And Unaffordable Luxury

From Umair Haque:

“Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse.”

Here is a story. One day, during my brief tenure as a classroom assistant in a Montessori school, I was admonished by a school administrator for giving a crying child in the nap room too much of my time and attention. Let him cry, I was told. My presence was required outside on the playground.

I hesitated. She insisted. I got the sense this was not the hill on which to plant my flag, if I wanted to keep my job. I went outside.

I realize kids on the playground need to be supervised. Realize there are regulations, and the regulations aren’t frivolous. In their absence, an institution charged with the care and feeding of these young people might be tempted to cut corners, make do with a smaller staff, overstretch their resources, and put the safety of these kids at risk.

It happens.

But the crying child was all of two years old. He was homesick, in despair over the long hours spent away from his parents. His need for comfort and reassurance was not frivolous, either. It was understandable and urgent.

A caring response — a compassionate response — would have been to find a way to meet that need. To allow a bit of leeway, to take a moment. Just a moment, to see him not as impediment to the orderly operation of the system, but as a person in need of the smallest thing: a soothing presence, so he could get to sleep.

The institutional response was to deny the urgency — the reality — of the need in order to keep the system running smoothly.

Our culture — the culture of extreme capitalism — demands that we prioritize in this way.

To borrow Haque’s phrase, within the system of extreme capitalism, my relationship with that child was an unaffordable luxury. Even at a luxury school.

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Do Nothing

I take Fridays off. For most of the day, I do nothing. As in, nothing scheduled, nothing on a list. I do what I want, which is, oftentimes, a lot of nothing.

A few months back I bookmarked this beautiful, long, rambling, connect-the-dots essay by Jenny Odell. I have read it several times, as she moves from the setting of the Oakland rose garden through Deep Listening retreats and the residential crows outside her window, to this passage citing Franco Berardi, author of After the Future.

Berardi, she writes, “ties the defeat of labor movements in the 1980s to rise of the idea that we should all be entrepreneurs. In the past, he notes, economic risk was the business of the capitalist, the investor. Today though, “‘we are all capitalist’ … and therefore, we all have to take risks. … The essential idea is that we should all consider life as an economic venture, as a race where there are winners and losers.”

Odell goes on to add:

“In a situation where every waking moment has become pertinent to our making a living, and when we submit even our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Facebook and Instagram, constantly checking on its performance like one checks a stock, monitoring the ongoing development of our personal brand, time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on “nothing.” It provides no return on investment; it is simply too expensive.”

It’s getting harder, isn’t it, to allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing, or, to put it another way, to be unproductive with our hours. To be idle is to be suspect. But I’m reminded of Tom Hodgkinson, who literally wrote the book on how to be idle, and later, in his Freedom Manifesto, went on to offer this bit of advice he received from the artist Joe Rush:

“Joe’s notion is that we are all born with a gift, and that it is up to us to find that gift, and then explore it. (…) And how do you find your vocation, your gift? The answer is simply to do nothing for as long as you possibly can.”

Very subversive. It’s Friday. I’m in.

Winter

The snow started falling yesterday morning.
It came down in fat motes, curtains blowing sideways.
Sleet at midday, popcorn against the windows.
The cats slept.

Drifts accrued in doorways, domes of white arose
on backyard patio tables, wedding cakes for winter brides,
Birds tracked in a day drained of color,
crossing rabbit divots.

Midway through sweeping out the carport, I look up
to see the black dog across the way, shaggy
and nose deep in sparkle, he sniffs and sneezes,
comes up flocked.

 

Bad News, Good News

There are breaks in the action. Radical severance, split to the root. The space between thoughts is deep space; you drop and drop and never hit bottom.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.

Industrial Disease

If you spent your formative years within the institutions of the dominant culture, you will likely spend the rest of your life seeing the world through the bars of your cage. Divided, labeled, boxed, categorized. What context might you have, what vision, if you were never put in a cage to begin with?

Ship of State

Who knew it was all so fragile?
The ship of state a houseboat of cards
pontoon shantytown heaving
in the hot humid bluster of a grown
man’s tantrum. Sad!

Pretend I’m crazy.
It’s how we get things done.

In school they taught us how a bill
becomes law, powers held separate,
checks against power to keep it all
in balance yet here we are, keeling and
aroil and taking on water.

Pretend I’m the king.
Tell me that you love me.

We vacuum the oceans for treasures
to sell at auction, fake fortunes, fever heat
from a spray-on sun, peeling gilt,
lower the lifeboats, our iceberg cometh,
and lo! The devil cannot row.

Love Sleeps

I closed the door on you.
This is not a metaphor. You were snoring.  I couldn’t abide.

I need a quiet house. That’s not your fault.

You disorder me. You are a distraction,
a leaking faucet: dripping, dripping.

Reminding me
(I do not need your reminder)
of all I’ve left undone.

Maintenance foregone. Weatherstripping. Yard work.
The front porch needs painting.

Winter will be here before we know it.