Friday, February 29, 2008

Too Brilliant Not to Share

This is just too brilliant not to share.... and probably closer to the truth than is comfortable to think about.

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Inner Voices

A while back, when the Simpson movie first came out, my niece Cindy sent me a picture of herself "Simpsonized," Well, of course I had to go play too and I made the Simpsonized me that I'd like to think I am (sweet face, penguin shirt on the left) and the me that I fear and try to keep hidden ( I named her Griselda) who can be seen on the right. Griselda, I guess, is my "inner bitch." If you had ever heard (and you probably will at some point) the way my inner bitch talks to me, you'd know that this is a pretty flattering picture of her. She is one nasty, nasty, nasty creature, the Hitler of my inner landscape. Fortunately for the rest of the world, she is totally inner directed. Not so lucky for me.

Speaking of inner voices, about twenty years ago, I studied something called Voice Dialogue. Voice Dialogue was the invention of two psychologists named Hal and Sidra Stone. The basic concept (as I understand it) is that we are all, on some level, multiple personalities merged into one master ego, but that our lives are often run by inner personalities whose voices we don't even really hear speaking. The most powerful of those voices is often, as it was for me, The Inner Critic. The idea behind voice dialogue is that through the process of talking with those inner selves and becoming consciously aware of what they are telling us, we are able to take more control of our lives. The idea, by the way, isn't to change the voices - though by virtue of being heard, they usually change on their own - the idea is let them speak so that become aware of what's going on inside your own head without you even knowing about it.

The voice dialogue process was a revelation for me. My inner critic, aka The Dragon Lady, was quite something. While most inner critics operate from a desire to protect, the Dragon Lady actually hated me and wished me dead. The fact that she would die with me was irrelevant to her. It was worth it. She hated me that much. I also met a number of wounded children in this process, one of whom - she named herself Pisser for some reason - had been raped quite young. It was that aspect of me, I think, that the Dragon Lady hated the most. I did this course with a wonderful group of people over the course of 4 months. It was a profound experience. Devastating in many ways. Fodder for a lot of therapy, though it drove my therapist crazy for a while because I tended to regard/relate to Pisser and the Dragon Lady as though they were real and separate entities and not so much aspects of myself. (Ever heard of denial? I'm too nice to have a killer demon critic running around inside me... or a molested child.)

I think this is a brilliant techinque. The Stones have a number of excellent books out on the subject, including one for couples and parents that helps you become aware of those days when there are two or more inner children roaming the house all looking for a parent.

When I started writing my agoraphobia column, I coined a name for the not-so-little collective of brutal monsters that inhabit my inner mindscape. I call them the Demonalians. They are as wicked and sadistic a crowd of inner voices as ever cohabited inside one head. To kind of counter-act them, and because I just love playing with Paint Shop Pro even though I have no artistic talent, I made a bunch of inner goddesses. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to still the din of the Demonalians enough to hear the voices of these divine ones (in fact I quite forgot about them until this morning), but I think maybe that's a good project to work on over the next few weeks. Hmmm. Maybe I'll introduce them here today and see if I can get them to speak in future posts. Can't hurt to think about it. So, without further explanation, I intoduce my four inner goddesses:

Kwanatherine Yin, Inner Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion.
Green Katherine - drawn from the Green Tara who is a mix of benign and harsh as I recall, Gaia Katherine, and Kali. I made the Kali-me during the nine months it took me to find my house. She hung on the wall by my desk and I called on her when my drunken landlady felt particularly scary. I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. I have kind of scared myself by posting these goddesses and saying that I'll talk with them. But even though I've scared myself, I think it's probably (I hope) a good challenge.

Guess that's it for today. The Demonalians are all stirred up on a number of subjects, including how stupid this post is and how if people didn't think I was nuts before, surely the whole inner goddess nonsense will have proved it for good and all. Demonalia is a happy place this morning. Maybe I'll see if my inner Kali can keep them in line.
An afterthought that has nothing to do with anything. My other magnificent niece Diana, has posted a video thing on one of her blogs. If you watch it (or even just let it run without watching it), she gets money. On her Vegangirl blog she posted a brilliant lecture that doesn't earn her any money about the paradox of choice.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poem(s) of the Week

Well, it seems to me like a day for something silly. The two poems below are vaguely connected. The first one was written for the newsletter of a particularly odious job I had in the early 1980s. They were manufacturers of "fine wallpapers," and there was some kind of apple theme going on at the time, I think, that inspired the topic. Like many jobs over the course of my "career," it was hard for them to keep me busy and I ended up doing parts of everyone else's job, not getting paid for it and being bored and unhappy.


