Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

domingo, agosto 29, 2010

Still Missing New Orleans

I posted the following on September 4, 2005 at The Dream Antilles and I cross-posted it in various places. Five years later, there's really very little I can add to this, so I am re-posting it:

A Huge Loss
I'm one of those people who knows New Orleans, and though I don't live there, I feel the enormity of the present crisis deeply.

I lived in Jackson, Mississippi for more than 6 years in the 70s. I, and other members of the civil rights law community, loved to go to New Orleans. It was civilized. It was relaxing. It had good food and music. Not only wasn't it Mississippi, it made Mississippi and its stridency, divisiveness, violence and stress seem far, far away. It was to me actually the City that Care Forgot. It was like heaven.

It was a city that seemed to embrace what we were trying to accomplish up the highway. When Mississippi's federal judges made decisions that were predictably against us or just plain wacky, the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans seemed ever willing to grant a stay, to enjoin the craziness, to require that it be corrected. So traveling to New Orleans with a briefcase full of papers on the famous train, the City of New Orleans, was a mixed blessing: it meant you lost as expected in Jackson or Biloxi or Gulfport, but soon things would be set aright by wise men who understood the future.

New Orleans was also a refuge for me from exhaustion, from burnout, from crank phone calls, from police surveillance, from the petty difficulties of living in Mississippi, from fighting hard, from adversity, from judicial hostility. It was only a few hours drive away. It was possible to visit over a weekend. It was the destination to escape to. So I learned its music venues, its bars and restaurants, its ways of being, and I enjoyed its ambience, the slow, humid, deliberate way the City moved and breathed, its cosmopolitan civilization, its stories, its pace.

Yet New Orleans was not really paradise. It had no signficant middle class: it had the very rich and the black poor. It had its share of historical, urban racial discrimination. It had the incessant violence and pervasive discrimination that gnawing poverty breeds. It had an enormous crime rate, and its homicides were all too frequent. It had its monument to the Confederacy at the end of Canal Street. It had all of the troubled corruption and unnecessary violence of other big American cities. It had an ability to be overwhelmed by drunken conventioneers, who could be found talking to horses drawing carriages. But for me, and I think for a huge number of other people, it displayed a comfort, a sweetness, a sensuality, and a joyfulness that I felt simply as relief. It embraced us. It welcomed us.

Others have written their tributes to New Orleans this week. I heard two on the radio this afternoon, and Anne Rice has written in the New York Times today. Reminiscence isn't really my purpose here. I just feel profound grief at what has happened. In the pit of my stomach and in my heart, there is a deep aching. A City I love and its people, a City I hold in my heart as a refuge and the people who have made it so, are suffering and dying.

It would be easy for me to join the chorus blaming George W Bush and his administration for their gross incompetence and the huge and unnecessary loss of life, but that seems to be others' work. Instead, for me, there's not much to do. It's important, of course, to make donations to the appropriate organizations. And I urge each of you to do so. And it's also important to feel in my heart the enormity of my and our nation's loss. To me, it is as if something akin to paradise in my inner world has been despoiled.

Five years later, as so many others have written, the New Orleans diaspora continues for many, the City hasn't been rebuilt, the Federal Flood was an opportunity to displace New Orleans' poor from public housing and schools. Yes, many have struggled valiantly for a just, fair restoration. But I'd be lying if I said they were winning. Battles, yes; the war, well, the war just continues. Along with our pain and loss. Along with our hope.

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viernes, agosto 27, 2010

Why I Love (French) Intellectuals

This morning's New York Times brings us a treat about Milan Kundera's new book, Encounter. Here's an excerpt of the Times's John Simon's review:

“What Will Be Left of You, Bertolt?”...begins by making reference to a 1999 article in a Paris weekly, “one of the more serious ones.” ... It contained a special section on 18 “geniuses of the century,” featuring, among others, Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Bill Gates, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Yves Saint Laurent and the little-known astronomy professor Robert Noyes.

“No novelist,” Kundera comments, “no poet, no dramatist; no philosopher; a single architect; a single painter, but two couturiers; no composer, one singer; a single moviemaker (over Eisenstein, Chaplin, Bergman, Fellini, the Paris journalists chose Kubrick).” The selectors were not ignoramuses, Kundera writes. “With great lucidity,” they “declared a real change: the new relationship of Europe to literature, to philosophy, to art.”

