“Heroic violation of the norm.”
We made it to Florida. My wife and daughter are swimming and I am sitting on the deck thumbing away as the Mamas and the Papas sing about Monday. It is Sunday. We left upstate NY around 4:30pm on Friday and arrived at our Florida destination on Saturday 7pm. My wife and daughter drove while I did my best to distract myself with various things to keep my anxiety about the traffic in check. It didn’t work. Since my car accident-rear-ended while waiting for a light to change at an intersection, I’ve been having issues with anxiety about driving in places where I am not familiar with the roads and traffic. It’s the first time in my life where I wish my imagination isn’t such a powerful beast. It circulates all the worst case car accident scenarios 100 million miles a second through my brain. Not good. Am seriously considering buying myself an airline ticket for the return home to NY. Don’t know. As I get older, my anxiety gets worse about situations where I am not in control. I completely understand that I am not in control during a flight home. But, 4 hours of anxiety, tempered by a book, tunes, JD on the rocks (if needed) and no traffic, is better than 18-20 hours of not being in control. I know, I know…it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It works for me. Not going to argue with Lee logic.
Speaking of work, I made promise to some people and myself, regarding shit that I would get done during my week vacation. I awoke with a sinus/ tension headache. Not conducive to anything, let alone working. I took my meds, had my allotted caffeine, drank two bottles of water, worked out a little with my portable weights, and blew my nose…a lot. The headache loosened enough for my brain to start its daily babbling. I read an online newsletter by a creator whom I admire and gathered my materials together for a day of Florida sun. I brought two books to the pool that are vital for a piece I am writing: “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy” by Mircea Eliade, “Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations” by Rev Dr. Karen Tate. On my phone’s Kindle app, I have the following books ready for more reading and perusing for the project-“Life and Work of Erich Neumann: On the Side of Inner Voice” by Angelica Lowe, “Analytical Psychology in Exile: The Correspondence of Carl Jung and Erich Neumann” by Jung and Neumann, “Voices of the Sacred Feminine:Conversations to Reshape Our World”, also by Rev Dr. Tate, “The Origins and History of Consciousness” by Erich Neumann. and a bucha of other books that my brain says relate to the project. The research has seeped into my other writing. It’s all related, man.
So I made a promise to myself that on this vacation I will try to adhere to a list and be better organized. After the accident, I had to make lots of lists to feel in control. I suppose, the Daily Postcard is a list. It’s not enough though, so I have a little notebook where I am jotting down what I want to realistically accomplish today. It must remain realistic, or I just spin, worrying about not getting anything done…and at the end of the day, not getting anything done. Self-fulfill much, Gooden? I need to write at least 3-6 comics script pages a day or I am going to fall so far behind. I need to write at least a thousand words of the YA novel a day and I need to write at least 300-500 words on two other projects. i must finish my Sacred Goddess piece. I have another review to write that was due six months ago. I’ll write that after vacation. The Goddess and three comics projects take priority while on vacation.
I guess I should start making a list of what’s next on my list.
THE DAILY POSTCARD: The Top Forty
Where to begin? I finished a book review for an incredible book. I’ll post it to my various social media sites later today. That book and writing the review broke me into pieces and then built me back up again…stronger than ever, snapped out of a period of feeling like a hack. Derrida would be proud.
