Saturday, October 15, 2005

Disaster Fatigue by Mark Morford

You can take drugs. You can drink heavily. You can numb yourself with any number of whoopers and downers and zappers and nerve calmers, prescription and illegal and everything in between, thus rendering your psycho-emotional system moot and null and void and completely, happily unwilling to give much of a damn.

You can deny. You can reject. You can play dumb. You can ignore the news and shun the headlines and close your eyes to the bloody gruesome photos and go about your work and play in the park with your dog and read only Us Weekly and Boing Boing and pretend that all this horrible global tragedy, these hurricanes and earthquakes and various planetary abuses, the appalling death tolls and severed limbs and blood-drenched streets, they never really happen on the same planet you inhabit.

Sure, you're not stupid: Deep down you know they're swirling like cold fire all around you, but you can't face them directly. You can't acknowledge too much, too deeply, too quickly, lest it burn your karmic tongue and rip you asunder and depress your spirit and make life just miserable as all hell. It's just too much to process.

I know how it is. You might say to yourself, just this month alone: "I cannot take any more, over 35,000 people dead from a massive quake in Pakistan and India and hundreds more buried alive in mudslides in Mexico and Guatemala as a result of Hurricane Stan, still more piles of dead in New Orleans and dozens (hundreds?) dying in unimaginably brutal ways every day in bombings and vicious warfare in Iraq, and that doesn't even include the everyday gunfire and the murders and the rapes and the busload of elderly people bursting into flames in Dallas, and the questions cannot help but emerge: Where to put all this bleak information? How to possibly sort through and find solace and hope? And by the way, what the hell is going on? Why so dark and violent and dour all of a sudden? What is happening to the world?"

It's tempting, it's understandable, to want to block it all out, to take only small doses of the horrors of the planet and shun the rest like a rich person shuns poor people. The world often careens at us hot and fast and mean, and when the atrocities pile up our systems often automatically go into shock -- they want shut down, recoil, and it becomes the most difficult thing of all to remain alert and compassionate and tuned in and remember that context, of course, is all you might have to get you through.

Context. Perspective. Do you need some? Would it be at all helpful in the wake of all this death and tragedy and a world that seems to be increasingly strained and riotous and overheated? Because a fascinating dose of context arrived just this week, as astonished astronomers noted a stupendous new (well, old) development in deep, deep space, the discovery of a rather shocking distant galaxy that appears to be much more well formed and dense and ripe than any astronomer would have guessed it could be, given its proximity to, you know, the dawn of time.

In other words, humankind has found yet another phenomenon -- in this case, a massive, mature galaxy connected to a string of 300 galaxies so unimaginably vast it makes our little solar system, our entire Milky Way, seem like a grain of sand floating in a giant cosmic ocean (which, of course, is exactly what it is) -- they found another astounding and potentially world-changing wonder they cannot fully explain, one which, simply put, could alter our entire perception of how and when it was all created in the first place.

It's called HUDF-JD2 (for Hubble Ultra Deep Field) and it's officially the most distant galaxy on record, meaning it was formed when the universe was but a squealing, gurgling 800 million-year-old infant, and if it's as dense and mature as some scientists believe, then it throws all galaxy-forming theories into confusion and you may take what Nigel Sharp, program officer for extragalactic astronomy and cosmology at the U.S. National Science Foundation, had to say as mantra, as gospel, as balm for your troubled spirit. It is this: "One of the standard problems with the universe is that it's large enough that unlikely things happen pretty often."

Write it on your hand. Scribble it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Tattoo it onto your tongue because it is perhaps the most beautiful truism you will hear all year.

But this is not the important part. HUDF-JD2 per se isn't what can provide a tiny bit of balm to your tragedy-overdosed, Bush-ravaged, violence-numbed heart. The important part is how this major discovery is itself but a speck, a glimmer, a hint of a whisper of the vastness of Things We Still Don't Understand.

Which is to say, what we know of this world, of life, of death, of God, of time, of the cosmos, of all mankind's knowledge and all our experience and all our collected wisdom from millions of years sitting on this spinning water balloon still fits into a tiny thimble, a small Ziploc sandwich bag tossed into a massive churning shimmering sea of mystery and uncertainty and unquenchable weirdness.

There. Is that better? Does that give any solace? Can you step back and take the longer view and see the planet in context of the cosmic mystery, the Deep Unknown, with the never-ending parade of human tragedy merely part of a larger, bittersweet galactic circus, life merely a single line of obtuse poetry and death merely a giant question mark? No? Try it again. Look at the stars. Look deeper. Remember, in space, no one can hear you scoff.

Personally, I suggest balance, a little bit of everything. Stay informed, read like mad, feel the world deeply, but shop and play and take your happy inebriants and have as much sex as possible. Study the news intently and donate money to charities and volunteer when you can and, if nothing else, quite literally hunker down and pray your ass off to whatever potent divine energy you believe in, even if it's just yourself, your own breath. Offer up healing and hope from your heart to the world, as pure energy, raw light, if at all possible.

And then sigh heavily and take off your clothes and drink a whole bottle of very good cold sake as you take a very hot bath, restlessly content in the knowledge that you're merely part of this vast cosmological uncertainty, that Earth itself is one of Nigel's "unlikely things" that, well, just sort of happened. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, check out the long view. Hey, it's the universe: It's not supposed to make sense.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Identity problems

I have been once again been flummoxed by the modern world. Tried to open an online bank account and was told credit report didn't ok me. So after much protest, digging in of heels and discussion with daughter and son in law I finally broke down and went online to get my credit report. I then get some annoying news. Equifax , the company bad mouthing, me couldn't verify my identity in order for me to get credit report. I look up from the computer, hunting solidity in the non virtual world. My eyes reassure me. I am surrounded by a house and furniture, objects hard and soft, colored and textured.

