The Hard Work – Anxiety

Teachings are helpful, but often times I need a concrete example. The poem “Beg for Love” by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir is a teaching. The accompanying concrete example, along with the artwork, reminds me how to put the teaching to work.

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Misheard and Misread

Mishearing as a creative act lays out the case for misinterpretations of other people’s words/lyrics/statements as potential sparks for new creative works. I’ve several poems in progress like that: I knew my wife said, “You can’t lead where you haven’t gone.” and that I heard, “You can’t leave where you haven’t gone.”

This can also happened with things misread or mis-seen. A T-shirt that said “Prefect Circle” with a fold in the middle mis-read as “Perfect Circe”. I’m not sure what a Perfect Circe is, but I’m working on it.

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Reading Poetry

I go to a fair number of poetry readings by visiting poets, Open Mics, and poetry festivals (AIPF, Waco WordFest, Georgetown Poetry). Austin gets a modest number of famous poets reading (e.g., Naomi Shihab Nye several times this year). Most just read their poetry (not Naomi). The Spoken Word people are an obvious exception. “The Word That is a Prayer” by Ellery Akers appears in “Healing the Divide” (review coming when I finish it). My wife says it “caught her heart.” Ellery isn’t a poet that’s known to us. I looked her up. On her Website is the poem and Ellery reading it. When a man on a street corner says, “Please”, I can hear his voice. Nice.

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Mid-Course Corrections

Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
– Rumi

There are several models of spiritual/social/emotional development, e.g Fowler’s Stage of Faith, Ken Wilbur’s Integral Psychology, and Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God. The number of stages, names, and focus may vary, but by and large they agree. Fowler’s Stages of Faith is one of the earliest descriptions and the canonical text later writers worked to improve on. Ken Wilbur talks in terms of earlier and later stages, avoiding the implied value judgement in higher and lower stages. Chopra’s How to Know God gives the most approachable descriptions of the later stages.

Comparing their stages and my own experience, I find stages in adults earlier than my own appear naive and simplistic. Stages later than my own appear radical, even crazy, and naive in a different way, usually prefaced by, “in the real world.” Jesus’ Beatitudes is this way. It’s so out radical that the institutional church’s interpretation rarely does it justice.

Wilbur is an academic and writes for a very educated, literate audience. Chopra writes for a broader audience, a more “low church” audience.

The usual path through stages in childhood result in the bulk of the population in one of two stages. The earlier stage is focused on fear, safety, security, the past, tradition. The later stage is more focused on hope, improvement, and the future. Generally, people have a home stage. Stress and hard times can move them temporarily into an earlier stage. Good times can push them into a later stage.

Most people stop developing as adults. Some continue on their own. Others are pushed by circumstances to resume development. Transitions between stages are painful. The “old” rules no longer apply.

Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

Tony Robbins

The earlier of the two stages most adults end up in is usually rule or “law” based. To these people, the Rumi quote is nonsense, criminal, anarchy, and chaos. Right and Wrong they understand, live by, and rebel against. Thousands of years ago, the Rule of Law was a great advance over Might Makes Right. Too often the Law is taken too literally and too legalisticaly. It has become an idol to worship and an obstacle to seeing your suffering neighbor. This is what the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures rail against. They hold the powerful and privileged accountable for not living the teachings on charity and restorative justice.

The Good Samaritan parable is an example of this in Jesus’ teachings. Samaritans were the Jews left behind in the Babylonian Exile. They were the least and the last, not even worth taking as slaves. When the Jews returned 60 years later with new ideas and rituals adopted and adapted from and in Babylon, the new orthodoxy declared apostates, worse than even non-believers (pagans). A Samaritan is the hero of Jesus’ parable, someone beyond legalistic notions of right and wrong.

In moving to the later stages, right and wrong (binary or dualistic thought) becomes less helpful. A more nuanced approach is like steering a car or ship. Where am I? Where do I want to be? What course corrections are needed? A ship at sea doesn’t have landmarks to go by, so direction replaces location. While steering corrections are frequent (changes in direction caused by waves and wind, needed for curves, debris, and other cars in the road), all require course corrections. Right and wrong aren’t helpful.

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Going to Work

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison
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Community vs. Clubhouse

José Luis Vilson writes a blog on education, specifically middle school math education. He emphasizes how much of education is supporting past and present injustice. A recent post, Where We Belong, captures a key aspect of current society and education in the United States. He contrasts clubhouses with secrets handshakes and communities that are welcoming to all interested. Clubhouses often focus in who is excluded (e.g. Calvin and Hobbs’ “No Girls” treehouse).

The clubhouse is so easy to do. Welcoming communities requires care, attention, and stewardship from a big heart.

