Another thing entirely

So, I was writing this insightful, magnificently structured essay on Hillary Clinton and the revolution that will not happen when she’s elected. The GOP is right about that; Clinton is the very embodiment of the liberal establishment — which is in some ways fine, at least the parts that have to do with equality and tolerance. But liberal solutions — public housing, welfare to work, urban renewal — have not worked, and we’re back in “now what?” land.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Magical thinking can be found in unexpected places. Currently, there’s a feeling among many in my karass that we must say nothing bad about Hillary Clinton because some voter in Pennsylvania will hear about it and convince 10,000 of his fellow citizens to vote for Donald Trump and therefore threaten the Supreme Court, Obamacare and all Muslims everywhere.”

And then I talk about foreign policy (largely unmentioned in the campaign) and poverty (ditto — instead the talk is all about middle class families and how they’ve suffered in the new kleptocracy; the poor have suffered even more, but no one wants to talk about them, because we have this notion that poverty is a character defect).

(Notice how the italicized paragraph reads a lot better than the one after it? I had wonderful paragraphs, adept turns of phrase, and a blog post that veered between the obvious and the obscure, with a little “just plain wrong” thrown in. That’s what I had: entirely bogus, yet well written, paragraphs).

No one wants to talk about the sad realities of American history. Whatever we say, we are a warlike people. We have the largest army  in the history of everything. We believe that it’s our God-derived right to tell other countries what to do. We have killed children and old people, doctors and priests and cab drivers and farmers. We committed genocide against our own native peoples. We continue to lock up the innocent; we continue to use torture to punish them. (Solitary confinement is torture; in our saner moments, we recognize that). And so forth: I tried to list our various sins, but I became too depressed and had to make myself a nice pot of tea. Herbal.

Against all that, the election seems to be pretty small potatoes. Both Trump and Hillary support American armed presence everywhere. They participate gladly in the fight against ISIS (which is a violent criminal organization, no question) but also things like the Saudi bombing of Yemen and the cold war with China over mineral resources in Africa. They both support unregulated surveillance of American citizens; indeed, Hillary participated in that policy.

I’m not saying “don’t vote”; I’m gonna vote, because the Donald is so ignorant that his policies are essentially incoherent, as opposed to the semi-coherent government we have now. But politics? A whole lot of fun to gossip about, especially in this Trumpian  world. On the other hand:

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Foreground: Tufa. Background: Sierra

Or perhaps:

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The baby next door, trying not to look at the cacti

 Or even:

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The late Joan Mankin. Her deep devotion to silliness is a model for us all.

Nature, babies, friends. The quotidian world. The things we touch every day, the emotions we feel, the goals we have. We are lucky; it’s true. We live in peace, more or less. And I think we have an obligation to enjoy that peace, to cherish those things that require cherishing. The lies of politics can be a distraction. Taken internally, they can be toxic.

We gotta dance, friends. Fixed income or not; aging body or not; the tragedies and failures of living or not; dance.

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Yeah, like that.

Of course we have to live in society. We have to be committed to social justice. Which means advocating, volunteering, donating. Political campaigns come and political campaigns go, but there will always be people who need our help, natural wonders worth saving. Lemme do a few links.

There’s the wonderful Alameda County Food Bank. There’s Oakland’s own beloved Fairyland. There’s the Southern Poverty Law Center. There’s the International Crane Foundation, which is admittedly an eccentric choice. There’s the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, another eccentric choice but I encourage eccentric choices. There’s good old Doctors Without Borders. And so forth. Feel free to post your own links in the comments section, including local ones.

So we do that, and we try to live our lives with grace and understanding, and we listen. Then we dance.


I thinks it’s time for a joke:

The graduate with a science degree asks, “Why does it work?”
The graduate with an engineering degree asks, “How does it work?”
The graduate with an accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?”
The graduate with an arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”

Another joke:

How many Freudian analysts does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change it, and the other to hold the penis. LADDER. I MEANT LADDER.

One more:

A boy and a man sit on a couch together. The boy says to the man, “Yeah, well, I didn’t believe in reincarnation when I was your age either.”

Wait, I can’t help myself:

I said to the Gym instructor “Can you teach me to do the splits?” He said, ”How flexible are you?” I said, ”I can’t make Tuesdays.”

We only pass this way but once, so we won’t need a road map. Let’s breathe a little bit. Over there somewhere, Donald Trump is saying something astoundingly stupid, and Hillary Clinton is still refusing to do press conferences. Meanwhile, the gas bill is due, the car is making a banging sound, your boss is a douchebag, and there may be some sex in the near future if you play your cards right. It’s afternoon, the sun is bright, the cat is hiding in the long grass, and there’s still time for everything.


Birdwatchers just pick a spot and experience it.

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Advice that I am still not following by Michelle Mizera

Winning some rainbows

I am imagining Donald Trump’s fever dream. I am seeing a California forest, the kind that natives know, not the alpine wonders of the Sierra or the craggy cliffs of the northern coastline, but the real deal, yellow-gold grass and leaning bay trees and twisted madrones and lots of oaks of many sizes. And I am picturing a clearing in the forest, with a mysterious cluster of tipis in the background.

And in the foreground, an interesting number of children on stilts. The children are dressed like hippies, but they are not slowed down by chemicals produced outside their bodies. There are all races, all genders, all heights and weights. They are marching in formation. They stop, and they are joined by children on unicycles.

The unicyclists ride around for a while, and are in turn joined by other children, appearing from all parts of the forest, materializing like sprites. It’s sort of like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” except it’s happening in the afternoon and there are a lot more fairies.

