Thursday, November 26, 2020

Joe Biden

 


Joe Biden gave a speech yesterday.  He stood in front of a yellow backdrop, the color of sunrise, or of the lymphatic system.  There were two American flags, or it may have been four.  His design team has created a transition logo with a small, tasteful “46” at the base of the presidential seal; this may run afoul of the presidential seal style guidelines, but no one seems to be complaining.

Joe Biden walked on stage, looking like the old man that he is.  His walk has that combination of stiffness and teeteriness that suggests a fractured hip is in the realm of possibility.  As he crosses the stage, you see him in profile, and you notice that mini-mullet-flip of white hair at the back.  Like all of us, he probably assesses his appearance by how he looks straight-on in the mirror, so the mini-mullet-flip doesn’t really come into play.  Joe Biden looks straight ahead when he walks, which may be a strategy to avoid a fall, but it gives him an air of purposefulness.     

Joe Biden talked about his own loss and suffering, which he is not shy about doing.  He quoted the psalms.  He said, “To love your neighbor as you would love yourself is a radical act.”  I wonder how many so-called Christians in America heard this.  


Monday, November 23, 2020

Homemade Prayers Vol. 2


 

TCS

Dear God,

Thank you for the TCS* guy,

who comes to set me free

when the car won’t start.

It’s reassuring to see

how orderly everything looks

under the hood,

even though I know

the orderliness is

more or less

an illusion.

Amen.

* Touring Club Suisse, like Triple-A in the US.


Tresspasses

Dear God,

My bad.

Amen.


Sunrise

Dear God,

This morning,

Your indigo sky looks

Somehow both indifferent and loving,

Above the rooftops of the city,

Whose façades of metal and glass strain to reach You,

but know they can’t.

The sky knows what’s going on down there:

People going about their business, etc.

She tolerates patiently,

Like a mother waiting for the child’s tantrum to fizzle out,

Before it falls,

Spent and inarticulate,

Back into your embrace.

Amen.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Palate Cleanser

I reread what I posted yesterday, and I thought I did a decent job summarizing the whole dual/non-dual thinking concept, which is not so easily summarized.  Though for the life of me I cannot figure out what I thought that dream had to do with it.  Witness the risks of trying to publish something every day.

Anyhow.  Here’s a pretty picture from a hike we went on last weekend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Doors

 

This morning I had a fragment of a dream in which I was in the bathroom at the other end of our apartment.  I extended my hand to turn the door handle, which makes a heavy “clack” sound when you turn it.  At that moment, my dream overlapped with my waking experience, and the same “clack” came from down the hall as C exited the bathroom.

I felt the neutral emotion of my dream get displaced by a feeling of annoyance that C was making too much noise and waking us up.  This feeling wasn’t justified: he wasn’t being too loud, and it was already time for me to get up anyway, and I was already half-awake.

I occurred to me that I had just been presented with a metaphor, at a mundane, micro-level, of the difference between dual and non-dual thinking.  Non-duality is a central concept among the neo-contemplative crowd, including Richard Rohr, Cynthia Borgeault, and Thomas Keating.  The basic idea goes like this: our perception of reality is conditioned by an “egoic operating system” which makes sense of  things by differentiating between them: I know an apple is an apple because it is not a unicycle, I know three is three because it’s not four, and so on. 

Our sense of ourselves and our reality follows the same framework: I know who “I” am because I am not you.  This “this-or-that” logic creates additional binary categories like good and evil, right and wrong, yes or no. 

This way of thinking isn’t all bad.  It comes in quite handy as we go about our lives, doing our jobs, and going from place to place.  But, as Rohr argues, “the dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues.” 

In The Wisdom Jesus, Bourgeault applies this thinking to an interpretation of the gospels, arguing that JC was not trying to teach us the difference between good and bad, or between “Godly” vs “Ungodly” living.  Instead, he was trying to show us how to evolve beyond our self-centered, nondual way of thinking and being.    

