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Time to state the obvious. Bringing guns to the Oregon state Capitol is a bad idea.

Some Oregonian politicians don’t like the bill being presented that will place a cap on carbon emissions. The Democrats have a majority and it is expected that the bill will pass. Republicans are desperate to block it, and have responded by fleeing (probably to Idaho) so that there won’t be a quorum, and the vote won’t be valid.

Up to this point in the story, I personally support the actions. It’s childish maybe, but non-violent and powerful. Although I am in support of a cap on carbon emissions, I admire clever humans who find a way to work within a system and get their voices heard. Fleeing a vote has been done before, but not very often. It’s drastic, and has definitely hit the news now, which promotes a continued discussion. All good stuff.

The problem is fear.

In Oregon and all across the U.S. are these grass roots militia groups that fancy themselves saviors of American ideals. They’ve bought into the Trump-sponsored belief that there are only two kinds of people: Democrats and Republicans, and you can’t safely have both, and one must oppress the other. These militia people are usually country folk and usually align themselves with the Republican party. They are mostly good people who take their kids out fishing and have the neighbors over for a barbecue, and are quick to offer a hand to a stranger with a broken down truck, and donate to a good cause. But mention politics and they transform.

Politics and power trigger within country folk a deeply held fear of losing a way of life, while they desperately cling to jobs that are part of lagging and changing industries. People on TV talk about systems automation and unmanned transport trucks and using hydroponics to grow crops and making burgers in a petri dish, and this is frightening at a gut level, for folks who don’t know the first thing about all that, and have families to support right now by driving long-haul rigs and feeding the cattle, and repairing the combine, and clocking in at work each day. Those people on TV seem like the same people who talk about saving the environment and advocate for gun control.

So it gets all mushed up together and amplified with Fear Sauce in the common consciousness: “The people who talk about regulating firearms are the people taking away the jobs.” and  “The people who want to put a cap on emissions are the people who want to take away our guns.”

“Is that how it’s gonna be? Well you can take away my firearm when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.”

Fear. It’s fear masked by angry words.

What will the future look like to country families who for generations have lived their lives in a way that seems to be disappearing? It is either frightening, or unknown. And not knowing is scary. It is so tempting to pull out a gun when feeling threatened, especially if you already own one. Or six of them. Legally owning multiple guns is not uncommon at all in rural Oregon.

Ok, so Oregon may be on the brink of economy-changing legislation to combat greenhouse gas emissions. Thursday, soon after the Governor said that law enforcement would be sent out to haul them back to their jobs if they left, the Republicans skipped town. One of the Republicans retorted that he is prepared to shoot any police officer that tries it. (Can’t you hear the fear in that comment?) And then militia groups rallied, convinced that they aren’t being listened to once again, and convinced that the only response left to them is firearms. They announced they will move on Oregon’s Capitol (Salem) to protect the Republicans, even though the politicians declined the offer of assistance. This has shut down the statehouse today.

If the militias want to defend American ideals, they need to focus on the primary one: democracy. Our country wants to be founded on the Rule of Law, not oppression.

Talking through difficult decisions is a skill that politicians need, and a skill that the rest of us need too. Being direct when things are uncomfortable is the only way to work through a problem like being afraid of what might happen. Imagine feeling so disenfranchised that you convince yourself that the only way to be heard is to threaten to shoot someone. It’s an awful situation.

I can’t stand conflict, and I will contort myself to avoid talking about scary stuff, but it never resolves the problem. In fact, come on, say it with me because we all know the cliche: avoiding the problem just makes it worse.

You know one way to avoid a problem? Bring a gun.

Guns scare the other people, yes. It shuts them up for a while, yes, so you can yell the stuff you want to yell. But it does not resolve anything! A protest group at the Capitol is going to be filled with fear, and hiding their fear behind angry shouts. And probably, somebody in their agitation is going to make the wrong move, probably by accident, and all hell will break loose. There won’t be any way to protect lives. Right to life doesn’t apply when there is a fearful mob and loaded guns.

