Insurrection & Wound Treatment

Marian Anderson, painting by Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), at VA Museum of Fine Arts, w/ R.L.Rose

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:

“People of different cultures sometimes differ to the point where, although we could probably understand them, we might not want to make the effort. Then all we can do is show some humility and simply greet them.” (https://frameshifts.com/2020/10/13/greetings-from-ganesh/ )

 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.

            Sources for good ideas. Nonetheless, we can learn a great deal from the work of thinkers and planners. Here’s a short list:  the Ehrlichs’ Population Bomb,  the Ecotopia of Callenbach (https://frameshifts.com/2013/09/) , the Handmaid’s Tale of Atwood, Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, Eisenstein’s Climate: A New Story, Hawken’s Most Comprehensive Plan Ever,  Rodale’s agricultural books (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._I._Rodale ), the Minimalists Milburn & Nicodemus (https://www.theminimalists.com/ ), McKibben’s Falter and  350.org (http://billmckibben.com/ ), Sahtouri’s “ecosophy,” Garrison’s Humanity Rising Global Solutions Summit (https://ubiverse.org/groups/humanity-rising-global-solutions-summit ), Raworth’s Donut Economics (https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/ ), Atkinson’s The Story of Our Time (https://www.robertatkinson.net/the-story-of-our-time/ ), De Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man and Divine Milieu, Du Nouy’s Human Destiny, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si, Jaisinghani’s Homo Sapiens: An Appraisal of Modern Humans (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BWQ1SE2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 ), George Monbiot’s essays for The Guardian, or Pam B. Simms at MidAtlantic Transition (transition.midatlantic.hub@gmail.com), Lewis Hyde’s The Gift and Common as Air,  Rob Hopkins’ Transition Companion, the site for the Citizens Climate Lobby (https://citizensclimatelobby.org/ ),  Paul Goodman’s Communitas, or the book Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm, Shepherd’s New Self, New World (https://frameshifts.com/2013/07/ ), Mitchell’s Living-Spirit Based Change  and the stories of another native writer, Joseph Bruhac, such as Keeper of the Earth, or Shomrei Adamah’s Keepers of the Earth Guide, entitled Judaism and Ecology, or the works of Karl Polanyi or Jonathan Haidt. There are so many thinkers from many disciplines and religious orientations who have tried to understand the path humanity has chosen through revolutions in science, industry, technology, and information that it is impossible to make a simple summary.

            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—————————————————-

A book about seeking justice by organizing experience in the narrative form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxXPx7mHDOs&t=15s ).

A sermon to interpret faith in terms of interdependence (https://frameshifts.com/2016/04/)

Thoughts on the custom of growing lawns (https://frameshifts.com/2016/03/ )

On collaboration (https://frameshifts.com/2015/09/ )

On our limitations (https://frameshifts.com/2015/05/ )

On enlightenment (https://frameshifts.com/2014/05/ )

On modeling population growth:  a population study with R. Jaisinghani and Robert Rose  (https://frameshifts.com/2020/05/05/population-matters/ )

On three announcements by Mashkinonge, a magical fish-spirit guardian of the James River: ( https://frameshifts.com/2012/09/https://frameshifts.com/2012/10/,  and https://frameshifts.com/2012/11/ )

On some books and music: The flipbook about the Fellowship of the Attentive, Tales Since the Shift, a sequel to Frameshifts. https://www.flipsnack.com/rlrose4621/tales-since-the-shift/full-view.html  and the author landing site: https://formsofresistance.com/  and blog site: https://frameshifts.com/

Guest blogs in the new year: Home alone on the only planet that suits us.

