Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lyons Valley Desert Hike - Photographs by Patty Mooney

This weekend, I went hiking with a small group of people to a place near Lyons Valley. We kept on descending a steep sandy trail in hopes that at the bottom of the canyon there would be a refreshing pool of water to swim in; my husband, Mark, had been there several months ago and said the pool was big enough to dive in and swim across.

There was a chance that the water would have dried up now that it is almost July, but we kept hiking down, down, down hoping for and envisioning a sparkling pool. Alas, there was only enough water left for Mark to dip his hat in and drench his head. It was a perfect illustration of expectation leading to disappointment. Some in the group took it harder than others.

We made the best of it, finding some nice flat boulders to sit on and enjoy our picnic in the shade of some oaks; also, the sky showed mercy by layering up some clouds just under the sun. It was nice to converse and enjoy a cold beer as we mentally prepared for the strenuous climb back up to where the vehicle was parked.

I've been playing with the "Color Accent" and "Color Swap" settings on my Canon Powershot 750, and I like the shots I snapped along the hike. I like the dramatic quality of the clouds.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lady of the Lake and Butterfly - Thoughts on Skinnydipping - by Patty Mooney

Jo at A Majority of Two recently wrote a blog about skinnydipping. One of my husband's nicknames for me is "Lady of the Lake" and we have a few secret swimming holes in our county, so you may know where this is going....

Summer's coming on fast and 'tis the season for skinnydipping. Imagine riding for miles on a mountain bike in the arid landscape and you come upon a stream that is curtained by cattails. There's nobody but you and your husband, and it's a hot day, up in the late 80's or early 90's. Would you do it? Would you shed your clothes and jump in?

Since I finally eliminated the word "guilt" from my language (guilt had been part of my Catholic default) I have never had to think twice about dropping trow and jumping in.

As I commented at Jo's blog: "There are a few swimming holes around here that I love to baptize myself in. You don't baptize yourself wearing clothes, now do ya? The only way to get the full effects of these "fountains of youth" is by allowing the skin to touch the water. Good thing nobody else knows about these places; I'm not so inclined to go nude around too many pairs of eyes."

Just as it was appalling for me years ago to hear that John Ashcroft had wrapped the Spirit of Justice in a drape (at great expense to the taxpayer), I have little patience for puritanical busy-bodies when life is just too short. It's too short to have others tell you what to do or not to do, and it's too short to feel guilty about doing the light-hearted things that make you feel happy.

That's one issue about which the Europeans have left Americans in the dust. Europeans aren't so freaked out by the human body; they embrace it. They have scores of nude beaches and lots of great art featuring the human figure. Michelangelo's "David" is one of the most gorgeous sculptures ever created - of a nude young man. I am glad Mr. Ashcroft has gone back to where he came from and I hope he's taken his eight-thousand-dollar curtain with him.

I just want to know one thing. If God created us in his Image, then why would anyone want to hide their beautiful body under a bushel basket?
Photo of Lady of the Lake and Butterfly by Mark Schulze

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - A Film Reflection by Patty Mooney

Prior to seeing this movie, I was already somewhat enchanted with it, because Brad Pitt is in it, and I have enjoyed his work since first seeing him in "Thelma and Louise." After observing his talents in various other movies, including "Seven Years in Tibet," "Fight Club," "Babel" and "The Mexican," and because Cate Blanchett is one of our best living actresses, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of America's best writers ever, how could "Benjamin Button" NOT be good?

Well, it was not good. It was great. It took one of the top ten spots in my mind of "Best Movies Ever" ranking with "Gone With the Wind," "Little Big Man" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

The tale of Benjamin Button is narrated in the voice of Brad Pitt as his entries in a journal that Daisy's daughter (Julia Ormond) reads to her mother who is dying in a hospital room in New Orleans during a hurricane. It's a period piece, wonderfully directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club" and "Se7en").

Brad Pitt plays the son of a woman who dies in childbirth in 1918 on the day the First World War has ended. Benjamin's father is so grief-stricken by the death of his wife and horrified by the sight of his son who looks like a shriveled old man, that Benjamin almost does not make it beyond the first few minutes of the movie. A police officer shows up just as Mr. Button is about to throw his infant son into the river. Mr. Button darts off, clutching the baby whose life is spared due to "Plan B," which entails leaving the infant in a bundle at the foot of a staircase leading up to a senior citizens home where Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a proud Black woman, is the proprietess.

Queenie's boyfriend, Tizzy, trips on the bundle and is aghast when the blanket is peeled back to reveal the baby's unusual features. His immediate impulse is to take the baby to the police. Queenie gasps at the sight, too, but determines that "this child is special" and makes room for him in her home.