Democracy turns out to be scary. Having to talk about decisions that might change your life forever is scary. Putting it all out there on the table means you might have to give something up. But you’ve got to believe in the process of negotiation and consensus. You’re probably going to have to let go of some things you want, no matter how it goes. You have to give up the idea of zero sum. The only way to win is to listen to each other, and to be brave enough to explain why you’re so scared.

If there is a gun in your hand, that will never happen.

Standing from a central viewpoint at America’s Stonehenge, you can see marker stones placed in the distance so that the rising sun will touch the tip of each rock on important days, such as summer solstice. Trees have been kept clear so that you can see the stones. From the air there is a starburst pattern in the trees because of this.

In New Hampshire there is an old stone site with the unfortunate name “America’s Stonehenge,” located on “Mystery Hill.” Who knows why the cheesy name, maybe to draw in more tourists? But this is so much more than a tourist stop. In my opinion, this place should be a federal protected area. It is possibly 4000 years old. Online reasearch reveals arguments by a few people about this site history. Everything I found online was unsatisfactory. Some legit scientists need to go in there and spend some time to unravel the tangled mess it is today and provide us with a verifiable story in the form of multiple peer-reviewed published findings. I want a story sans the cosmic hippie mumbo jumbo and dispensing with the pre-Columbian Irish Monk settlers theory.

One of the caves at the America’s Stonehenge site.

Close up of the flowers on top.

This stone is inside the museum.

Close up of the hatch-marks on the right side.

The setting is in an absolutely beautiful forest in New Hampshire.

A fascinating and intriguing room built of stone.

For a privately-owned historic site, they do a fair job of it, with a small museum, a theatre with a short movie, awesome self-guided tour app, and excellent maintenance. The brochure provided on site is the most convincing scientific information I could find, though it’s designed for tourists and provides no supportive evidence. Their website includes a blog that states there has been ongoing archaeological excavations for thirty years, though I saw no evidence of any active work while we were there. They should eliminate the mock American Indian stuff along the trail, because it’s embarrassing and demeaning, and the alpaca barn is off topic. They take care to highlight the possible function of this site as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and they explain reasons why the site was used as a stone quarry, and how that use caused irreparable damage.

All over the world, people have built with stone for obvious reasons. Stones are a useful building material, particularly when manipulated by humans’ ingenuity. One of the arguments I read about this place is that the structures could not have been built by indigenous North Americans because everyone knows Indians don’t build with rocks. It’s a ridiculous argument. The site website does acknowledge that the builders could have been indigenous North Americans. This simple question does bring up an example of why I am frustrated with the lack of clear science at this site though. Archaeology here reminds me of comments on an Internet post: a string of bold opinions, a dearth of reliable documentation. (So, ahem, let me add my opinions…)

Ok, enough with the complaining!

One of the entryways into a stone room. In the distance is an observation deck to see the astronomically aligned stones.

A look at the corbelling inside.

Some of the slabs of rock used here are enormous.

This is a very large room with a hall and adjacent room you can walk through.

The stone structures were amazing for me to see because I recognized the construction style of corbelling. Arguments have been made that a previous landowner built all the structures in the 1800s for storage purposes, or that a different landowner built it in the 1930s. Possibly farmers built a little more each year. Tara and I just returned from a trip where we got a close-up look at some neolothic corbelling of stones in Ireland, and some modern corbelling in southwest Ireland. Corbelling is when stones are stacked on top of each other, overlapping each layer a little bit more till there remains a small hole in the roof that can be topped with a large flat stone. This style is used all over the site.

Another thing that reminded me of Ireland is a large standing stone in the museum with hatch marks in the side of it. In an Irish museum I saw something very similar, and the hatch marks were a form of writing. If you click the image of the stone above, you can see that someone else thought the marks on the New Hampshire stone could be writing.

