Archive for November, 2010

Enervated

November 28, 2010

I find myself strangely enervated these days – not depressed; I know well what that feels like. But I feel unmotivated and expectant, waiting for the other shoe to fall. Is it another wave of recession or some attack, or something more personal in the offing? Or just the shorter days, with so much time in darkness? The press of business and emails is so relentless, but ultimately unsatisfying if I don’t feel connected to the projects and the outcomes. And recently, I simply don’t.

From the early autumn when the trees are brilliant flames, dying in October to cheerful russet, to the embers of the last rusty leaves, and now the grey ash of November branches amidst the fire-proof pines – there’s this time every year between putting up the boats and the first snow. Years when these collide are less fun. A pause before winter – good time to get your snow tires on, get the old wood to the front of the pile, tie up the garden, get the screens in, organize the garage, and change the strings on the guitar in the early dark. But truth is, in the daily rush you never do get many of these items crossed off the list, and one day winter comes anyway.

Today – Black Friday – is collision day: sleet and snow piled on the roof all night, but I did not know until it turned to rain early this morning and the slush scraped down the steep tin roof around my dormer and woke me up. Most of the stuff on the shore is done up for winter – hoses drained, mooring chains sunk, docks taken in, boats overturned and tied down to the floats. But not my father’s old scow, Marisco – too big be turned over without a derrick, it remains a wide mouth that collects precipitation – easier to bail than shovel, so I try to get it covered before snowfall, but not this year.

Reprieve – it was above freezing by the time I got down to bail her and all the snow had melted. The regular rhythmic stroke of my arm (Superficial and Deep Back Arm Lines along with the Back Functional Line) on Dad’s old funnel pump is a chance to dream. Of a warmer climate (here, all that stays is dying, and all that lives is getting out) or of an easier life (one of my teachers has just quit in a welter of emotion, and I feel these losses so deeply, no matter how much I can see its inevitability and no matter how much I rise above to see the big picture unfolding as it should). But these are just gleams, I’ll take my chances with my choices. The sea birds are in, and the Old Squaws are out in the river crying their distinctive ‘Owl-omelet’.

It is the season of hunting, and I stroke the pump to an irregular drumbeat of shotguns blasting at the poor ducks along the shore, and 30.06’s thumping away at the poor deer up in the woods. The horses don’t like it, so Quan doesn’t like it. She has been waging war against the yahoos who go up to the orchard – which is posted – after dark and illegally jack-light the deer eating the apples. She calls the sheriff and the game warden, but by the time they arrive out here, the kids are gone, often with a deer across the tailgate. Many of the hunters around here get three or four deer, when the legal limit is one.

But despite the bad manners of a few drunken hunters, and the unsporting driving of the deer – 5 guys walk through the woodlot, chasing the deer into the other 5 waiting with guns along the far edge – the fact remains that this area is poor, and the meat goes around town and feeds a lot of hungry families.

The pump suction begins to rattle, and then squawks at every stroke as the bilge drains. The sere north wind that is already starting to chase the storm will dry out the rest. When it blows itself out, Annie and I will find a warmish quiet morning to nail on a tarp to keep the snow out of her for the winter.

Annie’s at the door of her garage as I walk by, and she asks me to come look at something. I shoulda known that I would get roped in. She lives in the house I grew up in, and I am pretty sure that cellar hasn’t been cleaned in all my sixty years – and today she’s doing it. The lasso is all the stuff she’s finding – a tiny drill press, a copper oil can for the Tin Man, an old wooden locker, full of something (this family? probably books) but we cannot tell what until we get a locksmith. There are boards nearly 2’ wide from the old days, fastened to the limed stone foundation with hand-forged square-cut nails. And lots and lots of dust, debris, and junk to shake your head over as you turn it in your hands. What qualifies as an antique? How much is sentimental value worth? What will I put back on a shelf that will just sit there another 50 years?