And so Benjamin Button begins his life as a little old man who appears to be in his 80's. But he is surrounded by several seniors who are all on their way to the "next plane" and he enjoys a comfortable "childhood." As the years pass, so, too, do the people, eliciting this observation from Benjamin: "I was thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is." But before Benjamin's friends die, they bestow information or talents that Benjamin will be able to use in his life which appears to be going in the opposite direction. For instance, for several years he is a shrunken bald man relegated to a wheelchair. As time goes on, his hair grows out, and he learns to walk. One lady who boards at Queenie's teaches Benjamin to play the piano. Tizzy has come to accept and love Queenie's "son" and teaches him about Shakespeare.

Another boarder at Queenie's is a woman with a grandchild named "Daisy." It is while Benjamin is around seven that he and Daisy become fast friends. They flow and ebb in and out of each other's lives for the next several decades. Daisy becomes a woman of the world, a ballet dancer of promising talent. Her career is cut short during an interesting segment that shows how if only one of many links in a chain of circumstances had been altered, Daisy would not have been in a car accident that ruined her leg for dancing.

At seventeen Benjamin feels it is time to go and make his way in the world. He becomes second mate on a tug boat, learns about alcohol and women, and the value of money. He has a brief but strong affair with a married woman named Elisabeth (Tilda Swinton) who as a girl almost swam the English Channel but stopped two miles short. She seems wistful and angry about it, much the way she feels about her relationship with her husband. One day Benjamin finds a note simply saying "It was nice to have met you." The loose end of Elisabeth is tied later when Daisy and Benjamin have entered the period when they are both around the same age and madly in love with each other. A television set presents news of a woman who in her sixties has finally swum the English Channel - Elisabeth. Benjamin notes this in the corner of his eye and flashes a smile as Daisy pays no mind to the TV.

It is the nature of man and woman to feel that today will last forever, but in the case of Benjamin and Daisy, their window of fun and frivolity is shorter than it is for most couples. She continues to age while he becomes even younger. In possibly the most poignant scene of the movie, Daisy asks Benjamin, "Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?" He responds, "Would you still love ME if I were young and had acne? When I'm afraid of what's under the bed? Or if I end up wetting the bed?"

When Daisy becomes pregnant and bears the daughter of Benjamin, he realizes that he cannot be the father that the girl will need, and after making financial provisions for his wife and daughter, using the inheritance from his father, he rides away on a motorcycle, in hopes that Daisy will find a worthy man to father his little girl.

I don't want to give too much away, except to say that this film touches on so many issues that are important to us - the relationship between a father and his son, between a mother and daughter, between a man and a woman; the importance of true love, the need for adventure and the requirement to undertake adventure before you are too old; the value of communicating your feelings and of not judging. Even with its long running time (166 minutes) it never lags. Watching Benjamin grow young as all the other characters grew old was truly amazing ; kudos to the special effects and make-up people.
I've read a few reviews of this movie by critics who say that it's magical but not magical enough, that it's dense but yet too airy, that it's everything F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted it to be but it's gumpier than "Forrest Gump." Those reviews are filtered, I'm afraid, through people who look for something to criticize.

As my friend Lori said, "I LOVE this movie. If you wanted to pop it into the DVD player right now, I would sit down and watch it with you all over again."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lamp Hats Light Up Any Restaurant* - by Patty Mooney

Patty's wee lamp hat glows at Pho Saigan Vietnamese Restaurant. Photo by Scott Olson.

Lori's lamp hat is at a jaunty angle; perhaps she is concerned it will fall off. Photo by Mark Schulze.

Scott is wearing el lamp hat grande. Photo by Mark Schulze.

* A glass of wine does not hurt.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Masters of War - A Video by Patty Mooney

I don't know if you have gathered this yet, but I'm a hippy-at-heart. I shot and edited a series of peace music videos a couple of years ago. This one has San Diego peace march footage set to "Masters of War," a Bob Dylan song, covered by a local San Diego band called ACT. I hope you enjoy it.

Peace out!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fifteen - A Poem and Photograph by Patty Mooney

He is fifteen.
He is the new kid, skinny.
He passes through the angst
we all must travel
and sticks to the walls.
He is not so terrible.
He unlocks his father's gun cabinet,
he picks one out
his backpack bulges
cartridges and blue steel.
He is blue, too.
He has mentioned his intentions
to friends who dismissed him.
It is Monday like the song.
At Santana High School
he is patted down by a pal
who bypasses the backpack
that is stacked with anger.
Andy thought he had buried it in Maryland
but he's carried it here to Santee.
The song rolls through his mind
as he strides to the boys' room.
"Tell me why I don't like Mondays,
Tell me why I don't like Mondays."
Before this Monday gets away
he sends bullets
into his disillusionment.
He is a good shot.
Students down crying and screaming,
running and bleeding.
One spirit passes through the constrictions
of body and building.
Andy has freed him.
Another clings to life until later at the hospital
he drifts up like helium.
Andy has freed him.
Andy methodically pounds out four rounds.
The clips click smartly.
The students are dancing to his tune now.
An officer, gauging the beat between pops
tackles the boy, makes him stop.
The bloody bathroom spins around them.
The boy is relieved of his father's weapon.
He is fifteen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Earliest Known Lamp Hat - by Patty Mooney

I believe this to be the earliest known photograph from the "Lamp Hat Collection," unwittingly snapped by my husband and partner, Mark Schulze, when we met the Great Comic Book Maven, Stan Lee, at San Diego Comic Con in 1996. Both Mark and I were impressed by Stan's obvious joy for life and of course his boundless talents in the comic book realm.

