Wow, two posts today….
From time to time I post a blog in tribute of some luminary who has passed out of our world. Sunday I learned that the cancer that Olivia Newton John kept in remission for a quarter century has reprised. She may have years more in the world, but I was inspired not to wait.
Julianna Hatfield has just released a tribute to ONJ, who, though you mightn’t know it from Hatfield’s music, was a beloved influence. Olivia Newton John’s long string of hits in the 70s and 80s were pillars of my own youth. I loved them and I sang to them best I could, usually in falsetto, or harmonizing an octave lower. Because, as many have heard me say in my low register, I was hitting the notes of Barry Manilow, sometimes even Neil Diamond, when my peers were singing at the other end of the keyboard with Olivia.
Julianna Hatfield, who describes herself as a scrappy vocalist, rather than a true singer like Olivia, really has as little business as I do covering those songs. But love ain’t always pretty. In her interview, she and I choked up at the same time as the discussion brushed against our gratitude for, our celebration of, this woman’s voice, her songs, her grace and probably for her extra 25 years (and counting) of Life.
Catchy as it was, I confess I didn’t care for Olivia’s last big hit, “Let’s get Physical” when it came out; but soon after, both our paths were getting more outwardly spiritual. And I remember being glad to see this one of a certain angelic beauty walking a path of some spiritual substance as well, and having these years’ remission to grow in that, to deepen and share it with the world.
I admired the dynamic range of her voice– from the mellifluous, almost meek whispers of “I Honestly Love You” to the expressive potential of “Hopelessly Devoted to you” and the penetrating belting of “Let Me Be There” and “…Physical.”
Her voice carried a power beyond volume, even beyond the melody. It seemed to flow with a certain truth and goodness, even in a song like “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease. Her acting lacked the dynamic range of her singing, but there was still a sweet naturalness in her delivery that made it forgivable somehow– for me, anyway, at least in the kindness of hindsight.
I am just so grateful that she exists, that she lived and filled that place in pop culture with her song. I still feel her voice in my heart, and I know the world is a friendlier place for her contribution, as it echoes, audibly and inaudibly, through the years and through the ethers, even now. She is still here, and according to Juliana Hatfield, she still hits the high notes at the end of “Xanadu.”
I encourage everyone who appreciated her to take a moment and savor that now. And if mention of her songs inspires you to pick up her greatest hits, mission accomplished.
If you didn’t appreciate her, my condolences. I mean, what’s the matter with you? Have you Never Been Mellow? It’s not too late.
I can’t say it any better than Jane Goodall’s words featured on today’s Google Doodle. But on the first clear and relatively still day in some time where I stand on the Earth in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I offer a spontaneous verse that is but a restatement of the same sentiment.
If we, as homo sapiens, look around
and feel our feet upon the ground
we can try but can’t get ’round
that every day is Earth Day.
We as Homo Erectus,
our heads more distant from the dust
than our kin of fur and musk
forget the Earth gave rise to us,
and every day’s a Birthday.
Embrace, Embrace, please let us,
The marvel of many from One,
Infinite dwelling in Union,
Laughing, dancing, lost and found,
each song from One primordial Sound,
ML April 22, 2018
I’ve written about the wind before. Sometimes it simply demands attention, doesn’t let up until it gets its due: Acknowledgement as the Majorette in the Weather Parade, the breezy jester that holds the Emperor’s ear…and roar.
Growing up in Arizona, I used to love wind. It was a voice, visitor and companion from the realm of mystery. When it played with my long, thick hair, or supported me as I gave it my weight, I felt the privilege of intimacy with that mystery, as if befriended by a wild creature.
When I lived in the deep South, any wind was a rare and refreshing break from the stagnancy of both the culture and the summer’s swampy and breathless oppression.
Though I’d heard about tornadoes and hurricanes, I knew the wind as a playful friend, a Big Dog that didn’t always know its own strength, but was harmless, mostly. It was only when I moved to higher climes, first to New Mexico, then to Colorado, that I experienced hints of menace in what before was the steady Breath of God.
I remember becoming increasingly aware of the wind in Albuquerque, where it seemed relentless down the east/west corridors, even when its temperature was benign. After about 15 years in Colorado– a spectacular buffet of blizzards, chinooks and other novel dances of atmosphere choreographed by the Rocky Mountains– I moved back to Albuquerque. When I mentioned I’d come from Boulder, CO, I was puzzled that the first comment from several people was about the wind there. In my mind, Albuquerque would always be the Windy City (with all deference to Chicago, where I’ve only ever had to contend with the airless airport). Perhaps that had to do with the energy on the wind. The Enchantment of New Mexico is perhaps lost as the air currents filter through buildings, over concrete, and distill the desolation and destitution that rise like convection waves from the land’s recent history.
