Overthinking

3

January 12, 2022- Perfect tries its hardest to be the enemy of good. One of our highest public officials is always warning us that any efforts to improve the access of citizens, to the mechanism of voting, will only draw the wrath of “the other side”, when they “inevitably” return to power, in an undesignated future time. Therefore, in the view of this individual, things should be kept as they are. This is unlikely, as there are many ways to secure voting rights for all legal citizens, which do not require said public official’s approval.

Yesterday, I was cautioned to not let a certain child anywhere near me, as I would be sure to get bitten. This never happened, as my advance caution to her, even with regard to herself, “No biting”, was enough.

For several years, I also held back from taking action on certain matters, with the idea that more harm would come to me and my loved ones, should I take any action. The stagnation that resulted has spoken for itself.

Measured and well-considered action, on the other hand, has brought far greater benefits, and lessons learned from the occasional flub have been invaluable. The old saw, “You could die while crossing the street”, has always been my fallback, when choosing to take reasonable risks.

Six Identities

4

January 9, 2022- No, I am not confused as to who I am. There are, however, six elements to a person’s identity-as I learned in a most instructive session, this afternoon. Each person has genetic, socioeconomic, training, gender, spiritual and cultural identities, which make up the whole self.

My genetic identity confers German, French, English, Irish, and Penobscot (Penawapskewi) ancestry. I may have residual Sorb, Polish, Roma and Jewish elements in my lineage, as well. Much remains to be learned about this aspect of my identity.

My socioeconomic heritage is lower middle class, conferring a strong work ethic and sense of integrity. My father had worked his way up to middle management, by the time of his death. Both sides of my family had agricultural roots, with both of my grandfathers maintaining small farm holdings, whilst still working in factory jobs. My mother had cosmetology training and cut women’s hair, in our home, when we were young. I am now in the middle ranks of the middle class, as it were, through a combination of earnings and investment income.

My training identity is as an educator, counselor, and school administrator. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Arts in Education, with an emphasis in Counseling, and additional credentials in School Administration and Community College Instruction. It’s ironic that the last two have been Achilles heels, in my professional life.

In terms of gender, I am unreservedly, comfortably male. I feel passionately loving towards girls and women, with a parental and brotherly orientation, these days. I have no antipathy towards anyone of other orientations or gender identities.

My spiritual background was Roman Catholic, and I was raised to have an ecumenical view of other Christian denominations and the Jewish Faith. I have long felt that there is no true separation between people, based on religious or philosophical practices. This last made my acceptance and practice of the Baha’i Faith a very easy step, when I reached the age of thirty. I maintain that there is but one Human Race and that all religions are part of the same spiritual flow, from the dawn of humanity.

My cultural identity is varied. I could say that I practice “Baha’i culture”, yet that is something that will be long evolving. I could say I adhere to “American” culture, yet there is scant agreement on what that even is. My cultural influences have been cards dealt me, where I have lived. Coastal New England has a distinct culture. So do the interior of Maine, the Navajo (Dineh) Nation, the Hopi lands, Jeju Island (Korea), the western Arizona desert, and the central Arizona Highlands. I have learned important lessons in each of these locales-and in places I have merely visited for a short time, from southeast Alaska, to Israel and Guyana-and so many places in between.

The last two elements, of who Gary is, are works in progress. I can only say that the goal of the end product is for a soul who is worthy of his Creator’s mercy and love, at the end of this earthly trail.

Flex Time

2

January 8, 2022- This was one of the weekends in January, when I was planning to be away from Home Base. The schedules of those I had planned to visit changed, and made any visiting inopportune, so this time is being used to tend to matters closer to home. I am also using a couple of meditation Zoom calls to consider the course of future journeys planned for this year and next. Things became clearer to me, during the meditations. Making initial practical information checks, on a couple of aspects of these journeys, made things clearer still.

There is always a way to make good use of time, when plans have to change. Even being mostly in retirement mode, I find there are not enough hours in a day for everything that might be accomplished. Flexibility also seems to be the order of the Universe, at least in terms of how elements of Creation interact with one another. The fact that the Universe is unlimited, infinite, helps with that flexibility. Besides, that infinitude means there are far too many variables for one to go about life in a rigid manner.

