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Black Friday: Mail a Letter, Please


Hey, mail a letter. Here’s why: don’t you want to help your neighbor? Since most of us are kinda worried about the economy and WTF is going to happen if the poop continues to hit the fan… well, it’s time we took matters into our own hands. If you mail a letter or a postcard, you will be accomplishing at least three things:
1) You will express your feelings in a healthy way toward someone who means something to you.
2) You will brighten the day of the receiver.
3) You will help keep the US Postal Service in business.
By supporting local businesses, like your post office, you are keeping commerce local and thus helping your community.
Here on Cape Cod, postal workers have some of the few blue collar year-round jobs. When lots of other people are out of work and waiting for the next tourist season, postal workers are working. They are up early and they are out in all kinds of weather. Those window clerks and letter carriers are using their pay to hire carpenters to fix their roofs. They are going out to breakfast on Sunday. They are having their oil changed and buying new tires for their cars. This is the real trickle down: keep your business local and your community will stay alive. I’m always amazed when someone bemoans the loss of their downtown, yet they buy all their books and towels and wiper blades at WalMart. How do they think downtowns stay alive? And don’t they realize that it’s almost impossible to survive on what you earn at WalMart? Didn’t they hear about Nickeled and Dimed, even if they didn’t read it?

One of the traps set by our truly wondrous Age of Technology is this: you have technology to help you, so you can (and should) do it all. Wrong! Don’t do it all. Let other people do some of it. There’s no reason for you to do it all except to add more stress to your life. Find ways to share the load. When you go to the grocery store, don’t self check; get in line and let someone else do the checking. It’s job security for a person that probably needs the money. It won’t add that much to the cost of your groceries and you can chat with your neighbor in line behind you. I thank my compassionate friend Madeline for that idea.

 

And since today is Black Friday, how about the crazy spending that so many people do for the holidays? Spending money we don’t have to buy things they don’t need for people who don’t even want them. Who is winning here? How about being the first person in your family to stop the insanity? Tell everyone on your gift list that you’re just not doing it this year. Say you love them too much to stay with them on the slippery slope of mindless consumerism.

 

If you can’t just stop then maybe try this: make charitable donations in the names of your favorite gift recipients. You can spend half a day at your computer researching charities and making donations. Then take a nice, long, free walk. At the end of the day, your holiday shopping will be done and you’ll have a tax write-off for the total value of your gifts.
And if you simply must have something to physically put into the mail (and I’m not going to stop you from mailing anything- remember, letter carriers go to every house every day anyway), then how about taking your business local? If you’re in Provincetown where I work, you can get locally made stuff to put in the mail. Such as: delicious fudge (made right on Commercial Street) from the Provincetown Fudge Factory or absolutely to-die-for cupcakes from Scottcakes (icing to be applied by the lucky recipient/s). Or buy art! There is definitely accessible art around, like John Choly’s. I also like to send subscriptions to The Sun, which is a gem of a magazine that’s all about humanity. There’s always the Wikimedia Foundation, responsible for wikipedia.org, which is one more piece of the technology pie that has changed our world for the better. And none of these people paid me to write about them; I swear!
Or why not take another day and make some goodies to mail? I’m personally very excited about this recipe from Bon Appetit (which may be owned by some nasty persons- you’ll let me know, right?): Cherry Pistachio Nougat. Looks yummy and how great would it be to get a box of this in the mail?

I know that there are folks out there that don’t like the Postal Service. I doubt that many of them are reading this (except for you rotten spies, hehehe) but if you are one of them, that’s fine. And if you are all about consuming, well that’s fine too. And if you wish to pursue ethical purchasing (I don’t give up easily), you can easily direct your dollar choices away from some of the worst offenders of human and civil rights. Say you don’t like the politics of the Koch Brothers, Charles and David. They’re bankrolling the Tea Party with profits from their worker-exploiting, highly polluting industries. I used to buy Quilted Northern toilet paper, until I found out it was manufactured by Koch Industries. I mean, I do think the Kochs should kiss my working class ass, but not like that. Why should I hand my hard-earned dollars over to these guys… so they can use them to torpedo Social Security? Uh, no. You can find out which products to avoid by checking out “subsidiaries” in the wikipedia article on the Koch boys.
It’s not always easy to purchase ethically- I try to avoid companies that do animal testing. Simple enough, right? Well, not really, since everyone seems to want to be on the nice guy bandwagon, even if they have to manipulate reality a little. Like this: “we don’t do animal testing but well… uh, the companies that supply all our ingredients uh… do.” Okay! If you want to avoid animal testing, let someone else investigate for you and just use this list. Another issue: I’m not sure I want to buy gasoline from any of the oil companies but I need gas for my car. Would someone please let me (and the other readers) know if there’s an oil company out there that actually deserves our business?
But seriously, don’t you just love to get personal mail? A tin of homemade cookies, well that’s the ultimate, but how about a note with a photo slipped in, even a postcard, for heaven’s sake… these are simple ways to show your love. And mailing is still really cheap. You can send a postcard for twenty nine cents! I had to write those numbers out just so it would take you slightly longer to read them. Twenty nine cents. The Postal Service is struggling and that’s a real issue for me because they employ me (and the views expressed here are wholly my own, and not those of the USPS, of course!). But all else aside, the mail remains a great value and I am in love with the mission, still.
And it’s great to be in love with the mission, still. There’s a niyama- a yogic principle- called santosha. It translates roughly to contentment. And it’s something you can practice. An easy way to do it is to count your blessings. When you find yourself in a twizz about what’s gone wrong today, think about what’s gone right. Byron Katie, whose work I am only peripherally familiar with, is onto this. She calls her work, uh, The Work, and the practice is about loving what is. This may sound slightly goofy, but I promise you, it’s profound stuff! If this concept interests you and you don’t know where to begin, how about at the beginning, as we know it? Here’s a freebie from Chip Hartranft: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali- A New Translation. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds, especially with Chip as your tour guide.
Well… here we are, my friends, and how could I let this post slip by without at least a nod to the Pepper Spray Cop? I apologize to those who consider my humor tasteless. Like my beloved Joe Mitchell, I find that graveyard humor is “an exemplification of the way I look at the world.” Remembering November 25th, 1963, (yes, it’s been 49 years!) with a contemporary twist:

Uggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Happy two month birthday (11/17) to Occupy Wall Street! Matt Taibbi did a nice short article about Occupy in Rolling Stone, before the eviction. And I have to say that I really enjoyed this Keith Olbermann rant about Mayor Bloomberg, post eviction. If you’ve not seen the bat signal, please watch right now: OWS Birthday Bat Signal Video. I can’t believe that it won’t make you smile. And please, if nothing else, simply remember that Another World Is Possible, Really.

 

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Proud to Serve

This is part 3 of my Occupy triptych. Of course Malcolm X called the whole thing. He said “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin.”

These days, I don’t just wonder what else my heroes might say about all this, I feel their spirits as I make my signs and put up my posts and do what I can, from here on the sidelines. I taped an image of Malcolm X onto the first sign I made, because I feel Malcolm’s truth almost every day. He helps me, because it’s an effort for me to not act like a jerk as I experience rage against the machine, the damned corporatocracy. I want to stay positive and kind and compassionate as we collectively lift the lid on the boiling pot of America. It’s happening, the clash that Malcolm predicted. Paul Krugman offered an eloquent take on the whole thing in the NY Times the other day: Oligarchy, American Style.

And by the way, when I called for Money Out of Politics in my post “Since You Asked”- well, not only is that not a new concept, but I realized afterwards that it was stolen verbatim from the July adbusters edition calling for the Occupation. Yes, the edition which featured this now-famous graphic:

I’m not exactly embarrassed that I lifted the concept, but rather I wish that I had been just a little more original. My experience lately is that there is so much data coming in that the line gets blurred between my own thoughts and the concepts that I’m taking in through media. I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that the brilliant ideas are someone else’s- still, I can enjoy sharing and connecting, right?

Anyhow, here we are, with the lid lifted, peering into the pot, a little nervous. It’s a wild time. Amy Goodman, who is finally getting some mainstream props after years of beating the drum of justice, talked to Charlie Rose about how Occupy is changing things and why it’s important for the Occupiers to be there. Here’s the link to an excerpt from the interview and you can go to 12:20 if you just want to hear her “knock it out of the park”, as my friend Jack Hirschfeld describes it. The crowds are indeed gathering, in all of our cities. And I’d like to thank the kids for gathering. I know they’re not really all kids, but humor me. Because when I think of the young people who are the heart of this movement, I know that no matter what we do to aid and abet, it is their time. They are Occupying for all of us, and for all of the generations to come. It is their way of serving the greater good.

And I’ve been wondering lately: How and when did service become a bad word?

My father was a member of the Service Employees International Union. He worked, among other jobs, as a janitor for many years. He was cheerful and hard working. His coworkers and his employers loved him. He was also a World War II Navy veteran. He was proud to serve.

My mother spent close to 50 years as a waitress. Serving people their food, mostly well-heeled people. Her parents were immigrants and she often worked for immigrants. Despite the physical and social challenges of the job, she too was cheerful and also hard working. She never complained about it. Now she’s 85 and she does home care for “elderly” women. She’s still serving others.

I’ve spent 27 years working for the Postal Service. It wasn’t what I expected to be doing when I was a kid, but I’m proud of our mission and I give it my best every day. I work with people who are wonderful, community-minded, hard working folks. No one will ever get rich working for the Postal Service but it’s a good living and one that we’ll never have to be ashamed of.

And that six weeks of paid vacation that I called for in “Since You Asked”? Well, I get five paid weeks a year, and that is thanks to unions. If you have health benefits through your job, or paid holidays or vacations, or even weekends off, thank the labor movement. Sure, unions have their issues. When unions became big business and power inevitably corrupted some, those circumstances were used to make the whole movement look bad. But, please, let’s not throw the bathwater out with the spoiled baby. We need unions, probably more than ever, and they are seriously under fire. If you agree with me, please fight back for unions. Here’s a video of some brave folks doing just that in Chicago, calling Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on his bad behavior: mic checking Scott Walker.

Because that particular American governor described collective bargaining rights as “an expensive entitlement”. And because we have ghettos where kids idolize people like Michael Vick, hoping that if they can be tough enough, violent enough, they might get rich too- in America. Because veterans frequently start out poor and then end up with post-traumatic stress disorder, and poor anyway. Because now the greedy bastard prospectors have found fracking and so we have flames coming out of faucets and earthquakes weekly- all over America. Because girls buy lingerie at eight and get their tits done at 16 so they can look just like the big girls on the Playboy channel. Because it’s not enough that we export billions of dollars in weapons annually- we also saturate the so-called culture with video games featuring murder, rape, and mutilation. Because the executives in our health care industry take home 6-digit bonuses while our country is ranked number 37 in the World Health Organization’s ranking of health care systems worldwide. And because America has become in effect just another third world country for opportunists to rape, pillage and then dump by the side of the road. Because America and its people deserve better and I’m not going to shut up until we get it. For all these reasons and many more, I stand firmly in solidarity with the Occupy Movement.

Power to the People.

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” –Howard Zinn


Halloween

…also known as The Post Wherein I Ask You for Some Stuff in the Spirit of This Holiday.

“Forget about the senior prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it. This song has no message. Rise for the flag salute. ”

Frank Zappa has been on my mind a lot lately. I really love the guy and as I continue to obsess over Occupy, I wonder what he’d have to say. I mean, I certainly don’t think he’d be on the street at Occupy Hollywood since he was a stay at home and work a lot kind of genius. But I do think he’d have some insightful comments and he’d figure out a way to deliver humor, which has been in short supply since this all began on September 17th. Frank was weird, he was brilliant, he was scathing, and the man was funny. I think this young lady channeled him a little when she made her sign.

From the Occupy Wall St. Facebook photo album

…I like her slightly mysterious smile too, by the way. Don’t you?

There’s really no point in bellyaching about how preoccupied so many Americans seem to be with vapid annoying celebrities, or even with interesting celebrities. But it is what kept me from Twitter for so long, since I had naively assumed that the main point of Twitter was to keep tabs on your #idols. But now that I’m on and even tweeting a bit, I see that I was wrong. So, uh, let’s not rush to judgment.

Halloween is upon us, with 2012 on the horizon. Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes figure prominently in the news of the day while Scott Olsen lies in Oakland’s Highland Hospital, a bloodied, breathing symbol of a world turned upside down. This is the time of year, according to ancient knowledge and tradition, when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. What worlds, you ask? The world of the seen and world of the unseen, of course. It’s okay if you don’t believe in anything that you can’t see with your own two reliable eyes- if you’re lucky enough to have two. But whether you believe that there’s more or you don’t, may I suggest that you take some time in the next few days to acknowledge all in your world which you have found to be mysterious or inexplicable?

Because after all, isn’t the situation we’re in right now somewhat inexplicable? Well, not the how we got here part. That can be explained, basically by following the money. In fact, a nice video that you can watch in four and a half minutes explains the banking piece. The back story is all fairly evident, but the now part, the wow part, well- that’s something to be reckoned with. You got Arab Spring, you got Twitter and the whole world watching, and you got a big pile of Americans (and people worldwide who are on the bus with the Americans)- with nothing to lose, or almost nothing. But still, but still… despite all that, who really thought change would come?

Many people have been beating drums of resistance, drums of patience, drums of frustration- for a long time without really expecting change. It’s a commitment one makes to the process, right? Non-attachment to outcomes. You do your thing and you let it go. There’s a lady whose name I can’t remember… she’s been out at the Windmill in Eastham every single Saturday for 22 years holding a peace vigil. Stop the wars. Bring them home. Peace, please. Can you dig that for twenty two years, this woman has not given up- even though we keep finding ourselves in stupid new wars, all the time?

But I believe, and I hope you do too, that change is upon us. You don’t have to ascribe it to 2012 or Samhain or anything mysterious- as I might, hehehe- but please, give it a chance. And if you’re sitting somewhere as part of the Occupy Movement, please, I beg you: stay there. Stay positive, stay calm, stay non-violent, stay human. But above all else, stay. Chris Hedges got interviewed at Times Square a few weeks ago and he said quite a number of heartening things. What I took away from it was that we need to hold steady.  “Sthira sukha asanam” is what the yogis say.  If you like that, look it up. And I’ll be with you while you look it up- because we are all one, even the one percent, my brothers and sisters. (And you already knew that too.)

One more thing. If you consider yourself to be on the bus, please check in with your local Occupy and see what they need. Blankets, water, coffee, peanut butter, whatever. Ask them and they will tell you. Then help them get it.

That’s my Halloween rave and since I did ask for a trick from you, here’s a treat in return. Please enjoy David Bowie, circa 1975, saying it: STAY.


Since You Asked

After a challenging pose, my yoga teacher used to say “Now close your eyes and feel the effects.” This was, for me, very good advice- for life on and off the mat. I forget to do it almost all the time, but when I do, I’m so grateful to her. I try to keep my teachers’ lessons in mind to guide me when I’m feeling lost or scared- or even jubilant.

