Category Archives: Philosophy

Very few things are black or white; there are many shades of purple.

Sturm und Drang: The Breakfast of Trumpions

 

Faust

I tend to keep a low profile when I walk around the city. I am not a recreational urban stroller. I just want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, unimpeded. But damned if those annoying “you got a minute for ABC . . . XYZ?” kids try to get my attention when I least want it. Every. Time. Nothing I do—or don’t do—dissuades them from their cutesy attempts to squeeze out a minute from me I don’t have (I gave them said minute once; it is more like five). I’ve tried a polite dissent, resting bitch face, or veering not so subtly out of their path. Nothing works.

It happened, yet again, today. As I let the grumbling, snotty response to my cold shoulder fade in my wake, I realized what has been eating at me since November 9, 2016: Liberals are really pissing me off.

What makes this realization noteworthy is that up until after Election Day, I identified as a Liberal. I still do in many ways. I have more than a minute for Gay Rights, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. The crises that make organizations like Human Rights Campaign dump these poor saps onto the streets to obnoxiously beg for support are the things that keep me up at night. I not only give a minute, I devote hours of my day thinking and writing about them. Admittedly, I am just a mere armchair activist, but still, these human rights issues are a large concern. I honestly don’t know what we can do about them outside of continuing to fight for them.

In deference to my Liberal brethren who might be reading and working themselves up into a lather, I assure you, I am with you. Overall, we are on the right side of history. It astounds me how polarized people can be on a simple concept like an individual’s basic humanity. Sadly, the world will remain divided and our efforts will be for naught, particularly if we continue on our current trajectory. What I am suggesting is that there are some things that could use some . . . tweaking, perhaps?

That was my attempt at political correctness—a tactic that makes the left particularly annoying (more on that later). I shall be blunt. Many (not all) Liberals need to get over their sanctimonious martyrdom and actually do something that is substantive. So says the aforementioned armchair activist.

I make this declaration with the acknowledgement that I’ve been guilty of sanctimony and victimhood, as well. I drew on my own “grab ‘em by the pussy” experiences like a baby to her bottle. When Donald Trump was elected, I cried inconsolably. I was prone to acting like what the right refers to as a “Libtard” or “Snowflake.” In turn, I swung my broad, ad hominem brush at “Clownservatives” and “Republicunts” who hate the world, thus making our country anything but great. Logical fallacies aside, there are plenty on both sides of the political aisle that have earned those pejoratives. For the purpose of this article, I focus on Liberals.

These past few months, I’ve taken a step back, or more like, been catapulted to the middle. This change was one of necessity. As I was sobbing while leaving the house the morning after the election, my dear husband with his lovingly brutal honesty, banged on the echo chamber until I crawled out to escape the cacophony. With one pin poke (more like an hour-long lecture) he popped the Liberal bubble that cocooned me for the past decade.

To be fair, I had already previously been laying the groundwork for the transformation into an Independent butterfly. I was just in serious denial. I suspected Trump—once a moderate—was pulling a long, elaborate con. I abandoned it without doing my homework. Quite frankly, the pack, us-versus-them mentality made it much easier to just hate the man and see Hillary Clinton as the better candidate, while secretly wishing something would happen to both of them so that Bernie Sanders could saunter in and save the day. I held my nose when I voted for Clinton; I just couldn’t join the fray and be #imwithher. Yet, I thought she was at least the lesser of evils. With that, I’ll start with Lesson 1.

The Drumpfer has some clothes

My darling husband showed me what he’d been researching the past year. Aha! It makes sense now. Trump has been planning this most of his career. Even just ten years ago, he cozied up to the Democrats and made contributions to the DNC, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. He was chummy with the Clintons, in fact. When the Democrats didn’t take him seriously for his Presidential aspirations, he played the Republican and flimflammed the alt-right while galvanizing disenfranchised, rural Americans. He did whatever it took to get elected. He is determined to be the BEST President, so he throws the GOP parties to make them drunk with their majority power. He’ll punish the Democrats for a while until he needs them for his agenda. Then the Republicans may well be nursing their hangovers while he butchers some of their sacred cows. Yay! It is all just bread and circuses, faking us out until we are all forced to eat our spinach because our own divine bovines died off. Classic narcissistic businessman, him.

Try telling that to Liberals. “Oh, tsk tsk, Diane. You give him too much credit. He’s a moron, insane, and didn’t even want the job. He is going to destroy us. You’ll learn.” I’m not ready to abandon the Long Con theory, but I admit it is being thrown into question. Quite frankly, he’s doing some very scary things right out of the gate. We must keep a watchful eye on his administration, and always be vigilant. What I ask is that Liberals do not succumb to what Conservatives so maddeningly did with Obama: don’t hate everything Trump does because of his vexing skin color, no offense to orangutans. There is more to it than that, of course. We can disagree with his agenda, but not throw the baby (hands) out with the bathwater. Look back at old footage of him; he was quite fluent and astute. The way he speaks and carries on these days is a tactic to get attention, and demonstrates his low opinion of our country’s collective intelligence. We all seize voraciously on every little tweet, word, and action, so his disdain is not without merit.

Democrats have been screwed over twice because of the Electoral College. I understand the frustration, but am not inclined to move to abolish something just because I didn’t get what I want. Our Forefathers set us up as a Constitutional Republic, not a pure Democracy. Why? Because it elects representatives to protect our collective Constitutional rights and interests. Electing the candidate with the popular vote sounds simple and fair, but it isn’t. He won, based on the Republic vote. It is a mystery how he was viewed as being in the best interests of the majority of the population, but there you have it. Let’s look at our own party’s hubris for selling their souls in blind desire to elect the first woman President and getting the Clintons back in the White House, and our own over-confidence that there was no way she could lose to Trump. She did, so Liberals, including myself, are to blame for that. We sowed, therefore we must reap.

There are still many arguments supporting that he should not be in the White House, and he’s already wrought considerable havoc. Not to mention he set a dangerous precedent with his con job, one that surpasses the usual empty promises that abound in politics. Is it that easy to get elected? The validity of Hitler comparisons is debatable, but with our gullibility, we could actually elect a malevolent primary psychopath who is astute enough to follow the pathway that Trump paved, and take us down it to a much worse Hell than is histrionically being railed about now.

Regardless, Trump is our President; give it time. The Democrats will get their party. Between the short times either party is pleased, both Republicans and Democrats will share a discontent with their “esteemed” leader who dares to give us our democracy, good and hard. What brings rivals together for a mutual cause? The enemy of my enemy. We actually may cross party lines and work together. Won’t that be swell?

That is the last you’ll hear from me about this particular topic, except if/when I can deliver between mouthfuls of spinach, a richly deserved, “I told you so.” That is, if he doesn’t get impeached or kicked out of office first.

Shot through the bleeding heart

This is a topic that has stuck in my craw for several years. There are many Liberals, such as the wonderful Dan Savage, who believe that the Second Amendment should be abolished. I used to be anti-gun, and still am afraid of them. When mass shootings started getting more bandwidth (they were always there, but are covered more now because of the instant and powerful reach of the Internet), I realized I needed to educate myself on guns and actually decide what my view on them should be. I didn’t land where I expected.

Guns are bad and need to be controlled because they lead to gun violence. This mantra begs the question, as it is fundamentally flawed for several reasons. First off, it is like saying marijuana is a gateway drug. Demonizing guns speaks to a complete lack of understanding why our Forefather’s wrote the Second Amendment. The intent was to give the citizens of our Republic—again, not Democracy, Republic—the right to protect themselves. It isn’t to shoot each other willy-nilly, nor even to make machinegun bacon, but to protect the people from all threats that menace them, especially a tyrannical government.

Second, referring to the problem as “gun violence” muddies the water the same way as calling all pit bulls vicious. Criminals abuse guns to the point that they’ve lost that Constitutional right to keep and bear them, and that is a problem. The thing about rights is that they are there until they are abused, and because of that, do not extend beyond our noses. We have the right to our nose, but not if we chop it off. It will in turn spite our face. Criminals infringe on our rights, but reactionary obtuseness results in everyone losing out. How can we rightfully protect ourselves from harm when everyone is disarmed except for those who are out to hurt us? The answer is, we can’t.