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And once they have all gathered, they turn toward the crowd and start singing. And, oh, what’s that melody, so familiar…oh, right. “All we are saying is give peace a chance, all we are saying is give peace a chance,” and so on, and some children are flashing the peace sign, and everybody is flashing the peace sign, even people in the audience, and the song swirls around everyone and floats upward into the heat-washed sky.

This is not a dream; this is the way the future looks. Maybe only the California future, but  I’m good with that. We could be a self-sustaining country; if things get too weird, we’ll secede, and we’ll let North Carolina figure out what to do. The good news: They’ll know which bathroom to use.

We are at Camp Winnarainbow, in a remote part of Mendocino County, pretty near Laytonville which is pretty near Willits which is pretty near Ukiah…anything yet? It’s kinda sorta due east of Mendocino the town, the one with the insane views and the 900 T-shirt shops. But Laytonville is not tourist country. It is, however, Hog Farm country; the world’s oldest continually operational hippie commune is right next door.

(I do love the Hog Farm origin story. When it was first getting going, in Manhattan, it was asked to help with the Woodstock music festival. The Farmers built fire pits and trails, and were eventually — under mysterious circumstances — designated to provide security. At a bustling press conference, Wavy Gravy, already the farm’s spokeshuman, was asked about what he called his Please Force, a security strategy that involved asking people to please stop doing this thing and to please start doing that other thing.

(What kind of tools will you use to enforce your rules, he was asked. “Cream pies and Seltzer bottles,” he replied).

Camp Winnarainbow was started on Hog Farm land by Mr. Gravy, the political clown and activist and legend (he was once a Ben & Jerry’s flavor).  He and his wife Jaranara  (who is apparently the brains of the day-to-day camp business — Mr. Gravy refers to himself as a “figurehead”) have run the joint for 44 years. Wavy is still on site and conducts a morning reading, mostly from his  autobiography (“Something Good for a Change”) or from one of several joke books he keeps handy.

Sample Wavy Gravy joke: “What’s the difference between broccoli and boogers?” “Kids won’t eat broccoli.”

Winnarainbow is a circus and performing arts camp. In addition to the stilts and unicycles, there are courses in tumbling and aerial acts and stage magic and song-writing and improv comedy. Parents day features mini-shows highlighting all those skills and more.  It’s big fun, unless it’s too hot, in which case it’s still big fun, but stickier.

So, you may ask, what were we doing there on parents day? Did we have skin in the game? Do we have a daughter there? Nope. Granddaughter? No. Nephew? Niece? Uh-uh. Here’s the story:

Four years ago, Tracy signed up for the Big Sister program. Her “Little,” as they’re called, was a girl named August. That’s her, four years later, up on the Winnarainbow stage.

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So yes, she’s 11. She’s an inch taller than I am at 5’9, which is an interesting (what’s the cool word now?) challenge for her. During the festivities, August performed on devil sticks  with some other kids. I’m a total fan of circus tricks; I even like watching people trying to do circus tricks. It’s heartwarming.

Later, August participated in the most somber moment during the main stage festivities. A dozen kids gathered on stage. “Black lives matter,” said the kids, very matter-of-factly. It wasn’t a slogan; it was just true. Black. Lives. Matter. August recited a poem by Alice Walker.  There with other statements. Several started. “When young men in our community are being killed…” When you have responsibility for a black girl, you experience that reality a bit more viscerally. Shouldn’t be true; is anyway.

At the end of the presentation, the kids gathered at the front of the stage. They looked serious. They sang: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest” and the drums beat once, twice, thrice, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes,” and again, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” beat beat beat, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

There were probably dry eyes in the house. I don’t know. I only know that mine were not.

We got to know August gradually. Tracy took her places, and sometimes I would tag along. She was very bright, with a quicksilver grasp of new ideas and new situations. She wasn’t sure what to make of us (“You guys are just weird,” she’d say frequently; the last time was four days ago).  But she had fun doing the stuff we did, and we had fun listening to her enthusiasms.

Tracy and I worried privately about her. August is young, but puberty hits younger these days, and it doesn’t help that she looks a lot older than she is. And there’s schooling and friends and all the other things that keep Big Siblings (or whatever we are) fretful.

Also, she’s African-American and we ain’t. There have been cultural communication issues, probably more than we know about. But we figure any child likes love and support and requires firm guidelines, so we do the the best we can. I personally think that one-to-one contact is the only sane strategy in this multi-cultural era of bad feelings. Fewer slogans, more hanging out.

We took August to the Ai Wei Wei exhibit on Alcatraz. We had no idea what to expect; it was more an outing than a cultural experience. But she loved it. She had Tracy’s camera, and she spent a long time with the Lego portraits of political prisoners, going back and forth between the portraits and the wall cards describing the circumstances of each prisoner.

I have no theory about what she was thinking. August was mum on that matter, even as she is mum on a lot of matters. But sometimes, when you’re caring for a child, you just sit back and marvel. And when you’re our age, with grandchildren off in Canada or leading their own lives, having another human to nurture is quite wonderful.

So we sponsored her at Winnarainbow, spiritual home of my people. We didn’t really know how it would work out, but we took a flyer. You take a chance; you wait. The first time around, she was a little homesick. This time…


She loved it. My black little sister went to the white hippie camp (she was not the only black kid there; Winnarainbow does a lot of outreach), and next year she wants to stay the whole summer, every session. Her parents seem amenable. Early days yet, but I’m so glad it’s working out. Proud, even.

All we are saying is give peace a chance. Well, not all: We are also saying, “seltzer bottles and cream pies.” Because fun.

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Location photography by Tracy Johnston

Smoothing down the rough edges by Michelle Mizera