Lessons at 48 (in two parts)

I’m not actually geriatric yet, despite teasing. An acquaintance did, however, recently bring to my attention that in seven years I’ll become eligible to join the AARP! Laugh!
Cultivate self-doubt.
Correct overshoot as soon as possible.
Strive to be gentle.
Stay firm.
Love.

Amherst, MA

corn under a western Massachusetts sky
corn under a western Massachusetts sky

I am not actually geriatric yet, despite teasing to the contrary. An acquaintance did, however, recently bring to my attention that in seven years I’ll become eligible to join the AARP!

So what’s it mean, fellow traveler?

If a life is counted as a single cycle of seasons, then I’m in early summer: all kinds of living things growing and coming to fruition.

My life lessons to date:

Keep healing.

Build your courage.

Face down reactions to fear.

Exercise the broken places inside yourself.

Seek new internal spaces.

Expand your capacities.

Notice time.

Meanwhile…

Laugh!

Cultivate self-doubt.

Correct overshoot as soon as possible.

It’s all improv! “Yes. And…”

Strive to be gentle.

Stay firm.

Love.

See Part 2: Dental Update (life lessons, part two)

A Letter to My Elders

There were thirteen of us and Marlene, plus Gater. The Elders had specific roles: two Teachers, one Firekeeper, and a Singer. Sheila was our Chef. MP performed her customary on-demand interventions in addition to behind-the-scenes support and logistical planning.

Spotted Eagle’s Land
New Mexico

Thank you for calling things what they are: “violence,” “mendacity,” “personal issues.” Such blights on beauty must be removed if one would live in a good way.

I am saddened that you had to witness and forgive my carelessness and ignorance. I am horrified that I needed you to witness residues of sheer ugliness. I strive to close the kindness-to-self gap. I am this way: originally un-parented and yearning to feel joined. I will myself to be better.

Everything is a Lesson

Nat's Cairn in the San Juan River
Nat's Cairn in the San Juan River

I arrived into a whirlwind of preparation, barely getting to chuck my gear into the sacred pop-up before being put to work. Pulling on the only pair of work gloves visible, I remember thinking I would need to be careful to avoid a blister, as the hole at the base of the left thumb was significant. Must be why no one else is wearing them, I thought to myself. A few hours later, I was reluctant to stop and go down to the river. The five women cooling off and chatting by the San Juan were all new to me; I didn’t know what to talk about yet didn’t want to be held back by insecurity, either. It took awhile for my mind to recognize this as probably the only opportunity to rinse off before the official commencement of Ceremony. Could I have anticipated that acting on such thoughts would become profound learning opportunities?

Which comes first: listening or observation?

In terms of my developmental biography, I have needed repetition and convergence. tree (facing west)If explanatory language accompanies direct observation, then I might absorb the lesson at once, otherwise the behavioral evidence shows that I have a systemic weakness at absorbing important information upon first telling. Sometimes, depending on my internal relation to the content of the message, I might miss the point several times. My stunning ability to not notice visual information cropped up at several junctures – weakening the group, sometimes crucially. Ouch. On the second day, five of us got into the yarn: Carolina anchored the 90- and 180-degree weaving sweeps of, respectively, me & Athena and Joanne & Mary. My casual handling of the yarn invited critique.

“Matter is sacred.”

“We’re like that, aren’t we.” Margarita gazed steadily into my eyes once I realized that my zeal to line the gardens around the house with stones from the river had caused me to forget that she was not supposed to labor. It seems I couldn’t balance a focus on things equally with a focus on people. Remembering instructions – all of them always and the specifically relevant ones in particular – remains a high-priority goal for me. Passing on instructions given to one or a few of us to all of the rest of the members of our group seemed even more difficult. We were confronted not only with extending trust equally between Spotted Eagle and Viviana, but also with acting among ourselves on the basis of a similarly presumed and reciprocal trust.

There were thirteen of us and Marlene, plus Gater. The Elders had specific roles: two Teachers, one Firekeeper, and a Singer. Sheila was our Chef. MP performed her customary on-demand interventions in addition to behind-the-scenes support and logistical planning.

Two of the participants – Betty and Mary – were tasked exclusively with tending the fire; the rest of us were supposed to be interchangeable. Athena was drafted to assist with the fire, and Nat got to enhance the chicken coop. Otherwise any and each of us did whatever needed doing. All participants had been instructed to prepare in advance by fasting and considering questions of what we hoped to bring to, and gain from, Ceremony. I had come asking to be honed. Thank you (uncomfortable though it was) for not missing a single chance to plane through my rough spots so that what I seek to give can be more accurately focused. Now I know what it means to receive tough love!

