Saturday, November 27, 2010

Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton

Alan Dugan wrote Love Song: I and Thou which is one of my favorite poems ("drunk on my prime whiskey: rage") but I never read anything else he wrote until tonight and I liked this

Drunken Memories Of Anne Sexton by Alan Dugan
The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring me
full in the face and then said
"I don't care what you think,
you know," as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover,
what? And just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
"Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue, one green"
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others' beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fela! The Real Review

I fear this might be a long post. I mean really fear, because actually sitting down and writing makes me panicky. I grew up on a house where it was really sinful to take a seat unless anything you could possibly imagine needing to do was done. There were a few lovely exceptions to this rule, but unfortunately what it left in my neural paths was a horrible fear of getting in big trouble for doing something just for myself.

And I am scared of it and do everything I can to avoid it, including getting depressed and it's ridiculous because it is one of the very helpful things. I think I subconsciously avoid it because it's powerful. Thinking about art helps. Art is one of the very helpful things. And on Thursday night I saw Fela, which was the most helpful thing I have seen in such a long time. That piece was soaked in truth and spectacle and I am so grateful I saw it.

It seems to me that Fela Kuti is an extraordinarily clear representation, in one person, of the injustices his continent and thus, really of our world. He also created Afro Beat and was a phenomenally respected musician. He also almost perpetually smoked marijuana. He also had 27 wives. I know, it's a lot to take in at once. I really didn't know anything about him and I took a course in African History in college. I think he was probably edited out of all the cirriculum I encountered maybe for his Marxist associations?

The story of Fela in Bill T. Jones' piece is a dance biography with so much visually arresting truth in dance and song and images that everyone should drop everything and go check out the new theatrical gold standard.

The Olivier at the National has been transformed into The Shrine - the nightclub in the small independent Kalakuta Republic. It was there that he - an incredibly sophisticated musician steeped in Western culture through his musical education in London, Paris and New York - tries to make his best Africa, his true Africa. He was jailed over 200 times. He was beaten and tortured. Still he endured, to make his land the land it should be. Brave sacrifice to bring more justice to his world. I think I will go pour myself a glass of wine in my very warm house and feel a little heartbreak about this later, because it stings my conscience.

Anyway, Fela was extraordinarily qualified to see Africa clearly. His father was the living embodiment of submission to colonialism, submission that included internalizing Christianity to the detriment of his own identity. His mother was a hero fighting for equal rights despite differences of sex, race and culture. Truly a King of Heaven of the highest and best magnitude and I do not know why I have been previously deprived of this information.

Why have I not heard of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti before? She was gloriously evinced in the theatre by this enormous Marxist looking poster. She was in many ways pretty much a Marxist. That didn't stop her from fighting for human rights. We have to stop shitting all over Marxism while we are trying to figure out the current dire economic state. Not to say that Marxism should be adopted wholesale at all, but rather to say that, I don't care where ideas come from, they should be evaluated on their own merits. (Cut to Syndrome in The Incredibles: "Gosh! You got me monologing again!)

No other reviewer has even mentioned what I thought was the most powerful story embedded in Fela! which was Fela's distaste for his father's Christianity and subsequent curiousity about his native religion, ancestor worship. Fela says at the beginning of the show that he is exiting Africa, that he is moving out of the Shrine and giving up, and going away to play music and make money. He then in the second half of the show has an encounter with his dead mother, beautifully evoked with incredible dancing and an aria. She points out his responsibility to help the world and then, when we have returned to an evening at the Shrine at the end of the show, Fela says he is going to stay and fight. So his plan is to leave, he encounters his dead mother, he decides to stay.

I am reading such incredibly disappointing reviews from UK papers and bloggers about this because these mental giants with their overwhelmingly brilliant understanding of theatre completely missed this point. Again, what the hell? You want story? That's Robert McKee's Story, that is every LA screenwriter basic training, right there. I expected better of England. This is as rich as Shakespeare, you morons, and you missed it completely

Why does no one see that everyone in the UK needs to find their own Fela and make the best England, their England? Why did no reviewer point out this very simple and powerful parallel? I mean, just read main section of the Observer today. No sports in schools, Ireland fucking broke, civil unrest. Which side are you going to be on? And when you decide, why not look to your own saints and heroes, your own Luke Skywalkers or Funmilayos or Jesus or all the Saints, whomever you call King of Heaven? Are you called to fight for what is right? I am. I am manic about it.

