Appropriate? or Appropriation?

Austin, TX is a “humid, sub-tropical” climate.  In my daily activities, the “strenuously casual” dress of where I came from Davis, CA. It is a hot-summer Mediterranean climate, so drier than here. My clothing is less appropriate here, but a suit, even a tropical suit, is too hot and too dressy for everyday wear. For the Capitol, it’s different.

The guayabera originated in similar climates (Cuba and/or Mexico). It is lightweight, traditionally white, and left untucked. It has some populist connotations, especially when worn by politicians. It has been urged as a revolt against the European suits of the colonizers. Here, I find the actions of the “suits” in the capitol revolting.

It is appropriate for this climate. Is it appropriate for a straight white male of predominantly Great Britain origin? Or is that appropriation by a member of the dominant ethnic group? Or is it an appropriate way to distance myself from the ruling group?

This morning I watched a video of the governor of Hawai’i, David Ige, talk about measures being taken around the eruptions in Lower Puna. He was wearing a pressed, button down Aloha shirt. The two officials mentioned, Tom Travis and Mike Kaleikini, can also be seen in other videos making statements wearing similar shirts. In Hawai’i this kind of shirt is formal wear, replacing the coat and tie or suit and tie.

The Aloha shirt was a commercial invention by a Chinese merchant based on earlier designs by a Japanese immigrant made from kimono fabrics. So it’s an appropriation of an appropriation, typical of so much of current culture in Hawai’i.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto
I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.

Terrence of Rome

Who decides what is appropriate use or appropriation?

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The Great Silence

At a writer’s retreat in a former convent, the leader, a Zen Buddhist practitioner, spoke of the Great Silence, a practice shared by many monastic traditions. Silence is observed by the whole community from dinner to breakfast the next morning. At the time I thought, “If I observed that, I’d be single before the year ended.” Monastics by definition are single, so that’s not a consideration for them.

In the weeks afterwards, I realized I can observe an Internet silence, no news or social media. Every night around dinner time I back up the day’s work and shut the laptop off. It is not turned back on until after morning coffee and Morning Pages. I only look at the weather prediction until after breakfast.

Austin Kleon, one of my favorite writers on the creative path, said “You can be woke without waking up to the news“. On our recent trip from Texas to Northern California, I sat with my back to the TV during breakfast. On several occasions we turned the sound down or off. We generally tuned it out. I wanted breakfast in peace. The glazed/hypnotized look on many of the watchers didn’t encourage me to turn around and watch. Mostly these were single people. Couples and families had an easier time resisting the “plug-in drug”.

Try a little silence. It will give you something to reflect on.

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Review: The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner

I enjoyed Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Tiffany Aching stories.  The first page always grabbed me and the climaxes made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  We lost a great writer when he passed away last fall.  The last few books as he struggled with Alzheimer’s were uneven in spots.  He wrote the important passages and his assistant stitched them together.  Even then, they were wonderful stories. His passing left a void.

His publisher is attempting to fill that void with The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories, the second collection of stories written when he was a 17 year old junior reporter for the local paper.  These are good stories, though juvenile as you would expect.  Terry was not a child prodigy.  There are bits that foreshadow his adult work, e.g., “Blow this for a lark.” The last story in the collection is the core of the Bromeliad Trilogy.

I bought this book, rationed the stories, and will now donate it to the library.  I will check out the first book if it’s available.  If not, I may wait until I’m hungry for any new Terry Pratchett book, even a 17 junior reporter’s one.

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La Bloga

First publication of the year, “Condemned”, published on La Bloga, “The world’s longest-established Chicana Chicano, Latina Latino literary blog.” Edward Vidaurre, Poet Laureate of McAllen, TX, read at the Austin Poetry Society’s Open Mike earlier this month. To continue the tone of his reading, I read the “Condemned” draft from my notebook. He liked it and asked me to send him a copy to post on the Poets Responding section of Facebook. La Bloga picked it up and included it in February 2018 Ends, Final On-line Floricanto Of the Month. It’s one of several poems, just keep scrolling til you find it.

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Review: Chasing Francis

Chasing Francis—A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a novel with workbook and bibliography attached. The novel is not great art, but it is an engaging read. I read it in two sittings, unusual for me. I tend to read material like this at bedtime over a week or two. The premise of the novel is straightforward. Chase, an evangelical megachurch’s pastor/founder has a crisis of faith and comes unraveled in the pulpit. The Elders vote to give him time to get himself together.

With no wife and few friends outside the church, he has little to hold him at home. On impulse he calls up a distant relative, Uncle Kenny, born and raised Southern Baptist who converted to Roman Catholicism and is now a Franciscan priest in Italy. Uncle Kenny invites him to Italy. With little urging, he goes.

The teachings of St. Francis are gently introduced as he follows in the saint’s footsteps. The food and espresso coffee of Italy play a strong supporting role. He meets an interesting assortment of Franciscans and others carrying out St. Francis’ call/mission in a variety of ways, including two survivors of the genocide in Rwanda who are now engaged in reconciliation and peacemaking.

Chase is converted to a post-evangelical view of the church, working in the church and the world, following Francis’ and Jesus’ teachings. He returns to his church to present his new vision/mission for the church. It receives mixed reviews.

To say more would be a plot spoiler. The ending is open-ended and realistic. The miracles were small and back in Italy.