By the look on Stan's face, it seems possible that he knows he is participating in the birth of a revolutionary photographic style, which flies in the face of all you are not supposed to do while taking a portrait, to be known 13 years later as the "Lamp Hat Collection." (At least that's what I call it.)

I will be adding more of the Lamp Hat Collection in the near future, because everyone I know can use a good laugh.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Negativity and Positivity - by Patty Mooney

Toni at Seaweed and Gardenias recently posted a provocative blog on the theme of "Negativity." She sent this missive out into the world:

What do you do when you are surrounded by negativity, and it is draining the life's blood out of you? How do you deal with people who are motivated by anger and look for only the negative and never the positive? We have all had to deal with that at some point in our lives, and it can wreak havoc on our confidence and sense of self-worth. And it has sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy effect -- the harder you try to do something right, the more you know you are going to do it wrong. More negativity, more lack of confidence, and around and around it goes. Oh, you can do something good such as teach people a new skill, or volunteer to take on some project that no one else wants to do -- or whatever. Those are positive things, but it's not as much fun to point out the positives. The negatives are so much more exciting.

I think there are people who tend to look for the negatives in other people, in order to make themselves feel better. It's true. German people even have a name for it -- schadenfreude -- meaning "delight at the misfortune of others". I see it all the time, I watch people doing it to each other -- perfectly nice people -- and I think it may be human nature."

Oh my goodness, will you look at that. I'm glad it's him and not me."

Or perhaps it's to detract from the what they may perceive as their own shortcomings. I think the flip side of negativity may be fear. In my opinion, the best we can do is to try to be kind to each other. You never know what is going on in someone else's life, and in such cases, a little positivity goes a very long way. We're all only human, and none of us gets out of here alive.

I'm sure this is a topic that comes up a lot for people. I decided to leave this comment:

I would say not to hang out around the negative people, and spend more time around other positive people. There is also something I learned when my hubby and I were having the toughest time in our marriage that a counselor told me. It's the most valuable advice I ever received. He said "When you least want to tell your husband you love him, that is the time to do it. Just go to him and tell him you love him and you don't want to argue anymore. And then give him a hug." There was a moment when I did this, and that moment shifted our entire future. We've now been together for nearly 28 years. Best piece of advice ever.

I decided to go deeper into this, for the benefit of others who may be suffering from the effects of negativity, as well. After all, our world is filled with all sorts of opportunities to get depressed, dejected, and affected by other people's ill moods.

My dad used to call me "Smiley" and I have always been a happy girl/ woman by nature. There have been, however, several times when I fell victim to negativity. When I was nineteen I reveled in the poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Both these poets committed suicide, the thought of which was quite alluring to me. Fortunately, that was teenage angst and I got over it in due time.

I discovered in my early 20s that as long as I followed my heart, which meant listening to that "deep inner voice," then I was following a line of happiness. Anytime I veered, going against that inner voice, then I suffered. From then on it was a matter of practice.

I studied populist philosophers like Eckhart Tolle ("Power of Now") and Richard Bach ("Illusions"). I dropped the word "can't" from my vocabulary, understanding that there is no such thing. The truth is that I "won't". Realizing the difference means accepting the responsibility of saying that you won't do something.

I learned more of my own universal creative powers by studying Julia Cameron's creativity manuals, "The Artist's Way" and "The Vein of Gold" which helped me change my life. I highly suggest reading and following the instructions in both of these books because they are very powerful.

The thing is, it takes work to learn how to be positive, especially in the face of all the negative emotions running rampant in our world. You have to stand strong as yourself. But once you have the essentials down, then you can essentially cruise, manifesting positive moments in your life.

Surround yourself with others who are positive, learn a new art, explore life as fully as you can, for as Benjamin Button says (in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"):

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sun in the Lens - A Poem by Patty Mooney

Perfectly round
like someone
used a compass
to draw a circle
and water-colored
inside it absolutely


Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Happy Day - A New Award - by Patty Mooney

This is a lovely award given to me by Toni at Seaweed and Gardenias. She gets me! Quote:

1. Patty Mooney, at A Diary Left Open, because she does what Beth does so well -- words and pictures that both (separately and together) tend to leave me gasping with delight and introspection. I love Patty's poetry, mainly, and her cheeky humor!

Jenn of Barefoot in the Sand created the award. Jenn says "You can never extinguish the Light that Shines brightly within all of us. If there is Hope, there is Light, if there is a Dream, that same Light will lead the way, and this Award I created this evening reflects that Creative Spark, that Light we all hold within us, but there are certain people who come to mind that Shine So Brightly that you can't help notice the Warmth that illuminates in all they do, and in what they represent and just who they are."

