Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I have been younger in October

Here's a poem from one of my favorite poets, W.S. Merwin:

The Love of October

"A child looking at ruins grows younger 
but cold
and wants to wake to a new name.
I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows
and the wren laughs in the early shade now
come again shining glance in your good time
naked air late morning
my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun."

-   W. S. Merwin,  The Love of October

Monday, October 21, 2019

On the crazy variety of my present reading

My Modernity in Literature class is currently reading  Slaughterhouse Five  by Kurt Vonnegut.

I loved this book when I read it fifty years ago.  Today I am reading it for the fourth or fifth time, for this class, and I understand it on so many deeper levels than I did at 21. 

I am reading Beloved by Toni Morrison  for a women's book discussion group to which I belong, in Gettysburg.  First reading for me,  and it is very slow going.  It's revelatory and gut-wrenching, and beautifully written.

Then, on the recommendation of an old teacher/friend, I am slogging my way through the Mueller Report.  I knew much of it  ( as much as I have read, which isn't even halfway) from other readings and editorials and the redoubtable Rachel Maddow, but reading it pulls out some facts and stun me.

 and then, there's Volume 4 of the Voyager ESL series - Reading and Writing for Today's Adults.
I am working through this with B,  down at the Frederick Literacy Center.  We've been at it for more than a year, and she is very faithful and bright.  She also works full time in Housekeeping at one of the local hotels, so her time is limited.  I love working with her.

More on all of these later.  Must go.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

October in my world

The aromatic aster is in full bloom right now, and the bees just love it.   That's a lantana in front; even though it's an annual and I have to plant it every year, it's worth it because of the butterflies.

the bees love the Anise Hyssop, too.

The Butterfly Weed is just about done, but it has been beautiful this year.

"Little Joe" pyeweed is done now, too,  but what a favorite with the Swallowtail Butterflies!

Oriental Lilies and Hosta, back in mid-June

Yellow Swallowtail on native Phlox, late July

One of the many "volunteer" sunflowers

Now, on this rainy Sunday, with the temperature at 55, we have not yet had frost, but as Shakespeare said,  "Summer's lease has all too short a date."

Now I'm drinking tea and burning a pumpkin spice candle someone gave me, and looking at some hypnotic Autumn photographs online.

Barred Owl    photo by Deb Campbell

full October moon     photographer unknown

Back to Trump

I can't help myself.  Whenever I read an editorial or essay that supports my own perceptions of Trump,  I just have to share it here.   Even so, it is depressing but true:

Why Trump can’t change, no matter what the consequences are
Tony Schwartz

In April 2016, on the verge of securing the Republican nomination for president, Donald Trump announced that his “campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I.” At a rally around the same time, he told supporters that “at some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored,” but “I just don’t know that I wanted to do it quite yet.” 
When Trump was elected, some critics held out hope that he would grow in office, as other presidents have. No one believes that’s possible anymore. After Mick Mulvaney took over as Trump’s third chief of staff last December, he let it be known that his approach would be to “let Trump be Trump.” Mulvaney was simply succumbing to reality. As Trump himself has said, he is essentially the same person today that he was at age 7. He has his story, and he’s sticking to it.

Growth and development are about seeing more. The wider, deeper and longer our perspective, the more variables we can consider — and the more capable we become. Likewise, the more responsibility we take for our behaviors, and the less we blame others for our shortcomings, the more power we have to influence our destiny. 
None of this is possible for Trump.

I got to know Trump three decades ago when he hired me to write “The Art of the Deal.” Although the book became a bestseller, working with him was deeply dispiriting, given his almost complete self-absorption, the shortness of his attention span and the fact that he lied as a matter of course, without apparent guilt. 
After that, I tried to steer my life in a direction as far from Trump as possible, and the next book I wrote was titled “What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America,” an exploration of people who had found success and satisfaction in ways vastly different than Trump’s focus on wealth, power and fame. In 2003, I founded the Energy Project to help leaders and their employees pursue healthier, happier, more productive and more meaningful lives. We’ve helped organizations ranging from Google and Pfizer to Save the Children and the Los Angeles Police Department.  

As part of our work, we encourage clients to ask themselves two key questions in every challenging situation: “What am I not seeing here?” and “What’s my responsibility in this?” These questions emerged from studying developmental psychology. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development describes four increasingly complex stages of thinking that we move through in childhood. As we grow up and become less self-centered, our perspective gets progressively bigger and more complex. Thinkers such as Robert KeganWilliam Torbert and Susanne Cook-Greuter have described the potential for further growth as adults. Cook-Greuter’s framework, for example, refers to “nine stages of increasing embrace,” characterized both by deeper and deeper self-awareness and the capacity to take into account a wider world.

