Been & Going

[LefthandedJeff] No As to the Big Qs

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Can we all just stipulate from the get-go that none of us truly knows the answers to the big questions? I mean those few biggest of the big questions that seem to have driven us human-types to inner and outer quests seemingly from our remotest past sense of ourselves as selves; and our most distant past notions of being pieces or aspects of some greater whole.

A silly proposal, I know. Most of us seem to have such strong opinions on those questions. Some hold so tightly to their answers—hold to them with a kind of ideological death grip, as if holding on for dear (eternal) life—which has always smacked me as being a little desperate. Who exactly are they trying to convince? Themselves, I think.

What are the questions I’m talking about? Ultimates and origins.

What came before this? What comes after? Are before and after meaningless concepts when it comes to time, space and universes? What’s the nature of this life? This universe? Are there more than one of these crazy things?

This sense of right and wrong that most humans and all cultures seem to be imbued with—is it built-in? What are its rules, exactly? What price for violating them? Is the life of our consciousness finite? Is there something infinite that encloses this finite envelope we find ourselves in?

So we delve for answers. Sit at the feet of priests, gurus, Nobel winners and TED talkers for answers. We measure and probe, magnify and dissect for answers. We manically scroll our feeds and threads for answers. Spastically shoot out our own hashtag answers, see how many likes we can get and try to make them trend. If we can only get them to trend, maybe that means we’re right? We sit and count our breaths for answers. We hike mountains for answers.

“Everything that is possible to be believed is an image of truth.” –William Blake

To Be Continued (Only, Of Course and Always…)

[LefthandedJeff] “Yinnity Yangity Bop” (That Old Song by the Non-Starters)

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Just had a thought re: sexism. The very question that either men or women might be superior or inferior is a non-starter. The whole premise is absurd.

Both are essential. Neither is non-essential.

Which is superior to life on earth—sun or water? You can’t have life without either. So the question is moot. False premise.

It’s easy to look at the fact that men are generally physically stronger and draw a simple-minded conclusion that men are thus superior—easy, but stupid. We humans are often simple-minded twits like that.

It’s hard to parse the areas of male vs. female strengths and weaknesses without quickly devolving into gender stereotypes. No need to even go down that road. I mean sure, it’s an amusing side path. We all have fun taking it sometimes. You can pluck some berries. Pick some flowers. Or get stuck with thorns and find rocks in your shoes.

Back out on the main road, both male and female are essential. Neither is non-essential. In the human circle there is no yang without yin, no yin without yang.

Which leg is superior—left or right? Cut off either one and I can’t stand, walk or run.

Natural enough to ask these questions, of course. They’re not inorganic. Sort of clouds that blow across the mind. Capture the wandering eye. Give shape to lazy imaginings. Yet mostly vaporous. Ultimately non-starters. Yinnity Yangity Doo.

Band name: The Non-Starters

[LefthandedJeff] Her Plan for the Remedy

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She said, “Be sure to take it once a day for a week. Then once a week for a day.”

She was very mysterious that way…





[LefthandedJeff] My Head in My Thinking Hand

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A little joke, riffing on what I’ve mentioned here before—I am one of those who carries around my own personal bard in my brain, ever singing the song of me. Sometimes—often? usually?—at the expense of me living the life of me.

Yes, I have a full-time narrator on duty. So most of the time I am multi-tasking. I am living my life on one track. On another track, close to simultaneously, though sometimes a little ahead or a few steps behind, racing to catch up, I am writing my life stories on the ever-unscrolling sheaf of perpetually scrawled-on white paper in my head. White paper-gray matter.

But as they say, you can’t truly multi-task, right? If you’re doing two things at once, you’re probably doing at least one of them sloppily. That is my fear.

So I’ve done plenty of Zen and other mindfulness work over the years, partly to counter all that. Also lots of mind-dumping: actual writing, where I write or type real words on real paper or a real lit-up screen. Both have helped a lot. More of both should help more.

In fact, without writing on a regular basis, I feel like I gradually get crazier by degrees. The ol’ brain barrel gets full of rainwater words and it comes time to dump it or that nasty green film starts to grow over it.

Which is to say, for better or worse, you’re not likely to be rid of me anytime soon…

[LefthandedJeff] Ah Inhumanity, So Human

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It strikes me that the things we think of as inhumane are, in fact, totally human. As history and prehistory have shown time and again. The holocaust. Slavery. Jack the Ripper. Ted Bundy. The Cultural Revolution in China. Stalin’s tens of millions killed. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they killed every man, woman and child in the city. That was pretty much Standard Operating Procedure for European war in the Middle Ages—throw in raping all the women, of course.

