The Museum as Art: Tadeo Ando and Ryue Nishizawa

” When a fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the wayer. When a bird flies, no matter how high it fileis, it cannot reach the end of the sky. When a bird’s need or the fish’s need is great, the range is large. When the need is mall, the range is mall. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole of space and vigorously acts in every place.”–Genjokaon, Eiheiji Dogen

Imagine a favorite modern art building designed by a star architect in your city. Now take out all the art except for one piece or 15 or 30 pieces. Welcome to the new world of art on Naoshima and Teshima Islands in Japan, The  Benesse Corporation has created 4 museums, three designed by Tadeo Ando and the fourth by Ryue Nishizawa. Despite the “lack” of art in these museums, I only had time to visit three in the two days I was there. In each time move on its own pace unrelated to world time or even museum time. With so little to see, the amount of time to experience felt endless. 

There will be few pictures in this blog because photography was extremely limited.  Museums as Art also meant the the ban on photographing exhibits extended to the buildings themselves. The freestanding art outside was not part of this prohibition.

The Chichu Art Museum is a Tadao Ando concrete masterpiece built into the top of a hill overlooking the Seto (Inland) Sea. From the ticket center, you walk upwards through a garden filled with flowers, trees, a stream, a pond, refreshing in the coolness of the trail on a warm humid day. The museum is entered through a long concrete tunnel and walkway that  twists and turns and takes you down some flights of steps. It was long enough to make you wonder if you missed something. Is it possible that a person can we be walking this long in an art museums without any art. Ando creates experiences for humans, not places to hang pieces on a wall. 

When we do break through the maze, we are confronted with our only decision: which of the three artists, with eight works total on three floors to see first.

The Walter de Maria room is a modern ancient temple. The front wall is about 50 feet high and the room extends about 150 feet long. A massive staircase the width of the room occupies most of waht you see with flat spaces on top and bottom and a third of the way up. All white/ grey concrete. There is a lowered ceiling that has a slot allowing a direct view if the sky, while around the edges of the lowered ceiling diffused light comes through from openings we cannot see. There are no other light sources. Around the walls are 27 pairs of guided wooden columns about 4 feet high. The are arranged on the entry wall, the rear wall with just a few on the long walls. 

In the middle of the central stair platform is is a 2.2 meter diameter round black marble which looks like to could roll down the steps. However it was held in place, was not apparent although once could touch it and several people tried to push it. Such is human nature. It reflects the light particularly from the slit in the ceiling. 

People sit on the stairs above it and below it in quiet worship. It might be a long-lost recovered temple to the room itself. In re-looking at the brochure, I just noticed the name of the room, Time/Timelessness/NoTime.

The Monet Waterlilies room requires you to take off your shoes and don white soft slippers. The floor is composed of white miniature thick ceramics with no visible grout. The corners where the white walls meet are rounded. Again only diffused light enters the room from a lowered white ceiling; there are no electric lights. On each of three walls are hung one waterlily painting. The fourth had two smaller paintings. For about 15 minutes, no one else was there but me, the guard and the waterlilies. Being alone with such art is dangerous. I began to let the paintings speak to me, instead of the catalogue describing THE ART. I was bothered first that the largest of the works had this large reddish area blocking the views of the water lilies. In the endless time I had, I began to see and create my own stories of fire and light around this no longer serene pond. Like i said, it’s dangerous to let people alone with art, they may react.

The final room was James Turrell, the artist of light, vision and created environments. Open Skies is a large room with the ceiling open to the sky. Completely open to air, the clouds, the rain and sun. It was a dull day out, soon to rain, and  the sky white and grey just slowly moving. In the evenings, Turrell plays with our vision by bathing the walls in different hues which shockingly paints the open skies in new and vibrant colors.

In the next room was his Open Field. Up a staircase of black steps you enter a glowing magenta room which feels soft and misty, walking through a fog bank that’s perfectly clear while casting a spell on the air itself. The more you walk, the more the space seems contained yet endless. 

