Monday, November 20, 2017

CAN WOMEN SAVE THE WORLD? A PREDICTION

This shrinking planet and its rapidly expanding population by the human species will survive only if we learn to modify the old masculine power model of competition, aggression and domination with the feminine model of cooperation, compassion and mutual tolerance. I use the terms "masculine" and "feminine" more as a convenience than as stereotypes or mutually exclusive definitions, since I believe that each of us has within us a proportional share of both.

The man who currently occupies the seat of power in this country is the apotheosis of the masculine model, the product of centuries of our Western phallocentric culture. Devoid of compassion, tolerance and constitutionally averse to cooperation, he operates instinctively from the spirit of competition, aggression, domination and territoriality. He himself is the embodiment of masculine energy gone awry, and the motivating quality of his core constituency is potentially good masculine energy that is both wounded and aggrieved, and consequently misdirected.

We are witnessing, in the current, very public, almost universal, mostly female revolt against the widespread practice of sexual assault, the beginnings of a long-delayed shift of power, questioning the hegemony of misused masculine energy and preparing the way for an infusion of what I hope and trust will be a much-needed surge of complementary feminine energy.

It is not only in the area of sexual aggression, and not only in this country that this imbalance is manifest. We live in a time of profound global upheaval, indeed of global revolution. Much of it--as in the Middle East--is related to gender injustice and the centuries-old suppression of women's voices and women's rights. We will need to somehow learn to find an equitable balance between male and female, and between masculine and feminine energies, if we are to survive the current crisis of humanity. I see many hopeful signs that this is happening.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

CAN WOMEN SAVE THE WORLD? A book review


THE RACE: TALES OF FLIGHT, by Patrick Ryoichi Nagatani (and collaborators)

The Race. Copyright: 2017 Patrick Nagatani (My thanks to the Albuquerque Museum for providing this image and all those below).

The late Patrick Nagatani was known in his lifetime chiefly for his beautifully crafted and conceptually based work as a photographer, addressing issues of topical social and ethical concern. Virtually at the moment of his untimely death, after a years-long battle with colorectal cancer, the Albuquerque Museum has just published his remarkable “novel”, The Race: Tales in Flight.

I use quotation marks advisedly. This is as much a work of conceptual art as fiction. It also features photography as an important element of the narrative. The “fiction” is the invented story of fifteen World War II Spitfires—the plane renowned for its role in the Battle of Britain—disinterred in recent times from a secret cache in Burma, where they were purportedly buried at the end of the war. Acquired by the super-wealthy woman and Japanese corporate executive, Keiko Kobahashi, the (once enemy!) aircraft have been restored and equipped with pontoons to enable sea landings, and have become the vehicle for Kobahashi’s vision of a trans-Pacific air race from Tokyo to San Francisco. Each is painted a distinctive color, and each plane is navigated by a female pilot handpicked by Kobahashi for her special strength and unique qualities as a woman.
 
Ludmilla Litvyck in Flight. Copyright: 2017 Patrick Nagatani
The first two chapters—a “Prologue” introducing the proposition and a description of the initial “Training Program”—are authored by Nagatani himself.  The remaining chapters before the epilogue are written, mostly with the collaboration of Nagatani, by women writers from different national and ethnic backgrounds and with a wide variety of experience. Their soliloquies describe the journey of each fictional pilot across the Pacific Ocean, with sometimes hazardous refueling stops along the way; and, more broadly, they are reflections on each pilot’s life’s path, her ethnic origins, her professional accomplishments and ambitions, her spiritual beliefs, her sense of responsibility and vision for the future of the planet. Each individual “flight” is in its way the inspirational story of a healing, a journey from personal vulnerability to self-confidence and strength.

More broadly, the whole book is about the healing process. Given the state of Nagatani’s own health as it was written, it is about the various forms of healing of the human body, from Western medical treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, to alternative healing traditions: Native American shamanism, acupuncture, even Chromotherapy—the color of each airplane is an important reflection of its pilot’s inner life—and all these treatments are offered at each refueling stop. They are based, one suspects, on the author’s own exhaustive attempts to find a cure for the cancer that invaded his body. (There is, indeed, an autobiographical flavor to each of the stories—not only of the women writers who channel the pilots’ narratives, but also of Nagatani himself.)

