Monday, December 30, 2013

Rarer than a Jackelope


Smash, Splatter, Curse



I've been dropping a lot of things lately: glass bottles, full plates of food.  Cutlery.
Smash, splatter, curse.
I've been dropping things off, dropping names, dropping hints. I put drops in my eyes, but they were the wrong kind, the kind with hydrogen peroxide in them. I screamed. The pets scattered in terror.
Usually, when I start dropping things and running into walls, it means I'm a teensy bit stressed.
If only I could drop some good things: pounds, for instance. Baggage. Fears. Certain holiday obligations. I'd like to drop-kick my computer sometimes (No, no, I'm sorry Sweetheart! I would never smash you! I need you! It's just that you have Windows 8).
Sometimes I worry that I've dropped IQ points or my wallet, or dropped the ball, but usually it is just a false alarm. After all, I'm very good at minding the important things. But that sort of concentration is stressful.
And why is dropping things so bad, really? So full of angst?
Maybe it's because of the connotations of destruction, of carelessness.
If we stopped saying "drop" and reframed it as setting down, wouldn't we be doing ourselves a kindness? We could set down a toxic relationship and just…refrain from picking it up again. Set down a job that is killing us.
We could set down burdens and expectations. No guilt involved.
And then, with our hands suddenly free, we could pick up something that makes our hearts sing.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Dream World


What I Dreamt Last Night is a novel that I wrote a few years ago. It's about the dream world of a woman whose boyfriend is too good to be true.

It's available as an ebook through Amazon.com and Smashwords, and on Smashwords it's free (for a short time). Yes, zero dollars! Even if you don't want one, please download it. It will bring me great joy to think that it is being read!

Here's the prologue:

Chelsea dreamt that she was on a swing in her childhood backyard. It was a glorious sun-dappled spring day, crocuses peeking out of the grass. She pumped the swing, long blonde hair flitting in the breeze. Higher and higher she swung, until she launched into outer space. She looped around the sun, sun dress fluttering, hair trailing behind her. One lap, two laps, then dove into the sun’s pure white light.

A figure appeared. A fragile old lady: white hair, skinny legs jutting out of her beige nylon nightie.

The old lady said, "Excuse me, do you have a moment?" and Chelsea dragged her toe through stardust to slow down.

"What are you doing in my dream?"

The old lady flew beside her, arms outstretched, nightie flapping around her calves. "Your dreams are not just for you, Chelsea. They’re for the whole world. There are two ways you can go from here. I know you’ll choose the right path."

"I’m really not interested in your opinion," said Chelsea.

"Don't sass me, young lady. We need to talk. Tomorrow. I’ll be at The Little Cub, waiting for you." The old lady banked a turn and flashed away into the stars.

Chelsea woke to the sound of a snowplow on Hiwan Drive, flipped off the covers, swung her legs over the side of the bed and turned off her alarm before it could start. The deejay would just be bitching about the weather, as though it were unexpected to have snow in March in Colorado. Even in the old days, they had snow in March. She turned on the lamp, tilted up her alarm clock and slid out a scrap of paper, fumbled a pen from her bedside table and scanned the list, grimacing. What had she dreamt last night? All Chelsea could remember was her last dream--the one with the little old lady.


Mildred McNulty entered other dreams that night. She flitted, invisible, through a world of nightmares to throw a life ring to the drowning, a torch to the lost, to soothe the lonely with a touch, to whisper, "fly, fly" in the falling man’s ear.

Laughter echoed in her head. A voice said, "Give it up."

She paused.

Through a haze of smoke, a man in a suit and tie beckoned her with a languid wave. Ah, him. Mildred should have known. Suddenly, her nightie felt inappropriate.

"If you weren’t so pathetic," he said, "you’d be dangerous. What good will it do anyone to think they can fly?"

"And fear is so much more useful?"

"There are rules. People can’t just do anything they please."

"Why not, Thomas? Yes, I know your name."

He smirked.

Mildred McNulty said, "You think the rules will protect us from pain, but nothing can do that." She twisted awkwardly to look up into his eye. "You’re just afraid. You’re afraid to live, young man."

"Leave Chelsea alone or you’ll regret it," he said.

"Typical Mare talk," she said.

"I mean it."