A prime example is in Matthew 4:17: “From that time on, Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”  An old-school Christian interpretation of this line might be something like, “Jesus says stop sinning and doing other bad things, because God is keeping score and if your spiritual balance sheet is not in order, you’re not going to get into heaven when the time comes.”  This interpretation is not only false, argue the neo-contemplatives, it's also highly dangerous, and it's led to all sorts of suffering, on the personal and societal level, over the last 2,000 years.

The key to interpreting this passage is in the original Greek word which is translated into “repent.”  That word is metanoia, which literally means “go larger than (or beyond) the mind.”  In other words, get out of your own head, because, guess what?  Heaven is not some nightclub in the sky with St. Peter behind the velvet rope checking to see who’s on the VIP list; it’s right here, right now.  And all you have to do to experience it is to see things, not from your small selfish perspective, but as God wants you to see them.

This is enlightening stuff, and I know I haven’t done it justice here.  I also admit I find it hard to completely embrace.  Non-duality can easily get swamped by an inchoate, new-agey vibe of “it’s all good, man” which struggles to get traction.  Taken to an extreme, it leads to passivity and even apathy.  I have a tough time reconciling it with other worthy concepts like growth, accomplishment, and positive action.  Nonetheless, spending some time with it (e.g., in meditation or contemplative prayer) does encourage greater empathy, openness, serenity, and, if you will, peace.  And maybe there’s your answer right there.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Crow

I’m reading the Ted Hughes biography by Jonathan Bate.  I’m ashamed to say I knew next-to-nothing about him before starting it, further evidence of the rickety foundations of my undergraduate degree in English, as L is fond of pointing out.  In any case, the book is well done, and Hughes’s life certainly provided no dearth of drama.  Ted Hughes the man was as epic as his poetry.  Over the weekend we stumbled across an audiobook of his reading Tales from Ovid, and his deep northern burr gives one chills.

Dude’s personal life was a major-league mess, though.  His bouncing around between women – marrying one one day, then motoring up to Devon to spend a week in bed with another one the next – is exhausting and almost farcical.  Of course, his larger-than-life sexual energy was central to his mythical persona: as Erica Jong, who only barely escaped becoming one of his conquests, put it, “He was fiercely sexy, with a vampirish, warlock appeal.  He reeked of virility.  He was a born seducer and only my terror of Sylvia’s ghost kept me from being seduced.”  One could cut him some slack and say that he never recovered from Sylvia Plath’s suicide, but that would ignore the fact that his romantic adventures were already in full swing by then, as well as the extent to which they may have contributed to it.    

But really, there’s no slack to be cut, because “judging” Ted Hughes is a waste of time.  If you're worried about karmic justice, it seems that his suffering was at the very least in proportion to his transgressions.  Engaging in self-righteous nit-picking would also make you lose sight of his art, which was by any measure extraordinary.  There’s a lesson here for those lining up to boycott H.P. Lovecraft, or Juno Diaz, or Kanye West, for that matter.  Don’t read or listen to them if you choose, but judging artists on their human failings is fraught with hypocrisy.  More importantly, it prevents you from seeing the humanity (and your humanity) which their work illuminates.


Monday, November 16, 2020

In the future the robots will care for us


 All the races are cancelled, so I perked up last week when I received the email saying that the 20km de Genève was organizing something.  Initial confusion at the subject line which read “2.0km de Genève.” I thought this was either a typo, or that perhaps they had broken down the race into 2.0km intervals, which seemed odd.  Finally I realized that they meant “2.0” as in “version 2.0,” a clever touch further over-egged in the modified logo, which had the “.” in “2.0” at the tip of the accent grave of “Genève,” like a typographical shooting star.  This year’s edition would have the usual choices of 5km/10km/20km distances.  But since we wouldn’t be able to run all together given COVID restrictions, each participant could run whenever they wanted (before Nov 22nd), and we could follow the course and track our times via a smartphone app.  I signed up for the 10km. 

I set the alarm for 7:45, but I woke up a few minutes before it went off. I fed the cats, had coffee and toast with almond butter, drove to the other side of the lake, and parked near the finish line.  I traversed the Paquis (the closest Geneva has to a “red light district”), past a disheveled woman on a park bench speaking loudly to herself and a young African guy listening to music on his phone, which he held at ear level but looked away from.  I arrived at Rue de Lausanne just in time to catch the #15 tram, which would bring me up to the starting line at Place de Nations.  I realized that I had forgotten to bring a mask, which is obligatoire on public transportation now, so I slid the Buff I had brought with me over my head and wore it bandit-style.

