Posts Tagged ‘Ignorance’

a little rain must fall

January 9th, 2017    -    12 Comments

I tell people that we’ve had a little rain lately. We’ve had a little rain. December was the wettest month in Los Angeles in six years, and around here people look at the sky, and then at each other, afraid to jinx it, afraid to even whisper that the drought might be ending. What it depends on, we all know, is not the rain soaking our backyards, but the snow falling on the Sierras, because our water supply depends on the depth of the snowpack. So far the snow is looking good. And this week, with the promise of big storms piling up in the forecast, a little more rain could tip the scales.

For those folks who don’t want to face the truth, climate change like what we’ve experienced could look like it’s just a liberal bellyache. I visited Connecticut in October and spent a night in a bed and breakfast near Hartford. It was a lovely place, old and elegant, and Connecticut looked like what you’d expect after the first snowfall of the season. At breakfast the innkeeper started up a conversation about the weather, and I told her that it had been 97 degrees or so when I’d boarded the plane the day before in LA. No kidding. Last week of October. That kind of heat has been scaring the shit out of us for six years. She threw her head back and laughed, saying something like “But the drought isn’t real. Isn’t it caused by the environmentalists trying to save a fish?” And I was dumbfounded that this seemingly well-bred woman could be so willfully ill-informed, swallowing and then spreading the fake news spewed by you-know-who, ridiculing a guest at her dining room table. Serves those Californians right! I know a few people who satisfy themselves making fun like that, denying pain, denying truth, denying responsibility.

A couple of years ago I invited an arborist into the backyard to give me an assessment. I was hoping that there was some mystery to the dying trees, something other than the obvious. He told me what I already knew and then some. Trees were stressed and dead all over, and even the ones that looked alive were probably ghosts. He pointed to the three redwoods and explained that they don’t just take water from the ground, but through the air, and fifty or so years ago the air was different. There wasn’t much more to say or do, and so we stood together in prayerful silence, pallbearers in the middle of a sad forest, lifeguards in front of a dead ocean.

Sometimes when people ask me how they can be more compassionate, because they are ripping themselves apart over not being compassionate enough, I say, well, why don’t you just talk to people about the weather? What I mean by that is let’s not be strangers. Let’s be human beings. Let’s talk about something we have in common, you know, something like rain or snow or wind or heat, summer, winter, spring and fall. We all know hot; we all know cold. There didn’t used to be two ways about the weather. But I guess today there are two ways about everything, and no way in-between.

A hard rain’s gonna fall.

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when we were young

January 2nd, 2017    -    11 Comments

When we were young and back at school after the winter break, we would write the date of the new year on the top right-hand corner of a piece of paper for the first time. Then for about six weeks after we would keep forgetting and write the old year.

When we were young we used pencils with erasers on the end so we could rub away our mistakes and start over. By the end of the day, eraser dust might still cling to our laps or sleeves, we made so much of it. A single pencil was mighty in its power to both write and right our wrongs.

Nowadays I’m not sure that anyone has occasion to write the year by hand, except I still do, and when I go pick up the dry cleaning I will get it wrong for a few more weeks or even months. Getting the year wrong might not constitute a mistake these days, since I don’t know how checks are handled by banks or whether human minds are still engaged in the process.

When we were young we didn’t use credit cards for little things like dry cleaning, lunch or stamps. (Actually, we didn’t even use dry cleaning.) Credit was used for buying cars and washing machines. For everything else we used checks or cash money for which we had to use our hands and head. That’s why we learned math: to keep track so we wouldn’t be fooled or cheated.

When we were young, my mother told us to clean the bathroom every Saturday. This was an awful chore at the time, but now I see it as a timeless profundity. We used Comet cleanser, which you can still find on the bottom shelf of the cleaning supply aisle at the supermarket, outshined by a mile of other colorful, expensive and overhyped products. The world literally turns for those few who notice, first, that the bathroom needs cleaning and, second, that farfetched promises don’t get the job done.

When I was young and in first grade, a second-grade boy stole my shoe and ran around the playground teasing me. I chased him over the grimy asphalt with a shoe on one foot and a blackened sock on the other. I fell far behind, vanquished by his ugly, embarrassing audacity. When I gave up, he pretended to pee in my shoe before he threw it back at me. The meanest kid in second grade will soon be the president of our country.

