Some Thoughts About My Cuba

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Some Thoughts About My Cuba

This is a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of my thoughts and memories and learning of Cuba, without any additional research, or “fact checking,” because I am sure whatever details I may have “wrong” are inconsequential to the truth of my testimony. And besides, I’m in my “don’t give a fuck what you think of me” senior years. Let the picayune, pedantic and nit-pickers do their own fact-checking (it’s easy enough today). But, to those with poetic and musical and socialist souls: welcome!

My family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution (from 1959): family business, property, grandparents’ health (early death); 1961-1967 were hell for us that way. Because of the rabid U.S. assaults on the Cuban Revolution, Fidel followed Raul’s lead and looked to the Communist Party — i.e., Russia — for help (I saw a Russian freighter in Havana harbor in 1960), and in reaction to those assaults, Castro banned rock music and the Beatles (in ~1965-1967; yet Juan Formell, famously, penned the seminal Cuban Rock-and-Roll classic, “Llegué, Llegué / Guararey de Pastorita,” and founded Los Van Van in 1969, https://youtu.be/75VYMyYVPhA).

BUT, my father forever refused to ever play golf (the signal Republican/Conservative/Imperialist/Reactionary/Fascist “sport”; I had offered to buy him golf clubs as a retirement present), and refused to ever visit Miami, where his old Upper West Side NYC buddies from the 1940s-1950s had gone in their senior years, because he did not want to go where “the pain in the neck” Cubans were.

My father had sent money sub-rosa (for bribes) to help his two childhood friends and their families to get out of Cuba in the later 1960s, and he cried when thinking back on it all, saying the U.S. had “destroyed my country.” Che Guevara was executed on my father’s 43rd birthday.

So, I know that Castro made many mistakes, and had dictatorial tendencies, but he was exponentially better for Cuba than the U.S. ever was or ever will be (Cuba si! Yanqui no!, I saw that grafitto painted on Cuban walls in 1959-1960). And the Cuban government always has the U.S. and its embargo and its CIA, as an easy excuse for and distraction from its own mistakes and heavy-handedness in managing Cuba; but there is an abundance of truth in that excuse nevertheless.

Despite its evident poverty, Cuba is what Puerto Rico (I am 50% Puertorriqueño) should be: independent; “the Cubans will never bend the knee,” as the last East German premier has said. Despite killing 2 to 3 million Vietnamese (between 1965 and 1975), and toxifying much of their land with Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs, the U.S. has “forgiven” officially ‘Communist’ Vietnam because it has let itself become a sweatshop for capitalism; Cuba remains unforgiven because it has not. And THAT is a dagger pointed at the heart of American imperialists’ greatest fear.

By the way: rock and roll is, deeply, a Cuban invention. The “French Quarter” of New Orleans is considered by US Americans as the birthplace of rock-and-roll through the African-American roots of Delta Blues, R&B, and Gospel music (rhythmic and charismatic African call-and-response choral music – originally without drums, which were forbidden to American Black slaves).

The French Quarter was actually built by the Spanish governor of New Orleans during the ~25(?) years of Spain’s ownership of that port, by treaty with the French (who had established and owned it previously, and then owned it afterwards – eventually selling it to the Americans in 1803 – all by treaties between France and Spain, because of European wars in the 18th & 19th centuries).

The rhythm-based African music was imported to Cuba with the slave trade (Cuban slaves were allowed the freedom to drum at night, which was forbidden in the U.S. over fear of “signalling” a slave revolt). There was a huge trade from Havana (of Cuban sugar) to New Orleans (and back with furs bound for Europe), and with it rode in Afro-Cuban musicians to New Orleans, who by then had already incorporated colonial Spanish instruments (guitar, flute, violin, brass, piano) into their bands. Those musicians brought in the roots music of what would eventually flower as Blues, Jazz and Rock. Chuck Berry’s “Louis, Louis” is a pure cha-cha-cha.

Today, Cuban popular music incorporates hip-hop (reggeton, via Puerto Rico, and via the many back-channels Cubans have used to gain access to foreign recorded pop music: Cubans are the most talented and accomplished “pop” musicians of the world, and the tap root of it all is Africa). All pop music worldwide is basically African-based, which is why, (pop) musically, Cuba is the “ombligo del mundo” and Africa is its placenta.

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

I think the essential story of the United States of America is a weave of 5 historical currents:

— the struggle of Native Americans against their genocide;

— the struggle of African-Americans against their enslavement, and to find their own unrestrained identity;

— the struggle of immigrants to establish decent lives for themselves and their families;

— the struggle of labor against its exploitation by capital;

— the struggle of the Natural World to withstand the assaults by capitalism.

The struggle of women almost everywhere in the world including the United States to overcome the many forms of abuse, depreciation, exploitation and inequality that they can be subjected to could also be added as a sixth historical current of the American story.

All these struggles continue to this day.

I do not think the triumphalist story of capitalism’s ascendancy and of the personal successes of notables gaining wealth and attention, as well as the glorification of American wars and imperialism, is a historical current with any depth of meaning for the definition of “America,” even though it is the predominant ideological myth promoted by the official scribes and propagandists of the American ruling class.