Mildred McNulty jerked awake, then fell back against her pillows. Exhausted. How could she resist the nightmares, the darkness closing in? How could she save them, bogged down by fear? How could she throw off their chains, teach them to love, to hope, to fly? And how could she do it in the time she had left?

She was fading. Everything about her was less than it used to be: she was bent, shrunken, weak as a baby bird. Even her voice quavered. One day, she would cease to be. But until then, she would fight them, fight for what might be, even if she was the last one who believed it was possible.


All of the rest of them dreamt, too:

Jennie Randolph dreamt of Aaron Pederson. She dreamt he asked her to the prom, which was just stupid, because Jennie wasn’t the prom type, and neither was Aaron Pederson. That was what she liked about him. Anyway, in the dream, it was nice. She also dreamt about her half-brother Lawrence Stewart, who was a Little Shit. But that wasn’t a happy dream. That was more like reality. She opened her eyes and saw that another day had begun, mumbled "fuck me", and heaved herself out of bed.

Greg Lindstrom dreamt of his wife. Dreamt over and over of the night she’d gotten dream sickness. Dreamt of all the horrors that trapped her in the dream world, unable to wake. He couldn't save her. He was always too slow, too late, too dumb. He tripped, the car wouldn’t start, he couldn’t get the words out.

"Daddy."

When Greg opened his eyes, Jamie’s face was an inch from his. His breath smelled of milk.

"Are we gonna see Mom today?"

Greg’s throat closed up. He lifted his arms from the blanket and wrapped the little boy in a hug.


Ted dreamt of Chelsea.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Holiday Joy Experiment



I was trying to think of ways to spread peace and joy during the holidays, because it is SO not the most wonderful time of the year. I thought of giving gift cards to homeless people, but that doesn't really get to the heart of the problem. People are depressed. They're overwhelmed and anxious and lonely and freezing their butts off. And they are assaulted by piped-in Christmas music everywhere. A ten-dollar Target gift card isn't going to fix that. People need to remember that they are okay, they are loved, and that things will get better.

So I started writing down thoughts that are helpful to me. Half an hour later, I had 150 of them (and realized I've been reading too many self-help books). I put the sayings onto 300 cards, and then I thought, what the hell am I doing?

I'll be lynched, I thought. I'll be arrested for suspicious cheerfulness or creepy niceness.

People will take offense. They'll say: "You can't make me love myself, you asshole!" and "Get away from me, you New Age freak!" Perhaps, I thought, a mob will chase me out of town. It could be dangerous, but I was prepared to take the risk to do good.

The reality was surprisingly...calm.

At the tire shop, the cafe and the Laundromat, I was able to unload about forty uplifting thoughts. "Would you like a happy thought?" I'd say, and flourish a fan of colored cards. A few people politely declined. Everybody else was delighted.
There are still 260 cards to go. But I should be able to hand them all out by Christmas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ancient Football


Three thousand years ago, Mesoamericans built their lives around football just as Americans do to this day.

Now, the old game was a little different. For one thing, it's likely that the losing captain got his head lopped off. This was to appease the gods, so maybe it was worth it.

But the similarities are more startling than the differences. Players adopted animal imagery to make them feel more fearsome, and armored up with chest protectors, hip, knee and thigh pads, helmets and jockstraps. The game was highly ceremonial, and played in large stadiums at the center of town, often by professional athletes. There were ongoing rivalries between towns. The fans gathered and rooted for their teams and gambled (and sometimes lost their shirts). There was a halftime show with music.

Players were often gravely injured. Most likely that held the same fascination it does today. We might think we're more advanced than ancient peoples, but in some respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death Vs. the Cosmic Kaleidoscope




Death is frightening to us because we imagine the end of life as the loss of our future.
Most people operate on the belief that the future is something that will happen in the future, which is perfectly reasonable, as far as it goes. But everything that happens, happens in the present. The present is all action. There's no lollygagging there. There's no time for questions or second thoughts. Poof! Suddenly, it's all in the past.
Now, the past is something we can relive for the rest of our lives (I'm not saying this is a good thing).
Since we don't experience anything in life until it is past, maybe what we really fear is the end of our past.
Because none of us ever really had a future.
Unless, that is, time runs in both directions! In that case, we'll have our future whether we die or not. We can't lose our future any more than we can lose our past because every possibility still remains. Past and future are constantly shifting from one reality to another in a kind of cosmic kaleidoscope, as every aspect of consciousness touches them.
Ooh! That is so much cooler than dying!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Treasure


I found a treasure today, for a moment. And then I realized it was a dead fly. It looked like a lost earring, an iridescent shimmer of green and blue, picked out by the morning light. It was so beautiful, and then it wasn't.