As you walk through again the corridors, Ando leads your eye to look at the building and your reactions. The one exception to the photography ban is from where I am sitting outside the cafe where you take pictures of the scenery. 

At 4:56 Japanese time on June 24, this is what I see.

Lower down the hill is the Benesse Art Museum. Here is the view from the from entrance.


 It was realively more crowded with art, 30 pieces or so over three floors. I remember three pieces by Richard Long, one ring filled with cut stone, another with driftwood from the Seto Sea and a third of two circles painted on a wall with what looked like mud.  For some reason their lack of importability struck me. That’s when I realized that they were created for the building and space so they don’t have to move.

In contrast, one of the temporary pieces was called Weeds by Yoshihiro Suda. Weeds were indeed the one thing missing from Ando’s building. All concrete has cracks and weeds are the first to grow. Now they complete the space. Here’s a picture from the Benesse website. 


Outside on the grounds are additional pieces of work. 


Drink a Cup of Tea, Kazuo Katase


Pumpkin, Yayoi Kasuma


Seen/Unseen, Known/Unknown, Walter de Maria (The hat was actually a found object.)

On my last day in the islands, I took a ferry to Teshima Island, the home of the Teshima Art Musuem. The museum was designed by Ryue Nishizawa and the interior piece, there’s one and only one, was designed by Rei Naito who did the Art House Project  called Kinza  which I had experienced by myself a few days before. The Museum is a white concrete shell like some sort of oblongish saucer foot ball field size with two oblong holes in the ceiling. 


Each hole has a white ribbon hanging from side to side like an ethereal swing which blows and shimmers in the wind.  The smooth white concrete floor had tiny pinpoint holes where water exudes in drops. The drops coagulate and move following unseen pathways only known to them, sometimes swiftly like shape-shifting snakes, other times simply blobs of water joining with other blobs until that mass starts moving. There also occasional strings from the ceiling and small round white objects on the floor. We enter, as one does to temples, barefoot and can feel the coolness of the concrete through our feet. All throughout people are silently sitting some on their knees in seiza, as it is Japan and they know that position from birth, others walking sitting breathing lying in awe.

My Words are My Memory: Transcendent Art on Naoshima

The Art House Project in Homura on Naoshima took 6 houses many 100-200 years old and a Shinto Shrine and created art in each. I spent 5 hours walking around this small village in a state of awe. Most of the spaces don’t allow photography, so my words are my memory. 

1. Imagine a square pool of water in an old Japanese house filling a room. The only lights are In the water: 125 LED lights counting from 1-9. Each counter represented a person on the island who determined the speed of the change. Kadoya, Tatsuo Miyajima

2. A 30 foot tunnel about 2 feet wide and 6 feet high is lined with smooth marble. You have a flashlight but don’t need it until the end. You turn into the blackness and turn on your light. The walls are rock, cave-like or tomb-like. Then your flashlight reflects light, in front of you is a staircase which looks like it’s made of ice with water dripping down. Go’o Shrine, Hiroshi Sugimoto 


3. You are led into a dark room by a guide who says keep your right hand to the wall. After the first turn it is pitch dark. You make several more turns and she invites you to sit and says, “Please wait 5-8 minutes.” You sit seeing nothing, listening to your breath. Nothing but darkness. Not even hallucinations. Nothing. You pay attention to your breathing so as not to let the fear of no seeing take over your mind. Then without announcement you begin to notice some light shapes on two of the walls and eventually light emanating from a large screen or maybe these are the hallucinations.  The guide invites you, “You can move around in the space now.”  You walk and see nothing in particular but the light is comforting in the dark. It’s not real light but a light that is not darkness. When you reach the place that you think there is a screen, your hand tries to touch and hits nothing. You begin to make your own movies of the lights. Nothing again. The guide beckons you to leave. This time you don’t need your hand on the wall to guide you. In the beginning of language there were no names for color, just light and dark. I experienced that today. Minamidera, James Turrell and Tadeo Ando

4. You take a break to eat and begin to notice big and little things, the sounds around you, the lushness of the land, the colors of everything. Your perceptions. 