Yet the great cultural figures were not forgotten: the period toward the end of the 20th century, Kundera says, produced monographs on Graham Greene, Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Larkin, Brecht, Heidegger, Picasso, Ionesco, E. M. Cioran and others. But the attitude had shifted. Instead of emphasizing works, the monographers concentrated on lives, surface events beneath which they ferreted out the hidden Sin: “Europe was moving into the age of the prosecutors.”

As a dreadful example, Kundera proffers “a huge 800-page book on Bertolt Brecht,” without naming it and its academician author (“Brecht and Company,” by John Fuegi). The book exposes “the vileness of Brecht’s soul (secret homosexuality, erotomania, exploitation of girlfriends who were the true authors of his plays, pro-Stalin sympathies, tendency to lies, greed, a cold heart),” and “finally in Chapter 45 comes to his body, in particular to its terrible odor, which the professor takes a whole paragraph to describe.”

Wittily, Kundera continues, “As guarantee of the scholarly nature of this olfactory revelation, in a note to the chapter the writer says he collected ‘this detailed description from the woman who was at the time the head of the photo lab of the Berliner Ensemble’ . . . whom he interviewed ‘on June 5, 1985’ (that is, 30 years after the smelly fellow was laid in his coffin).” And he goes on to wonder, “Ah, Bertolt, what will be left of you?”

I ask you, with all of that build up, all of that context, where is the quotation of this monster "whole paragraph" description? It has to be more horrible to imagine than to read. Is that why we've turned from reading to US Magazine? Just asking.

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miércoles, agosto 25, 2010

Windy Night Haiku

This wind shakes the trees,
Slides the moon across the night.
Dawn is far away.

What kind of bright night
has such a serrated wind?
Golden rod bows low.

Birds stay in their nests
and watch the wind run and hide.
Their long flight approaches.


domingo, agosto 22, 2010


It's quite a long walk.
You leave everything behind.
And then you're flying.


viernes, agosto 20, 2010

There's More To Being An Elder Than Being Old

It takes more than being old to be an Elder. Not every senior citizen can be an Elder. Or wants to be one. And it doesn’t depend on whether you’re healthy. Or “spry” as younger people would put it. It depends on something far more elusive. It depends on whether one actually occupies the role of being an Elder. And how.

What does it mean to be an Elder? I'm going to be 64 in October. I imagine that I should be assuming the role of an Elder, and that I would like to do that. Am I ready to do this or do I need more time? Am I ready to be a beginning Elder? A novice Elder? Am I ready to start paying my dues to Elderhood?

If I were in India, and my kids were grown (as they are), it would soon be time to renounce being a householder and to embark on my Spiritual Journey. I'd give away my stuff, and hit the road. Some Taoists I know say that this is called “practice dying.” You get rid of your possessions just as they would be dispersed when you make your mahasamadhi. Then you go on to do what you’re going to do. You’re not held back by things.

Death is one thing that’s certain. If the first third of life were about learning and finding a mate or companion, and the second third was about being a householder and performing the multitude of functions involved in making money, raising children, working a relationship, the final third ought to be about the spirit, the soul if you believe you have one, getting ready for the long journey, serving the society as an Elder before impermanence catches up to your body and breaks it down.

But look at us in the US. We don't think about this. Maybe we don’t really have Elders any more. We don’t revere our Elders. We don't even consult with them. We don't really take care of them by providing for their needs. We don't ask them, let alone listen to them. And we certainly don't have a ceremony or an acknowledgment for them, at which society says, "Look at you, you're now an Elder, you've been around for a while, and no doubt you've learned something that could be of benefit to all of us. We’d like to ask your opinion from time to time."

No, we’ve got other plans for old people. And they don’t seem to involve their occupying the role of Elder. My house was built in 1841. In 1897 or so an itinerant photographer came by and took an image of the people in the house with their proudest possessions. In the photo are perhaps four generations of people. That’s not our current way. Whatever our current way might be, it sure isn’t about acknowledging the role of the Elder. It’s not even about the small Elder role the oldest person may have played in a four generation household 150 years ago.

In fact, what’s involved in the role of being an Elder is pretty obscure. I haven’t found a book, “Being An Elder For Dummies.” So what I know about this I am learning from indigenous people, wisdom keepers, Shamans. And from those who have recorded what Elders in various places have had to say. And most important, from asking myself, “What does it mean to be an Elder? How does an Elder inspire others? What does it mean to serve a community as an Elder?” In other words, I’m making it up as I go along.