The snake said, "Please, just have a taste."

"If you don't eat, it will go to waste."

And Eve - only wanting to be polite

Consented to have just one small bite

And Adam, too, thought it couldn't hurt

To try such a very light dessert.

It wasn't even an apple pie

Which caused such fury in Heaven high

And sent that poor unhappy pair

Away from Eden in dark despair

But though they suffered, and so do we,

For eating the fruit of the apple tree

I can't entirely regret their act

Since it alone, in point of fact,

Introduced the two to carnal sin

Which causes babies to begin

And one baby leading to another

Eventually arrived my mother

Who, I am glad, gave birth to me

So, let's hear it for the apple tree

And before we at Eve too smugly jeer

Remember, without her we wouldn't be here.

- Katherine E. Rabenau

Shortly after "The Apple Pomme" was published, I took a bad fall that resulted in a severe green-stick fracture that nearly broke my small toe OFF my foot, broke two other toes, sprained an ankle, bruised my shoulder and just missed cracking my skull open. How did I manage this? Running away from a pair of cockroaches while standing on top of one of those step ladder/chair things. Hence the second poem in today's double silly poem presentation. I returned from my disability leave to find that the company had been "reorganized" and both of my bosses "phased out." I don't remember if they laid me off or if I quit. I do remember that they told me I was too qualified and too good at my job. The laid off boss called and offered me a big raise and a cool new job which it turned out he couldn't deliver. At the time it all seemed like the end of the world to me instead of the blessing in disguise that it turned out to be. But that's a story for another day. The short version is. I lived. I went into therapy and a tiny ray of sanity broke through a life-time of pure, unadulterated denial about how very insane my family was and how utterly unhappy and troubled I myself was. But this is Poem of the week day. SILLY poem of the week day.... enough serious talk.


Out, out, damned roach, you wicked beast

How dare you in my kitchen feast

You creeping Fiend! You wretched foe!

I beg you from my kitchen go

And lodge with those who wish you well

Or, better yet, go strait to Hell

For you will find no welcome here

But me, all doubled up with fear

A rolled newspaper in one hand

And lots of bug spray - jarred or canned -

Fear's far more dangerous than hate

And death will be your awful fate

If you persist in bugging me

So I advise you now to flee

And find some other place to live

For pity I have none to give

To such unsavory types as you

And so I say to you, "Shoo! Shoo!"

Go somewhere else if you must poach

And hear again, "Out, out, damned roach."

- Katherine E. Rabenau

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's All Relative

I woke up very early this morning with a million (ok, a half dozen) ideas swirling in my head for things to write about today and for days to come. A frustrating - and failed - attempt to put a ONE MILLION BLOGS FOR PEACE logo up, a broken tree branch, some emails and a cup of coffee later, I have misplaced all those lovely ideas that were passionately writing themselves while I was trying to sleep. Now that I need them again, where are they? Argh.

Luckily, I do remember a key word for one of them: Relative. I am cranky about this, though, because it was all written in my head and now I have to start over and it won't be nearly as good as what I think I already wrote while half asleep.

What I was thinking about is how much of life is about perspective and how our relationship and reaction changes depending on our circumstances.

One of the most interesting pieces of trivia I ever heard was that there's a "scientific" (mathematical?) reason why time seems to go faster as you get older. It's got something to do with the relative length of a year in comparison to your whole life span. When you are 1, a year is 100% of your life. When you are 60, it is 1/60th of your life, so it seems much shorter. This is a very badly written explanation. I am writing frustrated and that's never good. I think the idea makes a lot of sense. Whatever the reason, the years seem to be flying by, though, I can't always say the same for my days. That is probably a factor of solitude and boredom.

Another psychological oddity that I have become aware of over the past couple of years is our relative relationship to temperature. Trying to save money these days, I keep my thermostat at 60 for as much of the day as I can (until the icicles start forming on my nose). I'm kind of proud of how tough and brave I am for doing this, but then I was thinking one afternoon how odd it is that in Spring and Summer, 60 degrees seems like a wonderful gift in comparison to 80 or 90 degrees. How odd, that in winter 60 feels like a hardship and in summer a blessing. I'm sure there's some logical explanation, like the earth holds summer warmth, so 60 in summer is warmer than 60 in winter when the world is frozen. Still, 60 degrees is 60 degrees isn't it?