5. You enter a large house formerly a dentists office. In one tall room the walls are painted shiny black in areas and a less shiny black in others. The room appears to be rectangular with a flat ceiling. The only light comes from a slot in the wall above you, natural light from a window somewhere. You walk up a staircase and look down into the room and discover the the black shiny ceiling has a huge triangular piece coming out about three feet. Then you notice the walls you thought were straight have alcoves. Later when you go down and step in each of the three alcoves you discover that they are all different and evoke different feelings. Back upstairs you find a 20 foot white plastic Statue of Liberty that’s a Buddha. Haidha, Shinro Ohtake

6. Hanging in there with me? You enter another old house with hard wooden floors varnished black with the exposed beams of ancient trees that were cut down to build the house. In one room on three sides are images that seem to be etched in metal but are really paintings set in the panels that used to make up the walls. The images evoke the Seto seascape around the island and on the final wall it trails into wisps of fog barely visible. In the other room, all three walls are of a painted waterfall, which is reflected in the black lacquer floor. Ishibashi, Hiroshi Senju


7. The Ando Museum has models of his work in an old house in which he added a square concrete room that goes down two stories. It creates a hard new space. Ando Museum, Tadeo Ando


8. Finally you reserve the 3:45 slot for a 15 minute experience alone in a building. The guide brings you to asks a thick yet low door and invites you to open it, step inside and close it.  It’s a 15 by 25 foot space. The only light comes from the bottom of the walls where there is a 4 inch slit that lets natural light enter. In front of you are there sets of columns which look like the tori gates in Shinto temples (the ones shaped like pi.) Surrounding the second set in the middle is a 12 foot diameter circular white ring made of marble. The marble ring has a smooth top about a foot wide with nothing but the ground and the tori gate in it. Scattered around are small flat circular objects and some small pointed objects. You remember from you beginning Japanese language class that flat things have a different counting system than pointed things. (There are numerous other counting systems.)  You doubt that is relevant to this situation. You are not allowed to roam around. You can just sit, look and breath. 

9. That was my day. Thanks for joining me.

A potent mash-up of contemporary history, Greek mythology, Caribbean Santería, and queer eroticism-Review by Lambda Literary

Alan Lessik’s The Troubleseeker is an audacious debut novel.  No less a figure than Caesar Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Buccellanus Augustus (better known to us as the Roman Emperor Hadrian) narrates this tale. Deified after death, and therefore a demigod, he is able to interact with the immortal gods of ancient Greece and the orishas of Cuban Santería.  Unlike them, however, Hadrian can suffer the all-too-human feelings of love, an experience that extends into his post-mortal existence, and inspires acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of Antinio, the book’s mortal protagonist.  Hadrian cannot make himself known to humans, but he can, in a limited fashion (and at great cost to himself) extend his protection to Antinio, and does so several times over the course of the novel.

Antinio, despite his name, does not resemble Hadrian’s beloved Antinous (who drowned at the age of nineteen), except insofar that he too is literate, educated, and a great physical beauty.  Instead, he embodies the wily Odysseus (the eponymous “troubleseeker” of the book’s title), and his uncanny charm with women and men both continually lands him into and then out of trouble. The novel chronicles Antinio’s life-journey, which lasts far longer than ten years, and covers far more ground than the mythic islands of the Mediterranean. His facility with languages allows him to travel to Europe, and eventually he leaves his native Cuba for America, arriving in Florida before heading to Minneapolis and then eventually settling in California.  Similar to Odysseus’ journey, Antinio’s continual travels represent his search for home.  When Antinio immigrates to America, he is sundered from his wife and twin sons, but reuniting with them does not return him to himself as it did Odysseus; it is only by leaving Cuba that Antinio manages to establish an authentic identity as a Gay man.