With the clock going on a new year: A few thoughts (paraphrased) on what one does in isolation without expectation of reward:

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me, / the simple news that Nature told with tender majesty. –Emily Dickinson

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance. –e.e. cummings

Poetry is self discipline for the purpose of a formal integration of experience. –Hart Crane

. . .the lover in life will make obstructions serve and from all resistance gain strength. –Robert Bridges

Love is not a feeling. It is a policy. –Hugh Franklin

Look thy last on all things lovely every hour. –Walter de la Mare

I am, yet–what I am who knows or cares? –John Clare

the workspace

It should be noted that the thought of working creatively in isolation did not prevent any of these writers from going right ahead with what they were doing.

The first guest blog is a poem by Karine Marshall, leader of Capitol Opera Richmond. See her blog at: https://karineeva.blogspot.com/2021/01/a-moment-of-winter.html and the site for COR at http://www.capitoloperarichmond.com/

A poem on Saturday, January 2, 2021

A Moment of Winter

 Waves crashing on the sand

Whitecaps their winter wear.

Dogs running, barking, affirming existence.

Sun sparkles on the sand

The same as the twinkle in your eye.

Children squeal — vestiges of joy

Fading into the air.

Time passes unobserved

Days shorter, nights long.

Bears slumber dreaming of honeypots spring will bring.

The wheel turns, chance, fortune, and destiny

Shuffled mysteriously.

The wondrous potions of life’s elixir

Sustaining each moment, each breath

Until the last exhale

When the night sky beckons

To the abyss of the unknown.

by Karine Marshall

HERE IS A BLOG CARTOON FROM MONICA LEWIS, CHRIS WIEGARD, AND CORA LEWIS, FROM THE RICHMOND CHAPTER OF CCL: Citizens Climate Lobby https://citizensclimatelobby.org/

MORE GUEST BLOGS FROM THESE WRITERS AND OTHERS WILL APPEAR IN FRAMESHIFTS THIS YEAR. YOU MAY MAKE COMMENTS ON THIS PAGE OR CONTACT ME AT https://formsofresistance.com/

Peace,

Richard L. Rose

The right thing

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!        

        —Richard L. Rose  

I always carry my bones

Image from PushBack, by Richard L. Rose

I always carry my bones by Felicia Zamora, University of Iowa Press, 2021. 

            Insistence is not confirmation. Whatever one insists that poetry is, a poet like Felicia Zamora readily disconfirms. Like Dr. Joanna Lee, another poet of the body (in Dissections, 2017), who says that “poetry/ is always barefoot, even / over broken glass,” Zamora breaks into definitions. She “breaches etiquette” meant to keep her out. Like Dr. Williams, laying out the great body of Paterson before dissecting it, she shows us her body, which is our body, which is our country: “heart of reeds, lung/ of dew, stomach of grasses, what dwells/ in land dwells in you,” a well-known country—Whitman territory, where “all are part of the procession.” But even language conspires to keep migrants out: “the oppressor’s language has been pre-configured to defeat you—a language which does not give you the right to speak—certainly not to make poems.” The Church Ladies do their good deeds with circumspection, looking for “something worthy to give/ a kid like me. Something almost broken / almost breathing.” With Blakean leaps from sharp images of weathered bones, or the chrysalis of a migrant Monarch butterfly who wears “a belt of earthly stars in ornament,” or the razors handed out “for one more go home wetback” to prophetic social criticism, Zamora insists on her own definitions. The exclusive constructs of language, the certainties of pseudoscience like craniometry, and the skeletal remains of careless research beneath the parking lots of Lee’s medical school are “wounds of bodies made inferior with labels,” whereas those very bodies proclaim how “our organs in skeletal structures connect us beyond your labels.” A personal story and a national story, told in a rushing, fragmented style with words like expose, stun, sever, and relinquish suddenly becoming nouns in the way that countless daily cuts and gestures continually bring the migrant or outsider up short, this collection is also a celebration of a different kind of body politic—and of how to grow into it. “We all grow out of something,” she says, thinking of doors slamming shut behind her; “thinking I had done something wrong to never warrant celebration,” but confident that human beings can “unlearn rules, draw a map that starts in fluid of your lungs,” and, instead of fearing all the other kinds of bodies, discover “awe in the limitlessness” of diversity. . #I always carry my bones #NetGalley