At America’s Stonehenge there are stone walls creating a path, outlining common areas, and forming rooms. Some of the rooms are reconstructed enough so that visitors can enter. Some rooms are too small or unsafe, and you cannot enter them. There are two wells, multiple channels in rocks that have been identified as a means of draining water from the site, and an astonishing huge flat table with a groove around the outside. People have opined that this slab was used to leach lye for soap making, to catch juice in cider making, or to catch blood during animal sacrifice. Guess which option I eliminate immediately.

Here’s the barest bones summary of the white man’s part in this story I can gather: Mr. Patee owned the site in the early 19th century. He may have built it or added to it. It was quarried around the same time. Also at the same time, it may have been a stopover place for escaped slaves along the underground railroad. Excavated iron shackles have been found on site, and are on display in the museum. In the 1930s it was purchased by Mr. Goodwin, and by the 1960s it was a roadside tourist attraction, after being rebuilt in the image imagined by the owner, who was convinced that Irish monks came here before the Vikings and settled. (By the way, the information provided by American’s Stonehenge reminds us that names of points of interest here, such as the “pulpit” and the “sacrificial table,” are only used as identifiers and are not meant to deter from an accurate interpretation of the site. I appreciate this kind of scientific integrity.) Current owners state that radiocarbon dating shows that at least some walls existed prior to Mr. Patee’s ownership, and dating of charcoal found in the walls dates it to 2000 BC.

Iron manacles found at the site.

Steps lead down into another room.

Huge slab of rock with a groove carefully carved around the outside. What was it used for?

Me, standing beside one of the wells. (Photo by Will Murray)

A wall in the center of the site. (Photo by Will Murray)

Another thing I dislike here: every groove or gouge in stone, even a fabulous carving of something that looks like a deer, is outlined in white paint. Annoying.

Seemingly incongruent with the various theories of the purpose of the constructed rooms are the large pointed stones circling the site. If you stand on an observation deck (shown in a photo above), you can spot the stones aligned in a circle to mark the point where the sun will rise on important astronomical dates like winter and summer solstices and equinoxes. If the walls and rooms were merely constructed for root cellars, foundations for a home, or for cider making, why erect the astronomical stones? Who did it?

One of the astronomical stones, set in line with one of New England’s ubiquitous and wonderful stone walls.

That’s a lot going on in this one place, and why I call it a tangled mess. I am dying to know more.

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Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about the terrorist murders in France beginning January 7 and ending with 17 people dead in that country, not to mention the additional deaths spreading out from that epicenter, such as those in Niger. I grieve the loss of life, the radicalization of youths, the culture of fear growing among Jews, the culture of intolerance growing among those of religious faith. My head is filled with distress and questions.

Nusrat Qadir, vice president of the U.S. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said, “The culprits behind this atrocity have violated every Islamic tenet of compassion, justice, and peace.”

I assume many of you have traveled the gamut of reactions, as I have. Ten days later I am stuck clinging to this pendulum ball, arcing back and forth between believing that every voice should be protected, no matter how heinous the message…and believing that there are clearly lines that should be drawn so that we aren’t complicit in future violence.

I keep tripping over the concept of where the line should be drawn. In one news broadcast someone asked, “Why is it acceptable to ridicule religion, when it is clearly not acceptable to ridicule homosexuals, or blacks?” I am still thinking about this argument; wondering if it’s a valid question. Is it a false comparison? Satirical cartoons are not saying religion is 100% wrong, or that Islam is all bad for example; but rather that there are amusing ways to look at religions from an outsider’s perspective. And to me this action is tremendously valuable: force us to ask questions, to look through a different lens, to constantly challenge our own convictions. If a cartoon is uncomfortable, that means it’s illuminating something important.

On the other hand, those among us too lazy for critical thinking (and the mouton are in the majority, I fear) will embrace what they believe to be the cartoon’s validation of their intolerant views.

Tara and I discussed this at some length this morning. We asked of each other: If an action is clearly going to offend someone, isn’t it common decency not to engage in that action? Should we not expect an unpleasant reaction? Even the Pope said if his friend were to insult his mother, the friend should expect to get punched!  If Muslims believe that drawings of the prophet are reprehensible, then can’t we agree that any drawing of the prophet Muhammad should be banned – much less a drawing in which the prophet is shown as a phallus?

