The practice of frame-shifts, as embodied in poetry, blogs, stories, music, reviews, performances, and other speculative fictions. Also a Net Galley Reviewer. To sign up for the newsletter, paste & link to http://eepurl.com/blVuIH. For author landing page and shop, paste & link to https://formsofresistance.com/
The blog for the snowy end of an incredible month is three very short stories by authors who want to remain anonymous for the time being. To honor their wishes, I have arranged the stories like a musical offering.
Guilt and shame are not the same at all. Bright blue light comes through the windows from an early morning snow and you look out at it. You’re in the dark house looking out at it, watching it cover everything. That’s guilt. Somebody switches on all the lights in the house and a crowd in the street sees you staring out the window. That’s shame.
You do something, you want to leave the lights off. The favorable court of your mind will find a hundred ways to let you off. I call it à la carte rationality. You let the lights come on; you can forget about explaining how what you did was justified. Saying under the circumstances won’t matter outside the court of your mind where you can take turns pleading, prosecuting, judging, and voting for acquittal under the circumstances, given it was a snowy day when it happened, for instance.
Saying it happened rather than you made it happen is acceptable in à la carte reasoning. Nothing has a fixed price. You get to choose.
Weather is different. The ground conditions set the rules. Light snow in the morning with a thin warm layer a hundred feet above the ground, then the snow turns to sleet pellets ricocheting off the roof of the lean-to in the woods. With a thick warm layer, the snow melts but the rain freezes on the ground. It glazes the roof, the pipe lying inches from the body; it even glazes the fingers, and fissures of the face.
Someone coming upon the scene by the woodpile may think it’s obvious what happened, but that’s because the ground conditions have glazed over everything. Under the circumstances, anyone would understand—anyone who had to listen to the old man ranting so much about your whole generation dragging his patriot dreams to hell that he hit his head on the pipe you were holding.
Shh. Don’t tell
The sun leapt out at me today. It warmed my skin as I lay on a railing, legs dangling like a child. Seagulls teeming the joint. Down by the river where you can still share a rare but secret smile with a maskless stranger. Shh. Don’t tell.
My feet held a rhythm and had a step in it. I used to dance on the street where I was from. Riding my bike with no hands. The night air leaving me breathless with hope. That little flame in your belly. The Aurora Borealis trailing me like a persistent nerd in the schoolyard. Holding my babies with locked eyes and love eternal, milk spilling from my breasts. Hot chocolate and wagons, little bodies draped over mine, snow in their boots and shrieks of laughter. Intense conversations for hours. Fires and music.
What happened to us? To our hands interlocking, the whispers of sweet consolation. The warmth, the love, the pain, the giddy apprehension? Bangles jangling in the green grass and brown skin beading with dew. Hot days in lakes so cold, your pelvis burned and then the warmth of sun kissed wood? Children running, matted hair, tattooed and sunburnt. Hope and love growing distant. Longing to be held. Longing for your touch. For a cold day in a warm bed, naked and free. I am mute. My words and body hold no power. They are used against me.
A man paused briefly enough to take a photo of the sunset. Roaring engines and sirens punctuate the air and murderous tension lies bloated, thick in it. A young woman cackles garishly. A stark contrast to her youth and beauty.
My little girl, all blue eyes and heart, cupping my face with her grubby little hands “You need to listen Mummy.” The flowers poured out this summer, knocking heads in the breeze. The church bells clanged all day long but suddenly stopped. Did you notice?
It needs something
Drifting across the sky at sunset over the domestic temple of the Daily Tongue were three clouds like three scratches made by some girl trying to hang onto the day before she dropped below the horizon.
Mimi packed her bag, locked the door, and walked down the stairwell to the parking lot. So much for the day’s dilemmas in the outrage industry. What she did had always been needed. Some paleolithic stringer had been tasked to rub the stones daily. After years of wear, the tiny abrasions inevitably made a polish. Maybe she had admired her reflection before the rock was launched at a hyena, or its human equivalent. Maybe her peers had praised her life’s work.
Impatience didn’t help, whether you were rubbing a rock, waiting for a microwaved dinner, trying to fire up opinion by rubbing sticks—or to make a story stick by setting a fire. Maybe slackers, like the skateboarders in the parking lot, had the right idea, but Mimi had never tried to pretend that nothing mattered.
Then the daydream again: Something on the roof looked into the office rooms. Perched like a grotesque wearing high-heels, she throws hot water through the windows, scratches “Ha!” on the perfect penthouse panes of the media empire. Maybe too much pepper brought it on. But who could eat this so-called empanada as it is? Who was watching? She added more pepper.