Of course speaking of relativity, I guess 60 degrees is "winter" weather for my family and friends in Arizona. Years ago when I lived in New York City, a friend of mine returned from volunteering in Somalia where she had become accustomed to living at 120 in the shade. August in New York is vile, humid and compares quite nicely with my idea of Hell, but there was Zandi, on a hot, humid 90 degree nightmare New York summer day, wearing a sweater!

Then there's age. I have a very keen memory of the first time I felt conscious of age. I was standing at a bus stop on the corner of First Avenue and 14th Street in NYC looking at the high school kids... and suddenly seeing them as "children." I was all of 23 or something. But suddenly I was really and truly and "adult." Now, of course, 30 year olds seem like children to me and anyone under 50 is "young." Thing is, I don't feel sixty. Well, not emotionally anyway. Emotionally I feel about six, maybe nine or ten on a good day. Physically, well, let's not talk about physically. When your legs don't work right, it can make you feel old even if you aren't.

But then relatively speaking, even though my legs don't work as I might wish them to, they still do let me hobble around, so even if they hurt a bit and move oddly, they get me from room to room and that's very nice of them. Compared to being in a wheel chair or bed ridden, my legs are pretty damned fine.

Which for some reason made me think about relative ideas of poverty. Technically, by American standards, I'm poor. I squeeze all my needs out of $14,000 in SSD money. I won't say that I don't really, really, really want to win $10,000,000 from Publisher's Clearinghouse because I really, really, really do (actually I would quite happily take even $100,000 or $10,0000 ) BUT.... my poverty is pretty darn genteel. The bank is slowly selling me my house. I have heat in winter, water to drink, enough food to eat, a comfortable bed and two kitty companions. I have a TV (old but still functioning), A VCR and DVD player, a subscription to Netflix, books to read, and a computer. In much of the world, I'm incredibly wealthy. I don't even have to work for my money (topic for another day), I just have to suffer and be crazy and pay a price in shame to the government and the internalized voice of my mother (another topic for another day). Relative to most of the world's population, I'm rich. It's good to remind myself of that on days when I'm feeling sorry for myself because it's a squeaker to pay all my bills.

So much of life (everything?) is what our minds make of it, what we decide it will be. Relative to what this article was in my head at 6:30 this morning, it's a failure, but relative to writing nothing at all, I guess it's a success.

Relatively speaking, this is not my best day. But it's not my worst either. May we all live our lives seeking and finding the up side of of life's relative offerings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fable of the Month:
The Hermit of Angelwood Mountain

Well, laziness and lack of new ideas is settling in. After all, I've posted every day for three weeks now and twice yesterday. This is one of a bunch of tiny stories I wrote many years ago. It has come to my attention that I'm 60 and no publisher is going to magically show up at my door promising me fame, glory, and a fabulous fortune, so I might as well share these just to make myself happy. This month's story is called

by Katherine E. Rabenau

Frank Osborne could not remember how long he had been living on Anglewood Mountain, but he knew it had been a long time. In his youth, Frank had not been very good with people. Shy and blunt, he had seemed remote and snide and people had not liked him. He hadn't liked himself either. Suffocating behind the glass wall of his loneliness, his efforts to reach out had landed like hammers on the toes of prospective acquaintances. Their hostility had cut through him like a sword.

Until, that is, he met and loved and lived with Amanda. Frank never knew why or how she had felt his pain and his gentleness. She had simply walked up to him one day as he sat alone in the park, taken his hand, looked directly into his eyes and said, "It's OK. I see you." He had cried -- not long or loud -- but his heart had fluttered and three large tears had escaped before he could stop them. Catching one of them on her finger, Amanda had put it to her lips and said, "Such tears quench the thirst of God," and had leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Take me home, sweet prince, for I have drunk your heart and I am yours." And despite thinking that she must be crazy, he thought also that she was beautiful like an angel and that he had waited his whole life for someone to touch his tears. Her beauty was mythical. At first, certain that she was an illusion, he had been afraid to touch her, afraid she would dissolve if he dared to reach for her. But she had been no illusion. She had been so real. Although she had been dead now for many years, Frank could taste her mouth, feel the solid softness of her, the silky warmth of her skin as though he had held her that morning. He could still smell the spicy sweetness of her.