“We have gusts.”

Several storms punctuated Ceremony. One instruction that was difficult for me to absorb came from Nancy. “Don’t look out the windows. Don’t invite the lightening to fall in love with you.” There were several instances when an instruction given to one or a few of us was not passed on, culminating in confusion and sometimes resulting in a public admonishment. At least twice, I found myself discounting a message from a peer, and once I failed to pass on an instruction that had been faithfully passed to me. We improved steadily, but chaos managed to overtake us (briefly) near the end, when nature joined the contest between those of us eager for Ceremony to end and those of us wishing it could continue. Given the alternatives that we had been discussing, I was absolutely relieved when Viviana discovered it was ‘just me’ who had misplaced the special folder.

“We measure time in moments.”

desert flowersIt has taken decades to come to terms with the valence I have of manifesting underlying tensions in a group through things I say or do. My awareness of being immersed in group-level dynamics began to develop by accident and happenstance. Twenty years ago, Spotted Eagle presented me with an embodied lesson of “what fear can do.” The first experiment catapulted me out of a job and onto the road, launching me into investigations where I have probed a range of boundaries. No sphere of social interaction has been off-limits, from interpersonal relationships with family, lovers, and friends to the structural hierarchies between democratic freedom (individual independence of thought and action) and institutionalized authority – my own (such as with students and colleagues) and with/against ‘the system’.

Spotted Eagle’s original lesson to me was about the risk of being incapacitated by the irrational emergence of feeling frightened. Since then, I have used the visceral sensation of unfounded fear (throbbing pulse, weak legs, rising anxiety in the presence of no identifiable threat) as a guide for activism.  Somehow, I decided that this kind of intrapersonal emotional reaction suggests the presence of an alternative timestream to the typical flows engendered by the technologically- and socially-constructed momentum of the last half-millennium.

Over the years, I have learned about my proper place in society and the world from the reactions of others. Just as with the physical and hormonal changes wrought by the monthly reproductive cycle, the ‘good’ (desirable, preferred) and  ‘bad’ (undesired, dispreffered) responses – especially from people I care about – provides crucial information for the process of unifying consciousness (perceptual awareness) with occupying this/my body. For me, such self-knowledge has become foundational to ethical action in our increasingly diverse, interactive, and rapidly-changing societies.

Many of my attempts to work deliberately with the energy of these valences have been failures, some of them excruciatingly so. Nonetheless I learn from each mistake and take hope with each tiny hint of success. My awareness of consequences remains fledgling, although I work diligently to accept responsibility for conscious choices as well as my less- and un-conscious behaviors, most especially those that lead to unintended effects and unwanted outcomes.

“Laugh and free the dolphins!”

The honor of being invited to participate in a Menopause Ceremony in an Indigenous way, smiling stonefollowing rituals taught to a properly-chosen person who was raised and trained traditionally, is a gift that exceeds my capacity to comprehend. The mix of meaningful discipline and unconditional love in the Ceremonial Way gives special rigor to the task of shaping a life worth living. Additional gifts – being knighted, for instance (to Pay Attention! ) – nearly overwhelmed my limited emotional resources. Thank you for showing me some of the junctures I missed, where my selfishness or ego took us through chronotopes less beautiful than other options. The record shows that, at times, I operated in sync with a Puberty Ceremony rather than in celebration of acquired wisdom.

How perfect that you were kind enough to let me know, before sending me back into the world, that I needed to wipe the boogers from my nose!

when the goods are odd

7 August 2010

On a midsummer eve, at a magnificent location on Long Island, magic was afoot.

Although most celebrants IMG_0029would arrive at the designated hour that Saturday afternoon, many had begun the journey days and even weeks in advance. From Italy and Romania, the Dominican Republic and Dubai, from South and North America, the east and west coast and even the US heartland, homo sapiens and favored spirits (human and feline) advanced with hearts and minds firmly focused on the impending formal consecration of Holy Crap.

IMG_0072As all such spiritual occasions demand (even of those who are short), planning and preparation had commenced more than a year earlier: it was all about the party. The queens of Queens’ Castle cater exclusively to those with the highest standards, privileging the rare few blessed with creative capacities for combining The Ceremonial with The Corny.