AND NOW A WORD FROM THE SPONSOR:
ON FEBRUARY 15, 2021 MY NEW BOOK OF POEMS, PUSHBACK, WILL BE RELEASED BY ATMOSPHERE PRESS.
I’m a pushover for psychobabble, searches for meaning, and fiction about psychological pilgrimages, like Scott D. Carpenter’s Theory of Remainders, about a psychiatrist who returns to the scene of his daughter’s murder in Normandy fifteen years earlier in order to find her body and find personal peace. Working as a detective with the tools of psychiatry, he discovers much more. In Collette Shedd’s Facing Lillia, recently published by BairInk (https://www.bairink.com/ ), the pilgrimage is shown through the struggling language of a combative psychiatric patient, an indigenous woman who attempts suicide and sometimes spends days at a time watching herself walk in a dream beset by demons and compulsive, suicidal thoughts.
In a period of mass hysteria, it seems glib to say, “walk it out.” Surely, I should at least offer an explication of groupthink or sociopathy. Instead, I take a walk and invite you to come along. No phone or earplugs, please. Listen to the noise, the screeches of machines, the squawk of Amazon vans turning around, the chatter of squirrels. Look at the sky. The moon has not yet disappeared. Look at other walkers—all ages, all colors, all taking their own steps. Swing your arms. Feel your heart beating. Sniff the camellias, the diesel exhaust, the black compost being raked by a Guatemalan couple into the flower beds of the shopping mall. Breathe it all in. Hold the breath. Process it. Squeeze the energy from the oxygen to release clarity of mind, sustained attention, focus on the moment. Slowly release the breath. Make it into something—a thought, a purpose, a meaning, a poem, or a better story. —Richard Rose
Henry, the oldest, had failed to launch. He lived with his family in a house built in 1738 that stood in the middle of twenty acres of corn field in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. George Washington used it as an infirmary for his troops during the Revolutionary War and their blood stains remain in the wide plank floors today. Sometimes, as he fell asleep at night, the worn floorboards, loose on their hobnails, rattled. He would turn the night table lamp on, get up and set the lock on the door latch, then return to bed to wait for sleep with the light on.
The hand-fitted Pennsylvania blue-gray fieldstone walls were two feet thick, but not thick enough to keep out the world’s contumely. The airwaves carried in news of the assassination of Dr. King, American war crimes in Vietnam, and the violent 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. Yet life was still pleasant in the old stone house and Henry did nothing to change the world but grow his hair long and sew paisley patches into the legs of his jeans to widen them into bell bottoms.
He dubbed 1968 as The Year of St. Elmo, the patron saint of sailors and those with stomach ailments, whose intestines were wound on a windlass to torture the saint into praying to pagan gods. One sultry evening in early fall he bought a nickel bag of grass from a classmate at a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg. He returned home afterward and smoked a joint of it in his bedroom. It was so potent the plumed birds on the antique wallpaper came to life and flew around the room. He opened the window to let the smoke out. It was a clammy night with heat lightning flashing. The smell of rain was in the air.
That is when the St. Elmo’s Fire came. His sister, Julia, was in the kitchen with a friend. They both saw it and started yelling. An undulating blue light drifted through the screen door and floated into the dining room, gathered itself into a ball and rolled down the hall. At the sound of their shouting, Henry ran down the stairs and into the family room in time to see it pass through the side entrance door. He followed it outside and stood by his car parked at the side of the house. It climbed the copper lightning rod that ran up the stones from the ground up to the rooftop. The fire perched on the spire, hissing. Blue snakes writhed from its rim and a violet glow spread over the roof. The rain gushed at once and plastered his shirt to his skin. He stared until lightning flashed upward from the spire into a cloud overhead and it extinguished.
A week after the visitation of the Corpus Sancti, Henry moved into an apartment in New Hope with a friend. It is said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but he knew that was not true.
Linda Sechrist’s article, “A new story for the world” (Natural Awakenings, January/February 2021) was a prompt for the following essay, I have invited her to write a guest blog. The prompt for posting this essay at this time, however, is the insurrection that occurred yesterday. A house divided cannot stand, as Jesus explained long ago; as Lincoln reminded the nation during an earlier insurrection, and as Howard Thurman wrote in Jesus and the Disinherited (1949). He went on to say, “If a man calls a lie the truth, he tampers dangerously with his own value judgments.” The insurrection is the consequence of the president and his allies telling lies and boosting them for personal profit. But it is also a consequence of many leaders trying to function with divided minds and now discovering that self deception has harsh consequences. Hate cannot be compartmentalized. I post this portrait, one of my favorites in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, because it is a reminder of the power of singular individuals like Marian Anderson to embody wholeness and healing. In a time of division, one wishes that, like Dr. King, more of our leaders were reading Thurman’s book and carrying it in their pockets as they decide what to do next.
