Karma

Plague Poems #13

PandemicMoi
On the heels of the realization that T-Rump is trying to kill us because he knows he can't get re-elected now, this seemed appropriate:
 
Curse
 
April 28, 2020, 3:55 p.m. EDT: After three months, the United States hits 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, one-third of the world’s total. By 5:40 p.m., 58,640 Americans had died—352 more than in 19 years of the Vietnam War.
 
What wall will we build for this?
Will it be pieces of that rusted steel
joke at the southern border, dismantled and
the names of the dead etched in acid
or carved through with fire?
 
I no longer have the words for this.
There is not enough articulate invective
to rain down
what this man and his minions
deserve in their exploitation and failure.
Even the careless recommendation
of cake to the starving
does not meet this benchmark of cruelty and
sadistic disregard for human life.
 
The war dead already mock him
in his cowardice.
But we too are in a war, and too busy
trying to live without the help
that is going to those who don’t need it
to have time for mere outrage.
It requires something cosmic:
 
—a lightning strike,
burning him up on the spot,
his corpulence catching fire
like one of Nero’s torches
on his Virginia golf course
 
—a funnel cloud reaching down
from the blue heaven of Florida
to sweep him into its bosom
and drop him from 10,000 feet
at Mar-a-Lago
 
—a meteorite, just a tiny one,
the fiery iron core all that’s left
from its trip through the atmosphere,
like a bullet through his head
outside his tower on Fifth Avenue.
 
And a timeless internal moment
of the utter awakening of his conscience
to the facts of his deeds
and their consequences
to torture him
beforehand.
 
‒April 30, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020
 

Plague Poems #7

PandemicMoi

I've been on a tear and wasn't sure what to post today, but I see the anti-lockdown assholes are at it again, so here's this:

Life, Liberty

For Dr. Lorna Breen (1971-2020), who survived COVID, but not treating it in the New York-Presbyterian emergency room in northern Manhattan.

Sunny today and 62,
the sky blue, leaves
unfolding like origami released
against it
as Spring eagerly erupts
after a week of cool rain and clouds.
I see only slices of it
from my windows,
under self-imposed
house arrest, voluntarily
immured like some anchoress.
Always a bit of a recluse,
staying at home has not been
much of a burden for me,
but I understand the difficulties
of sharing small spaces
with more than just an uppity cat—
the need for the touch of breezes,
for sunlight on the shoulders,
for the sense of unrestricted
space to move around in,
for some relative quiet and the presence
of others not contemptuously familiar
or dying.

My co-workers, whom I see in the ether
of the Internet each day,
mail occasionally to say they are going out
to exercise their kids, or dog, or themselves,
or just to get out while they can,
and come back with furious tales
of the unmasked and the too-close,
the heedless and the self-absorbed.
The missives sometimes sound too much
like Captain Oates’s self-sacrifice to the arctic blizzard.
I imagine the blizzard of virus particles
swirling in the air outside from an uncovered cough
and I stay inside,
in the luxury of assisted, privileged isolation,
listening to birds and helicopters
and sirens.

I think of Patrick Henry,
of World War II fascist fighters
like my dad, and
of all those forced
to go outside right now
to keep me safe, fed, comfortable
enough to keep propping up the economy
—and out of an emergency room—
like some pampered princess
on her mildly annoying pea,
and the people who are treating my sick friends
in crowded hospitals in New Jersey
and London and South Carolina:

It was my liberty or my death, knuckleheads,
not the death of others traded
for a superficial liberty
to do whatever you please, regardless
of consequences,
or liberty in death, unless
you have seen too much of it
and cannot face another,
not knowing
when it will stop.

What will you do with your liberty
when those you love are dead
of your gullibility, your ignorance, your faux patriotism,
of your inability to be temporarily inconvenienced,
or to sit with yourself or your kids or your mate,
or to lie in the bed you’ve made?
Who should die for you?
Do you know who has?
Are you counting them?

‒April 29, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


The Problem of Intent

Writer Moi I haven't been back here in a while, due to various circumstances I won't go into here. If any of Rob's class is watching this space, I just want to say hi. Hope you enjoyed the essay of mine that he assigned.

Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about the word "intent," as I have been off and on for some time, for reasons relating to the circumstances mentioned above (more on that in a later, catch-up post). My ruminations finally solidified yesterday after watching an episode of Red Table Talk on Facebook (another reason I haven't been back here in a while—Facebook, not Red Table Talk). It's a good episode with Chelsea Handler talking with Jada Pinkett Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Jones about white privilege and parts of it are really painful to watch, mostly the bits from Handler's documentary, in which she interviews white women, mostly poor and conservative, about whether they think white privilege exists (they don't). Handler's own previous dumbassery on the subject is also pretty painful, but she's getting it right now, and that's what matters most.

But there's a point in the video where she tells a story on herself, illustrating her former dumbassery and the person who calls her out said, "It's not about the intention, it's about the reception." A little further on, Handler acknowledges that white people don't want to learn because it's uncomfortable to learn not to be an asshole or a bigot to other people, "you gotta go head first into deep things and get in trouble and say stupid things to learn how to say smarter things." All of which is true. Not just say smarter things, but know smarter things, I would add. The process of learning to be a good ally to people who don't have your privilege is hard and embarrassing and upsetting. It's heartbreaking and guilt-making to realize you've been walking through the world hurting people (if you're not a Rethuglican who enjoys that kind of thing; but I digress.) 

And then Jada Pinkett Smith says that key thing that I've been thinking about for ages now: "I think we gotta make some room for people to say stupid stuff sometimes," because racism has been going on for so long that most of it is unconscious now. People don't realize they're being racist unless it's pointed out to them (and that's where other white people need to get off their asses; it's not Black people's job to do that). She continues, "Not every—you know, not every action is racist." So while it may feel racist to the object of the action, it may not to the actor and it may not have that intent behind it. 

This is why intent matters—also. Not by itself, but in addition to reception. Because if we are doing our damnedest to be a good friend and generous person, to do the right thing, to not be racist, sexist, bigoted, insensitive, ableist, oblivious to the experiences of others, and we fuck up along the way, a little compassion helps fuel the struggle for everyone. There's a mental health element to this too, and Handler prefaces her part of the discussion with what seems like her irrelevant experiences in therapy to make this point. She spends a long time talking about her own struggles with pain and anger and how realizing how angry she was was because she was in pain was the thing that broke her open, finally, and got some real work done. When we're operating primarily on a foundation of pain (and here I walked away to go make my bed, because, yanno, pain), then the world becomes our enemy. Everyone becomes our enemy. Everyone is out to hurt us, to insult us, to fuck with us, plotting against us to make us miserable, being mean to us. Everything everyone says or does to us that hurts us (and when we're already in pain, this doesn't generally take a lot) is intentional. Because people are bad and mean and hurtful and fuck all ya'll anyway. I hate people.

And that's clearly bullshit. It feels right when we're hurting, and damn if there aren't days when I get up in the morning and look at the news and think What the ever loving fuck is wrong with you people? about nearly everyone in the world after seeing all the hurt we do each other. But to think the whole world is your enemy, that every person you meet, every friend you make, will ultimately betray and hurt you creates a huge number of problems and solves nothing. First, believing we are somehow important enough for individuals in our lives (never mind the rest of the world) to spend their time machinating about how to hurt us is one of the best examples of narcissism I can think of, and utterly delusional. That's like gaslighting yourself. It's also an example of flawed perceptions and expectations. It's our expectations of others, ultimately, that wounds us: expecting perfection, expecting an intimate and automatic understanding of our POV, expecting unearned unconditional love, expecting all the attention. Love people as you find them, and if they, in their own pain and rage, hurt you, love them from a distance.

