Taking a Knee?


When I read this post, I kept think the other times in life when people as he puts it, “take the knee”: when men propose, when people pray. No one see those as signs of disrespect or do they? For all those who think it is disrespectful, try reading every verse of the national anthem. Hint: the author was a pro-slavery slave owner.

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Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)

Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the…

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The Motherhood of God by Mary Sharratt


The first woman to write a book in English–in the 1300s.

Doing a recent talk on pioneering woman writers, I like to do the Before Jane Austen test with my audience. Who can name a single woman writer in the English language before Jane Austen? Alas, because woman have been written out of history to such a large extent, most people come up blank. Then we talk about pioneering Renaissance authors, such as Aemilia Bassano Lanier, the subject of my recent novel, THE DARK LADY’S MASK, or her mentor, Anne Locke, the first person of either sex to write a sonnet sequence in the English language.

But my next question takes us even further back into history. Who was the first woman to write a book in English?

The answer is Julian of Norwich, who wrote Revelations of Divine Love.

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Make America Great Again?


Although few argue with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, few look long and hard at the history and life then.  Unless you owned land, were male, were white, nothing for you.  Most of the founding fathers still held, tacitly or openly, to the old English class system.  Many owned slaves even when they claimed to dislike it.  Throughout United States history,  a small group of high status, white men have controlled the country.

More recently during WWII, we imprisoned Japanese Americans but not Germans.  The Japanese were often seen as ruthless, barbaric while the Aryan German remained quite close to the idealized, white, patriotic American ideal.

Today when people read about white men murdering large numbers of people, the news and the comments indicate that most think these people are abnormal, not like the rest of us.  This is a country fascinated with hate.  For many in the last couple of years this has taken the form of hatred of outsiders, refugees, dark people.  This has brought a new wave of tough on crime mentality.  People who think differently, more welcoming, more critical, are seen as subversive, anti-patriotic.  Much of the public sees certain groups, e.g. black men, as criminals, wicked, violent, groups to be feared.  Any research contrary to these prevalent views tends to be hidden, pushed away, unreported.  One example is a report by Homeland Security in 2009 which warned law enforcement agencies about the dangers of right-wing conservatism.  Certain conservative groups demanded the withdrawal of this report and succeeded.

Certain Christian groups push for a return to Christian values not realizing perhaps the origin of some of these values.  The word, evil, provides an excellent example.  This word goes back to Saint Augustine who defined it as a refusal to act morally, a refusal to do good.  While Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been associated with evil, interestingly fascism has not. Franco in Spain escaped the evil label probably because the Vatican, the US government, and US businesses supported him.  The word evil is rarely used to describe state sanctioned violence as in the US support of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile.  It appears we pick and choose the evil label to suit certain purposes.  Powerful groups are rarely labeled evil and therefore do not become targets of general hatred.

Fear relates to hate.  People hate what they fear.  Some media play on these fears to incite hate to suit their own goals and philosophies.  Certain talk radio hosts use their rants to further their goals in this manner.  They want people who do not think like they do to incite fear which leads to hate. These media can easily inflame the public fears about crime, refugees, drug usage.  They also rely on the often hidden preexisting prejudices that many deny they have, e.g. racism, fear of outsiders, fear of differences.

The ultimate end of these prejudices is war.  The often popular belief remains:  justice and goodness can be attained via violence, force.  We are good and everyone against us is evil and therefore to be hated.  The war vocabulary remains part of common everyday language:  War on Women, Drug War, War on Poverty.  Our language remains full of these types of communications.  It expresses a common worldview. Problems can be solved by force.  This continues in spite of enormous evidence that it does not work.  The War on Drugs never attained success, our economic and social problems remain.  Even efforts at containment frequently fail, e.g. the current opioid epidemic.  Many schools currently hire police officers and sometimes students are arrested for relatively minor infractions.  Often those arrested are students with certain types of disabilities or from certain minority groups.  Our prison population has increased by 500% over the last thirty years with the increased imprisonment of women double that of men, mainly due to drug related crimes.  Obviously, these “wars” are failing. Because of the “cult” of individuality and freedom, people in the US often see these failures as the result of individuals acting irresponsibly rather than societal failures.  Although these factors do not force an individual to behave in certain ways, they do affect a person’s psychological makeup, opportunities for betterment, and mental and physical health.

We have become a society possessed with fear and hatred caused by a profound mistrust of others.  Contrary to what many wish to believe this nation has a long history of obsession with perceived enemies and evil.  Some see threats everywhere, liberals hate conservatives and vice versa, some fear and hate those with different sexual orientations, the list seems endless.  Many see the solution as one form of war or another either through violence, incarceration, or laws.

Mass rallies on both sides further incite this sort of mass mentality.  History remains full of disastrous consequences of such behavior.  The Nazis came to power this way and killed millions of Jews via such strategies.  The genocide in Rwanda is another example. We see the perpetrators of such as monsters, but common, ordinary men and women made the Holocaust possible.  Good, decent people engage in horrible crimes.  The Ku Klux Klan continues with membership of otherwise ordinary, upstanding citizens. Doctors in Nazi Germany rationalized their help with exterminations and experimentations as part of German nationalism to save their country.

