Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Crisis Papers


"The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong." ~ U.S. President Barack Obama, 2015 State of the Union Address.

Marie’s Crisis

There’s a piano bar in the West Village of New York City called Marie’s Crisis Cafe. I’ve been a couple of times, years ago now, with my friend Kathy, a voiceover artist. It’s fun. Sort of. If you like that sort of thing.

“To walk downstairs into this old West Village bar is to step out of time a bit. As an amicable regular might tell you, the room first opened in the 1850s as a prostitutes' den, became a boy bar by the 1890s, and lasted through Prohibition, when it was known as Marie's (the ‘Crisis’ came from ‘The Crisis Papers,’ by Thomas Paine, who died in the same house). For the past 35 years, it's plowed through as a piano joint in which neighboring gay men and musical theater performers gather round the keys nightly and sing solo—numbers like ‘Stranger in Paradise’ or ‘You're the Top’—to create a mood of both giddiness and longing.” ~ Karen Hudes, NY Mag

Miss O’ wants to like Marie’s Crisis more than she tends to do. It’s about singing show tunes, for heaven’s sake, and drinking a fine malt beverage in comradeship with show queens, after all. But there’s a kind of competitiveness that sets in, as well as a copious fumbling of lyrics, which, combined with (in my limited experience) an out-of-tune piano and sticky floors, left this barfly more than a little depressed.

Marie’s Crisis, as you see above, took part of its name from none other than Thomas Paine, author of the famous federal documents and essays now known as The Crisis Papers. After hearing President Obama’s SOTU Address, as it’s known, I began thinking about that word, crisis. So I started thinking about crisis, and who better to help me along than Thomas Paine himself, who would have been 278 years young on February 9.

Here is Thomas Paine from The Crisis, beginning with the line that is perhaps its most famous:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 23, 1776

What exactly are “these” times, in the year of our (over)lord 2015?

On the blog recently was an excerpt of a larger work, called “The Spectacle of Illiteracy and the Crisis of Democracy” by Henry Giroux. He writes:

 “C. Wright Mills argued 50 years ago that one important measure of the demise of vibrant democracy and the corresponding impoverishment of political life can be found in the increasing inability of a society to translate private troubles to broader public issues…. What this decline in civility, the emergence of mob behavior and the utter blurring in the media between a truth and a lie suggest is that we have become one of the most illiterate nations on the planet.”
by Henry Giroux.

Every year it seems that everyone I know is living more and more in a state of crisis—whether with illness, finances, longer working hours, or no work at all, everywhere we turn there is a crisis looming. The deeper tragedy, which is the fallout of each horrible new thing, is acted out in halls of power of the right wing of America’s political system, a wing too many people vote for with the hope that in vilifying the victims of crises and heaping larger burdens onto the most vulnerable, the crises will be buried for good and all under those mounds. The people of the United States—we, the People—have just that “inability” Mr. Giroux speaks of to recognize that “private troubles” are in fact not private, but rather “public issues.” Bankruptcies from health care costs—usually from crises such as cancer or other life-threatening illnesses—should lead us powerfully to gratitude for President Obama’s realization of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s dream of health care insurance for all Americans. But this is not the case. Miss O’s Republican friends, who heatedly debated her on social media with abandon, claimed that if you can’t afford insurance, you should simply die. They wouldn’t take the argument, of course, to its logical conclusion, but felt that as long as they personally had insurance, no one else should have it if it meant paying a little more. The end. The result, of course—death—is nothing to do with them. They got theirs.

Similarly, white right-wing (mostly) friends on Facebook denounced the outcry over Mike Brown and Eric Garner, whose deaths at the hands of police made international headlines. “They should have complied,” and besides, “now these protests are ruining my commute.”

THOSE who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it. The event of yesterday was one of those kind of alarms which is just sufficient to rouse us to duty, without being of consequence enough to depress our fortitude. It is not a field of a few acres of ground, but a cause, that we are defending, and whether we defeat the enemy in one battle, or by degrees, the consequences will be the same.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 12, 1777

Jon Stewart recently announced the end of his 15-year tenure on The Daily Show. America is a nation that has come to rely on a Comedy Central cable entertainment program for trustworthy news, because the writers of actual “news” programs fill the airwaves with so much garbage. Puppy stories. Punditry. One of my favorite segments on Stewart's program over the years was “Moments in Punditry, as Read by Children.” Out of the mouths of babes, the inanities of these “writers” became powerfully comic, revealing that their concerns were never about the betterment of mankind. But did we learn anything?

"What's in the name of lord, that I should fear
To bring my grievance to the public ear?
UNIVERSAL empire is the prerogative of a writer. His concerns are with all mankind, and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty. The Republic of Letters is more ancient than monarchy, and of far higher character in the world than the vassal court of Britain; he that rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he that in defence of reason rebels against tyranny has a better title to "Defender of the Faith," than George the Third.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 13, 1777

Whom should we love? Whom should we care about? Whom should we write about? In Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play about blacks coming face to face with the importance of the civil rights movement, Walter Lee Younger makes a tragic decision about how to use the life insurance money awarded at his father’s death. His sister, Beneatha, professes her profound disgust, calling her brother "a toothless rat".

BENEATHA: Love him? There is nothing left to love.

MAMA: There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning - because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”

But Americans don’t like hills and valleys. They like “a level playing field,” that mythical arena where every single human born gets to start playing the Game of Life with all the same money, looks, health, family connection, resources, and support systems as every other single human being in the world. It’s the greatest, most fantastical and sickest story Americans tell their children and their fellow citizens, and until the Myth of the Level Playing Field is debunked for good and all, nothing like progress can occur.

But this is exactly why the right wing embraces it. So why does the progressive wing trot it out, too? Because it’s such a wonderful fantasy of “the great equality.”

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, “Who Loves America?”, columnist Charles Blow had this to say:

"In a way, this is an ideological battle. Conservatism is rooted in preservation; progressivism advances alteration. These are different love languages. These languages turn on your view of change itself: When you think of America, do you see a country struggling to be maintained or one striving to be made better?"

Tom Paine reflected on progress and what that means, and why stasis cannot be the goal of living, nor can it be practical or useful in political life.

IN THE progress of politics, as in the common occurrences of life, we are not only apt to forget the ground we have travelled over, but frequently neglect to gather up experience as we go. We expend, if I may so say, the knowledge of every day on the circumstances that produce it, and journey on in search of new matter and new refinements: but as it is pleasant and sometimes useful to look back, even to the first periods of infancy, and trace the turns and windings through which we have passed, so we may likewise derive many advantages by halting a while in our political career, and taking a review of the wondrous complicated labyrinth of little more than yesterday.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: PHILADELPHIA, April 19, 1777

Lately, though, Progressives have been using their big voices in the halls of power, and why they have been afraid for so long, who knows? Miss O’s personal hero this past week was retiring Senator Barbara Boxer of California—and maybe it’s the knowledge of "no more campaigns to run" (as Obama remarked, adding after the Republican applause, "I know, because I won both of them")  that is making her brave (and President Obama even braver). Of her colleagues in the Senate who hold up every bill at every turn and have nothing to offer in terms of actionable policy and so once again cry “GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN!” Sen. Boxer had this to say in response to their refusal to vote on an immigration bill:

So tell me, Republicans, how does it make sense to deport people like Anna, split her up from her parents, when all they want to do is contribute to the country that they love. How does it make sense?
How does it make sense? Because you're too incompetent to hold a vote on your immigration plan? You want to kick people out of the country? Put it to a vote! Let's go. You want to deport 11 million people? Put it to a vote. Don't hide behind the Homeland Security Bill, holding the President's work hostage. You never did it to the other presidents.
Our national security is at stake, our family values are at stake. And our economy is at stake here. So get over the fact that you don't like the president. We get it. You couldn't beat him. Too bad for you. But you're in charge here, in the Senate. Do your job!
Don't hold it hostage due to your hatred of this president, and I use that word because that's what I think. That's what I think….
So I say to my Republican friends. There's a presidential race coming. Forget this last one. Get over it. Okay? Let's work together. Listen, I served with five presidents. I'm a strong Democrat. Everyone will tell you that. But I respect the office of the presidency. If I didn't agree with Ronald Reagan, I came down here and said it. But we had the respect back and forth. If we lost, we lost. And we moved on. And that worked both ways. I know what it is not to like the policies of a president. I get it. But don't overdo it and make it so personal. Get on with it. Grow up. Do your job, you know? Do your job! Have respect for the office of the presidency.
Don't suddenly say executive orders are bad when the president you don't like does it, but you don't say one word when a Republican president does the same thing!

Middle school Student Government Associations are more effective. What will it take to get government going again? Vote Progressive. Is America ready to get moving? Or does it merely want to cry, “Give me liberty, and give me a great big fucking death”?

Tom Paine knew the price of idiots in power:

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: LANCASTER, March 21, 1778

Speaking of men renouncing reason, I give you the Anti-Vaxxers:

Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California-Los Angeles, told the New York Times the current outbreak is "100 percent connected" to the anti-immunization movement.
"It wouldn't have happened otherwise—it wouldn't have gone anywhere. There are some pretty dumb people out there."

Here’s my truth, spoken for me by my friend GEORGE on FACEBOOK:

Bad enough too many Americans feel the need to keep pumpin' out dem babies into an irresponsibly consumptive and wasteful society whose hubris sucks up 3/5 of the world's resources to keep us swimming in plastic crap—while elsewhere, millions of orphaned children are dying for some care... (I'm sure your children's and grandchildren's last thoughts of you will be >kind< as climate change & overpopulation end their lives in hunger, disaster, despair, and probably violence over the next half century.) But that's not enough... Nope. Now you're letting your unvaccinated spawn infect the rest of us. Nice. How... American of you. Those of you whose personal morality seems to be in conflict with a hormonal desire to leave a mark on the world through spawn: Adopt. And then please vaccinate the little crawling germ bags. Have a GFD, Omelas.

Then there’s The Onion, which can’t even trump reality:

As a mother, I put my parenting decisions above all else. Nobody knows my son better than me, and the choices I make about how to care for him are no one’s business but my own. So, when other people tell me how they think I should be raising my child, I simply can’t tolerate it. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I fully stand behind my choices as a mom, including my choice not to vaccinate my son, because it is my fundamental right as a parent to decide which eradicated diseases come roaring back.

THERE are stages in the business of serious life in which to amuse is cruel, but to deceive is to destroy; and it is of little consequence, in the conclusion, whether men deceive themselves, or submit, by a kind of mutual consent, to the impositions of each other. That England has long been under the influence of delusion or mistake, needs no other proof than the unexpected and wretched situation that she is now involved in: and so powerful has been the influence, that no provision was ever made or thought of against the misfortune, because the possibility of its happening was never conceived.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 21, 1778

CrISIS: I personally think that most all violence/ unhappiness/ unrest comes down to wealth inequality. When people feel they have nothing left either to lose or hope for, the door is open for the (very few) power fanatics to begin the recruiting and conversions of the hopeless…and, boom: ISIS, which is just the latest in a series. I also suspect that too many rich people who cause this inequality love war because it keeps the peasants busy killing each other.

HAD America pursued her advantages with half the spirit that she resisted her misfortunes, she would, before now, have been a conquering and a peaceful people; but lulled in the lap of soft tranquillity, she rested on her hopes, and adversity only has convulsed her into action. Whether subtlety or sincerity at the close of the last year induced the enemy to an appearance for peace, is a point not material to know; it is sufficient that we see the effects it has had on our politics, and that we sternly rise to resent the delusion.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: Philadelphia, Oct. 4, 1780

And then there’s ISIS. Typically Facebook friends who never post political things expressed “outrage” that the U.S. was not over with full troop support fighting ISIS only when “21 Christians” were executed. In the past, when it’s been the kidnapping of African girls from a school, or the rape of Muslim detainees in the Syrian refugee camps, the outrage expressed from these same “Christians” was approximately zero.

Money. Freedom. I got mine: I try to imagine a world where people get up in the morning, walk gently to the water source, fill a kettle or a coffee pot, pour out the tea leaves or the coffee grounds into a steeper, place the vessel of choice onto a heat source, and slice the bread. Gather the eggs. Cook the breakfast. Eat it. Wash up. Wash their faces and hands and dress. Tidy up the place. Walk out into the world and amble to work. Greet neighbors and friends along the way. Notice the sky. Feel the weather coming.

In that world, there is no HURRY. Nature will give us, always, not only bounty and beauty but also real weeks of real crisis: drought, fire, snow, ice, wind, torrents of rain, earthquakes, tornadoes. And more than the snippets we allow ourselves to see on Fox News …

NOW IN CABLEVISION! Do you REALLY want your life to be lived like a Lifetime TV Movie? Melodrama, disease, betrayal, ruin, humorlessness at every turn of the life dial?

A few years ago, one of my dear friends died, suddenly, of congestive heart failure, the cause of which was a years-long addiction to alcohol. It was not until near the end that any of us even knew she drank. She was a closet alcoholic, a maintenance drinker, and she also binged when alone with her kids. Her life had been, it turned out, one long crisis, with breathers in between—loss of the custody of her daughter when quite young; death of her second husband to cancer—and that’s just for starters. But in the life, she lived with the greatest, best figurative heart, full of love and art and excitement for doing new things, learning, reading, running, and children. As I said at the end of my eulogy at her funeral, when my own life was in crisis and decided to move to New York, she was my strongest, best champion. When everyone around me was stage-whispering, “You know she’s out of her mind,” or “she’ll never survive,” or “who does she think she is?” it was this friend who said to me, “Lisa, don’t listen to them. Everybody wishes they were you right now. Everybody wants to be YOU.” In finally making the move, the shadow of the crisis passed. The state of my (internal) union is strong. For my friend, the crisis of her inner life and outer tragedies destroyed her. You see how easily—whatever your smarts, talents, beauty, or spirit—anybody can break given the right terrible circumstances.

The personal is political. The personal ills that beset us affect the world around us, and the crises of the world make our own healing almost impossible.

But who is really paying attention? President Obama gave a State of the Union Address wherein he took on all the stupidity, and here was a post for the ages: “I thought Michelle Obama stole the show. Forget about that speech! Look at what she’s wearin’!”



“Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as mere consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.” 
~ Nick Hornby, from High Fidelity

One of Miss O’s greatest challenges in being a writer or a teacher or an editor or a citizen of the world, for that matter, is her hyper-awareness of her failings and shortcomings. Her gold standards are high, her taste exquisite, and it makes her all too aware of what she has not been able to accomplish. Enter modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, just in the nick of time:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
                ~ Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

School says: If everything is special, nothing is special.
Artist says: If nothing is special, everything is special.
WikiLeaks says: If everything is public, everything is public.
NSA says: If nothing is private, nothing is private.

If everything is a crisis, nothing is a crisis?

No. Instead, when everything is a crisis, it becomes the mode in which we live. And die. EARLY.

169 million vacation days went unused 2013. That figure speaks to the entire problem in this nation. Everybody is working overtime for free (except Congress, who needs to), and taking no breaks to replenish (except Congress, who just shuts that whole thing down when they get the grumps). We are running on empty—physically, intellectually, morally, ethically. We the People literally got nothin’ to bring to our Game of Life, nothing to use to get over the hills or across the valleys. The shadow of the crisis is past, and it’s the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

That, and of course, “President Obama Doesn’t Love America.”

(I’d like to note, here, President Obama's Hate-Filled Agenda: Access to affordable health care for all Americans, access to quality affordable education, sustainable and renewable energy, protections for the last big wild places, economic growth, deficit reduction, a society free from gun violence--and all presented with intelligence, wit, diplomacy, respect, and without showing any hatred for others. And he took out Bin Laden. Yep--he's a dick, all right. You know who really doesn't love America? The narcissists like Rudy Giuliani who have no relevancy but say whatever it takes to cash a speaking engagement paycheck telling fat cats who care only about themselves exactly what they want to hear to justify their personal agendas. And what is President Obama's response? Class. All the way.)

The End of Crisis

But the president tells me “the shadow of the crisis is past,” and I’d like to believe him. Surely Tom Paine thought the victory of 1783 meant just that.

ADVANTAGES THEREOF. THESE are times that tried men's souls, and they are over- and the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and happily accomplished. But to pass from the extremes of danger to safety — from the tumult of war to the tranquillity of peace, though sweet in contemplation, requires a gradual composure of the senses to receive it. Even calmness has the power of stunning, when it opens too instantly upon us. The long and raging hurricane that should cease in a moment, would leave us in a state rather of wonder than enjoyment; and some moments of recollection must pass, before we could be capable of tasting the felicity of repose. There are but few instances, in which the mind is fitted for sudden transitions: it takes in its pleasures by reflection and comparison and those must have time to act, before the relish for new scenes is complete.
~ Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: Philadelphia, April 19, 1783

And yet.

We carry crisis in the body. We carry trauma in the body. Lately I’ve been reading about the work of Moshe Feldenkrais and his revolutionary work on pain and the way we human beings have lost touch with our own basic body movements as a result. And we need to take that in. If a twinge of arthritis can destroy our body’s understanding of what it means to move freely, imagine what night after night of ISIS crisis and gun violence and disease epidemics and torture chambers and drone strikes and pictures of that drunken sod John Boehner and that walking robot of tyranny Dick “I will never die” Cheney are doing to our very cores.

A crisis passes. There is great rejoicing and a national holiday gets named for it.

But if everything is a crisis, is anything a crisis?

Is “crisis” the new normal? No biggie?

Calm the fuck down already? Miss O’ thinks not.

 You know what is a REAL CRISIS?


That is a crisis. (If you live in the middle of the country and think, “This doesn’t apply to ME,” you are doubtless the same people who want to rescue persecuted Christians in parts unknown, but not anyone else, and not anyone in your own country. THAT is the REASON for this crisis. This climate crisis is, in fact, YOUR FAULT. Tell that to your children with a smile.)

 And this is where Miss O' bows out.

Miss O’ has had about enough of crises as a lifestyle. The world has been, is, and will ever be, too much with us, and it’s time for this little blogger, on whose shoulders this too-much-world has been sitting, to bid you, faithful readers, farewell. I have in me but a very finite few years left on Earth, and while Miss O’ would never say never, she suspects strongly that it’s time to get off this Blogger horse and ride a different pony, one with a few more tricks, one that leads to a creative end that feels a little more hopeful than crisis analysis.

Will keep you posted. Maybe.

In the meantime, one could do worse than turn to Turner Classic Movies.  May I recommend it? We could all use a breather.

In a New York Times piece this weekend by Leon Weiseltier, “Letter of Recommendation: Turner Classic Movies,” the author writes, hopefully:

When disappointment has brought you low, or sadness has colonized you, or fear has conquered your imagination, you experience a contraction of your horizon. Your sense of possibility is damaged and even abolished. Pain is a monopolist. The most urgent thing, therefore, is to restore a more various understanding of what life holds, of its true abundance, so that the bleakness in which you find yourself is not all you know. The way to break the grip of sorrow and dread is to introduce another claimant on consciousness, to crowd it out with other stimulations from the world. Sadness can never be retired completely, because there is always a basis in reality for it. But you can impede its progress by diversifying your mind.

So do that. Diversify your mind. See the hills and the valleys for what they really are. Solve a crisis. Make progress.

Will do same.

As ever, with love and deep gratitude for your goodness in reading along these four years, I remain,

Yours &ct,

Miss O’


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