Antino is not obsessed with the classical Greek preoccupation of avoiding one’s pre-ordained fate—nor does he share the ancient Greek distrust of that force called eros, the powerful, all-consuming love that even the gods feared because of its extreme potential for disruption.  Indeed, erotic love remains constant throughout his life, even during the repressive regimes of post-revolution Cuba and Reagan-era America, and even after he is stricken with HIV. (Lessik combines and subverts these two themes by naming the three great loves of Antinio’s life after each of the Greek Fates:  Antinio’s fate is to love, and he in turn loves Fate.)  For all that nearly every character takes his/her name from Greek myth, the Greek gods themselves play but a minor role in the narrative; the actions of the Cuban orishas result in greater consequences, as when Babalú Ayé (the orisha of disease and healing) creates the virus that eventually leads to AIDS.

Still, this book is not a recycling of Greek myth in Caribbean drag, any more than it is merely a retelling of love during the recent devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic with added fantastical elements to make the suffering mythic in scope. Lessik deftly weaves several narrative strands to create this story, which becomes greater than any of its single parts. Far more than the life story of one immigrant’s journey, or a Gay man’s search for love and/or identity, this odyssey is a potent mash-up of contemporary history, Greek mythology, Caribbean Santería, and queer eroticism, and in its own way is just as epic.

Lambda Literary Review  by Keith Glaeske

Speaking Truth to Power–S.F. Frontiers Newsmagazine, June 8, 1995

In 1995, I entered this essay in the “Greatest Moments of Pride” Contest in S.F. Frontiers Newsmagazine and was awarded 1st Place. Unfortunately, there are no on-line archives of the magazine from this period.

The room fell silent as I slowly walked up to the podium. When I reached the front, I too fell silent as I tried to gather my thoughts. Although I had volunteered to speak, I still had no idea what I was going to say to this gathering. The assembled group before me was the business meeting of the Quakers (Friends). And since the Quaker form of worship is based upon silent meditation, silence is a welcome part of all of their meetings, including those for business. My pause allowed them to reflect quietly to themselves as well. Given the controversial and almost raucous nature of the discussion so far in the meeting, a small break was appreciated.

The Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C. had been trying to come to terms with the issue of same gender marriages for five years at this time. As is Quaker practice, the entire meeting had to come to a joint consensus before any new change could be accepted. Originally requested by a gay couple five years previous, the issue of gay and lesbian marriages had split the meeting. While a clear majority of the group favored the marriages, a majority is not enough for Friends. Unity had to be reached and several prominent homophobic members were enough to prevent that unity from being achieved.

After the initial push for marriages ended in failure several years before, the discussion moved to a number of different committees, where slowly, it seemed, a consensus was emerging. A renewed public discussion was started in the business meeting, the decision making body of the Friends. However, despite the growing numbers of gay and lesbian members in the meeting, none of these members had chosen to speak on the topic before the meeting itself. No one felt safe in exposing themselves to the type of personal attacks that had gone on before. This is where I waltzed in.

I was a late bloomer and had recently come out after being married for a number of years. My coming out process was a joyous and exhilarating one for me, as for the first time in my life, I felt like a whole person. Coming out opened a flood gate of emotions. In this period of intense spiritual and psychological growth, I sought out like-minded people. Thus I found myself attending the predominantly gay and lesbian Friends meeting in Dupont Circle, one of several meetings constituting the Friends Meeting of Washington.

Quite soon after I began attending, I heard about the gay and lesbian marriage proposal that was being discussed. I went to the next monthly business meeting and was dismayed at the type of the statements that were being made by what I had assumed were enlightened Quakers. The usual “gay equals AIDS” as well as the “lifestyle choice” arguments were brought up. One older member even said, “Gays are like barnyard animals in the way that they have sex. It’s disgusting!” Each of these comments provoked anger and shame in the gay and lesbian members. And despite attempts by other supportive straight members of the meeting, the resolution of this issue appeared to be blocked for the foreseeable future.

I was bothered about what I had heard and experienced. Why was this otherwise strong and supportive group of gay and lesbian Quakers being quiet? Being new to the group, I knew little of the bad experiences and the mistrust that had developed over the previous years. Over the month until the next meeting for business, I pondered my reaction to this situation. On the afternoon of the business meeting, even as I approached the head of the meeting, I knew I had to speak, although to say what was unclear.