After my initial reluctance, I enter into her spirit, throwing things up the bulkhead with abandon, and not stopping until everything was settled in a new place, and the light was fading. I find myself in a new mood, despite the hours of working stooped and the bitter taste of the dust scratching my throat. All I needed was some focused physical work. My work life has become more and more abstract – from hands-on practitioner to dancing teacher to sedentary director – so I need this decrepit homestead to remember the old days and the constant labor necessary to survive here. What a body needs: love and work, that’s all. Actually, a little food and drink would be nice too, so I toddle off home for a little something, dirty but renewed and at peace.

Coolin’ Up – Another Sailing Season

November 21, 2010

November is a capricious month in Maine, prone to going from September to December without much notice.  I had been stretching the sailing season this year since I was home more, but the combination of frost in the mornings, short days, and the demands of work finally pushed me over the edge, and I decided to take her down to Mike, who will haul Tycha and store her.

I went for it on Friday, figuring a strong northerly and a fair tide would sluice me out of the river.  I was more than halfway down when I remembered to turn on the motor, which I didn’t need but the bilge pump would.  Both batteries were dead, and I could start me no engine.  So I turned around and battled my way back uptide and upwind, past The Gut in South Bristol, past the shipyards of East Boothbay, up through The Narrows in the thick of the tide and the dying of the sun.

With sunset, my wind faded, and I managed to ghost her (it’s full moon, so I had enough light to see) back to my cove, 7pm and shivering, but I had to row her in.  Thank God I had the dinghy with me – not usual, but I would have needed it to get ashore at Mike’s – and I simply rode it ahead with the bow line under my heel, and stroked again and again until I had enough momentum to bring the 35’ heavyweight into the dock and tie her off.

Saturday morning the wind came up early and Tycha was pulling at the traces, water splashing over the dock and the lines tugging in a fresh westerly.  Knowing I was underdressed and underequipped for the strong predicted wind, I nevertheless trusted me and Tycha under whatever conditions the sea could throw at us.  Hubris.

Down the river again – but with a fresh battery and engine power in reserve – and the wind was strong but certainly handle-able until I came out of the lee of Heron Island; then 30+ mph of wind bore down upon me without advance notice.

Too much wind – it doesn’t happen very often, and it’s a little hard to describe. Suddenly a challenging but calm sail turns dangerous and heart-pounding, with the rigging shrieking, the boat on its side, difficult to maintain a course, and breakage or swamping a real possibility.  My body tenses, hard and short. The noise is overwhelming – the whistle of the wind, the sails flapping, the hardware jittering and clattering, the thump of the waves on the boat, the thunge of the sea (I stole that from Annie Proulx).  Why hadn’t I put on my safety vest with its harness?  Why hadn’t I worn my boots?  I turned the engine on, I will admit, and took the one angle I could take in the confused cross-chop of the whitecaps and swell the wind was already setting up.  At this angle, the waves were sending gobs and plumes of spray over the cockpit, and I was drenched wave after wave in that phony ‘throw a bucket of water at him from the wings’ Hollywood way.  I was laughing, but shivering too – this is November and close to freezing.  Things break in this weather.

There was nothing to do in such a wind but angle her out to sea to get some sea room, and then try to handle her.  As I avoided the Devil’s Washbowl, cleared Trumcap’s rocky point, and headed for the White Islands and the open sea(thank God that was the angle I could make), I couldn’t help but hear the whispers: Fool! You are the only one stupid enough to be out here in these conditions.  Don’t expect any help if you are thrown off or lose a sail.

I had furled the jib, which you can do from the cockpit (though with difficulty in this wind), but I could not leave the wheel to get the mainsail down since she was pitching so much and had to be kept at a precise angle to the wind.  The dangers are: don’t stop! if you stop, you cannot steer, and are at the wind’s mercy and can be knocked down (so the sails touch the water).  Fittings can break in these conditions.  I wanted to be angling downwind, but with the full mainsail up, that was too dangerous.

