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I am moved to respond to Jeffrey Gillespie’s column, “Alan Kurdi: Person of the Year,” (Ashland Daily Tidings Jan 8). Initially I simply wanted to agree with his assertions that we are often presented in the media with whitewashed versions of events which reflect the character of our nation, including the effect of war on the innocent. Witness the picture of Alan Kurdi, the 2-year-old Syrian boy who washed up dead on the Turkish coast. This is in contradistinction with the “bloodied and mutilated children that come to us whenever we invade” which “demolishes the sanctity of Western hypocrisy, reminding us of our imperialistic narcissism.”

Gillespie’s assertions reflect my own concerns about the endless wars of aggression perpetrated by the United States in response to real or imagined threats. My knee jerk reaction to America’s imperial ambitions is to point my finger in righteous indignation. However, if I engage in a little self-reflection I might look at how my reactions reinforce my own propensity to self-righteousness. I have to ask myself, “What is it in me that reinforces imperialism?” The word is defined as extending a country’s influence through force. When I turn my attention within my own being I often notice the need to extend my personal influence without regard for the feelings of others.

It is so much easier to look outside myself for justification of my mental attitudes. Looking at this propensity, I realize it is when my ego needs to be “right” it looks for reasons to justify being right. Is it true that a nation of egos needing to be right create a nation that must impose it’s will on other nations? Am I willing to consider my own complicity in national attitudes that may reflect my own need to impose my will on others? This is a much more difficult task than reinforcing my positions through projection onto the world.

This isn’t to say that I can’t be outraged by events perpetrated in my name, but it is encumbent upon me to continually examine my own motives for my outrage. Am I motivated by my desire to create a better world? Or am I motivated by a desire to create a better me—the “me” that imagines myself to be in control of events over which I have no control? I am reminded that I personally have no control over persons, places or things. In the words of Alcoholics Anonymous
“Even though I do have the power of choice, when my emotions get aroused, I sometimes choose to give my power away when I get resentful at that person, place or thing.” My resentment then controls my responses to external events and people. I react unconsciously rather than making a conscious stand for or against something. This can be tricky because I want my actions in the world to be effective. But also I want to maintain my own self-reflective awareness about what is actually motivating my activism. Is it coming from a place in me of caring and heartfulness or is it coming from a place of judgment and righteousness? The latter can snare me by closing my heart. The former allows me to interact with the world from a place of openheartedness. When I am in judgment of others my own propensity to narcissism is reinforced.

When my heart is open I tend to see the world through a lens of caring and concern rather than anger and righteousness. I want to focus my energy more on building networks of caring individuals and less on reactive activism. Can I do both? Andrew Harvey writes of “sacred activism,” whereby one can engage with the world while one’s heart is open, feeling the pain of wars on the innocent, but engaging in a way that is aware of my own actions which may arise from knee jerk reactions. How can I keep my heart open in the valley of the shadow of death? Isn’t that the task all of us ultimately face? This is my challenge.
© Julian Spalding 2016

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Memoir vignette

We met in a psychodrama group where all our dirty linen was hung out for all to see. She was the first woman in my life. Many men had slept in my bed, but something about her drew me in—a mystery, depths of feeling, an adventurous spirit. Her face was Oklahoma flat, beneath it an effervescent spirit of wild abandon. I sensed it as we bared our souls in the group. Mary Catherine, a divorced mother with two blond girls, she wormed her way into my heart and we made love on her living room floor. She pulled me into her soft, juicy depths, a new experience for me. We married during the Summer of Love, 1967, by a stream in Topanga Canyon, above Los Angeles with friends, my sister and my mother and her second husband.

Life with Mary was a roller coaster into a place unknown. We both changed our names when we became followers of Subud, a mystical practice. She assumed the name Ruth which she retained until her death. Captured by wanderlust, we moved in 1969, living a year in Arkansas with hillbilly neighbors who talked in their dialect about “ingerns” they grew in their garden, fence “postes” and other charming colloquialisms.

While in Arkansas, a litter of puppies appeared and one by one they developed white pustules all over their bodies and died, leaving only one survivor. Fluffy went with us to New Mexico where he disappeared one day. Was it the hippies on their horses and guns who scared him off? Or was it Ruth’s escapade with the Hog Farm men who had their way with her after a day of drinking dandelion wine? Or was it her need to be with real straight men? After all, she married me, a man who only emulated straight men by guessing what they liked in a woman.

