Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ghost of a Chance

She is lying up there on the wall Head tilted right Soft rose petal shoulders A slight glimpse of peach from her left breast Uncovered Her auburn hair cascading down her pillow Toward the frame Through all the years Sitting beside her I've noticed her nearly Not at all Now she's an enchanting intimation Of the real life beauty That she brings to mind
Along the edge of her bed You can catch reflections of other life too Still going on outside Oblivious to the magical woman In the light By the window On the wall Cars on Columbus And a tiny strip of sign From City Lights Books Where The Little Shoe People Will live forever Even after they are painted over Making way for someone new And I am there as well A pale reflection watching 

From inside and out
An impressionist representation 
Of how I feel now Fading into background 
At the edge of the story 

Out of the action of the play
A shadow of memory  Quickly disappearing Into The light A hopeful spectre Without a
Ghost of a chance

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Last week at the local yacht club I got into a bit of an altercation with a local guy who fancies himself the self-appointed authority on the rights of men and defender of their honor and self-esteem. The culmination of this rather ridiculous non-event was his shouting at me as I walked away, "You're just a mangina!" My first reaction was to laugh and respond, "Thanks for the compliment!" 

Subsequently, I gave that term some thought over the weekend, looked it up - to some dismaying results - in The Urban Dictionary, and began thinking that the term was being defined rather terribly, but then I got a great quote from my friend Almond, regarding a re-definition of the term.

Mangina – an individual of the male species who embodies the spirit of equality and empowerment and assists in the effort to end violence against women and girls. Yeah Joe... I'm a Mangina and I'm proud to be among what seems to be fairly superior company. The next phase of this strange weekend occurred at the end of the week when Almond gave me this astonishing (and honestly quite undeserved) honor on the V-Day Petaluma Website. While I'm very happy to be the first ever honoree in this category for "Bobs" I've had a really hard time coming to terms with it, for I am much more in tune with my daughter's response to the article by the aforementioned "local authority" when she simply said, "hey buddy, this isn't about you." And there you have it... It isn't about me, or any of the other Manginas (or the anti-Manginas) out there. It's about the One Billion Women that this whole moment in time is about, the additional billions of all the women in the world (my daughter, my granddaughter, my sister, my nieces, my mother, my friends, my ex, my lovers, and the wonderful women whom I only know through their writings, art, actions, and presence, and the women that I will never know at all). I have always, as long as I can remember, been a feminist, because I have always been a humanist. Like other pieces of white male privilege, I tend even now, to lack the ability to fully register the difficulties, and the suffering of those who are deemed less. However, that being said, it's important for me to acknowledge that to my continued, and largely private, shame, I have added my voice to the screaming verbal violence that is easy to spew under ugly circumstances. I have seen a woman's (and even my daughter's) face look at me in fear and panic, and I am even guilty of physical violence that I wish to the Gods and Goddesses I could blot from my life and lift out of the records of the universe. I believe that I am past those experiences now, but I perpetually stand awake to the fact that the moments I am ashamed of to this day, were not moments I meant to happen in the first place. I can only hope that I have indeed exorcised those moments from my language and actions and that I can remain true to the hope that they never return. And I can do anything and everything that ever crosses my path to make things different now. I truly believe that, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I am a better person, a better man, than I was before and I believe that all of us, both men and women, can continue to grow better with each other every day. I am dedicated to that and I pray for it constantly. And I wrote a poem... Mangina A "man with a vagina" A "soft and compliant" male Read that weak Read it cowardly Read it, say it Pussy And like that other term Pussies are supposedly Weak In my experience those pussies Those vaginas Are anything but weak Vaginas That push out new life and take in all that interconnecting energy Vaginas That to this day remain Abused Dismissed Ridiculed Unsupported Undervalued Destroyed Unloved If I can take on some of that If some of the world's hostility can be pointed toward me instead Bring it! To be a Mangina To accept the opportunity The responsibility The honor To hold that reality carefully in my hand my heart my head Yeah Call me that name I'm neither worthy of the honor Nor guilty of the accusation But I came into the world through that amazing pathway And I will honor it defend it pray for it pray to it and most of all Love it and the Women whose bodies hold that magical piece of spiritual anatomy in deep reverie and reverance for all of us Mangina Yes I am Mangina!

And because I will never be able to write poetry as beautiful or poignant, and because there might not be any better expression of how a Mangina can also truly be a man, there's always Secret Garden ... from The Boss.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hope Allowed

The season of Lent is traditionally, for many people, a season of quitting; of giving up something as a way of finding something else. My problem with Lent is that If there is anything that I am bad at (and I am bad at many things) right at the top of the list is probably the process of quitting. I am simply not a quitter. I don't give up. In poker, I never fold; in relationship, I keep pushing on through the place where things are obviously over; in business, I can't let go despite the fact that I am going broke, nothing is working, and all hope was lost long ago. After Katrina, in New Orleans there was a sign on the wall of one of the businesses that was struggling to come back to life. I found a picture of that sign while I was living in exile away from New Orleans and I adopted it's theme as my personal clarion call.

My friend Zach is constantly reminding me of the John Cleese line from the movie Clockwise, when he exclaims, "It's not the despair, Lord, I can stand the despair... It's the hope!" This really does tend to be my problem. Even when I know I need to quit, when I know I should quit, when I know it's really important to get moving and get going. I am still paralyzed by the hope that something will happen, something will change, something good will come out of the current catastrophic situation.

Last night, on my way home from San Francisco, after a wonderful day of doing not much of anything in particular with my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, I listened to the Sondheim & Lapine show, Sunday In The Park With George for the first time in a very long time. At the heart of the musical stands the difficult problem of sticking with or leaving, hoping, or moving on; or perhaps, as it is explained in the penultimate number of the show, hoping and moving on at the same time.

I have always been plagued by George's frustration and struggle with coming up with a way of living and creating that is at the same time new and his own. One of the reasons this show so moved me 30 years ago, and continues to do so today, is that it reaches right down inside my soul and speaks directly to my biggest personal, life-long struggle, doing wonderful, original work, and living a life of heart and meaning and depth and soul.

I just don't know how to do both, but I want to so badly that there are times (like now) when I simply want to shriek in agony at the frustration of my ignorance and inability to figure out what to do and how to do it. Perhaps the best advice comes in Marie's comment at the beginning of this scene when she says, "You meant to tell me to be where I was, not some place in the past or the future. I worried too much about tomorrow. I thought the world could be perfect. I was wrong."

Right now, I am indeed seeking to be where I am, accepting the possibility of moving on despite an extreme lack of clarity, and hoping that in the process I can indeed discover what really is mine to be and do. I am also aware that this is really not enough. Life exists on a fulcrum between Be Here Now and Where Are You Going. Stay too long on one side or the other and all kinds of problems ensue. The true beauty of living can only be made manifest in that combination of elements that George recites at the beginning and end of the play, order, design, tension, balance, light... Harmony.

Somewhere between Never Give Up and Move On there's a place of Harmony and that is the place I'm hoping to find during this seasonal time of searching. It's a process of knowing when to stick and knowing when to quit. It's a place of living in the moment and dreaming of the future. It's a place of big dreams and daily realities.

As Bruce Cockburn sings... "It's hard to live."

For another take on all this, I've had Elton John and Leon Russel's song, Hey Ahab, on constant play in my head and on my iTunes for the past three months. Beyond the emotional connection that links both determination and wisdom with the real life struggles of Leon Russell in recent years, it really is just about the best rock and soul song to come down the pike in a very long time.

Deep in the belly of my own big fish these days, I keep looking for that sign that says "Hope Allowed!" I still want to hang onto that hope, but I also need to understand when it's time to "catch a ride outta here!" To move on to the next thing, while still honoring, and loving, and somehow being glad of what I have done and where I have been.

What do you think? Post a comment. Ask a question. Tell us something about you.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What does it mean to have MAIG?

This is a question that I have lived with personally, and nearly every day, for over thirty years. It was first posed to me in a counseling class in seminary, by a quiet scholarly professor with a big mind and an even bigger heart.

MAIG was the concept that Dr. J. Lyn Elder proposed to us at the heart of his personal “Elderology.” A set of concepts that he introduced in his Pastoral Care classes at Golden Gate Southern Baptist Seminary, but which had no resemblance to anything that looks or sounds like what people, at least today, understand Baptist theology to be about.

The initials stand for Maximum And Increasing Gratification and the question of what is MAIG in any given situation is the heart of a modified Utilitarianism that Dr. Elder proposed as the way to approach theology, counseling, ministry, and life.

After living with this material for thirty years, struggling to understand its fundamentals more deeply and seeking to apply the outward principles in my life, I decided that one of the best ways to explore the concepts personally, and to pass them on for the benefit (the Maximum and Increasing Gratification) of others was to struggle through the process of putting them down in print.

Seeking Pleasure Instead of Pain

Incalculable numbers of times, I have mentioned the central concept of this book to people only to receive a look of consternation and a shaking of the head. The inevitable reaction being one in which people cannot imagine setting a criteria for life development or personal improvement, or spirituality of any kind, with the central focus being personal, and collective, gratification.

I find this amusing on the one hand, and depressing on the other. We seem to have no problem basing religious belief on the idea of suffering and annihilation - suicide and/or mass homicide. We - almost universally - worship the war hero who can conceive of sacrificing his or her life for comrades, and violently fighting unknown, unspecified and often unproven enemies, but we have a much harder time honoring the peace warrior who seeks a common ground with “enemies” and opponents. The religious underpinings of personal sacrifice, self-mortification and guilt are well documented and widely accepted, but the idea that there could be a religious underpinning to support the pursuit of delight (both personal and collective) is a concept as foreign to most people as the possibility of breathing water.

In the wider culture as a whole, the idea of immediate gratification is not only accepted, but often widely and enthusiastically practiced. However asking the part of the question, what leads to truly increasing gratification - an actual life-affirming growth in pleasure and goodness - seems far from most people’s thoughts.

Religiously, we seem to be willing to accept sacrifice and pain (or the avoidance of pain) as perfectly reasonable motivators in the development of personal principles and behaviours, but to, instead, consider pleasure, delight, gratification, and ecstasy as equivalent or even superior motivators... that proposal often meets with deaf ears and stoney faces.

When it comes to how we feel about others the same issues apply. How many people are willing to judge others and condemn them to lives of meaningless frustration on earth and an eternity of suffering damnation in hell, rather than accept the fact that we - all of us creatures - are not only entitled to live healthy, happy, holy lives, but that all of us are better off the more of us are experiencing life’s delight? And that is the key to it all. As Republicans (and no doubt a few Democrats) are fond of saying,  “ a rising tide lifts all boats.” The underlying principle of all things MAIG is that each of us individually benefits when all of us are approaching a critical mass of happiness. At the same time, all of us as a collective (within a single group, community, nation, or world) do better when any one of us is reaching for their top potential.

And that is what MAIG is about. In every aspect of life, in all representations of connection; in every way that each of us lives, and moves and has our being, we are all the better for every way we build up our (and other’s) lives. We need to have the best we can get and we need to help that best get better.

That is my hope and prayer for this book, it’s insights and exercises. I believe that the five questions to be dealt with in the next few pages and 10,000 words will provide you with a basis for reflecting on a way of living that not only provides the opportunity for great meaning, but also great joy. Maximum and increasing gratification.

Good is not enough when you dream of being Great!


This is the introduction to a book I am working on (and a series I am developing). There's more to come as I approach the first release within the next couple of weeks. Your questions, comments, and critiques are very much welcome. Please post!

You can also find this post at my other blog, Bleeding Daylight

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Favorite Parts

I spent much of Monday watching all the pomp and circumstance of President Obama's second inauguration. I picked up CSPAN on my phone upon awakening at 6:30 am and watched the volunteers give directions to people as they arrived for the ceremony.

