If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .

The wit and wisdom of Meryl Streep on the insiduousness of sexism in our society:

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“A heinous act of mass murder — either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago — will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.” ~ Wayne LaPierre, NRA EVP/CEO, from a 2013 op-ed

The 10,000 square foot mansion the LaPierres wanted the NRA to purchase for them in 2018

“They’re sending out requests for money, saying they might go bankrupt in their legal fight with New York. They’re going through all of this drama of saying they need money, while they are spending money on all these things that can’t even be justified.” ~ ROB PINCUS, Gun Rights Advocate

Saturday evening, sunny, and warm, 83 degrees.

I’ve been working on this post since this morning, and it’s now after 8 p.m., so I’m dog tired and hurt all over. Just thought I’d share that tidbit.

NRA Insignias/Getty Images

So you are a proud member of the NRA. Fine, truly. It’s your right as an American citizen to belong to anything you choose. I may not agree with you, but that’s my right as an American citizen. We get to disagree about things. Again, a free and open society allows for that. Here’s hoping we continue to be a free and open society for many years to come, a society that endorses freedom of the press and your right to be a safe gun owner.

But allow me to elucidate for you a few NRA facts about which you may be unfamiliar, a few facts about exactly how the NRA spends your membership dues. You may be surprised . . . or maybe not. But first, a few background facts about the organization.

“It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house . . .” ~ Lt. Col. Allen West, Ret., NRA Board Member, in a blog post (May 14, 2019)

NRA Background Information:

  • The NRA was co-founded in 1871 by William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. Prior to 1970, the organization was primarily non-partisan, but during the 1970s it became increasingly aligned with the Republican party.
  • This nonprofit group (501c4) has an annual revenue of around $400 million and enjoys tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” organization. As such, it is not required to disclose its donors. It is, however, required to file a tax return declaring its revenue sources, which includes membership dues.
  • Wayne LaPierre was appointed executive vice president in 1991 and still serves as CEO. But did you know that LaPierre’s early career included working for Democratic lawmakers in Virginia? Irony, huh?
  • Nine US presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump. Three US vice presidents, two chief justices of the US Supreme Court, and several US congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.
  • NRA membership dues after 2018 hike: Regular membership fees when not running promotions: annual $45, two-year $75, three-year $100, five-year $150 and lifetime memberships $1500, 60 monthly payments of $25 (Interestingly, these rates differ depending upon which site you are exploring, but I got my information directly from the NRA site.)
  • Since 2013, the NRA has cited is membership as being around 5 million.
  • According to Newsweek and multiple sources, the NRA’s membership typically gets a boost after tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • The NRA received twice as much money from nearly five times as many donors in the seven days after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting than it did in the seven days before the shooting.
  • Even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days after February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting showed 97 percent of surveyed gun owners support universal background checks for gun purchases, the NRA still opposes such legislation.
  • According to Rick Newman on Yahoo Finance: The NRA’s political spending takes two forms: money spent on lobbying, and money spent on elections, whether direct donations to candidates or spending on their behalf through a political-action committee. Required disclosure forms show spending of $5.1 million on lobbying and $54 million on elections, or $59.1 million total.
  • According to an article by Mike Spies in The New Yorker, the NRA has “reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, but it has substantially increased its spending on messaging.”
  • The NRA receives most of its income—$164 million in 2016—from dues paid by its  members, and contributions, including money donated to its political-action committees, brought in another $104 million in 2016.
“I can think of no other non-profit organization that compensates their Executive Vice President the kind of salary and benefits that Mr. Lapierre gets relative to how much employees receive. I also cannot understand how a person like Mr. Lapierre treats the people that work for him like his own personal indentured servants . . . ” ~ Andy Lander, former NRA employee of 13 years in an open letter

Facts of which you may be unaware regarding questionable NRA membership totals and expenditures by the upper echelon of the organization:

On NRA membership, real and not-so-real:

  • Banners of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, and Dana Loesch outside at the organization’s annual convention in Dallas in 2018 (Justin Sullivan/Getty) Does anyone else find these banners slightly frightening? No. Just me?

    A Newsweek review of the tax exempt records, known as 990 filings (full text of 990 from 2015 here, and 2017 here), shows wild fluctuation in membership numbers from year to year, but also an overall decline in membership revenue between 2007 and 2016.

