29 June 2014

Road Closed

A few Sundays ago after playing the service at the Lutheran church I had a "what's wrong with Holly Springs" conversation with two church members -- a "white" married couple I'll call Larry and Karen -- and the minister. Larry and Karen are highly civic-minded and active in the community. Larry holds political office and Karen serves on lots of committees.

Larry complained that the problem is "them" -- meaning the "black" members of the community. "Everybody's agreeable enough but when it comes to time to show up or donate money, you can't find 'em," he said.

"You look at the Farmer's Market down in Oxford. It's a big success. Everybody comes out and the farmer's make money. But here, you never see a black face at...." His wife, a member of the group that organizes the Holly Springs Farmer's Market, quickly but gently interrupted. "Our Farmer's Market is about 50/50..."

"Well, I'm just sayin'...." he added. "They come out for Bikers and Blues but that's about all and they won't help with the planning for that. And, of course, none of the white people come out to that because there's so many black people there.

"And I know people are struggling economically but you can't rebuild a town with only the whites covering the cost of things."

He was quite worked up. I was feeling the same way. "I hear what you're saying. And it reminds me of conversations I've had with some black residents except when they say 'them', they're talking about white residents and they have a different set of criticisms." Karen blushed and Larry wore an expression of angry disbelief.

"Speaking as the perennial outsider," I added, "I think the "Us and Them" framing is one of Holly Springs' biggest problems. It keeps the community suspicious and divided."

The minister smiled and commenced a story about a white guy he knew once whose life was saved by a blood transfusion administered by a black physician. "We're all the same color in God's eyes," he said. "He sent his son to die for all of us."

There is a high Wall around this place that has stood and will stand for a long time. Like people everywhere, the residents of Holly Springs are imprisoned by their beliefs and the opinions that spring from these beliefs.

Whites believe Blacks are disinterested free-loaders. Blacks believe Whites have all the money. Black college staff and faculty believe black townies are uneducated ne'er-do-wells. Church-goers of all colors believe non-churched local residents are pathetic and uninformed and see themselves as under siege by a non-churched (in their opinion) majority of the U.S. These beliefs inform every decision and choice they make.

And there is no convincing them otherwise.

Just like people everywhere. Their minds are on lock-down and closed to new ideas.

The conversation with Larry, Karen and the minister went nowhere. Most conversations I've had here over the past 22 months have gone nowhere. A closed mind is the bane of this sojourner's existence, a ring of Hell. A closed road. When I'm driving my car and I see a "Road Closed" sign, I understand there is no passage, that I risk damage and injury to self if I disregard the sign.

I back it up and choose another road.

15 June 2014

Third Eye Peeping

...now, if I can figure out how to apply this brilliant concept to relationships...

I awoke this morning with a distinct sense of having three eyes. I rubbed the sleep from my right eye while thinking something like "It's OK. Let the third eye sleep." A few minutes later, sitting on the toilet, I remembered I only have two eyes.

09 June 2014

Keep What's Needed

For a week or so now, my practice has become to toss or give away at least one thing every day. As my hand falls on a piece of clothing or a Mardi Gras throw cup or a book or....I ask myself "Do I need this any more? Do I want this any more? Am I willing to expend necessary resources to ship this to Brazil?"

These questions effectively focus my thinking and decision-making. Although I have never been prone to hoard and, based on comments from friends and others, I live an exceptionally streamlined life, there is still by my assessment a higher-than-acceptable level of clutter about me. Accumulation of stuff happens during the less nomadic periods of my life.

One level of attachment that's proving very easy to relinquish pertains to items acquired specifically to support my residency here in Holly Springs, those things purchased or received to provide comfort or convenience at this locale. Business cards of MS acquaintances, for example. Hard-copy and digital files on the MS Arts Commission and Marshall County schools are other examples.

Another layer of the clutter consists of objects received from people I thought would become close friends. There was a potential "cherishing" that, in light of developments, has been cancelled.

Still other clutter is/are mementos; things I kept to coddle nostalgia for places and times I've visited, meaningful encounters with people I'll likely never see again. These include things like a rock received from a two-year-old during a brief encounter at a mall in Colorado; a pair of earrings I've never worn, received from a CouchSurfing guest; a book on Asian tea ceremonies received from the boyfriend of a woman I knew in Oakland; a yellow artificial carnation that I received during Mardi Gras from a strange man who kissed my hand....

De-cluttering and purging remains an unambiguous delight for me. Few activities produce the exhilaration I feel in the direct aftermath of emptying a drawer or closet, creating an open, empty space where once there was blockage. I experience the deletions as a lightening of body and soul.

One of the oldest objects in my possession is a Holy Bible with my birth name embossed on the cover. The white leather cover is cracked and discolored now. Only a few flecks of gold remain in the lettering. The zipper still works but the spine has worn precariously thin. I'll look through the book for any possible handwriting -- there is still something precious about viewing my childish handwriting -- but barring any discoveries, it is probably time to let go of this artifact.

Concrete objects stir memory and I relish remembering, like luxuriating in a hot bubble bath. I value more memory that lives not as a pretty knickknack on a shelf but as a tool that I use daily, a lesson or skill integrated into my life and identity.

06 June 2014

Smile ...or Not

Well, my passport application is on its way.  
I had been warned there might be some complication in the County Clerk's office and this proved to be the case. My application was handled by a well-dressed, elaborately coiffed, overweight and unsmiling young woman. Her demeanor was ironic given the "Smile - God Loves You" sign prominently displayed on her desk.