It took me many years to crystalize this realization, which has long been known and expressed by many alert people. So, then I was asked by a friend:

Q: “What happens to societies when people only care about themselves?…”

A: They become very cruel and disunited, and nationalistically weak.

Thucydides describes this as a danger to the Athenian society of his time, during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC):

“Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay. ”

It was the leading cause of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the middle of the 5th Century, which devolved into feudalism. It is a feature of the moral corruption weakening societies that are subsequently conquered, as was France by Prussia in 1871 (read Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Boule de Suif,” for an evisceration of that class society) and then again by Germany in 1940 (read W. Somerset Maugham’s book “Strictly Personal,” about his travails in France during 1939-1940, and how the French capitalists would have to back postwar socialist policies for the working class, who would do all fighting and dying to liberate France).

Q: “… and unless compelled to act otherwise by some authoritarian or autocratic government.”

A: Revolutions, like the French (1789 and 1871), Russian (1917), Spanish Anarchist (1936), Chinese (1922-1949), Vietnamese (1945), and Cuban (1959), erupt in reaction to endemic societal corruption, cruelty and top-down injustice, and foreign invasion, and they all-too-soon harden from populist-socialism to authoritarian command societies.

While the socialism of the Cuban Revolution is incredibly admirable, and the type of thing needed everywhere (especially in the U.S.A.), it is nevertheless unfortunate that a part of that Cuban socialist solidarity had to be compelled in order to assure the survival of the revolution and the independence of the country from the Colossus of the North. [1], [2]

The French Revolution ended with Napoleon (in 1800); the Russian Revolution ended with Stalin (by 1934); the Spanish Anarchist Revolution ended with the Stalinists gaining primary influence over the Republican Government (in May 1937); the Chinese Revolution ended with Mao Zedong; and the Cuban Revolution was spearheaded by Fidel Castro and still struggles to free itself from authoritarian measures imposed because of two political forces:

— the unrelenting military, economic, diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Cuba by the U.S. (since 1902!!),

— and by the all-too-human motivation of the Cuban political leadership to stay in control of the Cuban government.

Some kind of force (“Security,” “the Army,” “the Police,” “Intelligence”) is always necessary to defend socialist societies and restrain those who would seek to dominate them, and yet the existence of such forces are themselves breeding grounds for such would-be supervisory dominators.

Q: “I think my question is unanswerable, but I periodically voice it when I feel despair over people’s inability to learn from the past, to go beyond their tribalism, and to fail seeing their intrinsic connections to the rest of humanity. I rail against all that after once again being subjected to other people’s benighted opinions that are examples of those failures.”

A: I see that many people seek to address your basic question with:

— elaborate political ideologies and theorizing (my Marxist friends);

— appeals to religious do-gooderism (traditional soft-Christian fluff, largely delusional);

— commitments to charitable social work in hopes that that ethic spreads by their example (real do-gooderism with hopes for the future, perhaps in vain; as done by exceedingly admirable people like Dorothy Day);

— progressive political activism, (mucking in the tedious turgid nitty-gritty of party politics, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, extremely admirable people trying to be pragmatic in advancing progressive policies — or as some would say “lesser evils” — that seem to have some finite chance of reaching fruition; such efforts are derided by Marxist and Anarchist theorists, who consider them ideologically ‘imperfect’ and incrementalist: pipe dreams);

— all out revolutionary action in hopes of sparking a general uprising (being a violent outlaw like Fidel Castro at the Moncada Barracks in 1953 and in the Sierra Maestra in 1956-1958; a delusional and destructive alternative most of the time, but on rare occasions it works);

— giving up and sinking into hedonistic dissipation or self-terminating depression (a very sad and yet too popular option, which in the extreme can lead some to emulate the Marquis de Sade or become suicide bombers).

The options and resources available for solving a difficult problem depend very intimately and strongly on the attitude you bring to the situation confronting you, and the attitude you are prepared to live with in order to obtain a solution. This is very clearly seen when contemplating the problem of the sustainability crisis characterized by global warming climate change and biodiversity loss, faced by our fractious capitalist world.

My own rather Fabian-Utopian approach (in answer to the question) is to urge action in response to global warming climate change, because I know that to really solve that problem (the sustainability crisis) will require:

— social unity (the problem is planetary, there are no local nor piecemeal solutions);

— a leveling of standards-of-living (worldwide!);

— massive demilitarization (resources reallocated for broad social benefit);

— a heavy reliance on intelligent planning and Earth-focused scientific research and engineering (technology for human and social benefit, including those for nutrition, drugs and medical care worldwide);

— and de-growth de-capitalization (economics as if people mattered — a.k.a. socialism — and resource reallocation and employment for broad social benefit).

The compulsion for advancing such global initiatives would come from Nature itself in the form of the rapid erosion of the sustainability and climatic conditions of the many environments provided by Planet Earth to its human tenants. In this analogy, Nature becomes the autocrat dictating our conformity into World Socialism. I suppose this is a grimly utopian view.

Nature’s sustainability-crisis push on our bitterly fractious self-focused human world society seems quite capable of producing the same kind of effect on us as the German invasions of Rome during the 4th and 5th Centuries had on the bitterly fractious self-focused society of the Western Roman Empire: the collapse of a rotten structure into impoverished chaos out of which violent strongmen would carve out fiefdoms in a new Dark Age, and perhaps this time the last one.