So I did the only thing I could – keep her headed out to sea at about 45 degrees to the wind.  After 20 minutes or so, the first blast abated – not much, but enough to get her through the eye of the wind (with the help of the engine), coming about onto the other tack.  In this tack, I could angle downwind, and I flew back (at more than 8 knots sometimes, even though under main only) through the Thread of Life and into John’s Bay.

Sheltered by the peninsula of Rutherford’s Island, the screaming winds were no longer accompanied by the choppy seas.  I was able to fly right up the bay into Poorhouse Cove to wave hello to my Dad’s grave on the slope of the Harrington Meeting House – “Thanks for the gift of sailing, and here’s to you at the end of another season” – before climbing up the wind again past Witch Island to the mooring field outside of Mike’s.

As I turned off the GPS for the final time and pocketed it, I noticed that the odometer had reached exactly 1111 nautical miles for the year.  That’s a pretty good amount of ‘therapy’ (as Mike calls it – he’s right, it is my most expensive and most effective therapy) given the business constraints of this year of years.  Sorry to put it away, but therapy is over until spring, and I must turn my attention to the task at hand: cleaning up our act for the coming decade.

11/18 – III: The Glass Flowers

November 21, 2010

Across the Charles to Cambridge, I meet my friend Martin at the door to the Natural History Museum. (We have met Martin before in these pages, in London: https://tomyers.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/kew-with-martin.) Martin’s brother Lucky, a composer and conductor, had an untimely death, and the Harvard Music Library is archiving his manuscripts and recordings, so Martin is completing a geosh (a wonderful Gaelic word for a family burden handed down that no one but you can resolve) by trucking the boxes of his brother’s work from Boulder to Boston.  He is waiting for his bold-as-brass daughter to come down from my class, where she is working handily through the process of becoming one of our graduates.

Always priestly, always real, and always keenly observant, Martin is a pleasure to be with, and I am sorry that I have only a short hour before I must drive north again.  We go upstairs to see the famous glass flowers, of course – Martin is a master gardener.  These glass flowers are amazingly real – no Chihuly undersea fantasy forms here, but flowers, leaves, stamens and seeds so accurately rendered a century ago by a couple of Russian craftsmen using simple tools on a bench.  So real that they become totally prosaic in minutes – yes, they’re glass, but they have the dusty museum look of just-gathered real plants, no artifice involved and therefore no artistic ‘lift’ either, beyond the ‘how did they achieve that?’  And anyway Martin and I are chattering away to each other sixteen to the dozen, catching up and singing our spirits to each other, close friends that we have been these twenty years.

Inside the smell of this building I suddenly remember my other visit there: As a freshman at Harvard, and with all the innocence a plebe possesses, I had requested, and been granted, an interview with Ernst Mayr, the eminent evolutionist of the time.  I brought along my reel-to-reel recorder – this was 1967 or early ’68 – which the old gray man with a large chest and head looked at askance, but said nothing.  With a distance of more than forty years, I cringe at my ignorance of evolution.  My questions would be better today, but still not up to Ernst Mayr’s standard.  As it was, he must have wondered how he got stuck into this, a meandering and inept interview from an undergraduate with no point beyond a freshman anthropology paper.  When I brought up something about eugenics, the old German bristled and I was soon sent packing, but with enough for my paper for sure.

I am surprised to see that he lived until 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_W._Mayr) – he seemed quite old then.  He got to comment on Dawkins and all the modern neo’s.  May I also live to pass one-hundred.  Martin too.  Misty too.  You too.

Today Misty’s mum joins me in exploring her seventh decade on the planet.  Today would have been Teddy’s 95th birthday, so she was midway through her tenth.  She was forgetting things and people.  Always a sharp observer, timekeeper, and a rememberer of facts, she hated her diminished capacities, and checked out fairly quickly after they started to fail.  My father checked out quickly after he was forced to leave his beloved home of many years for the retirement apartment.

Obviously, Mayr kept his grip.  What will make me lose my grasp on this life that I love so much?  When will my words fail me, and my ability to understand the developments in my own field or the next run of gadgets in the electronic revolution? What cleavage from my sense of purpose will send me tumbling toward my death?

