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NOLA zoetrope

The last time I was in NOLA – way before Katrina – I dismissed the city as a theme park. This time, I’m not here as a tourist. I’m in a real neighborhood at a residency established by the people responsible for the first Free Tibet concerts back in 1995, in a little house behind their own.

This is the Bywater, formerly the Upper Ninth Ward. It runs along the river bordered by the French Quarter and Treme. I stand in front of the levee looking up – I am beneath the river! Enormous freighters with names written in foreign alphabets crawl back and forth along the Mississippi. I climb the the steep rusty bridge over the freight train tracks and the levee and come back down to a pretty green walking trail called Crescent Park. The day is gowing hot. People wearing spandex ride fast bikes toward the French Quarter while others, heads down texting, are walking their dogs. Dogs are everywhere and they are lucky dogs because New Orleans has hundreds of dog parks made out of empty lots when the river broke the levees, buildings collapsed and eventually the rubble was taken away.

I ran into one dog today, in a voodoo supply store, a fat hairy dog riveted by something on a top shelf.

NOLA is a bowl in a swamp, where it seems the apocalypse has already happened. The survivors are in various stages of getting over it, standing up and falling down, like a Laurie Anderson song. It is a port – freight trains run along the commuter lines. it is commerce and joy, voodoo and nunneries, community and desolation. People on the street smile, they nod, they say,”how’s your day goin'” and sometimes they stop to tell you how their day is going. The clothes! Prints on stripes, dresses over shorts – this is a city that loves its skin. Po-boys are delicious, gumbo not so much, hipster cafes painted shades of orange behind shutters next to drink dives and one-stops, BMW’s with Jersey plates drive behind construction trucks and Havana Chevys and then there’s the Bark Market that sells pet supplies on one side and art supplies on the other. And the Death, Pharmacy and Chicken museums. An Improv theater in the Healing Center along with the food co-op and trance making supplies.

On my (white) side of St. Claude, soft bellied bearded men sit in cafes eating cake and reading novels, while on the other side an emaciated Haitian rides a stolen bike around in circles. The Quarter is a 20 minute walk away, as is Treme, as is downtown. It is a city of writers. Walter Percy lives on, his old writer’s group still meeting every Friday at a certain bar.

One wonders, where do the people who get pushed out go?  Houston?  Katrina didn’t do them in, they say, it was the government building substandard  levees and infrastructure, the broken pumps; it was America that almost killed them. NOLA, they explain, nodding wisely, is a blue dot in a red state.   

The cats, however stayed and multiplied.  You see them everywhere, in the stores, on stages, grooming their tails in art galleries, hunkered down on stoops, sneaking out of alleys. Always single, They patrol grocery stores, pose on cafe counters and have serious expressions. On every other porch there is a plate of half eaten food. They don’t need water because, as I said, NOLA is a bowl in a swamp.

My computer pings. It’s a weather alert but not for me: a blizzard is sweeping West to East across Northern Vermont.

Fiction wins

I’m deeply involved in a writers community in my city. It’s a Meetup group that has maybe 200 active members. When the founder disappeared (who knows the real story behind this), they (who are they?) formed a 501C3 that required a Board, so that was formed, and after their terms ran out, a second Board came forth but a year later almost all of them quit in a huff without telling anyone why, without a transition plan. Then a transitional team tried to form, but they too quit (what is it with quitting boards?) and now there is an emergency community meeting because we have to pay the rent.

This has been going on for months, and now half of us who used to be copasetic in community don’t speak to the other half: being writers, we started sending each other overly long, acrimonious, analytical and philosophical emails and neglected our own novels.

I unapologetically fled. I was able to get out of town to a residency where I determined to convince my novel to forgive me.

I’m thinking of something that happened to a famous writer whose name I’ve forgotten. She tells the story of having thought of writing a novel about – I’m quoting from Amazon here – “a researcher (female) who sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.” But she never wrote it, and in due time her idea went away and settled in the brain of another writer, Anne Patchett, who actually wrote that story, which she titled “State of Wonder”. These writers met and kissed.

This story of course sounds too good to be true, but even if it isn’t, there’s a lesson behind it, which is more less that there are only so many ideas floating around the universe and if you don’t write your novel, someone else will.

A nasty little Trump clone planted in “our” Supreme Court

You noticed the twitch, right? Left upper lip triangulating towards the nose, eyebrows arched and rapid eye blinks? Looks like a snarl, but of course, it’s not, because our nominee is just a regular beer drinking basketball playing judge who went to YALE.

Susan Orleans once said she was sick of old dead white men. Too bad, because new ones keep getting born.

 

The new face of a Supreme Court judge, the Brett.

The twitch bothers you, right? You wonder about the odd facial tics, the tongue in his cheek, the tears squeezing out when he’s talking about football camp. Like how old is he? The pursed lips, staring eyes. He looks like Mr. Potato Head on crack, a raving teenager someone should send to his room.  Something really weird in the mouth. He wants to talk over everyone, shout, make his sniveling points and go home for a beer.  You think this guy is having some trouble with the truth. The judge is a liar and a smooth one, the kind that deflects questions,  knows the value of a righteous rant and above all deserves the job because, well, he is Brett.  He was born for this job of a Supreme Court Judge! Mamma was a lawyer, Daddy kept up his calendars. Didn’t his very own daughter ask to pray for the woman? That woman who is destroying his life by her accusations which no way should be investigated? Somebody screwed that lady up but wasn’t me. A guy without blemish, gosh, everyone has told him so, even women have remarked on his fairness, and all he wants is a FAIR PROCESS that will get him the career plum he absolutely deserves. If it doesn’t, it’s because of the conspiracy: “Thanks to what you on this side of the aisle have unleashed” ….. I may never be able to coach again. Jesus. Never mind that we don’t want this guy as our coach,

Is he not showing us what a despicable judge he will be? Consumed with paranoid, partisan rage. The ranting Lear. Weren’t you the were the pornographer on the Starr team who asked Bill Clinton if he’d stuck a cigar between Monica Lewinsky’s legs? The guy denying a refugee the abortion she begs for? Your body isn’t yours, woman, it’s mine.

Yes, Brett. You blew it for me, but you’ll likely be nominated because you’ve spent the last four days being briefed at the white house by Donald Trump. Be my Donald clone on the Supreme Court. The judiciary is MINE. the house is Mine. the FBI is Mine. Congress is to do MY bidding, We are not going to vet your character because character is, as we know, overrated; what is important is stopping the other side from usurping our power. The entire Republican party just wants to stay in charge by lurching behind the flapping feet of a contemptible, stupid, illiterate, blasphemous, raging pitbull even though at any moment, in a bad mood, he will kick open the doors to the zoo and blow you away by lions, even though he’s a disaster and you, by impliction…..

When I first began to comprehend how Empire that rises inevitably falls,  I thought, OK, that’s not so bad. Let America back off already, it’s time. I thought we were making progress, spreading horizontally towards decency. That our goodwill, incredible resources, diversity, and astonishing landmass would let us settle into becoming a generous place to live and flourish. We had only to let go of our exceptionalism, learn how to spread the wealth, give up the myth of The Greatest Military Power On Earth because really, it is ugly.  I thought we would shake off the oligarchy.  That the Empire would fall gracefully as a landing seabird when its time came. 

What fools we are, spooning around the soft spines of this dream, hoping to keep warm and dry while out in the real world, our elected raging, paranoiac spews seeds through our laws, courts, safety nets, decencies, hope, and here’s one more fungus ready to fatten himself off of me.

Faulkner and Life

 

“Because if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive, and probably won’t.” …William  Faulkner, in his 1956 Paris Review interview.

So have we? Reached that point? School shootings, separating immigrant kids from their parents, starvation? The highest infant mortality rate of any of the 27  wealthiest countries? #17 in education? Is our culture desperate?

“Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people that he had no time to distinguish between good and evil. Since people exist only in life, they must devote their time simply to being alive. Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move—which is ambition, power, pleasure. The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.  …William  Faulkner, in his 1956 Paris Review interview.

UBU ROI, our nightmare

We’ve considered him stupid, moronic, evil, incompetent, mad, racist, misogynistic, a pedophile, self-aggrandizing, lying, stupefying,  narcissistic, character flawed, disgusting We’ve mocked his hair, his ties, his mouth, his little fingers, his wife, his children , his bone spurs, his deal-making, education, university, his gold leaf, his diet, the elevator, his advisors, cabinet and his lack of a dog. We call him a clown and we make Ubu Roi his avatar, Pere Ubu, Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic joke of a dictator who wants to be the king of Poland. That play so horrified its audience, it closed the night of its premier, but this performance has lasted over 500 days to become a national – no, a global – nightmare.  

At this moment, his most despicable action is holding hostage immigrant children to get his way – he wants his wall, and Congress is figuring out how to give it to him.

10:45 washing dishes at the sink. I look out the window and see a doe walking slowly across the lawn with her fawn. The fawn runs a few feet, while the mother waits, then the fawn stops and the mother takes a step, In this way they are proceeding across the lawn. I see the dog at the edge of the porch looking at them, but looking in the way she has of not seeing, of seeing over or through what is directly in her vision. So neither of us wants to startle the doe. It is a lovely sight, this obviously bonded family taking a morning stroll across my lawn. Robins are hopping through the grass, a red tailed squirrel suddenly lept off a fence and disappears behind the greenhouse. I’m know the iphone shot through the window will be awful, but I don’t dare go outside, so I shoot anyway. The image is poor but sweet, the washed out colors convey a certain  lack of authority, as if it is a photograph of a photograph.

Thursday morning 10:30 out my kitchen window

At 4:45 I take the recyclables to the Grand Island Dump. The huge room is immaculate. All the bins are empty, tons of plastics have been squashed and packed on palettes waiting to be shipped. Two attendants, one who’s a volunteer fireman and the other a selectman, greet me and ask if I want help. I’ve been coming here  for 10 years now, but I don’t know his name.  I don’t need help. I can’t stop staring at the compacted structures and I walk around, shooting on my phone. The selectman looks amused.

Many years ago, I lived on Canal street in New York City. On Wednesdays, the few small sweatshops left in the neighborhood would bundle up their unused fabrics, drag them out on pallets for the night time garbage pick-up. By the time the trucks arrived, neighborhood artists trolling for found materials would have picked the pallets clean.

It’s interesting, this impulse to reclaim garbage as art, as if by turning our trash into “art” we are doing something for the environment, while in truth we’re only postponing its suffocating release into our environment.  It’s a kind of recycling, only not as a useful object, but as a cultural comment, as art. For about a year, I collected every bit of plastic that circulated in my house and studio, and after a year, I had a big closet stacked with tubs filled with bottle caps sorted by color,  can tabs, plastic bags, medicine bottles, ties, garden containers, dried contact lenses, packaging sorted by shape, packing peanuts – everything unsuitable for the recycle bins. I had no idea what to make with this stuff. My mind was filled with images of  birds and marine life dead on beaches, their bellies slit open, revealing batteries, caps, netting, fuel canisters, milk cartons – suffocated by the litter humans discard in daily life. Reworking those images seemed exploitive rather than helpful, and I wonder what it takes for humans to turn their grief into constructive action. Chris Jordan  has already broken our hearts with his images of dead albatross in the Midway Islands, where the birds fly out over the oceans, collecting plastics as food for their young, who fill up with batteries, bottle caps, syringes. What image is more powerful than that of a mother unknowingly poisoning her child.

Another option was to use the garbage, like this Nigerian sculptor to create new art. But his work takes a village and is conguent with the life of that village, and conveys a condition that I have no business appropriating, the bottle caps are the relics of a dark story where liquor was     an agent of exchange in the slavery market. I could imagine building reliefs and sculpture, but that would entail additional toxic material, like resins or glues,  which would negate anything constructive, so finally, in a grand purge, I throw it all out, with full understanding of my failure and announce, when I get home, that we are never going to buy anything that comes in a plastic bottle. To no avail.

I find this article tracking the Journey of a Plastic Bottle in the Atlantic Magazine.

The refuse associate at the town dump told me that a truck would arrive soon to pick up the pallets. He doesn’t know where they’re going, only that the name on the truck begins with CAN.  Canada then? The same Canada that begins 12 miles north of my house on Border Road?  It doesn’t seem right that Canada is eating my trash, but then this is the day that my country screws the G7.

So what am I left with? A healthy doe moves across my landscape with her infant at the beginning of the day and at the end, a vision of garbage laden barges plying the oceans. 

 

Grand Isle Dump Thursday 4:37

F**kYou Second Amendment

 

Is it easier to imagine the end of capitalism or the end of the world?

Another school shooting. Another message from our bleeding heart president, that’s what I yelled into the wind,  F**k You Second Amendment, because I wanted the world, the wind, the universe, my legislators, my unborn grand children, the neighbor hunting in my woods, the 120 high school Freshmen in my county’s school, to listen up. What kind of people are we to sacrifice our freedom to be safe from asault rifle toting lunatics, even if they are teenagers, so that – OK, mostly men – can excercise their f**king freedom to own a gun. Whose freedom is important here? Boys, you don’t need a gun to be men. Really.

Then I thought, better go read the Second Amendment, so you have some idea what you’re yelling about.

Here it is: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

In my state of Vermont ,after Parkland, the legislature passed laws requiring background checks, raised age limits for owning guns and banned bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. Nice gesture, but none of these measures would have been effective against our latest 17 year oid mass murderer. He borrowed his dad’s weapons, thereby avoiding the raised age limits and background checks, he didn’t use either a bumpstock or high capacity magazine. He also had no mental health issues (until he shot up his classmates), so wouldn’t have been flagged as a potential killer, In other words, laudible as these gun control measures seem to be, they are ineffectiive.

There’s only one way out of this. No guns, period. The United States’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries, according to an article in the Guardian that takes a look at four countries with successful gun control.  

In these four countries, action was taken immediately after a mass shooting, with various results. In Japan, guns and swords have been banned since the feudal warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) unified Japan. In Germany, despite restrictions, there are guns in the country; but few killings; in Australia, there hasn’t been a mass shooting since the Port Arthur spree that led to stringent restrictions and a massive buy out. In 1946, after a school shooting in the UK, “gun control was in the cards” – escalating to the banning even of small-bore pistols used for target shooters.

It’s the middle of June. There have been 26,1300 incidents with 6,449 deaths so far, 1500 of these are teenagers or younger. The shooting at Santa Fe, Texas, marked the 101st mass shooting (although there is no broadly accepted definition of a mass shooting, the number is considerably more than zero.)

What’s in a parade?

Our great leader wants a parade! He deserves one. After all, he stopped our American Carnage, just as he said he would in his  inaugural speech.  And  didn’t he vow to bring back our borders,  (although he never said where they went)? Also to get back the wealth that the world ripped away from the middle class, at least get it back to him, and make “America First”, although this last has not gone over well with some, but hey, they’ll figure it out? And didn’t he invent that great phrase “alternate facts”? Get that old failed Washington Post to add up all his 2000 lies, falsities, misleading statements? Fire an FBI director? Decide to deport a home grown gang? Grab pussy because he could?

So much to celebrate, America.

He didn’t get a military parade for his inauguration, so let’s make up for that. Remember that his inauguration was the biggest crowd ever, that he won the popular vote, but someone stole it, and maybe those are the people who should  pay for the parade, like they will for the border wall, although that’s Mexico.  Beside, that  fatter guy, Kim Jong-un has parades all the time, so why shouldn’t he? Bigger ones, because of his bigger button.

So while it’s will be heartening for us to see all his hardware, and know our great leader and his generals will be there to protect us, I still wonder, is there anyone around to stop him?

Knowing nothing

I used to think when someone dies a light like a star went out, leaving a void, an indent made by its former weight, but now I think thirty or three hundred or three thousand new lights take its place, swarming over its previous existence until the sky is filled to bursting with beggars (as Rumi says) and everything starts to topple. I think the Republican party means to kill all the poor people, the refugees, animals, plants and everything living on those low lying islands threatened by the rising sea. And I think they might be accelerating, out of fear and hysteria that their mission won’t be accomplished before “us” rises out of the marshes and cut off their heads. So what I think  I’m saying is that I used to think that good and evil could be contained in an ideology. That I could be a progressive democrat pro-choice female who admitted to her own racism, who could question if feeding the birds was good for the birds or if she did it only for her own pleasure, meaning that she could admit that the birds would get along without her interference. But I question this ideology.

Up until this last election, I believed that humanity was progressing in a benevolent direction, meaning that the culture would want to feed the poor,nourish the babies, find a universal vaccine for pandemics, find a difference use for recycled refrigerator boxes than the current one of very very tiny recycled houses. This was the meaning of progressive. Going forward. Instead my people have elected a kleptocracy determined to stomp out those footprints with their big clumsy boots one by one until everyone who is not “them” is rounded up far away from the houses I see advertised in the Times real estate section, the strangest home-with-seven-swimming pools going for $700 million, unfinished. This is a vision of castles, churches and serfdom as witness Game of Thrones.

Up until now, I unthinkingly believed in democracy, It never occurred to me that Ubu Roi could be elected, but there he is, furiously pacing his opulent tower stuffing his face. I think it was Andrew Sullivan who first clued me in to the fact – and this may be one thing we do know – that  democracy can end badly when the people elect evil, and then get what they have albeit unwittingly asked for. I also believed that capitalism was better than the alternatives, but rampant capitalism, without regulation or restraint or consciousness of beings outside the circles of one’s own greed is a raging fire through which no horse can gallop without self-incineration. Capitalism is possibly the best ideology we humans have invented for ourselves, but it is terrible.

As long we hold on to these ideologies, we’re stuck in our lack of imagination. The future can not evolve. I used to believe that we, our species, could evolve through technology, neuroscience, genetics, guardianship of the planet, population control, distribution of wealth and resources, even compassion, diversity, intermarriage, exchange of ideas,  but no longer. The evil we have elected is evolving faster, and whatever it is the planet is up to cannot be stopped because the planet does not care about us. I used to think that great art – the visions people explore with their hands, voices, eyes would be of some inspiration, but even that point is cloudy as it is the wealthy establishment that defines what is great art by embedding in it a price tag. Nor is hope the point, because – hope for what? If we could imagine what we hoped for, there would be no need for hoping because it already be in process. We cannot hope for what we cannot imagine.

Quinn, a character in my book, a former addict and now a Buddhist, at one point sits by a bend in a river with his Ipad writing an essay about how if this is the end of the world as we know it, there is no reason for despair.Since this is Montana and the mountains are ringed with fire – is he nuts?