Abyss

Some humans want to bring abysmal into the abyss.

Driving along highways, I see different colors and textures on the surface of the water. Some days, the stature of the ocean looks more pronounced or elevated from my line of sight as I move along familiar paths, which may simply be an optical illusion or may be something far more abstract seeing that it is beyond my ability to comprehend it.

I read of chemosynthesis giving life rather than the familiar photosynthesis and I read of the 50 paths to bioluminescence and I read of the luciferins (compounds) and luciferases (enzymes) tiny drops of confirmation that there so much underneath the abyss.

The creatures of the deep have been putting on the world’s greatest light show for tens of millions of years. Widder thinks that if people could witness this spectacle—or even just be made aware of it—they’d pay a lot more attention to life at the bottom of the seas and the many hazards that threaten it.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/06/21/the-deep-sea-is-filled-with-treasure-but-it-comes-at-a-price

We humans can choose this: “Meanwhile, she writes, “we are managing to destroy the ocean before we even know what’s in it.””

Or, we can choose this: “Some of the seas’ most extraordinary animals live around hydrothermal vents—the oceanic equivalents of hot springs. Through cracks in the seafloor, water comes in contact with the earth’s magma; the process leaves it superheated and loaded with dissolved minerals. (At some vents, the water reaches a temperature of more than seven hundred degrees.) As the water rises and cools, the minerals precipitate out to form crenellated, castlelike structures.”

Erdrich on Great Spirit

Perhaps all of creation from the coddling moth to the elephant was just a greatly detailed thought that God was engrossed in elaborating upon, when suddenly God fell asleep. We are an idea, then. Maybe God has decided that we are an idea not worth thinking anymore.

Erdrich, Louise. Future Home of the Living God. Page 20. 2017

Dear feet,

Oh, how I relate to you with complexity, challenges and discomfort.

A dear friend reminded me today of “rooting in my feet” and it is something for each day. I asked him if he would “keep reminding me about rooting in my feet.

You are such a fraught place within my body as I continue to adjust how and where I place you and position myself over you. I stumble with how I use and locate you when I stand or when I sit. You are a place where I habitually do not take up space where I cower in the first four inches up from the ground in an attempt to take up less space, which feels both uncomfortable and agonizing. I will continue to recognize that you are the roots that nourish the trunk and branches and limbs and appendages that the rest of me rises from.

In another conversation today, another friend said how the arms of an embryo extend from the heart which immediately made me ask myself where do the legs and feet extend from? My guess is from the sacrum and/or hips and/or spine which makes me curious about how I might feel differently about you if I was constantly acknowledging how you are a continuation of my spine and my back and that the gap the torso to you is small even though the legs are vast, as are the three sets of joints in between you and the hips.

For much of my life, I’ve appreciated the lengths and places you’ve taken the rest of me. Yet, I have been negligent towards your care and the pristine nature of who and what you are. I read last year how researchers cutting up cadavers noticed how 40% (or so, if my memory is in any proximity to what was written) of the tension and strength within the arch of the foot does not come from the familiar arch on the bottom side of you but that 40% of the muscle capacity is in an arch in the top of the foot.

As I searched to find a reference for that dissection history, I came across how much written about you is in terms of pain and how many bones and muscles inside of you. Names that are unknown and bewildering and some things to learn more about …

here: the talus and calcaneus in the hindfoot + the 14 toe bones and 5 metatarsals in each forefoot + the 5 tarsals of the midfoot

… and here: like the muscles of fibularis longus and fibularis tertius and fibularis breviary

There is so much about you that I have yet to heed. And for this, I thank you for your patience and guidance and for your inability to run away and leave the rest of me behind.

What is the ocean?

My answer in the form of a question: what is the ocean?

The ocean was the setting for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The ocean was the bridge to colonize the Americas.

The ocean is the medium for global capitalism.

These were the epiphanies in a conversation with a handful of other people of color earlier this week as I had not thought of the ocean’s role and distinction in these forces with global spread.