Details having been meticulously tended since the beginning, the big day dawned with a long list of easily-managed minor tasks. The expectant mood was as calm as the balmy weather, deep and peaceful – despite the faux frenzy of bride and groom seeking reprieve from the upcoming ordeal. Would she trip down the stairs? Would he stumble over the confetti? Could they speak their vows loud enough for us to hear them?!

“I must warn you. I have fed.”

IMG_0048If the ceremony was all about the party; the party was all about the food. And the food. And the food. (The open bar didn’t hurt.) Mainly, it was about the food: the homemade wine and family-recipe red sauce, the award-winning chef’s six or eleven dishes, the family’s IMG_0061seven thousand home baked cookies, the surprise Muffin cake. Oh yea, there was some dancing, too (just a bit). One hundred and thirty-four personages drank, danced, devoured – and then devoured and drank more and danced to the max. That was homemade lemoncello! In handcrafted glasses made of frozen ice!

“It’s not a party until someone is wearing a basket on his head!”

Now, we don’t have to turn this IMG_0065into a competition. (I’m just saying.) Just because those of us at the Dragonfly IMG_0068table left the biggest mess and stayed longest doesn’t necessarily mean we had the most fun. (Emphasis on “necessarily.”) If we ranked by time logged on the dance floor, the (self-identified) “Black Section” probably pulled neck-and-neck with our domestic/international mix. A nod is definitely due Consuela Bananahammock and her mate from the Bumble Bee table for cutting the first turn on the dance floor – which (if you must know) was never near empty again.

IMG_0143

Agnostics, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, a Sikh, gays and lesbians, citizens, immigrants, and welcome guests from other countries; conversations flowing in English, Italian, Romanian, and Spanish…. IMG_0069…. the diverse and unabashedly happy crowd is itself testimony to the lives these two have touched and will no doubt continue to inspire.

Time to get busy!

under construction (and foolishness)

cyberspace

Am in the process of transforming my ‘old’ blog categories into tags (in this new incarnation of Reflexivity) and also setting up “series” that re-present certain types of blog-entries in chronological order. One of the original conceits in deciding to write in this fashion was to create a record of intellectual growth.  Whether or not there’s been any is an open topic…

Social FAIL

Wild Buffalo Wings, Hadley Mall

Who would have thought that our fallback position from arriving too late to acquire tickets to the 3d showing of Avatar would be malling in a sports bar?  It was an ill-fated venture from the start.  Later we learned we didn’t even have the movie’s start time correct! In the moment we just thought it had sold out.  Trying to order a Twisted Margarita to salve someone’s disappointment generated a series of telepathic maneuvers which deteriorated from early success to an unpalatable beverage.  And how many graduate students does it take to split and pay a bill?  Ok ok, so there was friendship involved, after all.  Geez.  At least that!

She sang!

Elaine Johnson Kent
August 18, 1934 – September 30, 2009

Mom and I had many conversations in the 1990s about euthanasia. She was afraid of pain and did not want to suffer. I took a bunch of notes back then about what kind of service she would like, what to do with her body and such, trying to anticipate the kinds of information I would one day need. Eventually the topic slipped off the map.
When she went to the Emergency Room last spring, I began to watch and wait for her to let me know when it was time. I thought I was paying very close attention, but she fooled me for quite a while. I learned more about my mom’s parenting style in the last two weeks of her life than during the previous forty-six years. Through my childhood and adolescence, she had displayed no maternal instincts that I recognized. Her deepest lover, Albuquerque John, got it right: “You and your brother raised yourselves.” Whenever Mom told stories about how she had agonized over my brother’s and my safety, and felt our pain as hers, I was astonished at the disparity between our perceptions. I could not reconcile our respective versions of reality.

Abducted by Aliens
Mom called three weeks ahead of schedule to tell me she was ready to move from her beloved Albuquerque, NM to live the rest of her life with me in Amherst, MA. Within 72 hours, she was here. That very first night, I met my roommate in the hall at 4 am. “Did you just hear the front door?” he asked me. I had; what was going on? Mom burst back in. “Honey, we’ve been had!” She was in a state of total panic, convinced our lives were at stake. “That man” had made her sign a paper, and “they” were coming to get her. I tried to understand what was happening. The story she told was fantastic: a hidden life of crime, things done to her blood, how she would soon disappear without a trace. Over the next day and a half, she slowly came down from the double dose of prescription medications that she’d swallowed in an attempt to end the pain (of bone cancer, of increasing fatigue, of fundamental loss…). Mom had thrown me quite a curve! I wasn’t even looking in the right direction.

