reading would not have ended until 10:30 at the earliest. Therefore, the organizer asked us to read only one poem each.

I decided to read "The Year of the Flood"; as what I call a "memory poem" it seemed to have the closest relationship to Woody (through his autobiographical novel Bound For Glory) of any of the poems I had planned on. I think, with my introduction, the poem still may have lasted five minutes.

One of the treats of the reading on Saturday was the fact that the poets would be accompanied by pianist David Amram. Mr. Amram once accompanied the Beat poets (e.g. Kerouac and Ginsburg), so I was really looking forward to that experience.

I read "Praising the Muse" and "Never Thunders in Hades". The latter was written in 1978, and I think of it as a performance piece. I was especially anxious to experience what Mr. Amram would create.

David picks up on subtle cues from the reader to create the musical background. One thing I noticed is that he quickly finds what key the poet is speaking in. He also finds a tempo that compliments the poet's speaking patterns. The music he played behind the second poem was almost as abstract as the poem itself. I thought it worked, and a friend commented afterwards that he thought David and I must have rehearsed.

So that was positive.

The downside, for both readings, was the fact that I read late in the program. I read shortly after a break Friday night, and over half the audience had left during the break. I read during the last third of the program on Saturday, and I think people were just a bit weary by that point. Although the music certainly helped maintain the interest throughout the afternoon (the reading was from 1-3).

Given this context, reading longish poems was possibly not the best choice. My choice on Friday really was determined by what I thought best fit a Woody Guthrie theme. I'll freely admit that my choice of the long poem on Saturday was somewhat self-serving. But I was willing to risk it.

It was a re-entry into the Oklahoma "poetry scene", and as such a positive experience.

One last thing - the chapbook cover I designed (above) will soon be available as a t-shirt. Stay tuned.


You Are Death

You symbolize the end, which can be frightening.
But you also symbolize the immortality of the soul.
You represent transformation, rebirth of a new life.
Sweeping away the past is part of this card, as painful as it may be.

Your fortune:

Don't worry, this card does not predict death itself.
Instead it foreshadows the ending of an era of your life, one that is hard to let go of.
But with the future great new things will come, and it's time to embrace them.
Mourn for a while, but then face the future with humility and courage.

What Tarot Card Are You?
The response above was associated with my birth name. When I entered my blogonym, the response was:
You Are The Chariot
You represent a difficult battle, and a well-deserved victory.
You tend to struggle to get what you want, both internally and externally.
You excel at controlling opposing forces, getting down the same path.
In the end, you bring glory and success - using pure will to move forward.

Your fortune:

There is great conflict in your life right now, either with yourself or others.
You must find a solution to this conflict, which is likely to be a "middle road" between the two forces.
You posses the skills to triumph over these struggles, as long as your will is strong.
You are transforming your inner self, building a better foundation for future successes.
Hmmm. Struggles and battles. Endings and new beginnings.

I assume the cards come up at random, as they would if a Tarot reader were laying them out before me. I don't perceive the Tarot as a means of fortune-telling; I perceive it from a Jungian perspective: as a door to inner space. More is learned from my interpretation of the images (pictoral and verbal) set before me than any "prediction".

Any day may be the beginning of a struggle. Every step may begin a new journey. Every dawn is new birth; every fall of head on pillow may be a little death.

Thanks Sam (and Karen) for directing me to this door.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Belated Cat Friday

DJ, 3:00 pm July 4th.

I took this picture on the afternoon of July 4th. It's a fair representation of how the lady and I spent the afternoon. In the foreground is my ever expanding tummy, in the distance is a selection from DJ's toybox.

I don't know where the notion of cat naps being short started. DJ was about midway through a three hour marathon when this shot was taken. My cat nap lasted less than an hour.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This Past Weekend

Last week was odd. July 4th fell on a Tuesday, which led many people on campus to take Monday off. Some even took the whole week off. Once I gave some thought to taking time off, the office was so short-staffed I knew the request would receive a sound "No."

All day last Tuesday felt like a Saturday; I kept thinking the next day would be a Sunday. I was constantly reminding myself that I had to work the next day, and felt slightly disgruntled.

I worked as a test proctor this past Saturday. The task is relatively undemanding, and pays well. Still, a 7 hour exam (with a 45 minute lunch break) is a chunk out of one's day.

