When I was a baby, my mom had to put my watermelon into her Osterizer blender and turn it into watermelon juice because my esophagus was so constricted that I could not even swallow mushed-up watermelon. I’m now pushing 57 years old and if you want an indication of just how much I own my mom, you need look no further than that I made it past 1, let alone 56.

She was the most caring soul I knew for much of my life and that was true well into adulthood.

For example, it was the late 1990’s and my job had me traveling around the Pacific Rim pretty regularly. I had been sitting on a conference panel in Singapore; I had the flu and with over a 100 degree fever; and I was in a place that was 100 degrees and raining. I felt like crap. I was flying back to Portland, through Los Angeles, and I planned to stay with mom and dad for a few days. I got off the plane, walked out of LAX, and sitting on a little bench in baggage claim was my mother. I had never wanted to see that wonderful smile so much. Both of my parents were amazing that day. But, I’m not embarrassed to say that, even at nearly 40, I really needed my mum!

She showed me the same tenderness and love when I lived at home throughout my time at CalArts. When I’d come home from school and walk in at 2AM she’d pretend that she had just “accidentally” awoken. Then she’d feed me like the good Jewish mother she was.

In fact, while I was in college, mom and I had a very special relationship. Once a week, on my way to school, we would go together to IHOP. Rich and Sandra were both in the San Diego area, dad was off to work, and I sort of had her to myself. Just seeing, in my mind’s eye, her face as we hung out and shared our coffee and pancakes kind of makes me tear up.

As I grew older we shared some more interesting beverages than coffee. After I turned 21, mom loved to have me join her in her occasional Scotch. Many people know her as the tiny lady who allegedly could nurse a single Glenlivet all night. She SAID she just let the ice melt but, strangely, she got more opinionated and a lot funnier as those cubes melted. I could save a lot of money if I could have the ice cubes that she had! Regardless of quantity, I’m proud to say that this Glenlivit thing was not always true. You see, she and her brother Bud used to drink only Chevas Regal.  It was I who introduced her to her to single malts! Maybe that’s the only thing I did for her that was anywhere near as good as the things she did for me.

So far I’ve been focusing on memories but now I want to move forward and to speak about blessings and regret.

For the past 28 years I’ve been in Oregon, doing lots of volunteer work, and having insanely busy jobs. Because of that, I owe an awful lot to my brother Rich and my sister Sandra. I was once the cherished first son with the penchant for single malt scotch. But, I do know that Sandra and Rich did an enormous amount for mom when I wasn’t around. I love them for their deep devotion to mom in the last years of her life.

One last thing.

The night before she died Rich called and told me she was ill. Perhaps naively, we thought she would recover. After all, she bounced back from everything else. On her last day he called again. “You’d better get down here”, he said.  I left a meeting, booked a flight, headed for the airport and even changed my booking while on the road to try and get to LA in time to see her. Sandra did similarly but she drove in. In both cases we owe our spouses a lot. In my case, my wife stopped what she was doing to get me to the airport. In Sandra’s case, her husband packed for her and even remembered to toss in her favorite Ugg boots. That is the kind of relationship that we must cherish because that is the kind of devotion you can step back from, say “what would Sally do”, and know it would be the best of all possible choices. She was a role model of right action.

I got to the Burbank airport and Rich picked me up. I missed seeing my mother by less than 2 hours. This I deeply regret.  But I want to tell you something. When I walked into the room and saw my mother’s soft and peaceful face, her spirit now gone, only two things saved me from a much deeper regret.

  • First, that in her final hours my brother held his cell phone up to her so I could say goodbye. He says she knew it was me and smiled. I’ll choose to believe that and to thank him.
  • Second, that my sister was there in time to see her. I feel blessed beyond measure that Sandra made it to be with mom as she passed. She was with mother as she left us and she was there to hug me and to cry with me. For that, too, I’m grateful.

To my father I want to say thank you for being there for some very difficult years. I love you too. I also want to say this:

“Don’t give away that bottle of Glenlivet that’s in the cupboard over the stove”. I hope that you will keep it with you so that with each visit I can remember her amazing smile with a sip. It represents one of 2 drinks by which I’ll always remember my mom and it’s one hell of a lot better that watermelon juice!!

 

Dear Mr. President. 

I know you are doing exactly what your supporters want. They are happy to see you “doing what you said”. I will admit, that is a rare trait and I know why your supporters approve. I, personally, don’t approve – but the magic of American polity is that I don’t have to. 