It seems like I’ve been here before: my thoughts on the new year.

the school for citizens

November 14th, 2016    -    6 Comments

5357047-una-campana-grande-de-metal-con-una-grieta-a-traves-de-el“What do you think of western civilization?” a reporter asked Gandhi.
“I think it would be a good idea,” he replied.

You who are most afraid of this country that we have become, hear this.

There is only one place. The one you’re in. You can never leave, but you can turn it inside out. Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Peace or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place.

Do not waste time deceiving yourself with “what ifs” or “how comes” or that noisy drum of self-righteousness, “I told you so.” I, for one, will not listen to any more ugly, ignorant blame. The facts are simply too blatant to argue. More people are suffering, and will suffer, at the hands of their own neighbors. We don’t need to know how this started to know how it will end. Will you merely stand witness to destruction and degradation or will you heed the bell?

Our daughter went to the public school down the street. The hallways were a little scruffy. The classrooms were crowded. The kids were just neighborhood kids. Not a single one looked like any other. She called them her friends, and she had far more friends than I did. The money there was scarce, but the opportunity was wide open and free.

It wasn’t my first choice, but in the end, it was my only choice.

On the first day of kindergarten, the teacher stood before an array of beautiful faces. She spoke loudly to reach the pack of teary parents spectating at the back of the room.

“Our job is to create citizens,” she declared, and turned to face the flag. I placed my hand over my heart with allegiance. I didn’t know I still had the old feeling in me, but at that moment, the school for citizens had created one more.

It’s a new school day. There is so much to learn and share. Claim your citizenship. Stand up and speak. Correct wrongs. Defend rights. Demand fairness. Do good without ceasing. And do good not just for yourself, but for the very ones who are causing the most harm. I happen to know some of them. I have to overcome my own fear, hatred and resentment of them or my pledge is false.

My kindergartener is now 17. The morning after the election she went to school as if it was a normal day. At 7:22 am, she sent me a text. “Mommy, I am scared.” Not scared of the school or of the radiantly diverse people there, but scared of her own life and future. And so I pound out these words with hopeful urgency. Wake up!

This is based on a chapter from Hand Wash Cold, a book I wrote nearly eight years ago. Eight years is not so long. Four years is even less. One week has already passed. The bell has rung. The bell has rung. The bell has rung.

***

The grieving among us (and I am one) have asked for guidance as we enter this dark and savage night. Below is a link to the recording of a talk I gave in Kansas City last weekend to those assembled in the sanctuary of retreat.

A Special Message from Maezen

blaming Steve Jobs

June 23rd, 2015    -    29 Comments

PA020450This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although this wretched drought is in its fourth year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

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value the child

May 11th, 2015    -    6 Comments

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the price of monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else. It’s not a lesson to learn once.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to label.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. Yes, I know: a mother’s work is never done. But the next time you see your child, act as if it is, and smile.

lanced

January 20th, 2013    -    42 Comments

011513-Oprah-Armstrong-Interview-600I will confess to having an unhealthy fascination for the Lance Armstrong saga. I watched his interview on Oprah last week.

I am not a fan. I do not follow cycling. I have no stake in his guilt or innocence, punishment or redemption. But I have a stake in the human story and what we can learn about ourselves by opening our eyes to one another. I don’t share the views of those who say, “Cheating doesn’t matter” or “Everyone does it” or “He is a demon” or “He was persecuted” or “He should rot in hell.” I have an interest in pain and suffering. That’s all his story is about. His story is about how we suffer and cause others to suffer. Pain should interest us all.

What I saw on TV last week was not what some saw. I did not see dispassion or denial, not the face of evil or greed. I saw a man stupefied by his own deep terror, his unmet fear. A man who has broken his own heart. And by seeing it, my heart breaks too. Our hearts are lanced—how can they not be?—when we finally face the savagery of our self-deceptions.

He talked about all of the events, all of the doping and dodging, as part of his life strategy to “control the outcome.” And not just in competition. Not just after cancer. He is a small man, actually, and you can see in his slightness the shadow of a small boy. A boy without a father, without a family, without the birthright or build that gives men swagger in Texas. Even then he was mortally afraid. And so he fought, he stole, and he bullied. Audacity can take you far, it just can’t take you to the finish before the cracks open up and the road crumbles beneath you.

His delusion is our own delusion. We all live as if we can control the outcome.

Some were unsatisfied with his stiffness, terseness, and the apparent stinginess of empathy and emotion. But I saw a feeling so big it swallowed him whole. I saw it in the way he turned his head or covered his mouth. In his choking, wordless paralysis. He cannot run. He cannot ride. He cannot even move.