In the end, I actually was glad to be finishing the day by completing a reading of “White Fragility”-coming to the conclusion that I am not fragile, in my ethnic and racial identity, and can learn from others about microaggressions and other elements of my own thoughts and actions that might drive a wedge between me and those around me.

No time need be wasted.

Seeing Behind the Acorns

2

January 5, 2022- The young man hemmed, hawed and came up with a lame excuse for his behaviour. He tossed a few insults, albeit without using profanity. Then, the story came out that someone he should be able to trust was barely in control of self-and that the place where he should feel safest of all, at the time of day he should feel safest, was far more perilous-not directly, but by implication.

In my years of work, I know how indirect threat can become very, very direct-and in short order. The person who relayed the story to me is a mandatory reporter, and will take the lead on proper notification of the authorities. I’ve been in that situation, also, and have faced the wrath of a perpetrator-in cases of both physical and sexual abuse of minors. I changed nothing, about being faithful to the child(ren) and to the law, as a result.

The child in question had to let his anxiety out somewhere, and so verbal acorns were tossed at me, with physical anger directed at objects in another classroom. Such is the small price we pay for working to ensure a child is safe, in the long run.

I am no worse for the wear. The door and walls have a few scuff marks and no computers were harmed in the course of the afternoon. We will keep close watch on the boy, for the next two days that I am at that school-and long term, he will remain in good hands.

The Team Option

2

January 3, 2022- I sit here in my living room, and think that a year ago I was in the company, of first a pack of coyotes, howling and warning me not to go any further east-then amongst a small family of cattle, who let me pass after I spoke to the bull, in a low and steady tone. I was then alone, wandering steadily south and west, through the night-until eventually I reached the highway-and by 9 a.m., the following morning, I was back here in Home Base.

That was one struggle made in solitude. I did not have the same experience today-as I was pitching in with the first day back, at our local middle school. Today, and tomorrow, my charge is a young man with whom I have worked on several occasions before. His inherent, and infectious, blithe spirit is coupled with an intense work ethic-so we got much accomplished today and will do so again tomorrow. Besides, the students collectively are glad that I am here, sharing their morning cold and gradual return to a structured environment-after the two weeks of time off, that brought varying degrees of happiness and cheer.

I also talk with my colleagues, and hear stories with a common thread-Stress, leading to burnout and the departures of many who started the academic year. I could, very easily, jump back in and be on the job more or less fulltime, thus chucking the messages I receive from my spirit guides- and the plans emanating from that counsel. I would then be one finger in the dike. Such false egotism is not the answer to the larger problem, however- and is barely a bandaid, no matter how much the kids and I love one another.

Classroom teaching, especially in the Special Needs classes, must be reworked. High stress situations-with much of the stress caused by Federal and state reporting requirements, and by the egos of those who enforce these mandates, call out for teaching to be accomplished by two certified instructors in EVERY class. There also need to be paraprofessionals, as there are now-but these individuals also deserve both continuous training opportunities and a serious upgrade in pay. Even when, as in this school, the students respond quite respectfully and consistently to a grounded, well-organized learning program, the team approach allows for due attention to be paid to extrapedagogical concerns-like record-keeping for the powers that be, without the least jeopardy to the students’ well-being.

For now, I will help out in certain schools and classrooms, in the months and days when I am called to stay close to Home Base. Enough other people are doing this, around the county, that most classrooms have one form of coverage or another, on most days. The long term, though, calls for a serious reworking of the classroom format.

A Brief Look Backward

6

December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.

The Fruits of Glasgow’s Flowering

2

December 28, 2021, Santa Fe- In any meanderings, one never can be quite sure as to what will be encountered-especially in a quality museum. The greater part of this morning brought a new appreciation for the creativity of the Scottish Lowlands, a place I’ve yet to see.

