(March 2005) I thought of two more butterfly references that are so wonderful that I should have never forgotten them:
I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free—Charles Dickens
That is why you write your songs
so that someday the disgraced and wounded America
can let its butterflies tremble
and collect its emerald
without the terrifying blood
of beatings, coagulated
on the hands of the executioners and the businessmen
—Pablo Neruda, “Letter to Miguel Otera Silva, in Caraças”
Scenes from Siberiade are free-floating through my brain tonight and I keep thinking about that Alaskan cruise I want to take.
Now I’m not much of a cruise person, generally speaking—I would rather get my hands dirty doing something than put on nice clothes and sit in a dining room with strangers eating too much as canned entertainers perform to a captive audience—but I absolutely love riding on ferries and can imagine being very happy sitting on a deck with my sketchpad all the way to Alaska. Some people would find that boring but I love being on water. I love staring out at the birds and the changing ripples and the foam that sometimes appears and the seaweed and the whales and the dolphins and the occasional jumping fish and sketching them till my fingers hurt.
I was a kayaker before I ruined my shoulder and also loved dropping through air as I shot down a waterfall or paddling furiously toward that perfect V between the rocks that would allow me to shoot through a rapid into still water. Kayaking in Alaska would differ from my white-water adventures, I’m sure, but—in my mind at least—it would be similar to paddling to some of those still-water spots in the Pacific NW that you can only reach by water.
There’s an amazing bird sanctuary near the University of Washington, for example, that only paddlers can access. When I close my eyes, I imagine Alaska like that bird sanctuary. And I imagine paddling into that quiet world where birds I’ve never seen quietly explore the water with me, where I can hear the quiet sound of water lapping against the sides of my boat, where it’s serene.
But now these images from Siberiade compete with my fantasy and I’m lying here imagining loud oil-drilling equipment ruining the place before I even get there.
The language our lawmakers use to describe such decisions confounds me. And where is the outrage? Are we just satisfied to hear words that make things sound acceptable now? Have we lost any ability to read behind the lines and understand implications?
Frank Zappa once called the US government the entertainment division of the military–industrial complex. That insight sinks in more today than it has since Shrub announced that we had to attack in response to being attacked—you know, because of those infamous weapons of mass destruction...
But, hey, this is just blabbing from a liberal in a country that re-elected a man who seems to revel in being willfully ignorant, whose first act as president was to selectively withdraw aid to other countries based on his particular religious beliefs unless these countries complied with his religious beliefs, who is now eagerly tryng to turn our democracy into a plutocracy, who has no problem running slip-shod over our rights ... that spoiled little bully who alienates the thinking world because, hey, don’t we know who he IS? He’s the one with the money, baby, and he doesn’t even have to pretend to respect anyone or anything else.
When JFK was running for president, he answered an opponent’s negative labeling of him and the Democratic Party as liberal thusly:
If by a "liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead, and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their liberties—someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad; if that is what they mean by a "liberal," then I’m proud to say I’m a liberal...
For a liberal society is a free society... and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them.
In these times, though, I hear the words of Ramsey Clark (former US Attorney General) much more clearly:
Our overriding purpose, from the beginning right through to the present day, has been world domination—that is, to build and maintain the capacity to coerce everybody else on the planet; nonviolently, if possible, and violently, if necessary. But the purpose of the [US] foreign policy of domination is not just to make the rest of the world jump through hoops; the purpose is to facilitate our exploitation of resources.—from an interview in The Sun magazine, August 2001)
Two more random thoughts before I turn out the light and try to fall asleep with visions of a still-beautiful Alaska filling my dreams. First, I’ve been tossing around this idea of writing a piece about friends who take Effexor and Paxil or one of those other drugs that have severe sexual side effects. I want to call the piece "Pharma Sutra."
And, finally, I've been thinking a lot about how much nourishment I draw from the sea, which made me remember this line: “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) / it’s always ourselves we find in the sea” (e.e. cummings)