Worse than this, though, is that anticipating injury from other people assures that this is all we'll ever get from them. Ever. Because everything they do will be an injury to us if we fail to see their intent and their focus. One of the last times my mom came to visit me here in New York, we were walking along the street and she said, in what was clearly a revelatory moment for her, "wow, people are really so focused on themselves that they don't really pay attention to anyone else." This was coming from a woman who agonized over what other people might think of her if she went out without looking perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, perfectly dignified, who was painfully self-conscious about how her disability made her look. I wish she had had more time to enjoy the liberation of that revelation. Because she was right about that. People are all dealing with their own pain, their own stuff, their own troubles, and hurting or judging you is not a high priority on their to-do list.

Unless they are so wrapped up in their own pain that they are going to lash out first, and there are some people who are that hurt, that broken. It's good to remember that it's still really not about you in those circumstance; if they are hurting and judging you, what they see  in you that they hate is almost always what they hate or feel insecure about themselves. Those folks have a lot of work to do that you can't do for them; all you can do is wish them well and get out of range. Because in their pain, they create more of it. This is what intentional, unexamined and institutional racism and sexism does to people. It creates a cycle of pain that needs work to be broken.

Again, this is why intent matters. If I'm hurting you out of maliciousness that's one thing; I need a slap upside the head and a boot in the rear. If I'm hurting you out of my own pain, that's more understandable but still not excusable; I've got some work to do on myself, then, and owe you an apology and an effort to do better. But if I'm hurting you by accident, because I'm learning to do better and still making mistakes, cut me a break please. Work with me. Call me out, by all means. I can't learn if I don't know I've screwed up. If it's really egregious, don't spare your anger. I can't rightly ask you to do that and I probably deserve it. But don't use my mistake to make judgments about what kind of person I am at the core, because then you're doing the same thing that bigots do. If you think I'm the kind of person who would intentionally hurt others, then we already have a problem of perception and reception on your end. And that's bad intent.


Closed Borders

Prick us
and we bleed
like all animals.|
And prick each other
we do
with guns and bombs and
fear most of all
until we see an enemy
everywhere
who does not look like us
as though our own tribe
were not capable
of the same atrocities.
Like the snailwe pull ourselves inside
our imaginary walls
and close the doors—
or think we can.
But the guns and bombs
are just tools,
the real enemy not other people.

When we look at each other
only through borders
we can’t see
what a wide and splendid world it is.

–For Beirut and Baghdad and Gaza and Paris, Nov. 14, 2015


Happy New Year!

Moonlitdoll I wish you
health and happiness
pleasures of the body and the mind
success
new adventures
the rekindling of old loves and/or the discovery of new ones
fireworks
candlelight
security financial and otherwise
good stories
continual astonishment
spiritual enlightenment (your choice of dogma or karma)
frequent amusement
a wee dram when you need it
big hearts
deep pockets
long fuses
something warm and fuzzy that is already house-trained
a sense of the ineffable
and people in your life who are as dear as my friends are to me.

I wish all of us peace in a time of war; compassion in a time of hatred; generosity in a time of need; self-knowledge in a time of blame; courage to right past wrongs, and above all things, love unconditional.


be kind

Going to Church Moi Great review article in The Guardian today about a book called On Kindness by Adam Philips & Barbara Taylor (only available in the UK). The gist of the review is that we, as a society, are suspicious of kindness and see it as a form of selfishness or weakness, in part because we've been taught we are all in fierce competition with each other for survival. Here's a good example: I was catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while over New Year's and was telling her that I'd been helping my friend Helen (whom I've known longer than the friend I was talking to) get her new pied-a-terre set up over here. It's been over a year-long process, from the house-hunt to the final move in and Helen, who has a nice house in London and a very successful business, stayed with me several times along the way. We've gone shopping together, I've picked things up for her, met with realtors, and basically shared everything I've gleaned about living in New York for the past 20 years. As I was describing this, my friend kept asking me "what's in it for you?" over and over, until I felt like I was justifying my actions.

While it's true that Helen could probably throw me some freelance work now and then, and she's already invited me to stay with her next time I'm in London, the truth is that I've been helping her out (a) because she's a friend, (b) because someone else (Laurie) helped me out when I first moved here, and (c) because I like helping people. There: I said it. Yes, I do like helping people. It's one of the reasons I teach. The best moments in the classroom are those

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