tea, & the comfort of ritual ~

tea, & the comfort of ritual ~

I’m drinking more tea these days. Often in the morning, I want the jolt of espresso — and we have a bangup cappuccino machine. But lately, I crave the comfort of tea, the ritual of measuring & steeping. The choice of a tray, a tea cloth, a cosy to blend. Rock sugar, honey, or Demerara? Or maybe a green tea, w/ no sweetener at all…?

It’s a hard time. I’m not happy with my country, & I have no recourse other than to keep on keeping on. I withdrew from FaceBook; my social media ‘outlets’ are Instagram — where I can post pics of teapots & my grandson!! — and Twitter, where I sometimes post current events, but mostly poetry & arts links. FaceBook became a place of such…anger. At least for me. I can’t feel the same about people I once liked well, knowing they elected a man who is, to me, a veritable monster. The lack of logic, & the double standards, visible in the totally unpresidential Tweets, media, et al…. I can’t handle them.

So I’m thinking about our upcoming move from the house where we’ve been so very happy these past many years. I’m creating gardens in my head, and tea in glass & china pots. I ordered a new tea cosy, with cats! I’m snuggling with our own two in my chair, & trying to ignore their ceaseless kneading (with their none-too-tiny claws!). It’s a wonderful way to spend time, infinitely better than considering a political situation rife with injustice.

Tea is good for all kinds of situations, from the grief I feel for a world gone crazy with greed & hate, to the discombobulation attendant on moving. I hate moving, as a process and as a situation. I will love being settled in our new house by the grandson(s), but getting all moved up? UGH. Shades of my itinerant childhood!

Hence the tea tray, the tea cloth, the choosing of a strong black tea. The pouring of milk, the measuring of sugar. And the temporary escape so very necessary some days!

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

There’s a lot of media attention these days to ‘false news sites.’ I taught research for more than 20 years, and I used to call such sites ‘underwear sites.’ Because anyone can set up a website. You don’t have to be knowledgeable in anything much: you can do it in your underwear. And the information is worth about as much.

For the most part, students HATE research papers. They’ll kid you that they like research (and to be fair, a few actually do…a very few). Then they’ll whine (A LOT) about the research paper itself, how it’s artificial (yes). How it has to be done certain ways (yes again). And how they’ll never write another research paper (possibly true, although not nearly as true as they’d like to believe; we just don’t call them research papers at work…)

But here’s the deal: only in the research paper process do you have the opportunity (indeed, the moral obligation) to teach students about source evaluation. And hold them responsible for being users of credible reearch. Something it’s evident most voters — on both sides of the aisle — are woefully incapable of. Because it’s NOT ‘credible, authoritative information/research/evidence to support your argument’ if you can ONLY find it on personal blogs. Or on only one news source (whether that’s For or democraticunderground). At the very least, in such cases, the ‘news’ is highly suspect — usually downright false. You must be able to locate the same information in multiple sources, none of which are what I taught my students to call ‘agenda-ed.’

Because we don’t tend to think of sources WE respect as ‘biased.’ Even if they are. I was horrified when I realised that 2 websites I quite enjoy aren’t totally objective. They have liberal agendas (which isn’t exactly the same as bias, as I used to explain to my students). The KKK is NOT a reliable source of information about civil rights, or African American history. Or much else, honestly. They are overtly biased against African Americans, and against anyone who isn’t, no matter how they pretty their racism up with euphemism. They also have an agenda: they want to return the US to a whites-only country (the fact that it never was is apparently not relevant).

The American Cancer Society, on the other hand, has an agenda — to cure cancer — but isn’t biased. It won’t tell you lies about things that cause cancer. It will publish what it finds, however, including new research. The KKK will tell you lies about various African American historical figures; the American Cancer Society will not lie to you. There’s a caveat here: research unearths & re-evaluates current knowledge. So what the ACS told us about cancer 30 years ago may not be at all what today’s research reveals. That’s the whole basis of science: it reflects the LATEST data, parsed by experts. Hence climate change.

This is a very difficult concept for many people to get their heads (& hearts) around. Entire political campaigns have been run on bias (if you’re anti-immigration of all Muslims, that’s not an agenda; that’s bias). You may think you have good reasons. You may even have read ‘research’ on your position(s) in various media outlets, from TV news to newspapers to websites. However, it has both bias (Muslims=bad) and an agenda: to ‘rid’ America of Muslims. And the people behind these websites are pretty obvious. IF you take the time to dismantle the ‘About Us’ section at the top of most sites.

