BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for the 'What does it mean?' Category

« Home

Bringing it on home

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

How do other people know who they are? If you know who your father was, does it make a difference in who you think you are? Where is “home”? I’ve been playing Aaron Neville’s latest CD, Bring It On Home,  and it calls me back from this sense of diffusion that keeps carrying me off into the clouds over Portland. “Tell it like it is,” Aaron sings, “Respect yourself.” Last night I listened to a woman read a couple of chapters from her (so far) unpublished (but spellbinding and well-crafted) novel about young gay men in Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. She’s certain she was Japanese in past lives–she can dimly but unmistakably remember Japan, and when she lived there (in this life), many of the places she went to for the first time were as familiar to her as the streets of the town in Michigan where she grew up. She knew what was around the corner before she rounded the corner. She attributes that to karmic ancestry rather than genes. What explains affinity?  Some people who’ve never been to Morocco long for all things Moroccan. Others are drawn to Chinese art. Some feel truly worshipful in front of Byzantine icons. I’ve lost all sense of who I am or why I ever wanted to know and cannot proceed with my autobiographical novel right now. I’m letting that be. At the same time I’ve received some terrific emails that also serve to bring me on home. [read on]

Losing my bearings

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

When I chose to retire and move to Portland, I thought I knew, however dimly, what I was doing. I wanted to write full-time. I wanted to be done grading papers written by nineteen-year-olds who didn’t want to write them.  I was worn out by seven-day work-weeks, by short courses I taught during holidays in order to earn extra money, by broken relationships and the relentless difficulty of parenting, and by migraines. Sharply aware that I was on the threshold of “old age” and the dissolution of this mind and body, I wanted some joy and ease before this life was over: time to read, walk, daydream, sit on a park bench in a rose garden. I wanted a room of my own and time to write this autobiographical novel I’ve been composing in the back of my mind since I was seven years old. After a lifetime of Buddhist practice, I thought I was ready to write the answer to the koan, “Who am I?” The first sentence came to me during that ten-day Vipassana meditation course: “I have always wanted to be a saintly person.” It would be a comic epic. As a way of doing “research” for the book, I began in earnest to seek out where this fool who calls herself Kendall came from–who her phantom father was, who her people were, how her pieces fit together. I stumbled into a possible whole new family. Very dramatic, but suddenly I’m stunned into silence. The book disintegrates. I can’t find the central character. She is neither fiction nor non-fiction. She is neither Narcissus nor Goldmund, contemplative nor adventurer, Gentile nor Jew. I look at the pages I’ve written since I came here, and I feel nausea. I’m sick of this story. I feel lonely and displaced. Lost. What am I doing here? [read on]

So much to learn

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

If I could read five pages at once, I would be doing that. My hunger to know is so great. I’m dimly aware of the rest of the world: 360 women, many of them Tibetan nuns, arrested in Nepal. Unimaginable suffering in Burma, where a Red Cross boat full of aid supplies for survivors sank in flood waters. But inside my head, I’m transfixed by the baby daddy drama of my own life. Searching for my father. Trying to understand who he was, and who his people were, and whether that has some significance in my life. What is family? is it a genetic unit? an emotional unit? a legal entity? what are the ties that bind? I sit and stare at the pictures on my monitor, inviting them to talk to me, tell me stories. There is something eerily familiar in these faces, these people to whom I may be related. I study the forehead, the nose, the bridge of the nose, the slant of the eyes, the cheekbones, the shape of the head. What do we get from our genes? I’m reading books I never imagined I would read in all my life: books about merchant ships during WW2. I even got a 1943 Humphrey Bogart movie in which Bogart is First Mate on a merchant ship: torpedoes, flames on the water, stereotypical German officers in submarines (observation: when the “Germans” die, they scream in agony; when the “Allies” die, they look stoically and silently toward heaven), violins playing as the wives back home wait for the news.  The movie starts with a quotation from FDR that ends, “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!” and it made my eyes fill up. I’ve heard that phrase before, but I didn’t connect with it. Now I do. I’m also reading Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai (wonderfully well-written, fascinating: and here’s a short, powerful article by Judith that’s like the condensed version), and I watched a documentary on the Yiddish Theatre . Even if I’m not Jewish (but I think I am, I think I am), I’m having a great time learning all of this.

Race. Part 2.

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

I want to get back to Rev. Jeremiah Wright , Barack Obama, and Race. When the right-wing media had its heyday with Wright, they cut his speeches and sermons to shreds and left out everything he said that didn’t suit their purposes. I’ve already posted Father Pfleger’s defense of Wright. Father Pfleger knows Wright well and says it better than I ever could, but I’d like to take an academic’s approach and direct us to the text. I had listened to Rev. Wright’s speech to the Press Club on the radio while I was doing something else, but I went back again to the Rev’s speech (all of which is on Youtube, along with the hateful cuttings of his sermons) and I took some notes. I want to point out what Wright says that the media didn’t pick up. [read on]

Race. Part 1.