11/18 – II: Misty’s State House Office

November 21, 2010

Across 128 and back into town, the Massachusetts State House is right on the corner of Boston Common at the top of Beacon Hill, where history is everywhere and parking is a bitch.   In scruffier days, we came down here to protest the Vietnam war, but now, as Misty and I find each other (with cell phones – who needs a meeting point? Oh, there you are!) we have to giggle: she’s in her business clothes, smart, black, and a bit clunky compared to her usual gear, and I am fully suited and tied, a rare event indeed.

Gathering a bit of lunch, we repair to her office in the upper reaches of the golden-domed building.  We pass under the stained glass of the dome itself, and pass a hundred plaques and memorials on our way to her legislative office.  I haven’t been in this building since I was nineteen.  The rooms are stultifying in the way of all buildings that have been divided down into cubicle sized offices, but I had envisioned something more soul-less, whereas the heavy blond oak paneling lends a gravity and polish to the otherwise pedestrian work of answering the mail from constituents and keeping the schedule straight.

Misty works as Executive Legislative Aide (read: PA and gofer) for a retiring representative of somewhere in South Boston.  Willie Mae is not in her office today, which is a good thing, as I would give her a piece of my mind about keeping my daughter there on the Friday after Thanksgiving, preventing her from coming to Maine to gather with our family in our ‘new tradition’ of meeting at our house, now that Teddy is gone.  This woman, old and black, who came up out of another era, evidently takes a bit of joy in ordering this white girl around, and Lord knows we all learned this lesson in our early jobs, so I bite my tongue.

11/18 – I: Teddy’s Funeral

November 21, 2010

On its last day, I abandon my emotionally charged but exhausted class to my able co-teachers and slip away in the pre-dawn darkness and wind.  I am off to my aunt’s funeral south of Boston, and it is a perfect celebration of her life.

The grieving and mourning is gentle – her death was easy, timely, and at ninety-four, life owed her little.  We miss her, we celebrate her, but there is no anger at God here.  My family is and was a churchy band – my grandfather played the organ and sometimes handled a service; my father the same.  Here, Teddy’s son-in-law, a devout Episcopalian, read the scripture for the funeral, and my brother, a Congregationalist minister, handled the service, pointing out that we gathered around the piano to sing the hymn “We Gather Together” every time we gathered the family for Thanksgiving, which we did for over 40 years at Teddy’s house.  Teddy’s two daughters speak simply and clearly, the six grandchildren the same, and two of the dozen or so great-grandchildren acquit themselves well in speaking about ‘Grammy’.

The rest of us – tending toward a spiritual agnosticism and general discomfort with organized religion – squirm in the pews in our wool suits until the reception next door, when we can unfold and catch up with all the family members to the tune of tea and sandwiches.  People I haven’t seen since they were teenagers, cocky in tennis whites, present themselves – now bald, red-rimmed, and wrinkled – for inspection at the other end of life: its parameters defined, success achieved or not.  A trip to the bathroom and a look in the mirror confirms that I too have defined my own parameters and run my race, and wear the results in my face.  I give myself an Al Pacino wink (you betcha!) and go back to the polite reunions.  It’s a lovely day, brisk and sunny, suitable to commemorate a New England icon in a suitably New England way.

Roll Out the Drums of War

November 16, 2010

I had the chance to speak to a young man – let’s not be coy, my daughter’s new boyfriend – whose hair was cropped to the stubble of basic training, as he has joined the National Guard, and could be sent to Afghanistan any time in the next few years.

In an ironic reversal of ancient conversations I had with dads of my own girlfriends, when I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam era, we sat across from each other  in the breakfast nook, eye to eye, intensity matched with willingness to examine his actions and motivations.

First off, he’s getting good money to pay off his student loans.  A graduate of BU who wants to go to law school, but coming from a family of limited means, joining the Guard is a gamble to get the benefits afforded by whatever serves these days as the GI Bill.  I have no problem with this; I take calculated risks with my business bets every year, and I can understand the financial motive even if the risk seems greater to me than to him.