Still more than individual healing, though, the book is about the healing of the planet. This is a parallel “race”—a race against time to save our species from the environmental ravages caused by our many forms of pollution. Central to the experience of each woman in crossing the Pacific is the encounter, far below them, on the surface of the ocean, with that vast, swirling and ever-growing island of human detritus that threatens not only animal and bird life, but the ecology of the Pacific itself. This encounter is a moment of epiphany for each of the pilots, in most cases provoking a commitment to action on their return to land.

Quite aside from the physical and ecological healing, however, there is emotional and spiritual healing work to be done, as Nagatani sees it. Through the voices of his women guides and the tapestry of their experience in many different geographical locations, Nagatani explores the inner life of the emotions that’s common to us all, the pain and grief that none of us are spared as human beings, our anger, even our rage, along with those seemingly rare glimpses of love and joy. Through their voices, too, he explores the variety of religious traditions—Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Shinto, Hinudism and Buddhism, not to mention Native American pantheism, paganism, and other ancient tribal beliefs. His book becomes almost encyclopedic in its embrace of the infinite varieties of human aspiration for the infinite and the eternal.
 
Firoozeh Irani in Flight. Copyright: 2017 Patrick Nagatani
Nagatani’s book is also about the ceaseless human quest for happiness. On her descent into the San Francisco bay area, each women is alerted to her passage through “Cloud Nine”—a mythical place of Buddhist-like awakening where they are able to leave the personal traumas and the perils of the journey in their wake and experience the bliss of freedom from those parts of themselves that once stood in the way of their full transformation into, as it were, the essence of their being.

Kobahashi’s core belief and motivation is that it will take the liberation of strong female energy to heal the world, and she envisions her “race” as a way of marshalling and focusing that energy. Once each woman pilot—save one—arrives at their common destination, she is invited to enlist in a utopian project designed, literally, to save the human species and the planet. Located in an Arcadian community in Hawaii, it is a working center for the pursuit of intellectual, scientific, emotional and spiritual development, where each woman’s special talent and energy will be nurtured and allowed to blossom.

If there is a weakness to “The Race,” it is perhaps here, where the radical feminism that the story honors risks degenerating into an idealism too rosy to inspire conviction. It is an irony, too, that the whole idealistic enterprise is enabled and funded by immense resources of the kind of corporate wealth accumulated precisely at the expense of human economic justice and global ecological well-being. But this is perhaps a quibble. Along with Nagatani and his fictional philanthropist, I myself am coming to the belief that it is women, if anyone, who can save us from ourselves.

The race, it turns out, is also the human race. Our future depends on co-operation and compassion rather than the competitive greed that continues to serve us ill even today. With this intelligent, sensitive, and moving book, his last creative accomplishment, Nagatani has established for himself a fitting and distinguished legacy for his life’s work.

Patrick Nagatani, his wife Leigh Ann Langwell, and their recently deceased dog, Annie. Copyright: 2017 Patrick Nagatani


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Thursday, November 9, 2017

STRENGTH

It's clear to me that Donald Trump is a weak man. The truly strong man has no need to constantly assert his strength, whether in words, in physical bluster, or in displays of dominance. True strength emanates quietly from within. It is unmistakeable, and cannot be faked. It is not, of course, the sole property of men, though some would like to have it that way.

The same rules apply to a country as to individuals. Our country is in a weakened position, thanks to the president's unseemly threats and bluster. It is at the cost of our strong leadership in the world that he withdraws from pacts on climate change, nuclear agreements and trade. If strength is in integrity, and integrity is a matter of being true to one's word, our strength as a nation has been squandered by a man who does not begin to understand that lasting truth.

This man, though--let's be honest--is a reflection of ourselves. Much though I'd want to dissociate myself from this truth, "we" chose him to be the leader of our country. The rot in his soul is the rot in our own; his venality, his greed, his disrespect, his discourtesy, his elevation of money as the sole mark of success are not inconsistent with the values our society has come to embrace. Our political paralysis is evidence of our lack of care for each other. We are weakened, ironically, by the excess that results from our founding strength: the right of the individual.

The candidate we rejected just last year was right: we would have been "stronger together." Instead, we opted for division.

So now we are divided, and weakened by that division. Once lost, strength is not easy to restore. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably in the long view of human history, America risks sacrificing its pre-eminence among nations. If we wish to "make America great again," we must all work to reconnect with our own integrity.

