Category Archives: social justice
I waited until I heard the birds to get up. This is the part where I write out everything wrestling in my mind and then either hit publish or delete. On the file cabinet across the room is a completed packet to give DHS and sign up for Tenn Care. We’ve already met and are finely qualified. I wish we weren’t.
So before taking the family’s next step on welfare, I’m asking a good question: ”If I turn this in, what am I doing?”
It’s a complicated argument and a morning’s blog entry won’t get everything right. The DHS packet is already completed for a few reasons. For one, my child has never decided that struggling for an ideal is something they’re interested in. Secondly, health care is messed up and anyone trying to pay on their own can’t do it. Society’s problem, and mine too.
Two weeks ago we sold our car for principled reasons. If we didn’t do that “pre parent,” we never would try. Now there is some cash in the asset column and we could use it.
The DHS question becomes one of ethics and strategy. Options:
a. Take the welfare, invest the car money in business and work hard to get off the welfare. One day pay it back.
b. Pay some medical expenses in cash and borrow the rest. Remain independent from assistance. Cover future health care with our continued artist incomes as they are.
c. Seek an employer that provides benefits. Probably buy another car.
The options have complications, but lets not blog too far. Instead, I give you possible responses to my future child:
a. Honey, when we started out we needed some help. But one day Daddy made a hit record and Mommy sold a painting to MoMA. We started a trust fund for other starving artists who wanted families.
b. Well son, just as you came into this world, your mother and I decided to reduce our dependance on foreign oil with its dire toll on the environment, while at the same moment we proved that expensive social programs are unnecessary if everyone would take responsibility for themselves. And health care, don’t get me started on health care.
We pause here because it started to rain. I looked up to see the umbrella and Ashley’s rain jacket lying by the door. Hopping on my bike and sprinting for Belle Morris Elementary on this foggy, rainy morning, I was reminded that some choices, like being intentionally car-less, require a fresh assertion of values.
And suddenly I was hit by a Honda Civic. It pulled out and didn’t see me. My handlebars wadded up and the chain was knocked loose. Otherwise, the front side panel is a bruise of a landing and not a bloody one. The umbrella was in the right lane of N. Broadway and I was sure it would be my only casualty. But I saved it. The guy felt awful. I told him I was trying to take my wife her umbrella where she was a crossing guard. He was near tears. I offered that he could drive me to the school and he’d be doing me a favor, we’d call it even.
“Are you sure? What about your bike?”
I inspected my bike and chained it to the stop sign (just before the antique shop by Fellini Kroger). I could fix it. My knee was sore but not bleeding. There was no need to play any cards this morning, I just needed the ride.
He had a car seat in the back and a Bible in the passenger seat. We sat there until he could dart the car back onto Broadway.
He said, “You know I always try to be careful and considerate. That’s what I get for being late… I just dropped off my kid and was rushing to work. I didn’t even see you.”
The irony of everything I’ve just been thinking about: children, work, not having a car, Ashley’s part time job, people needing to catch a break. An unfinished blog at home which I was supposed to finish so that I’d discover what to do.
I don’t know.
Another story about how dangerous it is for me that Ashley is a crossing guard…
Last Thursday I was walking with her to school in the afternoon when an elderly man was sitting on a porch and murmured to us about something. There are crazies around here and we didn’t understand a word he said. After walking on I asked myself, what was the hurry; he’d seemingly been on his own porch. I told Ashley I’d meet her later, we both thought I should go back and check on him. He mumbled that he couldn’t walk and that he needed his dog to be brought in.
A chihuahua was leashed to a chair in the lawn beside the house and I guessed it looked harmless. As I reached for the leash, it bit me twice on the wrist. Still, I brought the dog to the man and realized that my initial instinct had been correct. He was probably 80, but he was pissed drunk. Urine all over his jeans. He said he’d broken a rib and had been lying on the porch all morning. I breathed sadly, but knew I had to lift him, no matter how disgusting. By the time I’d helped him into his dark, vomitous house and moved enough greasy paper plates with stale chicken so that he could fall on the couch, I headed for the door. The chihuahua was still on the leash and I hung it from a pile of unmemorable junk sitting in my guess of what was a chair.
