kaleidoscope

 

Halfway to Long Island, Ben had a panic attack and had to pull over to the side of the road. Still clutching the damp and wrinkled directions in his hand, he decided that he was a jerk, an idiot, for thinking that they would even want to see him.

Each exit he passed was the one he was going to get off, the one that would take him as far away as possible. The sun was prismatic; it shattered the sky with kaleidoscopic color. He couldn’t see through the glare on the windshield. His head was pounding.

Taking a deep breath, he wiped his brow, then pulled back onto the parkway. It was nearing two o’clock. He knew Ari wouldn’t be home from school yet, which would give him a little time alone with Robin. He couldn’t face them both at the same time. Ben parked at least ten houses away from where Robin lived.

She had moved, Matt said, because the rent at their old place got too high. She was living in a basement apartment outside of the city with Ari. Ben knew Robin had always hated suburbia and he felt a pang of sadness as he passed houses that all looked the same, searching for the right number.

78. It was a decent, rundown house. Matt had told him to go through the side gate, which lead to the backyard. To the right was a stairwell lined with painted terra cotta pots and chimes that, moved by the sudden wind, rang in cacophony. He descended the stairs, his hand clutching the bag which held Ari’s gift. After several deep breaths, he knocked tentatively on Robin’s door.

“What does he want?” was the second thought that ran through Robin’s head. The first thought was not a thought; it was a visualization of action. She wanted to back away from the door. She wanted to run away and hide. She stayed in the hallway for a few seconds, her heart racing.

Ari looked like just like him: same nose, same eyebrows, same jut of the chin. Ben’s eyes were Ari’s eyes, pale green or blue, depending on his mood and the way his mind was turning. Ben bit his lip nervously. He was wearing an impossibly thin coat despite the March snow that still lingered in the bottom of the stairwell. She opened the door a crack and met his eyes.

“I know … it’s been a while,” he said. His hands were shaking slightly, and he attempted to put them in his pockets. The shopping bag secured around his wrist caused him to struggle to find his right pocket, until he gave up and let his arm fall by his side, still clutching the bag.

“What are you doing here?” Robin asked.

Ben opened his mouth to speak and closed it again. He looked at her plaintively, unable to find the words. She closed her eyes slightly, and opened the door further for him to enter.

They moved around each other in the small space. Robin thought, how strange it was to have loved someone so fully, to have breathed that person in until he had become part of her; and then, to have him before her as a person she could not touch, a person she could no longer lay claim to.

“Would you like some coffee?” She asked.

“I would love some.”

Moments passed in uncomfortable silence. Ben looked around the kitchen, trying to find threads of their old life. His eye caught the painting above the table, “That’s new?”

Robin turned and followed his gaze to a rather small abstract painting; it was a scene of the beach, the colors muted and distant. Sometimes Robin thought she could hear the cry of seagulls, their insatiable hunger, vibrate on the surface of the canvas.

She tensed. “Oh, that. I finished that about a year ago.”

“It’s … it’s really beautiful,” Ben said. He cleared his throat. “You’ve gotten a lot better. I mean, you were always great. But it’s different …”

“Why don’t you sit down?” Robin asked.

Ben wondered which place was Ari’s. There were three chairs at the table; the thought that the third chair might belong to someone else pained him. He remained standing.

“I read your book.”

“Oh.” Ben said. “I’m almost done with my second one … that’s why I’m here. I mean, that’s why I’m here in New York.”

“I see,” Robin said, looking down at her hands. “How’s that coming?”

“Good, I guess. You know. It can be… difficult, at times.” Ben cleared his throat again. “You know how it is.”

“I don’t know if I do, Ben.” Robin said, her voice edging discomfort. The coffee pot behind her continued its persistent sound, a noise that seemed to gather volume as they avoided each others eyes.

Ben wrapped his hands around his cup. Robin imagined that if he lifted a finger, or his palm, off the cup, he would crumble. She wondered if she would try to put him back together, or if she would purse her lips and blow, as if that movement of air would push him away, scatter the past like dust.

“I can’t force a conversation with you …” Robin began.

Ben looked at the painting again. “You know I’ve been in and out of the hospital, right?”

“I’ve talked to Matt.”

“It’s the meds … They’re supposed to be making me better, more stable. But I think they’re just making me worse.” He paused then leaped ahead as if crossing a stretch as wide and deep as a fault line in the earth.

“Do you know how much I’ve missed you?”

“How could I know that, Ben? After the first time you just checked out. You left. Nothing …” Robin struggled to control herself. “Didn’t you think about Ari? Even once?”

“Of course I did.” Ben faced her. “I wanted … How could I …”

They stared at each other for a long while, frankly, viewing each other in parts that did not quite make up a whole.