  • According to an article in The Trace, there was a  “22 percent drop in membership revenue—from $163 million in 2016 to $128 million in 2017. Dues from members accounted for just 40 percent of the NRA’s total revenue in 2017 — the lowest percentage in a decade.”
  • Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, said the group uses a few other tricks to pad its numbers: counting lifetime members who have died, counting annual members whose memberships have lapsed in the 13 month: “one method he and his colleagues used was to continue counting annual members on its rolls even after their membership lapsed, at least for another month, in hopes they would renew.”

On the big, big costs associated with keeping the EVP/CEO:

  • NRA EVP/CEO Wayne LaPierre: I want it all . . . now . . .

    CEO Wayne LaPierre, gets paid very well. In 2015, the last year for which the group’s tax return is available, LaPierre earned $5.1 million in total compensation. That’s more than the CEOs of Alaska Air, CME Group, Church & Dwight, Dish Network or Garmin earned that year.

  • A comprehensive article in Business Insider states that “in 2017, the most recent year available, NRA paid LaPierre a salary of $1,366,688, plus an additional $67,289 in ‘other compensation from the organization and related organizations,'” according to the company’s 2017 990 tax form. That brings his total compensation that year to $1,433,977.
  • In 2015, the NRA paid a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment to LaPierre, which will become even more startling later in the post.
  • La Pierre will continue to earn a salary even after leaving the NRA. State records show that LaPierre’s contract “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced.”
  • An article on the NPR site by Tim Mark states that “of the more than 600 organizations that Charity Watch tracks, LaPierre is the eighth-highest compensated nonprofit leader in the country.
“The litany of red flags is just extraordinary.” ~ Marc Owens, former head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises

A Pro Publica article contends that in July 2018, a half-dozen of the organization’s accountants produced a document detailing the most egregious issues that needed to be addressed by the audit committee tasked with conducting NRA fiscal oversight. The audit committee document was part of an effort by NRA accountants last year to address a broad array of questionable transactions and business arrangements that they believed could threaten the organization’s tax-exempt status.

The “List of Top Concerns for the Audit Committee” details a range of questionable transactions and business arrangements involving several top NRA vendors and executives. Violations of the organizations procedures and policies included hiring staff without HR knowledge, reimbursement of living expenses beyond HR policies.

The transactions involved top NRA executives, favored vendors, and consultants, including Josh Powell, LaPierre’s former chief of staff. The organization’s 2017 tax filings revealed that Powell had racked up more than a hundred thousand dollars in personal expenses—including a housing allowance—paid by the NRA.

That being said, it appears that the biggest infractions came from the very top.

On LaPierre’s Questionable Expenses:

  • A leaked document shows that LaPierre likes his clothes—for purchases dating back to 2004 From the Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills the total for designer suits was $274,695.
  • Fox News reports that the CEO billed the group’s outside ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a summer intern, according to newly revealed NRA internal documents.

    went on vacation just after the Sandy Hook, CN, massacre of school children
  • Among the travel expenses billed to the NRA’s former ad agency are more than $200,000 in “Air Transportation” costs during a one-month period in late 2012 and early 2013, in part related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas.
  • The Fox News article also states that “The documents, posted anonymously on the internet, provide new details of the clothing, travel and other expenses totaling more than $542,000 that Ackerman McQueen Inc. alleges Mr. LaPierre billed to it. (The NRA is now in litigation with its former ad agency)
  • LaPierre charged the NRA’s ad agency $39,947 for a private jet to Eleuthera just three days after the Sandyhook Massacre and then $29,100 for a plane from Nassau, Bahamas, to Dallas, Texas.
  • But it wasn’t all vacations and travel expenses for LaPierre and his spouse: The NRA also spent tens of thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses for hair and makeup artists for Susan LaPierre.
“This is like the worst kind of corporate waste because buying the house does nothing to advance the interests of the NRA. How can you explain that? It’s not like he’s been underpaid.” ~ Daniel Kurtz, New York attorney specializing in non-profit law

About that nine-bathroom house on the golf course:

  • The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2019 that in 2018 LaPierre was in talks with the NRA’s former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, to facilitate the purchase of a 10,000 suqare foot house in Dallas that was priced at $6.2 million at the time: “The discussions about the house purchase occurred early last year, shortly after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Mr. LaPierre was concerned about his security and was interested in another residence besides his publicly known address in northern Virginia.” (Oh irony, thy name is LaPierre…….)
  • LaPierre’s wife, Susan, did quibble with one design detail, according to an email The Post reviewed. She thought the men’s closet may not be large enough.
  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight.”
  • An aside: Before the big falling out and all of the drama, Ackerman and McQueen had a 38-year relationship with the NRA, and in 2017 (the most recent available records), the NRA paid the ad agency and its affiliates over $40 million. This relationship could be a post all by itself, and that’s not even getting into the whole Ollie North aspect.
  • Ackerman says they were setting up an LLC, WBB Investments, for LaPierre so that his home buying would not become public.
  • Even though the NRA claims that not a dime of its money was spent on the proposed purchase, a good faith check for $70,000 was in fact wired to WBB Investments towards the home’s purchase.
Check from NRA to WSB Investments, LLC for $70K

And finally, did you want that coffee with or without the retirement option:

Remember that insignificant sum of $3,767,345 the NRA paid into LaPierre’s retirement fund in 2015?

NRA Annual Meeting
  • According to the NPR article, a copy of 2019 National Rifle Association pension documents obtained from a source showed that the NRA’s pension obligations were approximately $134 million at the beginning of this year, but they had only set aside $93 million to meet those obligations.
  • FYI: There are 786 people in the NRA’s pension plan, of which 223 are currently employed by the organization. The company has underfunded pensions affecting hundreds of former and current employees—even as LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, according to the group’s most recent financial disclosures.
  • An article on The Trace states that even though hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to a number of NRA executives, board members, and vendors through sweetheart deals and opaque financial vehicles, to cut costs, the organization froze contributions to employees’ pension plans and even eliminated free coffee at its headquarters.
  • Perhaps the coffee cutback is only a reflection of the bigger cash problem facing the NRA. In May, they sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claiming that the state’s zealous regulatory efforts against its Carry Guard insurance program had cost the NRA “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue, legal fees, and other damages.

So that’s just a capsule of how the NRA gets and spends some of its money, and granted, this post ended up being much longer than I had anticipated. What I take away from this is perhaps three things: Bloating at the top of organizations seems to be universal, and those in charge tend to forget all of the people they stepped on to get there. Second, the original mission of the NRA has been lost (advancing rifle marksmanship). Gun education and safety falls somewhere in the bottom of priorities.

And finally, and this is good news for those of us who really are against the organization’s upper echelon and the out-of-touch messaging, their belt tightening has affected their political spending:  The group shelled out just under $10 million on House and Senate candidates in 2018—less than half of what it spent on congressional races in 2014 and 2016 (emphasis mine).

(The above information can be found anywhere on the internet, but I’ve tried to use as many sources as possible so as to be thorough and as unbiased as I can be when discussing the NRA. I’ve also sought the original documents that were leaked on the web. All links are included unless a statement is considered common knowledge.
Tomorrow’s companion post will focus on the downfall of NRA TV.

 

“Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!” ~ Latest crowd chant at a Trump rally

Baron Von Fancy Billboard in the Bowery, NYC

“Sleep not in peace:
There are a thousand waters to be spanned;
there are a thousand mountains to be crossed;
there are a thousand crosses to be borne.” ~ Rafael Zulueta da Costa, from “Like the Molave”

Saturday evening, sunny and hot, 93 degrees (feels like 98).

I’ve been pondering this post for a few days. Finally, I decided that the best way to write it was just to write it. I’ve been saving this Camus quote from a 1948 play for a bit, and it seems fitting; the more things and times change, the more they stay the same:

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.” ~ Albert Camus, from State of Siege (L’État de siège)

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia to a Filipino father who became an American citizen by fighting for the U.S. during WWII, and a mother from a small town in North Carolina. At the time in which they were married, there was still a law on the books in Virginia that made their marriage illegal. They got married in Elizabeth City, NC. I have light olive skin, but when I was young, I used to tan like crazy, and could get quite dark.