The RHS Book of Garden Verse

A REVIEW

Uncomfortable with their intimate dependence upon plants, human beings have asserted dominion over their lowly green companions. For generations, from Gilgamesh’s whacking at the holy Cedar Forest, to the expulsion from Eden, to medieval botanists collecting herbs for their signatures to healing, to Charlotte de la Tour’s explication of flower dialects, to Luther Burbank’s seed catalog, and Monsanto’s genetic insertions into corn and soybeans, humans have considered plants as cultivars and instruments, like pebble-tools, fire, querns, or rototillers.  Uncomfortable with the thought that plants might be transcendent beings with long-term strategies of their own, most humans maintain a strictly I-It relationship—except for poets. Decorous in the best sense of a well-matched counterpoint of the verbal and visual, the Royal Horticultural Society Book of Garden Verse, published by Quarto in the Frances Lincoln collection of illustrated gardening books, is a splendid addition to the long tradition of miscellanies and anthologies of horticultural verse. Happily neither comprehensive nor predictable, but concise and surprising, it is like a country walk, welcoming inquiry at every turn. The expected favorites make an appearance—Kilmer’s Trees, Herrick’s Cherry-Ripe, Housman’s Loveliest of Trees.   But all is not cowslips and golden daffodils. Here also find Sharon Olds’ lowly slug with its gelatinous trail, Sylvia Plath’s mushrooms who “shoulder through holes”, and the weedy patch that will not yield, no matter how much Housman “hoed and trenched and weeded.” The prints are as dramatic as they are apposite to the text. With no sign of desiccated, flattened specimens or botanical preciosity, the roses and marigolds float from page to page like greetings from a country walk to Colley Hill or Banstead Heath.  Like Edwin Morgan’s “strawberries/ like the ones we had/ that sultry afternoon/ sitting on the step,” these prints and poems make a sweet gift for the gardener with muddy knees and for the wintry-minded bookish naturalist who takes her greens in water-colors, in this garden of diction, you will find palms with island dialects and low plants with American vowels, mingling with the verbal cataracts of English Romantics, and the word-intoxicated intensity of Elizabethans. References to other works, like the poem, “April,” from Vita Sackville-West’s The Garden, will lead, like the “couch-grass throwing shoots at every node” into the larger company of green beings with lives and minds of their own. #TheRHSBookofGardenVerse #NetGalley

–Richard L. Rose https://frameshifts.com/

Decorations, Displays, and Forms of Resistance

December, 2020



Decorations, Displays, and Forms of Resistance

            Christmas decorations are going up along the street. Unlike other animals, who mostly seek to practice unobserved lives, humans call attention to themselves. When other animals do show themselves, their displays are fantastic and extravagant, but usually brief.  The cost to benefit comparison must be kept low. A puffed prairie cock can attract not only a mate but a bobcat. The unit of measurement for this comparison is generally taken to be progeny. Failure to replace the adults with progeny is usually considered low marks in the survival game.

             Another measuring unit, however, is benefit to habitat, with pass-through benefit to your species. Unplanned as they are, animals’ interactions with their habitat contribute to overall stability, as Darwin described in the famous study of earthworms and soil. Many other interactions have been studied, such as the microtubular communication system of trees and fungi. Even unattractive species like Emerald borers, locusts, tapeworms, bot flies, mosquitoes, and black flies in both adult and larval forms are often control elements within food webs, acting as stabilizers in different ways. Population biologists speak of the “strategies” of plants, animals, and microbes. The prairie cock’s strategy in an epideictic display is to attract mates. The fungal strategy is to take up the nutrients from the tree’s roots, but the tree’s strategy is to use the absorptive and communicative potential of fungal mycelia. The oyster’s strategy of producing thousands of eggs is to bet that a few will survive, but the cat’s strategy is to produce a litter and take care of them so well that most of them will survive. Such strategies are the evolved solutions to the problems faced in the survival game. Unless you’re a microbe, hundreds to thousands of years are required for even minor strategies to evolve. Oyster-like strategies, based on having surplus progeny, depend on a high reproductive rate. They are called “r-strategies.”

