Saturday, July 03, 2004

as the year turns

We mark the turn of the year we have in common, and the turn of the year that is ours especially, because it marks our birth, our inauguration day. Remembering my birthday this year was almost unavoidable, since it was portentously mentioned many times a day on television for weeks, even months. Countdown to June 30 even had its own banner, though not yet its own theme music on cable news.

Then on June 28 the surprise backroom transfer of Iraqi sovereignty was accomplished---no big deal, just harried-looking men huddling around a piece of paper that could have been a cartoon somebody copied off the Internet, and suddenly the countdown was dropped, and June 30 not mentioned again. So my birthday went by as quietly as usual after all.

There will be important birthdays marked soon-George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were both born the same summer I was. We're all of the age that birthday fuss becomes reserved for the turn of decades. But probably more for me than for them, this coming year assumes a more defining importance. G.W. will either be president or an ex-president next year, but there's not that much difference in identity once you've been one. Bill Clinton is being pretty smart about his authorial authority---he understands the effects, large and small, with the power of celebrity creating real contact of his words with millions of readers and non-readers of his book, so he's written things that others have written better, but without the audience and the power to reach them. I do wince when I hear of him bragging that he had no writer's block. He also apparently had no editor block, internal or external. He may have written a fine book, there are no rules about that, but writing is not his trade. Still, could you even imagine G.W. writing a thousand pages---or even reading them?

But where was I? Oh yes, my birthday. In late June I picked up a book--a gift Margaret gave me on some earlier occasion, Christmas or birthday:Original Self by soul man Thomas Moore. It's comprised of short thematic chapters, similar to his book of meditations some years ago (which Margaret also gave me.) At least that's how I had been reading it, a chapter now and then, perhaps before bed.

But in late June one passage I read struck me, with a certain birthday appropriateness. I read a few more chapters then, and realized that although each chapter was self-contained, the chapters could also be read sequentially, as a kind of organic exploration. So I made that my birthday project, reading this book front to back.

As usual I found passages and thoughts that pertained to various simmering writing projects (even a Star Trek reference) but I also placed little checkmarks here and there where a thought jumped out at me. So just for fun, and to mark the occasion, I've typed up those line, and offer them to you.

I'll begin with the passage that first got my attention, and then proceed sequentially in terms of the pages where the quotes appear, repeating that passage in its proper place. Of course, the quotations take on more power with the surrounding contexts.

Thomas Moore has a genial face, a soft manner in his writing and speaking, which helped attract a following for his first best-seller, Care of the Soul. He achieved the popular success that his mentor James Hillman hasn't. Partly because he's younger, more media-friendly, with the spiritual aura of a former Christian monk, but the casual manner of a suburban American family man who has good things to say about sex; partly because his writing is more personal, and Care of the Soul in particular deals more specifically with finding meaning through appreciating and honoring the textures of daily life.

But Moore's message is no less complex and even heretical than Hillman's. It can even be considered harsh. They agree on the limitations of the current dogma of human potential as constant growth, and spiritual growth as something to pursue because it's healthy. Moore and Hillman don't minimize the difficulties and the darknesses, and their conception of soul bears this out. Spirit is airy and pure, the body is earthy and prone to troubles. Soul includes them both; it is the mediator, the harmonizer, the active synthesis that defines identity and is the center of vitality, the blue fire.

I don't go for any dogma, and striving for spiritual growth and complete health seems pretty okay and healthy to me, as long as you realize that it's the process and not the attainment you'd better concentrate on, or else you're just setting yourself up for failure and guilt. But I agree completely that these limitations and complexities exist and we must resist the temptation to be scandalized by them. Soul is pretty important.

But I should let Moore---Thomas, not Michael this time---have the stage.

"It may be more important to be awake than to be successful, balanced, or healthy. What does it mean to be awake? Perhaps to be living with a lively imagination, responding honestly and courageously to opportunity and avoiding the temptation to follow mere habit or collective values. It means to be an individual, in every instance manifesting the originality of who we are. This is the ultimate form of creativity---following the lead of the deep soul as we make a life." (126)

"The secret of a soul-based life is to allow someone or something other than the usual self to be in charge.

Anxiety is nothing but fear inspired by an imagined future collapse. It is the failure of trust.

But an established habit of defensiveness is not the same as defending oneself in the presence of a threat. The former is a neurotic habit, while the latter is a way of keeping sane.

