Thursday, June 6, 2024

Sorting Out Time, Personal Secrets, Gotta Have Some Lucky

June 6, 2024

This morning I woke up thinking about June 6, 1944. But I will leave that for another time. It's summer here. At last.

I've been sorting out time, summers are short and beautiful here in the north country. I am lucky to carve out enough to do a few worthwhile things---helping with the garden though Susan does the real work, riding the bike because age and bones are real, spending time in my study with the gods and the dead. How lucky. University life is still necessary, likely good for me since I might otherwise see no actual living beings other than the postman, but at this point the college steals time I would spend otherwise. There are five enrolled in a class that once had hundreds. Who has changed?

How can we really live when all we do is work? The American way, late stage capitalism is truly, utterly soulless. Who could we be if we had some time to sort that out?
For now, I am able to find a few hours to swivel back and forth between the work----the Sansrkit and Tamil I need for Camp and fall Rajanaka offerings, this is largely a pleasure---and the Bard who is now always a pleasure.
It is a life goal that I should have more than one complete, slow reading of Shakespeare. This takes time. At least for me. I didn't read much as a kid. But I've not been alone: Harold Bloom makes it a joy, such erudition and clarity. Dozens of his lectures are free on YouTube. Professor Bloom, thank you. Why did I not go to Yale and make this my life? Bloom has far too narrow a view of greatness---clearly he knows nothing of Kalidasa, Chomei, Dogen, Bhavabhuti, Tu Fu or Li Po. But he sure knows his Bard.
I read Romeo and Juliet first at 14. I remember so vividly. We had this school book that made the noble effort of comparing R&J with West Side Story. Of course this had never occurred to me. I loved West Side Story, who could not? Now to be told it had come from Shakespeare? I don't think my parents knew any of that, they were once Broadway but never Globe. By the time I came along all of that past of theirs had vanished or had to be foregone just to survive.
Bernstein premiered WSS on Broadway in 1957, the film came in '61, I had seen it every time it came on TV, black&white in our house. I wanted to dance like that. I'd seen Astaire and Kelly too. That was music I have never stopped loving. (I'm on an AmSongbook/Standards bender as I write.)
But I never learned to do those things. I wanted to play music with that kind of soul and wit and attitude. But I was too busy playing sports, being a kid outside, chasing rock n' roll and girls as soon as I knew there were girls. It was considered---and I hope you will forgive me this language---you were called a "sissy" if you dug those things. How stupid and horrid and ignorant that was---but such was the age.
I grew up with these artists and musicians as my literal neighbors. Now I have learned more, that my father had done some of these things, but things he never spoke about---recently found out that he had jobs as a Broadway show rehearsal pianist, playing at night and did some Tin Pan Alley work as song-plugger, and then there were under study roles as a dancer. Why didn't he tell me any of this? Why didn't he ask me if I wanted those lessons when all I knew was Little League? We don't know until we're lucky enough to learn.
Then at 16 I was taken to see Othello. I had been brought into NYC culture by a church choir mistress who had a full time job at Riverside and a part time job at the church I attended alone, without my family's slightest interest. What kind of kid sends himself to church? But it's true. It took a long time to learn that the theology is just lies, manipulation, and an endless dose of existential fear in pursuit of certainty (another lie). But what I had fallen into were people not much interested in any of that stuff---but who had realized how religion held together culture and art, and how "church" meant civil rights, changing the world, ending the war.
So in this world I learned what my parents knew little about: Lincoln Center culture, literature, The New Yorker, a world of museums and Chinese food and the civil rights movement. Those last two years before college I was just lucky: adults showed me another kind of world and then the late nights I created alone (or with a few select pals) downtown for jazz at The Vanguard, Seventh Ave South, The Blue Note. I would catch the last bus across the bridge, never be found missing in the mornings, my parents none the wiser.
My parents who did not approve any of those "church people" but I think they saw correctly that the priest was abuser or at least more than a little sketchy. I was spared because my "church people" had warned me of him and spoke diffidently about religion itself.
But the parents could not object to what they did not know. My secrets were best left in vagaries, "Oh the Church people are taking me to the ballet..." But those folks---bless them---not much interested in religion as such, thank goodness, only music and art, poetry and theatre. I learned how pipe organs are built and that it was okay to play jazz if it was in the undercroft after hours.
Now when I listen to Professor Bloom lecture on the Bard I am able to follow, read with love not struggle just to understand what is merely being said. And I think about being lucky and about how we're just born to the worlds, to the parents, to the life we are without consent but---again if we are very lucky---with choices. I think there are a few more to make. But ya' gotta have some of The Lucky.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Enter Rajanaka Fire: Repost from Facebook Group January 2024