There is something else magical about the American political system. That is its built in infrastructure of checks and balances. As you do all the things that you promised your supporters, I urge you to remember that this system is not only critical but it is, to paraphrase you, exactly the unique attribute that “makes America great”. If you want to “make America great again” then the you should strengthen, not weaken, our system.

Please remember that there are 3 branches of government. The whole purpose of that is to have these crucial pillars of checks and balances. 
Understand that the position you hold is only one of the 3 pillars. As you pursue the will of your supporters, you must not forget the other 2 pillars. 

Your power is expressly limited and that is on purpose. Perhaps the pillar most associated with these checks and balances is our independent judiciary. I urge you to remember two things.

First – You are a president not a king.

Second – Just because a Judge does not agree with you does not make him a “so called Judge”. 

Please learn to deal with the rest of our government with professionalism and respect. You are but one of 3 EQUAL branches. In fact, if you read the constitution you will find that yours is the most limited branch of all. 

Our Declaration of Independence freed us from the rule of a king. Our Articles of Confederation tried, but failed, to loosely bind us. Our Constitution came into being to truly unite the people of this land in a way that created a single federal government but not a single governing body. It is a work, however flawed, of genius. But, it only works with 3 equal branches and a politically independent judiciary. Let it work.

I know how easy it is to want to be the king but, we the people don’t want a king. You won an election. Now govern according to the rules.

Please give it some thought and let me know if you want me to send you one of my Cato pocket constitutions. I’m happy to share.

Your citizen,

Steve

Because of the insanity going on in the United States right now it seems an opportune time to step back and consider what really matters. Our country does not now seem well disposed to people who need our help. We are turning away from immigrants, away from the homeless, and away from compassion. It seems like a good time to share the next chapter of my Faces of Need Photo Essay. I’d like to do that now.

Recall that “Faces of Need – Portland” is an ongoing project that I started at the end 2015. It’s purpose it two-fold. First, it brings attention to the humanity and dignity of every Oregonian. Second, it reminds us that even in a land as blessed as Oregon the problem of hunger continues unabated.

I hope you find power in these images and that they remind you – as I’ve said before – that every human being is a unique and wonderful creation, worthy of love, respect, dignity, shelter, sustenance, and compassion.

Peace, love, and light y’all,

Steve

 

Faces of Need: A Photo Essay (Part 2)

By: Steven Craig Bilow

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Ya know… It costs me about $9.00 a week just to get my New York Times on the weekend. Today, I could not even read past the front page. I’m saddened and utterly horrified by the actions taken by our government this week.

If you don’t understand why I find this so upsetting I beg you to look at the specific actions of the German government in 1933. For the first time in history I’m not scared for we Jews. I’m scared FOR people who my government wants me to be scared OF.

Islamic extremism is clearly the most horrific application of religious dogma since something like 1099. It should be feared and it must be stopped. But once you turn a billion people into “the bad guys”, you have tried to solve the problem in a way that contradicts everything I thought this country stood for. The guys who most promote American exceptionalism just removed the primary thing that makes America exceptional.

Build a wall. Lock the doors. Adopt 17th century failed isolationist economic policies. Promote hate. Bundle it up with propaganda about protecting the people. What do you have left of the “shining city on the hill”?

 

 

Aleppo — Coming Home

Posted: December 22, 2016 in On Compassion, Poems, Reblog

I have eyes to see In technicolor, the world bleeds intimately into the streets they run red while I swallow waves of grief with my Sunday morning, coffee Imagining an era when video was absent a doomed man’s final pleas for peace posted on social media impossible A time when photos were black and white […]

via Aleppo — Coming Home

I first met Pauline Oliveros over 35 years ago in the Main Gallery at CalArts in Valencia, California. The occasion was a performance of her piece “El Relecario de los Animals”. I was in undergraduate composition students in the school of music; she was an iconic, accordion playing, deep listening, female icon of new music.

I never became a huge fan of Pauline’s music. But, with respect to Pauline as a human being, I am a great admirer. 

First of all, as to her musicianship, Pauline was a consummate musician of the highest order. She was simply a fantastic accordionist. The thing, though, is not so much about her playing but about her listening. Pauline’s deep reverence for the simple act of listening was breathtaking. Her “Deep Listening” workshops change the lives of men and women around the world. Her tiny little book on that subject is full of exercises and practices that have tremendously enhanced my ability, not only to hear music but, to hear the world around me. I am profoundly grateful to Pauline for teaching me to listen. Although my wife, some of my friends, and my boss may well not understand that because I have a tendency to speak before listening, when it comes to hearing subtly I am extremly adept and I owe it all to Pauline. To the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I want to express my gratitude and thanks.