It totally made me want to create a play in the style of Fela, it totally inspired me, it totally made me question my life and my response to these strange times. Utterly fantastic.

Side note on me being deprived of Funmilayo:

Anyway, a little bit more about my anger about this beautiful, dignified queen of women? I grew up with Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Sandra Day OConnor. I was so sick of Madame Curie with her wimpy gloves and Amelia Earhart with her heart in the air but her questionable decisions. And then by the time I was nine I couldn't forgive Sandra Day O'Connor for being a Republican. I should have read the biographies of people like Rosa Parks and Funmilayo - women who took on political change. And I want to teach my daughter about this woman. She died in a savage attack on the Kalakuta Republic by the Nigerian government that culminated in her defenestration (forgive me but how often do you get to use that word?) But it wasn't how she died rather how she lived that interests me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So you're bipolar

You have been diagnosed, correctly or incorrectly, with a group of symptoms. The connotations of having bipolar are deeply, deeply unpleasant and even associating the word with yourself probably is a very painful undertaking.

But associate with it for a moment here, and learn what is good about what you have. You have a tremendous amount of currently misused power coursing through your mind. Other people want that vitality. When I was in high school I was voted Most School Spirit which was incredible bullshit given my feminist views on cheerleaders. What I had was just the most spirit. And that is what you have too. You are lucky.

When I went to Vail for the first time and got off the ski lift and looked around I just cried because it was so beautiful. My friend Augie was really jealous when I told him. You have a sensitivity and insight. It's not hard to understand why. Certain neural pathways are too painful for us to be on sometimes. Big chunks of childhood narrative play out in ways that scare us. So we take refuge in other parts of our brain and those parts grow and make us insightful and give us the capacity to understand ourselves and harness that power.

After I had that manic episode in 2004, I had about the worst depression of my life. It was just awful. There is a blackness and pain we know in that side of things that is nothing but bad. But during it, I kept looking online for bipolar success stories, for an inspiration, for a role model, for someone who said, look, it's not that bad, you can be who you want still. And online and in person, I had the horrible experience of only meeting bipolar people who were unemployed and unemployable, strung out on medication, unable to have a relationship, essentially dependent wards of the State in their 30s and 40s.

It does not have to be that way. Plenty of people are pretty high-functioning bipolars, perhaps a great deal undiagnosed. The ones in doctors care deal with the diagnosis by minimizing it in their lives. It's not like being diagnosed with gay, unfortunately, you don't get a community of supporters or a flag or a parade because all the successful ones are in the closet. I'm in the closet at work. You may want to be as well.

Or maybe at some time you want to celebrate what is good about you, all that creative energy, and take on that title, bipolar, and be who you are and show people that you have learned to accept yourself the way you are and they should too. Then you can have the brutal fight with the mainstream to be accepted. Oh, maybe not.

Being diagnosed bipolar is like being diagnosed with a very serious case of being human - you have a surfeit of humanity. Pay attention to yourself and you may in fact become insightful about the human condition.

And, you know, do what everyone needs to do to function optimally as a human: eat well, sleep, drink water, take medication if necessary, exercise, breath, love, create. Oh my God. I almost wrote Eat, Pray, Love. That is distressing. Time to go.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flowering of the spirit

I have a great appetite, I have a great hunger, I think we all do, a hunger for truth, a hunger to connect with the mysteries of life, a hunger for enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering. Those are the hungers of your soul. Other hungers include laughter and art.

I want to basically take God out of heaven and bring the God in all of us to the fore, take that namaste, the god in me - and bring it to earth. I want that for all of us, all of us who want to be the best human being that we can possibly be, all of us who want to be a king of heaven. All of my friends and family do this but most are enslaved to corporations and capitalism (myself, obviously, included). I personally am hampered in optimal humanity by early exposure to Christian fundamentalism and the chaos of identity that ensued when I moved to England.

I have learned of this obstruction by dealing with my omnipresent and powerful foe, my own consciousness. Note well this is really neither more or less than saying "my mental illness".

