Category Archives: Personal

RUMBLINGS (2011)

(My “Peace and Justice Files” column from March, 2011, recently unearthed.)

Has the earth shifted under your feet yet?

No, I’m not talking about Christchurch, New Zealand, which was recently hit by its second major earthquake in less than six months. I’m not talking about Arkansas, where a recent increase in seismic activity has been linked to the “fracking” process for extracting natural gas. And while I am speaking metaphorically, I’m also not referring to the political changes that are still reverberating across many Arab countries as I write, “earth-shattering” though those changes certainly are.

It’s tempting, to be sure, to paint what’s going on in places as diverse as Libya and Wisconsin – and here around us in the Upper Delaware Valley, for that matter – in terms of grand tectonic movements, to think of massive historical forces grinding against each other, sending out shock waves as old forms are destroyed and new ones created. But my concern at the moment is more on the individual, personal level.

Namely: what do we do when our old stories, our tried-and-true ways of seeing the world, become obsolete? These stories – or “narratives,” as I’ve been referring to them in the last couple of columns – help us comprehend what is going on around us. What happens when they are taken away?

We spend the first parts of our lifetimes learning how to see, how to categorize the flood of sensory data we experience, how to evaluate patterns, and how to sort out real dangers from illusory ones. We learn what others expect from us, and what we can usually expect from them. We learn to predict, and generalize, and navigate our way through the world. We learn the rules, and the exceptions to the rules.

But sometimes the rules change. They change when personal tragedy strikes, when disasters hit, when conflicts erupt… or when the existing order of society becomes no longer sustainable.

And when that happens, the disorientation can be gutwrenching. Like a neophyte on a bad LSD trip, one can find things that should be solid, that have always been firm and reliable, become fluid and changeable, or disappear altogether. Suddenly one doesn’t know what to do, or how to react, or exactly what is really happening. Things normally benign can take on threatening aspects, or one can unwittingly throw oneself into harm’s way.

At such times, the very ground we stand on no longer seems steady. With nothing to hold onto, nothing to guide us, our own sense of identity can itself be shaken, possibly even shattered.

This is what I mean when I speak of feeling the earth shifting beneath our feet – the awareness that a transition, a basic and profound change, is bearing down upon us.

I do not think it is overly alarmist to suggest, as gently as possible, that it may be time to begin preparing for such a moment. Fundamental institutions – like the fossil-fuel economy, for example, or the idea of Western hegemony in world affairs – are nearing the ends of their natural lives, and their replacements are not yet born. We can feel the early rumblings, the harbingers of the shocks to come.

How can we prepare? Among other ways, by finding our place within larger stories. We can connect more deeply to our communities; we can reinforce our bonds both with those who surround us now in physical space, and those who come before and after us in time. We can connect more strongly to ourselves, through spiritual disciplines, mental practices, or creative activities that help keep us centered. And we can keep reminding ourselves that these changes are part of a natural process, part of the ongoing development of life.

 

 

Some of my favorite classical pieces

  • Philip Glass, “Evening Song” from SATYAGRAHA (Act 3, Scene 3)
  • Arvo Pärt, “Cantus (In Memoriam Benjamin Britten)”
  • Kronos Quartet, PIECES OF AFRICA (album)
  • Terry Riley, IN C
  • Steve Reich, DIFFERENT TRAINS
  • Philip Glass, “Funeral of Amenhotep III” from AKHNATEN (Act 1, Scene 1)

My To-Do List

  1. Help establish multi-party democracy in the United States.
  2. Encourage the surgical separation of Christianity and Capitalism.
  3. Help facilitate the transition to
    1. The Next American Republic.
    2. A New Values Economy.
  4. Further develop & expound the philosophy & methodology of “Serious Silliness.”
  5. Finish & disseminate creative works (songs, essays, etc.).
  6. Develop a better relationship with/understanding of mortality; find an opportunity for a good & useful death.
  7. Have fun in the meantime.

Continue reading

A random bunch of my favorite songs

Other than setting apart the Top Thirty-or-So, these are in no particular order – I’ll just post ’em as I think of ’em… These are some of the songs that can make me stop in my tracks, turn up the radio, dance in my chair, drive a little too fast, or sing along at the top of my lungs…. These songs make my scalp tingle, my heart race, or my mind soar. Some of these songs are part of my self-definition; some mark particular moments, or even eras, in my life… So, feel free to pick one you haven’t heard of, look it up, and check it out.

First, my Top Thirty-or-So Essential Faves as of the moment…

  1. Kate Bush, “The Big Sky”
  2. 801, “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)”
  3. The Beatles, “It’s All Too Much”
  4. Roxy Music, “The Thrill of It All”
  5. Brian Eno, “No One Receiving”
  6. Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill”
  7. Blue Öyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
  8. REM, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
  9. Moody Blues, “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”
  10. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”
  11. The Who, “Eminence Front”
  12. John Cale & Brian Eno, “Spinning Away”
  13. The Horse Flies, “I Live Where It’s Grey”
  14. Talking Heads, “Stay Hungry”
  15. Pink Floyd, “One of These Days”
  16. Laurie Anderson, “O Superman”
  17. Bjork, “Human Behavior”
  18. Moody Blues, “Legend of a Mind”
  19. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”
  20. David Byrne, “Big Business”
  21. Paul Simon, “Cool Cool River”
  22. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
  23. George Harrison, “Art of Dying”
  24. Radiohead, “Subterranean Homesick Alien”
  25. Gary Numan, “Cars”
  26. Brian Eno, “St. Elmo’s Fire”
  27. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  28. Moody Blues, “Story in Your Eyes”
  29. Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down”
  30. Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”
  31. David Byrne/Brian Eno, “The Jezebel Spirit”

And now some others…

  • Talking Heads, “I Zimbra”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Carnival”
  • Radiohead, “Creep”
  • Bush, “Machine Head”
  • David Bowie, “‘Heroes'”
  • Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says”
  • Pink Floyd, “Us and Them”
  • Peter Gabriel, “I Have the Touch”
  • King Crimson, “Discipline”
  • David Byrne, “Five Golden Sections”
  • Talking Heads, “Houses in Motion”
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Lucky Man”
  • Cat Stevens, “Wild World”
  • Radiohead, “Karma Police”
  • Foo Fighters, “Everlong”
  • Pearl Jam, “Black”
  • Eddie Vedder, “Big Hot Sun”
  • David Byrne/Brian Eno, “America is Waiting”
  • Human Sexual Response, “What Does Sex Mean to Me?”
  • The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus”
  • Synergy, “Breakdown in World Communication”
  • Stephen Foster, “Hard Times Come Again No More”
  • Bjork, “I Miss You”
  • Kate Bush, “Deeper Understanding”
  • Laurie Anderson, “Big Science”
  • Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood”
  • Roxy Music, “Out of the Blue”
  • Cat Stevens, “Peace Train”
  • David Byrne, “Big Blue Plymouth”
  • Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Wonder”
  • 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are the Days”
  • Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”
  • Talking Heads, “Nothing but Flowers”
  • Gary Numan. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”
  • Wall of Voodoo,”Mexican Radio”
  • Jimmy Eat World, “Sweetness”
  • Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Melanie, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”
  • Talking Heads, “Don’t Worry About the Government”
  • Harry Nilsson, “Jump Into the Fire”
  • Rod Stewart, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”
  • Paul Simon, “American Tune”
  • Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”
  • Bush, “Everything Zen”
  • Brian Eno, “Third Uncle”
  • Plastic Bertrand, “Ca Plane Pour Moi”
  • Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless”
  • Elton John, “Madman Across the Water”
  • Mason Williams, “Classical Gas”
  • The Cranberries, “Zombie”
  • Blue Man Group, “I Feel Love” (live version)
  • St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Almost Cut My Hair”
  • Roxy Music, “Manifesto”
  • Radiohead, “How to Disappear Completely”
  • David Byrne/Brian Eno, “Help Me Somebody”
  • Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists, “Asturias”

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: EVERY NEW BEGINNING

It’s not often that a rock song nails a deep philosophical truth in a single pithy lyric… but that’s just what the band Semisonic did back in 1998, with their anthemic hit “Closing Time,” which includes this great line:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

In this case, 2009 was that “other beginning.” Barack Obama’s Inauguration was the crest of a wave, a flowering of post-Bush “si, se puede” optimism that unfortunately was quickly squelched (let us not say “betrayed”) by his own centrist pragmatism and the Republicans’ petty, partisan obstreperousness.

So now here we are, at that beginning’s end – and a new beginning. On January 20, we will see what I am calling the “Dysauguration” of Donald J. Trump – as massive a perversion of the democratic process as the planet has seen since the emperor Caligula supposedly named his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate.

I plan to see this event from a different perspective. By the time Mr. Trump intones the words “So help me God,” I’ll be across the border, in Canada. (You might want to join me, even if just in spirit, or just for the day. See the article “Vote With Your Feet?” on my website, skipmendler.wordpress.com.)

I’m taking advantage of this “new beginning” to stage a new beginning of my own. I am headed to Europe for an indefinite period, with two goals in mind.

One is to get involved with refugee assistance over there. I am aiming for the Greek Isles, but I might find that I can be useful elsewhere along the route. Ideally, I’ll be able to use my performing experience by hooking up with one of the groups like Clowns Without Borders that has been doing shows to entertain the kids in the camps, but I’m willing to do whatever. (Look up “refugee clown circus” for a raft of articles about what some folks have been doing already, and why.)

The other is to get some opinions and suggestions from activists and academics over there regarding what can be done to fix our broken system, and our fractured society. I am particularly interested in how they make multiparty democracy work, and how we might bring the American system more in line with European democracies in this regard. (See my September column, “Two Parties Are Too Damn Few.”) I also plan to attend the 2017 Global Greens Congress in Liverpool at the end of March.

At present, I’m thinking I should be away for six months to a year, maybe more, depending on what happens (and how long the money holds out). In the meantime, I intend to continue this column, but I’ll be focusing primarily on my experiences along the way.

I remain an “apocaloptimist”: I believe that things are about to get quite rough, but I also believe they will work themselves out in the long run. This particular “new beginning,” this onslaught called Trumpism, will run its course and eventually end, hopefully sooner rather than later, but end it will.

And then there will be more – and better – new beginnings on the way.

 

Crawl from the Wreckage

 

Through the months and the years
The pressure just grows
& then in a moment
It seems everything blows

She drops the bombshell
The storm systems merge
Tectonic plates shift
As two lives diverge

And then when it’s over
You open your eyes
Surprised to discover
That you’re still alive

(chorus)
Crawl from the wreckage
Pull out of the debris
Take a good look around
At what you used to be

Destruction seems total
Nothing remains
But you still have your hands
And you still have your brain

(chorus 2)
Crawl through the wreckage
Sort through the debris
Try to find what’s still useful
In what you used to be

You feel so abandoned
You think you’re on your own
But just lift up your eyes
You’ll see you’re not alone

Hundreds and thousands
Millions and more
Who have known devastation
This has happened before

(chorus 3)
Pull them from the wreckage
Clear off the debris
Try to make yourself useful
What else is there to be

 

Holiday Letter 2016 (Skip’s part only)

My wife & daughter have stronger senses of privacy that I do, so we generally don’t put our family holiday letter up on the Net, or even send it out as email. (You’re either on The List or you’re not.)

But this year, it so happened that I took up one side of the page all by myself, and I kinda don’t mind who knows what’s in it. This is because (a) there are a couple of links in there to stuff I feel is pretty important and could use some wider propagation, and (b) there’s nothing sensitive or particularly “private” about it…  So, if you’re interested, and you haven’t gotten your copy in the mail, check it out by clicking the link below – and if not, then “Happy Merries!” to you anyway!

Skip’s Holiday Letter 2016 (PDF)