And I’ll admit it, I’ve been jubilant (that’s right!) over the Occupy movement, stupidly you may say. But I went to Zuccotti Park and I’ve hung out a little at Occupy Hyannis and Occupy Eastham… and feeling the effects of those experiences has been something special. I mentioned it recently, saying it felt like standing up to the class bully. ‘Cause let’s face it: we’ve always had him outnumbered… it’s just that we forgot.

There’s a big zen teaching (the main one, I think) about non-attachment. It’s a hard one for me, so I work on it a lot. I don’t think I’m really getting any better but I keep practicing, and hey, I need to let go of worrying about improving, right? But still, keep trying- that’s the delicate dance we do here in zen-yoga-now-land. So it’s embarrassing to admit this but, well, I have a confession to make: I can’t detach from Occupy. And actually it’s gone way beyond that. I’m obsessed.

I’ve had a couple of weeks off from work and I spend hours every day reading Twitter tweets and poring over the videos and articles gushing forth from this glorious moment (please just let me thrill to it, please). And damned if my ENTJ brain (even while thrilled) doesn’t keep working its way around to demands. Not results… I’ve learned better- hahaha- but really what would I ask for? You know how some people like to wonder: what would you do if you won the lottery? Well here’s the new one: what would you say if someone asked you to articulate demands, in the name of the 99 percent?

I know, I know, the movement is deliberately and uh brilliantly avoiding coming up with demands. Those adbusters kids (and those #Occupy kids and lots of other kids, young and old) are pretty sharp. If that part of the one percent that wants to keep all the cash is writing these kids off, well they are just plain stupid. But back to the demands: mine, that is. Here’s what I have to say to Barack Obama and my other elected representatives as well as all of our elected reps and also the Supreme Court justices. Since you, er I, asked.

  1. Get out of the wars, quickly. Bring ’em home and take good care of them.
  2. Legalize weed. Let all the people busted for marijuana out of jail. Tax it.
  3. Absolutely place a 1% tax on all financial transactions: robinhoodtax.
  4. Make excellent education accessible to all, including reasonably priced state colleges.
  5. Single payer health care. Everyone is covered. Preventive everything. Say you’re rich and you want the surgeon that worked on Tom Brady? Go ahead and pay for it; nobody’s stopping you. Designer medical can be the new status symbol.
  6. Tax everyone appropriately. No free ride for the corporations or the wealthy. Simply stated by Elizabeth Warren (at 0:55 for the impatient).
  7. Get progressive with personnel policies. Example: start folks off with 2 weeks’ vacation and work up to 6 weeks per year. Roll it into the cost of doing business, for everybody.
  8. Undo that bullshit about corporations being people. They’re not. Make corporate leadership answerable to all stakeholders, not just stockholders. That includes their employees and their communities.
  9. Disconnect politics from big money. Campaign reform. Politicians need to serve the people. Elect them by popular vote, pay them well and let them do their real jobs.
  10. You know that Eckhart Tolle stuff which is really that Ram Dass stuff which is really old Hindu stuff about getting into Now? Put it into elementary school curriculum. Oh, and Media Literacy too. And don’t forget to also fund art and music and earth studies, for all kids.
  11. Get serious about climate change and the environmental holocaust we’re committing. Enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts for a start. Companies’ expense sheets need to cover doing things right.
  12. Tax luxuries. If you really want four houses, five cars and a Humvee plus a pile of $10k wristwatches, go for it. But it’s gonna be just like Monopoly: luxury tax. And hopefully when you’re bitching about the luxury tax, your children (or grandchildren), who will have mastered Being Here Now at seven, will straighten you out.
  13. Capital gains are income. Period.

Since I began to write this, my good friend Dianna has asked the #occupycapecod people to articulate one demand. You’re probably thinking “Why didn’t she just give us that to begin with?” Well, I didn’t start writing a blog to give you just one small nibble. You’re here, so let’s enjoy the whole meal together. But since you asked (or not), here’s what I came up with:

MONEY OUT OF POLITICS.

I’d like to deeply feel the effects of that.

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