Monday, May 26, 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day

How about we do this, on one of the first Memorial Day celebrations since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell? How about we remember another group of honored soldiers I still don't hear anybody talking about in the usual patriotic buzzword-filled emotional Memorial Day speeches? How about we remember those other fallen heroes many would still neither honor nor claim?

Let us pause in memory of those many LGBT men and women in uniform who silently served and silently gave their lives for our country, who remained closeted while they served, because until now they could not be proudly out and proudly serve.

Let us honor those living LGBT veterans who wanted nothing more than to serve their country, but who were denied their right to do so, and were discharged early and dishonorably when their sexual orientation was discovered.

Let us honor those LGBT soldiers who gave everything they had for their country, even while their country would not give them equal rights at home.

Let us honor those other veterans who died when they returned home, some by their own hand after being hounded throughout their service and their lives by prejudice, some by neglect because ignored and invisible, those for whom it is too late to offer living honors, for whom all we can give now is a wreath. For some of these, let us bow our heads in the knowledge that that they took their own lives once discharged for being gay or lesbian, because they could not lead the only life they loved, and could make no other life for themselves. Let us remember these lost ones, so that no future veterans may be driven to such extremes.

Let us honor and remember all of these good veterans, who also served out of love and duty, even when it was hardest. They gave honor even when it was not given to them, these genuine, true, proud warriors who put others before themselves, who chose to put duty before personal honor, and who sometimes sacrificed everything just so they could serve. They served valiantly and courageously, not because it was easy but because it was hard.

Let us remember their service with pride and with some small amount of shame, for they were poorly used. When they were dishonorably discharged for being gay and lesbian, it was not they who had no honor; it was those who discharged them, for no other reason than their being LGBT, who showed dishonor. Let us remember this not to cast blame, but so that we never treat them, or each other, or ourselves, so poorly again.

Let us honor these great men and women. Let us remember their sacrifice. Let us never forget.

never forgotten
those who served so silently
because forbidden

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day 2014: Flags of Memory

Flags of Memory

A short film depicting flags that are on display from Memorial Day till Fourth of July, Veterans Cemetery. This is an annual tradition that I love, evoking memory in a beautiful and affirming way.

Video and still photography in color, B&W, and infrared, & editing by Arthur Durkee
©2014 AP Durkee. All Rights Reserved.

This short film is my Memorial Day tribute to veterans and soldiers, fallen and living alike. This is one day we set aside to remember service and sacrifice: let us not forget these things during the rest of the year.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Harvey Milk Day

Happy Birthday to Harvey Milk, and also to his legacy.

A couple of years ago, I was inspired, and I'm sure I was one among many, by the anniversary of Harvey Milk's death, to write a piece of music based on his words, and in his honor. I chose to set to music, for a capella male chorus, words from his famous late speeches and recordings. The music was premiered approximately one year ago, in concert.

I share it here in continuous celebration of the life and legacy of Harvey Milk.

Words by Harvey Milk
Music by Arthur Durkee
Performed by Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus, Madison, WI
dir. by Ken Forney

You Gotta Give 'Em Hope    

I know that you can't live on hope alone.
But without it, life is not worth living.
And you— and you— and you gotta give 'em hope.

Hope will never be silent.

I cannot say enough what these words means to me: Hope will never be silent. I set these words to music, more than any other, in my piece. It is the refrain. You gotta give 'em hope—hope will never be silent. That is the message of the music. If I am at all a good composer, I hope that I have made the words come alive for you.

I am not by nature a positive thinker, a deeply hopeful person, or a Pollyanna optimist. Despite what many people who know me think, I am also not, therefore, a person who is by nature a negative thinker, or a cynic, or a pessimist. I am none of those. What I am not, however, is blindly or thoughtlessly optimistic, or a positive thinker who ignores reality. If you look at the record of history, you can see that hope is one of the most important dynamos of change. But it is not blind hope, it is activist and effective hope. It is the kind of hope that Harvey Milk embodied: laughing hope, refusal to despair, willingness to speak out in opposition to oppression, even thoughtless and ignorant but otherwise unintentional oppression. He could have despaired. He did not. He never gave up. He inspired many to keep fighting for what was right, past every obstacle, even past threats of death, and actual murder.

If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.
Burst down the closet doors once and for all,
and stand up and start to fight!

Harvey Milk continues to inspire me. For me, his words are a beacon of hope. And I struggle with hope. Hope doesn't easily to me—because all too often the kind of hope that is presented to me is toxic hope, built on fantasies and expectations, that in the end leads only to more disappointment and suffering. That's not the kind of hope Harvey Milk teaches me to follow: he teaches me to follow difficult hope. Earned hope. Hope that has been earned by struggle, and by an occasionally stubborn unwillingness to give in to all-too-available despair. I often struggle with this. Despair comes all to easily to someone who has been through the dark night of the soul, and who is (hopefully) intelligent enough to observe and report on life as it is, not just as we wish it was. Harvey Milk teaches me clear-eyed hope. Hope that is real because it acknowledges suffering, and is built on experience rather than fantasy or ideology. Harvey Milk gives me hope.

This is why I wrote this music.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Oracular Advice of the Morning

The oracular advice of the morning recommends that I slow down, take a few deep breaths, and not try to do so much. The irony of this, for me, is that I constantly feel like I'm not getting enough done, because it takes me so much longer to get things done than it used to, and than it does for everyone else. But then I have to remind myself, and struggle to be patient with, the context.