I tell you all of this for one specific reason: I have been told to go back to where I come from. Truthfully, that’s not the worst racist thing aimed at me or to which I was subjected. In fact, the first time that I heard the N-word was in Norfolk when someone called me one. I went home and asked my mother what it meant.

I have been asked what I am. If I have replied, “an American,” I have been asked what kind? I have been asked if the rumor is true that Oriental women have vaginas that are built differently. I have been told in apparent praise that Filipinos are good workers in the kitchen (as Navy stewards). I once heard someone say that my father was good looking for a Filipino. I was asked by my school mates in grade school why my eyes looked the way that they did. My father, who spoke with an accent, was told to speak English; his vernacular was more eloquent and proper than most people I have known, including many of those born here. People have openly stared at me when I’ve had my three children together as my daughter is fair, and my sons are quite olive, more brown in the summer, and I’ve been asked in front of them if they have different fathers. They don’t.

When I was young, I longed for long blond hair and blue eyes. I did not get them, obviously, and I am oh so grateful. I am made of fairly strong stuff, directly as a result of the kinds of things that I used to routinely hear, face, and experience. To be half-Filipino with a very proper British accent in the south before segregation? Now that’s different. I was the darkest thing in my school. Oh how I hated it then. Now? It makes me laugh.

Ignorance makes me laugh. Dumpf makes me laugh, that is when he’s not making me grab my head in pain from screaming at the television. I don’t write about politics often here as a deliberate decision. I will probably ramp up closer to the election, but right now I’m trying to hold on to my sanity. So I eschew the pontificating. For now, that is.

But I had to write just a few words in response to this past week’s latest Dumpster fire. Go back to where you came from hits at the very heart of anyone who is first or second or even third generation, but seriously, it should hit at anyone who calls themselves American. None of us came from here, not really. Only the Native Americans came from here. The rest of us? Immigrants. Willing and unwilling. Pilgrims. Slaves. Indentured servants. Whatever, whoever, however. We all come from immigrant stock.

I have no plans to go back to where I came from, at least not immediately. I mean, I came from Norfolk, so there’s that . . . But I have to ask you, those of you out there who still think 45 is the guy for you, that he represents real Americans, whatever that means—how is it that you really don’t see him as the sexually perverse, pussy-grabbing, serially-unfaithful, draft-dodging, tax-evading, child-abusing, racist crook that he is? I’m not asking you to vote for a Democrat. That’s not what this is about. I’m just asking you to look within and ask yourselves if this man truly represents your America, land of the free, home of the brave, we “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” . . .

That’s all. Just that.


It was really hard to pick the right song. I finally settled on Chicano Batman’s bilingual version of “This Land is Your Land” (I know that it’s a Johnny Walker commercial; doesn’t matter, it’s the point).



I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.

~ Dunya Mikhail (Trans, Elizabeth Winslow) (found on Poetry Foundation)

“A nothingness that compounded nothing into being” ~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems

Rwanda Genocide Aftermath by Larry Towell (Magnum Photos)

Two for Tuesday: The Rwanda Genocide, Twenty Years Later

Tuesday morning, sunny, cooler, 64 degrees.

I had this post planned for last week, but then life intervened. I came upon a link on tumblr that led me to this incredible site, and I knew that I had to write a post about it.

100 Days by Wangechi Mutu

A little back story: In 1994, a world away, I found myself horrified by ongoing reporting of the Rwanda genocide because no one anywhere in the world truly intervened in the madness. The images that I saw made me seriously contemplate what genocide means and how some genocides seem to matter more than others based on exactly where in the world they occurred and what peoples were involved, and I have just never understood that.

Over 800,000 people were slaughtered during the 100 days of this ethnic cleansing. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Rwanda genocide, this article provides a good explanation of what happened and how the rest of the world reacted. When it was all over, we heard that pat phrase “never again” once again. Never. Again. Empty words. Small comfort, hollow placation. We even have a month for it:

You hear this solemn pledge a lot every April, since the month commemorates not only Holocaust Remembrance Day but the official anniversaries of both the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Leaders at every level seem to love hearing themselves declare “Never Again.” But those who mean it have no power and those with power never mean it. The record speaks for itself.

