Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

10 January, 2017

A question of faith and the problem of a proportional response

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. - John Adams

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be! - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 

Lately I've been thinking about my father, and what he would say if he were still alive to see the state of the world... or if he would say anything at all.

He was a retired Air Force Master Sargent. When I talk to people about him, I most often begin with that detail. This sometimes gives people the impression that I grew up a military brat. But I did not. It would be incorrect to assume, however, that just because the old man managed to get his walking papers* that his 20 years of military service had no impact on him or his family.

He was also 16 years older than my mother. He was born in 1935, and grew up in a very different America than the America most of the parents of most of my school mates grew up in. He grew up during the end of the Great Depression World War II. He entered the military -- the Navy first -- when he was 17 years old, during the Korean War.** He entered the Air Force in time for Vietnam.

The Old Man never really talked about his military experience, except for a few funny stories. He didn't talk about a lot of things. He was waiting for his sons to be older, I think.

He never said much about his politics, either. I did ask him once about how he voted and he told me he was a Republican but didn't always vote that way. Another time, during an intensely religious phase of my life***, we spoke about abortion. He posed a question to me that has continued to inform my thoughts on the matter. That question was "How many women AND children died from back alley abortions?"

My father believed in a nation of laws. He believed that democracy meant something and it was worth defending. He believed that you didn't have to be the loudest in order to stand up for what is right. And even though he took a very practical approach to the world, he believed that some things were right and some things were wrong.

I try very hard not to paint him into what I would prefer him to be. He was not, in a way, a radical. He was not a simple man, either, because he understood that life could be very complex. He strove to be a simple man, I think. He lived based on a set of ideals, and he lived quietly in as much as his large personality and his considerable vanity would allow. He loved his family. He did what he thought was right.

The most difficult part of being a son is forging yourself away from your father's shadow.  As a son, I want to live in such a way that were he still alive, he would be proud of me. This takes me down some interesting paths. I may never know if the Old Man would like who I am now and the ideals I strive to live my life by. Like him, I strive to be a simple man. A man of substance. A man of use. A man who holds certain principles as absolute, but is willing to embrace the idea that life is rarely as absolute as our ideals.

I find myself looking the America I am living in now and I cannot help but think the core ideas my father lived by have no place here. I live in a state where its elected officials have proven they have no regard for people's lives, people's safety, or people's health. I live in a country that has embraced a cynical lack of faith in democracy and our natural rights by electing a egotistical megalomaniac that has set his sights on fighting personal vendettas, fueling hate, and pushing people on with pyrite delusions and calling them the golden future.

I find myself in place where I am worried about my family, my community, and my country.  If I were a solider, I would fight. But I am not a soldier. I am an artist and a a dreamer.

These are fronts I understand.

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* It took him a long time to get released from the reserves after he left active service. 1975, if  I am remembering from his records correctly. Apparently the military didn't want to let him go.
** He was "asked" by his high school principle to leave.
*** To paraphrase, I was far more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of it. 


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19 June, 2014

Learning Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: Fathers, Teachers, Elders, Part 2

[Part one can be found here]

Me (Left), Dad, and my older brother. Dad was my first hero.
The best and most important lesson I have learned from my father is that I am not him.

I am not him. I am not my grandfather, nor his father, nor his father. I am not them. And while it is fashionable in some circles to worship our dead*  doing so means we lose not only something important from them, but from ourselves, too.

Although I grew up listening to stories about my grandfather Daniel, the truth is my Dad told me very little about his own life. I've written before about the book he and I never got to write -- a memoir of sorts we were going to title Every Man Is A VIP. He told me he was waiting for me to be old enough to understand.