In fact, she smiled only three times during my visit. The first merriment took the form of a tiny curling of her lips. My application packet included a replacement birth certificate and an original court document issued when I changed my name 40 years ago. "Is this the only birth certificate you have? This looks new," she commented, a tiny, slightly sinister smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

"Yes, it is a replacement document. The original document was lost."

"And what is this?" she asked, examining the name change document. The expression on her face suggested she detected a strong, unpleasant odor. I explained the document to her.

"Well, I hope you know if they have any questions about this, they'll be calling you. When are you making your trip?"

"I'm tentatively planning for Christmas. And questions are not a problem:  I would expect them to contact me if anything is unclear in the packet."

She smiled fully then. "Well, I've never seen one of these with an application. So I hope you know..."

The way things were going, I wasn't surprised that my driver's license also threw her for a little loop. It was issued in CA and whenever I present it as ID in MS, some discussion ensues. Everyone is hard pressed to understand why surrendering my CA license and replacing it with a MS version wasn't a first order of business after arriving. She suggested the application reviewer may contact me since the address on my application is different from the one on my driver's license.

As she checked my application, completed at home, she realized it was an old form. "You're gonna have to fill all this in again on the new form," she said...and smiled for the third time.

No additional displays of pleasure appeared from that point on. The phone rang and she engaged in a brief, apparently annoying conversation with someone in a different office. A co-worker returned from lunch and they exchanged annoyance about another co-worker not in the room at the moment.

Copy machine "issues" necessitated two attempts to produce copies of the original documents for me. She survived the hassle, apparently forgetting that it was God's love for her that made eventual success possible.

In spite of everything, I was smiling as I left the building. And not because God Loves Me. I am one step closer to Brazil.

I did NOT suggest that she flip her sign around so that it faces her instead of visitors to the office. Seems like she needs the reminder as much as anyone.

05 June 2014

03 June 2014

The Golden Rush

Shortly after I reached Holly Springs, a kind and generous friend, recognizing the the sanity-shattering possibilities were I to attempt residence here without access to a personal vehicle, sold me her car. The agreement was that I would take immediate possession of the car and 12 months from that date payments in the amount of 10% of my monthly earnings would begin.

Last night I made the final payment on the car.

Today, I deposited my earnings from last weekend's playshop in Panama City, FL into my checking account. The balance is a couple dollars over $2000. This is only the second time in my life that I've had $1000 in the bank AND owned a car. This is the first time in my life I've had $2000 in the bank.

It's a remarkable state of affairs. The freedom and exhilaration I feel revolve exclusively around the shining dream of making my way to Brazil.

We Are Falling

Bill Maher's website currently features a video clip entitled "Past and Furious." (Note:  Maher is brilliant and I envy him his relatively easy access to the company of other really smart people. Watching the faces of his guests in this clip, I try to imagine what I'd have to do to convene an equivalent circle of people who would tolerate that brand of free speech...]


In the clip, he comments on the resurgence of political correctness that I too have observed with mounting dismay over the last decade. Unlike the 90's version, the present-day form of political correctness benefits from the existence of social media platforms. Thanks to FaceBook and the like, we can now monitor and admonish each other before witnesses. It's also easier to form a gang, to gather a community of friends and strangers who are equally appalled and ready to sound off in the Comments section.

The frenzy rises quickly from commentary to demands for justice, i.e., punishment of the person who has either dared to exercise their freedom of speech or been exposed by a tattling other. "Boycott!" "Fire him!" "We demand her resignation!" "Take that show off the air!"

The concurrent emergence of anti-bullying campaigns and the resurgence of political correctness is noteworthy. I perceive a double standard:  it's OK for grown folk to bully each other, to attack like rabid dogs those people who are unfortunate enough to attract widespread media attention but it is not OK for the "cool" fifth graders to taunt the fat kid who picks his nose.

As an adult survivor of relentless bullying and ridicule throughout my childhood, I am passionately opposed to bullying of any kind. The compassionate innovations underlying the anti-bullying campaigns currently underway in American schools arrive too late for me to derive any direct benefit or relief; but I applaud them nonetheless as one of the myriad attempts to improve the quality of our communal life as a nation.

Many of the programs are based in re-education and behavior modification. I think the design of an adult version is long overdue.

Maher suggests an attractive payoff for those engaging in adult bullying/political correctness enforcement trend is the opportunity to feel morally superior. As a member of a screaming crowd of finger-pointers, we deflect attention from our own imperfections. As well -- and in my estimation this is the greater tragedy -- we enjoy a break from doing our own work to become better humans.

Compassion and empathy are irrelevant concerns in this environment. Because we disagree with the premise of that TV show, it should be cancelled. Anyone who enjoys the show falls into the "What kind of a person...?" category.

I am not blind to the sociopolitical complexities of this discussion. I know that there are children and others in our human family that require and deserve protection. My focus here, as usual, are the spiritual and psychological aspects. I am looking at Fear, at the confidence people acquire in a mob to do and say things they would never be able to do or say on their own; at the narcissism that fortifies assertions of what is acceptable and the self-righteous assumptions that often accompany it; and the long-term effects on the quality of communal life when the masses indulge the impulses of their "lesser selves."

Perhaps in every era, the elders bemoan what they view as deleterious popular trends. Perhaps the human family will survive the current largely unchallenged hysteria among us. I am unable to compare this madness to past madness and assess the relative threat to our survival. But we are not at peace with ourselves or each other. That much is clear. And there are no healthy antonyms for Peace.