I read an account in Empire of the Summer Moon about the Commanche, who routinely raped, tortured and killed captives. They cut a guy’s arms and legs off, then threw him onto a bonfire, still alive, and watched his trunk wiggle in the fire and laughed at it. Then of course there’s the drawings and quarterings, if we stop back on by Middle Ages Europe. The Spanish Inquisition, with its rack, its Iron Maiden, its burnings at the stake. Vlad and all of his delightful impalings.

But these are just the obvious examples. There’s also the garden variety exploitation we tolerate that goes on all over the world. The human trafficking. The near slavery conditions under which most of our clothing and electronics are manufactured. Even refusing to renew unemployment benefits even though there are more unemployed than there are open jobs seems a touch inhumane if you ask me. The bullying that happens every day in countless schoolyards and countless offices across this great land of ours.

Look at the Stanford Prison Experiments, where everyday college students morphed into sadistic guards with no prompting other than arbitrary power and boredom. Look at the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, where people were willing to shock total strangers to the point of screaming just ’cause some guy with a clipboard said so. Look at lynchings. Stonings. Clitorectomies. Honor killings. Videotaped beheadings. Back on the mass level: the Roman games of gladiatorial blood and death. It seems that wherever and whenever throughout history and, one imagines, prehistory, one group of humans is able to grab and maintain real power over another group–usually a small group over a larger one–the former will exploit the latter up to and including slavery, torture, ritual and/or mass killings. A bit o’ the ol’ apartheid, anyone? Maybe a little genocide while we’re at it? So many options along that smorgasbord spectrum from common gore to deluxe degradation.

If we’re honest with ourselves, is there really anything more human after all than man’s serial inhumanity to man, woman, child and all sentient beings great and small?

[LefthandedJeff] Where is Wisdom?

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Where is Wisdom?

All statements are false.
All questions are true.
Here is wisdom.

Are all statements false?
Are all questions true?
Where is wisdom?


Do we hear through our wounds? How often have you had a fight with your loved one, because she said something that she meant one way but you heard it another, because it triggered something left over from some old hurt? You heard her through your wound.

You lashed out in defense. She took it worse than you meant it. Because it reminded her of how her mom used to run her down or her old boyfriend used to order her around. She heard you through her wound.

Sometimes we hear each other through our festering or raw red wounds. Like the whistle of a cold wind on frostbitten skin or the bite of salt water on an open cut. Like the ache from wet weather in an old broken bone.

How do we hear past our wounds? Over our wounds? How do we remember that without the frostbitten skin, the cold wind might feel bracing? That without the open cut, the salt water might be vitalizing? That without the broken bone, the wet might unfurl the dry pink flower buds?


Isn’t hatred of government by the citizens in a democracy a kind of self-hatred, since democratic government is self-governance by the citizens?


Illusatory: the new dogberryism/malapropism coined by creative genius Sweet Elise on March 7, 2014. Mark your calendars.

Doesn’t it have that elusive (elusatory?) quality of only the very best dogberryisms: when you first hear it, even if you know it’s not a real word, you wonder, just for a second, well isn’t it?



[LefthandedJeff] Struck Thoughts on Stake-Burnt Bruno, Effin’ Noah, Unisex Bathrooms and the Infinite Present

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It strikes me that the present is vast.

It strikes me that one of the things I love in a novel is the feeling of living for a while in the mind and skin and experiences of someone different from me—walking some miles in their moccasins, or in this case their high heels. I’m reading the 1977 feminist bestseller The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, controversial in its day—revelatory for many women, deemed man-hating by some men—though I guess to say controversial + feminist is pretty much an oxymoron. But reading it really takes me back to that time of such different cultural assumptions about gender roles and experiences. I was 14 when it came out, son of two “women’s libbers” as the term went in those days. I remember picking it up off the black bookshelves in lush old Jocundry’s Books in East Lansing, intrigued, trepidatious, testing the waters of its pages, getting absorbed and losing time standing there, but not buying it or reading it through. I probably bought some Harlan Ellison or Robert E. Howard instead.

But I’m really grooving on the section I’m reading now, though my Kindle Fire tells me I’m only 19% of the way through. I feel immersed in the lives of a group of fifties housewives. Which sounds desperately boring. But it’s not. It’s actually fascinating. French manages to convey how trapped they all are, without making me, the reader, feel trapped. For which I’m grateful. I confess I was a little worried going in—even though I chose the book for the BCD—Book Club for Dudes—to read. But it strikes me that I’m getting here a more purely woman’s angle on some of the same material that’s come up for popular re-examination in the culture lately, the stuff of Mad Men and Masters of Sex.