Over the years since his death -- this September 3rd he will be gone 24 years -- I have come to different conclusions as to why he thought it was important to wait. After all, don't fathers regale their sons with stories about youth and prowess? That seemed to be the pattern of most of the fathers of the sons I went to school with, went to church with. Not that he didn't share stories about himself, but almost always they were funny stories. Most often, he was not the hero of his stories. He was never the villain either. When he told me the reason he never ate bananas he did not shy away from his own culpability. (He ate bad ones in the Navy while at port in Hong Kong... and so did the entire ship, including the Captain who ordered them NOT to eat the bananas. The entire crew ended up with dysentery... including the Captain.) When he told me the story about his military induction, he did not hold back on his feelings of inadequacy standing naked in a cold gymnasium with a thousand other young men. All men have their failures and all men have their triumphs. But for Dad, a story about him 1) was funny and 2) was educational, even and especially at his own expense.

The only time he told hero stories was when he talked about his own father, who was far from perfect and probably in need of some understanding, if not revision.

Grandpa Daniel "Boone" Parsons, with me and my brother

 Men are not perfect creatures and it does us all a disservice to worship our elders to the point that they become symbols of divine infallibility.

Grandpa Parsons died when I was 3, so my own memories of him are limited. Most of what I know about him, I know from stories Dad told. I learned a little more from My Dear Sweet Ma, and some from my Grandma Dunn, who knew him because they lived across the street from Dan and Minnie Parsons on S. Charity Street. He was not an easy man, though he, too, loved to tell stories.  I have come to suspect that my dad's ambivalence about dogs is rooted in the fact that maybe sometimes the dogs ate better than he did. Grandpa was fond of whiskey even though (and probably because) his wife supported the temperance movement. He was also something of a flirt and probably a philanderer, which made Grandma Parsons terribly (and likely understandably) jealous.

Then again, being personable isn't the same as taking your pants off and Bethel, like all small towns, has always operated more on rumor than substantiated fact.

He was a stubborn and argumentative man. One of my favorite stories about him is the one in which he stopped speaking to his barber over a political argument. He still went to the barber. After all, there was only one in town.  He just didn't speak to him. But he was also a man who took no guff, who did not simper and skulk.



Grandpa (Clay J, Sr.) Dunn at Bantam.
Grandpa Dunn died in 1988. He worked with his hands, which means he also worked with his mind. I once watched him working on a design for one of his carpentry projects. He was drawing it out on a napkin at the kitchen table. It struck me, being as young as I was and thoughtless as I was, that he was far better at complex math than I was at simple math -- and that he had dropped out of school.

Most of his world was cut off from me. I was too sick to be in his workshop, too sick to wander the woods much... or at least, that was impression I was given until I was 10 or so. Most of his world was cut off from me, but the one thing I learned from him, though he spoke very little around me, was that being educated is not the same thing as knowing. And while I was being raised to embrace education, I tucked away the knowledge that there is more than one way to learn something, and that I could learn by doing as much as I could by sitting in some stale classroom, waiting to be told what is important.

I keep that in mind every time I step into the classroom to teach. This lesson keeps me grounded as teacher more than any pedagogy.

It wasn't until recently that began to (maybe) understand the Old Man's motivations in not telling me the rest of his stories. Every boy grows up in his father's shadow**. But there's a point where the son must extract himself from that shadow, whether it is an oppressive one or whether it is a comfortable one. A boy doesn't really become a man until he fully extracts himself from that shadow. My Old Man castes a large shadow, and so did his father, and I'm guessing that his father did before that. Dad had to leave home before he could properly see himself in the light of day. The same was true for his father. The same was true for me. I like to think now that the Old Man understood this -- that bearing down too much on a son will keep him forever in the shadow. He did not want to be worshiped. He wanted to be understood when I had the appropriate context and experience.

I am not my father. But I am my father's son. I don't need to sit and wonder what The Old Man would do in any given situation because it is not my father who is in any of those situations anymore. But I can look back over what he taught me, the things he tried to tell me, and I can find my own answers. 

