“Five Things Friday” Interview with Author Jnana Hodson!

It’s another “Five Things Friday” interview! This time I sat down to chat (well, if “chatting” involved exchanging emails) with author, journalist, and poet (and Quaker!) Jnana Hodson.

Willow Croft: Based on your blog(s) and author profile(s), you have both past and present ties to the “hippie” counter-culture, and the Quaker religion. How would you determine the place and/or the need for a like counter-culture and/or spirituality in today’s world? What societal trends would you identify that point to a need for such social, metaphysical, and character-based “sea change” in light of the recent/current events?

Jnana Hodson: Freeing ourselves mentally from advertising-driven consumerism would be a huge start. Just how much is enough for you to be happy and healthy? Or secure? Sometimes less really is more. Our unease is really a disease that sits atop fear.

The environmental crisis, especially, has been compounded by widespread denial. For one thing, it’s technically “climatic instability” rather than “global warming,” something the Texas deep-freeze demonstrates while exposing the real costs of high-level greed and hypocrisy. Closer to home, many of those monster pickup trucks we see are macho insecurity, no? A Prius or Tesla or bicycle becomes a defiant corrective act, as does an electric lawnmower rather than a conventional gas-powered cutter. Small steps can add up.

As my friend Steve Curwood contends, environmental actions are ethical, much more than economic. They can be lifestyle, too, as in choosing to live in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood or raise an organic garden.

Racism, another big issue, has its roots in a desire to get ahead – quite simply, ahead of everyone else. You see it in the compulsion to move in a better neighborhood– one with better schools. Or on to a better job, better clothes, a better car, whatever. And for many of us, racism includes an unacknowledged assumption of Northern European superiority. It’s even embodied in the myth of the self-made man, to the exclusion of all who contributed to his rise. Or should we call it his attempted escape? Racism undermines the shared commonwealth – meaningful community – we need.

Fear also underpins the growing and costly militarization of America. It’s accompanied by soaring gun ownership, which becomes a matter of faith for many who have no intention of hunting, along with rising domestic violence.

You mention my Quaker practice, which I came to as a young adult, not knowing it had been the faith of my Hodson ancestors from the beginning of the movement in 1600s’ Britain. The Society of Friends, as it’s more formally known, avoids dogma and creed and instead emphasizes personal experience of what we sometimes call the Inward Light of the Divine. For Friends, this applies to every facet of everyday life and is embodied in simplicity, equality, peace, non-violence, and a community of kindred spirits. Not that we don’t have our shortcomings, but it does come down to an alternative Christianity of a radical sort.

One thing that it’s taught me is that individually, we’re pretty powerless. But put us together, and it’s like those bundles of bamboo, as the illustration goes. Nothing, apparently, can break them.

Willow Croft: I always try to include a food-based question, so how has old food pathways (via recipes and traditional/borrowed culinary practices) influenced your own eating habits? Do you uphold specific culinary traditions or has it evolved based on your current geographical location (e.g. your moves from the yoga ashram to the Pacific Northwest to coastal New England)?

Jnana Hodson: Oh, what a delicious question! I’ll warn you, though, I’m married to one of the world’s great cooks and she’s greatly expanded my awareness.

[There’s been quite a] revolution that’s occurred in American taste. When I turned vegetarian back in 1970, broccoli was exotic, and nobody could understand the concept of giving up meat. When I was growing up in the ’50s, most of my food came out of cans – even spaghetti! Chinese? It was chop-suey. I even remember my first pizza. As my dad would say, it was EYE-talian. I was maybe six or seven, and the aroma of oregano was exotic – I still recall that, all these years after raising our own herbs.

So vegetarianism opened me to new flavors, especially once I moved to the yoga ashram and lentils and dried beans were added to the mix. There I soon developed a knack for making bread each week. One Monday, I produced about 120 loaves, with a lot of kneading provided by my fellow yogis. Oh, yes, we were lacto-vegetarian and raised our own eggs. There’s a vast difference between those and what you find in the supermarket.

Region has definitely impacted my eating habits. Living in the Pacific Northwest introduced me to Dungeness crab and salmon as well as wild asparagus, which grew along the irrigation canals. I glutted out every May, knowing there would be no more fresh spears for another year.

Around then I came upon the Confucian ideal of no food out of season or place, which essentially points to freshness. The secret of great cooking across traditions, by the way, is the matter of respecting the ingredients, and that’s where freshness is crucial, as is knowing the difference between butter and margarine or the oils we apply. As my wife repeats, fat carries flavor. Just make sure it’s not rancid.

Regional influences include picking our own fruit in local orchards and obtaining unpasteurized apple cider, in season, as well as local cheeses. At one point, I lived near several large Amish communities in Ohio, where Swiss cheese was produced. In New Hampshire, a small country store a town away produces its own delightful cheddars and is well worth a visit. For several summers, we subscribed to a local sustainable fisheries delivery. Each week, we’d pick up a pound of what the local fishermen were harvesting rather than the common commercial varieties. Monkfish, anyone?

Gardening has had a huge impact, from asparagus to strawberries and buttery lettuces and early peas on to the range of real tomatoes – not those things you buy at the grocery. One year, we had fourteen varieties, each one distinctive. From the beginning of August till the first hard frost, I pretty much live on mayo-and-tomato sandwiches. Forget the bacon.

Joining in our Quaker Meeting’s once-a-month participation in Dover’s soup kitchen has also been eye-opening. Nobody serves soup these days, and for our turn, we do a chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw dinner, which seems to be very popular. Cooking for sixty or seventy is quite different than a home dinner, but we try. We’ll be happy when we’re back to table service rather than the Covid-induced takeout.

With the kids now gone, my wife and I are downsizing and moving on to a place where scallops and blueberries are major harvests. She’s already planning the garden, as well as autumn trips northward to Aroostook County for fresh potatoes, with skins that simply melt away in your mouth.

Willow Croft: As a former journalist, how do you feel about the state of journalism today, what with the digital news trends, the howls of “fake news” heard ‘round the world, and the role social media plays in the process of journalistic integrity (or lack thereof)?

Jnana Hodson: Former? Please make that “retired.” I might not be on the payroll these days, but it’s still in my blood – and my dreams, too, usually with frustrations of trying to make deadline or fit everything on a page or adjust to a new computer system. Besides, much of my blogging can be seen as small-scale journalism.

Widespread anonymity and the lack of face-to-face accountability in social media have so far eluded the legal redress of libel and slander laws. Often, avoiding basic civility, too. Reputations can be destroyed overnight, without penalties to the perpetrators. That has to change, and likely will with some big court cases.

On the other hand, the video on smartphones has lifted the cover on police brutality and other injustices. So we do have a mixed bag.

Journalism has been in a tailspin for some time, even before the Internet whammy. We’ve had a declining level of literacy – folks simply reading – on one side. In the newsroom we used to grumble about the “bean counters” who kept expecting more output at lower cost from fewer resources. One thing for certain – the watchdog function has been seriously wounded – with consequences that will prove costly to the public at all levels. Good reporting is hard work, and sharp editing is essential. It’s a fulltime job, not an amateur role, and often needs some strong backup when those in power seek retribution. 

For the right entrepreneur, there’s potential to create a revolutionary digital news vehicle, if enough subscribers can be convinced to pay what they now do for printed paper. It could be a hybrid of written and spoken, with no reliance on advertising. I have some thoughts, by the way, on how it might differ from the generic newspaper we too often encounter today. It could certainly give rise to some fresh ways of covering a community.

Willow Croft: As a poet myself, I am always intrigued about the sources of inspiration other poets draw upon to create their poetic works. With your own poetry, is the past and personal memories more of an influence, or is your current life experience(s) more of a muse?

Jnana Hodson: Very much the now, even when that has me looking back. It’s been a discipline for exploring what’s before me, often from quirky or playful perspectives, before I let go and move on.

The clearing of my mind through meditation has been a strong factor, allowing intuition to bubble up. Sometimes I’ll scribble a short note to myself during the silence of Quaker worship, something I’ll develop and explore later. Similar things happen while showering, walking, or even driving.

Much of my work was done as a reaction to the constraints of daily journalism – often on the fly, like graffiti I revised and distilled later.

Sometimes they stayed short, like a headline. Maybe I wasn’t getting as far away from the newspaper as I thought. Other times, though, they were thrown into a blender – there’s good reason I’ve been called a Mixmaster Supreme. 

What evolves is often something like a dream, which has one foot in the past and the other in the present, not that they’re always obvious.

Willow Croft: Some of your blog topics touch on economics. What sort of economic model, or revolution, is needed to help transform the dual worlds of employment and community (social structure)?

Jnana Hodson: The poets Donald Hall, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry are important influences here.

Hall sees work as an embodiment of passion or a meaningful engagement, even when it doesn’t reward you monetarily. Writing a poem is work, as we know. In contrast, a job is something you do to pay the bills, and chores are unpaid things you have to do as a matter of life.

Gary Snyder has what he calls the Real Work. He also titled an early collection Earth House Hold, noting the Greek meaning of “economy.” Shall we start with its environmental awareness?

And Berry looks closely at family life as well as agriculture and community.

As Hall says, we’re really blessed when our work and our jobs come together as one. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is a widespread denigration of the work aspect of our daily employment, and many of the higher paid positions are way out of line with their greater value to society.

Public policy has put labor and its compensation under attack for the past fifty years. All of the productivity gains have gone into the pocket of the top five percent of the population – much of that going to the one percent. People who still have jobs have been working longer and harder for less than before. And the reality is that most of those touted “entry-level positions” are dead-end jobs with no upward mobility. I’m really miffed when the employers demand “reliable transportation” while offering minimum wage. It’s an unhealthy situation, leaving many people desperate. Wonder why Megabucks are so popular? Or illicit drugs?

Raising the minimum wage is a good step but hardly enough. Quite simply, drastic corrective income redistribution is necessary. Not that we’ve really been able to talk about that. Wages in general can’t go up as long as we’re competing with Third World labor – and that extends to those call centers overseas. Yet just think of the inhibiting, negative emotional whammy the label “socialist” invokes.

Meanwhile, high-tech is eliminating many employment fields – think of travel agents, local stockbrokers, professional photography and developers, or print shops, all already gone, along with the local video stores. I’m wondering how long most local retailers can hold out once we’re free of Covid.

When I look at young graduates entering the job market, I’m grateful I’ve made it to retirement. I have no idea what I’d do in their place or how they’re ever going to afford a place of their own.

Surprisingly, some right-wing economists are reluctantly coming around to admitting the necessity of a guaranteed minimum income for everyone. I would see that as including universal health care – as others have noted, pegging medical insurance to one’s employer greatly discourages entrepreneurs from stepping out on their own unless their spouse has independent coverage – and that becomes a damper on economic growth. The redistribution should also include higher education. Graduates today are saddled with impossible debt for skills their potential employers expect scot-free. And that’s before we get to non-competitor clauses.

I’m still believe in E.F. Schumacher’s “small is beautiful,” which was actually happening until cargo-container shipping from China, abetted by “free trade” deals in Washington, wracked the American economy. Bernie Sanders, drawing on labor union economists, nailed that one.

Respecting all honest work is important. Covid showed us how essential trash collectors and nursing home staff are in the big picture. As a cub reporter, I learned that secretaries and janitors often know far more about an operation than the suit in the corner office does. That hasn’t changed. I’ve long come to see a good carpenter or plumber as an artist. ‘Nuff said?

One big shift I’ll encourage turns away from accumulating more possessions – most of us have too much stuff anyway – and toward services and activities instead. That is, quality of life over quantity. Individually donating to local causes and volunteering run along those lines. In short, we can use our time and our money to enhance the place we and our neighbors inhabit.

I’m anticipating that when the Covid restrictions are lifted, we’ll burst out into renewed social connections. It feels like ages since I’ve been to a poetry reading, a contra dance, or a pub sing. How ’bout you?

If you’re keen to hear more from Jnana Hodgson, please follow his Jnana’s Red Barn blog at https://jnanahodson.net/ or check out his book(s) on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jnana-Hodson/e/B088BWJ35Y) or on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6916110.Jnana_Hodson).

The Dark Side is Not So Dark After All: The Need for Satanism in the Twenty-First Century

Not too long ago, I was doing research for a short story involving demons and the Christianized concept of the devil, and I came across the tenets of the Satanic Temple.

The tenets resonated with me from the first read, especially as I’m entering into middle age, and, after some (non-philosophical) musing, I made the decision to become a member of the Satanic Temple.

The civic-minded nature of the Temple, the respect for others’ rights and freedoms, and, especially the “compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason” (as quoted from their tenets on their website: https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/tenets), which, of course, appealed to my nature as an animal rights activist and tree-hugger environmentalist.

In addition, I think organizations like the Satanic Temple are essential to combat the alarming trends and shifts in the world today (or, a continuance of imperialism and intolerance that is history’s long-standing legacy, but we can engage in that deep philosophical/intellectual conversation some other time) such as Donald Trump’s insane and greedy hate-filled antics, and the widespread climate change and loss of valuable non-human species.

As a card-carrying Satanist now, I decided to submit an essay for a Satanic voices anthology put together by publisher Daniel Cureton at Forty-Two Books, and edited by Faustus Blackbook, and I was very excited to learn it had been accepted for inclusion in this anthology.

Check out the diverse collection of essays, short stories, poems (and a fascinating creative nonfiction piece) to learn more about Satanism today!

Satan Speaks! Contemporary Satanic Voiceshttps://www.amazon.com/Satan-Speaks-Contemporary-Satanic-Voices/dp/1734006714/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=satan+speaks%21%3A+contemporary+satanic+voice&qid=1583328273&s=books&sr=1-1 )

I also greatly appreciated the review a fellow blogger, Assholes Watching Movies, posted (a blog which I’ve followed for years now) about the movie Hail Satan? Read the review here: https://assholeswatchingmovies.com/2020/02/28/hail-satan/

I’ve included the link for the Satanic Temple, should you wish to learn more about this organization: https://thesatanictemple.com/.

Just for posterity, here’s the link to the form of Satanism that continues to follow in Anton LaVey’s footsteps: https://www.churchofsatan.com/.

 

 

Taking Flight With Ufology Books

I’ve never even had anything close to a UFO sighting, or even had any one of the numerically classified encounters with extraterrestrials and their transports of choice.

I have the iconic poster, though; you know the one, the poster that was hanging in Mulder’s basement office (with no work area for Scully, mind you) that says “I want to believe.”

I’ve been to the UFO museum in Roswell for one of their anniversaries—I think the 50th—and picked up a bunch of books written by UFO experts and aficionados. Some were nice, one was rude and dismissive (I immediately regretted buying their book), and most of the speakers there had interesting presentations on the topic of UFOs and alien visitations. But, overall, it still had a “boy’s club” feel to it, and, as a woman, I didn’t feel very welcomed in the house of Ufology. Like it’s a grown-up version of a secret fort, and there’s a big sign out front that says “No Girls Allowed”.

New Picture

 

Anyway, I also paid a visit to the crash site while I was in Roswell. At least there was nobody out there to suggest that I, as a woman, didn’t belong among all the self-titled “UFO scholars.” It’s desolate out there—there’s nothing for miles, until the land runs into the mountain. And spooky, even in the daytime. For anyone who’s been out to New Mexico, you know what I’m talking about. It’s very quiet and the silence and the wind gives you chills. It’s easier to imagine paranormal activity courtesy of old-world spirits rather than any residual physical traces of the UFO crash hiding beneath the desert soil. Now, apparently, you can tour the site of the crash. But when I was there, there was just a sign, and the site of the Roswell crash was on private property.

 

New Picture (1)

 

So, regarding UFOs, I still remain a little more on the skeptical side, despite my intellectual curiosity. I do not want to detract from anyone’s experience who has had a sighting of aliens/extraterrestrials, undergone an alien abduction, or seen a UFO in the sky or on the ground. I, myself, have seen some things that I am still trying to come up with a rational explanation for, but, for me, the allure and magic of fantasy and anything else one’s imagination creates relies on the fact that it is unreal and not of this world. I mean, if I saw unicorns and fairies and krakens every day, they wouldn’t have a strong a hold on my inner spirit and psyche. I am quite comfortable with the unsolved, the mysterious, the unknown, and undiscovered.

I mean, it was exciting to entertain ideas that the transport in the bible was actually a UFO; that the gods and goddesses from lore and myth from various cultures and religions (including the bible) were actually visitors from outer space; and that the Mayan carving was a figure piloting a  ship. But I also feel intrigued by theories that alchemical magic was behind some of the great architectural feats that created the pyramids and other such massive structures.

But then I “want to believe” in the science that can rule out such fanciful explanations, and there does seem to be too many holes in the theories of UFOs that have not even being explored as an alternative, rational explanation and either thereby suggested as an area for future study or eliminated thoroughly as a cause.

I think of Barney and Betty Hill. The soiled and torn clothing, and other elements of the case could also point to an attack by very human individuals. And I couldn’t help but think if the UFO explanation was simply a protective façade created by the mind for a similar situation where they both felt powerless but couldn’t come to terms with the reality of a brutal assault by people very much of this world.

Which leads me to my most recent reads into the clandestine world of UFOs, and the secret agenda of…extraterrestrials? Or some as-yet-unrevealed sinister force that has been at work since the dawn of (human) time and memory?

I’ll start with the first of Ken Hudnall’s books, The Occult Connection: U.F.O.s, Secret Societies, and Ancient Gods.

 I liked the main part of the book, and I would probably keep it on my shelf for a while as a research resource, where all these conspiracy tidbits and theories  I’ve read about over the years (And taken with a grain of salt—or is it sand? I forget how it goes.) are condensed into one neat volume. And Hudnall’s tracing of the “Men in Black” phenomenon into history (though not comprehensively) is an interesting theory to add to my research database.

Generally speaking, and not necessarily in Hudnall’s book, I have the problem when U.F.O. sightings and speculation, and extraterrestrial visitation cross over into props used to support the “superior” technical, scientific, and engineering knowledge of what Ufology scholars and abductees, et al, refer to as a suspiciously “ Great White Aryan” race of people. This race is depicted as not only “white” but one that was so advanced it was classified as divine. The whole history of U.F.O. and extraterrestrial sightings reads like a tribute to the wonder of the European races—a racist, revisionist area of study and oral history/stories that erases the knowledge and accomplishments of people like the Maya or from China, for example, as well as many more. (A family member, once, told me about an March 26, 1880 article in the Santa Fe New Mexican that related a sighting of a “fish-shape balloon, with ten human occupants in it from which strong singing, music, and shouting in an unknown language. The article reports that a rose tied to a letter written with ‘unknown characters’ and a cup of ‘unusual workmanship’ were dropped from the vehicle. According to accounts the following day, a person unknown to the residents purchased both items for a ‘large sum of money,’ declaring them ‘of Asiatic origin’.” The context of this was that U.F.O.s could, in fact, be touring balloons launched from China and/or Japan and reaching the coast of the United States. This family member referenced this as a potential explanation for some U.F.O. sightings in more recent history).

Ultimately, I would like to know what side Ken Hudnall falls on, more specifically. Because some of the points included in the appendices, especially, seem a little too extreme even for my “I-want-to-believe” curious mind. He terms the mysterious author of Appendix D Bruce Walton (presumably the whole section, or does Walton leave off and Hudnall chimes in, at the end of the appendix?) as an “outstanding researcher” (Occult Connection, pp 173). What does he think about the “Globalist conspiracy” of which “Satan and his Demons” are using to “enslave the world” that is mentioned at the end of Walton’s appendix? (Occult Connection, pp. 181-182). This seems to be a little less balanced even for the what could be termed as fringe topics in Hudnall’s book. But I’m going to move onto Hudnall’s second book I picked up recently.

Like Occult Connection, Hudnall’s Beyond Roswell is a compact summation; this time of other U.S. UFO crashes and the one that happened in Mexico, right across the border, which makes it a handy reference for my bookshelf. It’s accentuated with oral transcriptions and interviews from the witnesses and others whose lives were impacted by the things they witnessed during, and after, the UFO crashes. As a historian whose field is public history, especially oral history, those included firsthand reports made the book that much more interesting. And, again, the chapter on the Men in Black made the sometimes confusing appearances of these mysterious figures a little more clear in their sinister connection to UFOs. And, of course, being visual, I love having a book with photos and illustrations!

The last book I picked up at NecroNomicCon here in New Mexico, was Travis Walton’s Fire in the Sky: The Walton Experience.

This was a very detailed, comprehensive book about Walton’s recollection of his abduction by purported aliens on November 5th, 1975, and the resultant aftermath of his traumatic experience. So detailed, in fact, it’s hard not to accept that Walton did go through something very extraordinary. When I read most of these books that are written about, or record, a person’s alien abduction experiences, I wonder who would make up stuff like this. Especially someone like Travis Walton, whose experience seems to come right out of the blue (or out of the sky) for just an “average guy” type (No offense—I’m sure Travis wasn’t average, but you know what I mean.). I don’t question that these purported abductees think they experienced something, and far be it from me to question the validity of their experience, but it seems that if they had an event of this magnitude happen to them as a figment of their imagination or state of mind at the time of the purported abduction, there would be signs leading up to it. Signs their mental state was fraying—paranoia, previous experiences, talk of being followed or persecuted, feelings of being surveilled—things like that. Imagining alien craft and abductions doesn’t seem to me the hallmarks of a psychopath/sociopath, whom (or so I’ve read—I’m not in any of the licensed mental health professions) are pretty good at hiding their true mental state from the general public.

The only thing I can think of is that it was a very vivid dream after some traumatic event. But a dream that his fellow workers also had? It doesn’t even seem likely. Maybe it’s the result of stress—stress can do funny things to a person’s mind, and Travis, himself, mentions that their job is a stressful one. Maybe their tired, stressed minds triggered some sort of visual hallucination.

But by now I’m circling back to my Betty and Barney Hill argument. Could something so terrible happen at the hands of our fellow humans, especially those that we know and trust, and live among, that our minds can’t handle it, so we reach for a handy scapegoat like aliens and UFOs and alien abductions?

Finally, Travis Walton lays out several points that many of his debunkers have raised, and presents evidence as to why those skeptics’ counterarguments aren’t feasible. Still, though, as I reached the end of the Walton book, I’m not sure I was convinced, but through lack of any other feasible theories as to his abduction experience, who am I to say that it didn’t happen?

In reading another tale of an abductee’s experience, Flashbacks: An Artist’s Memoir of Alien Abductions, Native Spirits, and Enlightenment, I remember thinking that some of the events seemed very farfetched. Also, when (in the book) there was a chance to get concrete medical evidence after Sean Bartok’s abduction experience, and I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t jump at the chance to get the tests done. They would then have proof, or at least, an alternate explanation that would ease one’s mind after what seems to be a very frightening experience.

So, I still am not convinced there’s aliens out there, gliding through our skies, and abducting humans and animals and conducting tests on them. But sometimes, as I look around at our world, I wish there were. Not up there wasting time on humans, but floating up there as an extraterrestrial Noah’s Ark; rescuing animals that are on the verge of extinction thanks to us humans, and that their ships are also big arboretums full of trees and plants and grasses we humans love to hate. That the aliens are taking these non-human life forms back to a peaceful Eden where they can flourish and evolve unmolested.

That’s what I want to believe.