For all its force and cruel bite, the wind in Colorado seemed to carry its dignity intact, the wild nature of the Tiger, which you would not begrudge him.
New Mexico is where I took to calling the wind just plain rude.
We’ve had a warm, dry and troubling spring this year. No precipitation to scour the air. And when the winds whip up again, like reckless mogul skiers chasing around to empty every cedar of pollen, they might bring a cold night, but no drink for thirsty soil and souls.
Today’s Santa Fe wind was tempestuous, and strong enough, it seemed, to hold such a tonnage of topsoil aloft that the mountains disappeared. After having to spend most of the day outside, I was exhausted; I felt like a blown egg– shell intact, but void of my yoke, even the memory of content scrambled.
As I write, the wind has settled and the mercury is dropping. A new tide of intelligence is coalescing between my ears. The wind chimes still murmur; the sigh of the junipers still swells and ebbs. But the birds are silent and the day’s boisterous bombast recedes in the mind, as windows and curtains close, T.V.s flicker on and throb with another, more troubling bluster, the hot, new and rudest of all winds from Washington.
Last night I watched Loving Vincent. It was, as a review tag said, “a fitting miraculous tribute to its subject.” It really is for experiencing than for describing, and the film demonstrates how this is so for Vincent VanGogh himself, for his work and for all Life.
This film, nominated for “best animated feature” Oscar this year, lost to the Pixar romp Coco, a sweet and cleverly-executed crowd-pleaser, which carried good sentiment and sociological import and a familiar form and method. While the animator for the dog in that film might merit an Oscar on his own, overall, compared with Vincent (especially technically), Coco seems an engaging, latin flavored been-there-done-that. I saw none of the other contenders, so this isn’t about who should have won. I’m just sayin’….
Loving Vincent was far more soulful and innovative, with a more engaging plot than I expected, given one reviewer’s impression. The plot– simple and quietly engaging on its own– while it carried its own poignancy (and a profound message), served as a supportive and necessary vehicle for the spectacle of animated oil painting; yet it could not help but be a distraction from that very miracle.
….Kind of like LIFE: Every moment is a miracle of creation, yet is obscured by the mundanity and minutia of existence, the myopia of the human mind– the forest obscured by trees. The film demonstrates how focus on story, on conflict, on past, deflects and defers from centerstage the sheer teeming life power, radiant Love for which these painting were vessels.
Occasionally, when a fresh new scene splashed on screen, reproducing another of Vincent’s masterpieces, I received, anew, the (capital T) Transmission, the power of his work. His thick brush work is some of the most kinetic painting we know; it Lives, it ripples, swirls, throbs in the brain and body already. Then to see the obvious next step of animating those strokes, is almost (not quite) like gilding the lily. Animating those strokes –changing their individual colors and angles rhythmically and “randomly”, like sunlight on water, seems a case of technology catching up with destiny, and almost an afterthought. Yet it is satisfying, like caressing not only his memory, but the common human Heart.
The experience translates the power of his painting for a new, very kinetic age, and rejuvenate the power to move us that VanGogh has always had, because it taps a well of soul and human potential we all carry. It is why so many feel an intimacy with him; it is why I, Don McClean and countless others call him by his first name.
“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” the song laments. But I wonder if it is also the inverse; this world is exactly meant for one as beautiful as he– for his few moments, and a few hundred paintings– to redeem. Isn’t that the highest purpose, to Love, to celebrate Beauty, to recognize the Trees of Love that make up the Forest of the World?
Today I led a little writing group for a couple of friends. We sat in the relative quiet of DeVargas Mall and wrote from several uniquely challenging prompts. Occasionally, the setting itself provided fodder, or at least comic relief. To begin, we gathered ourselves in a meditation that I used to prepare the first prompt, part of which entailed including a dog in the scene. Just as I uttered my instructions, my friends tittered, as a dog walked by behind me. Perfect.