Those theories teach us that humility enables learning and growth — but Trump confuses humility with humiliation and defaults instead to hubris and grandiosity. “I alone can fix it,” he told us when he was nominated for president. On multiple  occasions since, describing virtually any subject, he has begun with “Nobody knows more about ____ than I do.”
In reality, Trump’s worldview remains remarkably narrow, shallow and short-term. It’s narrow because he is so singularly self-absorbed, which has been true throughout his life. In the 18 months I worked with him, I can’t remember a single time Trump asked me a question about myself. I never saw him engage for more than a cursory couple of minutes with any of his three young children. 

Trump’s knowledge and understanding remain shallow because he resists reflection and introspection and struggles mightily to focus. When I set out to interview him for “The Art of the Deal” in 1986, he was unable to keep his attention on any subject for more than a few minutes. “I don’t like talking about the past,” he would tell me. “It’s over.” After a dozen interview attempts, I finally gave up and settled instead for piecing the book together by sitting in Trump’s office listening in on his constant stream of brief phone calls.

His need for instant gratification prevents him from considering the longer-term consequences of his actions. Instead, he simply reacts in the moment. This helps to explain why he moves into overdrive whenever he feels attacked. On Wednesday alone, as the furor around him grew, Trump tweeted furiously, more than 20 times in all. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he declared in one post, after the House speaker walked out of a meeting with Trump that Democrats described as a presidential meltdown. “Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”
The negative qualities we ascribe to others are often those we find it most intolerable to see in ourselves. Throughout his adult life, Trump has viewed the world as a dark, dangerous place teeming with enemies out to get him. In the face of potential impeachment, this fear has escalated exponentially. The threat he imagines is no longer just to his fragile sense of self but, realistically, to his future as president. Any capacity Trump ever had to think clearly or calmly has evaporated. Instead, he’s devolved into anger, blame, aggression and sadistic attacks.

When people enter this “fight or flight” state, the amygdala — the lower part of our brain known colloquially as “fear central” — takes over from our prefrontal cortex. This wasn’t much of an issue when I worked with Trump because he was riding high. Now, like a drowning man, all that matters to him is survival, no matter how much collateral damage his behaviors cause. 

The only wall Trump has built is around himself, to keep his own insecurity and vulnerability at bay. Ironically, his defense consistently produces precisely what it’s meant to protect against. That is just what happened when the Wall Street Journal broke the story of his attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden. In an impulsive attempt to defend himself, Trump released the transcript of their conversation, which substantiated the very point he was seeking to undercut and led to the current impeachment inquiry in Congress. 

The same thing happened when Trump suddenly decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. After even his most loyal Republican supporters condemned the action, he reacted with anger, singling out Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of his most vociferous defenders. Once it became clear that the withdrawal was a terrible mistake, Trump reacted by writing a crude, bullying letter to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatening to destroy Turkey’s economy.  

Trump’s behavior is an extreme version of what we observe every day in our work at the Energy Project. Facing threats to their businesses and uncertainty about the future, leaders instinctively double down on what’s worked best for them in the past. The problem is that any strength overused eventually becomes a liability: Confidence turns into arrogance. Courage becomes recklessness. Certainty congeals into rigidity. Authority moves toward authoritarianism. Feeling attacked and aggrieved, Trump becomes more Trumpian. 

The prerequisite to growth is the capacity to self-regulate, which frays under stress. As an antidote, we encourage our clients to practice something we call the “Golden Rule of Triggers”: Whatever you’re compelled to do, don’t. Compulsion means we’re no longer in control of how we respond, which is so often the case for Trump. But it is possible to better manage our triggers. Even a brief period of deep breathing, for example, can clear the bloodstream of the stress hormone cortisol and return control to the prefrontal cortex. 
To grow, we need an inner observer — the ability to stand back from our emotions rather than simply acting them out. Trump is a prisoner of his poor self-control, his inability to observe himself and his limited perspective. Refusing to accept blame or admit uncertainty is a habit he developed early in life to protect himself from a brutal father, whose withering criticism he had watched drive his older brother, Fred Jr., to alcoholism and an early death.  In Trump’s mind, if he is not seen as all good, then he is all bad. If he’s not viewed as 100 percent right, then he is 100 percent wrong.

Growth is possible only when we can see ourselves not as right or wrong, good or bad, strong or weak, but as all of who we are. We won’t change Trump, and he won’t change himself, but we can grow ourselves. The more we see and acknowledge — our best, our worst and all the shades in between — the less we feel compelled to defend our own value, and the more value we can add in the world.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

October poems

An October Afterglow     John Atkinson Grimshaw

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn; --
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.”

― Thomas Hood

Fall in Adirondack Park, New York State         photo by Melissa Nehls Buechner

Autumn Colors

"At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

"The sweet calm sunshine of October, now

    Warms the low spot; upon its grassy mold
The pur0ple oak-leaf falls; the birchen bough
    drops its bright spoil like arrow-heads of gold."