Third, anything we try to attack and control through restriction, like the War on Drugs, is bound to backfire and lead to more violent responses. Think of it as homeopathy: Like heals like. The more law-abiding citizens that are responsibly armed, i.e., with proper training, the bigger deterrent for criminals to, well, fuck with us. Make sense?

Fourth, the foundation of the anti-gun view was built with a double standard. If the Second Amendment is bad, then the other 26 should be thrown into question. Are you ready for that? As a recent example, the GOP voted to remove the requirement of the Social Security Administration to provide to the NICS database the list of people who require a caretaker of their finances, so that those recipients of aid for their fiduciary well being are prohibited from obtaining firearms. The left claims it will arm severely mentally ill people, which will lead to shootouts in “crazy town.” This is reactionary, as it assumes the worst intentions of the “evil party.” While there may be financial incentives from the NRA, the spirit of it is to allow the people, who’ve done nothing to lose their rights, due process like everyone else. The ACLU agrees, and thus is ironically on the same side. Isn’t that covered in the Fifth Amendment, due process and all? If not, then look at the all-encompassing Ninth that covers any rights not otherwise specified.

It is interesting—by interesting, I mean hypocritical—that those who rally against stigmatizing mental health stop short when it comes to owning a firearm. The same goes for military Veterans, who were identically affected by a similarly disarming mandate. The government readily armed them to fight for our country, but that would make it near impossible for them to protect themselves in their own homes, simply because they chose to seek out someone to help them pay their bills accurately. It is a smoking bullet hole stigmata right in the middle of the forehead.

Who claims to have a reasonable approach to “sensible gun laws” but has been rightfully accused of wanting to restrict Second Amendment rights? Hillary Clinton, and it is what makes her appealing to the left. However, she is a hated, targeted woman by many. How do you think the Secret Service protects her, with their fists? Of course not. Does anyone see her complaining about that? Of course not. More hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, these points hit a dense, peace-loving hemp wall. Anti-gun Liberals should direct their fear to where it belongs, which is to the drain they are going down along with their stubborn, circular arguments.

I will end it with this. Trump is pro-Second Amendment, but his abuse of every piece of the First Amendment is in a word, frightening. The defense of the First Amendment is predicated on our rights in the Second Amendment. We can’t defend ourselves with words and signs if we are silenced. Buck up, Liberals, and stop shooting yourself in the foot. If there is ever a time that we need to ensure the government fears its people, it is now.

Protest the protester

Our First Amendment rights allow for protest, and Dems and Libs are exercising that right, most definitely of late. Protests are a way to get our collective voice heard, and our Forefathers were right in including that as a respected way to get the attention of our government.

The obvious challenge is keeping it peaceful. The larger the crowd, the greater chance of it getting out of hand. Did you know the majority of violent protests come from Liberal/left-wing causes? Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, as well as numerous other rallies against unjustified shootings, collapsed in on itself. Threats, fights, shootings, and rape, all happened on the supposedly anti-violent left’s watch. Why is it acceptable for Liberals to rip off their tie-dye peace and love shirts and become Social Justice Warriors, but not Conservatives? Feeling justified doesn’t cut it. It is subjective, especially from the perspective of those who don’t agree with you. Last anyone checked in the Constitution, nothing but peaceful assembly is protected.

That said, props for keeping the Women’s March reasonably civilized. It didn’t cause substantive change—yet—but the overwhelming turnout and solidarity sent a powerful warning shot across the bow: We are here, and we aren’t going away.

That’s the spirit! Keep it up. Commitment and tenacity are needed during these uncertain times. Just don’t overdo it. Think before you pick up that protest sign, lest it amount to nothing but tuned out cries of wolf. In addition, be selective on the where and when. It can backfire and cause a lot of resentment.

Yes, it rather sucks that Trump is our President. Millions of people were heartbroken, as well as outraged. Citizens swarmed city streets post-Election Day, delivering a loud and clear message: Not Our President. That’s great; the Administration-elect and possibly, those who voted for him heard them, also loud and clear. That includes the people who were stuck in their cars while thwarted from their commute home. I wonder how many of them voted for Clinton. Does it matter? They were thrust in the middle of the protest, whether they wanted to be or not.

The plea from the Hamilton cast to Mike Pence is another example. It was a great message, but delivered under poor, unfair circumstances. I hate Pence, too, but he was there on a night off to enjoy theatre. He handled it with aplomb (unlike his boss), but do you really think he changed his view? The people who should heed the cry, didn’t. When I tried to explain that to Liberals, I was attacked for it. Therein lies the rub: If you constantly eat your own, chewing them up and spitting them out because they don’t believe exactly as you do, you’re going to be on your own.

The problem is that, outside of the emotional catharsis, many protests do nothing to benefit the greater good. Those who need to listen to what is said under these circumstances, don’t. That is where the title of this treatise comes in. All this Storm and Stress, all the complaining, does little benefit outside of feed the people who really hate this peace, love, and acceptance thing and want to vilify it. We piss in their cornflakes, and they eat it up.

Behind the veil

The largest, long-term threat is Climate Change. The science is in on that. Why can’t the right see that? It is because they are willfully stupid and ignorant about it, be it for religious or financial reasons. They will be the death of us.

How do you think they feel when it comes to Islamic Terrorism? It must be maddening that Liberals refuse to even call it that, much less fully acknowledge that it is the largest, immediate threat. How can we even have a dialectic on something when we won’t agree what to call it? Blame the left and their insane drive to be politically correct. They will be the death of us. Sound familiar?

But no! Islam is a peaceful religion. How dare you?

That’s the thing. Crack open a Koran, it is none-too peaceful. That is where the Conservatives are correct. Where they are terribly mistaken, and hypocritical even, is claiming that Catholicism and Christianity are above reproach. There is rampant child molestation, not to mention historical corruption in the Papacy. As for Christianity, check out Revelations, and if you have the urge, read the Lost Books of the Bible. Jesus had quite the itchy trigger finger.

Incidentally, if the Jesus that Conservatives know and love were alive today, they’d hate his Liberal, possibly schizophrenic, tree-hugging, toga-wearing, (and probably pot-smoking) hippy ass. I digress.

As an atheist, I believe religion is a scourge on the world, and the salt of the earth are salting the earth as long as they hold onto these specious belief systems. It causes more problems than it platitudinously claims to solve. That said, our Forefathers’ aimed to protect the people from the government establishing or infringing upon religion. Having friends from many faiths, while I don’t agree with them, I will defend their right to do whatever makes them happy. If they don’t interfere with my right to not practice religion, I certainly will not interfere with their right to practice religion.

The extreme view looks to violate Muslims’ rights in order to protect their own interests. I am not talking about those from other countries. If they are not U.S. citizens, they do not have Constitutional rights, much less claim to the First Amendment. Our country is not obligated to let anyone in, even if under duress, we just do because it was established as “The American Way.” In many circumstances, aiding others is the right thing to do; there is great disagreement on how that should be accomplished. The prejudice against Islamic Americans who are on our side and our way of life, regardless if they immigrated legally or were born here, is detrimental. It is up to everyone, not just Liberals, to protect them. They are our allies against terrorism. Memo: Please see earlier section on ways to protect our rights, re: Second Amendment.

The cultures from which most Muslims arise put women beneath them and persecute homosexuals; violence against them is part of Sharia law. Who leaps over eggshells to defend them, despite their culture’s tendency towards shaming women, destroying them with honor killings, and throwing homosexuals off rooftops? The same Liberals who protest for women’s and LGBTQ equal rights. Oh moral and cultural relativism, they are such sticky wickets.

The other side of the Liberty coin is that there are many people who are part of larger groups that want to destroy us. They aren’t just in other countries; they are hiding in plain sight on our homeland. We must look out for ourselves. That does not mean that we should fear offending anyone. Just like domestic terrorists can refer to themselves as Christians doing God’s work, groups like ISIL can claim the same for Allah. It really doesn’t discredit the respective religions; religion does a bang-up job of that just by merely existing.

Again, for the most part, Liberals are on the right side of history. We should love and accept everyone who is just trying to be themselves. Therein lies another rub: Not everyone will return the gesture. It is naïve to think otherwise.

It could be argued that the travel ban protests might have been more than cathartic. The courts overruled the ban. I suspect they were going in that direction anyway; the people just got there first. I’ll give the spirit of those protests kudos, with exceptions.

“We are all Muslims now!” read some protest signs. Really? No, we aren’t. Once again, Liberals overstate by co-opting victimhood along with those who really can lay claim to the abuse. There are many ways to get the point across without striking a Jesus Christ pose (apologies to Soundgarden). No need for melodrama.

Then, there is the photograph of Muslims praying on makeshift mats from signs picketers placed on the floor for them. That is laying it on a wee bit thick, don’t you think? Would Christians protect atheists’ rights by offering their Bibles so that they can intellectually eviscerate them, in support of their lack of faith? I think not. Don’t try so hard to appear to be all-accepting; there is always going to be something that you won’t find acceptable.

We can be together, but still apart. That goes for race, gender, or sexual orientation. Religion. Politics! We all have noses with which to measure the extent of our rights. Don’t block, unfriend, or demand to be unfriended on social media. That is silly at best, and definitely divisive. Don’t claim the moral or ethical high ground. Look for news that upsets confirmation bias. Bust out of that echo chamber. Listen, learn, just as you expect the same in return. As Bruce Lee said in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, “Take everything in, extract what is useful, discard what is not.” Success in that hinges on discarding the assumption that everything you believe in is useful.

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We Can Be Zeroes

Now it’s time to close our eyes
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry
David Bowie, “What’s Really Happening?”

The unexpected death of the iconic David Bowie on January 10, 2016 was a shocking blow to much of the world. More than a week has passed, yet news and social media sites are still flooded with eulogies, tributes, and other commemorative pieces about the legendary artist.

Amidst all the tragedy and death in the world, this one seems more difficult to accept. Many of us were born when Bowie already released his classic, Space Oddity. It is hard to comprehend he is gone when he was always there. Truth be told, imagining a world without him in it is a challenge, because a small part of us assumed he was immortal.

His death reminds us that even appearing bigger than life, he is just like us—a mere speck of dust in endless void of space. It is a sobering thought. We get solace from having heroes, ones we can revere and rely upon. We could look up to the heavens, and the Starman would be there. How can such a dynamic force that had such a positive impact on the world just one day cease to be? Simply, we are all mortal. In an Orwellian way, some of us are “more mortal” than others.

Bowie

Bowie, Colored Pencil on toned paper, by Diane Bushemi 1/17/16

I am comforted by the collective sorrow. Misery loves company, after all. More to the point, I am less embarrassed that I cried for the passing of someone I never met, because I am not alone in my feelings. Still, my response is surprising to me. Even though I am a fan and as an artist and musician myself, greatly appreciate his unique genius. However, he was never my favorite. I always assumed I would reserve this type of emotional investment for my songwriting heroes—Neil Young, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Tori Amos. My connection is strong with them for various reasons, and, they have helped shape me into the artist I am and still am striving to be.

Then why did his death cause me so much distress? Like with all celebrity deaths, we make it about ourselves. From water cooler conversations to social media postings, it is about our own responses. It is a way to connect to someone we don’t know and to something we have yet to experience for ourselves. The mere concept of death is terrifying to us. There is a mystery in the unknown, of course. Even more so, there is that fear we would be gone and promptly forgotten. It is troubling enough to acknowledge that we are mortal in body, but we cannot accept that we could be mortal in influence, as well. Celebrities are immortalized in a way most of us can’t be through memories, photographs, film, et cetera. Canonizing the dead is a natural impulse, even more so when someone in the public eye dies. We want immortality to be true, any way we can get it. We can’t help ourselves.

That said, it isn’t the main reason Bowie’s death causes me so much dissonance. I had to take a long, brutal look at myself and figure out why this death affected me and was distinctly about me.

Bowie died of liver cancer. I am a cancer survivor. Pluck! There’s a succulent piece of low-hanging fruit from that Tree of Knowledge. I could accept that obvious connection, nosh on the apple, and leave it at that. Of course it upsets me, I know what he went through because I experienced it myself. I empathize.

If only it were that easy. It is one component, yes, but not the core reason. Get it? Apple—core. Anyway, here goes.

The past two years, starting with my entry into the mid-forties demographic, I’ve looked back on my life a lot, even more so than looking around in the present or to the future. Like the various Dickensian ghosts, it is all scary. For the sake of brevity, I will just say that I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn’t travel more, make more friends, and basically lived too safely. I avoided the path I was drawn to because it was intimidating. Why should I risk trying and failing at being a professional musician when the four-year college with a degree in accounting is right there? Since Bowie released his first album in his early twenties, he eschewed conservative ideals and did what he wanted to do during his formative years—ones that have long passed me by.

I can say with utmost certainty that regret, like jealousy, is a useless waste of energy. Just learn from past mistakes, live in the present, and keep your eye on the future. Right? It is easier said than done. The challenge with me is that my resolve is in short supply. I am a sprinter. I get an idea and take off with it, but run out of gas very shortly before I can achieve much. I don’t have the endurance for a marathon, literally and figuratively. My successes are small and far between, because I use up the majority of my reserves trying to keep myself motivated. Do you know who probably had plenty of resolve and motivation, considering how prolific and successful he was? Bowie.

I started the New Year recovering from an injury. A bulging disc in my neck caused incapacitating pain for several weeks. I was miserable. I couldn’t work out, draw, paint, play guitar, or write. I could do none of the things that I enjoyed. The two weeks for holiday that I reserved to accomplish so much were a complete bust. At least, I was willing to accept that I was physically unable to do anything productive. I wonder if Bowie ever experienced something similar to that.

I was equally unproductive during my battle with cancer. I did two quick drawings, and that was it. I didn’t write, and barely played any music. What did I do with those four months off from work while at home, day in and day out? There is no point in listing specifics. I was fighting for my life; I had no energy to focus on building a body of work for some legacy that no one would see anyway.

Do you know who co-wrote a musical, wrote, and recorded an album, all while battling cancer and accepting that he would ultimately lose that fight?

Damn it, Ziggy. Damn you to space! You make me look and feel bad for myself. I am the Zero to your Hero. How dare you?

Is it possible to be so in command of your life that despite the odds, you still write your own ending? I didn’t think it was possible, yet, Bowie showed that it is. He took something that was out of his control—terminal cancer—and like the maestro he was, orchestrated his dwindling time on Earth brilliantly. From the release of his album on his birthday to his peaceful death two days later, Major Tom was not only the pilot of his rocket ship; he was “Ground Control.”

This isn’t a life-changing revelation. I almost died, damn it. If that didn’t galvanize me, what would? I could carry a lightning bolt as my talisman and focus the rest of my life on becoming immortal in whatever way possible. Or . . . not.

This is not a closed-ended treatise. I have a long road ahead of me still. Not as long as I want it to be, given I am ostensibly halfway through my life already. I trust I will continue to stumble along the way, just like I always do. I hope I will leave more indelible footprints in my path. Until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I still might compose my own symphony that will resonate and continue to be heard when my voice is forever silenced.

I’ll end this with another lyric from his song, What’s Really Happening? I’ve had it on a loop the past week. It seems fitting.

All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

Dust and Detritus

Blowing dust

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.

First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.

Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.

That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.

Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.

I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.

The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.

All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.

I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.

There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.

Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.

However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.

I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:

The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.

Onward.

Relative Freedoms

On this day—September 11—eleven years ago, I spent the majority of it in front of the television watching Dan Rather report on a tragic event. When I wasn’t quietly seething, I cried my eyes out. On this day, over a decade after the terrorist attack occurred, I choose not to talk about it. So, I won’t.

What I will talk about is the collective response to the tragedy that befell America years ago. While the passion has tempered with time, the desire to hold onto that day has not. Are we afraid that if, as the old adage states, we forget history, it bears repeating? Our decisive vengeance did diminish the possibility that any violent, fundamentalist dissenter will darken our great land and attempt, much less succeed, destroying even a mere acre of it. If that truly is the case, and time does heal all wounds, why must we continue to pick at this scar?

We certainly are a sentimental lot. Hence, the reason networks in any medium—television, social, etc.—remind us to remember this day, on this day, as if we wouldn’t otherwise. Our freedom is apparently finite if we do not want to be deemed as heartless and not acknowledge this day in some maudlin way. The moment of silence is requested, quite loudly, regardless of individual beliefs or lack thereof. I prefer contemplation.

We don’t really know or understand hardship. As individuals, many of us do, depending on the circumstance. But again, I speak of the whole. As a group becomes larger, the collective intelligence decreases. That also can be said of tolerance, as well. The irony is lost on the masses; the fools suffer no fools if the freedom to abuse our Constitutional rights is compromised. The hypocrisy is loud and clear, but largely ignored.   

There are millions of people in multiple countries who are in the throes of tragedies that are comparatively equal, if not worse, than what we endured eleven years ago. The difference is that they do not have the freedom to remember tragedies; they just survive them and prepare for the next onslaught. There is no age-limit; children are not sheltered from those storms.  

The soldiers that fight to sustain our freedoms are coming back hobbled—physically and psychologically. Instead of gratitude and assistance, Veterans are thrown into a labyrinthine system that arguably expends more energy in putting up hurdles than providing much needed aid. They survive fighting one war on foreign land to be completely stymied by one on their home soil. In the midst of it all, anti-war protesters can hurl insults at them, willfully ignorant to the reality that the objects of their scorn fought for our right to call them “baby killers.”

Chicago Public School teachers have the freedom to pick up their marbles and picket in their own sandbox over comparatively petty grievances. This is happening while many people in the world have been out of work for years, or worse yet, living in squalor and sometimes dying because they don’t have the means to survive. The parents, as victims of this dispute, have their jobs put at risk to find alternate arrangements for their children since education is being denied them. Millions of people are working in worse conditions, but do not have anyone to fight their battles. All I will say about 9/11 is that eight children died that day. That statistic heightens the outrage; we have no tolerance for child mortality, and I concede, deservedly so. But yet, 350,000 children are being used as bargaining chips with this strike.  Apparently, ethics are relative and sometimes it is acceptable to turn them into weapons. We also put weapons in their hands. They strengthen our battles by holding up signs that scream our views. They have not had the freedom of time and experience to form their own opinion. But, it does not matter. We, as adults, have the freedom to decide what is for the greater good.

We are the salt of the earth with the ability to salt the earth. Perhaps we should reconsider what freedom really is.

How is that for a moment of silence?

Hot diggity yog-a!

I have had an on again, off again, love affair with yoga for the past 15 years. This form of exercise is excellent for the mind, body, and soul. It has a calming effect as it improves flexibility, strength, and overall fitness. Then why can’t I stick with it, usually? Yes, the time and money are commitments I am not always able to afford. Even then, I could practice it on my own. Unfortunately, there are certain activities that fair better with a group dynamic, i.e., motivating someone who is not a great self-starter, such as I. Thinking back to some of the rituals that are woven into the practice, I realized that it is the “soul” part I have issue with. 

The concept of a soul is an intangible, thus nebulous, one. I don’t believe we have physical souls, not in a religious sense. I am not biased against spirituality, per se, because it can mean different things to different people. My views happen to align more with Eastern philosophies than the monotheistic principles ever prevalent in our Western cultures. I feel there is positive and negative energy, but as is scientifically proven, it cannot be created or destroyed. Thus, we must convert what we have. We should draw on what is around us, such as nature, to enrich our spirit (life essence) to make us feel “whole.” I put that in quotes, because I really don’t know what that means, much less what it feels like to be complete.  

As I am fundamentally opposed to organized religion, I certainly don’t attend a yoga class for a ceremony. Due to a pesky little Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I seriously need to achieve a Zen-like state if I don’t want to have a premature death from some stress-related illness. But, I need to discover that on my own while enlisting help as needed. It is called inner peace for a reason; it’s private, damn it. Also, I feel rather stupid participating in some of the peculiar mantras I’ve been exposed to in different forms of yoga. 

Of all the styles I’ve tried, Vinyasa is my favorite. The poses are challenging and numerous. It is a real workout. When I leave class, I am calm and my mind clear as I focus on my body that I pushed into a delicious fatigue. Depending on the instructor, the class could be peppered with some philosophical ramblings that I must focus energy on tuning out. I get nothing out of them, and they distract me from my purpose for being there. One instructor actually read a passage out of some Taoist text. I couldn’t even follow what she was saying. I tried to listen initially, but I was in the back of the room and her voice was getting lost. I was left sitting there for five minutes, doing nothing. Could I get a refund for that portion? The hour-and-a-half class cost $18. I want my $1.00 back! Oh yeah, Namaste and all that. 

All forms of yoga are designed to improve flexibility, strength, as well as breath-control. Hatha is a gentle style with an emphasis on poses that promote tranquility. I guess that would explain why the instructor wanted to keep her vocal instruction soft and tender so as not to jostle us out of our meditative state. That was very thoughtful of her, but it had the unexpected result of making me giggle. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when my is in a constant state of unrest, perhaps I needed more focus. As we were in corpse pose—the most common way to end a class by lying on the back in complete relaxation—she spoke ever-so gently to us. “Close your eyes, and reeelllaaaaa . . .” No, the ‘x’ is not broken on my keyboard, nor did she get something stuck in her throat at that last syllable, she deliberately omitted it, evidenced by three more requests that we rela [sic]. Okay, I gave her that one. Perhaps the sharp sound of that coveted Scrabble tile is a bit harsh. “Shanti shAHHHNTI . . . SHAhnti.” said what? I wanted to describe phonetically the way she chanted that, or should I say, sang it. Be that as it may, it was plain goofy. What does shanti mean, anyway? I just looked it up. Peace, it means peace. Then fucking say that instead of getting all pretentious on me with a word I would never use in normal conversation. Yeah yeah yeah, Namaste

I should beware of what I wish for, I know. I get it! I got a Groupon I am currently using up at a school that promotes peace in all forms: Peace yoga, self-defense, peace-breathing meditation, peace, peace, and more peace. I’m fine with that, even if it was to basically dig out a niche in the market of this vast and popular form of exercise. Really, the poses weren’t too different from those in Hatha. What really sets it apart, I found out within a couple minutes of my first class, is the breathing exercise they practice. “Inhale wooooorrrrrrrllllldddddd. Exhale peeeeeaaaaaccceeee.” Over and over again. Yes, in the grand scheme of things it is innocuous and means well. But, it is a platitude, and platitudes annoy me. I complained to a friend that no matter how heavily we aspirate our desire and positive energy for world peace, it ain’t gonna happen in a modest yoga class. She said that it probably meant that you were supposed to wish peace for yourself. Well, then, it should be “Inhale meeeeeeee, exhale . . .” Anyway. 

I could forgive that banal, albeit stupid ritual. I could not abide my awful experience when I went to one of their Saturday classes recently. It started out strangely enough with an odd way to stretch. The instructor didn’t just pull her head to her shoulder, her head and shoulder spasmed together for two repetitions. I thought pulsating stretches went away with the Flash Dance era; they risk injury. While it looked cool when Jennifer Beals’ dance-double did it, it is much safer to ease into a static stretch. This just looked silly. As I tried to mimic her tic—which did nothing beneficial for my muscles—I felt like I was trying to do the beginning of the “Thriller” dance. You know the one. I then started to think about zombies. Since they are so popular right now, why not develop a form of yoga in homage to the mythical beasts. Zombie Yoga. Zombya. Vampire Yoga would be ill-advised. First, we’d have to get in and out of the poses faster than humanly possible. Plus, some of them have the potential to turn bloody and violent, which is antithetical to the yogi way. Zombie Yoga makes more sense. “Inhale wooooorrrrrlldddd” GRRRRRRRR. “Exhale peeeeeaaaaccceeeee.” GRRRRRRRR! Their disposition, or if the undead can even have one, can be argued both ways. Are they just chilling, or are they in a perpetual state of agitation due to their constant quest for food? If the former, it is a Zen we should strive to achieve through practice. If the latter, then it could get weird. “Inhale bbbbrrrraaaaaiiiinnnsssss. Exhale eeeeeaaaaaattttt.” Something to ponder. I’m calling firsties if a Zombya studio pops up, by the way. Nyum-nyum-brai, grr, I mean, Namaste

I can ignore the spazo-tic and just stretch my own way, so that’s what I did. I can’t ignore kids. Being a peace-promoting school, they encourage children to participate. I think that is great to introduce the wonders of yoga at an early age. Like the dojo, it needs to be respected. The evil brats I was surrounded by were obviously brought there by force by their peace-loving parents. Ironic, eh? I also commend any new mother to get back on the fitness wagon, but shit, leave the newborn at home with a sitter. My was a bit bothered from the cooing, but I figured that was my problem. What sweeter sound is there than a happy baby? A quiet one, I say. When the baby turned fussy and started crying, it became everyone’s problem. The mother spent the rest of the class in the bathroom, so our practice was accompanied by muffled cries the whole time. At one point, a photographer came in to take pictures of the students. Of course, she aimed the camera at me. Since I was sans make-up, had my hair in pigtails, and no doubt had a pissy look on my face, I certainly wasn’t photo-ready. But what could I do? My third eye visualized a missile taking her out and freeing me from her crosshairs is what I did. What the hell was she doing there, anyway?  

Midway through the class, we were in meditation pose and focused on our breathing. After several inhale worlds and exhale peaces, the instructor thankfully had us continue on our own. Ahhh, silence. When she spoke again, a kid behind me sighed, “Finally.” It was pretty funny in retrospect, but inappropriate. My sense of humor at that point was conspicuously absent. I lay blame on the frequent interruptions from my own quest for inner peace with the imps’ chatter. I know they are still fairly new to this whole ability to talk thing, but why can’t they nix the conversation for an hour? Since they will have extra years on this earth if they stick to yoga, it is a relative brief period of time that would be gone in a blink of the eye. They have their whole lives ahead of them to flap their gums. There was one hellion positioned behind me who was very ungraceful and loud as he did his poses. Thump thump thump! Cripes, a zombie would be lighter on his feet. It was seriously skunking my . I told myself that the next crash from one of his limbs would result in a warning slam of my fist right in front of him. Peace could bite me; I’d declare war on that little monster. 

The fucker had to take a piss, so of course he announced it to the whole class with a whack! whack! of his legs. I welcomed the respite from that little ball of evil, albeit briefly. When he finished, he felt it was more important to close the bathroom door all the way than not disrupt the class. Whomp! Whomp! SLAM! My shoulders collapsed as I turned to him and gave him a “really?” look. He was unphased. That is, until his father came from the front of the class to scold him in a harsh whisper. I rather enjoyed that, until I realized: You dumped your kid in the back of the class to leave us to deal with him? My said, “Bugger this. I’m outta here.” My body stayed, but my spirit took a hike as my mind plotted World War III. Kiss my ass, Namaste

Pointless mantras are bad enough, but that last experience risked souring me to yoga. It was the first time I left a yoga class more tense than when I arrived. It was beyond frustrating. Then, my friend came to the rescue with a gift of a hot yoga class.  

Hot yoga is the generic name and derivative style for the Bikram method. Due to copyright protection, only Bikram-sanctioned studios may use that name. For the others, the postures may vary but the concept is still the same. Participants perform 26 Asanas in a 105-degree room; reason being that the heat and humidity warm the body to make the muscles and joints more flexible for deeper stretches. The body must also expend energy to cool it off, thus resulting in anywhere from 500-1,000 calories burned in an average 1.5 hour class. I was excited, but due to my heat-sensitivity, a bit apprehensive. 

Deciding to only bring positive energy to the experience, I was stoked when I arrived at the studio. I walked into the room and felt like I entered a sauna. I then thought I was screwed. But, I followed the rules and didn’t talk and just focused on acclimatizing myself to the heat while in corpse pose. When the class started, the instructor introduced me and said that I had a free pass. Meaning, the regulars get the verbal equivalent of a riding crop to their rumps if they slack off, while my only goal was to stay in the room the whole time. While the amnesty I was granted was reassuring, my competitive side did not wish me to be complacent. I got through the whole class with sitting out on only three reps (each pose is performed at least twice). There were several times that I thought I was going to pass out, and about five Asanas into it, I was hoping for a 45-minute corpse pose, but I stuck to it. The instructor told me at the end that I did a great job and she forgot a few times that I was a beginner. That was rewarding, but I didn’t need the compliment. I accomplished one of the most difficult workouts I have ever endured, and live to write about it. While the class didn’t end that way, I would have happily done so with a Namaste

And you know what? I kind of loved it. There was no ceremony, no platitudes, just instruction on how to push your body to its limits. The mind can focus only on the moment, leaving the spirit to sort things out later. As I discussed in my last post, Starting Over, I have a blocked vein that makes a lot of activities more challenging. Being a lymphoma survivor, my lymphatic and circulatory systems—those responsible for fluid movement—are sluggish. This is the most I’ve sweated in about 20 years. I looked like I jumped in a lake with my clothes on, and felt like I was internally cleansed of impurities. Going in and out of the poses left me breathless and lightheaded at times because of the blockage, so it was extremely difficult. But, I could feel that the more I do it, the stronger I will get and the less my condition will bog me down. It can only benefit me, so the time and money are worth it. As I stated in Starting Over, I am worth it.   

Vinyasa is still my style of choice, but between running and hot yoga, my mind and spirit just may show my body who is boss.

Starting Over

I run, I run,
And I run—
Till I am out of breath
Till I lose the energy that keeps me going

I run, I run,
And I run—
Till I can go no more,
Till I fall to my defeat.

But I rise up,
I take a deep breath,
And start over.

I dug out my childhood book of poetry recently, and found this little gem called “Starting Over.” Back when I wrote this, when I was 15 years old, I was surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response, as I didn’t really view it as poetry, per se. My fledgling creative self thought that all poems should rhyme, even to its own peril. It couldn’t hold a candle to my childlike ode to spring: Spring is here, let’s all cheer, for this warm day, that comes our way. I wince from embarrassment that I wrote such an infantile piece of tripe, albeit before my age reached the double-digits. Thankfully, I have improved greatly through practice, as well as maturity from life experiences that I draw inspiration for more profound topics. 

Reading “Starting Over” again 28 years after its creation, I appreciate now why it was considered poetry, and of decent quality at that. I am not sure where I got the inspiration for it, although, Manfred Mann’s “Runner” was released that same year, and I recall it being a song I was quite drawn to at the time. Still, I was not an athletic child, nor did I gravitate toward running as a form of exercise. Yet, I chose that activity to symbolically express the hurdles we encounter and the way that they can be overcome—quite simply, by soldiering on. Even years later, as a seasoned lyric writer, I can’t think of a more direct and astute way to poetically convey that. It doesn’t cease to surprise me how insightful we can be as children and young adults, as well as the clarity that our youthful, non-jaundiced eyes can see. 

Back in 2003, I wound up in the emergency room feeling like I was slowly suffocating to death. The CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a grapefruit compressing my right lung and superior vena cava. The mass was life threatening due to how rapidly that the tumor was growing. If I had waited even a week to get treatment, it would have been too late. A surgical biopsy was needed as soon as possible to determine the next course of action. It was Stage II Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; I spent the rest of the year getting chemotherapy and radiation. I responded remarkably well to the therapy, but developed blood clots from the chemo. While Heparin and Coumadin dissolved them and prevented more from forming, one left a permanent mark in the form of a scar in my subclavian vein. I didn’t know that until after I went into remission and started experiencing problems after my body started to recover from the numerous assaults inflicted upon it. 

Even though the doctors gave it a gentler-sounding euphemistic diagnosis of an “occluded vein,” the effects of it could not be softened. Every day, I feel it to some degree. The most tolerable is a numbing pressure in my head above the nape of my neck. I feel a bit winded as the blood pools in my head and face when I rise from a squat or bending over. I learned to slowly ease out of those positions to mitigate that response. It becomes problematic when my head throbs. It borders on painful when it moves down my neck to my upper back; it is debilitating when it pulses like a hot electric current down through my gluteus muscles into my hamstrings. That is when my balance is thrown off and my vision becomes blurry in my left eye (the blockage is in my left vein). A sharp, sudden noise, such as a hammer, causes a painful spasm in the connective tissue in my neck. I won’t sugarcoat this: It sucks. I got a raw deal; I feel like I sacrificed freedom and gave a piece of my happiness in payment for my life. Even when I don’t experience it physically, I am reminded of my battle with cancer every time I see the muted roadmap of collateral veins on my torso. The wondrously adaptive mechanism of our bodies designs alternative routes for the blood to find its way to the heart when the original ones don’t function properly. 

The things that cause a flare up—barometric pressure changes, excessive stress, or strain on the lower body through exercise, injury, or standing for long periods—were what I discovered on my own through processes of experimentation and elimination. I have gotten little to no help from the plethora of specialists I have seen. There is, however, a consensus on the prognosis: There is no cure or treatment for it. I was assured it should not be life threatening, but I do have to handle myself with care. I also found that the less excess weight and body fat I carry, the better I feel. Essentially, the less effort my body requires to function, the more efficiently it will operate. 

It was not serendipitous that I rediscovered this poem. I believe subconsciously, I was drawn to it. Why? Because as a response to my father’s death earlier this year and a resulting increased concern with my own health, I started running. For exercise, that is. It was also a way to cope with the trauma and the realities of my own mortality. I couldn’t run away from my problems, but unexpectedly, I found I could run them off—literally and figuratively. The physical benefits of running three times per week have been palpable. I have more energy, am leaner, and the symptoms of the occluded vein have lessened. The reason for the latter is two-fold: I have less body fat that could interfere with the venous flow; Davis’s Law states that when soft tissue undergoes stress, it adapts. My vessels are being taxed from the exertion, and just as my body built the collateral veins, it strengthened the walls in order to accommodate the additional load placed upon them. 

The less tangible effects are what got me thinking about how such a simple yet dynamic physical act can turn into a symbolic life-lesson. When I first started back in June, I could barely make a half a mile before I was sucking wind and had to slow to a walk for the rest of the course. It was a discouraging start, but something propelled me forward. After a little over a month, I was making at least two miles. I set a goal for myself at the end of August to make it to four miles without stopping. I reached that distance on August 7. I felt on top of the world. However, I have not been able to maintain that consistently. I was temporarily sidelined by travel and a couple of knee injuries, but even then, I made the effort to run at least a mile. If I didn’t, then I feared I would lose the drive and give up. While I can’t say that I enjoy running, as it is uncomfortable to exert so much effort, I have the utmost respect for it. There is something galvanizing about pushing my body to its limits. Just when I think I will hit a wall, I can set my sights on a stopping point further ahead, yet find myself running past it. Eight years ago, my body let me down; now, it is reassuring me that my mind sets the pace, and that everything else will follow. How liberating. 

I have come to a begrudging acceptance of my situation. I have no choice. There is always a possibility that a respite, if not a complete cure, could be found. Discover Magazine published an article earlier this year regarding a development in stem cell research. A San Diego biotech company designed an organ “printer” that created the first artificial blood vessel made entirely from human cells. Could that mean that something similar would be able to generate new paths to make the blood flow more smoothly in my body, thus decreasing my ordeal? Perhaps, but it may not happen in this lifetime. It is far from a guarantee, so I must play the hand that I’ve been dealt. Where it stands, there are still consequences to putting my body through the trenches. More times than not, I experience ill effects. They get less extreme the stronger I become through pushing myself. Even though I will never be rid of it completely, it is worth the time and energy. I’m worth it. 

Incidentally, I have pressure in my head as I write this, due to running this morning. Poetic, eh?

Celebrating the mundane

For the most part, I don’t attach more importance to what “celebrities” say than I do to anyone else’s words. I put that word in quotes, because it is a label that has always perturbed me. Any entertainer on television or the big screen earns that dubious honor. It invariable puts that person on a pedestal to be celebrated for being known by the masses. This would be regardless of their actual level of talent—anyone can become a celebrity these days. With the accessibility of the Internet to waste bandwidth in the endless pursuit of the proverbial fifteen minutes, as well as the plethora of reality shows that seem to glorify and even encourage stupidity, the whole concept is becoming over-saturated and possibly obsolete. Pity. 

That all said, there is someone recently who went beyond the usual sound bite that passes for wisdom, at least in the context of my own situation. It wasn’t particularly profound, but it certainly struck a resonant chord for me. Brad Pitt realized that he was spending so much time sitting on the couch, waiting for an interesting movie to do as opposed to living an interesting life. Basically, he admitted that his life was dull, and he laid blame on his marriage for a lot of that. He took some flak for implying that Jennifer Anniston was boring, but that is beside the point.

I struggle to suspend disbelief and accept this as an honest admission. Really, isn’t one of the prevailing reasons for celebrity worship due to the assumption that their lives are more interesting than those outside of that world? They have more money, exposure, and freedom to indulge in just about anything, or even engage in bad behavior. How could life be boring? Well, it depends on what one considers interesting.

This year, my father died, along with two of my animals. In addition, I spent a holiday at the emergency vet after my dog was attacked by a pit bull. She has recovered, thankfully. The credit card is almost maxed out from medical bills, and incurring interest fees as I write this. We are battling a large organization that is looking for every loophole imaginable to avoid reimbursing us for those costs. I could go on, but wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems.

Puh, what am I talking about? This is fascinating stuff. My professional life is vying for the limits of my tolerance, as well. Our annual raises have all but ceased, our pension and retirement plans have been chopped to bits, and the business is going through a re-structuring—my department being the latest victim. Re-structuring is a tidy euphemism for a re-organization that could result in the termination of employees. This has already occurred in three departments with seven jobs eliminated, so my colleagues are a touch on edge. It is happening while we are going through two audits. Since the powers-that-be deemed us high risk and misrepresenting the financial position of the company, one of those audits is so extensive that it smacks of a forensic witch-hunt. Exciting!

And that’s not all. There is a snake-tongued, reptilian outside consultant in my division who has a nasty habit of covering his ass at the peril of others, all while looking innocent and even magnanimous in the process. He tried to throw me under the bus twice, as well as get my staff in trouble. I had the choice of either modifying his behavior, or allowing him to toy with my livelihood. I opted for the former. My responses to him were equally calculating and manipulative. I am confident that I made it painful for him to try that crap with me again. Perhaps it is the wide berth he now gives me as he passes me in the office corridors. Riveting!

I believe I hit the thesaurus up enough with different words to emphasize how interesting my life is. In addition to my writing, artistic, and musical pursuits that I must squeeze in, quite often unsuccessfully I must add, life is never dull. Then, why do I feel like Brad Pitt allegedly did?

There are different degrees of interest, you see. Many thrive on controversy and negative stress. I am not one of those people. Therefore, while I do have enough to keep me on my toes, the energy it leeches from me leaves me having to tap into my reserves for any positive feelings. When your existence becomes a series of reactions to situations that make it more difficult to drive on the path of your own choosing, it can fall short of expectations. Mr. Pitt has the resources, i.e., oodles of money, to pull himself off the couch and find ways to liven things up in a good way. Due to my aforementioned financial problems, as well as being stuck in a stifling career, it appears I have additional barriers of contention.

George Carlin said that he wasn’t a glass half-empty person; sometimes the glass just isn’t big enough. I like that rationalization, and there are times that it is the case. I can’t use that as an excuse, though. I look back on the times when life was less vexing, albeit more mundane. Retrospectives can be a bit hazy, especially when viewed with a jaundiced eye. I strongly suspect that I was filled with ennui from lack of stimuli. Perhaps I am one who craves drama after all. However, as I mentioned above, that drags me down, as well. I am left with expending those energy reserves by griping about my situation, yet not putting forth the effort to actually change it. I can easily blame my lack of funds, and if I didn’t have debt, was independently wealthy, etc., I would be much happier. Yet, I must be realistic and admit that paying down one set of problems can leave me open to new and possibly more complex ones.

Cripes, will I ever be satisfied?

Aha! Maybe that is it. Satisfaction, contentment. I’ve got neither. Most definitely, the issues I laid out have a lot to do with that, and they should be managed appropriately. I am not experiencing a unique predicament; sadly, a large majority of the population is dissatisfied with their lot in life. I can’t speak for anyone else, nor can I often change what happens around me, at least when it doesn’t affect me directly. What I do have the power to do is alter my view of the world and how I respond to it. I am bored and discontent in large part because I let myself feel that way. I don’t need a large balance in my checkbook to transform how I feel. Perception is a free and unlimited resource. 

Besides, it doesn’t cost any money to get off the couch. Isn’t that half the battle?

Guiding my hand

It seems almost apropos that I decided to start writing this post on Easter—a month after my father’s death. But unlike the lore which surrounds this holiday, I do not believe that my father is coming back—in any way, shape, or form. I also did not need to see his body in a casket to drive that reality home.

I knew most of my dad’s life was behind him after his first bout with congestive heart failure two years ago. With numerous trips and extended stays at hospital, as well as two stints in a nursing home for rehabilitation, I rightly predicted that 2011 would be his final year on earth. I prepared myself thusly so that I could avoid the rigmarole of the five stages of grief. However, when the recommendation to transfer him to hospice finally came, I was in a state of disbelief, then sorrow, as if this was a stinging slap that blindsided me. Visiting him in a near-somnolent state set a cauldron of emotions to boil. My once bad-ass dad was a mere shell; the sharp and pragmatic mind was reduced to a brain-damaged mass as his body slowly, but surely, shut down. The anger that always simmered beneath the surface erupted. Those fucking cigarettes.

Really, though, that is only a small part of that. He gave up smoking years ago, just not soon enough to mitigate the damage done. No. What really pissed me off, and still does, is that he ended his days without a shred of dignity or happiness. His illness took everything away that he enjoyed doing, and he spent the last month of his life in a nursing home as opposed to the house he worked hard all his life to earn. Then, he was transferred to a room with a beautiful view he could not see, much less appreciate, to slowly perish. We do not know what is going on inside the deteriorating minds of the dying. Is there suffering? I can say that the anguish of the living who must witness this slow death is extremely real. It is a sight that is permanently seared in my mind. Anger tends to be unproductive in these situations. That said, it did allow me to lose my ambivalence about euthanasia, an issue that left me on the fence since the media demonized Dr. Jack Kevorkian years ago. Of course, I didn’t act on it, even though intellectually, it seemed to be the right thing to do. But, I don’t have the courage, only the philosophical ethics to have wished that swift end to his ordeal. Anyone in their right mind can recognize it when it is laying there so helpless in front of them. Death is the only outcome, and those extra days the loved ones get to see the soon-to-be decedent technically alive are agonizing. What is so wrong in hastening the inevitable for the greater good? I feel safe to put this in writing. When I put voice to this question, it has been met with silence. It is such an uncomfortable subject. Who in this same situation can honestly say they did not consider that option, even if just briefly?

A week after he was transferred, we got the call that he exhibited six stages of imminent death. The science helps me where religion always fails. Because of that outlook, I can whistle past the bargaining stage of grief. There is no god to ease the constant restlessness from the feeling the ailing has of wanting to leap out of his own skin, called terminal agitation. We created drugs to take care of that. The labored breathing, called Cheyne-Stokes respiration, is a response to the body losing its ability to take in and process oxygen. The hyper-extension in the neck is due to muscle atrophy; the mottling of the skin happens when blood circulation decreases. I do not believe a deity created this body and its responses to it shutting down, nor can said deity take them away no matter how much I beg and plead.

A different flavor of anger emerged when I found out he would be prepared for viewing instead of being sent straight to the crematorium. He looked horrible up to the week before he died, and I felt it was a further indignity upon his body. Plus, the embalming process always struck me as needless and grotesque, besides being bad for the environment. I told myself this as I responded to seeing him in a casket. I already knew he was dead, but there he was. A blanket of sadness threatened to suffocate me as I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. Am I the only one who has tried to imagine what the people I love would look like as dressed-up corpses? Is that my idiosyncratic, macabre way of coping with death—to be crude, albeit scientific about it? Still, it is nothing like actually seeing it in the flesh, as it were.

At the end of the very long day, we were given opportunity to say our goodbyes. I didn’t mentally work out a script for that. Besides, I said goodbye to him the week before. Did I need this? Not necessarily, but in a way, it gave me an oddly poetic experience that I will always remember.

I cried helplessly, lamenting to my husband that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. My brother was the first to walk up to the casket. He placed his hand in there briefly and walked away. I never asked him, but I believe he gripped our father’s shoulder, and as I walked up there, I felt I should do the same. Perhaps if I did, the last vestiges of death’s mystery would be revealed to me. If I couldn’t overcome the “creepy” stigma of a dead body in the form of my own flesh and blood, then I would never get past it. I felt that my brother was brave for acting of his own volition, and felt shame in having to ask my husband to guide my hand there. I took pride in being able to accept the reality, ostensibly before the rest of my family did. Touching his body was what should be a perfunctory action in the grand scheme of things, a simple gesture. Still, I couldn’t do it alone, and my husband, who has seen more than his share of death while fighting a war, did not hesitate as he held my hand to move it to my father’s shoulder. It was so hard and unyielding. While it didn’t feel like that when he was alive, symbolically, it was precisely like that. My stoic, no-nonsense dad. All the fond memories I feared I wouldn’t be able to hold onto came back. Despite his tough exterior, he was a softy and revealed a goofy side that only his family was allowed to see. I could always count on him for sound advice, and he even offered that same shoulder for me to cry on when I lost a friend years ago. As his maladies ravaged his body, he lost much of what made him the rock that he was in his prime. In a way, he got it back.

Zen and the Art of Blind Faith

So, it is official. The small shrine that a Belgian woman built 150 years ago outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has risen beyond mere landmark status. Why, do you ask? Well, the Roman Catholic Church said the apparition of the Virgin Mary that inspired the shrine is indeed, authentic. Other authorities on all things Christly are saying it is at least “worthy of belief”. Booyah!

Really? Because, I wasn’t sure if I should buy into this claim, being a batty notion and all. But, if Joey the Rat and his posse say it’s real, then well, it must be! He’s the Captain Picard of the Catholic Church. Make it so. Oh. Okay.

I have many questions. Where to start? Well, first off, why did this woman travel overseas from Belgium to that little patch of land? My guess is she was really tired and prone to irrational thought when she finally arrived. No matter, I guess that is beside the point. However, the more important question is raised: Says who? Were there witnesses (livestock does not count)? If so, does documentation exist? I can’t fathom someone would have the wherewithal to set up a camera obscura to capture the event for posterity. Just for a few giggles, I could go to any church and erupt in paroxysms of rapture and start fashioning a shrine out of twigs, stones, cigarette butts, etc., claiming I saw Mary Magdelene (might as well add some kink to this fantasy). Oh wait, then everyone would think I was crazy. Silly me.

Oh yeah, here’s another one: What was her name? Slightly to my chagrin, as I confess to relishing anything to vilify blind faith, she was actually identified. Her name was Adele Brise. Then, it must be true! What? She lost an eye in a childhood accident, you say? Perfect—a totally reliable witness to a holy sighting. Since there is a heavily visual-based theme going here, I really wanted to embed a photograph of the shrine in question. But, bloody Hell, I couldn’t find one that I was confident was indeed, THE shrine. There are just so many. What does that tell you? I found later photographs of Ms. Brise, who subsequently became Sister Brise. I’ll throw you a bone and include a pic of her:

 

Eek! She was a homely woman. Are they sure it wasn’t a man in drag? Sorry, must not get catty with the pious. Moving on.

Occam’s Razor is poking me in the back with this one. While imagining some immigrant from the 19th Century dropping acid puts a smile on my face, LSD was invented (created by a Hell-bound heathen, no doubt) about 80 years after the momentous occasion in question. My guess is that she was very hungry and picked a random ‘shroom to gnaw on in her travels, or perhaps ate some hinky rye bread and got ergot poisoning. Then, bammo! Instant hallucination. Or not. Insanity and other mental illnesses were cured with trepanation, blood-letting, and other torments disguised as legitimate medical practices. Perhaps she escaped that messed up fate, with delusions in tow, hopped a boat, and wound up in farm country to make dubious history.

This brings me to the title I chose for this post. I was tempted to pun the Hell out of it with something like “Zen and the Art of Moronic Manifestation” or something to that affect. I just wanted you to know that I considered it, but it seemed too contrived.  Oh, kind of like . . . RELIGION (said in the Church Lady voice)! I wasn’t terribly impressed overall with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as Robert M. Pirsig had a tendency towards tiresome circular discussions about the metaphysics of quality. It is probably why I am prone to keeping philosophical text at arm’s length. But, he is a fellow atheist, so the cockles of my heart warmed to him. There was one paragraph in there that really stood out and resonated as an astute observation with me. Paraphrased, he stated that people generally do not get fanatic about something they know to be true. His example was that we aren’t passionate about the sun rising every day, because we know it will happen regardless of the circumstances. Yet, we don’t know that a god exists, so there is fanaticism attached to that belief. Doubtful claims breed zealots.  

There is definite validity to that observation. Some of the most horrific acts of violence can be traced back to religion. What was the origin of the Inquisition, causing the torture and death of  hundreds of thousands of people? Religion. What inspired men to fly planes into buildings? Religion. What is the impetus for shunning homosexuals and stripping them of their humanity and reducing them to scapegoats for God’s wrath? Do you sense a theme here? The suspicion of witchcraft; the promise of 72 virgins in heaven; the Bible’s claim that homosexuality is a sin—all are outrageous claims that to be supported and defended require a fanatic devotion to the cause. Thankfully, while the majority of people vary in where they are in the different spectrums of faith, these ideas are viewed by many as specious, at best. However, enough believe them to be true to wreak wicked havoc on the world. While their mental and emotional states are considered stunted on the evolutionary scale, they are monkeys . . . with weapons of mass destruction. 

Pirsig also wrote, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called a Religion.” I suppose if that Belgian woman was alone in her beliefs, she would have been institutionalized. Oh wait, she became a nun, so she kind of was. Religion has a way of enslaving those who are prone to its clutches. At best, it closes the mind while keeping the mouth free to spread the word; at worst, it lets the body stay unfettered to punish those who don’t abide.

This shrine isn’t necessarily about the more extreme consequences of religion. However, the delusion is still prevalent. It is with tremendous irony that I quote Father Thomas Rausch, a professor of theology in his response that the church should handle these decisions carefully, as there are many sightings reported (didn’t I just say that?). He said that “most Catholics are skeptical.” Get out. No, seriously, get out. You annoy me too much. This is the same group that believes all forms of birth control are murder, and incidentally, the ones who are claiming magical healing upon visiting this shrine. There are anecdotes of diseases cured, as well as abandoned canes, crutches, etc., from those who were freed from their disabilities, all for whatever time and cost it took to get to the place and sit there until they got what they wanted. I didn’t realize miracles were on blue light special.

Apparently, the life’s work of Sister Brise was enough to lend credibility to her vision. She helped build a church and an adjoining school. She also gathered people at her shrine when a forest fire broke out, and prayed to Our Lady of Good Help (all I did was copy and paste; I’m just as lost as you probably are). The fire stopped before it reached them. It’s a coinci . . . er, it’s a miracle! Her “moral fiber” was proven and her character left no reason for anyone to doubt her. Interesting. Well, I suppose since Mel Gibson is a great actor and director—he gave us Braveheart, dammit!—the Jewish and homosexual communities need to accept that they don’t deserve to live. Take that, Winona Ryder, you oven-dodger, you!

The (in)convenience of cultural relativism

This is a concept in anthropology that has always baffled me. Beliefs and their accompanying actions need to be put in the context of that person’s culture. Okay. Done. Now what? Apparently, what is and isn’t acceptable is based on said culture, not a universal truth. I argue that the whole globe can be painted with a broad brush dipped in the same bucket of ethics. Ethics, not morals. Moral relativism is a whole different ball of wax from my perspective, and I will devote a separate post to that.

We Westerners feel pretty sanctimonious about our culture. In many ways, I think we’ve got it right. In other ways, I think there are other countries that are more pragmatic with certain things. A prime example is our consumption. The states are gluttonous consumers. There is no other country that rivals our demand for food and energy, as well as our waste of them. The obesity epidemic is a hallmark of those proclivities. I spent a month in Florence, Italy, and marveled at their almost draconian use of resources. Air conditioning was a luxury there, whereas it is used here with complete abandon and inexplicably turning buildings, buses, and trains into iceboxes.  I’d scratch my head over the logic of that if my hands weren’t occupied trying to keep my upper body warm in the middle of summer. The cars were smaller, thus requiring less gas and dare I say, less reliance on foreign oil. I thought it was wonderful. I was not happy having to pay for potable water where it is free and bottomless in American restaurants. However, that is a small price to pay to lessen the burden on the environment. While we stretch our lips to take in an average piece of nigiri sushi while exercising control over our gag reflex, in Japan they serve morsels that have ample room to dance across the palate. Overfishing, anyone? But, that’s what makes the U.S. so damn lovable. We want more more MORE!

I’ll give the West a break for now. While respect for the environment and its limited resources is vital, there are other more damaging disparities between societies that are, sadly,  protected by the cultural relativism veil—an apt word choice for Middle Eastern civilizations. The American woman may still be chipping away at the proverbial glass ceiling, but it sure beats a public stoning for adultery (voluntary or otherwise), an “indecent” display of skin, or even seeking an education. Try as we might, we have not been able to punish them sufficiently for such an egregious disregard for basic human rights, much less change the idea that women are the inferior gender. Not to gloss over this, but that cultural corruption is governed by religion, i.e., moral relativism. As I stated before it is a different topic, thus, a different post.

The impetus for writing about my views of this subject is from watching a video that went viral this past week. In Indonesia, a two-year-old boy, Aldi Rizal, was videotaped while indulging in his two-pack-a-day addiction. My jaw dropped as I watched this child smoke like a champ while still in diapers. The average toddler is developing hand-eye coordination, but he managed that cigarette as well as a life-time smoker does. Oh yeah, he pretty much is. The father taught him how to smoke at 18 months, and the unsuspecting child took to it like a fish to water.

I’ve watched it multiple times with my rose-colored glasses on. Surely it is a hoax. Alas, it is authentic and an all-too-common reality for that culture. The statistics for children there having their first cigarette as young as five years old is alarmingly high. Of the 230 million people residing in the Indonesian islands, approximately 60% of that population smokes. I am guessing they start young. No wonder Big Tobacco relies on that country for business; they are the fourth most populous country and the third largest tobacco consumer.

In Aldi’s case, I fear the damage is irreparable. Introducing so many chemicals into a developing body may permanently alter his own chemistry—mentally and neurobiologically. I wonder if it is even possible for him to quit. If this keeps up, he will be a chain-smoker by  the age of five and dead of a heart attack before puberty. What is the point of all that? I suspect that when he is potty-trained, he will need a cigarette in order to make poopy. Ugh.

It is very easy for us on this side of the table to say this is wrong; our culture believes in protecting children, not exploiting them. The jury should be in for this one. Children are our future and all that. This may be a passive-aggressive form of child abuse, as they started it but don’t do anything to stop it. Aldi was taught how to smoke not having any concept of health and what compromises it, nor is his mind developed enough to make the connection that the cigarettes are the cause for his inability to romp around with other children, thus making him sedentary and overweight.  However, that pesky cultural relativism gets in the way from stopping the madness.  If this happened in many other countries, the consequences would be punishment for the parents such as losing custody of the child and being sent to jail.  In Indonesia, however, authorities have offered them a new car if they get their kid to quit smoking. A car. They are essentially getting away with bad behavior by being rewarded for stopping it. Still, the parents turned down that offer, as they don’t appreciate the damage they are inflicting on their son. Perhaps the cynical part of me suspects that the fact their child has become a tourist attraction gives them fame that surpasses the allure of any sticker price. Shocking, I know.

Just to drive the point home, lines can be drawn between this and pedophilia. While smoking in children is more acceptable and even encouraged in this country as we can see here, so is pedophilia in other cultures. There are even religions that sanction the latter. Both take advantage of an unwilling participant, i.e., a child who doesn’t have the capacity to understand what is happening. A victim of pedophilia is, by and large, either stunted in sexual development and/or becomes promiscuous and sexually active at a young age. With that introduction to sex, how can a child develop a healthy sex life as an adult? Considering cigarette addiction has a 90% success rate, when it is given to a toddler who has not been around long enough to be exposed to many things, it happens much quicker.  Of course this child throws temper tantrums and bangs his head against the wall: The addiction is stronger than the need for food. Did Ardi have a choice but to play along with his father’s game? Does any child have the ability to put the kibosh on twisted form of play that someone bigger and stronger initiates?

While creating a concept such as cultural relativism is not the root of the problem, it does slap a convenient label on it to explain why we are rendered powerless to change something that we know intrinsically is wrong. Oh, but that was how the people in that culture were raised. Of course! We shant play judge and jury on different perspectives of what is right and wrong. Look down your nose if you like, but don’t forget to turn the other cheek. The bible tells us so.

To be continued.