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

 I’ve tried to make my life my statement about race, even though we’ve known since W.E.B. DuBois said it in 1914 that scientifically “race” doesn’t exist.  Race is not inscribed in our genes, any more than “class” is. But the perception of race exists. People have been enslaved, imprisoned, lynched, raped, tortured, and shot because of the perception of race. People hate each other, fear each other, and make assumptions about each other based on the perception of race. I am racist because I was born White in a system of power based on the perception of race. I’m part of that system. I can’t get out; my skin is what it is, and there is nowhere on this planet untainted by that system. Therefore I choose to work on myself, to be aware and vigilant for ways I embody or absorb racist ideology, and to put the whole weight of my life into the effort to educate myself out of it and to counteract racism in every small way I can. I will always have plenty of work to do, inside and outside. Plenty of people have written about race better than I will ever be able to. But I need to begin putting a few words together, if only to join a conversation with White people about race in our lives. Anybody else is welcome to listen in, chime in, or quit reading now. Very few people read this blog, so what I’m about to say will remain secret. Despite that, I have trepidation. My grandmother told me a version of something Jeremiah Wright’s grandmother told him: “If you keep your mouth shut, you won’t ever say anything to make people think you’re stupid.” He didn’t heed his grandmother’s warning, and neither have I. Whatever it is that I’m about to say will be flawed, imperfect, inadequate, and a work in progress. So here I go. [read on]

Father Mike Pfleger Rocks!

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Thanks to Hafidha, whose blog brought this amazing ten-minute argument to my attention! I haven’t heard such a powerful anti-racist statement in years. Those of you who are not in the USA may not understand the whole argument–and you don’t need to understand the whole argument. The core of what this priest says is simply obvious to anyone who looks closely at what passes for dissent in the USA: when a white person criticizes the U.S. government, it’s “criticism”; when a Black person criticizes the U.S. government, it’s “hate.” The hate-mongering Fox News interviewer is utterly out of his depth with this man, and it is a thrill to see how powerfully Father Pfleger re-frames the discussion in terms of poverty, class, race, and history, and away from the interviewer’s intention of fanning hatred, bigotry, and ignorance by means of kneejerk soft-headed opinion and out-of-context sound-bites .  Father Pfleger speaks with clarity, force, and sharp intelligence. Anyone who has not seen this video, please drop everything else in your life and watch it now. Or as soon as you possibly can.


Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

As all the people who have been part of my life know, I get migraines. I have chosen not to write much about them on the blog, because it’s just boring as hell to talk about, but I’ve decided to do this one post now and then shut up about it unless there is a big change. If the subject disgusts or bores you, skip this post. [read on]

Anyone for less stimulation?

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I live in a culture of more.  More music, more cars (or in Portland, bicycles), more food of more kinds, more exercise, more sex, more multi-tasking, more electronics, more travels, more therapy, more personal growth, more “friends” (oh, those social networking sites!), more recycling, more news, more movies, more social action, more websites, more art, more appointments (crowded palm-pilot or Blackberry), more service to more people, more photographs, more phone calls…. But just this morning, as I was exchanging emails with Susan (more emails), it occurred to me that I may be hard-wired for less. Or to put it another way, maybe I need more solitude, more silence, more daydreaming, more walking alone in the forest, more reflecting, more gazing into the clouds. Reading. Writing. Maybe my attraction to Buddhism is really an attraction to sitting still, doing nothing, and not being perceived as lazy or inadequate for it. (Not that I am much bothered by other people’s perceptions. The problem is that I absorb those perceptions and judge–and limit–myself.) In fact, my need for more quiet may actually have something to do with these damn migraines I have been suffering from increasingly since I was in my twenties. Is it permissible to seek less stimulation in life? What a concept. [read on]

Resistance, Motherhood, and Social Networking Profiles

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Recently I’ve been going through another wave of wondering who my father was. My mother claimed his name was Jake Linn and that he was of Russian Jewish ancestry and came from Virginia. She said she met him when she was at Duke University in 1944. Nobody in her family ever saw him and she had no photograph, so he’s always been a phantom in my life. In fact I don’t much resemble the rest of mother’s family physically, so I’ve always wondered where my tall, angular build and my large-faced blondish looks–which I passed on to my sons–came from. When a man named Jake Linn who came from Florida was contacted by a lawyer representing my mother in the 1950s, he denied ever knowing my mother. He could have been lying. It could have been a different man by the same name. But then my mother had, shall we say, idiosyncratic ways of experiencing reality. Her story about my father changed from time to time. I would passionately love to know who he was, to see a picture of him, and to know a little about his medical history. As part of my recent quest for answers, I googled the name Linn and came up with a Jewish scholar named Ruth Linn whose main body of research is “mature unwed mothers” and their choice to bear children, which she sees as a form of “resistance.” Naturally this interested me, as I flatter myself that I have always been about “resistance,” and I chose three times to have children as a mature single woman–once by birth and twice by adoption. So I got Ruth Linn’s book via Interlibrary Loan, and it is absorbing both in the abstract and in my own particular. Eventually I’ll connect the dots to the profile I just created on Myspace. Read on only if you’re interested in this. Otherwise wait till another day and I’m sure I’ll have another topic. [read on]

Coriolanus and moving on

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I have considerable personal history with Coriolanus. I first read the play as an undergrad English major, while I was in love with the man who later supplied half of Seth’s DNA; some years later I studied it in grad school and came to love its complexity; still later, I taught it to students who found it boring till I persuaded them it was about war vs. peace, democracy vs. oligarchy, and pride vs. compassion. So watching the play in Ashland, I was actually watching three plays: the one I read in 1969 when I was a long-haired romantic college girl in love with an arrogant professor twice my age; the play Shakespeare wrote, based on Roman sources, soon after he finished writing Antony and Cleopatra, around 1609; and the play a specific director created for an audience in Ashland, Oregon in 2008–the title role so brilliantly acted that I have to count it among the top five live performances I have ever seen in my life. [read on]