Empathy is not obsolete

I don’t care for International Women’s Day

It should be a celebration not celebrated.

We don’t need a special day,

We need the other 364 back.

I would write a letter to the president

but everybody knows he doesn’t read,

not even a teleprompter.

There are other presidents, in other countries

Who do not act like

Empathy is now obsolete

But we live with the ashes

on the lawns

where crosses were burned

And put our cigarettes out in the woodpile

Daring history to flare up

Writing in the Age of Twitter

“Hey Old Man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.  I need someone to love me the whole day through….” – Neil Young

Got a long email today inveighing against the passing along of chain e-mails.  Wasn’t that a chain e-mail too?  As we transition to the ones and zeroes of electronic communication, shouldn’t we use the word “contact” instead of text, call, e-mail or write.   There are just too many ways to reach people nowadays.  Writing in the age of Twitter forces one to be succinct, pithy even.  When’s the last time you clicked the “Read More” link?  If what you said is not the most recent thing in your recipient’s inbox or feed – they are not going to scroll to the bottom, or even 10 messages down.  You gotta get your point across in the subject line.  Famous first lines of novels – the Bulwer Lytton contest, the winners of which I could look up right now and include examples in my morning journal, but then that would be giving in to the art of distraction.  I will work on brief and deep essays, like this one, flex my publishing muscle – build up an inventory of pithiness, as it were. 

Will finish my letter to John C today and mail it – makes me feel closer to this bright capable man who cannot speak on the phone – amend that – cannot be understood when speaking by most people.  He types out replies, I hand write missives.  We both have time to think between words, like everybody used to.  Best source for historical accuracy is the letters and papers composed by the people living it to the people they loved.  Sometimes, it’s just business letters, but these letters give brawn and sinew to the dull recitiation of events only some folks deem important.

Drat, now I’m hot and sweaty and I just want to walk around in circles.  When you’re brilliant, you need medications to deal with all the stupid majority.  When you’re spiritual – say even just kind – you need chemical assistance to tamp down your inner homicidal maniac.  Goddess damned MS Word just capitalized Maniac for me – who the hell do they think they are?  How much did they pay for their poetic license and who was the corrupt issuing agency?

The Movies – a poem

Media Conglomerates

Nameless, faceless, blue-suited, briefcased pomaeded peacocks

Strut the streets, stepping out of their sleek status symbols

Imperviously impersonal market managers pinpoint precisely the price of slaves

And dictate the desires of last year’s average family

While producing carefully calculated demographically unassailable unpalatable

Boxed DVD sets of Soylent Green and other statistically sterile offspring

The Know-Nothings and Hate

In the mid 1850’s The Know-Nothings whose formal name was the American Party, founded a branch in San Francisco. Seriously, a more apt name for a pro-slavery party could not be imagined. John Brown’s body lies a moulderin’ in the grave… The poison of dehumanization isn’t over, hate did not disappear with Emancipation and Universal Suffrage. The wholesale slaughter of millions considered less than human in Nazi labor camps and the forced detention in the United States for Americans of Japanese ancestry, these acts of hatred did not occur all that long ago. My father was in Hiroshima not long after the atom bomb destroyed it. My grandmother was old enough to vote, but could not because women in America had to wait until August 26th of 1920 for Article 19. Human rights, put to a popular vote, almost never win. So if your chosen interpreter of God’s word is telling you that any other group of people are less than human, they are lying. Lots of people talk to God, but watch out for the ones who claim He talks back.

Hair of the Dog – a poem

Distilled spirits

Calm familiar

It’s that first bite

Clear cold and tight

Hair of the dog that bit me

Always pictured that literally, visually

Unhappy Beast

With claws

Tamped down for cause

She detests

She protests

Hurls invective inventive insults

Incompetence abounds

Forced to attend the Stupid Olympics

Wherein everybody loses

When everybody wins, she is not wrong

But is she me?