A friend who knows all about the side effects of cancer observed that Armstrong rarely called cancer by name but rather as “the disease.” It’s not really his cancer that goes nameless, because that is not the disease that has killed Lance Armstrong. The disease that felled him—that destroys us in the prime of our lives no matter what the prognosis—is fear.

I am sorry for Lance Armstrong and collaterally, for everyone hurt, down, sad and overcome, like me, by the poison pierce of rampant fear. Let each of us, in our own way, face our fear before we cause more harm. Before our time is up. Then maybe we can live strong.

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what money buys

September 17th, 2012    -    1 Comment

 

Once you realize how much of our conversation — whether the topic is work, sports, health, happiness or love — is really about money, then you know how broken we are.

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the gospel of toddlers & tiaras

January 23rd, 2012    -    17 Comments

On Wednesday evenings I’ve taken to watching TV with my daughter. It’s her one night off from gym practice and after she finishes homework, she likes to tune in to a controversial reality show called Toddlers & Tiaras. I grimaced through a few episodes of overbearing mothers parading their kids through grotesque beauty pageants until I came away with an enlightened view of the whole thing. Here is what I’ve learned:

Delusion begins with hair and makeup. The line between reality and psychosis is drawn with Maybelline Master Drama Brow and Eye Pencils.

There is no end to delusion. You can just keep piling it on.

There are no bad kids. There are just bad adults behaving like bad kids. And bad kids behaving like really, really bad adults.

The husbands are the sane ones. Just admitting this makes me crazy.

The room is empty except for you. The chairs are mostly vacant, the competition is entirely imaginary, and the judges wish they could disappear.

When you win, you lose. When they crown you a Queen, or Most Beautiful, or Best Talent, or Miss Congeniality, it means you didn’t win. In fact, it means you finished last. You don’t want those titles or sashes. Spit on them! You have to lose for a chance to win big, by coming back onstage later, when you really don’t win.

It’s all about you. “We keep doing this because she really loves it.” At the end of the show, when the kids are maniacal with hunger or exhaustion, tearing off the butt-ugly $1200 dresses that will take their parents two years to pay for, all the moms and dads say that. But it’s not true. You keep coming back because you don’t have a life! You’re sick, or bored, or you don’t want to make dinner, or fold laundry, or pay the bills, or face reality! You keep coming back for a chance to sit in a room with your own child, or at least I do! I’ll keep doing this because this show gives me a piercing view of my own shit while reminding me that if I’m not careful I could be a much worse parent than I am.

I’ll be back because this show is about me.

“Mom, do you see now why I watch this show?”

“Yes, I do, honey. I’m afraid I really do.”

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i stop for brakes

August 20th, 2010    -    3 Comments

There was a little article in the paper about a week ago that broke my heart. My heart breaks a lot, and you might be surprised what will do it. This was a piece that topped the news for less than a day.

“Driver error caused Toyota’s ‘runaway’ cars.” That was the indisputable conclusion from the government’s initial probe into the unintended acceleration scare that convulsed the country and crippled the company earlier this year.

If there wasn’t some mysterious electronic flaw, what caused all those incident reports that triggered the massive recalls and indignant congressional investigations? Sixty percent of the time, the report showed, cars kept going because there was a complete absence of braking. In another 25 percent of cases, brakes were only partially applied. We can deduce that the cars kept going because drivers kept pressing the accelerators.

Does that make you want to stop for a minute?

I’m on a roll! Read the rest of this rant and comment at The Smartly LA.

The altar where I pray

March 30th, 2009    -    21 Comments

I do not pray at this altar, where every security is an insecurity, every gain is a loss, givers are takers and enough is never enough.

I do not pray at this altar, gasping for 15 seconds of helium, inflating my ambition into giddy dizziness until it falls as sure as gravity to a distant, forgotten echo.

I do not pray at this altar, a sucker’s bet that masks life’s own majesty with a huckster’s exploitation, hides authentic wisdom with wishful delusion, and undermines trust with fear.

I do not pray at this altar, vesting faith in a celestial heaven, a future judgment to save myself from a hell of my own making.

I do not pray at this altar, to the relic of a stone replica, a lifeless imitation of the truth.

I pray at this altar, to be free of the stain of resentment, the residue of anger, the stubborn scrub of ego’s baked-on bias, and to shine in the clear rinse of awareness, because there is only one place to bring love to this life, and somebody’s got to do it.


Where do you pray?

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