Tuesday, November 23, 2010

barkingreed is moving!

The new url is https://www.joshbarkey.com .

Change is hard, I know. I've loved barkingreed like the weird, shape-shifting child that it is. But sometimes, even when you love something, you have to suck out its innards for sustenance, pupate, and move on.

I love you, too... but not in an innard-sucking way. Please come along - I'll miss you if you don't.

give thanks (and blame the nazis)

The school where I teach does not have a cafeteria, so the students eat in the classrooms. Those who come to my room mostly ignore me, which allows me to eavesdrop on the bizarre world of the modern teenager.  One day last quarter, Jon and Leo were sitting at the back of my classroom, eating pizza and having one of their outlandish discussions. I watched as Leo picked off slices of pepperoni and popped them in his mouth.

“You know what’s funny, Jon?” Leo said as he picked away at some cheese, looking for a faux-meat treasure, “I read recently about this law of internet discourse where every argument will always inevitably degenerate to the point where someone will compare somebody else to the Nazis.”

Jon laughed, “That’s totally true.” 

My ears were perking up at that point, because Jon and Leo are exceptionally bright young men and I never knew where one of their discussions might go. On that day, however, they were more engrossed in their pizza and didn’t pursue it any further. It got me thinking about Nazis, though, and mulling over the role they have come to play in our culture as symbolic of the evil Other.

Weeks later, when a student in one of my art classes started complaining because he couldn’t find an eraser, I slammed a hand down on my desk and said, loudly and half-joking, “You’re right! It’s a complete travesty that you can’t find an eraser. I, for one, am completely appalled and chagrined at the dearth of erasers in this room and you know what!?! I blame the Nazis!”

This vocabulary-heavy outburst left the room silent save a few repressed giggles, until one brave girl in the front row said, “What the heck are you talking about, Mr. Barkey?”

I explained myself: 

“It all started back after World War One, when this funny-mustached little dude named Hitler was wandering around Vienna getting kicked out of art school for incompetence. 

"My grasp of history has always been a bit, er, sketchy,” I went on, "so I am not saying that sucking at art necessarily turns you into a despotic, genocidal tyrant—I would never say that—but let that be a lesson to you: pay attention in art class, kids.

"Anyways, Hitler went and became the leader of Nazi Germany and started World War II, which resulted in a whole lot of death, destruction, and the utter defeat of Germany. This all created a power vacuum in Europe, a vacuum which the United States was in a unique position to fill. As a latecomer to a war that was fought on foreign soil, the United States came out of it as the least-damaged emerging Industrial Economy, with the necessary infrastructure to meet the demands of a world newly-interconnected by the whole tragedy. It rose to the challenge with gusto and an often bombastic disregard for any considerations of values, morals, health and wisdom.

"What followed was a period of unchecked growth and economic expansion unparalleled in the history of the world, a mix of good and horrendous developments that pretty much blew the roof off of all previous conceptions of wealth and any sort of sane, holistic understanding of what “the pursuit of happiness” should really look like. As a result, the past thirty years have been a ludicrous orgy of selfish consumerism that has had our country riding the wave of leisure right down the backs of the world’s poor, a ride that (I hope, at least) seems to be coming to an end.

"This is where the erasers come in. You all are a generation three or four times removed from the horrors of the War and the Great Depression. You are therefore incapable of conceiving of a world in which an eraser that is ripped to bits, thrown at classmates, or surreptitiously taken from this classroom will not be immediately replaced by another (preferably better) eraser. In your world, there is always more and more interesting stuff, in ever-growing quantities. And although this is a fool’s paradise—a fact that will likely be brought crashing down on you as soon as you leave school and try to enter this new rat-bagged economy of ours—I can’t bring myself to blame you.

"Your parents have given you everything this culture has to offer and in turn have left you nothing for which to be grateful. Even if Immanuel Kant is wrong and ingratitude is not the essence of vileness, it is pretty clear from the number of y’all who are on mood-altering drugs that the world you’ve inherited has put you in a really bad place. And for all this, I say to you again, we must blame the Nazis.”