It resonates with me personally in a number of ways. A good friend once told me that her mother committed suicide in the early 60s. Dad was a Hollywood agent, who lived an exciting life. A decent husband and father, not mean or cruel or a drunk. But mom was a woman with gifts and suppressed desires of her own, trapped in her role of housewife and mother, and depressed—living just a few years before a more free and fulfilling life might have seemed possible to her. One afternoon she went to lie down, as she often did at that hour. My friend and the other kids thought nothing of it. But darkness fell and mom didn’t emerge. She’d taken the overdose of pills so she’d never have to wake up. Reading The Women’s Room, I feel as if I’m living out my friend’s mother’s life. Again, though, it doesn’t make me want to kill myself. The storytelling voice, the detail, the lively pace and staging of it, keep me at a distance safe enough to empathize but not drown in it.

Closer to home, it helps me understand my own mother more. Helps me fill in details of her consciousness and the raising thereof. She and my dad were both supporters of the ERA—the Equal Rights Amendment—which many today don’t even know about; and which many others don’t realize never passed. I don’t remember my mom reading The Women’s Room, but she read a lot of stuff, more non-fiction probably, when I was a kid, about women’s liberation. Without her bashing me over the head with it; mostly by me listening quietly to her conversations with her women friends, I picked up on and internalized it, thought without doing much of the primary reading—or the primary living.

My mom too, though a wife and mother about a decade after the women I’m reading about now (I was born in 1962, when she was 21), got trapped, then freed, then partially trapped again, in the restrictions of the housewife’s role. She got pregnant with me while in college, married my dad and dropped out to raise me while he worked through to his PhD; then after they divorced she worked through to her own PhD, while still having me to take care of and working a part-time office job. Such a common tale from that time, and so similar to Mira in The Women’s Room. Finally she married my step-dad and without having quite realized this would happen, got trapped again in a mother-housewife script—stuck with almost all responsibility for raising his kids and keeping the house. She still had a career as an archaeologist, but not the same one she would have had if she’d been a man and not burdened in the same ways. I actually carried subterranean resentment against her for years for seeming to sell out her own feminist ideals. Not fair, of course. I’ve long ago let loose from that childish point-of-view—“It’s hard to be a human,” as she would say and I have learned. Nevertheless, I feel like The Women’s Room gives me fresh insight into the times and experiences that shaped her and that she partially, heroically, escaped.

It strikes me, the ironies of the debates I used to have with girls my own age in the seventies about the ERA, where I took the pro position and they took the con. First irony being obvious—I was arguing for enshrining their equal rights in the U.S. Constitution while they argued against it. But there’s a more amusing, also maddening, irony. The argument that seemed to hold the biggest sway for those little girls (mostly repeated from their parents probably) and the argument that I could swear killed the amendment with the average American voter, before it got passed by enough states to make it into the Constitution, was that if the ERA passed, co-ed bathrooms would inevitably become the law of the land. Which of course would swiftly trigger the rending and collapse of Western Civilization.

You might recognize that fear syndrome, since it’s the same kind of outsized, irrational outcome the Christian right prophesies from gay marriage. I never bought it, but it seemed to proceed from a notion that since the Supreme Court had pronounced “separate but equal” inherently discriminatory when it came to Jim Crow segregation of blacks and whites, sooner or later if the ERA passed the Supreme Court would declare separate bathrooms for men and women unlawful. The irony there being that unisex bathrooms are ever more common in coffeehouses and small restaurants, at least here in Los Angeles, without the ERA passing, without mass rape resulting, with barely anyone really noticing, and certainly civilization as fragile as it may be seems to be surviving it, at least so far. Check back with me on that one.

It strikes me that the same religious faith whose dogma justified burning Giordano Bruno at the stake after seven years of torture also gave him the faith and courage to endure that treatment.

Elise and I watched Cosmos Episode 1 last week and Bruno’s story featured prominently. A Dominican in 1500s Italy, he was instilled by his Catholic faith with the conception of a God who rewarded you in heaven for remaining true to him or punished you in hell for being false to him. But Bruno had a vision of a universe grander than that conceived by his church—infinite, where every star was a sun like our own, with infinite worlds like our own and other beings populating those worlds. He was also apparently pantheistic—his conception of the universe had God spread throughout, in everything and of everything. A grand and beautiful vision, and one that comes closer to our scientific conception today. But it violated Church doctrine, so the Inquisition tortured him for seven years, then burned him at the stake for refusing to renounce it. It’s hard to picture a contemporary having the courage and conviction to resist that torture. So ironically, I can only imagine that it was the strength of his faith that he would be rewarded in heaven for his commitment to what his God had shown him, that let him resist what the dogmatic fanatics of his faith inflicted upon him.