After sleeping as if on a cloud, at Albuquerque’s Monterey Inn, I headed back to Old Town, and Blackbird Coffee House. Breakfast was put off a bit, as I grappled, along with a nice family from Texas, with the parking registration machine-which was out of paper. Fortunately, neither of us were visited by a parking warden, in the time spent enjoying a meal. Blackbird delivered nicely, as it always has.

Following quiche and coffee, I headed over to the Albuquerque Museum. As it happens, the headlining exhibit is showcasing The Four, a pair of related married couples whose heyday was Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle, when the great British port and industrial giant was in full ferment-followed by full flowering, from the 1890s until World War I. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald, her sister, Frances Macdonald and brother-in-law, James Herbert McNair were the prime movers behind the neo-Renaissance of the Scottish Lowlands at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thus becoming known as The Four. They drew their influences from previous groups of Glasgow artists, notably the “Glasgow Boys” of the mid-Nineteenth Century, but also the Celtic Revival and Japonisme artistic movements, which emerged in Gilded Age Britain. The Four were also called Spook School, by more conventional art critics, due to their distortions of the human form. As an architectural designer, however, Charles Mackintosh relied largely on rectangular sketches. His great buildings, including Hill House and the Willow Tearooms, of late Victorian Glasgow, chartered by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, as well as The Lighthouse, now the site of Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.

The Four were completely-rounded artists, producing not only buildings, but ornate and solidly-constructed furniture, a variety of paintings, fabric art and metallurgy. One of their prime acolytes, Anne Macbeth, was largely responsible for bringing embroidery into its own, as an art form that became a staple in secondary school arts curricula.

The Mackintoshes eventually relocated to London, while the McNairs, remaining in Glasgow, found their fortunes fading. Frances died in 1921, after which her disconsolate husband destroyed nearly all of her work. Charles and Margaret kept their body of work in trust, and it remains curated by various art galleries in Glasgow and in London.

Those of us who have the fortune to visit the Albuquerque Museum, until January 22, are thus treated to an appreciation of Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle flowering.

There is furniture:

Gesso (pronounced JE-so) is a hard plaster of Paris compound, usually applicable to sculpture or painted wood.

Repousse’ is the process of hammering a metal piece into relief, from the back side.

While the Glasgow Style itself faded, after World War I, the influence of The Four was long felt, as far afield as Vienna and Dresden, as well as here in the United States. Art Nouveau developed alongside Glasgow Style, and was profoundly influenced by the work of The Four, and any of the more than 70 other adherents of the Style.

After ninety minutes of immersion in the work of the Mackintoshes, McNairs and their colleagues, I spent an hour or so with New Mexico’s own avant garde. There are provocative depictions of religious themes and modernistic expressions of Native American spirituality. Young Indigenous people love science fiction as much as any of their contemporaries. I leave you with a depiction, by Tony Price-not a Native himself, but one inspired by Indigenous lore.

The Colours of Winter

2

December 27, 2021, Albuquerque- There was plenty of mud in the foreground, which did not stop some of the younger members of the crowd from finding their way down a short trail, to the first overlook, in the northern, Painted Desert section of Petrified Forest National Park.

I left 66 Motel, to the cheerful strains of “Come back again”, around 9 a.m. It is always good to have doors remain open and bridges intact. Twenty minutes later, I got a similarly cheerful greeting from the gate guard at Petrified Forest’s north entrance. Whether it is because they are just cheerful, positive-thinking young women, or because of something in my own aura, these types of exchanges are what help brighten even the dreariest of skies.

Nature also provides relief from the grayness that precedes a winter storm. Here are scenes from each of the Painted Desert’s viewpoints.

These scenes are composed of Chinle Sandstone layers, first formed 227 million years ago and making up the bottom layers of the formations, with Bidahochi Sandstone, formed as recently as 4 million years ago, comprising the top layers-including Pilot Rock and Blue Mesa (in the southern area of the park). I have seen other colour blends, at the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, the Paint Pots of Yellowstone and Bumpas Hell, in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Like each of those, Painted Desert is unique.

