Monday, November 7, 2016

Political Violence of Global Capital - Lecture Recap


Annotated Notes

Political Violence of Global Capital: Dispossession and Repression in the Global South
- lecture by Jasmin Hristov

- explanatory limitations and conceptual barriers exist in literature and media
- paramilitarism is a transnational phenomenon
- paramilitary violence is in direct correlation to class domination

Major Explanations
·         1st argument: organized violence relation to economic equality
-          Poverty/inequality vs. a culture of consumption – no opportunities – involvement in gangs or other criminal activity
·         2nd argument: due to rural-urban migration
·         3rd argument: growth in illegal economies
-          Need violent regulatory mechanisms

·         4th argument: weak state institutions/corruption
·         4th argument: weak state institutions/corruption
World Bank Statement
-          1 in 4, 1.5 billion people, live in violent conflict outside of violent norms
-          Overcoming conceptual barriers
-          Non-state violence is not necessarily anti-state violence
-          Paramilitary violence can be carried out for politically dominant special interest groups
·         Major corporations have used paramilitary violence (Coca-Cola, Chiquita banana)
Definition of Paramilitary Violence
-          Armed citizens funded by sectors of economically/politically dominant classes with military/logistical support to carry out function
-          Paramilitary violence has political objective to preserve status quo, this enhances state institutions
Function of Paramilitary Violence
-          Repression
·         Suppressing popular movements
-          Dispossession
·         Land, agriculture
Colombia: Laboratory of Paramilitarism
-          Two waves (1960s + 1980s)
·         State-led effort, elite support (external enemy)
·         Elite-led effort, state supported (internal enemy)
Human Rights Impact
-          Over 6 million internally displaced, living in destitution (no institutions/infrastructure)
-           80% of union deaths occur in Colombia, unionists assassinated
-          3,500 labor unionists murdered since 1985
-          Massacres committed as tool of violence, fosters culture of fear
-          Unionization from 12% in 1988 to 4% in 2009
-          0.4% of population owns 46.4% of total land
-          81.5% of agricultural land used for mining, agribusiness
Paramilitary Violence in “Post-Demobilization” State (2006-2016)
-          2013, 27 unionists, more than 70 human rights defenders were killed
-          First 5 years, 1.5 million displaced, 205 unionists were murdered
-          2015, ONIC reported 35 killings and 3,481 indigenous displaced
-          Death threats reported
Three Principles of Paramilitary Violence
1.       Paramilitarism as a multidimensional phenomenon
-          Economic, political, military
2.      Structural social phenomenon
-          Offensive/proactive instrument
-          Requires violence to reproduce itself
-          Paramilitary group - dispossession/repossession
3.      Dialectical relation to state/paramilitary groups
-          Paramilitary would not exist w/o state
-          50 years of massacre created
Weak State Argument
-          If you have a country with paramilitary groups outside of state, it does not indicate a weak state
-          Who benefits from violence? Who are victims?
Paramilitarization Indicates Transnationalization of States
-          Making available resources for resources, labor, markets for global capital
-          2005 à 2016, mining boom
-          Peace and Justice paramilitary group
·         Murdered 122 and displaced 4000 people in Chiapas
Paramilitary vs. Cartel Violence
-          Political/economic model vs. singular illicit activity

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #6 - Departure

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Describe the view from your point of departure

Departure (Poem draft)

You walk the cliff's edge
to the place where what you've gained
you no longer hold and what you've lost
you cannot mourn because your journey
was meant to travel beyond acquisition

From this point you survey the vastness
and yearn for the calls from the unknown
when you realize you can't turn around when
the glares and shouts threaten to nail down
the canned heat long hidden in your heels

The outstretched arch of memory and the scope
of the countours of your soaring experience
have carved out the framework of lifetimes to come
and all you have to do is step forward.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #5 - Democracy

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Voice your ideas for democracy

The citizens storm city hall wielding justice, accountability and action.
The administration shouts them down with allegations of disrespect, disruption and apathy.
To which the citizens reply, Do you know what apathy means?
A staunch indifference to the unimportant.

