Saturday, March 31, 2007

Movies Seen

Til Death Do Us Part on Court TV, by John Waters
I can't decide yet if this is too creepy to keep watching. John Waters directs these vignettes of true crime, marriages ending in murder. He begins the show with himself in the first scene. Whether a bystander or a guest at the wedding, he has some snarky Serling-esque comment for the camera. He's the best part of the show.

Road to Guantanamo
More true crime, this perpetrated by our government. This documentary follows the story that led three British Pakistanis to a horrific stay at Guantanamo, courtesy of the US government. Dramatization alternates with interviews. One of the four friends is getting married in Pakistan. They hear an imam preach and decide to visit Afghanistan to help people. One of the four is lost and likely dead. The remaining three are on their way back to Pakistan, not having found a way to 'help', when they are swept up by the Northern Alliance. They are separated. One survives a trip in a metal shipping container. Some died from lack of air, and some died from the bullets used to create airholes. It is absolutely disgusting that my country had something to do with this. It is absolutely disgusting that gitmo is still open for business.

I can see how this happens. Many humans are a hairs-breadth away from becoming torturers. Witness the Milgram experiment. Witness the Stanford Prison Experiment. Philip Zimbardo has just come out with a new book, The Lucifer Effect. He says of the book, "I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971." He hawked it on The Daily Show just the other day.

For me, the most visceral moment in this movie happened when a prisoner was placed in solitary confinement, made to squat, feet and hands shackled together. Loud heavy metal music blasted the cell. I felt a mild flashback in my body as it brought me back to a time when my stepfather had me crabwalk around the dining room table for what seemed an eternity. I was around ten years old. I crabwalked until my arms and legs gave out and my butt collapsed to the floor. Raging, he kicked me in the back, and I crabwalked some more. I don't remember what it was I'd done to merit this punishment. Most of the time I'd forgotten some chore, or I hadn't done a chore good enough. Pondering this karmic ghost triggered by torture at Guantanamo, I remembered that I'd just come home happy and carefree from a day with my dad. That was probably what I'd done wrong.

We Americans torture our children, not always behind closed doors. It is no small wonder then that our government has sanctioned torture and thinks valid information will come from it. We are a nation full of insecure, self-hating people that lash out at those weaker than us. The Dalai Lama himself has commented on our tendency to insecurity. Underneath our hatred and entitlement is a fear that we deserve to be hated, and are not entitled. Mix in a few elements of Milgram and Stanford Prison, and we have war crimes.

I'm not trying to create an argument or a polemic here, to any who would argue with me for the need to torture to glean information. That flashback did serve a purpose, it gave me an intuitive insight into the pervasive dependency this society has on violence. If people are raised with torture disguised as discipline, it is all too easy to find it acceptable to use similar techniques to get faulty information. I know from first-hand experience you will say whatever needs to be said for the pain to stop. You will say what needs to be said so the pain won't happen again. You learn to hide the truth. My stepfather has issues. In the case of the military, violence is taught, conditioned, encouraged. Empathy and compassion are discouraged. People like my stepfather and worse are created. When will it stop? Could we please stop?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lisa Mann sings Etta James

I would so totally have a crush on this rockin' babe if I hadn't first met her at the Zen Center.

Check her out, and her myspace page:
and not just cuz she's one of my best buds.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Testosterone and Love

I don't often talk about sex here, though I admire those bloggers that make it their mainstay, such as Chelsea Girl and Tom Paine. Talking about sex will definitely gain one a loyal audience.

I don't talk about sex much because it usually involves another person, and it may be an intimacy that other person would rather not have shared publicly. Chelsea Girl found herself confronted with karma from a past lover, and not at an optimal time. Her readers had various views on that. Some bloggers seem to feel anything is fair game, and if someone has a problem with that, someone can start their own blog. I think Chelsea Girl did the right thing for herself, including making amends somewhat by sharing the positive things about her past lover that she hadn't before.

Some bloggers write about socially taboo things, and try to protect themselves by remaining anonymous. That doesn't always work. I tend to feel that there is safety in transparency. (A friend of mine said that very thing today regarding civil disobedience. Makes sense, doesn't it?) I don't flaunt my identity, but I don't try to hide it either. I want people to know I am polyamorous, that way they can't accuse me of sneaking around. Along with transparency there must be tact and courtesy, so if I'm "working something out" in my writing, I can't just be thinking of myself. This is why I was so happy when Tom's wife C. starting reading and participating in his blog, there wasn't a big splash (publicly anyway) of hurt feelings and embarrassment. Tom has written of some very intimate stuff...and his wife has brought even greater intimacy and boldness to his posts.

I intended to talk about patterns of libido, and here I am talking about blogger anonymity. I also don't talk about sex much because it doesn't necessarily happen all that often. I'm busy, my lovers are busy, we don't get a chance for that intimate time together. Parents aren't the only ones who have to put sex time on their calendar. I can go through periods of time where I just don't think about sex much at all. I've never been one to masturbate much by myself. I prefer help. I also prefer a buildup to a big orgasm, and that rarely happens by my own hand, or my own hand holding machine. Sometimes I realize I'm blue or cranky and my body is sluggish because I haven't been flushed with the heat of desire lately, and the proper medicine is a good body-rocking orgasm.

This has been my pattern lately. I have so many other things on my plate. Other times I have been hungry for sex. Often it has been when I am flush with a new love, or about to fall in love. I've come to believe that there is a biological rhythm to falling in love, and there is an emotional ripeness to falling in love. When those two come together and happen upon an object of desire that is compatible enough, along comes "true love." That third element, compatibility, is so key to a lasting relationship. I happen to think the absence of it does not negate the validity of the love, just makes it something that is unwise to nurture. I'm getting away from my intention again...

Who hasn't noticed that people in love sparkle and glow and are suddenly quite sexy? Early in our relationship Steve pointed out to me that so often no one is interested in a person sexually when they've long been single and involuntarily celibate. That person hooks up with someone, starts having great sex and intimacy, and suddenly more people are flirting, sniffing around for some of that. I think it has all to do with those love chemicals stirring around in a person. After a couple settles in to couplehood, those chemicals simmer down and the sexiness withdraws, like coals banked for the next day's fire.

That mad sparkly time of new love can last from a couple of months to four years. That giddy excitement can't go on forever, too stressful. Those that have studied this hypothesize that's about the time a female could use a male sticking around to help care for a baby. After that, a primitive human couple could go their separate ways, and mama could take care of baby on her own. Our body chemistry possibly reflects a natural serial monogamy, or natural pattern of adultery. I wonder from that if people have a natural rhythm of susceptibility to love. Every few years, a monogamous couple might find a resurgence of passion, or a cheater might succomb to new temptations, or a polyamorous person might seek new dates and new loves.
The other part of my equation of ripeness for love is an emotional state of mind. Some wiser unconscious part of me didn't allow me to fall in love until I was ready and able to withstand gale force winds of love. Other people perhaps don't have those unconscious walls. Some people may live their whole lives, become grandmothers, and not experience that psychic awakening to eros.

While omnifarious possibilities of love abound, I'm interested at the moment in examining that sex-infused giddy time of new love. Discovery News recently reported on two studies about sex making people feel sexier. One showed that the more sex you have, the more you feel like having sex. This is due to the raised levels of testosterone that result from cuddling and intercourse, for both men and women. The second study found that monogamously partnered couples had the lowest testosterone levels, and polyamorous people had the highest overall levels, even above single people. My first thought, well that depends. I would guess those would be actively dating polyamorous couples. I would guess my own testosterone levels are kinda low at at the moment.