It's not that we have completely forgotten how to care for each other. The recent response of communities to disasters--both natural and man-made--offer ample evidence that Americans will rise to the occasion. If only we could learn to manifest that compassion and that sense of shared responsibility unmotivated by disaster! Therein, in my opinion, lies the possibility to regain our strength.






Saturday, November 4, 2017

GRANDFATHERS & GRANDSONS

(for my grandsons)

Tomorrow is your sixth birthday, Luka. In this morning’s meditation, my thoughts turned not only to you but also to my older grandson, your cousin, Joe; and to my own two grandfathers. I was thinking about how important grandfathers can be to their grandsons, and my own role as grandfather… I write down these thoughts for you both, so that you’ll have at least a passing acquaintance with your great-great grandfathers and your great-grandfathers, as well as with your Grandpa Peter.

My father’s father, your great-great-grandfather, died of a heart attack on a business trip to New Zealand in 1938, when I was a year and a half old. My memories of him are for this reason second-hand, or through photographs. In only one of them, I think, are we seen together—with myself sitting on one of his knees and my sister, Flora, on the other. He is smiling with obvious grandfatherly pride. The other photograph I remember is the studio portrait of a still-youngish man in a stylish Edwardian suit and ascot tie, his eyes serious but gentle, with a twinkling suggestion of that mischievous quality about which I heard from my father.  H.W. Clothier was considered an important, pioneering electrical engineer in his time; early in the twentieth century he invented a process called “oil-immersion switchgear” which made it possible for the first time for electricity to be used safely on an industrial scale. His only presence in my life was my father’s reverence for a man who died when he, my father, Harry, was still young himself. He would have been no more than thirty-two years old. I can only imagine how sad he must have felt. More of him in a moment.

My mother’s father, your other great-great grandfather on my side of the family, lived much longer. M (for Maurice) H. Ll. (for Llewellyn) Williams (a grand old Welsh name!) was a prominent minister in the Church of Wales—the Welsh cousin of the Church of England, the Anglican faith in which my father was also a minister (my mother grew up swearing she’d never marry one!) In his later years, after serving for a long time in a parish in Swansea in south Wales, “Grimp”—as his grandchildren called him—became Chancellor of Brecon Cathedral. As children we would visit him and my grandmother in the seaside village of Aberporth on the Cardigan Bay in west Wales, where they had a tiny, whitewashed cottage called Penparc. In my young eyes, Grimp was a sage, a man of inexhaustible knowledge and biting wit. I revered him, perhaps feared him a little, though he was gentle by nature, a pipe-smoker, a vegetable gardener, and a powerful swimmer: even in his eighties, at all times of year, he would be out for a long, steady swim across the bay over which their cottage windows looked. For some reason, I have a vivid memory of him at the breakfast table, chopping the head off a boiled egg.

These were my two grandfathers, your two great-great grandfathers, from whom I learned a lot, and both of whom I value even more as I grow older myself. Even in absence, my paternal grandfather remains a presence in my life, an elder statesman of great social and intellectual responsibility. From my maternal grandfather, who projected it, I learned a well-grounded sense of the power of the human spirit and a kind of inner peace that took me many years to discover in myself (even now, I’m not always very good at it! But getting better, I hope!)

So Harry Clothier was my father, your great-grandfather. Born in Newcastle on Tyne, he was the oldest of four siblings, who felt much of the responsibility for his younger brothers and sister on the death of his mother when he was only, I think, 13 years old. Her absence played an important part in his life, even though his father later remarried. He was educated at the renowned Shrewsbury School in Shropshire, England, and at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (where I also went; and maybe, one day, one of you!) After college, he decided he wanted to be an actor, then a monk (lucky for us, that he changed his mind!), and finally became a priest in the Church of England. He started out in the poorest, meanest coal-mining area of Newcastle, where he made no secret of the socialist views that he held for the rest of his life--and which I, your grandfather, inherited. Then he was ordered by his doctor to move south for his health--he suffered from severe stomach pains for much of his life--and was the parish priest in several small villages north of London: Aspley Guise, where I spent my days as a child, then Braughing, and later Sharnbrook. He and my grandmother, Peggy, bought a cottage in her grandparents' village of Aberporth, where they spent their last years. His great hobby was carpentry and, later in life, when he discovered his skill with the lathe, creating wonderful bowls out of (mostly) dark, polished walnut wood.