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As I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts, I was filled with a strength that had been growing ever since I started corning out. This strength came from loving myself, my entire gay self. It was a strength, I knew, that was supported by my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters scattered throughout the 90 people attending the meeting. This resilient force reached back to all of the gays and lesbians I knew, back to Stonewall, back to as long as we have existed and professed our love to each other. Suddenly, I felt clear headed and was ready to speak. And the words poured out of me as if a river of our experience was guiding me along. And no one, not even the most unrepentant homophobe in that group, could divert the truth.

“Friends, 10 years ago I was married in a Quaker ceremony in what was one of the most moving and loving experiences of my life. Surrounded by my family and Friends, capital ‘f’ and small, I felt love enter the room and bless not only me and my partner but all who were there on that fall afternoon. Anyone who has participated in a truly centered Quaker wedding has experienced this same feeling.

“Over the past several years, the Spirit has led me onto a path, a path that I could not have predicted 10 years previous. As I grew to know myself better, it became clearer and clearer to me that something was missing in my life, that I was not being true to the spirit that is within me and within all of us. As I started opening myself up to this feeling, I came to understand that I was gay. And while this Spirit-led understanding has caused some pain to others outside of me, it has brought nothing but joy and peace to my heart.

“I now stand before you, a gay man at peace with his soul. In many ways, I stand no differently before you now than I did 10 years ago when I celebrated my wedding. I look the same, although a few gray hairs now grace my head; my commitment to letting the Spirit guide my life is the same or even stronger; my strange sense of humor has not mellowed with time. The difference now is that I love men in the way I used to love women. In fact, I now love men with a passion and conviction that is stronger than I ever had before. Nothing else has changed.

“Oh yes, one other thing has changed. Before, I could celebrate my love with the blessings of my community of Friends. Now you tell me that I cannot. What is the difference, I ask? What is love about?  Is gay and lesbian love different from heterosexual love? I can say, from my unique vantage point, that the answer is no. How I feel love now is no different than how I felt love before. Love is love, we either recognize that or we must deny the existence of all love.

“Friends, the question before us is not whether we permit gay and lesbian marriages; it is whether we will recognize and bless love within our community. When we look at the issue in this manner, I don’t believe that there is any doubt as to how to answer that question.”

I stood before the group for a few seconds longer and sat down. There was silence throughout the room, a silence that lingered longer than any other that afternoon. The next person to speak was a young African American woman. Her message was short and to the point. “I came to the meeting today to speak out against this proposal. However, after hearing the last Friend speak, I now realize that what he said is the truth. The issue is love. There is no other issue. We must join together, gay and straight to support love in all of its forms and allow same gender marriages to come under our care.”

Her message started the flow of tears for many seated there and a perceptible change swept over the meeting. Afterwards, a number of gay and lesbian friends approached, not only thanking me for speaking but for being the first gay person to break through the silence and shame that had surrounded them.

The following months saw gays and lesbians speaking out at every meeting, sharing their stories, their dreams and their pride. In true Quaker fashion, the question of gay and lesbian marriages was not resolved for almost another year. But from that point on, the tenor of the discussion had changed. And the result… Two years later, a lesbian couple Jacqueline DiCarlo and Renee Roberts, stood before the meeting and exchanged their vows. The entire community shared in this historic moment as we all reflected on the long and difficult path that had brought us to that day. Within two years, two other lesbian and gay couples were married in the meeting.

Gay pride shows itself in many ways and in many forms. Sometime: it requires the outbursts and rage of ACT-UP or the boisterousness of thousands gathered in marches and parades. At other times, however, pride needs the silence and reflection of prayer. What all of these manifestations of pride have in common is the realization that we will not be taken for granted or ignored, that we are proud of who we are, and that we will continue to celebrate our lives and shape the world around us. The Quakers use a simple and forceful phrase to describe this: speaking truth to power.