The appendices ask a number of pointed, open-ended questions about how Francis’ (and Jesus’) teachings square with the reader’s faith. Some are explicitly about the evangelical view of faith. I’m not in an evangelical church, so I had to ignore or reframe. Most apply to any Christian. For a non-Christian to read the book and struggle with the questions would require a lot of reframing.

The author is an Episcopalian priest, so the story is not self-serving of his institutional church.

The bibliography is heavy on Francis’ life and teachings. There are relevant non-Catholic sources, e.g., Walter Bruegemann’s Prophetic Imagination and Finally Comes the Poet. I’m reading the latter and find it relevant though it comes from a different direction to much the same conclusions.

I think this a good read for anyone, especially Christians, who have found that their religious institution no longer is enough.

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Grey Brother

Gray Brother

Grey Brother comes, speaking to me
and I listen for I know
that if I do not, he will act in my name,
with my face, and people will
claim it was me that did it
when I know I was elsewhere,
asleep and getting my rest, so I listen.

This is Grey Brother, I want you to listen
to him and ponder his words for
Grey Brother does not lie but it is hard
to find what it is he does not
lie about.
Come let us go, walk together
in the garden
In the cool of the evening and tell
what we have heard and seen 
And ponder the words of Grey Brother
for he does not lie.
Ask, "What does he say and what
does he say it of?"
Ask, "What did he see and why did
not we?"
Should we go and look to see
and know for ourselves?
For Grey Brother does not lie.

Grey Brother came to me this morning
as I was walking and he walked
with me, pacing his steps to mine,
Pitching his words low that I
might and others not hear him.
For his words were for my ears
and not another's, for they might
not give me what is mine.
I listened and made note of his
words and listened to the
sound of his passing.
Footsteps matched, so only one is
Tread light, that none might
note his passing.
Only his words come without lies
and I? I am left to find
the truth where there are no lies.

This was first published in The Perch, vol. 4, Fall 2017. The Perch is Yale Medical School, Dept. of Psychiatry’s Arts & Literary Journal. “Grey Brother” is on page 16. This is also a magazine of some powerful writing not suitable for bedtime reading. Also remember that the speaker in the poem is not necessarily the author.

I wrote Grey Brother twenty years ago and have submitted it six times for publication. Took me that long to find the right place. I think I wrote it after hearing someone describe another writer being “dogged by depression all his life.” Grey Brother in my imagination is a gray wolf. Other people see him differently.

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Shape Shifter

Shape Shifter

"The desert is the ultimate labyrinth."
— Arab proverb

The stars have gone all strange.
The compass wanders
and will not hold.
The dunes shift in the night,
and if I'm not watching,
again in the day.

Lost is an inadequate word here.
"There" is just a mirage and
"here" isn't much clearer. I'm
beginning to doubt the sand
on which I stand. That tree
was over there when, weary,
I lay down to sleep. It didn't
go bump in the night, only shifted.

"Beware the shapeshifter!"

I was watching for an animal, or
a human. This is worse.

First appeared in Gathering Storm Magazine, Year 1, Issue 5. Click on the cover for Issue 5 (the scarecrow and windmill). Use the arrow on the right side to go to pages 14 and 15. The illustration (great!) is their choice. I like it. I’m getting ready to send them another batch of poems.

Note: several of the pieces in the magazine are not suitable for bedtime reading.

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Publications list complete

I’ve completed the list of publications.  See the menu bar just below the picture for the link.

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There’s No Before Cancer

There's No Before Cancer

Surgery or chemo does not
mark the beginning
of the fight against cancer.

Human immune systems routinely
eliminate up to a million
traitorous cancer cells

You have always been fighting cancer
and, up until recently,
winning. But now
reinforcements are called for,
bring out the heavy guns, and hope
for good targeting and little
collateral damage.

After they declare
"Mission Acomplished,"
thank them,
thank your body too
as it continues solo,
the fight against cancer.

First published in Illya’s Honey, Summer 2017 issue, #25. To reach, go to the Website, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Summer 2016 (typo) link. Again scroll down to #25 and click. Illya’s Honey is a Russian folktale about a miraculous healing potion.

I long thought cancer somehow managed to hide from your immune system. I mean, they are your cells, right? Turns out not to be the case. So I wrote this poem, probably for myself and maybe other cancer survivors. There are a lot of cancer survivors. 40% of the US population will have cancer sometime in their life.

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The Grammar of Juggling

The Grammar of Juggling

What started with a few smooth stones,
expanded: backwards, inside out,
with more and fewer stones;
gathering nuts from the eucalypts,
immigrants now natives.
They lack gravitas. They wander
in the breeze off the fog, though
eucalypts and fog are always
together in my heart for this place.

The fog has a sound that smothers
the whine of tires, crowding it
into a second or two though
when unencumbered,
it fills the space between the hills.

Sound: wind in the rattlesnake grass,
wild oats further uphill. All walled out
among the pines filled with their own sound.

The eucalypt nuts are green
with the gray of fog. 
Neither are covered
by the grammar
of juggling.

I remember I am using
the grammar of juggling
to regain
lost proprioception.
I do not know where
I all am.

First published in Red River Review, August 2017 issue. Navigating there is tricky. Go to their Website, click on the current issue link, November 2017 at the moment. Scroll to the bottom of the page, click on previous issues link. Scroll to the bottom of that page and click on August 2017 link. Mine is #30.

This poem was written as an exercise in a writing retreat led by Jane Hirshfield at Santa Sabina Retreat Center in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, CA. She led us through a list, choosing 5 abstract nouns, so many verbs, adjectives or qualities, etc. Then we were to write a poem using them.

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