Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Still Walking Home

"... Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls ..."

(Bob Dylan, 1963)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

To Point Whitehorn and home again


Several friends had told me that Point Whitehorn is a magical place that can now be visited fairly easily.  In recent days, I have longed to be by salt water again and so I arranged to meet a friend at the trailhead yesterday.  There is a 3/4 mile trail through a lush forest of mixed evergreens and deciduous trees, filled with summer birdsong.  As the winding trail meets with the bluffs, there are spectacular lookouts and finally a set of wooden stairs down to the narrow beach with its glacial erratics,  cobblestones,  massive driftwood and an abundance of shelters created out of smaller pieces of driftwood.  The morning was windy and cool but not uncomfortably so.  Only a few people had come to walk on the beach and look out at the expanse of salt water with islands in the distance.  My friend and I talked through our masks  This is only the third time I have arranged to get together with a friend since March, although I have talked at a safe social distance with friends and neighbors when I go out walking in my neighborhood.  Point Whitehorn is a 30-minute drive from my home.  My friend lives close to Point Whitehorn.

Looking north

Looking south

Looking up to see one of the many Bald Eagles

Returning home to where I continue to shelter in place, missing the presence of Oboe after having her lovely company for the past 15 years

I know I'll be returning to Point Whitehorn again and again.  Beginning with my childhood in California, I have found shelter in the beauty of our mother earth.

Be safe.  Be well.  Be loved.

By going and coming, a bird weaves its nest.
-- African (Ashanti)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Oboe (2005-2020)

Beautiful sweet talkative Oboe died peacefully.  Our animal friends are dear to us.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day 2020 / One thing leading to another

Although this photo taken in the late 1990s doesn't show it, my relationship with my father was difficult.  I was named after his beloved mother.  I'm grateful that the last time I visited him in 2003 was peaceful.  Early this morning, sobered by reading about yet another shooting, this time in Minneapolis, I went to Google maps to see where the shooting occurred.  It was not far from where George Floyd was murdered and within walking distance of the house where my father was born in 1914, a few months before World War I began, and it was within walking distance of the cemetery where my father's parents, many of my aunts and uncles, my oldest male cousin, and my mother and father are buried.

When I looked at the cemetery website, I was surprised to find this:


In the last few weeks a friend sent me a copy of Day Schildkret's book about creating ephemeral mandalas from natural materials gathered on early morning walks.  I had not heard of him before.  I've used some of Day Shildkret's ideas in connection with the current mandala I am working on.  When I was walking with a friend earlier this week in a wooded park within our city, we saw several morning altars.  My friend had not heard of morning altars and took photos of them to send to her grandchildren in New York City and Boston.  On my way to visit the grave of a friend who died last December, I made a very simple morning altar from the abundance of tree cones that covered the ground near the cemetery office that was open by appointment only due to COVID-19.

I am grateful that Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods" brought me healing in connection with my father and R in time for Father's Day 2020.   I am sobered by the persistence of war and gun violence and moved by the persistence of human beings in our longing for peace.

Thanks to this blog for:

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.  [note:  am's emphasis]
Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?
Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our Fathers what is left?
* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was
originally published in a longer version titled “Forgiving Our
Fathers” in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging
Loose Press in 1998

Friday, June 19, 2020

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Listening to Michael Dempsey: A Black American Vietnam Veteran

It took some time to read the transcript following this long interview with Michael Dempsey from the Courage to Resist website.  If you have the time, I recommend listening to it or reading the transcript.

An excerpt from the July 1, 2019 podcast:

Michael Dempsey: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you this. There has never been a movie made that comes close to what war is. The closet thing that I’ve seen was “Saving Private Ryan,” and I have yet to watch that movie, because that opening scene, where they’re getting off, they’re landing on the beach, and those bullets are hitting?

It’s like, that brings everything back to me, and I can’t stand it. I can’t. I’ve tried to watch that movie three times now, and I’ve even tried watching it, like, from in the middle. And I’m watching it in the middle, and that guy is standing in that window, and that sniper shoots him? You know, and it’s like, yeah. I go, “I can’t watch this.”
I would say, that is the closest thing to reality about war that I’ve seen. Yeah. This laborer said to me one day, he said, “Are you seeing a psychiatrist?” And I said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” He said, “You have post-traumatic stress disorder.” I said, “What the hell are you talking about? And how do you know that?”
No, I didn’t. Actually, I had a longtime girlfriend for like seven years, and one night, she told me, she said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She said, “I wake up in the middle of the night, you got your alarms, you got your hands around my throat, you’re yelling and screaming.”
And she said, “Sometimes you’re fighting with people while you’re sleeping, you’re throwing punches and kicking,” and she said, “I can’t do this anymore,” and she left me. [See am's note below **]
I still— Again, I didn’t realize what was going on, and it was actually 30 years to the day that I got out of the service that I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration. He told me… He talked to me for… He interviewed me for 15 minutes, and said, “You have severe post-traumatic stress disorder.”

While R was on the plane on his way to Vietnam in 1970, he wrote his first letter to me and began drawing on the backs of the envelopes.  It took me three days of letters to realize what he was spelling out.  Before he left for Vietnam, we committed to writing each other every day, if possible.  We kept that commitment.  

**A few nights after R returned from Vietnam, R punched me in the face in the midst of a nightmare.  When he woke up, he was devastated by what he had done to me.  Since then I've come to understand how common our experience was.  When R died in 2008, he was blind in one eye, just like Toggle in the Doonesbury strips in 2009:

My art work from the 1970s through 2008 was the best way I could express what I couldn't speak of in words.

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.  Fifty years ago, I felt absolutely alone with my experience of being against the war and loving a veteran who was against the war before he went to Vietnam and remained against war until the day he died.  I've come to understand that we were never alone.  I may not watch "Da 5 Bloods."  Maybe all I need to do is be grateful for this photo taken in connection with the film.   For me, it says something hopeful, something beyond words.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Time Has Come Today

Watching the trailer for "Da 5 Bloods" was startling for many reasons, one of which is that in one of the documentary film clips that Spike Lee used, the white soldier wearing dark glasses and sitting shoulder to shoulder with a black soldier looked so much like my R that it took my breath away.

R was in training to be a helicopter mechanic at the Army school in Newport News, Virginia, in 1969 when Jimi Hendrix was singing at Woodstock in the context of the war in Vietnam.  R and his Army friends thought about going to Woodstock to see Jimi Hendrix. 

After watching the trailer and becoming aware of what I was feeling, I decided that it was probably not a good idea for me to watch "Da 5 Bloods" now that I am conscious of what I need to do to take care of myself, having learned how to do that as a result of years of counseling.  I've come a long way since 1970, but it doesn't take much to bring back that troubled time in my life and to re-traumatize myself. 

Although I watched the first night of the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War, I was unable to continue watching.  It is occurring to me that it is because Ken Burns wasn't a soldier in Vietnam that his vision didn't match the vision I have as a result of the letters R wrote to me every day that he was in Vietnam.  Ken Burns' vision didn't ring true for me.  A Vietnam veteran on a hotline I called in the early 1990s as a result of my acute distress in connection with the First Gulf War told me that I was a veteran, too, because I had lived with R during the traumatic months immediately after his return from Vietnam.  

Oliver Stone was a soldier in Vietnam.  When I watched "Platoon" twice in 1987 and once again years later, I came as close as I ever have to experiencing the nightmare that R and so many other men of my generation had experienced.  

Tim O'Brien was a soldier in Vietnam.  His book of short stories, The Things They Carried, brought me more understanding of the traumatic experience of war.

The Sorrow of War, a novel by Bao Ninh, gave me a much-needed Vietnamese perspective on living in a war-torn country for one's entire life.

Spike Lee wasn't a soldier in Vietnam but, as I write, it is occurring to me that although he was not a soldier in Vietnam, he is a black man who lives with the ongoing violence and threats of violence that have been directed at black people for generations in the United States.  For that reason, I am going to find a way to watch "Da 5 Bloods" and listen to his message.

Last night, with just a few minutes of searching on YouTube, I found the complete documentary footage of the soldiers using a gun as a marijuana pipe.  The documentary was filmed in 1970 which is the year R was in Vietnam, but the soldiers filmed were on a base 50 miles northeast of Saigon.  R was much farther north, about 50 miles from what was then called North Vietnam.  Although the soldier with the dark glasses looked just like R in the first few frames, the following frames made it clear to me that it was not R.  There is another soldier who also looked like R in a single frame but not at all like R otherwise.  

For years after 1971, I would be stunned and sometimes frightened when I would see a man in a public place who reminded me of R.  This happened frequently.  The bond I had with R goes deep.  It's been called a trauma bond.  R brought the violence of the war home with him on December 8, 1970, just a few months after Jimi Hendrix died.  R and I separated after he turned that violence on me five months later in May 1971 and yet, years later, I chose to be with him in the ICU of the Palo Alto VA Hospital in the week before he died in 2008.  

Oddly enough, the night after I looked closely at those YouTube images of the soldiers that Oliver Stone borrowed and reenacted in "Platoon" and which Spike Lee used in "Da 5 Bloods", R appeared in a brief vivid dream in which all that happened was that we gave each other a long warm affectionate hug.  

This blog was created in hopes that I would find, in sharing my art work and writing about it, the healing that had eluded me for so many years in connection with the war in Vietnam.  I never expected to become part of a blogging community with members in Canada and Europe as well as the United States and to see the world from so many illuminating perspectives.  I didn't know that there would be more wounds to heal.  May we all be healed from the wounds that are a part of life.  May we see the everlasting beauty.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"... As a river that flows -- Know the Way ..."