There is a second important point in his post, including the people doing the work, asking their opinions and experience, and giving them the power to help manage the system. The Toyota Production System gave the factory floor workers the power to stop production when something wasn’t working and get it corrected. José Luis Vilson was the first working math educator to give the keynote address. To put a point on it, all previous addresses were largely untested hypotheses presented by academic as if they were proven laws. People have been suggesting including the workers (factories) and users (buildings) for years. Progress is being made and it’s slow.

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Policing by Consent

Most police departments in the United Kingdom use the 9 Principles of Policing (authorship attributed to Robert Peel without evidence). It is about policing by consent. In the United States, many police departments have been moving towards the military model in dress and equipment. In many minority communities, the police look more like an occupying army.

In Consent, Policing, and School Safety the differences between police in the two countries is contrasted. As the post author says about a frequent appearence of police, “They were dressed for war—not to serve and protect.” US police kill 15 times as many people per capita as the next developed country and 20 times the third. This is not serving the nation, the population, or the police well.

Most of the point are things I had read here and there. Seeing it all in one place made it clear this is policy to move away from. The heavy gun ownership in the US (more than one per person) makes change difficult.

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Decency in Politics

I read David Brooks’ column in the New York Times because he brings a new slant to the conversation. I know almost nothing about Marianne Williamson, a Democratic candidate for President. She is not one of the front runners. Just trying to track the top three and have a life is a challenge. Brooks’ recent column entitled “Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump” got my attention. It’s a take down of Trump for his corrupting influence on traditional American values. His take on the Democrats is they are a party of economics for the middle class and poor, i.e. materialism. They have no clue how to counter Trump’s emotional appeal. “It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort.”

His solution? “We need an uprising of decency.” I agree.

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Poetry and Politics

Poetry has always had a connection to politics. Much of the Hebrew prophets are recorded in poetry. In an interview with poet Michael Astrue, politically conservative, who goes by the pen name “A.M. Juster” he cites “For the Student Strikers” by Richard Wilbur, 60s poet of the left.

For the Student Strikers

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.
It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.
Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.
They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

by Richard Wilbur

We across the political spectrum need to push ourselves and the nation to a return to civility and decency. Democracy requires it. Dictatorship is almost inevitable without it. Read the whole interview here.

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My Daily Cup of Coffee

It’s not just my daily cup of coffee. In the early days of chemo, I promised my wife I would tell her that I loved her, she was beautiful, that I’d make her coffee, and be silly everyday. The first two promises I have always kept, though not necessarily first thing in the morning. The third promise I kept every day we were at home. While traveling, I brought her coffee from the hotel. Being silly was often beyond me at first. My record has gotten better to the point where neither of us pay much attention to the promise and how I’m doing.

Coffee has gotten more serious. We joke about doing the American Coffee Ceremony, each night being sure the “ritual utensils” are clean, making it a ritual, exactly the same each time so I can “do it in my sleep”. The chemo messed with my adrenal and thyroid hormones, so being fully awake first thing in the morning is a challenge.

Problems with Austin water, bad batches of coffee, have led to us using spring and/or filtered water, changing bean suppliers and roasts. Problems with head aches and stomach upsets have led us to switch from Melitta cones, to the Clever Coffee Dripper, to a DeLonghi espresso machine. Along the way I’ve searched coffee blogs for how hot to steam almond milk which led us to using oat milk for our lattes.

The upshot is thinking a lot about coffee from our end and about the coffee growers, roasters, distributors, and retailers. Most coffee beans we use on a regular basis cost around $1 per ounce (e.g. $11.99 for a 12 ounce bag of whole beans). I tried some Allegro Vienna Roast that was cheaper and it tasted like it. How much of that goes to each link in the chain.

Changing Challenges & Solutions for Guatemalan Coffee Producers gave me an eye-opening look into what it’s like at the other end of the chain. Challenging. There are three areas in the US that grow coffee: Hawai’i, California, and Puerto Rico. I’ve toured a boutique coffee plantation in Hawai’i near where my sister lives. Very good coffee in the tasting room. Never could duplicate it with the bag I bought ($25 for a half pound) at home. The owners kept their hands clean. The workers didn’t have it so good. The coffee in Puerto Rico is fairly good coffee, but doing the dirty work of picking and processing the coffee beans doesn’t pay a living wage. She now sends me a bag of Ka’u varietal every Christmas from a more reputable grower. California is doing super-boutique coffee that can sell for as much as $600 per pound. The production amount is tiny compared even to Hawai’i. Where I can, I buy Fair Trade coffee. I will find more way to do so. Doing Justice.

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