While waiting for Lin to get out of a meeting, (She and I moved a bunch of her supplies into her new classroom) I am sitting in my car in the Corinth Elementary School parking lot, listening to Hall and Oates’s: 1985 album, “Live at the Apollo”. I was 17 when that album first came out, working in the books and music section at Caldor. I loved that job. I would’ve been content doing something like that job for the rest of my life, immersed in two of my biggest passions. I remember at first liking the Hall and Oates parts of the album more than the Motown tribute with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Then, I started loving the Motown parts more, going back and listening to my parent’s Temptation’s 45’s. Eventually, I learned to to appreciate and love the album’s balance of the then modernity of Hall and Oates new wave/blue-eyed soul with the iconic Motown sound. It is a brilliant album. At my Caldor register kiosk, there was a dual cassette deck. I used it to make copies of some of the albums. Every once in awhile, I sequestered myself in a section of the back room storage area where my boss created a little standing desk. There, I’d write original song lyrics and poems (Usually derivative of whatever I was reading or listening to at the time. But, the music I heard and sometimes still hear in my head is all me.) on the blank backside paper lists of the current Top-40 selling singles. I used to think no one knew what I was doing. I was wrong. In my late twenties, I returned to Caldor to make some extra money during the Holiday season. One of the managers asked me if I carry a notebook on me for writing. I was shocked and somewhat embarrassed that she knew about my back storage room poetry excursions. She told me that everyone knew. She said no one called me on it, because I did my work, didn’t complain when asked to do extra and was well liked. She said that I always responded when paged over the intercom and when called on the phone. I was completely oblivious that anyone knew about my inner life, thinking I kept me to me. Maybe to a point I did. I also didn’t know that people, especially my older coworkers and the management liked me. I lived a kind of duality, or even a triplicate type of life: There was me on the surface, a little cocky, smiling and strutting. Then there was the me that thought everyone disliked me because I was weird and not good enough, probably my own transference. Although, I was weird and still am.
Beneath that, the third layer, my core—where my experiences (good and bad), fledgling philosophical beginnings, jaded spirituality and drive to create any kind of art-burned in me. My belief in that intensity—rhythms of destiny beat relentless in me. Of course, I learned later that adolescence was a bitch for everyone.
30 Years Behind Bars,
Trials of a Prison Dr.
By Karen Gedney, MD
“I looked at the phone in my hand, and thought: So, I’m going to prison for the next four years…”
Thus in 1987, unknown to Dr. Karen Gedney (also known as Dr. G) those “four years” would be the beginning of a thirty something year journey as a prison doctor in an all male medium security prison.
The National Health Corp sent her as a physician to the prison to pay back her medical scholarship. 1987, the year her tenure started, was just before all human services organizations including prisons, started to move away from old school punitive methods and evolve to a more (albeit, no matter how temporary) person-centric proactive and rehabilitative model. As her time progressed, Gedney would learn that prison system policies are cyclic like most human services organizations, especially law enforcement. They don’t necessarily always change for the betterment of their clientele. Nor do they reflect core values of a metamorphosing humane society-as much as they mirror the current political climate of the time. Plus of course, in any type of business, regardless of being labeled profit or not-for-profit, money is the biggest motivator. Entering the prison system in the late eighties, Gedney’s innocence, naiveté, sense of human decency and her strong belief in Hippocrates’s maxim: “first, do no harm,” gave her agency and armor against archaic ideologies perpetuated by underpaid, undertrained and overworked employees. To be fair, the prison system has always been and probably always will be considered the bottom rung in law enforcement. A 2015 Business Insider article about the corruption in American prisons, quotes Bruce Bayley, a Weber University Criminal Justice Professor and former corrections officer as saying, “corrections in general is the ugly stepchild of the justice system.” But, what really best illustrates the kind of broken and Sisyphean nightmare Dr. Gedney was subjected is the following small, sad, unfunny but apt joke among correction workers. It goes like this:
Q: What separates the CO’s (Corrections Officers) from the prisoners?
A: The bars.
Thirty Years Behind Bars is a memoir that at times reads like a novel. Dr Gedney’s writing style superbly balances humorous, as well as heart wrenching anecdotal incidents with underlined philosophical soul searching ideas based on her long term observation and experience. She juxtaposes emotional undertones, intelligence and her inner voice with the harsh reality of trying to be a doctor in a flawed and broken system operated like an Orwellian bureaucracy. She also discusses rehabilitative prison reform, advanced education for corrections workers, arts as therapy and the treatment of incarcerated HIV patients. All of those issues are as relevant today, if not more, than they were thirty years ago. Her ability to show all sides of an argument makes readers look beyond black and white judgements and half-assed solutions. Through her example, we learn not to point fingers and to pick our battles, understanding that sometimes compromises can be triumphs, not genuflecting or settling. She writes dialogue that crackles on the page. There are unforgettable conversations between unforgettable people. They are entertaining and enlightening. Dr. Gedney, creates a dialectic for herself as character with the other characters that transcends her book, shared between her as the author and her readers. For example, in the memoir, her husband Coley, a Vietnam Veteran, explains to her how he recognized that he had PTSD. She writes, “You don’t realize that you have PTSD until you are willing to question how the event, and your actions following the event, affect the people around you. Especially the ones who love you.”