If the majority rules, it's the majority of dissent.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #4 - Displacement

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Describe your own feelings of displacement

Displacement (Poem: draft)

Mother, father, sister, brother.
Brothers, the two of them. Slowly,
all begin to drift, fingers slip,
hands once clasped in time now drag
along the weeds.

The field hollers fade and
the night fire camp songs
are sung to the burning oak bark
and no one else.

Foot steps crush the crumpled bed of leaves
but the faint echoes repel against no living thing.
(to be cont'd...)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #3 - Slavery

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompts
  • Write of a time you, or someone you know, has encountered an oppressive injustice

"Kim," I shouted from across the block.
With the day off from work I paraded around the streets of downtown by bike, stopping at any location I pleased - the central library, for a bite to eat, or a public bench to watch the street life unfold. Riding south on St. Mary's I spotted my friend Jimberly at the corner of Navarro and Martin and made my way to greet her. I noticed she was standing behind a long string of yellow caution tape. I glanced over the half-empty parking lot to see two cop cars and af ew police scattered about the scene of who knows what. I looked back to see the teape form an L shape from navarro to Martin but only covered the sidewalk; Martin street itself was not blocked off. And the scene itself was so far from the street lanes I assumed I couldn't be accused of "tampering with the evidence" or "interfering with an arrest."

I had almost reached Kim on the other end of the line when I heard a booming, aggressive voice directed towards me. Just about anyone can and will appraoch you in broad daylight on the streets of downtown, so I took a deep breath and turned around. The smile on my face turned solemn as I was looking at a stern, tense and tight-lipped cop.
"Please step right over here for me, sir," he said, bellowing at me as if he was still half a block away.
I turned to Kim and saw a frightened look of unease as she turned to tell me she was on her way to work and had to leave. My heart was beating fast as I walked my bike over to where the cop was pointing. I began to question and replay the events of my actions within the last three minutes:

Was it something I said? Did I even say anything? I know it's illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk, was I riding on the sidewalk? No way. What's going to happen when he asks for identification and I reach into my backpack?

All of this and more ran through my mind in a matter of 10 steps. I nervously faced the police officer, now standing by the yellow line of tape.
"What does that say?" he said, again with his condescending and authoritarian tone. At this point it became evident had no intention of lowering the volume of his voice. I stood there with a puzzled look on my face of "what does what say where?" though I dare not ask the question.
"Right there," he said, poitning to the yellow tape. Yes, he was determined to make his point with a brute show of force.
"The caution tape?" I said.
"Yes, read to me what it says right there," he said.
I immediately resented this and couldn't believe I was being subjected to such humiliation. I proceeded anyway out of fear.
"Poooliiice Line - DO...NOT...CROSS," I read slowly with an air of annoyance.
(to be cont'd...)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #2 - Labor

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompts
  • Describe the conditions for your ideal line of work
  • Write the story of your own labor history

"Because if you don't like it, there's the door. You're free to go. It's a free country right?" Alice said in the basement level office of the executive chef which we called "the dungeon". It's faded brown concrete floors and tattered yellow walls made this feel like a prison interrogation as she continued to berate me from behind the desk of stacked paperwork, recipes and timesheets. This wasn't any supervisor. Alice Bates was the general manager of the industrial chain grocery I worked for.
"I've heard of your reputation for tardiness and your general dislike of authority. I can see you're not happy here," she said condescendingly. She's right. I wasn't happy. No doubt about it, she called me into what felt like the principal's office for an all-out intimidation session. It was clear her mission was to instill fear and ensure I would think twice before speaking out again.
This time it was her star pupil, Deborah. Deborah was brought in from another branch location and almost immediately hand-picked to undergo management training, or should I say management grooming. Deborah came into the ranks of management as new blood; cheerful, chipper and always willing to smile and nod in agreement with exactly what management wanted to see or hear. All the workers in production loathed her because she went from chef expo to the upper office in a matter of weeks while they have been toiling away in the underground catering freezer for decades.
Then Deborah slipped up...(to be cont'd)

*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #1 - Connections

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Describe a profound connection you've made with someone or something, recent or historical

