Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"They prefer us when we are dead."

I met Keith about a year ago. He is two years younger than I and lives on Columbus Avenue about a block away from Columbus Circle in Manhattan. He was born in New York City and grew up in Harlem with his parents and his older sister. Life was difficult for his parents, but they managed "by the grace of God". He is quite proud of his older sister whom he characterizes as a tough black woman. Through hard work and much effort she was able to pay off the mortgage on a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. 

Keith attended high school in Harlem and successfully completed requirements for graduation. Immediately after high school, he joined the Army (in which he spent three years) and was posted to Germany. He recalled that this was around the time of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Keith suffers from epilepsy. He said he managed to get past the Army screening system because his epilepsy was not the severe kind. He has also been suffering from hernia for the past several months and has been put on the waiting list for treatment. The wait and the pain has been interminable, but Keith fights on.

Unfortunately, Keith lives on the street. He has been living on the street since he left the service in the late eighties. When I asked him how he was able to survive the streets he said that it was only by the grace of God. Keith does not looks the part of the unkempt, unwashed homeless as he tries his best to stay clean. He laments the country's treatment of its veterans, saying that they are preferred dead rather than alive. Nonetheless, he continues to survive "with help from God". His tenacity, his resilience, and his faith in God has impressed me ever since I got to know him. Whenever I need to find my balance in this teetering world I seek him out. God bless you, Keith.

[photo art by Brian Morrison]

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Actively Listening to That Which We Have to Say

Black people here in America are concerned about the violent consequences (for many of its black males) of race-based policing. We are saddened by, frustrated with, and angry at this state of affair, but it appears that hardly any attention is being given to our concerns and hardly any empathy shown when we verbalize our feelings. In order to subpoena the consciousness of the American people vis a vis our plight, and since no help has been forthcoming from other quarters, we formed our own movement. While there are some who have shown support for our cause, the majority is largely silent. When they do speak, it is usually to discredit our movement (charging us with being anti-police and with promoting violence) and to vilify those of us who engage in protest. In addition, they attempt to stipulate how we should express our narrative, even down to the exact words we should use, charging us with being exclusive when, in fact, we are decrying our exclusion (in practice) from the held principle. Further, they insist on telling us that racism is not the problem, that we are being divisive, that we are playing the victim, and then admonish us with the usual boot-strap, an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-one-blind, and we-need-to-come-together cliches.

No one listens to us. How is it possible to establish trust when you go to someone to talk about your plight and how you feel and that person completely invalidates your feelings or concern, suggests that your problem does not exist, and asserts that you are the problem. No one listens to us. So what do we do? We go to the only ones who will truly understand. We talk among ourselves. We talk about the disparity, the injustice. The logical corollary of this kind of venting is a feeding of our own frustration and anger rather than objective sharing that allows from some catharsis and the exploration of possible solutions. What is more is that some of our young people feel that there is no recourse, making them prime targets for the likes of the misguided New Black Panther group which advocates arming black people as a way of tackling our concerns. While I fully understand the frustration that might birth such a response, taking up arms and using violence is not the solution, neither is it the solution that the majority of black people embrace.

So we want to be heard, but someone has to be willing to actively listen to us. Active listening does not mean that you must agree with us. It means recognizing that our "reality" as we describe it must be "real" for "us" - that the sadness, frustration, anger, pain, victimization we feel must be real for us (note: for "us", not you, our reality). Secondly, actively listening to us means universalizing our experience, namely, reflecting back to us your understanding that no one should have to feel/experience such as we are experiencing. Thirdly, actively listening to us involves asking us what we think you can do to help minimize that which we are experiencing. Denying our experience, suggesting we are playing the victim, and telling us what we need to do, instead of bringing us together and establishing trust, drive us away from you. Listen to us.

[photograph by Ric Couchman]

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the Matter of Lives: Principle and Practice

Last night a friend of mine asked what I thought of the Black Lives Matter movement. Affirming my unequivocal and full support for the movement, I told him that it was important in that it places front and center the systemic social and economic conditions under which blacks live in this country and challenges the response for change in these conditions. He retorted, "All lives matter," and proceeded to berate the movement. I told him that the universal principle was not that which was in question, but that was as far as the conversation got. He gathered his things together and walked out on me. Thankfully, he has since called to apologize for the manner in which he exited. I gather that the current state of things is putting a strain on many friendships.

The statement, "All lives matter" is a principle that no thinking human being can deny. However, in this country that is all it is, a principle. It is not effectively put into practice, at least for Blacks. The treatment we habitually receive represents the exception to the "all lives matter" principle. The facts bear this out, with the deck stacked against us in education, employment, housing, and criminal justice. So when we say "Black lives matter" we are certainly not denying the importance of the lives of those for whom the principle is a reality. We are demanding inclusion in a principle from which, in practice, we have been summarily and effectively excluded. 

[photo art by Ric Couchman]

Sunday, June 5, 2016

3:00 A.M.: More Musings from Outside the Universal

Ric Couchman, author of Musings from Outside the Universal and his recently published Poetic Trilogy - A Famine of Tears, Blueprint for a Nihilism, and The Conflagration of Ouranos - presents his long-awaited 3:00 A.M., the bookend to his other books. 3:00 A.M. explores poetically the notions we have of love and evil and challenges the traditions that we have built up around these themes. It places religious traditions alongside modern norms and asks us to reflect on the relationship between these differing perspectives. Darkness, that internal and external construct with which we have struggled throughout our human existence is a fundamental theme that the book also explores. 3:00 A.M., along with Ric's other books, is available on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble. Watch the 3:00 A.M. book trailer below:

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Unchallenged Lie

Another Memorial Day (on which honor is paid to the men and women who died serving the U.S. Military) has come and gone and of course replete with the oft repeated mantra of American servicemen/women having "defended our freedom" - a phrase that has been interred into the American mind and consciousness and that has been accepted without careful consideration or scrutiny by the American people. To think otherwise is to be unpatriotic, to be chided into a feeling of guilt and shame at not understanding that "truth." That phrase is also predicated on another lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - the lie of the ultimate sacrifice. What the uncritical acceptance of the defense-of-our-freedom phrase does is guarantee that the American people will invariably and unwittingly support all wars in which American servicemen/women were or are involved, as well as all military spending (for of course, the hardware is to be used by the servicemen/women in "defense of our freedom"). The logical corollary is of course the veritable development of a war culture and the aggrandizement of war. 

Things become even more ridiculous when those citizens who do not support a particular war become tangled up in the I-support-the-troops-but-don't-support-the-war conundrum, for how then can those troops be "defending our freedom" in a war that is not in defense of our freedom. But that thought is often skirted, and the lie persists, unchallenged, confused with American military aggression, unmindful that the ambitions of each successive regime in Washington is American geopolitical primacy, the imposition of an American-centered world order, and military dominance in the world, all under the guise of "defending our freedom."

And, so young American men and women offer their services with the blessings of family, relatives, and friends (who themselves believe the lie, which by the way take on sacred, almost religious proportions), thinking that they are serving their country, defending their fellow citizens, whereas, in fact, they are merely serving the global ambitions of the regime in power and the ambitions of the military industrial complex. And what is more stunning and mind-blowing is that this veneer of America as the great defender of freedom, parroted by politicians and military officials alike and propagated through the media, Hollywood, etc., has been allowed to stand in the face of the facts of America's ruthless wars of aggression beginning with those waged against the native Americans to those waged at the present time. 

Just to name a few of these wars of aggression: the invasion of the Philippines, the triple invasion of Haiti, the twice invasion of the Dominican Republic, the invasion of Grenada, and the invasion of Panama in which U.S. servicemen participated - supposedly in defense of "our freedom." Not to mention the numerous covert operations conducted to oust democratically elected leaders in South America and elsewhere. By all means the wounded and fallen dead ought to be remembered, but let's dare to challenge the Lie so that the lives of our young men are not senselessly sacrificed on account of the selfish ambitions and designs of others.

[art by Ric Couchman]

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Poetry's Unpopularity

In this 7th and final episode of "Two Minutes with Author, Ric Couchman," Ric shares some thoughts on the possible reasons that poetry as an art form does not appeal to most people. Ric is the author of Musings from Outside the Universal and the recently published Poetic Trilogy - A Famine of Tears, Blueprint for a Nihilism, and The Conflagration of Ouranos.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Favorite Poem in the Trilogy

Two Minutes with Author, Ric Couchman - Episode 6

In this Episode, Ric reveals his favorite poems in each of the three books of his recently published Poetic Trilogy - A Famine of Tears, Blueprint for a Nihilism, and The Conflagration of Ouranos. He also talks about how he came up with the title for each book. The books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.