Tuesday, June 19, 2018

CAN WE TALK?

Am I getting too engaged in politics? I have been posting a good deal on Facebook in the past few days, and have been receiving a good deal of response to my posts. I hung out a Facebook "shingle" a couple of days ago, emblazoned with the words: Can We Talk? Given the current, seemingly unbridgeable divide between the political left and the political right, it was an invitation from this one declared and unrepentant liberal for "reasonable" conservatives (or Republicans) to engage in some form of discussion about issues that concern us all.

There was not a single response from a conservative voice, which suggests that either all my Facebook "friends" are liberals, like myself; or that, if there be conservatives amongst them, they are reluctant to declare themselves as such. In either case, the conclusion I must draw from the experience is that I am more insulated than I care to be from those with whom I disagree.

Responses from my liberal friends fell pretty much into two categories: those who agreed with me that there must be some reasonable conservatives out there and that it would be the worth the effort to try to engage them in some dialogue; and those who clearly thought I was being naive to believe in anything reasonable on the right side of the political spectrum and who scoffed at me for my attempt. It was suggested, even, that my effort was ingenuous, in that I was likely as intransigeant on many issues as those with whom I sought to dialogue; and that to invite them was to imply that I was right, they wrong, and that the invitation was no more than an attempt to impose my superior wisdom on the misguided.

Some truth to that, of course. Despite my claim to an open mind, I have a baseline of convictions from which it would be virtually impossible to move me. That, for example, access to health care is a universal right, when there are those who do not share this belief; there are some who abide by the notion that the human condition is G*d-given, that those who suffer from ill health, or poverty, or hunger are simply the undeserving in G*d's eye--or subject to His greater, and unknowable purposes. To be truthful, I would fight tooth and nail against that proposition, and would never be open to persuasion otherwise.

Still, I would like to believe that dialogue is possible on some important issues, and that to learn to simply listen to each other would be a step in the right direction. Otherwise, it seems to me, we are left with nothing but cynicism and despair, and a future in which further division and further mutual hatred and distrust are inevitable. Which serves no single person, let alone humanity.

Friday, June 15, 2018

F*CK TRUMP?

I'm working on a piece that will be called "WWBD: What would Buddha do?" I'm thinking about this awful mess we're in, about how to maintain a semblance of equanimity, about how to talk and write about the political situation while maintaining a respect for Right Speech.

The actor Robert de Niro gave utterance to the feelings of many of us at the Tony Awards last week, with his outburst of obscenity. I find it hard to fault his language when it speaks for what I myself so intensely feel in my heart and gut. To judge from the reaction of his audience--a spontaneous roar of approval and a standing ovation--he hit upon the same nerve that many of us share, the same thing many of us want to say out loud, if only to release some small part of our pent-up frustration.

And yet... de Niro's is not the path we need to take if we're to succeed in returning to sanity, ethical behavior and compassion in our country. So I'm thinking about this, asking myself: What would Buddha do? What would Buddha say? And thinking to share my thoughts when I have them organized and written down...

Monday, June 11, 2018

ARTSPEAK

I was reminded yesterday how much I dislike artspeak. The occasion was the otherwise engaging, sometimes challenging, sometimes entertaining, sometimes visually alluring, sometimes even emotionally absorbing "Made in LA 2018" exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

So this is NOT a review of the exhibition, which deserves serious review in publications more widely read than this one. This is rather a purely personal reflection on what I consider to be one baleful aspect of the inheritance of 1970s Conceptualism on artists working today: the need to justify their work with mostly rather pretentious, frequently unreadable explanation.

So allow me to indulge my inner grouch. Well, perhaps not so inner, but definitely a grouch. I don't like to be told what to think, or how to look at an artwork. And I'll confess that my enjoyment of the exhibition in question was marred by the ubiquitous wall texts--authored, presumably, by well-meaning curators in consultation with participating artists--that sought to inform the viewer about the work but which, for me at least, served as a distraction from what I was simply trying to look at on the gallery wall (or floor).

Call me antediluvian, but I find it sad that artists feel the need--and in many cases have been taught, in the art schools--to explain their work to the viewer, whether its process or its intended "meaning." To my mind, this kind of explanation tends to take the infinite range of possibilities of a potentially complex work of art and narrow it to the verbal parameters of the text. Worse, the explanation (the concept?) often precedes the work itself, predetermining and narrowing that range of possibilities even before the work is done. It is the polar opposite of my own aesthetic as a writer, expressed in that wonderful old adage, "How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say?"

That said, I must add a further grouch: to wit, that for all their good intentions, both artists and curators are too readily seduced by the handy availability of the impenetrable jargon that passes for critical discourse and is taught in those art school classes that claim to promote "professional" skills for students, most of whom will likely never be called upon to use them. It is usually recognizable within the first few words, and causes the mind to numb itself protectively before the end of the first sentence.