And here we diverge: Joe, as you probably know, your other great-grandfather was Reginald ("Reg") Foot, who was a native of the southwest of England but moved to the Channel Islands, between England and France, before World War II. At the start of the war, the Germans invaded the islands and forced all the non-native islanders to relocate in internment camps in Germany. While by no means the terrible concentration camps where so many were brutally murdered, in their internment camp the family lived imprisoned behind barbed wire--a dreadful circumstance for the health and well-being of any family. Your grandfather, a teacher, started a school for the youngsters in the camp--a service for which he was later in life honored by the Queen. After the war, he returned to Germany as headmaster of a British Forces school in Dortmund, which is where I came to know him as a gentle, thoughtful man, given to sometimes long periods of retreat when offended or angry. He drove a Citroen Déesse--a rather strange classic car that used to hiss up and down hydraulically when stopping and starting. And he had a huge, slobbery St. Bernard dog that he seemed to dearly love.

Luka, your other great-grandfather, your mother's grandfather, and Grandma Ellie's father, was a Hollywood screenwriter, a novelist, and something of a man about town! His name was Michael Blankfort. In his day he was President of the Writers' Guild, a vice-President of the Academy and a Board Member of the Los Angeles County Museum. Quite an important person in the Los Angeles cultural world, then, and well known for his community work. In his young day in New York he was something of a social activist (rather like your other great-grandfather, Harry, over in Newcastle), dedicated, along with many of his friends, to socialist causes, defending the rights of workers and the poor. In the 1950s, when socialism in America was equated with the hated Communism, your great-grandfather was embroiled in a later much-discredited government "investigation" of movie actors, directors and writers, in an episode that cost him (and others!) many friends. He mourned their loss over many years, and never really reconciled. With his wife, Dorothy ("Dossy") be became an avid collector of contemporary art, and many of the works in their collection, on their death, went to the County Museum. You can still see them there today--a great tribute to his sense of civic responsibility and his generosity. A gregarious, people-loving, passionate and loquacious man, he lived for his words, and loved nothing more than to preside over a long evening's seder.

You both know your grandfather, perhaps not as well as I would like—especially you, Joe, who have lived so far away. It’s to my great and lasting regret that I have not been able to spend more time with you and your sisters, and to get to know you better than I do. You are now a young man, and even young men need grandfathers. You are lucky to have another one living closer than I do. Still, I relish just quite simply being a grandfather to two excellent grandsons!

What do you know about your Grandpa Peter? Well, you surely know that he is a writer—he makes a big deal out of that. It was not always the case. For many years, even knowing I was a writer, I worked as a teacher of language and literature at various universities; and later as an art school dean. I was fifty years old before I realized that, if I wanted to be a writer, I’d better get started! So for the past thirty years I have not had a “job,” in the real sense of the word. But I have been working. If I’m lucky, one day you’ll come across something I wrote—a novel, a book of poems or essays, a magazine article. But maybe not. Even after all this time, I’m certainly not a “famous” writer. But many people read what I write, and it means something to them, so that has to be enough.

More important than that, and better than that, is being your grandfather. Men, as you might—or might not!—find out as you grow older, have a more difficult time than women in connecting with their feelings, let alone expressing them. I was fortunate to find out about their importance some years ago, having been for many years disconnected. I now see them as co-equal with the intellect, the body, and for want of a better word, the spirit as representing the full integrity of a man. A four-poster tent--an integrated whole. So this is our integrity, as I see it, and it is our most important asset. To be fully in integrity means to be a man of your word: to always say what you mean, and mean what you say.

I have also learned, in my latter years, that it’s important not to hide, either from myself or from others. The downside of being a writer is that I spend a lot of time with myself, and while the Socratic axiom, “Know thyself” is a prerequisite for really knowing others, eventually it is others—like you two grandsons and, Joe, your sisters—who give my life its true purpose and meaning. I have come to believe that real happiness lies in the extent to which we are able to connect with and serve others in our lives, and my wish for you both is to find ways to accomplish that end.

I trust that you will always know how much your grandpa loves you, even when he’s not one hundred percent present to show it; and even when he’s sometimes not good at remembering to say it. I would wish it to be something to carry with you, as I have carried my own grandfathers with me, not exactly knowing them, but knowing they were there.

GRANDFATHERS, AGAIN

It came to mind in meditation this morning that I had inadvertently skipped an entire generation of grandfathers--including my own father!--in the piece I wrote yesterday. I will rectify this shortly and post an expanded version in the next couple of days. Meantime, please know that yesterday's entry is incomplete.