While immersed in Dr. Gedney’s narrative, it is not only easy for me to forget that I am reading a book, but it is also easy for me to forget that I was reading a work of non-fiction. Each time I went searching for specific passages in the book to use in the review, I got sucked back in. I’ve read the book cover-to- cover multiple times. After each read, I gleaned new knowledge on myriads of levels. Dr. Gedney writing shows a genuine self-deprecating humor, along with great insight into people of all types. Readers will grow and evolve with her in her book, their inner voice will harmonize with hers and become a whole new shared voice in the narrative.
Her writings and life credo are reminiscent of the life and works of Oliver Sacks, the late neurologist and author of such books as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. An Anthropologist On Mars, Awakenings and On The Move. Like Dr Gedney, Sacks was known for approaching his patients as human beings as a whole, not as just a bunch of symptoms. The memoir shows that Dr. Gedney (also like Sacks) applies similar beliefs and practices to her world outside of medicine as well.
Re-reading Dr. Gedney’s 30 Years Behind Bars has been a reminder of my own journey. Her memoir helped clarifiy and redefine me, giving me a new sense of understanding of who I am. She writes, “It is my hope that there will be something in my memoir that will resonate with you and heighten your compassion for populations that your currently find difficult to understand.”
The above passage specifically, confirms and reinforces some of my own ideas and personal beliefs about my life. Through her memoir, I’ve have had revelations-about myself, some of them I don’t like. I will continue to work on changing them. I identify strongly with her story. She and I have had parallel experiences. While Dr. Gedney entered the prison system in 1987, I was in college seeking a degree in Human Services. I had a part time job that I loved, working with children with disabilities while I went to school and pursued my dream of being a writer and a musician. Yes, like a lot of young men of my generation, I wanted to be a rock star. But more than that, I wanted to learn how to compose and perform the music I heard in my head. I changed my major to music and signed up for as many music classes that I could fit in my class schedule. I wanted a well rounded musical education so as to stand out from the pack of my contemporaries. One problem, I didn’t have the manual dexterity, fine motor coordination or patience to play any instrument beyond rudimentary levels. No problem. I decided that I’d become a vocalist/lyricist/poet like Jim Morrison of the Doors and surround myself, collaborate and pick-the-brains of great musicians. My part time Human Services job would suffice. Then, my girlfriend became pregnant. Everything changed all at once. I dropped out of college, proposed to my girlfriend and rented us an apartment near her family. I needed a full time job with health insurance. I was hired for full time position at a group home for adults with disabilities. At twenty years old, with a complete head of long blonde hair and in the best shape of my life, I walked through the entrance of the group home. I had a strut to my step, bouncing on the balls of my feet that pushed past self-confidence to cockiness, thinking I knew it all. I imagined that my smile radiated a destiny for greatness, thinking I owned the world. Five minutes into that first shift, a large male resident asked me if I knew how to do physical intervention techniques. I said yes. He scoffed at me, looking me up and down, measuring me. He told me that if I ever tried to use physical interventions with him, he’d break my ‘effing’ neck. Never, in the short time I had worked in Human Services, had anyone ever threatened me in that manner. (Little did I know that his threat would be the first of thousands of threats and injuries I’d suffer in a thirty plus year career in direct care. Eventually, behavior interventions without physicality became my specialty.) I admit it, that male resident’s threat frightened me. My self-confidence did a nose-dive. I took a deep breath and laughed nervously. I reminded myself that this individual lived here for a reason. I was supposed to be smarter and have my crap together. I was there to help him, not get in a power struggle. I said something along the lines of, “Dude, let’s hope that you and I can come up with a solution to what’s bothering you before you get that angry.” Looking back, I can see now that he could read my fear. He walked away, still chuckling to himself. Later that day, he threw a coffee table at me. Six weeks later, when he picked up a couch over his head and threw it at me, I was ready to quit. But I didn’t. I didn’t quit when I was slammed to the floor. I didn’t quit when I almost lost my leg to a human bite. I didn’t quit when knocked unconscious with a chair. I didn’t quit when I was stabbed. My whole direct care career, I heard a squeaky slimy voice in the back of my head that said I should quit. It continued to question me why I never quit. My immediate answer to myself, “what else can you do, who’s going to hire you?’ But those answers were never the right ones. My physical, mental and emotional trials and tribulations were harsh in my occupation. Not to lessen the life lessons of my experiences in Human Services, but they were nothing like Dr. Gedney’s. In 30 Years Behind Bars, with no punches pulled, she writes about being taken hostage, raped and witnessing the bloody violent death of her abductor. As I read that mind-bending and soul-stripping section in her memoir and learned that she still returned to work as the prison Doctor, I heard that squeaky voice again. It said, “I can’t believe she didn’t quit. Why didn’t she quit? I would’ve quit. Lee, why didn’t you quit after that guy tried to bite off your ear? Why don’t you quit?” Her answers to those questions are now my answers. Dr. Gedney writes, “People over the years have asked me why I stayed in the prison system after I was taken hostage. Looking back, I realized that the prison brought out the best in me. It heightened my compassion for individuals that were damaged on a physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual level…helped me become stronger and more resilient.”
As mentioned before, Dr. Gedney’s work reminds of Oliver Sacks. The following Sacks quotes reflect what I believe (also mentioned above) is within her heart and she tries to implement them into all aspects of her life.
Sacks writes, “There is only one cardinal rule: One must always listen to the patient.”
“To be ourselves we must have ourselves—possess, if need be repossess our life stories. We must “recollect” ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.”
The first Sacks quote is a given. Dr. Gedney has shown that her patients’ autonomy is always first. The second quote is best illustrated in her memoir by the prisoners themselves. Through her continuation of working with them and really listening to their life stories, she finds a common pattern. The majority of these incarcerated men and women were set up for failure from the very beginning of their lives, barely existing in abject poverty. Surviving day-to-day and hand-to-mouth from generation to generation, there isn’t a way to for them to “recollect” themselves. Dr. Gedney writes, “Some of the men had been thrown away as children, some had been thrown away by society, and some had thrown themselves away. Abandonment, whether it was physical or emotional…from it came fear, anger, and all the coping skills-like drugs and alcohol-that put the people at the highest risk into prison.”
How does a person “recollect” themselves in the American prison system? It is impossible in privatized prisons. Those corporations only make money when the prisons are full. This nullifies any ideas of “recollection” or rehabilitation. The Obama administration recognized this problem and tried to make the construction of any more privatized prisons illegal. In 2016, the Trump administration brought the public privatization of prisons back with a full force. Currently, President Biden is trying to make it illegal again. Privatized prisons aside, none of the current correctional systems in America are conducive for education or rehabilitation.
Dr. Gedney writes, “We have the highest incarceration rates per capita of any country in the world and it will only change if we approach it in a holistic, systematic way with a clear goal in mind…to reduce the amount of people we put behind bars by focusing on what society can do to prevent them from entering or re-entering prisons.”
30 Years Behind Bars is Dr. Gedney’s testimony of her baptism of fire in the prison system. Her exemplary writing is enhanced by the brilliant and devastating artwork of former inmate, Ismael Santillanes, poet, artist and author of “Indelicate Angels” a book on poetry. As an inmate, Santillanes knew the same people that Dr. Gedney knew. The fact that Santillanes agreed to do the artwork for her book, demonstrates how much she was trusted. They shared the same space and had common life experiences on opposite ends of the spectrum and completely different perspectives. But her prose and his art meet somewhere in a neutral middle ground where they give and increase each other’s power, autonomy, authenticity and humanity.