Near the front gates of the United Nations, a few other runners milled around, heads bowed as they consulted their phones.  I almost never run with a phone, as I don’t listen to music or anything when I run, and I don’t like to have the extra weight on me.  I also enjoy the feeling of not knowing exactly where I am when I’m running, when the aperture of my senses seems to be at its widest.  On those rare occasions when I have brought my phone with me on a long run, it’s been stowed away in a pocket in my hydration vest, withdrawn only to take a picture if the scenery is especially nice.  I cringe whenever I see someone running with their phone in their hand, as if they were desperately chasing after it.

However, given the set-up of this race, leaving the phone behind wouldn’t be an option, especially if I wanted to “register” my time – something with no tangible value whatsoever, but one likes to be “official” and to compare times with other runners.  I wore a long-sleeve top with a phone-sized pocket over the left breast, so my plan was to put the phone in there, hoping that it wouldn’t bounce around too much.    

The blue sign marking the starting line was attached to a lamppost at the bottom of Avenue de la Paix, which curves up and around the UN headquarters.  As I approached, three fit looking guys fiddled with phones and watches as they engaged in pre-race bouncing-in-place.  They were lean and fast-looking, with close-cropped hair and red knee-high compression socks, so I figured I would let them go first, so I wouldn’t have to endure the psychological blow of watching them speed away from me.  After a few seconds, one of them said, “Okay, allez,” and off they flew, only to come tramping back down the hill around 20 seconds later, frowning and muttering that the app hadn’t started properly.  A moment later, they had sorted things out, and they disappeared around the corner for the second time.

I took out my phone and opened the race app, which required logging in with a registration number I had been emailed.  Once open, the app told me cheerily to “approach the starting point!”  I looked up and confirmed that I was standing immediately next to the start sign, but for some reason the app said I was 35 meters from the start, then 50 meters, then 10 meters, as I assume the GPS was trying to find me.  Then all of a sudden, a synthetic male voice with a British accent began counting down, calmly but very loudly: “TEN…NINE…EIGHT…”  I managed to stuff the phone back in my pocket and get the zipper closed by the time he reached “ONE,” and off I went. 

Normally at the start of a race, you feed on the excitement of the people around you, so you run faster.  This morning, there was no one around me save the stray passing car, but I still found myself breathing and stepping more quickly than I would on a normal Sunday morning. 

Soon the app’s voice (hereafter “the Voice”) switched over to synthetic British female.  She gave a plug for a breast cancer charity.  I huffed up the long hill, past the US mission and the hotel school.  The Voice then instructed me to take my next left onto Chemin de Machéry, butchering the pronunciation and making me wish I had chosen the French Voice.  I passed through the village of Pregny-Chambésy, and the Voice welcomed me, mangling its name as well. Then the grade smoothed out and the road narrowed, and I moved through the quite pretty and bucolic fields outside of town.  Ahead of me, beyond the airport, the Jura mountains hung purple as the sun strained to burn through in the morning mist.  This is one of the cooler things about living here: one can go from the center of town to farmland in a matter of minutes.  My legs felt strong and my rhythm steady as I headed downhill in the direction of the autoroute.  My km splits were under 5:00, so my rough target time of less than 50:00 (respectable for me on a hilly course like this) was still within reach.  

As I came to an intersection, the Voice instructed me to cross the street, turn into a private driveway, and follow a path into the woods.  This sounded a little suspicious, but I did as I was told, and behind a row of jumelle houses there was indeed a path, which I followed.  I checked my phone, and the little blue dot indicating me was still overlaying the red line indicating the course.  The path became a trail through thick woods, but the Voice’s commands were clear, and I negotiated a couple of turns while keeping a brisk pace.

