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Bruce Mulkey
122 followers -
Essayist and author
Essayist and author

122 followers
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Research indicates that when you smile you stimulate an unconscious response in your brain, and you actually begin to feel happier. So even when you’re not really feeling happy, you can move in that direction by simply choosing to smile. What do you think would happen if you broke into a big grin right now?
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Your happiness is not dependent on what’s happening out there; it depends on what’s happening inside you. It’s not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. Whenever you really choose to do so, you can be happy. How about right now? (From my book "Happiness Now!")
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HOW I STOPPED AVOIDING MY CALLING AND LEARNED TO LOVE THE THESAURUS

First, a poem by Mary Oliver--The Journey:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice~
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do~
determined to save
the only life you could save.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It’s around 6:00 a.m. as I stumble down the stairs, trying not to become entangled with the small herd of cats eager for their breakfast. I push the button on the coffee pot as I pass by, open a can of cat food, distribute it among the six bowls on the floor, and watch as they begin to devour it.
I pour a steaming mug of coffee, settle in at the table, and open my journal. As I pull out my pen, our oldest cat, Chocolate, leaps onto the open page, head butting my hand to make sure she’s gotten my attention. What a wonderful wake-up call she and the other cats are. My interactions with them are a direct indicator of how fully aware I am. If I shoo Chocolate off of my journal to get down to the serious business of writing, I know I am in my “doing” mode, believing what’s most important is to get stuff accomplished. And if I fail to take time to connect with the cats, I’m pretty sure I’m doing the same thing with humans. If I pause to play with Chocolate, as I do this morning, I know that I am in the flow, in touch with the best part of myself, connected with the web of life and all of my surroundings.

I typically sit down to journal with no topic in mind, just start my hand moving and see what comes out of the pen. And today the topic is callings, more specifically, my calling. I probably should have expected this. Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, lies on my bedside table. In it I read, “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so.” On Sunday morning at Jubilee Howard Hanger tells me, “A job is something you do for money. A calling is something you do for your heart.”

My true calling: I’ve known it since grade school when I was fascinated by words and phrases that would roll effortlessly off my tongue. And it’s that thing that I spent the first forty years of my life avoiding: taking my writing seriously. Even though I was drawn to jobs that required a certain amount of writing (I wrote proposals, articles for business journals, features for textbooks, and teachers’ ancillary materials), when it came time to reveal my deepest thoughts and feelings, I crawfished like crazy. But as Levoy says, “Callings keep surfacing until we deal with them.”

As the words cascade into my journal this morning and I cut through the babble of my mind, it is clear: my calling is to write. I am compelled to do so. Any other path would be a breach of my integrity. I am duty-bound to put my knowledge, thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and inklings out into the world—for myself and in service to others. For my writing is often a journey of discovery. I learn things about myself that I was not conscious of. I get to examine my thoughts and beliefs and decide if they serve me. I have the opportunity to separate truth from fiction. I am able to comprehend why a planned action might (or might not) be in order.

And I write in service to others. I write to remind folks that they possess great personal power, that they have the capacity to live the lives they’ve always dreamed of. I write to reveal the innumerable possibilities that life offers, far beyond the choices promoted by the current dominant culture. I write that change—personal and societal—is possible and actually underway right now. I write to help create a shift in the cultural paradigm—to one of greater love, connection, honesty, integrity, generosity, responsibility, respect, and courage. I write in support of spiritual warriors, men and women who are willing to share their unique gifts in service of a better world, regardless of the consequences.

(Originally published in the August 9, 2003 edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times)
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WE SHOUTED OUT, "WHO KILLED DEMOCRACY?" WHEN AFTER ALL, IT WAS YOU AND ME.

As of April 28, 2017, I’ve now been on the planet for 74 rotations around the sun, almost three-quarters of a century, 30 percent of the time our country has been a nation. And I’ve seen a lot of changes during this time, personal, cultural, and political. The change nearest and dearest to my heart was my personal transformation.