Today as I drove along the highway, I did see a whale repeatedly breaching and splashing about off of the coastline. Looking out at the blue expanse, I wondered what humans would need to recognize the enormity of the ocean and settle into the dominating presence that the ocean has over the continents. The ocean hegemony is not how it is perceived by humankind as we are self-focused though there are so many facets beyond comprehension, never mind the depths that are beyond cognition.

The ocean hegemony as the water gave life to all life, the lands arose from the ice and water and the life depends on the cycle f precipitation that depends on the evaporation of all that water out there.

The ocean hegemony is so all-powerful that humans do not register the supreme spot that the ocean holds as infinitum. We are partial to life on land as it is what we know, what we know better, and essentially all that we know even with the limited knowing of ocean matters.

To sit with and revisit

But suddenly the racial interest … felt like a kind of corruption to me.

Never has the perversity of racialized thinking been so clear as when it is being applied to a newborn baby.

Says Danzy Senna in page 165 of her memoirs, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.)

Something for me to ponder. To sit with. And to revisit.

The corruption of being aware of race and being fixated with race in ways that were preordained many generations ago. There is some naïveté to not knowing or pretending to not know one’s history of the histories of a place, of people, and of things. But, that compulsion to pursue and understand becomes a cycle of attempting to know and analyze the world through some lens crafted by ancestors, both ours and our oppressors, that illuminates and also distorts like mirrors in a funhouse. What may be shameful one decade can be empowering in a different mirror. What looked too broad at one moment may become just right in other circumstances.

Solnit stories, in metaphors. 

Starting a new book by Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (Haymarket Books, 2019) it opens with some beautiful writing summarizing current events and social movements and political moments of the past decade. In pages 1-9, I am struck by the following metaphors: 

  1. Building a structure;
  2. Collective projects;
  3. most important are the most subtle.
  4. A million tiny steps;
  5. Delegitimization of the past and 
  6. Hope for a better future.
  7. New clarity about how injustice works … Makes it recgonizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the
  8. Disguises of and
  9. Excuses for the old ways.
  10. Culture matters.
  11. It’s the substructure of beliefs that 
  12. Shape politics, that change begins on the
  13. Margins and in the
  14. Shadows and
  15. Grows toward the center.
  16. It’s the pervasiveness that matters most.
  17. We live inside ideas:
  18. Shelters,
  19. Observatories, 
  20. Windowless prisons.

There are so many fabulous sentences in “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks”:

The title essay of this anthology is about the struggle of new stories to be born, against the forces that prefer to shut them out or shout us down, against people who work hard at not hearing and not seeing. (7)

This is a time in which the power of words to introduce and justify and explain ideas matters, and that power is tangible in the changes at work. Forgetting is a problem; words matter, partly as a means to help us remember. When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions.  (4)

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and hte roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightens, because there is more change to come, more that we do not year recognize that will be revealed. I have learned so much. I have so much to learn. (5)

Despite the backlashes — or because they are backlashes — I remain hopeful about this project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies (9). 

You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus what is. (3) 

Amnesia means that people forget hte stunning scope of change in recent decades. That change is itself hopeful, as evidence that people considered marginal or powerless — scholars, activists, people speaking for and from within oppressed groups — have changed the world. (6).

The opposite is falling into the nightmare that is also such a powerful force in this time, the nightmare of white supremacy and patriarchy, and the justification of violence to defend them….. I call it a nightmare because it is delucional in its fears and its fantasies a of grandeur and its intention of making decades of changes evaporate, of showing new ideas back into the oblivion from which they emerged and returning to a past that never existed. (8-9)

We live inside ideas. Some are shelters, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving behind some and entering others. (3)

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within — or, rather, many overlapping structures. (1)

The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. (1)

Malnourished in the midst of plenty

I watched A Place at the Table a few weeks ago. Yesterday, a friend mentioned the adage that if you are not at the table then you are likely on the menu. In this society of excess, imbalance and unroofed eating habits that is not a desirable place to be.