Some vocabulary: Tiponi is a Hopi word, signifying a badge of authority-usually a sacred ear of corn, given to a priest or matriarch;

Tawa is the Hopi word for Sun Creator.

Chinde is the Dineh word for ghost or remnant spirit.

Pintado is Spanish for “painted”.

Nizhoni is the Dineh word for “beauty”, especially that found in nature.

Whipple Point is named for Lt. Amiel Whipple, a military surveyor who passed through this area. Fort Whipple, in Prescott, now a Veterans Administration Hospital, is also named for him.

Lacey Point is named for Congressman John Fletcher Lacey, of Iowa, who successfully worked to protect the Petrified Forest, which he termed “Petrified Forest of the World”.

The Painted Desert section of the park could easily take up a whole day, in periods of mild weather. I was there for a bit more than two hours. After a quick lunch at the Visitor Center Cafe, the drive across New Mexico was broken only by gassing up at a Flying J, in the small settlement of Jamestown. I was berated by a homeless man who wanted me to take him and his cart to God knows where. There probably wasn’t enough room in the Vue for that cart, so not being a saint, I kept on going.

Once here , in Duke City, a welcome nap evened my keel and a short walk around Old Town brought a soothing smooth jazz performance by a lone saxophonist and a lovely dinner at Little Anita’s, on the north edge of OT. As my mother told me yesterday, life is good.

Free Speech

2

December 21, 2021- Speakers at a Right-wing convention, in Phoenix, have offered both plausible and ridiculous points of view, over the past two days. I did not attend the gathering, but do find it a good idea to keep an eye on the proceedings. An informed citizen keeps abreast of what all fellow countrymen are thinking and saying.

I concur with Voltaire, and Evelyn Beatrice Hall , in defending the right of a person to say whatever is in mind-with the caveat that threats representing a danger to self and others require the notification of public authority. Said authority should keep watch on those who advocate violence and act to prevent such violence.

Thankfully, thus far, Charlie Kirk and company have not used this particular forum to encourage hateful acts against their opposite numbers. There have been calls for avoiding university-level education ( a questionable appeal to self-education, at best), which I view as an excessive reaction to the real and imagined “speech codes” that some have intellectuals on the Left have either suggested or instituted. IMHO, it is education, enlightenment, that will eliminate microaggressions and untoward speech aimed at People of Colour, immigrants and sexual minorities. Codified speech only lends credence to otherwise bogus claims of “reverse” racism, sexism, etc., by those on the Far Right. Patience remains a virtue, to some degree.

Similarly, I defend the right of Christians to wish others a Merry Christmas, and of those others to say “Happy Holidays”, or to offer no seasonal greetings at all. No set of words, or lack thereof, should be taken personally by the hearer.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct. Liberty of action is an entirely separate matter, and one whose contents pre-suppose acceptance of logical consequences. May the Turning Point USA convocation end peacefully, with the knowledge that the best will win the ongoing contest of ideas.

A Small Laboratory

2

December 13, 2021- The young lady doubted herself, as soon as one of her actions as “producer” of a school newscast was challenged by a teammate. It is a minor issue and I’m sure that the regular teacher will help set things right, tomorrow-in plenty of time for the broadcast. This is a little laboratory, scheduled at the end of the school day, representing an ambitious effort at tapping into the technological precocity of many eleven-year-olds.

Life itself is a laboratory, and many of its experimenters fall back on the opinions of those around them, when engaged in uncharted territory. This is all well and good, when someone is mature enough to have trust in both own abilities and in the process of peer review. The peers also need to exercise good judgment, and maturity, in their own work.

Had I ten extra minutes, it would have been time well-spent to sit the group in a semicircle and make sure everyone understood the process. As there was only enough time to actually put together a preliminary product, for the regular teacher’s review and critiquing, tomorrow, we made do with what there was-which except for the small error, was quite good. The fledgling producer will learn to listen more carefully and the earnest critic will learn patience-and hopefully to shed any sense of rivalry.

In the laboratory of life, both the feelings of people during the process AND the final result are equally important.