Yes, there was a dark night of the soul, a bottoming out as they say in 12-step programs. I’d been sleepwalking through life for 40-some-odd years. And, of course, I’d gotten my wake-up calls—wrecking my car while intoxicated, being called on my sexist bullshit, personal and business bankruptcy, divorce, among others—but I’d ignored them even as they continued to intensify. Until one morning I woke up hung-over on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s home outside of Baton Rouge—no job, no friends, estranged from my daughter, stuck in a region that seemed two or three decades behind the times. And, in that moment, I could ignore the messages life was sending me no more. It finally dawned on me: Rather than trying to change outside circumstances—locales, mates, drugs of choice, drinking pals, etcetera—if I truly wanted a more satisfying life, what must change was the asshole staring back at me in the mirror. And, in fits and starts, over the next several years, I made a dramatic turn away from immaturity, irresponsibility, recklessness, and my ultra-macho façade toward greater accountability, honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and authenticity.

Similar to my personal somnolence, I believe we, the citizens of this nation, have been asleep for the past several decades. We began to pay more attention to our TV shows, our favorite celebrities, our sports teams, our fancy cars, our iPhones, and making money to buy more stuff than we did to our communities and the fabric of our nation. Most of us demonstrated little concern as powerful corporations and the financial elite bought greater and greater influence in Washington, D.C. and our state capitols, and career politicians of both major political parties began to shamelessly serve the needs of wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists rather than those who elected them.

We sat by complacently as income inequality grew so great that, in 2014, members of the bottom 90 percent in this country earned $33,000 per year while those in the top 1 percent raked in $1,260,000. We sat on our hands, while in the midst of great wealth, more than 20 percent of the nation’s children lived in poverty. In a foreshadowing of things to come, we paid more attention to The Apprentice than a two-tiered justice system that insured justice would, to a great extent, evade the working class and people of color, while the wealthy would frequently escape punishment for their misdeeds through the efforts of high-paid attorneys.

There was hardly a whimper when our civil liberties were curtailed out of rampant fear of terrorism, an apprehension stoked by opportunistic politicians and the mainstream media. We were, for the most part, silent as our young men and women were sent off to senseless wars, then were essentially forgotten when (if) they returned home. Only a few protested as Band-Aid solutions to climate change, an existential threat to the entire human race, were proposed that did little to effectively address the issue. All the while, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other human rights issues went unacknowledged and, thus, largely unaddressed.

As our nation gradually devolved from democratic republic to oligarchy, we the people of this nation received many wake-up calls along the way—a growing number of bankruptcies by men and women overwhelmed by their hospital bills, skyrocketing costs of some essential prescription drugs, unarmed black men shot down by militarized police forces, children murdered in their classrooms, the deaths and injuries from the never-ending war in the Middle East, veteran suicides, a bloated military budget that is larger than the next seven nations combined, the increasing number of deaths of despair, one in nine of the country's bridges rated as structurally deficient, an infant mortality rate higher than 27 other wealthy countries, increasingly warmer weather, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But most of us ignored these harbingers, even as they became louder and more frequent.

Consequently, we now get to deal with an enormous wake-up call to our nation—an ineffective, dishonest, immoral, narcissistic carnival barker of a president who represents the worst impulses of the American people, a man who tells a radio shock jock that it’s OK to refer to his daughter as a “piece of ass,” a man who mocks the disabled, who asserts that our military men and women do not fight to win, who demonizes people of color, who promotes fear and divisiveness to his own ends, who is interested in fulfilling his wants and needs regardless of the cost to our country.

There has been much discussion about who’s to blame for the election of Donald Trump—people who voted third party, those who refused to vote at all, the DNC’s clumsy maneuvers to fix the Democratic primaries, the Clinton campaign’s shortcomings, the Republicans’ unwillingness to halt Trump, the media’s free publicity for his campaign, a frustrated white working class, the FBI’s last minute tactics, Russians interference in the election, and on and on. But, if you want to find the person who’s actually culpable, merely take a look in the mirror. Donald Trump is the natural consequence of our indolence and apathy. And this time the wake-up call is so immense, so threatening, that it cannot be ignored.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, however, Trump’s election may, in fact, serve the greater purpose of those of us who desire a more compassionate, just, and sustainable society. For it is clear that, since his election, we the people have been awakened. Millions across the nation marched in the Women’s March, the Tax Day March, the March for Science, the People’s Climate March, and others. Elected representatives are receiving phone calls and post cards from constituents at a rate never seen before. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have turned out at town halls and rallies. Democratic Party precinct meetings in many states have overflowed with participants who have never been politically active before. Our Revolution, Indivisible, The Resistance School, and others are supporting thousands upon thousands of concerned citizens to move into action.

