Sunday, March 26, 2017

To Bay or To Be

Maybe 10 months ago, I first saw a video of this guy, Ben Crystal, and his dad, a linguist, pronouncing Shakespeare's English as they believe it would have been pronounced back then.  What Ben pointed out, I have found to be true, just as a listener--it's more fluid, moving quicker, than the theatrical Shakespeare we're maybe more used to hearing in staged and filmed versions of the plays.




It raises the question whether the staged Shakespeare dialect, like Dothraki and Tolkien's Elvish, is a kind of language existing in the cultural artifact, in the show, and not spoken in daily life by anyone.

Either way, his recitation of Hamlet's, well, "to bay or not to bay" soliloquy, looks especially striking contrasted with Laurence Olivier's.  No idea whether whoever directed Ben picked a water's-edge location to echo Laurence's performance, but it adds something, doesn't it?


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump's Miseducation

Trump University, for awhile, seemed like a hamhandedly sleazy attempt at getting people's money--one to laugh off, without a lot of thought about the people whose money actually got stolen.  It also seemed so like him--this childish grab at anything that connotes power, luxury or prestige.  Gold.  Steaks.  University.  A vision of the good life that I might have had at 5.  At 70, he was continuing to not just rush after it, but pursue it with an obsessiveness that meant others getting crushed.  And, okay, maybe people who believed that he was a skilled businessman might buy that his university would share what he knew, help them even in the midst of the silly rhetoric, and get out before they got hurt.  

Then, several dozen million people voted for him to become president--to hold possibly the most powerful position on earth.  And what I believed I could see, what I still believe I can see, as the sham of the man, the transparent cash grab that his life is, came to seem complicated.  A way for people to get reeled in that must be investigated, probably by a lot of people with a lot more knowledge and/or experience than I have.  Not, ha ha, educated at Trump University . . . though millions and millions of people appear to have been taken in by it.  In one way or another.  

What is this education?  And have I had it, myself, in different ways?  

***

At 8, in third grade, I went to school in a church--a private, Christian school, with not a lot of funding but a lot of conviction and a staff of teachers, was housed there.  We had a curriculum, but a lot of freedom, and I remember being able, at least for a while, to run in the woods across the giant-seeming parking lot from that dark brick building, and building a snow fort carefully designed by my brother when the winter hit just right.  And, for a little while, a lot of us got into designing our dream homes.  We had no limits, and we had markers and paper.  

Helicopter landing pads on roofs, gardens next to gardens, central buildings that led to hallways that led to wings and other wings--we taped notebook paper together to make them even better, more enormous, more ostentatious, anything and everything more.  And I can't remember a single thing that made mine unlike the others; I tried to do theirs, but better.  I was going to look richer than them, because I had that kind of a dream--yours, but better.  It might have lasted a week, or even less--until we had to go back to whatever school work we'd left.  But we left the project with our homes plotted out.  

And I had picked out the girl in class who'd be my girlfriend if she'd just wake up to that fact.  She was blond, and that qualified her.  Because I knew blond was what everyone wanted, what I should want if I was the kind of guy people wanted to be.  She had some traits I didn't really like--too excited about Christmas, too talkative, and too close to the window, a cold spot.  But I was willing to be her boyfriend, as long as I didn't have to ask her, and risk, not rejection, but public rejection--everyone in class either seeing her turn me down or hearing about it.  Because they would.  

From that year, I don't remember any subject matter--any actual schoolwork.  Along with the snowfort, I remember playing kind of an abstract game of chasing through the woods with two sisters who were not quite the golden blond of my intended girlfriend (or the principal's daughter, which she was--the right alliance, for sure).  And some of us collected honeysuckle blossoms in McDonald's clamshells, if that's what they're called.  And we played in other ways, and I read and read.  