I am a warrior of the mind, I have been across plains of suffering in the planet of my brain and I am back with a story. I am in love with truth and I know nothing but I think continually of those who were truly great, and I want to be one too.

And ground zero of the story is that humans could really manage their institutions in a much better way. Humans should aim higher. We have gone to our houses and we have shut our doors and we shake our heads and blog about what feels like a revolutionary time in history but there is no clear organizing principle of what we should do.

So maybe what I am offering is best described as a religion, but it's not really religious to feel passionately about animal rights and the rights of the planet, of consumer rights and regulatory reform. I think all big religions on earth should be called out for what they are, corporations. I think all governments should be called out on the same fact. Maybe I am asking everyone to be religious about their own life, make it the highest and best possible.

I definitely am offering insights into government. From my first post until today I can see what I am: a person pretty worked up about rights and religion. Not impossible to combine rights and religion, in fact, in the end, aren't rights essentially about protecting our irreducible humanity and allowing it to flourish? (Yes). And isn't the knowledge of our humanity and the flourishing of its communal enlightenment really the best thing a religion could offer society? Who knows? I'll let my four blog readers decide.

In case you have got this far and are worried about me, I do realize that this borders on messianic thinking, which is manic, which is dangerous. But mania is a frenzy uncontrolled by reason, and I think everything I am saying is reasonable. And it's only ideas. I'm just saying. Look at the pictures of Peter Cicchino on his website, if you want. I originally entitled the last blog post "Peter Cicchino is calling me from the grave", but it brought up zombies to me and really, no, now he is an angel. When I thought about it later I realized I was visited by an angel. I make absolutely no claim to the supernatural. I think my own unconscious mind rushed in to help me. I think it rushed in because to tell you the truth it's been another bad spell. I have been in tears so much, and suffering so exquisitely, but Peter Cicchino called me. My whole life is calling me to do this. This what? I do not know what, exactly, it is. Advocacy of fundamental regulatory reform? Oh, God, how lame is that? Not very superhero.

Anyway, on my road to optimal humanity my first job is to forgive myself. I have to take a childhood where the rules of our home were the the laws of god, and breaking the rules meant eternal damnation, and weed the fear and shame out of my consciousness. But I think fear and shame occupies the vast majority of my available neural circuitry so even though I have been pretty hard at work on this for the last six years, I still have a long way to go.

It served me well, it was my drive, it was an excellent motivator. It made me a pretty good student, law clerk, and especially trial lawyer. And later it also served me well as general counsel of a wifi start-up. The fear of screwing something up - anything up - was so magnified and enormous. I am used to having my body bathed in cortisol in batches you cannot imagine. But when I had a son, and I was scared for the life of someone I truly loved (I do not truly love myself by a long shot, unfortunately, but I am trying to) the the fear of screwing up magnified exponentially until it was unbearable. There was SO MUCH fear.

But coping with it has lead to a great deal of enlightenment. But the more enlightened I become, the more humbled I am about how little I know.

But I do know this- remember when the Iranian women Neda was shot and I was so upset and my dad gave me this look and said that "Liberty has always been bought with the blood of martyrs."? It's an old blog post. The point is that institutions are like Skynet - they are designed so that their first prerogative is to save themselves, to thwart outsiders. Anyway, I think about how much our institutions need changing, but I am not naive, and I know it is only by mass political action could these institutions be swung around for the better. And an international critical mass of activists is not really what I have time for at this point in my life (taking the children to school, feeding them, etc), although organizing it does sound tempting.

Maybe I am back to my friend Tina's idea - a third political party in the United States called the Rule of Law party - designed under the uninflammatory premise of transparency and accountability for corporations, religions and sovereigns. Law as a guardian of the planet's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (so, yes, a heavy green agenda). I would also be completely against corporate donations to political parties. I would also urge everyone to have Mexican night at least once a week at their house, where they eat fajitas or chili. And to stay hydrated. I would rethink every little piece of internet related legislation everywhere.