-   William Cullen Bryant

"How innocent were these Trees, that in
Mist-green May, blown by a prospering breeze,
Stood garlanded and gay;
Who now in sundown glow
Of serious color clad confront me with their show
As though resigned and sad,
Trees, who unwhispering stand umber, bronze, gold;
Pavilioning the land for one grown tired and old;
Elm, chestnut, aspen and pine, I am merged in you,
Who tell once more in tones of time,
Your foliaged farewell."

-   Siegfried Sassoon, October Trees

Thursday, October 17, 2019

All roads lead to Putin

That's what Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was saying to Donald Trump when this photo was taken.

Here's something else that I like:

and another one:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

I wake in the middle of the night

worried about our country.  I really shouldn't watch Rachel Maddow or, in the morning, listen to Morning Joe.  And then I read some frightening posts on Facebook like this one:

( it's very long so I will edit out parts of it)

Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America
By Lynn Parramore

If Americans really knew what (James)Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.
That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.

...Buchanan, MacLean notes, was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor?
In thinking about how people make political decisions and choices, Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage. In an interview cited by MacLean, the economist observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly assumed that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. Buchanan vehemently disagreed — that was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to “tear down.” His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as “public choice.”
Buchanan’s view of human nature was distinctly dismal. Adam Smith saw human beings as self-interested and hungry for personal power and material comfort, but he also acknowledged social instincts like compassion and fairness. Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. Crediting people with altruism or a desire to serve others was “romantic” fantasy: politicians and government workers were out for themselves, and so, for that matter, were teachers...

...The people who needed protection were property owners, and their rights could only be secured though constitutional limits to prevent the majority of voters from encroaching on them, an idea Buchanan lays out in works like Property as a Guarantor of Liberty (1993). MacLean observes that Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.
In 1965 the economist launched a center dedicated to his theories at the University of Virginia, which later relocated to George Mason University. MacLean describes how he trained thinkers to push back against the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate America’s public schools and to challenge the constitutional perspectives and federal policy that enabled it. She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country.

...Suppressing voting, changing legislative processes so that a normal majority could no longer prevail, sowing public distrust of government institutions— all these were tactics toward the goal. But the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.
Gravy Train to Oligarchy
MacLean explains that Virginia’s white elite and the pro-corporate president of the University of Virginia, Colgate Darden, who had married into the DuPont family, found Buchanan’s ideas to be spot on. In nurturing a new intelligentsia to commit to his values, Buchanan stated that he needed a “gravy train,” and with backers like Charles Koch and conservative foundations like the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, others hopped aboard. Money, Buchanan knew, can be a persuasive tool in academia. His circle of influence began to widen.

...With Koch’s money and enthusiasm, Buchanan’s academic school evolved into something much bigger. By the 1990s, Koch realized that Buchanan’s ideas — transmitted through stealth and deliberate deception, as MacLean amply documents — could help take government down through incremental assaults that the media would hardly notice. The tycoon knew that the project was extremely radical, even a “revolution” in governance, but he talked like a conservative to make his plans sound more palatable.

...Most Americans haven’t seen what’s coming.
MacLean notes that when the Kochs’ control of the GOP kicked into high gear after the financial crisis of 2007-08, many were so stunned by the shock-and-awe” tactics of shutting down government, destroying labor unions, and rolling back services that meet citizens’ basic necessities that few realized that many leading the charge had been trained in economics at Virginia institutions, especially George Mason University. Wasn’t it just a new, particularly vicious wave of partisan politics?
It wasn’t. MacLean convincingly illustrates that it was something far more disturbing.
MacLean is not the only scholar to sound the alarm that the country is experiencing a hostile takeover that is well on its way to radically, and perhaps permanently, altering the society. Peter Temin, former head of the MIT economics department, INET grantee, and author of The Vanishing Middle Class, as well as economist Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon and author of The One Percent Solution, have provided eye-opening analyses of where America is headed and why. MacLean adds another dimension to this dystopian big picture, acquainting us with what has been overlooked in the capitalist right wing’s playbook.

...Buchanan was not a dystopian novelist. He was a Nobel Laureate whose sinister logic exerts vast influence over America’s trajectory. 

...The rules of the game are now clear.
Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the Trump-obsessed media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics. The goal is to create a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution in favor of corporations and the wealthy in ways that Buchanan would have heartily approved.

“The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.”

Nobody can say we weren’t warned. 


Sunday, October 6, 2019

I fear the vast dimensions of eternity

The great Irish poet Ciaran Carson died today.  He was 70.  Here is one of his poems:

I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.
I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be.
I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer's fee.
I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.

Ciaran Carson

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Every day, another worry

Peter Vilhelm - The Open Door

October first is an open door to the new season. Here, it was 90 degrees today, but there's a promise of rain and a change to cooler tomorrow.  The world is still more green than golden, but not for long.