I tried to imagine what kind of cartoon would offend me, and I imagined one portraying women as too stupid to understand a situation. (I cringe at the memory of I Can’t Do The Sum, sung by Annette Funicello in Babes In Toyland.) Wouldn’t this hypothetical cartoon depicting a female simpleton set the equality movement back a step? The answer is “yes.” And should it be banned? No. To react with hostility, threats, arrest, violence….that is clearly the response of someone terribly insecure and too sensitive to be taken seriously.

Only a short time ago I was in agreement when it was announced that no showing of the movie The Interview would occur, in order to protect the public from possible terrorist attack from North Korea. It makes sense: when warned about danger, avoid the danger. However, President Obama criticized Sony Pictures’ decision, indicating that it was giving the terrorists what they wanted. I thought my President was being reckless. I thought we should cave in to the threats.

But since then a similar scenario has been carried to its conclusion: people in France were killed for their artistic expression that involved ridiculing a beloved leader. And now I see that I was wrong. I was thinking in too limited of a context. If we caved in and didn’t show a satirical movie in a theatre because terrorists warned us not to do it, then what would stop them for placing ever more demands on us?

My limited context was that I was only considering the pinnacle of offense, satire poking fun at Kim Jong-un and Muhammad, and I was subconsciously assuming the line between what is offensive and what is not would be drawn right at their feet. But people allow themselves to be offended about everything. And I’m tripping at that same place again, of where to draw the line. Where to say “ok, that is going too far.”

If the general public were allowed to choose which cartoons to place off limits, there would always be a battle, with each contingent, each political party, each special interest group, in fact, each individual person arguing that their own perspective of what defines “offensive” should the one to use in determining which cartoons are acceptable. What’s too offensive? Making fun of God? Joseph Smith? Abraham Lincoln? Chief Seattle? Can we make fun of mental disabilities? Or albinos? Vegans? People who go to bed early? Fans of Country & Western music? Non-native speakers? And who am I to say -and who are you- that one thing is ok to ridicule, but the other is not?

That line cannot be drawn. I have to concur with Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Voltaire, and the ACLU, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.” -Voltaire

We cannot agree to stifle our voices when threatened. Put simply, that is in opposition to the very values of freedom for which France and the United States are most famous.

***

…I’d like to credit this post to someone else. I asked permission to re-blog MM’s post from Multifarious meanderings, and she graciously agreed. Then I thought I’d jot a quick sentence or two for introduction. And look what the heck happened! I swear I cannot keep my mouth shut even in the most volatile of situations. Thank you MM, for being the reason I have spent the last few days deep in contemplation about a situation that is not a French problem but a global problem.

Please click here and read her eloquent and evocative post, written from the perspective of someone much closer to the epicenter.

My last post was about visiting family in Idaho. I had two reasons to go there, and the second one was music.

Alana Davis knocks us flat with her amazing voice.

Alana Davis knocks us flat with her amazing voice.

Marcus Eaton at the Sapphire Room at the Boise Riverside Hotel.

Marcus Eaton at the Sapphire Room at the Boise Riverside Hotel.

A few of us die-hard Marcus Eaton fans know a little about each other. So when we heard that Marcus would be in Idaho visiting family and putting on a show with newly-Idahoan Alana Davis, I got some pressure along the lines of, “You should go to Idaho, visit your dad, and catch the show while you’re there.” Thank you for pushing me guys, it was the best one yet!

I’m a fan of Alan Davis too! Years ago I found out that Ani DiFranco’s song was actually a cover of Alana Davis’ 32 Flavors, so I bought her album Blame It On Me, and became a fan on the spot. Turns out she lives in Idaho now, and was able to participate in the Idaho Songwriters Association December concert. When Alana played 32 Flavors, she brought Marcus onto the stage with her and we got to hear their guitars together. I go weak in the knees for acoustic guitar.