I won’t apologize for the politics of this post. I’m tired. I’m tired physically and emotionally. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of things, and I’m so tired of the state of this country and of the world at large and all of hollow promises and untruths that continue to fall from the lips of politicians and world leaders.

As to the following poems I chose for this post, I think that the best way to describe the 100 days project is to use Juliane Okot Bitek’s words

On April 6th, 2014, Wangechi Mutu posted a picture on social media via Facebook and Instagram. It was the photograph of a woman whose somber pose was that of an exhausted spirit. She titled the picture #100Days #Kwibuka20 – and immediately, I knew what I had to do. The photograph provided me an “in” to the conversation that I’ve wanted to be a part of for more than twenty years. I wanted to think about what it means to be a witness, however obliquely, and how to create solidarity with people who have some idea about the experiences of people I know and love. I decided to write and post “100 Days,” a poem for every day from April 6th forward, inspired by Wangechi Mutu’s work . . .

I wrote to Wangechi and suggested that I compose a poetic response to her photos, and she agreed. I have been posting a poem a day, thinking about what it means to engage with such knowledge today, twenty years after. What do commemorations and declarations do for people who are still deeply haunted and scarred by those events that we think of as History? What is it to be in a world that witnessed yet did nothing about your suffering? How do we hold just enough bitterness to keep us focused on what needs our attention? Above all, what does it mean for us to witness the suffering of others? It is so easy to stay hypnotized by the swirl of information that comes at us from the internet, in print and, of course, on television. How much out there does not reflect the reality of our day to day hauntedness?

It was hard to choose just two images and two poems, and if you are at all interested, I suggest you follow the links.

There will be more later. Peace. Please.


Day 78 by Wangechi Mutu

Day 92

We wish for absolution, for a clearing,
for a forgetting, a filling of the heart
& a joyousness once more

We wish for children of innocence
we wish for an instantiation of things
a rationality that resonates with our emotions

We wish for the silence of the moon
the quieting of ghosts
& a peace to rest in

Day 96

What is the essence of beauty?
Why do mists swirl and rise but never completely disappear?
Why should iron gleam through soil?
Why should our dances be graceful, our cloths bright
Our memories long, our language rich and layered?
Why should beauty render us speechless?
What is it to come from a land that swallows its own people?”

~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from “The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems”


Music by Svrcina, “Who are you?”

 

“Each face, each stone of the venerable monument, is a page not only of the history of the country, but of the history of science and art as well.” ~ Victor Hugo, from Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The steeple of the Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris collapses on April 15, 2019
(AFP/ Getty Images)

“—all are mingled, combined, amalgamated in Notre-Dame. This central mother church is, among the ancient churches of Paris, a sort of chimera; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the haunches of another, something of all.” ~ Victor Hugo

Monday night, clear and cold, 39 degrees.

Rather than a regular post, I feel the need to share some key passages from Victor Hugo’s
Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.* The burning of this historical masterpiece just breaks my soul, and as news images around the world depict, countless individuals are mourning the loss. The world has lost far too many architectural wonders—to time, but more so, to the ravages of war and genocidal myopia—far too many to list here.

Fans of the Disney movie and/or the novel may be unaware that Hugo originally wrote his book because he was so dismayed by the state of disrepair in which the great cathedral sat in the 1800’s. Hugo wanted to preserve the Gothic architecture he believed was tied so directly to France’s history, rather than see it succumb to renovation or destruction in favor of Baroque buildings. Quasimodo, the hunchback, represents all of the deformities bestowed upon such architecture by subsequent generations, and Hugo bestowed in Quasimodo a pure love for the cathedral and all of its many statuary: “the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside.”

Hugo and his endearing creation helped to lead to the massive 1844 restoration of Notre-Dame. The following passages are taken from Chapter 1 of the third book:

The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.

On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: Time is a devourer; man, more so.

If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of destruction imprinted upon the old church, time’s share would be the least, the share of men the most . . .

. . . the tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is; prodigious product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch, upon each stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist start forth in a hundred fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,—variety, eternity.