That, more or less, is what I said… probably more, though, because I prefer to survive the next parent-teacher night. I, for one, am extremely grateful to have a job I love—one that gives me the opportunity to help these young men and women challenge their cultural presuppositions. 

It's a messed-up world they live in, and it is comforting to think we can blame the Nazis and congratulate ourselves that we are so superior and would never, ever sink to that level. But the truth is that we make our own ugly, selfish choices every day. The Nazis may have made it possible for us to become this ostentatiously wealthy, but they certainly didn't force the credit cards into our hands. They didn't make us slaves to the consumerism that binds us.  Gratitude, I think, can show us how to be free.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the beatings will continue until morale improves

And lo, I have written another piece for GOOD. This time, I have waxed verbose on a topic everyone loves: discipline. I highly recommend that you put down whatever nonviolent thing you are doing and go read it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

tyler ramsey

I am an abominably lazy person. Anyone who has ever planted trees with me would probably deny that - burning the caloric equivalent of a half marathon day after day through hail, heat and hardships of every kind doesn't usually bring the word "lazy" to mind - but that's only if you are content with the status quo, which I am not. Hence, I see myself as lazy. I am lazy at work and at home. I write, but not enough. I play ukulele, but not enough. I keep up with friends, but not enough. Over and over again, I fail to do the work necessary to get me whatever it is that I truly, deeply desire.

I don't beat myself up about this, though (at least, not as much as I used to). I am aware that laziness is pretty much the status quo... especially in the good old USofA. But although I want MORE than that and tell myself that I am ready to allow my efforts to begin to exceed my excuses, I regularly find myself pulled back in front of the computer, where Hulu and all other manner of Evil Creatures from the Glowing Blue Abyss wait to suck me into the Vortex of Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda.

Last night, I somehow managed to ignore the Siren-song of an evening of non-relational self-indulgence and did something out of character - I drove the hour up to Charlotte to watch a show at a hip little joint called the Evening Muse. I'm glad I did. Tyler Ramsey played, and he was lovely. I hadn't been to a live club show for years - not since watching my beautiful musician-buddy Chris play at some hole-in-the-wall faux-parisian place in Vancouver.

I took my camera along and made a video so I could drag you out with me to an entrancing musical moment, and tried to upload the result directly into this post. Google seems to have decided, however, that today is a good day to start reneging on their informal "don't be evil" policy. So instead, here's a link on youtube. I know it's painfully backbreaking work to click on a link and that you are as lazy as I am, but I dare you to take the risk. It's worth it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

beat them until they love you

There's this theology blog I follow by a Pschology professor in Arizona, and he recently wrote a really nice exploration of how a lot of that seemingly sexist, abusive, genderidiculous language in the Bible may actually be - when read in context - an exhortation to nonviolent protest in the face of a sexist, abusive environment. Interesting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

st. joshua of assissi

St. Francis is dead, so I'm not sure it is quite correct to say that I am a big fan of his. I do think he's super-duper, though.

Like me, St. Francis was born to fabulous wealth - more so, actually, because while I am only fabulously wealthy relative to the average human in the history of the world, Francis was also wealthy locally. This means that his wealth was in constant, visible contrast to the poverty all around him, a fact that apparently bothered him from quite an early age. A story is told of how as a little boy he sneaked away from his father to give all the money he had in his pockets to a passing beggar, an act that earned him his father's anger and the scorn of friends.

He did not, however, immediately change his overall life. As a young man he partied hard, wore the finest clothes, and even went off and fought in a war. He was taken prisoner and lived as a captive for a year, but after his release, he gradually began to shuck off the accoutrements of wealth, eventually abandoning it all for an austere life of poverty. Austere - but not unhappy. He and his followers were known for wandering around with smiles on their faces and songs on their lips.

While I think this is highly commendable, it is not why I really love St. Francis. The truth is, I don't actually know all that much about him and actually cribbed that last bit from wikipedia. The real reason I have long loved St. Francis is that he is the patron saint of animals and of the environment, and it is said that wild animals came to him, hung out with him, and loved him.

