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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RAISING/RAZING MONEY

Sometimes I wonder where money comes from and where it goes...Not just my money...ALL money.  I recall a song from a little known Broadway Musical (Tenderloin) that is about money changing hands:  "Oh you got to pay the Dentist for a tooth he's gonna yank, so you go and get some money from the bank..."
The money gets handed off from person to place.  The song--and the money--go round and round and eventually, the song ends and the money ends up back at the bank.  Banks expect their money to return.  And it does.  With interest.  My money doesn't seem to return.  At least that's the way it has been.  Or perhaps it's just that it doesn't return as money but as rich friendships and a wealth of adventures.  And I guess that's the way I set it up with the Universe.
Recent Dialogue
Me:  I need some money to pay some bills and create a wonderful project.
Universe:  What did you do with the last money we gave you?
Me:  Uh, well, I paid some bills (not all of them, unfortunately) and I donated some to friends and organizations that needed money and I put gas in my car and I bought some food--including pet food and wild bird seed---and I took a grieving friend out to dinner and I paid someone to fix the heater in my kitchen and I bought new flannel sheets and well, it's almost all gone...
Universe:  So, now what do you need that money can purchase?  And how much do you need?
Me:  (in a whisper...hesitantly...not yet ready to confess to the Universe my financial needs and whims---why? I don't know)  Uh, I'm not sure.  I have bills and dreams and needs and uh, I'm not sure...
Universe:  Let me know when you're sure.  I'll see what we can do.

I'm never sure.  My ideas and dreams and plans and obligations have always outpaced my income.  A psychiatrist once told me (and this is verbatim:  "Money is a supply and you get what you need."
Is that true?  How would a Supplier know what I need or needed when even I don't know/didn't know!

When my Gallery closed (I don't like to use the "F" word:  Failed) I had debt and uh...more debt and no job and no savings and no partners.  I had my imagination and some free-floating optimism and a sense that somehow (?) everything would work out...and I was adamant that I would not make debt management my ongoing theme.  I figured out that I would have to be my own bankrupt-leaning banker.  I would have to acknowledge and list my assets and my uh...I am resisting the word...oh, yes, my liabilities!
 
Over the long months since Linda Durham Contemporary Art became "Linda Durham Temporarily Out-of-Pocket" I have minimized my debts...Some through payment and some through stressful re-negotiating with credit card companies.  It's still shaky. 
Perhaps that is why some people can not understand why in Heaven's Name I would be planning to go around the world.  I can't respond with the familiar retort:  "Because it's there."  That response has already been used as a "you-will-never-understand" reason by a different kind of risk-taking adventurer.  Instead, I answer by saying, "As the one and only Architect of this Life of mine, I  embark on this trip knowing that it is central to my survival as a creative and optimistic soul." 

One day, in Greenwich Village, in the mid-sixties, I ran in to my friend John Allen who had recently returned from an extended foreign excursion.  He put his hands on my shoulders and, with great emotion, he said, "I've been AROUND THE FUCKING WORLD!"  It may be the most amazing, exciting sentence anyone ever uttered to me. 
To breathe my way around the World has been a decades long dream.  As I enter my seventieth year on this planet, I know that NOW is the time for me to fulfill this dream.  NOW!  All financial obstacles and contra-indications notwithstanding!

Me:  Dear Universe, Dear God, Dear Oversoul, Dear Spirit Guides,  I need to find $12,000 to finance my round the world journey of Peace and Friendship...my private pilgrimage.  Please help me find a way.
Universe:  Hmmm...wondered when you might ask...Here are a few "ideas"!

Shazam!  Drum Roll!   Eureka!  Ta-Daa!  Open Sesame!!

I raised the money with a personal letter campaign in which I offered artwork from my collection in exchange for financial support.  Next, I presented a reading of MOBIUSTRIP to a generous audience.  And I collaborated with a friend on a "Kickstarter" publication project in which we raised about $3000.  I am about to sell my Rolex.  I'm going!  Somehow that psychiatrist was right. At least, he imparted a motivational message that I choose to use in an effort to get the supply needed for this wild, personal, possibly capricious dream of mine. 
And, as my friend Reverand Gayle says, "And so it is."


 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

RENASCENT


Or A Metaphor for Meta

 
An acorn rests on the soft dirt…Nature blankets it with leaves; rains on it; warms it with sun; covers it in snow…It sinks into the earth and sleeps…

Somehow it takes root…one day it sprouts…eventually it is a sapling…It grows over time with Nature’s care:  her sun and wind; her summer showers and winter snows…

Years pass.  Roots deepen.  Soil nourishes.  Leaves appear and disappear with the seasons.  Cycles cycle.

Birds and squirrels, and insects attach and detach from the tree…It grows.  Its acorns form and fall…

It grows tall.  Beautiful. 

One day it is felled.

Lightning or Man?   It lies on the ground.   This is not the end of the cycle…The acorns of this tree repeat Nature’s work…and the felled tree becomes a desk, a door, a chair, a picture frame, a gate, a table…something useful, important, loved…

This is a metaphor I made up for myself---having been felled, I reincarnate, re-purpose, return…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

MIND THE GAP

"There is always a gap between the impulse to step into the unknown and the realization that one has..."
Mahrud ad Nil

I spent a day hovering over the gap.  I had put one foot forward (a brave, foolish, or optimistic, foot...I didn't know which) and as that naive foot hovered over future ground, I trembled inwardly.  What if I become lost in the gap---the dark "nether place" that follows impulse and intention but precedes any sort of resolution or success...Ah, the unknown.  Suppose the gap is so wide that I do not find footing on the other side.  The other side---of the problem, puzzle, idea, intention, belief.  I am drawn to the unknown, while at the same time, I am discomfited by the absence of knowledge that hovers before it.  Drawn and discomfited!  Although not dissuaded...I hasten to say. 