            An oak tree, producing an abundance of acorns in one year and only a few in the next, is following a different strategy.  Many plants can afford to wait to reproduce. They can survive through vegetative reproduction. Bamboo may flower only every thirty years. They can afford to wait. Meanwhile, the squirrels who preyed on the oak and grew fat in the year of abundance die off in the years of shortfall. They cannot afford to wait. The oak quietly controls the interaction, following a long-haul strategy, called the “K-strategy.” This brings me back to the contrast between decorations and displays.

            Perhaps craftsmen and animals have this in common: they do not decorate. They do display—at their own peril—both in the service of their kind and, unknowingly, in service of their habitat. When a craftsman like Toni Morrison constructs an elaborate story like Solomon’s Leap, she does not decorate. She takes a perilous risk to display something central to human survival—and to the survival of human habitat: so also with Stephen King, writing The Green Mile. These writers do not waste material; as mortise and tenon do not show joints, their writing does not explain when it can show.Whether craft is employed in making stories, furniture, or cathedrals, the strategy is to make something useful, reliable, and durable for other humans playing the survival game—which is the only game in town. The works that best follow a K-strategy are those providing reflexive ways to improve human interactions with other humans and with the habitat.

             A good example is the exponential growth curve of the current pandemic. The exponential function embodied in this curve is governed by variables that humans can affect, particularly in the early stage. When we “flatten the curve,” we are using the mathematical tool reflexively, not passively observing it. Given an ideal period of two weeks to a month of total quarantine, the virus, having nowhere to go, would die out. While this ideal is impossible to achieve, it is quite possible to approach.  Unfortunately, having a well-crafted tool to use or work of art to learn from does not guarantee that it will be appreciated. Displays of Italian masterpieces inside the vaults of Saudi princes do not touch the heart. Humans have a long history of failing to study, understand, and use the works that sustain the survival of caring, the survival of habitat, and the survival of the human project.

            Things are always flying apart—buildings, languages, beliefs, cultures. Physical and social erosion, along with occasional catastrophes, do their entropic best to demolish our efforts. The current pandemic reveals the cracks in infrastructure, institutions, and ideas. Work is needed; new structures are needed. Most of this work will not turn out masterpieces but small, incremental actions of fashioning, caring, structuring, and display. And this is the human project—our unique contribution:  the cognitive path.

            Unlike the many natural migrations and shifts of other species, such as the wanderings of monarch butterflies and wooly-bear caterpillars, the cognitive paths of humans become a grand procession of learning, errors, and countless leaps of consciousness—or frame-shifts. These frame-shifting leaps transpose us to systems with different coordinates, as in math when one goes from rectangular to polar coordinates. Such shifts include inventions, insights, and acts of moral courage. They are mostly unobserved, but like the long-haul K-strategies of forest giants, they preserve habitat, both biotic and social. Such shifts of frame and regard do not call attention to themselves or decorate the scene: they build, save, preserve, protect, and care for community, communication, communion, and the other commons—the rest of the living world.

             The frame-shifts of the human project include resistance, confrontations, and sacrifices. Understanding comes after the fact as the consequences become clear. The procession of the human project continually shifts toward more humane behavior and institutions across cultures and continually resists challenges, such as the hatred of outsiders so characteristic of our primate back-up system.

            To keep the procession going, I pray.

             Prayer is not a twist inward but a turn outward. It is sustained attention and creative engagement, both personal and collaborative, leading to a cognitive procession from fate to will, ignorance to understanding, greed to acceptance, waste to salvage, fear to hope, opportunism to compassion, exclusion to inclusion, and partial work to whole-hearted soul-work in the vocations that suit you.  To pray is to remind yourself that fate is an illusion; that ignorance, greed, and waste have mortal costs; that fear is false evidence appearing real, and that no secretive or mercenary theft can gain as much for the community as widening the circle of compassion. To pray is to engage creatively and skillfully, sometimes collaboratively, in building community.

            In this aspirational system, I defy the satisfactions of ignorance and the comforts of denial and withdrawal. I defy the reduction of humanity or the living world to any kind of bottom-line calculation. I defy the insistence on beliefs, proofs of loyalty, and decorations of status.           There is much to resist, externally and within, in order to advance the human project. Resistance takes on many forms—confrontations, poems, laws, quiet actions.

            The few square inches of cortical ensembles which have set us on a different path than our closest animal cousins have given us aspirations. Our best aspirations are easily identified in all cultures, and also corrupted in all cultures. Aligning ourselves with these aspirations is our human project. Luckily, we can usually do it unobserved, in the same way that animals go about their lives with only an occasional need to risk a display like this.

My latest form of resistance is a book of poems, PushBack. Links to PreOrders for PushBack, to be published in 2021, are on AmazonBarnes + NobleIndiebound, and Book Depository.

GREETINGS FROM GANESH

“People of different cultures sometimes differ to the point where, although we could probably understand them, we might not want to make the effort. Then all we can do is show some humility and simply greet them.”  —Edmund Carpenter  

            The above image, entitled “Lee Memorial: Color is Not a Crime,” was originally a photograph of the base of the Lee statue in Richmond during the spring protests. As prepared by Derek Kannemeyer for the cover of his new book of poems and images, the image reminds me of the wide, elephantine forehead of Ganesh, the Obstacle-Remover, peeking from the wounded Earth and encouraging us to greet change.  One resists such greetings. Edmund Carpenter noted that the cultures of some indigenous peoples might be understood through anthropology, but for us to understand them in any other way might be too much of a lift. As he says, “we might not want to make the effort.”

             Certainly, I am not interested in the Inuit’s diet. And I fail to share a gothic’s fascination with mutilation and ghoulish imagery in October. And I fail to share a fan’s persistence in November to watch games and super-games and to recite sports statistics as part of the ritual. Nor am I a fan, or likely to become one, of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, the Grateful Dead, or of various sects, evangelistic movements, and political cults. But Edmund Carpenter is not simply saying that it’s a waste of time to argue about taste (de gustibus non est disputandum). Actually, we do more than argue about taste. We go to war over it. 

            To avoid that, and lesser issues—like taking a governor hostage until she recants—we can recognize and greet another way of life rather than denying it, despising it, slavishly aping it, or attacking it and taking hostages. Every way of life has its own provisions and visions.

Sometimes we can appreciate them and try to make bridges, however imperfect. Example for the elderly: Paul Whiteman playing what he called big band jazz. It was an homage, but not to be confused with the real thing.

 Sometimes we can appreciate the other way of life and simply refrain from imposing ourselves on it. As Joe Henrich and others describe in their study of the “weirdness” of Western cultures (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/05/weird), the tactic of restraint has rarely been employed by Western cultures. 

And sometimes we can appreciate the other way of life simply by listening, greeting, and going on our separate ways.  I have been wondering about the nature of that greeting—the greeting of Ganesh.

(Here are some of the people who erected the Lee statue.)

The Greeting—

            (1)  The greeting is genuine; therefore inclusive, and therefore self-sustaining. A welcome with reservations is no welcome. My self-respect does not justify domination over the other. To greet the other is to acknowledge self-respect on both sides, even though we may respect ourselves with regard to different criteria. A greeting must be genuine. 

            (2)  A genuine, welcoming greeting draws the other into one’s sphere of concern, and accepts inclusion in the other’s sphere of concern. Again, the criteria on each side may differ. In an extreme case—say the other is a cannibal—inclusion will not last long. But a greeting is not a commitment.

