Monday, December 31, 2012

A Divine Triangle


I had an amazing moment the other morning.  I was riding the Red Line to work before sunrise. Suddenly above Dorchester Bay appeared the nearly full moon.  It was so large and close that it nearly took up the entire train window I was looking out.  As I was lost in the utter beauty of the spectacle, an epiphany hit.  I was involved in a triangle.  The triangle consisted of the moon, the unseen sun shining on it and me.  I had already begun working on this blog about the divine triangle of marriage so the metaphor bowled me over.

My marriage is a divine triangle consisting of God, my wife and myself.  Like the sun shining on the moon, I know that God is present in my marriage, even when I don’t see God.  Sometimes I am very aware of God's presence and my marriage seems very bright.  Sometimes I become forgetful about God's presence and my marriage seems shadowy.  God, in fact, is the glue that holds my marriage together.

I don’t want to use this space to try and analyze God.  God is beyond comprehension.  But for the sake of clarity as this essay moves forward God, to me, is the omniscient, omnipotent, compassionate master of the universe.  Being omnipotent, God can exist with form or without form, straight up energy – woooo – or human body, woah.  I know people fight wars over this question of God in a body and what body, etc. 

Whether you believe God inhabits a body and what that body looks like is not important to me now.  However, I suggest if you believe that God incarnated in a human body, as Christians, many Hindus and others believe, seeing that embodiment of God as a partner in your relationships, especially your primary relationship can be, well, a Godsend.  And if you believe God is too magnificent to fully incarnate in a single human body, as many Jews and Muslims believe, you can imagine the nonphysical force of God as a connecting energy in your relationship.

The belief that God is a partner in the divine triangle of my marriage has saved this relationship more times than I can count.

In fact, my wife and I recently went through a period of high marital discord.  The actual reason is less important than we both felt misunderstand, hurt and angry.  At times like this God is a savior in my marriage.  I am reminded that I fight with my wife from a place of ego and she fights with me from a place of ego and God is beyond that.  And I realize there is a yearning in my soul for an egoless love that my wife, best human friend I have, cannot come close to. 

I realize I sometimes expect things from my spouse that I can only get from God.  And the marital discord encourages me to refocus on my primary relationship with God.  Then, as my closeness to God deepens, ironically, so does my closeness to my wife because they, these two other points of my marital triangle are not so separate and distinct from one another and from me.  In reality, we are all connected.  We are all one.  When I forget that, the omniscient, omnipotent, compassionate master of the universe can remind me that God’s presence blesses my marriage.

Sometimes it's hard to remember my marriage is a blessing.  With egos clashing all over the house, sometimes it's hard to remember that God is a partner in this play.  At other times, though, an epiphany hits me so hard and it's so obvious that God is present, I well up with gratitude.  In the times when life, including my marriage, becomes shadowy and murky, I invoke the remembrance of God so I don’t forget the sun is always shining somewhere.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Son of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s is a bitch.  My mom’s mind is not totally gone yet, but it’s going.  She still remembers my name and my father’s and my sisters’.  She knows we’re related to her but the whole son, mother, daughter, husband dynamic may be beyond her reach.  My family all take shifts so he is never alone. One of the worst parts of the disease for me is she forgets to go to the bathroom.   Sometimes we help her in the bathroom just in time for her to pee or poop.  Usually she just pees or craps in her diaper and we have to help her clean up later.

She always resists when one of us tries to get her in the bathroom.  She cries, “No!” and screams like a baby with her mouth open.  Most of her teeth are gone which is ironic because she used to be very stylish, maybe even a little vain.  The woman she used to be would have cringed if she could have looked into the future and saw what she would become.  But now she doesn’t care: her teeth, her hair, her urine, it’s all good. She’s in another place. The family does our best to keep her clean and neat, but after an hour getting her to go to the bathroom, some of the finer points of hygiene seem to recede in value.

I go and sit with my mother four to six hours every weekend while my dad goes out and runs errands and clears his head from taking care of my mom.  One of my sisters watches mom during the week while my dad works.  He’s 83 and still working.  I think it keeps him young and healthy.  My other sister goes over one afternoon and one evening.  Another cousin helps out a couple of evenings a week when my dad works late.  Everyone wants to keep her at home as long as possible.  My sisters are better with her hair and nails then I am.  I specialize with toileting assistance.

One of the first times I helped her use the toilet I was trying to help her wipe afterward and the fact that I was her son hit her.  Not in the crazy baby scream voice that she used at the beginning of the procedure, but in a more aware, shame filled voice, she tried to push my hands away and  told me, “No, no, stop.  I don’t want you to do that.”