This is a thought I agree on, and it brings to mind something that Sherill the Egg Man was fond of saying (he used to sell eggs, bee pollen and honey at the local farmers market, and passed away a few years ago): "We are all one; the only thing separating us is our skin."

The Light is Love and Love is All there Is.

I wish to now bestow this award upon the following blogsters:

1. Kris at Resweater - So creative and colorful, sharing whimsical designs and fabulous ideas about creating with recycled wool.

2. Bush Babe at Bush Babe - Animals and flowers and family and fun, down to the grittiest and most awesome of moments, with a side of Aussie humor.

3. Comedy Goddess at Comedy Goddess - From subtle (although rarely) to side-splitting, her humor is like a forbidden mug of spiked cocoa topped with a huge dollop of whipped cream

4. Irish Gumbo at Irish Gumbo - Another dose of laughter, and this time the forbidden beverage is Guinness, pulled just right.

5. Kate at Hella Gloire - As Kate herself will tell you, "Exploring Cultural Evolution and Tobacco Control. Driven by the thrill of hope." Cool.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

After the Fall - by Patty Mooney

I don't know if I have mentioned before that I write articles for an online ezine called Mountain Bike Tales. Here is the latest story appearing in their June/July issue:

My husband, Mark, and I first met on Valentine’s Day in 1982. We have been on quite a few adventures, including a grizzly attack in the Yukon, a shark feeding frenzy at the Great Barrier Reef, and in 1993 we produced “Full Cycle: A World Odyssey,” a multiple-award-winning documentary – the first-ever “reality show,” if you will, in which we rode the most amazing trails of nine different countries on our mountain bikes. In a way, it was the “endless summer” of mountain biking.

You’d think that someone who lived life “on the edge” would always be engaged in some new and exciting adventure. But in January of 1996 I had come to a point when I felt sad about the condition of our planet, and my part in it. I was distracted from living in the moment. I felt I’d lost the ambition that I’d had at the age of nineteen when I hitchhiked from Detroit to California to begin my life. Now, a lifetime away from that passionate girl, at the age of forty, in my darkest moments it seemed I had seen everything, done it all. What more could life offer me?

Then one Saturday morning Mark and I awoke early for a special ride with some friends at the site of an old abandoned railway known as Carrizo Gorge. All along the trail, the views are spectacular. You can gaze for miles at the ranges of high-desert mountains covered in sage and cacti. A stream meanders 400 feet in the gorge below. These features attract mountain bikers and hikers who use a single-track trail alongside the train track. Sporadically you come upon sections where the trail falls away, but by then you should be on the train track continuing on.

It was a gorgeous day, bright and hot with a blue sky and some stratus clouds to decorate the view. We biked the trail for about 20 miles to a flat desert area near Dos Cabezas where we had lunch. Then we started the 4% grade back up to our cars. As the miles mounted, the heat and exertion began to take their toll. My friend, Lisa, brushed her hand into a cactus and had to pluck out about four of the barbed needles. Lisa’s housemate, John, flipped over on his bike and ended up with a piece of cholla (jumping cactus) imbedded in his arm. But all that was nothing compared to what lay ahead...

With about six miles left to go, I was getting tired and distracted. I turned to say something to Mark, who was riding behind me. When I turned forward, I suddenly became aware of my surroundings. The trail had narrowed to almost nothing and there was only about a foot between the track and the cliff’s edge. I stopped, intending to step onto the train track, but the bike and my weight both tipped me to the right. Unable to recapture my balance, I took a long step off the sheer cliff.

I felt the bike separate from my body. I tumbled and tossed, protecting my face and head with my arms and took a jolt on the front of my helmet. My life did not flash in front of my eyes – only the thought that I had to make myself stop falling immediately. My legs hit some sharp rocks, precipitating the need for stitches later. Then I landed flat on my butt, on a ledge, jarred awake, gazing down at my bike bouncing 400 feet into the ravine below.

I thought: “I’m alive!” “I could have died!” “I almost lost it all!” Then Mark was there at my side. He kissed me immediately, looking into my eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked, testing my limbs. “Any broken bones?”

“No.” I knew nothing was broken, just scraped and gouged. Boy, was I lucky.

Then, pointing back down into the gorge, I shouted, “My bike!” Mark knew I was okay then.

“I’ll go get it,” he said, shoving me back against the rock. “You stay here.”

He made his way down to the bottom, as Lisa and John helped me climb back up the cliff. I felt a little woozy, noticing with a sick feeling how much blood there was on my legs, particularly a gouge in the left inner knee. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I could topple backwards and really get hurt. Finally, back up and safely away from the cliff, I looked down to see Mark carrying my twenty-five pound neon-orange Klein “Attitude” back up the four hundred feet.

I began hysterically crying, repeating “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I couldn’t shake the vision of having taken that endless step into space. That same moment kept haunting me, because I realized immediately I had almost died. “Can you ride back to the car, Patty?” Lisa gently asked.
“Yes,” I said. I raised Mark’s bike off the ground where he had dropped it before leaping down to my side. I straddled it. I was afraid to ride, but I began. Lisa rode behind me, trying her best to stave my ranting “Oh my God!” The whole scene kept replaying like a looped video.