The summer of 1970 we had moved from Arkansas to a log house on the Pecos River and a year later to a farmette in Northern New Mexico— myself, my wife, her two daughters by a previous marriage, age five and eight, and our two year old son. The winter was bitter cold as we heated our little adobe hut with wood I had cut and chopped that summer. That year we harvested dandelions from the wild field and fermented dandelion wine in corked bottles stuck behind the old upright piano standing in the corner of our living room/kitchen. One day we heard loud popping. Thinking the hippies next door from the Hog Farm Commune were shooting again, we hit the floor. Pop! Pop! The sound of shattering glass punctuated the room. Oh my god, the dandelion wine bottles were exploding, one by one!

Nine years and two kids later, we split like a ripe melon, saturated from three years living the hippie life. Our relationship had rested on the fermented ruins of our lives, building up to its own explosion a few years later. Little did I realize at the time, as the fermented alcohol was exploding the bottles, that the alcohol that fueled my wife’s despair was building the pressure within our marriage that was to explode our lives: she ran off with another man—a volatile, diminutive man who carried a knife strapped to his ankle. Back then I saw myself as a wronged man, deserted by a woman whose carefully constructed life lay in shards like those wine bottles.

Only much later did I realize the part I had played in keeping the fragile shards of our lives in a semblance of being intact and orderly, as the threads of our marriage came undone, we lying shattered in their ashes.

Julian Spalding ©2015

Japanese Garden’s frilly leaves
feathery, delicate, breeze thrown.
Path meanders lazily among dappled trees
light streaming through leafy clumps.
Stream bubbles, light bouncing off its ripples.
Fiery red leaves, drooping blue atlas,
elegant elephantine tree.
Many hued maples, red, orange, green
among carved stepping stones,
leading to a black bamboo grove,
thicket of tall reedy stalks.
Fresh fall foliage, hangs in the air,
then coats the ground in a carpet of red.
My dog and I silhouetted against crimson
stroll through this Lithia Park jewel.

Julian Spalding 2015

WISTERIA

The wisteria is blooming again
drooping through the lattice
dripping sweet scent
bees darting blossom
to blossom. Honey bees
bumble bees, carpenter busy bees
with their buzzing ministrations
oblivious to my solitary concerns.

Bees clamber over blossom
and limb, apis mellifera
bearing pollen laden sacs
to the hive. The honey bearing bee
is too busy to notice me
watching from the comfort
of my deck chair.

How have I failed to notice
the vine hugging the lattice
like a snake coiled around its prey?
Pendulous purple blossoms
hang like dripping poison
ready to strike unlucky
prey venturing too close.

Fountain flows nearby:
a nude pubescent boy
holding a conch shell. He reminds
me of myself as a boy watching
other boys, afraid to linger a glance
too long for fear of discovery.

Secrets once lurked in the
shadows of my heart
long since shared in the
beds of male lovers

Am I that different from the wisteria
With its many blossoms?

© Julian Spalding 2014

Eggplant

I am your garden’s black swan,
a mirror of your hunger.

Caress my smooth, silky skin,
deep purple passion.

I hang pendulous, yield to your gentle tug.
I dream of your teeth in my soft white flesh.

Sink your teeth in me, savor me.
Devour me with lusty abandon.

©2013 Julian Spalding

The Visitor

The year before my family moved to a new city
I lay in bed, Japanese rice paper walls
reflected in mirrored doors.

Plastic model planes smelled of
fresh glue atop my dresser.
An adult visitor leaned
knocking them to the floor
crunching plastic, not noticing.. or caring
as he and Dad talked of things I
barely comprehended.

Stuffed feelings of not belonging
lingered in my throat,
my only medicine a book
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

A plane motor whirred, horse neighed.
Can I find myself in 1956?

©2013 Julian Spalding

Poetry

It is cinnamon on the tongue,
a flock of ravens cackling in a tree

the aroma of morning coffee,
blood coursing through my veins.

It is my lover’s touch against skin,
the scent of a rose

silky avocado sliding down my throat,
the ocean surf lapping my feet.

It is a hummingbird’s flutter of wings,
darting blossom to blossom

a hyacinth blooming in spring.
It is Mom’s life in a shadow box

ginger orange marmalade on morning toast.
Its door opening into my soul.

©2013 Julian Spalding