10 October 2017

Travesty: My Last Conversation With Paul About Men

The Weinstein Travesty Paul Moshimer Knew What It Meant To Be A Man

For the third or fourth time in just a few weeks, there is a brick in the pit of my stomach when I watch the news or hear about it. Tonight, as a man who feels strongly about what it means to be a man, I knew i had to listen to the harrowing testimonies and police audio recording of the very sick and troubled Harvey Weinstein trying to sexually assault and harass a young woman pleading with him to stop.

And I knew I had to say something about it. Tonight, I can't just put up cute photos of Gus and Fate and Red.

I used to have long talks with my friend Paul Moshimer about what it means to be a man, he was, to me, a good man and a real man. I could not have imagined that it was the last conversation Paul and I ever had.

We talked well into the night once about what we thought it meant.  Paul tried hard to be a loving and caring man, perhaps he felt too much, and despaired, he took his own life just weeks after our midnight talk. I have always thought of him as a fallen warrior, a hero of sorts, he died trying.

I have nothing to add to the media frenzy, the outrage, the mob howling, the self-serving moralizing, the wrenching and brave admissions swirling around. I hate mobs.

I wasn't there, I know nothing more than you can read and see, perhaps less. What I read and heard was sickening and heart-breaking.  Those women…

I do remember my last conversations with Paul about men, it has stayed with me, and shaped my marriage, my life and my consciousness. When I came home that night, I wrote some notes down, and put them away. I did not imagine I would use them in this way.

Our conversation was simple, it was about the men we wished to be. What does a real man do and not do?

Our very partial and incomplete list:

A real man is nurturing, not hurtful.

A real man encourages, he does not diminish,

or discourage.

A real man listens, and accepts what he hears.

A real man reaches for the softness in his soul,

and pulls it to the surface.

A real man does not control,

he empowers.

A real man steps out of the way,

he is never a warrior for his failed and bloody past.

A real man accepts change and the new order,

he does not fight only for himself.

A real man protects the people and women in his life,

he is strong without being fearsome,

caring without smothering.

A real man cries,

and reveals his heart.

A real man remembers the small things,

and drinks from the cup of humility.

A real men understands that no is no,

not ever yes.

He speaks softly, he does not shout,

he is never proud of his power.

A real man cares for the poor and

the vulnerable, he cares for

Mother Earth.

A real man prays that on his tombstone,

the people he loved carve,

"he always supported us, he always lifted us up,

and gave us strength."

A real man does not traffic in fear, 

but in dignity and respect.

A real man is a warrior for peace and life,

not conquest or domination.


That was what Paul and I decided real men ought to try to be, shortly before he died.

Now, it seems somewhat arrogant and almost foolish to me, more hubris.

But it does make me want to cry when I read it, and I did a bit.  And it is the kind of man I want to be, and have tried to be, and am trying to be, and will try to be tomorrow.

I do not know why Paul killed himself, but he told me he thought he had often failed to be the man he wanted to be. He seemed very sad about this, his past was troubled.

And I know how heartbroken he was at the dread destruction men were and are wreaking on the world, and on so many women and children.

Perhaps he despaired at what he saw other men do and believe.

We can not live harmlessly, or perfectly, or selfishly and entirely at our own expense, wrote Wendell Berry in a wonderful essay on the responsibility of men to the world.

"To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want."

And worse.

I know I can't say it better than Berry did, but that is the tragedy of Harvey Weinstein, and of so many men he evokes, the ghosts and spirits of broken men hang over the earth like a dark cloud, spiritual and moral loneliness will follow them all of their lives.


Posted in General

Devotion: I Do Not Give Anyone The Responsibility For My Life

Full Responsibility

And now, my old dogs are dead, and I have more after them, my parents are gone, my family is scattered, my child is grown, my friends have run away or gone away, I let go of my battles and  failures and mistakes and injuries and grievances.

I have abandoned argument for creative action.

The shoulders of the world are too vast and quivering for me to bear. Some wisdom and acceptance have been pummeled into me, and I am just stepping into my life, even as the end of it glides closer.

I take full responsibility for my life, and do not give it to anyone else. It is mine. I made it and lived it, and I can do what I wish with it. And I will no permit anyone to take it from me or tell me what to do with it.

One day in the not too distance future – what are years but the flick of an eye? – I will return, without lament and resentment, to our Mother, the earth, who loves the human compost and returns it to life. That is healing for me, and puts life in perspective. If I am  fully responsible for my life, I am also responsible for my death.

I embrace this idea of full responsibility. Freud said that most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. Just look at the news.

The price of success or greatness or creativity, I believe, is responsibility.

When I got divorced after a long marriage, my wife and I fought for years over who was responsible for the end of our marriage, and who was entitled to what piece of our lives, I slipped into bitterness and blame.

Full responsibility is different. She is not to blame, no matter what happened to break us apart. It doesn't matter who did what to who or who said what to whom. I take full responsibility for my life. I will not assign it to anybody else. It is mine. I made it, lived it, and decided what to do with it.

Full responsibility is a way of looking at the world, and also of learning, growing, changing.

I once blamed everyone in the world for the troubles of my country but me. Sometimes I blamed the left, sometimes the right, sometimes politicians, sometimes the reporters.

I am responsible for the world I live in, I am working to do good rather than argue about it.

Some of you followed the episode on Saturday with my wonderful dog Fate, she refused to listen to me or respond to my commands as our Open House got underway and she was so excited to see the crowds, eventually running onto a busy road and nearly getting killed while I fruitlessly shouted for her to stop..

The government is not responsible for me, neither is the rising price of things, or the weather that surprises and confronts us, or politicians bought like stocks by giant corporations, or the media that intrudes upon us with messages of hate and  rancor.

At first, as I wrote, I seethed at her and blamed her, and then I paused and took a breath and took full responsibility. I was responsible for what happened, I am a human and she is a dog, I have a conscience and she doesn't, I can reason in a way that she can't. I was responsible and when I took responsibility, the problem was resolved.

I don't have to show my love of my country their way, I can show it my way, by actions, not words.

Responsibility is a powerful spiritual tool. It bypasses blame and self-pity and argument. It goes to the heart of truth, rebirth and redemption. It fills the soul with strength and clarity. No one is responsible for my happiness or success or failure but me.

If I stand in my truth, extraordinary things can happen.

For me, responsibility means I have to deal with life. I have to be accountable, I must make my own decisions and act independently, without bowing to the will of others. I do not think or write to be liked or agreed with, but to be responsible for my life and the life around me.

This idea of full responsibility is the direction of my life, and I have lived it, I can do what I want with it, say what I want, believe what I wish.

Deep in this kind of faith, I have shed much of the anger and self-doubt and fear that has haunted me for so many years. Full responsibility is about strength and clarity, the ability to stand in one's truth and not be dominated by the will of others. As I take responsibility for myself away from others and onto myself, my life begins to turn and glow and shine.

It is not a perfect life, it is just my life.

Responsibility smothers self-pity and blame and doubt, they are, after all, just flickering candle wicks hiding from the next strong breeze.

Creative work depends on full responsibility to survive, it requires a loyalty and submission to the self as complete as the earth revolving around the sun. The creative seeker who cannot take responsibility for him or herself is lost, she cannot follow her dreams

I take responsibility for myself. I do not really care any more or very much what other people think I should say or be. I do not work to please others. That is the opposite of  responsibility, it is submission.

On the new platform we call social media, people are always challenging me to fight with them, as if I am some aging boxer they want to stomp to get the title. They insist I love to fight, because they want me to fight. But that is just another kind of submission, another kind of slavery.

It would be irresponsible for me to say yes to anger and rage and argument.

"What we call our destiny is truly our character, "wrote Anais Nin, "and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, became it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which  has shaped our feelings…We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements."

Responsibility is the beginning of  devotion.

Posted in General

Empathy, The Highest Calling: A Telephone Call That Mattered. When Health Care Is Human

The Highest Human Calling

Last week, a doctor examining me heard a heart murmur, not so scary in and of itself, but concerning given my history of heart disease and open heart surgery. The cardiologist wanted an echo-cardiogram right away, and I was wondering if my appearance at the Open House and our trip to New Mexico was in doubt. I was also dealing with the discovery of a retinal problem that could lead to blindness, and was also scheduled for intensive eye exams.

For a bit there, I wondered if I wasn't falling apart, I spent so many unhappy years in good health, and now that I am happy, the wolves are closing in. Gloomy and self-pitying, but I did have those thoughts.

I wrote a letter to Karen, my quite wonderful nurse-practitioner. It was Karen who got me to control my diabetes and Karen who rushed me to the hospital when I was having a heart attack and may well have saved my life.

When I finished my heart tests, the tech thanked me, and I said "well, what happens next, do I go home or to the hospital?" She seemed surprised by the question, and said I was free to go home, someone would be in touch with me if there was anything to say.

My doctor was not around, I dd not see him or hear from him. I took it as a promising sign that I was not rushed to the hospital nearby, yet I did wonder if the simpler truth was that no doctor had a chance to look at it yet. I was mildly relieved. When I got home there was a letter from Karen discussing my latest blood tests. They were very good save for one cholesterol number she didn't like, she said it was not urgent we would discuss it in November.

I wrote her a letter back thanking her and telling her about the eye trouble and the heart murmer.

A couple of days went by and I didn't hear a world from the cardiologist. I guess I didn't really expect to, I have never called him and he has never called me. Doctors don't really do that anymore, if they need to speak with you, they have a nurse all or they schedule an appointment.

Our appointments are very brief, and mostly, they are an exchange date. Data is his bible.

As Monday came along,  I guessed there was just nothing to tell me, although I did wonder if they just hadn't gotten to it yet.

Monday night, we went out to dinner and to take my weekly photo of Kelly Nolan. When we got home, there was a message from Karen. She had gotten my letter, she said, and gotten hold of the echocardiogram.

She didn't know if anyone had contacted me about it, but she just wanted to tell me there was nothing on it that suggested valve trouble or the need for additional surgery. She just wanted me to know that, and she didn't want me to worry.

In the last six or seven years, I have been diagnosed with diabetes and had open heart surgery. In that time, no doctor or nurse of any kind has ever called me up except to remind me of an appointment and ask me to bring my insurance card. I have spent some long and lonely days and nights waiting for news.

Empathy no longer fits into our idea of health care, we are too busy fighting about money and politicians and robber baron pharmaceutical  executives. The system can't afford to worry about how it communicates with people, it is too bound by lawyers and regulators and an angry and litigious public.

It's safe to say nothing, to meet briefly, to adhere to date – test results and studies that protect from lawsuits.

I appreciate Karen's call. She is an ethical and empathetic health care provider, I am sorry to say I have not met many, and all of them have been women.

I do know there are many others in the health care system. My sense is that very few of the empathetic healers are male physicians, and I was very touched by the simple humanity involved in Karen's telephone calls. Such calls are rare in my experience, almost all communications are brief, guarded, and unfathomable, e-mails or guarded letters.

I will go on vacation with Maria able to put this murmur behind me, at least for now. A simple phone call made that possible, and I thank Karen for making it, she is a true healer, she sees more in me that test results.

It was a small thing for her to do, but a good one, it made me feel safe and important enough to contact, to pick up a phone and call me. Somethings – like my life – merit an actual conversation. Karen knows this, most of the doctors I know do not.

Small things matter in a world where people are forgetting to talk to one another, and communicate almost entirely through machines.

I understand now that my cardiologist will not ever call me about this test, and I also understand that I am supposed to see that as good news. After all, if anything was wrong, wouldn't someone have told me?  If there was something seriously wrong, I would be in the hospital right now, I know that.

But a heart murmur is a big deal for someone with heart disease, because it often leads to valve surgery, another and very intense kind of open heart surgery. Stopping my heart again. It's good to know for sure I don't need to do that now. She stood in my shoes for a bit.

Karen didn't need to call me, she didn't give me the tests. She is empathetic, the highest human calling to me.

Karen reminded me that she is human and I am human, worthy of  some empathy and consideration. How keenly I feel this loss in our world today, and how good it felt to be treated like a human by another human, and a very good one.


Posted in General

Video: Open House Online Art Sale For Those Who Couldn’t Come

We know that most of the people who read our blogs can't get to the Open Houses, they live too far away or can't afford the travel expenses. So last year we started a new tradition – the Schoolhouse Studio Open House Art Sale – Maria offers the art that has not yet been sold or that she stowed away.

This year brought a record amount of sales, and there is not an awful lot left, but some very good, affordable and unique art. There is only one doll left, one or two shawls, some pussy hats, necklaces and pins, and about six of my photos. In the video, Maria walks us through the items that are left and describes them, if you are interested, I wouldn't wait too long.

People were clearly thinking of Christmas this weekend.

The orders were also flying in this morning. Maria chooses her art wisely and well. You can contact Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com. We plan to eat out a few times in New Mexico. Come and see the sale. If you are interested in purchasing any of these affordable and beautiful things, contact Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com. Thanks.

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Open House Faces: Two Remarkable Women In My Life

Remarkable Women In My Life

I was touched by the chance to take this photo of two remarkable women in my life, the poet Mary Kellogg and Maria. They are close friends, and are strongly connected to one another. Mary was present when Maria and I met and has become a witness to our  lives and a precious part of our existence.

She has followed our story and supported it, every step of the way.

I have always loved and admired strong women, perhaps because my mother was a strong women who failed to live her life, she was undone by men at every turn. These two live their lives fully and meaningfully, they are strong anbd independent and gifted. I am fortunate to have two such women in my lfe.

Posted in General