I followed this with pouring coffee and turning on the TV to watch closely along the parade line for Joe, my Coastie friend, who was standing in the street cordon. I strained and squinted at the appearance of every Coastie uniform to see if I recognized the face below the brim of the cap (this behavior was renewed later in the day during the parade time as well). As the President's limo reached the Capital and the news people all moved to the gathering dignitaries preparing to walk the hallway and stairwell to the Capital steps, I started to get all ferklempt (these things happen to me) as I often do when my innate, though often obscured, patriotism wells up in my chest.

I continued to check the television (and the CNN stream on my computer) throughout the day and by evening I was sitting and working at my computer with two streams from the Inauguration Ball and the Commander in Chief's Ball, waiting to catch a glimpse of the first couple doing their dancing thing.

Yes, I'm a sucker for this stuff.

Out of the whole day there were two stand out moments that grabbed me, held me, and hold me still. Moments that, for me, define the day, and not just the day, but the whole reality of what I find wonderful in this President and the way he moves through his office.

The first of these moments came at the end of the official inauguration ceremony. The President, his family, and the whole rest of the official crowd were walking back up the steps to the Capital and as he reached the top, Barack turned around to gaze out at the crowd to savor this moment and softly said, "I'll never see this again."

What was beautiful about this moment was the simple pause, and the look of what I take to be appreciation; appreciation of the moment, of the responsibility, of the opportunity, of the singular reality of an experience that will not return. It was, as Jon Stewart always closes his show, a "Moment of Zen."

There were other good moments throughout the day, particularly during the parade when it was possible to catch a glimpse of the whole Obama family as a family having fun. These were delightful moments of real humanness that it is rare to see in a president (or a candidate) without, at the same time, catching a glimpse through the bucolic scene and down into the artifice of the carefully crafted photo op.

The second moment came later in the night at the first ball appearance of POTUS and FLOTUS.

Dancing together to Jennifer Hudson's rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," the two of them (as they have done on similar occasions in the past) looked like they were having their personal private moment. Looking into each other's eyes with a softness and a presence that was the closely touching human moment that was the couple's equivalent of that pause on the steps that afternoon. It was a moment of connection in the midst of a structure and a system consistently, and somewhat intentionally, void of such personal moments. It was a silent statement of "family values" without having to demand that other people's values be trampled on to shore up our own.

I know what it feels like to look at another person with that softness, that presence, that tender hope for good, and that appreciation of the great chance to feel this way. It's a great feeling and it made me happy to see it in my President and his Partner.

These two brief encounters in a day filled with everything else give me hope for the next four years. They give me hope that the humanness can be present more and that the clear tenderness this man feels in parts of his life can be translated, past the Washington jadedness, hypocrisy, and expediency to bring out a more flowing, genuine, loving and appreciative connection in the world. I know it's a lot to expect, but I see a little crack of light there in those moments. You can keep all the broad statements and grand imaginings.

Those little looks and tiny moments... THAT'S HOPE!

Thanks Mr. President.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Like What I Think Matters...

For most of the last 9 years I've been wearing this yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet. I've taken it off from time to time, but it (or one of it's cousins) has been around my wrist since I bought my first one in the initial launch at the San Francisco Nike Store back somewhere around the Tour de France in 2004.

There were a couple of years where I wore a similar bracelet dedicated to the rebuilding of New Orleans, but I always return to the iconic yellow bracelet because it is filled with meaning for me, and most of that meaning has little to do with Lance Armstrong.

Instead, it has to do with the year I spent wishing, hoping, struggling with, injecting ugly substances into, cooking for, cleaning for, and praying for the recovery of my then partner from Stage 4 breast cancer (she's doing quite well by the way, 18 years on, but no longer is she doing well with me). Making it through cancer together never guaranteed that we'd make it through life together, and in fact, it's my feeling that the cancer, and the recovery, had as much to do with the end of our relationship as anything else. Even 7 years after that breakup, the bracelet reminds me of a time when I was strong, and good, and hopeful against very ugly experiences and very big odds. 