When I was in Arches National Park in Utah last year, there was a strenuous hike on a challenging trail that I wanted to do. I couldn't do it, even though I wanted to. I got halfway along that journey, then I had to stop and rest for awhile, and turn back. I very suddenly ran out of steam, which can still happen. I sat in the shade of a dramatically wind-shaped tree (which I later made photos of, and even later painted a portrait of) for awhile, feeling sorry for myself, while both younger and older hikers hurried past me in both directions, in the 106 F degree heat.

And I imagined a dialogue with a younger, stronger, healthier man—perhaps from that couple in their 20s going by right now, perhaps a younger aspect of myself—in which I had come to some sort of peace with my journey. The younger asks the older if he can make it to the top, and the older says no, go on without me. The younger, who expresses concern, asks if that's really okay. The older man, who realizes the truth even as he speaks it, says: I was sick for over twenty years. I almost died. That I managed to hike this far up this mountain, even though I didn't get any further, is a miracle. That I'm here right now, even this far up the mountain, only halfway along this trail, is amazing. I am amazed that I have come even this far.

And that's true.

I constantly deal with feeling impatient about how little I can do, compared to my friends. I still have days of suddenly having no energy, for no reason, like I used to when I was sick. (Like I did yesterday.) I still have to remind myself that I might now at last have the strength for "normal" activity for a few days in a row, but then I must rest. Oracles aside, today has to be a rest day. I don't have a choice.

Yes, my garden looks ragged (any friend who wants to come visit and help me with that will be treated to a fabulous meal as reward), yes I have some paperwork and other mentally-engaged work to do this week that takes me twice as long as anyone else to get done, and so on, and so on. Ironically I am being told to take a break, and all I can do, despite brain fog, is worry about what I am not getting done.

Yes, I know, waste of energy. But before you throw more new age positive thinking aphorisms at me, well intended perhaps but clueless and ignorant of what I've actually experienced, just remember: YOU don't have to deal with the aftermath of a lifelong illness that almost killed you, so shut up about what you think I should be able to do. That I'm here at all is a miracle. That I've climbed even this far back up that cliffside trail towards something you call "normal life" is nothing short of miraculous. (I say this not only to the well-intentioned friend, but also to the voices in my head.)

I'm just going to sit here for awhile, sip my tea, and enjoy the view.

Maybe I will never get to the end of that trail. Maybe I will never be able to see the view for myself from on top of the mountain. Maybe all I will ever be able to see is the view of the opposite cliff from my vantage halfway up the canyonside trail.

And that's amazing. Look at those rock shapes! And see over there, you walked right past those windflowers and petroglyphs on your rush to get to the top! I'm stopping and taking ten and looking around me right now. I might never get to the top of this mountain trail. And someday I might. Just not today, maybe not for a few years more.

Meanwhile, the view is pretty amazing from right here.

Now, hike on, and leave me in peace, right here, right now.

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Gathered Leaves

Recent journal entries of varying profundity, somewhat at random:

One of the most important, yet unnumbered, rules of wizardry:

You are required to leave the world a finer place than it was when you found it. Always work to make the world a finer place.

Your constant adversary is entropy. That long slide into the dark.

As one wizard once said, Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas)

Someone, perhaps someone who doesn't even know you, gets it into their head that you're an asshole.
So they start treating you as if you were an asshole.
They act like an asshole towards you.
In self-defense you start responding to them like an asshole, because they're acting like an asshole.
Then they point their finder at you and shout, "Look! I said you were an asshole, and you are!"
Because now they have pushed you into acting just the way they expected you to act.

The name for this process is:

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

And that, dear friends, is the danger of having expectations in the absence of experience or data.

At some point I suppose people will figure out that merely stating the obvious does not constitute an actual revelation.

That doesn't mean it's not a personal epiphany to the person who just had it. And when said person takes their epiphany to their spiritual master, who then laughs, "well, duh," then a certain amount of humility is in order.

Because what's really toxic amongst seekers after personal growth and/or enlightenment is spiritual ambition and spiritual hubris. And most of the time we don't even know we're doing it.

As the Zen masters have said, Ambition in seeking enlightenment will prevent you from achieving enlightenment. Just sit there!

In India, there is a Hindu tradition that comes out of the belief that the Divine exists in all of us, in everything, in everyone, all the time.

A person who needs to talk to the Divine, who just needs to be heard, for whatever is bothering them, will go up to a stranger, and ask "Will you be God for me?"

Which means, that the one asked will sit and listen, standing in for that person's God, as the person pours out their soul and heart to their Divine. (Its not always out of desperation or something bad, by the way.) This is always meant to be a temporary job, not a permanent one. The person is asking to talk to their God through a channel of another person, since the Divine Immanence is in everything and everyone.

We all sometimes need a Face of God that we can personally connect with. Most people connect better to an image of the Divine (what Joseph Campbell called the Masks of God) that they can relate to, that they feel they can talk to directly, and be heard. Westerners who discover this tradition in Hindu India are often amazed; but if you think about it, this isn't radically different than praying at the foot of a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The main difference is that in the Abrahamic religions God is thought to be transcendent, while in India God is thought it be immanent and transcendent.

As the stand-in for God, you don't have to do anything but listen, and listen with your heart. The gods behind all of reality, behind us, will hear. When the person who asked you to be God for them are done, you bless them, as God. If they ask God for advice, all you have to do is get yourself out of the way and let the Divine speak through you. Speak from your heart, and it will be true.

Anyway, this tradition always seems to work, and the person gets what they need. After the speaking to God is done, both people get up, feeling blessed, and depart, probably never to see each other again.

Any attempts to ascribe simplistic explanations of cause and effect to events in dreamtime are doomed to equivocacy.

First, because in dreamtime, time itself is neither linear nor narrative. Second, because in dreamtime, spacerime is malleable and non-relativistic. Third, because simplistic explanations of anything are usually just wrong, anyway.

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