America

Paradox of the Border

Paradox of the Border

"What is this addiction? We have destabilized much of the world with our addiction. We’ve created a drug economy in Afghanistan, in Thailand, in Bolivia and we’ve caused turmoil in Guatemala and now we have elevated thugs in Mexico to the status of billionaires with our despair. And yet, we are an optimistic people."

~ Richard Rodriguez

Basic Training in Mindfulness Techniques

Basic Training in Mindfulness Techniques

Ryan helped introduce a bill that would support bringing integrative health to Veterans Affairs and mindfulness techniques into the military as part of basic training, making members of the military "more proficient in how to deal with trauma"—a concept investigated recently by research on Marines and mindfulness

Poetic or Sad of Beautiful

"My poems tend to be about being a middle-aged, middle class, straight, white guy living in middle America. I'm thinking, how do I become one of the great mass of people who sort of, well, keeps America's cars clean and lawns mowed? Exploring ways in which that is poetic or sad or beautifulthat's really exciting to me."  

~ George Bilgere

Poet - George Bilgere from Cleveland Arts Prize on Vimeo.


Bilgere, G. (2014). Imperial. Pittsburgh, Pa. : University of Pittsburgh Press. (library, Amazon.com)

Arguing with America

"It's rather counterintuitive for poets to write in a sort of so-called patriotic way because it's the nature of good poetry to move towards mystery or uncertainty. If you say, I love America, you love America, maybe we're done and there's nothing to talk about. So for poets, a bigger tradition, I think, is the kind of poem that argues with America, that addresses America and in a way, that is our patriotism."

~ Tess Taylor, from "Celebrating The U.S., In Verse," All Things Considered, July 4, 2012

Map, Jasper Johns, 1961 

Immigrant Picnic
by Gregory Djanikian, from Poetry magazine, July 1999 

It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped   
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what's his pleasure
and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare,"
and then, "Hamburger, sure,   
what's the big difference,"   
as if he's really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,   
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins   
are fluttering away like lost messages.

"You're running around," my mother says,   
"like a chicken with its head loose."

"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off,
loose and cut off   being as far apart   
as, say, son and daughter."

She gives me a quizzical look as though   
I've been caught in some impropriety.
"I love you and your sister just the same," she says,
"Sure," my grandmother pipes in,
"you're both our children, so why worry?"

That's not the point I begin telling them,
and I'm comparing words to fish now,   
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,   
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.   

"Sonia," my father says to my mother,
"what the hell is he talking about?"
"He's on a ball," my mother says.

"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands,
"as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."

"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says,

"let's have some fun," and launches   
into a polka, twirling my mother   
around and around like the happiest top,   

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
"You could grow nuts listening to us,"   

and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,   
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.

A Quiet Revolution

"It's a quiet revolution that's happening...It's happening now in the military, in the prisons. I think at some point the more we understand about how the brain works, the more this is going to catch on."

Congressman Tim Ryan 

See also: Ryan, T. (2012). A mindful nation: How a simple practice can help us reduce stress, improve performance, and recapture the American spirit. Carlsbad, Calif: Hay House.http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/754725090

One Today

One Today
by Richard Blanco 

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
 
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
 
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
 
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
 
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
 
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
 
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
 
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
 
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together


See also: "Making a Man Out of Me," Huffington Post Blog, Jan. 20, 2013

Mindfulness for the Nation

Tim Ryan, Mindful Congressman (Photo by Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Excerpt from "In Meditative Mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan Sees a Cure for Many American Ills," by Neely Tucker, The Washington Post, Apr. 4, 2012:

Rep. Tim Ryan (D) is a five-term incumbent from the heartland. His Ohio district includes Youngstown and Warren and part of Akron and smaller places. He’s 38, Catholic, single. He was a star quarterback in high school. He lives a few houses down from his childhood home in Niles. He’s won three of his five elections with about 75 percent of the vote.

So when he starts talking about his life-changing moment after the 2008 race, you’re not expecting him to lean forward at the lunch table and tell you, with great sincerity, that this little story of American politics is about (a) a raisin and (b) nothing else.

“You hold this one raisin right up to your mouth, but you don’t put it in, and after a moment your mouth starts to water,” he says, describing an exercise during a five-day retreat into the meditative technique of mindfulness, developed from centuries of Buddhist practice. “The teaching point is that your body responds to things outside of it, that there’s a mind-body connection. It links to how we take on situations and how this results in a great deal of stress.”

For Ryan, the raisin was the beginning of a transformation. The retreat, conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, led Ryan on a search into how the practice of mindfulness — sitting in silence, losing oneself in the present moment — could be a tonic for what ails the body politic.

In “A Mindful Nation,” published last week, Ryan details his travels across the country, to schools and companies and research facilities, documenting how mindfulness is relieving stress, improving performance and showing potential to reduce health-care costs. It is a prescription, he says, that can help the nation better deal with the constant barrage of information that the Internet age delivers.

“I think when you realize that U.S. Marines are using this that it’s already in the mainstream of our culture,” he says. “It’s a real technique that has real usefulness that has been scientifically documented. . . . Why wouldn’t we have this as part of our health-care program to prevent high levels of stress that cause heart disease and ulcers and Type 2 diabetes and everything else?”

Read the rest of this article...

The Great American Everything

"At the time, the men were all talking about the great American novel, the great American play, the great American, oh, it was the great American everything. And I thought they didn’t know anything about America, a lot of them hadn’t been across the Hudson. So I thought, I’ll make my picture a red white and blue. I’ll make it an American painting...The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy. It never occurs to me that they’re about death. They are very lively."

~ Georgia O'Keeffe, from "American Icons: Georgia O'Keeffe's Skull Paintings," Studio 360, November 12, 2010

Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931)

It's All About Paying Attention

Susan Sontag: Vassar College Commencement Address (2003)

Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience.

Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don't have passports, don't live in dwellings equipped with both refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown in a plane.

Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the President of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.

It's hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid.

It's good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn't mean you're trying to kill your feelings.

Don't allow yourself to be patronized, condescended to—which, if you are a woman, happens, and will continue to happen, all the time.

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. It's all about taking in as much of what's out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you'll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

You'll notice that I haven't talked about love. Or about happiness. I've talked about becoming — or remaining — the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it's all about. It's not. It's about becoming the largest, the most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.

Who Needs Them?

Religious Consolation
by John Updike, from Americana and Other Poems

Americana: and Other Poems by John UpdikeOne size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings to the temple. A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it—who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

* * * * *
See also: Updike's 'This I Believe' Essay
[Thanks, Suzanne!]

Absorbing America, Absorbed by America

“So my grandfather told me when I was a little girl, ‘If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.’ And having grown up in a segregated city, Baltimore, Maryland, I sort of use that idea to go around America with a tape recorder — thank God for technology — to interview people, thinking that if I walked in their words—which is also why I don't wear shoes when I perform — if I walked in their words, that I could sort of absorb America. I was also inspired by Walt Whitman, who wanted to absorb America and have it absorb him.”

~ Anna Deavere Smith, from “Four American Characters,” TED Talks, Feb. 2005

 

See also: “What has happened to the human voice?Studs Terkel, from a 2005 interview.

Practicing What We Preach

 

Excerpts from Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks at the Annual Ramadan Iftar Dinner at Gracie Mansion, August 24, 2010:

“If we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom. We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam."

“The members of our military are men and women at arms, battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values which have already inspired people around the world. But if we don’t practice those values here at home, if we don’t practice what we preach abroad, if we don’t lead by example, we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.”

“While some of [Feisal Abdul Rauf]’s a lot of attention, I want to read to you something that he said that you may not have heard.

At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and sou, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, but I have always been one.’ He then continued to say, ‘If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love for my fellow human beings what I love for myself, then I am not only a Christian, but I have always been one.’”

“In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews, and Christians, and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans. Each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off-limit to any religion. And by affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world.”

A Pervasive Sense of Dread and Guilt

Excerpt from “The Publication of ‘Hiroshima’ in The New Yorker,” by Steve Rothman:

New Yorker cover, August 31, 2946 A year after World War II ended, a leading American weekly magazine published a striking description of what life was like for those who survived a nuclear attack. The article, simply titled "Hiroshima," was published by The New Yorker in its August 31, 1946 issue. The thirty-one thousand word article displaced virtually all other editorial matter in the issue.

"Hiroshima" traced the experiences of six residents who survived the blast of August 6, 1945 at 8: 15 am. There was a personnel clerk, Miss Toshiko Sasaki; a physician, Dr. Masakazu Fujii; a tailor's widow with three small children, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura; a German missionary priest, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge; a young surgeon, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki; and a Methodist pastor, the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto. The article told the story of their experiences, starting from when the six woke up that morning, to what they were doing the moment of the blast and the next few hours, continuing through the next several days and then ending with the situations of the six survivors several months later.

The article, written by John Hersey, created a blast of its own in the publishing world. The New Yorker sold out immediately, and requests for reprints poured in from all over the world. Following publication, "Hiroshima" was read on the radio in the United States and abroad. Other magazines reviewed the article and referred their readers to it. The Book-of-the-Month Club sent a copy of the article in book form to its entire membership as a free selection. Later that fall, "Hiroshima" was published as a book by Alfred A. Knopf and has remained in print ever since.

"Hiroshima" was not the first exposure that readers had to the events that took place on August 6. Many articles in the popular press described the destruction of the city, such as a Collier's story published in the spring of 1946 crammed full of details about the power of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ("at a distance of 4,200 feet—about eight tenths of a mile—the pressure was 2,160 pounds a square foot") and anecdotes about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons on human beings ("Men in black-striped shirts were burned in strips. Heat stenciled dress figures onto the bodies of women."). Collier's also included an artist's rendition of the effect of a nuclear blast on downtown Manhattan. But most of these stories steered clear of details that would help readers identify with the dead or the survivors. Usually, "the statistics of devastation and death were simply recited as prefatory to a plea for international control, civil defense, or some other cause. On a canvas whose broadbrush background scenes were already familiar, Hersey etched several vividly realized foreground figures.

The direct effect of "Hiroshima" on the American public is difficult to gauge. No mass movement formed as a result of the article, no laws were passed, and reaction to the piece probably didn't have any specific impact on U.S. military strategy or foreign policy. But certainly the vivid depictions in the book must have been a strong contributor to a pervasive sense of dread (and guilt) about nuclear weaponry felt by many Americans ever since August 1945.

hiroshima-ny

The Shrine Down the Hall

“Seven years after the beginning of the Iraq war — and with U.S.troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeding 5,000 — a look at some of the bedrooms America’s young war dead left behind.”

Ashley Gilbertson/VII Network, for The New York Times

FIRST LT. BRIAN N. BRADSHAW, ARMY Killed June 25, 2009, Kheyl, Afghanistan; roadside bomb. AGE: 24 HOMETOWN: Steilacoom, Wash.

From the New York Time Sunday Magazine.

With Liberty and Justice for Many

“I accept this award on behalf of those who have been struck down, beaten up, and — instead of attention and praise — have gotten only intolerance, violence, or — even worse — indifference.”

~ Will Phillips, accepting the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York on March 13, 2010.

 

Phillips appeared in the award winning segment "Why Will Won't Pledge Allegiance" from CNN's American Morning on November 16, 2009.

Just These People

mirror
by Lucille Clifton, from Voices

one day
we will look into the mirror
and the great nation standing there
will shake its head and frown
the way babies do who
are just born
and cant remember
why they asked for just
these people     just this chance
and when we close our eyes
against regret
we will be left alone
in the wrong image     not understanding
what we are or what we
had hope to be

*     *     *

Changing Face of America
A sociological study of the changing face of America, based on demographic research from the Pew Research Center. The first grid represents an exact breakdown of the current ethnicity of young Americans. The second grid's collection of faces and ethnicities is a projection of where America will be in 2050, with far fewer Caucasians and a significant increase in Asians and Hispanics. In 2050, the minority will be the majority.

~ Ben Baker Photo, from American Youth Book

GRID 1: 13 Caucasian, 3 Hispanic, 3 African American, 1 Asian

GRID 2: 9 Caucasian, 6 Hispanic, 3 African American, 2 Asian

Flying Over the Chasm

Barry Blitt for The New York Times Excerpts from “Hollywood’s Brilliant Coda to America’s Dark Year,” by Frank Rich, New York Times, December 12, 2009:

The fictional doings in “Up in the Air,” adapted from a 2001 novel by Walter Kirn, are bookended by brief montages culled from interviews that the director, Jason Reitman, conducted with real-life laid-off workers while shooting in Detroit and St. Louis. He asked the interviewees what they had told — or wished they had told — the H.R. bureaucrats who let them go. “On the stress level, I’ve heard that losing your job is like a death in the family,” says one man. “But personally I feel more like the people I worked with were my family, and I died.”

...What gives our Great Recession its particular darkness — and gives this film its haunting afterlife — is the disconnect between the corporate culture that is dictating the firing and the rest of us. In the shorthand of the day, it’s the dichotomy between Wall Street and Main Street, though that oversimplifies the divide. This disconnect isn’t just about the huge gap in income between the financial sector and the rest of America. Nor is it just about the inequities of a government bailout that rescued the irresponsible bankers who helped crash the economy while shortchanging the innocent victims of their reckless gambles. What “Up in the Air” captures is less didactic. It makes palpable the cultural and even physical chasm that opened up between the two Americas for years before the financial collapse.