Ocean of Being

The Bean, Chicago
Lots of wavers usually strike this sphere

“In the same way when the ocean has a wave on it, the wave is not separate from the ocean, is it? Every wave on the ocean is the whole ocean waving. The ocean waves and it says, ‘you-hoo! I’m here, see?’ But I can wave all over the place, I can wave in many different ways, I can wave this way, I can wave that way. So the ocean of Being waves every one of us. And we are its waves. But the wave is fundamentally the ocean.”

I happened to be walking on the beach on a gorgeous January Saturday afternoon listening to Alan Watt’s audiobook, You’re It! On Hiding, Seeking, and Being Found. Pondering his lecture on Zen Buddhism. How the individual is inseparable from her environment, how she is the cosmos—mere skin boundaries and the notion of “I” an illusion, if I got that right. We are what’s out there.

One wave in my daily life feels like thousands of waves, so much cacophony competing for attention. Bright shiny things on the web, one link leading to another, millions of us vying to express realities, get attention, offer services or some sort of connection. Bookmarks, podcasts, videos I will never get to. A deafening, shuddering roar. Riptides that suck me off-course.

The Ocean of Being is waves of chaos; I am a giant anemone extending millions of soft pudgy arms, reacting to currents, to pressure, to invisible forces, bumping each tendril tentacle around and around and waving, Me Me Me! Suck and bash and swallow and regurgitate.

Oh, dear, I forgot where I found this cutie online.

Offline, I have piles of magazines waiting for me all around the house that clutter-minders would say “Throw out!” because they just remind you of your failures, of all the things in your busy life you can’t get to, to: The New Yorker,  Discover, Grit (will I ever build my own chicken coop?), Mother Jones, Mother Earth Living, Herb Companion, Sunset (recipes), Riviera (nightlife), The New York Times (life), Poets & Writers (art), The Writer’s Chronicle, Atlantic (culture), Smithsonian (history), National Geographic, Psychology Today, Orion, CityBeat (pop culture), Outside, Backpacker, Sierra (trips, save the planet), my husband’s Stanford (do-ers), The Sun, Zzyzzyva (and other literary journals), and one Mad Magazine (puerile fun)  I just couldn’t resist buying two years ago and still haven’t read. If I can’t let the outside in, who am I?

I have stacks of excellent books to read. I can’t even get through the entire Sunday New York Times each week, so how can I get to all this other wonderful stuff. But I love stories, I love information, I could swim butterfly through the Zeitgeist. I can’t bear to part with potential. I could learn anything from anywhere and want to. That’s who I am and want to be. A sea sponge.

It's not exactly neighborly, but you get the drift.
It’s not exactly neighborly, but you get the drift.

It used to be you leaned over the fence and learned something useful or listened to a yarn, accident, tale. Sometimes you had to be patient to wade through a lot of noise. But then something useful, meaningful, would boil up. Now, I have a million neighbors on physical and digital pages, all at the fence, all hyperready to lean in and tell me something, share a tip or experience that will make my life richer and more meaningful in the transmission. Define me.

I love my technology, my electricity, being able to plug my electric kettle into the wall and get hot tea in seconds while surfing the web. But I long for a simpler time, a candlelit fantasy which would come only from an emergency blackout with its enforced stillness of time and noise (courtesy of a wildfire, earthquake, mass accident, or other calamity). I imagine, if my only job is to wait it out, that I could finally pile down to the stacks and stacks of magazines and books, the old school reading. Clear the path for all the digital delights just waiting for the lights to come on. Let the cosmos of voices in.

It’s all so damned interesting, me stuck here on my one little outcrop, clinging to my own little barnacle-encrusted piece of oceanic violence and human crush. Now I’m waving at you. Bye-bye. Off to read or to write one more thing to add to the cacophony.

And another cutie whose source I’m afraid I can’t attribute.

Symbiogenesis: bug your elders

Mommy & Daddy (pic from Wikipedia)

So humans, fanatic wielders of Clorox wipes, are just one branch in long genetic lines of bacterial evolution. Our great-to-past infinity-grandparents were bugs and we are bugs, and we already know we can’t live without them, whether you’re pro-biotic or anti-biotic in nature. Just our digestive tract alone hosts a good ten times more organisms than we have cells in our body.