Robin’s face told him about the days she had waited to hear from him, about Ari at six, seven, years he missed, years he left her to take on the responsibility by herself. Ben’s face told her about the nights he had stayed away from her, about the spiraling downs, the manic highs, the loneliness and the guilt, the bathroom mirror at 3am, all the pills.

“I brought something for him,” Ben said, motioning to the bag that he finally released and placed on the table.

After deciding to visit Robin and Ari, Ben had rationalized that he couldn’t show up empty handed. Matt told him about a store in Manhattan that was packed with curiosities and antiques, all unusual or different in some way. Ben had walked throughout the store lightly; afraid he would bump into something and knock it over.

“Can I help you, Sir?” A well-dressed saleswoman had asked, eyeing Ben as if she wasn’t quite sure he could afford most of the items in the store.

“Yes, I’m looking for a gift… for a boy, about seven years old.”

“What are some of the little boy’s interests? Science? Art? Music, perhaps?”

Ben didn’t know what Ari’s interests were, but he couldn’t say that; he barely wanted to recognize it himself. “I just want to get him something unique and beautiful … something he can hold, something to stir his imagination.”

The saleswoman had nodded and directed Ben towards the back of the shop. It was there that he noticed a kaleidoscope, tucked into a corner. Ben picked it up and looked through it. The world changed unexpectedly. It was breathtaking and filled him with a deep joy. He wanted to share that vision, that momentary enchantment.

Robin looked at the clock. Ari would be home from school soon.

“How is he?” Ben asked, averting his eyes.

“He’s okay. He’s really smart, really creative. I don’t think he has that many friends in school. But he’s relatively happy.” Robin paused. “You hurt him, Ben. He and I have a great relationship, but … I’m not his father.”

“Look at me.” Ben said, extending his hands upward. “I’m a fucking mess, Robin. It’s better that I’ve stayed away all these years.”

“Better for who?”

“For you, for Ari. I can’t be what you need.”

“What do you know about what we need? You’ve been, what, in and out of hospitals, you’ve been working on your second book. You, you, you. Do you hear yourself?” Robin felt her voice growing louder. “It’s all about you. It always was.”

Ben looked at her with relief; he would no longer have to wait for her anger, knowing it would come but not knowing when. “You’ve always been the more responsible one.”

“Because I had to be,” Robin spat at him, “Don’t you think I’ve wanted to be free of consequences, to do whatever the fuck I want, to really concentrate on my art, and not just … when I can?”

“Is that what you think I do? You have Ari, you have a life… I have nothing. Words, paper, a book. I spend half my time writing and the other half of it wanting to die. You want that? You can have it. You can have my disorder and my pills and my instability and my fucking overwhelming emptiness.”

Robin gazed into the living room, instinctively searching out the painting she had done when Ari was about five years old, around the time Ben had left. When it was finished, she had laid it against the wall to finish drying. Robin had sensed that it was a turning point in her work.

That night, when Ari had walked into the kitchen for dinner, Robin remembered turning to him, noticing his look of joy, then his hand, streaked with yellow ochre and alizarin crimson. Her heart had seemed to stop.

“You didn’t touch Mommy’s painting, did you?”

“I’m an artist, too!” Ari laughed.

Robin had raced into the living room to check the painting. The right side of the painting was blurred along the edge. Ari had taken his hand and allowed it to travel downwards in a long stroke, as if petting a sleepy cat.

Robin broke down. She literally fell to the floor in front of the painting; the strength that she had seemed to summon since Ben left was gone. She wept openly, bitterly. Ari watched, his eyes wide and scared. Robin caught his expression through her own pain, and knew that she would have to pull it together, allow the gaping wound to scar, accept that it might never heal. She needed to be stronger. For herself, for Ari.

At 3:25, the school bus arrived. Robin had told Ben it would be better for him to wait inside the apartment.

She stood on the sidewalk and waited for Ari to descend from the bus. The sun was cold brightness. Light refracted from windows and the chrome of car bumpers, throwing a dizzying spell.

Ari’s blonde head burned brightly under it; his hair was getting a little too long, and he pushed it from his eyes in order to see Robin. He ran across the street, smiling, dragging his book bag on the ground, his coat thrown open against the rough wind.

“Ari. Hold on a sec.” Robin looked at him, his face was so trusting, as open as the sky.

“What’s up?” Ari asked, furrowing his eyebrows and smiling at the break in their routine.

“Someone came over … someone we haven’t seen for a long time. Your father …”

A cloud passed across Ari’s face. Robin didn’t have time to explain any further; he took off running and didn’t slow down until he reached the gate. Robin was breathing hard when she caught up to him.

“Ari,” she said.

He avoided her eyes.

“Are you sure … I mean, it’s sudden. Are you okay with this?” Robin paused. “I can tell him to leave.”