One of my fellow proctors asked how one stays awake. My response was that one stays on one's feet as much as possible. Although the examinees do not require extremely close scrutiny, I do my best to create the impression they are being watched. I walk back and forth; I move to different areas of the room. I stand, and rock on my feet.

Another trick is to count things. For example, the same proctor counted the number of blue shirts in the room. Seeing as there were a number of blue shirts, and a wide variety of shades of blue, I imagine that was a fun exercise.

I like to count the number of women. The examinees are taking their Board exam for anesthesiology, a discipline that has historically been mostly male. The chief proctor explained that there had once been concern about how the gasses would affect child-bearing. However, the current anesthesia delivery system is so efficient that such concerns are no longer valid.

Even so, there were only 5 women registered for the exam, out of 60 total. In other words, if 60 is a representative sampling of the discipline, less than 10% are women.

Once shirt color had been mentioned (over lunch), I decided to informally sample the other clothing choices. Shades of blue was definitely the most popular color. Next in popularity were shades of red (from coral to pink, and beyond). There were a handful who wore yellow. And two or three who wore white.

Only two people wore any kind of head wear. Both were men, and both wore baseball caps (backwards). One of those caps was pretty tattered; perhaps the owner had actually played baseball while wearing it.
This coming weekend is dominated by the Woody Guthrie Festival, and the two poetry readings associated with it. The first reading is Friday, beginning at 8, in Norman (at the Jacobson House, if you're in the area). However, poets have been asked to be there about 6 p.m. for a pot-luck supper and chapbook construction. It will be a limited edition chapbook (70 copies) featuring Oklahoma poets.

The second reading begins at 1 p.m. Saturday in Okemah, at the United Methodist Church. The venue is slightly off the beaten path, but the event has received decent publicity, and I expect a number of folk will be in the audience.

I have been asked to be a featured reader on both occasions. I suspect I was asked primarily because I designed the chapbook cover and poster. I haven't read or published in some time, so I suspect I'm an unknown quantity in the mind of the organizers.

Here's a list of what I plan to read:Speaking of Woody Guthrie, PBS stations will air a documentary on his life Wednesday, July 12, at 8 p.m.

Idée d'jour

One of my greatest pleasures in writing has come from the thought that perhaps my work might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position. Then comes the saddening realization that such people rarely read.
— John Kenneth Galbraith, economist (1908-2006)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Idée d’jour

It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.
— Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect and author (1743-1826)

Come Back, Shane

I watched the movie Shane for the first time this past Friday. For a movie released in 1953, it's somewhat perverse.

The American Film Institute recently judged Shane to be the 53rd most inspirational movie made in America. My reading of the film is undoubtably unorthodox, because I can't figure out quite what is inspiring about it.

The movie is a fine example of Westerns made during this period. The conflict between good and evil is clearly delineated. In fact, the symbols of each category are pretty common for the Western:
There are three characters who stand outside of this dichotomy. One is Joey, the little boy. He is pre-sexual, and as such has soft "feminine" features, yet thrills to the romance of violence - although its reality frightens him. The boy combines features of both worlds, in the guise of Innocence.

The other two characters who are either outside this dichotomy, or straddle it, are the gunfighters - Shane and Jack. They combine features of both worlds, in the guise of Experience.

There's no question the gunfighter is masculine, for his resolves disputes with his (phalic) gun. On the other hand, he is very concerned with his appearance. He wears a fancy or elaborate costume; he has a pearl-handled pistol. His movements are deliberate, almost balletic.

When Shane enters the picture, he is wearing buckskins. The movie takes place after the Civil War, and I wonder whether buckskins wouldn't be archaic. But this unique garb sets him apart from both the ranchers and the cattlemen. If the buckskins are indeed anachronistic, they mark Shane as one outside time.

This element of being outside of time marks Shane as a type of hero. The character remains nameless for the first ten minutes or so of the movie; he does not share his name until after the conflict between the cattlemen and the ranchers is introduced. He is also super-humanly strong: he helps remove a stump (which also gives Alan Ladd a chance to display his well-defined musculature); he wins a barfight single-handed when he is incredibly out-numbered; and he wins the final gun fight, when the odds are four to one.

There is clearly a sexual tension between Shane and the wife. She notices his toned body. She is aware of his strength, and the thrilling danger just below the surface of that strength. There is a moment when their faces are very close, and there is a look in their eyes which would lead to a kiss in a romantic movie. When Joey, the son, says he loves Shane, we know he is speaking for his mother as much as himself.

I claimed in the first paragraph that this movie is perverse. I make that claim primarily because of the relationship between Shane and Joey. It's clear there is a level of hero worship here, and that Joey begins to see Shane as a surrogate - or even replacement - for his father. Since the boy is presexual, it may be stretching the bounds to read too much into this relationship, but ....

There is a scene near the end, at the dance, of tenderness between Shane and Joey. Shane is standing tall and noble, and Joey is standing next to him with his had cradled near Shane's lap. Vince Packard and Freud both would have field day with the subtext of that image.

Although it's clear that Shane is attracted to the mother, it is a chilvaric affection. In fact, the barfight I mentioned earlier erupts when one of the cattlemen sees the affection as sexual and a form of adultery. Like any good knight, Shane fights to defend the mother's honor.

When the conflict is introduced in the first few minutes of the film, it's clear the settlers are the good guys because they want to resolve disputes through the rule of law and diplomacy. The cattlemen are the bad guys because they lack respect for the law, and seek to resolve their dispute through violence and intimidation.

Shane, the hero beyond time, chooses to lend his strength to the good guys. He enters the civilized world, and human time, by adopting the clothes of the time. But, especially in the context of this type of myth, his entry must be balanced by his dark other.

In order to go into battle, Shane must re-enter the realm of the mythic heroes by adopting his ritual armor (the buckskins). He must renounce the ideal of diplomacy, and resolve the dispute by adopting evil's violent methods.

He wins the gunfight, as he must, against impossible odds. Civilization is maintained, but at a great cost: not only is good preserved by adopting evil's means, but the good guy is mortally wounded. There is a hint, in the final sequence, that Shane is either riding to his death, or to Valhalla.

This is inspirational? Shouldn't the good guy survive?

The movie may be read as a re-telling of the Jesus myth, in which case Shane is the hero/god who sacrifices himself for the good of humanity/civilization. In which case, the message would be inspirational, and we would assume that Shane survives or resurrects in the former of future heroes (e.g., John Wayne).

There is sufficient ambiguity in the movie to read it as an existentialist fable. In a key scene, Shane tells Joey that a gun is not intrinsically good or bad; it is a tool, and the person using it determines whether it is put to a good or bad use. But the primary use of a gun is to kill people. It's primary use is violent, which within the black-and-white morality of the story is evil.

So, again, there is some perversity in the fact that civilization and order are preserved by "evil" means - that is, by violently taking the law into one's own hands. In this reading, the existential hero stands beyond good and evil (to use Nietzsche's phrase) and creates his own ethics.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Self Portrait, 9July06

Self Portrait, 9July06 .

This began in response to the question, "What would I look like bald?" It then morphed (over the course of a half hour) into this sketchy representation.

Post #1610

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cactus Rose

Mystery Plant

I'm trying to write a poem worthy of this photograph. The working title is either "How the Rose Lost Its Teeth" or "How the Rose Got Its Thorns"

I know this isn't really a cactus rose, but I don't know its proper name. All I'm fairly certain of is that it is some kind of succulent. I found this plant in the Whirlwind Mission Cemetary, a little south of Faye, OK.

Opening lines of that poem in progress:
Before the turtle was born
Before the stars learned their names
Before yes, before no
Before the alphabet was formed
Before lightening dreamed of the mason jar
Before snow found its dance
We were waiting for the rose.

When the moon was boiling
When the sun was drowning
When the whirlwind
built a ladder into the abyss
We were waiting on the rose