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 *Worshiping the dead is not the same thing as Remembrance. Remembrance implies meditation, consideration and reconsideration, paying attention, and LEARNING. To worship the dead means fitting them into whatever convenient framework makes us feel better about ourselves and our world view, no matter how incorrect that view might be. See also: every public school history textbook. See also: every sermon by James Hagee, Pat Robertson, Robert Tildon, Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts. See also: any nightly "world" news show on a major television network.
** This is true whether the father is present or not. Absence does not negate the father. Absence just leaves more room for interpretation and selfish revision.

01 May, 2014

Up The Dirty, Sacred River May Day and Mulch

First of all, Fellow Workers of the World, let me wish you a happy May Day! For  those of you who may be unaware, May 1st is when people around the world with a sense of history celebrate the contributions that labor -- both organized and oppressed -- have made to the world. May Day resonates with members of different unions in jobs both industrial and office around the world. May Day resonates with those who keep a careful eye on history and another on current events beyond the catapulted propoganda we are assaulted with from memeworld*.  

The above image is of an 1886 flyer. Working people in this country were fighting for an 8 hour work day -- which at that time, was labled dirty and dastardly socialism.  May Day was an attempt to organize previously unorganized and already unionized (aka:  harrassed) behind the single idea that people who work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of the work they do... and that the people who actually do the work deserve to see the most benefit and the most reward from that labor. 

Friends of mine and Fellow Wobs are gathering all over  the world to celebrate today. They will sing songs -- new and old -- and put out the call yet again that the only people who can fix the problems of the world is EVERYBODY. Today, if all goes well, the Kentucky General Membership Branch of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World... The ONE BIG UNION) should be officially chartered. Some fellow workers are gathering in Indianapolis to celebrate and remember today - and I am with them in spirit.

I am here, on the outskirts of Losantiville, planting flowers.

Digging in the dirt, and laying down fresh mulch in front of My Dear Sweet Ma's place is how am choosing to celebrate May Day. It is a small thing. Certaily it is not the sort of thing I need to assume is going to be willfully ignored by the news media, as I am sure that any May Day celebration here or abroad will probably be. Planting some forget-me-nots and a few bushes may not seem like an appropriate way to celebrate what I consider to to be a historic and important day.

On the other hand, I can think of no better metaphor for making the world a better place for everyone than to plant living things in the hope that they will grow.  The actual work of the world is like this: small and deliberate and full of care. The actual work of the world that will ultimately change the world does not include bombs or bullets; bombs and bullets fail in the long scope of history.  The actual work of the world is some people singing while others plant quiet flowers.

11 September, 2011

The Three Tenses: Some thoughts on 9/11, Football, and The Sacred Long Memory

I rolled out of bed this morning to get some work done before the Cincinnati Bengals play their first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns -- because, in fact, all work does stop for me when there's a football game on. I realize this relegates me to a stereotype, but I don't really care. That I was never an athlete doesn't change the fact that I enjoy being a spectator. That the Bengals are trying to recover from a lousy season, the departure of a whiny quarterback, and an owner who's head is permanently planted up his own ass doesn't change the fact that I'm wearing orange and black today. In spite of the past, in spite of everything, life and faith goes on.

After feeding the cats and taking a shower and making coffee, I made my way upstairs to my desk. The weather is starting to cool off enough that I will be able to spend more days up here, writing. (Old house, the physics of heat, and the inability to afford an air conditioner all played a role in what I am now thinking of the Ennui '11: The Summer That Nearly Killed My Soul.) I need this space -- some kind of space -- where I can simply sit and write and be alone with all the muck that goes on in my head. This morning, part of that muck means doing the day job. Tomorrow morning's newspaper deadline is looming already, and there are public officials to expose, lampoon, and embarrass into doing the right thing. (Save all your objective media bullshit, please. The Fourth Estate is rarely objective. And when it is, no one reads it, listens to it, or watches it, because it's as dull as the list of contents on the back of a box of Hamburger Helper. You want your journalists to be honest, ethical, and merciless, not objective... which means that Fox News is not really a news outlet, but a well-funded propaganda machine -- since they've proven they are neither honest nor ethical.)

