Saturday, May 25, 2013

On Turning Fifty-Nine -- Like a Fine Wine?

Turning fifty-nine years of age is as good a time as any to reflect on where one is at in their life.

The last half of the last decade of my life was an especially 'picaresque' one (picaresque: realistic, and often humorous details of the adventures of a roguish hero of low social degree living by his or her wits in a corrupt society).

Yep, that about sums it up. Though, as per the definition, it begs for details:

That last half of the last decade of my life started out in a rather auspicious way. I traveled to India to join Yogi Amrit Desai (Founder of Kripalu Yoga) and a small entourage of people who were taking a 'lineage tour' of the places in India that were of seminal importance toYogi Desai's formidable spiritual development. Among the places we visited were the village where Amrit Desai grew up; the Temple in Malav dedicated to his guru, Shrii Kripalvanandji; and, the final leg of the journey for me, the Temple of Kayavarohan. Kayavarohan is a very special place' so please check out the video I linked it to.

It was the last leg of the journey for me because, while we were in a brief layover in Mumbai, I telephoned my 86-year old mother. She was completely disoriented, and living alone. I was writing a book on Yogi Desai and Kripalu, and I'd done the research I needed to do, so I decided to skip the next leg of the tour and return home.

While we were in Kayavarohan, Yogi Desai was gifted with a large Shiva icon to take back to the Amrit Yoga Institute in Florida. Yogi Desai didn't want to continue traveling with the 80 pound base of the statue in tow, so he asked if I'd take it back with me and then ship it to him in Florida.


Shiva icons are made from Joytilingams -- black meteorite shards in the shape of phalluses. They are essentially Penises from Outer Space. What I was taking back with me was the base for one of these phallic icons, or it's female counterpart, Shakti. Essentially an 80-pound vagina. Yogi Desai explained to me in great (mind-blowing) detail what to tell customs agents if they asked about it.

So here I am returning to the States with an eighty-pound vagina to take care of my ailing eighty-year-old mother. (Dr. Freud, I dare you to take this one on...). Needless to say, when I got to customs in New York and was greeted by a gruff Brooklyn customs agent, I said 'It's just a freagin' rock.'

I should have expected things to get 'loopy' after that, though there was no way I could have predicted how much so.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers, and I had to make the decision to either take care of her in her home, or give in to the prevailing cultural (and familial) whim to have her institutionalized.

I decided to keep her at home and take care of her myself with the help of local social services. This so infuriated another member of my family, an older sibling, that I was literally in and out of court every three months or so protecting my mother's right to stay in her own home, and my right to take care of her.

In the end, I was not only exhausted emotionally and physically, but rendered destitute. I no longer had a place to live and I was broke.

I then had to lean on social services again, and learn how to humbly rely on 'the kindness of strangers'. I document this experience in a memoir, 'An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net'.

So what does all this have to do with turning fifty-nine and fine wine?

I guess it's okay when you are in your thirty's and forty's, and you've practiced yoga or some other spiritual discipline, to set up shop somewhere and hang out a shingle declaring yourself a spiritual teacher. But I think that at some point in your life it's time to take down the signs and just live it.

If there is someone in your life you love who is terminally ill, don't let them be placed in a 'warehouse for the infirmed and aged'. Take care of them. There are many social problems that need addressing in our culture. If any of them affect you personally, then commit yourself to changing them. My personal experience of dementia and destitution has made me acutely aware of how inadequate our social services system is in regards to responding to people with these needs, along with seeing how difficult and painful it is to live in illness and/or poverty in our society.

Fine wine? Well, you can't even make a mediocre wine without crushing some grapes.

Please share a 'crushed-grapes' story on my Facebook Page: An Invitation to Odyssey.

Or, if you feel inclined, join my group: Advocate for Economic Fairness!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Time to Declare Economic Independence & Claim Creative Frededom!

Nearly thirty-five years ago, in the fall of 1978, I was hired by the N.Y. Newspaper Guild to work as a freelance writer and editor on independent, alternative newspapers the Guild was publishing in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Earlier in the year, unions representing  pressman, typesetters, machinists, photoengravers,  and commercial employees, including drivers, declared a strike against the owners of the three major New York City newspapers, as well as affiliate newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Guild, representing more than 4,000 reporters and editors, shortly thereafter joined the strike in solidarity. 

The ostensible reason for the strike was to protect union members' jobs from  being replaced by new technologies and automation. Instead of asking management to retrain workers in the use of these new technologies, the union demanded that their jobs -- even if outdated -- simply be retained until those workers retired. A futile and misguided endeavor that was pursued only because it had worked in the past.

Past is the key word here.  

Members of The Guild, however, depending on their age, saw the strike and the alternative newspapers in a different light.

Roughly speaking, if you were over thirty-five, you saw the alternative newspapers as just another  bargaining chip to help union leaders resolve the issues with management and achieve the union workers' demands. Again, the model for this was in the past.  

At the same time, if you were a Guild member under thirty-five, you saw yourself as not merely helping to publish  a temporary 'strike-newspaper',  but that you had just been handed an extraordinary opportunity to create an independent newspaper that one could then own, manage and work at.

The alternative newspaper came about because  of the  technological advances that were replacing pressman and typesetters . Micro-computing, still in its infancy, allowed one to literally create a digital newspaper from the back of a truck (which we did) anywhere you were (in  NY, NJ, or Pennsylvania)  and then drop it off at a local printer and voila! -- instant newspaper on demand.  Being young and idealistic at the time, I fancied us as some sort of modern-day  heirs to Thomas Paine with his self-published pamphlets advocating free-thinking and independence from economic tyranny (Common Sense).

The Guild had not financed a strike since the 1960s, so it had a considerable 'war chest'   (over a decade's worth of union dues monies) to invest in publishing and distributing the alternative newspapers. It did so in good faith for four months; and we worked day and night, taking time off only when we felt the long hours were taking a toll on our skills and denigrating our product.  

I wish that I could report a happy ending, but in the end, actually,  the Old School Guild Members weighed down our efforts to put out independent newspapers. Instead of pitching in, they complacently waited for the corporations and/or unions to settle their differences and once again take care of them by letting them go back to the simple 9-5 lives they were used to.

I was so pissed off at  their lack of initiative and foresight to not seize on such a  once-in-a-lifetime  opportunity that when the strike ended,  I felt they deserved what they got. Next to nothing. I watched grown men who had worked 20 or 30 years for a newspaper whimper away like scolded school kids clutching checks  for 2 or 3 grand. 

For there was a new kid on the block, and a new breed of owner named Rupert Murdoch who not only did not have any sympathy for unions or workers, but disdained them. The unions were crushed, and their members were forced to accept early retirements for ridiculously low buy-out packages that included cuts to their cherished health-care benefits and pensions. 

So what's the lesson to take away from all of this? 

I think the most obvious lesson is that in this day and age, the twenty-first century, one should no longer be so naive  as to expect a corporation or union to 'take care of  you' for life.

My father was a union member at a time when skilled laborers like him (without even a high school education) could own a home, buy a new car every few years, and give his children the opportunity to go to college. Those days are over now, and will not come back.   When  people would chide my father for paying union dues to a 'syndicate' run by the allegedly corrupt (he can no longer speak in his own defense) Jimmy Hoffa, my father would retort: 'Sure, Jimmy Hoffa is a thief.  But he's a good thief -- he doesn't take everything.'  There's more than  a grain of truth in that, which  no longer holds true for the persons controlling our present economy. There are people in our midst who would, literally, like to take it all -- or at least 98% of it. I know I've posted this video before, but if you haven't watched it, or want to watch it again, please do: Economic Reality 101

I'm not advocating waving flags of surrender in the face of this grim collapse of unions and  consequent wealth-grab; quite to the contrary, I'm challenging and inviting you to take control of your own creative destiny and financial independence.  

Here are just a few of the resources I've found that can help you do that:

Crowd-funding for your work or project:  Centup,  Kickstarter, Indiegogo,   
Long term loan/investment: PAVE  
Social Entrepreneurship: Ashoka Center,  Resource Generation, Skoll Foundation

There are plenty more.  I'm not a union or corporation so I'm not going to try to find them all for you.

Please share what you learn on my Facebook pages:Advocate for Economic Fairness!
                                                                              32 Beach Productions

I'll leave you with this from Thomas Paine. (I think he was talking about economic dependence): "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Give Us a Break!

The two most damning misconceptions about poverty in America is that it is the result of a weak economy, and that poverty is, 'in fact' , caused by poor people.

Weak economy?  

The details of an historically unprecedented explosion in wealth among a small percentage of the population in America during the last 40 years has been well-documented. If you need a refresher please revisit this video from Upworthy:

Or this article from Alternet .

And yet, despite this, there is a significant number of people in our political elite who are waging a war against poor people.   "The war against working people should be understood to be a real war.... Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class.... And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don't want anybody else to know about it." -- Noam Chomsky

Why? I think the simple answer is greed. But if you are going to be greedy in public, one must then find a way to justify such an otherwise socially unacceptable behavior.

Here's where it gets interesting, and creepy: after you abscond the nation's wealth you then blame the poor for being poor, for creating the economically and socially degraded condition they find themselves in.

To pull this off requires advanced wizardry (or as they used to call it in my hood, blarney):  I'll just use one such person as an example, Paul Ryan -- the wanna be VP. It's his Christian faith, specifically Catholicism, that informs and inspires him to be tough on the poor -- "for their own good". As if the current wealth disparity isn't tough enough on poor people, let's clobber them further with self-righteous moral judgments.  

I quoted Chomsky above. Now I'll retell an anecdote from one of his books. Alexander the Great is having a  marvelous time reeking havoc on the world as he goes about plundering and conquering it. Then one day he comes upon a man who has set up shop on a small Mediterranean port, where he is making a modest living pilfering from the largess of wealthy seafarers.

When Alexander encounters the man, he is beside himself with contempt: "My dear sir, how dare you pirate these waters?" 

The man looks back with world-weary eyes: 'My dearest Lord, how dare yay pirate the whole world?'

Give us a break.

Please visit my Facebook group: Advocate for Economic Fairness!