Meanwhile: A Long, Provocative Read (🧐🍷)

Full day without WiFi l/access to work or a talk I was actually looking forward to. Out since about 4 AM except for about 20 minutes this morning. At least three blocks in the area were out. (Interestingly, only those with the newest, routerless tech)
But ya know what? I still had every other amenity and driveable roads, unlike millions of US citizens in Puerto Rico, where people have never recovered from Hurricane Maria, that killed 3,000. (That’s more than perished at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and almost all preventable if the US exploited even a bit less and invested in infrastructure for the local citizens as it does for an economic system that rewards only a select few.) Americans are again being forced to live without electricity or safe water following the recent hurricane Fiona.

So why weren’t all patriots up in arms about the mistreatment and lack of support for other US citizens? Why must we send aid to Kansas, Mississippi or California for their natural (also measurably preventable) recurring disasters? And why are “disaster/vulture” capitalists and neoliberal governments openly allowing these, and other areas of the USA to be destroyed while locals are impoverished, removed and replaced with wealthier gentrifiers/neocolonialists?

This is happening across the US as prices for necessities soar, wages stagnate, and greedy corporations enjoy increasingly higher profits.
Yet the death and related “news” about a colonizing monarch of a country the US fought to get away from was the only news that media and many others cared about or reported. That’s some serious cognitive dissonance and denial of your actual relationship to Power, folks. And some serious manipulations by corporate media, mimicking the fall of the Roman Empire. (Look it up/read a book without pictures. Here’s a simple intro:

“The best known is “panem et circenses” which translates to “bread and circus games”. The brutal and often very bloody fights in the arenas were basically free and so was the daily bread allotment. Since the Coliseum in Rome (known also as “Amphitheatrum Novum” or “Amphitheatrum Flavium”) had a limited number of seats the admission tickets were drawn by lot. A citizen of Rome could hope, at least once a year to win a ticket.

Another example is the Circus Maximus where chariot-races were held. These events were also free of charge to the citizens since all costs were carried by the state.” Quara

Meanwhile, our distractions aren’t even free! You pay for your own distractions and ignore the downward spiral, thinking that buying more products to arm yourselves and fortress your mortgaged houses against your neighbors is the answer. 🤦🏽‍♀️ 🤷🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️
Anyhow…thus endith the lesson. Don’t mind me…

Below are a coupla organizations that are helping. Do what it’s government hasn’t and help your neighbors out of a jam. Thanks.

Disaster Relief

https://www.prvoad.org/

https://www.diasporaxpuertorico.org/en/index.php

https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/music/2022/09/19/bad-bunny-el-apagon-music-video-puerto-rico-hurricane-gentrification/10426694002/

IT’S THA’ KUL’CHA!

For those of you not from the area, or too young to have been influenced by the older culture, you should know that old time NYC area people “bitch and moan” about nearly everything. (And if a current mayor can be blamed, so much the better!)

On my first trip to Denver in 1980, I was completely weirded out and annoyed by what the anthropologist Roy Wagner called “aggressive niceness.” People kept coming at me with tv-ready, toothy smiles, saying in high pitched voices, “Hi! Can I help you?” in what felt like an overly friendly, almost loud, “close talker” manner. I’m a friendly type, as North Jersey-NYC types go, and will make eye contact and nod, but this was too much for my fresh from NY sensibilities. It didn’t help that nobody wore black or grey, and it took me a few days to adjust and calibrate my responses away from annoyance or feeling threatened.

Now there were definitely stoics among us as kids: New Englanders for sure, and older African Americans would simply sigh or sometimes smile and say “No need of complaining,” a subtle way to still lodge complaints, imo.

But the older Jewish, Italian, Greeks, and a bit later, the Black, and AIM radicals of my youth took “complaining” to higher levels, some in the service against mass injustices, some for individual woes. But silent suffering? No way- there’d been enough of that for my friends’ families who’d survived the camps, Turkish invasions, and the general silencing of women, and for my own peoples, hundreds of years of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, ethnocide, segregation and institutionalized poverty and policing. Complaining was a freedom, even in the service of pettiness. It was a recently gained right and they were going to voice their complaints to anyone who was present. They made it into an art, and each group had their own spin and accompanying body language and voicing, sometimes even with costuming.

So I consider myself to be a proud carrier of that tradition, even though it’s been at odds with my family’s mostly stoic ways for decades. As a woman who is perpetually fighting against being silenced and labeled “Angry Black woman” as justification for being ignored, this is not just a way of releasing stress and noting genuine problems, it is a way of staying connected to my own feelings, of not self-alienating, as our society pushes us to do. It is a direct action that throws blame back at the feet of those who wrong us. By calling it “complaining” it’s too often reduced to only the realm of the petty and is frequently a term used to dismiss genuine suffering, by medical professionals and even ostensibly “enlightened” folk who relegate it to “negative thinking.”

However, it can also be a humorous outlet, said with a wink and in a dramatic fashion for the sheer joy of the thing. There’s a reason nearly everyone I grew up around knew at least a smattering of Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic complaint/curse words, from the sacred “Oy vey!”and “Marone!” to my non-cursing father’s muttered “Cripes” (so as not to “take the Lord’s name in vain.”) These are just a few examples, of course. The variety was dazzling and offered a multitude of ways to express and nuance one’s particular gripe.

For many older people, good fortune was downplayed, with “spitting three times against the evil eye,” making the sign of the cross, or simply a mild denial of serendipity or good fortune to ward off any form of punishment for hubris and to keep away envy or misfortune. Everyone knew that good fortune could be wiped away in the blink of an eye, and a classic exchange might go like this:
Frequent customer “Oh, Mr. Johnson, you’re doing so well, your business is thriving! You must be thrilled.”
Mr. Johnson: “Meh” (tooth sucking/eyes raised towards heaven /sad head shaking heaven, according to ethnic based preferences) “It’s just more headaches- the paperwork, you can’t find good help, the taxes…” A light hearted elder might simply say, “Things could be worse.”

I made a vow to myself when young, that I would always celebrate joy- mine or that of others- and I would try never to bottle up my feelings. I saw the damage that it did, on buses and trains, and in the streets, as people went about their lives, blankness covering whatever joys or sorrows had been pushed down or cupboarded for the sake of functionality and fitting in. Many adults looked grey to me as a kid- unanimated, beaten down, claiming no emotions except perhaps anger. I determined by eleven that I’d not be them, that I’d never stop feeling or deny what I felt. I had one motto that centered me: Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore.

So scroll on if you wish. I rarely complain about things that genuinely hurt my feelings, and it’s more likely that you’ll just be on my Madam DeFarge-like lists for another day. For now, I’ll simply shrug and think “ok” or maybe “schmuck” to myself with a touch of pity for your unknowing ignorance.

Or as my grandma would say, “ I ain’t studying you.”

Reflections

Thinking about what “We are all related” means at a level I’ve not been.
It’s disturbing. As it must be.

Certainly anyone of conscience has considered what that, or The Golden Rule, or Beatitudes mean, what they’re trying to lead us towards. Like Wittgenstein’s fly in the bottle, we’re all trying to find our way out of a trap we willingly entered. Enticed perhaps by something sweet to us: fame, escape, wealth, esteem, love… or simply to survive.

It’s nearly impossible in the realities of the world we live in, to see those things as illusions. They are the driving forces that allow us to tolerate an inhumane society and our human limitations. They motivate us and give us hope, whether it’s of earthly or spiritual rewards. And we crave that. We pray, muddle, and force our way through, but we don’t generally experience it as that because for the most part, we’re given no alternatives, birth to death. Even those of us aware of other possibilities still find ourselves trapped in a world almost completely colonized. And no, I don’t mean only events since 1492. That mindset began long before and has always led to alienation, wars, and despair.

Don’t misunderstand me: there are belief systems and psychologies that name these things and can help one modify behaviors and to a limited extend, even outcomes. But we’re like addicts whereby even truths are worked into our inner beliefs and ultimately, denial.

So is there a way out of the bottle before death? I honestly don’t know. My own inner drives impel me towards a form of hope, and I’ll continue to meditate and repeat my mantra, and perform the rituals of my mother’s people in between worry, confusion, fear, and rage. I‘ll continue because I live, and without meaning, as Frankl understood, we are rudderless yet compulsive souls, lost to our fears. And we must consciously choose what our lives are to mean or lose the heart and soul of our humanity.

The older I get, the deeper is my respect, appreciation, admiration, and genuine awe for my Ancestors. Not only did they survive every conceivable and imagined horror, they thought about what their struggles meant and how best to bear suffering yet remain intact. They left hints, stories, and sometimes clear instructions, but most impressively, they showed through their own lives. They all retained humor, kindness, and goodness, harsh as their versions might sometimes have seemed to me as a child.

Outside of and beyond their circumstances, they were fully human, perhaps the highest compliment I have. They kept kinship beyond blood. I so aspire.

Photo by Anjana Mebane-Cruz

About Cake?

Ok, so some of you know it’s been a very, very rough year for me, and that I needed to get away from my house filled with the things and life of my marriage. It was unthinkable to leave and unbearable to stay, so after some coaxing and losing fifty pounds because I wasn’t eating, I went South at my son’s loving behest. And it’s been hard, but incredibly healing to be with his family and to see my granddaughter as she becomes a young lady. It’s only slightly less wrenching to be without my love in a place he never knew, but it gave me a sliver enough of space to continue.

You may also know that while the South has many things to recommend it, baked goods aren’t among them. So a coupla weeks ago I expressed my dismay and sorrow in being unable to find a tender slice of layer cake that wouldn’t send me into a diabetic coma. I’m not diabetic and hope to remain that way, but Southern desserts seem to equate love with sugar intensity. I knew this before coming, having spent every year of my childhood in North Carolina, and 17 years in Virginia, but I thought that by now all the tri-state retirees might have had some influence in just that one area. Sigh.

I also despaired the lack of duck, and finally resorted to procuring and roasting one whole and now subscribing to a farm share. (I still don’t understand how various Asian restaurants can exist without duck on the menu. I’m looking at you, Thai restauranteurs)

However, the cake remained a fantasy and I finally broke down, found my cake pans, put flour on my shopping list, and girded my loins in preparation for baking. I’m in the real South folks, and I am not a hot weather person, so I hope you appreciate the severity of the situation! I was also prepared to order from the yummy Chocolate Room, even though chocolate is not my cake of first choice, but Albermarle Bakery in Charlottesville has demurred in sending a Princess Cake “Care package”. (Look it up, youngsters) Desperate times, my dudes.


And then on Tuesday night at about 8, I was locking up the front and noticed a package outside. Brought the Goodbelly box in, noting that it wasn’t hot and had clearly been delivered recently. I knew immediately what it had to be because about a week earlier, m’new BFF and all around good guy, Chris S., had attempted to send me a cake. However, it was smashed flat as a pancake and had been outside for goddess knows how long, because the box and cake were as hot as if they’d been in an oven. Inedible.
But this cake was perfectly fine and even seemed happy to me. (Food vibes are real!) This gift was particularly thoughtful and kind because Chris and I didn’t know each other well in NY, despite his having been married to a wonderful friend of mine, and it’s only recently, via FB, that I’ve gotten to know him for himself. So I was quite touched by this. Plus I got cake that has now been child tested and granddaughter approved.

So I want to say that time after time, no matter how horrific things have been- and they have been and still are- wonderful people have come through for me, in a number of ways, including the monk forever now known as “the book packing Buddha”who took it upon himself to travel from Virginia to New York, packed up about 60 of 73 boxes of books in preparation for eventually putting my house on the market.
I know my main buds are always here for me, but I also have new friends- a term I don’t use lightly-some as yet unmet except through social media. And those are just a few, and don’t even touch on my unbelievable family: obviously my son and his incredible wife, but also her wonderful sister, and my cousin and niece- all showed up and continue to show up.

So this is a public “Thank Youz” to the folks who deserve medals and crowns for their big hearted love, including the friend who got me through those first few hours after discovering my husband’s body. I will forever be grateful for that. And thanks to everyone who gets that there’s not enough humility, kindness, or gratitude, ever, so we should make note of it and cherish it.
And I’m good for now. I have cake and will live to complain or weep again tomorrow or whenever people get on my nerves again or I miss Ray. (Probably within the hour, so enjoy this moment 😉)

PS: Don’t worry- far as I know, I’m not dying. Just grateful to have incarnated into so much love and kindness in a too often very cruel world.

Peace.

Photo by Anjana Mebane-Cruz

Just A Note

“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival.” – Chief Seattle, 1852

💔 In my older years I’ve come to a deep understanding that greed is the most destructive force in the world. Doesn’t matter what form it takes- envy, the desire for power, money, influence, fame, or to control others or their bodies- in the end, it’s still greed, and it kills: love, beauty, relationships, the natural world, and ultimately, humanity and human kind.

I’m obviously not the first or wisest person to say such things, but our decline on almost every level requires me and us to move away from merely noticing or despair and to vigorously act on behalf of the world and all living beings. In my tradition, that includes everything/everyone in the natural world, including rocks, trees, rivers, and bees. Even my nemesis, the mosquito.

Any culture, society, or tradition that promotes greed needs to be rethought, reorganized, or simply revoked. If we can’t understand that we are all connected and that our fates are intwined, we’re all going down with this earth ship I love so much.

When I was a kid at school, we had something called “Think and Do” books that promoted critical thinking in young children. I’m adding the element of compassion to the equation and asking that we all connect, consider, and act. Thrive, don’t just survive. There are and have been, better ways to understand and live in the world. Learn and grow. ❤️

Peace out, kindred.

Photo by Carol Kunkel 2022

Birthday Blues

Friends, you know that I usually make a fuss over my birthday, but this has been a personally challenging time and yesterday topped it off. We’re in a nightmare where a bunch of greedy, heartless two-leggeds want to force women to have children but won’t regulate the formula companies or spend the money to feed the children women are forced to bear. They know that the majority of these under nourished, possibly unloved kids will be poor and more likely to be incarcerated, often for the same crimes that their jailer’s own children and grandchildren commit but for which they will never be punished. And the rotten cherry on top of this putrid cake is that these immoral and cruel meat suits also adjudicated that death row prisoners could no longer use exculpatory evidence to free themselves when wrongly imprisoned.
So it boils down to the willful and fully conscious control, virtual enslavement, and persecution of women, people of the global majority, and the poor.

My birthday wish is that you actively fight against this in every way that you can. Give money, take to the streets (masked, of course), write letters and put your various amazing talents to good use. Organize, Agitate, and Change the World because a better one is waiting to be born. And it must be born, “by any means necessary.” We cannot wait!

Endings

Today marks nine months since my husband died and ends the week when things shifted for me. The last bits of magical thinking died somewhere around Wednesday, a day that has often marked changes in my life, although generally more benign, like getting a new job. It is Oya’s day- the Orisha of Change and the Guardian of the Cemetery Gate. It is she who admits the dead and has the power to deny entry. She’s the warrior who rides before Chango in the form of the whirlwind, the harbinger of his oncoming storm.

I am not one of her children, but my appreciation of that deity goes beyond the general respect I have for ancestral beliefs. I guess you could say that I get her, and like my childhood love for Athena, she is the archetypical embodiment of qualities to which I have aspired. This week my emotions made such a radical shift that I could not help but think of her, despite the inactivity of my beliefs.

For nine months some part of me hadn’t really believed that my husband was dead. It was unacceptable and just impossible. I looked for signs and portents. I prayed that his soul might enter an otherwise healthy but prematurely dying body, like in the old movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, or the more recent “Soul.” His death was an intolerable mistake and I expected the correction every pain-filled day.

Years ago, I had an ugly dream that Ray had won the lottery and when I came home from work, he was waiting for me in a big limo, on his way out of town. He handed me his keys and said that he’d paid the rent for the year. It was November.

When I woke up, I was angry at him, with that residue from lucid dreams that sometimes floods the borders between our waking and dreaming worlds. He of course laughed, held me, and was a bit hurt that I held even the slightest doubt about his complete loyalty and devotion to me, and over the years it became a bit of a family joke, and I’d always end the laughing by saying, “Uh huh- I’m keeping my eye on you, brother!” It was particularly funny to everyone because most of our friends had never seen a man as devoted as my husband was to me. Yes, he could be incredibly stubborn, obtuse, and frustrating, as in any marriage. But he was “as constant as the Northern Star” to quote Joni Mitchell. Adultery was an intolerable sin to him and one of the few things for which he would cut off a friendship. It was not in his playbook. He understood the boundaries of mild flirtation and never went anywhere close to its edge. He didn’t hang out on his own or with “the boys.” Once married, he was completely faithful, so my residual anger over a few days after the dream befuddled and amused him.

I tell that story because this week I understood that he was not coming back. I know that because I know that my husband would never willingly leave me and if there was any consciousness beyond the grave, any way that he could return to me or fetch me, he would have done it. There is nothing that would stop him. He prided himself as a Marine to never leave a comrade behind, and his love for me more than doubled that emotion. He would sometimes say to me, “You go, we go” and he meant that most sincerely. So for whatever reason(s), this week something shifted in me and I knew that he was indeed gone. It is real.

I won’t bore you with the aftermath of such a shift, I’m still processing and so far there’s nothing beautiful or redemptive in it. But I will leave you with something by Carl Sagan’s widow that showed up on my Facebook feed on Thursday and felt affirming:

2018 Observation

I have to laugh. Anxiety can turn people into hyper-alert, fearful-without-recognizing-it-fools. It will have you covered in armor, always prepared to fight: for your life; for respect; for fair pay; for your grades; against racism/misogyny/poverty/isolation/stupidity/greed; “bourgieness.”

Fighting anxiety.

Humans are funny creatures. We make so many things a battle and wonder why we have no peace. Some things must be fought, every day, in every way. But learning when to take off the armor- to trust in yourself enough to risk relaxation or love is among the most important things a human can do.

You’ve made it this far, you know how to fight and negotiate. You know who your real friends are. And if you’ve made it this far without that awareness, I reckon that your guardian spirits are strong and hope that they’ll continue to protect your dumb ass a while longer. Your weapons and tools are at hand when you need them, but right now, in this moment, you are safe. Relax and let love- for self and others-flow.

#Pranayamasaveslives

#Awarenessisnotparanoia

The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

I found myself getting emotional, even weeping this morning as I was preparing for my final day of classes. Almost lost it as I listened to a song from South Pacific. Couldn’t figure it out until I realized that eight months ago today, I found my husband’s body.
So much is held in the body, despite our schedules, plans, methods, and formulas for control. The body knows, remembers, and feels, and it will not be denied. I keep saying that grief is like the Mafia: just when you think you’re out, it keeps pulling you back in. Perhaps our society should consider this and not expect people to return to full functionality the first year after loss. I seldom think of past Western societies as being kinder, gentler periods, but the older traditions of mourning made more sense than what we do now.
When he was about 9, my son said to me that you never stop loving anyone that you ever really loved, and he was right. And grief is a part of that love. We should respect that.

RomCom Culture Crossing

So I just watched a very corny Bollywood-Nollywood combo movie, Namaste Wahala. It was actually a romcom my Raymond would have liked. Sweet, corny, the idea-reality-of true love, and of course, a happy ending. 💘

Best part from an Anthro point of view was the final post script minute when the issue of dowry vs brideprice was broached. An enjoyable moment in an otherwise predictable film.

Yet corny as it was, in thinking back to Mira Nair’s 1991 film Mississippi Masala being banned in India, I guess this film marks a moment. Of course the dollar power of two of the worlds largest film producing countries is the real base for this cultural bridge, but it is nevertheless, a major shift.