“Breathe deep, Pat,” Lisa said. “Breathe deep.”

I did. With Lisa’s guidance, I rode Mark’s bike the six miles back to the car, keeping well away from the edge of the cliff. Filled with guilt, I kept thinking that Mark had to carry the bike all the way back to the car, six miles of torture.

In his haste to get me to the hospital, Mark jogged back to the car with the bike on his back. I was so glad to see him! He packed the badly-broken bike and me into our car, bid goodbye to Lisa and John, then raced back to San Diego to the hospital. As we sailed down the road, a plainclothes cop drove alongside us briefly, and flashed his badge, as though he wanted us to pull over. Then, when he noticed my bloody legs up on the dashboard, he quickly fell away. We made it to the hospital in 45 minutes, where being drenched in your own blood gives you priority over everyone else in Emergency. It took four hours to get stitches and x-rays. They found no broken bones, which was another lucky thing. Now looking back at the entire ordeal, I marvel at all the ways Mark showed me he loved me.

What lessons did I learn? First and foremost, enjoy life. But enjoy it now. You don’t know what awaits you around the next bend. Appreciate what you’ve got. Sometimes you act like you don’t know what you’ve got until a fateful moment almost takes it all away.

As soon as the stitches came out, I jumped back on my bike again. I even returned to the gorge the following year, and then several times after that, where I would look down that sheer rocky cliff at the ledge upon which I had landed; it looked so small and insignificant. A friend would later refer to it as the “Hand of God.” I’m not what you’d call a religious woman, but each time I saw that rock, I’d whisper a little “thank you” – what some might call a prayer.

Patty Mooney has been riding a bicycle since she was seven years old. In 1986, she and her husband, Mark Schulze, discovered the sport of mountain biking while traveling through Canada where a mountain was rated by the amount of headers one was liable to experience while riding down it. Both Mooney and Schulze were hooked and bought a couple of Alpina Sport mountain bikes to ride the local San Diego trails. They married in the mountains on their mountain bikes, then began racing. And then it occurred to the video production duo to begin producing how-to mountain bike videos which were the first of the genre. To learn more about their classic mtb titles, go to New Unique Videos.

Friday, June 19, 2009

As Services Improve, Combat Veterans Need Our Attention Now More than Ever - by Lane Tobias

I remember the morning of September 11, 2001 well. I was sitting in a study hall at my high school in Teaneck, New Jersey, listening to a radio host announce that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Three friends and I hopped in a car and sped down the Jersey Turnpike. We pulled over in the Vince Lombardi rest area just in time to watch the towers fall from across the Hudson River.

Being that I was a 17 year old and had yet to form any personal beliefs, my friends and I decided that morning that we would enlist in the Army and go get Osama. Forget that most of us had post-high school plans (in my case, college). It was our duty as Americans, as people who had been blessed to grow up in a middle class, multicultural environment where we were taught from a young age how far this country had come in terms of tolerance, to protect our liberty and make sure the thousands who perished that morning didn’t die in vain.

Three days later, my varsity soccer team played our first game of the season against Memorial High School of West New York, which is one of the small cities along the Hudson River across from Manhattan. Their team was made up of mostly first generation Hispanic immigrants and our team had a different, but similarly intriguing, makeup of kids with European, African, Jamaican, Hispanic, and Asian backgrounds. Before the game, each team lined up as the National Anthem was played and the American flag was raised. We could literally see and smell the smoke billowing from “Ground Zero” (although I don’t think it had yet been called that), and the image of these two predominantly minority soccer teams standing across from each other as the anthem played and the smoke billowed has stayed with me to this day.

There are probably some uneducated people out there who read the OB Rag and question my patriotism. I have been called a pinko, a terrorist, Anti-American, etc. For those who feel that way, tell me where you were on 9/11. Tell me if you cut school to go down to the ferry landings along the Hudson River to give firemen from New Jersey departments a ride home after spending hours looking for survivors. Moments like the one I had prior to that soccer game have left me with an indelible and undeniable dedication to this country. That is why it pains me so much to see us fighting wars overseas when we have our own battles with poverty, hunger, and homelessness going on right here at home.

Looking back, it was probably a good thing for me that instead of enlisting in the Army on 9/11, I got together with some friends and got stoned. Over the course of my four years at Ithaca College, I learned about the atrocities of war and the value of non-violence. I am now a pacifist through and through, and at the time formed fairly radical opinions regarding the military. I had come to the foregone conclusion that anyone who joined the armed forces was continuing centuries of imperialism that had made America a polarizing world power in global politics. Even if someone never fired a gun in combat, in my mind they were still somehow killing women and children in wars that had nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with our economy.
Since moving to San Diego a little over a year ago, I have begun to take on a more understanding viewpoint regarding the men and women who serve in the armed forces. While I still identify as a peacenik, a pacifist, a quasi-socialist, and a progressive, I have formed close friendships with people who served or are serving in the military. Through these friendships, I have learned that most people enlist not because they are war mongers, but instead to build a career and take care of their families.

I have also begun to learn that while these brave soldiers are risking their lives overseas, some are undoubtedly questioning why they are there - which I take some solace in. These folks are dedicated to protecting our freedoms, despite the fact that the wars they are fighting are becoming less and less popular as time wears on. As I have begun to further appreciate veterans’ dedication and patriotism (while still disagreeing with our presence overseas), I have also started to question why about 200,000 military veterans are homeless. It is ironic and utterly despicable that after protecting and serving this country, the country has done nothing to protect and serve them back.

A few months ago, I volunteered to review “The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans”, a documentary by Patty Mooney and Mark Schulze that depicts homeless combat veterans in San Diego. At first view, I was emotionally uninterested. This was due in large part to the fact I had just begun working as a case manager with homeless individuals and families, and was admittedly burned out by the word “homeless”. The second time I watched the documentary I found myself attached to the screen, as I have settled into my job and become further dedicated to serving San Diego’s homeless and hungry.

Presented with one-on-one accounts from homeless veterans, outreach workers, advocates, and politicians, the viewer is continuously reminded that most combat veterans are suffering from some form of mental illness related to their experiences at war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the prevailing illness in the lives of veterans, and the documentary does an excellent job of explaining the vicious cycle that can lead once functional, affable, dedicated people into extreme mental illness and eventually, homelessness.

The statistics provided in the documentary regarding homeless combat veterans are jarring: 10% of California’s military veterans live in San Diego, and somewhere between 30% and 40% are homeless – putting that population at somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 people.
Veterans Village of San Diego Treatment Center director Gary Parker estimates in the film that 40% of San Diego’s homeless are veterans. If those statistics are somewhat close to true (my personal experience has led me to believe that statistics regarding the homeless are well below the reality, due to the difficulty in collecting hard data) that means we have at least 2,000 homeless veterans here in San Diego – most of which have extreme cases of PTSD. In consequence of not getting proper psychiatric and medical treatment upon returning from combat, many of these people have concurrent drug and alcohol addictions. Here in America’s Finest City, we have thousands of people just like that living on our streets.

The documentary primarily recounts the services provided by organizations dedicated to military veterans. One of these organizations, Veterans Village of San Diego, formed in the early 80’s by Vietnam Veterans struggling to make it on their own. It has now become one of the most successful and well-regarded homeless recovery programs in San Diego.

On its website, the Village is described as having originally started “as a social model” that is “now integrated with structured case management and mental health therapy”. Veterans Village is unique in that it has services that address mental health, addiction, medical needs, family issues, and employment training all in the same place. They also have a sober living program for veterans who pass through their recovery programs that will soon be able to house over 200 people – making it an all encompassing service center for people who need it the most.

Another organization/annual event depicted in the film, Stand Down, is targeted more at those who are not yet comfortable seeking assistance from a systemic organization like the Village but may still benefit from attending a one-time event where they can learn what is available to them and seek help. Stand Down, which began here in San Diego two decades ago and has now become a nationwide event, is credited with being the first prominent event to bring attention to homeless veterans. While the two are not directly related, Stand Down can be seen as a gateway to the services provided at places like the Village (which were not available at the time veterans were returning from Korea or Vietnam) and might provide new information for someone who has been living on the street for many years but has yet to seek help.

Throughout the film, service providers are optimistic for the future of returning combat veterans due to the advancement in services available today as opposed to thirty years ago. There is concern, however, that the sheer number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will make it difficult to reach everyone who needs help.

According to the Patrick McCaffrey Foundation, as of July 2006 approximately 18,490 soldiers had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with major injuries. Imagine how that number has grown in three years. The signature injury of the current war is brain injury that may not show full effects until later on, and the worry is that the people who do not properly treat these injuries may inevitably fall into homelessness and drug addiction – the same cycle all over again.

Much has been said recently about the changing face of homelessness, as more families and individuals are being forced to the streets by the deepening recession and the inevitable job losses that come with it. This documentary, and more importantly the work of organizations such as VVSD and Stand Down, remind us that the face of homelessness really hasn’t changed all that much. It is a defining characteristic of American culture when those who literally risk their lives to protect our freedoms are left to fend for themselves when all they really need is preventive support. It is also characteristic of our lack of compassion to the homeless in general; if we didn’t turn such a blind eye to those living on the street around us, maybe veterans wouldn’t be at such high risk of becoming homeless in the first place.

During the documentary, the idea of seeking out homeless veterans and offering help rather than making them come and find it was brought up a number of times. Maybe the “Invisible Ones” are too proud, embarrassed, or mentally ill to come forward on their own – but those barriers should not prevent us from providing them with services in a dignified way. I am personally conflicted on this issue; on one hand, more people would utilize services if they are brought right to them.

