Articles taggés avec: Ricker Winsor

The Persistence of Ignorance

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 15 avril 2017. dans La une, Ecrits

The Persistence of Ignorance

A young student asked me recently, « Mr. Winsor, do you think history is important ? » I said, « When I was growing up we heard that history is important to know so that we learn from the past and don’t repeat our mistakes. But now that I have lived seventy-two years I have to wonder about that. It seems to me we haven’t learned anything ; we keep repeating the same mistakes, so maybe history isn’t important. It is always subjective anyway, always written by the winners ».

The human community has been in trouble since the beginning and holds fast to that trouble despite a choking amount of information to help it out of that trouble and despite having the greatest tool to do that, the human brain itself. It has only been four generations since television was invented and spread around to almost every house. There was an expectation that this amazing invention would educate people and bring them out of ignorance. It hasn’t worked. Most people are lazy, it seems, and only want television to help them escape or have it tell them what they already believe and want to hear about issues. There seems to be no need to be challenged by new information, new ideas.

One of my friends is a doctor, an atheist, and an expert on evolution. He says, « The human brain is wired to be curious, to be seeking understanding, making discoveries. If that is not happening, there is something wrong with the wiring ». Based on what I said in the previous paragraph, it would seem there is a great deal wrong with « the wiring ». Either that, or evolution has screeched to a halt.

 Another friend is an enemy of « left leaning liberals ». He is on what I would call « the rabid right », the alt right being the proper term ; not thinking, dangerous. But he is a loyal friend from childhood. I sent him a link to « The National Review » because it is a thoughtful, conservative « rag ». My friend is a CPA accountant, not a dummy. He wrote back, « I don’t read left-wing rags ». I said « The National Review is a conservative voice started by William F. Buckley ». He answered, « I know that. Never cared much for Buckley », by which I understood that he didn’t know that and didn’t bother to make two clicks on his I pad to find out about it, something that would have taken less than thirty seconds.

In researching this topic, I came across a thesis stating that our ideas are so deeply held as to be actually physical. Seeing new or opposing evidence just makes a person struggle harder to defend what he already believes. In other words, a considered good argument will have very little effect on changing a person’s thinking.

As we grow up and develop our personalities, a number of core ideas get bundled together and become an unassailable fortress against new information coming from the world. I suppose this makes things simpler. I came up with a phrase to help me explain this phenomenon : « Ignorant people want simple solutions to complex problems ». It provides them relief from what is otherwise a permanent condition of stress to make sense of a world that mostly does not make sense.

What will it take to change our thinking if we are totally invested in a set of ideas ? It won’t happen by argument ; that is clear. My own experience is that if I give myself a little distance from that bundle of ideas I carry with me, there is a chance I can accept another way of thinking about things. It is almost a spiritual technique of non-attachment or at least of loosening one’s grip on that attachment. Life is short ; we live in a mind-bogglingly immense universe that only seems to get bigger as our knowledge increases. How important can one’s political ideas actually be ? The humility that comes with this kind of thinking is liberating, actually pleasurable.

My atheist friend, the evolution expert, gets great peace from his acceptance of annihilation. « When you really understand evolution and DNA you don’t need religion ». About life after death he says, « They will never know how wrong they were (the believers). We become stardust, nothing more ».

Tupelo by Alec Clayton

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 18 mars 2017. dans La une, Littérature

Tupelo by Alec Clayton

Tupelo is Alec Clayton’s eighth book. I have read most of them if not all. I have watched his writing carefully. We both are painters and writers. In fact, I met Alec when he reviewed my first painting show back in 1994 in Tacoma, Washington, « The City of Destiny » as it is known. He was the arts writer for a local-events paper, a good one.

That was before he wrote his first book, before he reclaimed his memories of boyhood and coming of age in the deep culture of post-war Mississippi. The other books are full of interesting characters and situations particular to the south in many ways but not to the extent that Tupelo is.

In Tupelo Alec allowed himself to be that boy and young man again, and to be that entirely and unapologetically, to own it. And own it he does. He delivers the expressions, the nuances of deep southern culture, with a voice in perfect pitch, never missing a beat. They are as integrated into the story as white on rice.

Inevitably, one of the great themes of the book is the racial divide, how black and white interact with such complexity, mixing love, affection, fear, and hate. Alec explores this more like a poet than a sociologist, leaving us satisfied in a peculiar way because truth is satisfying although not necessarily comfortable. More telling than all the words I have ever read about racism is Alec’s story that tells of living its ironic beauty, its cruelties, its ignorance, and its heart breaks. He brings the reader inside the feelings and tensions of the people involved in a deeply personal way.

There are many beautiful things about this book. He made a master stroke right from the beginning, in the conception of it all, by having the twin brother Kevin tell the story from the grave. What that allowed is for the story to be told from the first person and from the omniscient observer at the same time with no shocks to the reader, seamless and smooth. One minute Kevin can be sitting out on the curb looking up at a window of the house where Wanda is dressing and the next moment he is in the room watching her, knowing her thoughts and describing her situation, listening to the conversation she is having with her mother. As the reader, you don’t even notice this unless, as an appreciator of literature, as a writer, you just note it and applaud its brilliance.

Because of the natural beauty of Alec Clayton’s prose, and the flow of the narrative, it is easy to miss the stunning craft this writer has mastered over eight fine books. The roll of the prose is like the big river itself moving smoothly forward carrying us along, reminding me of Mark Twain at his best, those special days when Huck and Jim shared a log raft on the Mississippi and were free and full of life in the southern sun.

There were so many places where the plot could have been manipulated in some predictable way, so many ways it could have been more dramatic here or there. With great discipline and restraint, the writer stayed true to what’s real, that things don’t always end with a bang, that situations hang with tension in the air, that life goes on pretty much the way it always has, not the great ecstasy or the great tragedy but some of both. And this sense of restraint allows the reader to trust and enter more fully into the story without fearing some cruel, surprising jolt coming from out of the blue.

Time passes in the story, a lifetime passes. Things change as they inevitably do and usually not for the best. Systems fall apart ; its called entropy. There is a good writer named Rohintan Mistry, whose first book, A Fine Balance, won many awards. It is a great work up to a certain point and then, perhaps having heard about entropy, Mr. Mistry goes about destroying every good thing about the characters, situations, and relationships he has so beautifully created. I still hate him for that. In discussing this destruction with others, I have heard them say, « But that is the way it is ». I don’t buy it. And Alec Clayton does not buy it either because most of his people are still standing, metaphorically, at the end of the story even if they are not there anymore. And the ending is unusual, surprising, moving, and as satisfying as stark naked honesty must always be.

Watching the evolution of Alec Clayton’s writing over the past twenty years has been like watching a long-distance runner who starts from behind but slowly, as the race goes on, starts picking off the runners ahead, gaining strength as time passes until he crosses the finish line ahead of the pack. Bravo !

 

Review by Ricker Winsor

Surabaya, Indonesia

February 23, 2017

I can’t breathe

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 19 novembre 2016. dans Monde, La une, Ecrits, Politique, Actualité

I can’t breathe

I feel like I can’t breathe, drowned by the tsunami that just befell my country and the whole world. All of a sudden everything is up for grabs, including a woman’s right to choose, steps to combat climate change, NATO alliances, trade agreements, immigration, just about everything. But I won’t talk about all that ; so much has been said and is known by the reading public. Over the last eighteen months the brightest writers and thinkers had intellectually tied up Trump and thrown into the scrap heap of history. They were all wrong.

What has been thrown out is an approach to life that is egalitarian, compassionate, and respectful, an ethos based on the humanitarian ideals of a liberal democracy. Not too long ago all political combatants could be found in the shelter of that umbrella no matter what their differences. No more.

This debacle has been characterized as a « revolt against the elites » but it is more like revenge against « those who think they are better than us », those who worked to improve their minds through education and got ahead using their brains. It comes out of deep anger and resentment and a serious sense of inferiority. How else could the populace turn their backs on Trump’s blatant disrespect for : women, Muslims, Mexicans, and those who prepare and do their homework (e.g. Hillary and the debates). Our new leader thinks it is ok to grab women « by the pussy ». « When you are a star you can do anything you want » he said. He laughs at the disabled and, well, no need for me to go through the long list. What kind of message does this send to young people trying to grow up ? « Nice guys finish last » is what it says ; it is ok to bully anyone to put yourself forward, to win the race.

I get invited to certain occasions at the American Consulate here in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, the second biggest city. And today I was invited to witness the final day of the election. I prepared myself to answer questions about how I felt, never for a minute believing that Trump could win. I prepared my thoughts like this : « I am honestly disgusted that a man like Trump could actually have gotten this far in the election process. That fact itself discredits America and debases, if not annihilates, the idea of American exceptionalism ».

Now what do I do ? Our new chief has a majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Checks and balances are minimal. He also won decisively, very decisively. All of the bruhaha about every woman in America standing against him, the surge of Latinos voting, the blacks and minorities being involved and taking a stand, never happened. A lot of them voted for Trump.

It is important to say something about Hillary Clinton beyond how she has been portrayed and the consequent vague or not so vague opinion of her. Even those who are dismayed by the existence of Trump often expressed dislike or suspicion about Mrs. Clinton. Based on what ? Nothing, only lies and bullshit. She is of my generation, the idealists, the ones who dreamed of « open borders », of everyone « getting along », of equal opportunity and service. Her whole life has been dedicated to that. I witnessed it all, and not from so far away because of university connections. She is one of « us » the sixties generation that fought for civil rights, for women’s rights, for Vista, for the Peace Corps, for inner city programs. We fought against that ill-considered debacle, war in Viet Nam. And yet, through a steady campaign that would make Joseph Goebbels smile from hell, where he no doubt dwells, the « no nothings » polluted the spring until they created « Crooked Hillary ».

Root River Return, by David Kherdian

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 09 avril 2016. dans La une, Ecrits

Root River Return, by David Kherdian

In 1970, I was a refugee from Brooklyn living in a broken down old house in Lyme, New Hampshire. I came into the country for the same reason that many of my generation did, to heal the stresses of the lunatic sixties and to find a better way of life. Working as a low laborer with a local construction crew, I tried to fit in as best I could. I tried to decipher their deep New England way of talking. It seemed like another language that had developed without a thought to the world beyond.

My goal was to learn how to do a hard day’s work and I did, hoisting plank after plank onto the roof of the house the Kherdians had bought on the edge of the big forest at the foot of Bear Hill. We rebuilt their whole roof and in the process I understood that he was a poet. We got to know each other a bit beyond the landowner/worker relationship. It was probably obvious I was not a « local » and had my own story and reasons for being where I was, and it would be especially obvious to a perceptive and sensitive poet.

Many years passed, about forty five, and then somehow I saw an announcement of David’s book of poems, « Living in Quiet », Deerbrook Editions 2013 and it all came back and stayed back ; I can see all the scenes of long ago in perfect clarity. Or as the poet says :

10 Years Later

Standing on the leafy bank

on my first day back

overlooking hills & ravines

and the river I fished,

I knelt, reached back over

the years, and threw a stick

that tumbled a wild green apple

Dear Paris

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 05 décembre 2015. dans Ecrits, La une, Actualité

Dear Paris

In the aftermath of the atrocity committed in Paris I wrote a condolence letter to a friend there. He responded and mentioned other things but with no reference of my heartfelt sympathies. And, somehow, that seemed just right, like the sound of one hand clapping, like a fraught, existential, and blank idea balloon kept in the air of consciousness by our mutual understanding. It was appropriate, like a story about death ending in the middle of a sentence. Because there is nothing left to say and, of course, everything left to say.

I am a New Yorker who remembers the thudding sound of bodies hitting the pavement as victims who, a moment before, were going about their business or talking to their loved ones at home in the suburbs, now suddenly found themselves airborne to oblivion in escape from the merciless fire. A friend living near the two towers got on the roof of her loft building and saw people jumping from the towers, some of them holding hands and one, she noted, actually doing a swan dive, taking his last moment to express a gesture of defiant poetry against death. It makes sense in the current context to remember that there was great rejoicing about this in the Muslim neighborhoods of New Jersey. We New Yorkers have not forgotten that.

Our president, Barak Obama, said that the Paris murders were an « attack on all humanity », a comment made more poignant because Paris, in many ways, is the cultural capital of humanity. And it will continue to be that. Somehow, in an unpredictable irony, New York became a much better place after 9/11. People were friendlier, more outgoing. The sense of comradery that has always been a part of New York identity increased in the wake of the disaster. I am not sure if that warm feeling extended to Middle Easterners. I expect this « spirit de corps » phenomenon to occur in Paris too. Those who survive an atrocity are bonded by grief, anger, and a certain pride they discover in the courage to carry on.

Friday the 13th was a tipping point for the French and also for the rest of the free world. It is a different feeling now. We were angered and shocked by the Charlie Hebdo attack and by the murders in a kosher grocery but we also knew that the cartoonists, although within their right of free speech, so central to any democracy, were pushing the envelope, asking for trouble. And the Jews, well the Jews have always been ground zero for abuse and tragedy ; nothing new about that. But this new savagery had nothing to do with anything other than a warped sense of religiosity and a kind of nihilism that celebrates killing for its own sake.

Expatriation, Art, and Spirit

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 04 juillet 2015. dans La une, Ecrits

Expatriation, Art, and Spirit

Standing on the edge of the highway I held a sign that said « London ». It was cold, early spring, and I was hitching from Newcastle. I was nineteen, and the year, nineteen sixty-four. At a pub that evening a Canadian guy told me : « You know, once it starts it never stops ». He was right and I knew it even then.

Expatriation is an inevitability for certain people. People with prolonged expatriate experiences due to work move through well-known stages of adaption : the honeymoon of excitement at a new place, the disappointment as the downside is revealed, and the final accommodation to it all. Eventually, surely, they go home. And what happens then ? Most just carry on where they left off in their communities but others have a hard time readjusting.

We all know about « roots » and what that means in a personal way to each of us. Back then, at age nineteen, I shook up those roots, and if they were not yet dislodged, they also never returned to their original condition.

Restlessness attends the expatriate personality. What else could make a person leave for a strange place without friends and without knowing the language or the culture ? That same drive sent Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus and many others on their way into the unknown. It is in the human personality to want to know what is over the next hill but some people experience that tendency as a deep need.

I don’t even like traveling and I never had an interest in being a tourist. Yet here I am, having lived all over the world and now settling in Indonesia. I returned to my home in the northeast of the USA more times than I can count and every time I left again, not because I didn’t like it but because all my other foreign experience tugged at my heart and called me into action almost in spite of myself. It just seems so much more interesting « out there » wherever that may be.

Someone back home said : « Oh, I would never move somewhere I didn’t have friends ». But the expat knows that there are good people everywhere and new friends waiting for you. They may not be the old friends that are so precious but they are good friends and could be even better friends if you would only hang around, something that is always a question mark both for you and for them.

And up comes  the down side. After yanking on those roots hard and long, they wither and die. You find yourself  « out there » on your own. Back home the friends are huddled together around a fire of communal warmth and you are like the wolf circling from the bushes, wishing you could get closer. You are different and everyone knows it. And when you are with them they talk about their normal lives without much interest in hearing your foreign stories. And why ? Because your stories have no connection with their lives or their experience.

Expatriation, Art, et Esprit

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 04 juillet 2015. dans La une, Ecrits

Avec la participation amicale de Simon Mendy qui a traduit de l’anglais Expatriation, Art, and Spirit, et de Julia Revuz pour sa contribution à cette traduction.

Expatriation, Art, et Esprit

Debout au bord de l’autoroute, je tenais un panneau indiquant « Londres ». Il faisait froid en ce début de printemps, et je faisais du stop depuis Newcastle. J’avais dix-neuf ans en cette année dix neuf cent soixante quatre. Dans un pub, ce soir-là, un canadien m’avait dit : « tu sais, quand c’est parti, ça s’arrête jamais ». Il avait raison et je le savais déjà à l’époque.

S’expatrier est inéluctable pour certaines personnes. Les gens qui s’expatrient longtemps du fait de leur profession passent par différents stades : il y a l’excitation d’être dans un endroit nouveau, puis de la déception quand on découvre ce qui y est moins bien, puis l’habitude qui s’installe à ce qui est bien et moins bien. Après, à un moment donné, ils rentrent à la maison. Et que se passe-t-il ? La plupart renouent avec leur communauté, d’autres ont beaucoup de mal à se réadapter

Nous avons tous entendu parler de « racines », et de la part d’intime qu’elles évoquent en chacun de nous. A l’époque, à dix-neuf ans, je tirais sur ces racines, et même si à cette époque, elles n’étaient pas arrachées, les liens ne sont jamais revenus à leur condition initiale.

La fièvre du changement est le propre de l’expatrié. Sinon, qu’est ce qui expliquerait qu’une personne parte pour un lieu étrange, sans connaissances là-bas, et sans même connaître la langue ou la culture locale ? Cette envie de changement a fait partir Leif Erikson, Christophe Colomb et plein d’autres vers l’inconnu. C’est un trait du caractère humain : chercher à savoir ce qu’il y a de l’autre côté de la montagne. Pour certains c’est un besoin vital.

Je n’aime pas particulièrement voyager, le tourisme ne m’a jamais intéressé. Pourtant j’ai vécu aux quatre coins du monde, et je m’installe en ce moment en Indonésie. Je suis rentré chez moi dans le nord-est des Etats Unis un nombre de fois incalculable, mais à chaque de fois je suis reparti. Pas parce que je n’aime pas chez moi, mais parce que toutes mes expériences à l’étranger résonnaient dans mon cœur. Ce désir d’action était plus fort que moi. C’est juste plus intéressant « autre part » peu importe où c’est.

Quelqu’un à la maison a dit une fois : « J’irai jamais m’installer dans un endroit où je ne connais personne ». L’expatrié sait qu’il y a des gens bien partout, et qui vous attendent pour devenir vos  amis. Il ne s’agit pas bien sûr d’amis intimes, qui nous sont si chers, mais d’amitiés intéressantes qui pourraient se développer, si seulement vous restiez plus longtemps. La question reste ouverte pour vous et pour eux.

Essay for Reflets du temps

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor le 07 mars 2015. dans La une, Ecrits

Essay for Reflets du temps

Asia Air Flight 8501

In a high rise hotel in Surabaya, a quiet week waiting like so much of life, my wife makes miniatures of snacks in clay for jewelry ideas and I download Nordic Noir. A trip to the gym to stay the decline, then I dream more vividly than I live and solve problems there I couldn’t understand awake, and feel stupid against it all. Can a thunder clap blow you out of the sky, fair-weather friend ? On our daughter’s phone I see the portrait of four handsome young men in the virility of youth whose bloated bodies, one by one, are now delivered up, home for the holidays.

Ricker Winsor, Surabaya, Indonesia  Jan. 2015

 

The Seventieth Year

That I am just now, this month, seventy years old is a surprise to me. Sometimes I recount the many ways I might have died, the recklessness that tempted death. The youth of my generation didn’t think life after thirty was worth living and we hoped to be dead by forty, and some of us were. I survived the snares and traps somehow and I squeezed a hundred lifetimes in this seventy years. Remembering it all makes me tired. Noting the decline of my body makes me tired. And yet, despite the fact that skin hangs on my body in places where it once had a firm grip on muscle and flesh, despite my chagrin when viewing current pictures of myself ; despite all that, this condition of time right now is in many ways the nectar of my life.

There is more subtlety, more nuance to my life now. Before, there was action, libido, and the excitement of taking risks. There was also failure and regret. Most of that has vaporized into the ether but not regret. It does not go away although it is softened by time. Time mixes it into a rich broth by adding nostalgia, melancholy, happiness, and the memory of clear days and the freshness of youth. Out of all that, time creates a unique cuisine, a bazaar of tastes and recollections experienced in the mind.

The mind has always been the locus of greatest entertainment for me. This might be an introvert trait ; introverts generally tend to be happiest in their own company. Joy of mind comes from what imagination adds to what I experience as external reality, a reality I often find disappointing in one way or another. I have come to accept this as part of the human condition. Occasionally I relax my judgmental sensitivity and experience a moment’s fleeting peace.

A Bat

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor, Jean-François Vincent le 03 janvier 2015. dans La une, Ecrits

A Bat

In Bangladesh

He got in through the mesh.

It was a bat

A bat rolled up in a mat.

Was he dead or just in bed ?

Estivating or maybe meditating,

 

He looked mummified.

I had to clarify.

He was quiet ;

Too long on a diet.

No mosquito no fly

had passed by

while he took his rest

in that comfy nest.

 

I picked him up.

He felt cold.

He looked old.

I took him up on the roof

and, just for fun,

put him in the sun

to soak up the rays

of that equatorial day.

Une chauve-souris

Ecrit par Ricker Winsor, Jean-François Vincent le 03 janvier 2015. dans La une, Ecrits

Une chauve-souris

Au Bangladesh

Il l’a prise : elle était dans la dèche

C’était une chauve-souris,

Une chauve-souris enroulée dans un tapis.

Etait-elle morte ou juste au lit ?

En train d’estiver ou peut-être de méditer.

 

Elle avait l’air momifiée

Il me fallait tout cela clarifier.

Nul mouvement,

Au régime depuis trop longtemps !

Nul moustique, nulle mouche ne passait,

Alors que son repos elle prenait,

Dans ce nid qui le confortait.

 

Je la ramassais.

Froide au toucher,

Elle avait l’air âgée.

Je la montai sur le toit ;

Et juste pour la joie,

Je la plaçai au soleil

Afin que ses rayons l’imbibent et la veillent

Dans l’équatoriale clarté.

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