My brother joined Tara and me at The Sapphire Room. My brother was the manager at The Big Easy (before it became the Knitting Factory) and had seen Marcus play a dozen times, but this was mostly new music for him. The delicious surprise was that there was a lot of new music for me too! While I have seen songs like Smile, and Sunrise Lets You Down on YouTube, this was my first time hearing them live.

Marcus also treated us to a song or two from the new album, one he co-wrote with David Crosby, and a couple brand, brand new songs too! I have been *starving* for new music, and it was the medicine I needed. He played song after song, covering a Bob Marley tune with Alana, and playing a song with his dad Steve Eaton, also an accomplished musician. Marcus joked about the drawback of many harmonica players, but pointed out that “My dad can actually play the harmonica.” And he could. Steve sang one of his own songs called Asleep at the Wheel that made lots of Idaho references, making a fun song even more enjoyable.

Marcus and Alana share the stage.

Marcus and Alana share the stage.

Most of my shots were from behind the stage, since that is where our seats were.

Most of my shots were from behind the stage, since that is where our seats were.

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We had been there nearly three hours when the show ended. I introduced my brother to Marcus and Tara was finally able to say Hi (she is prohibited from attending all his 21+ shows). Those two wanted to go home and sleep, but I was soaring on adrenalin and wanted to stay. My brother gave me the number for a local cab and I handed him my keys.

After the show I was approached by Melissa, who had noticed my camera and asked if I would take photos, since their usual photographer was not there. I happily acquiesced, and the after-show shots of all the folks involved with the concert and the Idaho Songwriters Association turned out great. Turns out that Steve Eaton founded the Idaho Songwriters Association, and remains active and supportive in it. While waiting for others to come together for the photos, I was able to meet and talk with Steve. His enthusiasm for his son’s career, and his love for his son, was evident.

After photos Marcus was swarmed by fans, friends, and family (and those categories totally overlapped). It was a brilliant thing for me to see: the musician at home. Something I feel honored to have witnessed. The love and admiration was palpable. I stood to the side, waiting for my turn. I had the chance to talk with his brother, and his sister, and his mom. The whole family is warm, wonderful, generous, the way I’ve come to expect of the Idahoans I’ve known. Everyone was buying up the gorgeous concert posters his brother made, then getting autographs all over them. It was a frenzy of favors and silver ink and laughs.

Steve Eaton, Alana Davis, Marcus Eaton.

Steve Eaton, Alana Davis, Marcus Eaton.

When most of the people were gone, a few of us fans followed him to another room where he packed up his gear. Marcus’ sister begged him for the use of his phone charger. His mom came in with a friend and we all sat around a large round table and told stories and got to know each other a little. Marcus is a born storyteller, periodically having to get up and act out the tale, once even enlisting the help of the Ohio fan to play a part of “ordinary guy” to his “obnoxious L.A. native.”

When it was time to go, Marcus overheard me calling a cab. He told me to call them back and cancel, and I got a ride home with him and his sister, while his mom drove. Now THAT was the pinnacle of a great evening for me. I couldn’t sleep for another two hours, just lay awake and grinned.

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.

Wuff, SSssss.

My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.

We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?

I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.

Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”

Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…

You have done it. 

Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:

“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.

“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”

Read that whole blog post here.

DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

Marcus and me last month in Portland

Marcus and me July 10, 2013 in Portland

When someone is in love they want everyone else to share that love. Indulge me while I rave about some extraordinary music that I am crazy about, and the story of how I met the man who makes it.

When I heard Marcus Eaton’s music for the first time, I became instantly and forever devoted. Yes, I confess. It’s not a relationship with a person I’m talking about, but a love affair with sound.

In 2006 Marcus Eaton had been making a profound impact on audiences for several years, but I had never heard of him. While I visited my Pa at his oasis on the Snake River in southern Idaho, the nearby Ste. Chapelle Winery had cleverly invited father and son, Steve and Marcus Eaton, to play their Father’s Day concert.

It was a splendid day with my family. We picnicked, drank wine, and danced in the shade. Steve Eaton’s music was a perfect choice for the event. His son played a few solo tunes and KNOCKED ME FLAT. With a studio perfect voice, flashing his guitar as his pass into my soul , Marcus Eaton’s melodies spiraled together world beat, singer songwriter, Latin rhythms, jazz and rock. After the show I stared at this young guy hanging around the stage, and he saw me. I’ll never forget his face at that moment. Looking expectantly at me through his glasses. I was dumbstruck with pure fan paralysis, and eventually ducked behind something and escaped.

At the Father's Day concert at Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell, Idaho in 2006

The Father’s Day concert at Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell, Idaho June 28, 2006. That’s Steve Eaton on stage. I didn’t take any photos of Marcus that day. How could I have known?

I scratched his name onto a napkin and carried it home to Massachusetts, and eventually bought The Day the World Awoke by Marcus Eaton and the Lobby. I played the CD till my 10 year old daughter had it memorized.  That CD has the brilliant Fiona, which never fails to win converts.  In fact, l want you to hear Fiona. The following video begins with a short intro in the midst of an interview, so if you’re bored with my blog post already, please just skip to 5:40 and maybe you’ll decide to read more.

In 2008 I was compelled to write a review of the CD on Amazon. It was an amateur review I grant you, but borne of genuine admiration. That was the best thing I could have done!

I got a friend request on facebook shortly after; from a person I didn’t know. I checked her page and couldn’t find a single thing in common except that her page mentioned Marcus Eaton. I asked Kitty, prior to accepting the friend request, “Why did you friend me? Is it because I adore Marcus Eaton?” The answer was yes, and that is how I became friends with Marcus’ manager at that time. When I tried to purchase The Story of Now, it had been sold out, so Kitty sent me a personal copy instead, plus the CDs Live at the Gorge, and Live at Larkspur 2007.

In the meantime, I had seen him at a couple of concerts. Marcus is one of those artists who – live on stage – can explode your expectations. Here you were, expecting to be musically entertained, and instead your aural world is turned inside out for two hours. At one show he said, “I’ve been playing around with loops…” and he was not kidding. These days, incorporated into every show as though looping his own background tracks at a live show is as natural as announcing the next song, Marcus almost effortlessly builds in a whole percussion and vocal ensemble behind himself in solo performances.

Wanna see him looping?

I was always the bumbling fool after his shows, trying to make words come out of my mouth that would give him the impression that I loved the music. I wasn’t new to music: I was authentically impressed. My dad plays guitar, and I grew up with summertime bands (in the basement to hide from the heat), whiskey-laden, smoke-infused strains of mandolin, drums, bass, and my dad playing slide on his pedal steel guitar drifting upstairs to the rest of the house. I played guitar in a bar in Tamarack, Idaho for a few months when I was  10 years old, my timid voice attempting Kenny Roger’s hits while bearded loggers  shouted at me, “Louder!” I have always been drawn to stunning fingerwork, and was drooling in front of Michael Hedges in little theatres in Boulder, CO and Burlington, VT when I had barely hit my twenties. In retrospect, I imagine the deer-in-headlights look must have given Marcus a clue that I was an incorrigible fan. Or, in need of sympathy, heh.

Kitty invited me to a backyard party prior to the annual Gorge show in George, Washington in September 2009. By then I was living in Portland, so my daughter and I made the drive up to Seattle suburb and joined the party. Stopped in my tracks, I spotted Marcus at the food table. “Hi, it’s great to see you!” he said, and came toward me with a big smile and arms out for a hug. “You can’t possibly know me,” I said doubtfully. “Of course I do. I recognize you from the shows,” he insisted. I told him my name, and we chatted a little. I told him about the Father’s Day concert at the winery. He said it was almost an annual event for him and his dad.