. . . these hybrid constructions are not the least interesting for the artist, for the antiquarian, for the historian. They make one feel to what a degree architecture is a primitive thing, by demonstrating (what is also demonstrated by the cyclopean vestiges, the pyramids of Egypt, the gigantic Hindoo pagodas) that the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius; the deposit left by a whole people; the heaps accumulated by centuries; the residue of successive evaporations of human society,—in a word, species of formations. Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. Thus do the beavers, thus do the bees, thus do men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a hive.

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

. . . architecture does what she pleases. Statues, stained glass, rose windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals, bas-reliefs,—she combines all these imaginings according to the arrangement which best suits her. Hence, the prodigious exterior variety of these edifices, at whose foundation dwells so much order and unity. The trunk of a tree is immovable; the foliage is capricious.

*You can find an online copy of the complete novel here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.


Music by Gabriel Fauré, “Pie Jesu Requiem, Op. 48”

 

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in handcuffs as he is escorted to courthouse by an officer to attend a hearing on charges of probation violation following his arrest for assisting a student sit-in demonstration. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” ~ from a speech at the Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966

“He no longer trusted words.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero


“Maybe I have written to see; to have what I never would have had . . . from the tips of the fingers that transcribe by the sweet dictates of vision. From the point of view of the soul’s eye: the eye of a womansoul. From the point of view of the Absolute, in the proper sense of the word: Separation.” ~ Hélène Cixous, from “Coming to Writing”

Thursday afternoon. Partly cloudy and warmer, 45 degrees.

Not really certain as to what I want to say today. I took a little time out to put on some makeup. Don’t ask me why. I mean, for the dogs? I suppose for myself more than anything. Sometimes I just feel so dowdy, and then I turn to my vast collection of makeup that goes unused day after day. I never used to feel like that—dowdy. Of course, I had a job to go to, people to meet. I dressed in more than yoga pants and t-shirts. I fixed my hair and my face. It seems like a lifetime ago, and actually it was—a decade this past October.

I cannot believe that it’s been that long, and at the same time, I cannot remember what it was really like, only the idea of what it was like. Does that make sense?

Who was I then? I had a full-time job, career, and my sons still lived at home, were still in school. My house was crowded with people and things, and it was a good time. I was in graduate school again getting my publishing degree. Corey was going to sea and enjoying his career. We took vacations as a family and as a couple. Things were so different. I’m not really sure what I miss the most. All of it? Some of it? Who knows . . .

“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, from One Hundred Years of Solitude

I can honestly say, though, that I didn’t get back to my writing in any kind of regular way until I was forced to go on disability in 2008. Between approximately 1999 to 2008, I wrote only sporadically. I worked, a lot. Writing didn’t really fit into that schedule, but then I met Corey, and I wrote during the beginnings of our relationship, and then, not so much. Well, that’s not exactly true; when Corey started going to sea, we both started journaling, and then we would exchange journals for his next trip. That was very meaningful for both of us, I believe.

But after the back operation and the disability decision? I mean, it was a matter of write or go crazy, and so this little blog that I had begun as part of a project for a publishing class began to take on more shape, began to turn into something regular and predictable in my life, and that, too, was good.

I don’t know why I never wrote my book, books. There were so many starts and stops, and I kept telling myself that I had time, that May Sarton didn’t even get published until she was in her 50’s. I had time, I kept telling myself. The irony is not lost on me.

And now I feel as though I’m out of time, out of time to write that book, that is. God. So many plots, so many characters, so many spurts of dialogue and settings. So many pieces, so disparate and so cohesive at the same time. It was going to be a mystery, a memoir, a biography, a history, a thriller. It was going to be a confessional with poetry, essays and photographs. It was going to be . . . so many things.

You can begin to see my problem. It’s nothing new. It’s a matter of having too many words and too few words simultaneously. It’s also a matter of a seeming lack of discipline.

“You are looking
for mountains to climb.
I am looking
for the words to a poem
I can’t remember.” ~ Sarah Kay, from “A Place to Put Our Hands”

Other people write books all of the time, and other people who write books go on to be not famous, end up working in tech or a grocery store, but dammit, they tried, at least. I never wanted to write to be famous or rich. I wanted to write for validation, to prove that I could, to show that my words could mean something, could touch someone besides me.