It seems that my tried and true formula for living---for most of my life, that is---is composed of one part imagination, one part declaration and one part risk.  I spring forward.   I leap--often without looking!  I commit.  Commit to what?  To adventure?   To love?  To dreams? (perchance)?  I commit to Life.

"I will drink Life to the lees...
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world."                           Alfred Lord Tenneyson Ulysses  (1842)

I am going around the world---and soon.  And there are gaps in my plan:  money, itinerary, arrangements for my house and pets...and, still:  I am going around the world...and I am leaving in December.  And I am minding the gaps...

Soon I will be seventy...This forthcoming trip is a gift, a challenge, and my celebration of the wonder of it all.
Seventy!  I am inspired by a quote attributed to  Oliver Wendell Holmes.  At ninety, he is said to have said, upon seeing a beautiful young woman...
"Oh, to be seventy again." 
That's worth remembering, as I "mind the gap"...and step forward!!


 

Friday, October 5, 2012

FROM HERE TO HERE IN 70 DAYS - PART 2

(see Part 1 below...you might want to read it first)


"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

                                                                                                   -----Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

AROUND THE WORLD IN SEVENTY DAYS
Oh, yes!  I definitely know I can do this.  The dream is real.  I'm bold.  I will summon the genius, the power and I will manifest the magic. 
Although, in my last piece, I claimed that I would go to seven countries and travel by seven modes of transportation---this may not be so.  It seems a bit contrived--even to me.  Thank you JZC for pointing that out! The exact countries I will visit are part of the unknown which will unfold as choices and possibilities present themselves. I will embrace those unknowns as they appear on my solo journey.  Oh, and the part about all the "M" countries...I don't know.  As I twirled the globe in my library, those countries kept popping out at me.  Initially.  Now, having continued to  spin and spin that globe, other countries have begun to call me:  Sri Lanka...New Guinea...Laos...The point is the circumnavigation of Mother Earth.  I plan to travel East and to breathe my way from Santa Fe all the way East to Santa Fe again.  In seventy amazing days.


I am beginning to gather the funds for this endeavor:  twenty thousand dollars should do it.  TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!!?!  Where will I get that much money in two months??

"Money is the seed of money, and the first guinea is sometimes more difficult to acquire than the second million."
                                                                                                                       ---Jean Jacques Rousseau


(I already have the first "guinea"!

I have never asked for money for a project of mine.  It feels strange.  Uncomfortable.  So, to assuage the guilt (or whatever), I plan to give something of equal or greater value (than the amount contributed) to each supporter.  My first step is to contact former clients and collectors from the old gallery days.  I have decided to offer the choice of a drawing from my collection worth in excess of the financial gift.  For example:  a $1200 original drawing by John Connell (R.I.P.) for support at the $1000 level.  Plus: acknowledgement in the book.  THERE WILL BE A BOOK.  And perhaps I will dedicate a chapter to the contributor.  And more.  I am already grateful.

I want to contact my "friends of means" first.  Time is short.  Intention is deep. My willingness, ability, creativity, and compassion are in alignment with the Times and the Stars and...This I Know.

Soon I will say more about  the Peace and Wonder parts of my journey...

 

Monday, October 1, 2012

AROUND THE WORLD IN SEVENTY DAYS

...seventy days, seven countries, seven modes of transportation, seven completed journals...


Before I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I will celebrate my seventieth birthday.  This is totally (and wonderfully) incredible to me...Imagine, seventy years on this small, remarkable, blue marble of a planet!!  Amazing! 
As I review the places I've been, the people I've met, the things I've seen and discovered, I become more and more conscious of the fact that I have been using and investing my days well...I have been daring and wise and foolish and lucky and optimistic.  And I have been curious about what happens next...What can I discover?  How can I share my abiding love of discovery with others?

I have a plan!

In my past travels, I have explored many countries and cultures.  It has always been awesome to catapult myself into the unknown...Who am I when I don't know the language and customs of a country?  How do I make friends?  How do I embrace the people?  How do I absorb their Art, their landscape, their foods, their celebrations?
I have been half way around the world many times...however:  I have never breathed my way ALL the way around the World!  That is what I want to do.  It has been a dream of mine for half a century.  I remember, in the early 60's, when my friend John Allen returned from his circumnavigation of our planet...He grabbed my shoulders, looked in my eyes and said, "I've been around the fucking world!!"  That sentence has stayed with me for all these decades! 

I will leave in December of this year!  I plan to go to Malta, Morocco, Madagascar, Mauritius (and maybe the Seychelles), Malaysia, Myanmar and Mexico!  I know..."M" countries...it's a partial accident.  My exact itinerary is subject to change.  I plan to stay warm.  Perhaps, when I'm seventy-five, I"ll do the snowy countries!

In the next two months, I will raise $20,000. to make the trip.  I will: sell Art from my personal collection; write to clients for support; get an advance from a publisher; create a Kickstarter Project...

This is my initial declaration.  My ideas will become more concrete soon.  Stay tuned.  I know I will need lots and lots of good wishes and prayers...
 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WELLS FARGO: A CLEAR AND PRESENT TORTURER



"torture (tor' cher), n., v., -tured, -tur.ing. --n. 1. the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty. 2. a method of inflicting such pain. 3. Often, tortures. the pain or suffering caused or undergone. 4. extreme anguish of body or mind: agony. 5. a cause of severe pain or anguish. --v.t. 6. to subject to torture. 7. to afflict with severe pain of body or mind: My back is torturing me. 8. to force or extort by torture: We'll torture the truth from his lips! 9. to twist, force, or bring into some unnatural position or form: trees tortured by storms. 10. to distort or pervert (language, meaning, etc.)..."
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
(Second Edition Unabridged)


Wells Fargo should be tried in The Supreme Court for Torture! That's my informed opinion and I'm sticking to it!!

Since March of this year, I have been dealing unsuccessfully with scores of Wells Fargo employees and robots in an earnest attempt to engage in a serious conversation about restructuring my mortgage: an interest only loan on $450,000. at 6.25 percent. I'm neither "upsidedown" nor "underwater"---at least not yet. I am simply (?) one of a million or more people who has gotten caught in a tough financial place, during the economic shenanigans of the last few years.

"Yes, I will verify my address...Yes, I plan to keep my house...No, there are no other phone numbers where I can be reached...Yes, I'm aware that this conversation may be recorded...The last four digits of my social security number are XXXX...Yes, I am aware that this phone call is an attempt to collect a debt..."

Before a conversation of any kind can begin, one must endure the unavoidable drill. One cannot push a button and detour to an individual who can actually be of assistance! First, answer all the questions--over and over again. It doesn't matter if you are calling to speak with your assigned specialist and you have the extension number. Nor does it matter if you have answered the telephone and then hung on in dead space until (finally) a representative---tied to a script with strict rules--begins to speak. One must complete the drill.
In my opinion, whoever designed the Kafka-esque Wells Fargo "phone-procedure-to-nowhere" should be forced to sit, Clockwork Orange-style, in front of a big screen, with earphones at top volume, while the millions of mothers, fathers, couples, grandparents, small business people and individuals who have felt victimized, tortured or destroyed by the Wells Fargo fake re-finance process tells his or her tale. This turn-about-torture would be a life sentence!
It is possible (eventually) to get to a real live mortgage modification specialist. And, if you are the financially-strapped homeowner, you can engage in a long and momentarily hopeful conversation with said specialist about your situation and your intentions. However, the conversation will--inevitably--go nowhere.
As part of the mortgage modification plot of the mega-bank, the WF "mortgagee" will be given a list of documents to submit. The troubled homeowner will then be assured, by their assigned home preservation specialist that, once the paperwork has been submitted and reviewed, the distressed homeowner will be re-contacted in order to continue the process of saving his/her home. And, if you are that troubled homeowner, you will wait...and wait...for that specialist to call you. You may attempt to call the specialist. But you will be disappointed. You will fail.
My first "specialist' a pleasant man named Rob gave me the list of required documents . I dutifully assembled bank statements, income tax returns, a "hardship letter" and other special downloadable forms...I faxed them from a Wells Fargo Bank. And I waited. During the next month, I answered the routine "robo" collection calls. When I reached a live person, I asked to be connected to my specialist. This was not possible, I was told, without enduring the tedious, demeaning drill. Each time, I made note of the names of all the representatives along with their identification numbers. A month after my one and only conversation with Rob, I received a dated form letter from him saying that it had been good to speak with me that day. He was sorry we couldn't find a solution. In truth, I had not spoken with him.
So I ranted. I raved at the various WF phone clones who maintained that Rob had made ten calls to me and that I had not responded. (Liar, Liar, pants on fire!).
Perhaps it was an accident, I thought. A misunderstanding. And so, I re-entered the mortgage modification program. This time a new specialist, with a different name and an equally cordial demeanor, requested updated and additional documents. I complied. Same results. All the while, the collection people called daily. Before I could tell them that I was sincerely and actively with the special program, I was compelled to endure the drill...
"Fool me once, shame on you..."They fooled me more than three times! I went to a lawyer. The lawyer sent a strong letter--return receipt requested. No response. The collection calls continued.
There's more...but I am getting frustrated recounting it.
What I know is that Wells Fargo has no intention of dealing with me. It's possible that they do not even own my mortgage. Perhaps they hope to "steal" my house. I know I complied in good faith---like millions in similar situations have complied. We are held captive by their sinister, unethical, borderline-criminal actions.
No matter how many times I tell my story (recall, if you will, the hapless Mariner in Coleridge's poem) there will be no relief; no solution. Now I understand--finally. Torture!
This is torture. Luckily, I am a strong woman. However, my heart goes out to those who are not so strong; those who are stuck or scared, or sick or angry or finally without hope; those who strut and fret their sad hours upon the stagecoach in the torturer's logo...We must be heard! It must be known: Wells Fargo engages in torture!! Who will stop them from their insidious, mobius strip-like device of endless cruel and unusual punishment!

Friday, September 14, 2012

On Becoming The Change I Want In The World

I am letting go of my borderline, all-consuming participation in the demanding world of Active (increasingly angry and ineffective) Activism.  This "change" is not one that comes after an introspective period of inner soul-searching and turmoil.  Nor do I find myself knocking at the door of this decision after a right brain/left brain philosophical argument between my ongoing activism and my reticent retreat from that activism.  No, this just "happened" to me.  Poof!  I fell away from my unwrapped awareness of my proximity to the underlying anger that permeated many of the protests, sit-ins, and lie-ins in which I participated.  And the change suddenly befell me.  It was unexpected.  There was an unanticipated shift in my focus.  I know I no longer belong in the groups that demonstrate in front of The White House, travel to Athens, Cairo, New York, Chicago to be tear-gassed or arrested or pushed...
Oh, I honor and respect those who do---who do so out of a deep conviction that the activist's movement is necessary...those who believe that this is the best way to restore our cockeyed world to a rational, liveable place...It is necessary.  But I do not continue to have the "it is necessary to me" impulse.
Yes, I am letting go of Active Activism.  Or perhaps, it is letting go of  me.  I have reached the limit of my ability to embrace the angry-ness that seems to have permeated so much of the actions of the peace and justice movement.  I am reorienting my passion for peace and justice in a more graceful and life-affirming manner.  This is a radical change for me.  I am bewildered by it.  There is even an aspect of shame associated with this shift.  Did I fail?  Am I lazy?  Insincere? 

Dear Universe, may it not be the case that I have withdrawn from my involvement in the important work of standing up for justice and that I have fallen into a state of apathy about the crises that face this planet.   I haven't, I hope.  I haven't...or so I tell myself.  I have merely (?) moved away from my semi-obsession with constant demonstrating, endless sign-holding, perpetual petition soliciting, personal ranting, finger-pointing and (figurative) hair-pulling in favor of feeling the beauty of differences...in favor of acknowledging the point of view of the other...
How and when did this happen?!  When I was sleeping?  Or daydreaming?  Did it happen when I was reading, listening, reviewing, conversing about the world and some of the ongoing injustices that seep into everything we do? 
While I was consumed by the egregious injustices that affect everything we have, injustices that alter everything we are, I noticed my cells telling me to stop, to change direction...to work against anger and injustice with peaceful acknowledgement, forgiveness, understanding and compassion.  I can no longer find meaning in my small roll as a stand-up, fighting peace ant.  It begins to feel like an oxymoronic calling...I'm on the brink of distancing myself from my decades-long earnest work to reverse the effects of war and corporate greed and political expediency from our world, our country, our close community...and something else.  I don't want to wake up each morning to read the dozens of depressing and alarming (and futile?) e-mails sent from activist groups and friends and colleagues with whom I have rallied and railed against the insatiably greedy and violent machine.  The path I have traveled--with regard to this kind of activism--is delivering me to an intersection that is presenting me with new passions, new choices...The organized, never-ending, occupied peace fighters platform is too angry for me...too desperately all-consumingly exhausting, violent, and judgmental. 
   
I don't want to be angry.  I know:  these are angry times.  Still, to wake up every day with anger and frustration towards those who, in their ignorance (for what can it be other than ignorance) would greedily continue to wreak havoc on our planet; towards those whose greed and ignorance cause families to face starvation, brutal deaths, loss of culture and homeland...is not working for me.  Sadly, it is not working for the world nor is it resolving the situations I long to see resolved or reversed...
Is this new realization of mine the result of a sense of personal failure?  A growing sense of despair? Je ne sais pas.  While the critical need for change is everywhere apparent, change for the better is apparently not on the current agenda of those who have stolen and polluted our world, our very understanding of our world...
It has reached a truly critical point---now that I see and sense anger among the peace movement, the loss of kindness, the absence of time spent on considering beauty...now that I note the growing chasm between those who stand for peace in their hearts and those who march for overthrow of the enemy... Who is the enemy?  The enemy is unconsciousness.  Now is the time for me to embrace beauty everywhere, to acknowledge those in need, to dance with those who find peace in music, to sit with those who find peace in prayer and meditation, to listen to those whose voices hold optimism and joy...to those who make me smile!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS


Shall I stay or shall I go?  Stay how?  Go where?
Let me not beat around the bush.  My house is in foreclosure.  I am responsible for it all.  That knowledge, that acknowledgement,  makes me feel strong. 
There is so much in my world, in my mind. 
Ever since the Gallery closed I have been "wondering" what happens next...and all those days and months of wondering have presented me with a myriad of  "nexts" and a plethora of choices.  Roads. Taken not taken.  Explored, not explored, partially explored. 
Here I AM, at the center of ME.  In this place I feel content, inspired, healthy, grateful, kind, generous and optimistic.  In my wondering about what may happen next...and how to choose...and how to accept that which may become inevitable...and how to conduct myself...and where to investigate...I make small forays into various visions and possibilities and ideas. Picture me as a circle with a number of short rays moving out from the center.  These rays represent choices and ideas and truncated directions. 
Some examples:  1)  Divest myself of everything I "own" (EVERYTHING) and travel freely from place to place, meeting good people, writing, exploring, loving...2)  Stay in Santa Fe, in my house, and concentrate on building The Wonder Institute; turning it into a place where people meet and  share their ideas, their Art and Experiences...3)  Expand my website into an online magazine and direct my energies toward making it something that is read and followed by millions...4)  Turn my property into a small, intentional community...5)  Become a wandering Crusader for Peace and Justice...6)  Let Wells Fargo take my house and let the chips fall where they may...7)  Fight for my house;  fight, argue, research and win the right to stay in this house...8)  File a Chapter 13 bankruptcy/reorganization claim...9)  All of the aforementioned!!

This morning, several inspirational e-mails appeared in my in-box.  Messages, not only from friends--but from the Universe.
A dear friend wrote to me from Viet Nam where she has had a major Art gallery for many years.  Once she had a big and beautiful space in the center of Hanoi--now she is working out of her home.  Life for her has been challenging but manageable for decades.  This summer, tragedy struck her family:  her sister's daughter and husband and four beautiful children perished in a private plane crash.  She sent me a photograph of the family taken the day before they died.  They look like angels.
Life is here.  Life is gone.  Happiness hides.  Happiness becomes inappropriate, vulgar, in our abject grief.  When it returns, it is bruised.

A friend from Albuquerque wrote late last night to comment on the remarkable evening we had last week at my kitchen table...We drank tea and snacked on green chili, nuts and fruit.  We exchanged stories of seminal moments in our lives.  We laughed, we sang, we cried a bit---for seven hours!  Seven hours!  It was a luxury of Time that we rarely experience in our too-hectic lives.  She wrote that she never seems to catch up with her life...that she doesn't get enough sleep and she works too many hours and she can't decide just how to move towards her biggest dreams.  We wait.  We plod.  We ponder and consider.  Time happens.  We yearn to make more time for singing!