It’s odd thinking about being an Elder. It’s not something many are concerned with. It’s not about retirement planning or investments or social security and medicare. It’s not really about politics. It’s about a niche in society that seems to have gradually become obsolete. Or suppressed. It’s mostly disappeared even though it seems to be vitally needed.

When politicians and young war chiefs decide that they should fight, or go to war, or act aggressively they don’t consult the local Elders. They consult their peers. People who are strong and young and impulsive consult others with the same characteristics. Would the US have invaded Iraq, for example, if Elders had been asked about this folly? Would US troops in Afghanistan have been increased? Would you see BP drilling and destroying the Gulf, if not the entire planet? Would there be a defense of mountaintop removal? Look at the list: global warming, genocide, hunger, poverty. Would any Elder worth his or her salt approve any of these debacles? I believe not. Wouldn’t any Elder say that these problems had to be taken care of? Maybe that’s why we don’t ask.

Why should anybody consult me? Or ask my opinion?, In my last 64 years there has been plenty of failure, outright, stone foolishness, errors, misjudgments. I’ve misunderestimated lots of times. I’ve done and said zillions of things that I wish I hadn’t. In short, my track record hasn’t been perfect and a lot of it isn’t inspirational. At all Yes, I’ve done some good things. Yes, I’ve done some bad things. What Jung would call my Shadow has made some uninvited, cameo appearances. But being an Elder isn’t about perfection, or lack of regret, or being right. Not at all. It’s about having all of that experience in life, honoring it, learning from it, reflecting on it. It’s about bringing forward the richness of life, the multitude of experiences, and hopefully the wisdom that’s been gained on a long journey. It’s about being able, when asked, to summon some wisdom and being to deliver it with clarity and, hopefully, kindness. It’s not about instant answers. It’s about being willing to sit for as long as it takes with not knowing and embarking on a process that will eventually call forth some responses.

I believe I am learning how to do just that. I’m working on it . It seems important for me to do this. I’ve been working on it for more than 6 decades.

So why is it, then, that younger people aren’t listening to older people? This is a funny idea and a strange question. Didn’t I myself once believe you should never trust anybody over 30? Wasn’t most of what my grandparents told me about life just plain wrong? Actually, it’s not older people who need to be listened to. Nope. It’s Elders. And Elders are those who occupy the space of being an Elder. They declare that they are Elders by their words and actions and presence. Maybe they are acknowledged by their community. Maybe not. That doesn’t matter. They have some wisdom and stories to dispense. They can take the seemingly complex and see through it. Or try to. When somebody is stuck and doesn’t know what to do, s/he could think, “I will ask the Elder. Maybe that will be of help.”

So being an Elder is probably a lot like fulfilling other functions in life. Some Elders are going to turn out to be frauds, nut jobs, charlatans, quacks. You’d have to be crazy to listen to them. But others would be worth talking to. If the advice makes sense it should be taken. If it doesn’t, it should be discarded. Talking to an Elder is not a form of abdication of personal wisdom, it’s a useful adjunct to whatever else one does to find answers to life’s questions.

Obviously, being an Elder is a work in process. I know that many who read this might be thinking about these questions with me. Am I ready to become an Elder? How would I do that? What does it mean to do that? How can I be of service to my community? How can I step up.? I’m hoping we can ask these questions, and that we can change our world, one Elder at a time.

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miércoles, agosto 18, 2010

Four Haikus

If I were a dream
would you wake up smiling?
Or would you forget?

If I were a dream
would I forget myself?
Whom would I recall?

If I were a dream
who would know I was real?
Who'd remember me?

If I were dreaming
would angels' tin wings flap
and frogs praise the dawn?



martes, agosto 17, 2010


Some of my haikus
are diamonds, some are gravel.
I walk anyway.



Meanwhile, Good Things In The Amazon Of Ecuador


Night fog. Not like soup.
No. Like damp cricket music.
There will be no moon.



lunes, agosto 16, 2010

A Wonderful Photo

Guru Maharaji reading Ram Dass's book, Be Here Now.

What a wonderful photograph.

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sábado, agosto 14, 2010


Chasing, chasing me
a dream jaguar with huge teeth.
Heart pounding. Awake.



martes, agosto 10, 2010


This is beyond alarming. It's a graphic representation of increasing economic misery.


Weather Report Haiku For This Evening

Night brings cooling rain,

Round puddles emerge from dust.