It occurs to me that the same imbalances ailing food systems affect the nonprofit sector and civic life. Both have a dire unevenness of diet, there is a fixation on certain elements to the detriment of the broader, holistic wellbeing, and we chase some short-term goals that afflict harm when not aligned with long-term health and vitality.

The ills of the corporate good system are reasonably well known. My focus here is how the food system is a metaphor for a cancerous, blighted nonprofit sector.

Inputs: The over-reliance on foundation grants equate to the dominance of carbohydrates in nonprofit’s heavy and heavily imbalanced diet. Instead, of a plethora of sources for nourishing foods, fresh foods rich in vitamins and minerals, most nonprofits depend on a few starches. Grantwriting is essentially highly processed foods composed with strange ingredients, cumbersome production processes and deceptive packaging. What goes into an organization’s coffers is the result of great manipulation resulting in an unnatural shelf life, where the taste, texture and quality are an afterthought.

Energy: This imbalanced diet is exacerbated by where most nonprofits direct our attention. Evaluation is the nonprofit form of cholesterol — it is talked about a lot, with little bearing on overall vitality. In nonprofits, certain information gets monitored and is the basis for evaluation. The fixation with an academic style of evaluation is a distraction from the original factors motivating a small group of people to start an organization. Book knowledge trumps street smarts because there is a logic mind bias against learning from our lived experiences as much as from books. And in a crisis-saddled society, we scurry from one crisis to the next giving ourselves little space or patience to reflect on how we use our energies.

A Place at the Table summarized the profound changes to the food system that have occurred in the last 30 years. Hunger and food insecurity have skyrocketed in spite of the proliferation of food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency food providers, which numbered [a few dozen?] in the early 1980s and exceed [40,000?] today.

The most insidious manifestation of the food/nonprofit mimicry is our habitual concern with problem diagnosis, rather than problem solving. Instead of pursuing solutions, the sector is mired in recording social dysfunction. This mirrors the national attention on illness and manifestations of physical health, environmental degradation and how sick, obese, diabetic, cancerous we are.

###

Just as grassroots alternatives to the traditional food system of the late 20th Century exist, alternatives to a grant-heavy, evaluation-fixated and problem-saddled social profit paradigm are expanding.

Alternatives for the here and now begin with:

  • an asset-based approach (rather than problem-based)
  • recognizing access and privileges that each of us have (instead of running from or denying them)
  • embracing the many identities and multiple issues alive in each of us (instead of the myths that there is most important issue or single most affected community)
  • embarking on radical changes that occur at many levels simultaneously (rather than the faulty and imposed notion that change happens in an incremental, sequential fashion)
  • aligning efforts across different groups, populations and industries (rather than perpetuating silos)
  • recognizing that faith, people power and humility are as important, if not more so, than money
  • yet making tremendous financial investments in experiments to spawn wholly new approaches, ecosystems, paradigms, and ways of living, working and being
  • harnessing the lived experience of our bodies and the wisdom of the Earth (instead of preferring the logic-mind).
  • The choice is ours. To continue on the same old, same old do loop. Or we can embark on the paths less traveled.

on cholesterol rather than general

War reflections in Milwaukee

They asked me for a six word story, after 10 hours. So what I told ’em was:

Investing in 21st Century multiracial leadership

In terms of class identity and race, I grew up in a middle class and multiracial family. I studied Economics and History. One part of my military story is that I am the grandson of a Tuskegee Airman.

History teaches us that at the end of the Vietnam War, the Army was a powder keg of animosity and racial strife on the cusp of tremendous violence. I recall one historian stating that Black veterans were so radicalized that 70% of them planned on joining the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense upon returning stateside.

As a result, the armed forces embarked on an unprecedented intervention to train, recruit and support a new wave of Black officers and officers of color in order to abate the festering race dynamics between Black soldiers and an overwhelmingly white class of officers that was the legacy of Jim Crow. The efforts to support and cultivate leadership for people of color was more successful than in any other aspect of society. A soldier in the military is more likely to have a person of color as a supervisor than someone in any other field, profession or realm of life.

