POEM: Morning Has Broke

Mourning is hear
The bell tolls fore thee
Riiiiiiiight
Whatever
Get up
You had
Left
Right
Left right
Left

Simplicity Trumps Affluence [Royal Flush] SPIRITUAL BUTTONHere is another Monday mourning poem for all who may be ambivalent or outright hate their work, particularly the screeching violence of an unwelcome alarm clock.  The division of time into precise compartments is a relatively new phenomenon in human history and human experience.  The rise of the clock as an often stress-inducing taskmaster is perhaps the heart — or ticking bomb — of civilization.  As money measures — quite poorly — the success of most of our tasks in living, the clock all-to-often chops the organic flow of human experience into well dissected but not so alive remains.  The interruption of sleep by loud noises is a particular pet peeve of mine.  Alarm clocks often enforce inadequate sleep and this too little rest is notoriously bookended by a fretful inability to get to sleep at night.  Of course, the nearly inescapable pressures to book it all day arrest most any probability of nabbing any re-creation or sublime sabbath.  When Things Aren't Adding Up in Your Life, Try Subtracting SPIRITUAL BUTTONThe clock serves as a proxy for order but may very well create more disorders than it harmonizes.  This poem uses the familiar cadence of military drills — Left, Right, Left, Right, Left — to allude to the presumptive violence inherent in such a go go, make it happen culture.  This swaggering onomatopoeia resonates more with martial law than the deep harmonies of nature and the human spirit, which transcend left and right.  I find that encouraging folks to break rank in order to reconnect with their deepest harmonies is a recurring theme of mine, energized by an evangelical fervor.  So, if you are Riiiiiiiight…Whatever/Get up/You had/Left, may you uncover reinvigorating re-creation at every turn.

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from -- Seth Godin quote POLITICAL BUTTONWhat Money Can't Buy - Medicine But Not Health, A House But Not A Home, Finery But Not Beauty, Luxuries But Not Culture, Amusements But Not Happiness POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Suffering Artists

I heard that
Artists are supposed to suffer
For their work
No matter how hard
Beaten
Their head against a wall
So trying
I have failed
Miserably
Only finding my work
Adore
I am through
And not
Well
Done

I am not much into suffering.  Of course, some may not consider my a truly devoted artist.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have an ascetic streak.  My values of living simply and for social justice drive such asceticism.  Also, I have a level of detachment from many hedonistic pleasures where I can enjoy such experiences without unduly relying upon them (see guacamole).  Surely, life brings with it enough suffering and pain that we never ought to seek it out!  As I like to say: just because you can learn something from being hit across the face with a 2-by-4 is no reason for hitting people across the face with a 2-by-4!  I consider the so-called suffering intrinsic in the creative artistic process as a form of passion that is not fully under control.  This process is analogous to love, in which the sickness and the cure are one.  Experiencing art, like love, demands something from us.  Inasmuch as we are lazy, this can bring suffering.  Yet, inasmuch as art enhances our response-ability, life grows deeper and richer.  This is adore in which we are never through…

POEM: Wage Slave Be Free

I am not a wage slave
I am free
And worth every penny

This week, I celebrated 10 years free from wage slavery!  My ensuing poverty has been a small price to pay for this freedom.  I am the richest person I know.  This short poem is a stab at de-linking our worth from what somebody will pay for our labors.  Also, this poem seeks to de-link the dangerous, though widespread, notion that our quality of life is pretty much directly proportional to our income.  Both a rich set of research and my own personal experience have proven that beyond meeting our basic needs, money is very ineffective at increasing our happiness.  At this point, money is not much better at improving overall quality of life either.  Some may squeak out some extra years, but may very well be less happy.  In my case, I am confident that the last ten years have produced more health in me than the previous ten years as a wage slave.

Some may contend that “slave” is too harsh a term.  This may be true, but I have a poetic license, and I’m not afraid to use it!  However, the constellation of realities for many wage earners is little consolation for the wages they earn.  Having to sell yourself wholesale to another for a wage is a relatively new addition to so-call Western civilization and in human history.  This package deal tends to serve employers and corporate interests more than individual employees.  This is increasingly so.  This millennium has seen virtually all of the gains in productivity, rooted in human labor, go to the top few percent of the richest Americans.  Corporate power has been extremely successful at hogging up all of the economic gains of labors increasing productivity.  This trajectory is degrading the value of work for most people.  Some have simply opted out of the work force.  There are fewer people in the American work force now than at the beginning of the millennium.  I’m not convinced this is a bad thing.  However, the way it is happening is brutal.  High unemployment across a wider range of job categories, including higher skilled jobs, drives down wages for all.  Of course, many jobs lost are replaced with lower paying jobs.  Some people, in some households, have come to the conclusion that they can’t afford to work!