Meanwhile, I worry about our country.  Various political pundits have described the president's behavior like this:

from Mike Giglio:

The key was its simplicity: By channeling the details of Trump’s misconduct into a formal complaint and then feeding it into the intelligence community’s system, the whistle-blower has thrown a wrench into Trump’s heretofore insurmountable deflect-by-chaos machine. As the scandal escalates, Trump and his White House seem to be in increasing disarray. He released a damaging reconstructed transcript of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, which left even some of his Republican allies scratching their heads. He threatened the whistle-blower’s sources in front of a room full of U.S. diplomatic staff. His communications team mistakenly emailed a strategy memo to Democratic lawmakers, then tried to recall the message. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is also implicated in the scandal, has tried to drag the State Department down with him, while also embarking on confusing rants in conversations with reporters.
Despite the White House’s best efforts, the fact that the whistle-blower filed a complaint through proper government channels has made it harder for the usual attacks about traitors and dirty tricks to stick. Michael Atkinson, the inspector general who handled the complaint, and Joseph Maguire, Trump’s recent appointment as acting director of national intelligence, have already come to the whistle-blower’s defense.

from McKay Coppins:

As his presidency has progressed, the victories have become fewer and farther between while the din of disapproval has grown louder. Still, for Trump, thethreat of impeachment represents a new frontier in haterdom—and it seems likely to deepen his sense of personal grievance. If history is any guide, Americans can expect even more volatile behavior from a president already prone to volatility.

from the meme makers:

and this:

The corruption is so wide and deep, it seems impossible to eradicate.  
Two years ago , Howard Dean said that Trump was conducting a criminal enterprise from the White House.   Each day, I believe him more.

How will this all turn out?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Equal Dark, Equal Light

First day of Fall... the Autumn Equinox, is a hot dry day where I  live.

Here are some poems by other writers  to celebrate it:

"Lord, it is time.
The summer was very big.
Lay thy shadow on the sundials, and on the meadows let the winds go loose.
Command the last fruits that they shall be full; give them another two more southerly days,
press them on to fulfillment and drive the last sweetness into the heavenly wine."

-  Rainer Maria Rilke

"Equal dark, equal light
Flow in Circle, deep insight
Blessed Be, Blessed Be
The transformation of energy!
So it flows, out it goes
Three-fold back it shall be
Blessed Be, Blessed Be
The transformation of energy!"

-  Night An'Fey, Transformation of Energy

"Smoke hangs like haze over harvested fields,

The gold of stubble, the brown of turned earth
And you walk under the red light of fall
The scent of fallen apples, the dust of threshed grain
The sharp, gentle chill of fall.
Here as we move into the shadows of autumn
The night that brings the morning of spring
Come to us, Lord of Harvest
Teach us to be thankful for the gifts you bring us ..."
-  Autumn Equinox Ritual

"Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas."

-  Edward Dowden, In September

Coming of Autumn        David Hemminger

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

My new book!

My ninth book of poetry , Not Only/But Also, was released this week.
The publisher is Duck Lake Books!
Here is the first poem in the book:

What You Can’t Know When You’re Young

How the big girl with the baby face
turns into the woman with bags under her eyes
and the fine skins lined with eyelash thin wrinkles.
How you become the sandwich memory keeper
who tells your cousin’s children about your grandmother
and knows that someday it will be important to them.
How the details of weddings and funerals,
who was there and what they said,
what songs they sang by the piano in the basement,
how those things matter.
How it matters what those Mennonite wives and mothers, sisters in law,
wore and said in the kitchen while they got the meal together,
always jello and creamed corn on the menu.

You can’t know these things when you are young:
how the necks of women become crepe draped,
how you can see the laughing eighteen year old
behind the laughing sixty six year old:
same person—same person.

Here's what my poet friend Kate Daniels said about my book:
In Anne Higgins’ new collection, Not Only, but Also, I love the forthright speech she uses to conjure a late life exegesis of nearly seven decades of lived experience. Using ordinary language and mundane settings, Higgins carries us with her to the many thin places she encounters in daily life.  “A humming in the silent air” is what she calls those mysterious moments when mortal and eternal time temporarily divide, and give a fleeting glimpse of what lies just beneath, beyond the surfaces of daily life.  After a long life of religious vocation and devotion to poetry, this poet finds thin places almost anywhere: in line at Starbucks, a child’s chalk drawing of a hopscotch grid, “a box of Whitman’s floral mints,” the surprising, untamed sprawl of Emily Dickinson’s handwriting, or in the “chewed up lung throats” of prostitutes “calling hoarsely” to their customers. “All our life we’ve walked through it,” she says in “We’re Being Watched,” “The border between this world/And the other one.”
                                                                                    Kate Daniels

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, here are the ordering details: