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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More on "Whatever": "What Ev" and the novel Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

Reading Anne Lamott's work is like reading an X-ray of the human soul. One whose owner has been less than perfect, and in-fact, often taken the easy road, not the one less travelled. Like many of us.

Her latest novel, Imperfect Birds is a life lesson in respecting and appreciating the hard, slogging, often endless and hopeless seeming job of becoming an adult. Even one who is among the lucky ones to be born into a family committed to "keeping it real".

Lamott is a recovering alcoholic, like a good friend of mine. Lamott writes well about the scary terrain of addiction, depression, growing up, parenting and the steep climbs and tricky descents of the terrain, which for many of us is the terrain of our times. It's the age of availability, with the added kick of a 50 billion dollar a year advertising (US alone) industry to keep us on target with regular and heavy consumption. There is cheap or freely available alcohol, pharmaceuticals, weed, speed, cocaine, meth, heroin, "what-ev" as Rosie, the teenager in the novel loves to say. Freely available at home, at school, at the freaking village green, mall, local hang-outs, on Facebook, etc.

The age of availability is a product of supply and demand. What drives demand is often supply, as much as what drives supply is demand. Like a snake devouring its own tail, we have before us a candy store of drugs, including candy and fruity-sounding names for alcohol and other drugs to choose from, thanks to the hard work of the beer, wine, alcohol and drug traffickers international brotherhood. (Who since 2000 have murdered into silence 60 journalists in Mexico alone. Knowledge vs. Consumption-Profits).

In the age of availability one can flip the switch and life is a fuzzy, feel-good buzzy place to occupy our time, space, mind and soul--a respite from the troubles, pressures and demands of being awake, fully alive. Meeting our demands, responsibilities, reaching the dreams we have had since children.

"It's OK. Really, I have it under control" is the mantra we repeat as time goes by. The lies to the self increase day by day, night by night, seasons pass, semesters fly by, all the while "It's OK, really, it's under control" wears thinner and thinner til it rips.

My friend, who I mentioned above, felt the mantra rip apart at the age of 35. She only drank on weekends, but when she started she never stopped. She decided to sober up after drinking like that since she was a teenager. At 35, she looked even older, but she only had the emotional brain (self confidence, maturity, self awareness) of a girl close to 12. Today she spends several hours each week at AA meetings and recently celebrated 10 years of sobriety, emerging as a successful businesswoman and delightful person all around. My friend doesn't spend time looking back at the lost years. She doesn't have time to do that. She only looks forward, but that doesn't make those lost years less lost.

The age of availability-- of highs available at every corner, at every stage of the day, morning coffee, sugars, consumption of clothes and products as a way to feel good, alcohol, recreational drugs makes it important to "do the math". Growing up healthy and with most of ones' marbles intact means being able to "be there" for yourself and someone else, maybe a lover or a child someday. It means putting in the time my friend lost all those years being high. Do the math: if one doesn't get the life lessons in an on-purpose, wide-awake state, they are only postponed, not cancelled or avoided. And looking 35-plus externally, while one is emotionally only a teen is a tough price to pay for being high.

The industries want us to choose their products (addictive substances from Hersheys to Hennessy to heroin) now, and to continue using them as often as possible. To jack up their profits this month. Period. That's what their math is.

The math of the human heart is much more. We have a soul, spirit, something inside that cries out for the high because it remembers something deep inside of us that is peaceful, calm, blissful. This is our human heritage, to feel free of stress, tension and worry.

We can find the bliss, all the wisdom of the world tells us, through our actions. Doing good, helping others, working with passion and curiosity at something that gives us pride and joy: gardening for my friend who is wildly successful in being the landscaper to the stars in San Antonio; building homes for my friend the former alcoholic, who woke up at 35; making thought-provoking and achingly beautiful art as my friend, the fiber artist; being a realized yoga instructor for my friend from childhood; teaching developmental math in the country's best program for my friend who works at the college where I teach communications. Some examples from my limited experience.

Bliss. Available. Free of charge. Available in the age of availability. Its path is not advertised, or part of the bottom line for profit-making industries. It's there for us to find inside us, in our own way, every day doing the math, making corrections along the way, doing the daily calculations.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

56, Again

Turning 56 for the second or third time. I don't know if my memory is getting sketchy or I have honestly just thought I've been 56 for the past two years.

Anyhow, it's been a great past few days celebrating and seeing family and friends. I'm reading the new Geneen Roth book about women, food and God. That writer has hit her stride, it's her best book yet.

Visited with our old Artist's Way group, and it was great to see how everyone has applied the principles in their lives in ways that are powerful: a new MFA in arts for a former social worker, several new books, careers, degrees, and journeys in parenting, grand-parenting. Really good to be reminded that according to Julia Cameron, we do our part by putting out the work, and God can be trusted to take care of the quality.

