Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Building a Lasting Path

Good Grief!

This latest dire crisis on Wall Street, coupled with news from Nicaragua of serious hunger when I have no money to send, has had me spinning since last Thursday: my diet has crashed for the moment on a tidal wave of comfort food and wine. This is not good, for me or for America or Nicaragua, so yesterday, while Congress made it clear that our current President should head for his pasture full of gooey cow pies, I decided to take myself in hand and "Do Something" that would last. My favorite cut on the new Eagles album, Long Road Out of Eden (2007), "Do Something" hits me deeply in my contemplative-activist's heart: the Obama campaign, so intent on pushing grassroots activism for change, might consider adopting it as its theme song; it surely gets me out of my rocking chair.

Of course, then I had to decide what to do. That "lasting" bit made the choosing complicated, since, philosophically, I know that nothing lasts but change. Even philosophers, though, need roots in the soil of "doing," so I amended my quest to "building something that would last a reasonably long time"; that expanded my possibilities and established some limits, as well.

It eliminated the first task that popped up--That I should butter-fry up a mess of Velveeta Cheese and Mayonnaise sandwiches (a comfort food holdover from the 50's, absolutely taboo-poison in my current life style, except maybe when the Market's crashing). I instantly eliminated that because those grilled cheeses wouldn't've lasted ten minutes before being stuffed down my gullet, slathered with catsup, never mind the guilt. Nix on that.

What else in my current life had potential for reasonably long-lasting creation? I could work on my novel, Safehavens, or post on one of my blogs or write a poem or paint a picture, all things of notable longevity, but, after even thinking of all that toasty Velveeta, I figured I should move my body in this enterprise as well. Move it, move it, move it . . . BINGO!

The gravel path through the Wild Garden! I'd put it off for a month: Now, I'd do it. I'd plot it, edge it with small rock to hold the grass cloth down, then pour pails of gravel, one by one, over the cloth: a lasting path through the wilderness, designed to add a tension with its man-made-order, midst the wild grasses, willows, weeds, and the whispering of Cattle Creek. BINGO! While my world looked majorly awry on Monday morning, I'd mindfully focus on building a path.


Of course it might've been better if my work had sent food or money to Northern Nicaragua, but there's only so much I can do. I work in a artist's garden in exchange for pieces of her art. I did decide, though, that I'd make this path-building a walking meditation, a prayer for the poor of Teote.

And that's how it turned out, as each pail of gravel travelled down a slope to the garden, step-by-step, to cover another square foot of path. The work moved very sweetly: Cattle Creek gurgled and bubbled and sighed as the path slowly lengthened; I felt a minute-by-minute release of angst and terror and guilt, and a calm delight replaced my worry for my south-of-the-border family. The woes of the Stock Market disappeared. When a rock proved unmoveable, I wound the path around it, creating an island in the thin river of stone.

By quitting time, the gravel path was done and I felt whole and holy. My friend was in bliss. That charmed path had made the garden! Perhaps, as many claim, my working prayer had blessed the larger world as well. I felt like a monk in a Kyoto Temple garden, making order out of chaos with a rake, and, in truth, the ego has no place in successful design. Would that the economic planners in Congress had had that kind of focus, yesterday! Maybe they should all start building solid gravel pathways across the utter wildness of the White House lawn?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Letters to Ba'rama #4: Notes on the Frst Debate

Fresh from my Neighborhood Debate Party, Senator Obama, and full of fresher admiration for your presence on the national scene, I’m once again struck by the focus and clarity you bring to your hopeful message of change. Looking comparatively at the evening’s presentations is meaningful.

First, while you defended and clarified your record as needed, you spent much more time being “present moment” than your opponent, who relies on his past and never quite “gets” the Now. In fact, he avoids it, falling backwards to attitudes of American-Empire-Thinking that better belong in memory than in the mind of a possible President in 2008. Since most of our domestic and foreign problems stem from this elitist and ethnocentric mindset, it’s refreshing to hear you calling for open and honest dialogue without pre-conditions and “American” agendas. “My way or the Highway” thinking cannot work in the Now, when all ways are united in human mutuality.

Second, Ba’rama, you clearly are the better listener, both to Jim Lehrer and to McCain; your responses speak of experience with dialogue, compromise as needed, and building agreement, whereas your opponent often seemed more focused on presenting a canned message that skirted the issue at hand. The fact that you agreed with McC and complimented him when possible shows your maturity in argumentation and interpersonal relations. You also looked at him when you spoke to him, whereas his eyes never left the camera.

Third, sir, you spoke more often from fact and specific evidence than from “pleasing” generalities and “Beltway Bubble Babble.” It marks you as a critical thinker who respects clarity, particularly in your repeated interjection, “Let’s be clear.” Since we as a nation have been in a fog of purposeful untruth for many years, your forceful call for clarity marks you as a voice of truth in a murky wasteland of distortion and spin. It’s refreshing. Perhaps the other side still thinks the American Public cannot think, but I beg to differ. We can, we are, and it’s changed everything. More and more often, the emerging “American Public” is not looking for someone to “lead” it but, rather, for someone to collaborate with it for mutual benefit and respectful progress.

Fourth, my friend, while both of you hedged a bit from answering Lehrer’s excellent question about how your Presidencies would be changed by the current economic crisis—not surprising, since it’s too unclear to make predictions—I was happy to hear you state for the record your tax plans, since the other side’s ads have been full of shameful lies and spin that needed refuting. I was particularly happy when you called out his distancing from the GOP economic line, something he’s been supporting since Reagan.

Finally, then, I feel you won the debate because you spoke, with honesty, clarity, courage and reasonable passion, directly to us, from the Now, as a statesman and a world leader, whereas your opponent spoke as a seasoned politician whose bubble is likely to burst.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Friday, September 26, 2008

Too political? What's that?

To readers of this blog, I'd like to suggest, if you're interested in my political opinions, that you check out my blog for supporters of Barack Obama at . While I'll still be posting my "Letters to Ba'rama" series here, the blog post to the other blog will be more partisan than these. I do seek balance in all of my words.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Walking the Talk: Letters to Ba'rama #3

Right on, Ba'Rama!

Standing on your democratic principles to insist on this debate tonight has empowered your campaign and made your opponent sound, again, like a manipulative Bush clone, for all of us to see. This consistent pattern of terrorizing the American public in order to further rob the American Dream by denying debate or inclusion on issues which affect each of us, in the name of expedient, patriotic need (Ha!) has gotten so heavy-handed, it's backfiring, even if we are in a crisis. The Old Guard has called "Wolf" too many times, in order to get its way. Standing firm, as you are, in the face of this latest "direness," on the inclusion of the American Public to the conversation is the way I dream my next President to act.

Please stand firm on insisting for accountability in this bailout debacle. I don't mind so much the Govt. coming to the rescue if it's really necessary to stabilize things, but I think the taxpayers should get paid back with interest, perhaps by these firms accepting increased taxation to lower the national debt. Maybe that's too simplistic? However, that's been the system's stance with me: why should these firms be treated any differently, when it's, after all, "my money"?

I'm off to a Neighborhood Debate Party tonight, and will wear my Obama/Biden T-shirt even more proudly after your stance these last few days. I'm bringing the salad, though I really can't afford it this week. Right now it feels like a stance of hope to have food to share. I pray for your success tonight and our financial futures.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Letters to Ba'rama #2 "At the Bottom, There's Hope"

OK, Ba’rama. In the last post I appreciated your empathy, your ability, face-to-face, to share with the one in front of you—Amazing! I will likely never stop being impressed by that, that moment in time when we faced each other, when I felt empowered by the soul of Senator Barack Obama at the Cross Orchards in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Thus, today, I’ll appreciate your ability to inspire the grass-roots to empower themselves, a trait I took on years ago in my own writing classrooms as a community college professor. I had the choice to a) empower myself from the knowledge that my students had to pass my required class or b) to go one step further in the recognition that my knowledge of persuasion tactics would make them more powerful citizens. I chose b). The very concept of empowering others to empower themselves makes everything different: that ‘s what you’re doing, and I pray you will be successful on a national scale in the way I’ve been successful (so they say) in my classroom. What could be more meaningful?

Empowerment of others is an art. A gift. An ultimate blessing.

How fortunate that you're where you have the opportunity!

Your understanding of the Constitution and The Bill of Rights as living documents that grow as we grow thrills me, as I’ve not seen much adherence to constitutional law in the last eight years. The Constitution's been used and abused, and that offends me. I’m told I’m “totally out of the box” since my experiences in the Third World have matured me; though not an outlaw, I am a celebrator of our freedoms to license, within our need for restraint as community members. I believe the government has overstepped its function when it interferes in the lives of consenting adults, making personal choices. Responsibly-retired, debt-free, and politically active, I’m deeply empowered by most pages of your book, The Audacity of Hope, even though almost every one requires me to stop and think about your statements: what could be a more telling statement about the quality of a book?

Hooray for you!

So, now, all of a sudden, the other side is spinning its own grassroots appeal, its “soccer-mom-dom,” but, please: Let’s get real. No one on the other side has walked in anybody else’s shoes in years, unless they were stolen from some nameless taxpayer's closet. That side is about money and politics and spin, from the top down. Our stance is equality, about building bridges between the bottom of the beanstalk and the top, fostering mutuality [see my post "Whirling in Teote"]. The non-working “trickle-down” effect has crippled our economy and our international relations. Please, Ba'rama, stay honest, balanced, empathic and empowering!

I’ve been coming from the bottom of the ladder for a long time, as an advocate for the peasants of Nicaragua, deeply abused by American-Empire-Thinking for almost 30 years, and still not addressed realistically by the State Department; your stance for the empowerment of the American citizen in this election empowers both me and “them,” the people we've hurt intrinsically. I call upon you to remember that the “bottom” of our American society is still higher on the opportunity ladder of the world’s people, that the real bottom is the third of the world’s population, sweating for almost ‘nothing,’ living in the perpetual darkness of economic oppression endemic in the peasantry. 90% of Nicaragua is starving right this minute because of our global economic policies.That is a real ‘bottom-line.’ It's no wonder to me that Central American Peasantry has chosen to force the US to live up to its claim to be the Land of Opportunity. Our multinational corporations have been robbing them blind for a century, with government assistance.

So, while I appreciate your ability to empower each of us Americans, I also enjoin you to empower that third of the world’s population. It might help for us to own up to the World Court's verdict against the United States for conducting a "terrorist" operation against the sovereign state of Nicaragua in the Contra War of '80's and to make reparations for that horror, as the Court and most world opinion suggests we do, to show our willingness to walk a more mature and balanced line in the world, to retrieve our tarnished honor. We created that international law which supports that World Court decision: it's way past time to expect of ourselves what we demand of our "enemies." That would be really Real!

When you say that you can’t change Washington alone, but we will, individually, make the difference because we change ourselves, you speak truth and American principles we have almost forgotten: lasting change for truth comes from our personal changes, not just the rules the Senate makes or the continual ignorance of consequences displayed at the highest levels of our power and economic structures. Good Lord, I’m happy to hear a Washington Senator calling for consequences that lift up "Main Street" rather than Wall Street greedheads who've lost their balance and do not deserve a bailout without serious recompense to the North and Central Americans who depend on their supposedly responsible actions for sustenance! At the bottom, there's still hope for the top.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Letters to Ba'rama #1 "Empathy"

Dear Ba'rama:

I have a penchant for nicknames, especially if the name I’m nicking is frequently in my mind and conversations: I guess I’ve a lazy-brained tongue as well as a fondness for terms of endearment. So, Senator Obama, I started calling you "Ba’rama" about three weeks ago. Then, last Monday in Grand Junction, your introducer tripped a bit (It’s OK!) and called you "Ba’rama." Click. As, at the time, I was also mulling over a series of letters to you on my blog, CenterDoug <http://www.centerdoug.blogspot.com/> “Letters to Ba’rama” clicked in as the title, so, there we are.

You handled that little trip of the tongue very graciously: it’s a trait of yours I appreciate, and one, hopefully, I’ll return. I’ve decided, in fact, to appreciate, in the next posts, our common ground, and in this #1 Letter to Ba’rama, your empathy, for I know it’s real: I saw it in your eyes in Grand Junction; it touched me with a frisson of kindred spirit as we shook hands. I complimented The Audacity of Hope. You thanked me kindly. I’d wear a Michael Jackson glove to shield the hand that shook the hand of the next President of the United States, but I’m not into outward display or the future—very tricky ground--and, anyway, the connection felt more “human-to-human” and present moment than hero worship. Empathy touches deeper than that.

You recognize that most of our lives are struggles "of warring impulses, a twining of darkness and light," an awareness that leads to balance and understanding, good leadership qualities. If you can walk in others’ shoes as you did last Monday, you’ve got it made, Ba’rama, whatever happens in November, and I’m very grateful for it. Last night I registered 45 new voters and tonight I'm on the Obama phone bank, to show my appreciation and my longings for a changed America.

Gracias, CD

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sleeping Spaces

[CenterDoug Notes: I felt the shorter version of this piece (last post) needed expansion for clarity, so I did that. I like it better. CD]

[For The Glenwood Post Independent]

“Well, there it is, again,” I growled to my housemate, film-producer Tex, while punching off my cell phone. “Another nasty comment against Latinos “cramming too many peons” into their houses, “all sleeping together, I suppose!” Ay, Chihuahua! Sometimes I cringe at how we cling to cross-cultural stereotypes, while forgetting to look at our own kinky culture in the mirror. Ethnocentricity. I’ve been working on that most of my life. Raised in New Jersey in the bigoted 1950’s, I’ve had to dissolve the boxes of prejudice that surrounded me in my youth. Instead, I’ve opted to see everyone in me and me in everyone else, a better balance, and one that leads to gratitude. How I wish I’d known that unity when I still had pimples!

“Sleeping space” in the US and Nicaragua is an ethnocentric case in point. The stereotype above is very often not true among North American Latinos: most of the Hispanic families I know in the Valley are small and occupy single family dwellings, most with several bedrooms. The family swells in size and communal sleeping space only on special family occasions and holy days. There are teeming exceptions, as well. In the peasant economy of Northern Nicaragua, though, four generations of a family may share the sleeping areas of their house together, wearing the clothes of the previous day through the night as their only privacy, changed in the morning. In the States, in contrast, most people crave separate sleeping space, unless, of course, they’re “sleeping” with significant others. It’s a cultural difference from which I’ve grown.

In that chat on the porch in Glenwood Springs—I share a 3-story rental house full of private and communal spaces with three other single adults—Tex said, “I need a place to close out the world, for solitude. A while back, in Utah, I lived in an unheated space in the basement all winter rather than share a warm master bedroom suite upstairs, even with my best friend: I need privacy, not a dorm. But I like this housemate thing, as long as you’re all respecting the privacy of my bedroom.”

“Me, too. I’m an introvert and need perhaps too much quiet time, but I can choose it here or not. Even in my marriages,” I remarked, “I’d want a door I could close, usually my home office. Privacy’s an entitlement here, but not in nightly Nicaragua, where most people don’t want it.”


“Listen, Tex. When I first visited Teote in 1993, in the house of my now-adopted peasant family, the Betancos, they gave me their only single room. The eight family members slept in the other cuarto, in hammocks, because I also had the only bed. ‘Norteamericanos,’ they believed, ‘need space,’ whereas Nicaragüense ‘prefer company,’ especially when asleep. I felt guilty, being such a space hog. They assured me they wouldn’t want it otherwise. ‘Too many desperados out there to sleep alone,’ they said. ‘How can you do it?’”

“They’re stereotyping us?” Tex asked. “Hmm. Some of that might be Hispanic hospitality. But we also shift beds to accommodate guests here. That’s the same.”

“Sure. However, we move back to private spaces when they’re gone. Cultural diversity’s at work, Tex, and it starts very early. Most everyone here was raised from birth separated from their parents; in Nicaragua, hardly any mother would sleep apart from her babies, and, as the children grow, they just shift from their parents’ bed to that of the kids, in the same room. No one’s ever heard of a playpen or a crib or a nursery, much less infant daycare. 24/7, family’s holding the baby, until she’s walking and talking, and, then, there’s a family hand to hold. Many Nicaraguans live their entire lives in the home they were raised in, bringing in spouses and kids as they come along.”

“That’s pretty different. Maybe we have varying definitions of ‘family’?”

“Absolutely. ‘Family’ means security in Nicaragua. Here, most try to escape, to establish separate living quarters, at least, as soon as we can, to be independent. As another friend said to me, “most people resent their families!” That’s too generalized, of course. Maybe, though, because we stress self-sufficiency, while Nicaraguans push family solidarity, the cultures divide, even in our sleeping patterns: yet, both are valuable, cultural-survival models and both are learned behaviors.

We can learn from each other to grow beyond that division, to be both independent and One. In 1993, when I first slept with the Betancos, I grabbed for their “extended-ness,” a feeling I’d lost in the years since I left New Jersey in the early seventies. I adopted a new set of parents, eight brothers and sisters, and 49 nieces and nephews, to fill that empty space. Now that I’ve built a private suite at my sister’s house, I choose to leave the adjoining door ajar at night, in case someone, seeing my light on, needs a talk or a cuddle. Since the rafters of the house are open so the bats can gobble the mosquitos, all hear any sound, anyway, so why not? Privacy’s an ‘inside’ thing down there. And, up here, I’m a more open Dad and Pop-Pop, building family, since I’ve shared my space with campesinos, deep in the heart of Nicaragua.”

Gracias, CenterDoug

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sleeping Space

“Sleeping Space” ©Doug Evans Betanco 2008
For La Tribuna (463 words)

In a chat on the porch in Glenwood Springs—I share a 3-story rental house full of private and communal spaces with three other single adults—Tex, one of my housemates, said, “I’ve chosen a room of my own for years. I need a place to close out the world, for solitude. A while back, in Utah, I lived in an unheated space in the basement all winter rather than share a warm master bedroom suite upstairs, even with my best friend: I need privacy, not a dorm.”

“Me, too. Even in my marriages,” I remarked, “I’d want a door I could close. Privacy’s an entitlement here, but not in nightly Nicaragua, where most people don’t want it.”


“Listen, Tex. When I first visited Teote in 1993, in the house of my now-adopted peasant family, the Betancos, they gave me their only single room. The eight family members slept in the other cuarto, in hammocks, because I also had the only bed. Hosts in our Sister City were required to provide Brigadistas with privacy. Some couldn’t: their casas held no separate sleeping room. ‘Norteamericanos,’ they understood, ‘need space,’ whereas Nicaragüense ‘prefer company,’ especially when asleep.”

“In the fifteen years I’ve travelled south, I’ve always had a separate room, without asking. When I moved to my sister’s house south of town, near the campo, they’d built a space inside their sala with black plastic walls. Everyone else slept two to a bed in the other room, as usual, and they assured me they wouldn’t want it otherwise. ‘Too many ghosts in the night to sleep alone,’ they said. ‘How can you do it?’”

“Some of that,” said Ted, “might be hospitality. We shift beds to accommodate guests here, too.”

“Cultural diversity is working, as well, and it starts very early. Most everyone I know up here was raised from birth separated from their parents, even from other siblings; in Nicaragua, hardly any mother would sleep apart from her babies, and, as the children grow, they just shift from Mom’s bed to that of the kids, in the same room as their parents. No one’s ever heard of a playpen or a crib or a nursery, much less infant daycare. 24/7, family is holding the baby, until she’s walking and talking, and, then, there’s a family hand to hold.”

“That’s pretty different.”

“Maybe it’s because we stress self-sufficiency, while they push family solidarity: both are valuable, cultural-survival models. We can learn from each other to be independent and One: now, while I’ve built a private suite at my sister’s house, I leave the adjoining door ajar at night, just in case someone needs a talk or a cuddle. Up here, I’m a more open Dad and Pop-Pop, since I’ve shared my space with campesinos, deep in the heart of Nicaragua.”