The thing I am faced with when I get online, however -- because I have to check my email and Facebook before I can do anything... damned digital age -- are people's thoughts, remembrances, and tributes to 9/11.

And while I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers, I will not pine about that here. Any attempt on my part to insert myself into a momentous and tragic historical event would be pointless.

The focus of such remembrances should be on the people who died, their families, and the subsequent  responders and Ground Zero workers who have and continue to sacrifice a decade after the event. The focus ought to be that even though it has been 10 years, that we shouldn't lull ourselves into junking the events of September 11, 2001, into some kind of convenient decade package -- which is what pundits and pseudo-historians tend to do. Decade packaging is a myth. The events that shape us as individuals and as a society do not stop and start at 10 year intervals.

Remembrance is not a word I use lightly. The very word itself has a kind of religious resonance for me. It reminds me of the religious zealotry I hid behind in my youth. "This do in remembrance of me," was what Jesus said, according to Luke 22:19, as he ate with his disciples at Passover. And while I have since rejected the metaphor for God and spirituality I was raised on, that specific word retains a particular resonance that never fades.

For me, though, remembrance continues to take on a larger, longer, and deeper view. Responses to the 9/11 attacks are a part of what I have come to think of as The Long Memory. This collection of stories, songs, and poems provide the permanent under current that keeps humanity moving. The Long Memory exists above, beyond, below, and outside of history. History is an abstract collection of events that are generally told with a specific narrative in mind. The Sacred Long Memory -- indeed, it may the one and only sacred thing -- ties together the past, the present, and the future. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. That is the purpose and the meaning: ensuring that the past stays with us and informs our present, and takes us into a better future.

The tragedies and travesties that have occurred as a result of the those horrific events are as much a part of the event as the planes flying into the towers and into the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93. Wars and rumors of wars. Torture, the silencing of dissenting voices, the xenophobia and all too familiar brand of Nationalism (think Hitler and Mussolini) that some people mistake for patriotism and "defending democracy." The soldiers who have sacrificed life and limb to keep Halliburton in business and to maintain the high price of a barrel of oil are just as much a part of those events as well. Gitmo Prison, Abu Graib, and the various crimes against humanity committed in our name are a part of those events, too.. and they continue to this day. President Obama has managed to continue most of the same war tactics that horrified rank and file Democrats during the Bush II regime. We're still fighting an expensive war in Afghanistan that no one talks about. We're dealing with a lingering recession here -- that, admittedly, Obama inherited -- but given the intransigence of the GOP, the tomfoolery of Tea Baggers, and the sheer spinelessness of the Democratic Party, there's no end in sight that doesn't hurt the poor.

And when I speak of remembrance, I also speak of the fact that 3000 + people died on 9/11 as a direct result of years of hawkish and exploitative American foreign policy. (Don't forget, Osama bin Laden was CIA trained to be our proxy during the Cold War to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also, maybe one of the reasons the Bush/Cheney regime was so sure Saddam Hussein had WMDs was because WE GAVE HIM SOME when he was our proxy against Iran, which was backed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)

These things, and the stories and songs and poems that have come as a result, are all a part of the Long Memory.

There are those who would make 9/ll a national holiday, and I can see their point. But it's not an idea I support.  How many people really know why Memorial Day is a holiday? Or Labor Day?  Did we immortalize December 7th, 1941 with a day off of school and work? (The answer is no. After all, it's too close to Christmas, the high and holy day that celebrates consumerism and egg nog.)

Remembrance means moving forward and carrying the Long Memory with us every single day. Adding to it every single day. Passing it on every single day. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. Part of engaging in Remembrance means that life and faith -- faith that some good can still happen -- must go on.

And the last time I checked, "to do" is an active verb. It means to perform a specific act, as in DIYDS. (Do It Your Damn Self.)