"My Fellow Americans..." I've Changed the Name of the Group, Again.
Many of you can still hear Richard Nixon's voice here. It sends shivers down my spine. That of course is when we thought the worse thing that could happen to America was Nixon. Oh my, were we wrong. Reagan. Bush. And now this. Because last night some 164,000+ people thought that Trump should be president again. You mean the sheer chaos, menace, and con game wasn't enough the first time?

Part of me wants to bury my head in the sand until I come out to vote in November. Another me wants to sneak into Canada far enough north never to be discovered, simply disappear with polar bears. Suz and I talk about leaving but who wants these old folks? I would like to think he'll get trounced but I was wrong in 2016, which leads me back to these 164THOUSAND people. I feel ashamed, bewildered, angry, maddened, provoked, downright splenetic when I think these are actual voters, real people this corrupt, stupid, beguiled, or actually as vile. To think we have 10 months more before, no matter the result of a free and fair election, he rejects any result that does not confer upon him absolute power. Anyone paying 20 seconds of attention can hear sane people shouting from the rafters, genuinely alarmed, pleading with people to see the danger and the depravity. But no. This is Amur'ka where stupitwhitepeople and even some others are determined to live in an alternative reality as ruinous and deluded as we know them to be.

So what do we do? Hold our breath? Endless pranayama? Resort to the utter bullshit that It's All One and there is nothing to worry about? Say hopeful nonsense that soothes, dismisses, and mitigates? This situation is enough to make me read the Yoga Sutras as if that inane, escapist palaver were possible. You know, sort out your prakrti and enter into realization of purusa that is immune, disinfected, and forever unsusceptible to the real world. The alternative? I dunno, some Tantric claim to grandiosity, unanswerable authority, and personal prepotency that claims nothing can affect me? Good luck with that. And if you need that kinda' guru, I know just where to look. We could sing Hari Krsna all night not just cause we (might) think it's fun (please, go knock yerself out, I'll be waiting in the hall with my headphones locked into Coltrane), but because we think there is a Mystical, Divine, Blissful state that can relieve us or, better yet, save us. I'm not going to rain on your kirtan (at least not more than I just have) but I don't think that's gonna make this mess better once the hari wears off yer krsna. So what next?
Not every Eagles song sucks because we learn that every form of refuge has its price. I'm gonna need to work on my own personal Peaceful Easy Feeling, no doubt. And it's my own fault that I thought it couldn't get worse than Nixon (or maybe Reagan) and that Obama's election really did mean something. Well, what it meant was I underestimated our fellow citizens for whom I have no more f**ks to give except that that is not an option. Should we give up, not care, ignore, deny, or retreat, the villains will ruin not just me and you but people waaaaaay more vulnerable. We cannot abdicate or fail to act somehow.
I have never been on Joe's case 'cause I think he's the most consequential president in my lifetime---in terms of meaningful legislation actually passed, to say nothing of having paused utter catastrophe. But maybe we stop hating the gub'mint and start being citizens.
A student yesterday came to my office hours. He said, "I can't possibily assimilate the amount of information you offer in a lecture. Can you tell me what the important points are?" I replied, "You're not in college for me to tell you what I think is important since clearly I think it's all important. You're in college to figure out what you think is important. Sorting that out is why you are here, the information is just...information. What's important will will require tat you learn how to think." We're going to need to sort things out.
Thanks for Joseph for the suggestion. I think he nailed it. The world is on fire. We'd better sort this out before it really is too late.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Trump's Immunity Tells the Story and Democracy Itself at Stake

It's mid January 2024 and I ask where shall we be one year from now, no matter the clear outcome of the coming election? Let's take a nearer look to offer some future predictions.