“No,” he whispered. He didn’t move. He didn’t look at her; he stood rooted outside the gate.

“Do you want me to go in first?” Robin placed her arm protectively around his shoulders, and he nodded.

Ben was sitting in the living room, on the couch that doubled as Robin’s bed, his head in his hands. He looked up when they walked in, his face pale, so pale that Robin instantly asked, “Ben? Are you okay?”

Ari stood behind Robin, the way he used to do when he was much younger, when he was afraid of grown-ups, of strangers.

“I’m … I feel a little sick. I’ll be fine.” Ben tried to smile, but the smile came out more like a grimace.

“Ari, sit down,” Robin said, “let me get your snack.”

Ari sat at the kitchen table. His large eyes, dark and unsmiling, were focused on Ben.

“I brought something for you, Ari.” Ben said the boy’s name as if tasting a new word. “It’s right there, in that bag. You can take it out.”

Ari reached into the bag and took out a wrapped box. He opened the wrapping slowly, carefully, until he reached the plain cardboard that held his gift inside. Lifting each corner flap, he tipped the box so its contents fell into his hand. He turned the object over.

“What is it?” he asked.

“A kaleidoscope. It’s an old-fashioned one,” Ben said.

Robin set a cup of milk in front of Ari, along with some cookies on a paper napkin. “Wow, Ben, that’s really beautiful.”

The kaleidoscope was heavy. The body was constructed of solid wood, the lens was real glass. The turning chamber was an oil filled cell infused with color, containing pieces of glass, beads, wire, polymer clay and other hand made trinkets.

Ari gazed into the object, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Well,” Robin asked, “What do you see?”

“Colors,” he said. “I see a star, full of colors and shapes. When I turn this part, the picture changes. This is really cool.”

Ari looked at Robin; he seemed slightly dazed, as if his equilibrium had been altered by the spell of the object. He held the kaleidoscope possessively in his hand and glanced at Ben.

“Thank you,” Ari said softly.

“I … I just wanted to see you for a little bit. But I have to go now.” Ben stood up.

Ari looked up at his father in disbelief.

“It will probably take me about an hour to get the car back to the city, and my flight’s at six o’clock,” Ben explained thinly.

“You’re leaving?”

Robin watched Ari’s face change. She turned towards Ben as the kaleidoscope hit him in the jaw with a smack, a thud, and then crashed to the floor. Ben instinctively put his hand to his face; his eyes filled with tears.

Ari ran out of the kitchen.

“Go.” Robin said sadly. She put her hand on his cheek and gently brushed his bruised jaw with her thumb. Ben closed his eyes. He remained still, as if her touch extended beyond his face to the entire surface of his skin, then deeper, to his heart, his soul.

As she walked down the short hallway to Ari’s room, she heard the faint click of the door closing behind him.

Robin called Ari’s name, then stood outside his door and waited. Moments passed. Each second Robin felt the distance between them growing and shaping into something real.

She thought about the kaleidoscope in her hand and wanted to cradle it in her arms, to restore it to its earlier safety, inside the box, wrapped, an unexpected gift. She called his name again.

Ari opened the door slightly, and then returned to his bed. He curled up, facing the wall. Robin entered lightly and sat on the edge. She smoothed the hair from his damp forehead and placed the kaleidoscope beside him.

“Did I break it?”

“No,” Robin said, “It’s okay.”

Ari touched the kaleidoscope gingerly and held it to his chest.

“I didn’t mean to throw it.”

“I know.” Robin laid down on the bed next to him. Side by side, they searched the cracks in the ceiling.

“Will he ever come back?”

Robin wrapped her arms around Ari and closed her eyes. She imagined Ben leaving, walking into the raw sun, the wind beating down on his shoulders, leaving, over and again, caught the cycle of eternal return.

 

*

 

 

Kaleidoscope is a story I wrote many years ago, and was first published on this site in February, 2012.


hallelujah

“Hallelujah is not a mere liturgic command, like a prelude to something exuberant. It is a crucial exercise that teaches us not only how to live but also how to die.” – Arie Uittenbogaard, Hallelujah.

Hallelujah  is the ultimate expression of surrendering control to god, the universe, collective consciousness, and/or divine power, and it is at the heart of the spiritual practice of letting go.

RIP to the great poet, musician, and activist,  Leonard Cohen. Thank you Gungor for sharing this prayer and reminder, in tribute.

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trigger warning: election 2016

three wise monkeys

 

It’s nearing the end of October, and the presidential election of 2016 is only a week away. The above image reflects the general attitude of the American people voting for either Clinton or Trump in November – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – then cast your ballot, pull the proverbial trigger, and turn away as the illusion of democracy implodes.

Our votes are as insignificant as our lives to these people, who are very far removed from the actual plight most Americans face. Both Clinton and Trump are multi-millionaires, both have accumulated their wealth through shady business dealings on the unfortunate backs of others. The majority of Americans do not believe that we hold any power, they do not think that change is possible, and although they may bitch and moan about it, they behave as sheep who follow the herd, who are implicit in upholding the status quo, and who shut their eyes and ears and mouths about lofty ideas about change and revolution.

The majority of Americans are overwhelmed with the basic tenets of survival. We wake up each day, work, work, work for the almighty dollar, so we can pay our bills, keep our homes, keep our families healthy, and buy all the things that are supposed to make us happy. Who cares about the planet, or other races and cultures, as long as we are doing okay? We are lambs being led to the slaughter-house. We are a people who have bought into the system for so long, we have become an integral part of it, and we refuse to see it.

When we awaken, we take to the streets, our voices and hearts carried away by visions of how things could be, and we are put down by a militant police force and a divisive, apathetic society. When we awaken, we begin seeing the irreparable cracks of this broken place called America. When we awaken, we refuse to take part in our own undoing.

I’ve written about the rise of third party candidates, who I now prefer to call “alternative party candidates,” as even the connotation of the term “third party” indicates a less-than or inferior position, which is created by the existing two-party system consisting of Republicans and Democrats. I propose new terms – Remocrats and Depublicans – ones that truly speak to the two-sided double-speak of these two parties, which are built on the idea of duality, where neither can exist without the other as it’s opposite, and yet, they are the same.

Remocrats and Depublicans operate in the same way – using fear of the other. These two parties have successfully inculcated the idea that they are the ONLY viable parties in America. Why? They have consistently used “divide and conquer” methods to retain control of the government. They have played the American people as if they are two bitterly opposed sports teams, and you are forced to choose a team.

People hold onto their “party allegiance” much in the same way as their favorite sports team. Win or lose, once they’ve been given a team (usually by family affiliation and socio-economic status), they are in it for life, and will stand behind their “team” no matter what – a flawed analogy, yet only flawed by it’s own design, for this is really how things are.

But … aren’t we free to vote for other parties besides Depublicans and Remocrats? Shhhhhh …. Hush! You must be a child! Alternative parties – how dare you even suggest such a thing! They won’t win, ever! We won’t let them win!! This is America god dammit, and in America, we only want a winner. You know, if you vote for an alternative party – you might as well throw away your vote! I mean, this is only the ILLUSION of democracy – so shut up and get with the program! This is politics! This is no place for idealism!!!

Do you want Trump to win?!? Do you want a reality TV show celebrity and shady business mogul as president, who has no actual political experience? Are you a bigoted, racist, short-sighted, filthy rich, sexist, misogynistic egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Trump signifies! You better vote for Clinton – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Trump won!

Do you want Clinton to win?!? Do you want more American-based abuse in other countries, more Clinton foundation pay-to-play government schemes, more lies, more pandering? Are you a willfully blind, secretive, filthy rich, pseudo-progressive egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Clinton signifies! You better vote for Trump – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Clinton won!

It’s at this point that people start crying about Bernie Sanders. Things would have been so different if he were allowed to compete fairly!! Remember the wave of “idealism” that Sanders rode throughout the primaries? You know, that thing we are supposed to forget about in politics? That thing that the DNC ridiculed about Sanders’ supporters? That was real. It was real because idealism IS a part of politics. What was unusual about Sanders is that he rode this wave of idealism throughout the democratic party primary – and not an alternative party.

Remember all the reports during the democratic primaries that spoke directly to fraud and suppression? That was real, too. No one should be surprised when Hillary Clinton wins this election.

But … Hillary Clinton will be the first woman president! Just like Obama was the first black president! In four years, the democrats will most likely roll out some other “first” to pretend that they are forward thinking. Maybe Michelle Obama will run! That way, the Clinton machine can continue the way it has since 1992. Won’t it be wonderful to vote for a woman?! Now is the point that you are supposed to agree, and forget everything you’ve ever heard about what Clinton has done.

Yes, it will be wonderful to vote for a woman! I can’t wait to cast my vote for Jill Stein – a woman with integrity. (oops! another “i” word that, along with idealism, we’ve come to associate in politics as suspect and naive) And guess what, I’m not voting for Clinton OR Trump, not even by default. I’m sick of hearing immature and short-sighted people braying about what they’ve been told that means. I’m voting for the person and the party I think can help bring desperately needed change to this country.

Jill Stein, along with Ajamu Baraka as her running mate, is a strong candidate, with an impeccable record of political activism. The Green Party has a very strong, impressive, and yes, idealistic, platform that I truly believe in – because I know that they truly believe in it, too, and they will work to make these ideals reality. Alternative parties have been marginalized so far and for so long, the American people have been manipulated thus, and they are actually seen by some people as the villains in this, and any, election cycle. And yet, the real villains take center stage.

While I’m ranting about this, I just want to say one other thing: If you are an artist who has made a living by presenting yourself as alternative, risk-taking, and edgy – you have no business vilifying alternative parties and Trump while drawing hearts around Hillary Clinton, and forbidding people to disagree with you because it’s your opinion. This shows an extreme level of cognitive dissonance, and brings the legitimacy of your art into question. The personal is political. Art is political. You have some serious self-reflection to do, as do your supporters.

I am aware that the jig is up, the rig is in, and that we will never really know the true election results, the way that we never really knew just how well Sanders was doing, and the fact that it never mattered anyway. The Democratic Party could have become a party that truly embraced progressive change, instead they were hellbent on a coronation. History will show this was a critical error in judgment – much in the same way that the Republican Party’s support of Trump will be seen as a critical error. The two-party system is dead; they’ve committed political suicide. We will feel the effects of this for many years to come, and the rise that we’ve seen this election cycle of alternative parties will only continue to grow.

I truly believe that, in the words of JFK,  “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution  inevitable.”

If the democratic primaries have shown us anything, they have shown us that the people behind Clinton (big banks, lobbyists, billionaires, corrupt world leaders, the media, etc, etc) will stop at nothing to make her president. Trump is a straw man, set to burn. Alternative parties are routinely denied media coverage. They were denied access to the presidential debates because the committee is run by Depublicans and Remocrats – they were denied a voice and the ability to access millions of people with their message. Yet, people are finding alternative parties through social media and other alternative news outlets, and are supporting them in record numbers.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. Truth and Reality can be difficult to digest. Change is hard. Complacency is easy. In this world, people sometimes make a choice to live in a world of illusion, because to acknowledge truth is too hard. This is why “ignorance is bliss” but “the truth will set you free.” You can view the current two-party system as the blue pill, and alternative parties as the red pill. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (The Matrix)

Perhaps this election cycle has really come down to this idea put forth by Marianne Williamson:  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Maybe that is why people continue to support our oppressors through the two-party system, and why idealism and integrity have become dirty words in politics. Many people do not really want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes, because it may be uncomfortable, and they want to preserve their illusions.

Nevertheless, many people understand the necessity of change, that revolution is not easy nor comfortable, and it is worth the risk to seek what wonder there is to be found on the other side.

 

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the rise of 3rd party candidates

time for change

 

A political revolution has already been started in America, and people are becoming more awake and aware of their necessary role in fighting for change. With both major party candidates being extremely unpopular, bringing questions of their personal and political ethics to the forefront, the dissatisfaction of the current business-as-usual politics, and the refusal to choose “the lesser of two evils,” more people than ever before are turning to 3rd party candidates as a refreshing and viable alternative.

This election cycle, people are supporting 3rd party candidates in record numbers. The two-party system is a symbol of the polarizing, divisive, either/or mentality that we have grown so accustomed to, which only serves to disconnect us from each other and the world. The two-party system is irreparably broken. Year after year, we are becoming more aware of voting irregularities and outright fraud, as we place our votes with wary consciousness, hoping that our votes count, wanting to believe that our voices matter.

America is a country that actually has more Independent and “No Party” affiliated voters than either Republicans or Democrats; however, two-party politics have long dominated the political arena. If you believe what you have been taught, in both implicit and explicit ways, then you “know” that a 3rd party candidate has a snowball’s chance in hell at being elected president …. But is that really true? This mindset is a carefully constructed manipulation supported by the two-party system as well as the media, in order to discourage ‘outsiders’ from entering the presidential race and also, to discourage the American people for voting for those who do.

3rd parties are overflowing with people literally trying to change the world. They are idealists, who inherently believe in challenging the status quo. They are also realists, who have had to jump through hoops and work harder than any of us could fathom, just to have the chance to represent the American people. They have the courage of their convictions, and only ask us to have the same. They hold us to a higher standard – to become active and involved, and to work alongside them in creating a future that we want for ourselves, the planet, and the world. 3rd parties inspire and motivate us to question our preconceived notions about government, elections, and our role in the political system. The truth is, with enough support, a 3rd party candidate can win the presidential election.

The system is set up in a way that makes it very difficult for 3rd parties to even enter the presidential race. There are ballot access laws, which require 3rd party candidates to petition each individual state in order to be allowed on the ballot for president. (It is anticipated that both Stein and Johnson will have received ballot access in all 50 states by the election) Next, there is the question of having one’s voice heard. The media has routinely denied 3rd party candidates this exposure. In fact, they have also worked as operatives in reassuring the American people that a 3rd party vote is “a wasted vote” and have psychologically influenced people into thinking that a 3rd party candidate is at best an interloper and a nuisance, and at worst, a spoiler. None of this is true.

The way the two-party system operates is by a “winner-take-all” electoral college system, considered to be an archaic, complex, and problematic method, with each candidate needing to reach a certain number (270) of electoral college votes in order to win the election. There isn’t a national presidential election; there are only individual state elections, and to complicate things a little further, we are not really voting for the president, we are voting for the electors from our respective states who will in turn vote for the president. Electors usually follow the popular vote, but they are not mandated to. Because the number of electors per state is proportional to the amount of delegates they have in the house and senate, there are only 5-7 states who actually determine who the president will be.

It is argued that anything more than two parties would destroy the proportion of numbers, which would lead to confusion and chaos, as no clear winner would emerge. As we have seen in previous elections, the two-party system is not infallible, and there have been times when the president was decided, not by the people, not by the electoral college, but by the supreme court. One could also argue that since the electoral vote, and not the popular vote, is what actually decides the presidency, then the popular vote doesn’t actually matter at all. And if we agree that it is true, how do you think most Americans feel about the idea that their votes don’t count?

Many Americans are demanding change in the way we vote. Ranked Choice Voting and The National Popular Vote have been put forth as measures to change the current system and to give the people’s vote more power. However, the political establishment is terrified of both these measures. According to the National Archive of the U.S. Electoral College, there have been over 700 proposals within the last 200 years to change, reform, or eradicate this system. This fear is evident by those who uphold both major parties. Even in the Republican Party Platform 2016, it is stated that they “oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College. An unconstitutional effort to impose National Popular Vote would be a grave threat to our federal system.” (i.e. it could dismantle the two-party system, give more power to the popular vote, and make it easier for 3rd party candidates to compete and win the presidency)

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political… And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change.” (Wim Wenders)

The more people recognize the truth of this quote, and how the American people have been manipulated through the two-party political system into believing it, the more people will reject what we have been taught, and we will free ourselves from our psychological and political chains by voting 3rd party. It is a natural evolution of our mass consciousness to begin to see 3rd parties as a viable option; it is reflected in the corrupt and broken two-party system and the number of movements within the last few years which have increased in frequency and magnitude, demanding change.

Refusing to vote for the major political party candidates and instead supporting a 3rd party candidate is a powerful step, and a step that millions of people have already taken, and are willing to exercise come November. This election cycle is not about Clinton or Trump. It is also not about Sanders, Stein or Johnson. It is about the American people, standing at the precipice, tested to their breaking point, testing their own strength, and deciding to stand united with 3rd parties against the very system that has been tearing them apart, believing in the power that comes with a new vision, ready to embrace a new world.

 

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This post was also published as an op-ed piece via The Huffington Post!


july

I love you like a woman
pinned to a carnival wheel

blindfolded, I spin
taut against splintered wood

my body is a temporal thing
skin, blood, bone

you throw knives
at the negative spaces

between my fingers, along
the line of neck and jaw

I hold my breath. I do not
speak. I don’t want to break

your concentration
and risk a slip in direction

the sweat on your brow
is glistening in the hot sun.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

“July” is one of the poems in My Mother’s Daughter, a collection of poems I wrote between 1998-2002 and published in 2012.

 


reading series 5.4

flying-letters11

 

“Stories of failure” was a project I began through this reading series which, in spirit, is something of a cross between Russell Banks’ “Success Stories” and Samuel Beckett’s conceptual line, “fail better.” My idea for this series was to share some personal stories and anecdotes from some of the more challenging times in my life. I suppose it is an odd project because most people, myself included, like to focus on the positive. However, I do feel that the challenging times in our lives define us as much, if not more, than the positive times. These times teach us how to rise from the fall, how to find light in the darkness, how to learn new ways of being, how to persevere, and how to find reserves of strength within ourselves, enabling us to begin again, anew.

I wanted to write a little about this before I started up the series again because the last time I embarked on this project, I had received a couple of letters from friends asking if I was okay. They were worried about me because I guess stories about failure tend to be on the sad, depressing, and/or negative side. For the most part, I have tried to temper this with what I learned, how I grew from the experience, or how these experiences have informed my writing, but sometimes the experience stands as is, without a contextual explanation. Nevertheless, I feel that in our failures – what hasn’t worked out, what brought us to our knees, what left us in spiritual darkness, what we have had to overcome – we find, in reality, the truest measure of our success.

