Leonardo’s Garden

I can hear you honey coming my way, I
remember how you used to speak my name
I saw you walking long the river to my garden
Your hair shone like the milky way
Lamplight glowed down in St. Germain
Day is gone and we’re only getting started

I hear the music like I always have
won’t force you none, though I’m moving fast
what’s done is done
what’s past is past

You are the angel
breathing in my dream, you can
Call me goblin
Call me the creep
You know who I am
You know I never sleep
How much longer shall we dance this dance, we’ve been
waltzing all along the Cumberland
you’ve called my name
and baby I’m your man

I saw you rise as the desert sun
I was born, we were one
heard ‘em say we were old
and today we are young

I hear you walking through my secret garden
the music through you and calling my name
the world’s changed
and I don’t feel the same
But I can sing and you know I can dance
I’m making way through this cold and damp
day’s breaking, as I take your hand

Let me lie back in sweet surrender
Let me honor, cherish and defend her
I lost my track again but I know I can remember
Is this life lady, and life only?
Well your beauty took me
honey, it stoned me
I think I’ve been here baby
Yea I know how you told me

Open Up (Happy Anniversary)

Throw open your desk
toss it upside down and
listen to Schumann, break
down the walls of every room, sell everything you own and over the new flames from within
begin to create
a brand new art form

Then when the sounds of the violin cease
open the window
and listen
to the distant
sounds of the city
in the cool
morning
breeze

Lyrics: Today We Are Young

Lyrics By Ren Michael

Come you princes and gamblers
And I’ll tell you a tale
About an unborn world
From the cold winds of hell
I think you will find
That my story’s been told, indeed it’s centuries old
And though I am young,
You may know me quite well.

They may call me king bishop,
They may say I’m unkind
That I’m a blue-tuned sailor,
Got a simple mind
Tell me, when you look in the mirror
Or through your window view
Do you see a stranger’s eyes
Staring straight at you?

All you big-wigs and con-men
Who stole from my town
How’s the blood in your coffee,
Soaked in your nightgowns?
And how does it feel
To live behind a wall?
They may call you rich men,
But you don’t know wealth at all.

To the big who are small,
Self-proclaimed greats of all time
Who sweat over accolades,
Wasting their rhymes
Man, they couldn’t pay me
To put on your shoes
Held down by the weight
Of having something to prove.

To those who march through the wild,
Along the borderline;
To the persecuted and exiled,
I’m yours and you are mine
And to every shade of oppressor,
Your day will come soon
But in the end, just remember,
You are me and I am you.

You may quote from the wise,
Or your scriptures of old
But when you spill the blood of my brother,
Call the prophets your own,
In the eyes of the Lord,
You cast every stone
To twist the good word
In your own quest for the throne.

And so to all those
Who’ve taught me to love
Who in the same second,
Flaunt their handguns
Your sons and your daughters
Look to you every year
As you preach of peace
In the cold fortress of your fears

Come you princes and gamblers
And I’ll tell you a tale
About a battle-scarred world
That’s seen some serious hell
I think you will find
That my story’s been told, indeed it’s centuries old
And though I am young,
You ought to know me well.

Yea, along life’s ladder,
You may recognize every rung
And though you may feel real old;
Know today, we are young.

That’s Infotainment!

My most recurring thought on January 6th was that if the insurrectionists had been Black, they’d be dead.  They would have been tear-gassed, beaten, thrown in jail and murdered.  Tanks would still be patrolling the Washington mall.

If anyone is still on the fence about white privilege, uncertain what it is and how pervasive it remains in our society, they needn’t look any further than the pictures of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol and ransacked congressional chambers and offices, their feet propped up on the desk of the Speaker of the House, getting caught in the act by police, and then not getting arrested but instead walking freely out the door.

Imagine if they were Black.  Or Latino.  Or Indigenous.  Do you honestly believe the reaction would have been the same?  If so, then I implore you to step outside your own circle and listen to people you haven’t listened to before.

Of course that speaks to the broader mechanisms at work which led to the riots in the first place.  We have justly recognized Donald Trump as the leader and the primary inciter of the plot to overthrow our democracy; but we must confront the reality that he is only the tip of the iceberg, go deeper and recognize not just the man who incited it, but the system that propped him up in the first place, the system which sustained him and all those like him for years, long before 2016.

That system is the modern infrastructure through which we access our information, comprised mainly of social media outlets and cable news.

With the accelerated rise of each over the last ten years, Americans now essentially occupy different realities.  I have no doubt that the insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol believed they were doing the right thing.  According to the information they are constantly fed through Fox News personalities or any of the various fringe outlets they follow on social media, Donald Trump won the election and their government is therefore being stolen from them by culprits ranging from a broad covert socialist movement to Bill Gates.

Yet the fact that Donald Trump was even able to ascend to power in the first place, mostly by lying and stoking paranoia proves that he must have had a platform, multiple in fact, that gave him the stage.  I recall in 2011 how every cable news network—whether allegedly right or left leaning—was perfectly willing to have him on as a guest, while he spouted out baseless conspiracy theories that Barack Obama wasn’t born in America, that he therefore snuck in and unlawfully became President.

Why did they have him on in the first place?  Was he an expert on…anything?  Had he been conducting any sort of hard reporting on the ground and thus been able to provide some kind of groundbreaking news relevant to the public?  The kind based on actual evidence?  No.

He was entertaining.  A personality who was good for ratings.  Who liked attention and who knew how to wield it, as demonstrated since the 1980s throughout his many public feuds perpetuated by New York tabloids.  When it came to playing the media to boost his profile, Trump was a true maestro, and he would prove to remain so for years into the future.

A liar needs a stage to consolidate power and Trump’s success is owed to the pervasive entertainment culture of our modern news media and to his mastery of it.

In their eagerness to follow him, driven by their need for high ratings, the cable news networks became his all-too-willing accomplices.  In the meantime so did we, all of us who continued to watch these programs and give them our viewership.

We created this monster and now we’ve seen the consequences quite literally breaching the walls of our institutions and our very system of governance.

In answering the inevitable question of what we do from here, it’s worth noting that We the People can still exercise our power by simply making different decisions on how we get our information, on what we will and will not watch, or read.  In making these personal decisions, it’s worth asking ourselves the following questions:

Why do I trust this program/person?





Are they providing evidence to back their claims?





Can I access the evidence myself and if so, am I even willing to investigate the evidence myself?





Have they made a claim in the past, one that was initially disregarded, dismissed or considered outrageous, that turned out to be true?





Is what they’re saying backed up by other reputable sources?





How do I define reputable?





Am I watching this because I want to be informed, or because I want to be entertained and merely feel informed?



Do I like this person’s personality?





Should their personality be relevant?





How would I react if they were merely reporting news and facts without adding their opinion?

Any broader political or legal action, beyond these personal decisions each of us can and should make, naturally raises new questions concerning free speech.

Or does it? Maybe all we need to do is study history, and remember the federal regulation which existed for nearly forty years before it’s revocation in 1987: the Fairness Doctrine.  It required that TV and Radio stations present all sides of an issue for the sake of an informed electorate.  The Reagan administration revoked the policy, believing that such considerations were better left to the will of the free market.

If at face value that seems sensible, consider whether the evolution of our media over the past 30 years tells a different story. In the mid-nineties, conservative talk radio took off with leading personalities (not reporters or journalists) like Rush Limbaugh. Shortly thereafter, perhaps picking up on radio’s cue, two competing cable news networks debuted within the same year–Fox News and MSNBC. Perhaps at first, the coverage on either network seemed straight enough and relatively light on its editorializing. That would change as other personalities like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews proved better for ratings, people less known for their reporting than for how they reported, for their personality and manner.

Today the cable news landscape is dominated by these prototypes, whether it’s a show’s host or the rotating usual suspects of spin doctors they consistently invite to speak, the talking heads telling us how to think and how to feel.

Editorializing is nothing new, nor is it particularly dangerous. What is dangerous is the editorializing being disguised as news, television shows–governed by the rules of entertainment before journalism–being equated to news programs that report facts absent of spin or opinions. Put it this way, if you’re wondering why we don’t have any more Walter Cronkites, David Brinkeys or Tom Brokaws, it’s not because they don’t exist. It’s because their modern equivalents have been overshadowed by the people who bring in more money for the networks.

So while most of us think we’re getting informed, we’re really just getting amped up with more of what we want to hear–not from reporters who report facts, but by people who think like us and present information (or don’t present it) in a way that will keep us in our own ideological bubble.

It frankly astonishes me that people remain perplexed as to why we’re so divided in this country. And while it might be too late to close Pandora’s box or fully reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in a modern media landscape so vast and diverse–at least without provoking mobs of people rallying against what they view as some ominous government censorship–we do need to begin properly distinguishing the news from propaganda.

Laws decree that motion pictures and television shows are given content ratings, that music with any profanity be labeled explicit. It might be time to issue similar regulations for television shows or internet channels posing as news, for personalities quietly reassuring us that we can count on them to provide all the facts we need, so long as they reserve the right to tell us how to feel about them.

Unless we take serious steps in regulating our media and information infrastructure we should expect our country to grow more divided, the mobs more frequent, and We the People to become a greater danger to ourselves.

Lyrics: Made in the U.S.A. (American Made)

fire at the Bastille
bringing death to all your woes
I’ll break from these chains
and claim my mind as my own
the winds are blowin’ strong
the night is getting cold
I’d like to see America
before I get too old

I marched for our lives
I occupied the streets
I gave you all my love
in the time of COVID-19
I was born to run
Maybe I’m a rolling stone
I ain’t letting go of rock n’ roll
No I just don’t wanna be alone

the tune’s as smooth as wine
we’re crooning in time
I’m patching up matchboxes, now
and blue valentines
the winds are blowin’ strong
the night is getting cold
I’d like to see America
before I get too old

I’ve got Beethoven to my left
Robert Johnson on my right
I can hear the blues playing
on the river Danube tonight
I see Jimmie Rodgers on the coastline
And the Carter family too
Train whistle’s blowing
Neath an Appalachian Moon

I’m no beast of burden, and
I don’t shoot to thrill
I wanna see Rita Hayworth
on every hundred dollar bill
I’d like to read Walt Whitman
William Blake and Danté
You can take Jackie Robinson
Cause I’ve got Willie Mays

I swam ninety miles
of a blue crystal sea
I reached the rocky shores
of the Florida keys
we’ll raise a toast to the road
a toast to you and me
we’ll raise our glass
at Half Dome over
Yosemite Valley

rise of the cotton gin
death to my woes
I’ll break from these chains
and claim a house as my own
you wanna hear that I resist?
say my life is hard?
How long can I go
before they say I’m playing any card?

with rhythm and rhyme
like fruit of the vine
I’m patching up matchboxes
and blue valentines
In a home of the brave
where together we are saved
I’ll be your man
baby, we’ll be
American made

I don’t dwell on immortality, no
Legacy from me to you
I’m a guest here, I know
Only passing through
the winds are blowin’ strong
the night is getting cold
I’d like to see America
before I get too old

I write on the backs of napkins

I write on the backs of napkins
I write on scraps of tissue paper
for you ought to not sweat
the fancy jet
the time yet, no
or the old lessons of propriety
don’t stack that shelf
full of fancy volumes, neither
no, don’t overload the head with journals
with their pages crisp and clean
with the ribbons in between
if you’ve got paper
and you got a pen
then write it down
and let it all
flow
and ease the weight
from within your head
you’ll thank me in the end

Cordially Yours,
Your friend,
Ren

 

Originally published // renmichael.com

In-brief: Meditation

I was thinking about the Headspace app, and how for me, it was the real introduction to mediation.  It’s a great app for the beginner, and it does a wonderful job at making something long-considered esoteric more approachable and welcoming. 

I started using it in early Spring 2016 and I continued meditating consistently for the next 2-3 years. 

The experience taught me how to better handle my thoughts by adding some context and theory to what I probably already knew intrinsically—the simple idea that thoughts come and go and that there is no need to attach ourselves to them unless they are useful.

Simple enough, theoretically, though not necessarily easy to grasp.

The problem I ran into was that I got preoccupied with the notion of how I thought it should be.  That is, how mediation should be and how I should be having started the practice.  

This of course only led to more thinking, which inhibited me and had me second-guessing myself on matters I’d already more or less settled.  How I approach my creativity, chief among them, but really a broad range of matters from how I relate to people to my morning routines, from how I dress and to my taste in music

Those hiccups might seem unfortunate, but maybe they were necessary in order to stand on more solid ground further on up the road.  

I’m beginning to see how that sort of thing happens from time to time. 

Originally published // renmichael.com

Zia Meditation #2

on this day then
shall I make the declaration
to let fear fall before the sun
to set aside old clothes
and remember who I really am?
who and what I am to become?

to reclaim
the throne of my own heart
& the kingdom of my mind

to remember
the sun, setting before sweet Cambria
upon the majestic cliffs of Zion
and rising again over New Mexico
the Zia in electric blue

can we do it?
let’s do it then.

Let’s act.
and listen
open our hearts and minds
and then make the decision

let’s paint in brights shades
of blue, yellow and red
in broad brushstrokes, yea
on a pearl white canvas
without thinking twice
breathe big
smile
and play jazz music
Mozart
and the blues

you’ve got the heart of a lion

December 21, 2020

Mona Lisa Wheels

at my table
it’s a beautiful view
for in the cathedral of my mind, and
out across the highway
I’m seeing
visions
of antiquity
the streets of Paris
the slopes of the Sierra
the state roads of the South
along the banks of the Mississippi
river, and the ol’ Rio
Diabolo

I’ve got a set of wheels
a complex machine
sings from within me
my horse and steed
we take this road together
unmatched, obscene
but sharp and clean
over lands unseen
our spirit redeemed

It’s you and me,
let’s begin again now
and tell the old stories
oh how I love you, my friend
my fortune
my glory

dig it
we’re too big for dreaming

I think I’ll be living in Santa Fe pretty soon

I think I’ll be living in Santa Fe soon
picture me walking
‘long a New Mexico road
that Pueblo adobe
& streetlights of candlit
brown paper bags
on a winters night
me and the moon
and You
standing before St. Francis
cathedral
yea I can see it
I can see that being
my little midnight ritual
at the end
of every Saturday evening

let’s do it.

for right now
I’m right where I need to be