Digression: most Americans under the age of 50 (and many well over) consider themselves tech-literate. Yeah, maybe. I’d have to disagree when it comes to evaluation of online sources, however. As noted, I’ve taught research for years, and have been a heavy computer & Internet user since the first linked systems. I still get hoodwinked by fake news sites, primarily humourous ones, but still…! A LOT of satirical websites want to fool you — they think it’s funny. Unfortunately, many of us are believers before skeptics. So we (unknowingly) ‘buy’ fake news. And it’s now such a common occurrence that we have entire articles devoted to it.

I love research. Always have. I read science & nature writing for fun, untangling the braided skeins of data that go into studies taking place over years. I continue to try to unravel ‘real’ news from ‘fake,’ even when the fake stuff comes from (ostensibly) American ‘leaders.’

So I’m repeating this for folks who believe that religion, or faith, or what’s said in a religious text, overrule science & reason: No. They call it ‘faith’ because you have to believe it. It isn’t ‘prove-able.’ I can no more prove the miracle of the loaves & fishes than I can disprove it. Same with miracles credited to other wisdom traditions (and every religion has them): I can’t prove Buddha’s reincarnations (no weirder to contemplate than heaven), or Krishna’s magic powers (no stranger than powers attributed to relics of the saints) or the mercy of Allah.

You may want desperately to believe that X politician is a crook, because another pol you adore said so. But chances are, unless you can find that info on credible, reliable sources lacking ANY agenda or bias (Reuters isn’t bad), it’s false.

You may agree w/ it. It may even be your innate faith. That does NOT make it true. (That’s why they call it faith: you have to BELIEVE it.)

Sorry — scholarship has spoken 🙂

We’re still the world…

We’re still the world…

It’s been a hard year, this election year… And it gets harder. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is an election that has set family members against one another. In some cases — I’m thinking of a colleague at a conference last weekend — husband against wife. That, on top of so many almost daily occurrences of police murdering innocent people of colour, on top of Hurricane Matthew, on top of…

It’s all just too much. So I got sick.

Now, please note: I didn’t get sick on purpose. ???? But I do believe that illness has its own reasons, and often you’re sick because of something in your life. In my case? I’m just bloody exhausted & overwhelmed. So I got sick enough (baby flu, for what it’s worth — I’m not dying here, but I’ve been pretty punk) to require long naps & not much more activity than opening a can of soup & reading an e-book (no pages to turn!).

And I stayed off of most social media, preferring to look at the floor plan of a house we’re buying only FOUR BLOCKS (!) from my beloved grandson, or dreaming of a new garden and bird habitat. Or beginning to say goodbye to this life I love, right here in the messed up heartland. The red, red heartland…

The universe, thinking I needed something to leaven my days, sent me this song. And I remembered: remembered how we came together to feed a continent riven by drought, starving to death. Remembered how music became a rallying cry for generousity that saved thousands & thousands of lives. Remembered how it felt when I first heard that mantra ~ we are the world, we are the people…

Because we STILL ARE. All of us — and we need to get back to saving our own lives, together. We need to somehow move beyond the miasma of hate that’s masquerading as a political campaign for so many, and reach out. TAKE CHANCES. Get to know that ‘other.’ You know: ‘the’ African American; ‘the’ Muslim.’ The autistic kid in your kid’s class, or the guy on the spectrum at work.

We need to look around and see PEOPLE, not terrorists or thieves or whatever political BS is trying to separate us.

I’m verrry lucky to have lived over much of the world. So that when other people are able to talk of Muslims hatefully, lumping that vastly diverse group of nationalities & ethnicities together as if Baptist were Catholics, I see Salina from Algiers, who lived across the apartment hall from me. Who taught me how to make mint tea, & was my friend. Or Yousuf, my husband’s friend, who had us over for dinner, and served us lamb on platters of silvered brass, shouting with laughter at bad jokes. Or Soha, whom took her doctorate in TESOL Education at OSU, in her 2nd language. And who is a better person than almost anyone I know: funny, kind, compassionate, a grateful mother, and a dear dear friend.

“Mexicans” to me are my beloved daughter-in-law’s family, who actually are Hispanic Americans, multiple generations of land-grant & Pueblo land owners in New Mexico. They are her mother, who has two Masters. Her grandmother, one of the most devout Catholics I can imagine.

Or a nurse who stayed with my husband when he was in the hospital, who  was putting herself through nursing school. Or dear sweet Fannie, a professor at the university where my son & DIL teach, who came from Mexico to study math education, and stayed to teach and marry.

These ‘others’ are US, America. They are my friends, my family. They are the people I visit with on FB & Twitter, the people I ask for recommendations on LinkedIn. “They” are not ‘them.’ Each of the people in the world has a name. Had a mother, a father. A place of birth. A story that began with a birth. How have we forgotten that???

So today? Please — listen to the swell of the music. And remember: WE ~ each of us, every one of us ~ are the world. And we need to get busy. We need to be saving our own lives, folks. And let me tell you: hate will not do it.

What we need is a lot more love. More compassion. And a lot more music. Otherwise? We’re going to be very sick. For a very long time ~

 

anger, ‘out-groups’, and Buddhism ~

anger, ‘out-groups’, and Buddhism ~

When I was a very young woman, I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Really. It was during the 70s, and the Neo-Nazi party was demonstrating (or trying to) in Skokie, IL. There was a huge outcry, because (you probably don’t know this) more than 1/2 of Skokie’s population was Jewish. In addition, a large number of the Jews who did live in Skokie were Holocaust survivors. In other words? A tragically incendiary situation.

I was a journalist for years. And as a radical liberal — if there is such a thing! — I defend freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. They are building blocks to a liberal democracy. So I sent money to a financially strapped ACLU; liberals weren’t happy to see ‘their’ organisation defend Nazis, and there weren’t many donations coming in. My friends were horrified.

But I remembered someone had told me, in a class I had once on ethics in media, that freedom of speech wasn’t about defending the things we agree with. It’s about making sure that even the things we HATE are also given the right to air. Even things that make us crazy angry.

I still believe that.

However, it’s just not that simple anymore. There are, of course, limits to free speech: you can’t yell fire, as we know. And you can’t incite riot. And yet… Surely this political season, we have seen many ‘leaders’ fomenting hate: saying that entire groups of people should be deported, even (possibly) executed, if ‘necessary.’ We have seen jokes made (in verrry poor taste) about guns and various candidates, followed w/ ‘wink/nudge’ that ostensibly excuses the ‘joke.’

We’ve seen people with, ostensibly, the same political goals make accusations without any basis. Families (once safe from mud-slinging) are fair game, and spouses are attacked w/ impunity. A man’s father has been impugned as an accomplice to murder, a woman’s husband’s affairs alleged to be ‘her own fault.’ Debates have disintegrated into finger shaking and eye-rolling.

And it’s not just ‘them.’ It’s all of us. We’re all angry.

Yesterday, my younger son sent me a link to an article I’m posting here. It talks about ‘in-groups’ & ‘out-groups,’ & how we range ourselves against the ‘out-groups’ of our choosing. It’s not a new (or even overly recent) article: Scott Alexander, the author, posted it back in 2014, almost exactly 2 years ago. But it’s never been more relevant. For the next week or so, I’ll be referring to it more than once. Alexander so neatly articulates the tension these days: liberals are just as apt to forget freedom of speech as someone from the ‘other’ side.

As a Buddhist, I know about ‘attachment.’ Upādāna (it literally means ‘fuel’) is the fire that arises when we cling fiercely to a longing, a wish for things to be different. Maybe it’s a desire for $$, or freedom from pain. In my case? It’s a visceral ache for justice for all: equity (which is NOT the same as equal treatment, per se: equity is levelling the playing field — quite different). I want that kind of ideal fairness to EVERYONE. And so those who work towards that goal are my ‘in-group.’ If you’re not working for equity? You’re in my ‘out-group.’ And I’m almost certainly angry about it.

Equity also means that you can’t be a racist, or a homophobe. You can’t be a misogynist, or indifferent to your own privileges, racial or class or gender derived. I don’t think I’m any of those. But as Scott Alexander notes, I get no ‘virtue points’ for being ‘tolerant’ of differences like race, gender, class, religion. Unfortunately, I also get no virtue points for being tolerant of my out-groups(s), because I’m not. Instead, I’m angry. Almost all the time.

I”m leaving this here for now. Next blog? More on trying to live a Buddhist life of non-clinging while remaining socially engaged, and activist.

Politics, FB, anger, and trying to breathe ~

Politics, FB, anger, and trying to breathe ~

I’d like to think that I can calm myself. I know how ~ breathe in, hold, breathe out. Repeat. But these days it’s so hard. People I know, even like, are filled with fear and loathing. They aim it at my beliefs, at my core values, as we seem fond of saying these days. Leaders of our country ~ MY country ~ spew vitriol at women, at people of colour, at Muslims and others. All in the name of ‘safety.’ Read: fear.

I try to meet people in their good intentions (years of teaching teaches the teacher). I understand that hate emanates from fear. I am taught daily ~ it used to be student by student; now it’s mistake by mistake ~ that no one gets up in the morning wanting to hate, wanting to mess up, wanting to ruin someone else’s day. Or life. The difference between my intentions not to hate, mess up, or ruin someone’s day (or life), and what I see as  other people’s intentions, is who we see as ‘someone.’ And what ‘hate’ means to each of us.

It’s not hate if your minister tells you it’s okay. After all, s/he would know, right? So if the church says that my gay niece and my many dear gay friends are hell-bent sinners, it’s not ‘hate’ to taunt them, goad them, drive them to suicide. Is it? Because after all, this representative of God urged that we punish these ‘wicked,’ right?

So people who are ‘different’ from us ~ by skin colour, religion, dress, sexual preference, whatever ~ aren’t really ‘someone.’ Instead, they are wicked, or terrorists, or somehow ‘other.’ Not the wonderful, lovely people I know. My niece Mary, my friend Soha, my friends Ben & Dewayne…these people I love dearly, they aren’t ‘someone’ to many many Americans. Soha makes people uncomfortable with her hijab; dining out w/ Dewayne or Ben (tall, elegant black guys) is rife w/ studied inattention from waitstaff and other customers. Mary’s wonderful partner, whom I love like another niece? She is a bad person, too.

breatheThis makes it so hard for me to breathe. I mean that literally: I catch myself w/ breath held, sometimes, and have to breathe out, then in. Yet I’ve been working for a very long time ~ years & years ~ to balance the dragon warrior in me (speaker for the voiceless) and the novice seeker. I know so very little about how things work, about why we are the ways we are… I’m both the speaker and the infant, the child who has just hatched.

My son had asthma as a child. Still does, but as a baby, it almost killed him. Coupled with severe croup, he was turning blue from lack of oxygen on late night. I held him in my arms as my mother drove at lightening speeds to our hospital. She made the 6-mile trip in right at 7+ minutes — through the dark streets glistening with rain, as I crooned to the baby I held carefully.

At the hospital, there were miracle drugs they could administer. Drugs that cleared my son’s lungs, and let the bright air fill him with life. I lay beside his crib that night, listening to his breathing, and thought of what a miracle it is, just to breathe.

These days, I feel as tight and starved for light and air as that infant, struggling for each breath. I’m once again driving down dark streets, it seems ~ looking for a way to breathe. And I know there is no magic medicine to ‘cure’ this ugliness, this lack of breathing space. In fact, I’m the only one who can get me through this. I understand that this is my own tight place through which I must somehow pass. Somehow, I have to figure out how to see beyond the hatred and the fear that tears me up to the human hearts beneath that darkness. I don’t believe that any of us is innately dark, even those of us roiled with violence and spilling ugliness and hatred. No child is born with hate in heart. And somewhere, there is love — there must be love, within these dark dark hearts.

So I’m trying to breathe again. Catching myself as I slouch at my desk, sitting straighter. Remembering to throw my shoulders back, remembering that the imperial dragons once were humans (hence their five toes…:)). So the anger of my inner dragon can be turned to light, as fire lights darkness. I just have to figure out how.

a Buddhist reflects on politics ~

imageI’ve hesitated to bring politics to my writing here. It consumes far too much passion in my life, which was one reason I started a blog. But I don’t understand much of what’s happening today, and writing’s what I do when I don’t understand something. I think w/ my fingers. ????

The fire erupted again today, when I read that PoliticsUSA had rated Donald Trump’s newest ad as one lie per every 4 seconds. Other credible sources (Pulitzer winner Politifact, for instance) have lists of his lies, with all kinds of evidence. So why do people continue to believe him?Why would you believe this single person, instead of a Pulitzer Prize-winning news source? Why would you want to? Who is it feeding themselves on this tissue of terror-laden lies?

There’s a poison in the air. People whom I know are good people, basically — good parents, hard workers, kind and mostly level-headed — seem to want to believe bad things. They believe immigrants ~Muslims & Mexicans & other brown people ~ are what’s wrong with this country built by immigrants. This country that once stood as sanctuary to the homeless & dispossessed. And people believe that there’s conspiracy afloat — in the water, among their enemies (who do not, of course, look like any of us…). Trump feeds this fear, fanning it until murder erupts, as it has in my own town.

I don’t understand it. I want a politics  of compassion, a party of peace & hope. I once read an article by public intellectual Alan Jacobs, about “the war of every man against every man.” The article looks at why we’re so mean to each other on the Internet, specifically, and then goes to look at the cultural phenomenon as a whole. It was, literally, illuminating for me. It explained why my party of peace & compassion is so unlikely. Something dark within lightened. I recognised a pattern, which means I can unravel it. At least for me.

I’m going to try to remember what Buddhist Susan Moon says — that I drive folks as nuts as so many politicians, pundits, and their bloodthirsty followers drive me :). And that I don’t have to be the person who feeds the fire. I can be the person who lets it go out. I can have my own small party, peaceful & compassionate.