April 9th, 2006

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Good Morning!!

The day is lively with bird song. We walked down to the junction for coffee. The sun was held like a softly lit face in a bonnet of gray.

My dreams were of bridges and Audrey Hepburn with her lovely, long neck stretched like the throat of a swan. 

I offer a poem by Alberto Rios from his book The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body.

You may now be wondering what is  the smallest muscle in the human body.  I Google and find out.  

        "The human body has about 650 muscles—we say “about” because there is some disagreement as to which muscles are seperate and that results in different muscle totals.
        Although the experts don’t agree on how many muscles there are in the human body, they do agree that the smallest muscle is the stapedius. Located in the middle ear, the stapedius is a mere 1.27 millimetres long. And what does such a miniscule muscle do? It controls the tiniest bone in the body, the stapes or stirrup bone. The stapes and two other bones conduct sound vibrations through the middle ear."

       Now that is important to know, and will certainly enrich your day. 

Here is a poem by Alberto Rios.


This is just about light, how suddenly
One comes upon it sometimes and is surprised.

In light, something is lifted.
That is the property of light,

And in it one weighs less.
A broad and wide leap of light

Encountered suddenly, for a moment -
You are not where you were

But you have not moved.  It's the moment
That startles you up out of dream,

But the other way around:  It's the moment, instead,
That startles you into dream, makes you

Close your eyes - that kind of light, the moment
For which, in our language, we have only

The word surprise, maybe a few others,
But not enough.  The moment is regular

As with all the things regular
At the closing of the twentieth century:

A knowledge that electricity exists
Somewhere inside the walls;

That tonight the moon in some fashion will come out;
That cold water is good to drink.

The way taste slows a thing
On its way into the body.

Light, widened and slowed, so much of it:  It
Cannot be swallowed into the mouth of the eye,

Into the throat of the pupil, there is
So much of it.  But we let it in anyway,

Something in us knowing
The appropriate mechanism, the moment's lever.

Light, the slow moment of everything fast.
Like hills, those slowest waves, light,

That slowest fire, all
Confusion, confusion here

One more part of clarity:  In this light
You are not where you were but you have not moved.

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Last night we watched the Jon Stewart show featuring Studs Terkel. What a guy is Studs! He has a new book out, and it was thrilling to see his exuberance and enthusiasm. I have read some of his books, but seeing him was a real treat.

Bill Maher points out that raising the minimum wage might be the first step in dealing with the "immigration problem." After all, many of us spend more each day on a latte and a goodie than the hourly minimum wage.

The gap between rich and poor continues. The NY Times today is on executive salaries rising at an astonishing rate.

Here is Joan Ryan's column in the SF Chronicle on what is lost as corporations rule without soul, and what happens, in one case, when individuals come in to aid the gap. This is a dramatic example though. What happens to those less noticable? It is a sad statement on our society.

Legal world conjures up a conscience
Joan Ryan

Thursday, April 6, 2006

When attorney Clem Glynn worked at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Francisco, he arrived two hours before the law firm opened its doors at 8:30 a.m. And every morning, Martin Macy was already there. He always seemed to be there.

"The firm was his life,'' said Glynn, who is now at Glynn & Finley in Walnut Creek. Macy didn't marry or have children. He walked to work from his apartment on Battery Street.

You could hear his laugh all the way down the hall. Glynn would come up with off-color jokes just to hear Macy's distinctive uproarious laugh. Over the decades, as lawyers came and went, as the firm expanded and moved into ever-larger digs, Macy stayed on, his dark hair turning to gray, his sturdy frame softening with age and diabetes. He seemed as much a part of the firm as the nameplate on the door.

Macy wasn't a lawyer. He was a messenger, beginning in 1965 at the age of 17. He delivered the mail office to office, desk to desk. He did this for 41 years. He was a company man, an emblem of an era when businesses were local and the bosses stopped you in the hall to ask about your mother's cataracts.

Now he's an emblem of a new era.

Last week, at age 58, he was laid off by what is now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, a firm with 16 offices around the world, 900 lawyers and $600 million in revenue.

Macy earned $34,000 a year.

Workers are laid off all the time -- "The Disposable American,'' as the title of a new book puts it. We take for granted that new management means new layoffs, that one's value to the company will be calculated by a formula that has no variables for loyalty, longevity or distinctive uproarious laughs. There is no line on the Excel spreadsheet for showing up with coffee and doughnuts at 3 a.m. for lawyers pulling all-nighters, or for knowing the names of everybody's kids, or for believing that, even in a law office, people's lives could be lifted by kind words, and they were.

So when Macy lost his job, he seemed to be just one of thousands of American workers snagged each week on the sharp tip of an efficiency expert's pen.

But he wasn't another worker. His dismissal has become something of a cause celebre in the San Francisco legal community.

It began with Glynn, who kept in regular touch with Macy. When he found out Macy was being laid off, he sent e-mails to a handful of colleagues who also had worked at Pillsbury. "What can we do?" he asked. "We have to take care of Martin."

The response was immediate: Where do we send the check?

Word spread. E-mails were forwarded. Phone calls were made. Money started coming in from lawyers, judges, legal secretaries, even clients who had gotten to know Macy. The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper, ran a story on Monday about Macy and the fundraising effort. More money has poured in. What began as a few e-mails among friends has mushroomed into the financial equivalent of a barn-raising: Macy's fans are hoping to put together enough for an annuity that will support him for the rest of his life.

"I don't think I can write a check big enough to repay Martin for all he's done for me over the years,'' Marin Superior Court Judge John Sutro Jr. said.

Sutro's grandfather founded the firm in the late 1860s. Sutro worked there from 1961 to 1990.

"Martin was just devoted to the place,'' Sutro said. "He gave of himself limitlessly. He reflected the spirit of the firm, at least during the time that I was there, back in the days when things like that mattered.''

Macy didn't want to talk to the Record or to me. He is still loyal to the firm. He doesn't want anyone to think poorly of him by saying something ungracious in the paper. But, according to Glynn, he's overwhelmed by what his former co-workers are doing for him.

"He's one of the most unique individuals I've ever met,'' Glynn said, "in that he is incapable of negative feelings. He's someone who did whatever he could every single day to cheer people up.''

Sometimes when Glynn arrived at the office, he'd find a cookie or a pack of Twinkies on his chair. He knew it was from Macy. "It was an act of kindness that would just start your day,'' Glynn said.

Neither Glynn nor any of the lawyers I spoke with wanted to criticize Pillsbury Winthrop. The firm's managing partner, David Anderson, declined to talk about the dismissal out of respect for Macy's privacy but said Macy "would be missed by many, many people here.'' The chief of human resources, Deborah Johnson, said cutbacks are always painful.

"Like a lot of businesses, we have streamlined operations and we have eliminated positions, of which Martin's is one,'' she said Wednesday, "and those are never easy decisions to make.'' She said the firm helps employees with job interviews, training and severance packages that include subsidized benefits.

But, as one attorney said, "Martin's value can't be measured in dollars, and he was more valuable now that he ever was because he represented that oasis of goodness, that place of innocence in a legal world that is less innocent than it's ever been."

It's not just the legal world. The workplace is different now from the day Macy walked through the doors of Pillsbury Madison 41 years ago. Mom-and-pop shops have morphed into multinational conglomerates. Everything is bigger, faster, shinier. But Macy, like so many American workers, didn't think he had to become bigger, faster and shinier, too.

He was an anachronism, a carrier of values that now seem quaint. He still believed that if you showed up every day and worked hard and never complained and made everyone around you feel better for your presence, the company would be as loyal to you as you were to it.
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Sunday afternoon -

I love the comic strip Doonesbury which today points out that Bush seems to lose no sleep over the rippling affects of his war, and yet, suffers over the cries of stem cells. Oh, me. Oh, my!!

All is quiet today in the gray and so I peruse books from my book shelves.

Here is a piece on the nature of the soul by Hildegard of Bingen.

"The soul in the body is like sap in a tree, and the soul's powers are like the form of the tree. How? The intellect in the soul is like the greenery of the tree's branches and leaves, the will like its flowers, the mind like its bursting firstfruits, the reason like the perfected mature fruit, and the senses like its size and shape. And so a person's body is strengthened and sustained by the soul. Hence, O human, understand what you are in your soul...."

I'm also enjoying another book by Alberto Rios, The Theatre of Night.   In this book, his poems follow the lives and love of an elderly couple. Clemente and Ventura.  I like this poem for its expanding interpretation of the senses.

