Possitivity Rocks

January 18, 2011

“The thing is, in Australia and America, we’ve absolutely pillaged our land. We’ve just fucked the whole thing. But I think we can turn it round really quickly.”  —Australian called Michael Coughlan………………………………..
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What to do when things look bleak is to do something. Pissing and moaning are a scourge, but are embedded in human nature. Some people refuse to piss and moan and would rather figure out a solution to problems. Unfortunately these folks have to work against inertia. Fortunately they are the kind of people that won’t give up.

An example of solid positive thinking is an Australian accountant named Tony Lovell. Lovel thinks he has answer to Australia’s “Big Dry”, the drought that has persisted there for years and which is ruining farming.

“Lovell thinks he has the answer. At a climate-change conference in Manchester, I find him talking about a new method of farming. “This is a typical ranch in Mexico,” he explains, showing an image of a terracotta dust bowl with bare, compacted soil. Then he puts up a second image of lush green vegetation. “This is the ranch next door. Same soil, same rainfall. These pictures were taken on the same day.”

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Race to the Bottom

January 8, 2011

The beginning of the first month of a new year is a traditional time to do some ruminating. In fact it’s always a good time to ruminate.  If we did more ruminating and less agitating we might be getting somewhere. Quiet, reflective, thoughtfulness (even by a nation) might go a long way in making 2011 better than the year many of us just escaped by the skin of our teeth —and many didn’t.

But as with everything that means anything, effective rumination begins on a personal level. To be productively reflective requires being honest with yourself. But this is a tall order. As Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Paul of the Bible) said, we see through a glass darkly —especially if it’s a mirror. What too many of us don’t know about ourselves would scare the pants off even the biggest fake; the moment the scales drop from our eyes can be a shattering event. This is again something from the life of Saul. The shock of one day suddenly facing himself left him, literally, blind. The story goes that it upset him so much that Saul (the persecutor) changed his name to Paul and became a saint.

The resistance to coming to terms with our dark side (if you’re human chances are you have one) is a common one. If it were not there’d be a lot less argument in the world. Johann Goethe admitted, “If I knew myself I’d run away.” Many of us would, but many unnecessary battles would end with a simple admission: “Yeah, you’re right, I’m wrong.” Done. Working out whatever the problem was then becomes a much simpler matter; though still not easy, it’s much less bloody than bar fights or war. It might even go a long way to preventing future Arizonas.

Many of us truck through our days avoiding basic questions about what makes us tick. High-level crooks who wear suits and sign-off on some pretty evil deals probably don’t think of themselves as scum because they scam even themselves. But every once in a while a thing as banal as a simple question can rock us back on our heels if it catches us off guard. Overcoming the difficulty of honestly answering the simple question “How are you, really?” might lead to a little evaluation of our insistent self-deception as it did with me when a friend I hadn’t seen for years asked it of me. It hit me as if it were a trick question, but . . .

not a trick by the asker
but trick by
my inner magician,
my personal convoluter,
my lithe prevaricator
who first teased Eve
under a tree
with the acid, orange
kumquat of knowledge
which he bounced
upon his forked tongue
and upon which Eve
and her shifty lover
sadly choked
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The question,
How are you, really?
is impossible for a fake
to bear
To answer would be
to mock God
who sees through spin
no matter how sincere
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Better to say,
Gooder ‘n some
Better to say,
Badder ‘n others
Better to say,
A mixed bag complex.
A hick in a zoot suit
A pansey in a bucket
of muck
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I keep up appearances
I do my thing
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I balance odds and ends
as best I can
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I go not where the four
winds blow
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You want the naked truth?
Let me think about it ’cause
I don’t know

. . . and at that moment I honestly wasn’t sure. I’ve been working on an answer ever since.

What may be happening regarding our (now chronic) 50-50 political split is that, as a people forced into an evaluation of who we’ve been, what we are, and what we’ll be, we’re still snagged in trauma like the one Saul experienced when he was knocked off his horse (by God, he said) on the way to Damascus and temporarily blinded. It could be that, blithely tooling along, lost in a fantasy of being really special in God’s eyes, the USA was summarily knocked off its horse on 9/11 and has been (at least) partially blinded ever since. We’ve certainly been bumping into enough doors and tripping over each other lo, these too-many recent years! 