The military’s intervention is a lesson of how dedicated resources can result in systemic change, when we so choose. There is an opportunity for society and a nation to invest in multiracial leadership to heal a wounded and traumatized nation that is still hobbling into the 21st Century.

Further investments in leadership and communities throughout the country and the globe could mean that we invest in our daughters as much as drones. That Corner Store initiatives are as pervasive as guns in communities. That we would treat PTSD as quickly as we discipline students and detain immigrants.

Investing in life, rather than war, would mean that less goes to automatic weapons, flak jackets and SWAT teams so that we invest more in shovels, straw hats and wheelbarrows. Where we invest in community organizing and agronomy and less in surveillance and military intelligence.

After a day like today in Milwaukee, I have hope that in the years ahead we will invest in the War on Poverty and War on Hunger with the gusto and at the levels of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs in recent decades.

The choice is our’s to make: do we want to dedicate our resources to death and destruction or life and love?

Shocks to the system after systems failure

For months, an acute pain has arisen in the fleshy palm of my left hand. The swelling in a capillary bloats stands of tissue that reside beneath my epidermis. Skin over a swollen, small vein is sensitive to touch in a way that other skin is not.
Last month, the shooting, throbbing pain on less than a square inch had company. I noticed tightness in some strands of tissue on my inner bicep. A tightness that I could mistake for muscle tautness, except that there is no similar strand in the bicep of my dominant, right arm. This self-noticing, which was palpable to the touch of my external hand, led me to trace my right hand further over the adjacent muscles of my chest, shoulder, and back that form my physical body. As my fingertips investigated, I noted lines of tightness spewing from my armpit in two directions: across my chest, and a band of muscles down my back.
My intuitive sense revealed that these were interwoven symptoms of muscles beholden to a particular tension. What minutes earlier was only a throb in my palm was showing itself now that I was seeing with the fingers of my right hand and listening with my right hand. This is what sensing looks (feels, tastes and soothes) like in the body.
I sat with the discomfort, which now tasted slightly different thanks to my recent curiosity. I was unsure of what to make of it. I pulled my thumb to “pop” the joint (or pop the knuckle, although I see the uniqueness of the thumb give this joint a different name rather than be one of five knuckles) for momentary relief. “Popping my knuckles” has been a way to realign, reconfigure and redesign the spaces in between my skeleton I learned how to contort my fingers to make an audible adjustment. I pop knuckles considerably less as an adult than I did as a child, though I “pop” or open up space between vertebrae in my lower back, mid-back and neck daily. I open up spaces surrounding my sternum by spreading my shoulders back and apart in such a way on most mornings that I can hear the reconfiguration within my chest.
But this popping of my thumb has been different. The realignment of my joint provides some relief to the tissues that are two inches away. However, after the energy moves, the pain returns soon after.
Then last Monday, I placed my hands underneath my shoulders while laying on my back. Knees bent. Soles of my feet on the floor. A position called wheel pose, when I use my hands and feet to push my body up off of the floor and out. I could stay up briefly. And came crashing town to the ground once or twice.
The sensations of coaxing a throb began soon after. Previously, I had begun and ended multiple yoga classes by rubbing the flesh of my palm or yanking on my left thumb (frantically). This morning was the first time that I could feel the tightness dissipating as blood flowed through my palm, my thumb, my bicep, my armpit, my pectoral and my back.
____

One pose stretches my wrist and calls upon the needed force of select muscles to hold my body up in a new and different way. Holding me in a certain position for a matter of seconds, yet rippling throughout my day.
The vein in my left palm palpates now. Rarely it is visible to my eye. Yet, I am learning my own body. Learning how the sorenss of my left thumb cascades up into my chest and back. Similarly, I am learning how new poses and new stretches are like math problems, spelling contests and reading comprehension. New assignments and new challenges are needed in order for me to keep on learning. My body self-organizes the programming of my DNA and the coding of my musculature in this moment-by-moment school of learning.