I shan't go on about the despicable behavior we witnessed again yesterday in the NY Federal Court. Suffice it to say, Trump proved himself again above the law by acting in ways that would not be tolerated by any other defendant. There are many reasons why this behavior will further bolster his support with the R-MAGA Party, which is now the entire R-Party. (You've likely taken note of endorsements this week from Rubio, Cruz, et.al. The rest will fall in line, be assured.)
Why does this fascism appeal? Let us leave aside the religious machinations that form the psychopathy of Christian Evangelicals. (To say that these people are "not real Christians" is, btw, utter nonsense. To suggest that there are other Christians offended by them is merely to repeat the common historical fact that religious identity is itself disputatious. People are who they say they are, always start there. Then sort out who's who and why they think as much. This is critical thinking 101.) The simplest (not the only) explanation is that all of his behavior can be summarized in one word: immunity. Immunity means that whatever he does or says is utterly beyond consequence and that any suggestion otherwise will be met with violent threats and retribution. So again, why is this appealing to so many? For those terrified, insecure, aggrieved, entitled, and convicted of their own victimization, such claims to certainty, impunity, violence, and immunity from consequence is their own greatest aspiration. That Trump does it, means he emulates their own depraved ambition and yearning. That this will result in vindictive cruelties or demand mendacity, conspiracy, denial of fact, rejection of law, civility, or decency is not as important as the power this enjoins. Their aim is to gain such power by any means and sustain it however possible, including violence. None of this is speculation: we have a proven record given their use of the Big Lie, insurrection, etc. None of these behaviors depend on their beliefs. It matters not whether they actually believe Trump's lies or make them their own. They may repeat all of his claims but this has little to do with conviction, belief, or even faith. Rather, saying whatever will provide the emotional satisfaction and fuel their deeper need to experience the "immunity or else" effect is all that is required. To keep asking whether MAGAs believe this or that claim is to misunderstand their agenda. Beliefs are always a cover for deeper needs, hopes, aspirations, and wants. Pull away this cover and the pleasure, the
feeling that MAGAs get from being aggrieved, angry, fearful, certain, and immune is more important than any stated belief or idea.
Once immunity has become the most important feature of one's deeper motivations and actions then virtually anything is possible. There are literally no longer rules except those that can be imposed on others. The mob may turn on itself or any individual, paranoia and loyalty are its most operative functions. Each can claim to be acting, as their God does, with impunity because they have the power and power itself is righteous justification. (This is not an unfair reading of the God of Job's claim over Job.) Fascism is its own religion, Trump is their savior, they want the same power he has to be beyond any reach of accountability, to do as they please, claim any prerogative, impose any behavior, punish any objectors without due process, and above all scapegoat their "others". To compare MAGA with Nazi fascism is no longer a disqualifying exaggeration. To fail to compare MAGA with these precedents of history will prove fatal to democracy. My real concern is not that the majority of Americans agree with this kind of racist, fascist politics. Rather, it is that the majority is either too naive to understand that this is the only matter that must be considered come November or too indifferent to notice. Personal resignation and nihilism are now ordinary features of the American psyche.

"Progressives" may not want to vote for Biden, the young may be too aggrieved and refuse to see the danger their third party vote poses. Many will be too preoccupied, indifferent, or estranged to appreciate how the blessings of a pluralist democracy will vanish and what that means for their lives. Will the Dobbs decision have electoral effects? Will folks care about the facts rather than their feelings and perceptions of the economy, the effect on international relations, the loss of freedom across the world? As America goes so goes the world, only for worse. It can yet be worse as the planet burns and the forces of totalitarianism and religious fanaticism bring more death and devastation. None of this is predictive. I do think Trump can win and I despair that recognition because it tells me who my neighbors and fellow Americans really are. I am not only appalled by the fact that this will be a close election, I cannot even respect those who abdicate our broken politics when faced with this emergency before us. This is duty's arena. Those who can endorse Trump are beyond the pale and persuasion---they have had years to see what it before us, no matter what they chose in the past. Those who sit this out are not friends to decency, neither intellectually or morally fit for citizenship in a democracy. It's going to be a long 11 months and then no matter the outcome of the election, the Immune will not admit defeat. Is violence inevitable even in the face of a crushing defeat? Of course it is. Those who cannot admit to any fact but their own certainty to rule will not hesitate to do anything to regain power. I'm going to change the name of this Group again. We started as Rajanaka Storm and changed to Sky when Trump lost. It's time we raise the alarms again. Suggestions welcome.