But I also remember signing my name in cursive on a piece of paper--so big it took up the whole page, just my name, nothing attached to it.  A red-haired, older girl came into the classroom where I sat with it, and I showed it to her--my name.  Stylish.  Ready to be brandished, shown to everyone, used for some kind of pride.  Pride wasn't big in our part of the Christian faith, but I had stumbled onto a streak of it.  And maybe my mansion was part of the reason.  So what if it would never be real?  
***

His pick for Secretary of Education would have supported that school, probably, but wanted tax dollars to go to it.  She might have fought for me two years later, when I was crying to my mom for sending me to a public school, where I heard curse words maybe daily on the playground, where I had no common bond of religion or church membership, where my being a "gifted kid" started to get me set apart, put in different classes, encouraged to enter contests, and generally taken way out of a comfort zone I identified with a magical past.  Suddenly, the kid who decided to be my friend was African-American, and he told me "be cool."  And I couldn't, and never could be.  I needed, believed I needed someone to sweep me up into a school I could run myself, if need be.  And the tears came without my trying, not just to Mom, but at school, where I got sent to the guidance counsellor because I couldn't stop crying.  Not really knowing why, I offered some of the reasons I just shared.  But I really didn't know.  

Betsy DeVos might say "toughen up," but another message of hers, and of his, of the whole administration, of fascism and its corollaries, is that we have to go back to the great way it was, and our plan means removing whatever blocks us from that.  Schools, homes, religion, whatever were safer, warmer, more competitive, and most important, respected once upon a time, and that group of people ruined it.  Or they will, if we don't stop them.  Or they mostly have, but (and this is really the message, isn't it?) we can undo their dark, dirty work, with this plan.  That's how a colossal wall, one drawn across a whole border like a mansion on a sheet of notebook paper, can seem reasonable.  It blocks us from what is, and we're left with what was.  And it's the best.  It's Eden.  It's who we really are.  And we're not men, are we, if we won't step into that identity?  That's his message, because it's in maybe some primitive drive, but definitely in our history.  Mussolini more than Hitler.  

***

Reading about him seems too close to deification--about his life, I mean.  He might be an interesting part of history after impeachment, or if the even more out there possibility does blossom and this election is actually reversed because of electors changing votes or something else.  It also seems secondary--nobody voted in a man, did they?  It's an image, animated by their fears.  Isn't it?  

But I can easily imagine this:  he learned how to be educated before he went to school.  And he learned that appearance is everything, in the sense that one can become an image and let it permeate nearly to the level of spirit, so he could imagine his gene code reading "TRUMP," if he could imagine.  He learned that education endangers--really learning things attacks that mindset, that sense of self, that storyline in which the hero gets fame and pride not only for himself but for everyone he defends, and he learned, on a level below knowing, how to store fear so it catches the right kind of fire, eating at weak feelings and anything else that threatens that "man" in him, the one he must have seen in someone else.  

He learned that he was all alone.  

Friday, December 09, 2016

On the Nonexistence of Trump

As the candidacy of Donald Trump began to pick up steam, in a time that's actually hard to imagine even though it was less than a year ago, I began to automatically follow a procedure for talking about it on Facebook--articulate arguments against it, make jokes about it, but not use the actual man's actual name.  It seemed like a way of not giving the phenomenon or the person more credibility than they deserved, but it also hearkened back more than I realized to the others who have been conspicuously not-named--Voldemort, exes of people I've listened to, and more. 

Elision can confer more power than it defers, and, yes, I've been saving that statement somewhere since grad school!  It didn't really hit home until I saw someone make a comment about "T---p" the other day, and, even though she probably meant it in the spirit of "f--k," the first thing that came to me was the presentation of the name of God as "G-d," that I don't know enough about to really comment on--a friend who I believe practices Judaism used it one time in a message to me, and I've seen it elsewhere. 

There seem to be a lot of reasons why he got as many votes as he did, and I don't really know enough about them to list them.  But I do know that my posting of articles to Facebook, about the repugnant policies and appointments he and his circle have been making, about all the possible ways he still might not become president, and about the potential disasters linked with his now-probable presidency, has that same automatic, driven quality that might be determined or compulsive; I'm not sure which.  It seems like a way to spread awareness, to possibly make amends for not having registered to vote in Indiana so I could, to also amend anything I might have done to contribute to the fervor for him in the lives of people I'm in contact with, or my Facebook friends are, and also . . . I don't know.  It's a fear of mine that the orange, mask-seeming face of that man simply has a compulsively clickable quality, and his statements do, too, so that by sharing, I participate in whatever madness led to him becoming president-elect.  Some of the articles I share I read; some of them I don't.  But I get that little burst of, what, serotonin?, from the likes that I get when I share those articles. 