As our session went on, we became aware of more dogs, all shapes and sizes, strolling by with people. Finally we spied the whole assembly of dogs and owners lined up on a platform at the mall’s center–free dog training class? Free nail clipping? We never learned. But as we were wrapping up our modest labors in word-craft, a little pooch–a Peekapoo, I’m guessing– trotted by, towing a family of attendants. He stopped a few yards away and got that look. As he squatted, I commented that he was about to wash the already-glossy stone the floor. But instead, he delivered solids; cute little chocolate-covered malt balls deposited at eight-inch intervals, as he excitedly wagged onward. Even for a pack animal, the mall is a lot of stimulation. (I was a teenager once; I remember.)
The writing varied from the personal to the just, plain silly. And the time limits (and distracting dog parade) exempted all from perfection. The point was to prime our pumps, and that we did.
The prompts included: a contemplation (by dwellers of the Norther Hemisphere) on Easter in Autumn; short eulogies using five provided words; a limerick about a Blue Schmoo; “His tombstone read UberProtoPanacea;” and a Haiku about any Broadway musical.
There is no right or wrong in these circles. If we digress from the original prompt as we follow where the creative energy takes us, all the better. Prompts are just launch pads; the trajectory from there is part of the juicy mystery.
One of the only rules in these gatherings is to minimize grimaces and disclaimers about one’s work or talent. So, when I felt charge of self-dissatisfaction building in the circle, I assigned an impromptu detour, a short portrait of each of us, as if written by someone else, about that feeling and our regard for our own writing.
I close with one of the responses, which, like much free writing, reaches beyond a mere prompt into soul-speak:
It’s never enough. She is capable of such beauty; she vomits beauty. But it’s never enough, just Bactine on a Broken Heart. It cannot slake her thirst for the cure for her human condition. And so she dismisses the Miracle of the flowers blooming from her footsteps. Is this humility or just the greed of the hopeless?
Keep living, loving, writing and dancing, everyone.
The Miracle is too big for this body,
and for the little mind it is assigned
so that they keep each other blind,
forbidding each to cross the line…
of chalk, of sand… …of time.
The Miracle is too big for this body.
The sinews whine as they unwind
and sear and shear the ties that bind,
’til Liberation feels unkind.
And all relief I seek to find,
and the Light for which I pine
–and know is already mine–
hides behind the exit sign.
The Miracle engulfs this body.
I marinate in nectar’s brine,
skewered on Shiva’s triple tines,
praying for the anodyne
until dissolves the final rind
of the separated mind.
On Easter, guidance quietly whispered that I must resume writing daily. Try to post daily, it further nudged.
I will try for the former. And though the latter is unlikely, I ask advance pardon for the uptick in the inboxes of subscribers.
It is said that the personal speaks to the universal. Let us hope that even unpalatable poetry holds merit and ministry.
Today’s reflection, continuing the theme of Easter’s, flowed out on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s murder. The ethers were achy and unsettled that day. My own field had already been thick, but it helped to understand why my circuits overwhelmed.
In the darkest, closest moments of any blind passage, we believe in our weakness fully, even if falsely.
We writhe in a corrosive bath, which we fear will consume us, digest us. But it never quite does. We suffer as it picks our bones, and we protest indignantly.
We mistake victim story for humility.
Confronted with depression, the spiritual ego blanches with shame,
blanches at its “helplessness,”
its unseemly ingratitude,
its loss of glamour.
Yet, at the other end of its scepter, buried deep behind his own eyes, in the shell around its heart, is the very resistance generating this untenable impasse, the blinding cloud and intoxicating lie of weakness, isolation and deprivation.
We cry out, we reach for help that we believe could never be found in a self at wretched as “me.” Yet this prayer can be spun into the gold of humility by the very Self we conceal from our own view.
And in doing so, we take one small step out of the swamp and find ourselves—miraculously– on a ledge looking back, not sure how we got there, but seeing now evidence of the answers and validations we’d been crying for so long in vain.
After an unspeakably hard day of staggering on the razor’s edge, of relentless distortion of mind, of abject exile, I humbly ventured forth—mind expecting little; heart knowing more– to a simple yoga class, led by a simple man. I took this simple step toward the body I felt shut out of and at odds with. The ogre in my pocket growled that I should use that cash for food. So it felt that much more life-affirming to give those bills away.
Having taken action in the face of forbidding paralysis, taken one insignificant step, I disinterestedly resumed streaming Jesus Christ Superstar where it had left off the night before. On came “Gesthemene,” the number in which Jesus doubts, bargains, pleads with God and then resigns himself to his fate.
I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don’t want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed I’m not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I’m sad and tired….
And thus was I reminded, I’ve been here before, waking from a bad dream.