"Ideas" are fine. There was surely a historical moment for Conceptualism in art. But they can also serve to diminish the potential fullness and even the joy of the aesthetic experience. I think of the artwork as an amalgam of the four elements that, in proper balance and coordination with each other, form the basis of all human integrity: the intellectual, yes; but also the body-physical, the emotional and, for want to a better word, the spiritual.

I often leave a gallery or a museum today with the dispiriting feeling that the work I saw was too easy, too somehow thin, too easy to "get" at a glance or two--and then, just as easily, "forget." If I'm disappointed it's because I went there looking something greater than ideas or insights, no matter how brilliant or engaging; I'm looking, eagerly, for substance, sustenance, something to expand my experience of the world through the experience of a fellow human being. And ideas, bless them, are thin gruel. I'm still hungry when I leave.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

COMMUNION

I continue to be grateful for the inspiration that led me to open our house to neighbors--now friends!--who join us more or less every other Wednesday for a guided meditation. Yesterday evening was another wonderful occasion--quite special because four of our visitors and two of us, Ellie and I, were family. (I avoid using names other than those of my own family for privacy reasons). That bond could be felt, I think by all of us, even in the silence of a meditation sit.

It was not for the first time that someone remarked, in our conversation following the sit, on the difference between sitting alone and sitting in a group. The power and the concentration seem somehow multiplied by the number of people in the sitting circle. It is, I think, a spirit of communion, a word that not coincidentally reminds me of the name of the service that was at the heart of my father's Christian practice. While not partaking, obviously, of the "bread and wine," we sit together, breathe together, enter together into that special--call it spiritual--space that meditation opens up. Even as we breathe our way into the privacy of our own mind space, we share that space with others and benefit from the space they share with us.

Also in conversation... one of us introduced a word I was reaching for as I led the session yesterday. Having reminded myself in my own meditations in the previous days of the importance of taking pleasure in the breath, of relishing it, delighting in it, I introduced that notion a couple of times in the course of my customary guidance. The word our fellow-meditator used in relating some of her own experience was "savor." What a wonderful word that is! Whether taste or fragrance, singular moment or satisfaction in one's own achievement, to savor it is to bring oneself immediately and wholly into the present. Which is what, of course, we're all striving to do in our meditation.

I realize, always, after a sit, how very much I have to be grateful for!


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

SOCIOPATH?

I hate to throw around terms that suggest an expertise that I don't have--in this case, psychology. But I have done some basic research into the nature of the sociopath and it seems to me that every definition I have read is a perfect fit for the man who occupies our Oval Office. I have reached the point where I can't bear to validate him by uttering his name; and "occupation" seems like a fair description of the way he treats the office.

This "president" has a glibness and a superficial charm that seems to draw large numbers of people into his sphere of influence; he is possessed of an immensely puffed-up sense of himself, absurdly inflates his own successes and cravenly blames others for his flaws, errors and transgressions; he lies as easily as he breathes and thrives on the chaos he creates; he seems unable to distinguish his own fantasies from reality; he allows himself every liberty and considers himself untouchable, even by the law; he is endlessly manipulative of those around him, whether friends or foes--and appears incapable of distinguishing between them; he thrives on adulation but rejects all criticism; he is incapable of remorse, let alone apology; cares not the least for those he hurts; is stingy with everyone but himself and, with all his wealth, seems to lack any spirit of generosity; his moods are unpredictable, his actions intemperate; he craves constant attention and stimulation. Is he capable of love? For himself, certainly. But for his wife, his kids? His actions and his body language lead us to doubt it.

I have come to believe that we are all mistaken--whether Democrats or Republicans, American voters or world leaders--in expectations based on the assumption that we are dealing with a rational human being. The real tragedy and the real danger of our current predicament is that he has us all twisted into his own world of narcissistic illogic, and we respond accordingly. Sociopaths, I am led to believe, can do that. It is their special skill. Their drive to dominate is powerful enough to bend everyone to their will. Their superficial charm serves to distract those in their thrall from recognizing the danger they incur and the damage that they wreak.

The truth, I fear, is that the man who has made his way, by guile, into the most powerful office in the world is a true sociopath. He is irredeemable. To give him the inch that his Republican enablers keep allowing is to invite him to seize the next mile every time. The more we surrender to his lust for power, the more he craves. As I understand it, there is no stopping, no converting, no enlisting a sociopath to your cause. He is his own cause, and will recognize no other. Rational argument and persuasion are vain enterprises with such a man; they serve only draw you deeper into his tyrannical embrace.

In view of all this, I align myself with those who advocate for activation of the 25th Amendment. Trump hides behind a mask of reason, but lives--and rules--outside its realm. It is past time to rescue ourselves and our country from his unyielding grasp.