November 2010

When The Universe Speaks.

I’ve determined some bad news. About myself. I’m a sinker and a sagger. Sigh. I’m talking about my face. My skin, as I age, is not content with just sagging, it’s sinking, too. A few years ago I noticed that just below the corners of my mouth, inescapable erosion was occurring. Little did I know at the time, but face channels were forming spontaneously out of nowhere that would eventually rival the Grand Canyon, proportionately speaking. And smiling no longer stretched their elimination.

I’m being called home. Inexorably the tug of Mother Earth is bringing me home. Yes, returns are expected. From earth. To earth. It’s disappointing. It is. As if dying is not insult enough, our exterior transforms itself, right before our eyes no less—a metamorphosis. From sparkling new and freshly “green” to staggered step and shortened breath.

But here’s the kicker. As disappointed as I am at my foreordained outcome, I’m okay with it.

It is readily apparent why religions have their appeal. Besides the worthy “value” of a social (support) network, they console the faithful that life has meaning (beyond reproduction, beyond the sorrow), that something (a god) cares and that when all (life) is said and done, it isn’t. That heaven or some equivalent awaits us all. And that if only, if only we believe (“X”), well, we all know the story. Oh, and of course, one must tap one’s Ruby heels together while faithfully uttering, “I believe, I believe,” and we’ll be brought home. Hallelujah!

Growing up in an atheist’s home (thank you Father) I wasn’t burdened with such unbelievable dogma. I wasn’t required to suspend my intellect. Oh, it was perfectly okay, nay, it was encouraged to have “awe” over the wonders of life but to attribute our ephemeral existence to the supernatural, well, that simply was not an explanation one took “on faith” in my parent’s home.

I am fortunate to have my seven-year-old grandson in my life almost on a daily basis. He is beauty incarnate. His youth is a vivid reminder of the process of life.

While, at the other end. I’ve always (for decades) enjoyed the company, the perspective of my elders (of those whom I respect). That too is part of the process. And I have been genuinely “blessed” to experience a long line of elderly confidants to discuss/debate the vagaries of life and living. I embrace perspective. Life is good. Except, of course, when it isn’t.

There is no more meaning to life than, it is. Human beings desperately want more meaning, understandably so. We’re sentient creatures. We’re creative and imaginative, with outsized egos more expansive than entire solar systems. We should expect no less (of us as a species). Aging, the lines, the facial sags, the sinking face and gut, if it has any purpose (beyond the scientific illustration of the natural progression of a declining entity) we might reasonably approach aging as a psychological process necessary to the acceptance of our inevitable fates. We don’t cry quite so forlornly, do we, when the aged-old die.

Fear of death has some of us fearing life (aging). They are of a piece.

Some of us hear “Boo!” when the universe speaks, others hear . . .

“Don’t cry, Chritty.”

Luck is just that. We don’t ask to be born. We don’t come with a pre-consciousness that let’s us preview (let alone approve) the home into which we are, uh, thrust. Nope. We arrive and as luck will have it, you’re passed around as the sparkling, shiny-new little jewel that you are.

I was so lucky. To be passed around and held and I’m sure told, “Don’t cry, Chritty.” I’ve a picture of my sister Sandra holding me on her lap, she’s maybe five and I’m all of a year yet I dwarf her. I was a big, robust, certifiably rosy-cheeked baby and she, just a peanut of a girl but if ever the cat smiles for having just swallowed the canary, well, that is my sister’s pictured delight. She’s told me that I dropped into her life as a gift, as her baby, too. How sweet it is. Life.

We talk. It was she, who, a few years ago introduced me to the idea that “We are the universe talking to itself.” Suh-weeeeet. What a fascinating concept. That out of the vast celestial whirlpool, our sun, once upon a time, firmly grabbed our Mother Earth and their chemistry eventually begat us. Talk about sexy. And we haven’t quit chattering since. Since that first moment when, some long ago ancestor coyly stepped out of the tree to our future—a distant time when we were little more than cat food.

We talk. About all such manner of things. And I asked her last week in passing what she was thankful for. We had been lamenting, as liberals are wont to do, the nation’s collective vapidness, the banality of our national discourse. It is such a loss. But one can only wallow so much in the muck of sorrow.

About 20 years ago I started reading the mythologist, Joseph Campbell. He turned a number of great phrases. One of which goes, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” Here’s a corollary. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

We’ve all heard something to the effect, “Have enough focus for the moment that as you are falling from a cliff to your death, a passing flower leaves you muttering, “Beautiful.” That is our condition, folks.

We require the ability to turn from the sorrow in life—from a sister’s death, a divorce, a child’s paralysis, your baby now crippled from an Afghan landmine to an environment polluted with such reckless abandon, with as much indifference as that of our ancestors who willingly disposed of the American Indian. And, what’s that? We are to, “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world?” Un-huh.

But my sister when asked what she was thankful for said, “Everything. I am so glad to be alive now.” I pressed her. “Every morning before I get out of bed I give thanks to the glory and splendor of life. And that I am alive, this moment, to experience it. Every day.”

I’m a Ducky Luck! To have a sister who reminds me that livin’ is acknowledgin’. That to be alive this moment is beautiful. Too.

To my faithful reader, may your life be just that. Beautiful. That is my Thanksgiving toast to you. And, luck.

Great Deck Mates

One last shot. I can’t do it anymore. Write about the morass the nation is in. We’ve so many pressing issues and so little time to effectively change course. I am reduced to asking myself, “What’s the point?” We freely elect criminals to high office (see Florida Governor), we’ve allowed our democracy to degenerate into a plutocracy and the electorate says, “Gimmee more.” No empire is forever.

For awhile at least, I bid adieu to politics and governance. Yet I offer one last warning shot across the bow of our waning democracy.

I recommend two sources, two perspectives on exactly where we are as a nation. First, Bill Moyers spoke at Boston University a week before the last election and summed-up well the state of our democracy. A link to that speech: Or, Google: Bill Moyer Boston University. Moyer is so spot-on that it will leave you shaking your head in despair. How can we have allowed America to degenerate so?

The other “complementary” vision will have you to wanting to storm the Bastille’s of Washington and Wall Street with pitchforks and ropes. See today the documentary movie, Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon. It provides a thorough analysis of the economic meltdown of 2008, with over $20 trillion in losses. Folks, we’re being “royally” screwed. America’s financial/political system is corrupt and we do nothing about it. Where are the heads on pikes? Where are the financial criminals hanging from the yardarms? This documentary spells out what happened and how. We’ve a corrupt financial system that is literally consuming America, eating us alive out of house and work.

We like to think America is immune to the forces of history. America has an economic elite, a “Royal Class” that is no less an oligarchy than the Romanov’s (Russia) or the Bourbon’s (French). Excess follows excess. Unless America regains its historical promise and its political will, the economic injustice and corruption that unabated grows will metastasize into such a cancer that it will ultimately consume our nation. Nuf sed. For now.

I’ve always liked the image of deck chairs on the Titanic. As a metaphor for where the American people find themselves. Not steerage for gawd’s sake. First class. With a cushioned deck chair, a soft plumped pillow, a cashmere blankie to cut the breeze, a thin mint or two. Of course, the bottle of chilled California Schramsberg (thank you, Lee) within reach and a book or two or three waiting to be consumed.

Let us close on a high note of recommended books. Who can resist an author who writes, “It’s impossible to be ethical and religious.” Historically true, yes? English author, Howard Jacobson was awarded the Booker Prize for his Catch-22 like exploration of what it “means” to be Jewish in Britain today. His book The Finkler Question is an intelligent, challenging (in so many ways) and worthwhile read.

I also recommend Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Keith Richards’ (lead guitar of The Rolling Stones) autobiography, Life. Actually the “message” of these two books just might sync, except Richards is an unapologetic and unrepentant free spirit.

All great deck mates for these times.

May I fluff your pillow? “One more wafer thin mint, America?”

Tax Cuts For Life.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s explosive press conference, Governor-elect Rick Scott reexamined his controversial statements regarding Terri Schiavo, O. J. Simpson and stem cell research.

Winter Park Observer columnist Chris Jepson secured an exclusive interview with the Governor-elect’s acting spokesperson, Ima Yoking.

Ima Yoking is a graduate of the distinguished Kenneth Starr School of Ethical Politics at Oral Roberts University. Before joining Rick Scott’s campaign Ms. Yoking interned with Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas, and under his intellectually keen mind published her graduate research thesis: “The Criminally Liberal Myth of Separation of Church and State.”

Ms. Yoking met Mr. Jepson on Winter Park’s tony boulevard of restrained excess, at the trendy Panera Bread on Park Avenue. Ms Yoking wore a conservative tweed Chanel suit in Republican Red with a nipped-at-the-waist cardigan jacket and pearls with matching red satin pumps by Manolo Blahnik.

Jepson: Thank you for your time Ms. Yoking. Let’s get right to the Governor’s call to exhume Terri Schiavo. That’s creating quite a stir.

Yoking: Well, the Governor is a sensitive man and when it was reported that moans and cries for help were heard at The Teri Schiavo Lives Memorial and if there was even a remote chance that Terry needed to be rehooked-up to life support, well, the Governor is all about second chances.

Jepson: But exhuming the dead?

Yoking: If the Governor’s campaign is any example, who’s to say when dead is dead? Besides, Republicans care.

Jepson: The Governor stepped in hot water, however, with his response to O. J. Simpson.

Yoking: The Governor is reconsidering asking that Mr. Simpson be paroled.

Jepson: When O. J. was on “60 Minutes” stating he was so utterly inspired by Rick Scott avoiding prosecution and jail time for his company’s criminal activities and how the entire prison cellblock now felt that they had a kindred soul in the Governor’s office and . . .

Yoking: May I interject. Governor Scott was genuinely touched. He has acknowledged his haste in suggesting that Mr. Simpson be paroled and given the job as Executive Director of the Miss Florida Beauty Pageant.

Jepson: But, Governor Scott said . . .

Yoking: The Governor said it might not be the best match of Mr. Simpson’s, uh, talents. Next question.

Jepson: The Orlando area is investing a lot of community treasure and hope on its billion dollar plus baby, the Medical Research City near Lake Nona. Thousands of projected jobs. Rumors are floating that the Governor will support a complete ban of stem cell research in Florida. That the Republican controlled legislature will pass such restrictions. Is that true?

Yoking: The Governor has lived an exemplary life. His values, Republican values, are best exemplified by Governor Scott’s own personal mantra, “Every sperm is sacred.” Together, sperm and egg, well, they are as so revered within Republican circles that as established principle, they are second only to “Tax cuts for the rich.”

Jepson: Let me paraphrase the Republican political trade off; in order for there to be unimpeded tax cuts forever, what remains of Republican rationalism will be willingly jettisoned to secure the critical support of Pro-life voters.

Yoking: Yes, the Governor supports tax cuts for life. Funny, how that all works out politically.

Jepson: Yes. Funny.

The New Mourn. Do Not Despair.

The day after voting we awoke to a “new mourn” in America. The Holy Roller Luddite Party of Righteous Republican Know Nothingism achieved significant political gains throughout the nation. It will be “High Fives” and “Hosannas” all over America’s corporate boardrooms. “Praise the Lord! The fools bought our crap yet again!” What rubes we are.

I marvel at how clever our moneyed interests are. “They” neither underestimate our collective stupidity nor lose track of what is important. To them. What I do not totally understand is this. You can only feast so long on the blood, on the weakened body of America before it becomes a corpse. If the light flickers, if the spirit of our nation wanes, it won’t be because some shuffling, gray-haired, minimum wage Wal-Mart greeter asked, “Please sir, can I have more porridge?” Grasping, ungrateful, no doubt liberal, old socialist hag that she is!

Biblical verse Luke 12:48 has been lost on our privileged class, “For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” It now reads, “For to whomsoever much is given, what, there must be more!” And so it goes.

I get ballistic over the nation’s course but folks, we have to let it go. Or as Carly Simon sang, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

I’m 61 years old. That is old. Any way you add it up. It is real time. I’ve approximately 22 years left if family history be any marker. And I am totally at ease with that. Jepson men are strong until they aren’t and then poof, relatively speaking, we’re dead in a week.

Now, I’ve consumed far less whiskey and red meat than either my father or grandfather (although I am not so free of vice but who among us is), so I might get a bonus six or nine months at the end, maybe not; yet if I’m lucid, I’ll willingly grab the extra days.

Whatever an election’s outcome there will always be (regardless the goons/flaks in office) good books to read, toe-tapping music to hear, stunningly beautiful flowers to smell, light as air champagne to sip, new ideas to ponder, delightful people to love and conversation. And laughter. Of course, laughter. And art.

No empire lasts forever. Any student of history understands this. Each generation must fend for itself. Yet, I so hope the center holds (metaphorically and literally speaking).

But we mustn’t despair. Even if the Huns are at the gate and Rome lost. As Pogo said in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

And that is the crux of the issue. To me. Any pretense of America’s moral authority is a chimera, so many decades has our nation been a meddlesome, imperialistic power. At home our nation deconstructs before our eyes as our leaders spoon-feed us pabulum while ladling-up backroom pork for the special interests. And the irony, the tragedy is we elected our own executioners. Dupes (I have met the enemy and . . .) that we are.

And until that day when heads roll (ours), do let the band play on.

Ah, yes, the band. As I understand it, the band played while the mighty, unsinkable Titanic sank. Deck chairs for all! For all.