 

South Africa’s Gay Rights–San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 22, 1996

I wrote this article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 1996 after four trips to South Africa. I had the great fortune to interview the major players in the movement to include sexual orientation in the new constitution. Unfortunately, this article is not currently on-line. The Bay Guardian plans to open up archives of this once important San Francisco newspaper in the future.

 

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA- On May 8 1996 South Africa became the world’s first country to constitutionally outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Constitutional Assembly’s vote to approve a new constitution and bill of rights not only completed the process of dismantling the apartheid regime but also ushered in a new era for gay and lesbian rights.

This historic achievement can be traced to the intervention and dedication of a few key people who made the case for a more inclusive definition of equality and human rights in the new constitution.

Kevan Botha, a lobbyist for the Johannesburg-based National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, a political organization founded in December 1994, says that while most South Africans’ perceptions of discrimination were race-based, people now “can identify with the indignity and arbitrariness of  multiple discrimination.”

One of the first activists to effectively bring sexual orientation into national discussions on discrimination was Edwin Cameron. Cameron is a leading anti-apartheid lawyer who has taken part in numerous landmark cases involving forced eviction, relocation, and conscientious objection to obligatory military service. Now a judge on South Africa’s Supreme Court, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. District Court, Cameron is probably the highest-ranking openly gay judge in the world.

During the 1980s, Cameron was especially active with the black trade union movement, then led by Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa, a likely successor to President Nelson Mandela, heads the parliament’s Constitutional Assembly, a special assembly formed after the 1994 elections to write the country’s new constitution.

Pretoria prison

Simon Nkoli, a gay student activist, has also influenced South African politics as a defendant in one of the largest apartheid trials, the Delmas treason trial. In 1984 Nkoli was arrested along with 21 other blacks for participating in a rent strike in Sebokeng, a township outside Johannesburg. All 22 spent nearly two years in Cell 36 of Pretoria Prison before· being formally charged with murder and treason.

Although Nkoli had been public about his sexual orientation before his arrest, few in the group of detainees knew that he was gay. In prison the group met daily to plan for their release. One day Nkoli came out to the group. Their reaction was hardly supportive.

“They didn’t want me to [testify],” Nkoli told the Bay Guardian; because they were worried that “state prosecutors would use my homosexuality to discredit [us] all.”

However, the long wait in prison gave Nkoli the opportunity to challenge the homophobic attitudes of his fellow detainees. By the time of their trial Nkoli had won not only the group’s acceptance of his homosexuality but also its support for including gays in South Africa s human rights movement.

Sheila Lapinski, another activist, also has helped make gays and lesbians a force in the human rights movement. In 1987 she helped formed the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA) in Capetown. In 1989 OLGA became the first and only gay organization to join the United Democratic Front (UDF), the country’s leading anti-apartheid organization. This link enabled OLGA to organize discussions on gay and lesbian oppression with other human rights and political organizations, which led to higher-level contacts within both  UDF and the African National Congress (ANC).

 A new start

Nelson Mandela was freed Feb. 11, 1990, after two and a half decades in prison. Soon afterward the ANC was “unbanned” by the apartheid regime, and negotiations began among the ANC and the ruling parties to form a new government. The negotiators met in the Johannesburg suburb of Kempton Park to negotiate the government transition and develop an interim constitution.

In early 1991 Edwin Cameron was called in by the ANC and the Democratic Party, a mostly white moderate political party, to help write the early drafts of the country’s new constitution. These drafts incorporated a non discrimination clause that included sexual orientation along with race, gender, ethnic origin, color, age disability, and religion.

But the day-to-day negotiations on the constitution were being held behind closed doors, and Cameron and others were concerned that the sexual orientation clause might be dropped. In response to their worries the Equality Foundation, a Johannesburg-based human rights group, hired Kevan Botha in 1992 to lobby the negotiators to keep the clause.