30 Years Behind Bars is Dr. Gedney’s first foray at authoring a book (Hopefully, more written works will come from her pen in the future.) Board certified in Internal Medicine and Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, she is a renowned speaker and mentor. Recognized in both the medical and correctional fields, she won the ‘Heroes for Humanity Award in Nevada. She was noted as “One of the Best In Business” by the American Correctional Association. She hopes that this memoir will be instrumental in changing the American societal perspective of corrections and the prison system. She writes, “My mission the next thrifty years is to act as a catalyst to help change the current paradigm of “corrections from one of punishment to one of prevention, healing and re-integration…the corrections world and the medical world suffer from the same problem. They both spend an inordinate amount of money, energy and time on the symptoms vs the causes of the problem.”
Dr. Gedney’s life-time’s work, seeking and teaching forgiveness, empathy and kindness-the best and preventive medicine for the human condition-is deftly summed in the following quote by her husband, Coley. She writes, “The real reason you need love and humanity is that they make you actually value life, so you aren’t willing to destroy it.”
Lee A. Gooden 8/5/21
Review up for KOGS 4
Where to begin? These are some crazy times. I am trying to balance family, the pains and repairs of home ownership, taking more hours at the money job and writing. Twenty years ago I would’ve killed to have these grown-up problems. Thirty something me would’ve been chomping at the bit to have work-for-hire gigs in independent comics and other publishing mediums. Thirty something me wrote umpteen million book reviews a week and scrambled for freelance journalism jobs. I was two years into a marriage that seemed about to peter out. (We just had our 25 the anniversary) ) I was a dad to a 1 year old daughter and a preteen daughter, finding my way in the local poetry scene. My buddies and I created some original theater and directed some repertory pieces. I gained weight terribly. By the time I reached forty, I weighed 235 pounds, heading down the road to Type 2 Diabetes. Now, at 53, I weigh between 160-165 pound. I am consistently losing weight in a healthy way through diet, exercise and medication. I’ve gone from 2X and 3X shirts to small shirts again. Is there a point to this tirade? No, not really. I’m just kickstarting my fingers into writing mode. I am trying to navigate past the fatigue from working extra human service job hours. I am so close to finishing a comics piece that might contain some of my best writing. Thirty something me is saying, “Blah, blah, my best writing…blah! blah! You always say that, Gooden.” Fifty-three year old me responds, “Kid, if you don’t aspire to make the next piece of writing or art your best each time, then don’t bother.” Thirty something year old me just flipped Fifty-three year old the bird.
The Daily Postcard: Review:
The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragon Slayer: A Book of Poetry and Music
By Vashti Stopher Klein
Artwork Designs by Carol Collett
In the late great experimental composer John Cage’s Silence, Lectures and Writings he writes, “The emotions-love, mirth, the heroic, wonder, tranquility, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust- are in the audience.”
Vashti Stopher Klein might have adopted the above as s maxim when she created her book of poetry, lyrics and music, The Soprano, the Monster and the Dragon Slayer.
Reading her work and listening to her perform, it is obvious that she knows her audience’s essence. She knows and incorporates all things that make them–their triumphs and fallacies, their exultations and lowest denominators of behavior–their flawed, and as Warren Haynes from Government Mule sings, “beautifully broken”, humanity. In the epigraph of her book, she quotes Dylan Thomas:
“Poetry is what in a poem that makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever your own.”
Klein’s words, lyrics and voice make the reader’s toe nails twinkle. They also contain a bitter sweet and sad wisdom of life experience and heart wrenching spasms of love won, lost, denied and unrequited. She expresses this eloquently and brilliantly, encompassing all of her audience’s (to borrow a biological term) phenotypes. She shows this and comes full circle to the Thomas epigraph in the first five stanzas of her poem “Painted Pink Toenails” She writes:
Oh the promise of freshly Painted pink toenails!
But who will see them?
Only I will relish their significance,
a symbol of youth,
Hope, desire, Him.