"How do you spell that?" I asked.
"R-A-G-A-Z-Z-I. You can look me up," she said, "I'm the only Ragazzi in the phone box and have been for as long as I can remember."
I first met Deborah Ragazzi in her neighbor's front yard next to the second-hand shirts, plants, blouses, and skirts  strung up on the rusted wire clotheslines, beside the tin trinkets of past holidays and other occasions. I had just finished a meal on the St. Mary's strip near Trinitiy University along the outreaches of the Monte Vista neighborhood. I decided to go for a walk and found myself meandering down Mistletoe Avenue. The sign read YARD SALE. It was fall and she was wearing strapped open-toed sandals with faded black capri pants and a floral printed three-quarter sleeve v-neck shirt. Her whispy salt-and-pepper hair strayed stiffly from a black felt summer hat she wore so low you couldn't see the expresson on her face, at least not from my height. "What do you want?" and "What are you looking for?" was all you could get from a weathered, raspy smokers' voice until you stepped closer to engage her. I was surprised the sale was still going, I said as I walked up to the table of used wares.
"Oh, yeah we made a whole thing out of it," she said, "Food, music, but not too loud."
There were the typical big box television sets from the '90s, checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs with legs missing, children's clothes, bibs, and play things.
"Anything in particular?" She asked.
"No, not really," I said.
Remember, this was evening in the fall when the sun sets sooner and we found ourselves in what photographers call the "golden hour". Everything had been set aglow by six o' clock, casting a spell of enchantment over the entire residence. In fact, the reason I walked over to the sale was for a friend I kept in mind who found the greatest joy in rummaging through the antique shops and thrift stores. "Antiquing", she called it. Performing a cost-benefit analysis of the resale value of this kind of stuff was the furthest thing from my mind and so I continued to turn things upside down, inside out and all around.  And that's when they appeared: The little things.
"Oh, your friend's a miniature collector," Deborah said.
"A what?" I asked.
"Miniatures," she said, "the little things. That's what the little things are called."
Indeed there were tiny train cabooses and a hand made ceramic jug to fit in the size of my palm and other figures scattered about the maroon sateen table cloth.
"How much do you wante for them?" I asked, thinking small size - low cost to myself. This pleased Deborah greatly.
"Oh, are you kidding me? Everything's got to go today. Here," she said as she placed the items in my hand and folded my fingers to secure a fist, "I'll give them to you, instead."
And there was the connection.
"What else have I overlooked?" I asked with a sly smile.
She began to pull other collectables hidden in plain sight from underneath the table cloth: A painting from a student taught by her ex-husband, an artist.
"...there's this shirt (pointing), and here's the feet," she said. "And he drew the same thing over and over and over again."
She spoke highly of her ex-husband: "He was an amazing artist."
She spoke lowly of her ex-husband: "But a starving artist, you know."
I felt there was something special about Deborah Ragazzi and mabye she felt something from me as she began to open up and share her story with me.
She's lived in San Antonio, Texas her entire life. Ragazzi was her married name. Her ancestors crafted all the stained glass windows inside Temple Beth-El on the corner of Ashby and Lewis next to San Antonio college in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Sternwirth? Stern-something. I can't recall so I'll ahve to make a trip to the temple to see for myself. (to be continued...)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #6 - Portals

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write how you've opened the door to a new understanding

Have you encountered a sacred space where your transformation was held for court?
Let's say the portal itself was a years-long passage.
Think hall of mirrors.
Think dusty smoke screens and haunting shadows and lingering ghosts.
Think death with no escape from acceptance and the light of meaning bathing your resurrection.
Think perseverance amidst the utterings of doubt.
Think endurance carrying you in a perpetual state of grace until salvation day.
Think specturm and which side you were on when your name was called to dance.
Think deconstruction and how many times your own understanding was neatly demolished leaving you naked and gathering what still remains of the ashes piled high underneath the heap of rubble.

