The Napa Youth Times


Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow
— Philip Larkin’s First Sight

The Napa Youth Times
by Oxman (Thursday, April 12, 2012) with the assistance of Professor James W. Loewen

“Cookie cutter confinement of one’s life to the passing fashion of the hour and spot of one’s birth is very much like using drugs.” — the author’s mentor, (April) 1962

“The hours of operation will be from 2:30 pm to 7:00 pm on weekdays….” — excerpt from a local article on the Napa Valley Youth Center, which made the author wonder why the doors couldn’t be open 24×7… if he were willing to devote his heartbeats to the project without requiring any $$ compensation.

It is their time, the time for Napa Valley’s youth.

They will have their decent shot at it. And there’s no reason why a publication can’t be the springboard and sustaining element for their efforts. Hence, the title here.

In the local Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine (April, 2002) there was a piece by Arvis Northrop titled Compassion for Youth: Napa Valley Youth Center. This is about the potential passion that can be expressed by the youngsters in Napa County, the reasons already residing within them which will safeguard their future… IF expressed. Each of us has such reasons dwelling deep inside, and they only have to be given half a chance to bloom. Like flowers they need watering. Enter me. There I am — I can see the scene clearly — nurturing what is naturally embedded in them, encouraging them… cheering them on… being available when they have to be protected against… the elements. With an educational setting in place which is very much about rising above the particular time and place of one’s birth. [Pause.] This article is very much about elaborating on that point.

“Drama, computer technology, family programs and more will be available. The hours of operation will be from 2:30 pm to 7:00 pm on weekdays, open weekends and during the summer.” That’s an excerpt from Arvis’ article, which applauds “all the possibilities of this magnificent project.” [Italics mine.]

I’m all for the teaching of drama and the staging of plays — as you will easily see if you glance at my background under the banner of ‘About Us’ above — and I’m all for taking advantage of the latest advances, of course. Family programs? Great. The thing is — in the spirit of this piece — to really implement a “magnificent” program, one does these days need to question particulars which normally are taken for granted because one does not want to rock the boat, or seem strange to the powers-that-be in a given setting. I trust that what’s directly below will elaborate on that point sufficiently for the reader. Then I will continue addressing other germane/related issues.

Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth; the sasha; the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many, like George Washington or Harriet Tubman, can be recalled by name. But…they are not living-dead. There is a huge difference.

In English we do not employ such terms, and so we do not think about such distinctions systematically, but we make use of the differences, unquestionably. If you lived through a given event, and read about it… you read partly in a spirit of criticism, assessing what the authors got wrong, as well as agreeing with and learning from what they got right. WHEN WE STUDY THE MORE DISTANT PAST, HOWEVER, THOUGH WE MAY ALSO READ CRITICALLY… OUR PRIMARY MODE IS INGESTIVE. In such cases, too often we have too little basis for being critical, insufficient experience to criticize at all.

Authors of American history textbooks appear all too aware of the sasha — of the fact that teachers, parents, and textbook adoption board members were alive in the recent past. THEY SEEM UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT. Revering the zamani — generalized ancestors — is more their style. By definition, the world of the sasha is controversial. The less said about the recent past the better. The less explored the better, regardless of what positive lessons might be learned from honest inquiry and discussion. And so… there are bottom line needs — emotionally, and for business reasons — to avoid controversy AND SASHA FOCUS.

Woodrow Wilson — to take one of untold examples — enjoys a dramatically more positive take now than in 1920. The improvement did not come about as a result of newly discovered information but from the ideological needs of the late 40s and early 50s. In those years mainstream white authorities — virtually the only experts of record then — wouldn’t fault Wilson for segregating the government, because no consensus at that time held that segregation was wrong. So-called containment of communism, not race relations, was the foremost issue of that postwar era. Wilson’s major policies — semi-declared wars, executive deception of Congress and suppression of civil liberties — were unpopular and controversial in the 20s, but had become quite routine, ordinary by the anti-communist 50s. There’s much more that could be cited, but the primary point here is that Wilson’s popularity in today’s textooks (and, thus, in the popular imagination) can be attributed to the fact that the ideological needs of the 50s, WHEN WILSON WAS IN THE ZAMANI, were different than those of the 20s, WHEN HE WAS PASSING INTO THE SASHA.

If I am teaching history to youngsters under the auspices of the NVYC, I want to be able to include both the sasha and zamani angles on a given figure or a given event. That approach — in the public schools — generally is frowned upon for a number of reasons, one of which raises the question of patriotism. I submit that I should not be viewed as unpatriotic. Rather, I should be supported in my desire to encourage youngsters to develop a keen sense of inquiry, and question authority with a respectful, reasonable attitudinal set.

This is very important for the youngsters. The children need to be able to carve out a fresh path for themselves unencumbered by a lot that adults take for granted, stuff that’s been dumped into their lives for reasons that might have nothing to do with the passions and potential residing deep within them. That realm is beautiful. And it can be honored without the children having to sacrifice being a positive contributing force in our larger community. To do so, however, requires that they rise above only being the product of the time and place they were born into, that chance set of circumstances.

Permit me to be specific, returning to a point made at the outset. Computer technology is a good example. The proliferation of high tech gadgetry these days is very much out of control. And whereas there are clear benefits to embracing true advances in high tech, there are downsides which are virtually not even being discussed in the most prestigious institutions of higher education.

In France, for example, the French government — at great expense — pulled out all of the Wi Fi from its national library system and schools. Other European countries have taken comparable actions with regard to Wi Fi’s first cousins in the high tech realm. Why? Because they are responding to what they consider definitive documentation concerning various kinds of radiation exposure. Exposure which is pretty much ignored on our shores.

This point is very much connected to what I was addressing respecting the way in which our society paints a given figure or event which has achieved zamani status. When I went for x-rays at the dentist in the 50s, there was no ostensible reason to get bent out of shape about exposure, no matter how many x-rays one was subjected to. No protective covering? No matter. No thought about what had not yet been thought up… to deal with what was eventually acknowledged as a clear danger. Well, that sort of dynamic goes on all the time, doesn’t it? A different time and a different place, and you’ve got the makings of a different take on a given subject.

I won’t go into more details about what has been called — in parts of Europe — “the greatest health experiment in history,” for this is not the place to do so. Rather, I will simply drop the hint that I would very much like to discuss with the powers-that-be who are responsible for the brick and mortar aspects of the slated NVYC building… the question of whether or not it’s a good thing to be planning to Wi Fi the entire setting which will house so many youngsters from Napa County. With their particular vulnerability.

Whether or not I am given that opportunity, perhaps the children can at least be educated about what is not being discussed elsewhere. Not just with regard to computer technology and Woodrow Wilson, but with respect to everything else. All areas which impact on their lives, from the food they eat to the way in which they treat themselves when they get away from it all. Maybe they can be offered an education that centers on a bit more than moving heaven and earth so that they can simply acclimate to the status quo. Oh, I know I’m shooting for the moon here. But that kind of environment is what would motivate me to put in 24×7 heartbeats.

Select educational offerings for the older teens… for which I could be responsible:

1. Singular immersion in Advocacy Journalism.

2. Career prep in Dramatic Art, Film Criticism and/or Creative Writing.

3. Travel Guide/Travel Agent training.

4. Involvement in Politics.

5. Farming. [In collaboration with local growers.]

6. Pre-med studies. [In collaboration with local medical professionals.]

7. Mentoring in the Music Industry.

8. Environmental Sciences.

And so on. I believe that the NVYC project can be about much more than personal survival. I can see it becoming the envy of many nationwide, its impact motivating local youth, then, in unprecedented fashion.


Now how on earth can I conclude this piece?

It’s been a long time since I sent out emails to Napa County citizens associated with the NVYC project… with no response yet. I trust that I’ll receive word today via email (; there will be no telephone access after noon today. It’s 5:50 am right now, but perhaps someone will call 707-994-1839 prior to noon. After that the family will be on the road relocating to Main Street, and it’ll be a week before we have a telephone hooked up; we don’t own a cell phone. [Pause.] I’ll be checking email at the lovely library in downtown Napa, though, I’m sure. My doors will be open.

Maybe that’s a good way to close, opening up the doors of perception… without drugs.

You have some questions? So do I.