And will it be this way
Am I destined
From this point forward
to be their only admirer?
Time was when each night
I slathered lovely creams
On my legs and arms,
though I was young
and didn’t need them.
And now I am old
and they look dry from neglect;
a casualty of the lost
Hope for love.
Except for tonight
I have pink toenails…
Creating literature and music runs in Klein’s blood. She comes from a long line of musicians. Her influences are eclectic, ranging “from that heard on a Kentucky farm, to a Gaelic pub, to a concert hall.” In the digital editions of her book, Klein provides her readers with links to YouTube videos of her vocal performance of her songs: “You are Here”; “Look Away”; “The Heart of Things”; “Meant to Be”; “The End of Forever”; “My Wishing Well”; “The Whispering Wind”; “Love is a Holy Thing”; “Path to the Sun, Moon and Stars”; “Don’t Let Go”; “Because You Love Me”; and “Whatever He Wants”. Gleaned from her lyrics and listening to the tracks on YouTube, one can hear a loving painstaking perfectionism and craftsmanship in the composition and production of her music. Take for example, the song “Look Away”. At first, the lyrics on their own seem almost banal and full of greeting card sentiment. However, the song’s piano instrumentation and Klein’s vibrato vocals give the lyrics the power and spirituality of a prayerful hymn. For example, Klein writes:
I crossed over oceans
And rivers to try
To fill all the holes in our lives
But I found it was something I could not do Unless you were willing to try.
So the years passed away
Without giving a clue
That our love was fading away
Until the day came
When somehow we knew
There was nothing left to save.
It is highly suggested that if readers want to experience the full impact of this song, or all her songs, they should read her lyrics while listening to the music. Obtaining a physical copy of her book is highly suggested. While reading and listening to “Look Away”, readers can smell the oceans and rivers she has crossed, hear their waves in her singing as they crash the bow of a beaten ship. Her beautiful voice expresses a forlorn weariness, trying to carry a relationship by herself, her tremulous vocals filled with sorrow, an inevitable acceptance of giving up.
From her music, lyrics and poetry, it can be deduced that Klein is influenced by Folk Singers like Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Peter, Paul and Mary. One can also feel the impact of Gershwin; twentieth century musical creators such as Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim. Also, there are hints of the pop stylings of Lennon and McCartney, and the lyrical playfulness of Cole Porter.
Similar to the artists mentioned above, Klein is also a great story-teller, like a bard. This is apparent in the beginning, from her introductory short-short story (also the title of her book) The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragon Slayer. The introduction is not only a fairy tale, but it is also an important thread to the entire book and collection of music as a whole. In the story, the main character, The Soprano (Klein slips in a little Easter Egg homage to Shakespeare in this tale, which slyly confirms that she is indeed a bard of tremendous prowess.) becomes very ill and can no longer sing. A Dragon Slayer comes from afar and says that he can save her life. He opens her chest with his sword and removes the hideous creature that made her sick. The Soprano recovers and heals, experiencing a catharsis and transformation into something better. More than an elemental, more than earth, wind, fire, air and water. She becomes a goddess, her song an incorporation of all the elements at once. Klein writes, “Her voice started at the core of the Earth as it flowed and whirled, up, over and through the rock, granite, and gritty soil of her entire life. It wended its way up and through every molecule, every muscle, every organ in her body. She took the deepest breath of her life and began to sing from her unencumbered, grateful heart.”
The tale will undoubtedly come across to some readers as a metaphor for surviving cancer or some other life-threatening disease. In part it is, but like mentioned above, that metaphor is a smaller but important thread with many, many other threads. Klein emphasizes this and heightens it through Carol Collet’s artwork. Collet is an award winning quilter. Such incredible and astonishing results from their collaboration took meticulous planning and scheming; weighing and matching Collet’s art with the themes, narrative and tone of Klein’s music, lyrics and story. Klein is also a filmmaker. With her filmmaker’s eye, mental gift of literary narrative and song writer’s ear, all juxtaposed, she and Collet weave material into an entire tapestry masterpiece that illustrates and celebrates the best and the worst of all us. Klein says it best in the second verse of her song “The Heart of Things”. She writes,
But dreams will come and they will go Like the ocean waves that ebb and flow the only constant thing I know
is life goes on until we grow.