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” – Lao Tzu


I'm taking the following words out of context, but they are the words that come to mind when I look at this water flowing to sea level:

Honest and clear -- Feel the change
As a river that flows -- Know the Way

(lyrics by Larry Beckett and Tim Buckley, from "Goodbye and Hello" -- 1967)

Saturday, June 13, 2020


Now the time has come (Time)
There are things to realize (Time)
Time has come today (Time)
Time has come today (Time)

(lyrics from "Time Has Come Today, by Willie and Joe Chambers of The Chambers Brothers, 1966)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


There's godlike
And warlike
And strong
Like only some show
And there's sad like
And mad like
And had
Like we know
But by my life be I spirit
And by my heart be I woman
And by my eyes be I open
And by my hands be I whole
They say slowly
Brings the least shock
But no matter how slow I walk
There are traces
Empty spaces
And doors and doors of locks
But by my life be I spirit
And by my heart be I woman
And by my eyes be I open
And by my hands be I whole
You young ones
You're the next ones
And I hope you choose it well
Though you try hard
You may fall prey
To the jaded jewel
But by your lives be you spirit
And by your hearts be you women
And by your eyes be you open
And by your hands be you whole
Listen, there are waters
Hidden from us
In the maze we find them still
We'll take you to them
You take your young ones
May they take their own in turn
But by your lives be you spirit
And by your hearts be you women
And by your eyes be you open
And by your hands be you whole

Monday, June 8, 2020

Chimes of Freedom / "... the sky cracked its poems in naked wonder ..."

Look for the Osprey in the sky below the rainbow:

Chimes of Freedom
Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An' for each an' ev'ry underdog soldier in the night
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden as the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin' rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an' forsaken
Tolling for the outcast, burnin' constantly at stake
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An' the poet and the painter far behind his rightful time
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute
For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mis-titled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chained an' cheated by pursuit
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Even though a cloud's white curtain in a far-off corner flared
An' the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An' for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look
Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse
An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

-- Bob Dylan 

Youssou N'Dour:

Friday, June 5, 2020

Town Hall Transcript / "There is a change in mindset that’s taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better. That is not as a consequence of speeches by politicians. That's not the result of spotlights in news articles. That’s a direct result of the activities and organizing and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference."