Call it Coincidence?
“If I had to say,” Mom explained to the social worker from The Hospice of the Fisher Home during the intake interview, “I believe in music.” Anticipating that I was going to need help at some point, friends had provided resources and I had done just enough homework to know who to call for help. Within hours of what looked to me like instant dementia, we had visits from the Clinical Director of the Hospice and from a representative of Elder Protective Services. Mom was reassured, “Massachusetts has the best protection in the country!” Between myself, my roommates, Hospice staff and a sweet neighbor, mom immediately had 24/7 companionship. It took a full two days to get Mom into the health care system, but by Wednesday evening she had suitable medication and proper referrals. Mom was lucid again, and it seemed we were getting the situation under control.
By Thursday afternoon the pain was back. My gaze was becoming clearer, but I still couldn’t see the ball.

or Carefully Coordinated Choreography
I didn’t tell Mom that she had called for rescue within a half-hour of my preliminary visit to The Fisher Home as I checked out potential (future) resources. I never expected Mom to qualify for palliative care so soon. While I was still in the mode of imagining us settling into some kind of home routine for at least a few months, the Hospice offered a couple of nights of respite care over the weekend, since the transition had proved to be so rough – and they happened to have a bed available. They were already gently facilitating my process as well as easing Mom’s. As Mom and I went to bed in my apartment Thursday night, Mom reassured me – despite my goof that had delayed a timely dose of painkiller: “Things are going to work out.” Of course I agreed, oblivious to the fact that our definitions of “working out” were hardly related.
The next shock came at the doctor’s office Friday afternoon, where Mom met her new primary care provider en route to the Hospice. “Not to be too blunt,” he said, after Mom told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted to die sooner rather than later, “but it’s going to happen. You’re going fast.” Cognitively, I processed the information, asking if he was talking about days or weeks. Emotionally, I could not absorb the answer: “Days.” At the Hospice, I said a teary goodbye to Mom, afraid she would die before I returned on Sunday but not believing it. I was also still struggling with my selfish desire for more time with her, despite her obvious and persistent clarity in not suffering the unendurable any longer. She made it through the weekend, relieved to be in good, constant care. Sunday and Monday were tough days, as no pain medication proved effective in catching up with or controlling the bone pain. Monday morning, one of the nurses explained that they were hesitant to start increasing the morphine because Mom was “still so alert” but all the alternatives were failing. As soon as they cranked up the dosage, Mom would begin to move closer and closer to unconsciousness.
Mom was calm as I explained the situation. I wanted her to agree that if we could find another way to control the physical pain, then maybe the emotional aspects could be addressed? “I don’t see any difference,” she told me, “they are mixed up together.” According to the Hospice guidelines for care, “Pain is what the patient says it is.” As long as Mom experienced pain, and told them, they would continue to provide medication. “It’s all done, sweetie,” she told me. Finally, I had caught up.

The Hospice Experience
Each nurse and care provider told me only as much as I needed to know, judging what they sensed I could comprehend, at each step along the way. The attention, time, and energy they provide to patients is extraordinary. Mom and I talked for hours over ten blurry days, sharing memories, moaning and groaning about the freaking pain, laughing, teasing apart selected biographical details, and choosing to leave others forever unexcavated. In the end, I realized how consistently Mom chose not to impose herself on anyone, how deeply she respected others’ autonomy – including that of her kids, and – ultimately – how much she was willing to suffer in order to honor these family values. She did her best to protect us all the way through to the very end.

Goodbye, Mom
I asked Mom what she felt was important in her own life. She answered seriously: “She sang.” I revisited the idea of a service, and Mom scoffed. “She did this. She did that.” I asked if she remembered the choral numbers she had mentioned before. “Those were sung at Mamma and Daddy’s funerals,” she explained. “Do you want to keep the tradition?” I was curious. She just snorted. Probably her most characteristic moment had already occurred. When I bid her farewell for that weekend of respite care, I told her that I was glad she had been my mom.
“I’m glad,” she replied, “that we straightened your teeth.”

“August”
by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak

As it had promised, not deceiving,
The sun pierced through morning and ran
As one bright slanted stripe of saffron
Across the drapes of the divan.
It covered with its heated ochre
The nearby woods, homes in the place,
My bed – and even my wet pillow, –
A patch of wall by the bookcase.
And I remembered why the pillow
Was slightly moist. That very eve
I dreamed you all came through a forest,
One after one – to see me leave.
You came in crowds, in pairs and singly,
And then someone was heard to say:
It is, old style, the sixth of August,
The Lord’s Transfiguration Day.
Usually a light that’s flameless
Comes from Tabor this day each year,
And autumn draws eyes to her beauty –
An omen, marvelously clear.
And you passed through the tiny, trembling,
Bare and beggared alders into
The graveyard’s red-as-ginger forest
Which burned like pressed-out cookies do.
Importantly the great sky neighbored
With those tall, calmed-down tops of trees;
The distance for some time had echoed
With sounds of rooster’s reveilles.
Death stood like some state land-surveyor
Amidst the trees in that stilled place
And scrutinized me for my grave size,
While looking in my lifeless face.
And everybody heard it really –
The quiet words of one nearby:
My former, clairvoyant self was speaking
Which no decay can falsify.
‘Farewell, blue of Transfiguration
And second Savior Day’s rich gold.
Soften for me with woman’s kindness
The bite this last sad hour can hold.
Farewell, years of prolonged stagnation.
And you, woman, let’s say goodbye –
You who challenged humiliation!
I am your battlefield and cry.
Farewell, spread of the wings out-straightened,
The free stubbornness of pure flight,
The word that gives the world its image,
Creation: miracles and light.’

written between 1946-1953
translated and edited by Vladimir Markov & Merrill Sparks in Modern Russian Poetry, 1966

Brief ceremony to be held Tuesday, October 6, at 4:30 pm at The Hospice of the Fisher Home, Amherst MA. Join us there to nurture griefs and celebrate memories of your own loved ones, and/or come for dinner at Panda East (Amherst) (@ 6 pm). Mom loved sushi!
Obituary to be posted in The Albuquerque Journal, The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post, and the Mt Carmel Daily Republican Register (Illinois). Elaine was the oldest daughter of Roy and Rosaline Johnson of Mt. Carmel, IL.
Embedded: Requiem Aeternam by John Rutter
No gifts, please. Contributions can be made in Elaine’s name to the New Mexico Women’s Chorus, P.O. Box 40703, Albuquerque, NM 87106 or to the Samual W. Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund at World Learning, The Experiment for International Living, School for International Training.

Sam Achziger Fund
c/o World Learning
Office of Philanthropy
1 Kipling Road
Brattleboro, VT 05302

juxtapositions

Rio Rancho (Albuquerque), New Mexico

Americans smile a lot. It feels good! 🙂 Occasionally someone gives a fake smile, one of those that is offered up because it is socially expected, but most of the smiles are accompanied with eye contact that acknowledges, somehow, what a pleasure it is to recognize mutual presence. No more carefully-controlled neutral (or somewhat suspicious) “European” expressions. warning mountainous road.jpgI mentioned to mom that I’ve hardly heard any Spanish – the monotony of English only accents how accustomed I became to the patter of diverse tongues. Now conversations around me unfold with too much information – I understand all the words, even if I lack context or background. She says people aren’t shopping (we’ve been taking multiple daily walks in the mall or Walmart), and I wondered if there are measurable effects of the bad economy according to language group.
After dropping mom for her PET scan I drove off to find a glass of iced tea. The Tomato Cafe was still under construction, so I wound up in Stoneface. I wondered how to reconcile their gang warning sign with the Lavender Festival.
no gang signs.jpg
Dad called to explain that the first thirty pages of Deaf Sentence (by David Lodge) describes perfectly his life with hearing loss.
Between medical appointments, spectacular sightseeing. We began with local architecture, specifically contemporary modern, in a new neighborhood with a bit of everything, even the hint of gargoyle.
owl.jpgThe Lavender Festival was in Los Ranchos, with its long river-to-road lineas or tripas lots. We hooked up with my old pal, Laurel, and met some of her friends. I enjoyed the predatory bird exhibit.
From there, Laurel, mom and I took off to drive the Jemez, which turned into a long wander. We stopped at the Zia Pueblo. (I snapped the picture before the sign forbidding photography.) The New Mexico state flag features

“an interpretation of an ancient symbol of the sun as found on a late 19th century water jar from Zia Pueblo. This red symbol is called a “Zia” and is centered on a field of yellow.