Another beautiful friend wrote from Hawaii.  She was responding to my letter urging her to resign from a project that is run by some of the giants of the unethical greed and super greed world.  "Come stay with me."  I suggested.  Don't participate in something that supports the antithesis of your spiritual philosophy...Wait!  Who am I to say such things to her!!!  Her response was gentle, beautiful.  She defended her choices with a rationality that I cannot dispute.  Her Life.  Perhaps her goodness within the corporate crimes may make things better.  We know, deep down, it will not...will not correct the dangerous environmental directions in which our world is heading.  And yet, she does good with money generated from bad.  Who am I to say, "Don't."

I have a spritual friend who sends me personal prayers.  This most current prayer says, in part:  "I have come here to be magnificent...I breathe in the magnificence of the air...I declare right here, right now that I choose to live my life fully, out loud, without fear of what others might think...I choose, in this moment, to raise the level of my vibration and to become that center of love, of peace, of abundance, of joy...I give thanks for another brand new day to feel to think, to believe...And so it is."

And so, I make an appointment to speak with a lawyer...And I post this blog.  And I give thanks for this beautiful day!  Yes, this is how it is:  WONDROUS!

Monday, June 18, 2012

MORE MYANMAR

(Note:  this is an essay written in 2011--before Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest)


MUSING ON MYANMAR AND DEMOCRACY



Years ago, in a tea shop in Mandalay, an old man---having ascertained that I was from the United States---asked me, “What is democracy?”  I explained, in part, that it was a form of government by the people and for the people.  “By what people and for what people?” he inquired.  I don’t recall how I answered.  But I remember the look in his eye.  It was wise.  And he was smiling ever so slightly.  It seems that the answer is  “by some people, for some people.”



In too many parts of our world, people have become disenfranchised and fearful.  They have little or no access to the simple necessities and pleasures of life:  clean water, shelter, food, safety, health care and education.  As an inveterate freelance cultural explorer, I have traveled alone to many countries and wandered among strangers—many of whom quickly became friends.  In those wanderings, I have gotten lost, confused, enlightened, surprised, delighted and disenchanted.  Here at home, I read the papers, listen to the news and talk with my friends about politics, the environment and the arts.  I search for meaning that often becomes a meaningless search for something beyond my ken.




Organizations and nations struggle to govern themselves.  They adopt rules and by-laws and manifestos.  They elect leaders and appoint committees and sub-committees.  Soon they create closed-door sessions and special exceptions and majority opinions---which regularly become opinions of the powerful few.  The co-opted media participate with their daily and nightly drum, drum, drumming of cleverly crafted disinformation.  Eventually, the masses become parrots of propaganda.  It happens again and again.  It’s happening now!  As I child, I learned that propaganda was manipulated or one-sided information, intended to misinform. Our civics teacher explained that the United States government told the truth and “the commies” told propaganda---to deceive the public, the world.



 Although I am seriously concerned about global warming, rising gas prices, the war in Iraq, world poverty and so many other ills and cries of these Times, I have lately concentrated on the ills and cries of the people of a particularly besieged country, Myanmar:  The Golden Land.



Until Cyclone Nargis battered the daylights out of the delta region of Myanmar, my interests in the country (formerly known as Burma) were centered on the arts and cultures of the people:  the Chin, the Mon, the Karen, the Kachin, the Pa-O…And of course, I heralded the bravery and selflessness of Aung San Suu Kyi.  In fact the primary goal of my first visit to Yangon was to meet her---an incredibly na├»ve intention and a goal I failed to achieve.  In 1999 and 2000, people were fearful of uttering her name.  Being overheard by the wrong ears could mean arrest or trouble for one’s family.  In whispered voices, they called her “The Lady”.  She was the beautiful and selfless heroine of democracy, imprisoned indefinitely by a cruel and powerful military regime.  Just to be in the forbidden vicinity of that courageous woman was exciting and mysterious:  everything a freelance cultural explorer dreams of experiencing.


As my first visit morphed into my seventh or eighth visit and as I began to read, inquire and reflect on the political, economic and social realities of Myanmar, I broadened my perspective.  I tempered my outrage in favor of envisioning a possible solution for the suffering men, women and children of that isolated land.


And so, I muse:


If I were in charge of all diplomatic relations and negotiations with The Golden Land, I would begin (on Day One) by declaring to those mired in the past that the correct and official name of the country is Myanmar---pronounced “Me an’ Mar.”  I would explain to those who hold with the more exotic, easier to pronounce British invented/distorted name of Burma, that the name Myanmar (literally: quick and strong) encompasses the scores of ethnic groups in the country.  Burma, on the other hand, references only one dominant group: the Burmans.  Ease of pronunciation for the English (monolinguists) was the reason Yangon became Rangoon and Kyaing Tong became Keng Tong and Pyin U Lwin became Maymyo (go figure!).  I believe it’s time to call the country what the people of the country prefer that we call it.  We have honored name changes all over Eastern Europe, India, China…haven’t we?  It’s not a big concession:  Myanmar.


On Day Two, I would end the U.S. imposed sanctions and boycotts.  I believe that international intimidation and/or coercion (the kind that sanctions and boycotts surely inflame) make substantive communication difficult if not impossible.  Those actions rarely achieve their architects’ desired results: capitulation/surrender.  To the repressive Myanmar regime of greedy, xenophobic generals, those practices do virtually no harm.  To the people---the artists and artisans, the taxi drivers, the restaurant and hotel workers, the small shopkeepers…the harm is huge; incalculable!

And on Day Three---if I had not achieved it on Day One, I would begin the “apologizing and forgiveness” process.  No doubt forgiveness part would be the bigger part.  After all, the junta is responsible for some horrendous behavior.  But I believe some apologies are also in order---in order to affect some sort of rapprochement.  Isn’t that what decent, loving, imperfect people (like us) truly want!


I believe we must talk with our so-called enemies.  How else can we move this world towards clarity, cooperation and--dare we dream--peace? 


When the United States government accuses the Myanmar government of forbidding desperately needed aid from the west to cross their borders after the cyclone disaster (granted, an unconscionable act), I call to mind the U.S. turning away Cuba’s unquestionably valuable medical help for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Hmmm…isn’t that an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black!”  When our media report the largely erroneous fact that the wretched generals failed to warn the Myanmar people of the impending storm, I think:  “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”  

Just this week, by the kind hand of a visiting Myanmar artist who experienced the cyclone in Yangon, I received a written account of the storm by an elderly friend of mine.  She wrote, in part:  “This is the 87th year of my life and I have never gone through such an experience.  I live in a tropical climatic zone country and I am used to rainy season storms.  This kind of storm of such violence was unknown in my country.”


We are experiencing more and more natural disasters of a scale unknown to the oldest in our population.  How do we handle them?  How do we help the victims of the never-before-experienced hurricanes, tidal waves, wildfires, earthquakes and volcanoes?  How can we possibly save and restore lives, comfort the grieving and rebuild our struggling civilization without compassion, cooperation, understanding and (and I’m going to say it even if it sounds too gushy) love?


The Buddhists have a term I have adopted:  Metta  (loving kindness).  May we strive to practice it in our interactions with individuals and institutions near and far.






Friday, April 6, 2012

PHILANTHRO-PEACE



She was pushing a supermarket cart across a busy thoroughfare.  In the cart was a young child as well as a few skimpy plastic bags of groceries.  For two days I had been looking for her. Not this particular woman...just a woman who looked like she might need what I had in the glove compartment of my car:  the collective generosity of twenty-five women who had participated in my nascent philanthropic idea:  "WWWW"

She continued along a narrow walking path, through a weed-filled empty lot. I followed her. I turned at the light, made a quick left turn into an apartment complex and parked my car. I got the small bundle out of the glove compartment, grabbed my I-phone and walked toward her from the other end of the path. She had abandoned the grocery cart and was walking, hand in hand, with her little girl who was wearing pink pajamas, her silky brown hair in a casual pony tail.

For some time, I had wanted to come up with a way of charitable giving that had no administrative costs attached to it.  Absolutely none, just pure giving.  I was looking for an idea that would help women in need, an idea that would be easy and possible for almost every woman to join.  "WWWW"  As the idea began to take shape, I imagined it spreading by way of the various social networks and becoming a national project.  Maybe even a world wide project.  The four "W"s stand for World Wide Women of...the final "W" could be Wisdom, Wealth or Wonder.  I never quite decided.

NOTE: You can read more about the project on The Wonder Institute web site: http://www.thewonderinstitute.org/projects/philanthropy/world-wide-women-of-wisdom

"Excuse me, my name is Linda. I want to give this to you."  And I handed the woman a bundle of dollar bills, tied with a pink ribbon.
"What!  Is this a joke?"
"No, it's not a joke.  It's a gift from a new organization of women helping other women."
"Will I get in trouble?"
"No, not at all."
I gave her one of the Wonder Project Post Cards.  She said she'd look up the web site when she went to the library...

...I have been collecting these dollars from friends, slowly, slowly.  In candor, I didn't know until recently that I had actually begun a real project.  For a long while it was just a topic that came up every now and then when I was with friends.  Every time it did, someone said, "I'll give you a dollar."  And they did.  And they followed my idea/instructions by writing four "W"s on the bill, initialing it and then tearing off a small corner--on which they had also written four "W"s---and putting the corner in their wallets.  The corner is "proof" of membership.

The woman and I stood and talked for a few minutes.  I asked if I could take a picture---not of her face but of her hand and the package of dollars. 
"This is a miracle,"  she said.  "I can't believe it.  Are you sure?"

Yes, yes, I'm sure!

And then she started to cry...and then I started to cry.
She told me that she was really concerned because she only had four diapers left for her daughter and she didn't have enough money to buy more. 
We hugged each other.  I took a picture. 
She thanked me.  I got in my car.  She and her little girl walked to their apartment.  I drove away.

It was Good Friday---for both of us.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SUNNYSIDE UPSIDEDOWN

"And learn O voyager to walk
The roll of earth, the pitch and fall
That swings across these trees those stars:
That swings the sunlight up the wall."            Archibald MacLeish   Seafarer  (1933)

It is my nature to "look on the bright side" and to "see the glass half full."; I dislike the phrase---"It's probably all for the best"---although I usually think "it" (whatever "it" is) may be just that:  "all for the best"!   Surely it's not likely to be all for the worst!  Nor all for the so-so!  One for All and All for the best, I say---at least most of the time...Sometimes I feel darkened by the passing shadows of my own deep disappointment...

Still..
Something good will come of it, or follow it, or replace it.  I tell myself. 

Fortunately, for my depressed friends (we all have them these days), I choose not to saddle their already saddened and suffering ears and hearts with any of my easily conjured, faux-comforting utterances.  For example, I never say to them, "It's always darkest before the dawn"  nor "It's an ill wind that blows no good."  nor  "When one door closes, another door opens."  These things do not comfort those who need comforting.  They sting.  They miss the point.   Most often, those well-intentioned utterances do not  have comforting results.  When a friend is sad or disappointed, it is more thoughtful to say something like, "Oh, that must be disappointing."  or  "I'm so sorry that happened to you."    Sometimes the best response to offer to one facing a serious dilemma or dire straits or even a plain old bad day is simply (?) active, silent presence. 
What, I wonder, can one do when one is alone...and things are difficult...or have gone totally awry?  I know what I do.  I sing out loud and strong.  I write. I look for inspiration in literature and song.     I must know dozens of poetic quotes and platitudes that urge the disappointed, the disenchanted, the damaged, the deserted, the devastated onward...upward.  My soul surrounds itself with those comforting phrases.  I say them to myself.  I write them on my bathroom mirror.  I scribble them on scraps of paper---or, if handy, in a journal. 
Actually, when I am challenged with some negative situation---like today---I make a psychic sprint to a solemn place of serenity---immediately after saying aloud (or to myself) "Oh, Fuck!" 
Actually, saying "Oh, Fuck!"  helps a bit.  It acknowledges the disappointment, the failure, the mistake...But then what?  Acknowledgement is a good first step.  Personally,  I do not want to linger on that first step---not when there are other steps to mount/surmount.
So (drum roll for candor) earlier today, I got turned down for an employment position I really wanted...a position for which I applied and for which I sincerely believed I was (virtually, I guess I must say virtually) the perfect candidate.  I know the players, the field, the history, the problems...and I have a strong sense that I know the way out of the thorny thicket that has consistently plagued the company.  At Corporate Headquarters, many of the-powers-that-be want me/wanted me...but there are rules that must be adhered to and there are serious repercussions for failing to follow the set-in-stone rules of this august institution...and there is one small requirement that I lack!  So:  rules are rules and requirements are requirements and lack is lack.  And that is that!  I lack, I lacked...
Alas, Alack!

Now what?  I've already said, "Oh, Fuck!"  I already reported the unfortunate news to a few people who had been optimistic about this adventure on which I had dreamed of embarking.  I moped until lunch time.  Now it is evening.  Now it is time for thoughtful re-grouping.  Time for poetry and music and platitudes and anything that can set my mind to rights.  Tonight there is time to be gentle with myself...Time to listen to Johnny Hartman sing, In the Wee Small Hours of The Morning.  Time to visit the words of  some of the poets and writers who inspire me...

I choose:  Anna Akhmatova    (1942 Tashkent)

"Probably much still remains
To be celebrated by my voice:
That which, wordless, rumbles around,
Or in darkness grinds stone underground,
Or makes its way through smoke.
I haven't yet closed my accounts
With flame and wind and water...
Because of that, my drowsiness
Suddenly flings wide such gates to me
And leads beyond the morning star."

(translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer)

Yes, now I feel better.  Time to summon the sun in my soul. 

"and indeed there will be time to wonder..."*    one great thought from T.S. Eliot 
                                                                       The Lovesong of J Alfred Profrock


Sunday, March 18, 2012

FORGIVENESS

" Forgiveness is the answer to a child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."
                                                                                  Dag Hammarskjold

Forgiveness is on my mind.  I want the World to move towards Peace through forgiveness--not through the horrid catastrophes of war, greed, envy, anger, misunderstanding. Those roads do not lead to Peace..I want our representatives in Congress to apologize to one another.  I want the Israelis and the Palestinians to acknowledge their various wrongdoings and forgive each other.  I want to vote for Love, Forgiveness and an end to war.  I want my government to apologize (sincerely, deeply, humbly) and be forgiven for the drones and the bombs and the soldiers with PTSD who wreak pain and havoc and anguish on people in other countries with whom we share this planet---this forgiving planet.  How long will this planet forgive us for our unconscionable tresspasses?
It's not happening.  Although forgiveness is (or can be) extremely difficult, it is beautiful, healing, worth the struggle.  It ends the struggle.

"Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave."
                                                      Indira Gandhi

I want that virtue.  I am moving towards becoming a person with a forgiving nature.  Right now I'm a person who wants to be a person with a forgiving nature---as soon as I receive an apology or an acknowledgement of understanding from the ones on whom I have chosen to withhold my forgiveness! 
I need to forgive those who, I imagine,  have trespassed against me..  I need to be forgiven for little things...little slights, various acts of selfishness, ignorance, pride...  I guess I could start with myself.

Earlier this evening, I was relaxing in a luxurious bubblebath...and I was thinking of some resentments that I have been keeping close to me---in my thoughts and words and actions.   And I was thinking of some people who are holding on to resentments about me...and I was wondering which part of forgiving is more difficult for me:  apologizing and asking for forgiveness or forgiving another for their real or imagined trespass?   I was surprised at my answer.  I confess that it is much easier for me to apologize than to forgive.  I can say "excuse me" or " my mistake" or "that was my fault" or "I am truly sorry."...but I seem to hang on to perceived slights (unintentional or deliberate) more tightly.  I'd like to come from the "let-it-go" school of forgiveness; the "let-bygones-be-bygones" way forward.  However, it seems insincere to me.  I suffer as a result.  I want to be friends, make up, move forward but first I want to have the conversation that says "I was wrong" or "it was wrong" or "you were wrong" or "what was wrong" or "I lied" or "you lied" or "I felt hurt" or "I was thoughtless"...and I want to put it to rights. 
I want to forgive the lie by acknowledging the lie.  I want to apologize for the slight or the lie and I want to experience that wonderful sense of understanding and forgiveness.  I want to be heard.  And I want to hear--deeply, honestly.  Forgiveness--sincere forgiveness--turns a lamentable incident into nothing worth noting.  I like that old saying, "the truth shall set you free."  It does (but it might very well put you on a lonely path).  Absent the conscious, compassionate acknowledgement of a misdeed, the act of smoothing it over with a "let's forget about it"...is like putting delicious frosting on a cow pie and calling it a cupcake.  It looks good but it's not.  It is inedible.  Underneath the cover-up, it's still shit. 
 
It takes both "sides" to heal, to "truly" heal.  If one "side" stops firing insults or rockets and the other side continues with the bombs (figurative or literal) then BOOM.  Everyone loses.  If we know that "everyone loses" unless both "sides" both agrieved parties are able to take steps to resolution (acknowledge, apologize, forgive) then why do we continue to continue on a path of no resolution, no peace, no forgiveness.  Does Life abhor resolution?