            (3)  It is an expression of genuine welcome and inclusion, with the possibility of an extended relationship which sustains self-respect on both sides. We may not change. We may not want to change. But we can live in welcoming relationships with most people and most cultures. In fact, in the United States, we have proved this. More than India, or the former Yugoslavia, or other areas of heterogeneous ethnicity, we have found practical ways for many peoples to live in welcome.

            We have called it “pursuing happiness,” “free enterprise,” “a government of laws not men,” “a melting pot” or “stew,” and “justice for all,” but these phrases are very imperfect descriptions for the relationships we have invented. Often, we only value a welcoming relationship after it has been damaged by the tactics of domination, zero-sum analysis, exclusion, and deception. There are no borders on the Earth, only on our maps. Every damaged welcome becomes another barrier. So we come to the present time: Ganesh peeking over the Earth.

            It is sad to realize that elephants will not be on Earth much longer.  They require a large, uninterrupted habitat, not “reserves” where they can easily be rounded up. We also require an uninterrupted habitat of good will, not a fragmented, depleted, and overheated one. We also may not be on Earth much longer. But that broad, elephantine forehead greets us with a push:  A huge push.

            In the present sociopolitical churn, we know that we are being pushed. Pushed to genuine respect, self-respect, and welcome.  Serious and humane effort depends upon self-respect, not bravado or self-delusion. But sustained self-respect requires attention to the self-respect of others. What self-respect does a caged child feel? Or an enslaved girl? Or a man whose color is his crime? Or a trans person whose body is their crime? Or a woman bullied for having an unwanted pregnancy?  Or a worker required to behave like a machine?  And how does the suffering and death of any of these bear on our own self-respect? 

            “Every man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind,” said John Donne. So we must resist others being pushed about. But I find that resistance is not so much a decision as a bodily response to the assaults on self-respect. Sorry, but it is like vomiting—an act of revulsion and resolution. What are some forms of local literary resistance?

Consider: the poems of Nathan Richardson and his performances as Frederick Douglass (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7M7F6B5ESY&ab_channel=RiverviewParkCitizens)   

Consider: S. Ross Browne’s new exhibit at the Black History Museum, “The Surrender of Lee: A reverse mandala” and his new mural in downtown Richmond on Robinson & Cary. (https://richmond.com/entertainment/richmond-artists-the-surrender-of-lee-on-view-at-the-black-history-museum-cultural-center/article_7564f720-aa3b-54ab-9f0e-81f516640a2a.html)

 Consider: Joanna Lee’s continued efforts to keep the Richmond poetry community alive at River City Poets  (https://rivercitypoets.com/)

Consider:  James River Writers outreach and conferences (https://jamesriverwriters.org/) e.g. Helon Habila Ngalabak (https://jamesriverwriters.org/tag/character-development/)

Consider: The B-Corp Handbook: How You Can Use Business as a Force for Good by Ryan Honeyman & Tiffany Jana (https://bthechange.com/what-were-reading-the-second-edition-of-the-b-corp-handbook-851d42d3d75a)

And consider my new book of poems: PushBack (Atmosphere Press, 2021), a book of stories, Forms of Resistance (no publisher yet), and a website dedicated to showcasing my work: Forms of Resistance—all coming in 2021.    

Live in Welcome.

TWITTER KNOWS BEST

                                                         TWITTER KNOWS BEST

In a recent interview on NPR, Jack Dorsey said that Twitter is a listening medium. We listen to the world; it listens to us; we learn more about ourselves. Through listening, self-correcting feedback, and readiness to change or repent, Twitter brings knowledge asymptotically closer to The Way Things Are, the title of Percy Bridgman’s book. Bridgman is known for describing operational definitions. An engineer may not understand everything there is to know about an I-beam, but she does not have to know everything. She only has to be able to describe it in operational terms: load-bearing, stress, strain, and so on. Twitter brings us closer and closer to the way things are by engaging more and more of the wisdom of the crowd. Listening to each other, responding with sweet reason, accommodating to differences of opinion or emphasis, we glide asymptotically into a society of mutual understandings.