The Discovery article said,

The team of scientists theorizes the hormone may be involved in "bond maintenance" and in preparing the individual for competition.

Such competition may be either external, as in fending off other suitors, or internal, as in strengthening the person in preparation for a possible child. Other studies have demonstrated that sperm from different men compete with each other to fertilize the egg, although women also appear to exert some influence over which sperm achieves the feat.

That seems to me to explain that glow effect of ripe new sexual contact. Sex doesn't only make a person feel sexier, it makes one sexier. I wonder what they meant by competition. Could it be this enhanced attractiveness sparks a dance of competing sex-partners? Could it mean we're naturally inclined to 'play the field' with our raised testosterone levels? Then, when we settle for the one and only, we ride that testosterone wave, forging connections, until other bonds hold us together, like oxytocin.

Our bodies will ripen again, ready for another child, another pairing. Is it any surprise that we don't always ripen for love with the same person? Perhaps in the case of polyamory, we freeze ourselves in that moment of ripening, with multiple partners the chemistry doesn't quite settle. Maybe our bodies think we're 'playing the field.' I do know that having sexual activity with another makes me want it more with my closest lover. A self-feeding loop raises those levels of libido.

Some people have no wish to raise libido levels. They're perfectly happy being asexual. As Dan Savage so often says, "You can have strict monogamy or you can have a low libido, ladies, but you can't have both. If monogamy is a priority, you're gonna have to put out." I'm with Figleaf, the best sex is the sex you want. But if I don't want much sex, it's not fair to impose that on my significant other. If my significant other wants more, he or she is welcome to find more with more people.

Lusty Lady's in Town

I was sad when Rachel Kramer Bussel no longer wrote for Village Voice. It was through her column that I learned of her In The Flesh Erotica Reading Series, which made for a thoroughly fun evening during my second trip to New York. I learned she is in town, and reading at Powell's on Hawthorne tomorrow (Monday) at 7:30 pm.

I learned about it from a blogger I've begun reading, Figleaf. He has thoughtful essays about sex and its place in our lives. He calls himself a libertine prude. I liked what he had to say the other day about differing libidos. He wrote of his conversation with Joan Sewell, author of I'd Rather Eat Chocolate. He said, "Me? I'm committed to the notion that the best sex is the sex you want, not the sex you're told you're supposed to want. Which ought to be a simple enough proposition except for a constant barrage of people telling us that whatever we're doing we're doing it wrong."

My first marriage was often a tug of war between two people with different sex drives. Having a polyamorous relationship opened up that dynamic for me. I was and am free to explore the sex I want. He needn't depend on me to meet all his wants, nor I him. And I have to say, I have had the best sex since meeting Steve, partly because he helped me find out what it really was, this sex I want, and partly because we both have had the freedom to seek different edges.

Rachel and other sex-positive writers like Darklady also live by that same message. Tastes change, libidos change, there's no one right way to be. Sometimes my religion of choice can be a bit prudish, depending on who you're talking to about the meaning of "Do not misuse sexuality." I like this middle way of neither pushing away too much, nor grasping too much.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Fat Rant.

Recovery from sizism is as much about getting over it ourselves as it is about society changing its views.

One thing this articulate and lovely woman urges us to do is not hide our weight. I remember in high school hearing a fat girl report herself as weighing 135 pounds. I myself was smaller than her and much shorter than her, and I was something like 150 pounds then. I thought somehow I had denser bones. I thought maybe she was fudging a little, but it didn't occur to me she lied.

Life is too short to spend so much of our life being miserable over food and over our weight. Health issues from self-hatred and insecurity far outweigh the health issues of the weight itself.

I will not lie. I weigh 317, as of my last visit to the doctor. I am a size 28, or (gasp) 4X or 5X. [see the video] It's not the weight that's the issue. I am healthy enough. I don't have diabetes. I don't have heart disease. I don't do drugs. I may not be able to run, but runners get injuries.

Want to introduce someone to fat acceptance? Show them this video.

Israel and the West Bank

Tonight I went to a talk given by a woman I know. I met Jill through doing peace community organizing. She has a soft spot for Buddhism, but hasn't settled in it. Our chapter supported and encouraged her to give this talk.

Jill went to the region for 2 months end of summer, early fall of 2005, and again for a month and a half in the fall of 2006.

Here's what I commented on our BPF blog:

Jill had a lot to share from her two visits to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.

We saw photos of the wall. In one case a family was given the option: they could stay with their olive groves, or stay with their house. They chose their house. The wall separates them from their livelihood. In another case the Israeli highway, available only for those cars with the correct license plates, shows the second-class road with checkpoint. From the Israeli highway, the road for Palestinians looks nice, paved, usable. But not far away, it is an unpaved bumpy primitive road. It made me think of our highways where we see trees, but the narrow band of nature hides the clearcuts that extend beyond our line of sight.

The wall looks like a prison wall. She told us from the Israeli side it looks nice: dirt built up, landscaped, murals. Some Israelis think the wall is working, because there have been less terrorist attacks, but Jill did not find that optimistic. While less Israelis were killed in 2006, a record number of Palestinians were killed. Story here.

In her view, you can't talk about the wall without talking about it being a land grab and water grab. This is a desert, and the Israeli settlers take the good water, and contaminate the water they don't control with their sewage.

Jill went there with the International Women's Peace Service.

Some resources:
Women's Organization for Political Prisoners
Arab Association for Human Rights
Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society

Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom: Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

American Task Force on Palestine
The Compassionate Listening Project

Wish I didn't have this reason to be so busy

The week before last, I was busy getting ready for the peace rally and march. Sadly, March 17 was the 4th anniversary of my country's invasion of Iraq. As usual, I arranged to have a meditation vigil during the peace action fair and march, on March 18 here in Portland. As usual, the peace marches around the country were treated as barely a blip in the world of news. And as usual, a few fringe attention-mongers have achieved their goal and stolen the message of the peace-mongers.

Alerted to watch the news by activist friends for a statement from our Republican Senator, Gordon Smith, I saw coverage of this story. A few anonymous demonstrators clad in black burned a flag and a soldier in effigy, and of course the right-wingnuts are ecstatic over this, stoking their hatred of "liberals". The local news said organizers of the peace march were "furious" and refused to give a statement and thus give more energy to the story. I know some of the people who organized the event. I know they might have been distressed, but I highly doubt they were furious. How interesting that an innocent rural college student who'd "never seen such a thing" and was "shocked" put her photos on her facebook blog and then it caused a wildfire among the freepers. How interesting that she got hate email, she who was shocked in the first place. She quoted one in which someone said she was a traitor simply for posting the photos.

How boring the rest of us are. How predictable that there are a few that stage dramatic acts, and how predictable that the opposition gloms onto that as proof that all of us boring peace activists Hate America. And why is that so shocking? These are just symbols. Where is the outrage over stolen votes? Where is the outrage over actual dead soldiers? actual dead Iraqi innocents? stolen civil liberties? I am not proud to be from such an America. You won't find me saying I protest because I love America. I protest because I love people and the country I happen to be born in steps on and kills a whole lot of people. That is nothing to be proud of.

Then I did see what Gordon Smith had to say, and at least he is still breaking from his party and saying Iraq is a mistake, as far as I could tell. He voted to pull out by 2008. Unlike Joe Lieberman. He's not breaking away enough to vote to cut funding, but then neither are the Democrats. As long as they all continue to fund the war, I'll continue to believe they all secretly want the war, and it all has to do with controlling the region for the oil.