On the other hand, maybe Nature’s sustainability-crisis push will spark a world revolution in human thinking and humanistic identification, and from that a totally new world socialist paradigm will come to define organized human life on Planet Earth. It is all a matter of choice. Only time will tell.

Thanks to Ann Harmless for prodding my thinking with her questions.

[1] Cuba and the Cameraman
https://youtu.be/lsZ8hDutkeM

[2] Cuba Libre
https://youtu.be/LmKgDxQHnfA

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Strictly Personal, 2020

For me, the sustainability crisis — of which global warming climate change is a very prominent symptom — is a moral issue.

The locus of immorality driving that crisis is the nature of our civilization. Undoing that immorality would require destroying all our politics and economics, and abandoning all our ideologies and religions — which are basically just categories of excuses apologizing for varieties of egotistical selfishness and separatist bigotries — and rebuilding our entire civilization from zero on the basis of a homo sapiens wide solidarity and intelligent compassion in harmony with Nature and with a reverence for All Life on Planet Earth.

All other attitudes about the sustainability crisis are excuses to avoid facing it, seeing it as: an economic, or political, or technical, or emotional issue, or opportunity to advance an agenda during the course of its inequitable immiseration of humanity and destruction of the non-human natural world.

Overcoming that crisis would certainly require taking economic, political, technical and emotional actions, but all these would just be tactical aspects of living out a cohesive moral imperative.

Whether such a globally cohesive moral imperative ever materializes into real action is a matter of probability — admittedly quite low — but it is not an impossibility by either the laws of physics nor the limits of human imagination.

And that’s it. No further Jeremiads, ideologically political and revolutionary tracts, self-pitying psychobabble of angst and despair, or jargon-laced obfuscation palmed off as erudite policy statements, are needed.

Face the facts, World, and take the consequences for your actions or non-actions in response. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Character is fate.

It is interesting that today — 589 years after the execution of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at the age of 19 by the English for having had visions that rallied the French to defeat them in the Lancastrian (last) phase of the Hundred Years War, and subsequently canonized as Saint Joan by the Catholic Church — that the peasants, workers, wage-slaves and youth of the Earth see their hopes for a just and sustainable future as radiated out by the visions of a 17 year old Greta Thunberg, our Saint Greta of the 21st Century, whose public persona is figuratively burned at the stake by capitalist-apologetic corporate media.

So, I will not berate you further (at least for today).

Escapism being preferable to reality for most people, let me entertain you with the following.

My favorite 50 movies (today, in order of personal preference) are:

#01 Casablanca (1942)
#02 Citizen Kane (1941)
#03 The Big Sleep (1946)
#04 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
#05 The Grand Illusion (1937)
#06 The Rules of the Game (1939)
#07 The African Queen (1951)
#08 Goldfinger (1964)
#09 Seven Samurai (1954)
#10 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
#11 Captain Blood (1935)
#12 The Dawn Patrol (1938)
#13 The Three Musketeers (1973)
#14 The Four Musketeers (1974)
#15 The Night of the Iguana (1964)
#16 The Moon and Sixpence (1942)
#17 My Man Godfrey (1936)
#18 In A Lonely Place (1950)
#19 Dr. Strangelove (1964)
#20 Catch-22 (1970)
#21 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
#22 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
#23 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973; 1988 version)
#24 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
#25 Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
#26 Stolen Kisses (1968)
#27 Jules and Jim (1962)
#28 La Dolce Vita (1960)
#29 Otto e mezzo (1963)
#30 The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
#31 From Russia With Love (1963)
#32 Forbidden Planet (1956)
#33 Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
#34 The Crimson Pirate (1952)
#35 Women In Love (1969)
#36 Betty Blue (1986)
#37 King of Hearts (1966)
#38 The River (1951)
#39 La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes (1955, the Nov. 2008 restoration)
#40 They Were Expendable (1945)
#41 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
#42 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#43 Yellow Submarine (1968)
#44 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
#45 North West Frontier (1959)
#46 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
#47 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
#48 L’Atalante (1934)
#49 The Producers (1967)
#50 Rodan (1956)

I like many more films, and numerous of those could easily be inserted in the above list.

Books/stories/plays I read (or re-read) between ~2017 (most since 2019) and 2020 include:

John Keats (Selected Poems, edited by John Barnard)
William Wordsworth (selected poems)
Sky Above, Great Wind; The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan (Kazuaki Tanahashi)
The Cid (play by Corneille)
Phaedra, and Andromache (2 plays by Racine)
Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, The Miser (3 plays by Molière)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville, re-read)
Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)
Benito Cereno (Herman Melville)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Cousin Bette (Honoré de Balzac)
The Wrong Side of Paris (Honoré de Balzac)
The Human Comedy, Selected Stories (Honoré de Balzac, edited by Peter Brooks)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Sentimental Education (Gustave Flaubert)
Three Tales (Gustave Flaubert)
Bel Ami, and 98 of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories
The Plague (Albert Camus, re-read)
The First Man (Albert Camus)
All Quiet On The Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
The Drowned and the Saved (Primo Levi)
The Periodic Table (Primo Levi)
The Upanishads (Juan Mascaró)
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Paul Reps, re-read many times)
Japanese Ghost Stories
– (Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Paul Murray; have read earlier Hearn books)
Siddhartha (Herman Hesse, re-read)
Magister Ludi, The Bead Game (Herman Hesse)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (all 5 novels and most short stories)
My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Erroll Flynn, re-read)
Earth Abides (George R. Stewart)
A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller)
In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World (Ian Stewart)
The Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them (Peter Radetsky)
The Best of Medic In The Green Time; Writings from the Vietnam War and its Aftermath
– (Marc Levy)
Catch-22 (Joseph Heller, re-read)
Catcher In The Rye (J. D. Salinger, re-read)

Three more items:

#1 I am now 100% introverted, and never going back to extroversion.

#2 My special skill is shutting people up, with the truth.

#3 The mark of superior people is the ability to acknowledge the achievements of others, especially those they wish they could have done themselves. Few have the courage to do this.

Life is a gift; Have fun; Be kind.

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Magic Mirror of You All

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Magic Mirror of You All

This is my Roseanne Roseannadanna equivalent of a response to the many skeptical good-hearted people who have replied to any of my scribbles.

Thanks for writing and sharing your own memories with me of the ‘good old days,’ whose madness by luck we both managed to survive. Such recollections by others help me sharpen my own memories, and improve my interpretations of my old and often confusing experiences. Learning never stops for anyone really intent on living.

Maine I loved (like you), Wes Montgomery records I have (like you), piano lessons I took for years in my adulthood (instead of your clarinet), music is a touchstone for me. Hippy I never was, though I let some coeds who insisted I was to keep thinking so because it was better for me that way. A lost world, 1969. I loved some of everywhere I’ve been, some of everything I’ve heard, some of everything I’ve seen; and some of that love was only realized long, long after the ‘now’ of the original experiences.

In fairness to you as you make your corrective judgments on my words, let me share my biases: between Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, I prefer: Maupassant, Fitzgerald, and Camus.

Since I haven’t worked for anybody in a long time, have no career ambitions, no reverence for authority or wealth, nor interest in any ideology or religion; no need for recognition, attention, ‘honors,’ votes or even “likes,” and have nothing I can be blackmailed for, I have devoted my external interests to presenting the truth as I find it.

In doing so, I have learned that no rational argument can overcome an irrational belief, and that religious fantasy in a myriad of forms is part of every human personality. And that is why COVID-19 is “just a flu,” anti-pandemic masks are “loss of freedom” while guns make you free, vaccines cause autism, and the televised American Fatima on 11 September 2001 was a divine revelation bestowing on the souls of true believers an instantaneous graduate degree in engineering and physics. Amazing grace.

I don’t argue: people believe what they want to believe, facts don’t matter.

Why? Because it is part of a person’s self-image and self-definition, and protecting that from modification against the pressure of cognitive dissonance can be achieved by fashioning psychological armor against reality out of fantasy. People don’t reason, they rationalize.

Humans have always made sacrifices to propitiate the gods — the powers beyond them and which control them — to help them live through their fears; and that is why they invented those celestial potentates in the first place: whether elevated on Mount Olympus, or by the Electoral College. And the sacrifices?: their minds.

So, yes, I know I am embarrassing and annoying (and wrong!). I make no apology.

From my earliest days, I realized that people, generally, are very inattentive; in a word: unaware. They amble blithely in their personal little bubbles oblivious to all that lies outside them. They babble loudly in their little groups in cafés without any thought to disturbing the people around them. They drive their cars with minimal notice of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. They have an unfailing ability to not-notice you if they are waiting tables or behind a counter you are in line in front of. There are just an uncountable number of ways that people can not-see, not-hear, not-notice and not-know. Of course, sometimes this not-noticing is intentional, arising from laziness, envy, fear or hostility. But, most of the time it is just simple short attention span mindlessness.

Because of the commonness of human narrow-view, short-focus bubble-vision, coupled with perceptual insensitivity, communications are often garbled, incomplete, misdirected, mistimed and ineffective. Who is without complaint on this score, whether at work, at school, among family and friends, and out and about in public?

Millions have been painfully and pointlessly consumed unseen by such blanket unthinking ignorance, like with the Vietnam War, whose discarded memory in the United States has been given the finalizing punctuation of a Black Wall past which the untrammeled unchanging national amnesia and human-reduced-to-robot OCD proceeds locked onto the almighty unending ‘grab.’

So, I have learned that it is necessary to be quite redundant in my verbal and written communications: repetition is the essence of pedagogy. Repetition is the unavoidable necessity of successful communication. So, when I want to ensure that my message is received by another consciousness, I repeat myself: in the speaking of the message, in the writing of the message, and in the repeated sending of the message.

Those who notice this repetition easily form the impression that I am “old,” and even “dumb.” But, I have made the calculation that it is acceptable to be taken for a bit of a clown if that ensures that the messages I care about have been effectively transmitted.

