Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Get Up and Do It Again

It is still dark on a Saturday morning, and Simone, the cat, snores contentedly at the foot of the bed. I want the darkness never to end, to let me remain here in half sleep. But that is not what's happening today.

Demons have pinned me to the sheets. My gut is grinding in fear. My arms and legs feel like lead, but I have to lift them, to move, to get ready to go out to the prison.

These mornings are tense at home. I am angry, irritated, in a hurry. I need to be alone with the prison that hangs over me, but Megan wants to talk, wants help with house tasks, wants, deservedly so, to have some Saturday time together.

I can't blame her, but neither can I tell her about the snakes in my head, the twisting pressure on my heart, the pending doom.

My mind speaks only curses. Something here is dangerous, better left alone. It coils, hisses, threatens.

But I turn away from the demons and give her some of the morning.

We take a bike ride to a cafe so we can make plans, have the conversations married couples have.

I try to forget.

As soon as I can, I enter the transition of going to the prison. I put on my worn-in-the-seat prison pants, shoes, conservative button-down shirt, nerdy reading glasses, and get the plastic tub that will contain the supplies that I have to pick up on the way: books, magazines, pens, dictionaries, thesauri, folders. An inmate wants a copy of Dante's Inferno.  Another wants A Course in Miracles. Another wants a book about writing poetry. Many want erotic novels like Fifty Shades of Gray or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I stop at an office supply store and a couple of used book stores. I also get something to eat. It's going to be a while before I am back out.

A waitress at the taco joint knows my routine, knows where I am going, has a relative who is incarcerated, and treats me to a drink. It's part of the Saturday ritual.

Then I head to my office at the university. There I will print out the turnout sheets, call the prison to make sure it is not locked down, and take some time to gird my loins, comfort my fears, settle in to the next four hours.

When it is time, I load the tubs, stack the inmate drafts, pin on my ID badge, and start the car. I do not listen to radio or give in to any distractions like engaging the shithead driver that just cut me off. I head south, to the industrial part of town: the belching power plant, the contaminated wells near the sprawling complexes of the defense contractors, the truck stops, trailer courts, the underbelly of Tucson.

Traffic is usually heavy when I merge onto Interstate 10. Big semis don't want to slow or move over to let me on, but I wedge my way into the stream and fly along with the river of commerce and the road.

At my exit, I feel the prisons, both federal and state. It's an energy field that extends a few miles out from the actual places. Maybe this is psychological, but it feels physical, and I am confident that someday, when we have instruments capable of measuring such things, that it will become a measurable entity.

I want to turn around, to recoil, to run, but I press ahead. Don't ask me why.

Then I am in it, and I gradually get used to it, like anyone gets used to cold water after swimming a few minutes. I shut off my personal sensibilities and simply act. I override my entitlement to a Saturday, a day off, and shut down the images things I might do: watch a game, go for a hike, ride a bike, luxuriate with a book, grade papers.

I grab the tub and rest it on my hip, like I would carrying a toddler, and head for the Main Gate.

Strangely, I am attuned to the place, notice the stunted, twisted barrel cacti, the harshly pruned, grotesque ocotillos, the flapping flag of the state of Arizona, the scraped earth. Inmates walk with a submissive deference, are polite. Guards look at me suspiciously -- "Creative Writing??" -- but do their jobs of opening the electric doors of the sally port.

I board the bus and head to Rincon, the medium high security unit. The driver watches me in the mirror; I don't know what he is looking for, and his eyes betray nothing. He opens the door, and I descend the stairs to the walkway that leads to no man's land.

I take a moment to look. I look hard, straight at my path, and meet the reality. Here is the place where men are confined, detained, broken.

But, in spite of the ubiquitous and constant theft of humanity, something endures. There glows an ember, a hunger to say what needs saying, to record, to witness, to escape, to capture a thought, turn it over in one's hand.

Then I recognize that hunger in myself, and I remember. I remember being beneath the wheel, of losing  a sense of awe, wonder, hope, trust. I remember wanting to undertake the hard work or wooing those parts back home, out of hiding.

Was it so long ago?

And I enter no man's land and realize that, yes, I have to pass through in order to reach the other side.

It seems so far to travel here in no man's land, but I pass through the razor wire not to save someone else, but to recover the lost and exiled pieces of myself. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ducey Delivers Disparity (Political Rant)

Well, they are at it again.

The Arizona Republican legislature and new governor, Doug Ducey, want to cut funding to Arizona universities. This time Ducey proposed cuts to state funding for Arizona universities of ten percent (community colleges could be cut even more -- up to 50 percent) because Arizona is facing a billion dollar deficit.

We at the University of Arizona been under this gun for a long time now, but the cuts on top of cuts are getting harder to take. Those who can least afford it are being asked to pay far more than those who can.

Ducey wants to balance the budget, and keep the universities running, by again forcing regents and university administrations to raise tuition and fees. He wants students and families to pay more.

Cutting spending has been the default response to budget shortfalls for the last several decades, and the poor and young are the ones paying most to fill the holes. Not only are they being asked to fill the holes, but they have been paying higher tax rates. Yes, that's right, the poorest pay more of their incomes to states -- states that then cut funding for education, forcing families to pay more for higher tuition. Ducey, true to state tax rates in general, likes to double dip the poor, get it coming and going -- fat city for the fat and double zingers for the working classes. 