On the other hand, if someone has to find their way to a service provider on their own, it shows they are dedicated to getting help. In the case of veterans, however, the barriers to seeking help (drug addiction, PTSD, paranoia) brought on by living on the street are so influential that word of mouth may not be enough. Inevitably, much of the impetus is on us. Although part of the stimulus package extended benefits for veterans, it is through citizen action that true legislative change will come. If we are going to reach the unreachable, we all have to chip in.

Overall, I thought the documentary did a great job of presenting homelessness amongst combat veterans as a problem we all need to take interest in – not just those who “support the troops” overseas. If you are like me and want to put an end to wars and violence, it is imperative that we publicize the devastating effects on long term mental health and well-being that wars have on soldiers, their families, and inevitably, the communities they return to.
As Dr. Jon Nachison, co-founder of Stand Down and a Vietnam veteran himself, stood inside San Diego’s winter shelter tent, he philosophized on the irony of society’s treatment of homeless veterans: “I’d like to see a day when we don’t need to shelter people in a tent like this. Because one of the things I wonder is are we sheltering the vets or are we sheltering the people out there from seeing the vets”.

I wonder too.

For more information about how you can help our homeless combat veterans and learn more about veterans’ issues here in San Diego and elsewhere, please visit the websites below:

http://www.vvsd.net/ - Veterans Village San Diego
http://www.vvsd.net/standdown.htm - San Diego Stand Down
http://www.sduvc.org/ - United Veterans Council of San Diego
http://www.sdvfp.org/ - San Diego Veterans for Peace
http://www.cavaf.org/ - California Veterans Assistance Foundation
http://www.veteransvillage.org/ - Patrick McCaffrey Foundation
http://www.iava.org/ – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fun With Wordle - by Patty Mooney

Wordle: Blog Fodder

I just discovered this new site called Wordle.
It creates these "word clouds" based on whatever words and/or phrases you submit.

The one above reflects my blog from the last couple of days. And for the one below, I typed in specific words of my own choosing.

Wordle: Peace Love & Joy

Check it out. It's fun! I think that poets are really going to enjoy it. And it's interesting to get a pulse on what is going through people's minds.

As it says on their website:

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Folding Sheets at Mel's - A Poem by Patty Mooney

Grandma said,
Never trust a man
with gap teeth
and yet
here I am
working at Mel's
Massage Parlor
conveniently located
off Highway 5
Mission Bay.

I plunge
my hands
into a basket
of sheets hot
from the dryer
and begin to fold.

When I was fourteen
and crying
in the hallway
struggling with
a King-size sheet
Dad taught me how
to square up
the corners
and compact
that Percale.

Mel's twin sheets
are floral,
coconut oil spots.

Three masseuses
each give seven
massages a day;
washer and dryer
cough out
a lot of cotton.

I stuff
my stack of linen
in the closet
then head to my room
where the auto mogul
from Mile of Cars,
the Honest one,
under a clean sheet.
He comes
in every week,
requesting me.

When I have him
on his back
he will once again
ask if I give extras.
Once again
I will tell him no.

As published in Acorn Review, 9/02
Photo credit: "Folded Flat Sheet" by Jennifer Helen

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flowers Abloom in San Diego June - Photographs by Patty Mooney

I often wonder what we humans would do without art, music and flowers. This is my latest collection of flowers blooming in mid-June at San Diego's Balboa Park.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Art of Andean Retablos at San Diego Museum of Man - Photos and Story by Patty Mooney

I have long been fascinated by the indigenous people of South America and Mexico. Back in 1997, Mark and I visited Peru with special stops in Lima, Cuzco and Macchu Picchu. We went to several museums where we learned much about the culture and history of the Incans and Peruvians. And we trolled through several curio shops to see and purchase some of the local crafts.

What we did not see were any retablos, which are now being featured at the San Diego Museum of Man. So it is with great curiosity and fascination that we stepped into the exhibit last week. "The Art of Andean Retablos: Religion, Tradition, and Social Commentary" is the name of the exhibition. When they arrived in Peru in the 16th Century, Spanish Conquistadors brought retablos with them. In the "Old World" these retablos were used as portable altars, and warriors were known to carry them into battle throughout the Crusades.

The retablos of the "New World" became advertisements for the Catholic faith which seemed to spread like fire on a dried field.

The works of retablo artist, Nicario Jimenez Quispe are prominently featured in the San Diego Museum of Man exhibit. When I googled his name, I saw that he is relatively known in Spanish-speaking countries, but little has been written about him internationally. I hope this blog will help to change that.

One of the more striking pieces is Quispe's "Pistaku o Nakaq" which he constructed out of wood, potato, Plaster of Paris, paint, nails and metal hinges in 1995. It features three separate "floors" on which three separate time frames are depicted, with the rendering of grease from the bodies of human beings. The top, according to Quispe's description, shows "The colonial period with robed Spanish priests rendering grease from the bodies of Indian women and children to make bells for the Catholic church." The middle shows "Modern period with Pistaku's in plain clothes rendering bodies to lubricate planes, pay the foreign debt, and make bells."