In the US racism is not the sole purview of white bigots.  Just recently someone commented to me about being colorblind.  Such is a form of denial.  When people see another person, they notice how they look, eyes, height, etc.  Most white people in the US today never choose to recall, if alive then, and acknowledge, if not,  the millions of black people (mostly men) lynched, most of whom were raped, tortured and castrated before they were killed.  When someone commits these types of atrocities today, we often refer to him as a monster.  We conveniently forget the long history of atrocities against all people of color in this country, atrocities deemed perfectly normal at the time.

As noted in the examples above, much of the violence and hatred and injustice currently seen in this country has a long history.  We have not been able to even come close to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Instead of talking about Making American Great Again, we need to change the conversation into a future vision of making the US like the vision detailed in this document, a place where justice and the hope of equality can be attained by all, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion.

 

 

 

 

Note:  Recommended readings include “Considering Hate” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and “White Trash:  the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg.

 

 

 

Respect


Because I teach high school, I am accustomed to teenagers, their loudness and capacity for rude behavior.  Nevertheless, because I live in ranching country with fences and gates, most know you do not go through another person’s fence or leave gates open.  The former is called trespassing.  The latter can thoughtlessly let out livestock and maybe get them killed.  If your neighbor’s dog keeps coming to your property and you call the sheriff’s office, they will simply tell you to shoot it.

Respect applies.  If you do not want people running over your property, obviously do not trespass on another’s.  Have respect for others as you would want them to respect you.

A big party full of teens started at my neighbor’s about five hours ago.  I watched them throwing rocks, running hither and yon,  like caged animals on the loose. A fence exists between my property and hers, a very obvious, country style fence with cedar and T-posts and five strands of wire.  It is not invisible.  I never installed no trespassing signs  because they would face her property and in some places exist at the edge of her back yard.  I would not be able to see them from my house or barn.  After this evening, I will reconsider.

Luckily, I was out feeding horses, doing chores, when several of the teens apparently decided to crawl through the fence and walk toward my house.  Because I was outside, I saw them and was able to tell them to get back across the fence.  If I had not been home, would they have kept walking, what might they have done?  Nothing, hopefully, but with 25 or perhaps more running around, who knows.  I kept thinking surely these young people know better.  Have they not been taught to respect others?  Where were the adults?  Did they even care?

This week I will go buy several no trespassing signs and install them at various places along the fence.  I feel sad to think I find this necessary.

Religion and Politics


The two things some of us were taught never to discuss in social situations.  Reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, simply reaffirms why those who wrote the United States Constitution insisted on separating religion and politics.  Mixing the two leads to tyranny, war, misunderstanding, and a host of other ills. When did this mixture start?  Prehistory or at least the early recorded history.

Constantine, the Roman emperor,  converted for political purposes.  The Persians tolerated a wide variety of religions until it was no longer politically expedient; then they decided to persecute Christians and declare Zoastrianism as official.  When the barbarian hoards from the steppes started to overrun both the Roman and Persian Empires, they decided to cooperate–a huge change–and actually built a wall between the Black and Caspian Seas to stop the uncivilized.  Roman soldiers guarded the wall.  This helped Rome little, however, because the Visigoths sacked Rome.  The barbarians won.

And then there was Constantine’s Counsel of Nicea, held in 410, 420, 424.  The “eastern” bishops were not invited.  Therefore, the results applied only to what later became known as Roman Catholicism. Infighting among bishops, arguments over who was right and wrong continued, and on and on.  Eastern bishops saw the western teachings as heresy. The arguments mainly centered on the divinity, or lack thereof, of Jesus.

The western church focused on rooting out unofficial religious views, while the east focused on missionary activity.  The king of Yemen even became a Christian. Rulers converted, shifted allegiances, persecuted or tolerated, according to political expediency.

Little seems to have changed in 1500 years.

 

The Chandravati Ramayana: A Story of Two Women by Vibha Shetiya


Although I do write many original blog posts, many times I see something that I think needs to be shared with others, something new, enlightening. This post tells a story I had not previously heard, an important story.

vibpicAlthough “the” Ramayana is a fluid narrative, scholarship has traditionally recognized the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayana as the most authoritative of Ramayanas. But recent studies have brought to light the hundreds of regional stories of Rama and Sita which are more popular with the masses. These would include Krittibasa’s Ramayana in Bengal, Kamban’s Tamil Iramavataram in South India, notably in the state of Tamil Nadu, Tulsidas’s Ramcharitamanas among the Hindi-speaking belt of northern India, and so on. But even here, a pattern seems to emerge; all the above-mentioned authors are male. Within this scenario, a rather unique text stands out, and that is Chandravati’s sixteenth century Bengali Ramayana, for its author was a woman. Even more fascinating is the double-toned nature of the narrative – through Chandravati’s own voice and through the voice of its tragic heroine, Sita.