The messages I care about are those that will make for better lives for my children, and also all children; even though I think most American kids (and adults) are spoiled brats. But, “man is a social animal” (as Aristotle said), and the second best way to ensure a good future for my children is to advocate for a just and peaceful society of benefit to everyone.

This motivation has led me to advocate for the left-wing political causes and candidates I’ve written about. Astoundingly, advocating for a real response to global warming to cut off the Sixth Mass Extinction (which includes us) is branded by the status quo as beyond-the-pale radical left-wing extremism!

Sometimes in giving out my truths (the rational) and opinions (the somewhat less rational), people smile at me (agreeing), and sometimes their assholes pucker (disagreeing), but usually I glide through a human sea of not-noticing — both conscious and unconscious. I have plowed up a mountain of embarrassment before me, and I trail a wake of relief behind me. And, I don’t care. Transmission gets through (as best as it’s ever going to).

I have high hopes for the new generation resplendently buoying up the revitalized identification with “socialism” in America. But, I also have no confidence in the character of the Americans who see themselves as part of the establishment, or who fool themselves into believing they are entitled to its privileges by dint of their heritage and attitudes. It is disheartening to realize that Donald Trump can claim 74 million Americans as devoted fans.

Former president Jimmy Carter is correct to say that the United States “no longer has a functional democracy,” because incorporated Big Money can and has bought politicians and elections, so that the vast bulk of the public has little impact on government policy, which they are paying for in money, blood and impoverished futures for their children. And, all that sacrifice subsidizes the obscene corporate looting of the public commons, and the subversion of government to the service of very selfish and destructive special interests.

Even so, the remnant of democracy that we still have seems able to produce political figureheads for the oligarchy, whose dismal characters do reflect the embarrassing reality of the dominant traits of the American electorate: morally weak intellectual mediocrities who are tolerant of corruption, sloppy to the point of incompetence, and cravenly selfish. Not everybody, and for most not all the time, but in aggregate just too much.

If this were not so, Bernie Sanders’ mildly utopian mildly socialistic vision would have been implemented long ago. The opposition to the political visions of Bernie Sanders and young champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” is really of the same type as that before 1865 to the vision encapsulated in the 13th Amendment. I like to believe that the socialistic vision of Eugene V. Debs through The Squad will eventually prevail in the United States, when the evolution of the aggregate character of the American people finally arrives at the requisite “higher level.” But, it’s so damn slow getting there!

So, for my outnumbered fellow rational thinkers and fatigued ethicists, let me leave you with this summation by W. Somerset Maugham (himself quite a flawed and compromised human being — and who isn’t? — but also a much better writer), from his 1944 book “A Writer’s Notebook”:

“There is a nobility which does not proceed from thought. It is more elemental. It depends neither on culture nor breeding. It has its roots among the most primitive instincts of the human being. Faced with it, God, if he had created man, might hide his head in shame. It may be that in the knowledge that man for all his weakness and sin is capable on occasion of such splendour of spirit, one may find some refuge from despair.”

And some of those ‘occasions of splendour’ have been sprinkled randomly on me through unexpected letters.

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Photo:

Laura Williams
19 June 2013
https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurawilliams_x/9732914426/

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.

I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.

In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).

My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.

In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.

But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).

Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.

But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.

I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.

Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?

In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).

Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.

This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.

Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.

Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.

So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.

In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).

So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.

And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.

After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

I saw the sunrise, from pitch black to clear light over the canyon rim this morning. An owl was hooting before the light, the air warming as the dark faded. Heard the birds wake up and each begin its chatter; the hummers buzzing over my head to inspect me before tanking up at the nectar bottle. The turkeys gobbled confidently from across the canyon.

Made French Press coffee. Watched our cats play, stalking and chasing each other on the hill as morning light expanded. We later ate some simple cold cuts, cheeses, bread, pasta salad; cool water.

I played, stumbling with some exponential functions, trying to simulate CO2 buildup in the atmosphere (55.5 million years ago, and also again today), a perennial project. Seems pointless to tell people about it, but it keeps my mind occupied, and I’m curious. That CO2 and its growing heat will be with “us” for centuries, a millennia? (who cares?).

Went out a few times to look at the day, which was lovely, with only a subdued hint of ash haziness from the fires up north. My mother is living with us for a while, waiting it out. She told me of her grandmother who raised her, who was born in the last days of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico, before the 1898 takeover by the Yankee Conquistadores. My mother wishes she could buy the platanos to make pastelón, like her grandmother used to make for her in Río Piedras.

I thought of my father, who would have been 96 on his birthday during these early days of October. I remember the stories he told me of his father’s childhood, spent with his father sheepherding in the Cantabrian Mountains, in the very early years of the 20th century: stories of facing off against prowling wolves, armed with long wooden staffs and Great Pyrenees mountain dogs, of drinking wine from the bota, of wild strawberries, and bagpipes.

Watched a nature video from 26 years ago, about Caribbean sea life, so lovely then. Had Caprese and guacamole (with tortilla chips) for supper, both made to perfection; I handwashed the dishes.

Watched a video (from 30 years ago) on the life and art of Mozart; I always have tears well up when I hear the Lacrimosa.

Life is short, and there is so much to do, so much to experience, even for us lacking the talent, grace and insight of a Wolfgang Amadeus, and I see none of what is worthwhile in the close-in noisy opaque bubbles everyone jams their heads into to plug up their senses with the flickering trivialities and remote dramas of the moment.

The owl, the birds, the turkeys, the cats, the critters who keep out of my sight (but not the cats’s), and later the crickets at night, they all know what is happening at any moment every moment. They have to, to eat, to stay alive; for them paying attention is the essence of living, but so is napping in the sunshine, which they all in their turn do so luxuriantly.

We can be so pitifully disconnected, and most of us always are, for we just don’t notice the whole world changing: drying, melting, burning, receding, dying. It’s no wonder animals look at us with such amazement: “how could they be so clueless?” There’s always a reason I guess, a crisis of the moment, to not get out of your head and wake up to the flow of the world; but that’s just tragic: death. It’s also why people feel so alone, because in fact they are alone in desert bubbles, befuddled, lost castaways, wired to artificiality: empty static.

I realize I’m an anti-social socialist, a hermit socialist, “out of the loop” in every way for sure. And I need to be, it’s best.

My boy black cat — Buster — will bump into my leg at night, when I’m out looking onto the deep sound of the unseen. He understands of course, his connection to the primordial is undimmed by civilization, his wisdom is locked safely in DNA that has been 25 million years in the imprinting, and I appreciate his encouragement.

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

The map shows the fires in Sonoma County, California, USA, during 2017-2020. These were/are all big. My mother had to evacuate in 2017, and stayed with us for 10 days. Today (28 September 2020), I went to get her and bring her here again.

I monitor the internet to follow the progress of the fire (the Glass-Shady fire of 2020 – now – is 0% contained; it started about 2 days ago – see the red blotch). This year I know of 8 people – 5 directly and personally – who have had to evacuate from fires: in Sonoma and Solano Counties, and in Oregon. Many fires in Western America right now, and they occur from earlier in the year, and more frequently, and last longer, and are bigger, with each succeeding year.

Other regions and nations have their own increasing environmental degradation trials and tribulations: droughts, heat waves, crop failures, locusts, storms, hurricanes, floods. My thoughts about all this are rather dark, as reflected in my recent writing.

The gems to be found in all these hard events are the generous and kind actions individuals can take on behalf of others, very often strangers, to help them get through the difficulties and losses. I was fortunate to have two such people help my mother (who is 95) in the first rush to evacuate yesterday. The fact that people, as individuals, can be so decent is what keeps me from condemning all of humanity (being a total misanthrope) because human society has been so adamant to continue failing miserably when it comes to seriously addressing global warming climate change.

In this, my attitude is similar to that of Jonathan Swift, who said he cared not for human society, but appreciated John and Tom and Dick (I paraphrase) because of the very thing I just described: stellar individuals (even if just occasionally so) live among a society we curmudgeons find morally bankrupt, and their good actions are momentary redemptions of that reprehensible mass.

This outlook makes it basically impossible for me to find any interest (or waste any time) on the many frivolous concerns of others, and which are often most on display on that frivolity of social media: Facebook. Sorry about that.

My appreciation for the beauty and organic complexity of Nature remains undimmed, but my interest in the minutia of the daily drama, or the silly entertainments of the last 15 minutes (with shelf lives of 10 seconds), is zero. I can’t help looking at American society as reenacting the fate of Captain Ahab and his crew, so obsessed with their delusions that they could not wake up from them even as they were being drowned by them.

The Romantic in me wants the Next Generation to float free from the doom we’ve programmed ourselves for, like Ishmael floating free atop Queequegs’s coffin; and refashion the World aright. The Realist in me is not so optimistic. But I don’t feel it is fair for me to criticize the Next Generation, whose elders – as American Society – have so basely used and poorly provided for. I had a decent shot at life, and did what I did with it; now it’s their turn, and they should be free to make their own choices, and learn (hopefully) from their mistakes (preferably enjoyable ones) just as I and my predecessors did (well, some of us did).

The Romantic Engineer and Artist in me knows that tackling Climate Change – which means entirely transforming human society worldwide – would be the greatest adventure, and moral and social uplift, that our species could ever have in its history as part of Life-On-Earth, if we “all” had the Zen-like satori (awakening, AHA!) to motivate a joyful coming together to achieve that purpose in all of its many dimensions: personal, political, social, economic, technical, moral, intellectual; the fullest expansion of human potential for everyone.

The Realist in me scoffs at this flight of fancy by the Sappy Curmudgeon, but the Romantic in me still wishes it were not entirely a hopeless dream. Others, I know, have particular and detailed wishful fantasies for our Future, and I have few quarrels with most of them. But I think the simplest life of fulfilling work (self-assigned), safety, security, health, happiness and freedom for artistic and intellectual pursuits; with Nature secure in all its beauty – on this Planet! – is my ideal.

My mother is now afraid that she will be threatened by fires every year. This should not be so, she should be able to live tranquilly tending her roses without such concern. That our governments and societies will not do anything — as we should for the rest of human history — to eliminate such fear (which many people now have) has led me to cancel any sense of allegiance to them, or respect for “the institutions.” Like Jonathan Swift.

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Having Children

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Having Children

The experience of wanting, having and raising a child is beyond all theories: legal, political, sociological.

Those who are alert become awakened and attuned to connections between ourselves and every other living entity, and every cycle of Nature.

Thus, in having children we cross a boundary, and those left behind that boundary, including your old self, are not capable of understanding.

This is not to blame them, it just is. The childless continue with their old lives within the confines of their fixed Idea Bubbles (which always seem infinite to their inhabitants), while the newly parenting-‘us’ launch into a new — and last — phase of our lives within new Idea Bubbles, which are vastly expanded for the alert, or narrowed down for the simple.

In both cases, one has come to intuit — to feel beyond words — deep connections with the past and toward the future.

And, no explanations are necessary.

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

The Moon rose large over the forested far slope of the canyon, shining its cool reflected effulgence from a pastel blue evening sky down through faint high wisps of nebulous mist and into the otherwise invisible water vapor filling the air to glow with a plush soft burnished halo around that majestically floating orb of crisp ghostly luminosity bringing to sharp silhouettes the forms of branches and leaves interposed between us, as an expansive polyphony of sparkling birdsong gradually diminished toward silence as pools of darkness swelled to merge into a night stillness cored by a tunnel of clarity between that Moon’s silvery pockmarked hemispherical surface in vivid sharp relief, and and my enchanted eyes.

The myriad meshed wheels of the unimaginably vast machinery of the Heavens and of the Earth, from the astronomical to the subatomic, continue their many cycles indifferent to the stoppage of humanity’s wheels of thoughtless contention, what we call civilization, now brought up short by the collision of all our ambitions into the stark terror of an erupting plague, a pandemic of an uncontrolled, evasive and pervasive deadly virus. Many of us hide from each other hoping to avoid chance and fatal infection, and waiting fearfully hoping for the conjuring of a magical medical salvation soon, it can never be too soon. Others hide from reality burrowed into their shaky fantasies of imperviousness and longings for illusions of self-importance, angrily protesting their mandated self-incarceration from a now shattered and scattered society, an anger that is really the roiling surface of the deeply suppressed realization of being inconsequential and superfluous. And then there are those who walk through the undefined extent of the valley of death each day: to battle the virus, attend to the sick, bury the dead; or forced by the needs of their own survival to labor blindly through the pervading pestilence; or moved by a higher calling sacrificing themselves to be of service to others.

For some it is a time of being terribly tested and of exhibiting great nobility, for others of being cravenly malicious parasites taking advantage of a prostrate humanity. It is a time when the contours of authentic merit and of the foulest degradation within the usually amorphous mass of humanity are brought into the sharpest contrast by the glaring light of pandemic circumstances. It is a time when the best hold solidarity with all and affirm life, without denying and being disheartened by the indeterminate inevitability of death. It is a time to savor the great and mysterious gift of life, of consciousness along a stream of time; but in truth it was always that time, now only sparked into many minds by the viral invasion of our human meshwork of flesh, blood and behavior.

How should I conduct the uncertain continuation of my survival? In what form will humanity emerge from this winnowing, and when if ever? I suspect this pandemic is but a skirmish in a much larger and longer war against the unrelenting forces of overstimulated entropy, evolution and extinction. Human consciousness is an evanescent field of scintillating glints flashing off the rippling surface of the deep black night of nonexistence towards which our human world of tragic innocence, of blithe self-absorption and of damning hubris, inexorably drifts.

Millennialist dreamers, both romantically religious and technologically ideological, envision humanity’s future to be a unanimous transformation of attitudes and behaviors that coalesce as a new self-perpetuating good life of affluent coexistence, a hoped-for transformation of our civilization prompted by the finally awakened realization of its self-caused catastrophe of increasing inhospitability to our form of life, as well as to that of many other organisms, by this Planet Earth.

I would wholeheartedly welcome such a transformation, but I suspect such a desirable outburst of human behavioral evolution as the endpoint of our old paradigm inflecting into the gateway to an imaginary new utopia, will never occur. I expect the actual finish of our human world will be, metaphorically, as the ending of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: The brute force of Nature stoves in our obsessive, exploitative, narcissistic, predatory collective boat and it plunges to oblivion, with Tashtego — the “native” worker whose life was a struggle for survival against extinction, by being carried along as an underling in the Great White Conquest of the Living, to Gain Wealth — climbing the sinking mainmast in a vain attempt to evade engulfment, and finally — as the last gesture possible from the Earth-connected people of his kind — nailing the American Sea Eagle bannering master-race illusions to the mast-top, so it too would vanish with those it had entranced, and those enslaved to that entrancement, to their self-imposed and necessarily collective doom.

But why give oneself over to such thoughts, even if ultimately true? One’s life will have its extent, and between its dawn and dusk spans a spectrum of opportunities to apply one’s energy and talents to the creation of beauty, dignity, truth, healing, and noble connection, all independent of fate’s hazards and happenstances. It is from each individual’s weaving of all these efforts that whatever fulfillment is possible for them will be found. And the commitment to this attitude forms the center of gravity, the stillpoint of a calmed awakened mind, of a life of balanced openness and worthy purpose though immersed in the endless uncertainties, luckless cruelties, and constant flux of unfolding existence.

The Moon has arced far across my night thoughts, dispelling my illusions of judgement and knowledge while infusing me with a wordless sense of acceptance, of trust, in just being. In this I may have finally achieved after seven decades the intrinsic wisdom of my self-assured night-ranging cats, of my feisty day-flitting hummingbirds, and of all the lovely Sun-soaked non-human life I will see and hear all along my wooded canyon when day comes. Life continues by being, not wanting. It is only our wanting that is extinguishing itself in the flood of its own excesses, and there is no necessity that we extinguish ourselves by only being our self-absorbed wanting.

A White-throated Swift twitters at the first blush of eastern light, rippling the once glassy surface of the evening silence as the cool ghostliness of moonglow fades into the dusky shadowless twilight before dawn, and a Chestnut-backed Chickadee then lilts its pulsating greeting to the day seeping up from the horizon into the sky. Goodnight Moon.

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

Is Malachi your first child? I’ve known a few men, including myself, whose “eyes were opened” to the total interconnectedness of the world both in its physical dimensions as well as in the psychological and ‘metaphysical’ ones (depending on how you define the intuitive and non-material dimensions one can experience but not put into words), by their awakening to first fatherhood.

It is because of my concerns for the wellbeing of my children, now all adults, that I made my efforts to do more than just “make money” or “do my job” or “be successful” or just “have a good time.” I’ve seen some profound transformations of character for the better in men who fell in love with their first fatherhood and who saw the actual wonder of the little beings that had been entrusted to their care. I find such examples very heartwarming.

As infants we start out shamelessly and blamelessly grasping for all our needs, wants and desires; and as we grow older we slowly expand our horizon of concern to others — that is most of us with any decency. For some men, as I’ve noted, that expansion can be sudden and profound with their becoming fathers. Such an awareness and care for an other can then expand into a concern — the Buddhists would call it compassion — for the rest of humanity, especially the young, the helpless, the struggling, the unlucky and disadvantaged, the poor. And for those of us with such an enlarged feeling of compassion — some call it socialism — and who have a reasonable degree of personal security in this life, we can express that feeling as political attitudes and activism: from ‘do-gooder-ism’ to manning the barricades of “revolution.”

Sometimes our acting on the impetus of our extended compassion can help bring about real practical improvements to the lives of others beyond our own family members. But certainly not always, and for many of us not often at all. But such efforts are worthy even when impractical and failures because at least they elevate our own personal moral character, improve our own personal behavior, and such improvement even when “inconsequential” and “invisible” to society beyond our own families, or even beyond our own minds, is nevertheless a contribution of goodness to the civilized world because it at least represents an absence of negativity that we could otherwise have manufactured and emitted into the wider world. To put this mathematically, contributing zero — neutrality — is always better than contributing negativity: harm, degradation, parasitism.

But, it is always more than zero because: it feels so rewarding to extend good to others; it is so satisfying to extend love to those we care for. The emotional “reward” is intrinsic in the act of giving love, not in “getting” something: attention, praise, “gratitude,” or ego-gratification. The radiance of love is all in its giving. And the giver gains by the improvement of his character, which is the afterglow of that gifting of love.

And that experience is what can sustain you during the inevitable hardships life will toss at you. Individually, our lives may turn out to be “failures,” even luckless tragedies, but in those moments when our minds are not overwhelmed with racing thoughts while dealing with some crisis, we can reflect on the instances when we reached the peaks of cosmic consciousness — unseen by anyone else — while caring for our children, especially in their youngest years, and we can recall those instances of profound satisfaction that we gained by enacting our compassion and love — what the Buddhists might call “merit” — and feel justified in this existence however indifferent or even cruel it might be for us at the moment.

So, while I would certainly be thrilled to have been able to “change the world,” or even know that one action of mine made some small yet definite contribution to a significant societal advance and improvement, I can’t let the fact of this being quite unlikely to cast me into total despondency. As fathers we each know at least a few people whom we can help make life better for, and that is all the difference between despairing about human life, and celebrating our conscious experience of it.

In the Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling, the various animals and the wolf-boy Mowgli who would acknowledge each other’s existence with respect and in some cases affection would say: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” And that is the essential and primordial reality of Life On Earth: the Buddhist “interconnectedness of all things,” the Gaia of the ancient Greeks and now of the Western New-Age Romantics, even the biodiversity of the deep environmentalists. This realization is as old as our species, our modern homo sapiens ancestors during the Ice Ages painted it on cave walls in France and Spain, and without doubt our remotest primate ancestors knew this even before they mastered the use of fire. Alan Watts said: “Man is something Nature is doing.” Awakened fathers see in the wonder of their children a reflection of themselves as expressions of that totality.

So, yes, we can all easily grow weary — “old” it’s called — contending against the selfishness and stupidities of people, the inhuman tyrannies of enslaving economics, and ultimately our flames will go out for lives are finite. But we each can experience some of what is authentically eternal, the totality of being, just by being good fathers and caring people. And that is all the difference between “saving your soul” and having a satisfying life, or of having a thoughtless, soulless existence lost to money, things, ego and materialism, and of dying without ever having experienced really being alive and profoundly aware of it.

I know Malachi will enjoy his day at the beach with his father.

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