Cameron says these lobbying efforts were a critical juncture in the country’s gay-rights movement. He recalled one cold-Sunday evening in May 1993 when he received word that all references to specific forms of discrimination-except for race  and gender had been dropped from the draft constitution. He and Botha quickly wrote the negotiators arguing that a broad discrimination clause was too vague to guarantee the rights of those not mentioned specifically. They also wrote in their memo, which can be found on the Constitutional Assembly’s World Wide Web page, that discrimination [on the ground of sexual orientation] is often arbitrary and based on innate prejudice with no empirical basis. Discrimination in this context requires that any protection be clear [and] comprehensive.

After continued lobbying, the sexual orientation clause was put back in the draft.

At the end of April 1994 Mandela was elected as the first president of a democratic South Africa. A few weeks later the interim constitution, including its new protections for gays and lesbians, went into effect. Despite this victory, Cameron said, the struggle was far from over.

After the elections the newly elected 400-member Constitutional Assembly, headed by Cyril Ramaphosa, was to write the final version of the new constitution. Mandela’s new government also brought the constitution-writing process out from behind closed doors and into the public arena. Citizens were invited to review the interim constitution and comment on its provisions.

Members of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), a religious conservative political party that received only 7 percent of the vote in the 1994 elections, began flooding the assembly with letters protesting the sexual-orientation clause. According to Botha, the ACDP has been given tactical advice from American Christian right groups. In 1994 the group circulated copies of The Gay Agenda, a video produced by a U.S. group known as The Report that depicts gay life in America, in an attempt to turn public opinion against the discrimination protection for gays and lesbians.

At this point the burgeoning gay and lesbian movement realized it had to take a more open approach to protecting its newfound status. In December 1994 a coalition of more than 60 gay and lesbian organizations formed the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality. OLGA’s Lapinski became a co-chair. The group decided to dedicate itself to a single issue-keeping the sexual-orientation clause in the constitution. Soon it became the only nonpolitical party in Capetown to have a full-time lobbyist.

In June 1995 thousands of South African gays and lesbians wrote the assembly to support the clause and to describe their own experiences with discrimination. Ramaphosa later cited many of these letters in his rebuttal to the ACDP’s claims that protection was not needed.

While the one-on-one lobbying of individual politicians continued, Botha and others worked to increase public awareness of and support for the clause, especially in the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities. Archbishop Desmond Tutu became an early and vocal supporter. His support, combined with the coalition’s efforts to bring the various religious communities into the debate, helped blunt the impact of the ACDP’s protests.

On May 8 the Constitutional Assembly approved the final version of the new constitution—with the sexual orientation clause intact.

Botha says he feels that as these new rights are tested, there will be both victories and setbacks. However, he added, South Africans’ expectations for equal treatment are higher than ever.

“South Africa will be the one to carry the torch of human rights into the 21st century,” Botha said.

sa-article

 

Living in the New Year

We believe in forward progress, that all will incrementally get better in life. It’s a very American belief. We see a straight line ahead moving upwards and cling to this notion.

One more time this is an illusion of perfection. That there is only one direction. And when it appears that life does not conform to this, we get anxious and fearful and disillusioned.

A closer look at reality might suggest that life is cyclical in a way where we build up and then destroy part of what we create while building up again. Views from above make this look like a never ending cycle. From another vantage point, we can see that this reality view is a spiral, ever tracing a new path. Martin Luther King’s long arc of justice.

If as zen practice tells us every moment is new, it reminds us not to compare one moment with another. It reminds us not to fall into declaring things better and best, bad and worst, even earlier and later. It invites to look at the true essence of reality of what is available now. If you prefer Catholic saints over zen, St Augustine said, “There are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present  of present things and the present of future things.”  Only one of those three tenses presents us with new experience and information.

This guidance can also help us as to examine our community, social, political and economic worlds. As a college student in the early 70s, I saw a world that was unjust: civil rights were not present for many, economic benefits were not adequately distributed, we were involved with a war that appeared never to have an ending, women were not farely compensated or recognized for their contributions and, gay folks were outcasts. Yet for some reason, I expereinced this as challenging but not daunting. Part of that was naïveté of the privileges I had, a second part the naïveté about the ease of change making  and a final part of naïveté about the linearity of human progress.