Vashti Stopher Klein is an award-winning filmmaker and folk singer-song writer in the Washington, DC metro area. Through her music label, Butterfly Effect Productions, she released the 2014 album The Heart of Things, In 2015, she released the album Path to the Sun, Moon, and Stars.
Carol Collet, of Carol Collet Desert Studio, is a fiber artist, teacher and award winning quilter from Scottsdale, Arizona. Her artistic talents extend to unique quilt making, mixed media art, wearable art, fiber art and jewelry making. Her work has been published in periodicals like American Quilter.
Lee A. Gooden
The Daily Postcard: New Book Review ,
God Has Infinite Frequency: Aphorisms For A Fractured Age
By, Jonathan Masters
Publisher: Foundation For Inner Peace
Over the years, I’ve read more than my share of so-called new age/self-help books that incorporate, out of context, psychological; religious; philosophical, and scientific terms and concepts. Authors of these books, know that certain words and ideas give their work a sense of validation and, albeit, a false, all-knowing deep profundity. Such authors understand that the average reader’s knowledge of science and the esoteric is limited. Living in an era of “fake news” and “alt facts” why would anyone bother to fact-check or research? Thus, charlatans have carte blanche to haphazardly throw terms and ideas like cow chips at readers to see what sticks.
Jonathan Masters’ book, God Has Infinite Frequency: Aphorisms for a Fractured Age, could have easily fallen into the above category. It does not. Masters does not allow his readers to be bamboozled by their very human want and need for blaming their misfortune and sadness on a higher power. He writes, “These beliefs [of and all-seeing, all-knowing higher power’s responsibility for our misfortune] are tools that can disconnect us from personal responsibility and power; disconnect us from feeling and from ourselves. They permeate everything we do, how we are, how we think, how we act. But reference to an external power different from the experience of God; the experience of a living, integrated truth; harmony with all it is. Heart based, and with extreme appreciation for one’s self and creation.”While reading Master work, I also got sucked into a book called The Last Days of John Lennon by James Patterson. Not a Patterson fan, nevertheless, Lennon has been my hero since I was ten years old, although, my hero worship of Lennon has lessened over the years. Reading about Lennon during the anniversary of his death, put me in a despondent mood. Before re-reading Masters’ book and writing this review, I had to finish the Lennon book, and I had to process my myriad of conflicting and contrasting feelings. At the conclusion of the biography, I could not get pass my initial gloom. I picked up God Has Infinite Frequency and read it from the beginning again, slowly. I started to make connections with Masters’ words and Lennon’s lyrics, specifically to his song:
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”
I didn’t consider his lyrics to be dark or despairing. Processing both Masters and Lennon together, I remembered that we are all human and flawed. But that’s okay. Masters’ work is the other side of the coin of Lennon, the brighter side. However, after Lennon exorcised his demons through the rest of the song, he did find God again, the kind that God Has Infinite Frequency understands. The last lines of
Lennon’s song are:
“I Just believe in me…Yoko and me.”
Lennon’s song, his whole oeuvre, is a prayer to his humanity’s divinity, it’s sacredness and Godhood.
God Has Infinite Frequency is a tribute to the multi-faceted deity, that is grandly us-you and me. Masters, does what Walt Whitman said to do in the first stanza of “Song of Myself”, the beginnings of his magnum opus, “The Leaves of Grass”:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume, you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
In celebration of ourselves, we smile and embrace one simple act, before the beginnings of a kaddish to unlimited potential of humanity. Masters writes,”It is often hard to recognize that our primary relationship is with ourselves. There are so many pieces, reflecting from so many different directions. That is why self- discovery often starts with closing our eyes.”