I have a confession to make: in that regard, I wish to be St. Francis. Although I have had a great number of pets in my life, I am no longer interested in keeping them. Rather, I would like to gradually organize my life and my mindset so that I can begin to think of myself as a friend to animals. I want to live at a pace that shows the wild animals around me that I am not a threat so they will feel free to come near without fear. I doubt that I am anywhere near to achieving this goal, but this past Saturday I got a little closer by befriending the lizard pictured above.

There I was, tapping away at my keyboard, when I looked over and I saw this little guy (we'll call him Leonard) lounging comfortably on top of my computer speaker. Normally - because I don't particularly like cleaning up lizard poop - I would have quickly chased Leonard down, caught him, and chucked him outside... probably accidently pulling off his tail in the process.

This time, however, I just watched him. Then I got out my camera and took pictures of him until my proximity made him nervous, at which point I sat back, waited for a while, and then took more. Eventually, I started laying my hand near him on the shelf. When this made him skittish, I would pull my hand away and go back to typing. Eventually, he let me lightly tap him under the chin with my finger. And then, quick as a wink, he had crawled up onto my hand.

Leonard and I had a little talk, and I explained that he would have to go outside. I knew it was colder, I said, but there was more food out there and my house was no place for a lizard. So out we went. When I laid my hand on the ground Leonard tried to crawl up my wrist to stay with me; but when I explained the situation again, he hopped off into the grass and, with one final look, ran away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

all you need is shrimp

This past year I have re-discovered a love of cooking - or perhaps I should say I've re-invented it. I have always sort of enjoyed cooking, and really loved it as a child. But the love I had for it back then probably had more to do with the fact that as a kid, everything is magic. There is something very adult, now, about the love I've learned for cooking: for the rhythms and organization of it; and the raw, sensuous pleasure of eating food shaped by my own hands from ingredients I chose and put in, one by one. It is healthier, slower, more labor-intensive and - best of all - tastier.

And yet, this past year it has often been missing some sacred element. Cooking is a pleasure in its own right, as is eating, but the consumption of food is not meant to be consummated alone. This year I have cooked and eaten many a meal alone at my table, and there is an empty echo to it. I am not entirely sure why, but when I cook for my son, this echo is still somewhat there.

Fortunately, I live fifty short steps from my parents; and although my mom insists on tipping the scales of shared meals in her favor, I still do get the occasional pleasure of a meal made and shared with love ones. I wonder, though, at the difference. Why would there be less pleasure in cooking for my son? Yes, feeding him is a more labor-intensive process and less relaxed, but there is no way I love him any less than I do my parents.

I wonder if, perhaps, the missing ingredient is gratitude. I can make him say "thank you" all I want, but that is never the same as an un-coerced, grateful heart - something he is too young to fully actualize. As I have mulled this over, I have begun to wonder if it points to a broader principle, which I will express as this: Gratitude is Love's fulfillment.

This makes sense to me, and gives me a handle to grab onto as I approach the often shapeless-seeming mass of all the things that make up Love. What does Love want? Why should/do I choose to love? I ask these questions, and the answer I recieve is, "for the hope of uncoerced gratitude, joyously and spontaneously expressed by the reciever of that love."

Does this make the act of love-giving any less wondrous, or profound? I don't think so. I think, rather, that it makes it more beautiful, and that this sort of understanding turns the lover from some grasping, selfish gremlin wanting a selfish love kick-back, to an entity who yearns for a unity of giving and recieving that grows and expands in reciprocity as it comes to life.

Sex, cooking - everything: all lived-out metaphors for this inflaming process of love-making. Let's make shrimp-kabobs. And eat them. Together.

dinner, last week, cooked slowly on a makeshift grill over a bed of coals in my newly-made fire-pit

trees (written during this morning's drive to work)

I shout "Yes!" to autumn morning light on autumn leaves,
lit up in cascades of burning,
dying to the ground.

I shout "Yes!" to half-lit, tufted infernos waking up,
shaking off a cloak of frost-diamonds,
glistening like fresh-seen debutantes
announcing their finest hour.