I said, “I don’t want to do it either, but it’s got to be done” and finished the job.  

When I’m helping her clean up after toileting, it’s weird to think that’s the vulva I came into the world from.  I never heard my mother use the word vulva.  She was the kind of lady who would have told me the stork brought me if she thought she could still get away with that in the mid sixties when I was a little boy.

After toileting she goes back to her chair.  My father got her one of those fancy recliners that also push you up when you’re ready to stand.  My mom is never ready to stand when we have to take her to the bathroom.  As we push the controller to make the chair goes up she screams, “No!”  Then, when directed, she puts on her slippers with help and walks to the bathroom.  She used to have a cane, but we took it away because she would swing it around and try to hit everyone with it so.  Now, she has a walker.  She doesn’t like to use it as much as the cane.  It’s too heavy and awkward to pick up and hit anyone with.

Most of her teeth on the top are missing except for one that is slightly protruding in front.  Before she got sick, she took good care of her teeth.  She had all her own teeth until Alzheimer’s hit.  Then she started to lose them quickly.  Her old dentist had retired by that point and she remembered enough to remember she didn’t like my father’s dentist so she started to get her teeth pulled at my dentist’s office.  It was kind of embarrassing to take her to this place where they just knew me as a cool dad, but it gave me a kind of strength to do that too.  This is my mother, dammit.  We did take her cane away before she went in the dentist office.

After we got all the rotten teeth out of her mouth, we had her fitted for dentures.  It was hard to get her not to bite the dentist when he was measuring her mouth. She usually asked him first, “Should I bite you?”  He always answered in the negative, but sometimes she tried anyway.  My job was to kneel next to the chair and if I couldn’t stop her, to pry her mouth open before she did any damage.  The dentist never got pissed, although he clearly didn’t enjoy it.  He works with a lot of children and was probably used to unruly patients.  On one of my individual visits, he told me his mother was starting to get symptoms.  That’s the most he ever shared with me about his life.

So we finally got her fitted and she looked great in her new dentures.  This was during the time when the family would leave her home for an hour or two alone.  She only left the condo once in many hours of being alone.  Since she and my dad live on the second floor of a senior condo building the chances of her getting totally outside with no one seeing her were minimal.  Regardless, we stopped leaving her alone after that. Even before that we had stop leaving her alone much because every once a while another resident burns something on their stove and this amazingly loud fire alarm goes off throughout the building.  The place is independent living, but when the alarm goes off a staff person from downstairs goes to that condo and can usually get the alarm to go off by opening a window and fanning the smoke out.  The situation doesn’t seem dangerous fire wise but that alarm scares the bejeezus out of my mother.  

The alarm makes her more upset than anything I’ve seen since she’s gotten sick.  She curses A LOT and looks very panicked when the alarm sounds.  It’s not a good scene even a family member is with her.  It's painful to contemplate how freaked she would get if the alarm went off when she was alone.  One time when it went off the fire department came and all the residents had to leave their apartments.  I wasn’t there, but my sister said when she led our mom out they walked past a fire fighter and mom cursed him right the fuck out, really loudly.  Bet that made his day, old lady cursing him out.
So that day coming from the dentist my sister took our mom upstairs with her new dentures in and left her for an hour until my dad came home.  When he got home the dentures were gone, totally missing, not in her mouth, not anywhere else.  We all looked everywhere we could imagine and they never turned up.  Another Alzheimer’s mystery. That was a year ago.  I think dentures were too big to flush, but it’s like $1200 down the toilet.  That’s why she has the tooth sticking out in front.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thug AftaLife

Some women want a bad boy
Some sistas want a thug
They’d rather be backhanded
Than nurtured with a hug

We men are simple minded
Brothas fallin for the hype
To be authentic black men
Gotta play the gansta type

Drug dealin, drivin SUVs
With rims that spin at lights
Truck loaded down with guns and girls
Always ready for a fight

If brotha wants to stay in school
And get a downtown job
They say he’s acting soft and white
Easy prey cause he ain’t hard

You should know I love the playa
It’s the playin that I hate
With life on earth so precious
Thuggin makes it second rate

We evolve through untold eras
Our potential is divine
Then God’s own image ravaged
By some asshole with a nine

I imagine I can save a thug
So I keep em in my prayers
Cause the road to hell is littered
With thugs finally showin fear

You may be a menace to society
But to Satan you’re a whore
He’ll be happy to do to you
What the Supreme Court did to Gore

Old Lucifer will screw your ass
Up and down and left and right
He’ll do you in your face all day
And suck your soul up every night

The devil is a madman
Who loves to torture all his mates
And if you play his rules in life
You can’t escape him as your fate

In fact you need not die
For fire and brimstone to kick in
An empty, shallow life now
Is the price you pay for sin

So don’t get trapped in thuggery
The cost of playin is too high
You miss the biggest joys in life
And suffer more afta you die

It’s never late to change your ways
And turn your life around
Shift your focus and you can see
God has you on surround

I love to think of Malcolm Little
A hustler, pimp and thief
Who cause a brotha prayed for him
Became beautiful beyond belief

Now, that’s a thug afta life for ya.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why I'm Not Getting On Facebook for At Least a Month

     According to Timeline, I joined Facebook January 2, 2008.  I remember feeling ambivalent about joining.  My life was already pretty full with no online social networking and I didn't see a big attraction to what I thought FB was offering me which seemed to me to be superficial observations on the lives of people I knew and the thousands of people I intended to befriend on the social networking site.  I did not get on to look at family photos of people I knew and would come to meet, or see what people's mood were throughout the day or what they had for dinner.  I got on for business reasons.  I was writing a book and I believed there was no way one could become a successful author without having thousands of friends on FB. 

     Now almost 5 years later I am still writing a book, the last revision of the one I was working on when I got on FB and I want a break - from FB, not from writing.  I ended up liking FB more than I imagined.  I wouldn't say I'm a stone cold addict, but I spend more time on FB than I would like.  I write my book and I browse on FB nearly everyday.  I usually do my book writing in one solid block in the evening averaging about 45 to an hour on weekdays.  Two or three times that much on weekends.  I write much more than I FB on the weekends, but during the week I probably spend a combined 45 to an hour at various points in the day reading the FB posts of my 510 friends.

     I love my FB friends: those I see everyday at home and work, those I have known several decades and see only rarely now and those I have yet to meet in person.  But, I've had enough of this severely circumscribed structure for now.  I see a compulsion growing in me for FB that I do not like.  I am often amused by the posts, sometimes informed but very rarely educated.  Yet, I keep going back looking for something that is not there.  I think it's the humanity of my friends that is missing.  I get bits and pieces of people's points of view.  I get projections of their awareness.  I get flat out titillation, but I never get their wholeness.

     There are friends I have yet to met who I would love to have a face to face conversation with, but I have never reached out to one with a request.  Sometimes because they are a provocatively photographed female and I know where my head is.  Sometimes because they are geographically far away.  Mostly because I don't have time for a real face to face conversation even with people I know and love who I see on FB.  This does not make me sad exactly, incomplete is more like it.

     Then there are the inanities.  The bumper sticker philosophy sayings, the funny cat photos, the indecipherable comments and the loads of things I just don't care about.  This is only a problem because I make it a problem by scrolling through these comments several times a day.  I don't linger on the things that bore me, but I find myself wondering why am I back here.  Nothing interesting happened to these 510 people in the past hour at least nothing that is FBable.  So I'm through for now. 

     My FB fast is a new experiment.  I will come back in a month if I miss it.  Longer if I don't.  I still plan to use FB and lots of other social media to promote this fabulous book I am writing about facilitating groups for men who are parents.  Although more broadly the book is about facilitating groups for people to connect on a deeper level than we can do on FB.

      I'll be thinking about you.  Shoot me an email or give me a call if you want to be in touch.

    Love, Haji

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Prince: An Appreciation (2004)

     I went to see the Prince Musicology 2004Ever tour at the Fleet Center other night.  It was a good show.  I’d give it a solid “B.”  For me, none of these past peak performers who used to put on a dazzling show can ever truly match the intensity, creativity and sheer newness of an “A” performance in their prime.  That’s one of the few benefits of taking the early rock star death.  Neither critics nor fans need watch you deteriorate before their eyes.

     I’m happy I went.  The show was hyped for months.  The tabloids screamed, “Prince regains his mantle.”  “His best CD in 10 years.”  “The only show of the summer to sell-out everywhere.”  Prince had become a media darling again.  I decided to go after reading an email interview with him in the Boston Herald.  I was happy he said, “In truth, as a people, we have 2 get back 2 God. In ALL things.” I brought tickets to “a nearly sold out show” on the second day of a three-night stand in Boston.  Although my date and I managed to move into the second row of the balcony, there weren’t many empty seats at the Fleet.
     I had seen Prince live three times before: the “1999” tour at the Boston Garden, Purple Rain at the Long Island Coliseum (by time this stoned head got around to buying tickets for the Boston Purple Rain tour the teeny boppers had snatched them all up).  And I was at the famous 1986 surprise show at the Metro.  I dug him after the second album, Prince, but was captured by his third release, Dirty Mind.  I felt like he was a manifestation of my own muse.  He was speaking directly to me and my people.  I rode the crest through Purple Rain and hung in there for a few more CDs before giving up on him.
     There is a real bittersweetness in watching an artist you love move into superstardom.  I was happy that more people were giving him recognition.  That he was being rewarded financially for his gifts.  That if a lot of people are really digging him maybe you aren’t so far out after all.  And, of course, there is the pleasure of being prescient enough to see the diamond in the rough.  But, the downside is strong as well.  I saw the teenyboppers, middle-agers and generally unhip start coming around because the mainstream press pushes the album or movie.  And every magazine from Ebony to People is putting your boy on the cover trying to cash in.
     Even though Prince had played big venues on the 1999 tour when the Purple Rain tour hit town in 1995, it felt like my family had suddenly adopted a bunch of nerdy fosterkids and now I had trouble getting to the table for my food.  There was strength in numbers, but I questioned these new folks’ commitment to the vision.  What was that vision again?
     He reminded us of a bit of the vision the other night.  He chanted, “People call me rude.  I wish we all were nude.  I wish there was no black or white, I wish there were no rules.”  In case that was a little unclear, he also played “Dance, Music, Sex, Romance” which is perhaps the most succinct verbalization of the vision.  Despite, or because of all the sexual imagery, Prince was the preeminent 80s party guy.  Along with Rick James, who recently died of “natural causes” following years of chemical abuse, Prince was the supreme funkster of his time.  As he started to slide in the 90s he spelled it out for all those too dense to get it.  “My name is Prince and I am funky.”  It was almost as sad as the middle-aged ladies wearing t-shirts to the Musicology show claiming they were “True Funk Soldiers.”  As if a true funk soldier would need to buy a $30 t-shirt to tell you that.
     The funky music was always there, but in the early days it took a backseat to the sex.  That was the thing, of course, that put him over the top.  Maybe because he was still in his post-adolescence when he tasted industry success, he captured a horny gestalt with abandon and innocence.  The girls loved him because he was cute and always had boudoir ballads on his disks as well as get up and dance jams.  The guys loved him because he spoke what was on our mind, maybe nowhere better than “Dirty Mind.”  And he did it with a creative sense of humor and a funky downbeat.
     But, with Prince, you also got something else.  You got a mysterious, spiritual connection.  From chanting the Lord’s Prayer on Controversy, to the psychedelic mushrooms on the cover of 1999, to the “Love God” graffiti in Purple Rain, there was always a devotional element to Princes music.  And with a dearth of interviews, he left the heads to interpret it however suited us.
     Despite the blatant sexual hedonism, I always felt Prince was a spiritual artist.  Given what has gone down in recent years, I feel vindicated in that assessment.  From early on he captured my fascination with both sex and God.  I didn’t want to give up either and he was clearly exploring and praising both in his music.  Although the sex was more in the face, the God piece could be discerned if one looked for it.  That’s how God is.
     I hung in with him for a few more once a year albums after Purple Rain.  I even went to see “Under the Cherry Moon” multiple times (once on mushrooms, although I don’t recommend it).  I even saw Graffiti Bridge in a theatre – and stayed to the end.
     I remember when I finally broke ranks with his Purple Badness.  At the end of “Around the World in a Day” he captures a conversation in the studio between him and God in the song, “Temptation.”  God takes Prince to task for the same things Tipper Gore had earlier, his overt obsession with sexuality.  Prince struggles with his Creator on the track.  Initially screaming, “Nooo!” at his punishment, death.  Then seemingly reborn reports, “Now I understand.  Love is more important than sex . . . I’ll be good.  I promise.”
     It’s a conversation few megastars could pull off straight-faced, but then the boy from Minneapolis was always, ah, different.  The singles from the LP, Raspberry Beret and Kiss, both received substantial radio play and made money.  But Temptation wasn’t intended for mass consumption.  He was sending a message to the true believer that he was finally growing up.  The creative tension between his adolescent horniness and the mature artist sensibility had finally been resolved and, well, the artist had won.  But any addict will tell you that relapse is a part of recovery and it didn’t take long for the musical sex addiction to reassert itself.
     Neither had my life remained stagnant during all those album releases.  By now I had found my own spiritual path.  My personal connection to the Most High deepened, as did my boredom with the general sameness of the Minneapolis sound over the years.  The life of Prince and my own life had shared several interests and parallels over the years, but around 1990 we began to grow apart.  I was married with children and the attraction I used to focus on Prince’s life I now dedicated to saints who took a more direct approach toward Love and God.
     And, just as I gave Prince credit for gaining some sexual maturity, the Black Album fiasco occurred.  According to the rumor mill Prince was working on this new collection of songs that he pulled before release because they were too negative.  Supposedly the lyrics were too salacious even for him.  A bootleg copy of very poor musical quality came into my possession around this time.  It was a major seller by bootleg standards.  For me, it wasn’t even worth the bother of listening to seriously.  I considered the entire album a very broken, very public promise to, not only me, but more importantly to God.  I had had enough.
     That was about 1992.  In all the years since then when I heard of Prince it was like hearing about someone you used to love.  I was a little curious what he was up to and wished him well, but there was no passion, no desire to understand him.
     Then I heard he had become a Jehovah’s Witness.  I heard the news a couple of years ago, before it hit the major media.  A credible source at the periphery of his circle heard the rumor swirling around Minneapolis.  It seemed that Larry Graham of Graham Central Station fame had persuaded Prince into the Kingdom Hall.  Now, that was interesting!  Normally I’m not a fan of religions whose mission includes convincing you your religion is wrong, but this was too sweet.  Can you imagine Prince coming to your door with a Watchtower?  The irony of the purple pervert joining one of the must conservative cults (I use that term not in a derogatory way, but as a concentration of culture) in Christianity was just too good a story. 
     My love for Prince returned because true to form he had once again become creative, which is by definition producing some innovative and different.  It is hard to imagine something more different than the Prince we all knew becoming a Jehovah’s Witness.  If there was any doubt in my mind regarding the authenticity of this rumor it evaporated when I caught the man’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In accepting his award from a gushing Alicia Keyes, he gave thanks to Jehovah.  I had seen Prince “thank God” at award ceremonies before and his change in language confirmed his conversion.
     Allow me to amplify the most peculiar popular music/religious irony of our time.  Michael Jackson starts his career as a Jehovah Witness youth with a clean cut image and ends up perceived as a sexual degenerate.  Prince starts his career as a perceived sexual degenerate and in middle age ends up a good guy Jehovah Witness.  What is it about this organization that attracts two of the highest caliber black, male superstars? 
     So, I decided to go to the show, not because Prince was promising to retire the old, sexy hits after this tour, neither was it because I enjoyed his new CD – I hadn’t heard it.  It wasn’t even to see “real musicians perform.”  I had seen that before.  The driving force in me dropping $100 for my wife and I to see the show was simply to pay respects to an old friend who resurrected himself from the ashes of mediocrity by once again making a bold move.  I really wanted to acknowledge that he had changed his life and I was happy for him.  I never doubted he could throw one of the baddest parties in town and he didn’t disappoint in that either. 
     By the way, Prince didn’t get where he was just being a kickass performer, the man is a brilliant marketer as well.  In his Herald interview, he talked about the record industry as we know it being obsolete.  I know ripping off talented artists has been a mainstay of the music business since before I was born.  I also understand changing his name to an unpronounceable glyph and writing slave on his face had to do with confronting his former label, Warner Brothers.  And in my book, any artist perceptive and powerful enough to kick corporate America in its teeth deserves applause.
     I bought each of the first 10 Prince albums when they were released (except for the first and second which I went back and bought after Dirty Mind left no doubt he was a genius).  I’ve already mentioned why after 1988’s Lovesexy, I hadn’t bought another CD by the Artist Who Was Formerly My Favorite Musical Performer.  Well, that was not true.  I inadvertently purchased Musicology when I bought my tickets to the show.  Prince, never shabby in the marketing department, scored a coup by selling a cardboard covered CD with every ticket.  With a successful tour, that ploy was enough to push the Musicology CD to the top of the Billboard charts over the summer.  Now, people like myself who would have never bought the CD ala carte, now own it as part of the entrĂ©e.
     And to be honest, I was curious to throw it in and see what all the excitement was about.  Alas, it’s not for me.  Some nice grooves to be sure, but when I want to hear Prince, I want to hear the old stuff.  The phrase “shadow of his former self” comes to mind.  But that shadow still has more musical substance and light than most people will ever manifest.  So, I’ll dip into the archives every once and awhile and treat myself to the emotional high I get from the first decade of his output.  And if you want two more copies of Musicology, you can have mine for shipping and handling.