But he’s also gung ho about the mission, and here I balk and we go at it hammer and tongs.  “Sure, you get the goodies, and good on you – but do you really think there’s an endgame in Afghanistan that justifies the cost in terms of either young people or treasure?”

Julian is no ignorant right-winger – he plays on a gay rugby team (how does that work? his girlfriend Misty is now the VP for public relations for the team), is knowledgeable on international issues of human rights, and, being of Lebanese descent, particularly conversant with the history of Afghanistan.

He knows we trained the mujahadeen how to fight a large army when the Russians were in Kabul.  He knows we abandoned them after the Russians went home (Charlie Wilson’s War) and they became the Taliban, and now use the same tactics on our large army. He is clearly on ‘our’ side – against the rough justice and the women’s rights abuse they represent.

“C’mon, women lose their rights all over the world, and none of us likes it, but we don’t send troops and a world of hurt to the leaders of Darfur, Rwanda, India, or Indonesia. The Taliban – with whom Karzai is doing a deal as we speak, you know that? – are for sure unpleasant extremists, but they have been demonized by the American press.  If you go, you are a tool of the corporations who want the oil and mineral wealth, the sharp edge of the spear of greed, not of human rights.  Look at how well it worked to ‘export democracy’ to Iraq.  The people guiding these wars do not share your interest in human rights.”

His reply: “If they locked me in a room with Saddam Hussein, only one of us would come out.  But if they locked me in a room with Dick Cheney, likewise only one of us would come out.  Other people set these huge historical forces in motion, and I may or may not agree with their motivations or their tactics.”

And then he got even more interesting:

“I am going in as an officer, which means I can question my orders.  From a sergeant on down, they have to obey orders, but as an officer I have the right to refuse.  I might end up going to jail for that refusal, but I would have the chance to defend myself in a court martial if it comes to that.  So it is my job to interpose myself between those who would do useless violence on either side.  The Taliban are coming across the border and killing Afghanis – I would interpose myself between those who come to do the killing and their victims.  But I consider it my job to do the same in the other direction – to interpose myself between orders from my superior to destroy an innocent village.”

Julian is heavily into the cameraderie  that prompts us to kill or be killed for our band of brothers, very proud that he would not leave one of his men behind, not even a corpse.  I also understand that bonding, even though I have never been through basic training, from, of all things, theater improv troupes I have been a part of where you would cheerfully ‘die’ for another member.  It all sounds very positive, and I have to concede the moral absolutism of youth.

“How will you know who is innocent in the smoky hell of war?  If the line between good an evil ran between men, it would be easy to know what to do – but that moral line runs right through the middle of each human heart.  Once you are part of that machine, you do its bidding, and your own moral compass gets lost in a welter of confusion, militarism, and – ultimately – a hate that mirrors your own love for your comrades.”

Julian and I disagree mightily on ‘Saving Private Ryan’.  He sees it is a noble set of acts where one man gives of himself to get another out.  To me, Ryan crying at the graves of his comrades some 50 years later is a testament to the moral relativism of even that ‘good’ war – the impossibility of answering his plea: “tell me I was good man.”  Was Ryan worth the life of the Tom Hanks character?  Will your death, o intelligent, ardent, and upright young man, mean anything but cannon fodder if you meet it in the dusty hills of Helman Province?  Any more than Pat Tilman’s – glorified yet falsified in the first casualty of war – truth?

Of course I respect Julian’s choice, and he got my personal respect as well – he met me point for point, and who am I – fat, complacently out of danger – to question his patriotic fervor?  He is no tea-bagging drum-beater who has drunk the Kool-Aid, but a cool calculator who sees the opportunity to do some good in a bad situation.

I still think the whole situation is bad, and I would call him away from it: What if they gave a war and nobody came?  What if none of the young signed up?  But they do – for the opportunities both financial and for the glory that so attracts the young.  My own glory was on the barricades of the anti-war movement; how can I gainsay his different choice made for the same reasons?