Marcus at a backyard show outside of Seattle, September 3, 2009

Marcus at a backyard show outside of Seattle, September 3, 2009

This is how intimate it was. So many of these people turned into friends that night.

This is how intimate it was. So many of these people turned into friends that night. They now make up my ME family.

It adds to the beauty of the music that he’s a beautiful person. Listen to the stuff he writes; it’s all about finding peace in this world, finding the best ways to love, recover from pain or judgement, and to value what’s important. He sings about growth and about childlike joy. Listen, just listen to him!

The rest, as they say…

Marcus met my mother at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland one December night in 2008. He sent me a facebook message the next day, “Nice to meet tu madre.” Our girls’ night out, when I finally got to share with her such a Crystal-ly favourite part of my life, is a truly precious memory. When I think of Marcus, he keeps her alive for me in a special tiny way, because he reminds me of that night. My mother died in December 2010.

I was at The Roxy in Kennewick the night somebody brought in a case of his newly released CD, and cut it open right there. I bought two copies of As If You Had Wings: one for me and one for another friend of mine with a guitar in the family.

Miss Tara (right) finally gets to see a real Marcus Eaton show!

Miss Tara (right) finally gets to see a real Marcus Eaton show!

When it was my daughter’s turn to catch a show at Jimmy Mak’s in February 2012, she embarrassed me by knowing the words to the songs better than I did. Marcus’s hug for her was as huge as for his other friends.  Last month I caught him at the White Eagle in Portland, and Marcus asked about her. “Is your daughter old enough to get into shows yet?” He commiserated with Tara, who couldn’t come because she is still too young to get into bars, talking about the time when he drove like a mad man to get to a Tim Reynolds show only to be turned away for being under age.

My love affair with the music continues, and I want more all the time. Lucky for me, he’s making new songs like crazy. He’s played a couple of music festivals in Italy, and I can HEAR it in his new music. He’s been collaborating on an album with David Crosby (Yes. THAT David Crosby.) and the experience of working with such a respected and experienced musician has polished up Marcus too. Now that his project with David Crosby is wrapping up, Marcus is dying to make his next album.

And I want your help!

Drummer Kevin Rogers, me, Marcus at the

Drummer Kevin Rogers, me, Marcus at the Aladdin Theatre with Tim Reynolds April 9, 2010

More to the point, Marcus wants your help. His next batch of astonishing finger acrobatics and vocal rollercoaster rides are hidden from me until he gets funding for his next album. Marcus Eaton has put together a great little video to advertise his Kickstarter campaign to earn enough to be able to begin recording.  You should watch it.

He has invented 20 creative ways to pay you back for any donation. For only $5, you can back him. For the price of a grande double caramel soy latte, you can get new music and give a handsome guy a chance to fulfill a dream. If you can give more, there are so many awesome incentives available. Would you want to visit the studio during production, have help guitar shopping, get a copy of a personalized recording, or have an original painting by the artist? Do you like David Crosby? Want him to play a concert with Marcus at your house? Just asking…

There are 10 days left to make it happen. I’ve already pledged and I WANT that money to be pulled out of my account, but Marcus doesn’t get a penny unless he meets his goal. You have to help him reach the goal so that I get this chance to pay Marcus back for all the memories, and for his beautiful beautiful music. Watch the video, please. For me?

If you are willing to watch the 3 minute video, please CLICK HERE.

A prison designed to follow Bentham's Panopticon design

An illustration of Bentham’s Panopticon design

Obviously I am not feeling much workplace satisfaction at the moment. Moods are low at VA. Public opinion of the Department of Veterans affairs is historically poor and getting worse. I lament the absence of breaking news stories about how hard we work for very little gratitude, and how frequently we are the force behind changing veterans’ lives for the better. Granting a few exceptions, we are a remarkable group of dedicated and diligent workers (many of us veterans ourselves), daily negotiating the morass of bureaucracy in order to do our jobs. (Did you ever grumble about the laws and paperwork it took to unravel a tax problem, or get a Fannie Mae loan, or file for Social Security disability? Imagine if your job was to work within that system every day.) Recently we were ordered to mandatory overtime for the third summer in a row.

