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

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

The Root

Political discourse like broken leaves
Stands in the shadows of laughing trees
The root of evil
Disguised as greed
Only as old as Adam and Eve
Cannot die but it must be beat, and
What comes to pass, what’ll come to be
Sings from deep within you and me.

Like a lion you are
A golden heart
As old as time
Though unborn, just thunder in the dark
Younger, less experienced
His untested mark
The test to wait
Through the blood
The great flood
Many years in the deepest recesses of Noah’s old ark
No angels for you, no
Just those in your soul
We’ll see what you do, unprotected
Still molested
Untested virtue
You’ll need help through the rain
Deep within the grain, your skin screams in pain
They may give you the whip, they may call you insane
And in the dark of the night, few will call you brave
Yet in the dark, like a lark
Goes right to your soul
In the quiet night, yea
In the murdering cold
A voice, quiet choice
Calls out, says you’re not alone
To love your brother, all you got is each other
It’s all you each will ever know.

Soon the voice dies
Some crucified, their eyes
Said to watch from the sky
You feel a need to keep the dream, carry on
Though you question why
Whether you do it, or not
Remains up to you
All you want’s your own life
Nice wife, and your own
bit of fruit

The choice seems clear, then
And it seems quick
Keep the people out, yea
It’s them that are sick
It’s them that rape, pillage
And crack the whip, indeed
A wise man knows when to quit
No,
I won’t cast stones
I’ll just build me a wall
Better to be dressed to kill
Than prone to crawl

And yet every time night falls
Through your window view
You won’t play the fool
You want what’s owed to you
You know you’ll have it all, if you just forget
The voice in the night every time the sun sets
But rich or poor
Still you feel unborn
You got love
But who’s it for?
When you realize a sobering truth
That love itself is no great virtue
To the courage that came first
Living in a dream, still deep inside of you

You wake in a cold sweat, it’s hard to forget
All the gold you own, and the possessions you’ve kept
But you leave it all behind and step out in the night
Soon the sun’ll come a-rising and you’ll enter the fight

And each and everyone will ask you “Whose side are you on?!”
They’ll worship and abuse you, and still you’ll carry on
Through the rain, there’s a thunder
And that rain’ll come hard
Yet still, you’ll stand together
With your brothers in arms.

Travel Log: Budapest/Borders

A few years back when I was still in Europe, people were persuading me not to go to Budapest since we’d heard news that the city was flooded with refugees seeking asylum from war-torn Syria.  But I had roots there and I’d never been as to close to it as I was then.  It was only a 7-hour train ride from Prague, so I decided to go. 

The roots I’m talking about are through my grandfather on my mother’s side.  Though I never met him, I feel like I’ve known him all my life through the stories I’ve heard and through the music–the Hungarian violin and the old gypsy csárdás, which are a type of folk dance native to Hungary made popular long ago by the Romani gypsies.

Whether it takes me to Castilla or Budapest, it seems I’m guided by that music and the unrelenting thirst for movement and experience it seems to inspire. Here I was now, years later, paying homage to my own gypsy blood, riding a train and vagabonding through Europe for close to a month already, finally making my way to a place–much like Castilla–that felt like my homeland in more ways than one.   

When the train pulled in to the station I looked out the window and caught my first sights of the city. I’ll admit, I half-expected to see angry mobs raising all sorts of hell like it was the Bastille at the start of the Revolution.

Yet as I looked out, I saw nothing particularly remarkable. The station was quiet. Nearly empty.  I stepped outside and saw fellow passengers leaving the train, some being greeted by friends and loved ones. I saw a few kids hanging out by the cafe and a few more outside, skateboarding around the courtyard. Whatever chaos had been unfolding in the preceding days and weeks had gone now.

I thought for a moment about the media and it’s tendency toward sensationalism, as it sometimes ignores other news for the sake of news that will keep us interested or drive up their ratings. I do worry whether it might become the boy who cried wolf, if it hasn’t already; as today I consider those who still have trouble grasping the urgency of climate change, or COVID-19 for that matter.

In any case, however things went down here, it appeared the refugees had either moved on or disappeared into the city blending in with everyone else. They were only people with the same essential needs and aspirations as the rest of us. And the more I recognized that, the more I thought about those qualities that truly defined a country.

Was it borders, or something less tangible? Maybe something not quite set in stone but in constant motion, rooted in history but still vulnerable to change by the passage of time, or by the influence of an outside world–one that can never be kept outside for too long.

If the latter was true, then I figured countries were a macrocosm of the individual human experience, which would ultimately make borders something of an illusion.

I hoisted my bag over my shoulder and stepped out onto the streets, the sky turning a bright pink as the sun set behind the hills and day faded into evening. The air had grown cool.  I could hear a violin somewhere not too far away.

a capella #1

I am not exactly a conventional musician, you know…
I couldn’t tell you anything about theory.
I can’t even read music. No,
I’m just like this wild man of the woods
born of the swamp, singing
if not screaming to the heavens
and sometimes to my people
and I’m gonna use whatever
I have on me to be able to do it.  

Though all I really need is my voice.

mantra #1

an exercise for clearing
out the cobwebs in your head…

for if we are truly
to get to writing then
we must have no fear (and)
keep the lids off the pens
things will get messy
as we paint the towns red.

as we write and we
write, see we write, write on
all excited once again when we
finally get to bed
as our body shakes and trembles
as we arrive outside our head

before the morning and late evening
when we do it all again

Mr. Moonlight Slim

Chase not the praise of others
seek only the affirmation of self
as you keep an eye out
for anytime you think
you’ve got things
figured out

as you constantly
create yourself
you may yet switch
names like you do
different hats
adopting shapes to match

but all the while
the stars align with
Slim the crescent moon
smiling in night
you are they
and they are you

a bluesman, true
born of the southern
American swamps
singing, dancing
for the coming
light of the sun
up the road, knowing
remembering all is
but one

Why We Are Voting Blue in 2020

When we started out in February of this year, we didn’t imagine we’d be making too many direct political or social statements.  We did hope to shed light on the deeper ideas and underlying philosophies that typically steer American politics, such as the size and scope of government or the importance of voter participation, or constructive ways to have a discussion about politics.

The intention was to try and distill the current political landscape from the corrosive, long-established binary model of “Republican and Democrat” or “Red and Blue” into a set of specific issues, complex at times but no less manageable, all of which are more universally relevant than we might realize—whether it’s climate change, racial justice or immigration.

We wanted to make sure the writing never felt like a lecture or came across as preachy in any way.  This was due not to any lack of enthusiasm on our part, but rather what we felt was an understanding of more effective communication, of understanding that nobody likes a lecture unless maybe they already agree with it.

However, this year more than ever before, it seems the virtues of fairness, decency, critical thinking, compassion and listening are on the line.  The deeper underlying principles that govern how we communicate with one another, far deeper than those we hoped to talk about, are themselves at stake.  

This is an election on what we normalize in our collective character and consciousness for generations.     

In the Presidential Election we have one candidate who has demonstrated a fairly consistent philosophy throughout his career while the other demonstrates no real philosophy outside his own brand and the hyper-inflated paranoia he thinks will elevate him politically, beginning almost ten years ago with his crusade to have President Obama prove he is a citizen.

We have one who trusts science and empirical data; while the other says “I don’t think science knows,” in response to what a broad, worldwide coalition of scientific research concludes as a climate crisis caused and further aggravated by human activity.

The reason that listening, critical thinking and empiricism, open discussion and compassion are all at stake is because our current president has proved to be their walking antithesis.  Equally, and quite successfully, he has labeled anyone calling out his vulgarity as too politically correct or sensitive, which has only encouraged a growing culture of not listening, unfounded conspiracies, bigotry, sexism and delusion.  

Examples of his oafish and repulsive behavior include but are certainly not limited to a gross imitation of a reporter with a disability, and saying that John McCain “is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  

The will to survive and maintain one’s honor in the face of overwhelming despair and torture is indeed heroic; and anyone who has heard the story of John McCain’s five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp must recognize Trump’s statement as not politically incorrect, but simply indecent, heartless and foolish.  Donald Trump never served in the armed forces.  He’s never tasted real danger in his life.  

Other examples include drawing an equal degree of blame between white supremacists–some of whom Trump declared to be “very fine people”–and those who stood up to them in Charlottesville, Virginia; and then most recently, the mocking of those taking COVID-19 seriously as he continues to hold open rallies with no social distancing or requirements for masks while the pandemic has now claimed over 200,000 American lives.

To that point we’ve provided a tweet posted by Donald Trump 23 hours ago as of this writing, drawing a comparison between one of these rallies, and a speaking event for Joe Biden in which people are exercising responsible safety measures and social distancing.  Yes indeed, there is a stark difference.       

Joe Biden has demonstrated a personal and political philosophy founded mainly on compassion, critical thinking and facts.  Donald Trump evidently isn’t deep enough to think about anything other than himself.

Beyond the scope of the Presidency, we are witnessing the mutation of a political party into a warped and twisted cult of personality that seems to honor and endorse whatever Donald Trump tells them.   

In 2013 the Republican-led Supreme Court voted to cut a critical component of the Voting Rights Act which required districts with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval before making any changes to their election laws.  This ultimately led to the closure of more than 1,600 polling places throughout the South, typically in Black communities and communities of color.  House Democrats passed a resolution to restore the Voting Rights Act, but it has yet to be passed in the Senate.  It still sits on the desk of Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, as it has for over 200 days.    

In Texas meanwhile, 750 polling places closed following the Court ruling.  Most of these closures took place between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections. 

Just weeks ago, the state’s Republican governor issued an order to limit the number of places voters could hand-deliver their mail-in ballots to a single location per county—clearly problematic for the populous Harris and Travis Counties for example, which had previously designated a dozen and four drop-off locations respectively.  

Of course, the Republicans’ latest egregious attempt at holding onto power regardless of popular will reveals itself in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  She was confirmed three days ago by the Republican-led U.S. Senate—eight days before our election.  In 2016, a whole 293 days before the election, the Senate, still led by Republicans, refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.  Their reasoning for delaying the vote four years ago was that it was too close to an election, and that the American people should have a say on the selection of the next Justice.  

Of course, with a dim fraction of that time remaining this year, that reasoning somehow no longer applies in the confirmation of their own nominee.  The double-standard and hypocrisy is loud and clear. 

The Republican Party itself has been morally declining for years, as they have proven to care strikingly little about actual democracy and equal representation than they do about holding onto their power.  They know the majority of eligible voters don’t stand with them.  The people don’t stand with them.  The country doesn’t stand with them.  And consider this additional fact.  In the last 30 years, a Republican candidate for President has won the popular vote just one time.  The Democratic candidate has won six times. 

Yet the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.  Something’s not adding up.  Given one party’s long enough history of suppressing the vote—alleging voter fraud whenever they can, in a country where less than half of eligible voters even vote at all—it should be pretty clear why that is. 

We can debate all day the size and scope of government in our lives, the strengths and pitfalls of capitalism, and a host of other ideas that invite different points of view.  But the modern-day Republican Party and their chosen leader and champion have long outstayed their welcome.  It’s time to vote them out.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with Democrats up and down the ballot; though not just because they are, quite simply, everything the Republicans are not.  We cannot vouch for every candidate individually, but we can say that as a whole, over the past twenty years, they have done far more to expand voting rights and access to affordable health care, they’ve worked far more to cultivate a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and they’ve fought far more for equal justice. 

In this election, more so than ever, there is really no comparison.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  We are voting Blue up and down the ballot.  We encourage you to do the same.  

Please vote.  And if you can, vote early and in-person.  

Thank You.