The next step is to call the Equifax number and speak to actual human. Equifax man wants me to tell them what credit I have. I use only one credit card so I told them. They wanted another credit reference. I couldn't think of anything. I have another card at home, but I don't use it. So then they wanted utility bill. Oh, boy, here we go, think I. I explained to the nice young man that I make my own electricity and didn't have utility bills. Silence. He then wants something other than PO Box. I explain where I live if very remote and we don't' get delivered mail and I give them the address I have made up for myself to use at times like these #12 County Rd 311. The county gave everybody in the county addresses not long ago. We all protested this bureaucratic exercise, but to no avail. I don't like the address as it makes no sense to me, besides it is at least 6 or 7 numbers and too hard to remember. No one uses the addresses except newcomers and people who want to feel they live in the suburbs. This would not do for Equifax man. He asks what is my address on my driver's license. It is a PO Box. That does it. I am told I must fax them back and front of driver's license and back and front of ssi card with other information so they can be sure I am who I say I am. Then they will give me credit report which will then let me see why they wouldn't ok my credit which will then let me open this account which I am not sure at this point that it is even worth all this expenditure of energy not to mention the dissing of my lifestyle.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sunday in Boston

Gloomy drizzly day. Anya and Maya take a nap starting at 11am. At 1pm they are still sleeping. Jay and I putter around in the kitchen making some lunch although Jay claims we may be breaking some rule of Maya's by eating without her. "I live in fear," he says, which makes me laugh. We eat anyway knowing we will survive the "wrath of Maya". I make her a salad like mine to have when she wakes. Finally we hear Anya babbling upstairs and Jay runs to get her. There follows the familar Sunday family time. Anya is groggy and falls down and gets up and trips again crying. Slowly she wakes up fully and starts her babbling walk around the house, full of expression and inflection--the little drama queen. I ask what we're going to do. There are suddenly a plethora of plans unfolding. We need things, obviously, like good Americans. There is Toy r Us but better Honey Bear Toys and we have to get milk from Whole foods and maybe we should go to the Burlington Mall and on and on. So we must get ready. Maya must take shower; it would just take a minute. Jay picks his computer back up and begins again to do whatever it is he does to the blogpire. Anya has crayons and wants to draw kaks(cats) which I oblige. Maya comes back down. We begin to put on sweaters, coats. Jay has Anya and is putting on her shoes. Maya wants to change her socks as they don't match. Jay has one shoe on, a major feat. He is wrestling with the other shoe. " Maya", he yells I can't get this shoe on. I feel like I'm going to break her foot." Maya walks over to his rescue. Suddenly both of them say, "Whew, smelly!!! Did you poop, Anya?" Anya says, "Poop?' and nods her head. So off come the shoes, and upstairs she goes to get diaper changed. Jay and I sit back down. I am laughing. Jay breaks into a grin. "Crazy, he says can you imagine having two children. Never happen!" I am laughing. "Just think. It would take twice as long" "We would never get out he door", he says.

Anya and Maya come back down. Shoes go on. Out the door we go and into the car and driving off down the Heights hill where we live. Anya is singing and singing. I still can't understand her words. Maya looks at Jay. You know what she's singing? It's 'Burning Ring of Fire" and indeed I hear now Don, don, don, flaaaming don don" This is a song we sing as we carry her down the stairs. We have done that since we lived in the condo. Now Maya opposes it with "Up Up Up to the birdie in the sky" when she takes her upstairs. But the Down Down Down seems to have gone into the programming of her brain which is slightly unsettling and at the same time endearing. After a while she starts with the ABC song and gets to D sometimes before she just repeats the first three letters. We all sing the song with her. She studies us while we sing. Maya says, " Russ says he was 24 before he realized that was the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle little star. I was 34" Jay says, " I was thirty-three". "Sixty seven," I say from the back seat.

Bye, bye Cotchett

I wrote an email to friends who had been in the fire. We had just been dumped by our superduper lawyer, Joe Cotchett. This was done very rudely. Now we are left once more without representation and must interview and go through the hassle of finding someone else. After I wrote that email, I kept feeling very uncomfortable. I lay awake last night listening to the storm blowing in from the east, and twisting and turning internally knowing sleep would not come with such agitation in my heart, the sense that I had missed something, something unseen and unacknowledged. Then it swept over me like the windblown pelting rain on the windows and roof. It is the loss. There will never be any "just compensation". It is gone. That's what the email I wrote had ignored and what my brief romance with Cotchett had hidden with the hope of his expertise.

This summer in my green oasis, I would forget about the fire until I raised my eyes to the mountains around me, a habit of many years, a moments pause in the day's activities, and whatever mess I was entangled with for the moment, I could look up and sense the broader life around me. I was often reminded of those words from Psalms "I will lift mine eyes to the hills from when cometh my help..." and then could return to the stubborn weeds in the garden, or the wheelbarrow of wood, or the hammer and nails, refreshed, released from the grip of the ego's agenda. Sometimes of course the sense of help wasn't there. It was just an inscrutable green maze. But there was always a moment of connection with something beyond my self imposed struggle.

Now when the habitual gesture arises and I gaze up, there is momentary shock and discontinuity, not the soothing spaciousness that lifted my heart. I know that eventually that will change, life goes on, wounds heal, ect ect and I also know that to try to escape the feeling of loss compounds the pain. The truth of loss is at once humbling and also accompanied by a sense of ease, an untangling and release of knotted energy. Nothing to hide from. Having seen the truth, I could sleep.

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