Pauline’s will to help others did not stop with listening. Her project to use computer technology for the betterment of human beings led to the creation of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI). AUMI uses sound generation tools and a webcam to allowing users with very limited mobility to create music both alone and in groups. This project was not about ego, not about listening, and not about Financial gain. It was purely a selfless project to make better the lives of disabled people. It was, quite simply, a beautiful deeply moving humanitarian gesture. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I also want to express my admiration for your selfless love of people.

Pauline was born in 1932. She was a performer and composer as well as an accomplished philosopher. In the ‘60s, Pauline was among many of the most innovative musicians, like my mentor Mort Subotnick, at  San Francisco Tape Music Center. In the  ‘80s, she began her “Deep Listening” practice to which I am so indebted. 

Pauline was a constant collaborator with Stuart Dempster and many other amazing musicians. We sometimes think of Brian Eno as the guy who created ambient music.  But Pauline and Stuart are really the ones to create the first landmark recordings. 

Pauline has most recently been a Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was the Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. In my time, her work at UCSD and her visits to CalArts gave me a remarkable exposure to a remarkable woman. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I finally want to express my thanks for your willingness to share your aesthetic with all of us whose lives you touched.

It’s funny, you know, that I never really got to know Pauline well when I was actively involved in the  new music composition community. My real “friendship” with her came later in my life, believe it or not, through Facebook. Pauline took time from her busy schedule to actually interact with me about my listening practice, to discuss AUMI, and to teach me much, probably, without even knowing it. 

That’s the way Pauline was. She gave so much to other people, even me. She will always have my gratitude and she will always be in my heart. I will miss her joy, her selfless devotion to humanity, and, her generosity in teaching us all the art of listening to the subtle beauty of our world.

Rest In Peace o’deepest of listeners.

I’m disappointed that the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland have so fragmented the Black Lives Matter message. These protests are about everything from police brutality, to gun violence, to anti-war, anti-colonialism, and even anti-capitalism issues. I’m particularly disappointed in the latter. I’m a strong believer in the fight against stereotyping, profiling, and out-and-out killing of people of color by some or our countries police forces. But, sorry guys, I am a proud capitalist and see no relationship between trigger-happy cops and a free market economy. When you took all these other positions, you lost my support. I’ll fight for black lives forever but that fight has nothing to do with capitalism.

I also want to say is that you can’t be effective if you let people use your fight as justification for vandalism. Please speak out against those among you who would use the first amendment as license to destroy other people’s property. That does no one any good.

Lastly, I really don’t understand the purpose of having a protest to save black lives that involves keeping others from safely shopping at small businesses on the one day of the year that can make or break an entire year’s profitability. Keeping people away from Pearl District businesses on Black Friday does not help the cause of black people. It just makes life more difficult for middle class, hard working, merchants.

Now let me share a few images from today’s event.

  1. If you want to teach your kids that Black Lives Matter is an important message, I’m with you all the way. I’m proud of this photo and I’m proud of this kid and his parents.

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2. I’m not sure what it means to “Resist and Protect”. I hope it doesn’t mean resist arrest because that’s a quick way to incite exactly what you are trying to stop. Nice colors though.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-1

3.Here is what i call an effective sign. It actually says something understandable and important.The pumpkin hair is a nice touch too.

blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-3

4. Standing still like a statue is not very effective in my book.Stop-motion Tai Chi doesn’t save lives when all you are doing is displaying random words about how bad profit is.

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5. I will admit that I find the mean girl pouty look kind of attractive but that’s just because I’ve never shed my male biases.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-5

6. Getting shitty with the cops probably is not the best way to protest. Gandhi had a better approach. But conflict does make for good news photos. So here’s one I like.blm_pearldistrict_portland-blackfriday2016-6

So, look, y’all. Protest all you want. I wish you kept your message focused on Black Lives; then I could support you. Fragmentation dilutes the message. Plus, you lose people like me who agree with the main message but don’t buy into all you have added to it. Please consider not taking your anger out on small businesses. That doesn’t help. And, please, please, please don’t use your gatherings to condone property damage. That’s all I ask.