And then I thought, why shouldn't I wear dead flies in my ears? Compared to that, diamonds and pearls are pretty ho-hum. Give me flash! Give me dazzle!

Come to think of it, some of the prettiest things are under-rated: broken glass, for example. Dead leaves. Smog at sunset. Water with oil spills on it.

Just a little shift of perception is all it takes to surround us with treasures.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Metaphysics of Laughter


There are two types of laughter, but it is always about connection. The first type is social: we will laugh for no reason when we are pleased to be near someone, or to cover awkwardness. When we refuse to laugh at someone's joke, we are refusing a social connection with them. Therefore, we will laugh to be polite.

The second type of connection that inspires laughter is a juxtaposition between two completely separate ideas: dogs in bars, for example. It is relief from the ordinary. It allows us to acknowledge the possibility of a strange connection.

Some jokes, like puns, are more intellectual, but they are still about connecting disparate ideas. And we laugh because it was a connection we did not see before, even though it has always been there.

Laughter is good for us. It connects us, not just to each other, but to everything. And it isn't just messing around. It's a highly spiritual exercise that we should all attempt more often.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wonder


Try to believe, just for a moment, that animals can talk and dreams come true, that every circumstance holds hidden meaning waiting to be discovered, that all of us are connected by an invisible web and that perhaps adventure lies just around the corner. If you can believe these things, wonder will swell your heart and fill your life with magic and mystery.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Bounty of the Highway Ditch



At one particular spot on my daily commute where four highways merge in a tangle, debris seems to accumulate.
Each week has its own theme. One time, it was an entire wardrobe, strewn for hundreds of yards: shoes, underpants, sweaters and dress shirts. Often, there is furniture.
I have followed (at a safe distance) a pickup with a dresser on the back. As the drawers rattled out and shattered on the dotted line, one by one, the driver continued on his way, oblivious.
The week after that, a series of smashed windshields lay in drifts of mini shampoo bottles. How could this have happened? I imagine a tractor-trailer full of shampoo, battling its way toward the I-76 on ramp. The glass truck refusing to yield…Boom! Suddenly we have a modern art installation right there on the highway.
On the guardrail, half of a manufactured home has split open like a hot dog bun, appliances spilling out. That's a lot worse than a tree branch through the roof.
In our bountiful country, you could find anything you wanted on the side of the highway. It's there for the picking. But I think most people would rather go to the store and pay. It's safer than doing wind sprints in 70 mile-per-hour traffic. Plus, the stuff at the store doesn't have tire tracks on it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lava


Ecclesiastes has done it all and had it all, and it was for shit. So you shouldn't even bother. He said, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us."

I get it: the sun just keeps rising and setting, the wind blows in circles. You can't trust anybody.  And after all your struggles, you can't take anything with you when you die.

It does seem pretty pointless.

But what if it's the opposite?

Think of lava, bubbling up from the core of the earth, spilling into the sea to form new land. In this way, we are all built of the raw material of the universe. And in a way, each of us in wonderfully new and unique: new land.

But also in a sense, we can never die, never fail, never be alone.

Because underneath, we are all lava.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Letter to Infinity


Dear Infinity (or whatever you're calling yourself these days),

We're sick of your bullshit and we're not going to take it any more. You think you're so special with your mind-blowingness. But that doesn't give you the right to invade everybody's time and space, ignoring common sense, the laws of physics and etiquette.

Why don't you just butt out?

What was wrong with black and white, good and bad, now and then, paper or plastic?

We want our little worlds back: places where things are predictable and we don't have to make all of these decisions. What good can come from confusing us, thrusting your chaos into everybody's business? We don't need your leading questions and your irreverent attitude.

Stop trying to make us wonder. All that effort, and for what? It's not like we'll ever be able to understand your hoity-toity perfection or that bullshit about oneness.

We like our suburbs and our mini-malls and our televisions, and we don't need whatever it is you're pushing unless it will defend our homes against intruders.