The dream:

An impressive tidal wave set to overflow in your valley. A boy steps in, constructs a wall with pale and shovel and bricks and mortar. Still, the water flows and the wall is smashed. Next, an even higher tide appears. This time a young man steps in to build, quicker and more diligent and able-bodied. The wave demolishes again. Then, the raised water returns. It looms now. This time, a man appears, his methods more calculated and articulate. The water overflows and his understanding built into the brick and mortar comes crasing down. Now the tide stands so tall only darkness resides. An old man steps out with no tools to build, no blueprints to lay out, no clay to paste. He's doomed, downtrodden, surely to be swept away with all of what he's accomplished. With nowhere to turn and nothing to hold he lifts his hands with tears of surrender running down his cheeks. His open palms grow wider and larger and by the time the tide rushes in his hands have cupped all the water there is to hold and splashes his face. He now stands to look in the mirror and with one deep breath a smile emerges.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #5 - Truth

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write how you live your truth

Kant wrote lies injure us. Not those little exaggerations told to pump ourselves up on the playground, but the terrible omissions and manufactured manipulations necessary to maintain cycles of repression and subordination and slavery in the age of mass democracy. You know, the big lie.

There's much I've learned from books and newspapers but the truth is if you keep your head pointed down long enough you'll strain the muscles in your neck rendering it incapable of looking up to hear what others are saying around you. Murmurings of truth, murmurings of revolution flutter in and out of framed windows and glass doors and coffee mugs and frying pans. We know we can't go on like this; stuck in an intellectual prison yearing to break free from the tyranny of irrationality and exploitation.

It's something my coworkers and I agree upon quite regularly; something cellular, underneath the skin, we feel it in our bones. It's nearly sacrilege to put any of it down on paper, it moves freely. The truth stands alone, needs no defense. Some lose sight and collectively we grieve for what we've lost. But still we would welcome them with arms reaching and hands oustretched the moment they chose to give up defending the lie. Self-justification is always worse than the original offense.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #4 - Fear

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write of a time you've faced your fears

What is a phobia? A traumatic encounter with the personification of dread or terror seared in your memory in such a way it locks up your willingness to venture beyond into the unkown?

They say you're better off living with no regrets or that your only regret in life would be not having lived it. If that's the case then what would ever stand in your way to hold you back? I'm not afraid to die, I can say that much. Perhaps death is the only certainty. If not this, then what do I fear and how do I face it?

I fear one day I'll look up around this beloved frontier town and see none of its old faces or hear its languages spoken or drive by its dilapidated boarded-up storefronts.
I fear the culmination of culture this town has harbored for generations would fade away into the background, overshadowed by the monied and educated interests with their half-baked ideas of urbanism.
I fear my friends would have lived a life not knowing the wonders of its open plazas and outdoor music festivals and off-the-map eateries.
I fear for the children growing up without the experience of a lazy Sunday afternoon spent at Woodlawn lake feeding the ducks with bread crumbs in one hand and an El Paraiso paleta in the other.
I fear for the families absent along the river's banks who will never know all its healing powers and flowing mystical waters.
I fear the political structure will continue to elect and delegate and administer, in their twisted definition of "good faith", while the homeless and students and coworkers are left naked in the street begging with open hands.

How do I face this? It starts right here on this page as I turn and face you. Stand with me. Tonight we begin.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #3 - Shadow

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Cast a light on your shadow. Write what comes into view

I see those consumed by the shadow and where it leads them: all limbs splayed out on the bottom four corners, sucking dry the last drops from the edges stained glass bottle, slick tongues so wicked to conjure all the unwarranted slander and libel and gossip by night while doling out prison sentences and propaganda by day, the child's stunted wonder and maimed imagination growing not by the reach of the trees baptized in spring but in between the number crunching of another wasted school semester's commercial breaks.

Meanwhile, I sit still and long for the sun to pass overhead at the right angle. Any given agle I wait for and I've waited a long time. Thirty years I've waited. I'm all the ages I've ever been.