It strikes me that we scared up a new band name there: Dogmatic Fanatics.

Once we start down that road, the band names keep coming: The Small Favors. And Feedables. Or Unfed Feedables. The Willy Nillies. The Poetic Eddies (for you fans of obscure Viking references).

It strikes me that the present is vast with sensory data coming in from outside, internal happenings firing off inside—beyond our power to grasp in all five senses, plus integrated awareness.

(The sixth sense = integrated awareness of the first five?)

That thought once struck spreads through me a feeling of continuous, irretrievable loss.

Then I turn it, because I have to, toward a sense of ever-renewing possibility.

Loss and possibility, alternating. Intake and outflow of breath.

It strikes me why Noah’s Ark: The Movie pisses me off so much every time I see a preview for it. It’s clear the movie makers try hard to make this child’s fable believable. The harder they try, the more it points up to me that no one but a child should ever take the biblical flood story seriously. And yet millions do. Right wing fundamentalists find the tale of Noah’s Ark more credible than evolution and global warming. So in a time when those same religious forces are putting the entire human race and our precious, fragile life-supporting ecosystems at risk by aggressively dumbing down American belief in the clear scientific consensus around climate change, as well as evolution and the scientific method itself, I find it ethically, morally and politically abhorrent that Hollywood is basically conspiring to give them an assist.

And it strikes me that almost any Hollywood fantasy ever is more believable than the childish premise of the Noah tale. I love fairy tales, fables, fantasy and myths. But beyond childhood, it can become a matter of life and death to know them for what they are.

And you know, it also strikes me—my wife Elise, The Diamond Cutter, brought this up recently—do we really know if the myths and fables of the bible were believed to be literal truth in their own times? Or were they understood as metaphorical truth? As tales? Could it be that stories like Noah were like our Santa Claus and Easter Bunny stories—meant to be believed by kids until they got old enough to figure out how charmingly goofy they are, and then dispensed with until time to pass them on to your own kids? But never meant to be believed by mature adults?

So to make a movie like Noah which seems to take itself so seriously strikes me as a massive insult to our collective intelligence. On that basis it pisses me right off.

(Though I freely acknowledge this as the worst, most prejudiced kind of movie criticism—that by someone who hasn’t seen the movie and doesn’t ever intend to.)

It strikes me there’s a great, great irony in the rightwing fundamentalists trying to destroy science education. To the extent that they’re successful in undermining acceptance of climate change science, they’re helping to bring on the widespread flooding of global coastlines. Greenland, for instance, is sloughing off its ice sheet at a rapid rate. When all the ice on Greenland finishes melting into the sea, it will swell sea levels worldwide by about 22 to 23 feet—enough to swamp that majority of the world’s major cities which are coastal. Ouch. So the bible-literalists in the Noah audience with all their kids on Sunday school field trips are busily helping to bring on the next Great Flood with their destructive ignorance. We enshrine the prophets of old and deny our own, eh? (Kristofferson on Jesus: “Reckon they’d just nail ‘im up/If he come down again.”) So very sadly and perhaps fatally human of us.

It strikes me that we’re used to conceiving of the past stretching far out behind us and the future winding way on ahead, while we’re stuck on this comparatively small spot called the present. But it strikes me that the present in its own right is so vast it’s practically infinite.

The present spreads out to the horizon, to the limits of what we can see, up into the bowl of the sky, down in the numberless cracks in our palms, all of the simultaneous smells curling through the air around our nostrils, the tastes in our mouths, the sounds of music, voices, birds and cars flirting with our attention right now—more in one discrete moment of continuous, infinite present than we can ever hope to apprehend, process and understand if we had all the time in the world to pick through it.

It strikes me as poem-fodder:

Whipped on the Wind

Each moment is denied us.
Each moment is all that is promised us.
Each moment as it’s whipped away on the wind.
Each moment as it’s whipped away on the wind.

[LefthandedJeff] The Day After the Day After Rain

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I love the earth the day after the day after a big rain storm. When the hillside in my back yard is still dark and visibly wet, where it had been light brown and dusty. A faint green stubble of tiny shoots covers the formerly dry and dead packed dirt. Overnight pink chrysanthemums have shot straight up and opened-out, “Ta da!” The jasmine I planted last July and nursed through hot months of bloomless drought finally sprouts buds, light green, incipient flowers folded inside but peeking out, like white lace. I go to take a photo of them with my phone and only through the view screen do I spy it, under a dark green leaf hood, almost unseen, the first little jasmine flower already born.