She had moved into his life and heart with the direct, natural flow of a river heading to sea. They had made sweet, tender, wild love and he savored the memory of it, but he savored more the memory of her presence and what it had done for him. She had moved so easily into his world that in some ways he hardly noticed it, yet to say only that she had changed his life was like saying that the sun was merely important to life on earth. Amanda was a mirror in which he had seen a new reflection of himself. She was unconditional in her love. There was nothing simpy or vapid in this; she did not overlook his flaws, his moods. She simply loved him anyway, without sacrificing her own integrity.

Frank still believed that God had sent him an angel to soothe his isolation and after a time had taken her away. At first his grief had been so deep he had thought he would die of it. He had been unable to believe that she was really gone, had felt like a lost child waiting for rescue. He had tried to hate God, had waited for bitterness, for the return of his former emptiness. But when time passed and it did not come, he realized that he had been changed forever. Amanda was part of him. It was not just that he had beautiful memories, it was that he was alive inside. She had shown him his soul by sharing her own.

And then he had known that he had to move to the mountain. It was not, as some thought, to escape or be alone. He had gone to the mountain to touch the stars and feel the heartbeat of the earth. He had gone to the mountain to make himself available to the people he knew would come. And they did. Somehow they found him. Some stayed for an hour, some for weeks. Sometimes he would converse with them, tell them about Amanda and his former life, about living on the mountain. Sometimes Wolf, his four-legged companion, would minister to them. But mostly, he would simply hold their hands and look into their eyes, and something in his shining, tender look would show them the beauty of their own souls. And when they cried, as they so often did, he would catch a single drop on his finger and whisper, "Such tears quench the thirst of God."


Monday, February 25, 2008

Humane Society's Spay Day USA 2008

The Humane Society of the USA is having a photo contest for Spay Day USA 2008.

I thought many of you with cats and dogs and rabbits of your own might like to enter them and of course I am making a shameless appeal for votes for both Angel and Tara Grace. (You can only once for any animal but you can vote for as many pets as you like).

Angel and Tara Grace are both entered and would LOVE to have you vote for them. (Please...)

I hope you'll add your pets too. There are some pretty nifty prizes and it's a good cause to advertise.

For cat loves among you, a Alley Cat Allies is a great organization dedicated to the neuter and release of feral cats.

Somewhat local to me here in upstate New York is an organization called AWAN. When Tara Grace almost died last year, AWAN (Animal Welfare Adoption Network) helped me with some of the astronomical vet bills that went towards keeping her alive.

In any case, I hope you'll spay your pets, support spay neuter programs in your area, wherever you live - and vote for my girls in this contest.


Resume for a Brain Dead Bully

Running out of original thoughts, it seems, so it's time to steal from my email again. I have never understood how George W. Bush got elected for anything. Maybe it's the empath in me, but he has made my skin crawl since my very first sighting of him. Above and beyond the "smart-ass" factor, there's a total lack of true human emotion when he speaks and his face (even when he's saying the right words) actually (to me) reflects an almost complete absence of feelings/compassion. He seems to be a one emotion guy - and that emotion is (well it's not quite an emotion, but it's the best I can come up with): "I'm in the catbird seat and nothing anybody does can touch me so screw everybody."

This resume that came in my mail this morning sums up most of the quantifiable damage he has done to the nation and the world, but it does leave some things out... or at least not stress them enough to suit me. There's the erosion of our constitution and our ethics. There's the perpetuation of a state of fear that has encouraged people to lock their brains in boxes under the kitchen sink for safe keeping. There's the loss of our sense of honor, integrity and compassion as a nation. There are the thousands of young men and women whose wounds of body and spirit are going untended. There's a military worn down in physically, emotionally and financially, engaged in a "war" (military occupation) that most of them know is wrong. There's the violence that has been done to our electoral system. There's the issue of torture. There's the issue of ignoring the law.... aggggh... stop me before I explode.

One thing that stood out to me in this resume that I don't remember seeing before or hearing about is this one:

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nation
s election inspectors (during the 2002 US election).