Birthdays are great excuses to eat and drink, and this one had four gatherings, for which I'm so grateful: Mac and Ernies in Tarpley is everything I'd ever heard about and more. Great gourmet food. It's true, arrive early (open only Friday, Saturday and Sunday). There was a great lunch at Dough's at Blanco and 410, excellent, just like in Italy. A wonderful dinner with burgers and shrimp and fruit salad at Medina Lake at my brother and sister-in-law's new place on the water-- and there's water!!! There was a rowdy and long, fun meal at La Gloria, where Mexican street food is the best I've ever tasted. My current favorite restaurant. And finally, an outdoor picnic near the Medina River. Yummy. Back to the YMCA to work some of these calories off!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Excerpt from radio documentary for Texas Public Radio"They are making decisions for us, we don’t have the freedom we want to.”

:05 Two way radio chatter
Linda: That’s audio from a YouTube post of a Mexican TV network report that includes narco gangs’ two-way radio transmissions. Cartel members posted a video on the Internet of the execution of a cartel traitor or “traicionero”. Laredo Morning Times editor, Diana Fuentes:

(Fuentes: Two 10:50 – 10 :55) “They slice his neck. They kill him, and the blood, it’s all sound, it’s there.

(Fuentes: Two 11:00 –11:17) “They’re sawing his head off, and it’s one of the big, big things on You Tube right now. And obviously they’re doing it to terrorize people. You know, who’s going to want to go against these people, they do this kind of stuff.”

(Fuentes: Two 11:22 – 11:45) “They post it themselves, they had to shoot it themselves, they’re the drug dealers, this is not the police, these are the killers, showing what they do to people that they consider traicioneros, and then they post it. It’s interesting how social media is being used by both sides.

On the other hand, social media in the hands of citizens are used to fill the gaps left by the silenced traditional news media.
(Arturo and M Engl. 3 0:53 – 0:58) “It was right after we were eating dinner that I came to my Storm, my phone, and I opened the blog and I saw what was going on.” (:05)

Although it’s not fact-checked, social media offer real-time information that make up in timeliness what it may lack in traditional journalism standards. A local business woman reached for her smart phone when traffickers set up a blockade within sight on a major street in Nuevo Laredo:

(A. and M. Engl. 3 1:05 – 1:21)
Someone had told that person about it, and immediately they put it on the blog. They were asking on the blog if any one has heard anything else about it.” (:15)

Border residents know that by whatever means, and regardless of the source, keeping track of where and when there is violence is vital to preventing becoming a victim of crime.

(High School Girls: 2 16:08 – 16:25)
“If you hear there’s a shooting, you can’t go out. They are making decisions for us, we don’t have the freedom we want to.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A River Runs Through It, Bleeding

Listening to Alejandro Junco, publisher of numerous newspapers in Mexico, I am reminded of a linguist who I had the good fortune to interview some years ago. He was from Germany, but raised in Latin America. He explained that the whole concept of being bilingual was so foreign to monolinguals, that it was almost impossible for them to understand what being bilingual is. A person born and raised in Chicago speaking English, he said, could not understand what being bilingual is any easier than a person born and raised in Mexico City can get it. Their world is monolingual, whereas a person born, raised, educated in two languages finds it "muy pretty" and normal, to boot, to be bilingual.

In Mr. Junco's talk, I learned what went wrong with Mexico, but I don't have a sense that Mr. Junco has much to say about what to do, what steps to take in order to improve what went wrong and make it right. The talk is priceless in understanding what went wrong, brutally honest and unflinchingly open and clear. I recommend it to anyone who loves Mexico and whose heart aches for what is happening there with the narco violence. I commend Mr. Junco for expanding the conversation to include democracy and what is needed to have democracy survive.I have thought often of the ease and safety that I live in and take for granted since my trip back home to Laredo. I have so many freedoms, including that to speak and write about whatever I wish.

I am disappointed to not hear about Mexico-based solutions from Mr. Junco. I am disappointed to not read about US-based solutions from other policy makers or in media. In his defense, Mr. Junco doesn't speak much about solutions and ideas for Mexico's re-creation because his job as a journalist is to tell the story, and he does this extremely well. Perhaps it's not his job to envision a solution for the problems he lays out for us to study. Maybe in the studying of the problems, a solution will emerge from somewhere, I don't care if it's Mexico City, Chicago or Stockholm, just let's get started.

Check out Alejandro Junco's talk on Texas Public Radio a few weeks ago on April 16. (scroll down about 8 program titles to "Mexico:What Went Wrong?"
Mexico: What Went Wrong?

April 16, 2010 · Alejandro Junco, President and Chief Executive Officer of Grupo Reforma, a seven daily newspaper publishing group. Junco spoke on March 25, 2010 to members and guests of the World Affairs Council of San Antonio. The title of his presentation is "Mexico: What Went Wrong?" Introducing Alejandro Junco is Raul Rodriguez, the Benson Chair in Banking and Finance and a distinguished professor at the H-E-B School of Business and Administration at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.