Wearing that bracelet has also had a lot to do with myself. The feeling that I had (and still have) when wearing that little piece of rubberized plastic is one that reminds me it is possible to do battle with the entropy of life in all its forms and come out somehow surviving it, and often doing better for it. I've worn the bracelet in 5K races and four and a half hour marathons, I've worn it in business meetings and presentations, and through long periods of hard writing that I thought was going to nail me before I nailed it.

It has inspired me both because of and in spite of the achievements, and failings, of the man whose life and work created it.

So what about Lance? 

As a long time believer and supporter (the only one I know these days), I've been asked by a lot of people to explain what I think. The problem is, I really haven't had a good idea about what I think. The simple fact is, I haven't really given Lance that much thought.

What I know is that what he did (failures and all) inspired me. I became a lover of cycling through watching him roll up those hills and speed through those time trials. The fact that I now know he was doing it juiced honestly doesn't take away the awe I felt, and feel, for those achievements. I still couldn't ride up Mont Ventoux no matter how many liters of my own blood I reprocessed, or how many vials of testosterone I absorbed. 

What I know is that those rides got my ass out on the road, and inspired me to make it through the most unpleasant struggle of running 26.2 miles of rugged road. It also inspired me to keep going through other hardships when what I most wanted to do was give up. I believe that inspired millions of cancer patients and survivors, for I have met some of them, and seen many pictures of others.

These effects don't justify what Lance Armstrong did to gain the reputation and status that allowed him to have that effect, but what he did in those races, practices, hotel rooms and clinics, doesn't diminish the positive results of what others received from those achievements. I was deeply inspired, over and over again, by Lance Armstrong, and that inspiration changed my life. Now that I know his reputation was built on an edifice of lies and some significantly despicable behavior, does it change the inspiration I received and that I used to better my life?

Absolutely not!

There are people in the world, and some of them are athletes, who are bigger than the reality of their own lives. Some of them, like Lance, know this and use it to pound other people into submission. Others are more humble and present and what they do, and how they do it, is more palatable to our more hopeful natures.

Many of our heroes and sheroes work hard and achieve great things despite their failings, or sometimes through their process of overcoming their failings. Some do beautiful things without revealing such boldfaced flaws. There really are as many ways of inspiring as there are people that inspire, and it is there where the real importance of accomplishment lives.

The fault, as Shakespeare wrote, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, and so is the goodness.  The real greatness of accomplishment comes through and with the people who are inspired by the great actions of others. The real effect of inspiration is in what such people and actions inspire us to accomplish. Those effects cannot be diminished because of the failings of the "hero."

The dishonesty, corruption and ugliness of the actions of Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones (another athlete who I found inspiring), Manny Ramirez,  Bill Clinton, or even Martin Luther King Jr. doesn't change the good things that came from the less than perfect lives they lived as less than perfect human beings. The real triumph of any life is found in the inspiration that life gives to others and that inspiration and its subsequent effect is not diminished by anything another person has done, or does. We are the keepers of our own inspiration and our lives become the legacy of the actions that inspire us.

Yeah, I am disappointed to find out that what I believed about Lance Armstrong (and his team members who I most admired, George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton) turned out not to be true, but it ain't the first time I've had such disappointments and it certainly won't be the last. All of the commentators riffing on what a horrible disappointment it all is however, just don't do anything for me, because what I take away from it all has become mine. The reality of my life is different because of the inspiration of Lance, and many other very flawed people. I do not intend to allow that inspiration to be diminished because of the rabid obsession of the diminishment news cycle, because that doesn't hurt Lance, it hurts me.

Back to my bracelets... These days (and for the last year) I've been wearing a second bracelet next to my LIVESTRONG one. That bracelet, which I picked up last December at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. reads "WHAT YOU DO MATTERS." I bought it as I was leaving the museum because it spoke to me of the fact that even in the midst of the truly horrible events that can take place in the world, it is the actions of each individual person - great or humble, nearly perfect or desperately flawed - that make a difference in what happens to us all. 

My bracelet doesn't say WHAT LANCE DOES MATTERS... It's speaking to me, and it's reminding me several times every day that WHAT I DO MATTERS. Frankly, that's all I really care about.