You can’t sleep here

The old woman is sleeping. Her eyes are closed and her chin sits on the top of her bundle of possessions. Her hands dangle in her lap, arms rest on her thighs. She sits heavily on the blue metal bench. Her gray hair is neatly fashioned in a tight bun on the top of her head. The woman wears no makeup on her pale, slightly ruddy face. Her clothes have that washed-out no particular color look and fit loosely over her large body.

The green plastic chair is the first thing I see as I approach the transit station. It is overturned and tied to the top of her cart. Everything and nothing gives her away as someone who has nowhere to go. But mostly it is the cart or rather the possessions in the cart, which I can’t actually see. I can see several full plastic bags and something large and dark blue. It could be a blanket or a sleeping bag folded up. Everything in the cart is as tidy as her hair. The cart is not a grocery store cart. It is the kind of two-wheeled cart one can buy to tote groceries from the store.

This is what I see as I pass. I think how hard it is to just get enough sleep when you are homeless. You sleep in small frames of time never having enough to really recharge, to really give your body and your mind, particularly your mind, what it so needs to survive. Thriving is a wistful dream. Sleep deprivation kills. Even this kind of sleep deprivation shortens your life even if you have a place to live and plenty of nutritional food and exercise and love. If you don’t have these things, there is no reserve and sleep deprivation is more lethal.

While housed people are thinking about how to have healthier longer lives, the old woman just wants to sleep. And Christ, is that too much to ask? Apparantly so. As I board the train, I see two police, one on each side of her. I see her outstretched hand holds something. An identification? The train begins to move slowly out of the station and the woman stands up, begins pushing her cart, moves away from the bench, from sleep. Weariness in her every lumbering step.

Be here now — We’re not

Six degrees of separation is about connectivity. The theory is that you know A who knows B who knows C who knows D who knows E who knows F. Though at the time it was postulated at five degrees, the theory was first developed in 1929 in response to the observation that telephonic communication and faster modes of travel were shrinking the social world making distance less relevant in the structuring of our social webs. The closer we are bound together by our technology, the less constrained we are by time and distance. Crossing the ocean can be physically accomplished in a matter of hours for those with the necessary resources. Almost anyone can cross that same distance with their voice in the time it takes to establish the connection. Speed dial shortens this time to a press of one button, and if the call is answered immediately, then maybe one or two seconds have elapsed.

Six degrees of separation may or may not be an accurate theory. It is of mathematical design, tested by mathematicians at universities. It makes a good round for the internet and everyone tries to reach Kevin Bacon, which runs his name through everyone’s mind and ups his famosity meter. Now Bacon is using the concept to raise money for charities.

As we draw closer together, separation from our physical world is increasing. We have accomplished six degrees of separation from being present in the world. Here I define the world as the natural world. Earth, sky, water, time. Soil, stream, air, this moment, last moment, next moment.

Separation level one–asphalt or concrete path between our feet and the soil;

Separation level two–vehicle traffic drowns out the sounds of nature of things that live in the sky;

Separation level three–ipod music, separates us from the sounds of traffic;

Separation level four–cell phone separates us from our spatial environment by placing us with the other person in a kind of telephonic space;

Separation level five–cell phone texting separates us from the sound of another person’s voice into the more abstract and symbolic world of cyberspace;

Separation level six–cell phone with camera which interprets the visual world while we text so that we do not see directly where we are, but only through the filter of the camera lens.

Sharks, guppies & puppies

Evening, Gresham Central Transit Station. Max is stopped, the gate is down, no way I’m going to catch it. I run with my bike because I don’t want to get a ticket for riding on the platform. I can’t believe it. I’m going to catch it . . . right up to the doors and I’m lifting my bike to take the stairs . . . the door closes in front of me.

It’s not raining. I won’t get pissy about it. I make the call home. Just missed the train. A courtesy guy gives me a strobe light for signaling buses in the dark. He talks about bus drivers who won’t stop, how the city has grown and isn’t friendly. People from other places, he says, from harder places bring their meanness. His accent is south of the border, but he’s a Portlander, looking at the strangers who are making this place hard.

Over Courtesy Guy’s shoulder Guardian Angel approaches, belly hanging over his large winged silver belt buckle. Bright yellow nunchucks dangle from his belt. He holds up his cell phone/camera and snaps the inside of the shelter. Seeing something there invisible to me. A police cruiser slips up to the curb. I can see it through the etched and frosted leaves, idling there, watching the Angel. Or watching for gangstas, or watching for kids on skateboards, for maniacs in wheelchairs who stop on the tracks and refuse to move, watching for ticket sharing scofflaws. Society’s delicate balance at risk. The cruiser moves on. The Angel flips through the pictures he took. A not-in-service train comes, stops impotently, goes, and finally, the westbound to Hillsboro train.

I call my friend whose brother can’t find his way. He’s living in his truck, smells of diesel and decay. He’s calling shelters, getting that TB test next week. She can’t let him stay, can’t lose her housing. She can’t take care of her brother. It’s so hard to live in a world about money and property, not people.

I hear cards shuffling and watch a boy in a hoodie. Young card shark, shuffles his deck. Says to the boy across the aisle, “Hey dude. Hey dude. Hey dude, pick a card.”

The boy shakes his head, but finally takes a card. Shark says, “Remember your card. Remember your card.” He places the card on the top of the deck and says, “Tell me when to stop cutting.” Cuts the deck three or four times, the boy says stop. Shark starts tossing the cards, one by one, on an empty seat. He goes fast. Only hesitates once. Then he stops, says, “I guarantee. I guarantee. The next card is yours. If it’s not yours, I pay you $5 dollars, if it is yours, you pay me $1. Are you in?”

I can see the boy’s been drawn in, but doesn’t want to be. He shrugs. The shark flips the card. “Is that your card?”

“No.”

“Damn, I lost five bucks.” The shark gathers up his cards. Some new people get on the train and he tries to pull them in to his game. Finally starts a rap about all the kinds of dope he has on himself. ”I’ve got weed, meth, you name it. I got all kinds of dope.” No takers. He changes his patter. Says, “This is Oregon it’s green up here. Not California. This ain’t California.” Then he goes on about Miss California and marriage between men and women and those democrats complaining about Miss California and at 60th, he gets off the train.

Dogs on the train start barking at each other.

It’s Portland.

We’ll end this thing one swine at a time

Egypt is killing all its pigs. A swineless country on the Nile. That’s just crazy, but if we can’t blame it on the pigs then who? Conspiracy theories. This morning I woke up thinking why haven’t I heard any good conspiracy theories about swine flu. I thought, must be somebody who thinks the drug cartels in Mexico are behind it, must be somebody who thinks a secret government lab in the US has infiltrated Mexico and spread the virus in order to test a new biological weapon delivery system, must be someone who belives that Mexican immigrants are being used by Al-Qaida to weaken the infidel with flu so that they can swoop down upon us with scimitars and mullahs and veil all our women and carry off our children, there has to be a chem-trail conspiracist somewhere who is absolutely certain that the virus fell from the sky. And damn me, if I didn’t find almost everyone of these theories whipping around the internet like eggwhites in a cuisinart.

Was it too warm today?

Some days are just not meant for bitchin’. Everyone floated up to the surface today, stretched, and felt the glorious sun for the first time in many months, a warm sun, a beautiful warm day. We biked out to Peninsula Park, sat between the baseball games and the fountain. We watched a squirrel precariously balancing on one of the topmost twigs of a bare tree. I’d never seen a squirrel go so high. I can’t imagine what it was after, maybe the sun. 

I thought about what it would be like to play the cello in the gazebo. If I knew how to play one, I would go to Peninsula Park on the first warm day in Spring and pull my bow across the strings, bring out that mellow resonance. Cellos, oboes, bassoons, English horns–for me these are like comfort food. There is no anxiety in such instruments. Sadness, melancholy, but no anxiety and no shallowness. 

But I did complain later about being just a little too warm. Just a little. Not enough to jinx it, I think.

Cosmic Dust

We speak of old mountains eroding away, crumbling, truncated by eons of wind, rain, earthquake. But what is old on this planet, this earth? What does it mean to be young? To be old? Even the cosmic dust is as old in its elements as the oldest particle. It is the reformation that is new. As mountains, one is new, another is old. As matter, all are the same.

 

I like to think of cosmic dust falling through the planet’s atmosphere, burned in the friction of air to an invisible speck. So small it slips into a pore of my skin, meanders with determined gravity past cellular atoms to fall out of me at some point of exit further down nearer the ground and there on the earth it lies, slightly contaminated by contact with my interior self. 

 

I imagine it is an infinitesimal fraction of a long dead race of beings come to rest here. I put out my tongue and taste the memories of others dropping radiant from the sky.

sleeping dogs

“What they say about dogs is that sleeping dogs dream and only sleeping dogs. They lie in their dreams. So people say let sleeping dogs lie. Waking up a dreaming dog is inadvisable. A dog suddenly awakened from dream might do anything.“ — Book of Baba, verse 58

 

Chili’s restaurants are closing all over the country. I read this today. I’ve never been to a Chili’s restaurant. It is probably not such a bad thing that they are closing. Except for the people who work in these restaurants who will be losing their jobs. It is hard for them. As hard as working at a Chili’s is the prospect of losing your job working there at a time when a lot of people are losing their jobs and you don’t really know if you will get another one any time soon. Soon enough to keep you from losing all the things you have. 

 

All the things you have. Every book, every dish, every picture, every blanket, towel, tv, cd, everything. This isn’t a fire. There is time to save everything, but nowhere to take it. No one to take it. Your things are junk on the parking strip next to the dumpster. In the dumpster. Garbage to the landlord who has to dispose of it.

 

It is no consolation at all to the waiter, the cook, the manager, that Chili’s was an expression of mediocrity supporting the conservative traditionalist point of view. Accept this crap; it is good crap. Conformista.

 

Conformista is a Spanish concept. Almost the same as conforming, but we Estados Unidas don’t like to say we conform and we have these little pretend rebellions , which usually involve buying something advertised as rebellious. And the end result is conformance to the whims and wishes of the corporate robber barons. 

 

The Mexicans, on the other hand, do not harbor such illusions, such delusions. Conformista — adapting to what is around you. Making the most of the place you are in. Not kicking against the destroyers. Maybe this is a concept the Spanish were able to sell to the indigenous people and maybe it was easy to hold up the natives to the north as an example. “See what happens when you fight back. You are destroyed. If you don’t want to be destroyed . . . conformista. Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead should be translated into Spanish. 

 

Of course, not every Mexican shrugs and accepts. Not every American eats at Chili’s and believes life is good and just. It is hard to fight against the apathy here and I suspect it is just as hard to fight against it in Mexico. Every culture has its dark side, its own paralytic condition.

 

Religion is a part of that paralysis. It is the thing that is slipped between the lips — the body and the blood, communion — with this bread, with this blood is communicated all the tenets of oppression, in the guise of a savior. Each religion has its own sacraments of enslavement.

 

Religion is a closed loop always coming around to its own argument as a justification for what it says is true. ”It is true because I say it is true.“ ”This book (insert Torah, Koran, Bible, Bhagavid Gita, etc, here) is true because it says it is true.“ You cannot doubt it because it says it is the word of God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Shiva. Every word is true.

 

No its not.

 

Each of these books have some basic truths and each of them have some hideous lies. Each destroys, each is cruel, each is oppressive. Each is a tool of the ones who intend to always be masters by the ”divine right“ of their self-anointing. The king is anointed by God.

 

No he’s not.

 

Put some holy oil on his head and call it good.

 

No its not.

 

If there be God and God is represented by any one of these ”holy“ books, then I put myself outside of the circle. For I am woman, despised of God. The words of these books make a slave of woman, of me, call me whore when men force themselves on me. Say I must not speak in public, must enshroud myself lest my form tempt a man to sin. 

 

What insane world, what mad culture makes a straight line to righteousness through the practice of such evil?

 

Evil it is. No woman should subject herself to that darkness. Every woman who does bears some responsibility for the suffering of future generations of women. Maybe that is the nature of original sin. Allow evil and you visit it upon your sisters. 

 

Oh Eve, what brutality did you fail to protest?

 

The Experiment is Over

Democracy in America is dead. It is official.

Anti-Republican activists, correction–those suspected of being anti-Republican activists, in Minneapolis this week encountered police who aimed rifles at them. This was not even a crowd of protesters. Just people in a van. On the street. In Minneapolis.

While McCain is being annointed to assume the mantle of power, all semblance of democracy has fallen away. Freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble no longer exist in this country.

If we are not willing to fight then we should leave. If we do not love freedom enough to fight for it, then we should leave. If we do not believe in democracy enough to defend it, then we should leave.

Love it or leave it. Peace.

Age of Delightenment

The Age of Delightenment, as it is now so named, began as the 20th century entered its mid-point. After the second of wars considered world wars in that century, there was a hunger to put aside the darkness and sadness and horror born of these wars. Most of the world, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Africa, parts of Asia, Japan and certain of the Pacific Island nations would not so easily shed the memories of war because these were living wounds in the landscape, scars too visible and too deep to turn away from. But America, that enchanted place between the Atlantic and Pacific, in that place the scars were mostly hidden in the men who returned, or visible where limbs were lost or eyes gone blind, but it was easy enough to shunt these off where they would not be troublesome reminders of unpleasantness.

The Age of Delightenment, as it is now so named, began as the 20th century entered its mid-point. After the second of wars considered world wars in that century, there was a hunger to put aside the darkness and sadness and horror born of these wars. Most of the world, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Africa, parts of Asia, Japan and certain of the Pacific Island nations would not so easily shed the memories of war because these were living wounds in the landscape, scars too visible and too deep to turn away from. But America, that enchanted place between the Atlantic and Pacific, in that place the scars were mostly hidden in the men who returned, or visible where limbs were lost or eyes gone blind, but it was easy enough to shunt these off where they would not be troublesome reminders of unpleasantness.

The main thing was that the depression was over, thank God! The men were home from the war. Things could get back to a normal that never was. A normal that was carefully constructed to assuage the hunger of the people for the fruit of the pursuit of happiness. And not so incidentally to continue to provide wealth to those hungry gods who profited so enormously from the wars.

Thus did the Age of Delightenment begin. Aided so magically by the invention of television and household machinery. Life of ease, careless. An age where science really was the religion, though the old religion stood guard over the practice of ritual so that the common thought was: Science, God willing, would cure everything. Perhaps even death could be vanquished. We are rightly stunned by such hubris from our vantage point in the future. But imagine living in that time when terrible diseases like polio, syphilis, smallpox, anthrax, tuberculosis were beaten back, beaten down, cured to such an extent that most of them existed only as specimens in rigidly guarded containment. Our scientists smugly declared these viruses to be eradicated. Though some of them still pestered what was regarded as the Third World. Anyone traveling there had to be sure to be inoculated against them, especially tuberculosis.

And such wonderful things were on the horizon. A cure for cancer could be out there, graspable. Cryogenics–all you had to have was enough money and you could be suspended in a tank waiting for the cure of whatever killed you in the first place. Revivication, frankenstein nation. You could live forever.

Medicine had advanced so much and advertised itself as having advanced so much further than it had that people were absolutely indignant, actually outraged, when their loved ones died, when a baby died, when a child died, when a man in his prime, a woman in her glory, died. Sue the doctors, the hospital, sue them, someone must pay.

We lived in a world of euphemism. People didn’t die, they passed as if they were just walking by you on the street into some other country from which they would not return. That was the juncture of the old religion and the new.

It is easy for us to look back and shake our heads in disbelief. How was it possible? How could our predecessors have been so blind, such idiots? As we pick our way through the ruins, through the thin strata of soil covering the armature of their architecture, we have the vantage point of time and knowledge. We have the history between them and us. We know what happened. Who are we to say we are any different? Would we not pick the fruits and eat them, choosing the best for ourselves because it is within reach. Delightenment. The roots of the word come from the ancient, ancient world. Delectare: to select from.

Science was ever-changing, ever evolving, reaching out to the future and back to the beginnings. Describing the origins of the universe and the end of time. Science had its own priesthood. Men and women in laboratory uniform spent their days cloistered in clean rooms protected by airlocks, speaking their incantations over strands of DNA. They constructed massive particle accelerators seeking subatomic particles to prove their theories of quantum physics.

Wasn’t it a wonderful world? I see you shaking your head, filled with sorrow and sympathetic remorse. You say if science was building with one hand, it was tearing down with the other. Science in the employ of destruction, tool of greed.

If we know anything now, I think we know that no one stands on the top of the hill forever. If nothing else, the hill itself will come down. The earth shrugged, stretched and swatted at the vermin on its skin. And science could not save them. Science could not win. And God was already dead, being just an image as frozen as the head of Rupert Murdoch.

The Age of Delightenment is remarkable for having been so short-lived among the annals of ages. However, like other paradigmatic shifts the defining characteristics, such as prodigious self-indulgence, were confined to a narrow geography. The era is regarded as important solely because the dominant culture was wallowing in it. As history is written by members of the dominant culture it follows that what is recorded is their own history. The conditions of existence, the accomplishments and disappointments, the day-to-day struggles of the rest of the world disappear into the ground, like worm-castings, underfoot. Their richness and the enigma of their existence left to be uncovered centuries later by archeologists.

(next article in series: Enlitenment)