There is so much in this aphorism, lyric, koan, prayer, whatever you want to call it- to invoke that kernel or essence of what is humane in the word humanity. Masters’ God Has Infinite Frequency would have been…well, no pun intended, a Godsend to me in my early twenties, when I went through a terrible break-up with the mother of my first child, and whom I thought was the love of my life. I was not mature nor experienced enough to handle the destruction of the fragile fledgling universe I built with, and mostly around this person. Physically, emotionally and mentally, I was brought down to my lowest denominator. All that I thought was right and wrong, my ethics, my values, a world of black and white, were tainted by grey stains of self-fulfilled guilt and unrealistic expectations. I was not seasoned enough to rise above my predicament . My indignation only deepened my descent into the mire of pain and jadedness. I lived and loved by example. Raised by a strong single mom, I went to great polar lengths not to be like my abusive father. I vowed in words and proved by my actions that my children would always come first. More than betraying me in the arms of another man, my partner made me a see-you-on- the-weekend-father, which to me, was the epitome of failure.
To reboot myself, twenty-something me voraciously devoured works of literature, philosophy and religion…unaware that I was looking for meaning and validation for my own personal human condition. I wish that God Has Infinite Frequency existed then. Masters’s work is reminiscent of those books that I read in my early twenties to rebuild myself, including, but not limited to, Robert Prisig’s books Zen and the Art of Motorcycles Maintenance and Lila, The Complete Works of Carlos Castaneda, Dan Millman’s The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet, and John Lennon’s posthumous book, Skywriting By Word of Mouth. Reading these books helped me redefine myself, which is also aptly described in Masters’work. He writes, “The basis for peace, harmony and truth is that we understand and experience ourselves as infinitely valuable divine beings.”
If only I read the above words when I was twenty-one. Upon re-reading God Has Infinite Frequency, and with hindsight brought on by traumatic conditioning (I’d like to slap the person the came up with the saying, ‘that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’), I’ve come to the realization that even if I had read those words at twenty-one, I may have had not been ready for them. My pain and guilt might’ve clouded my reason and closed my heart. Masters’ book contains a section called:
“The Closest Thing to the Opposite of God is Guilt” He writes, “Guilt has no feelings, fear or remorse. Guilt will drive you into the ground until there is nothing left, and then tell you it was your fault: you should have done better. You cannot argue with, reason with, make peace with or accommodate guilt. You cannot go past your guilt, either, except temporarily.”
Maybe fifty-three year old me shouldn’t be so hard on twenty-one year old me. After all, my young incarnation was nothing but raw nerve, muscle and in love with being in love, desperately seeking it unconditionally. All I had for examples of ‘true love’ were my gleanings from pop-culture, movies, books and songs. I plodded through and I plodded on. I continue to plod, but I plod in celebration of being alive. I plod with joy. Masters writes, “No part is left out – our pleasure and pain, our hopes and dreams, our successes and failures…Joy comprehends the difficulties and suffering of the world, and expands to others to meet them in the heart. Joy is for and from all the universe and connects us to everything.”
God Has Infinite Frequency is a small book with a great heart and a great brain. Readers will burn through it on their first read, perhaps finding themselves disappointed the first time around. That is because many people equate quality with quantity. Masters’s book appears to be a scant seventy-seven pages, interspersed with various photographs, drawings and paintings that seem unrelated. His art selection might even act as visual binaural beats or tones upon some readers, slowing them down, altering their thinking and emotions. Do not think for a moment, that Jonathan Masters, a professional consultant and teacher of meditation, under the mentoring of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (another John Lennon Jungian synchronicity connection), inventor, businessman and musician-picked the photos, painting and pictures, etc (as well as the artists and his other collaborators) for his book at random. Everything in God Has Infinite Frequency is designed with specificity. The whole time while reading and re-reading his works, I felt a kind, purposeful warm and humble smile emanating from the pages. Masters explains it best in the final section of the book. He writes, “… we belong to the vast totality – our small individualities like so many spots on the leopard, vanishing in the grass, hidden in the Savannah on Earth, rounding the Milky Way, in our tiny corner of space – and an integral part of the whole cosmos.”
-Lee A. Gooden