But I do believe he should not be president.  And understanding, or trying to understand, some of where he and his voters are coming from--that can be done without condoning (like Dr. Manhattan says in "The Watchmen") and also without condescending, as long as I acknowledge the appeal of his candidacy to me.  It doesn't come from a place of agreeing with anything he says, of course; it doesn't come from believing he "tells it like it is," with his surreal accumulation of lies; it doesn't come from buying whatever fascist nostalgia wafted him into the limelight as a political figure; it doesn't come from  imagining that he speaks from the heart or the gut, since I see him reflexively, maybe compulsively parroting whatever his supporters might buy. 

He is clearly a showman, a tweeter with this vicious level of anger that seems pretty clearly undergirded by fear, and it seems of the same kind or thread that runs through everyone who believes America has somehow lost a status it needs to get back again.  It's not that kind of appeal at all.  It doesn't come from any sense of kinship at the levels of idea, heart, or spirit.  To quote another man who used language in a way a lot of people were drawn to, who also showed a distaste for diversity, "that is not it at all." 

***

Around 8th grade, I briefly started a trend.  That started with going to the store called "50/50" at the bottom of the hill in Maplewood, outside of St. Louis, where we had moved from another suburb of the city, where we had moved from a small farm outside of Troy, Missouri.  So, from a view of a highway with woods on the other side to a view of a cul-de-sac and oil-rainbowed creek down a little hill from it, and on to this wider, busier street that showed a, to me then, titanic amount of traffic, a hushing sort of roar and blur of cars and then that store.  It held remaindered items, odds and ends taken from other stores, almost none of them with any purpose I could find--a graphic novel called "Bloodstar" that sat in black stacks maybe near the half-damaged spiral notebooks, action figures from Karate Kid that did not include the Kid himself, other heaps and mounds of things in all different colors and states of hurt or being forgotten, and rolls of stickers with names that weren't mine. 

But "Bob" jumped out at me--stickers, looped like tape, with cartoon spaceships and maybe colorful scribbles, alternating with the name "Bob" in squared, space-age letters, and maybe more cursive ones.  I started taking them to school with me, putting them I don't remember where, maybe on my jean jacket and locker, then, I remember, one of the kids I had mentally designated "cool" came up to me and gave me money to buy some for him.  "Bob stickers," in his voice, became something other than what I felt them, deeply, to be--a sign that I was lost, unable to afford the cool things I could absolutely see other kids carrying in different ways as parts of their identities, and unable to find any kind of intuitive drive toward the right style, the right way of saying, the right anything. 

The strange energy that came to me sometimes, though, let me act popular, and I felt light then, kind of a floating feeling, with a completely different focus, away from the turmoil in there, and on what people seemed to be feeling, what they seemed to be hoping for, how I might play with that, play to that, become as much of that as I could.  It felt hollow and kind of wonderful.  It didn't last, like the sticker fad, but while it went on, that seemed like part of its charm--embracing the surfaces of things, like I would whenever I put a sticker somewhere, with its clear, cheap look, its gaudy quality, and its lack of any meaning.  Bob who?  There were none in my family that I knew of, none in any bands I listened to, and none anywhere else I treasured and therefore feared.  It was ubiquitous and empty.  Bob.  Pop.  Bob.  Hip.  Bob.  Gone. 

Our family had come through some hard times, like every family does, and had been close to other families going through tougher ones.  Some of our neighbors, at one of those places, had clearly been struggling to make ends meet, then, maybe after we moved, the man of the house (so to speak) had tragically died in an electrical accident.  We had all seen Reaganism, in different ways, whether or not we knew its name, had maybe been swept up in it not so much like a river as a roller coaster, carried through a series of plunges and rocketing rides to peaks that (exhausting the metaphor) we might later look back and see was all made up--was someone playing around, playing with us. 

We had spent and spent, in different ways, against the Soviet threat that had been exaggerated, magnified and contorted until removing it seemed like the answer to so much, and one that would never truly come.  Perestroika didn't answer that fear, that rigidifying in us, but, briefly, for me, watching "Top Gun" at the house of a girl I liked, both of us maybe 10 years old, and her family seeming rich to me--the whole escape of it, adventure of it, seemed like a release.  Maverick goes into the girl's bathroom.  He sings.  He follows that hunger for the open air.  He finds a fight there that claims his best friend's life.  And then we leave the danger zone.  Over and out.  Wow--so neat and easy.  Just like that uniting against a common enemy. 