I would ask everyone to look at their investments and to truly be a shareholder of the companies they have invested in. Right? If there is no difference between the big three - Corporations, Sovereigns and Churches, don't we really have to pay more attention how we contribute to the first. By that I mean look at what the company does and what it makes and how it treats the earth and ask yourself if the earth is bettered in a reasonable way by what that company does. Yes, this requires people to forgo optimal financial returns. This may be necessary to achieve optimal humanity. Corporations - and in this category I include banks - have way too much power over people. Our financial situation was inevitable. But our recovery from it may not be. And what changes we have made in regulating banks leave a bitter taste in my mouth, for they seem to have been written so that Goldman Sachs could get hugely profitable again before house prices in the Hamptons completely tanked. We did not step back and think and then implement ends best for humans and best for the earth. And really, that is what we have to do about everything now, right?

Luckily we have our Kings of Heaven, our philosophers and artists, our Peter Cicchino and our Groucho Marx.

I think continually of those who were truly great

I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great
Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fŠted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Peter Cicchino is Calling Me To Be A King of Heaven

Ok, so I went to law school with this very magical person named Peter Cicchino. He died in 2000. He helped me help my brother come out, he and I were both Articles Editors for the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and when I first met him he was just this goofy gay former Jesuit on my journal and in my Postmodernism and the Law Class. We shared a background steeped in scripture and religious traditions and a goofy love of rights, of civil rights and civil liberties. I never understood why he was friends with me, but he was, and I was privileged to spend time with him. I didn't realize how privileged until later.

He has been completely inexplicably and intensely on my mind lately. I have been reading everything on his website, .

(I have to call Christians' attention to the Civil Rights - Civil Liberties volumes from the years Peter and I worked there. You will find the years between 1990 and 1992 studded with articles that are strangely out of place contemplations of civil rights and Christianity and mysticism, including Hartigan's Power of Language Beyond Words, my Note on Theology and Civil Rights)

I forgot in the last eighteen years (ten since his death, how can that be?) that he gave the valedictory address to our class at law school. It's printed in one of the articles - Charles Ogletree's tribute to Saint Peter. He told our class to use our arrogance (favourite quote: speaking about arrogance at Harvard is like speaking about Catholicism at the Vatican), contentious and overwhelming sense that we were born to be in charge, to run the world. To run the world for good. The very qualities that made us so annoying to our families were not vices to be eliminated, but strengths to be used for good. I urge you to read this address. I will twitter the link as soon as I can.

So I am so very drawn to this address in such a busy week.

And that's not the only thing that's been happening.

I noticed a comment on the Rock Me Sexy Jesus discussion on Wheaton College Freethinkers that I was dangerously close to believing in God again.

My yoga teacher keeps whispering in my ear that in fact, I am enough. She gave me this quote. It is still on my desk somewhere:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson. I don't know about that one, actually.

My nearly two-year-old daughter is currently obsessed with washing her hands. It is all she wants to do, lean over a sink and run water over her hands and wash them with soap, over and over, and it seems in some ways at my tenderest moments as a kind of absolution, a forgiveness, an invitation. The Frederick Buechner clack-clacking of two branches together while you lie on your back and stare up at a tree and wish for a sign of God.

And it gets much worse. For months now I have had this stupid burning mouth syndrome. My mouth is burning. It feels like it is on fire and appears burned all the time. It's like my own body is conspiring with my daughter and the universe at large to get me speak. To get me to explain what I have learned, to say what I know, to shout fearlessly about how the world can be better. All I know is that I have tried the available remedies, and they are not working, and still the tongue of this lawyer/(ex?)Christian/bipolar/mother burns.

Jesus said "Woe also unto you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them."

And, you know, the law is an unparalleled force of culture, and those of us trained in it, those of us arrogant and contentious enough to lead it, those of us powerful enough to create change, well, woe unto us indeed. For we have raised our children and built our extensions and acted as if these were not times of great upheaval and change. But they are, and we should stand up for what we know will make the world better for humans and animals and plants. Most of us, myself included, earn their paycheck by making the world better for corporations and sovereigns and churches. These institutions take our power and we must keep them on short leashes.

The law is stagnant. It is dying of neglect. The forms and structures are antiquated, and creaking under the weight of the present needs of our world.

It is not as if new principles need to be found, it is that the best principles need to be incorporated everywhere. If corporations, sovereigns and churches really have no functional differences between them, a number of changes to existing law flows effortlessly from that fact.