But the US is ancient Rome and Mussolini’s Rome rolled into one.  We spend countless sums of blood and treasure in faraway wars that make us no safer, make us no lasting friends, and just drag us closer to our empire’s end.  All the soldiers, and most of the rest of us as well, are mere vassals and serfs to the huge corporations that really set the priorities and run our lives, not the governments that we supposedly ‘elect’.

If this were 1936 in Germany, Julian, would you set yourself to oppose the useless violence of the Nazis even as you set out to quell those violent Jews (or French, or Dutch, or Poles)?  Would your act of defiance against your superiors in the SS, which would get you shot or deported to a death camp – would that be worth it?  Do you really want to stake your all on being part of the American war machine bringing bombs and drones and death and easy money to that ancient country that just wants to be left alone?  Are your ideas of women’s rights (which I share) goin be set into the landscape in any lasting way?  Isn’t diplomacy and social action more effective than war in these maters?

I wish it all comes out well for you:  your body intact, your mind intact, your passion intact, your kindly affection for my daughter intact.  Intact = in touch.  I fear you are in touch with the passion of youth, and my aged cynicism is no match for it.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Feiffer

November 12, 2010

Someone sent me this great story about the monomaniacal like myself:

Jules Feiffer, the celebrated cartoonist now 81 years old, spoke at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. He talked about the early days when he didn’t have much work.

His uncle, who loved him and wanted to counsel him, took him out for dinner so he wouldn’t starve. He urged him, with times being what they were, not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Feiffer told him, “I only have one basket”.

A Meeting By the River

November 8, 2010

A few weeks ago, I slipped across the river to meet Howard Bloom (www.howardbloom.net). Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood has that New York feel, but more spacious and playful than the inexorable onward arrow of Manhattan, which I rarely leave in my short visits. Indeed the Tea Room where he asked to meet was very large, scattered with scruffy low couches and old stuffed chairs draped with louche youth staring into their electronic conveyances. A few actually having conversations. Save for the counter indolently offering drinks in the corner (and replace the texting with Marcuse and Fanon books) and the whole dusty scene could easily have been a London squat from the 70’s.

We easily recognized each other in this Facebook era. As he gathered himself, saving his latest thoughts and unplugging his small laptop from the extension cords that snaked around the couches, I gave him a little inspect. From his books I had expected a nerd, and from his portrait intuited a little man. And indeed he is, wire-rims askew, unruly thinning hair pulled back into some sort of ponytail, a series of pens like some IBM engineer in the upper pocket of a personalized one-piece black flight suit – about my age, I guess. With the computer in the backpack, his last bit of apparel was to place a ridiculous Muscovite’s black hat, where the visor is up and earflaps tie across the top. On the front was the traditional red flag pin, which I thought must contain a story, and indeed it did – the last of a large Soviet-era collection stolen from his grandfather.

He has a winning and boyish smile, and one can well imagine the pain of his youth, being so much smarter and more observant than those around him, but unable to defend himself, except intellectually. Been there. His step was jaunty, with each body part ahead of the one below it. We were just flowing through the small talk necessary to get us where we needed to go, and neither of us good at it. The epitome of the absent-minded professor, he was so involved in his talk that he made two wrong turns on the way to his favorite restaurant a mere 5 blocks away (“Whoops, we’re going in the wrong direction” and “Oh, we must have passed it”).

Finally seated in a mediocre Italian (food I would guess is not his forte; everything was ‘very good’ or ‘super-delicious’), we went at it hammer and tongs. No holds barred conversation, about 10 threads going at once, no problem for us to hold all of them simultaneously, switching from one to the next with ease, each silently appreciative when 3 or 4 could be tied in with one poetic image – rarely do I find a person who can talk on this many levels at once, whose scientific grasp is sheathed in a poetic glove. His breadth of knowledge outstrips mine by light years, but he was kind enough to slow down enough for me to keep up with him.

It has been my privilege to meet several geniuses in my lifetime – Bucky Fuller and Rupert Sheldrake come to mind – who share that ga-ga innocence, a child’s wonder and freshness that allows them to look at what everyone else is looking at and see what no one else has seen. Many are so labeled, like Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais in my field; they were smart and innovative people, sure enough, but gained their distinction through their determination, but definitely lacked this essential child-like element, as do I.

Howard has it – his smile and meandering train of thought illuminate it – but he also has a resident fierceness whose source I didn’t learn in this our first meeting, but which we also share: truth or die, and no compromise. His willingness to lay his life on the line for his truth was illustrated in a few stories I didn’t learn enough about to repeat, but I was convinced. This bedrock conviction – what are you willing to die for? – stood him in good stead through a long stint in the rock and roll business, where a long gesture with one of the greatest artists and most spiritual beings of our time (his opinion, not mine), Michael Jackson.

(When Michael died, I wrote a disparaging review in this blog, based on the media accusations of pedophilia (https://tomyers.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=376). Having watched a bit of “This Is It” on a plane, I revised my view. Talking to Howard further improved my impression.)

Such stories are not fair to recount, and I drop the name only to give him some credence in the real world – he is no starry-eyed intellectual but a truth warrior with a mighty brain. Untied to convention, he sleeps and works at odd hours, and turns down lucrative unchallenging jobs but jumps at the oddest opportunities. He cured himself – unconventionally of course, injecting himself with oxytocin and other chemistry – of a very bad case of Chronic Fatigue, a devastating extended bed-riddance that lost him his marriage and a decade of productive work, but emerged with his innocent ferocity intact, tempered now by a piercing ability to tweak the illusory foibles of those he observes.

I had wolfed down “Global Brain” before I came there, because unlike Peter Russell, Negroponte, Teilhard, Bennett, or other advocates of the electronic brain or noospheric demi-urge, Howard understands that Gaia’s metabeing has been present and building all along in the biological development, and the growing electronic ‘nervous system’ is but an extension of the intra- and interspecies communication that has always been present, we’ve just been too focused on the individual to see it.

I hope for a future meeting to have this conversation, but I had initiated this meeting for another reason. Present-day America, it seems to me, is losing its values, the bedrock Enlightenment principles the founders so cleverly and foresightedly put into the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The people shouting those words the loudest seem not to have read the documents they brandish in front of you as they do the bidding of our corporate feudal overlords. (I had just left my good friend where I stay, using his loft as a center for a MoveOn effort to call likely voters in Mt Kisco. When I came back from my seminar to view the scene of sincere people on phones all around the room – a contrast in both furniture and energy to the loungers in the Tea Room – he shrugged as if to say “I know, tacky and useless, but I have to do something”.)

Even as we protested against the government in the 60’s, it was not American values we were going against, just how the current administration was applying them in Vietnam and Mississippi. Although a decided citizen of the world, I have always valued American freshness and the openness and tolerance of our mixed society, the ease of movement and the opportunities for industry that are hampered or denied in other countries. Britain always held itself above racism, and deplored the American racism in the armed forces that came to WWII – until so many Indians and Pakistanis arrived after the partition, and the Brits discovered their own xenophobia. And now France, who has always had its pieds noir from Algeria, is deporting Romanies like the Germans deported Jews, and the Chinese ‘absorbed’ Tibetans. So it’s everywhere, I know, but America stood for something, for a kind of equality of opportunity, where democracy was not the tyranny of the majority. Though I know all empires must bloat, teeter, and finally fall, this was my empire, my Rome, and I hated to see it fall not fighting for its principles, but giving them away to the mindless chatter engineered by a few clever profiteers to numb the spirit of an industrious but complacent people. The United States, like latter Rome, has become soft and ripe for the picking – that much of the Tea Party analysis I agree with.

Howard was no help in this line of my discouragement, even though I had come here at the urging of Amir, a fitness instructor in Islamabad (there’s the internet in democratic action – how else would I know this man?), who said that Howard had a plan for the renewal of American values. Instead, Howard was blasé, giving me the old Bucky Fuller solution that we could create cities in the sky and E. O. Wilson’s line that if we failed, other species would take over. OK, OK, if we take the long view, it’s all working out as it should, and we can solve the environmental problems one way or the other, and the human race doesn’t matter much at all in the larger scheme of things – I understand all that, but that wasn’t the scope of the question I was asking.

If we deliberately define the question more locally: America, a fabulously interesting if flawed experiment in the social contract, is in trouble. What can be done to extend this experiment without losing its essentially egalitarian and participatory nature? To this question I received only airy assurances. I am not satisfied. I want to go back for more, because I am sure this interesting man has some answers to this more limited question.

This happened a few weeks ago, and now, as I sit on the plane typing it up, I am in the post-election funk – some good, some frightening in this election. Dylan is the only music that offers some comfort. One party is about as bad as another. Though Obama seemed the voice of reason when he campaigned, it was not enough, nor were the 200,000 (including my daughter and her boyfriend) in Washington for Jon Stewart’s rally, to change the wave I see sweeping this country, o my nation.

Yes, I know it will all work out in the end; yes, I understand the forces of psychohistory, and the futility of human endeavor, especially my own, in the larger scheme of things. But right now I am in mourning – not for the Eisenhower America of my youth, nor for Reagan’s shining city on a hill, nor FDR’s worker’s paradise-to-be, but Jefferson’s rough and tumble of a lively civic discourse, predicated on the idea that only if all of us progress can the few of us excel. Freedom – and I speak of political freedom, not individual spiritual freedom – is paradoxically a social event, not a license to gouge your own way to the top. We are a resilient society, as Jon averred at the rally to a picture of two lines of cars taking their turns into the single lane of the Holland Tunnel, but I see troubling signs of brittleness and isolation in our democracy everywhere I look. Is this what it felt like in Germany in 1933?

All Hallow’s Eve

November 1, 2010

When I get on the boat in these late fall days, it is not for the pleasure of being on the water.  Though that is always there, it’s too cold to expand into the surroundings.  And it is not for the privacy of getting away, though the feeling of freedom always accompanies the touch of my shoe to the deck.  After summer, I get on the boat for exercise.

Today is Halloween, and later I will carve pumpkins, not because we actually have any trick-or-treaters, but just because I love carving pumpkins, and later I will write that email, and still later I will curl around my beloved, but right now it’s exercise time.

A bit of danger time too – with everything cold, a failure is more likely – contracted metal pulling out of the deck or cracking with fatigue to zing into the air – hope it’s not into me.  With the high winds, the margin for error in navigation is reduced.  It takes but a minute for a steering error to be compounded into an onshore rush that cannot be stopped, even with the engine.

The wind is singing in the rigging even before I get everything ready – lines coiled, main up, everything else tucked in.  After I let go the anchor road and mooring pennant, there is a sudden whoosh and we are sailing across the harbor ‘on my ass’, as they say.

Alone on the 35’ yawl, I am in constant motion.  If you made me do this at the gym, I would complain, but here it is pure pleasure.  At least with long silk underwear and a down jacket my middle is all warm.  The danger of something going wrong at any moment adds to the adrenalin excitement.  The boat is over on its edge most of the time, white water pouring in over the coaming when a gust hits, with me standing on the side of the cockpit for seconds at a time while I wait for it to right itself.

The trees on the shore are all rust now; only the evergreens are still carbonizing, the deciduous are all oxidized – how many days until I simply must take it down to be hauled out for the winter?  I hate to say goodbye for another year to my good, good friend – we’ve traveled more than a thousand nautical miles together this season.  If I wait too long, a really bad storm will come in and damage her, if I go down too early, I kick myself every sunny pleasant day after that.

But for two seasons – early spring and late autumn – sailing is pure exercise: muscular, multivectorial, using long chain movements originated in the core, and with periods of rest between the spasms of abject terror – all right out of the book for Fascial Fitness.