A classmate at another school had lost a brother, not in a plane crash as far as I know, but maybe in some kind of military incident.  He would talk with a kind of solemn calm, that frightened me, about how his brother used to buzz the tower like Maverick did in that movie.  His eyes would go a little dim, like he wasn't really looking at anything anymore, and none of him seemed as real then, his longish nose or brown hair that was never styled quite right, but another kind of weight came with him into the room, and I felt stuck with it, looking forward to it leaving, happy when it did. 

Around then, I felt penitent whenever I did or even thought something wrong, letting Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" bring a sense of reflection, obsessive, not on anything I really regretted, but on all those failures that nobody but me could see, that had me bearing down on the pencil point in cursive class out of the fear and certainty that I would mess up those letters, that they would show through even if erased, that they would show the real me, the wicked kid, the one who thought evil thoughts and cared nothing for anyone, and I prayed harder, tried harder, to wall off that hollow.  I got migraine headaches that I got seen by the doctor for, and saw floating lights.  I had no way of making myself popular, so I had no way to exist, by my measure, or my mind's. 

***

It seems like an oversimplification to say that having a brother die from alcoholism would make Trump Trump.  And it might be.  But alcoholism is anything but simple, in my experience, and there can be a kind of hardening, an armoring and/or mask-making in response to, not just that, but other kinds of illnesses, mental and emotional, whether they're present in a family, a community, or a country.  In my experience.  And I don't really have any authority to critique any kind of American dream, and the seduction of the post-fact era that helped get him as far as he did seems like something to just naturally resist. 

But here's the thing:  pain and backlashes of different kinds have clearly come with seeming progress in this country, with that seeming growth of that seeming dream.  Around the time of my marriage, I started reading about the genocide of native Americans with that sort of horror, but one that seemed, then, to negate the whole nation that has come with that godawful oppression and bloodshed.  Now, it seems pretty clear that the godawful oppression and bloodshed can't be justified in any way shape or form, and here's the country we have now.  There are things I can do as an Anglo-American, hopefully to do better than my ancestors.  Never having been here--that's not an answer. 

But it can seem like one in the face of tragedy, can't it?  Denial--what does that do?  About my divorce, a therapist said to me, "That's a death."  Or did she say "It's a death"?  It was a hard statement for me to take in, and so it's a hard one to remember.  Unlike many of the ones Trump has made over the last year.  They come to me quickly, easily, a catalogue of atrocious, hurtful things to militate against, an itching, internal rash of them to scratch with a click, so to speak.  His shrill kind of anger that seems so automatic, so ungenuine, with his dead-ish eyes measuring their effect, I do recognize. 

Trying to start argument after argument with my dad about politics, after the divorce, when I was living with my parents and floating in a sick, dark space, I would go so easily into that outrage, into a defensive kind of poking that went after not any particular place with any particular point, but that explosion that might come, probably not from him, just in the air--a tension to focus on, blow up, never love, but nurture with that detachment that let me not feel, not absorb, not accept.  She definitely had been the one.  Definitely.  Nobody else thought that, but that seemed to reinforce my position.  For a while.  I wasn't there--I was anger. 

We've heard and read that support from Trump came from the disenfranchised, and that makes definite sense, and more than the statistically disenfranchised voted for him, and that makes more sense, maybe, because anyone can feel disenfranchised, and embrace that distraction that comes to seem like a cause, not just in the sense of a purpose but of "this person did this to you and that's why you're hurt" that building a wall between countries, something out of Roman times and then "Game of Thrones," came to seem like a dream a lot of people could share.  Common cause against a common enemy that caused all that hurt, that uncertainty, and, worst of all, that fear bred from both.  Maybe Mexico isn't a threat--but maybe that story can be projected where the Russians once went.  And suddenly they've helped elect a president.  Okay.  Because we feel okay. 

Trump lost a brother, and probably, a long time before that, lost a core sense of self attached intimately to emotional well-being and kinship with people, including people from other backgrounds.  Who hasn't lost that, or those, in the process of losing a self that grief brings?  But most people maybe don't feed on that emptiness, don't let it in, don't make it an engine (to quote Eliot again) to goldplate things, to become a caricature that dozens of millions of people suddenly vote for.  Only one does--has.  But that space past loss, where nothing seems real, I believe is him, is the image he tries to live, and of course it has an attraction, and it's one I hope I don't accept. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

9/11, 11/9

The morning of November 9th, I went downstairs from my parents' guest room, and it just felt crushing and grim--I couldn't see how the news I'd read could possibly be true.  She had been predicted to win, I knew she was going to win, and mentally I was still digesting the headline that said Trump had won Florida, with a little bit of "well, that one got screwed up in 2000, too" confidence left over, not like hope, but more like smoke from the hope that had passed.

My mom was sitting in her usual chair, in the living room--she sits in the white one that's well upholstered but not plush, while my dad has a corner of their long leather couch, the one closest to her, empty that morning.  She has a sympathetic look she gives, wide eyes and a half frown, and she gave it to me, maybe partly because she's heard what I've said about this election during our lunch conversations, and read it on Facebook, plus she saw whatever was in or on my face.  And she expressed sympathy, and also said, and I think I remember this right, "He's just one man."  That meant a lot--her effort at comforting me.

It reminded me of 9/11 too, like it did you.  Then too, I was staying with them, post-divorce.  That time, she woke me up to tell me about the terrorist attack, and I numbly watched the news of it come in, with, I think, Dan Rather's voice narrating over the picture of the smoking wreckage, talking about how we were seeing history.  It was the voice, and choice of words, of someone who had spent decades calming millions by reporting what he had already learned and been able to digest--unable to do that now, even while trying by telling himself, and us, that this would all be history one day.

Both days, my dad, the usual voice of confidence and strength, was gone.  And both days, I had to go to work, like him.

On September 11th, I worked at a bookstore in St. Louis.  On November 9th, i headed to my third day of work as a tech at a treatment center, training, being shown how to do everything I could to help alcoholics and addicts.  The day really is a blur, like all of 2001, but near the end of it, I got to talk to a friend who said he couldn't believe how it had turned out--like me.  But he's native American, and it seemed like I was suddenly looking at someone who might be living in a different country, because of his brown skin and black hair.  And it's not a fear that we've fallen back to where we were, on September 11th; it's a fear that that was a shallow fall, and that it went into a pit not created by the terrorist attack but opened up by it part way.  Or uncovered.

That Matthew Arnold poem, "Dover Beach," talks about love like an alternative to even thinking about war.  Like we can just be here with each other, let the "ignorant armies" do their thing, and we'll be all right.  And that poem gets hated on a lot, I think because of that.  The ignorant armies kill the lovers by the thousands.  Save them, and then, if you might be in love, go on a date--right?

A couple of weeks after the election, a little more trained at the treatment center and working the night shift when I can read, I get into "Blood Meridian."  When I mentioned it on Facebook, someone commented that the character of the judge in it is like Trump, but smart, or my mind filled in that last part.  Larger than life, devoted to looking good and making his views rule those around him, he says, in a pivotal moment in the novel, "War is god."  The man who said we need to kill the families of terrorists--hasn't he implied the same?  And will he act it out, now, in our name?

Divorced more times than my one, brother dead of alcoholism, he must have learned to become this monster, and I had this hope, that maybe millions or billions of people have had about leaders that seem not only insane but able to channel the insanity of others for their own power:  "when it comes to really buying in or not buying in, the people's wisdom will win."  And, under that, a simple, tense, false assurance:  "God will stop this."  And, under that, a prayer:  "God, stop it."

When I begged my wife not to divorce me, she said "stop it, Chad," loud, angry, exasperated.  Like I was dragging out a long argument, even though I felt like I hadn't been present for it.

My dad, on the phone, cried, like I am now.  He said, and I do remember this clearly, the quote, "I feel so bad for you, Chad."

After 9/11, he said "those poor people."

And I felt so numb then.  Spat out by her.

Let us be untrue--that could have been the Trump campaign's mission statement.  Facts didn't matter.  Orange face, wild eyes, that voice that seems always ready to break but also numb, rehearsed, not consciously but from a deeper source, like a
prerecorded answer to disaster, a frantic, not quite manic act of mastery, the one that resists the drunk brother, fights the divorce settlement, says in so many ways "this isn't happening because I'm too powerful"--have we carried that with us out of the start of our country?  Do we have to reckon with it at last, and find truths deeper down, more core?  We are a young country.  Is he a kind of acne?  A crack in our voice?  Or more?  A kind of idiotic god of war?  Ego?  Me?  You?
There was the trolling of him by a girl, at one of his rallies, caught by a camera, shared and shared.  Brown skin, black hair that hides a lot of her face, if i remember it right, because she's not watching him, present but refusing the charisma.  She reads "Citizen," by Claudia Rankine--written when police shootings of black citizens was a new story, before that madness came anywhere near the Oval Office.  No matter what he does, or where this country goes, on or in a server somewhere, that image of her shimmers, reading.  And somewhere, someone who's seen it reaches out, connecting with someone else.  How many of them, of us, does it take to make an army--one that makes peace, that fights for instead of against?  The protests have gone on since he "won," and the recount might start soon.  And we're citizens of something larger, deeper, and more true.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Landfills Up Above Niagara Falls

About once a week, for a lot of months now, I have gotten to drive to Niagara Falls, the falls themselves, and take pictures, in winter as easily as the other seasons, without even paying for parking when I've gone at night.

But about once or twice a day, I drive through the city of Niagara Falls to work here at Niagara University, and pass through what seems like a harsh, sometimes nasty contrast:  the stink of methane gas that hangs over the interstate, right by the fashion outlet mall.  It's hard to find any nice way to describe the smell, except that it's over quickly, and I can tell I'm headed where I'm supposed to go when I drive through it.  It's like the rank alloy of smells that I seem to have driven through whenever I've gone by a large scale farming operation--one where there is no natural place for the waste to drain, so the reek of it sits in the air, just like it does on the ground.

In this case, it's in the ground--the landfills that sit just across the highway from that strip of Niagara Falls that holds almost all of its shopping, the factory outlet stores and restaurants that have their mazes of lanes and signs to drive through, where Ontario residents come for apparently nearly everything being cheaper, and it's just one turn to head to the reservation or the military base, two to go to the small, Falls airport that has its metal dome not far from a mostly closed mall.

There, though, on the other side from all of that, is nothing but earth, at least at first sight--hills too tall to see the tops of from the car window if you're driving right by them, with slopes too steep for a casual climb, and even, today, when they are all coated with only white, wet, heavy snow, too treacherous for a good sled ride.  Their forms, though, seem too dominant, and too useless for any particular purpose, to be more than features of nature.  And, when I thought that, they seemed like places to at least imagine mountains, distractions from the smell and hinting at the falls.

Someone mentioned that they were created by people, really by one person, and, really, that person had a vision.  Building landfills up instead of digging them out of the ground might be common, but shaping them into these hills, not even out of sight, but a few blocks from one of the wonders of the world, so that who knows how many tourists take them in on the same trip as it--that is not a plan that just anyone could have come up with.  Though the plan had to have included some aesthetic sense, with each of these mountain structures having that sloped shape, it can't have meant for them to blend in.

A quick look might read "mountain" to me, but however many days now of making the drive has shown me, through just casual glances and maybe a few more oriented by curiosity, that they have what look like pipes protruding from the tops, possibly to let out excess gas, possibly creating that smell.  And it's the smell that keeps them from being anything like beautiful, plus that knowledge of their purpose.  A look up today, when the snow made them all almost absolutely white, showed what seemed like a railing along the top of one, maybe for maintenance.  Nothing in their structures, these pieces of steel stuck into their peaks, or the odor, in its dailiness that comes to seem like a weight every driver by there carries, makes them seem like they will ever fall.

The web searching I've done so far hasn't unearthed (so to speak) the name of any particular architect, and that might be for the best.  It's tempting for my mind to fly right from the little I know about these towering mounds to some dim figure, an easy target for my projections, of someone who doesn't care about the list of things that constitute, for me, a clean and natural experience in this area, or any.  My mind can make this person (inevitably male) into some kind of landmoving mafioso, maybe someone with bodies to bury, figuratively or literally.  It's easy for me to see and smell what I drive by quickly, and might not live near for much longer, with that automatic impulse to label a problem, then the hotly satisfying one of finding someone to blame.

But the other thing that keeps coming to me seems more useful, at least somewhat.  It's been told to me that I tend to stuff things, to hide, if not the facts, then their emotional impact.  That has its use, I think for anyone, and there are probably lots of experiences that can't be taken in, really, all at once.  It is possible, though, to have just that one strategy for dealing with both elevating and devastating things, and any others that have a transformative impact, and to have them build up to a point that can't be sustained.  And nearly every time I drive by those hills, it comes to me that maybe I have built up my own along the way, and that I need better ways to let my feelings out.  Maybe that's the usefulness of those hills for me personally, that they show me at least one way I need to change, in a way that I can't ignore.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Calm Beside Niagara Falls at Night

Since last year, I've been visiting the falls just about every Sunday, alternating between afternoon and night visits, depending on which one was more convenient.  In the afternoon, I was parking by the upper rapids and walking from there, and at night just driving into the parking lot, since parking is free after a certain time, and it didn't seem safe to walk from any significant distance.  That gave me chances to take a number of different kinds of pictures from different angles.  

For the last few weeks, though, construction has blocked the route from where I live to the upper rapids, and I haven't found any other way to get there.  The orange signs lead me through the outskirts of the city, which really are also its downtown, since the hotels push almost up to the falls themselves, and there isn't a built up district anywhere else, except somewhat on Pine Ave., with its Italian restaurants, and Niagara Falls Boulevard, with its chain stores and motels.  So I follow them into the roundabout that leads to the parking lot, where I've been going, and will be going for maybe a while to come, after dark.  

It doesn't seem optimal to that part of me that is always looking for just the right photos for my phone camera, which likes light, and I was also feeling like a better Facebook friend when posting a wider variety of pictures from visits there, instead of what might seem like the same image, or quite similar images, week after week.  Because it seems like part of me, right now, gauges how I'm doing by my response on Facebook.  At least part of that is probably healthy, since it is my way of staying in the most contact with the people who have known me the longest, and part of it might not be.  Either way, I had imagined a kind of mosaic, over however long I have left in this area, of the Falls in different lights and from different angles, not the same shade of dark.  

But that's what has been happening every Sunday evening for a little while now--I park, after passing the two vacant booths to get in, and then walk, largely in the dark.  It's a lit dark, friendly to tourists, which I'm pretty sure I am, but dark enough that the attractions not quite at the falls are inverted.  The gorge where people can look out in the daytime and see seagulls wheel over the blue-green, foam-tufted river, with the rock walls on either side holding nothing but that haze of spray that can be seen from however many miles away--it's a lack, an absence between my side and the glittery cityscape in Canada, with its white-lit ferris wheel and, right now, blue-constellated Christmas trees.  The observation deck, dark steel,  becomes a cut-out also, outlined by Canada's lights which are pixellated by that spray haze.  

The parts that normally overflow with visitors are emptied out, too, and show their emptiness.  The visitor center is lit but locked.  There are no street cars cruising through, just the paths they take empty and illuminated for me to walk.  There may be an occasional police car, and that's almost all-- once, a few weeks ago, an SUV pulled up by me, at that point where the visitor center hides the brink of the falls.  An older man, tired and tight-eyed, asked, "if I keep going this way, will I get to Riverside Drive?"  My surprised reply was just, "that way is the falls."  He and the woman with him didn't seem to understand, so I repeated it, and they turned around.  

Each week of the last few, I walk down toward the brink of the falls, and can see just a few silhouettes of people above it, at the railing, dark between the shining binocular machines that will still show a few views up close for a quarter, at least in the day time.  The people's silhouettes, those machines, and the usually wet pavement by the falls are all outlined and overlayed with whatever colors of light are flooding our side from Canada, rotating, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, from rose to yellow to white.  Because of the water in the air and the focus of their beams, they seem to actually be liquid, as if the light itself were concentrated and spread over us--the few of us there are. 

