Friday, February 25, 2011


(I was well into writing this entry when I stumbled on a notice of the Rally to Restore the American Dream at Daily Kos. It's a good start for what I'm talking about, but only a start. And how does it happen that I only just discovered it? I try to keep my eyes and ears open... It's far too late in coming to the attention that is needed.)
So, yes...
We need to hit the streets, in massive numbers, everywhere, throughout the country. Not just on one day, soon forgotten about and dismissed by those in power. We need a determined and sustained effort to make our voices heard.
We now have superlatively brave examples in the least likely places, from Cairo to Tripoli, to Madison, Wisconsin. Yet we continue to sit down passively under the onslaught of mindless, nation-destroying right-wing rhetoric.
There is no need for this, no reason for it. I believe that "we" are more than "they." They are just louder, more ruthless, more domineering.
We are a compassionate nation. We care about those less fortunate than ourselves, and we are prepared to sacrifice in order that they have a better chance at equality--not to mention the basic protections they deserve against poverty, disease and hunger.
We expect no less a sacrifice from the very fortunate, the very wealthy individuals, whose numbers and wealth continue to grow in defiance of all need and reason. We expect those individuals to share proportionately in the common sacrifice. We expect the same of corporations now posting unprecedented profits: they should be shouldering their share of the burden. Too many of them have fed shamelessly at the public trough and still manage to avoid taxes altogether.
We complain about the weakness and inefficacy of the Democrats we elect to represent us, too easily forgetting that they need more than just our vote. They need our continuing support and our reminders. They need to know that they can count on us to back them up. They also need to know we'll keep them honest when they show signs of selling out.
The initiative I mentioned earlier is unfortunately nowhere near achieving national groundswell in the United States. My guess is that few people beyond the more vocal activists have even heard of it, and it's scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, February 26. Even if it manages to draw large crowds, as I would hope, I'm afraid that it will simply come and go, like the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity.
My wish is for organizations like Daily Kos to join with MoveOn, ActBlue, Democracy For America and others, and with bloggers and social activists nationwide to spearhead a sustained, unyielding campaign of protest marches against shamefully unfair budget cuts and deficit-exploding tax evasion. Perhaps this is their intention. I hope so. I commit to joining in any march or demonstration within reasonable travel distance.
We need to make it clear that we refuse to worship at the delusional altar of "deficit reduction" without appropriate tax increases, and demand that politicians work to reinstate the concept of tax payment as a privilege, not a punishment. We need to make it clear that we are not ready to sacrifice vital services like education, health care and public safety at the feet of the demonstrably false idol of "spending cuts."
It's time to hit the streets. Time for us to be heard.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Making Space

When Ellie and I are in Los Angeles, we make a point of taking a half hour in the morning to walk around the hill on which we have now lived for forty years. We walk up past the little house we rented for a couple of years, starting in 1970, when we first knew each other; and down the other side of the hill past the big old Mediterranean-style house we bought in 1972 (we discovered it on one of the daily walks we had started even then,) and where we lived until about five years ago. Having decided to downsize, we spent a good while searching out other locations in the city--but ended up in the smaller house on the very same hill, where we live today.

So this morning we were taking that familiar walk with the friends who frequently accompany us, and I was talking to our friend and neighbor, the artist Nancy Turner-Smith, about the book project she is just now working to finish up. Then the conversation turned to me and what's going on in my own work, and it proved to be a good moment to get clear about the clutter I have been carrying around in my head, and my need to create some inner space in order for new things to happen.

It seems to be easier to do in Laguna Beach than in Los Angeles. In part, it's surely because the physical environment itself is quieter and more spacious; in part because there is less in the way of those "busy" mental distractions with which we are all familiar. But making that space is an art in itself, and it involves a certain discipline, a practice, a determination that can easily be undermined. It involves an understanding of how time and energies can be economized, because their possible expenditure is boundless while they themselves are not. I need to start examining how much of them is wasted, and where I can make space.

And by "wasted" I don't mean doing nothing. In fact, I'm sure that "nothing" is what I should be doing more of. The "doing nothing" is actually the space I'm talking about. At our artists' group meeting last night we watched a video interview with the wonderfully subtle abstract painterAgnes Martin, often described as a minimalist--though she rejected this association--who died at the age of 92 in 2004. In this interview, she spoke about her need for an "empty mind" out of which to do her work. She regarded the thinking mind as the enemy of her creative process, and worked hard to abandon it. As she described her studio work, she would make it a point to empty out the mind in order to allow space for inspiration to arrive; then, when it did, to focus the mind on where the action of the painting was wanting to take her, rather than on thinking about what needed to be done. "I have no ideas," she said--and wanted none.

It's a bit different for the writer. A bit harder, I think. Because words, unlike paint or musical notes, are freighted down with meaning. It's all they seem to exist for. And it's the first thing most readers look for: what does this mean? And the writer, too, tends to get caught up in this quality that language seems inevitably to have. But, to my way of thinking (there I go again!) the writer stands to benefit as much as the artist or the musician from the empty mind. Hence my own favorite adage, oft repeated: How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say?

One of the things I'm trying to make space for, as regular readers know, is a reacquaintance with the 18th century French writer, Michel de Montaigne. And Montaigne, I believe, would find much in common with Agnes Martin. His starting point is always ignorance: what do I know? And his answer: I know nothing. His Essais are ventures into the unknown, "attempts," with words, to observe the workings of the mind from inside its own spaces. As such, the essays are poems, dances with the medium in which the medium leads and the writer follows--just as I imagine Agnes Martin followed her paint.

This, for me, is the hardest part: to stop "thinking," planning, and controlling, and to allow the mind to empty out before the words come along to lead me into the unknown. This is the risk I need to take, the space I need to make, if I'm to arrive at something new.