Friday, June 30, 2017

An old woman from another century

An old woman from another century
crossed Sandy Boulevard
as I waited for the light
black skirt falling below her knees
black stockings, black shawl
black kerchief too big for her head
pocketbook over one arm
shopping bag over the other
she looked plucked
from Corsica or Sicily

The age showed in her walk
the stride of youth long gone
as it is in me too
although I still pretend

There are other old women on foot
in my neighborhood
frequent enough to look familiar
heavyset Russians
in mismatched clothes
from the 70s
pulling little carts behind them
homeless, toothless women
pushing a big cart in front of them

But this little crow of a woman
looks collaged onto Sandy
with its cannabis billboards
and Subaru traffic

The light stays red
and I wonder what language she speaks
and what memories lie
in that heart and body
I wonder too if she will buy
any of the same things
I am on my way to buy

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nutrition and violence

Not long after I stopped drinking, I also gave up caffeinated coffee and sodas. When I checked into the treatment center, I was given a massive dose of B vitamins to help repair my frazzled nervous system. Alcohol and caffeine are terrible for the nerves; they strip the protective sheath off the nerves themselves. Having raw nerves is a literal expression.

When my nerves were raw, I was incredibly irritable. The slightest frustration would set me off. I also had high blood pressure. It isn't the alcohol that causes the blood pressure problem; it's the sugars in the alcohol. Combine high blood pressure with raw nerves and you've got a walking emotional time bomb.

When I shifted my diet exclusively to protein, veggies, and fruit, my mood changed drastically and I became unrelentingly cheerful and relaxed and peaceful. 

So what does this have to do with violence? If we consider that a huge number of the people in our culture eat diets of alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars, refined flour (which is a form of sugar), and processed foods with chemicals that tax the liver, is it any wonder that violence is epidemic? Those in prison eat these foods because we serve it to them. Our poor eat these foods because it's what they know and what they can afford. Our kids eat them. And we seldom see the connection. I've been wondering what the Max train stabber eats and drinks when he's on his own. I've been wondering if the diet of White supremacists contributes to their anger and violence. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An ode to the demons of the Internet

are my nemesis.

I need the machines
in my life to work
and when they don't
my powerlessness to fix
or even understand
confronts me
with a universe
that is closed to me.

The mysteries of God
of the Big Bang
of the human heart
are as nothing
compared with
a persistent request
to enter a different password
when I know I just
put in the right one.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Trying out an antidote to depression

I've been reading the work of Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, and came across one of his most successful exercises for those who suffer from depression. Fortunately, I don't have clinical depression. Most of the depressive episodes I had vanished when I stopped drinking (duh!) and although I get blue sometimes, it's in the normal course of life. But the older I get, the more interested I am in being happier so I decided I'd give the exercise a try.

It's very simple. Each night you write down three things that went well during the day AND you write down how you contributed to that success. That's it.

I've done gratitude lists before and I felt good about doing it but it never really changed anything for me. This has a different feel to it and it's the second part (our contribution) that is the critical piece. For we begin to see how we can impact our lives directly, how what we do makes a difference.

Seligman has researched this with thousands of people and just about everyone who does it for six or more weeks is happier, including the severely depressed. All I can say is that it's working for me!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A poem from April's poem-a-day challenge

Sunday leisure doesn't happen
in my home very often
It's a gym day
and my morning 300 words
on the novel occurs
without regard to the calendar
but my gym buddy
tweaked her back
and wanted rest
and I gave myself a pass too
choosing poetry over treadmill
although the blue sky
a rarity this spring
beckons after breakfast
and I stroll down the street
composing verses as I go

Monday, June 5, 2017

How a book on Mumbai is helping me understand white supremacy

A couple of years ago, I picked up $1 copy of a book called Maximum City by Suketu Mehta that I'd read about online. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2004 and is a journalist's experience of Bombay/Mumbai. He was a kid there, moved to New York, and then took his family back there for a few years to see what it would be like to return home. The book is fascinating and very well written  and presents a whole world of human experiences that are foreign to me.

I happened to pick the book up a few weeks ago. After the recent tragic deaths of two Good Samaritans on Portland's mass transit, like many of us I've been thinking about how someone comes to have so much hate and violence at the ready. Curiously,  Mehta's book has offered me some real insights. One of his chapters concerns gang warfare in Bombay and includes these ideas:
  • The oppressed want nothing more than to become the oppressor. 
  • Most young men (15-25) are wired with a love of strife, of fighting, of proving themselves. Young men in a minority are even more inclined in this direction.
  • When no one loves you growing up, you find some other group to belong to. 
It's not hard to imagine that young white men, like young black men, feel oppressed in our culture today. Jobs are hard to come by, money is hard to come by, acceptance and respect are hard to come by. The oppressed want nothing more than to become the oppressor, which is just what the young white man on the Max train did.

Our culture of war counts on young men being wired with a love of strife and proving themselves. Not all young men experience this, of course, but lots do. Violence is this energy sent in the wrong direction.

Jeremy Joseph Christian (the irony is not lost on any of us) is not a slick, handsome Ted Bundy. This is an overweight, unattractive young man with most likely limited resources. While it's possible he grew up in a loving home where women and animals were well treated, I doubt it. This is someone with not much left to loe who was seeking acceptance and found it in a group that espouses hatred. They took him in.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking to excuse anything he did. But Mehta's book helps me understand a little more how we all play a part in this. How do we provide something different for these young people in our schools and communities? How do we make up for what they most likely don't get at home?