Barack Obama: (00:03)
Let me start by just acknowledging…we have seen in the last several weeks, the last few months, the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. And I’m now a lot older. I’m gonna be 59 soon.
Barack Obama: (00:03)
And let me begin by acknowledging that, although all of us have been feeling pain, uncertainty, disruption, some folks have been feeling it more than others. Most of all the pain that’s been experienced by the families of George and Breonna and Ahmaud, Tony and Sean, and too many others to mention, those that we thought about during that moment of silence. To those families who’ve been directly affected by tragedy, please know that Michelle and I and the nation grieve with you, hold you in our prayers. We’re committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in memory of your sons and daughters.
Barack Obama: (00:56)
We can’t forget that even as we’re confronting the particular acts of violence that led to those losses, our nation and the world is still in the midst of a global pandemic that’s exposed the vulnerabilities of our healthcare system, but also the disparate treatment and, as a consequence the disparate impact that exists in our healthcare system, the unequal investment, the biases that have led to a disproportionate number of infections and loss of life in communities of color. In a lot of ways, what has happened over the last several weeks is challenges and structural problems here in the United States have been thrown into high relief. They are the outcomes not just of the immediate moments in time, but they’re the result of a long history of slavery and Jim Crow and red lining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague, the original sin of our society.
Barack Obama: (02:33)
In some ways, as tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends. They offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals.
Barack Obama: (03:10)
Part of what’s made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanized and activated and motivated and mobilized because historically so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people. Dr. King was a young man when he got involved. Cesar Chavez was a young man. Malcolm X was a young man. The leaders of the feminist movement were young people. Leaders of union movements were young people. The leaders of the environmental movement in this country and the movement to make sure that the LGBT community finally had a voice and was represented were young people. When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country and the talent and the voice and the sophistication that they’re displaying, and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.
Barack Obama: (04:24)
Now I want to speak directly to the young men and women of color in this country who, as [inaudible 00:04:30] just so eloquently described, have witnessed too much violence and too much debt. too often, some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you. I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter. When I go home and I look at the faces of my daughters, Sasha and Malia, and I look at my nephews and nieces, I see limitless potential that deserves to flourish and thrive. You should be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry about what’s going to happen when you walk to the store or go for a jog or are driving down the street or looking at some birds in a park.
Barack Obama: (05:20)
I hope that you also feel help hopeful, even as you may feel angry, because you have the power to make things better and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s got to change. You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful and as transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years.
Barack Obama: (05:51)
I want to acknowledge the folks in law enforcement that share the goals of re-imagining police, because there are folks out there who took their oath to serve your communities and your countries, have a tough job, and I know you’re just as outraged about tragedies in recent weeks as are many of the protesters. We’re grateful for the vast majority of you who protect and serve. I’ve been heartened to see those in law enforcement who’ve recognized, let me March along with these protestors, let me stand side by side and recognize that I want to be part of the solution and who’ve shown restraint and volunteered and engaged and listened, because you’re a vital part of the conversation. Change is going to require everybody’s participation.
Barack Obama: (06:48)
Now, when I was in office, as was mentioned, I created a task force on 21st century policing in the wake of the tragic killing of Michael Brown. That task force, which included law enforcement and community leaders and activists was charged to develop a very specific set of recommendations to strengthen public trust and foster, better working relationships between law enforcement and communities that they’re supposed to protect, even as they’re continuing to promote effective crime reduction. That report showcased a range of solutions and strategies that were proven and that were based on data and research to improve community policing and collect better data and reporting and identify and do something about implicit bias and how police were trained and reforms to use the force that police deploy in ways that increase safety rather than precipitate tragedy. That report demonstrated something that’s critical for us today.
Barack Obama: (08:03)
Most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices that we’ve seen take place at the local level. Now reform has to take place in more than 19,000 American municipalities, more than 18,000 local enforcement jurisdictions. As activists and everyday citizens raised their voices, we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about that change. It is mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police units, and that determines police practices in local communities. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide typically whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all positions. In some places they’re police community review boards with the power to monitor police conduct. Those oftentimes may be elected as well.
Barack Obama: (09:05)
The bottom line is, I’ve been hearing a little bit of chatter in the internet about voting versus protest, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action. This is not a either/or this is a both/and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented and we can monitor and make sure we’re following up on.
Barack Obama: (09:47)
Very quickly, let me just close with a couple of specific things. What can we do?
Barack Obama: (09:54)
Number one, we know there are specific evidence-based reforms that if we put in place today would build trust, save lives, would not show an increase in crime. Those are included in the 21st-century policing task force report. You can find it on Obama.org.
Barack Obama: (10:12)
Number two, a lot of mayors and local elected officials read and supported the taskforce report, but then there wasn’t enough follow through. Today, I am urging every mayor in this country to review your use of force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms. What are the specific steps you can take?
Barack Obama: (10:38)
I should add, by the way, that the original task force report was done several years ago, since that time we’ve actually collected data, in part because we implemented some of these reform ideas, so we now have more information and more data as to what works. There are organizations like Campaign Zero and Color Of Change and others that are out there highlighting what the data shows, what works, what doesn’t in terms of reducing incidents of police misconduct and violence. Let’s go ahead and start implementing those. We need mayors, county executives, others who are in positions of power to say this is a priority. This is a specific response.
Barack Obama: (11:23)
Number three, every city in this country should be a My Brother’s Keeper community because we have 250 cities, counties, tribal nations who are working to reduce the barriers and expand opportunity for boys and young men of color through programs and policy reforms, public private partnerships. Go to our website, get work with that, because it can make a difference.
Barack Obama: (11:47)
Let me just close by saying this, I’ve heard some people say that you have a pandemic, then you have these protests. This reminds people of the ’60s and the chaos and the discord and distrust throughout the country. I have to tell you, although I was very young when you had riots and protests and assassinations and discord back in the ’60s, I know enough about that history to say there is something different here.
Barack Obama: (12:31)
You look at those protests and that was a far more representative cross-section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting, and who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they had seen. That didn’t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition. The fact that recent surveys have showed that despite some protests having then been marked by the actions of some, a tiny minority that engaged in violence, as usual that got a lot of attention and a lot of focus, despite all that a majority of Americans still think those protests were justified. That wouldn’t have existed 30, 40, 50 years ago. There is a change in mindset that’s taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better. That is not as a consequences speeches by politicians. That’s not the result of spotlights in news articles. That’s a direct result of the activities and organizing and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference.
Barack Obama: (14:02)
I just have to say thank you to them and for helping to bring about this moment and just make sure that we now follow through, because at some point attention moves away, at some point protests start to dwindle in size. It’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country, and say let’s use this to finally have an impact.
Barack Obama: (14:36)
All right. Thank you, everybody. Proud of you guys. I know that we’re going to be hearing from a bunch of people who have been on the front lines on this and know a lot more than I do about it. Proud of you.
Speaker 2: (14:52)
Thank you, Mr. President.

Thank you to 37paddington for bringing President Obama's address to my attention.  

Indoor and outdoor blooms (Streptocarpus and Mimulus):