I titled this wishing I didn't have this reason to be so busy. It looks like I will be busy for years to come. Of course, I'll be busy for a lifetime, violence and hatred being beginningless and unending the way it is. Thus the meditation vigils. Even while we work for social reform, it won't stick on less we also work on personal reform.

Less visible, but greatly heartening to me, are the activities happening in rural Oregon. This is where many of our soldiers come from. This is where we can measure the pulse of America, more so than in the progressive city of Portland. Soldiers and families of soldiers are coming to town halls and letting it be known they want out of this war. Read about it here. I've met the author, a friendly to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Books and a Book Group

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler rises to the top, along with Ursula LeGuin, as one of my favorite authors. Like Ursula, she wrote in the genre of science fiction, but what she wrote is also good literature. For some reason this book slipped by me when I read many of Octavia's books years ago, and now I read it for my library's book group. This was her first novel, and I could see a little of the writer's exercise in it, and see a little more of the author's life. Octavia worked in industrial jobs by day, and wrote during her breaks and burned the midnight oil, similar to her main character in this story. The author did not call this scifi, but more of a "grim fantasy". Time travel is often a vehicle to explore bits of history and how they might be altered, or simply better understood. I was surprised that some people in the book group did not like it, mostly because they couldn't "buy it". There was no logical reason for the time travel and they couldn't get past that to the heart of the story.

To me, the interesting heart of the story happens because of the time travel. Whereas those readers would have liked an actual person's experience in the slavery of the 1800s, I liked the tension of a middle class 20th century black woman's experience as she was repeatedly pulled to the past to save the life of an average middle class slave-owner. To me, scifi, or in this case, historical fantasy, provides a structure for an experiment of the mind. When we explore these "what ifs" we have a chance to expose truths of human nature, glorious potentials and stark darknesses alike. One of the book group ladies was on the same bus as I was, and we talked some more about the difference in tastes.

She would have liked a more honest, straightforward portrayal of the times, not this contrivance of a woman traveling back in time. I realized then that I felt this is more honest. All writers of fiction ask us to suspend disbelief. If it is a novel set in the past, they ask us to believe they know something of what it felt like to live then. More often, they write as if the characters have the same mindset as now, but they set it in the past. The historical setting is a prop for the entertainment needs of the current day reader. For it to be readable, the writer keeps some modern thinking in that past setting. To me, it seemed more honest for this writer to keep her main voice a modern one visiting the past, as that is exactly what she was doing as an author. She could reveal the strangeness of the time, and the disturbing parallels to this time, but keep the modern mentality as a contrast to the slave society's mentality.

There were others in the group that loved the book, simply devoured it in a couple days time. I didn't read it like that (I was instead devouring the first season of Veronica Mars) but I did love it. I think the writing did not flow with the ease of some of Butler's later novels, but it has as much or more depth. One woman was inspired to seek out some of the other novels, even though she does not usually read scifi. I told her about my favorites. Parable of the Sower is set in the indefinite future, a society broken and ruled by crime, with working-class and professional neighborhoods gated and guarded, subsistence fortified with protected gardens and acorn flour. A teenage girl has a vision for the future, and her parable becomes a guidebook for a new way. I wanted to be inducted into that new religion.

I also told her about Adulthood Rites, but what I was really thinking of was the whole Xenogenesis series. Aliens mine humans for their genetic traits, enslaving them for their and the humans future survival. One of the topics we enjoyed exploring about Kindred was the paradoxical complexity of the mutual needs of the master and slave, how well-deserved hatred can co-exist with genuine caring, how the one who uses can love but still not understand how to respect as an equal the one he uses. If I remember correctly, these same themes get explored in this series, but between aliens and humans rather than masters and slaves.

This woman and I often like the same books for similar reasons. We both like to dig into the spiritual and psychological implications. One of the fun things about attending a book group, we will read books we wouldn't otherwise read. Now perhaps she will start reading some scifi when she didn't before. I've discovered an author I now love, Margaret Atwood, who happens to be the favorite author of a co-worker who also comes to the book group. (We read Blind Assassin, which has a book within a book within a book.)

Another thing I like about a book group is the creation of community. As this is a library-sponsored book group, we aren't already self-selected. We aren't a group of friends who decided to get together about books. We aren't a political or a church group. We aren't alumni from the same college. (I've been too busy to attend my college alumni group lately.) We do tend to come from the same neighborhood, but not necessarily. We begin to understand each other through our takes on the books we read. We can't help but bring in our opinions on world events. We can't help but divulge our deep spiritual convictions. Some books demand you engage these themes.

There is one older woman whose purpose in attending at first seemed to be a need to bring God to others. This was and is her entire filter through which she views the world. I could sympathize, I do that somewhat with Buddhism. Sometimes she would say she couldn't understand why anyone would want to read such a book because it didn't bring one closer to God. (I paraphrase.) I've noticed she hasn't said that kind of thing lately. There have been some moments in the past where the discussion became quite awkward. Now maybe she either filters the filter, or she's able to see through it to the valid views of other readers. Through this book group, we don't become friends necessarily, but we see inside each other a little, where we might not cross paths otherwise. In my case, the spiritual digging that I do is very different than the digging that she does, and normally we just would not do that together. But here, we have, and maybe she could begin to see that my embrace of ambiguity does not leave me without standards, and maybe I can see that her embrace of a strong religious duality does not leave her without compassion for human weaknesses.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Movies Seen

Life Support from HBO
OK this was an HBO version of a Lifetime movie. Whereas a Lifetime movie would probably be about a white chick with AIDS who was betrayed by her dirtbag husband/lover/boyfriend, this HBO version was about a black chick who was doing drugs with her husband. A woman who now educates others about the perils of unprotected sex and struggles with her connection to her daughter. Don't get me wrong, I like Lifetime movies sometimes...but that's what this a tad better, but still pretty true-story formulaic. I think Queen Latifah is hot, but of course this was not a sexy role.

Veronica Mars (Season 1)
The smart people were talking about it (my college alumni email list) and I was trying to avoid it. I get hooked too easily on tv shows for smart people. But, here I went, watched the first season on DVD. I couldn't stop. I had things to do, but I'd keep going with the next episode. I keep waiting for some miraculous feed to show up and inject me with the next season. I couldn't help it, I had to peek at an episode guide to find out if a character lived. This show satisfies that teen girl flick itch (yes, I get those) that mystery itch (I don't usually get those) and that outcast but cool itch....oh wait, that's the same as the teen flick itch. Now I must wait while the 40 some people with holds ahead of me get the second season from the library before I do.

An Unfinished Life
I was impressed with Jennifer Lopez as a woman who escapes a battering boyfriend. Her eyes....are incredible...jewels of the soul. She runs to her father-in-law who blames her for his son's death years before. Her daughter gets to know the grumpy codger played by Robert Redford, and his disabled buddy played by Morgan Freeman, and all begin to heal. The bear is a powerful metaphor, and the grizzly just about steals the show. (Umm, why isn't he listed as one of the cast?)

Batman Begins
Liked it. I'm not a comic book reader but like comic book movies. I liked getting the backstory to batman. How bats became the thing, how he got the batcave and the batmobile. How Gotham became infested with crazies that would keep batman busy for a long long time.