And I don't believe in winter,
and I don't believe in death
when I taste the fire of their turning
at the drawing of each breath.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've been monkeying around with barkingreed again, trying to make it a better place for you to hang out when you want to ignore your life, family and friends. If you look in the sidebar, you'll notice that I've added a list of labels, and I'm going back and making sure that I've labeled all the pieces. So if, for instance, you're seriously interested in sex, you can just click the sexy "sex" label and see what Josh Barkey has to say about it. N-choi.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

why I didn't vote (again)

I guess it comes down to this: if you told me that by running full-force, face-first into a brick wall I would save the lives of six orphans, I still wouldn't do it - not even if it was six hundred thousand. Not because I don't care about orphans, but rather because your proposition seems to me to be not only illogical, but quite probably malicious. 

The same with voting. Here in America where I have the distinct privilege to live (and I mean that), we have a two-party system that it my mind is basically just a one-party system made of schizophrenic, sado-masochistic personalities who would throw battery acid on their grandmothers for a few more fistfuls of power. 

And yes, I am talking about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, and whomever else you happen to idolize. I'm sure they're all fabulously nice people who are each right about a lot of things and at one point weren't willing to sacrifice a little truth in the name of political expediency, but show me a candidate who never trash-talked an opponent, nor approved a slanted, truth-bending propagandistic smear ad and I will start listening and perhaps even voting. 

Maybe I am wrong. In fact, I am sure I am wrong, because I am sure that on a local level there are plenty of politicians who are too well known by their constituency to hide behind a veneer of fancy rhetoric and doublespeak - and contrary to what the rest of the world thinks, most Americans aren't particularly stupid or malicious when it comes to judging what's right before their eyes. What they are is manipulable, and the bigger the stage, the easier it becomes to murky up the water, villify your opponents, and convince the confused masses to vote out of what's easiest - fear and economic self-interest.

Don't believe me? Just see how far you get running on a platform that emphasizes humility and self-sacrifice for the greater good of the broader human race. Just try to get yourself elected arguing that we ought to significantly decrease our wealth and "standard of living" in order to advance the economic interests of the world's powerless, disadvantaged majority. Just try it - I dare ya!

At that level - the level of fear and selfishness - there is no nuance: just loud, angry yelling and the insistence that anybody who disagrees is an idiot at best and a villain at worst. I mean, just look at the above-pictured recent photo of a whiteboard from the wall of a private school.

In case you have a slow-loading computer or a tiny screen, I'll describe it for you: basically, it says that worldview affects a bunch of different areas of life. As an example in the area of economics, it provides two alternatives. First, for the "Christian" alternative, it describes "hard work, little government intervention - no reward for laziness, etc." Then, as the only other option, it describes "Humanistic (socialism)" as being, "redistribution of wealth, giving to those who won't work." 

Now, to anyone at all interested in thoughtful discourse, this is the sort of politically-loaded malarkey that absolutely precludes the very possibility of useful dialog. You cannot portray the question as being a choice between two such polar and (I think) inaccurate opposites and expect those who disagree with you to want to continue the discussion. This is nothing out of the ordinary, of course - people have been claiming that God is on their side of discussions of policy forever, and in America the bravura of those touting this particular nonsense while claiming that they and they alone are "Christians" is quite well-documented.

Again, I have to point out the incredible lack of nuance. I personally consider myself a follower of Christ and want nothing to do with these sentiments. I do not think these views are indicative of what Jesus was all about at all - only that certain people have hijacked the language of Christianity in order to give a large chunk of the American public a visible devil that they can feel good about throwing stones at. They've gotten these people worked to such a pitch and tenor, in fact, that they're drowning out more reasonable, humble voices and dragging a lot of otherwise sane people along with them. 

The other large demographic that can generally be grouped on the other side of the debate doesn't use religious language, but it does do the same bleedin' thing - so broadly and with such vehemence that even I want to go smash expensive electronic equipment in American megachurches (well, actually, I already kinda wanted to do that). 