Puer [Latin for child, a term used by Jung to describe the spirit of youth] is not simply literal young age, but an attitude of youthfulness that may be full of spirit, high destiny, and a forgetfulness of mortality. It is a spirit that brings new life....As Jung says, dreams of children may signal some new beginning, a fresh turning of the cycle. [29]

The best response [to depression] might be to respond courageously to the world's suffering. The attachment to sadness one sometimes senses in people diagnosed as depressed may simply be the odd presence of ego in what is the world's malady. If we could let go of the need to make it personal by clutching it close as a symptom, we might find some relief by finding its proper mileu. (35)

Each artist seems to have access to a special chink in the opacity of the cosmos, a crack through which they can perceive the whole and make a philosophy and a life out of it.(40)

The impetus for dealing only with what is may be rooted in a spirit imagination of pristine clarity. If only life were simple, separated from the haunting past, the underworld of emotions and desires, and connections with the rest of the world! It may be equally important to deal with what was and what appears to be beneath the surface of things. (42)

Our criticisms have obscured the archetype [of patriarchy], and in all areas of life we are left without the leadership and procreativity we need. Procreativity differs from plain creativity in that specifically it seeds a future, offering confidence and hope. (51)

We may each have an idea of who we should be, knowing the seeds of a self for many years. But our idea of who we are and the direction we ought to go may be entirely thwarted by circumstances and fate. We may discover that we are most ourselves when we are furthest from the self we think we ought to be. (57) Our life is then a response, our creativity a surrender. (58)

The ideal is not to become sane and hygienic, but to live creatively by responding positively to the powerful moods, feelings, and ideas that captivate us. If we don't meet these life-shaping expressions of the soul creatively, they will quickly become adversaries, and we will develop the split psyche so characteristic of our times, in which our sane lives are flat and aimless while our passions seem incomprehensible and out of control. (60)

Modern psychology tries to tell us that we are constantly developing creatures, but I prefer to think of us as seasonal beings. We have our summers of sunny pleasure and our winters of discontent, our springtimes of renewal and our autumns of necessary decay. We are essentially rhythmic, musical. As the ancients used to say, our emotions are in orbit, like the planets. Patterns that define us return again and again, and in these returns we find our substance and our continuity, our original nature and our identity. (64)

This loyalty to one's own myth is understandable because our story is the most precious thing we have. Our lives depend on it. (65)

The story within and beneath the familiar story is almost always full of insight and new possibility. It may take courage to go another level down, to abandon clarity, however illusory, for confusion and puzzlement. Our habitual stories usually protect us from the mystery of our lives. But there is always the opportunity to take our storytelling deeper, always the chance to find the intelligence and comfort we have been seeking at a level far beneath the basement of our expectations. (67)

Many want to be somebodies, and that appetite is probably natural and fine, but it can also be a distraction from the rich life available midway between being somebody and nobody.
Maybe it isn't literal celebrity we long for, but the sense that life has meaning, that we belong on this earth, that we are contributing, and that we are appreciated...But the thing for which being a celebrity is only a symptom is the strong sense of self offered by one's passion, one's real substance, and true and heartfelt recognition from the people around us. (70-1)

We may come to know our friends and lovers over years of conversation and experience, but we may eventually realize that it is enough to love them without knowing what they are all about. We may not approve of everything they do, and we may not appreciate their eccentric ways, but still we know and appreciate them. We have faith that in the dimness of our ignorance we have the opportunity to give ourselves more fully to their reality. Unconditional love means that we don't love on the condition that we understand. (74)

We go on living when meaning fails and when we don't get it right. We go on in the presence of mortification, a word that means simply "death-making", and we become who we are destined to be as much through the death-making as the life-making. Success and happiness are impossible without the continuing nudge of death. Living through our mortifications is the coupon for vitality and the ticket home. (80)

Both Shakespeare and archetypal psychology take their power from their capacity to reveal what we all know, if we were only to think openly enough, about the fundamentals of human life. If we could live from that deep place of recognition, we might allow ourselves the beauty of our eccentricity and tolerate in others their efforts to find their souls in the odd collection of emotions, fantasies, and behaviors that form the raw material of a human life. (92)

But it is also the path toward that extreme of desire, that ultimate love that usually feels unrequited, which is the eternal and the infinite. The opening made by desire, that hole in our satisfaction, is the opening to divinity, and only there is our desire brought into the realm of the possible.

....we feel the absence of meaning and are speechless when we learn of atrocities in our society. We don't know how to think about them because we don't know how to think, and we don't know how to think because we don't believe that thinking for its own sake is worthy of our attention. (97)

In the currently accepted view, as long as you do the right thing, it makes little difference what your reason is. But this, says T.S. Eliot, is the greatest treason, a betrayal of our humanity, because the interior life counts. Without it we are indeed machines that can be manipulated genetically and given new mechanical parts. (98)

The key to seeing the world's soul, and in the process wakening our own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination is illusion. It is the other way around. Fact is an illusion, because every fact is part of a story and is riddled with imagination. Imagination is real because every perception of the world around us is absolutely colored by the narrative or image-filled lens through which we perceive. We are all poets and artists as we live our daily lives, whether or not we recognize this role and whether or not we believe it. (100)

During the European Renaissance it was thought that the first role of the imagination was to keep old thought fresh through reflection, interpretation, and re-presentation. (102)
I love Monday mornings, the time we wash our clothes and write our books. Yet I sail in imagination and I like to leave nothing I touch uncontaminated by my own fleeting way of thinking. (103)
In the intersection of movement and stasis, life becomes interesting and is worth living. Change ennobles tradition, and honoring the old gives grounding to vitality and movement. The waters of a mountain stream flow constantly and yet it is one stream, a static picture of endless flow. (104)

The wish to be normal conceals a deeper desire: negatively, an attempt to avoid the weight of our individuality, and positively, the idea of being fully ourselves in a community where we can belong and participate. (118)

It may be more important to be awake than to be successful, balanced, or healthy. What does it mean to be awake? Perhaps to be living with a lively imagination, responding honestly and courageously to opportunity and avoiding the temptation to follow mere habit or collective values. It means to be an individual, in every instance manifesting the originality of who we are. This is the ultimate form of creativity---following the lead of the deep soul as we make a life. (126)

A second step might be to shape a life that is more in tune with our perceived nature, or dharma, and stand firm in our originality and eccentricity. This intense level of self-possession comes at a price, of course, for friends and associates will feel the rub of individuality when their concern is to sustain the adaptation to unconsciousness, otherwise known as normalcy. (129)

A third step would be to manifest our originality, not at all for ego rewards, but as a necessary way of giving it life and substance...The simple act of showing one's deeper nature is a form of personal liberation and a generous contribution to community." (130)

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Moore power to you
by William S. Kowinski

We saw Fahrenheit 9-11 at the evening show on Sunday of its opening weekend, at the movie house in Arcata, up here in far northern California. There was a long line for tickets that went around the block, and the theatre was filled. A few shows earlier in the weekend had sold out---several political groups sent emails urging people to attend on opening day. We stood in front of a couple who had driven down from Crescent City, more than an hour to the north, expressly to see it. In the theatre, we sat in front of a woman who actually recognized the Oregon state trooper shown in the film---he was the only one the state could afford to keep on duty to guard a long stretch of coastline (there were a total of eight troopers on duty for the entire state.) The Oregon coast starts just past Crescent City.

I guess I had expected the same older crowd that predominates at peace marches, and they---or we---were certainly represented, but there were a lot of younger people, too: more of the coveted moviegoing demographic. I had also expected the possibility of the same kind of reception for the film that the better speakers at rallies often receive: boisterous appreciation of the views held in common, each laugh or round of applause the equivalent of a vote. But though the film got a share of laughs and occasional applause, there was also a lot of stunned silence, a lot of cries and exclamations of surprise and shock, and some tears.

Michael Moore's point of view was not as simple as a party line screed, though given his previous movies---especially his first---and his background, it turned out to be characteristic. But the emotion came mostly from the power of the images and from the pattern, the assembly of images. Many of the most powerful images were original or otherwise hadn't been seen much before. But the power of the pattern was precisely in the fact that many images had been seen on television, especially on news reports; moments that came and went over many months were put together. I remember seeing many of them, though some of the most powerful early on were ones I hadn't seen---of the attempts of black Representatives to contest the supreme outcome of the 2000 elections on the floor of Congress (with Al Gore presiding), but failing because not a single Senator joined them; and of the protests at Bush's Inaugural that disrupted the parade. I'm not sure if such images were broadcast or not, because I remember not being able to stomach watching TV at all right after the Supreme Court coup, or during inauguration week.

You can argue about how Moore put these images together---did they really make his point, was that the point that should be made? But I would also argue that assembling these and other similar images, without Moore's interpretations, would have been just as powerful, and would lead to the same "actionable" conclusion: America was duped---all too easily duped---and sold out, and George Bush should not only be retired in November, he and his administration deserve nothing less than permanent exile and ignominy. That's not to say just anybody could have made THIS movie, but that another movie with that particular effect could be made simply in this way, especially with such an abundance of damning images to select.

I'd seen a few TV segments focused on Moore's "distortions," which were minor even if they could be considered distortions. But as I watched the film, what these segments chose to criticize was trivial compared to what the TV critics never mentioned: the main argument in the first part of the film, of the financial connection between the Bushes (and Cheney) and the Saudis, and all the oil, arms and other businesses they and other big Republicans are involved in, stand to gain from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the hoped-for outcomes of those wars. The recently published book-length description of the Bush-Saudi connection was written by Craig Unger, who appears in Moore's film---the two of them getting questioned by the Secret Service while standing outside the Saudi Embassy in DC (Craig Unger was a colleague of mine in Boston and Washington).