Chandravati (ca.1550-1600) was born in a village in eastern Bengal, today in…

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The Community Bardic Exercise Revisited: Body, Land, Tribe Poetry by Kate Brunner


An inspiration to write a poem every day for seven days, release negativity, be yourself no matter what others say or do.

katebrunnerqueenanneslaceTwo years ago, I hosted a Devotional Poetry themed Community Bardic Exercise which turned out to be heaps of beautiful, inspiration-filled fun. Inspired by Elizabeth’s latest post, I’d like to revisit this venture today. Consider this an invitation, an opportunity, or a challenge, but however you consider it, please let yourself play!

Various British Isles-based Celtic traditions refer to poetic inspiration with different terminology. Welsh tradition speaks of Awen– the fiery spark of inspiration & revelation. Irish tradition tells of the illumination of Imbas– a very similar concept. It is this spark I invite you to dance with this week. Set aside the acute issues of the day. Breathe in the cooling autumn air & use this spark of Awen to kindle within you the flame of holy creativity.

Our exercise will be simple in nature, yet challenging in practice. I invite you to write one poem per day…

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Naked and Unafraid: Mahasveta Devi (1926-2016)


A powerful story of the power of woman and in this case of “right”.

03devi-obit-master768 Photo credit: The New York Times

Mahasveta Devi died last month at the age of 90 in Kolkata, India. A widely acclaimed Bengali writer, she identified as an activist first, clearly evident in her meticulously researched “fiction.” Most of her stories champion the cause of those living on the margins of society, particularly the Adivasis or original inhabitants of India; poor, unemployed and itinerant, they traditionally subsisted off the land, and continue to struggle against exploitative upper caste landowners.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Devi or her activism, but there is a story I read a few years ago, which never fails to haunt me, whether because of the rawness with which she describes the harsh reality faced by tribal people or because of what can be seen as the violent but ultimate triumph of its female protagonist, I cannot tell. Perhaps because of both, or because…

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Woman Is Not Anonymous by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


Vanessa Rivera Virginia Woolf

Lately I have been reflecting on this quote of Virginia Woolf: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Here she points out the deliberate invisibilization of women’s contribution in all areas of human endeavors.

Patriarchy always takes these contributions for granted. For centuries, domestic labor has been invisible and not considered work. It has put beauty over intelligence, even with women of outstanding intelligence. And in terms of knowledge and intellectual production, patriarchy has appropriated women’s ideas and in presenting them as “anonymous,” presents them as it’s own.

Thanks to the feminist reclaiming of history, and proving the accuracy of the premise that “Anonymous is woman,” we have learned of the long list of inventions that were made possible due to women’s ideas who were kept invisible, unnamed, unquoted,  and erased;  after all, she was “just” a “woman.”

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Wine tastings and a few favorite things


Arrived home from work and fed Rosie.  Looked at the dry native grass around my house and decided to water a bit of it even though I loathe wasting water.  Green is probably safer than winter brown.  The recent giant wildfire raised my concerns about the fire danger in this drought.  I cannot remember when it rained and the next ten days show no rain in sight.  As soon as I finish writing this or shortly thereafter, I get to run back to town and join probably 100 plus other people at friends’ house to taste the wine and food brought by Market Street.  These friends run a bed and breakfast with a spectacular garden complete with koi pond and just about every kind of flower you can grow in this area.  It’s cool, nearly froze last night, so I will wear the black turtle neck and slacks I wore to work.  It’s hard to believe that it was just above freezing last night and is supposed to hit 100 next Monday–the desert has now reached here apparently.

Thinking about this leads me to think about some of my favorites, especially when it comes to wine:  zinfandels, especially from Lodi, California.  The moderately priced one I buy most often is OVZ.  It frequently goes on sale here which is even better.  I also like  Seven Deadly Zins–unfortunately I have never seen it on sale.  Basically, I love red wines and almost never drink white.  A moderately priced nice blend is Apothic Red.  Market Street had a super sale so I bought several–ten percent off if you buy six at a time.  The best malbec I ever drank came directly in baggage from Argentina, a present to me from my Argentinian exchange student when he arrived.  You can’t get it here and when his mom tried to ship me some, she was not allowed.

The students at school  kept commenting on my black attire today.  They asked if I was going to a funeral or something.  I laughed.  I like black; I look good in black.  It also shows off my turquoise jewelry.  My most favorite color is orange. Turquoise looks good with it too.  Red and green are ok.  Finally after decades I have learned to like hot pink, but really I am not a pink person–see my poem about Hot Pink Toenails–on an old blog.  It remains one of my blog posts that people look at most–I have no clue why.  The one color I really do not like is blue, especially pale blue. Perhaps tomorrow I will post about favorite books.  I really would like readers to comment about their favorites.  It fascinates me what people perceive and feel about this and that.  Often I am the only person I know who reads what I read.

Off to taste some new wines and maybe find a new favorite.