 

Quotes about Failure:

 

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucious

“Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.” – George Eliot

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” – J.K. Rowling

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“We are all failures – at least, the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.” – Amos Bronson Alcott

“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  – Mary Pickford

“There are defeats more triumphant than victories.” – Michel de Montaigne

“Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey

“The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it – so fine that we often are on the line and do not know it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Many people dream of success. To me, success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection.” – Soichiro Honda

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Isaac Newton

“It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.” – Isaac Stern

“Failure is not the enemy, but a life-changing experience. It is a human experience, and it prepares the way for us to grow and transform our lives.” – Sobonfu Somé

 

 


on voting, elections & politics in america

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I had my first experience voting when I was in second grade. The year was 1980, a presidential election year, and my teacher carried out a “mock-election,” as per the instructions given in our scholastic news leaflet, which was an adjunct to our social studies curriculum. I remember that there were 3 candidates shown, including a picture of each, a short bio, and a very vague description of what they hoped to accomplish as president. Politics were not really discussed in my home, and I didn’t know any of the candidates. I remember wondering why there were no women choices, or why there were no other races represented. Nevertheless, I chose the person who had been a peanut farmer, because I thought being a farmer was cool, and I think I liked the idea of a farmer being president.

The votes were collected, and my choice was severely defeated. I remember feeling a little embarrassed as my classmates crowed that they had chosen a winner. I had clearly chosen a loser. Yet, I didn’t exactly regret my decision … I felt like I was forced into making a choice between only 3 people. I wondered who came up with those choices to begin with. I remember thinking that a movie star probably wouldn’t make a good president, even if he was popular among my classmates. I thought farming was a noble pursuit. What happened in my classroom was a small microcosm of what would happen in the general election; Reagan defeated Carter, and won the election by a landslide.

There are so many things about this experience that would resound in how I viewed voting and politics later in my life. I was a weird child, no doubt, but I really did wonder why there were no women or men of different races when I first learned about the presidents of the United States. I really did think about the implications of what it meant to be told that you can choose the president, but you have to choose among these specific people. Perhaps this also speaks to my later radical, feminist, democratic socialist leanings, or even my tendency toward championing the underdog, but I wished I had better choices, and I still thought that a farmer would make a good president, because I loved the earth and I loved helping my grandmother in the garden. There was nothing glamorous about Carter; he looked sort of humble, and part of me thought that he would make a good president because he looked like a regular person – one of us. (Interestingly, Carter did an amazing amount of good things for people outside of politics, after his presidency and throughout the rest of his life.)

 

 

Of course, if you know anything about Reagan’s presidency, you know how that worked out. In the next two elections, Reagan, then Bush, won. I was disgusted by what these people stood for, and I didn’t think they represented me, much less the majority of people in America. I was still not able to legally vote, but my feelings about the whole process didn’t change all that much from what they had been when I was 7 years old. By the time I was 18, I was already jaded by the whole process. I don’t consider myself a political person. I used to think that I was an idealist, which seemed to be at odds with the business-as-usual game of politics. Nevertheless, in 1992, I was caught between “rock the vote” and the same 3 choices … I registered to vote during Lollapalooza under a festival tent, declining any party affiliation, because I saw Democrats and Republicans as two sides of the same coin. Of course, there are other parties to choose from, but everyone knew that the final race would be between Democrats and Republicans. I had learned from the time I was child that “you lucky Americans are so free that you get to choose your president! Here are your choices, pick one!”

That year, I also learned a bit more about party affiliation and primaries when I went with a friend to vote in the Democratic Primary and neither of us could vote because neither of us were registered Democrats. I had been swept away with voting fever, my past cynicism temporarily quelled, thinking that the primary held some key to the choices given on election day. Still, there was gender and racial bias, but that was America, right? The system can’t change overnight! Jerry Brown seemed better than Clinton, at least, or so I thought at the time. But being locked out of the primary, even willing to overlook all the things I had learned about how insidious the whole thing was, I saw how deeply our choices were already made. Who chooses the president really? How can you win the popular vote and not the electoral vote? What the hell are delegates anyway?  What is the role of money and corporate sponsorship in terms of who is allowed a voice?  Do votes by the people actually count?

Again, if you know anything about the 1992 presidential election, you know that Clinton won, not only the democratic primary, but the presidency. I voted for Clinton, but it was a begrudging vote. I wanted to vote. I wanted to exercise my right. Yet, anyone who said that they smoked pot and didn’t inhale was a major bullshit artist in my book, and I didn’t trust him. Nevertheless, the long standing Republican agenda of being against abortion, against welfare, pro-gun, and essentially pro-capitalist in every sense of the big money corporate world did not agree with me. I was simply voting against something, not for something. I didn’t have a political party to stand behind and support at all costs, even blindly. And honestly, I didn’t think my vote even mattered in the long run. I didn’t see that a single president, either Republican or Democrat, could affect the kinds of promises made during their election bids, or the kind of change I wanted to see. There are other aspects of the government to content with – the senate, the house of representatives, etc. This isn’t even getting into the lobbyists and corporate interests lurking behind everything in American politics. No single person holds that much power. I feel that the president is a kind of figurehead, to tell the truth.