A powerful cultural shift is afoot, though you’ll likely not see it reported on CNN or in the New York Times. And Trump and his fellow travelers do us a great service in supporting this shift. For now, our national disgraces—white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, xenophobia, wealth disparity, oligarchy, and others—are brought into full focus. Now we have the opportunity to clearly perceive these injustices, and then channel the frustration, anger, and despair that many of us are feeling toward reconciliation, equality, justice, and the acknowledgment that there is much more that connects us than separates us.

(This essay originally appeared at The Good Men Project.)
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“Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, of unrepressed joy, of feeling connected to life and to other people, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, and that feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone. Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief. Sadly, tragically, these men in great numbers were remembering a primal moment of heartbreak and heartache: the moment that they were compelled to give up their right to feel, to love, in order to take their place as patriarchal men.” ― bell hooks
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Hi, I'm Bruce, and I'm a recovering racist.

It’s in times such as these that I am compelled to acknowledge my own racism. For though I was raised by white liberal parents who early on supported Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement during the Sixties, I grew up in America, in fact, in the South, and thus I unconsciously took on common beliefs and attitudes prevalent in the dominant cultural paradigm about people whose skin was darker than mine. “White people are smarter.” “Black people are better athletes.” Etcetera. And though I’ve become conscious of those beliefs, I have not rooted them all out and doubt that I ever will. At the very least, however, I can notice when my mind makes snap judgments (young black man driving a late model SUV = drug dealer) and recognize them for the falsehoods they are.

It’s in times such as these that I am compelled to acknowledge how I’ve benefited and continue to benefit from white privilege. From attending high school in my youth in a new building with relatively current textbooks while black kids on the other side of town were all segregated into one old building with hand-me-down books from the white schools to currently walking down the streets of Asheville at any time of day or night without fear of being harassed by the police, I have benefited from white privilege.

It’s in times such as these that I am compelled to acknowledge that I live in a nation that was built on a foundation of white supremacy—from the genocide of Native Americans whose land we stole, to the enslavement and subjugation of black people for the wealth their labor could bring, to the current slaughter of people of color in the Middle East for their oil.

It’s in times such as these that I’m compelled to acknowledge that all our thoughts and prayers, conversations about race, demonstrations against injustice, voting for worthy candidates, passing laws, etcetera, none of these efforts will bring about the reconciliation we say we seek until we come to grips with our sordid past and our ongoing deadly incursions into the affairs of other nations, until we ask for forgiveness from and offer reparations to the peoples we have harmed.
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"Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."
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Sixty years ago, a man destined to become president, then resign the office in disgrace, spoke at the 1957 Boy Scout National Jamboree about equality and fairness. I was at the 1957 Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, along with 50,000+ other Scouts from around the nation, including Stewart Horn, Fred Hollenback, Butch Weaver, and others from our little town of Tullahoma, Tennessee. As usual, the president was invited to speak at the Jamboree. But President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then in his second term, was unable to attend due to illness, and Vice President Richard Nixon stood in for him. We Scouts laughed and cheered when the president of the Boy Scouts accidentally introduced Nixon as President of the United States rather than Vice President. Nixon humorously corrected the error. Nixon's theme was civil rights. He stressed equal dignity among Scouts regardless of color or creed, and the importance of valuing an individual's achievements rather than his background.

Compare that with President Trump’s rambling, offensive, and inappropriate speech at the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree on Monday, in Glen Jean, West Virginia, in which he bragged about the “record” crowd size, bashed President Barack Obama, criticized the “fake media,” and trashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“The Scouts believe in putting America First!”; The “fake news” media was going to lie about their number; under the Trump Administration, “you’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping. Believe me. ‘Merry Christmas!’” To top it all off, as if he were still the lead on The Apprentice, Trump threatened to fire his health and human services secretary, who was standing onstage during the speech, if he couldn’t persuade members of Congress to vote for the Republican health-care bill.

Bad (or sick) guy. Sad.
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I've been thinking a lot about masculinity and fatherhood lately, and I ran across this piece I wrote for The Asheville Citizen-Times in 2003 on the death of a unique man--Mr. Rogers.
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My open letter to my daughter Gracelyn at The Good Men Project.
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