Sunday, April 29, 2018

Spring and the Death of Denial

It was one of the first nice days of spring yesterday, sunny and dry. My intentions were to rake a section of my back yard clean of winter’s deaths and cut out the skeletons of last year’s perennials, to allow room for the new year’s growth. I decided to also listen to a recent episode of On Being, and picked Krista Tippett’s conversation with Zen priest angel Kyodo williams, entitled The World is our Field of Practice.

That decision took my morning to a whole other realm of clean-up and growth.

I’ve been participating in a book club on Twitter, #ClearTheAir, led by @ValeriaBrownEdu, covering Richard Rothstein’s detailed and therefore painful, history of the systemic ways, from federal to local, that segregation has been cultivated in the United States. The Color of Law has brought out a slew of emotions and responses from participants, including me. It leaves one slipping into despair about half-way through.

The first death of denial: Are we doomed or is there hope?

I was heartened when the On Being talk lead with this quote from Rev. williams:

“There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then, what I feel like people are at now is, “No, no, bring it on. I have to face it — we have to face it.””

I’ve felt this occasionally in recent years. Little jolts. But I’ve also had some people, even close family, laugh at me when I’ve said, “I don’t know, I think there’s something out there brewing! I think something’s growing and we’re not going back!” There’s a huge amount of skepticism.

The second death of denial: Change versus transformation

Rev. williams goes on to say, 

“We cannot have a healed society, we cannot have change, we cannot have justice, if we do not reclaim and repair the human spirit.”

Repairing that human spirit involves work- work on radically evolving both our inner selves and the systems we use today, which oppress large numbers of people. Capitalism. Patriarchy. White supremacy. The work must be transformational and not just change, Rev. Williams points out. Change-only could lead to simply replacing one system that doesn’t see every person as a human with another kind.

A healed society will no longer deny the humanity of any member. This reminded me of some of the most moving and transformative thoughts I’ve heard from survivors of The Holocaust. It speaks of the concept of restorative justice. This is the hardest part of this message to accept.

At face value, it’s not something that someone who’s been suffering wants to hear. Whatever our cause is: skin color, health care, sex, sexual orientation, religion, environment etc. We want justice. We embrace the “angry activist” lifestyle to change things. That can become a trap, too. That activist mindset does move us forward- it shakes things up. From that mindset, however, another group soon loses their human spirit and humanity. We also need to step beyond activism, to being open to the idea that everything and everyone is incomplete and suffering. That relates to grace.

Spring: Grace and fearlessness

Rev. williams described how the reaction of a person looking at the history of race in the United States should be one of: 

“”How extraordinary that black people, in particular — indigenous people, as well — could live the lives of dignity that they have chosen for themselves in the face of the onslaught of what this country’s history has been and continues to be and continues to put upon them.” So grace, I think, is a gift that black peoples have inhabited for a great deal of time.”

People rise above retribution. When I think of all the groups who have been targets of abuse by controlling organizations of people, both here and elsewhere around the globe, it’s something that leaves me in wonder and awe of the human spirit. That positive energy does not die out completely. It survives with fearless determination to bloom when it senses spring.

Rev. williams embraces the idea of fearlessness and believes it is a bold statement of defiance, saying people of African descent are expected to not be fearless. To be scared. The concrete evidence in The Color of Law confirms that. Fear, to me, is the big tool used by aggressors on both their targets and anyone who might step in to become allies of those targets. The bully, the victim and those on the sidelines. The bully relies on believing everyone else is “Other” and lacks a connection to them in the human spirit. If we decide to stay within our own protective barricades because of fear, I think we do lose it. We’re less human when we decide to simply save ourselves. Coming together makes us more.

This conversation was invigorating, like the fresh spring breezes and the sweat I felt as I worked. It cleansed me and planted fresh ideas to explore. I can’t do this conversation full justice here on this blog- I highly recommend listening to it in its entirely and simply seeing how it speaks to you and your experiences.

Reverend angel Kyodo williams is the founder of the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, California. She’s the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace and Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation.

Monday, April 23, 2018

In the Garden of Life: Rhizomes

It's finally spring!

Anyone who knows me, knows I love the outdoors. Plants, animals, soils, water, winds, clouds: I love to explore and wonder at things big and small. I love just sitting and taking in all the details that make up an environment.

This week, I came across something that ties that interest with another of my passions: philosophy. 

The idea behind it was not new to me; I’ve been talking about and working with the effects of this idea for quite a long time. It’s just that now I have an official term for it: rhizome theory. Humanity can develop like ginger or irises: horizontally, spreading outward in any number of ways and directions. And like these plants, sections can be cut and moved elsewhere to continue developing in other environments that result in newer evolutions.

I read Mark Gartler’s review of the subject on The Chicago School of Media Theory’s website to gain a better understanding. The rhizome theory was hinted at by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung but developed by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and clinical psychoanalyst FĂ©lix Guattari in the second half of the 20th century. It contrasts with the more traditional Western thought pattern that things (biology, government, art, etc) develop sequentially, in a tree-like format. A tree leads one to visualize 2 options: yes/no, plus/minus, on/off.

The tree model emphasizes a hierarchy, like a triangle, with only a few things/people on top, and that apex is considered vital to the survival of the whole. 

What if the system is turned on its side? What if ideas/information/power/money/choices are generated by any number of beginnings and shared across groups? An example is the World Wide Web.
Violets spread by rhizomes

“Unlike the tree, whose branches have all grown from a single trunk, the rhizome has no unique source from which all development occurs. The rhizome is both heterogeneous and multiplicitous.” - Mark Gartler

In a totally uninhibited WWW, things flow like rhizomes, but not to the exclusion of trees. Even the web, as Mr. Gartler’s paper notes, is actually structured like a tree: each section of a web address, separated by “/”, is a branch from the previous trunk. When some want to manipulate the web, those individuals are attempting to establish trees, with themselves as the trunk. Trees can be extremely efficient structures. However, if that main trunk’s intentions are tainted by greed or with the intention to manipulate, they will give rise to destructive entities. We’ve already seen that happen with the creation of fake sites and users whose sole purpose is to deceive and influence with no hard facts. In these cases, the scattered nature of rhizomes protects them somewhat from the domination of malicious trees. The rhizome’s weakness? That spreading can choke the ground with too much competition.

My own best experience with rhizome theory comes from a third passion of mine: K-Pop. 

I’ve written before (in Life and Fandom and Change of Pace) about my amazement at the ability of fans to come together in groups to define goals, establish plans and complete projects such as stadium-wide fan posters and light shows. Fans also work around the world to purchase screen time in New York’s Times Square and advertisements on public transit elsewhere. In addition, they coordinate and encourage each other on social media to promote their interests and share information.

Since I’m big into habitats and environments, I’m going to end with this opinion: we need both rhizomes and trees. 

The more diversity a system has, the more capable it is of adapting to changing conditions. A monoculture can be wiped out by a single harmful bug: a tree is done if its trunk is severed and burned. A K-Pop group like BTS is a tree, but its fandom shoots out from its base into a massive rhizome complex.

Both are beautiful in their own unique ways. Both can benefit from one another. Both are susceptible to rot and we need to tend them as we live in our gardens of life.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gritty KPop: 4 Things to Like About 5 Groups

Monsta X Facebook

Everyone needs some inspiration to keep them going. While groups like BIGBANG and BTS are still prominent, my Kpop running and workout soundtrack has become heavily weighted over the last 12 months with this roster of artists:

Monsta X
Stray Kids
Block B

Their birth years may span 12 years (from 1990 to 2002) and they all come from different management companies, but these groups have one important thing in common: a rough, dark, and intense energy. While some groups dabble in it, these groups seem to thrive on the frayed edges. I’ve been thinking about what characteristics they share that set them apart in a separate category that works well with working out.


Sometimes, you need a sassy, arrogant soundtrack in your life. NCT 127 tells us they are the “biggest hit on the stage” in Cherry Bomb and NCT U is the boss in Boss and the Stray Kids guys sing that they are mad, biting dogs not to be played with in Grrr Law Of Total Madness. Key to me is that their posturing, lyrically or in their performances, isn’t at the expense of some other group’s sense of self-worth. That’s critical. Block B, the oldest in this group, had some controversies when they began in 2012. They sneered at, instead of with, people and therefore erred.

Vocal Layering

Harmonizing is a normal part of Kpop, but how these groups handle theirs is what makes them stand together, and apart, in my mind. Monsta X’s Dramarama is a good example. These groups all have rich lower registers, including at least one darker, growl-laced voice, that create a solid base for the upper registers to soar over and around. Their producers do a great job painting audio pictures of sensuality, pain, struggle, anger, redemption and comradery. Goosebumps are a regular result.


NCT Black on Black
There are definitely other acts with just as good, if not better, choreo. However, Monsta X and NCT U both were on the 2016 Soompi Top 15 Choreographies list and the 2018 music videos from Stray Kids and NCT are getting rave reviews on top of their successes in 2017. In all cases, these groups jam intensely to their own raw music, heavily influenced by both hiphop and rap, and it’s a sight to see and experience. You can't help but start following their lead.


In December, I wrote that B.A.P’s Wake Me Up was my favorite song of 2017 for several reasons, including how they spoke out on social issues.  They stand out in this area but are not alone. Stray Kids’s Hellevator is a poignant look at loneliness and the effort it takes to not give up on dreams while their District 9 feels like a chapter out of a dystopia like The Hunger Games, as they discuss power and control. Life's madness must be acknowledged even as we seek to make things better with our own actions.

Kpop is many things- both good and bad. For something a bit darker, but highly energizing, all of these groups are definitely worth a look. It’s also extra exciting to contemplate what the future holds for the younger ones who are just starting out.

Is music important to you? I’d love to hear what songs you’re listening to lately and why. I look forward to reading your comments!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Cleaning our Glasses: True Sight

This started as an essay to support my book, Dear Teachers. It’s morphed to be applicable for all my writing interests so I'm posting it on all my blogs. I apologize for any redundancy.

I stepped away from writing for a bit. 
Truth be told, I needed to work some stuff out. It’s hard to ponder positives when you don’t see many in your life. 


That’s the overall focus on April’s essays: really seeing. I left March with an essay entitled “The Hum of Life”, with an important quote (which I attributed to Sudanese tradition, but may have come from elsewhere) that relates to vision:

“We desire to bequeath two things to our children:the first is roots, the other one is wings.”
We have to know where we’ve been in order to see where we are now and to plan for tomorrow. If we want our children to have strong roots, we must really examine ourselves deeply. Faults. Mistakes. Failures. Only then can we move to evolving real wings.

I started April with an essay entitled “Hidden Marvels” with a dancing picture of gorgeous, sun-drenched grasses by Marlene Oswald. I wanted us to remember that if we examine our errors, we must also notice the beauty around us. The potentials. The opportunities. The gifts. They can be hidden from our view so very easily. How?

All too often, we bury our heads in the sands of pattern and numb disregard. We see neither the horror nor the exquisite.

Blindness, whether from ignorance, avoidance or with intent, destroys. Sometimes it really hurts to look. However, it can also be our salvation. In my mind, it’s worth the risk.

Best wishes to you in the days ahead as we all widen our gaze to really see and to then act within that vision of reality. Please post your own responses to this idea in the comments section. I enjoy hearing back from my readers!