So just go back wherever you came from and leave us alone.

Sincerely,

The Whole World

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Synchronicity


Synchronicity is more than just coincidence. It's an inside joke with the universe.

It's when you miss your plane, only to be rescheduled on a flight that arrives earlier.

It's tripping over the one rock in a field of scree that turns out to be an ancient fossil.

It's finding the book with the wisdom you need, lying face-up on a desert highway.

It's when you and your beloved meet by chance in the cereal aisle of a grocery store miles from home.

It's the frozen waterfall that collapses above you, yet leaves you untouched.

It's the strange dog that appears at your knee in a blizzard and leads you to safety.

Like an inside joke, synchronicity is a sign of affinity: affinity with the universe. A clue that you might be able to work with the universe to make your thoughts materialize. Sometimes.

And yes, all of these things happened to me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Which Way to the River?

A few days after the flood waters receded here, I came upon a crawdad in the middle of the sidewalk, little claws in the air, trying to flag me down.
"Excuse me," he seemed to be saying. "Which way to the river?"
Life will do that to you: pick you up in a flood a drama and set you down someplace unfamiliar and scary. You want to go back to the river. The problem is, the river isn't the way it used to be. It's a little bit wider now, and farther to the south.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Make a Choice, Change the Future


“When you make a choice, you change the future.”
--Deepak Chopra

"The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.

If this sounds too mystical, refer again to the body. Every significant vital sign- body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, hormone level, brain activity, and so on- alters the moment you decide to do anything… decisions are signals telling your body, mind, and environment to move in a certain direction.”
--Deepak Chopra, The book of Secrets

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Pronounce an Oracle


The woman who was the Oracle of Delphi sat on a tripod above a rock crevice, inhaling fumes from the center of the earth. The fumes contained ethylene, a.k.a. laughing gas. When conditions were just right and the fumes didn't make her pass out, she spoke the prophecies that came from her untethered mind.

Nations and great leaders consulted her. For many centuries, all decisions of consequence required the input of the Oracle. But petitioners had to come with a really good question, something of great significance (Usually, it was some variation of, "If we start this war, will we win?"). And to get the Oracle's attention, they brought boat-loads (literally) of gold.

Over hundreds of years, many women filled the role of Oracle. Some young, some old. Some were more educated, some were simple country girls.

One thing was consistent over time: the Oracle spoke in riddles. Her pronouncements were always true, but often misunderstood. Nations that were wise (or lucky) enough to benefit from them built commemorative marble monuments on the grounds at Delphi. Those that misused or misunderstood the Oracle fell into ruin.

You might wonder, if the Oracle was so wise, why couldn't she just give a straight answer? But the Oracle understood that telling people what to do gives them an excuse not to think, and to refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Glorious Head-Tail


I was too young to remember my mother well, but I remember her licking me, my whole body rocking with the motion of her tongue. And I remember lying in a heap with my brothers and sisters, and climbing over each other to suckle, all of our tails knocking together, and the smell of my mother's fear.

And then my siblings vanished one-by-one. And then it was just me and mother. She trembled and licked and licked me, and sometimes we whimpered.

And then, it was just me, and the concrete floor and the sound of barking and the smell of nervous diarrhea. I was so cold. I curled up as small as I could and tried to cover myself with my tail. It really only covered my nose, but it was something.

The people talked to me in high voices and sometimes they held me, which I liked, and I did the only thing I knew: I licked them, like my mother had licked me.

But none of them stayed, and mostly I was alone.

Then one day I heard a voice from nearby. I couldn't see who was talking because of all the concrete, but it was a kind voice. Gruff, but kind. It said, "You're awfully young to be here all alone."

And that was when I learned about the outside world, and about people and about how fickle they could be.

"It's my second time in," he said. "I don't think I'll be leaving this time. I'm old and incontinent. Don't be incontinent. That's the number one thing people can't stand.

That's when I learned about The Room You Never Leave. That gruff dog had reliable sources, he said. He'd been talking to the cats.

And then, the next day, they came and got him, and he was gone.

And I was alone again.

I didn't know it, but I had been sick. As I got well, I started to hear all kinds of things, and then there were some things that we didn't talk about, but we all knew them. Like about The Room You Never Leave.

And I realized that I had to convince a person to take me home. But it had to be the right person. I had to choose someone with Heart. Because if I chose wrong, well, I would come back.