The shadow appears carrying with it all the lifteimes I've known and haven't known and will never know because not all wounds grow to heal. Was the shadow ever broken as I? Who else was going to pick up the pieces? What does the shadow lament? Still, I sit and wait and see: the shadow gives shade. Others run to my side escaping persecution from the sweltering heat, from the mid-day burning. They dance overjoyed to rest in my presence. I have no water for them, the sweat off my brow is too salty to share. They don't mind. All they wanted was release, relief. They don't see the signs of my shadow looming. All they know is the shade.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #2 - Light

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write what burning you've endured for your light to shine

Do I leave room in my days for radiance? For brilliance? If reality is perception and perception is fantasy then our memories become flashes of light told in story form. Camera obscura means dark room and what's needed is for the light to enter to begin the recording. The camera captures the light in a flash. I remember.

Put your fingers to the flame. You feel the burning, don't you? All night I admired the fire the way my ancestors would. You know they burned the intestines of sacrificed animals in their campfires to discover the prophecies of the events in the lifetimes to come. They didn't burn the brains because they knew any true knowledge came from the heart, from the guts.

As the days go on part of me remains eager for the light switch to click, but then I remember. Have you ever had a bonafide epiphany? I mean, the kind you read about in books. You know, the kind where people would say you've lost it if you ever revealed to them, tried to deliver through language some sort of coherent and comprehensible explanation? Who would ever label the rivers as emotionally unstable? Who would scold the sun to watch its temper? Even the hardened stones at the bottom of the river bed, weathered by years of the river's shifting currents and elongated periods of drought, gleam in the brilliant sunshine.

You emit light. You do. I create space, make room. This room. Yes, I do.

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #1 - Freedom

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt

  • Write what stands in your path on the road to freedom

Each morning I rise with my body to move me. My voice carries and commands my physiological needs to my self and to others. My mind arranges the pieces in such a way to harbor joy and manifest knowledge and wisdom. I walk into the room and see mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, yearning for what lies beyond, what seeps beneath, for what has been lost and for what remains. Something more, they cry out, they clamor for. We struggle to remember a life before. Our legs are tired from the race, we wish not to compete with anyone, only to uplift. The old code lives on within the people: ritual, honor of the word, reverence, elation. Adept at adapting to the new code of ambition, accumulation, and satisfaction, we wish to return to the freedom we forgot. What could be crafted? What could be created? It starts with you and I.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #12 - Revolutions

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Revolt or revolve? Write the vision for your perfect revolution and the aftermath to follow

The proposition for the Revolution, in three currents, is laid out as follows:

The first, assimilation. We find ourselves seated at the cook's table of hegemony with beggar's hands outstretched, politely asking to be passed the bread, wine and cheese. We are asked to deny our cultural origins and our vocabulary is replaced with the phrases "civic duty", "tax payer", "economic development", and other opaque sprinklings of pretentious propaganda. After our tongues grow tired with obligatory lip service, we are graciously given the so-called opportunity of donning the uniform, alliances are weaved behind closed door and we find ourselves seated atop the wooden dais in the center of the council chambers. We pledge our allegiance in our formal regalia and command the future of living, breathing communities with one click of the electronic buzzer. We frame the ladders of bureaucracy upon our bedroom walls and when we lay to rest at night even our deepest dreams can't recall what it is we were fighting for. There is no more struggle. We've made it. There is no one left to help besides ourselves and we can't look back.

The second, resistance. We put our families well-being in danger with the act of devoting our lives to the cause. No sleep is given. We march into city hall with our pitchforks and livestock and pro-bono civil rights attorneys and we step up to the podium for the measley three minutes we're allotted and we shout so loud our lungs burst. The high court looks on, no, the high court looks over us to peruse the remaining items listed on the day's agenda. Most of the court is not present, for reasons unbeknownst to us. There is no dialouge to be had. After a few from our camp regain composure we look around to see the sick and the dying and the journalists paint the picture of the spectacle. We've become the court jesters, smeared in the cunny papers of the daily news. The phrase "justified outrage" is nowhere to be found in these reports. A new issue arises the next week and we appear and we reappear and we reappear. At this point we're given the award for perfect attendance but still our demands remain unmet. And we're so exhausted we can't lift a finger to spark the staging of the next plot during dinner time meal.

The third, infiltration. We arm ourselves to the teeth with knowledge. We revive the ancient texts set ablaze by the Spanish, the English, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese in the conquista and the reconquista. We bring to the light the cultural cleansing and criminal atrocities committed in the name of the empire. We play by their rules only in the mask of the persona so as not to reveal our secret identity. We wear proudly...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #11 - Death

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Write what you would lay to rest

Poem: Summer's Afternoon Dirge (draft)

In a house of wailing,
the walking stick taps out
a rhythm on the chapel floor,
drowning the sound of wounded cries.

Weeping, we march down the aisle
to offer our phraseless laments
deemed no match for the sorrow
seated in the front row pew.

Death sought standing room only,
and our blessed hands dipped
in the fountains of holy water
could not console.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #10 - Time

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Write the details of your story once upon a sacred time
Photographers call it the blue hour, those moments when daylight begins to fade as the sun completes its descent, casting a blue shadow over the swaying tress in the park across the avenue. With no particular reason other than to celebrate the passing of our sacred time together on an unusually cool weekday evening in the South Texas spring time, my father and I pulled two lawn chairs from the overly stuffed garage and sat, lighting up cigars and serving each other a glass of neat scotch, the way him and his old friend Ben Blum used to do. "I've been thinking about him lately, " my father said. It had been some months since Ben's passing at age 96, my father communicated with him through letter writing up until week of his death.

This occasion, of a cigar in one hand and a 15-year-old Irish scotch in the other, became ritual for us by way of Ben. We now celebrate every major occasion in this fashion - my father's birthday, father's day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. "Why not tonight?" I asked, pushing my father to engage in this sacred ritual with me. As Mircea Eliade writes, the only way to pass through the transition of profane to sacred time without danger is through the act of ritual. There we were. We had now entered the realm of my father's memory, dreams, and stories.

In this class I've heard that depths go unknown. And since I believe that to be true, each puff of cigar smoke seemed to breathe the life of wonder into my father's stories about Ben, about Philadelphia. Nearly 30 years my father's elder, they met at a marksmanship club on the outreaches of inner-city Philadelphia in the 1980s. Like my father, Ben was an avid reader. I wondered what a man who fled Odessa, Russia with his family across European mainland, then sailed by boat to arrive at America's shores, then traveled to the west coast and back by train, would enjoy reading. "Anything he could get his hands on," my father said. Marine biology, comparative religion, the New York Times, Scientific American magazine - the man kept a den of books, of literature, of cigars and rifles and pistols and reloading equipment and mechanic's tools and scotch. Yes, he would cast the bullets for all the ammunition by his own hands, trained in metal working, of course. After his return from World War II, he worked at the same garage in his neighborhood up until his retirement. He competed in shooting matches well into his 80s and early 90s. He ate Italian hoagies from Abner's and spinach pie pizza and broccoli fries from Lou Fanti's pizza parlor.

Again with Eliade, these moments of sacred time continue as a succession of eternities. As it should be with old and dear friends and loved ones, these stories pick up right where they left off, each time with some new unheard, untold story unfolding. I wondered if anyone in Ben's family tells these stories about Ben the way my father does...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #9 - Dreams

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Describe the details of a daydream housed in your imagination

Poem: String of Millionstars* (draft)

And you,
string of millionstars,
knocked about
the bedside table
with one swift kick
from the rustling sheets,
you ascend,
strung up swiftly
across the ceiling
by the conductor's
and there you remain,
in the warm glow
of lovers' laughter,
until heaved
in a celestial downspin,
to be gathered
on your bed
of molten amber.

* - Millionstars, also known as Baby's Breath (
Gypsophila paniculata), are a type of perennial flower covered with tiny, loosely-scattered, white petals.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #8 - Wanderlust

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Write what keeps you rooted or what moves you to spread your wings

Poem: Meditation on the San Antonio River (draft)

From the trampled reaches
of the trickling river bed
the great white heron bathes
in the waves of the mallard's call,

and the live oak leaves refuse
the reprieve of the unwelcomed breeze
while the younglings stir
restless in their nests,

but when the night owl's tempered
sugar skull begins to rot
the dwindling cypress pine needles
cry out,

Thursday, April 21, 2016

National Poetry Month: William Carlos Williams

It's the anarchy of poverty
delights me, the old
yellow wooden house indented
among the new brick tenements