For more than a year, I had bad feelings about a colleague who insulted me (punched me right in my most vulnerable figurative spot).  Because of my hurt feelings, I shunned this individual, turned my back, withheld all compliments, gathered compassion and support from friends against this self-created nemesis.  Recently the nemesis and I met at an event of mutual interest...and then, thrown together as we were, we decided to have dinner; just the two of us.  During the salad course, I expressed my reasons for my distance, for my private pouting...And although I don't know how much understanding was exchanged, by the time the espresso had been drunk, the hostility--on my part--disappeared.  And on the part of my invented nemesis...well, my year long absence and ill-feelings hadn't really caused the nemesis much hostility in the first place.    In this instance, the move towards healing was a move towards forgiving myself for my unhelpful emotions as well as forgiving the other for the unintended slights.  It was so easy...yet it took so long to honor the other.

I think it is helpful--even essential--to be open to "the other" in order to eliminate/ameliorate conflict:  conflict with the self as well as with the personification of "the other."  In war or political disagreements and violations, it is not just the failure to consider the position of the other, but the failure to understand the essentialness of considering the position of the other that keeps the driven wedge between the self and "the other"...between this group and that group...between this sovereign nation and that sovereign nation...between this child and that child...between this club and that club...this point of view and an opposing point of view...
No acknowledgement, no listening means no grounds for forgiveness. 
I am still savoring my dinner with this particular "other" and I say, with pleasure, that it was a good exchange.  I listened.  I learned a lot.  My heart melted and I found affection---for both of us.

Listen, Acknowledge, Admit, Forgive, Embrace, Celebrate.  On a small scale, I know it works...on a big scale, not yet...Sadly, not yet.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dear Warren Buffet



“…and crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea…”

Dear Warren Buffet:

Perhaps we both have Bank of America on our minds right now….You, because you recently invested five billion dollars in that mega-corporation…and Me because I owe them money and I don’t know what will become of me if I can’t figure out a way to pay my enormous debt: $ 27,643. 90! I’m writing this in the middle of the night (insomnia)…You may be sleeping right now, secure in the fact that your money is working for you and for Bank of America.

This credit card debt of mine was not acquired through frivolous personal purchases of clothes or fancy toys or a tiara. I acquired this debt the old-fashioned way: I earned it from working (tirelessly, blindly) to keep my beloved small business afloat in these bad economic times. As a creative entrepreneur, with more interest in art and artists than in bottom lines and fiduciary responsibilities, I played a dangerous game…and I played poorly with people who knew how to win those games. Amid tears and fears, after falling behind in my bills—and after failing in my various attempts to beg or borrow more money, I closed the doors of my business in March of 2011. But wait! This is not a “blame game” letter. No, I acknowledge that I am totally responsible for the predicament in which I find myself---although I strongly believe that the greedy and clever manipulations and machinations of Wall Street and the Big Banks share much of the blame for the economic catastrophes that were visited upon my small business and upon millions of other careless or trusting or poorly informed individuals.



I am sixty-nine years old. For thirty-three years, I owned and operated a contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. During those years, I mounted hundreds of exhibitions of Art by emerging and mid-career American Artists. I sold art, built careers for artists, counseled young people, volunteered on boards and in organizations in my community, bought a wonderful white elephant of a house that I thought I could live in forever and eventually pass on to my two children.

Currently, I have no income---other than a small Social Security check. In time, I feel certain I can create a new business. In fact, I’m working on some ideas that have legs that should get me back on my feet before too long…

But what about now? How can I handle my obligations now? I hatched an idea that I have presented to the pleasant—but powerless-- B of A representatives who call frequently to chat with me about my past due balance…I can feel them shaking their heads and rolling their eyes while they tell me that my idea is not on Bank of America’s list of acceptable ideas…Why not?

Here it is: I have no money…but I have some valuable art work. In particular, I own a painting that the New Mexico Museum of Art would like to add to their collection. The Museum has no acquisition funds. The painting is worth in excess of $30,000. I proposed giving it to B of A to settle my debt…and to make arrangements for it to be donated to the Museum where B of A could get a TAX donation and moreover be seen in a positive light for their generosity and participation in the artistic well-being of an important cultural community.

There is no doubt that Bank of America could benefit from some good publicity. This act, and other similar acts, could go a long way toward repairing or improving the reputation of this mega-corporation that has adversely affected the lives of millions of good and earnest Americans. If corporate regulations prevent that sort of transaction, well, perhaps one of the multi-millionaire board members might buy the painting from me, donate it to the Museum (they really, really want it), create a tax break (!) for the donor, and (this part thrills me) an opportunity for me to satisfy my debt to Bank of America.

Yeah, yeah, I already know it’s not a workable idea. I knew that when I first thought of it. Still, it was an exciting, wild idea that could have afforded me the power of being an honorable woman who was successful in finding a way to handle her debts and who was willing to give something of far greater value than the actual debt.

Mr. Buffet, I feel certain that you and I love this country in equal or similar measure. I believe America has lost its way in the last decade or so. Still, I aver that we are all eager to find our way back to a place of fairness, opportunity, forgiveness, safety, health and happiness. Of course, nobody is promised a rose garden…but maybe we can discover a way to disperse a few seeds of solvency, some basic instruction and a soupcon of encouragement to those who have lost sight of their optimism and their sense of community. That would surely go a long way towards helping those of us who need a jump start to grow our own gardens…and to share the fruits when and where and if we can.

In the sixth grade, I came across an anonymous jingle in a poetry anthology. I think of it almost every day:

The World would stop

If it were run

By those who say

It can’t be done….

Well, I think I’ve worked my way out of this bout of insomnia…so, thank you for letting me use you as a writing muse and good night, Dear Mr. Buffet.



Linda Durham