“Stress can be sexful,” she said to her longtime confidant. Then dissolved into laughter. “What did I just say? Sex can be stressful!”

Band name: 20% Tiptoe

Our emotions are a physical process of our bodies, like breathing, like farting. There’s nothing to be gained from critiquing them. Or attaching to them too fiercely, grabbing on for dear life. Though gentle attention is always nice.

Divide is conquer.

“Whatever you suppress is knocking at your door every day.” –Sweet Elise, aka The Diamond Cutter

Western magic—casting spells—is directing your attention to your intention. Eastern magic—meditation, yoga—is directing your intention to your attention.

Like a true WASP, I have been taught to suppress the parts of myself that might upset the people around me. But not letting myself have emotions is not letting others have theirs, too, isn’t it?

For every inaction there’s a no reaction.

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Suppressed emotion.”

“Suppressed emotion who?”

“Why the hell are you asking me?

Writing is how I try to slow down the world while I try to figure it all out.

Like many lit’rary types, I have a full-time narrator in my head, writing and rewriting the tale of my life even as it’s happening.

Time Retardant—a needed invention.

Everyone was very concerned
That everything work out
For everyone concerned.

To look around with wide eyes and an open spirit at the fantastic richness of every aspect of this world, this universe that we somehow exist in, I feel like you just have to come away with more questions than answers.

That seems true to me whether you look at it from a scientific point of view or a religious one. Or both.

No matter how we look at those ultimate questions: Why do we even exist? Why is there a universe at all? Where did we come from and what came before us? Where will we go and what will come after us?

I find more comfort in the questions than in answers that seem dreamed up or unearned.

Give me answers that go as deep as the questions, or I’ll keep dancing with the questions.

I love the day after the day after a rain storm…

Image credit: Me! (for once)


[LefthandedJeff] That Facebook Righteous-Reply Hangover

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Last night a friend slapped up a dumbass political post on Facebook and I slammed him with a righteous reply. I felt so proud. This morning I feel like shit. I’ve got that Facebook righteous-reply hangover again.

Oh I thought I was so clever. So composed and careful. It was not a rant or a screed, I told myself. It was a lesson in compassion. Oh I made the good points. Even told him I loved him. I came not to shame him, but to teach him a life lesson in compassion and empathy. So why do I just feel like an overbearing asshole now?

Just like at the party when you know you’re going too far and you don’t stop yourself. Just one more drink. Just one more old story that everybody always loves. One more witty and pointed come-back. “You had to have the last word, last night./You know what everything’s about.” And I did too, baby. I had the last word on last words. I shot out the lights. There was a stream of approving comments before mine. After mine: the silence that echoes down the news feeds.

Yes, his post was brimming over with free-floating anger fired off at an easy target, notably lacking in compassion or critical thinking and borderline racist. But part of why I feel crappy about myself now, is that I seized the license I felt that gave me to slap him down in public. Yes, he was dumb enough to post his shit in full view of all his FB friends and loved ones, so in a sense that made him fair game. But now I feel like a coward and a bully for responding in the same manner. I should know better.

An old boss of mine, a great leader, used to have a rule. She always praised her people in public, and she only ever scolded them in private. If I truly meant to deliver a lesson in compassion, I should have showed him the compassion of not calling him out in smug graffiti scrawled all over his wall. I should have just sent him a private message. I’ve already begun working on an apology and explanation. But somehow, that’s harder than just slapping him upside his dopey Facebook-wall head. It’s all too easy, isn’t it, to shoot spitballs when someone isn’t looking. It’s different to shoot them in the face. Maybe if I had real courage, I’d call him up and tell him what I have to say. But I can compose my thoughts so much better in writing. And he can’t interrupt me. He can’t talk back until I’m done…

Now. To be fair to myself, I did look back just now at what I posted. It actually did display compassion while trying to teach compassion. It did challenge him to be better, not just trash him. But it was also harsh. I deliberately targeted his tender spots. And again, it was done in full view for all to see.

So what is the moral? For me, as with your more orthodox hangover, I hope this one will remind me to curb myself. I’m not much of a fan of self-righteousness, least of all my own. Yes, he asked for it in a way. It really was a dipshit post on his part. Yes, I didn’t just body slam him without a point. But nevertheless, a conscience is as individual as a finger print. And mine’s been pricked. “I know when I’m right, I know when I’m wrong, yay-ay,” sang Pete Townshend once. That’s always stuck with me. I thought I was so right when I posted that damn thing. Now I’m quite sure, by my own lights: I was so damn right that I tipped right over into wrong. And don’t I know it.