“He’s a mean little sucker.”
“Have a nice day.”
I’d forgotten about the biting until I walked out into the bright sun and it had already began to swell. Instead of walking to the school, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on the provincial nearby corner. I asked the pharmacist,
“What do you recommend for a dog bite?”
“Did you know the dog?”
“No, it was just over there.”
“Go to the doctor. Now.”
“I don’t have health insurance.”
“I’m sorry, but dog mouths are filthy and he could have rabies. Seriously, go to the doctor.”
I looked at the swelling and remembered the soiled house. I thought about our upcoming medical bills. Then I walked over to the antiseptic cream and she yelled after me that it wouldn’t do it any good. It would make me feel better, like I’d done something. Like give a guy a freakin’ break.
I was furious for the rest of the day. I kept the bite clean and maybe it’s fine, that was last week. Everybody gets a little jittery when they’re going to be parents. Right now, I feel like I must have got hit by a car this morning.
[ from a. addair who is listening to Son of a Khrusty Musical (Son of a Khrusty Muscial) ]
Lately, my experiences have been ones that I can’t intellectualize; death of loved ones, the possibility and consequences of having children, and wondering how the best way to spend days that string together to form a lifetime. I’ve come to the end of my reasoning and, for sanity’s sake, I’m just taking things a morning, afternoon, and evening at a time. I’m trying to be quiet enough that I can hear the thing that I feel I should/want/could do and then without much angst just do the thing and trust that someone knows the bigger picture, even if it isn’t me.
Each moment in time is like a little space of line that I have the opportunity to drape color on.
I might be able to recall what the last few colors were, but I have no idea of the direction of the line and am unable to see the entirety of the composition made by the history and projection of the line.
In short (and inevitably incompletely), this painting is an abstraction of time. It is (in part) a way for me to internalize, to get ideas into my body, and to relax into what is already there. It is a thinking process that is teaching me to hang my colors boldly and with humility because that is really all I’m qualified to do. Or, to step out of the metaphor, I’m learning to simply be kind, love recklessly, paint, take walks, and eat well; just do what humans do and let the drama of existence circulate.
Those were my thoughts as I set out to create the painting. But what I love about making art is that through the making, I get surprised by realizing there is more there than I have the capacity to understand.
As I was painting this, I realized how apt it is that the half circle shaped “flags” are created by being painted on a sheet of plastic, and once dry, getting peeled off the plastic and glued to the canvas. In essence, they we’re created in one context, and given meaning in another.
Just after application, these little half-circle-shaped flags looked discordant and unsettling until they went through the process of becoming a painting. It was my job, as the creator, to make the jumble cohesive or somehow satisfying and meaningful through the layering and adjustment of color, texture and line.
In the end, the painting is a God’s-eye view. A hopeful reassurance to myself that it is my simple objective to hang my momentary color flags with honesty and relish, but someone else’s to give it context and ultimate worth.
A step further into the metaphor (and a little joke the painting played on me) is that I painted the piece “upside down” from the way it is oriented here. It wasn’t until the last moments of working on it that I realized it was meant to be viewed the way it is pictured. Fitting. Even when we think we know or are learning something, chances are, our view is distorted, foggy, or almost right, but still upside down.
Tags: abstraction, abundance, acrylic on canvas, art on etsy, color, context, god's eye view, Life, limited understanding, line, making art, painting, perspective, process, relaxing into, son of a khrusty musical, texture, time, Uncertainty
April 11, 2011 you, me, that rock with the lichen, and cucumber beetles : we’re all in this together
[ from a. addair who is listening to Keb' Mo' (Keb' Mo') ]
Some things I’ve been reading about :
“Many animals appear to have an instinctive aversion to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…a farmer named Bill Lashmet performed a feeding experiment with his cows. He filled one trough with fifty pounds of genetically modified Bt corn (a corn that has been altered to make its own bacterial toxin) and the other trough with natural shelled corn. He watched as every single one of his cows sniffed the Bt corn, withdrew, and then moved on to the natural corn, which they devoured.”
“It is because of the known risks and all the uncertainty that some countries have banned the growing and selling of genetically engineered foods. Many residents of these countries are highly suspicious of GMOs and are especially watching American children to see if there are any long-term effects. The children of North America have now become the world’s lab animals on whom to study the long-term effects of eating GM products.”
“[Professor Michael Pollan] likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment. We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects. We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the sun warm their backs.”
“What you can do: Demand Labeling…The United States is one of the only industrial nations in the world that doesn’t demand that genetically altered foods be labeled.”
“What you can do: Focus on Grocers…Even if the government isn’t responsive to consumers’ demands, grocery stores have to be, since we can now take our business elsewhere.”
excerpts taken from Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall
I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading because 1. this is old news to many 2. its offensive to others. But I decided to click “publish” because 1. reminders are helpful and 2. I’m interested in exploring why concepts in ecology are perceived as combative.
I think this is a matter of political marketing. We’re trained to camp at one of two ends of a spectrum, effectively making us inept problem-solvers.
The way I see it, eating should have nothing to do with whether you’re a democrat or republican. Food is such a basic need that it seems we should at least agree to put our power plays away while we make certain we can feed our bodies with whole, healthy, toxin-free food, if only to be able to fight another day.
Controversy is okay, but we should talk about it with an understanding of where our human institutions fit into a much larger picture. We made them up, they will not be around forever, and they aren’t worth defending to the point of cruelty and exploitation.
When it comes to the health of our environment (and consequently our health) the issues are just too basic to subject to our silly little games.
Lets all be pluralists and turn off the TV
we’ll seek the common good, embrace diversity
there’s more than one way to see, there’s mine and yours
through the eyes of me
Lets all be moderate and make a bubble bath
we’ll keep it cool enough that nobody gets mad
and keep your hands where I can see em
don’t touch my freedom
Let’s be conservative and have a casserol
by default it is a dish we all should know
I didn’t change it and you can’t blame me
it was always the recipe
Lets all be liberal and hope it goes away
we’re all intelligent enough to work and play
use your mental faculties
and make the check out to me
Lets be libertarian and get out of the way
your dog pooped in my yard but thats for you to say
I’d like for you to come and clean it
or say you’re sorry and mean it
Lets all stand in the middle and try to find the center
we’ll call it middleism and anyone can enter
look to the right and left twice and cross the street
you’re on the other side and that’s all that it means
did you go somewhere?
words and music by Levon Walker
written: Dec 2009 VA Beach, VA
recorded: June 2010 Grandmother’s Hill Tazewell, VA
filmed: April 2011 Knoxville, TN
Tags: art parade, authintensity, bubble bath, capitulation, casserol, conservatism, crossing guard, dog poop, federal government shutdown, freedom, knoxville railroad, liberalism, libertarian, michele, middleism, moderate, pluralism, the hill, train, virginia beach
[ from a. addair who is listening to Ryan Adams (Love is Hell) ]
I’ve recently read that “democracy is not merely a set system of government, something done to us or for us”, rather, ”it is the way we interact and experience democratic principles” (Frances Moore Lappe). I agree and am encouraged to write a letter.
I’m fairly new in my role of adult democratic citizen and so I’m finding that I need to write a pre-letter to organize my thoughts:
I’ve been working as an elementary school crossing guard for the past few months. At first, I found it tedious, sitting at an intersection busy with cars but few pedestrians. When I say few I mean that an average of 9 people cross over a two-hour period. And its the two-hour period that I take issue with.
Please excuse the following exhaustive details, but know that they are relevant:
I started the job showing up at the aforementioned intersection from 7-8 am and then from 2:30-3:30 pm because these were the times given to me by the officer in charge. Soon after the crossing guard, posted a half block down from my post, informed me that actually the times were 7-8 am and 2-3 pm. Seeing that somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication and noticing the severe lack of students during much of the alloted time, I thought it best to ask the school for clarification. At the office I was told that the school doors open at 7:15 am with the bell ringing at 7:45 am, and school dismisses at 2:45 pm with all students gone by 3 pm, at the latest. She suggested that I be there “a bit before and after” the times stated above. This made good sense and so I proceeded arriving and departing in this fashion, confident that the job was getting done.
Once my routine was recognized by my fellow crossing guard, the supervisor was promptly notified; and I, in turn, was notified that the hours were indeed 7-8 am and 2-3 pm.
Did I understand and was I able to keep these hours?
I answered in the affirmative and felt a frothing sense of anger the rest of the day.
It took me an afternoon and part of the evening to understand why I felt so affronted but finally came to the conclusion that I deeply resented being subjected to an inefficient and chaffing bureaucratic schedule. Both for the sake of my own wasted resources and the collective’s.
Why did I have to stand on the corner (in cold rain at the worst of it) during times (most extremely 50 minutes in the afternoon) when there was no conceivable chance of a school child passing by because they are not yet released from the building (two children cross after school, the first arriving at approx. 2:50, the other at 2:55)? I resent that I my job performance is based on the letter of the guidelines rather than the comprehensive question of objective.
I understand that my mismanaged hour or so and my discomfort and frustration are minor in the grand scheme of things. But I also understand that the wide world is made up of lots of small things. And that these small things matter and form the broad attitudes, values, and infrastructures of our culture. In a globally interconnected era, our cultures affect every other organism on the planet.
This local example of frustrating bureaucracy ripples out and is representative of the way we tend to handle larger scale issues.
And so I’m thinking that probably it is my responsibility to write (a version of) this letter to the police boss.
I hate to ruffle any feathers, my comfort-loving self telling me to just quit or learn to live with it. These may be my options, but not before I at least do my job in this living democracy to say, “This doesn’t make sense to me, can we talk about it?”
Tags: bureaucracy, citizen, crossing guard, elementary school, frances moore lappe, getting a grip, government, inefficient, letter, living democracy, love is hell, painting, power, responsibility, rules, ryan adams, ugly uniform
Tags: acrylic on canvas, bee swarm, flowers, gobstopper, goggles, little swimmer girl, mario, paint, purple, science, short poem, you are what you eat. so be nice to plants and bees and (therefore) your own self
[ from a. addair who is listening to The Black Lillies (100 Miles of Wreckage) ]
This week, we’ve taken a part in Food-for-All, a project from Old North Abbey. The basic premise is to get a group of families together (there are 20-25 people in this one) and take turns cooking meals for one another. We helped Gregg and Pryor prepare grilled cheese and soup on Monday and yesterday we went over to the King’s house to have french toast and strawberries. All this week we have dinner plans (we can just stop in for a to-go meal or sit down and eat). Such a good idea. Just wanted to brag on them.
This video was shot during a day with Edwin, my friend and good doctor in Mexico, who sees patients in a government clinic high up in the hills of Chiapas. The little town of El Bosque could one of the most beautiful places on earth. The people are shy, but friendly. The man in this video said, “Of course you can film, maybe then we’ll get more medicine.”
The roads and infrastructure make this clinic a difficult place to maintain normality. Edwin has a one hour leeway for the drive each morning. The fog can hide the hood of the car. No guard rails. In the rainy season the roads are rivers.
Edwin told me of a man who’s foot was so swollen with infection that he had to cut it open to find the piece of wood, punctured through it weeks before. About once a month he delivers a baby, often alongside the customary methods of the village midwife. She uses homemade medicines when available, Pepsi when they are not. Tuberculosis is common. Edwin typically sees twenty patients a day and there is no cost for the care or the medicine.
In West Virginia, my Aunt Gwinnie can get somebody lost with only three right turns. You’ll be just ten crow miles from Bluefield and never know it, but mountains are like that. Edwin put his instruments away and we climbed back down the beanstalk. The sun unset from its precipice and the forest returned to dark. I imagine El Bosque saw the last light. We were over Tuxtla Gutierrez and then falling into it, Edwin on his way home from a day at his job, and me bouncing in the other chair like I’d just discovered the color green.
If you like the video, please feel free to share it. The song is for free download above at the “Free Music” link, as is the entire EP in mp3s. My first two EPs are there for free as well, so get them as well. Please help me spread the word.
Edwin, the good doctor, let me tag along to El Bosque yesterday. He is the doctor of a clinic where he either lives during the week or makes a two hour commute by combi bus (van taxi) first from Tuxtla to Bochil, and Bochil to El Bosque. El Bosque means “the Forest,” a simple title because one, that’s where it is, and two, the people there don’t speak Spanish. Indigenous to these mountains, they are Tzotzil, the same people who have the artisan markets nearby in San Cristobal and who form the EZLN.
Edwin sees twenty patients a day with illnesses ranging from tuberculosis to epilepsy. And sadly, in a place with unreliable water and electricity, or even the delivery of medicine, there is always a hot Pepsi to be had. Hypertension and diabetes is the result of free furniture and a wonder cure for pain, fatigue and thirst (guaranteed parasite free).
I have a larger story to tell about what happened yesterday but no time. Today is our last day in Mexico and we must be off to make firm memories to last until we can return. Cafe Avenida for me, some real coffee with old men in Guayaberas.
Upcoming posts: Living in Mexico with Mexicans, a mini video about El Bosque, a Vigilante story, traveling with Las Gringas (the seven American girls who came for Jessica’s wedding and their impact on the atmosphere surrounding them), Salsa and Bachata class: one year later, a situation involving Ashley which led me to believe she may be the biggest bad ass I’ve ever known or even heard of despite her stature and demeanor, and how I dropped my wallet in a combi and realized it after getting a taxi so I jumped out to chase down the combi and bust in the side door to find it in the back seat. (My guardian angel enjoys a good drill). I may not get to all of these topics.
Cafe Avenida 2010
Tags: bachata class, bochil, cafe avenida, combi taxi, el bosque, ezln, gingas, going home, guardian angel, guayabera, losing wallet in a taxi, parasite, pepsi, san cristobal, san valentine, slasa, tzotzil, vigilante
Around two years have passed since this blog began, or really the tangents of Facebook notes which would lead your humble narrator to believe that a blog might be worthwhile, if only to himself. Ashley and I were, in those days, feeling the indescribable itch to make it all stop. And so, in such a state we stepped out, to be met abruptly by stiff failure and vaporous chaos which has now come to resemble a large sanding belt in the sky. It took more than to go, we had to remain. It would be silly to sum up the days as uncomfortable, or to term them adventurous. It has been nothing short of absolute transformation, beyond what a springtime in Manhattan could have begun to answer.
After two years I wouldn’t say that I’ve learned to live with peace in uncertainty. I can find peace, but I won’t look for certainty. Those who are most certain will retain the most fear. Certainty of everything requires a hardy dependence on power and acceptance of inequities. I’ve found that peace comes from spending time and effort where it best belongs, where it most needed for others, and where there is most call for hope. I’ll abandon myself to a life of pure work that I’m proud of, even if my labor must go to the shovel or the waiter’s apron. I can be sustained in an existence which gives me peace. Or I can be certain of my helplessness.
Thank you for being our readers. Anyone who takes their time to be concerned with ours is a dear friend and a reason to keep doing our work.
(Levon who is listening to The Last Shadow Puppets, “My Mistakes Were Made for You EP”)