Clemente, in Love, Speaks to Himself in the Mirror

We have, we are told - we are sure - five senses.
This is easy, this is first grade, this is certain.

We know this, five.  But look, when I count
I can't stop: I see ten fingers in front of me

Plain as anything. Ten.  You see them, too.
And they move around.

Someone, whoever he is,
He has been keeping something from us.

I see this, now, using my sense of cunning.
That makes six senses quickly and right there.

Clemente, they used to say, pay attention,
Do your work, don't look up -
I know now

What they were up to. I see what they were trying
To do. But it's over. They can't stop me anymore.

I can see ten, but I can think a thousand.
The world of a thousand senses -

This opens things up considerably, don't you think?
They add up right away, and easy, these gifts of mine.

The sense of wonder, horse sense,
The sense of timing, good sense,

Sense enough to come in from the rain.
I will not be stopped.  I know what I know.

I feel powerful, I am powerful - Look at me! -
I am the Sense-Man!  And I am walking right past you

Straight into and ready for the world.  All of you!
All of you!  Out of my way!

Enjoy your thousands of senses today and everyday.  Be Sense-Men and Sense-Women.  Enjoy the play!!
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Rilke - The Book of Hours

Here are two poems from Rilke's The Book of Hours, The Book of a Monastic Life, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

I, 1

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there's a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

I, 5

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.
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Sensory Awareness -

 In the book Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, she discusses a passage in Life Magazine in 1998 that talks about a momentous event, the advent of the train. "On September 15, 1830, foot power began its long slide toward obsolescence. As brass bands played, a million Britons gathered between Liverpool and Manchester to witness the inauguration of the world's first fully steam-driven railway.  Despite the death of a member of Parliament who was run down by the train at the opening ceremony, the Liverpool and Manchester inspired a rash of track-laying around the world."

Solnit does not see this event in a positive way. "In a way the train mangled not just that one man's body, but all bodies in the places it transformed, by severing human perception, expectation, and action from the organic world in which our bodies exist. Alienation from nature is usually depicted as estrangement from natural spaces. But the sensing, breathing, living, moving body can be a primary experience of nature too: new technologies and spaces can bring about alienation from both body and space."

She quotes Wolfgang Schivelbusch who wrote The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century.  "Early railroad travelers, characterized this new technology's effects as the elimination of time and space, and to transcend time and space is to begin to transcend the material world altogether - to become disembodied."  "The speed and mathematical directness with which the railroad proceeds through the terrain destroys the close relationship between the traveller and the travelled space.  The train was experienced as a projectile, and traveling on it as being shot through the landscape - thus losing control of one's senses ....The traveller who sat inside that projectile ceased to be a traveller and became, as noted in a popular metaphor of the century, a parcel."

Solnit continues.  "Speed did not make travel more interesting, Schivelbusch writes, but duller."  People began to read on the train and complain of boredom.   "Watching a movie on a jetliner 35,000 feet above the earth may be the ultimate disconnection of space, time, and experience."  

Paul Virilio writes.  "From the elimination of the physical effort of walking to the sensorimotor loss induced by the first transport, we have finally achieved states bordering on sensory deprivation.  The loss of the thrills of the old voyage is now compensated for by the showing of a film on a central screen."

I remember science fiction of years ago that predicted we would just be brains by now, and yet, here, we are, pretty darn aware, I feel.  I think most of us notice the sunrise and sunset.  I never see the bay that my heart doesn't exclaim.  When I went to UCLA, I was a tour guide.  I had a chance to be in a room of total darkness and silence, sensory deprivation.  I heard and felt myself.  I think we can ride on an airplane, or in a train or car and be aware, and I think we need to be aware enough to do so.  I see many people with a cel phone attached to their ear.  Often, they are with children, in the grocery, or pushing their child in a stroller.   Sometimes the conversation sounds so one-sided and meaningless, I wonder if anyone is even on the other end.  Who is listening?   I wonder how it would be for the child if instead the mother, and usually it is the mother,  pointed things out to the child, or listened to what the child pointed out to them.  

Matisse said, "Space has the boundaries of my imagination."  Let us live there.  
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William Stafford -

Words of William Stafford - Writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality, and elation, and discovery, in writing. For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision.

Ah, wonder-wrapped Love!