Though the basic points of Big Oil's determining influence and the Bushies nefarious self-interest in using government for their business interests is clearly demonstrated, Moore's voiceover analysis does seem to overreach beyond the material he shows on this point. But after he makes the point, he pretty much drops it and moves on.

His second major point is more powerful and more effectively shown: that the Bushies manipulated the nation after 9-11 with the potent tool of fear. The manipulation of fear, you may recall, was a major theme in Bowling for Columbine, when Moore asked why there was so much gun violence in the U.S., while there are lots of guns in Canada but only a small fraction of the violence. Moore presents only a scattering of images that should haunt and embarrass Americans and their media for generations (though at least until now the media is functionally so shameless that they’ll erase this from memory and history. At least in person, TV newspeople typically preempt criticism by being more sarcastic about what they do before anyone else gets the chance, but when it comes right down to it, they won’t wound their image.)

From 9-11 through Iraq, the major media and much of America were completely suckered and coopted. However, I thought it would have been worth five minutes of film time to show at this point some of the massive worldwide protest against the war BEFORE the U.S. invasion, which was unprecedented in my lifetime. The Bushies bulled ahead despite the opposition of most other nations, ignoring the warning of knowledgeable people who predicted pretty much what has happened, and especially mocking the outpouring of global preemptive grief.

In this section, Moore shows an unappreciated gift for artful subtlety with footage shot on 9-11 in Manhattan that never actually shows the Twin Towers. We hear the planes hit, we see faces reacting, we see people running, and the haunting images of paper swirling slowly in the wind. Remember that image in American Beauty, of the paper caught by the wind? This was almost as beautiful in a truly awe-ful way, as the wind itself is created by the devastation in progress. This was shock and awe for real.

Moore’s third major point is the most powerful of all. Symbolically and actually, he went back to Flint, Michigan (scene of his first film, Rodger and Me) and its broken streets and its black and white working class. He merely had to show images from today’s Flint that are so much like images from his first film to tell us that the economic pain continues (with a young black making the point that the devastation Americans created and are paying to repair in Iraq looks a lot like the devastation nobody is repairing in Flint), only to be joined by another profound source of pain: working class young people as Bush cannon fodder.

Here are the most powerful images Moore shot for this film: the white Marines recruiting black teenagers at the inner city (not the suburban) shopping mall, with their smooth sales pitch and their salesman lies; the black Marine who has refused to go back to Iraq, joining Moore in trying to get members of Congress to sign up their sons and daughters (only one was serving in Iraq); the actual images from Iraq, including shots of prisoner abuse that go by in a fast and confusing way, but with searing images of combat, of haunted faces, of real and ugly wounds; and finally, the mother whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, in her Flint living room reading his last letter, which condemns Bush for sending them there for no good reason, and in Washington, as she is accused of being a fake by some unnamed interloper in front of the White House---the same kind of rabid right winger, we surmise, who tried to get theatres not to show this film.

Moore had the courage and the guile to show some of these soldiers at their worst in Iraq, pumping themselves up with vicious music as they slaughtered people like video game blips. By doing so, and then showing some of them chastened, haunted, the enormity of what they had to do revealed, he provided real weight to his third point---that the worst Bush/Cheney crime was to exploit these working class young Americans---turn them into killers, or corpses, or with life-changing physical and mental wounds---when this war was, at minimum, not necessary.

It is this final section that I believe earned its large audiences not only in lefty enclaves but in military towns in the South. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns, at which books burn. Fahrenheit 9-11 was the temperature at which the American soul burned.

This film was the #1 movie over the weekend, and its influence has only just begun, even if Spiderman now steals its box office thunder. The DVD and video come out in October. That the rabid right wing tried to crucify this film isn’t very surprising. That the film industry establishment tried to marginalize it---first by Disney refusing to distribute it, then with the R Rating and censoring of its current advertising, while threatening to halt all advertising after the conventions---may seem a bit odd. But though it sometimes has a liberal reputation, the movie industry has never been very brave. It was Hollywood, after all, that created and enforced the Blacklist. The collusion of Big Media corporations that own today's Hollywood with the interests of the mega-corporate Bush government only serve to make Moore’s relevant assertions more credible.

As for the R Rating, it wasn’t because Dick Cheney told someone to fuck off—--that isn’t in there. It’s probably for graphic violence---for the briefest glimpse of the only honest footage of the Iraq war so far seen by many Americans. No, we need to make sure our children continue to believe that warfare is just like a video game, or they might not fall for the recruiter next time.

That even anti-Bush people who came to cheer left this theatre somber, shaken and teary-eyed is a testament to its power both as a movie and as truth-telling.

Monday, June 28, 2004

The Real News Update

Over the weekend, heavy rains and floods in Colorado.
Today, heavy rains and severe thunderstorms forecast for the southern plains.

expected high temperatures:
Honolulu 88F
Fairbanks, Alaska 95F