Friday, December 13, 2013


Manuel Ramos

In the days when I hung out with revolutionaries, radicals, agitators, activists, marxist-leninists, pinkos, feminists, leftists, anarchists, socialists, nationalists, and comedians, everything and everyone were measured against “political correctness.” That term has a different meaning today.  Back then, in my youthful, simplistic approach to complex matters,  I took it to mean “consistency.”  A certain political line had been defined and one’s actions were judged on how close the actions followed that line, from the books we read to how our children were raised, love affairs to oil changes.

To emphasize the importance of knowing whether something was politically correct or otherwise askew, particular protocols were followed. For example, after an event, march, or other bit of drama, we would have a “sum-up,” and during that intellectual dissection we’d offer “good criticism” and “bad criticism” of whatever had transpired.  Things were good if they were “correct.”  Things were bad if they weren’t.  Although these sessions often were emotional and highly charged, the usually passionate speakers raised their hands to be recognized before they spoke, and a strict format of presentation was followed. I assume there were sessions where things fell apart and maybe even blows were thrown, but I wasn’t there.

I didn’t participate in that many sum-ups (I was only a “contact,” after all), but thinking about the ones I remember, I realize they were very useful exercises. The concept’s not new or unknown. Whether we’re hunkered around the board room table or in the sweat lodge, most of us have a desire to recap and summarize, declare success or defeat, to come to closure. We like the finish line. But the unique characteristics about the sum-ups I sat in on were that they were formal, organized, and democratic. Everyone had a chance to speak; in fact, it was expected that everyone would say something, and everyone listed positives and negatives. At the end, a consensus was reached and follow-up usually planned. Because the heat of the sum-up’s give-and-take had congealed our respective reactions, truth had become self-evident, clarity was ubiquitous, and moving forward was the only option. Most of the time.

So now it’s the end of another year. I’m spiraling quickly to retiring from the occupation that has secured the boundaries of my life for forty years. My father has passed, my mother is eighty-six years old. The last time I saw the brother who is a year younger than I, I worried that he looked old because that said too much about me. My wife and I are grandparents more inclined to stay at home to watch a television thriller or comedy than to venture out on a freezing night for cultural enlightenment.  Each day something is out-of-kilter with my body, and people my age joke about the difficulty of remembering simple words during conversations, or where the keys, gloves, wallets, hats, cell phones, etc., etc., have been misplaced, or whether this week’s appointment is with the dentist, eye doctor, or heart specialist, or maybe it’s time for another colonoscopy. I'm getting neurotic about what the hell it all means and why don't my dimly-remembered dreams make sense?

Yes, life is good. Maybe I should sum-up?

Where to start? I give myself good criticism for having survived.  The things I did as a kid … if I’d only known … certain regrets … I knew so much then that I’ve forgotten now … . That’s the old man talking, of course. The point is that here I am.

I was young when youth changed the world – but isn’t that always the way it works?  I don’t believe my parents' generation was the “greatest,” even if they did win World War II. But I don’t think mine is, either. How about the generation of cave-dwellers who first dropped a hunk of saber-toothed tiger meat in the fire and discovered cooking?  That simple advance changed the course of human history forever.  I’m being somewhat facetious, sorry. But I hope you get my point. There is no “greatest,” no “worst.”  We’re kind of in this all together.  We are all part of the same circle, and we all eventually end up as wisps of ethereal smoke floating to the clouds. Another old man thought.

We probably screwed it up. Our chance on this planet, I mean. Observe the air – yes, from my window I can see Denver’s brown, hazy atmosphere. It looks like I could scoop out a chunk and throw it against the wall. That’s not right. Extremes of weather have become the norm: record-setting cold snaps before winter officially has begun, the worst hurricane in recorded history, year-long seasons of wildfires, mudslides, and floods. Melting icecaps, disappearing rain forests, hordes of dangerous insects, the decimation of friendly bugs, weird and deadly new viruses. Are we playing out Revelations? That’s not right. I could say we only have ourselves to blame for letting this happen but that would be somewhat preachy, no?

Colorado has legalized pot, and soon folks can toke up on their front porches and watch the world trip by.  When that happened up on The Hill in Boulder, back in the day, a lit joint was enough to start a police riot with attendant billy clubs and tear gas. Has anyone noticed that while it’s okay to get high in our beautiful state, it’s way less than okay to be a kid in one of Colorado’s woefully under-funded public schools, especially in places like the San Luis Valley or Swansea? (Colorado spends $2,518 less per pupil than the national average. For more depressing statistics about the state of public education in Colorado, go here.) In the last few years, we've passed several laws for mota growing, distribution, selling, and taxation,  but we never seem able to approve a few bucks for the children.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. I said life is good then I went off on a tangent. I apologize for the downer.

Flo and Friend
Life is good because of all the good people that share mine. Flo immediately comes to mind - the strongest person I know and the only person for whom I've written a poem, which must mean something in the cosmic checklist we call the grand scheme of things.

If I start listing, this could go on for pages. Children, grandchildren, brothers, Flo's family, my mother, friends, readers, writers.  I must have enemies but, you know, I won't think of any right now. It's all good.

A Gift From Flo
My house is filled with music, art, books and all that wacky stuff Flo collects - from wind-up miniature robots to nativity sets. We also got squirrels, centipedes, and a ceramic bulldog. It's all good?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was about 10 years old, give or take a birthday or two. I managed to write a few books. Those books have provided immense joy and incredible pain. It evens out. Looking back, here in my sum-up, I have to say I've been lucky, but I also know luck follows fast on the heels of hard work. On the other hand, there's a resentment glowing like a burning charcoal briquette in my gut. I think many writers know what I'm talking about and where that acid burn comes from. But most of the time I'm whipping myself for not being more productive, for wasting years when I wasn't writing, for failing to meet my own goals, for taking the writing for granted. Bad criticism, all around.

"If only," he said, and then he drifted asleep.

Suggested reading:

The Death of Artemio Cruz -- Carlos Fuentes
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo -- Oscar Zeta Acosta
King of the Chicanos -- Manuel Ramos



Mario Acevedo said...

Great post. A lot of wisdom here. More than I could ever impart. Thanks. Mario

Manuel Ramos said...

Thank you, Mario - hope you have some gleeful holidays.