Why was there no news coverage of this information? For that matter, why were there no major investigations of the irregularities in both Bush elections? I know I've mentioned Hacking Democracy before, but it's worth repeating. The video is available in nine parts on You Tube, but it's worth the time to hear the whole story. I don't understand why Kerry didn't challenge the second Bush "election." I keep thinking (paranoid? or ....? ) that Bush and Cheney must have something on almost every member of Congress except Kucinich and Paul or that there are family members under death threat or tied up in a bunker somewhere. What else explains the insanity of what's happening to my country? What else explains the lock-step obedience? Politics doesn't seem like a good enough answer, especially since the country is getting more and more angry at the members of Congress. But I can't prove anything. I just have a creepy feeling that my country has experienced a bloodless coup and we have slept through it and even now are only tossing and turning in a half-awake effort to escape the nightmare. But enough ranting. I'll let the "resume" speak for itself.

Again, my apologies to whoever created this. It arrived in my email without attribution.


1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20520


Law Enforcement:
I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for driving
under the influence of alcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record has been "lost" and is not available.


I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL. I refused to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use. By joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid co
mbat duty in Vietnam.

I graduated from Yale University with a low C average. I was a cheerleader.

I ran for U.S. Congress and lost.
I began my career in the oil business in Midland,Texas in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas. The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.

I bought the T
exas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money.

With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry (including Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.


I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union. During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America.

I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money.

I set the record
for the most executions by any governor in American history.

With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida , and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court, I became President of the United States, after losing by over 500,000 votes.


I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.

I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one billion dollars per week.

I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S. Treasury.

I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.

I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.

I set the all-time r
ecord for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market. In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and that trend continues.

I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleezza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President.

I am the all- time
U.S. and world record -holder for receiving the most corporate campaign donations.

My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. history, Enron.

My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.

I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation or prosecution. More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history. I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.

I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.

I changed the U.S. policy to allow convict ed criminals to be awarded government contracts.

I appointed mo
re convicted criminals to my administration than any President in U.S. history.

I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States Government.

I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history.

I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

I withdrew the U.S.
from the World Court of Law.

I refused to allow inspector's access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 US election).

I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President since the advent of television.

I set the all-time
record for most days on vacation in any one-year period. After taking off the entire month of August, I presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.

I garnered the m
ost sympathy ever for the U.S. after the World Trade Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for protests against any person in the history of mankind.

I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. Citizens and the world community.

I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families in wartime.

In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends.

I am the first Pr
esident in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.

I am supporting
development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD.

I have so far failed
to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.


All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view.

All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.

All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review. I specified that my sealed documents will not be available for 50 years.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Winter Beauty

Well, I don't have a thought in my head this morning and not much to say and the sun is out and the snow looks kind of pretty. Dianne wrote a nice piece about the coming of summer with a slide show to go with it, so I thought I'd counter with some winter pictures from various locations of my past 5 years here in upstate New York.

My first stop on my return to New York State was a short lived stay in a house with an exquisite view and a truly insane landlord in a tiny place called Lake Huntington.

After I quite literally fled Lake Huntington and "crazy Jim," the landlord, I ended up in a sweet little town called Narrowsburg.

Renting in upstate New York is not fun, at least it wasn't for me. Narrowsburg is a sweet little town, though, famous for it's nesting eagles. I was very isolated there, living in the back of a duplex the with only exit from the yard through a parking lot for the local art gallery. I actually had to have the yard plowed... an interesting story for another day. We had two big record breaking blizzards in a row when I lived there. Talk about snow! Just to give you an idea of how deep this snow was, that thing on the left was my car. I think we had over 20 inches of snow in two days.

For some reason I don't have many pictures from Callicoon. I know there are some but I can't find them, so I'll just skip to my current home and the views from my little house here in Hancock. The first picture is the view out my back door. The picture on the right (with the hideous curtains and before I got my new windows) is the snow curling off my roof. Mostly it comes off bit by bit or in big scary landslides. I thought this big long curl was pretty amazing. The last photo was the view from my desk taken on New Year's morning this year.

That's it for my tribute to winter. I think I need to learn how to do slide shows, especially since the preview feature doesn't actually show you what's going to come up when you post. My apologies for the haphazard look of this post. I just can't make it any better without losing what's left of my mind. I know these aren't great photos but I thought it might be fun to see some snow, especially for some of you desert folks. I'm still REALLY looking forward to Spring.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday Wordzzle Challenge: Week 1

Years ago when the world and I were still young, I took a course in NYC from called "The Slightly Amazing Writer's Therapy Group." It really was slightly (perhaps more than slightly) amazing. One of the things the Jane Allison, the woman who led it did was to give us a bunch of random words and phrases to make into a SHORT paragraph. It's great fun and a good challenge for your creativity.

I thought what I'd do here is post a couple of samples of the exercises I did all those years back - and then paste some new words. Anyone who wants to do so can work on them and share their results if they wish. I'll have to figure out the logistics for offering up one of these shared things and am open to advice from anyone of my three or four readers who wants to give it. Meanwhile, here's the sample exercise. This was one of my favorites.

WORDS: Napoleon, Zeus, underpants, Madonna, cellulite, 47 flavors, Arnold Schwartzennager, Barbara Walters, "Don't come near me or I'll call the police," power

Strange dream. Being interviewed by Barbara Walters, dressed only in a bra and underpants, the cellulite rippling over my whole body in hideous, rolling waves of flesh, shame and humiliation numbing, but I had to be brave, to not show my embarrassment. That would be worse. She was interviewing three of us at once: Me, Napoleon Bonepart, and Zeus. Why I had to be with them, I don't know. Just to make my insecurity even deeper, I guess. Anyway, Barbara asks each of us to name someone we admire and tell why. Napoleon picks Arnold Schwartzenagger because he's strong, relentless and determined. Zeus says Madonna because she reminds him of Artemis only she's really sexy. I pick (I don't want to be predictable) LynnAndrews because she consistently manages to be simultaneously dim-witted and profound. Then she got personal and we each had a tearful catharsis just before the commercial break. The sponsor was Baskin Robbins so we each had to name our favorite of the 47 flavors. I picked Chocolate Chip, Zeus liked peach, Napoleon said Rocky Road, and Barbara said Strawberries 'N Cream. It was all so odd. Outside, a woman's voice shouted, "Don't come near me or I'll call the police," but we were taping, so instead of checking on her, they just closed the window. I started to protest but Barbara had asked her next question, her voice redolent with its profundity: "I'm curious, given your respective lives, how would each of you define power?" Zeus said it was control and authority and manipulating events. Napoleon thought it was military superiority. I said I thought those were illusions of power, that real power came from trusting and loving yourself, because then no one could threaten your inner peace. Needing to control others was just a response to the belief that otherwise they would control you. Power wasn't about control, it was about being. Napoleon just snorted when I said that and said I was a jerk. Zeus threw a thunderbolt and left the room. Barbara Walters said, "How interesting," in a nervous voice which made it clear that she felt she had lost control and didn't know how to get it back. Then inspiration struck: "Tell me, do you always do interviews on national TV in just your underwear?" Outside, the woman's screams grew louder.

Years after I took the course from Jane Allison, I introduced this technique to another writer's group. We did them on the spot in about 15- 2o minutes time. I was really good at it and it used to annoy my friend Paul, who one week challenged me to make a paragraph using the following words. It's a good example of what to do if you don't know what a word means. You can always use a stumper word to name a pet or something like that. Or just say that you don't know what it means like I did here.

Don't take the exercise too seriously. It's a game for exercising your writing muscles. That's all.

WORDS: Brawn, bratwurst, kishke, beret, chutzpah, sweat lodge, bikini-wax, bangles, zoot suit, Zen, caterpillar, Cajun

"Kishke? What the hell is kishke? Would you please speak English for a change, Louie? I mean, I wouldn't mind the Yiddish so much if a) I understood it and b) you were Jewish, but Louie, you're not. You're not ethnic, dear and you just look and sound foolish when you try. You weren't black during your zoot-suit, honkey motha-f*cka phase. You weren't Cajun no matter how much Creole food you ate. The sweat lodge and totem pole in the back yard do not make you one of "the People," anymore than the beret and calling everyone "Cherie," made you French. You're ordinary, Louie. Wonderful, but ordinary. You don't need a gimmick. It just detracts from your natural sweetness and charm. I didn't fall in love with you for your brawn or your machismo. You see yourself as bratwurst, but I see you as caviar. You see yourself as a caterpillar in need of transformation, but to me you are already a magnificent butterfly. I know, to use your current idiom, that I've got plenty of chutzpah giving you this particular lecture, since I've spent so much of my life and your money trying to change myself into something "more," with plastic surgery and bikini waxes and bangles and jewels and fancy clothes - all that frantic effort to keep you from discovering just what a loser I thought I really was. But I was wrong, Louie, and so are you. I wish you'd come to my meditation class with me. The Zen masters create such a sense of peace and love. They've helped me start to like myself, Louie. Really. And I think they could help you, too. You know, I think you're wonderful, even when you're pretending to be whatever phase you're in, but I think you're most wonderful when you're just plain old glorious you. So mazeltov, you big jerk. And Namaste. That means "the god in me greets the god in you." I love you.

