Robert Bly’s “Dragon Smoke” rising from Cleveland Heights

This is a clarion call to let you know about Holly Jensen, a working poet. Her current piece is “Selected Timelines.” More here, and here.

Upon absorbing “Selected Timelines” I envisioned a conversation by a campfire…Michael Pollan, Richard Brautigan and Holly Jensen. As the crackles of seasoned white oak logs modulated to a whisper, and shadows danced just above the embers, Michael suggested they open a second bottle of vintage 1984 port. Holly smiled. Richard observed, “that was the year I picked to leave.”

Robert Bly once essayed “Looking for Dragon Smoke” and reminded us of the poets in ancient times, the “time of inspiration,” the poet flew from one world to another, “riding on dragons,…dragging behind them long tails of dragon smoke.”

After my re-reading today of “Selected Timelines” I unfolded the paper to study the pattern, and upon refolding, spied a wisp of smoke float outward. A leap occurred, to repeat Bly’s critique, from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.

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My Whiter Shade of Privilege

Current events, Ferguson & Florida, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin…they’re so alien in my experience. Sure, I can intellectually get a grasp on these matters, but in my core, I’ve never walked their path. I’ve never feared a cop while I’ve abided by the law. But I’m Caucasian in America, college-degreed, professionally-employed, physically present as a six-foot two-hundred-plus pounder who walks solidly on both legs. Cops don’t mess with me, as on the surface, they have no cause. I also have fathered two sons, now healthy young adults, and there has been much they have done to cause me to have concern for their well-being, but I’ve never wondered if they would arrive home at night, safely. However, I know women, African-American women, who do have sons. They cannot rest assuredly at night as I can. So I’m considering my position of privilege.

My friend Daniel Fox just posted on Facebook, as follows:

I have no idea what it’s like to experience the omnipresent weight of exclusion from access to opportunity, people, and resources as an African-American.

I have no idea what it’s like to be avoided, targeted and looked at with suspicion constantly.

I must try to imagine.

It’s only the beginning of my duty as someone who has been handed every privilege, to use my empathetic imagination to understand what life is like for another human.

The world won’t change unless people who have privilege (and for the sake of simplicity, let’s just talk about white men) put their reputations on the line and speak up about ending the systematic oppression of portions of our human family.

This is my acknowledgment that I have failed to consistently use my privilege in an effective way to end oppression.

Yes, this post alone is slactivism. it can also be the beginning of a call to those of us who don’t face oppression on a daily basis to put “looking good” on the line and speak up and then commit to changing things.

To which I reply: Here’s a first step, or at least an early step- exchange eye contact with fellow humans you pass in public, strangers-but-once, to share our common bond. This is an entry to empathy, and relieves the costume of privilege. Not to stare, but to explicitly not divert our vision. Add some friendliness to your facial expression, a loose relaxed semi-smile. check the body language. We’re hardwired to wear game faces and postures as we navigate, but those of us who are privileged to know better can actualize our emotional intelligence and humanize our mileau, so let’s do it.

Please reply with your thoughts. Thank you.

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Something There Is that Brands a Place…

index.jpg cbus

Something there is that brands a place, that defines a community, that clearly distinguishes the locale that residents call their city.

There has been a commotion of late loosely surrounding the Fashion Meets Music Festival in general, and specifically aimed at the festival organizer’s invitation to feature R&B performer R Kelly to headline said event. UPDATE

The organizers defended their choice in the wake of numerous complaints from artists and consumers alike about Kelly’s past arrest, acquittal, and ongoing reputation as a sexual predator. One such rationale voiced by Bret Adams, “…we are not the morality police.”

FMMF started with the honorable, civic-minded intention to mark Columbus as a destination Labor Day Weekend with a signature festival that is unique, combining the local resources of our fashion/design infrastructure with that of myriad musicians, bands, songwriters and producers in the 614. But by their own admission, this was the first attempt to plan and execute a music festival of this scale. There are bound to be missteps and misfires.

In my opinion, the FMMF train derailed when it lost track of its audience, the customers, the tens of thousands of music, arts and fashion consumers who were the target of FMMF’s marketing plan. Complaints proliferated on social media sites about the perception of out-of-town consultants calling the shots with top-down decisions. This digests poorly in a town that succeeds year after year in staging popular grassroots festivals such as ComFest and Independents’ Day.
A band dropped out, then another, both in protest of R Kelly named as a headliner. Then a popular public radio broadcaster withdrew from sponsorship. More publicity. Growing gnashing of teeth on Facebook.

DISCLOSURE: This writer is on staff at WCBE 90.5 FM, and involved in the decision made by General Manager Dan Mushalko on July 25 to withdraw from our partnership of FMMF. From this perspective I recognize elements of the organizer’s intentions that are positive, with a goal of Columbus hosting a distinctive annual music festival in the magnitude of SXSW in Austin. The intention of elevating Brand Columbus in the perception of those outside the 614.

Here’s where I believe they missed- Fundamentally, branding is NOT the message a committee fabricates and pushes out to the world. Rather, a brand is a PROMISE…past/present/future…the ongoing perception of a product, of a name, of a place as it is realized by the target of the branding, the audience, the customers. On a micro-level, our personal brand is simply our reputation. Not merely how we talk, but truly how we walk, what we stand for. We all carry such a brand, even R Kelly.

Collectively, the “US” in ColumbUS have developed an integral sense of place associated with our many developing neighborhoods, our philanthropy to local causes, our championing of local artists, our diverse food culture and all other activities distinctively Cbus. This is our brand, organically grown from roots upward.

Columbus, our Columbus, is the community that said “NO SLUTSAUCE FOR YOU, MR. HOMOPHOBE!”
And now we have made it clear that sexual predators are not welcome at an event celebrating our arts.
THIS is the Columbus Brand. It has nothing to do with serving as morality police.

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So, I didn’t allow sufficient time this morning to ground myself and breathe with intention, with affirmations.  I needed to be on time at Mt Carmel East to have last week’s skin graft examined by Dr Kaplansky. “I’ll get grounded after the appointment,” I reasoned. NOPE! Although the news about my leg healing is not bad, the surgeon was no longer impressed with the effects of the wound-VAC, a reverse pressure device I’ve carried on my shoulder for 3-weeks.  Good news…I’m off the wound-VAC.  Now this means dressing changes at home EVERY DAY, rather than 3x/week.

So…I get home, tell Rachael I really need to get grounded. And I started my daily ritual, out on the front porch, with Oak Street passing by in a light humid breeze. I’m just visualizing a glossy jasper-red root, rooting my sacral chakra deep into Earth, anchoring me with a firm foundation, drawing spiritual nourishment from Gaia, but opened my eyes to see a fleet of Columbus Police Department armor convoying westward on Oak, turning up 20th at my corner…POLICE SWAT.

This matter is not facilitating my grounding, just when I realize I need to be grounded.  SWAT has absorbed all our attention with the sound of their detonated FLASH-BANG within the apartment complex behind us in Olde Towne East. A police sniper at the ready, blinklessly training his sights on the doorway that now is door-less. Then, as silently as they appeared, they disappeared. Apparently the object of their desire was elsewhere.

So, perhaps I can repeat my effort to ground, but here’s James, ready to perform a quick patch of porch ceiling & soffits to appease the bank appraiser, a band-aid to hide the wood-rot so we can close on this purchase of the American Craftsman that  we’ve rented for nine months.

But look what time it is!  I must get to work.  And still, ground-less.  My only solution, to tear my head off the pillow and allow myself an extra half-hour in the morning.


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Uh-oh, I just identified my fear, and, my fear looks just like…


Like you, I have teachers.

I met with one of my teachers yesterday and described my Pecha Kucha presentation that I’ll deliver this Thursday, August 8 at Tacocat, titled: WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?

So, she started her probe, preparing me with questions, readying my performance. She finally asked me what my fear looks like. She didn’t tell me what SHE thinks it looks like, as she doesn’t know that answer. But she continued pursuit…WHAT DOES MY FEAR LOOK LIKE? If it stood in front of me, hidden under a cloak, what would I see as I lifted the cover.

I took several sincere stabs at answering her, not realizing that she was going way deeper that I understood her question to be. The striking cobra, the loss of a loved one, an accident, poor health…all legitimate sources of fear in our pedestrian life, but none of these attempts would lead to transformation.

Like I said, she didn’t know the answer until I identified it, then she immediately agreed. Under this cloak of fear is…ME!

This epistle opened my eyes wider than my lungs as they sucked in a wave of wind of awareness. ME? Why would I fear myself?
Later in the day, studying and reflecting upon this intrusion to my comfort, I stumbled upon an oft-quoted revelation of Marianne Williamson…“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Who placed the cloak over my fear? How do I go about transforming this fear to love, leaving it uncovered forever?

fear max ink

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Change the Narrative

language powerful drug


We believe what we say, what we think, and often we are believing F.E.A.R., that is, F.alse E.vidence A.ppearing R.eal.


Just by replacing one verb in a message to ourselves, we change the entire paradigm of the task. Let’s use a simple, accessible for-instance, our jobs. Imagine it’s Sunday night, bedtime, after you’ve experienced a glorious weekend. Monday morning will arrive quickly, and with it, the daily trek to the job. You might think: “I HAVE to go to work,” with the imperative “HAVE” carrying the mighty meaning of obligation, or the prospect of loss-of-job if you don’t show up. This will vary according to how you perceive your job.

But just by deleting “HAVE” and substituting “GET,” as…I GET to go to work, perceiving this as an opportunity instead of drudgery, the words shift the emotion from hum-drum chore to positive anticipation.


I have to shop for groceries, or… I GET to shop for groceries.

I maintain that the mild degree of fear that is associated with the performance of unpleasant activities (in this sense, “fear” as “lack of joy”) can be erased and replaced with the empowerment of doing a task with a sense of fulfillment.

You have this power to change the narrative in your story with the simple switch from HAVE to GET.

It’s YOUR CHOICE, you own it.


fear max ink

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Foundational Fear: Remember Your Reptile Brain?

reptile brain

No, you might not remember your “Reptile Brain,” but it does the remembering for us, and in matters that generate fear, it’s got us covered.
It’s been said that FEAR IS THE MEMORY OF DANGER. At the level of our reptile brain the danger is real. Our reptile brain is the basic survival overseer of our nervous system, based in the brain stem and cerebellum in all vertebrates from the dinosaurs onward…reptiles, birds & mammals. This scans our environment and warns our bodies of any threat to our survival. It guides basic instincts toward gathering food & shelter and spurs our defense mechanism. FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT is reptilian in origin.

250 million years ago all we had was reptile brains, until the development of the phylum of mammals, which added the limbic brain that covers the reptile brain. As mammals differentiated and developed, so did feelings, emotions, as the brain sophistication arose. Then, the higher primates, ultimately homo sapiens, evolved the new brain, the neo-cortex, which enabled our thought process. But we humans still have all three levels of evolved nervous system.

ontogeny recaps philo


As the embryo of an advanced organism (e.g., humans) grows, it will pass through stages that resemble the adult stages of less-advanced organisms. For instance, in utero, the human embryo develops gill slits and a tail, like earlier animal life, but as embryo matures as a fetus these vestiges are replaced by more sophisticated organs.

Fast-forward…even though we, as humans, are at the top of the animal kingdom, our brains are operating on all three levels, reptile, limbic and neo. Authentic FEAR at the reptile level migrates up through our emotions and thoughts. But, our perception of “fear,” the F.E.A.R. of False Evidence Appearing Real, migrates downward into our emotions and to our cerebellum, our reptile brain, activating FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT mode when there might not be a true danger present. Rather, it’s the FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL than projects fear and starts the reptilian process unnecessarily.

We can fix this at our neo-cortex level, culling out the true from the false.

I’ll offer more about how we fix this misperception at PUCHA KUCHA NIGHT #26, on Thursday, August 8. Details to come.

fear max ink

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