For myself, I am less about the money than fairness.  I am less about the money than maintaining a free and fulfilling lifestyle.  I am less about the money than about living simply, consistent with an anti-consumer lifestyle, to live a sustainable lifestyle that won’t contribute to destroying our environment and planet.  There is more to life than money.  This seems like a trite statement.  However, I see many gaping inconsistencies in the way people talk and the way people live.  Such talk is a leading cause of global climate change.  Such a walk seems to be producing ever-diminishing returns in our quality of life.  Closing this gap would be better for both people and the planet which sustains us. We can do much better…

POEM: Less Than Eternal Question

The Rev. Medley
Had risen
To the highest position
He would ever
It was only down from there
An awe too common
Occupational hazard
Of moderate irony
And accumulating lessens
Just falling short
Of making one cross
Facing that less than eternal question
If only Jesus
Had bothered to develop
Better retirement plans

Here is a poem that I wrote before the Lenten season, and now that we are in Lent, I realize that it is an appropriate Lenten poem.  I have always admired Jesus for being “all in” this thing called life.  While Jesus’ way of being in the world raises difficult questions, his life powerfully juxtaposes finding meaning in life with finding meaning in death.  Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on such things.  For years I have often joked that I have given up Lent for Lent.  More to the truth, my ascetic tendencies and frank goals of living simply leave me in a sort of permanent Lent.  In practice, I see that Buddhists seems to model better than Christians simple living and prudently avoiding attachments to material goods. Materialism has such a powerful and normative presence in Western civilization, that Christianity, at least as practiced in Westernized communities, seems to have accommodated rampant materialism quite well.  I see the divide between serving God or wealth (worldly power) as primary in my understanding of the message of Jesus’ life and death.  The conventional wisdom of sensible retirement planning, as alluded to in this poem, seems second nature to what is considered the good life in modern times. I have witnessed way too many fear-filled discussions in church settings about more financially secure appointments, health coverage, and retirement benefits for clergy.  In sharp contrast, I have found little traction for providing a living wage to janitors, secretaries, and many other employees of churches or faith-based organizations.  Church folks are too polite to crucify you for suggesting providing a living wage to low-wage church employees, but the resounding silence kills nonetheless.

In reflecting on the often lukewarm leadership of professional Christians, often called clergy, outsiders are at little risk of ever guessing that the founder of their movement was publicly executed by the state for his revolutionary, uncompromising life.  In sharp contrast, outsiders have little difficulty understanding that religious elites were complicit in Jesus’ murder.

I admire the Buddhist spiritual practice of meditating on your own death.  This practice seems like a powerful way to elicit the value and importance of life in the context of death.  Followers of Jesus have a profound leader who made such meditations an incarnate reality.  Jesus is the way.  But the retirement plan is a killer.

POEM: Fringe Benefits

Living on the fringe
Has benefits

I thought that this short poem would have been the seed for a larger poem, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to mess with the simple elegance of it.

Since I quit my “regular” job to run my own business full-time, I have learned that time is way more valuable than money.  This has been confirmed along my journey with much less money and much more time.  Research confirms that once we have enough money to meet our basic needs, additional money offers little increase in happiness.  Apparently, the proverb, “you can’t buy happiness” is largely true.  On the other hand, having additional free time, to do what we really want to do, does not seem to be limited by the principle of diminishing returns as money is, that is, after meeting our basic needs.  I would say that trading money for time would be a good deal for most Americans.  Of course, my approach is not to purchase time through vacations or hiring help, but rather to free up time by not selling myself pay any more than I have to.  Living simply and frugally is part of my vocation.  Such a vocation allows my life to better resemble a vacation.  Every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I don’t have to earn in the not-so-free market.  If you are fortunate to have significant assets available to you, I would highly recommend transitioning to a much simpler life, by ransoming your life with whatever assets you have available.

A transition to a simpler life requires letting go of certain things.  For instance, I am living on the fringe, in the fact that I have been without health insurance for almost a decade.  Though I might add, our health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system, and now is as good of a time as any to be on the fringe of this non-system.  Fortunately, I am healthier than most of my peers.  I eat nutritiously.  I get plenty of rest.  I have much, much less stress than most.  I get a decent amount of physical activity.  I have something that the finest doctors in the world are unable to give their patients.

So, what are some other benefits of living on the fringe?  In recent months, I have written a poem a day, and a blog commentary to boot!  Just yesterday, I broke my record for length of a blog commentary.  I can’t remember the last time I set my alarm to get up in the morning — this is something that the richest and most powerful people in the world cannot claim!  One of my greatest hopes is for people to have morning without mourning!

I recently spent a couple of hours most days for a couple of months with a friend dying in hospice care.

I have spent most of my life on a quest for simple living.  I contemplated and calculated quite thoroughly the costs and “affordability” of quitting my regular job.  Perhaps the greatest single epiphany in my life has been how grossly I underestimated the benefits of working for myself, relaxing my security reflex, and living fully into the serendipitous benefits of simple living.  I feel like I have won the lottery!  Only without the money…

Like a former pastor of mine says, “If you aren’t living on the fringe, then you are taking up to much room.”  May you find the space and time in your life to discover fringe benefits beyond your dreams!

Will Work for Change

Will Work for Change-POLITICAL BUTTON

Will Work for Change-POLITICAL BUTTON

Will Work for Change-POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

I like this simple design because it has two meanings for the price of one.  Hopefully, the obvious meaning is that one will work for social change.  However, the other meaning, that one will work for a mere pittance, is a backhanded commentary on low wages and the all too common inability to earn a living wage for one’s labors.  What may be less obvious, is how I combine these two things in my own life.  First, I will gladly work for social change and social justice.  Secondly, living my life in a simple fashion, which I typically call living low to the ground, allows me the freedom of working for social change, while minimizing the worries of wage slavery, the difficulty of earning enough money for a decent living.  The simple fact is that the less money you spend and the less you consume, the less money you need to live.  Friends occasionally ask me, “How’s the button business.”  I am likely to respond something like, “it depends on what metric you might measure that by.”  The most important metric, the one that I judge my success and my business’ success is “I LOVE MY LIFE!”  The rest is details.

Valentine’s Day: Show The World Your Love of Justice

Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones magazine has a wake-up call for Valentine’s Day celebrants:  Think You’re a Virtuous Valentine? Think Again.  She writes:

Cut flowers: That bouquet you may be planning to gift today was most likely not grown in the United States. The floriculture industry taps out at $32.8 billion, and about $14 billion of that comes from the sale of fresh flowers. Around 63 percent of those blooms are imports from Colombia, and another 23 percent from Ecuador.

The labor rights facts of this industry are truly depressing. In 2005, the International Labor Rights Forum found that 55 percent of women working in the Ecuadorian flower production trade (they constitute half the flower workforce) had been victim to sexual harassment in the workplace. Nineteen percent were forced to have sex with a supervisor or coworker. Compulsory pregnancy testing is also a serious industry issue. In Colombia, where women make up about 65 percent of flower workers, a survey conducted by the nation’s flower industry union, Untraflores, found that about 80 percent of companies required women to take a pregnancy test as part of their job application process—presumably because they’d like to avoid providing paid maternity leave (required in Colombia). Another problem: In 2000, upwards of 48,000 children were found working in Ecuador’s flower industry. Colombia wasn’t much better. There have since been a number of hefty efforts at reform, and while Colombia’s been improving, the US Department of Labor still confirms extensive child labor use in Ecuador.

So, is the $17.6 billion that we will spend in the United States this year on Valentine’s Day a boon for love?  Ms. Lentinova goes on to outline other issues related to environmental impacts and other labor issues related to flowers, chocolate, and greeting cards.  I doubt that there is a conspiracy to make Valentines day an anti-love venture.  Unfortunately, this is a particularly ironic example of how our economy is deeply intertwined with poor environmental stewardship and poor treatment of labor. I would suggest that the first line of defense would be to consume no more than needed, to live simply.  The next line of defense, a close second, would be to educate oneself about how what we buy affects the rest of the world; then, to act responsibly based on that information.

Buy the way, happy Valentine’s Day!

POEM: Commercial Interruption

We interrupt this commercial
Now that wasn’t so hard
Or was it?

How many times a day is our consciousness breached by some form of commercial interruption?  Way too many times!  I consider this commercial assault a major form of violence in our culture.  This short poem is geared to get the reader to think about taking back these interruptions and reclaiming our consciousness.  Rather than the commercial interrupting us, we interrupt this commercial.  Initially, this may not be difficult.  A momentary victory is not difficult to achieve.  However, the assault of commercial interruptions is so pervasive and penetrating that keeping them out of our consciousness requires constant discipline.  In the long run, avoiding those settings where commercial interruptions are prevalent is probably the best strategy.  Like any kind of mindfulness or meditation practice, maintaining complete control over where the mind goes is probably impossible.  Nevertheless, we can train our minds to let go the commercial interruptions and build associations in our mental state that eventually rate these commercial interruptions as not worth paying attention to.  Live Simply So Others May Simply Live-POLITICAL BUTTONAnother suggestion on the social front would be not to buy any of the crap that’s advertised. This is not really that difficult since most of the crap that’s advertised is crap.  Questioning consumption and consumerism, as well as living a simple life, are long-term strategies to interrupt the violent assaults of commercials.  Also, given the sloganeering and design work that I do, I like to parody and satirize the vanity and absurdity of many commercial endeavors.  I find this method of fighting back both cathartic and joy producing.  May the farce be with you as well!