Friday, July 07, 2006

Short Friday Five

Courtesy of Songbird
  • Short People
    Are folks "height challenged" or am I "height advantaged"? Are children smaller versions of adults, or adults in training?
       Often, when I hear a very young child crying in a public place, I think "It's hard when you're under three foot tall, and you have limited means of communication." This charitable thought helps make the noise somewhat more tolerable.
  • Short Hops
    There are few destinations within walking distance of my house. I live in what is called Venice Neighborhood (one of the major north-south streets is Venice Blvd). There is a sort of park area about two blocks south of my house, with a charming gazebo and some trees. It's not really much of a park, as the space consists of a two-block long median which is just a few yards wide.
  • Short Stories
    The most recent short story I've read is "The Diary of Adam and Eve" by Mark Twain. Guetenberg has a lovely illustrated version of Eve's Diary, and the text of Adam's Diary.
       Serious students of Twain know that he wrote several "translations" of diaries puportedly by figures from Genesis, including Adam, Eve, Seth, and Methuslah. The collection Letters from Earth includes several of these translations, including a slightly different version of Eve's Diary.
       The diary is not laugh out-loud funny, but it is charming. Twain's view of the relation of the sexes is fairly stereotypical (for example, Adam thinks Eve talks too much), but he was a man of his times.
       A couple of things especially caught my attention. First, shortly after she arrives on the scene, Eve starts putting up signs like "Keep Off the Grass." In effect, Twain is saying that women are resposible for the Law.
       Secondly, Adam is annoyed by Eve before the Fall, but comes to accept her afterward. The final line of the story, which I thought was sentimental, is "Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden." It's a dramatic change for the person who was profoundly annoyed by the "new creature" at the beginning of the diary, and I'm not sure the story fully explains how that change occurs.
  • Short Lists
    As a bachelor who is basically too lazy to cook, I tend to live out of boxes. And I generally go grocery shopping once a week. So my grocery list tends to be rather short — three or four items.
  • Short Stops
    If I were a baseball fan, I would name my favorite short stops. Can't think of a one. Typically, a journey to the hardware store is a "shortstop". At least it is in comparison to a trip to the bookstore.

Cat Friday

DJ on her throne
The U.S. may have declared its independence on July 4th, but I became subject to her ladyship on that date. That is to say, we adopted each other on July 4.

Here, her royal catness, Dame Julian, is seen in action on her throne.

DJ objects to closed doors. I have no doubt closed doors are a form of heresy in feline theology. She is ever vigilant to find ways beyond most closed doors. With the striking exception of the door to the great outdoors. Having been an indoor cat from the time of adoption, she appears to be slightly overwhelmed by the large space on the other side of that door.

In any event, I find I must be vigilant in order to keep her out of places I don't want her. Last night, I was not sufficiently vigilant. Well, I was tired - but that's no excuse. Her ladyship was closed up in my study all night.

I did hear a "meow" and a crash within an hour after I went to sleep, but I thought it was coming from the living room. But when I went into the study to turn on my computer, a cat-sized streak of grey fur sped past my left leg.

I keep the study closed because I store "stuff" I don't want mangled in there. I've been worried about her chewing on the wiring - when she was a kitten, she would chew on anything. I worried about her knocking things over.

Perhaps I worry too much. Which will not be a news flash to those who know me well.

The study was remarkably undisturbed this morning. The keyboard was knocked out of alignment, but that was it. Though I know she can see much better than I in the dark, I suspect there was much she wasn't aware of because it wasn't sparkling. Or moving. Or appearing to be moving, by sparkling.

One thing's for sure. I'm not leaving the study door open to test my theory.

As I say, the fourth was DJ's adoption day. You may leave your belated well-wishes in the comments. I'll be proud to relay them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Self Portrait, 06July04

Self Portrait, 06July04

Perhaps too late for the Self Portrait Marathon. I took this today, a little after 3 pm local time (which was less than 90 minutes ago.

One reason I took this picture was to document the latest decoration I've added to my guitar head:

Detail from Self Portrait
This is one of two "God's Eyes" I made while at the Watonga Vacation Bible School two weeks ago. I had first heard of a "God's Eye" in elementary school, in fifth or sixth grade. The one I made then was with thick twigs and black-and-white yarn.

This God's Eye was made with varigated yarn. That's why it's multicolored.

My paternal grandfather also put things on the headstock of his guitar. I still have the small guitar, "Made in Mexico", that he strapped on with a rubber band. I suppose I am continuing his tradition.

Independence Day

This past Saturday, July 1, my elderly neighbor offered me a flag. It seemed he had at least two too many flags. I have no doubt he thought he was offering me a great gift, and would have expected to see the flag flying from the notch on my porch today, July 4.

I said no thanks. When he looked sad, and expressed surprise, I said that appreciated the thought. But I really didn't want the flag.

If I had accepted the flag, I would have flown it upside down. Our country is in distress. The grand Declaration we claim to celebrate this day has largely been forgotten. The Constitution is largely a fiction we claim to uphold while various governmental agencies chip away at its foundations.

I knew if I flew the flag upside down, I would have offended everyone in my neighborhood, especially the person who had given it to me. Perhaps I place to much value in laying low or not offending others. But in this instance, it was clear the gift carried certain strings: "If you accept this, you will display it as I would. And if you display it as I do, then you must believe as I believe."

I was not willing to make that bargain. It was more honest to say no as politely as possible. It was not necessary to detail why I declined his charity.

Those documents, the Declaration and the Constitution, avow radical ideals. In writing the Constitution, the Framers hoped to provide a practical framework that would make the ideals expressed in the Declaration possible. We've often fallen short of those ideals. As fallible human beings, it is almost impossible to achieve those ideals.

But we must strive for those ideals, nevertheless. We must never give up on those ideals. We always try to think of ways humans are somehow "superior" to animals. I suggest this as foundational difference between humans and the remainder of the animal kingdom: humans have the capacity to change. Humans have the capacity to strive to be better than the previous generation, or even better than their current state.

Once we give up those ideals, we become an average animal. The same is true if we trade our ideals, a bit at a time, for the porridge of comfort and security.

"All [people] are created equal." As Huitzil points out, the people who wrote that document were thinking of men, and only men who owned property at that. We may think we have progressed since then, but it's so easy to think we are better than someone else. It's so easy to believe we among the forces of good and they are among the axis of evil.

Questing Parson expresses those ideals as a form of prayer. It is a prayer I commend to all other idealists.
So, how have I spent my day off?

I declared it a day of liberation. A personal day of independence. It may seem odd, but I declared this to be a day to liberate myself from my darkness. Or laziness.

I cleaned house. This may seem a small thing, but I am both lazy and a slob. So, thoroughly vacuuming the house is a major project.

Somehow the dirt I've allowed to accumulate in the house had a connection with an inner ennui. It related, somehow, to feeling increasingly oppressed by my worst instincts.

So I declared my independence from those instincts. I cleaned house. I tidied up. I washed clothes.

I didn't think about politics or the chimp in chief at all.

I may have little control over national politics, but I can affect the politics of my own heart, and the hearth that I sit beside.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Poetry For Woody

Poetry Chapbook Cover
Art and design by Jonah

Woody Guthrie's birthday is July 14. For more than the past decade, a music festival has been held in his hometown of Okemah, OK. Last year, an additional event was added: a poetry reading. Not only did Woody's songs have a poetic quality, but he also wrote poetry.

This year, there will be two poetry readings - one in Norman, OK, Friday 14, and one in Okemah on Saturday the 15th. There will also be a home-made chapbook of poetry by Oklahoma poets. Above, you see the cover I designed for that chapbook. If you click on the image, you'll see the (pdf) poster for the poetry readings. Oklahoma residents are encouraged to print the poster and paper your favorite coffee houses with it.

More about the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

Watonga VBS: III

Parting Gestures
When I wrote about our dinner presentation on Wednesday night, I didn't tell the full story. Mr. Clark's presentation on Cheyenne cosmology was only half. Rev. Jim was the other half.

As I've mentioned, Jim is a deacon who has served this small community since 1992. A deacon in the Episcopal church is an ordained ministry. Some think of the order as a mini-priest, or a sub priest, but it is a respected order all its own distinct from the priesthood. Prior to this ministry, Jim was a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

For his presentation, Jim shared a variety of objects that have been given to him during his time in Watonga. These objects included a variety of eagle feathers, a bandelero (a sort of sash worn cross-ways across the upper torso), a beaded cross, and even a cap from the local funeral parlor.

Of special note was a box of items from a man Jim had sponsored in a Sundance some years back. I wrote at length last year about the Sundance, and won't repeat that background now. In this box was an eagle-bone whistle, which the Sundancer had blown during the ceremony. The whistle was given to Jim with the understanding that he would only blow it on special occasions. He told us he had only blown it four times since he had gotten it (which I understand to be more than four years previous), and he intended to blow it again when we left.

That was Wednesday night.

It rained again Friday. We called the pool, and confirmed that it was closed. The pool is open to the weather, and not a place one wants to be if there is a lightening storm. We had to reluctantly tell the kids we would not be taking them swimming.

The VBS kids left around one. We spent a little over an hour thoroughly cleaning the building. A little after two, we all sat down so Jim could debrief us and give us our grade.

It's been a running joke that Jim never gives the VBS organizers better than an A-. This year, he didn't even mention a letter grade. He expressed the wish that more young people from our church could have joined us; beyond that, he invited us to grade ourselves.

He brought in his box, and an eagle feather. Perhaps you picture something small. But remember that the eagle is not a small bird. This feather was at least as long as my arm, and more than two hands wide. He had a small bowl filled with cedar chips and sage smoldering.

He blew the eagle bone whistle. Three times to each direction. It was not a melodious sound. It was piercing and serated. It cut through the heart. It echoed into the sinews.

There is a native tradition we call "smudging". The smoldering bowl is brought before you, and the smoke is wafted in your direction. Many native peoples cup their hands, and bathe themselves with the smoke, then pat themselves over the heart with an open palm.

Jim first smudged one of the young people in our group, Emma. I had been calling Emma princess all week, because she was the sort who would have complained about a pea under her matress. Jim asked her to carry the bowl as he smudged the rest of us. She carried that bowl with regal dignity.

After he wafted the smoke at each person, he then patted them done with the eagle feather. Head, right side, then left side.

A blessing for the road.  
Craft from VBS
Final Thoughts
This is a craft one of the town's children made. It reads, "You were mad and sometimes sad but at the end it is happy." Amazing how many emotions are described in those few words. And the colorful beads below the words may reflect happiness, but I'd like to think they reflect something more — joy.

We too often think happiness can be bought. Or that it may be contingent on our friends or loved ones. If happiness were a commodity to be bought, it is likely beyond the means of most of these children. Many asked if they could take craft supplies (like construction paper) home. We had bought these supplies on sale, and they were a small part of our budget for the Vacation Bible School. We gave the left-overs gladly.

But each time one of us said "Yes," a child's eyes would sparkle.

I suppose we had come to share joy. Yes, we had some good news about how God is expressed through Jesus. But that was embodied by each volunteer. Ideally, our coming from so far away, and sharing ourselves with them, let these children know how worthy they are. Not that we are so special. But any time an adult can praise a child, that child grows a bit more.

That's why I came. I pray love was expressed in each song. I pray hope was experience in each affirmation. I pray their natural faith was strengthened.

I pray you may find a place to share these gifts as well.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I'm Spidey, Too

You are Spider-Man

Spider-Man 70%
Batman 65%
Green Lantern 60%
Catwoman 60%
Superman 55%
Iron Man 45%
The Flash 45%
Hulk 45%
Robin 44%
Supergirl 40%
Wonder Woman 35%
You are intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and have great power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

My favorite Spidey Girl made me aware of this test. It's interesting we both rated as "Spidey". I guess I should be a little worried that I scored as 60% Catwoman, but I believe in the androgyny of the soul.

Interesting story about Supergirl. After the success of Richard Donner's Superman, the same company released a film of Supergirl (1984). The main thing that impressed me about the trailers was the title character's bosom. Still, I chose to watch it when I came on cable (which I subscribed to at the time).

I soon discovered that appreciating a woman's clothed chest has limited appeal. Certainly not enough to hold my interest for a little over two hours.

I had coincidentally just finished reading Robert Johnson's book She, a study of a woman's journey based on the myth of Amor and Psyche. It's not a great book, but it's good (also short - about 70 pages). Once I got bored with the lead actress' bosom (her name is Helen Slater), I started comparing the narrative to Johnson's book.

Sure enough, the movie could be interpreted through the same lens. Male figure (played by Peter O'Toole) gives her guidance. Older woman (played by Faye Dunaway) seems like a villain, but actually helps the heroine discover her power.

Faye Dunaway and Brenda Vaccaro both seem to have a great deal of fun chewing the scenery. I vaguely recall a scene in which they conjure some huge electrical monster that bears an uncanny resemblance to the unrestrained Id in the pseudo-Freudian classic Forbidden Planet.

I haven't seen the movie Supergirl since then. I don't know if it would still scan so mythically.