Or a cast-iron balcony
with panels showing oak branches
in full leaf. It fits
the dress of the children

reflecting every stage and
custom of necessity -
Chimneys, roofs, fences of
wood and metal in an unfenced 

age and enclosing next to 
nothing at all: the old man 
in a sweater and soft black 
hat who sweeps the sidewalk — 

his own ten feet of it — 
in a wind that fitfully 
turning his corner has 
overwhelmed the entire city

- "The Poor", William Carlos Williams

Monday, April 18, 2016

National Poetry Month: Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

- "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front", Wendell Berry

Friday, April 15, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #7 - Tale of Two Cities

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Which side of the tracks do you come from? Write the perspective of your city as you see it through your lens

Poem: Frontier Town (draft)

Where the cracked-tooth smile politicians
with their supreme visions of longitude
file the copy papers for foreclosure
beside their former chief of staff.

Where the gypsies on main street
stripped of their right to sleep
rush to retrieve the confiscated
split-bar benches dumped in the river.

Where the good samaritans facing fines
in the commissioner's court
sit idle in the principal's office
while their most loyal patrons starve in the park.

And the leaves of the garden house lay wilting
and the stone fountain in the city runs empty.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

National Poetry Month: Beirut

Uptown, the street's in a calming way
And outside is warm as a bed with a maid
And I find it's all our waves and raves
That makes the days go on this way

I heard the sad sound of words
Spoken from a beak of a wise old bird
Uptown, the streets are kept to a flow
Our ground never leaves me alone

He means well, saying, I've got stories
Of wine superb and, of course, my childhood
Forks and knives and a hospital bed
Where I turned my life over and over again

- "Forks and Knives (La Fête)", Beirut

Saturday, April 2, 2016

National Poetry Month: Hafez

One rosy face from the world's garden for us is enough,
And the shade of that one cypress in the field
Strolling along gracefully for us is enough.

I want to be far away from people whose words
And deeds don't match. Among the morose and heavy-
Hearted, a heavy glass of wine for us is enough.

Some people say that good deeds will earn them
A gated house in heaven. Being rakes and natural beggars
A room in the tavern for us is enough.

Sit down beside the stream sometime and watch
Life flow past. That brief hint of this world
That passes by so swiftly for us is enough.

Look at the flow of money and the suffering
Of the world. If this glimpse of profit and loss
Is not enough for you, for us it is enough.

The dearest companion of all is here. What
Else is there to look for? The delight of a few words
With the soul friend for us is enough.

Don't send me away from your door, oh, God,
Even to Paradise. Your alleyway, compared
To all space and time, for us is enough.

It's inappropriate, Hafez, for you to complain
Of your gifts from Fate. Your nature is like water,
Your beautiful flowing poems for us are enough.

- "One Rose is Enough," Hafez (translated by Robert Bly)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Gemini Ink Writing Lab - Week #6 - On Trial

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism

Writing prompt
  • Justice or Restitution? Write of a time you've been put on trial for your own convictions
The Scene: Frio Street Courthouse Blues

"You must be a lawyer," said the parking attendant. "Oh, no," I said, "I'm here for a parking ticket." "Oh, well, you look like a lawyer," said the parking attendant. An oxford shirt and silk tie, yes, a lawyer's attire. Texas bluesman Son House, mentor to the legendary Delta blues guitar picker Robert Johnson, once sang of the blues as a lowdown aching chill. This chill ran cold through my bones as I entered the magistrate court facility. As soon as we make our way through the plate glass doors we're deprived of all externals - "even your belt, sir" - and forced to regather our personal belongings on the other side of the metal detector. We're also stripped of our inherent compassion, our humanity. Our skin, whether tones of white or brown or red, appears in pale shades beneath the harsh fluorescent lighting from the ceiling. I ask the security guard to point me in the direction of a traffic violation. I ahve no difficulty in following the signage but I ask him because I figure I would ease the tension of a day in the life of someone charged with keeping the peace. I ask him because it seems not the most uplifting task of commanding others to remove their personals day in, day out. I f we feel violated, how must he feel? Though, he's more than glad to guide me about the building. I'd been here once before, but it was hard to tell where I needed to be. Each door looks just like the last, the same lighting, the same old wood.

It was more than ten years ago. I had turned 18 years old that summer and was learning my way around the inner city by car. I was parking on Pereida street in the heyday of the First Friday art walk in the King William Cultural Arts district. Two separate cops stuck me with two separate violations at two separate times: One for parking opposite the flow of traffic, the other for parking less than twenty feet from the intersection. $25 a piece. They didn't cover that in driving school. And so, I showed up for my scheduled court date and paid the fines, guilty as charged. But how insidious it seemed; no posting listed of any possible infractions, no traffic violation rulebook given to you after the infraction, nothing.
Fast forward to the present story and that same violation is now being charged for $35. Infalation, I guessed. I reached out to  friend, who recently graduated with a law degree, to dig deeper into this subterfuge and uncover who was pulling the ruse. He told me he attended a closed door city-county budget meeting in Dallas where the city manager explicitly demanded an answer from the chief of police how he intended to increase revenue for the city and county. Increased crackdown on parking fines and traffic violations, of course. "It's not secret within the administration," my friend said. This only infuriated me further, to see everyday people get nickel-and-dimed, and so I reach out to another friend majoring in criminial justice. I told him I was concerned with the amount of resources being allocated to the police for law enforcement. Public safety is a eupehmism for law enforcement. "Oh, it's not just parking tickets," he said, "it's speeding tickets, pulling over people for not signaling a lane change, for not vacating the passing lane when a squad car is approaching. They're called STEP cops." "STEP cops?" I asked. "Specialized Traffic Enforcement Police," he explained. And there was the rub. They didn't cover that in driving school.

Back to the courtroom blues, I was on a mission to dispute. I had paid my dues years ago. With the facade already in place, I decided I was going to act the part of the lawyer. Instead of a courtroom I got a glorified custodian's closet. Three employees crammed into this tiny space with the "judge" seated in front of a computer behind an elevated lectern. Some setting for a trial.

"Good morning," I said, "I'm here today to dispute a parking violation." I almost boasted this fact as to take command of the room and let them know that without physical evidence I was going to talk my way out of a ticket. "We'll be with you in just a moment," the judge said. I guess you could call him that. His loosely-fitted black judges' robe draped over his shoulders with a faded polo sport shirt showing underneath. His appearance was drab and seemed apathetic. The other two clerks didn't bother to look up, busy, I assumed, with the neverending paperwork of civic cases piled high on their desks. "Can we have a look at your ticket, please, and see your driver's license?" the judge asked. I confirmed my name and address. "And what is it you would like to dispute, Mr. Gonzalez?" the judge asked. Here it was, my big moment I had prepared for the entire morning. Going over the rhetoric in my head on the drive to court of how I had been a student at San Antonio College for years, who couldn't afford a parking pass, (more like, refused to pay for what should be a fundamental student amenity) and parked along the same side streets for years and never received a ticket and how another car was parked closer than I was and didn't receive a ticket and so on. And so, with a deep breath and a confidently lower tone of voice, I began...

"Well, I've been pursuing an Associate's Degree at San Antonio College since the fall semester of 2013. I've since become familiar with the intersections of Lewis and Evergreen adjacent to the Laurel Apartments and a block away from Crockett Park. Like many other students who cannot afford a parking pass, we see it fit that..." I was interrupted by the judge ripping up the paper and tossing it in the wastebin, a few clicks of the mouse, and a jaded look in his eye when he said, "Your ticket has been dismissed, sir. Thank you." I was stunned. No additional paperwork to sign? No evidence necessary to be presented by the purported guilty party? Not even a Bailiff present should the defending explanation of the purported perpetrator get out of line? "Is there anything else I need to complete?" was all that came out of my mouth. "No, sir. Thank you." And as the next defendant filed in right behind me, I filed right out.

I made sure to nod and acknowledge the security guard on my way out. A shirt and necktie, I thought to myself as I pushed open the doors and made my way across the parking lot. I started my car and drove away. Not a dollar paid. Case closed.