Cat stays home with dog.



lunes, agosto 09, 2010

On Monday The Bloguero Slept Late

Well, sorta. I'm not Harry Kemelman and this isn't Barnard's Crossing. And it's not 1964, though on some levels it feels like it. I mean: there are a zillion right wing nutjobs trying to repeal the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and deport 15 million people, and somehow those terrible ideas aren't even being greeted with even the vituperation Barry Goldwater got when he suggested carpet bombing Vietnam back into the stone age (as if that were possible without killing everyone on Earth). On the vituperate scale, Barry G got a 6. The current mischagas gets about a 4. Or less. What I'm talking about is a country gone insane. Just like 1964.

I know. It's hot. Very hot. When it's August, all of the psychiatrists go to Martha's Vineyard for the month, leaving behind voicemails that tell their distraught clientele to go to the emergency room if they need to. If I were having cocktails right now in Chilmark, and I hasten to say that I'm not, I'd probably think that such a message was a good idea too. But it's not. It doesn't take into consideration the overwhelming, gigantic epidemic of mental disease and delusion now festering in America in the form of amnesiac tea baggers, Glenn Beck devotees, birthers, racists, kooks of all stripes, dittoheads and a Republican Congress that for all its orange skin and blow dried hair should have its own chapter in the DSM IV. Yes, I know. These loons don't have shrinks who are on vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Correct. The people whose shrinks are in Martha's Vineyard, people like me, living in New York and Boston, are in far worse condition: they're sweltering in an apartment that cannot make it cooler than 80 degrees, the air is awful, and the only thing on the tube is the constant, annoying blathering of people so deranged that they throw even those like me, those with minor, urban, post information age neuroses into serious crisis. You could take me for an example.

Let's look at one thing, ok? I heard today that the oil from the BP spill is all but disappeared and that soon Louisiana fisherman are going to start fishing and shrimping again. Because, allegedly, that's now safe and we all believe the Government and the pants-on-fire team at BP about that. It's safe? I'll believe it when I see BP's executives eating oysters off the halfshell. Till then, I'm sorry, I can't accept that. Oil and all that Corexit, all gone now? Nonsense. In fact, these stories enrage me. They are, to me, like tickling dynamite with a blowtorch. If I had a shrink, I'd be speed dialing already. "Help me," I'd whimper, grasping the Blackberry in icy, flinching hands, "The most violent, greedy, despicable inmates have taken over the asylum. And I need your help to deal with it."

I know Obama and the Democrats were supposed to be able to play 11-dimensional chess when they took over. Right now, I'm wondering whether they can even play checkers. It's too hot to be charitable, and the neighbors, that is, the other occupants of this country, are becoming louder and more deranged every day. The summer heat is making the country even more insane.

Maybe what I need is a cocktail and a new outgoing message.


viernes, agosto 06, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dream Antilles! On 8/7/10 You Are Five.

I almost missed it. I almost missed the actual 5 year anniversary of this blog. It's 8/7/10.

This is post number 814. I am astonished.

Thank you for visiting.

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Hiroshima After 65 Years

Sixty-five years ago, after learning that a friend who was reported missing after the bombing of Hiroshima had turned up in a hospital there, my mother put together a meager care package and set out from our home in Shikoku to pay a visit. When she returned, she shared her friend’s description of that morning in August 1945.

Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye. “I just felt outraged,” she told my mother, weeping.

Even though I didn’t fully grasp its import at the time, I feel that hearing that horrifying story (along with the word outrage, which put down deep, abiding roots in my heart) is what impelled me to become a writer. But I’m haunted by the thought that, ultimately, I was never able to write a “big novel” about the people who experienced the bombings and the subsequent 50-plus years of the nuclear age that I’ve lived through — and I think now that writing that novel is the only thing I ever really wanted to do.

In Edward W. Said’s last book, “On Late Style,” he gives many examples of artists (composers, musicians, poets, writers) whose work as they grew older contained a peculiar sort of concentrated tension, hovering on the brink of catastrophe, and who, in their later years, used that tension to express their epochs, their worlds, their societies, themselves.

As for me, on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology, I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night . . . . . . and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage, just feeling the peculiarly concentrated tension, as if doing so (while doing nothing) were an art form in itself. And for that old Japanese man, perhaps sitting there alone in silent protest will be his own “late work.”

Kenzaburo Oe received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994. This excerpt and the photo are from The New York Times,

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martes, agosto 03, 2010



Circus elephants,
Do you recall the forest?
There is no cement.


Circus elephants,
Did you forget the forest?
I too am crying.


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