As we look at our present, we are forced to recognize that civil rights for many people are not guaranteed, that gender equality and equity is not present, and economic disparities are large. This does not mean nothing has changed over the decades. It means that change is change and can go in many directions. We have an opportunity to see what the conditions that exist are right now, not made up conditions, not imaginary ones, not ones that our privileges allowed us to ignore. Only conditions as they are. And from there our work begins anew, as it does each day.

This is how one celebrates a Happy New Year.

Back to Comparisons

The question of zen is what now? Not what’s next as in I’m bored now what do I do, but what occurs next in our perceptions of life around us.

What now is the recognition that in any moment, however one subdivides that into seconds or milliseconds, until we die there is something next. It might seem as if the last what now is the same as the next what now but scientifically and existentially that cannot be true. Our mind likes to make it all the same in order to simplify its work yet that does not change reality.

Each moment is different. If zen has a job, it is to notice that. And if it had job requirements, the only one would be not hold on to what one notices in one moment and to move on to the next. And if there was a job description, the requirements and the objectives would be the same. No bliss, no enlightenment, no objectives, just noticing/feeling/experiencing.

And the job location would be universal as in requiring one to do this no matter what else one is doing, like travelling around parts of the Asia or sitting at a desk at work.

My experiment with no comparisons on this trip brought up more issues than I imagined. The original inspiration for the experiment was a story my friend Chris told of a Japanese zen student that he met who would not compare the food at home to the food prepared where he was living in the US.  The idea that each experience was its own to be not repeated and essentially different from the next meant that comparing two different meals was really comparing (as they say) apples and oranges.  A meal is not a meal is not a meal.

The easier conceptual part was to try not to say x is like y. (Please ignore the comparison in the second word.) Recognizing that many of the adjectives we use are about comparison, like easier, added a new struggle. Finally trying to eliminate time comparisons like the one that started thus sentence or even harder (see they pop up everywhere like rabbits oops another) like last and next seems well impossible unless I narrate my experience in simple present tense in spontaneous writing that describes/states the qualities of that moment without boundaries.

I hope you get the idea.

In spite of the language inadequacies of describing this experiment, there are things I learned.

Comparing things makes me feel like I know what the new things is even when I don’t. The mind creates an idea of comfort when it thinks that one experience is like another whether it was seconds ago or years ago.

Comparing when traveling can turn a unique experience into a repeat of a previous one, at least mentally. Trying to make my experience clambering about Angkor Wat the same or different than when I clambered about Tulum or the Mayan ruins in Honduras was really not what I intended to do, yet that is exactly what my brain tried to do.

Comparisons cause me to stop experiencing what is going on now. And in doing so I miss things from the now. Or do not notice the things that allow me to lose my phone or hat. Comparison make me to lose what is happening now because I am caught in a vision created in my mind of the past.

I notice the sloppiness of language a bit more. What does it mean to say I had a great trip? What does that convey in terms of accuracy, memory or what I felt at a particular time? Nothing. So I have tried to say fulfilling, interesting, challenging and any other ing that come to mind.

I also notice my desire for the best which is perhaps the ultimate comparison, the great bright comparison, the supreme comparison, the incomparable comparison to paraphrase and mutilate the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra. Seeking the best automatically eliminates or degrades what is not the best which in the seeking process means about everything. The best denies all that came before and sets up the situation when it become superseded afterwards. The best is never.

I have experienced enough in life to know the best does not last long and accumulating bests does little. Best lists have really short shelf lives. And they create desire to repeat the best (not possible for any number of reasons including the obvious that it wouldn’t be best.) They also create desire for holding on to physical items and experiences. And perhaps desire to be someone else who has that best thing/experience.

All of this said, Suzuki Roshi often used the phrase in his dharma talks, “The most important thing is…” And each dharma talk would have a different most important thing. What I understand him to be saying is, at this moment, the most important thing is…And at this moment the most important thing is…

What now, what now, what now.

I can’t compare my comparison experiment with anything I have ever done before. Hmmm…Can you?