The Fellowship of the Attentive
Imagining the future. Human diversity is infinite. By this, I mean that it is immeasurably vast, varied, and surprising. This may inspire the “awe of its limitlessness” (Felicia Zamora, I always carry my bones) or of community—”all are part of the procession” (Walt Whitman)—or of terror, like that underlying the claims of QAnon. The literature of futurism, prospectivism (Margaret Heffernan, Uncharted), and speculative fiction—the respectable name for sci-fi—offers visions of community but fails to account for human diversity and the emotions it elicits.
As Marie Louise Berneri demonstrated long ago in Journey through Utopia, all of the utopian plans offered as critiques of existing social structures devolved into systems of dominance, however communitarian their assumptions. Perhaps William Morris’s News from Nowhere best describes the kind of community in which creative work, personal freedom, private ownership, community spirit, and minimal impositions coexist in a balanced relationship between human beings and habitat. Based on an idealized view of medieval society, Morris’s suggestions were only intended to sharpen criticism of industrialism and to contrast with the top-heavy ideal society described by Bellamy in Looking Backward. Of course, communes based on Morris’s ideas have been no more persistent than those based on other utopian and religious plans, most of which begin with a culling:
“Therefore come out from them and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean . . .” (2 Cor. 6:17).
That is, those who disagree with the community’s assumptions are excluded. Presumably, this assures a pure stock for the unfolding of the Grand Plan, but human diversity is infinite. As agronomists learned while breeding corn to produce excess oil, tremendous diversity for the trait existed even within the pure strains of high-oil producers. In another example, even the tiny population of cheetahs seems to have sufficient genetic diversity to survive for many more generations. Purity has a way of breaking down quickly, not only within unmanaged monoclonal crops but within ideologically pure societies. It almost seems that the idea of purity may be exaggerated. Do you think?
So, whether the Emerald City planner is Thomas More or Señor Campanella, the Admissions Policy is an inescapable problem. Other plans of eco-gurus are untrustworthy in the same way. Because the plans arise from social criticism, they are remedies to avoid making the errors of the past, somewhat as prescriptions are written to treat a patient’s symptoms, not cure the disease. This leaves the plans open to assault from anomalies, unfixable situations, and random walks. Most anomalies derive from socio-ethnic oversights—such as being blindsided by the planner’s assumptions. Discovery of such oversights, if acknowledged, usually links to another discovery: the situation is not fixable. Anthropologist Edmund Carpenter once put it this way:
Even the idea of “fixing” is called into question. Finally, the plans of eco-gurus are open to assault by evolutionary random walks. In a population, the frequency of a rare gene, accidentally favored, may suddenly increase dramatically. In the infomercial world, a cat video promoting toilet paper may go viral, or a hateful unsocial media assault may be boosted by millions of click-happy fans thanks to the convoluted morality of Silly Valley. In the realm of Great Plans, the eco-guru, so certain that she has identified the drivers of social change, is suddenly T-boned by such an unlikely factor as the aforementioned QAnon.
The human project. But here is a simple summary: The desirable way to conduct our human project—dropping all the decorations (https://frameshifts.com/2020/12/18/decorations-displays-and-forms-of-resistance/ )—is to scale it down, reduce population growth, eliminate poverty, reduce wanting and consumption, promote education, imaginative creative engagement and collaboration, extend and protect wild habitats and biodiversity, put the energy-recruiting energy of religion to use in reinterpreting texts and traditions to widen the circle of compassion, bring about justice, and center attention on such matters as our interdependence with each other and other living beings. Easy peasy.
Except it isn’t. Why? Well, start with this list: sociocultural blindsiding, grievances, distrust, vested hierarchical and commercial interests, global corpocracies, information management and violence by bad actors, and legal proceedings that maintain injustice.
Noam Chomsky recommends more anarchy, by which he means not careless terrorism but the destruction of illegitimate power structures. A good start, but risky. Like the Chinese gentleman in Charles Lamb’s Dissertation on Roast Pig, you may pay for your tasty meal by burning down your house. Jefferson and Madison, of course, had other ideas. A majority of Americans are still trying to make sense and justice out of them. Critical factors to manage include population, topography (currently jig-sawed in a thousand ways), water, waste, poisons, nutrition, energy—the usual suspects. Of course, big ideas lead to simple solutions.
But most human problems are complex issues, not experimental designs subject to t-tests of statistical significance. They require individual treatment; they are case studies with their own smells, flavors, and their own—you guessed it—infinite variety, which, with an apology to Shakespeare, all humans possess. And what a problem for planners and eco-gurus it is! Perhaps that is why, as Berneri showed, most planners drift toward totalitarianism. Benevolent or full-strength, it really doesn’t matter. What to do? What to do?