By Niagara Falls, at night, especially at this point in the year when the wind and dropping temperatures can stir the air and blast it in gusts over us, there are just us few there to take it all in, and to take pictures.  That means I can look out over the railing from right by the visitor's center, to take in that whole, falling wall of the bridal veil with its triangular offshoot, not quite fountain or curtain, and also get a good look at the horseshoe over in the other country, from this distance just seeming to hang there, still, but shimmer a little.  When I go closer, I start to feel that mist on my face, not as individual particles, but like a cool skin on my skin, and to see how the little hill just before the cliff resembles the falls--a short, horizontal stretch, and then sheer, last night snowed over enough to look even more like that white water, or some ghostly afterimage of it.  

Then there's the point at which I'm too close to the bridal veil falls to focus on anything else--it has that endless rumble with no rhythm in it, or any repetition I can hear, so it seems like a message that's being delivered endlessly to me, or as endlessly as I can stay for, that is more meaningful to hear than to interpret, and its cataracts don't seem so much enormous anymore as just all-engulfing, the one thing that is there for and with me, not with its history or how it might look during the day, but just its glittering, shattering ridges and ripples that look at once to be moving and sitting still, changing in ways that my mind can't hold, and helping me, in those moments, to let go of that need for my mind to hold anything.  

That letting go gives me a calm that's not solemn, that's nothing like numb, but charged with the same excitement I get from being in meditation, in another country, or with friends I'm just starting to let myself be surprised by.  And I think I also get it from writing, especially poetry.  It's that space where my thinking can't cling to anything, and I guess that's called the present moment.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Protests in Ferguson

Over the last week, I've been reading headlines and looking at photos of the situation in Ferguson, and also noticing just how many people around me seem to be following it, too.  A friend who doesn't talk much about the news brought the situation up to me, and my first thought was, "but this is western New York," as if what's going on there is a local problem.  

Clearly it's not, and the discussion of using National Guard forces illustrates that strongly.  Before that came up, though, the different headlines, the timeline of events on Buzzfeed, the discussion of whether the president would comment, the fact that he did, and a lot more showed that the situation there affects a lot of people, in a lot of places.  Maybe it's partly that the pictures of police in military-looking gear and vehicles dovetails with the discussions of government power and control ramped up by the Snowden leaks, and partly that the townwide clash between police and, I think, mostly peaceful protesters just hasn't happened very often in a long time.  But some of it, maybe the heart of it, comes back to the situation brought forcefully home by the Facebook-shared line drawing of Michael Brown's body with the six bullet holes--an African-American kid shot by a police officer, again, and the strong possibility, again, of nothing being done about it.  

I say "again," but I actually know almost nothing about the history of police brutality, aside from it being an ongoing problem with a very strong racial component.  But I tend to stick with statistics, to scroll down headlines, to shy away from the stories and the portraits that might make these situations hurt more.  And that has a numbing and distancing effect, as the Ferguson police might have known when they ordered media out of the city, and as the Bush administration must have known when they tried to ban images of flag-draped coffins coming back from the war.  The portraits, even of symbols like those, the bodies under them hidden, and the stories behind them, get us, or at least me, to feel for the situation and the people in it, to identify with it to some extent, and to want to do something to change it.  

That also has brought me up short in the last week--the pictures of people, in a time that can feel so dominated by distance, by the hand-held device, and by the safety and convenience provided by both, actually protesting in the actual streets.  And the question of whether that can still have an effect, in a time when distance and convenience are easy to come by, gets answered, for me, by how much it unsettles certain people.  The Fox News anchor interviewing Jesse Jackson suggests that the protests are a distraction from figuring out what really happened to Brown, and what should be done about it.  The predictable depictions of the protests as flimsy covers for looters come up.  And, again and again, images come of the cloudscapes of tear gas, the one with the figure crouching against their billows and the ones of the police as cut-outs, gas-masked silhouettes, marching through them.  The protesting works because it's face to face, because the protesters are leaving their screens behind.  

It's easy for me to get that distance and that convenience, not just from stories far away, but ones closer to home, but, this week, I'm also reminded that the technology in my life has no inherent effect on that, one way or the other.  I can use it to step back from things, but also to move in closer.  I notice the difference when, like the protesters, I feel like I have to reach across to someone, say something, ask why if need be, and make that contact, bring that intimacy that has and needs no screen.