What sometimes happens is that an operational description becomes the only description.

This tends to undermine mutual understanding. In addition, since humans have, as we learn from our pandemic, limited patience with exponential curves and asymptotic curves—anything, basically, more obscure than straight line (Euclidean, of course), the time required to reach sweet reason via the wisdom of the crowd is likely to be prohibitive with respect to other matters, such as survival.

Other factors are also troublesome. Indeed, a standing issue between the hard and soft sciences is the wealth of intervening variables which come up in soft-headed fields like politics, journalism, sociology, anthropology, and so on. A perfect motto for economics, ceteris paribus, is perfect precisely because it is never true: all things are never equal. And, since it is never true, a whole science is created to model situations that never develop quite as expected—rather like the weather.

Sometimes, in fact, the crowd is not really interested in reason, sweet or sour.

The process of listening and self-correction, so admirable in an ascetic community where flagellation coaches are available, is less effective in Grand Central Station at rush hour or when dodging fire from a descending helicopter. In other words, Mr. Dorsey should hire some anthropologists and take their advice. He does not understand the spread or depth or pernicious, destructive capacity of Twitter—despite more than three years of having national policies rendered on the medium. Poorly rendered—like bad sausage.

Apparently he didn’t notice, or he thinks that crowd wisdom will catch up to it by and by, or—and this seems more likely—he is making so much money that he is unable to accept genuine criticism and institute immediate, genuine change—not “studies” and “listening,” as if one were preparing for an earthquake only by improving seismometers.

Speaking of metrics, where are the data gatherers and the data-driven divas and divos of Congress? How much more information do you really need to collect to identify a dangerous monopoly indifferent to the public good?  Where are Zora Hurston, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Professor Boas when you need them?

 

 

No more statues for a while: Statues & Statements

George Floyd Movement

Two comments.

The statue

          “The goal is to get into the other’s head. Make it tidy. Extract inefficient thoughts, wandering fancies, imprecision. It’s not enough to demand only obedience to a few rules—don’t steal, don’t club your neighbor.

“No, the ideas must be right—and properly arranged. In the past we might have been satisfied with creeds, oaths, and proof-texts, but now so much more is possible with the new glial apps. Installation is ninety-two percent painless.

“The key feature is the detection mechanism. No uncertainty exists concerning installation of the proper cognitive subroutines. Right thoughts are automatic. Retinal read-outs assure compliance control.

“Pineal re-set procedures easily provide our citizenry with the confidence we have come to expect in all state services. Additionally, the annual public recitation of proof texts has been replaced by a convenient frontal clip of updates transmitted as needed through the 8G network. Contact your service drone for further information on discrepancies noted in your neighborhood.”     —from a service contract in 2080

++++++++

          I’d like to recommend that we avoid building statues for a while. These visualizations of how we want each other to think have obvious shortcomings, not least of which is the difficulty of removing them when they’ve been around for a century and weigh twelve tons.

It’s tempting to think that we’ve got it right and are now able to put up some other twelve-ton statement—or even improve on it by installing the idea of the statue directly in each other’s heads.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that humans are, like documents, always under revision. We’re works in progress. We only think we can be finished. In reality, we are as provisional as the statements we make.

Now, if this seems dizzying or frightening, consider this: it also means that we don’t have to continue being what we seemed to be.

Statements

I have not used this website recently for several reasons. It is a discouraging medium with little promise for feedback or engagement. Additionally, although the website is indeed a place for placing my poems, stories, and music so that others may see them, it turns out that users may check the newsletter but do not go to the website to look for other works.

Given that the reasons for setting up the site were to engage with others and to make my works publicly available, you can see the problem.

Another reason is the times we are living through. What more could I say about them? Statements abound. I’d prefer not to add to them.