 

 

However, figureheads, even symbolic and ideological figureheads, are important. They represent us as a country. They represent who we are; they hold a mirror to ourselves, and to the rest of the world. That is why by the year 2000, I was caught up in voting fever again. I was so thoroughly against Bush becoming president, I voted while in labor with my second child. That night, I went through triage with the election results on televisions in the hospital. My daughter was born a little after 10pm. My mother visited me a little after midnight, and I asked her who the president was. “We don’t know,” was all she said. “What?!” This was a situation unheard of in my lifetime. We simply didn’t know, because all kinds of shit was going down in Florida, which happened to have Bush’s brother as governor. What happened in the 2000 election that left the American people without a president for several weeks, as the votes in Florida had to be recounted because of an outcry that the voting system was being rigged?

How exactly did so many voters disappear from the rolls – mostly young people, Democrats, “minorities”, and people with low-incomes? How many polling places had machines that didn’t work? How many opened late, closed early, or didn’t open at all? What about entire ballot boxes from “certain” areas that simply disappeared? How did Bush become president when Gore had won the popular vote by a half a million votes – yet they each needed to win Florida – Bush’s brother’s territory – to officially win? This was so outlandish that it could not be hidden. Even when the numbers came in, they didn’t add up. The election was rigged in Bush’s favor in front of the eyes of the entire country, and no one could do anything about it. Besides Florida, voting irregularities in the 2000 election were reported across the entire country, and it is estimated that between 4 to 6 million votes were left uncounted.

The same thing happened in 2004. And it happened again recently, during the primaries for the 2016 election – in Arizona, in New York, and in god knows where else, because we only hear what the media reports. A few thousand here, a few thousand there … these votes go relatively unnoticed. A few weeks ago, it is estimated that 126,000 voters were purged in Brooklyn alone. At first, people were outraged. People were demanding answers. What answers have been given? It’s been a few weeks, life goes on. There are no answers. There will be no re-vote. We’ve accepted that Clinton won the Democratic primary in New York, even though it put Sanders at a serious disadvantage in winning the nomination going forward. But wasn’t that the point? Right, we get it. Politics as usual. We’ll fall in line. We are a nation with A.D.D. We are a country with selective memory. We blink and the issue is in absentia. We have other things to worry about, things we can control, or at least, we perceive that we control far more than we actually do. There is rent to be paid, mortgages to manage, bills, insurance, utilities, etc. We have families to take care of. There is work to be done, we need that almighty paycheck. That’s America, where roughly less than 1% of the population hoards most of the wealth, and the rest of us are millions strong, struggling every day.

 

 

So here we are again, 2016. It’s an election year. My 7 year old self would be happy to see that we’ve had an African American president, but my conscious self knows that he was a figurehead put forth by the Democratic party; nothing has truly changed. My 7 year old self would be happy to see a woman running for a chance to be president, but my conscious self knows that gender is not a definitive issue; Clinton is a politician’s politician, she’s had her hand in every pocket she could put money into, and she’s bought her way this far. I see her as a person who is both power-hungry and untrustworthy, a person who will say anything she thinks the person she is talking to wants to hear while taking care of her own agenda secretly. My 7 year old self would not be so surprised to see Trump doing so well … I saw how people loved Reagan, how Americans worship their celebrities, how fear controls the American people far more than love. My conscious self remembers the 2004 election, when I sat on the couch and cried, watching the map of America bleed red from the center, ice-blue around the edges, barely containing the whole of it. My 7 year old self would have chosen Sanders, the one who appeared to be one of us. My conscious self wants to choose Sanders, knowing that he may not even make it that far, because I want to see America as a country I can be proud of, a country who has stayed true to its roots, a country whose founders wrote the constitution on the wings of revolution and hope, and who would be dumbfounded to see what we’ve become.

I don’t consider myself a political person, but perhaps I am more political than I think. I refuse to accept business-as-usual politics, because this is not the way things have always been in this country, and I do not believe that is how things should be or how they need to be. The past 16 years have seen a growing number of unprecedented abuses in our voting system, as well as in the system itself, carried out in full view of all, and it is amazing to me that Americans can stand for this. We are a country founded on the tenets of revolution – together we stand, divided we fall. If we stand together, we can accomplish things we can only dream of. I still believe that this can happen. I believe that the foundation of this country is our people, not corporations, not the corporate interests of those in power and those who hold the wealth. This country belongs to all people – no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic level happens to be. And I think that we need to care for each other. It seems odd to me that this is a radical, revolutionary idea. It just seems like common sense, but perhaps I am still an idealist, after all.

 

 

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