My mother in this place

My mother in this place rests in the dabs and strokes of her Three Volcano painting. Rescued from oblivion and an evil stepfather who tried to drown the very idea of her. I cleaned it with moistened cotton swabs, gently washing tobacco smoke and dust decades old. My mother in this place drips red and orange paints, the angry lava she had never seen down the slopes of one of these three mysterious volcanoes. And I know she dreamed of this future where the morning sun rises over Mauna Kea, the Snowy Mountain, Mauna Loa, the Long Mountain and Hualalai, the Jagged Mountain – all three dangerously dormant. Tera, my mother, saw this 70 years ago and dreamed it into being.

Tera Niedbalski Benjamin Tripp Treadaway's 3 volcano painting

My mother in this place IS the dragonfly. Fierce and fragile and sometimes airborne by the sheer lightness of the breaths she took between peals of laughter. She was never prideful of her own work, yet always in attendance for her daughter’s honors and accomplishments. She self titled Empress of the Universe. I self title Writer and hope the dragonfly conveys that message. These ten years later, I still say “Hi Mom” to each dragonfly and dream that Tera comes in on gossamer wings in attendance even still for her daughter’s honors and accomplishments.

The Legend of Kapo

Dearest Sister Annie,

I am writing to you from Kona Hawaii on my third week as governess to her Highness Emma Rooke.

She walks timidly on the land almost on tip toes hips swaying gently.   I have never seen Emma Lani run, at least not on land.  She skims from her beach chair to the ocean water, slides in, and then she is simply grace incarnate.  Clean even strokes, and at last in the waves, without hesitation she covers miles swiftly and surely.  As governess, I remain on the beach, where the thought the idea of me rescuing my ward is laughable at best.  I leave heavy footprints, each toe discernable in the concave shallows, but in spite of walking right behind her, I see no trace of Emmalani’s passing.  To my thinking, the Mermaids are a Western invention akin to Centaurs of Greek myth.  Lost fishermen and missing sailors gave rise to half human creatures and sea goddesses.  Here in Hawaii, each family honors simpatico creatures, their aumakua.  These beings are not half human, half animal, stuck in between species.  They know they can transform.  I myself have witnessed the elders standing in the waves close to shore and CALLING to their aumakua, chanting in their musical way, raising their arms, an outstretched welcome, and Annie, I tell you, the sharks COME.  I do apologize for the capital letters, but pray you understand that I use them only for emphasis.  You have often inquired as to the native peoples here, especially as regards their traditional beliefs.

As I write this, I have not spotted my ward for quite some time, and am starting to worry.  It is hard to convey how at home Emmalani is in the ocean.  Annie, the water is warm here, bathwater warm, that temperature after the kettle has been emptied, and it is the second child’s turn to bathe.  Neither England nor New England have anything like it.

Thanks be to God, Emmalani is appearing in the distance and moving closer.  Her gait belies her reluctance to be back on land, and once again, she tip toes, dripping ocean water to her waiting servant, holding out a dry wrap.

There is a small church here in Kona made entirely of coral.  Emmalani’s family dwells near Waipio Valley which can only be reached on horseback through rivers and mud and sliding rock.  Her retinue are seen joyfully fording the streams loving the challenge of the journey, almost as though the rough passage makes the destination that much more enjoyable.  These Hawaiians are great athletes, thought their sports would terrify our polo players.  Years ago, a great slide or Lua was built from the slopes of Mauna Loa (the Long Mountain) all the way to sea, and those daring boys lay down upon heavy boards and rode many kilometers, picking up speed and once in the ocean take to riding the waves. 

Honestly, Annie, mermaids are a pale and fragile myth compared to these ocean loving natives.

We are back at Aina Hau, one of the family residences in Honolulu and with a proper writing desk I intend finishing this letter in time for the next post. which here depends entirely upon the seafaring merchant class and the vagaries of tropical weather.  While in Waipio, a few of us gathered around the cooing fire to “talk story” with the elders and they told the most shocking tale!  As I have written before, there are many gods and goddesses honored here, though many in the royal class have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, some still practice the old pagan ways.  Once the widowed Ka’a Hu Manu embraced the true God, all the ali’i were put under the tutelage of Protestant clergy.  It is a long and complicated story, but suffice to say, this evening was one of myth and legend, thrilling in its way.

On the island of Hawai’i, there is an active volcano which one can visit and see molten lava up close.  It is to see God as his mot awe inspiring to witness the creation of new land, but here, they credit the goddess Pele with bringing the heat and energy of the Earth’s very core to the surface.

Pele had sisters, one of whom was called Kapo. This goddess had a most unusual talent.  I am struggling to convey what I heard at that meeting in Waipio for it involves a woman’s’ private parts.  I shall forge ahead and relay that in this story, Kapo’s lady parts were, um shall we say, detachable.  there are wild boars in the island, another animal that transforms between human and beast.  They call this the Pig God.  This Pig god is possessed of an insatiable lust, and Kapo, tiring of the constant pursuit, and declaring “is this what you want?”. detaches her lady part, throwing it aside, goes about her business, only to retrieve it later when the Pig God has finished his business.

I know you must be blushing fiercely, and I tell you Annie, it was I could do to keep from covering my ears.

I believe the story arose from the sight of a lava tube, near the volcano, of the red rusty remains of the molten lava passing through – folding redly outward like, well there is no other word for it – labia – such as a midwife would see while assisting in the miracle of birth.  The medical word.  I mean, a perfect likeness, appearing on the floor of this one tunnel along the volcano coast.

Now I must close and beg you my dear friend to speak no more of this.  I give you permission to burn this letter lest I die of embarrassment upon the revealing of it to any but you.


Your sister Margaret

Africa Diary 2010

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Zambezi River Hippos

August 20th, 2010:  Friday morning, and no, we are not there yet.  A slow cool boat ride follows the high-seated Jeep ride.  Hand painted wooden signs direct campers to various stops along the banks.  The river is filled with hippos.  A fat lazy crocodile poses for Jeff’s camera.  The air is a lovely cool while our metal boat is skimming the surface of the Lower Zambezi river, and the smell is like fresh hay.  It is a fine day in Zambia. 

At Chiawa Camp at last, we debark, and John, the man with the clipboard arranging the day’s events asks if he could get me something to drink.  I ask for a Vodka rocks with a twist of lime fully expecting this smart ass remark to be met with a substitution, say of a warm local beverage, but John says, with a twinkle, would you like me to make that a double.  I’m going to like it here. 

Soon, our cast of hospitality providers present themselves:

Grant, earnest son of the owners with a quiet humor,

Everesto, the Shy Gun Man,

Paul the Head Guide, a blue eyed South African – so very knowledgeable,

Daniel, our walking guide, a local boy, also quite knowledgeable, soft spoken as he tells us the story of his grandfather who was killed by a hippo while working on the family’s banana farm,

Clement (like the Pope) our fishing guide, soooo polite, soooo patient, scoots the boat forward toward everything we point at.

There are a maximum of 9 guests in the Camp at any one time, and our companions are fascinating as well.  Louis, Claudine, Pierre-Jean and Monique, two couples from French Switzerland, are such excellent company, and they teach us to kiss three times goodbye. 

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            Nearly every day Lumpy, the bull elephant, wanders through the camp, casually dining on the highest tree’s leaves.  In our cloth suite (I just can’t call it a tent, there’s a copper bathtub in the middle for criminy’s sake), the staff puts hot water bottles between the sheets every night – they are covered in fuzzy leopard spotted cozies, and the towels are twisted and shaped into green terry elephants on the bed each night.  On the veranda, today, while water buffalo chew their cuds to the right of the fabric-based chalet,  nervy baboons stroll up our walkway, river hippos in the distance – the chuckle when they eat.  I awaken Jeffrey from his nap – hey hey there’s a water buffalo right outside!  Later we see waterbuck, and Impala among the acacia trees.  Daniel weaves some of the bark into a hand sized rope – my new favorite souvenir.