So I’ve been posting poems on Medium at https://medium.com/@r.and.k.rose

One a day, the poems come from an unpublished book.  Here’s a comment I wrote about the poem posted today.

About “Life’s Narrow Beam” & other poems         June 15, 2020

https://medium.com/@r.and.k.rose/about-lifes-narrow-beam-other-poems-1a5e5d4c93c7

Life’s Narrow Beam

 Don’t take a poet’s advice.
It’s like believing sunlight
when the Devil beats his wife.

No matter what the intent
the supple lines surrender,
it’s a feint.  You’ll meet your end

and turning quickly around,
discover line is paid out
to a sinking sail in shroud.

Usually it’s not a good idea to interpret your own poems, but I want to talk about this one to let you in on something, if you haven’t guessed it. While I could convey a poem’s message in an essay, the poetic format allows me to consider the wrappers used for the message. Poems are not simply “statements.” Where do words come from? Why do you choose one word rather than another? What neighborhoods do words share? What is emphasized by form, placement, rhymes and other echo-effects, enjambments (run-on lines), capitalization, tone, pace, melody, and punctuation? Any surprises?

Well, in this poem, the “beam” seems to be about light. Poems by Paul Verlaine and Wm. Cowper echo this possibility — as does “Row, row, your boat.” This possibility is strengthened by the meaning of “the devil beats his wife,” a colloquial expression referring to seeing sunlight during a shower, sometimes called a “sunshower.”

But you’re warned not to believe this — no matter what the ‘lines’ of poetry suggest. Indeed, the way things seem could be a feint like the visual illusions created by film-makers using blue rooms to make ghosts appear, the subject of “A Ghost of a Chance,” a poem from a few days ago.

You may even discover that you are not where you thought you were. In this case, not a “beam” of light at all, but the narrow beam of a small sail boat keeling in a storm, its sail still wrapped. Since it is of narrow width (narrow beam), it is unstable — not unlike life, where stability is a matter of dynamic corrections from moment to moment, not a state of being permanently achieved by having the right ideas or practices.

This switch-around which you discover by “turning quickly around” to see your “line is paid out” is a frame-shift, an effect I often seek in poems and in other writings. (See below.) Frame-shifting is also a life-practice which I recommend, but that’s another story.

The “line paid out” tingles for a moment as you realize that the phrase refers simultaneously to the rope-line attached to the sinking sail, the possible end of the sailor’s life-line as the boat keels over, and the final line of the poem. So why do I mention all this and not just let you discover it for yourself?

Two reasons: (1) I’m quite serious about these poems, even when the tone is humorous. Getting others to take them seriously as poems rather than as “statements” suitable for the line of this or that publication is vexing. Indeed, the reason I’m publishing this book a poem at a time on Medium is to avoid the folks who think I must make a statement that agrees with the current line of their publication. (2) The other reason to talk about the poems for a moment is that the book is soon coming to its half-way point, when it will ask you to “turn quickly around” and make another frame-shift.

In “Things Need Not Be This Way,” you will suddenly be in the territory of an extended narrative poem with long stanzas. As such, it will make different demands on readers than the “one minute reads” previously published. Let me know how you become engaged in it — if you do. — rr

More frame-shifts, poetic and narrative, are to be found here:

FRAMESHIFTS vol. 1: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005IQMDDI/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

FRAMESHIFTS vol. 2: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=frameshifts+rose+VOLUME+2&ref=nb_sb_noss

COMING AROUND: https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Around-Richard-Rose/dp/1947860089

 

A new venture

Call it the shut-in venture. Here is the first installment of a new book of poems, delivered one per day, on Medium. com:  https://medium.com/@r.and.k.rose/1-i-wrote-to-perfect-disorder-and-other-poems-in-33915daab24

I will also return to making blog entries. WATCH THIS SPACE. In the meantime, you may also read any of the works and past essays & reviews on frameshifts.com.