Bugs R Us. Not only do we contain them, the cells in our bodies quite probably evolved from them. Next time I see a toddler stuffing her face with dirt I’ll just call it a family reunion.

Our bodies are a vehicle of sorts, carting around 100 trillion microbes, according Carl Zimmer, who writes about the human biome, among other things (New York Times Magazine, 12/3/11). Amy Barth reported that we pack around 200 trillion microscopic organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi and lists where they lurk in our guts, pits, scalp, elbows, skin, and so on (Discover, March 2011). What’s the diff among a few trillion microorganisms.

When I go out to feed my worms kitchen scraps and shredded junk mail, it is not the red wigglers I’m actually feeding, but all the bacteria in their guts, which they kindly process into yummy fertilizer I cast onto my broccoli plants. (Which just get eaten by the allegedly higher Orders, like isopods, crickets, and rabbits, anyway.) I call the composting shelves my Worm Condo but perhaps I should name it “Penthouse of Bacteria,” instead.

We like to think humans are more than just bacteria pods, but are we? And yet—some of us feel we have a certain intelligence in our guts, but that’s another story.

{An aside, or Station Break}

Speaking of bacteria pods, it’s not fair that our body’s high water content (70%) gets all the attention, such that creatures in one episode of Star Trek called the human species Ugly Bags of Water. Particle physicists used to say we’re just a lot of empty space, considering the corresponding distance between an electron and proton in just one atom of our trillions of cells is the equivalent of 11 miles, if you pinned the suckers down: The now-outdated Bohr solar system atom model is still useful for high school biology teachers, but now we understand, with quarks and their constituents buzzing around a nearly light speed inside a proton—or among whatever energy, magnetic, or gravitational field hangs out around there, that this “space” is much fuzzier and smearier, a whole dark matter of mystery inside and around an atom inside and around whatever n-dimensional space. (If anyone read this post I’d probably get canned for that new atomic cosmic analogy, but what can I say? It was a Thought Quark.)

{And now back to Bugs}

My Science Times podcast (in an interview with Carl Zimmer, sometime early 2011) reminded me that the DNA of microorganisms residing in our Gut Palace outnumbers the human genome a hundred fold. Who’s genes are we? What about that gut intelligence?

Microbial ecologists have also found that people have different types of biomes, or unique sets of microbial colonizations, not unlike the four different blood types (A,B,AB,O)–a sort of gut fingerprint is how I see it. (That from another Science Times podcast, which I listened to while walking the dogs so I don’t always note the date before the next synch casts it off.)

{Is it pejorative to call Bacteria ‘Bugs?’}

Evolutionist and academic rabble-rouser Lynn Margulis, now in her seventies, is still stirring up the worm castings. She’s a bio-logical provocateur, one of my favorite kinds of people.  Discover interviewed her in April 2011, from which I gleaned some of her concepts.

Margulis revolutionized our understanding of evolution in 1967 with her concept that eukaryotes (cells with a nuke) and other complex cells evolved as a series of mergers among bacteria living collectively and then symbiotically. She believes that symbiosis, or “symbiogenesis,” is what makes new species evolve, far more than random mutations and natural selection. The latter exists more to maintain and weed existing species, she says. (That’s some heavy culling, I’d say, going from Neanderthal to Sapien sapien or Erectus to Habilis–what were they eating back then? We’re headed for Homo plasticus, minus the sapience, I fear.)

Margulis has some interesting points. Symbiogenesis better supports Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium,” which is what you see as time gaps in the fossil record, for one.

Protoctists (eukaryotes) appear in the fossil record around 452 million years ago, Hominidae (our apelike forebearers) maybe in the past 15-20 million years, and actual humans, gosh, just in the past 200,000 years, max.

Ancient bacteria and their ilk became pretty handy at finding specialized niches those hundreds of million years ago: Margulis posits that every visible life form is a combination or community of bacteria.

Our teeny cellular powerhouses, mitochondria, for example, came from oxygen-respiring bacteria. We can’t live without these mighty organelles. When you run out of energy, blame them. In plants and algae, the great photosynthesizer, chloroplast, came from cyanobacteria (formerly known as “blue-green algae”).

How? So a zillion years ago, an amoeba couldn’t digest a bacterium, but they worked pretty well together—the bacteria made oxygen or vitamins that were helpful and at some point transformed themselves into mitochondria, because “long-term symbiosis leads to new intracellular structures” and so on, and here we all are, the isopods, the crickets, the rabbits.

Evolution, according to Margulis, is a series of acquired genomes. Sounds bio-logical to me.

Take the cilia (in rods and cones in the eye; in the inner ear, for balance; in motility systems all over the body): Rather than evolving from random mutation they could have come from the acquired genome of a spirochetish symbiotic bacterium that could sense light or motion, oh so long ago. Margulis theorizes that our cytoskeletal system came from the incorporation (what a perfect word) of ancestral spirochetes.

And why not? It makes as much sense as anything else. She really pisses off a lot of evolutionary biologists, though, among other theorists. They say, “wormshit!”

Margulis posits that all living cells possess consciousness, if consciousness is a matter of responding to sensory stimuli, if I read her right. Says Margulis, bacteria have been around since the origin of life and are still running the soil and air and affecting water quality.

Humans have been around for just a relative teeny blip in time; let’s round and say 1 million years vs. bacteria’s 350 million years–and look at all the havoc we wreak on the planet (OK, we’ve kind of junked up the solar system, too). Like an invasive species, we consider ourselves special and intelligent as we nonetheless overgrow our habitats.

In Margulis’ line of thinking, we’re starting to act like “mammalian weeds.”

A buggy weed.

Latin Gags: There’s Thrust in Brevity

Go Glad

Words that make me gag:

*micturate (to pee)
*macerate (to chew)
*parturition (birthing)

Writers studying craft tend to prefer the short, crunchy Anglo-Saxon portion of our lexicon over the more abstract latinates. Anglo-Saxon is pithy: Words like suck, chew, hit, piss, and fuck get to the point faster than their polysyllabic brethren. There’s thrust in brevity. The English language was not spared in the Roman conquests, and folks still use the language of its conquerors to sound important, sometimes laughably so.

I do like greco/latinates in the right place, but the words for bodily functions make me squirm. Whoever came up with “micturate” for gawd’s sakes? Ew. I will never run to the bathroom holding my crotch for fear of premature micturation. Maybe that’s why I dislike the word masturbation–a general clinical ickiness submerged in polysyllabic lip slapping (macerate on that one). The word sounds so clinical, depraved, shameful, nothing like the very human sport of jerking off that kids usually discover by age 13.

*sternutation: Who would ever think this means “to sneeze”? How about “snatiation”–this is sneezing uncontrollably on a full stomach, a recent amusing coinage; the Romance language lends itself to such unromantic pairings.

Latinates can give writers the perfect word in the right context; it’s a damned shame when writers and editors use it to obfuscate or, as in so much science/nonfiction writing, when they need to deploy the Squid Technique: that’s when you don’t know what to say (or how to say it) so you hide behind a cloud of ink.

The Tyranny of the Stupid Class

Education of the Stupid Classes: Kansas church teaches children to hate

Times like these I want to move to another planet: Polls that show what many Americans really think (“think” being an exaggeration, more like reptilian cogitation). Glenn Beck, Sarah-beyond-the-Pale-in and her ghastly illogic, Tea Baggers, the entire ilk of reptilian cogitators who invade our headlines with their unnewsworthiness. I am still reeling from the Kansas church protestors who came to San Diego, and a child in their congregation–a child– hoisted a sign that said God Hates Gays and Jews.

These people are comprehensive in their incomprehensible ignorance.

It’s the tyranny of the Stupid Classes. Makes me feel so lonely and afraid and shoved into my well-read corner: I can only hope the other quiet people have got the other three. By quiet I mean not making useless noise.

“Liberals” are not just an “educated elite”–we’re just busy reading, thinking, doing, creating, hoping that these mouthy people will crawl back under their planks, go back to their fecund festering dark places; knowing they always erupt in Bruegelian periodicity when the economy sours, when we need scapegoats, when we need labels for chaos and uncertainty.

The whining mewling and frighteningly powerful stupid classes. I tell myself they have their points, they have a few reasonable concerns (the fear of any government wielding too much power). They don’t articulate well (“Obama is the Antichrist”? Global Warming is a hoax? Obamacare is Socialism, complete with Hitler mustache? Gutted and pathetic as the Healthcare bill is, it pales in comparison to what other advanced countries offer its tax-paying citizens). I tell myself that the Noisy People’s ghastly opinions and commentary come from a lamentable lack of awareness, global understanding, basic education (leaving aside scary hidden agendas and a dark desire to manipulate): Lamentations of “Obamacare” feed right into the for-profit insurance companies who are all too ready to exploit the underinformed.

What’s chilling is that some corporations are using the Stupid Classes to fuel their own commercial agendas and have the money to incite stupidity, leaving us all in their yacht wake of political devastation. Don’t get me wrong. I like to sail as much as anybody, but I will never fill my sails with Global Warming Gassy hot air.

A little integrity please. A little integrity.

I am not of the educated elite. I put myself through an inexpensive State university, which was all I thought I could afford at the naive age of 17 (otherwise, hell yes, I would have gone to Stanford or Yale and if not there, Berkeley), worked hard, studied hard, and continue to read and think past my advanced degree. It’s not so hard, really; in fact, thinking is painless. My grandfather, with his sixth-grade education, read widely and understood far more than the bobble-head rabble-rousers inciting unreason and recruiting membership in the Stupid Classes.

Results from a new Harris Poll:
• 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
• 57 percent of Republicans… (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
• 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
• 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
• 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”

Blackwater Gives Me Flak

Puppet Insurgency of San Diego sends envoy to Blackwater protest (Puppet Insurgency of San Diego sends envoy to protest.)

Here’s one role I never expected to play in life: organic intellectual. It’s when someone stays and works from within a community, instead of bailing when things get uncomfortable and difficult or trying to effect change from some safe haven.

It’s a term I picked up in some college philosophy class. I’d thought, hell, if the Sandinistas, the Nazis, Taliban, nay even corporate pantyhose pillagers are headed my way, I’m out of there.

But we didn’t move to New Zealand after losing the second election.

In fact, we moved to a highly conservative, traditionalist, Republican enclave, East County. We waded through streets lined with “Bush-Cheney” campaign signs, looking for a house.

The farther east, the cheaper the land, and the denser the Bush-Cheney signs. We landed 10 miles out from our beloved North Park and spanky-swanky Hillcrest neighborhoods, where I would never need play the role of organic intellectual.

No cul-de-sac utopia for me, thanks, I just needed enough land where my neighbors wouldn’t have to see things to pray about. A place for fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens, a hottub to get naked in, a place to throw the kinds of parties that attract fruit flies like me. So we’re rural, with one acre, but still sort of in a neighborhood.

A liberal democrat not getting chased out of East County after seven years gets careless, fearless of pitchforks. I volunteered at a “Vote for Change” bake sale in downtown La Mesa.

This is Big Truck country. Trucks with bumper stickers like “NØBama” and “Men for Palin.” Some of them drove down La Mesa Boulevard and hissed, booed, even flipped us off, but even more brave souls came and bought cookies.

Then an editor from a new online rag, East County Magazine, asked if I’d help write for them. A fledgling independent media outlet, with undeniable progressive leanings working in the heart of “McPain” territory.

I would become that organic intellectual. And I would do it for free.

So, for starters, I covered a protest at a new, some would say “covert,” Blackwater facility in southeast San Diego, Otay Mesa. Several police cars had arrived at the protest site and officers chatted with personnel at the facility. Gradually, many of the black & whites wandered off: It was a protest organized by people like the Peace Resource Center, for gods sakes.

To get “the other side” I called Brian Bonfiglio, the Vice President of Blackwater out here. He pulled into a parking lot just to talk to me and didn’t get where he was going for a good half hour.

Blackwater tractor

If a voice could swagger, Bonfiglio’s did. This is a guy who heads the kind of corporation that, according to Representative Bob Filner (Blackwater’s in his district), “shoots first and asks questions later.” A corporation that George Bush couldn’t run his entire war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without, according to author Jeremy Scahill. I kept my questions solely on the facility, and not about the Nisour Square shootings, which the Department of Justice is busy investigating.

Blackwater’s here to help train the Navy, but the protestors didn’t like that after “kicking them out of Potrero, where they wanted to open a mercenary training camp” they “snuck under the radar” and opened a new facility under front names in Otay.

I wrote all about that. I enjoyed Bonfiglio telling me, “I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s nothing in this process that would require me or my company to call the East County Democratic Club! Come on! That’s crazy.” I probably laughed. Bonfiglio was forthright and forthcoming, a good interview.

—Tho the protestors’ concerns are certainly no laughing matter. They’re worried about a powerful military training organization setting up shop along a border bristling with tension and racism, a mile from Otay-Mesa border crossing, a mile from the nearest ICE facility (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—that’s INS to you and me, just a rebranding), with military equipment manufacturing in Mexico and allegations they want to work with Border Patrol and drug enforcement activities in South America.

Bonfiglio said if I walked in there, I’d see ship simulators and Navy simulation stuff everywhere. (Don’t forget the firing ranges, Bri’.)

He said, “If you had real press credentials and you represented somebody, I’d be happy to show you around.”

“I don’t have official AP press credentials, because I’m working for a very small East County magazine, so, not yet.”

“You give me that name and we do a little bit of due diligence to fact check, to be honest. I don’t even care if you’re for or against a company like ours. I don’t care if you’re democrat or republican. None of that plays into this. But if you’re legitimately doing a story for a legitimate newspaper I’d be happy to show you around.”

“I’m legitimately interested in all sides,” I said, “let’s put it that way.”

So Brian Bonfiglio offers me a flak jacket. How far does the role of organic intellectual go? Is firing a gun a form of fact-checking to see if the enemy is not within?

I hope to post some more pics from the protest that were too inflamatory for pitchfork-wary East County Mag.

 Body chalk

Ode to a New Laptop

I turned you on.

Before we got started, there was just the blank screen, the inner sanctum. Everyone else sees only the outside shell, a flashing Toshiba logo stamped in fine metal. The flip side—after I unlatch and unfold you at the joints—is what only I will see, for hours on end.

I will dive in, deep into the inside while remaining, I must admit, in the shallows this side of the flat screen.

The flood of my thoughts will scandalize future grandchildren. They will have to clean up after me, like throwing out the old pill bottles an old person saves for some indistinct future use, memories I’ve held onto. Like cleaning the moldy muddy damage left after a global-warming-scale hurricane, this smear of life. Strip the hard drive, they will say.

Revelare! I open and reveal you.

A face stares back at me, from a darkly reflective glossy screen. Startled at first, we stare at one another, me and my indentured bank account projecting back to me as me. I set my forefingers above f and j and wait for Windows. What a blank, uncomposed expression, caught unawares in the Toshiba mirror. I might have composed myself, had I anticipated my face.

Toshiba, why did you have to install a mirror for a dead screen? Should I smoke while writing? Is your mirrorlike screen for the sophists who check their appearance in every passing window—why do you give us our face before you undulate the calming blues of Microsoft?

Right before I pen, you know, just a little literary story (that someone will try trace to experiences in my own life, as if it’s always about me and probably is, that some journal will accept in return for a free year’s subscription)—why must I first ponder this face, pale white flower, like the stars that shine against the drowning waters, already curling, browning around the edges, now fading, as I fall, fall, into the beckoning blues of Windows.

Mizu no kokoru. Mind like water. If I imagine my mind like the surface of clear, undisturbed water, I can reverse narcissism, according to the East, mind expanding out and encompassing everything, including nothingness. A clear, calm surface reflecting everything around it perfectly. No turmoil, peacefulness.

I should leave it at load and not go on Word, ripple what is quiet, ripple up a hurricane.

Mizu no kokoro. Mind like water. You win, Toshiba, against Western mythology. You give us what we want so we can drown, with the speed of centrino technology, in our own solipsistic waters. Starting out with our blank face.

The blues have arrived. My middle finger points, just a little ways, inevitably, up and a bit west—to i.