My first husband, I’ll give him credit, used to read my poems and try oh so hard to be nice. He would say things like, “I understand this, but maybe not everyone would.” It was so frustrating and yet, comforting. I knew that he was trying to be kind; that was when we were still kind to one another. And then he left, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, so many words that so many women who had gone through the same thing could understand. I wrote for days on end. I still remember the words just flying from my fingers, unabated by anything. Yet still, I never sent out my poems. Never tried for publication.

Look. It’s not that I don’t think that I could get published. I’ve sent out three poems in my life, and one was published. I entered two writing contests, and placed third my first time. So I know that there is a grain of talent here. And yes, I know that self-publishing is a thing now. People on tumblr seem to do it successfully all of the time . . .

Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe, I’m so fricking insecure and so very afraid of criticism that I continue to try to protect myself by not even trying. Maybe . . .

“The world seethes with words. Forgive me.” ~ Paul Bowles, from “Next to Nothing”

Okay. All of that is all well and good. So what about here? What about this blog? This blog takes discipline, work, and dedication. I mean, 90 percent of the time I put my words down here. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes informative, and sometimes they even speak to the heart. More often than not, they are nothing more than a journal like Samuel Pepys, who recorded daily life in London from 1660 to 1669. The ironic thing is that his diary turned out to be a very informative document that included entries on the great plague and the great fire of London.

Will my blog be famous 50 years from now because I talked about horses and dogs and trees? Or because I talked about the heartbreak of losing a child in infancy and then losing children in a different way in adulthood? Or because I bemoaned the loss of friends over the years, mostly due to my own consistent inattention. Yes, a lot of what I say is relatable to a lot of people, and a lot that I say is not relatable at all. So will this blog become some kind of marker of life here in the mountains, or in a small town, or life during this turbulent political time? Doubtful.

I mostly write these words to try to keep my brain and my spirit nimble, and if someone in the ether reads what I have to say, that’s wonderful, but I cannot count on that. Writing my way through is what I’ve always done, and it’s what I’ll always do, in one way or another. I know that I’m self-absorbed; I’ve never claimed otherwise. But then, I am simultaneously too empathetic to the plights of those around me. Other’s pain affects me more than I care to admit. A dichotomy. Again, nothing new. But these aspects of my personality feed into my creative side, at least.

“Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures. No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh.” ~ Tahereh Mafi, from Shatter Me

I have another admission: I always imagined that living in the mountains in the midst of such natural beauty would offer a wellspring of creative drive, that I would be like Thoreau and suck that frigging marrow out of life, etc. But one reality is that creative people, while they like to work in solitude, often feed off other creative people, and I just don’t think that I’m going to find a writing group anywhere around here, especially as I cannot even find a decent doctor.

But technology has fixed that. There are countless writing groups and communities online Diana Gabaldon, creator of the Outlander series, began her writing career as an exercise on a forum, and now look at her, how many books later? Other people began their writing careers while they were working full-time jobs as lawyers, publishers, university professors, coroners, whatever, and they passed their writing around to colleagues, friends, for feedback, criticism.

So why can’t I get it together enough to put one word after another into some semblance of a manuscript? Why? Nothing? Several years ago I promised myself that I would look for an agent. Did that happen? Need you ask? Did I complete NaNoWriMo? Nope.

I know that I’m spitting into the wind (such a lovely turn of phrase that), but I am genuinely searching for an answer here. I want to know why I cannot move from the safety of this screen beyond, into . . . into whatever is out there. Why am I so freaking scared? What is it in me that is so fragile that causes me to shy away from what I want the most for myself?

I have no answers. I seem to type that a lot lately, but it’s true. I have absolutely no answers. The only thing that I can say is that I’ll keep looking. I owe myself that much at least. And as Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) said in Dead Poets, “and the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

I have no idea. Yet.

More later. Peace.

All images are taken from Wordstuck, which is currently dormant, but you can find it here.

Music by Sleeping at Last, “Saturn”


I Want to Write Different Words for You

I want to write different words for you
To invent a language for you alone
To fit the size of your body
And the size of my love.

I want to travel away from the dictionary
And to leave my lips
I am tired of my mouth
I want a different one
Which can change
Into a cherry tree or a match box,
A mouth from which words can emerge
Like nymphs from the sea,
Like white chicks jumping from the magician’s hat.

~ Nizar Qabbani (Trans. Bassam K. Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown)