What is not communal?

Here I help define the communal with what are not features of a communal arrangement. A communal arrangement would be one where there is a large degree of equality among the participants, even children, elders and persons with disabilities. It would be democratic. No one person would have reigning authority. That means collective decision making, which entails group discussion.

Taking those points into consideration, a polygamous enclave would not be communal. Neither would a private school, where there would be authoritative oversight, central decision-making and planning and subordination of students. Neither would a typical religious center, as it would typically centralized authority, planning and decision-making.

However, it is possible for a religious center to be organized communally, if the congregation had the power and discussed and decided everything together. I don't know of any such religious commune. Some spiritual associations and retreats have had the appearance of being communal, but there always seems to be a central power of some sort, often (notoriously) a charismatic personality with a silken tongue who is usually a man. There may be sharing of labour and turns at speaking or leading activities, but there is usually a committee or single person behind the scenes pulling strings and staging it all, unfortunately.

Geography is not a determinant, as rural locality, agrarian or otherwise, does not a commune make.

Hostel Culture

In 1892, a holidaying society in Slovenia planned trips for youths setting up a system of hosts making spare rooms available. Hosteling began in Germany in 1909 when a school teacher was planning a trip for his students. After making use of his school to shelter the youth, that man, Schirrmann, opened the first hostel building in Altena in 1912 and founded the first Hosteling Association in 1919. The International Youth Hostel Federation, with members in many European countries, was established in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1932.

Both those years, 1919 and 1932, would have featured conditions that triggered the desire to create hostels. Many Europeans, especially young men, would have been displaced and impoverished by the end of World War One in 1918. Similarly, the conditions of the Great Depression would have resulted in mass migration as people were displaced by loss of jobs and businesses and searching for new ways and places to eke out a living. 

Conditions of great strife also bring about motivation for people in need to share resources. Hosteling is based on cooperation and sharing space and daily supplies to economise and address shortages of products. No doubt a particular culture arose because the same people were using hostels regularly and the hostels became became known as safe, clean and affordable places to stay. The inevitable socializing would lead to friendships and connect people wishing to travel or take on projects together.

Hosteling grew and became popular by the 1960s, once air travel became more common and the burgeoning middle class of the industrialized countries were raising young persons critical of their own societies, keen on exploring others with the time and means to do so. I guess the communal principles of hostel life expanded and took root at this time.

I recently had to travel to a Canadian city on a low budget, so I booked a bed in a hostel room. Because I have been writing about communalism, I took greater notice of the hostel environment this time. 

Hostels are fully blossomed communal sites. Users share sleeping quarters, bathrooms, kitchens, libraries, work spaces and games rooms entailing a high degree of cooperation. The specific rules are spelled out, though frequent users understand the norms and know what to expect. They know they must be tidy and clean up their tables and dishes. They need to return books and utilize minimal storage space. It's always been a nice experience for me. Everyone is courteous and considerate. They behave responsibly and peacefully. At the same time, users chat with each other and often exchange tips with or offer aid to one another about visiting the locale or traveling, and such. Exchanges of material things such as books and maps and even hats or umbrellas or shirts occur. Hostels usually offer some activities, such as guided tours, games, occasional communal meals, movie nights and the like.

These days all sorts of people check into hostels, young or old, students or professionals, workers or business people. Most want to keep travel expenses low, while some just prefer hostel life to hotel rooms because they love the communalism they find there.

The Cooperative Way

The cooperative movement encourages and assists the formation of worker co-ops. Advocates and their organizations lobby for legislation to require companies to first offer their employees to buy their firms before they invite other interests to do it. Such legislation exists in some states such as the UK and some within the United States of America. Some employers prefer to do this, for they respect their workers and their work and do not want to cause them harm. They may believe that their businesses would be in better hands were the employees to take them over rather than strangers and people who are not so familiar with them. 

Where there are allowances for workers to take over the ownership of enterprises, rules and a lending system are in place. The government provides low interest loans and a framework and training for workers' collectives to be able to run companies themselves. In some cases, workers can make arrangements and find funds on their own. There are organizations within the cooperative movement who can educate and facilitate such takeovers.

The cooperative movement does not challenge or object to trade unions; there need not be a conflict. Some unions support workers' co-ops, for they see them as allies and the co-ops, if unions are friendly, see the unions as allies. Collective agreements can offer ideas for the terms of a cooperative arrangement that guarantees and protects the workers rights and safe and reasonable working conditions. However, a worker-owned business would not need a union. Worker's unions are established as a defense against exploitation by owners as all owners of private enterprises profit from the labour of their workers and they do so by keeping wages down and trimming overhead costs by withholding resources and measures that would make workplaces safer, healthier and more comfortable. Private owners certainly do not want to give over the decision-making to workers--no way! They have management to impose restrictions such as time limits and methods. Workers are always pushing back to improve their earnings and conditions.

A cooperative is far more democratic. Workers within it, whether it is a fast food enterprise or a factory, meet and have an equal say in how the work is done. This arrangement is far different from the typical employment where the owner and his representatives command the workers, dictating everything they do at work, from when and how long to use the toilets and take meals to procedures and reporting. Contemporary workplaces may adopt a friendlier management style that shows signs of more respect and appears to consult employees, but you know that the employees' say doesn't count for much; it is still dangerous for them to say anything as their words can be used against them in the end. While there can be all sorts of personalities and ideas present in a cooperative workplace, the relationship of the employees to it and their work is fundamentally different. People simply cannot be abused much since their is no owner exploiting them and everyone who works there has an equal status. True, there can be variations in salary levels considering varying education or training and experience levels, and a bonus system can be implemented as an incentive or reward. 

The cooperative workplace has potential to develop a communal environment wherein workers get to know each other, socialize and assist each other with the problems and demands of life even outside work. In fact, there is a societal vision and philosophy around the worker-owned-and-run cooperative enterprise. It is a vision of a cooperative and caring society with a profound democracy. It is a new kind of communism, a society empowering the people at the base without a government functioning as a centralized decision-making order overseeing and commanding the society. Government has a role in providing services and resources and setting regulations and laws. However, it is one with proper representation of the people, not business owners that dominate and drive and bribe the government to do their bidding to make life richer and more comfortable for them alone. No, it would be a government with proportional representation, perhaps with regional and national election candidates coming from councils filled with nominated and elected workers from the cooperatives and other mass organizations.

There is also a vision of new kind of international relations based on cooperation and aimed at avoiding and settling conflicts through negotiations that would not allow war to break out. the United Nations Organizations would have to be rebuilt and refitted to serve these aims.

An model of a cooperative world has been drawn up by the "All things Cooperative" division of "Democracy @ Work". Here is a link to a video about it.


Life Without Community

Without the communal experiences that common people set up for themselves, life is harder and colder. Without the social and recreational organizations, ceremonial practices, neighbourhoods in action, nonprofit organizations and various associations in which relationships  and support networks, what is there? 

Workers do not have control over their workplaces, so communal experiences cannot be counted on there. Except for recognitions of birthdays, the Christmas party and occasional lunches together, if the they are lucky, employees must perform prescribed tasks on a given schedule and be subject to monitoring. Atmospheres and management styles can vary, but generally employees grab what chance they can to enjoy the coworker relationships but beat it home, happier to escape the confines of oversight and regime in an enterprise directed by others who reap the most rewards. 

School does not always provide relief, either. Private schools are generally business or religious settings run according to a corporate model with its quantifiable assessments and goals. In many countries, public school is an institution regulated and prescribed by government, and are often large. From upper elementary ("middle school" to some) through secondary school, the ambiance cools down and the focus on scores is sobering. After years of neoliberal austerity measures, too, there is nothing much in the budget to provide extra-curricular and cultural experiences. Even if there are student clubs and a student council, the object is career driven, with the ambitious eager to scratch notches on their resumes. Teachers and concerned observers complain how schools, reformed and relaxed somewhat in the 60s, have become like factories. 

At least any school is a place where friendships are made. The local elementary school might be the only locus of communal activity. The degree of communalism depends on the location of the schools. Some school boards that ascribe to a more humanist approach, especially as concerns the youngest of the student populations. Parents are involved. There could be exchanges and special days. Teachers can assess a student's wellbeing, family life and outlook and try to intervene with one sort of support or another. Volunteers from the community could be in the classrooms and hallways. Also, the school can be used for community meetings such as political campaigning and election polling. There may be continuing education classes run in the evenings and on weekends. 

Without much else in the way of community networks and activities, children and parents rely a lot on the school for social nourishment and growth. this could be why it is reported that many youngsters and teens suffered a lot during COVID lockdowns. Most people were cut off from communal experiences and community life. If both parents were absent from the home to earn their livelihoods or very preoccupied earning money from the home, even family life was inadequate. Families with more resources, of course, could manage better. It was the poorest who suffered most.

Without other communal offerings, people hang around shopping malls and parks. They may get to know others who work at or otherwise frequent those places. They may make and meet friends there. However, there is not much in the way program and structure. It's every person for her/himself. 

People who either start associations and get something going or pay membership dues and join some existing thing are much better off. Their lives are richer and more fulfilling. They should support people's associations and organize them to build society in a positive way.

Recreational Clubs

Recreational clubs are communal to one degree or another. I belong to several, as I like casual sports for fitness, culture, interest and social activity. They are all communal in that they are groups that share space to do things together using common resources. 

     For example, my ukulele club meets in a regular club house and plays together following a leading musician. We participants donate a few bucks at each session to support this leader. Members get to the session on his/her own means. We drink and chat together as well. There are no other meetings of this group other than practice/ play times. 

     My hiking club is another example of a common group experience. It is a couple of degrees more communal than the uke club. We have to register, pay a nominal membership fee each year and follow designated hike leaders who plan each hike. There is a publicly accessible website that bears a calendar, information on each scheduled hike,  and reports on past hikes. Our annual fees pay for it and liability insurance, nothing else. There is a car pooling system for transportation to each location of hikes; passengers pay a set amount to the driver to cover fuel each time they are driven to a hike. The trip leader ensures that there are a few photos taken of the location and participants of each hike, which will be posted along with that leader's brief report on the hike. While hiking, we get to know one another. We bring our own lunches, though. There is only one social event each year: the annual barbecue at a favorite lakeside place. Someone lends a barbecue or two and everyone who goes is supposed to bring a little food to share. However, the picnickers bring their own items to barbecue. There is minimal cost to participants and no cost to the club for this event. The province regulates and oversees all organized sports in the province, so this club must follow the provincial regulations and the insurer's stipulations. The city carries information on the club and provides a few gifts to distribute to club members on the day of the annual social.

     The most communal of all the recreational and cultural clubs I belong to is the lawn bowling club. This is a traditional English sport that traditionally serves older people. A whole community thus revolves around the local lawn bowling club. Although the provincial government sets the standards, the city provides a subsidy and the property including the equipment shed and clubhouse. Therefore, city staff clean the washrooms inside the clubhouse and manage the flower beds inside compound regularly. However, members do everything else themselves; it is a member-run organization, with members paying an annual fee to cover insurance, maintenance, outdoor equipment and kitchen and game room supplies. Besides the annual membership fee, we each pay a couple of dollars each time we play a game so that we provide additional funds for snacks, the maintenance of the green and seasonal prizes. Members can drop in any time to present themselves for games on bowling game nights three times a week and one bowling morning session once a week. There are competitions against nearby clubs at least twice a bowling season. The club also runs a croquet evening. There is always social time after games, which volunteers from among the membership organize to set up tables, prepare and serve food and clean up. Volunteers take care of grounds and run the games. In fact, this club is a full-fledged nonprofit society with an executive body. There is one official coach to train members and apply the rules. We follow international rules and techniques established ages ago in England. Though the club keeps some spare equipment, members have to acquire their bowling kits each containing four uniquely marked bowls and paraphernalia. 

      As such a developed tradition, community lawn bowling clubs provide vital opportunities for socializing. Seniors benefit tremendously and enjoy it for the outdoor setting, the company, the mild activity and thrill of the game. Older people can play this despite some physical restrictions and weaknesses as they age. People join as of their late 40s; they typically are people who enjoy sports but who have had some kind of long term injury or ailment, or are just looking for another way to relax outdoors on spare evenings. Many are longtime members who play until they are no longer able at a very advanced age. In fact, club archives with photos are kept and memorial plaques for the most active members are displayed.

      The social schedule of the season offers a lot, from the monthly barbecues to the holiday bowling lunches and the season opening and closing banquets. Participants bring their own lunches to the holiday games and salads and such to share at barbecues, when individuals bring their own items to cook on the grill. The opening and closing events are ticketed meals, but surplus club wealth is used to provide gifts beyond the raffles tickets that are offered at each banquet. 

     The bowling season is only three-and-a-half months long, but the club remains open all year round. There is one card, one darts and one carpet bowling session each week so that members can stay active and engaged with this community. Surplus funds from the summer season provide small snacks. People can buy beverages at each season; a volunteer keeps it stocked up.

    The games organizers keep stats of everyone's performance in all the clubs games, from bowling to darts, so that the persons with the highest scores and most wins can be identified and rewarded a little monetarily from time to time. 

    You can see that the lawn bowling is a full communal experience. It grows a community who do many activities, physical and social, together regularly in a communal space. Lasting friendships form. The membership develops to a more intimate level than other types of recreational clubs. Things are planned to be fair and inclusive.

Humans Helping Humans

I am reflecting on the memorial banquet I just attended. Friends, family and extended family came to share memories and catch up. Now I'm thinking how much such an event is a communal experience. First I consider who and what makes up a family. Then I consider how people rally around someone in need.

In the case of this gathering, close friends and extended family were quite a mix and acquainted in a variety of interesting ways. Of course, there was immediate biological relatives and relatives by marriage. In addition, there were several cases of close friends and family established by volunteer child raising. Here is an example. One man had been in a relationship with a drug addict who continued to help to raise her child well after breaking up with the girlfriend. That child is now a young man who attended the honouring of his quasi-uncle with his wife. Another man brought his biological daughter and grandchildren, as well as a teen-age adopted daughter whom he and his late wife met as foster parents when she was an infant; they looked after that girl for a few years and opted to adopt her after the natural mother, another drug addicted, passed away.             There was a young child at the dinner; she was there under the informal guardianship of her mother's friends, the mother being absent and unable to take care of her. These are all examples of stretching the perimeters of family to

take care of people where there is no obligation by birth or law; people help because they care.

     After the meal and the planned proceedings, informal chat gave rise to a few exchanges about different types of services and individual preferences. One issue is notification of the passing. One person may have a larger or different sort of network than another. How and who to notify? What is the responsibility? I got to thinking that various people well acquainted with the deceased through work or other organized activities and by proximity. If any of them learn of the passing, chances are that someone among them will respond on their own initiative and hold some sort of event to acknowledge it. Take community and leftist social and grassroots political activists, for example. It is normal for fellow activists, perhaps organization leaders or volunteers, to arrange something apart from what the immediate family or close friends do; the activity could be a letter to the family, a public message, a small gathering or a larger service. Work or recreational/ social club mates might react similarly.

     Then I got to thinking that there are a lot of situations of people helping people. Disasters are obvious examples. People will open their doors, provide food and supplies, donate money, etc. On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about how the population will respond to severe economic conditions as stagflation strangles economic life and a deep recession unfolds in the USA and Canada. I hear many expressions of fear. The gun promoters and survivalist convey great fear about their neighbours who they surmise will run rampage thieving and killing to stay alive ,so stocking up on guns, ammo and necessities and preparing to defend themselves or perish is recommended. I, though, believe in human kindness and concern. I think that many able people will organize to take care of each other and try to repair the crisis.

     Think about it. Who runs shelters, kitchens, mobile street services, and outreach and counseling? Who sets up charities and nonprofit or self-help organizations? Average people step forward to work hard finding resources, making public appeals, researching and sharing information, obtaining qualifications, getting funds, and so forth, and they are often volunteers.


Sorry for the lengthy absence. I do not like this blog format and input process, for one thing. For another, I did not have another theme except peace; I cover peace at my Just Peace Committee page on Facebook and my justpeace.blog (Wordpress) as well as in an internal newsletter for the International League of Peoples Struggles (peoplesstruggles.org), which is the Commission 4 publication called "Peace 4 the People". I also write statements for ILPS Commission 4 and Just Peace Committee, internationally and locally, respectively.

     In my activism for peace, we confront imperialism (domination, exploitation and plunder to make astronomical wealth for the few) that is the main source of various forms of violence and oppression. The long term goal is to build an alternative to monopoly capitalist imperialism, which concerned people involved generally call socialism. There are different types of socialism which are mainly state control of land and production and state laws and programs to provide social benefits and protection to the masses. Communist parties have been able to rule and institute vast state socialism through revolution and through electoral campaigns and reforms. We can think of Cuba and Venezuela as examples of one and the other. From the 1930s through the 1970s, US and Europe-based capitalism made compromises to socialize some industry, provide social programs, build infrastructure for working people, and so on. Capitalism's weaknesses, though, could not be avoided: wars, periodic slowdowns, debt and currency crises. The neoliberal approach of the 1980s to 2020 ruined that project by dismantling it and privatizing and deregulating everything. Politically aware intellectuals and working folk are talking about socialism again and decrying "the imperialist system" and all its violence and ills.

     Therefore, I have been thinking about socialism. Capitalism is not working out; it is in total crisis, at least US-based monopoly capitalism is. The crisis is economic (stagflation, approaching recession, debt), social (rising suicide, alienation, displacement, bigotry, disruptive and dysfunctional family life), education (rising illiteracy, lack of supports), health (insufficient public care for all, rising mortality and morbidity, mental health and opioids), unemployment or underemployment, housing (quality and affordability with rising homelessness). I don't have to tell you.

     If more people continue to get politically active and join protests, they can only be effective when they join forces, share info and materials and ideas, collaborate and make demands for change together. All the movements have to come together as one to confront imperialism. It has to have a grassroots, worker and poor people base.

     What alternative and how can we get there? Through collective action and discussion, forms of organization come into being: cooperative enterprises, committees, shelters and workspaces, bartering and sharing arrangements, social and recreational clubs, nonprofit enterprises and charities, popular non-corporate media, art projects, education and skills training programs, worker-owned factories and so on. Oh, you have heard of at least some of these? Yes! They already exist. You probably realise that they are each a product of local struggle. You probably know that they could not be accomplished by a single person, but rather had to be by a collective. When victorious, such endeavours result in people/ worker/ community-run, autonomous collectives that serve the people somehow. The struggle may have required and won state funding and legislation, so that many such collectives are state supported. It is this collective, popular action and organization that interests me, for I see it as the foundation for a whole new society that cares about and operates for and by the people. I envision a governance of representatives from among the communities and collectives that does not own and control projects and enterprises and programs but is designed to facilitate and support them.

     The socialism built in the Soviet Union and elsewhere has largely been systems of state ownership, control and direction of production and community life. I am not knocking what has been achieved. Clearly, the people fought and worked hard for it and benefited from it for a few decades. It is the top-heavy, top-down system that is vulnerable to corruption. Economic critics of capitalism have also reviewed former socialist states and come to accept that, to date, they adopted a capitalist production and distribution model, though wealth and production was not in private hands. State-owned enterprises used the monetary, price and wage system and accumulated wealth, which was to be redistributed into investments in infrastructure, homes, services, culture, and factories aimed at continuous expansion. In other words, they borrowed the capitalist model and changed some of the language. True, there were local committees and trade union and party locals from among whom representatives to the massive regional and state assemblies were regularly and properly elected. However, democracy was at risk and the state vulnerable to corruption as long as the economy and management were centralized. Too much power in too few hands.

     Today, new models of socialism are being discussed. Many prize communal life and governance. I want to think about this approach.

The next steps will be to look at examples of communal life around me. You probably have not held communism high, but that ideal is alive and well around the world as people continue to form and run various types of collectives. You likely belong to one or support one. I will discuss how much each case is "communal".

Communal living is my new thread to be discussed in the next few weeks, if not months. Stay tuned.


Eye of the Optimist-Ode to Abelard

Posted on April 11, 2015 at 10:39 PM Comments comments (30)
Ode to Abelard

Oh, how I love thee!
-too many ways to count
It is not your beauty alone
And I don't want to say, "I own"
No, it is because you are there
But never in my hair

We have drawn our boundaries
And they we respect
We each have our space
And so live in grace
He does his thing,
And I do mine
Yet our hearts e'er do entwine
Precious moments we do share
We pay attention and care

He's a positive force, whatever the weather
What's more, we have our meals together
Though tastes may differ 
He does not mind if I'm the breadwinner,
And he is always there when I'm home for dinner
He greets me with his song
For which all day I long
I don't care if he is shorter
And has not built a career
Sure, I do most of the chores
But he never bores
His antics are quite entertaining
And his hygiene he's always maintaining
He's keen on fitness, though addicted to seed
Still, he gives me all that I need
He sings to me in the morning when I get up
And at end of day when all is set up
He sticks to his routine, and takes early rest
After satisfying meal
Tranquil evening 
He never wears me down with gripes
I never tire of his extraordinary pipes
To boot, he sure knows how to dress
Guests, he never fails to impress
Yes, he plays around a lot, but it's just pure fun
It's all platonic; I'm sure he won't hurt anyone

I love thee for all the above
You're here with me purely for love.

Eye of an Optimist-poem "Day is Gray"

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Gray is the colour of everyday--
Slow down, if you dare, and you can see it
When the engine is at rest and the buzz in your head quietened;
It is the shadows of your kitchen when you are washing up,
The stillness of morning after breakfast when you do not have a plan,
The moments spent alone waiting for the bus,
The ambiance of the fast food restaurant
And the hue of solo travel.

Gray, the painters will tell you, fills up huge portions of the palette
As it occupies the spaces between the other colours;
As such, it is omnipresent--
It is what the rainbow does not cover up,
The backdrop to all our activity
And it fills every crevice and cranny in between the forms we make or assign,
It follows the edges of our selves and our doings in various tones.
It is our reality that defies even the busiest cacophony of brilliant colour
Which is because we can never hold the ground at the height of excitement for long;
The song has to end, the music has to stop and take a few breaths.
Despite this fact, "Play on! Play on!" "Louder, higher!" "Encore, encore! 
Are the insistent cries of the many who want to avoid the grayness.
Some are in constant pursuit of exuberance, by one means or another,
Like money or chemical, like danger or violence,
Like applause or victory, orgasm and sugar,
But there is no escaping the ordinary, no matter who you are or how you try to fix it up.

It is a scary fact of life.
Gray glares back when you look directly at it.
It makes truth as plain as day,
So you may as well embrace it.
Besides, we might discover hidden beauty and treasures deep in the canyons of gray.
Surprisingly, grayness offers enough light to see clearly
And refreshes, cleaning out the ear and mind
So that something new can be noticed and recorded.
It is full of potential for the adventure of discovery, a frontier yet to pioneer
The way naturalists are now exploring what has been there right in front of our eyes all along:
Feral mammals, common insects, salamanders, and such
Following the rush of exoticism over the past decades.
Wonderful marvels are being noted and tracked in the dullness of everyday life;
It is all very hypnotically intriguing and undeniably revealing,
The everyday recognized as the domain of the living.
Gray could be good and good for us.
Embrace the gray--it means we are alive!
Anyway, it may be the extraordinary in the apparently ordinary
Face the gray without fear.
Seek, see, learn and be glad.

February 1, 2015

Eye of an Optimist-new poem

Posted on January 31, 2015 at 9:08 PM Comments comments (0)
Art of Struggle
These days
I’m writing for a change
It used to be all picket and placard
There’s a need for all that
Of course
But it takes more.
No denying the contest—
The lines are drawn,
The writing’s on the wall
There has to be struggle
That said
There’s more to it
Than just leaning on the opponent,
Making counter claims and thrusts,
Simply opposing.
Commitment to resistance is reaction
Commitment to the new is pro-action.
Protest can become a way of life
It’s easy that way
Doesn’t take much thought
But where does it get us, really?
The main task is to carry a vision
Of something quite radical
(For human rights and well being)
And mobilize others
To create ways to make it come true.
Knowledge, understanding,
Networking, just causes,
And coordinated actions,
All kinds of actions—
The people must do all that
United as one nation, too.
To succeed, we need
An additional element
And it is creativity
To solve problems
And open up a new path
In sum, it is an art.
I’ve been on the frontlines
In the throes of popular movements
And still am to this day
I’ve earned some badges
Learned some hard lessons
Paid my dues
And continued my education
Now, I’m working
On the artistic angle
Which can do a lot
To inform, expose, inspire, discuss and critique
Do not underestimate the artist
Who applies her craft
To struggle and social change
I, for one, am still alive
Perhaps now more than ever
I’m still fighting
Whatever good it does
You must decide
I can only think, try and write
Employ my brain, my heart
And my experience
As best I can.
January 31, 2015


A Year of Living Positively-Day 345

Posted on November 30, 2014 at 7:12 AM Comments comments (0)
I just posted invitations to my birthday celebration. I’ve invited around 25 people with whom I’ve been talking and hanging out with more than others this past year.
I recently wrote a new poem about aging, and it would be appropriate to post it here now. The metaphor is a blooming flower. Actually, I used this photo of yellow roses with the invitations. It is a photo of a bouquet that a class of students bought me on my first birthday spent in Busan.


To Bloom Again
The afternoons are warm
They invite surrender
One’s whole body seems to smile
Immersed in nature of such fineness and glory
Flowers spring forth
Yet—hold on a moment:
It is fall
The irony of the situation does not escape
Flowers are not supposed to bloom now
How should we take it?
To let austere concern reign,
Or accept and rejoice?
Oh, to bloom again in the autumn of life!
Who would not want to?
When you see rhododendrons glow with the pleasure
And daisies nod with delight,
Roses ooze splendor…
Who would or even could deny such beauty, growth and joy?
In that case, to heck with propriety and convention!
I’m all for reinvention.
Renewal—out of rust and decay—makes sparkling jewels.
Why not?
I am sympathetic
For I, too, am blooming in autumn
Some may think it is funny,
And others may frown
Just because convention says, “No,” to that
We women especially are supposed to dry up past forty
We are supposed to look tired,
Give up our power and relent
“They’re not supposed to have strong opinions,
Show off gladness, wisdom and knowledge of years,
Grow and bud new hopes and dreams,
Accomplish new things, gain power.”
Yet, it does not have to be like that!
Busan, November, 2015.

A Year of Living Positively-Day 303

Posted on October 19, 2014 at 7:48 AM Comments comments (0)
The Peace Poems Busan event went well. Ten people showed and most presented something. It was a good atmosphere that invited discussion. Mostly, the people were friends of J’s and mine, but they are keen and politically committed to such activity.
We fell upon a nice space, after all. It is a space given over to community use and activism, with a café to help pay for it. We got it free today through a favour granted to a friend involved in setting up the event.
We all decided to make this a continuing project and we plan to carry forward by doing another such event next month. We video recorded the recitals and readings, for we want to post a record of the event on our webpage and promote our continuing activity. Y was there and she took photos for us.
I presented two of my compositions. Someone read J’s original poem for him, and J read that of a friend who could not be present. Then J sang a song in Korean. The venue provided a poem which they had left written in chalk on a blackboard leaning against the wall. Y read a poem by a published writer, and the speech from Charlie Chaplin’s last film, the satire of the Nazis (“I don’t want to be an Emperor”). B came, though she just listened. A young Iranian attended, and she finally opened up and read a poem by Kipling (“If”). J’s friend A, who denied every having written his own poetry at first, pulled out one of his own, finally, and recited it. It turns out that he is an activist who went to Gangeong to join in protests against the construction of the US military base for several weeks. The people running the café are involved in anti-nuclear technology actions.

I still have the flu so have kept my activity to a minimum all day. I have been wanting to sleep a lot. It is 8:45, and I am about to hit the hay.

A Year of Living Positively -Day 263

Posted on September 8, 2014 at 4:18 AM Comments comments (0)
I spent a perfect day at the beach. It was sunny and hot, and the water was calm and cool. It was relaxing and refreshing. I had two swims, once in the morning then again after lunch.

I got there between nine and nine-thirty to sit in the sun then go for a 20-minute swim. Then I ate tuna fish and crackers while sitting on a bench under some trees. After eating, I went for a walk before deciding on a cafe where I could get some tea and stay out of the sun for awhile. There in the cafe, I finally wrote a peace poem.

My one project during this sojourn was to write poetry expressly for the peace poetry reading event that a colleague and I are trying to arrange in Busan in October. I need to have a new poem on the subject to read there.

Here is the latest.


It's idyllic here
On this beach
A kind of peace within easy reach
Today in the sunshine
Waves lap and swish
The weather is fine
I get what I wish
Today, at least
I've escaped the beast
But that's not what I'd call--
What I aspire to at all.
Life just can't be like that all the time.

Peace should be discussion
Without fear of repercussion
Conflict is the norm
Just as much as nature's storm
We can be free
We don't have to agree
In fact, it is our right
For which it's quite worth the fight
Yes, it's something people ought to defend
Against the control and repression others may intend
We are not all equal
--That's the point.
Tastes, moods, ideas cannot be conjoint
We differ in what we prefer
And to others we sometimes defer
Yet we can choose to put aside passion
For the sake of principled compassion
Freedom should not mean we get what we want
Before others who lack and to them flaunt
No, for all are free to feed basic human need
To this end, we must all assist
That is the way to have peace, if you get my gist
Let's unite against too much greed
Stop it and make the greedy heed
Yield to life!
Reject strife!
Object to rule by might!
Fight for life!
That's the kind of peace I'm talking about
Take it to the streets, wave it and shout!

Daepohang, Sokcho City
September 8, 2014

I think Sokcho Beach is my favorite beach in all Korea. For one thing, it is not very crowded. For another, there are no big hotels and apartment buildings. As well, there is a green park full of pine trees along the beach where one can seek shade, have a picnic and exercise. 

I don't sunbathe that often. In Canada, I'll spend a day at the seaside or lake shore once in a while, and I really love the outdoor pool at Kits Beach in Vancouver. I don't spend much time at other beaches in Korea. In fact, it's been over a year since I last put on a bathing suit and went outdoors. I am not used to it at this stage of my life.

I enjoyed staying on this beach today, though. In fact, I liked so much that I got a little sun burnt. I left the beach around 2:30 and went back to my room for a shower and siesta. I cooled down and now I feel refreshed. I found some lotion in the room and I applied it to the burned areas on my body. I hope the burn is not troublesome later.

I am in the lobby using one of the hostel's PC's while I wait for L. He said he wanted to meet me here and join me for dinner after his day of hiking. We agreed that I'd wait for him to show between five and six o'clock.

A couple of girls arrived just before I came out here into the lobby. The viewed the dormitory room and decided to stay here, so I have lost control sole control of the whole room and am no longer solo. I have to share with them tonight. A third woman will take up the fourth bunk tomorrow night. Oh, yeah. I paid for one more night here because I am having such a swell time.

A Year of Living Positively-Day 244

Posted on August 17, 2014 at 10:14 PM Comments comments (0)
The Sound of Violence
Go away darkness
You’re not my friend
I don’t want to see you again
Every time you come along
We know that something is wrong
You sneak up while we are all sleeping
To ruin the world you go acreeping
The screams ring out and explode inside my brain
Here it is again!
The sound of violence.
Hollywood loves that roar
They produce it more and more
Guns ablazing
Property razing
Bodies falling, here and there
Persons mauling everywhere
It’s hard to tell who’s good or bad
And chaos makes the audience glad
They love it when things go, “BOOM!”
The thrive on prospects of doom
It’s exciting to see cities aflame
What’s frightening an amusing game
Yeah, lots of guys get off on menacing dins
It’s cool to immerse themselves in sins
It’s ridiculous how shot heroes spring back
And frivolous how they attack
Cameras make the impossible true
Special effects plan mind tricks too
Bodies fall all over the place
Cars keep crashing on the chase
Buildings blow up, crumble
Speedy aircraft smoke and tumble
What does it all mean?
Violence appears just routine
They say, “Relax! It’s just entertainment.”
I say it’s mass concern, sensitivity containment
Violence deafens the ears
For people not to hear the tears
It is justified and claims its right
The proof presented in all its might
It’s a habitual informant
To convince hearts to lay dormant
In the background, the machine hum
Drowns out voices, makes us dumb
It’s white noise turned bloody
Oozing life liquefied and ruddy
Civilization is losing its grace
Barbarism and cruelty taking its place
We may have believed in progression
But the conquest realizes retrogression
Technology once evoked fine dreams
Yet it elicits terrible rage and screams
The wars far away
Are closer to home today
They can get you
Your friends and family too
Whole towns are being slaughtered
Grandmothers, kids and daughters
You can see, and can listen so that you hear
The soldiers of greed as they draw near
Their drones and jet fighters precede them
Don’t let state and oil feed them
You can act, the will is yours
We can refuse to be involved in their wars
Don’t fall for the illusions
Let go of your self-delusions
Train your ears to hear the truth
Don’t believe, “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth”
Make a pledge to ditch the dope
Open your mind to peace and hope
Speak out to what is unjust
It’s not a choice, we must, we must!
You’d better heed the warning
For it all could be over in the morning
Stop consuming wanton destruction
Join the struggle for a new construction
Learn to sing a new refrain
Create a chorus of “Justice shall reign!”
Sure, it’s not easy, but not too late
To unite as people and put things straight
You’re responsible so get into gear
Don’t hide your head in fear
The time is now
We’ll find out how
The point is to shut up the machine
Reverse the direction of what’s been
Curb violence, reclaim peace
Shout it out all through the streets
Chain up the predators in silence
Retake the podium, media, audience
Quell the screams and cries
Counter all the evil lies
Once we have created the space
Then we can the future face
Let’s challenge the contemporary rants
Begin by composing some alternate chants
Good-bye darkness!
Let in the light!
We’re shooting for what’s right
We’re setting out, taking flight
The beauty of life we defend
We’ll sing that melody ‘til the end!
Violence, your voice will get weaker
We know see your cracks, know the strength of the meeker
Against the sound of violence
We ring the bells of defiance
Chartering out a new course
We’re building a new force
That feeds the world, worships life
Battles against domination and strife


What if the rains never stopped?
Two days of a nonstop intense downpour
Is enough to drown the habitat
Never mind forty!
They talk about the heat
And how the sun flares and falters
And that there are freezes too
Yet the rain is another sign
Of what fate we humans could meet any day
Life is short
It is ephemeral
It is on, then off
Why waste it, then?
For all we know, Earth is unique
We don't know what's going out there now
When experts surveil the universe
The look deep into the past
To see humungous explosions
And finished stars contracting infinitely
There is enough destruction without us adding to it
Can’t you hear the thunder, and see the lightening?
For all we know, we are here by chance
Whether by fluke, or design
Creation is precious
It is also temporary
Face it; that is true.
Stop making more rain!
When the kegs are full
And you are on the verge of drowning
Don’t help the rain in those times!
Moreover, collect it and conserve
Use it frugally, as per need
You may be the one who desperately needs it one day
If you are not drowning instead
To the drowning person, toss a life line as and whenever you can
It is good policy
It is for your own security
Do you want to be responsible for death?
I’m sure it is not your job
I’m sure there are repercussions if you do
Today, it pours relentlessly
What about tomorrow?
We don’t know for sure
We don’t know much
So, wipe the smugness off your face
You, whoever you are, are fragile too
Like castles and banks
Like the deer and flowers
Like the volcanoes and stars
Like cells and antibodies
Like empires and corporations
Your power does not amount to much, on the scale of things
Don’t think otherwise
It’s all bigger than you
You may as well go with life, not against it
Be with your nation
Not opposed or isolated
You could need it badly one day
You never know
Anyway, you can’t win, really, if you are
There is no swimmer or paddler strong enough
That idea is laughable

Observe the rains
Pay attention
Make hay while the sun shines
Sip the energy, taste its delights, enjoy the fruit
And learn by enlightenment: SEE
Drink you fill of life, but not that of someone else’,
Not to excess!
Live and let live
Ask yourself:
Do you really have problems,
Other than this universal predicament?
(Is the predicament a problem, anyway?)
What constitutes a problem?
Who as one, actually?
Who makes it?
It’s all relative and you belong to an intricate interconnection in spite of your self
There is no escape
Furthermore, ego is no match for it
Water beats earth and fire
Only rocks survive because they are the residue of life past 
They are not alive
Are you?
If you want to be alive
Then, live!
But join the humans and make shelter together
Community is stronger
It could rain again tomorrow
You never know if the rains will stop
And if flooding will conquer.

August 18, 2014

A Year of Living Positively-Day 195

Posted on June 29, 2014 at 12:08 AM Comments comments (0)
Writing for a Change
To you, history might have a different meaning
Not the perspective to which I’m leaning
You might want to point out great men
Or talk about facts that fate may open
I look at who has the powers
Who lives up in the gilded towers
And who is languishing under the whip
While some of others’ labor and blood sip
And out of oppression indulge in delight
Unfeeling champions of archaic birth right
Allied in defense of the right of might
I write for a change
I know what you do
--It’s the same ol’ same old
A story much too often told
Then framed in words of progress and glory
Creativity, to you, is telling lies
Colouring evil with tints and dyes
Dressing up crimes with pretty bow ties
Masking hatred with sweet apple pies
I write for a change
It is an alternative to find an alternative
A brand new modern way for the people to live
What’s happening to whom?
Push aside your media to make room
For the voices of the majority
To communicate their priority
To build a conscientious community
And do away with the notion of impunity
Regarding your crimes against humanity
And all the rest of your bloody insanity
I write for a change
Me, I want to honour the Other
Take sides with my sister and brother
Unite in struggle for a fresh start
Do what we can with the tools of our art:
Investigate and agitate
A new world help to instigate;
I want to create to assist in building the “we”
And serve to say what “we” see
The people are a burgeoning story
Headed for a grand redeeming glory
They have a lot to tell
Patrimony they would never sell
Memory and dream are sacred treasure
Wealth that one could never measure
They have the resources to create the new
They’ve already shown what they can do
But what they’ll make won’t be owned by you
Take that big fact and give it a good chew
June 29, 2014 

A Year of Living Positively-Day 194

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 7:10 AM Comments comments (0)
It has been a nice, slow day. I have done a bit of writing and some housework. I took a short nap after dinner. Why push time along faster than it has to go? I am in a hurry to make the most of my time, but I do not want it to pass quickly!
I heard an interesting morsel of TV drama script today and it got me thinking. The program is a new series about a guy who has been released after 22 years in prison. He is 40 years old when he gets out. In one episode, he talks about his perception of time as a solitary prisoner in a cell without windows on death row. (Unlike me, he must have been wishing for time to pass by quickly.) When time seems to pass very slowly, he says, one becomes more sensitive to the idea of the future. Anticipation seems more exciting or scary. Sometimes anticipation is pleasant, and other times it is not.
That is one problem with goal-setting. It can make you antsy about tomorrow. I sometimes find myself thinking about my future activities too much. It can give me a nervous stomach for no other reason than I am preoccupied about it. Sure, having goals is mostly positive in that it can give you better direction and identity, creates impetus that swings you into action, and lets you think about what is possible to experience and accomplish. When you have reached a goal, there is the satisfaction of achievement plus other benefits such as a new job, more knowledge, a better relationship, more money, new experiences, and so on.
The TV drama character also compared the life of waiting to that of action. He talked about the outside working and business world being one set to the ticking of the clock, where so much is measured in terms of time, and our activities are assigned to blocks of time on the grid of a time-table with its sharply defined limits.
I guess he understood that as another kind of prison. It is also an extension of the legal justice system, is it not? We can meet with punishment for not following the clock, and punishment can be severe. If you miss time from work or are late for an appointment or ritual, for example, the consequences can be drastic.
Being unnecessarily confined to a schedule is unhealthy. It is good to create a time-line as part of goal-setting, and healthy to have a basic routine, and wise to set time limits for all your activities so as to economize on time and utilize it well. However, being strict about time and watching the clock all the time is stressful and anxiety generating.
It can be liberating to be on down time or vacation time when you have few appointments and it is not necessary to rush around. One should welcome slow days and cherish the luxury of “free” time instead of fretting about wasting time so much. Your body needs to repair itself, for one thing. Anyway, slow days can actually be productive. It is conducive to creativity, for example, because it gives you time to process things and reflect.
While it seemed slow and I did not experience it like work, I actually got a good chunk of work done. I edited a 20-page translation. After that, I caught up with the previous blog. (Working late and feeling tired last night, I postponed writing the day’s blog until today.) then I put through a load of laundry and washed the floor, the latter being a chore that I am generally reluctant to do, proving that my energy was up today. While the laundry was in the machine, I dashed out a couple of anecdotes for the Confessions book. I never had lunch but was fine, probably because I had eaten beef for supper yesterday, which gave me more energy for this morning. In the early afternoon, I made a quick call to Canada then decided I should use some of this time to get a report writing task out of the way. I typed up the report of the international activists’ conference that I attended a month ago. It was a big chore, requiring me to summarize half of the reports in our meeting folder.
This infection must be passing, for I felt more balanced and energized during the day. I woke up with a terrible headache, which is unusual for me. It was not a good experience and I expected another odd low-energy and therefore unproductive day. Yet I took one of the Tylenols from the prescription that I have been stock piling and felt fine.
On another note, I was thinking about poetry as a form of journal writing. That is because I inserted one of my poems into a section in the Confessions file. I thought it was fitting because it recalls and describes real experiences I had and the topic suited the theme of awkward and clumsy moments of social interaction. It is about the difficulties of riding the buses in this region. I have read it to others and they thought it was clever and funny, you see. I thought of using it after I wrote an anecdote about my experiences taking cabs.
It struck me that poetry can operate as a form of journal writing if the content is expressly autobiographical or at least about personal or work experience. Why not? It can even be creative non-fiction, I suppose. The difference is that the style is not prose. Also, it does not rely on direct reportage, but rather employs symbolism and breaks rules of normal grammar and meaning in order to attempt to express what is very difficult to put into words, such as the subtleties or bring out nuances that are not usually perceived. Poetry helps one to consider and study an experience or person or object from different angles. It too can be implemented as a tool of learning and discovery.

A Year of Living Positively -Day 114

Posted on April 7, 2014 at 6:21 AM Comments comments (0)
It happens sometimes that I recall how many bakeries in South Korea do not make baguettes. When I think of buying some bread, a little refrain about this problem often comes to mind: "Paris Baguette has no baguettes." There is a major franchise named "Paris Baguette", and based in California so I believe, that has many stores in South Korea. In fact, there are such stores in most urban neighbourhoods. Despite its bold name, I have yet to find a baguette in one. The idea that a bakery with "baguette" in its name would not offer baguettes is kind of humorous, at least on the days when one is not too frustrated at the lack of real Western wheat bread in this country. 

I was contemplating getting a baguette to go with a chum salmon steak for dinner as I made my way down the street from campus to my abode when, yet again, this refrain struck up a chorus in my head. There is I decided it was about time I completed a ditty on this topic. I did so as soon as I got home. (No, I did not pick up any bread of any kind, deciding to have the rice and oats mixture with the salmon.)

Here is is and I hope you like it.

Paris Baguette has no Baguettes!

Paris Baguette has no baguettes,
But they sure as hell have cafe
You can while away the hours
Admiring goods made of all sorts of flours
As you're sipping your cup of latte
And considering, next time, you'll try a mate
From walnut bread to bean thingies of red
Not to mention sweet potato paste
And pizza treats not to everyone's taste
You might spot an eclair
Or try a "croissant" if you dare
And even germanesque pastries might be there
The ones filled with apple or those made with creme cheese
Yes, there is white bread, rye bread and rice bread
But the alien grain-fed palate is hard to please
Though there are birthday cakes in any flavor
And sparkling beverages to savor
Bonbons and cupcakes
Cookies, puffs and sponge cakes
Wafers, madeleines and mud cakes
Don't get your hopes up to high
Just settle for something new to try
EXCEPT that weird confection sugary item
That must be some stand-in for what we'd call creme
And don't even get me started on green tea
(It really is too much for me!)
And what's used for mustard would offend the French
The ketchup, well it'd raise a stench!
Abroad, we DON'T LIKE sugar in our bread or condiment
That is a principle, elementary, a simple fundament
And, for God's sake, just keep the corn out of it!
It's not funny, you shouldn't have it, so just let go of it
Non, Paris Baguette has no baguette
Today, or any other
They don't care what you'd ruther

B. Waldern (c) 2014

It is preferable to be able to laugh at the frustrating and disappointing aspects of the society of residence when living abroad. That is a good demonstration of positive thinking approach in action.