Where I work

Where I work

Some time ago at work we were talking about prisons (voices bouncing across the tops of the cube walls low enough that foreheads remain visible), and books on prisons. I mentioned Foucault and how it struck me that our Cubicle Sea (as I fondly call it) is a form of Panopticon.

In his famous book Discipline and Punish, Foucault examines Jeremy Bentham’s concept of the Panopticon, a radical prison design. You can read an excellent summary of the design, and its intent, at J.N. Nielsen’s intriguing post. Very briefly, the Panopticon as a prison is where the cells are arranged in a circle around a central tower. The cells are backlit and open to the center, so that anyone in the tower can instantly ascertain what an inmate is up to. The tower is shuttered, so the prisoners can’t tell what the officers are up to, or whether there is anyone in the tower at all. They are motivated to behave at all times, since theoretically they could be watched at all times.

The aspect I am taken with is the pure application of power, disguised as something else. It’s a smart use of space, it’s good for reform, and it reduces the burden of the officers. But really, it’s just an effective application of power. The Panopticon states to its inmates: you are inferior to us and we have the right to observe and judge you in every aspect of your time here. Dehumanizing and brilliant strategy for hegemonic control.

Consider if you will, the office environment of Yours Truly. My floor takes up an entire block, with windows nearly floor to ceiling around the perimeter. The center of the floor is where the building elevators are located, and around the elevators are arranged the supervisors’ offices, with large windows and shutters and doors. Cubicles fill all the space between the center offices and the perimeter windows, and they are set back from the windows when possible in the office design, to prevent any blocking of the light. The height of the cube walls is just below chest-height when you stand, and does not obscure your head when you sit. We are all in view, therefore, of each other, and of our supervisors in their offices.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our cubicles are a modern-day Panopticon, an unsettling mimic of Bentham’s idealized prison scenario. No wonder we’re inexplicably miserable: aside from the other frustrations, we spend our entire work day in a physical environment that someone once believed would be ultimately demoralizing and punitive for inmates. It is a canceling of our individuality, decrying the idea that we are valued (or trusted) contributors.

I searched the Internet to see if anyone else had come to this conclusion, and found that my idea is not original. Cynthia M. Daffron thought the same thing.

When recently the topic of cubicles came up in a Marketplace story, on American Public Media, I listened hopefully for some expert’s exposure of the failure of cubicles. Instead, in a cost-saving measure advertised as a hip new way to encourage co-worker collaboration, many companies are ditching the whole idea of cubicles to simply fill a huge open space with a bunch of desks and put us all side by side. I’m assuming the supervisor still gets an office with windows. If my employer were to ever take this step, I might suggest the supervisor’s office be placed in the center.

A parting quote. You may also be interested in the blog post from which I snagged the image.

A parting quote. You may also be interested in the thoughtful blog post from which I snagged the image.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing Willy Loman on Broadway right now. I know in my very marrow that the performance would wreck me if I saw it. I would have to be carried out at the end.

I hated the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller when I read it for the first time. Hated the misery of it. Willy Loman is a shit. I freaking despise that guy. The whole damned dysfunctional family sucks.

But wow, when I disengage from those hateful feelings, I am in awe of Arthur Miller. Can you imagine what it might feel like to be the author of a play that makes somebody react so strongly? I can think of one other piece of writing in which I hated the main character so much, and that is Ignatious Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Miller and Toole have achieved my powerful emotional response through the mere application of ink to paper. This is a skill I have held as a life’s goal for as long as I can remember. These two writers and their wretched characters have my deepest respect.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him. PSH was the perfect kiss-ass in The Big Lebowski. Watching him I simultaneously wanted to smack him, and knew I would be the same person in that job.

The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.

So put that together with Death of a Salesman, and I throw my hands in the air. I would have no resistance whatsoever. Take me, art. Take me and use me, I am yours.

One of my many guises

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