Friday, October 17, 2014

NO POEMS OF LATE


Coyote frets: the Muse
has been bringing him
no poems of late.
At which the Muse,
indignant, chides,
I brought you one
just the other night;
my gift went, shamefully,
neglected.  Constrained
to recognize the truth
of what she says, Coyote
remembers that he found
the scrap end of a poem
somewhere in the corner
of his mind and never
got to unraveling it.
I guess, he must admit,
my mind was busy
elsewhere.  I was not
paying attention.  Which,
tartly says the Muse,
is just exactly what
I'm always telling you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A MYSTERY SOLVED? Art Review

Amelia Earhart buffs might be surprised to learn that the remains of her aircraft, widely reported to have gone down off Howland Island in the South Pacific, made it all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Monica Bay, where it was only recently rediscovered and successfully raised from the ocean floor by the artist Dan Van Clapp.  His evidence is currently on improbable display at Future Studio Gallery in Highland Park.

All images courtesy Future Studio Gallery
Seriously, you'll be astonished by the verisimilitude of the artist's recreation, not only of the cockpit and a large part of the fuselage of the Lockheed Electra 10 E that Earhart was flying on the final, fateful leg of her global circumnavigation attempt, but also various severed pieces of the plane and other memorabilia--headset, helmet...


... a sodden logbook, and so on.  It's a tour de force of deceptive ingenuity and legerdemain.  You'd swear the tire is made of actual decomposing rubber...



... the fuselage and the visible remaining engine parts of metal.  No.  It's all illusion, crafted with enough skill to fool both eye and mind.  You go up really, really close and you still can't tell that this torn metal fragment is actually a piece of paper.

Von Clapp's installation intrigues the viewer at a variety of levels.  The artist teases us optically, of course, but also challenges the obsession with mystery and celebrity that drives the unending search for Earhart's plane.  He plays with questions of historical truth and our perception of reality, the way we view, and reconstruct our history, and bestow mythic stature on our heroes.  In the absurdist tradition, he seamlessly blends tragedy and sly humor; we can't help but smile at his trickery. His meticulous reconstruction is also an act of love, an homage to the woman whose feisty and indomitable courage is a reminder that the spirit of adventure and the embrace of danger are not the exclusive territory of men.

It's a remarkable achievement, and one that merits the trek to a less-than-familiar part of town.  We art folk tend to travel familiar paths, and too often miss what calls out to be seen.  We tend to look for the familiar names, and tend to pass over the ones that are less familiar or unknown to us.  Too bad.  We're the losers for it.

Meantime, kudos to Dan Van Clapp for a show that shouldn't be missed.  I'm only surprised that he didn't create the famous aviator's earthly remains.  But perhaps that's something best left to the imagination.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WOUNDED LEADERS: Book Review



First, don’t assume from this book’s subtitle that is irrelevant to us here in America, or to our leadership.  It is of vital relevance, no matter the specificity of his target.  Nick Duffell’s title will have resonance for anyone who has lived through the past couple of decades in America and watched our own wounded leaders in action--or, more correctly, inaction.  That said--and we'll come back to this--his central argument is that the boarding-school educated governing elite in Britain are themselves unconsciously governed by the lasting wounds incurred by the experience of being sent away from the family at an early age, and placed in a militaristic environment in which they learn to protect themselves from a hostile outer world.  

I can speak to this.  I am what Duffell aptly refers to as a Boarding School Survivor.  As a practicing psychotherapist, he has a long-standing practice designed to bring such people back from their emotional disorientation and isolation.  I could have used his services, long ago, but had to discover my own path through this maze.  I was sent away to school at the age of seven, and by the time I escaped to freedom at the age of eighteen, I had received a remarkable head-oriented education but remained what I often describe as an emotional cripple.  I had learned the costly and dangerous art of evasion and emotional invulnerability.  As a seven- or eight-year old, I could not afford to do anything but suppress the feelings that would open me up to attack from my fellow-boarders: fear, anger, sadness, grief, the terrible pain of being separated from parents who assured me that they loved me—even though it was hard to understand the paradox of being loved and yet exiled from the family, the locus of that love.

The result of my excellent education was that I never grew up.  Rather, it took me another three decades before I realized there was something wrong with living like a turtle in a shell.  Boarding School Survivors, as Duffell describes them, are stunted individuals so caught up in their heads that they remain disconnected from their hearts.  I simplify his profoundly well-informed and subtle arguments, whose bottom line is that Britain’s ruling elite, boarding-school and Oxbridge-educated, are supremely unqualified to lead in our twenty-first century world because they get so intently focused on their distorted, rational vision of national and global issues that they remain impervious (invulnerable) to the bigger picture of human needs.  They are unable to listen, to empathize with others than themselves and their own kind.  They are guided by the certainty of their own sense of rectitude.  To doubt, to question, to have a change of heart is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is the last thing in the world they can allow themselves.  (Duffell’s final chapter, on doubt, is particularly eloquent and on-target.)

I am admittedly unqualified to evaluate the more technical aspects of Duffell’s argument.  To this reader, he seems impressively knowledgeable and up-to-date with the latest discoveries of neuroscience and academic psychology.  He draws on a broad understanding of the philosophical development of rationalism and its critics, the countervailing social movements of repression and rebellion, and contextualizes his argument in that historical perspective.  In our contemporary times, his exemplars are primarily the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, England’s current Prime Minister David Cameron, and London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose attitudes and actions are profoundly—and in Duffell’s view—mistakenly reactionary.  As he sees it, they bully and bluster their way past opposition into futile military actions and social programs that enrich the already privileged and wealthy and contribute to the continuing impoverishment of the needy.  No wonder the England he describes is an angry country.

Late in the book, Duffell expands his vision of an entitled elite to include brief reference to American leaders—in particular, of course, George W. Bush, whose blind and reckless pursuit of a delusory obsession rushed us headlong into the war with Iraq.  The disastrous results are with us today, in the form of a Middle East in unending turmoil.  Looking at America today—a nation of people surely as angry as the British—I’d argue that what Duffell calls the Entitlement Illusion is by no means limited to British elitism.  Our leaders must also be counted amongst the wounded.  Our leadership is dominated by the squabbling of little boys who have never grown beyond the need to protect themselves and their own territory from those who do not agree with them.  Our political problems are the same as those Duffell describes in his country: militarism, misguided and prejudicial rationalism, a lack of empathy for the poor and underprivileged, an assumption of rectitude that rejects other views without a hearing, an angry rejection of doubt or reappraisal of previously held views.

Entitlement, I’d argue, is not the exclusive property of the British elite.  I myself believe it’s also, more broadly, a factor of historical male privilege, the patriarchal tradition.  There is a persistent myth in our culture that sees men as rational beings, in control of events, capable, practical, while women are (still, in the eyes of too many of us men) perceived as irrational, guided by emotion rather than reason, and therefore less competent in leadership positions.  Duffell argues passionately for a middle path, one that minimizes neither reason nor emotion, but balances the intelligence quotient with the emotional quotient, the head with the heart, reason with compassion and empathy.  I agree with him, that unless we as a species can find that balance, we are in for dangerous times ahead.  His book is a timely and important reminder of the need to “change our minds” in a fundamental way, and open ourselves to the powerful--and practical--wisdom of the heart.  I sincerely hope that the book will find readers beyond the native country of which he writes.  Its insights are profoundly needed everywhere, throughout the globe.





Friday, October 10, 2014

THE SAGA CONTINUES...

The Pilgrim's Staff is up!  Can't wait for you to have your Staff in hand!

Okay, sorry about the pun.  I borrowed it from a friend (seem comments on Tuesday's entry in The Buddha Diaries.)

But seriously, the novel I have been working on for the past two years is finally available on Amazon.  To remind you: the book is about masculine sexuality.  The story is told in two voices: a contemporary, Los-Angeles based figure painter, obsessed with the human body, who also writes a blog; and an 18th century English gentleman, whose journal falls into the artist's hands.  What results is an exchange over the centuries between blog and journal.

Both men--somewhat like myself!--are now of mature years, looking back on the exploits of their youth and reflecting on the effects of the aging process.  Both--somewhat like myself!--are the sons of Anglican clergymen.  Both seek to engage in authentic self-examination.

A heads-up: there are unreservedly erotic scenes in this book.  But it is more of a picaresque romp than a romance.  It tries to be honest about sex, particularly the phalli-centric sex that gives men a bad name!  Above all, I trust that it's a fast, entertaining read--but one that is not without serious intent.

It is also, I believe, topical.  I say, only half-jokingly, that women liberated the vagina decades ago; it's time for men to liberate the penis (the "pilgrim's staff--an 18th century euphemism.)  In a culture where we hear so often about men behaving badly--abusive football players, child-molesting priests, campus rapists, wayward politicians...--a little frank talk about our masculine sexual obsessions is long overdue.

I hope you'll join me on an an entertaining journey in The Pilgrim's Staff.  And, if you enjoy it, pass the word along to friends.  We could all use the conversation.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

VOILĂ€!

It's here!  Finally!  Will post availability information very shortly...


Metta to all!