12 and Holding
This is my first movie inspired by my viewing of the IFC movie awards. I listened to just enough of the commentary to find out the director was involved with Six Feet Under and seemed a little miffed that reviewers saw a bit of that in this. I didn't see that, other than the movie wasn't afraid to make people die. It was dark and existential. Shades of Stand By Me but more complex. Hollywood movies throw you some cotton candy so the audience goes away happy. Bad guys are bad. Happy endings. This one doesn't let you have the sweet tang of a fulfilling ending, characters that resolve themselves. I really liked this movie, but I was left the that addictive little itch, that question, "where's my Hollywood plot fix?" Of course that says more about me than the movie. Children die in this movie. Children make some complex and twisted emotional choices, and the interesting thing is, the flaws of the adults in their lives gave them a nudge in those twisted directions. There is dharma in this movie, the kind of dharma it's hard to look at straight on, but the director doesn't let us look away.

Over the Hedge
OK here's my Hollywood cotton candy. As soon as I saw the trailers featured a turtle, I knew this was one kids movie I had to see. I ended up liking the raccoon a lot more, most intriguing character. There's a couple of shorts on the DVD that are really more funny than the movie itself, but you have to watch the movie first so you know the quirks of the characters. I loved Wanda Sykes as Stella the skunk. She is so cool in Curb Your Enthusiasm, possibly my favorite character on that show.

The Village
I watched this a while back but I forgot to write about it and sure enough, I almost couldn't remember the title. William Hurt was in it, but for some reason the other scraggly actors were in my head: Kris Kristofferson and Nick Nolte. While I was doing some creative sleuthing to find the title, I discovered now has keywords, like tags, but not enough yet that I could find it. Creature in the woods keeps the town isolated, blind girl makes the perilous journey to get medicine, the only one 'innocent' enough that the creature won't harm her. It has a twist, the director M. Night Shyamalan likes his twists. I liked it, but I clued in pretty quickly to the twist, unlike my experience with The Sixth Sense.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Books Read*

*a friend of mine asked how I was able to write so much. He only had the chance to skim my community organizing idea. To me, I don't write enough. There's always another thing looming that I really want to write about. And there's that novel. Heh. I realized though that one trick I learned from Tom Paine, who is much more prolific than me, is to go ahead and start drafts. If I have several drafts rearing their orange font at me, I tend to try faster to get back to them. That is also how I keep up with the books and movies.

Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller
One of my daily email reads is Unshelved, a comic strip about a strip mall library. (I swear they have informants for story lines from my library.) Every Sunday they have a book review, and this is where I heard about this book. These Sunday strips are really quite good as 'book talks'. The sardonic character Dewey gets a chance to reveal why he's a librarian.

Spy kid adventures, secret underground passages, girl power. The mysterious Kiki Strike, is she a good girl, or bad girl? She seems to have no weaknesses, many secrets, and brings out the best in brainy girls of a certain type. They are the Irregulars. Bonus, the narrator lists bits of knowledge throughout the book (girls like lists) that are useful to have, such as how to trail someone, how to disguise yourself, and what to do in an emergency or if attacked. Her list of things to see in NYC make me wonder if they really do exist. Plague victims buried in Washington park? Stone Street, with buildings from 1835? Underground passages in Chinatown?

Ah, refreshing to read after this one:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cities burned, grey ash floating everywhere, no plants, no animals, few sources of stored food left, no more glimpses of the sun, humans like packs of wolves, only more psychopathic. Spare dialog, bleak future, I kept reading hoping I would find some glimmer of hope, yet somewhat aware, since the title is "The Road," that I wouldn't really get an ending, not much of one.

It is somewhat like a guidebook: if you have any chance of surviving a nuclear winter, and you most likely won't, you either become a people-eater, or you scavenge and hide, fix things, bluff, kill, scavenge and hide. And then you die. Or maybe live till the next cache of old food is found.

Someone told me she didn't need to read this, that she already feels like we live in a bleak futureless world. Sadly, I too feel sometimes this is really so much closer than any of us would like to believe, karma being karma. I try not to believe it. I try to do what I can to prevent it. It's been a while since I read a post-apocalyptic novel. The last, I think, was a trilogy for teens called Fire-Us by Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher. In that story, most of the adults of the world are killed by a virus. Children are spared, but then must grow up without the guidance of adults, definitely a bit of the "Lord of the Flies," flavor to it, without chance of rescue. That is more of a conventional book, more of the hope that yes, these kids can survive. More of a fantasy, it scratches the itch for a happier ending, and for triumph of good over evil.

"The Road" doesn't give us that fantasy. Bad people are stronger than good people, and have survived by eating "the good guys". But it does give us a glimmer, a bit of hope, held in a child, who "holds the fire." Barely hinted at, it is through a child who naturally would help even those who would have hurt him, who, through living, gives others a reason to live. That is how "the good guys" are able to keep living, having someone to live for.

Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs
It is now almost a year since Jane Jacobs died. As often happens, the news of her death clued me in to her ideas. It's been a while since I read the book, as well as her The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The first is short, and is written as an exploratory conversation between friends and acquaintances. It's one of her later books, and it seems a good introductory book on her ideas that have come before. Death and Life took me a bit longer, definitely not the streamlined version. These both got me thinking about the economy of cities and the safety of cities. Here in Portland, according to Jane Jacobs we are doing something right with our development strategy of encouraging multi-use buildings. Many small businesses mixed in with residences encourages a complex thriving economy.

The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis
I can't remember why I checked this book out, whether someone recommended it or I saw it passing through at the library. It seems to be a good analysis about women still in a state of being caught between feminism and femininity, but I couldn't help but notice that sometimes the author dismisses anecdotal accounts found in the media, and other times uses such as proof of a trend. She seems to be frustrated or bitter with women not getting it right, and I kept reading thinking I would find out just what she thought we should do or be. I guess she's a polemicist, and maybe I just don't get polemics. I think we do have a habit of equating feminism with well-known feminists, and she seems to fall into this trap. She is a professor of media studies. I noticed also she seemed to equate certain news stories with the way women are, or men are. I'm not quite sure what her end point was, other than, we're human and we're messed up. Still it was worth reading, I learned some facts I didn't know before. I think feminism is alive and well. I think hangups over sex are alive and well, and addressing that is part of feminism. I think this habit of equating the authors and leaders with the movement itself makes people wary of labeling themselves as such, but we've come a long way, and we have a long way to go.

Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, and Literature by Dorothy Allison
I can't remember why I checked this book out; it must've been on somebody's list of recommendations.

I could so relate to Dorothy's experiences as a "white trash" person, only mine weren't as horrific. I wondered if I too am so good at empathizing because I have been a they. She said,

The first time I heard, "They're different than us, don't value human life the way we do," I was in high school in Central Florida. The man speaking was an army recruiter talking to a bunch of boys, telling them what the army was really like, what they could expect overseas. A cold angry feeling swept over me. I had heard the word they pronounced in that same callous tone before. They, those people over there, those people who are not us, they die so easily, kill each other so casually. They are different. We, I thought. Me.

This could have been my words:
I grew up trying to run away from the fate that destroyed so many of the people I loved, and having learned the habit of hiding, I found I had also learned to hide from myself. I did not know who I was, only that I did not want to be they, the ones who are destroyed or dismissed to make the "real" people, the important people, feel safer.

Some things I could learn from her regarding my writing. She did not hesitate so to crib from her own life for her fiction, like I have:
I believe in the truth. I believe in the truth in the way only a person who has been denied any use of it can believe in it. I now its power. I know the threat it represents to a world constructed on lies. I believe any trick that keeps you writing the truth is all right, but that some tricks are more expensive than others. The one I have used most often and most successfully is that gambit in which I pretend that I am only one person trying to get down my version of what happened. My writing becomes fiction soon enough anyway. The truth is wider than the details of what really happened in my life.

I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics--and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. We are not supposed to talk about our real family lives, especially if our families do not duplicate the mythical heterosexual model.

I hadn't a clue how to write the complicated story, the story of growing up female in our particular family, the daughter of the youngest of the Gibson girls, that trashy family where the boys all went to jail and the women all made babies when they were still girls themselves. .... The first rule I learned in writing was to love the people I wrote about--and loving my mama, loving myself, was not simple in any sense. We had not been raised to love ourselves, only to refuse to admit how much we might hate ourselves.

The most fruitful material I have is from my childhood. Even while I embraced the truth among my friends, I bring it out in the world less obviously. And why is that? Dorothy used her fiction as a way to speak to her mother, in a way they couldn't directly. She seems to have no regrets mining her life for that material, in fact it seemed necessary for her to recover. It hasn't been necessary for me, but I have also always hesitated to use that material. Instead I gravitated toward creating an ideal world. Was I instead still afraid of the consequences of being too obvious, of revealing our secrets and shame to the world? Was I still hiding? My life was not as bad as Dorothy's. I was an object of scorn, but not to the point (that I know of) that parents told their kids not to play with me. If I am to write something as complicated and as rich as I would like, I must not shy away from the truth, I must be willing to show the dark and the light, the messy complicated interweaving of dark, light and shades of grey. I must be willing to make people angry, defensive. Is it that I don't want to hurt people, or I am afraid? Is it that I don't want to be too revealing, or that I am ashamed to be too revealing?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

HNT #13: Tattoo

Cyberwarlock asked to see a better view of the tattoo. He clearly has a thing for Badtz Maru. Me too. Last week I didn't have time for HNT because I was busy writing about Buddhist sanghas. (see earlier posts) This week I've been busy thinking and writing about a vision for community networking.

Here's my lovely Prajnaparamita, when she was brand new. 2003? Follow that link for a blog post on my Sunday School lesson on Prajna Paramita. I showed the girls my tattoo, but I covered her boobs with a bandaid and joked I was making her rated PG for them. They thought it was funny.

Last week I did find time to see the Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. Cyberwarlock has Egyptian tattoos, I was thinking of him and looked for his images. The exhibit featured "the largest selection of antiquities ever loaned by Egypt for exhibition in North America. It included objects that have never been on public display and many that have never been seen outside of Egypt." During the final days, tickets were sold out. As an art museum member, I still had to pay for tickets, but they were cheaper. As often happens, I waited till the last possible week to go, but fortunately I did buy the tickets in time. I so wanted to touch the carved stone pieces of the exhibit. They cried out to be touched, especially those that were originally gods in temples. People made offerings and touched them, rubbed away the hieroglyphs. I didn't touch. I'm a good girl that way, I obey the rules that make sense. It took Brent and me over 2 hours to go through the whole thing, we were tired. I wish I'd gone more than once.

I learned from the audio guide that women would be depicted as lighter-skinned than the men. This symbolized wealth, because it showed they did not have to spend their days laboring in the sun. I was reminded of my observation that all romance novels depict women as lighter-skinned than their dark handsome lover on the cover. If not lighter-skinned, the men are at least in shadow, so they're still darker. I wondered if this is a deeply ingrained collective memory for us humans. (In my years of working at the library, I have found only one exception to the rule.)

I saw what I thought was a necklace of gold cowrie shells. It had a diameter of about 6 inches. It was a belt. I know we modern wealthy humans are large, even the smallest of us, but it is startling to see.

The audio guide informed me that I would see images of the lotus featured frequently. For the Egyptians it is a symbol of regeneration. The narrator also said that it has been shown to have narcotic properties, and something about putting the cut stem in a bottle of wine. Hmmm. Made me wonder, is there a hidden history in Buddhism? The lotus features prominently as a symbol of enlightenment, they tell us because the bloom is so beautifully pristine even though it grows in muddy water. Because it grows in muddy water. Our lesson is that our wisdom, our pure enlightenment, needs the muddy water of this messy life. It's a good lesson. I've found it to be true. But now I wonder. While we have a precept warning against intoxicants, Buddhists also have a history of using stimulants to stay awake and meditate for long hours into the night. Green tea, anybody? (There's a whole nother conversation there...enlightenment, or braincrash?)

Notice Prajnaparamita is seated on a lotus. Most Buddha statues will be. Hey, I brought it back around to the topic of the HNT_1.

Library Stuff

Librarians Use Bloglines
I try to go to a monthly reference forum training, last month the topic was blogs and blogging. Blogs make it easier for people to publish on the web, and there are plenty of blogs simply devoted to books. Some librarians look to blogs as a source for readers advisory (the libarian's term for helping people find a "good book to read"). Unlike book review journals, blogs will cover older books, or specific types of books from specific genres. I got the impression librarians like to use Bloglines. I've been using My Yahoo for RSS feeds, but as the number of blogs I read grows, that's getting clunkier. (One person said, "They make blogs sound like a drug!" Several of us chimed in response, "It is!") So...maybe I will give it a try. I do like to have online sources for favorites lists, because then it doesn't matter what computer you're using, you can still access those regularly visited pages.

Making Cities Stronger
Page 3 of this document, picture of my branch library, said to be the busiest branch library in the nation. Apartments above, coffee shop to the left, and quite a few restaurants, antique stores, banks, grocery stores within four blocks. The document is a report by the Urban Libraries Council on why libraries are so good for economic development, and what it is libraries do that support economic development. I haven't had time to read the whole document, but the conclusions make sense. "Central libraries manage to make a considerable mark on the look and feel of downtown areas." In commercial strips and mall, libraries are "contributing the valued commodity of foot traffic to local businesses, anchoring redevelopment, and providing quality of life amenities to neighborhoods." In mixed use develepments, like my library pictured on page 3, libraries add "significant public amenity value to burgeoning commercial, office, and residential corridors." Interestingly, our libary system was not one of the survey sites or one of the case study sites...but we're pictured!

No Doubt You Heard about the Case of the Dog's Jewels
Here's a good synopsis. It occurs to me that this squeamishness over the words scrotum and vagina might not be due only to religious tyranny, but to corporatization of America. Not all that long ago, many families lived on farms. They wanted their animals to mate and reproduce. Children would have been quite familiar with animal parts and what the animals did with those parts. Chances are they just called a dog's balls a dog's balls. Now, not so many families living on farms, growing up naturally with the facts of life. Agribusiness rules the land while families shield their children from the facts of life.

The funny thing about this award-winning story, I thought, was that the inquisitive girl overhears a drunk telling a story about a snake biting the dog's scrotum. Now wouldn't the drunk say "balls" or "nuts"? A teacher used it in her lessons, asked the kids what they thought would be controversial in the story. They thought it was the drinking.

The author herself weighs in here. For those obviously titillated by the mention of private parts in children's literature, Gelflog made a list for you.

Web 2.0
Neat little youtube demo on the difference between the first web, and web 2.0, here. At the very end, the director says, "We'll need to rethink a few things. Copyright. Authorship. Identity. Ethics. Aesthetics. Rhetorics. Governance. Privacy. Commerce. Love. Family. Ourselves." (Only in a more dynamic digital way than this.) He missed one. Libraries. Libraries are rethinking ourselves in this world too. There are 8,320 results for the keyword "libraries" on youTube. At the very least, librarians are making sure they know what's available so they can better serve the people who come to the library to use it. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County took that learning online with a blog and contest for Learning 2.0.

A Better Wikipedia
A cofounder of wikipedia wants to create a more accountable wiki encyclopedia. Librarians don't like to use wikipedia because they want reliability in their reference sources. I will tend to use it to help me find the words I need to refine a search for a patron, as it is often near the top in google results. Citizendium will rely on "gentle expert guidance."

oh boy. was that too geeky?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My First Interview

At the Northwest Dharma Association annual meeting in February, several people complimented me on this 3-page article that I wrote for the Feb/Mar 2007 issue. This was my first interview. Well, I have interviewed before for a sangha news story, but that was a phone conversation with my Zen teacher about the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.

This may sound odd to some, but I realized when doing this that I am glad I volunteer for this gig. If I got paid, it wouldn't be enough. I spent an hour and a half talking to Clark, a delightful conversation. He has such an interesting life story. I spent about another 2 hours transcribing my recording of our conversation. I spent around another 5 1/2 hours mulling over my notes and other resources, finding my focus, and writing the article. Working at the library, I get paid around 16 dollars an hour. At 9 hours, that would be $144, not including benefits. Would I get paid that for a three page article? I doubt it, and certainly not from an organization with such a small budget. No, this is a labor of love. I reflected that if I did get paid, I would begin to worry about getting paid a decent wage. I may crank out more articles and get better and faster at writing them, but I think the quality and the love would suffer. If I were a journalist (are they paid by the hour?) I might not have the luxury of getting paid to transcribe notes. Flurried scans of digitalized voices, hunt and peck for good quotes, out flushes an article. As it is, I write to offer my best, a gift, not a job. Usually I do not count the hours. This just happened to be a first.

I couldn't come up with a good title, that is thanks to the editorial team.

Walking One Day on the Path

"Some people have told me that walking one day on the path of taking the vows is like seven in ordinary life. I don't know whether to believe that or not. I definitely take a lot of my inspiration from lay practitioners who are as much, or more, devoted to the path than I am. I know lay people who are totally focused on the path, on Dharma. They are much more sincere practitioners than I have ever been, and could only hope to follow. They're role models for me. You can do this and not necessarily be a monastic, for sure."

Clark Hansen took twenty years to become a monk, and when he did, it was somewhat accidental. He practices in the Nyingma tradition; he met his teacher Gyatrul Rinpoche in 1985, who is the founder of Tashi Chöling monastery in Ashland, Oregon. Clark's home has been host to the Portland Yeshe Nyingpo Center since 1988, and he has been a lay leader involved with the Portland Dharma Umbrella for years.

Clark traces his journey to Tibetan Buddhism back to his early childhood. As a baby on the floor of his living room with a Japanese landscape print on the wall, Clark said, "I would look up into that painting and I would become totally transfixed and drawn into that scene and all of a sudden I would be transported into that realm." He lived in Illinois and Wisconsin, "It was a land without Dharma." He remembers very vividly the invasion of Tibet in 1959 and feeling connected to that at the age of ten even though he didn't know how or why. He gravitated toward the mysticism of the Christian Gnostics.

Clark came of age facing the Vietnam War and the draft. His father, a newspaper publisher, took stands against the war, and draft board apparently were not always neutral. Studying international relations in school, Clark was again drawn to the religions. He said, "I stumbled upon an English translation of the Buddhist Pali text of the Dhammapada. I was transfixed! Just reading the words the first time seemed to change my life. But what path should I take or how would I make it my own?"

His first experience in meditation was in the Theravadin tradition, all he could find then in Washington, DC. Peace Corps? Yes…no. Graduate school? Yes…no. Interest in religion took over; he quit, and was promptly drafted. He evaded the call with a diagnosis from a sympathetic doctor. He rattled around the world…Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. He visited some Peace Corps friends, and "ended up in Nepal in a monastery in 1970." He contracted a deadly hepatitis. He landed back in the USA on the West Coast, was a wilderness ranger for a while. Rattled around various Buddhist traditions, took refuge with H.H. the 16th Karmapa in 1980, studied with Chogyam Rinpoche. Clark said, "By 1985 it was obvious I would get nowhere without the direction of an enlightened teacher and was drawn to Gyatrul Rinpoche while he was teaching in Berkeley. I asked him to accept me as his student, mentioning I was interested in becoming a monk. Perhaps later, he said, first do your Ngondro. I felt as though I had finally arrived home."

Clark's life settled down in his home bordering Forest Park in Portland. He finished his foundation practice, continued with more assigned practices from his teacher. His colorful life was picked up by Warner Brothers, screenplay by the writer of "Dangerous Liaisons" (still on the "back burner"). But then his life partner of 14 years died. His dogs died. His position as oral historian for the Oregon Historical Society was eliminated due to budget cuts. Clark said, "Right after that Gyatrul Rinpoche came to my home and said, "You've been living like a monk for the last couple of years. You've talked about being a monk. Maybe now is the time to think about being a monk." Almost 20 years later! I had sort of forgotten it as an option.

"Gyatrul Rinpoche has a very easy going attitude. "Just try it out. If it doesn't work out you can go back to your lay path." He recommended Penor Rinpoche to ordain me, the most highly recognized Lama in the Nyingma School. Last winter I went over to Namdroling monastery in southern India. I did a retreat there, and got on the list to become ordained. I was the only Westerner on the list of about 200."

Clark shared this with his sangha in their newsletter: "Everyone at Namdroling emanated joy and devotion…. The transparency of all activity and accessibility was both wonderful to experience and somewhat distressing. During a wrathful wong in the Golden Temple, filled with thousands of nuns and monks, tourists just walked right in, wandered up to the front and had group photos taken. A few monks rushed up to usher them out but older monks restrained them.

"Another sight that amazed me was that every time Penor Rinpoche would begin teachings, after the mandala offering, all the monks and nuns would make their khatags into a ball and throw it towards Rinpoche’s throne. Thousands of khatags would go soaring into the air, hitting monks and lamas in the front, who would throw them further, until they ended up on the floor before Penor Rinpoche’s throne. Mischievous monks would tie their khatags into tight balls and aim for the heads of specific monks in front of them. No one seemed to care though. What a contrast to the formal offering of the khatags I had witnessed in the West. I wondered to myself, "What would others think if I threw my khatag at Rinpoche in Tashi Chöling's temple?"

It took weeks to conduct the ordinations, three at a time. In the middle of Clark's ceremony, Rinpoche stopped and asked him, "Do you understand what you are saying?" Clark doesn't remember if he spoke to him in English. Clark responded, "I don’t understand Tibetan, but I understand the process I am going through." Clark said, "He assigned a Khenpo to poke me in the back whenever I was to say the name I had just been given. All of this takes hours and hours. At the end of the day I go back to the hospital where I was living and I show this certificate to the other lamas. They said to me, "This isn't for Getsol, a novice monk, this says Gelong! This says fully ordained!" …I wasn't expecting that!"

Clark returned to the US this summer. "While on a retreat in Cascade Mountains, I slipped on a boulder and fell down a basalt field, split my head open. I was bleeding badly, in a life-threatening situation. I gave myself first aid, was tracked by a mountain lion. I did a twelve mile forced hike while doing mantra recitation and focusing on the teacher. I drove one hundred miles. They immediately put me in surgery, three hours. I felt that was a point where I knew I was committed to doing whatever I needed to do to achieve the objective of the path even if it meant my own life. I was back up there two weeks later. That was a time when I knew for sure what I did was the right decision."

Gyatrul Rinpoche was in retreat due to illness. Once they finally connected, Rinpoche told him, "Take it slowly, don't jump into it. Just take it a step at a time." Now, Clark said, "I look at this process of becoming a monk as not an act that you do but a process in which you become. And I am becoming a monk. It's a long slow process where I learn how to adapt these rules which seem so anachronistic to our Western society. I carry these rules around with me and every day I learn something new. Just the act of sitting in a room here with you by ourselves is breaking one of the vows that I've taken."

Did it bother him to be in a position of breaking the rules? "I'm somewhat split. I try to follow the vows as closely as I can, especially when there is real meaning to it. Even the Buddha said not to just follow the rules, but to follow them when you understand them." Most of the Sojong (Confession) is in his daily practice. "I know it's inevitable that I'll break vows, but I'll do my best to keep the spirit of them."

Clark wears his robes, sometimes. "After I started wearing the robes I knew I wanted to be comfortable wearing them anywhere. I knew there were some places that would not be practical. I've intentionally worn them everywhere I go. I've only worn them to the gym a couple times. I'll have to admit I get a few looks." Wearing the robes gets him noticed. Willamette Week's Night Cabbie picked him up and wrote this December: "I finally get him home, which is an extraordinary place, up in the hills, with the grounds cultivated in just the right way to make them lovely and overgrown but not impossibly wild. Prayer flags hang overhead; wind chimes softly ring. The smile he gives me is worth more than the fare. Jesus and Mohammed probably had smiles like that." About his practice Clark said, "By the time I do the first part, the main part of daily recitation book that they do at Namdroling, that's the end of the morning. I do other things in the afternoon. Finish up the day with more practice. I do a lot of practice in the woods. I live next to Forest Park. I have a trail that leads from my back yard and I do a lot of walking practice."

Clark finds support with his connections with other ordained people. "I've been fortunate to be involved with the Dharma Umbrella all these years. I can see how they have adapted practically to being ordained in the West. It relieves the guilt. That's not what it's about." Clark would say to young people thinking about ordination, "Talk to western monks, or people who have been western monks. People who have returned to lay life have a lot to teach monastics in the way of avoiding pitfalls and understanding what you're getting into.

"People--like myself--take the vows and don't really know what we're getting into until we're there. We try to do the best with it. If I were to go to back to lay life, I would feel all the richer for having gone through this experience. Some people may go back with a certain feeling of regret. I don't think I would feel that way." Did he regret not taking the vows sooner? "There's a part of me that wishes I could have done it sooner. People who did it when younger, they didn't have the opportunity to go through certain processes of emotional maturation. When I wanted to do it originally, when I was 21, I was really naïve. It would be more difficult to be a monastic if I had children. I wish I had studied harder, earlier, so I would have more skills to offer people. It happened the way it did for a reason, and probably the timing was just right."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Community organizing idea

This is what I've been thinking about since I went to the Northwest Dharma Association's annual meeting. As I write for their newsletter, I am a member. Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship is also a member group. So I am doubly committed to this organization. As a coalition group, it is growing up. Elections of board members are moving beyond a raising of hands. The push to provide more collective information on how to do this thing, grow a Buddhist sangha, is coming from the member groups.

During the afternoon of our day-long gathering, we divided into groups based on our topic of interest. In April I will post what I wrote about those topics for the newsletter. I may not be getting paid, but I don't wish to preempt publication. The most natural group for me to join was, of course, Engaged Buddhism. We had a lively discussion, a complex discussion. An idea germinated for me that could really be the culmination of these my five years spent organizing and learning what we Buddhist activists need.

You see, it has been a conundrum: how to get people more engaged. It isn't just a problem of Buddhists sitting quietly on their cushions...though that may be some of it. It isn't just a problem of activists being too reactive/ angry/ confrontive...though that may be some of it. Those, by the way, are stereotypes and not generally true in my experience. Mostly I think the problem is that there is just TOO MUCH to engage. There is too much suffering, too much war, too much violence, too much systemic inequality, too much economic disparity, too much earth-trashing. All activists are scrambling, so many issues to choose from, so scattered, so insurmountable. In some cases I think we freeze and don't choose any. In some cases, we just don't know how to find each other. We cocoon, take care of family, find meaning in those small moments of intimacy, and barely dare to peak our heads out at the hell of this addictive, righteously entitled, militarist American society. While we cocoon though, the sky will be falling. More on the big mess some books that are currently influencing me.

Here it is, my idea germinated into a full-fledged proposal I am sharing with my local BPF chapter, the whole of BPF, and the NW Dharma Association. I hope it goes somewhere. I can't make it happen alone.

Engaged Buddhist Challenge

Buddhist Peace Fellowship Chapters and/or NW Dharma Association challenge the Buddhist communities of the Northwest to name and make available an Engaged Buddhist focus. Communities would agree to provide a networking forum of some nature for Buddhists in the area that are interested in that focus. Larger communities could name more action focuses, tiny communities might decide to attach to larger communities to participate in the challenge.

Buddhist communities would gain greater focus and activity in areas of social need, service, and social action. Individuals in those communities would cross-pollinate, keeping their home sangha commitments while creating new connections with communities that focus on their Engaged Buddhist interest. Buddhist communities would gain a more unified voice in the arena of social action, and would gain greater commitment to social action beyond the boundaries of their sangha. Individuals in those communities would more easily find a connection and their niche in social action, and will have support from their Buddhist faith and practice with those activities.

There will be more Buddhists visibly engaged in engaged social action, and more interconnections across Buddhist communities, interfaith communities, and activist communities. Opportunities for Engaged Buddhist practice will be more visible and available to all Buddhists in the area.

Buddhist communities are very busy nurturing the growth of their communities. Often interest in social action activities is as varied as the individuals in those groups. This is true in the secular world of social action as well. People can become scattered, and focus groups small. In some cases, individuals can be overwhelmed by the multiplicity of service/social action needs. By uniting across our common interest in Buddhism, and each community providing focus on a particular area of interest, we can create more visible venues through which people can combine their spiritual practice with their community engagement practice.

Many communities already have such focuses, but they could be flushed out and made more visible to the wider Buddhist community. Sometimes experienced Buddhists need mentors in the community engagement arena, and sometimes experienced activists are looking for mentors in the Buddhist arena while still keeping their engagement focus. The world of activism would benefit from the reflective intentions of Buddhist practitioners, and Buddhist communities would benefit from the vibrant interconnections and energy from the activist and social action communities.

How this Could Work
Keep in mind these are simply my brainstormed thoughts of how this could work. Once more people get involved and this takes off (it must it must!) and more voices contribute to the idea pool, I'm sure this will change and get better. Also, once this gets started, I'm sure it will evolve as we as a community find out what works and what doesn't work.

Participating sanghas choose a focus or focuses of community engagement. By submitting a pledge of engagement, they agree to guidelines of the challenge. When submitting a pledge, they say what they are committing to: the focus topic, and how they will support it.

Here's a possible scenario. A large sangha may already have members doing work in prisons, and may have an interest in developing a stronger focus on green issues. This sangha would have at least 2 facilitating members for each focus. They may decide to form a support group for people doing or thinking about doing prison engagement. They decide commit to offering monthly meetings in which they practice together, and discuss together the practice and dharma issues of this focus. The green sangha facilitators may decide to see what people are looking for before making solid commitments, and pledge to solidify their commitments within X number of months. Eventually the green core group with individuals from various sanghas may decide to focus more on public venues, such as round table discussions, speakers, perhaps creating a green challenge of their own for the wider Buddhist community. Later on, a subgroup forms from the prison group, people who decide to focus on facilitating community connections for Buddhist ex-prisoners.

Another example, maybe a sangha of 10 people or less has two people who wish to focus on green issues. This sangha commits to this focus, and joins their focus with the larger sangha, doubling the number of committed facilitators. Two other members of this small sangha join the hospice worker support group facilitated by a medium-sized sangha in the area. The hospice worker support group also starts an email listserve dedicated to discussion of dharma and hospice work. Buddhist hospice workers from the rural coastal area join the email listserve, and once in a while make the trip to the city for connection in the support group.

One goal of this challenge is to unite Buddhists across denominations in their field of engaged interests, so sanghas would be encouraged to name a unique dedicated focus. There may already be five sanghas in an area doing prison work, but one of those sanghas could agree to "host" this as a focus.

Participating sanghas keep their members aware of the Engaged Buddhist Challenge, and of the opportunity their members have to get involved. They disseminate the list of participating communities, and there could also be an online database with direct connections to the web presence of those communities. An online community blog could keep up-to-date with latest developments and challenge participants. Postings could be sent via email and periodic newsletters could give summaries of activities.

Possible Guidelines
-Your community has at least two members who are committed to facilitating the efforts of your Engaged Buddhist Focus
-Participation in the challenge means opening up your sangha to people who may have no wish to be a member of your larger sangha, and no one should be pressured to join your larger sangha
-Facilitating members make a commitment to organize some sort of forum of support for the engaged focus. This could be regularly scheduled practice/support groups, email or web-based discussion groups, a phone tree, etc. Larger sanghas could host speakers or panel discussions on their committed focus. The basic need to be met would be a feeling of connection between like-minded Engaged Buddhists. They would have a means to deepen their understanding of the connection between their reflective practice and their active practice. A wider societal need would be education about the particular focuses, and greater visibility to the wider community. Larger sanghas could commit to hosting public forums, speakers, etc.
-Facilitating members make a commitment to report regularly to the Engaged Buddhist Challenge sponsors, or delegate someone from their focus group to report regularly.

Possible Timeline Portland area
-clarify challenge among interested organizers, produce brochure or flier for June 2nd Park Festival, generally invite participation in challenge planning
-create ad-hoc committee to facilitate the challenge before and after June 2
-issue challenge in Fall, 2007
-ask communities to respond to challenge by February 2008
-have working database, publish list, by June 2008
-ongoing review, meet changing needs and wishes

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Movies Seen

A Thief Of Time
Based on a novel by Tony Hillerman. Two different cases thread together in this made for TV Joe Leaphorn mystery. A segment of Native Americans don't like Tony H for capitalizing on them and their culture. I will say once I discovered novels by Native Americans, Hillerman's books just weren't as appealing to me. Still, when I went looking, albeit not very deeply, I found positive reviews in Native American newspapers. Hillerman is good for light entertainment, mystery with hints of supernatural. Native American novels and movies capture the complexity of Native American intersections with the white world in a much better way, I think.

Minority Report
It's a Tom Cruise vehicle, so not bad, but not brilliant. Good entertainment. Since I prefer Sci Fi, I'll take this over the Mission Impossible series. I'd seen so many bits and pieces since this came out, the movie already seemed rather familiar. It's based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. I haven't read any of his stuff.

The Guru
A South Asian dance instructor comes to New York hoping to make it big. He can't even get in a porno movie, but is mistaken for a guru (dancing guru that teaches about sex) and finds a small bit of fame. Some Bollywood-style song and dance numbers, fun, not too much. Marisa Tomei is cute as a poor little rich girl.

Bride and Prejudice
Another Bollywood fusion movie, I really liked how well the Pride and Prejudice story was followed. From the director of Bend it LIke Beckham (also very worth seeing, teen girl soccer coming of age movie), the Elizabeth Bennet character is a feisty Indian girl who must wait for her sisters to get married, and the Mr. Darcy character is a rich American. Also has some Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, again just the right amount. The dvd also has some fun footage of the crew goofing around along with the director, doing the same dance numbers. Special appearance by Ashanti. I learned from the DVD that Bollywood movies usually have such special numbers, a single big production featuring a star that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the movie's flow.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Robert Downey Jr plays a thief that gets caught, his partner in crime gets shot, and while trying to get away he stumbles upon an audition for a character, and reads for the scene where the character is interrogated and told he's responsible for his partner's death. He gets sent to LA, and caught up in murder intrigue. Much violence of course, I didn't watch too closely.

Yo Soy Boricua: pa'que tu lo sepas!
I found this on the Independent Film Channel. Produced and starring Rosie Perez, it's a documentary on Puerto Ricans. I learned some of my favorite actors as far as looks go, Puerto Rican. mmm hmm. (Raoul Julia, Jimmy Smits, Benicio del Torro, even as a child...Freddie Prinze) I learned the Young Lords in New York staged dramatic and effective civil disobedience to get get real garbage service, and to draw attention to the need for child care for poor mothers. I learned Rosie herself was arrested in a protest of US Navy bomb tests on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. Fiesty folks, Puerto Ricans.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
The abuses at Abu Ghraib were not the random acts of a few renegade poorly equipped prison guards. I knew that, you knew that, but that is what the official investigations would have us believe. They may have done wrong, but some of those few men and women have made some of it right by interviewing in this HBO documentary. The whistle blower, the one who turned in the photos, assured of anonymity, was outed on international television by Donald Rumsfeld. Oops? The man luckily was with friends in the mess hall, he was flown out of there back to the US. The culture there was, and is, one of approval of torture. The documentary began with footage from the Milgram experiment. I found myself wondering, how can we have this knowledge, and the knowledge of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and have this still happen? Why aren't precautions taken to prevent abuses? The answer immediately arose, because in the bureaucratic military machine, they wanted it to happen. Plausible deniability. Approve a little torture, and deny complicity and ubiquitous atrocities. It's showing on HBO for a while yet, hard to watch, but something all Americans should see. Find a way to see it.

Heroes (TV)
People born with genetic anomalies that give them supernormal powers are finding each other. Some are good and trying to save the world, and some are bad, really really bad. Of course a mysterious agency (government?) keeps them under wraps. I missed some episodes but think I managed to fill in the gaps. There's no real star, there's so many characters that have intriguing powers and tasks, hard to say which is my favorite. Maybe the Japanese guy, Hiro, who found a comic book of the future, and he's making sure he fulfills the story to save the world. Hiro can stop and move through time. The artist of the comic books can depict the future in his paintings. Peter's afraid he's going to destroy the world in a nuclear explosion...he takes on the superhero ability of any one of them he gets near, similar to the evil one, Siler, who kills the others to take their abilities. I love this show. Sadly, I have to wait in real-tv-season time for the next episode.

Medium (TV)
For some reason I thought this was discontinued, there was such a long time between seasons, so I missed some episodes. Now I'm back to watching Patricia Arquette, as Allison Dubois, solve mysteries with her dreams. This show is just one of my guilty pleasures. I'm not buying the 'based on real life stories' part though.