This too, this blind passage, is answer to prayers forgotten,
Is another contraction in the greater labor of Divine Birth.
Is but another crisis of faith.
All the knowing in the world could not convince me until I was ready.
Quiet Faith is as skilled as midwife as Loud Doubt is outmatched as abortionist.
Remember, the steps to maturity are necessarily going to be immature. God is an expert at working with mistakes and failure. In fact, that is about all God does. Mistakes do not seem to be a problem for God; they are only a problem for our ego that wants to be pure spirit. We first tend to do things wrong before we even know what right feels like. I am not sure there is any other way.
Happy Easter, All Fools.
I think it so perfect that in such serious looking times Easter and All Fools Day coincide, ushering in spring together, and reminding us that each of us must be as a child to walk in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on Earth. (Er, child-like, not childish, Mr. Trump.)
As I navigate a passage in which layers of original and constitutional depression, the very seed bed of separation consciousness, are rising to the light to be transfigured– wrapping body and psyche in a heavy blanket, revealing mis-stacked blocks at my core– I found solidarity in Richard Rohr’s Easter contemplation this morning.
I share most of his piece here below, followed, for contrast, by an unpolished airing– a riffing, if you will –on depression’s mysterious and morphic presence. This piece is not complaint as much as allowing a natural keening from a sight of oft-suppressed torsion, and an honoring of the beauty even in the forces that rend the earth and cloud our vision.
A mystic recognizes depression is a phenomena of embodiment, a walking with the wounds, even in resurrection.
…It is no accident that Luke’s Resurrection account in the Gospel has Jesus saying, “I am not a ghost! I have flesh and bones, as you can see” (see Luke 24:39-43). To Thomas he says, “Put your finger in the wounds!” (John 20:27). In other words, “I am human!”—which means to be wounded and resurrected at the same time. Christ returns to his physical body, and yet he is now unlimited by space or time and is without any regret or recrimination while still, ironically, carrying his wounds. “Before God, our wounds are our glory,” as Lady Julian of Norwich reflected. 
That Jesus’ physical wounds do not disappear is telling. The mystical, counterintuitive message of death and resurrection is powerfully communicated through symbol. The major point is that Jesus has not left the human sphere; he is revealing the goal, the fullness, and the purpose of humanity itself, which is “that we are able to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even in this wounded and wounding world. Yes, resurrection is saying something about Jesus, but it is also saying a lot about us, which is even harder to believe. It is saying that we also are larger than life, Being Itself, and therefore made for something good, united, and beautiful. Our code word for that is Heaven.
Many do believe in the bodily resurrection, as do I. But, in a way, that asks little except a mere intellectual assertion of a religious doctrine. We can go much further than that. I choose to believe in some kind of bodily resurrection because it localizes the Christ mystery in this material and earthly world and in our own bodies, the only world we know and the world that God created and loves.
Depression is a starving artist.
It has so much more to say than it can find means to speak and audience to hear.
When I feel it, like a jealous, drama-queen sibling, trying to upstage life force and belonging, it shows its truest colors, the ones even it cannot see: the rich stream of sensations, unlikely juxtapositions, running colors of subconscious.
From its acrid, steaming core billows brilliance, fueled by stolen anger.
Let it intone. Listen to it. The power that throbs from its too- tightly-wrapped wound is nuclear. Let it weep and seep; then pour off the details of the story, and breathe to the seeds.
When I go out alone in public, to cinema or theater, I take a journal, because, brushing up against humanity that way enables me to perceive the contours of this companion inside me as an entity with which my body-mind shares real-estate. I let it speak. I let it use the colors of the crowd, and the words in my vocabulary, to riff and rap and remind us both of a vitality we forget when it’s just the two of us.
Tonight I went to a very good play, wonderfully executed, called Constellations. While waiting for the performance, I let the demon have the pen and sketch itself from my point of view.
Draining Count Fistula
Under my dais, demure doom,
Under my daffodil blanket of unrest,
Under my heavy aching breath,
Lung parched by popcorn’s perfume.
Depression by any other name
still hangs like rusted fuselage
from the ceiling, ugly but entitled
enough to command market price
of the emperor’s new electorate.
I have detached.
I gaze at 1,000 differently-dressed mirrors,
and I recognize everyone and no one,
feel no familial love,
only the numb confusion
of one who is only home with family
alone under the stars.
My horizons have shrunk
as my eyes have taken root underground.
Depression is resistance to something forgotten.