Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fearful days

Oh, these fearful days!

I'm a lathered, wide-eyed steed ridden cruelly by Anxiety, the demon jockey.  His strength waxes and wanes, but at the moment he is firmly in the saddle, and does not spare the lash.


At my place of employment, my boss has told me I'm doing good work, as have my coworkers. So, why am I fearful for my job?

Although my health is good, and she is a strong and capable woman, I am visited by dreadful thoughts of the day when my wife, beloved Maty, will be without me. After all, I am seventeen years her senior. Rationally, I know she will never be alone. Her family extends across two continents and she is much loved by all who know her. And yet I ache at the thought of her: bereft, grieving, after I am gone. (That she might pass before me is unthinkable.)

The ascendancy of the new "normal," where racists and Nazis demonstrate openly in the streets and their views are given credence by a confused and angry people weighs heavily on me. I fear for my family. I fear for my people.

Anxiety is indeed a thief. I resent that it is robbing me of my life.

My shrink gave me breathing exercises and a mantra to recite, in these situations: "All is well." At times, it works.

But not now. Not today, nor for the past several weeks. I don't know why. There is no "why" to it. We are, all of us, dragging our crosses up Calvary Hill.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Book review: Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel

Undertaking to reinterpret a classic is always an ambitious and perilous endeavor. To do it right requires herculean effort. The artist must re-imagine, but at the same time, remain faithful to the original work. More often than not, the effort falls short somewhere. The new work either fails to attain the peaks set for it by the original, or the artist, enchanted with his own vision, loses sight of what made the original profound and significant. Examples are too many to count.

(And we do note the significance of this latter propensity in the context of the title here being discussed!)

Not so Pablo Auladell's graphical representation of John Milton's classic epic poem, Paradise Lost. Auladell's imagery, at times stark, at times deliberately vague, adds severity and depth to the abridged verse that captions the story-line. In particular, Auladell has a gift for depicting facial expressions: Satan's horror and glee, Adam's innocence and corruption, Beelzebub's unfathomable non-expression.

When first I read the original work, decades ago, I was intrigued by the romantic vision of the ultimate anti-hero, just as Milton intended. (Judge Holden, Captain Ahab, meet the original!) Now, with the temperance of middle age and with Auladell's illustrations as a study guide, I more readily saw past the seduction of Satan's seemingly valiant defiance, clear through to the perversity and depredation behind it.

I savored this book, poring over each illustration, parsing carefully the verse, comparing it to the haunting expressions of the characters.

Paradise Lost is a disturbing tale --check that --it is the disturbing tale. In addition, it is the literary prototype for the anti-hero motif. Auladell treats the original work with the reverence it deserves and offers his own convincing interpretation.

The unease that crowds my awareness at this moment, several days after reading it, attest to the power of the story itself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

It is time

Flex, ye once-dexterous fingers! Reawaken faith in your granted puissance!

Are ye not those same that once skipped o'er keyboard? Articulating? Expounding? Positing? Did ye not, in your lent glory, give form to weeping angels, rioting demons?

There was a time when ye were not afraid; when, together, we would give voice to it all and damn the snarled lip, the pinched brow.

What, now? Has the madness of the time rendered mute our passion? Doth suffocating dread now rule our heart?

We have known, we do know, the solution. Which is to write. To write every day.

Arduous? Yes. Frightening? Yes.

But also vital. To write is to live. With humility. With sincerity. With peace.

Bring it.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Portland vents, luxuriously

Big crowd. High tension.
The Big Event went down yesterday in downtown Portland. 

You're aware I'm sure. It's been all over the news. In the wake of the horrific attack that occurred on May 26, in which Jeremy Christian, a Portland man murdered two persons and wounded a third as they tried to restrain him from verbally assaulting two teenage girls, tensions in the city were high.

A pro-Trump rally, scheduled (before the murders) by a group called "Patriot Prayer," was set to take place and many in the Portland community objected. Tensions were heightened when James Buchal, the chairman of the Multnomah County GOP (normally a low-profile job) suggested he might hire private security (read right-wing militia) to patrol the event in case Portland counter-demonstrators tried to cause trouble.

Like many indignant Portland progressives, I was determined to counter-demonstrate. Most especially in light of James Buchal's inadvisable suggestion. ("No one is going to intimidate me in my city!") So I set out from my home at about 10 am, to walk downtown, where events were scheduled to begin around noon.

It was a strange day. Lots of drama. Lots of cheap emotion.

When I arrived, just around noon, the place was already hopping. The crowd was divided into 3 factions. 

"Antifa:" Mostly skinny punks, hooked on drama
The "Antifa" folks were there, with their black bandanas. They were isolated to Lownsdale Park (the site of the "Occupy Portland" demonstrations in 2011). There weren't very many of them and the few that were there looked like kids to me. Kids with bad attitudes. 

Trump folks across the street at Schrunk Plaza
Then, there were the pro-Trump, "Patriot Prayer" folks. Not very many of them, truth be told. Their rally point was Terry Schrunk plaza, which is a federally-maintained property. The perimeter of the plaza was surrounded by very serious federal cops. James Buchal's crazy idea of hiring militias for security didn't go anywhere. Those cops weren't letting anybody cause any trouble.

When I tried to enter the plaza, to have a look at the Trump folks, an armored, helmeted, federal officer with a rifle stopped me and said he must see the content of my backpack. While I fumbled to open my various pockets, he asked if I had anything that might be used as a weapon. I showed him my leather-man tool. "You can't take that in there," he said. Flatly. " Thank you officer," I said. I zipped up my backpack, turned and walked away. Never have I felt so willing to comply with an order.

A faux-militia guy in army fatigues. He was one of the Trump ralliers and he was not happy when I took his picture.
I briefly glanced within the federal perimeter and saw 4 or 5 guys in racist costumes (Kaiser Wilhelm helmets, white capes with racist symbols on them). But they were clowns. They weren't serious. There were a few loudmouths and a couple guys with MAGA hats. And some guys with their Don't Tread on Me flags. There was also a middle-aged woman sitting by herself with her hands folded in her lap. She had an honest face and she looked upset. And there was a decent-looking fellow, maybe a bit older than me, in jeans, cowboy boots, and a clean, western shirt standing off to one side. He looked to me like an Eastern Oregon rancher. I admired those two. It seemed to me that they were sincere, well-intended. I felt for them.

The biggest faction was the Portland Progressive group
By far, the biggest faction were what I'll call the "mainstream" Portland progressives, who had gathered across 4th Street at City Hall. These were the folks with whom I identified. This faction spilled out onto 4th Street and extended across several blocks. Most of them were sincere, it seemed. But there were plenty of people who were angry and just looking for someone to scream at. 

I met a bald man with a white tee-shirt and an Old Glory cape who wanted to debate politics. We were in the thick of the crowd, and there was movement all around. "Buddy," says I, "I really don't think this is the place." (Ignore the irony.) He appeared stymied for a moment and then disappeared into the swirl.

Heat was on.
Tension was high. And in highly emotional situations, I detach. It's a defense mechanism from my youth. The dispassion that comes with detachment reveals things.

I saw that there were people there who were on the prowl. They had come because they hoped something would happen and were on the lookout to find it. They lurked around, waiting and wanting to be offended. That they might beat their breasts and wail for justice. That they might then be validated and anointed by the sympathies of their fellows. Who knows? Maybe they could even get on teevee.

I saw too that there were people who were out looking to be scared. People who wanted to be scared so they could then tell themselves they were being brave. But they couldn't be brave unless they were afraid. So they moved through the crowd looking for something to be afraid of.

Perhaps fortuitously, my cell phone battery ran low and then died completely. I'd been so busy running around taking photos and absorbing the vibe that I hadn't really assessed the moment. But when I paused amid the drums and the chants and the insults and outrage being hurled back and forth I felt an old familiar feeling. I felt sheepish. Sheepish and foolish and duped yet again. 

I'd had enough. So I went to catch the 4 bus back toward home. 

Ready for action.
We're all just strutting and fretting about we-don't-even-know-what. Just like Macbeth said. 

The thing downtown yesterday was nothing more than another tax-payer subsidized extravagance: a big stage where everyone --every teary-eyed, soap opera queen, every ardent, self-important lead man --might have his righteous moment. His time in the spotlight. His indignant soliloquy.

Foolish. That's how it all seemed to me.

I torched up at the bus stop. Some vestigial paranoia from a different time tugged at my mind as I did so. Police were everywhere.

Up the street, the drums thundered and the crowd roared.

"Relax, baby," came the thought. "Today they got other things to worry about."  Thin snakes of smoke slithered past my lenses, delighting  my eyes.