Archive for June, 2010

A Nation in Mourning

June 28, 2010

I root for the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, and I love it when they make the World Series or the Super Bowl, but if they should lose, I cannot imagine more than a couple of minute’s rueful recap before pouring the rest of the beer down the sink and getting on with life.

Now for the players, who have spent so much time and energy getting to that point, I can imagine that such a top-level defeat can be a bitter pill, and the trip home a long and largely silent one.  But for the coaches, managers, and other hangers-on, I have always subscribed to the idea that those hiring them have to be looking for someone smart enough to play the game but dumb enough to think it’s important.

At the close of my seminar yesterday (a confused but earnest attempt to lay out my thoughts on somatic perception to a group of body-centered psychotherapists), Giselle (the organizer and coincidentally Misty’s mum) put the score of the England-Germany World Cup game up on the white board: 4-1, a terrible score for those of you less familiar with the beautiful game.  Bad move: some of the students immediately demonstrated some of the signs of shock and trauma we had been talking about during the lecture: shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, a depressed posture at the exhale end of the spectrum, or lack of ability to focus.

Paddington Station, a burbling throng at any time, was palpably quiet, and populated by zombies.  The train back up to Oxford was best described as stunned into silence, everyone staring straight ahead.  When I got home, I looked at the highlights myself (looping endlessly on all of England’s four stations): England was robbed of one goal for sure (why don’t they use video? it would have taken 10 seconds to assure the officials it was over the line) but they were simply outplayed from start to finish.

It’s a game, for chrissake! – kicking a plastic ball around a field according to some arbitrary rules; let’s get some perspective – where does this over-identity come from?  Time to get a grip on real life and move on with alleviating suffering, loving our children, appreciating the beauty, and cleaning up the planet.  Why doesn’t starving Nigeris, the use of rape as a weapon of war, oil spewing over pelican nesting grounds, or the deformed babies from the use of depleted uranium in Afghanistan bring silence to a train station?

John Cleese has the silliness of American football down:

Time for someone to bring a similar sense of perspective to the FIFA World Cup.  Enjoy it, sure, but identifying with it?  If the outcome of a game wrecks your day – even an hour – that speaks of an empty life. (Just my opinion)



June 24, 2010

Flying out of Boston, a day late, the sun sits on the horizon, a squished red ball that hangs there not setting for a long time, even though we are going northeast away from it, so it should set faster, not more slowly. (Because we are rising in altitude? – such things occupy my fervid mind more than they should.)

It gives a flat but even light to the coast, whose shapes I idly watch from my window seat until familiarity grabs my attention.  I am used to looking at this coast from above, not because I fly across the Atlantic so often – conditions are rarely this clear – but because I often look down at the charts for this part of the coast.

Here are my sailing grounds, laid out like a map.  First I recognize the Kennebunk River, where Michael and I and Kathleen recklessly flew a spinnaker before Vagant, soon to be renamed the K’leen, on her engineless maiden voyage to Portland.  What were we thinking?  But it worked just fine, pulled before the wind and easily doused despite our ignorance.

Next past Biddeford, where to my shame, on the shores of Biddeford Pool, I delivered a very lame presentation to the osteopathic faculty of UNE a few weeks ago, one cog in the series of events that are pushing me away from the ‘healers’ and more toward the ‘educators’.

Next came Scarborough, where I can trace, from its sand bar at Prout’s Neck and Ferry Beach, the twists of the Nonesuch River winding all the way up through the marsh to River House on Roundabout Drive where Quan and I lived for the 90’s. I am too high to see the house, but I can see the bend in the river where it looks out across the marsh to the copse of trees.  That copse, almost an island the sea of marsh, is where the Saco Indians made their last stand, only to be chased out and cut down – mostly women and children, in a clean-up operation by the European settlers in the early 1700’s.  Quan, a warrior of spirit, set those souls free at great cost to herself, but that’s another story.

Up along to Higgins Beach where Quan would ride her horse at full gallop down the beach when she was well and kept Dakota on Sprague’s estate. Out to sea from here lies white-edged (from the breakers) Richmond Island where the Spragues kept sheep. Every spring I would boat out there with them and a team of sheep dogs, who would round up the very wild sheep into a pen with expert skill in response to a calm old lady with a whistle on her tongue and a snapping fingers.  It was my job to wrestle them from the pen over to the shearer, a messy but energetic couple of minutes in which I discovered the use of the shepherd’s crook, which up until then had been merely a prop in the Christmas pageant.

Around the corner of Cape Elizabeth the familiar shape of Portland Harbor, scene of my climb out from post-divorce despair, sailing out of Bug Light with a heavy heart on other people’s boats, until Annie got Tribe and our adventure began among the ‘Calendar Islands’ of Casco Bay – there’s 365 of them, supposedly, which made for great sailing.  I have reached and tacked along House and Caldwell, Great and Little Diamond, Chebeague, and Junk of Pork leading to Cliff with its strange currents, and Jewell with the fairy woods I discovered one day and never could find again.

The Basin is visible off the New Meadows River, than Cape Small protecting the Hermit Island passage where my father took my boat in among the rocks at a speed that whitened my hair.  Mighty Sequin sits off the mighty Kennebec River, and then there’s my home along the Damariscotta, a thin arm of the sea framed by Thrumcap on one side and Linekin Neck to the east, snaking up 12 miles into the hinterlamd.

Seguin and the peninsulas, each with a light glowing in the dusk, define the bays.  Mighty Pemaquid divides John’s Bay from Muscongus, and Port Clyde and Two Bush mark the entrance to Penobscot.  In the middle of Penobscot is Vinalhaven, looking from above like the swirl of a hurricane, written in granite.  On the water, it is a series of complex islands and necks with more harbors than you could visit in a month of Sundays.

Next door is Deer Isle, another complicated piece of geography separated from the mainland by Eggemoggin Reach, around which my brother just rowed – 33 miles, 10 hours – to celebrate 10 cancer-free years.

South of Deer Isle is the scattering of the small islands in Merchant’s Row, held down at the bottom by the abrupt mountain of Isle au Haut, which marks out Toothacher Bay, with Blue Hill Bay to the north, and Frenchman’s Bay on the other side of Mount Desert and Acadia National Park over to Schoodic, which marks the entrance to the dangerous, less populous and exhilarating ‘Down East’  – Ship’s Stern, Roque Island, Jonesport, Bailey’s Mistake, Jordan’s Delight, Great Wass with the Mudhole and the Cattle Yard.

I am just writing all this for the names, although to me each of these calls up memories of sailing adventures, close encounters, and lovely evenings – but by this time darkness has fallen, we are easing away from the coast, and I can no longer pick out the detail, and I return to the stale noisy world inside the plane.

One more trip to England, and then I get some time with my beloved rocky islands and my beloved rocky wife.  Dancing ‘tween wind and water on the boat lifts up my soul, while stepping on their granite mantle brings it in again, grounding it to the center of the earth.  Nice to look down on it so clearly from above, making the journey in a few minutes that would normally take days.

Father’s Day

June 21, 2010

A canceled flight allows me to spend Father’s Day with Misty.  Camped out on her futon in the living room, I get a chance to cook breakfast (don’t laugh, o you who know my cooking skills) to ease my daughter’s transition from college girl to working girl.  It’s the same fridge, but the apartment has gotten a facelift since graduation a few weeks ago.  Fun to see her worrying over what to wear on this muggy Boston summer solstice, and clicking out of here to the State House on her black high heels.  I’m so proud.


June 20, 2010

Sneak in the back way to McMahon Island – there’s a little passage around to the west into Hockamock Bay from the Sheepscot River.  But I am single-handed and going up wind and against the tide.  After three tacks in which I gain only a few yards before I have to jack her around again, I realize that getting past the little spit is going to be impossible – too easy to be pushed down onto it, with an unfavorable wind and current to hold me there is abject embarrassment.

In earlier days I would have gone for it, but in my sixties the better part of valor takes over and I turn tail and run for Damariscove.  Hard to believe that this thin little thread of a harbour has been inhabited most summers since 1608, when the English fisheries summered here to fish for a haul of cod back to Liverpool.  I rush headlong before the wind into its narrow embrace, luffing up around a Canadian sloop parked by the old Coast Guard station, across from the hill where the headless ghost walks.

But I have wind and sunlight left, so a dance around them and back upwind out of the anchorage and back into the exhilarating sea.  As the sun attenuates, I ride the rollers back into land, past the big seal on Pumpkin Ledge, the terns swirling above the lonely chimney atop the Whites, slipping by Pemaquid light through the Thread of Life, tucking up into The Gut just in time for Mike to give me a mooring, so he can fix my bilge pump in the morning.

It’s a joy to be doing real play and real work, swinging the scythe, sanding the oars, tying up the tomatoes, but it’s back into jet land for me – one more time, over to UK, to see the students out and James in.

The Gulf

June 12, 2010

The oil pluming into the Gulf of Mexico has been too horrifying, too sad, and too confusing to write about.  It is easy for some to assign blame depending on their political predilection, but I keep returning to myself, mindlessly pumping gas at $3/gallon, with no thought to the workers, the executives, or the regulatory structure that brings it to my car.

The ‘gulf’ is between us and the source of our energy.  Oil is ‘capital’ energy – finite and dirty at both ends; wind and solar are ‘income’ energies – they don’t get used up in the process of capturing them.

Here’s the first stanza of a poem I wrote about ‘conservative values’: (for the whole poem, Votive, a bit dated now in the era of Obama, go to:


I would vote for a conservative, my friend, if I could find one.

A conservative would be about conserving something, wouldn’t he?

Conserving oil, for starters – that sticky goop in the earth

That no one was impressed with until the right whales ran out.

I wish there’d been some conservatives then

As we flensed huge mammals for a smokeless flame.

It’s not over til the fat lady sings.

Did we leave one to sing us through our curtain call?

As the whales got rarer and their oil got dearer

Refined petroleum came within reach.

In one short, hard century we drilled and flamed

Two billion years of accumulated fuel.

Greased the rails

At about 4% efficiency.

So that much of the heat and long tons of carbon

Escaped to confuse the self-adjustment of the earth.

A conservative approves of self-regulation,

Or so I thought. Or does he not?

It cost the sun a million bucks –

That’s today’s dollars, my friend –

To press each barrel of this organic wine.

We’ve been on a drinking spree.

A conservative worth his salt, and worth my votes

Would see the log, not pick at motes

Would sober up, contain our mirth

Would shore up oil for all he’s worth

So our grandchildren will not say to us,

“You used essence of dinosaur, precious oil

To push just you and tons of metal

Around those ‘roads’ you love so much?”

As we say to our grandparents,

“You did fatal liposuction

On an intelligent fellow creature

To light your bleedin’ houses?”

Thayer Street

June 7, 2010

After my presentation in Providence, I drove up the hill past Brown University to Thayer Street.  I haven’t stopped in Providence since 1968, when I was sent there to organize against the Vietnam War by the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers).  For those not of the hippie era, it is hard to convey the ferment of those days, the fervor for change, the sense of revolutionary possibility that seems so far away from us today – as the corporate oil gushes and the pointless wars rage.

These days Thayer Street is a genteel boutique main drag for the college students.  No more Omega Coffee house (Omega, Ohm, symbol of resistance, get it?) where I showed up for an antiwar meeting early in June of 1968, driving the VW ‘bug’ my brother lent for the summer. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated, drugs were in full swing, and the country was on the precipice of something either beautiful or very nasty.  In the event, neither happened – life went on, as it usually does, but those of us who lived through it are bonded in a way that will never be broken.

I stayed in the spare room of a couple of straight looking but sympathetic Providence Journal reporters who were never home, and whose refrigerator was a total disaster.

That night I met Michael Frenchman, a chemistry major recently dropped out from Brown, one of the smartest people I have ever met, and still my friend these forty years later. (He produces most of my DVD’s, lo, these many lives away.)

That night I met Anne Finger, differently-abled in her body, but sharp in her mind.  Despite my self-congratulatory freedom from convention, Anne taught me my own class prejudice in a few well-chosen words, a lesson I have always remembered.

In another building, long gone and gentrified by modern architecture, was the Rhode Island Committee for Peace in Vietnam, the center from which we organized draft counseling and anti-war protests.  Upstairs from a tobacco shop, we had typewriters donated by liberals, a pencil sharpener, a lot of ideas and laughs, and a mimeograph machine, which, along with classifications of 1-A or 4-F, are long forgotten.

Faced with forced conscription into an unpopular war, the able were left with few options.  Some left for Canada, some manufactured gayness (a serious disadvantage in 1968) or craziness or a medical excuse.  The most courageous refused induction and were prosecuted.  Michael refused but avoided arrest; Tony Ramos served two years in Allentown before resuming his successful career as an artist (I have written of this in an earlier entry:

We counseled young men as to how to get around the law, shuttled a few sailors from the navy base to Canada, supported Tony in his run up to trial, and were generally a pain to the Providence ‘pigs’, who obliged with porcine behaviour, hitting us with flashlights and clubs (on the back, where it wouldn’t bruise), throwing us in the paddy wagon and taking us to jail (me only once, and the record was supposedly ‘expunged’ – I’ve never checked.– after I’d spent a long night in a cell and been put on a line-up in front a roomful of cops and called ‘a Communist outside agitator’.)

It’s all gone, it’s all history, and none of it was left, so I bought a few trinkets for home from the Indian store, and hit the road back to Boston.


June 3, 2010

Just heard a radio program on the bonobos, our closest primate relatives along with the chimpanzees.  While the chimps are male-dominated and show organized fighting, infanticide, and even cannibalism, the bonobos are a feminine culture, where fighting is suppressed or offset by frequent sex.  In a ‘bonobo handshake’, females rub clitori together, more or less as a social greeting, the equivalent of offering a cup of tea to an Englishwoman, a gesture of welcome but no big deal..

While no one expects humans to go around having such handshakes on a regular basis, the social promiscuity takes away any motivation for infanticide, and apparently fighting as well.

While I am no subscriber to the Demon Male doctrine, the male principle that has reigned for the last 3500 yrs or so is wearing mighty thin.  We need to study how the bonobos have done this, as this problem of aggression is playing out as I write: the male bee, having ‘stung’ the sea floor, is dealing with the outpouring of poison from the hole.  That need to penetrate everything – we need a different sensibility.

I cannot wait for a more feminine energy to have sway again.  I lived under Margaret Thatcher, but that was less of a victory for the feminine than Barack Obama.  We need the rule of femininity for a while. I have not illusions that it will end any better than androcentric rule, I’m just up for a change.

The bonobos live only in the Congo rainforest, and a few thousand are left, with their habitat shrinking due to war and deforestation, forcing them into contact with the hunters who kill them for ‘bush meat’.  These are animals that routinely share food (and sex) with other groups of bonobos they meet, an animal that can learn sign language if raised with it, and whose social contract is devoid of the fear of each other that pervades the human condition.  We need to learn how they have dispelled that fear.  It has been my conviction since I first learned political theater back in 1968: fear is only enemy worth fighting.