And the bottom shows "Period of Sendero Luminoso with an armed military figure in the background and grease being used on the helicopters that attack the highland people."

When I saw this work and read the descriptions, I had the same sense of disorientation and disgust as when I was a teenager and read a passage in Leon Uris's "Exodus" speaking of how the skin had been flayed from Jews during the holocaust for use in lamp shades. I don't believe in "evil." I do, however, believe that these kinds of acts are perpetrated by people out of fear or ignorance.

Quispe also created works addressing the ongoing immigration issue, showing how people on both sides feel about it. Mexicans feel that America is and always has been their true homeland and that borders have been politically manipulated. Many of them live in constant fear of capture by police.

At the same time, Caucasian-Americans believe that Mexicans are sneaking through the border to take advantage of benefits that are in place strictly for the US citizens. Ghandi was fond of saying that there is always a middle ground, a place where both sides can come to some agreement. I feel that way, too; however, where is that middle ground? Can it truly exist as our population continues to skyrocket? Why can't we all just get along?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Everyone Is Buddha - A Poem and Photograph by Patty Mooney

Everyone is Buddha.
The drunk guy sleeping it off on the bus bench,
yesterday's news as blanket;
the woman pushing her basket up Broadway,
wheels shrieking like crows;
the ingenue in her red suit hurrying
towards the building.

Everyone is Buddha.
The girl with glittery nails
jacked up on Pepsi;
the man in his wheelchair
flashing a finger at the bus driver;
the Saudi cabbie with no air conditioning
waiting for yellow lights.

Everyone is Buddha.
The teen with rings, studs and acne;
the grandfather who stops to hold his chest;
the cop pulling into the parking lot
of Krispy Kreme.

Everyone is Buddha.
The ants at your picnic,
barging into carbs and sugars;
the flies on the windowsill frozen in Winter,
thawed by Spring;
the raccoons that choose moonless nights
to raid your fig trees.

Hummingbirds, horses, chickens, cows,
gnats and iguanas, all infused with light.
Golden breath streams from the Himalayas.
A messenger waits outside your delusions,
patient, loving, happy.
Say hello to Buddha.
Om a hom.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More From the "Lamp Hat Collection"

This amazing shot was captured by Judy (below). It's quite an intricate lamp hat.

Judy is modeling a more subtle lamp hat while riding around in a car.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Introducing the "Lamp Hat Collection"

Okay, you heard it (and saw it) here first! I have been nurturing this concept since Thanksgiving of 2008 when I noticed that there were some lamps irresistably positioned behind people's heads, and they looked just like little hats. Ever since then I've been taking photographs of people wearing "lamp hats" whenever I see them. It absolutely flies in the face of the rule that thou shalt not photograph anyone with something growing up out of their head. I will eventually dig up the first shots in the Lamp Hat Collection. But in the meantime, here are the latest two. Please feel free to laugh your butt off, and then add to the collective Lamp Hat Collection with your own offerings.

Walker wears his lamp hat at a jaunty tilt.

Annie looks sassy in her lamp hat

Photos by Mark Schulze

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Evening at Scripps Aquarium - Photos and Story by Patty Mooney

Who knew that the Scripps Aquarium could also be a great party venue? UCSD figured it out and held a great little soiree for alumni and since Mark is an alum, we both enjoyed a remarkable evening seeing old friends and meeting some new ones. Couples brought their children who enjoyed looking at the exhibits inside and particularly the tide pools outside. It was a lovely evening. The sunset on the Pacific Ocean was also not half bad, either!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Coronado Is Beautiful - Photos by Patty Mooney

Just over the bridge from San Diego is a small "island" called Coronado where the Navy has a base called North Island. Coronado is not technically an island because the southernmost tip is connected to Imperial Beach which is several miles south of San Diego.

South of North Island Coronado, tourists will find a beautiful stretch of sand called "The Silver Strand" where kids and "children at heart" all love to play.

You've got your avid runners and recreational devotees. That is Point Loma with its light house barely discernable in the haze.

One day a couple of months ago, Mark and I spent an afternoon near the Hotel Del Coronado (famous for several movies which were produced on location there including "Some Like It Hot" with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon; and "Stunt Man." Also there is some purported activity of the paranormal kind, as in a haunted room with ghosts, and no, not Marilyn's. While meandering down the ocean walk in front of the hotel, Mark and I met this guy. He calls himself the "Sand Man." Well, after having met the "Water Man," we should have known that the Sand Man would be waiting in the wings, so to speak.

The Sand Man began to create for us this beautiful piece of temporary art. Do you know how thrilling it is to see your very own name drawn with sand on a sidewalk?

We don't know if he is homeless, but suspect that he may be. We gave him a little something for his efforts. If ever you encounter him along the beach of Coronado, say hello. But be prepared to spend at least half an hour because he loves to talk and he has plenty of tales to share. You will not be able to get a word in edgewise.

And voila, the finished piece! It just goes to show you how temporary we all are.

And then we bid adieu to the Sand Man.