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bottom 20 percent on the US income pyramid pay, on average, about 11 percent of their incomes in state taxes. The top one percent pay about 5 percent. Washington state taxes the bottom twenty percent at a rate of 16.8 percent, while the top tier of tax payers kick in only 2.4 percent.

State tax rates have been notoriously regressive for a long time, but Ducey has no plan to address that. 

It goes without saying that the bottom twenty need that money more than those who have two or three or more of everything they want with money to spare, to invest, to play with.

As a Republican, Ducey will not consider increasing revenue in a fair way, especially by raising taxes on those who can most afford it.

He buys into "supply side" views of economics that see giving money to rich people creates jobs.

Never mind that that view has been debunked by generations of economists and historians. 

Yes,  a billion dollars is a big number. And Ducey could look at many ways to fill the hole, but asking the wealthiest Arizonans to kick in is not on his radar

He knows that students are not all that politically organized or active and that university faculty, staff, and administrators will gripe but will eventually roll over in resignation because they are no match for a conservative Arizona electorate that votes primarily out of self-interest.

That will have to change if  Arizona wants a better future.

The reasons to fund education are many. Education boosts the economy, raises quality of life, encourages innovation, creates opportunity, keeps democracies healthy.

Ducey thinks short term, bottom line, and his policies add to the already widening gap between rich and poor in Arizona.

But he does want to increase funding for prisons. At least the young can look there when higher education is out of reach. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


She is sick. The weight of her body is more than she can lift when the waves of nausea force her up and out of bed. The sickness comes on hard, like a freight train, and runs through her. But she has to get up, go to work, get the baby fed, off to daycare. She needs help. There are men, but they want more than she cares to offer. She considers her situation. Another wave breaks over her and she has to hold her hair off to the side as the sickness leaves her. She is kneeling in the bathroom. The baby begins to cry. She needs to do what a mother has to do. The kitchen needs attention. The dog is hungry. Work has piled up on her desk. Necessities have gathered and allied against her. Although she would rather not, she picks up her phone and locates his number in the directory. I need you to come over she says.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Joy and Danger of Persistent, Exhuberant, Extravagant Fantasy

Yes, a wise person lives and loves the life that is. Acceptance, embrace, gratitude, and thriving -- blooming where planted are all the right responses to one's life, the keys to being happy.

But mental wiring runs deep, and imagination boundless. Every once in a while I get slapped upside the head with a desire that just won't quit. What is it that those unfulfilled fantasies desire? Well, here are a few possibilities that unmet desires have to offer my rather mundane, routine, modest life:

I am supposed to live next to a snow covered peak in Switzerland or Colorado with a perky blonde woman whose sole purpose in life is to make me happy. We have no money worries and drive either an Audi or a brand new blue Toyota Tacoma four wheel drive pickup, depending on the conditions and the mood. We spend our days gazing out over blue lakes -- sometimes while sitting in claw-foot bathtubs on a pier -- or skiing or smiling toothy smiles as we ride our carbon bikes around a neighborhood full of like-minded, slim, perky, fun, liberal, intelligent and highly successful friends.

In this other life I have succeeded as a writer, painter, musician, athlete, father, son, partner. Sex is always good, off the charts in fact. I am a great cook, good story-teller, great and trustworthy confidant. I am a handy man capable of fixing toilets and building suspension bridges. I say exactly the right thing at the right time, especially to students and friends in crisis. Animals befriend me in the wild.

My socks don't have holes and my briefs' elastic waist band has not gone limp. Nor has anything else.

Everything is in order, like a Zen monastery. My pantry is always stocked, the larder a gourmand's dream. My knives are sharp and no one has used them as a screwdriver.

The floor is somehow magically swept, mopped, and free of smudges. I never have to wash dishes.

I wake up excited and have important work to do, but none if it is tedious, or other people take care of that.

My taxes are a breeze and the CPA compliments me on the order. He is impressed and threatened by my financial prowess.

My electronic files exist on the cloud. Not a sheet of paper is out of place anywhere in my sight.

Dust is distant memory. Criticism? Ha!

No one has Alzheimer's or anxiety or foot fungus.

My family visits and we share our deepest fears and challenges. No one is afraid to talk things through.

Death comes at a good time. Wakes remind us to live well and with clear intention to love each other.

Oblivion is just another cool place to visit sometime.

Yes, this life is not the only one possible.

At least that's what part of me keeps saying. The real life is just around the bend of some imaginary path I was supposed to take or that still waits just out of reach. These pictures of the other life keep bubbling up from deep in the psyche, often with the help of finely crafted and highly manipulative advertising. The fantasy both gets me up off my butt to do something and makes me vulnerable to persuasive suggestion. I have to be strong to see through the illusion. There is danger in "needing" desires to be real, in grasping, in mistaking longing for possession. But I just want to dwell there sometimes, especially as I age and ambitions in the the "real" life fade.

Yep, this is quite the place, one I can dream of, and realize in some small degree, soon, as soon as I round that imaginary bend while I live fully in a less than perfect here and now.