The Wound Treatment Center. Well, since each case requires special handling—as you would care for a wound—perhaps we do not so much need a grand plan as a tradition of care. Although I’ve tried out the eco-guru role from time to time (see below), I have come to believe that the current approach to moving toward a more just and sustainable future must be decentralized, local, personal, immediate, and focused on four kinds of care: policy, polity, poetry, and policing. The Wound Treatment Center that I have in mind would be staffed by practitioners of peace, conflict resolution, guided learning, reasoning, and compassion. I call them the Fellowship of the Attentive, and first wrote about them in the book Frameshifts. First responders would render first-aid to the confused, mistaken, misguided, grieving, and aggrieved. Long term care would be provided to heal such wounds as injustice, violence, and inequity from the inside out. Attention must be given not only to what we do—policy—and to our societal rules of engagement—polity—but also to language. Poets are caretakers of language. They must offset the perversions of communication made by advertising, social media, and government. Finally, human violence is undeniable. Caretakers who deal with this wound must understand its root structure within the public body. To care for such wounds is to care for the public good, to build and renew community.
So, before moving on to the bright sustainable future, let’s train some first responders.
Some links to some of my eco-guru gigs—————————————————-
Continuing to do what is right—and other forms of persistence
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” —St. Paul, The Letter to the Galatians, 6:9
Sustained attention on creative engagement with a personal or collaborative project is a satisfying and fulfilling experience. We aspire to move from one peak experience to another, even when the project has ended or our persistence has degenerated into mere obsessive energy or perseveration. Maybe we even turn our persistence into other paths—eating, smoking, alcoholism, taking uppers or downers, shopping, gambling, doom-scrolling, or gaming. Psychologist William Glasser spoke to addicts about the untapped power of addiction. Certainly they knew the power of addiction—the power of impairment. But Glasser spoke of using this power in a positive way—of doing what was right for their lives—that is, finding behavior that did not disable them or diminish their options but instead led to growth and self-reinforcing achievements. Of course, describing personal care as “positive addiction” is like defining song as refined noise. Addiction, obsession, and perseveration are the unbalanced extremes of diligence and persistence. The mental noises of compulsions or flickering attention are distortions of the gentler sound of routines attending to the self. Filtering out distortions is no easy matter.
Any set of regularly repeated behaviors deserves periodic review. We may ask, “Why am I still doing this?” Or, “Why do I persist in doing this even though I’d rather not?” Presumably, New Year’s is the time to change habits—and this New Year will change national routines of government, to widespread grief and relief. But personal changes in diet, décor, exercise, spending, and taste are usually postponed after the first rush of determined enthusiasm. Here’s a thought: pick one routine.
Study it. Watch how it behaves. Describe it. Get to know it as an outside observer—or at least as what anthropologists call a “participant observer.” Notice when it happens. Describe the context of its appearance. Take your time to understand it. When you have elevated it to “a thing you notice,” rather than only a “thing you just do,” have a discussion with it.
In order to have a good critical discussion, you need to know the criteria that you value. What are your aspirations? What is the kind of behavior that most suits you? What is a productive behavior that you want to sustain because such persistence fulfills your aspiration? In Glasser’s terms, it is a behavior that makes a bigger you. It does not diminish or disable you but instead leads to growth. Compare the routine you have studied with your values. How may the routine be altered to strengthen your aspirations?
Sometimes we run on automatic but believe that we are persisting in well-doing. As the New Year drags behind it the unsettled turmoil, hatreds, biases, controversies, and sickness of the Old Year, we could do worse than to study and alter a few routines. Dr. King’s comment is often quoted: ”It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Perhaps we can improve at discovering the right thing by studying what we already do routinely.
FRAMESHIFTS IN 2021
The new year begins with the promotion of a new book, PushBack: Selected Poems of Resistance, with three sections: I. Instruct the Grieving Heart, II. Equalize Mental Static, and III. PushBack. A new author landing site describes this work and other new work, such as a series of FlipBooks. See https://formsofresistance.com/
Guests have been invited to write blogs on this site. No better way to shift your frame of reference than to listen carefully to another human being.
More book reviews of upcoming poetry collections will appear on this site. Two have already been posted. Changes to the website’s format and newsletter are underway. Newsletters will come more frequently. By the way, the allied site, marginalnotesinwordsandmusic.org, is currently down for repairs.
A few sermons, or sermonettes, as my army chaplain used to call them, will appear as blogs from time to time. I do not apologize for slipping occasionally into this form. Whether poems, stories, reviews, operas, essays, songs, or sermons, all are forms of resistance offered for your consideration and use. Resisting what? The answers are in the many forms. Happy New Year!