The path hugged the edge of the woods parallel to the autoroute, then turned east, back toward the lake.  I checked my phone a couple of times to make sure I was still on course.  After another 500 meters or so, the light ahead of me started to brighten as the path neared the edge of the woods.  I emerged to find myself at a T intersection, with concrete paths the color of butter leading to the left and right of me.  In front of me on the other side of a wall were train tracks. 

I realized that I hadn’t heard the Voice in a while, and when I pulled out my phone to check, I saw that I had somehow flicked the little “silent” switch on the side.  The red line on the phone map seemed to lead to the right, so I continued that way.  I held my phone as I ran, trying to get my bearings, but the little me-dot was drifting away from the line of the course.  The Voice remained sullenly silent.

Raising my gaze, I saw figures moving quickly toward me, and as they got closer, I recognized the three fast-looking guys from the starting line.  They passed me and headed back in the direction I had come.  I paused for a moment, and then decided that I must have made a wrong turn, and that I should follow them, at least until I could figure out where I was.  I turned and ran back for another 3 minutes or so, past the T intersection, before realizing that no, this was actually the wrong direction.  The three fit guys were probably running the 20km, which starts with the 10km, but then peels off into a different direction. 

Still clutching my phone, I headed back in the other direction, past the T intersection again.  Looking down, I noticed that my screen had gone black, as my phone had locked itself.  I unlocked it, poking awkwardly with the touchscreen-sensitive tip of my gloved index finger, to find that the app itself had closed.  I reopened it, and it asked me for my password again, which I had to dig around in my email to find.  Finally, I managed to log in, and a cheery “approach the starting point!” message appeared on the screen.  The app had evidently forgotten that I had already started.  I poked around, looking for other menus that might be able to let me pick up where I left off, but there were none.

By this point, around ten minutes had passed since I had first emerged from the woods.  Fortunately, I could still see the course map on my phone, and I was able to pick my way across a bridge over the train tracks, then down a set of stairs to a paved path that ran parallel to them, alongside a cluster of houses near the lake side of Chambésy.  My pace had slowed, and finally I emerged near the gas station close to the autoroute on-ramp, a landmark I knew well, so I would be able to find my way "unofficially" to the finish line from there.

I would like to say that at some point I experienced a peaceful moment of “letting go” and giving thanks for the misty fall morning and for living in such a lovely place and for the ability to go out and run: a Zen-like realization that it’s not about how fast you get to the finish line, but the joy in the journey, etc.  I did not. Instead I just felt sour as I loped past the WTO, then down alongside the water for the final kilometer or so.  The paths next to the shimmering lake were already crowded with people, desperately clutching at the few remaining strands of fall before the arrival of the long, dark winter, whose approach this year feels especially ominous.  I passed the blue sign marking the finish line, then walked to my car and drove home, feeling the chill from the sweaty clothes clinging to me.


Friday, November 13, 2020

The Truth


Composed entirely from subject lines from Trump campaign emails received between September 10 and September 21, 2020.


This is the TRUTH.


47 Days left until the Election

Almost to the finish line

This is the LAST leg

 

One question

This is important

Do you want this MAGA Hat?

Perfect for Election Night

 

I’ve got an offer for you

Hot off the presses

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

FILL THAT SEAT

 

your invitation

Automatic DOUBLE-ENTRY

Now you can enter TWICE

PRIORITY-ACCESS

ACTIVATED: DOUBLE-ENTRY

LAST CHANCE

You’re in!

 

I really want you to be at the debate

We couldn’t do this without you

 

What do you think?

Hollywood Elites

Can we rely on you?

 

I need your help

MATCH THIS

I’m so proud

 

Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence in Gilford, NH

Join Vice President Mike Pence in Gilford, NH on Tuesday

IN TWO DAYS: Join Eric Trump in Milford, PA

 

Let’s talk strategy

Will you help me prepare?

Defend the White House

 

President Trump vs Joe Biden

Patriots vs Socialists

Liberal Mega Donors vs. Patriotic Grassroots Donors

 

Sleepy, Sleepy Joe

Red is your color

I need you

 

Make no mistake.

I LOVE being your President

You’ll never forget this


It’s time for our counterattack

You’re on the list