For the religious of the country (which by self-proclamation comes to about 85%) this might be considered a possible explanation of our turmoil.  For the rest of us our problems might simply be seen as a result of failure to admit that we are seriously flawed. Considering that we were a nation that once deplored the idea of torture but which now sees it as ho-hum, or which can’t wrap it’s mind around the idea of its contribution to ecological degradation enough to do anything about it, or one in which the gap between rich and poor widens daily without outrage, or in which political corruption is legalized by Supreme Court decisions that make corporations the equals of living, breathing humans —considering these things it’s no wonder we’re in a national funk.

“Know thyself,” Socrates suggested.

“Knowing yourself is enlightenment,” said Lao Tzu.

As far as putting things in proper order is concerned Socrates and Lao-Tzu knew what they were talking about. A good place to start is (always) to take an honest look at ourselves and our inclinations, both dark and light.  Short of that, and barring a miracle, it’s a race to the bottom.

Jim Culleny, 1/8/11
in The Shelburne Falls Independent
Jan 21, 2011

Capela dos Ossos

January 1, 2011


“I’m looking,” said Janus, the god with two faces, “I got both faces looking but they ain’t seeing much.  Way back and up ahead, nothin’ but fog. Back there’s all foggy with palaver, up ahead’s just plain thick  as it’s ever been.

Looks like you’re it again, so watch where you’re goin’ —you’ll be comin’ to a church of bones.”…. —from The Tales of Father Time, by Gus Wen
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Capela dos Ossos
  —Church of Bones, Evora Portugal
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We pray in a church of bones
in which skulls outline graceful arches
of low vaults and whose columns are ladders
of stacked femurs. We admire its capitals
of craniums

It’s walls, unlike the idealizations
of Michelangelo,  are not fantasies
romanced in fresco but the real thing:
the stony remnants of once-respiring
antiquity

We pray in a church of bones
whose windows look out
beneath an osseous calcium dome

Our chapel of once-articulating skeletons
—a reliquary of dreams—
rises over a promontory like a lighthouse
warning the world of muscle and bone,
spit and sweat, breath and blood
to steer clear of the promises of ghosts
and constantly sound to avoid being
beached in mud

We pray in a church of bones
We hope in a field of dreams
We love or hate between
unknown and unknown

by Jim Culleny
January 1, 2011

Capela dos Ossos

January 1, 2011

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Ah, the New Year —seems like this just happened but here we are tooting horns and making promises to ourselves again.  Listening to fools, hanging on the words of  rich crooks, listening to talking heads and mystic ghosts as if instant replay is going to give us a different view.

January 1st, the day we give lip service to the future.  The day we ask the two-faced god Janus for a peek at what was (as if we suffered perpetual amnesia), and a glimpse of what’s next, as if we couldn’t sum two plus two.  In fact, Christopher Hitchens does a pretty good job of both right here (no disrespect to Janus).

May Janus (or Christopher) help us. 

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 “I’m lookin’,” said Janus.  “I’ve got both faces employed, but they ain’t seein’ much.  Lotta fog.  Back there’s all foggy with palaver, up ahead is just plain  thick as pea soup like it’s always been. Not much I can tell  ya either way.  Looks like you’re it again.”
……………………………………………………… from The Tales of Father Time, by Gus Wen

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Capela dos Ossos   
….—Church of Bones

We all pray in a church of bones
in which skulls outline its graceful arches
of low vaults and whose columns are ladders
of stacked femurs. We admire its capitals
of craniums
        
It’s ceilings, unlike the idealizations         
of Michelangelo,  are not fantasies
romanced in fresco but the real thing:
the stony remnants of once-respiring
antiquity

We all pray in a church of bones
whose windows look out
from under an osseous calcium dome

Our chapel of once-articulating skeletons
—a repository of hopes and dreams—
rises over a promontory like a lighthouse
warning the world of muscle and bone,
of spit and sweat, of breath and blood
to steer clear of the promises of ghosts
and constantly sound to avoid being
beached in mud

We pray in a church of bone
We hope in fields of dreams
We love or hate between two unknowns

by Jim Culleny
January 1, 2010