This would be a mistake, I think, because while I firmly believe that the person who wrote that was profoundly misguided to do so, I also know that it was probably written out of a desire to see things come out best for the kids, On a smaller scale I can disagree with his words without attacking the person(which I wouldn't want to do), but in the political arena (think circuses and MMA) there is no time or room for such distinctions. The political world is a polarized madhouse where you're either with us, or a reprehensible ingrate with nothing to recommend you. 

I have a friend in Nebraska who tries very hard to humbly consider opposing positions and to get others to do the same. He does it over and over again in web-based discussions and over and over again I see both sides of the argument totally ignoring his requests for dialog and instead regurgitating ugly partisan rhetoric all over him, and each other.  

I wish him the best in his noble, doomed attempts; but even if good, clear information was available, I'm still not going to join him in his quest. Sometimes if you don't want to be lumped in with the swine, you just have to stay out of the pen. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the silence that speaks

This past Sunday, Dan the Jungle Man picked me up in a canoe-topped Ford Ranger and together we drove down to Lancaster, South Carolina. After grabbing a rotisseried chicken at a megastore, we drove out of town a couple miles and then off down a short, graveled road to an unkempt boat-launch under a graffiti-splashed bridge that spanned the river Catawba, where we launched Dan's old, battered aluminum canoe.

He had only been able to find one paddle, and as it was the new one he'd hand-crafted from a piece of mahogany he'd brought back from the last trip he'd taken to Peru, Dan did all the paddling as I sat at the front and played with my new camera. I offered to take my turn at the stern, but for Dan (who routinely traveled by canoe for days without stopping) this little jaunt-for-a-few-hours was a leisurely chance to stretch and get a little blood flowing.

As we rounded the first bend, the noise of the road dropped completely away and a wild, rarely-broken stillness settled all around us. Except for the occasional hum of a distant airplane, for the most part the only noise came from the rhythmic pwopp-fwssss of the paddle and the indignant hollering of the odd territorial blue heron. It was quieter, even, than the Amazonian lake where we both were raised, and I remarked to Dan how strange it was to drop so quickly from the sound and fury of suburbia into the gentle folds of the countryside. Strange, wonderful... and strangely unsettling.

It had been five years since I had last floated out onto open water - far, far too long. I was practically raised on a lake in a dugout canoe, with a dinged, hand-cut wooden paddle in my hand. I missed the idyllic hours of my youth - the long, slow afternoons with nowhere to be and nothing to do but drift aimlessly on the warm, placid waters of Yarinacocha. More than that, though, I missed the sense of connection I had once felt to the elemental vigor of the earth, and this trip up and down the Catawba reminded me sharply of my growing disconnect from the place-sense I had once glimmered as a child.

After leaving the culture and climes of my youth, I had resolutely plugged myself into what I accepted was to be my new reality. But as I attempted to forge a replacement for the place-sense that I, like everyone, had breathed in with the air of childhood, I found myself creating a new one too strongly shaped by the concerns and commonalities of the paved-over world of suburbanite North America.

Dan and I talked of this as he paddled steadily up the river, lamenting the changes but enjoying the moment. Later, he and I sat on a rock in the river, eating our chicken and the towel-wrapped, still-hot potatoes Dan had boiled in the morning before heading out. Connected, in this way, to such moments from our shared past, I began to feel again the endless yearning that had once been my lot as a newly-uprooted jungle boy living for the first time in the endless drizzle of the Northwest.

Was it only me - a result of my unusual, fractured upbringing? Or could it be possible that a great many of the ills and ailments of the broader American culture could be traced to just this same yearning to reconnect to something slower, calmer, and more steeped in the life-roots growing deep into the soil? I wondered if perhaps alienation from the earth and the subsequent easily documentable destruction of the land that this lack of relationship engenders may very well point to its own solution.

What if we just stopped? What if we turned off the TV and walked, slowly, to a friend's house? What if we did not tell them we were coming, and what if as we went we breathed deeply of the unfiltered air, living slower and noticing, as we did, the damage that all our speed, convenience and efficiency has done - not just to the good earth that sustains us, but to our very souls? What if we were all to grab a paddle and a canoe, and work our way up the river into the silence that speaks?