Four is the sacred number of the Zia and can be found repeated in the four points radiating from the circle. The number four is embodied in the four points of the of the compass, North, East, South and West; in the four seasons of the year Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; in the 24 hours of each day by sunrise, noon, evening and night; by four seasons of life, childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. The Zia also believed that with life came four sacred obligations: development of a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit and devotion to the welfare of people/family. All of these things are bound together within the circle of life.

The red and yellow colors are the colors of Isabel of Castilla brought to the continent by the Spanish Conquistadors.”

We then took the historic Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway winding up through gorgeous red stone and lush early summer greens – mom kept exclaiming at the abundance of foliage due to the higher than average rains this year. We stopped at the Walatowa Cultural Center, learning about the “4 climate zones, 5,000 years of human history and millions of years of geological ferment” (quoted from the museum timeline). This land is home to the Hemish, who built some 62 major villages, with 9-12 major pueblos, since 1275 (the approximate time they began to build permanent dwelling places in these areas where they already lived). I didn’t imagine my camera would do justice to the majestic views (although now I wish I had tried, sigh) of huge vistas, majestic stone, and the magical open vista of the Valles Caldera (see wikipedia for a few decent shots). We drifted on through Bandelier National Park, marveling at its mix of beauty and destruction; the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 still much in evidence.
Los Alamos .jpg
There was to be no science tourism, unfortunately. Security did let us in with no fuss (three white women in a old minivan apparently not enough to warrant more than the most casual wave-through – perhaps we fit the profile of “one of those liberals from Los Alamos” which we saw on an adopt-a-highway sign on the way down from Bandelier). Eventually (after what felt like a few passages through Area 51) we found the Science Museum (which closed two minutes prior to our arrival) but managed to enjoy the museum shop. I’m failing to capture the quality of the day’s light banter covering subjects ranging from family histories, genetic forecasts, singing fish, incidents and moments that didn’t happen, what we don’t know about geology, and other assorted random topics but I will say it was an entirely happy day!
mom's sashimi.jpg

References/Resources:
About Los Ranchos
The New Mexico State Flag
Nee Hemish, a History of Jemez Pueblo, by Joe S. Sando
Cerro Grande Fire, National Park Service
Area 51, wikipedia

back in the valley

Amherst, MA
a.k.a. The Happy Valley

It is cool for summer. In fact, the chill at night feels more like autumn. Otherwise the lush, bright greens (of trees, grass, cultivated crops and wild bush), sky and mountain blues, and varying tones of white in the clouds are as they ever were. I got out on the bike trail yesterday, smelling freshly mown hay and listening to birdsong . . . aaahhhhhhhhh.

pastoral_and_bikeSHADOW.jpg

Although re-entry is relatively painless, I have noticed slight and subtle differences in the US now compared with when I left nearly a year ago. CNN has a news program, Black in America. Susan told me that standardized test scores for young African-Americans are improving in a crucial way: historically if students were asked to identify their racial demographics at the beginning of a standardized test their scores would be lower than if they were asked to provide this info at the end. Now this gap is decreasing! In other words, flagging racial identity used to work “against” confidence/competence for some black youth; now – after Obama – this internalized self-perception is being transformed.
I was startled, the first day back, when strangers addressed me in English (instead of Flemish or French). Riding in a taxi from the airport to a temporary destination in DC brought me in visual contact with a familiar landscape. I found it comforting to be closed in by tree-covered rolling hills instead of looking out on the centuries-tilled farmland of Belgium – which always somehow conveyed the hint of battle. Not that history is pristine, here. The namesake of this university town in western Massachusetts is infamous for having provided smallpox-infected blankets to the local Indians. Most of the original peoples from the East Coast were decimated in the colonial invasion, although some tribes managed to survive and even establish authenticity in the eyes of federal law (which is deliberately designed to make such claims as difficult as possible while appearing to be fair).
Whiffs of cow manure are occasionally overwhelming.
It’s been windy since I arrived, but Ambarish assures me it is not always like this. I had been quite aware of the wind in Belgium, and it had crossed my mind that this might be a sign of global warming: as the planet’s atmosphere heats up, there might be more likelihood of “weather”. I wondered if, some day in the future, a still day when there is no wind might be a rarity, a phenomenon only remembered by the very old . . .