SO... for anyone who wants to take the challenge, here are words for next Saturday. Have fun.

Ostrich, conga line, lucite, garish, pumpkin seeds, persimmon, autograph, naked truth, false teeth and merry-go-round.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Toxic Cynicism & the US Media

I've long had a theory that the road to our current political/social Hell began being paved as part of the aftermath of the Nixon Watergate debacle.

First, I know that there are a lot of people like me (I don't think I was the only one) who's sense of innocence was shattered by the events around Watergate. I couldn't stand Nixon, but it had still never entirely occurred to me that Presidents could be criminals, that the level of cynicism which those men operated with could even exist. One of the worst things that happens when innocence is shattered is that it can turn to bitterness and cynicism. But I think we all would have gotten over that if something else hadn't happed at the same time. And that's what happened in the media.

Unhealthy as a cynical public can be, a cynical media is profoundly dangerous to a nation's intellectual and psychological health. After Watergate, the media's approach to news underwent a profound sea change. Every reporter wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, and instead of searching for truth, the media began searching for lies. A hunt for lies is a very different pursuit than a quest for truth and it bears different results. First off, a hunt for lies leads away from the truth as often as not. Second, a hunt for lies is much more subjective than a hunt for truth and as a result it taints whatever truth it happens to trip over. The third - and perhaps worst - aspect of a cynical media is that the energy of cynicism (especially in a media saturated society like ours) permeates our consciousness. It seeps into our way of looking at the world, into our thinking.

I first became aware of this years ago when I began hearing a nasty little voice in my head. There would be some report in the news about someone donating money or doing something good and the little voice would mutter "hah, I wonder what's in it for him." Now that voice is NOT me - or at least it didn't used to be. And when I heard it muttering and looked for where it came from, I was led right back to the way news was being presented to me.

Added to this is that somewhere along the road, in subtle stages, reporters stopped reporting and began opining. Except for PBS, very little of what is presented to us as news is factual reporting any more. I like to use the following as an example because it pissed me off at the time and because I think it makes the point relatively clearly: After the whole Monica Lewinsky story broke, there was a trivial piece about Clinton attending a prayer breakfast and saying he repented. If we had a healthy news media, THAT would have been the story. He attended the meeting and he said x, y,z. A healthy media would have let us draw our own conclusions. Our media instead, talked at length about whether his advisors had told him to repent, whether he was sincere. Most of our news these days is covered this way. It's so pervasive that I don't think we even notice it. It's cynicism presented as facts. It's skewed truth or flat-out untruth.

This isn't a trivial problem. It's corroding us from the inside out. Cynicism sees no hope. Cynicism says that everyone is a crook, everyone is lying, everyone has an ulterior motive. Angels could descend from the heavens bringing good tidings and our media - and we along with them - would spurn the gift or question it's authenticity. (What's God's angle?) And in the populace, this translates into things like: "Why vote, they're all a bunch of crooks anyway." Alas, that may have become true to some extent, but I wonder which came first, the crookedness or the cynicism that feeds it.

This pervasive semi-conscious cynicism among the public, paves the road for professional, criminal cynics like Bush and Cheney to do their worst. They even use it to their advantage. It's an aspect of the Rove - a true cynic's cynic - strategy. You no longer have to prove scandal, you just have to whisper things into the wind and they stick to the web of half, distorted and un-truth in which citizens of our society are trapped like flies, while criminals like the current administration feed on the corpse of our hope, our prosperity - and the spirit of our nation.

I don't know how we can escape this net, but we had better do something because the spiders that spun the web are eating us and our way of life alive. Maybe it's part of why Obama's voice is resonating so strongly with people right now. I don't know that he's the best choice for president - I think Dennis Kucinich would have been - but perhaps his optimistic passion is waking us out of the torpor of the crippling cynicism in which we have been slumbering for too long. I hope so.

Here's what I know. I want a return to a media that covers all the candidates, that reports news and not opinion. I want a media that is peopled with idealists who are hunting for truth, not lies. And I want my own idealism back. I want my hope back. I want my country back. Hopefully, if we become aware of how cynicism has poisoned our media and our own consciousness, we can begin to take the country back. I hope so.