Resources/References:
photo from August 2008 (see more: High Summer)
Lord Amherst and Smallpox
Black in America: The Black Woman and Family
Ombama poster in my apartment

We are all guilty here

online discussion forum

Language is a force.
Language names, and by naming, it calls into being. This is how social reality is constructed and maintained. I think it is an effect of quantum mechanics, but smarter minds than mine are needed to make the connections in a compelling scientific manner.
Last fall I wrote a post on some dynamics of dialogue and discourse, in which I engaged with ideas of a discursive psychologist, Michel Billig.

The core of the argument laid out by Michael Billig (in the articles from Discourse and Society 2008, Vol. 19, Issue 6) is that we who think in terms of critical discourse analysis (CDA) need to be acutely aware of our own uses of language, lest we repeat some of the very elements of language use that we critique in others. Billig’s concern is with social scientific language in general; he selects CDA for heuristic and practical purposes: “It should be a major issue for analysts who stress the pivotal role of language in the reproduction of ideology, inequality and power” (p. 784).

In particular, Billig goes after the academic/theoretical use of nominalization, which is a shorthand way of condensing a particular dynamical concept (something with a lot of parts) into a single term. Debate over costs and benefits of using nominalization seem to swing on the temporal grounding of interlocutors. I’m thinking at the mundane level as well as at level of ideological reproduction. For instance, does saying something about (i.e., naming) tensions in a friendship necessarily make them worse or can it provide a means to shift footings? At the precise moment of making the utterance, there may be a spike in bad feelings – all that tension concentrated and released in the acts of speaking and hearing. But I think that it is what comes next (at least, so I hope) that becomes determinative for the subsequent unfolding. When nominalization is at play, Billig argues there is a tendency to depersonalize behavior or action such that individual contributions to whatever unfolds are lost to perception. So the pattern of tensions enacted when one or another party to the tension actually says something directly about the presence or evidence of tension becomes bigger than the minute social interactions that compose it. The pattern itself becomes “the thing”, and individuals are simply swept up in it, all agency erased.
The question is, when things are not going the way one wishes, what next? I watched an interesting video on the synthesis of happiness this morning (20 minutes long) which argues that if we assume irretrievability, then we enhance our capacity to choose happiness. I’m wondering if this basic precept – that’s what done is done and can’t be changed – could guide many other choices, including the ways we respond when we find ourselves seemingly trapped in a discourse that we don’t necessarily want. I believe it is the element of acknowledgment that I am finding most attractive. Perhaps my general communicative strategy is to reduce uncertainty (see What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous) in order to make choices clear.
Perhaps.

Rebounding

Year One, Second Half
Geneva (Perle du Lac)

A year ago, I marked a confluence of transitions. How many times, I continue to wonder, can one bounce back from failure? I also consider, if failure (however conceived) has lead me here . . .

🙂

I am full of reflections and anticipations.

So what if the museum is closed on Tuesday? (Familiar.) I think I’m gonna have to order “The Lives of Einstein.”
I got enough of a buzz from the outdoor displays. Auguste de la Rive’s ideas about the Aurora Borealis, for instance, were half correct: they do result from a combination of magnetism (strongest at the earth’s poles) and electricity. He was only wrong about the origins of the involved electricity – not terrestrial, but from the larger cosmos. Marc-Auguste Pictet was involved in negotiations concerning the establishment of the prime meridian, and Jean-Robert Chovet (unlike yours truly) was known for his diplomatic skill and (similar to yours truly) believed “more weight should be given to lay people in the management of the Academy” (emphasis added, and – in addition to esteemed institutions of higher learning, many domains could be substituted in place of the organizational forebear of the University of Geneva). (Time, by the way, to read Descartes: Discourse on the Method. And do you think it is remotely possible for a person to function like a gnomon?)
As it turned out, I did not travel by water taxi across the lake to the Jardin Anglais to see the flower clock or the Musee de l’Horlogerie (which may or may not have been open). I did, however, wander through the Jardin Botanique spying all manner of flower, plant, and tree, not to mention several varieties of parrot, swans, geese, flamingos, and ducks, including some fantastically-plumaged Mandarin Ducks and Indian Peafowl. For spice, there were also Hermann’s Tortoises and Fallow Deer.
In case there was any danger of not living up to full nerdist credentials, I spent several hours writing (a book review, hopefully coming soon), during which I fielded delightful communiques from dearest friends and family. Whatever shadows thought to threaten the day were readily banished and I’ve just got the feeling that the coming second year after the cutting will proceed in more-or-less similar fashion as this one just passed.
At any rate, here’s hoping!