When He came, I knew his Heart right away, but he didn't know me. I yelped to get his attention, and when He finally picked me up, I was so excited I peed on him, then I stuck my tongue in his mouth to make it up to him. "I'm not incontinent!" I yowled. And my tail, my tail was out of control! It knocked off his eyeglasses, and when I ran to get them for him I accidentally trampled them and they skittered into a puddle. Guilty evidence from earlier. Now, he would notice for sure! No, no, don't leave me!

He picked up his eyeglasses with two fingers. I tried to lick them clean. And then he was leaving, and I had the presence of mind, finally, to use my eyes and my heart the way they were intended, and I ran over to the wire gate and willed him to bring me home.

He was back the next day. Oh, joy!

That was when I found out about cars and throwing up.
He brought the wife and She had the most glorious tail coming right out of her head, and I just couldn't help myself. I grabbed hold and pulled as hard as I could. She told me no, but I knew She meant yes! Because She had Heart, too.

Truth is Messy

"If you scrutinize your own life, you'll find you do plenty of things
that violate the dichotomies in your mind. I certainly do. We're considerate,
selfless, and clever (except for the times we aren't). Or we're luckless losers
(not counting the infinite things that go right for us every day). This is the
problem with either-or thinking: It keeps us removed from reality, and it
requires that we spend a lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that life
is one particular way (and burying evidence that doesn't jibe with that view).
More important, it will never feel truthful or satisfying—because it leads to an
answer that's only half-right."
-Martha Beck

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with Becca Strong of Strong Desire, Inc.


The parking lot at the Tail Swish Lounge was empty except for a dusty ‘57 Corvette in the far corner.  Becca Strong parked her Hummer in the most convenient spot, which just happened to be the handicap parking space by the door.  The Hummer was pilon-orange with chrome everywhere.


She’d been invited to do an interview with Will Jacobs for the “Personalities” section of “Family” magazine, a newspaper insert read by half the country every Sunday.  He profiled a different person each week: fading celebrities, inspiring sports figures, eccentric millionaires.  She heaved open the restaurant door and wrinkled her nose: Pine cleaner and dirty dishrag. Charming.
The only customer raised an arm in greeting.  God, what a greaseball.  She flashed him the Gracious Smile. 
“You must be Will,” she said.  “I’m so glad we could meet.”  They shook hands and sat down. 
“You’re just as beautiful in person as in your ads.”
“Thank you.” A large blue stone glowed at her neck, and she wore a tailored sun dress and strappy gold sandals.  Becca made a point of being beautiful, because brains and intimidation could only get you so far, and she was a bit spotty on charm.
A young Chicano man brought them menus, and Becca looked over the offerings:  Burger, double-burger, bacon-burger... She scanned down to the bottom of the page...bean burrito, beef burrito, beef and bean... She closed the menu and slid it to the edge of the table.
The young waiter came back, and took Will's order.
Becca asked for “Orange Pekoe, on ice, with lemon.”
The waiter looked at her dubiously, then said:  “I’ll try,” but she had already tuned him out.

“They do great burgers here,” said Will.  “I believe I’m actually addicted to them.  I sometimes wonder whether they sprinkle them with nicotine or something.”

Becca smiled noncommittally, sat back and waited for Will to finish babbling.  She’d never been any good at small talk.  Becca smiled and nodded, only half listening, resting her mind until the interview began.
“...and so I said to myself: ‘I have got to meet that woman!’”  Cue smile, that’s it, don’t look confused.  He’s talking about you.
“Well, here I am.  And I’d love to tell you about Strong Desire, Inc.
“Okay... well, the first thing I’m curious about is whether you consider yourself a spiritual leader.  There has been some controversy about whether Strong Desire is a cult.”
“No.  And no again.  Strong Desire, Inc. is not a cult.  It’s not even a religion.  This is a business, selling things.   It is a lucrative business, and I pay taxes just like everyone else.”
“You’ve helped so many people.  It interests me that you haven’t considered the advantages of tax exemption.”
“No. I knew right from the start I wanted to make money.  Of course, I do make the world a better place, but helping people is secondary."
Will scribbled something in his notebook. 

The waiter returned, thumped down a Coke and an iced tea. Becca took a sip of her drink and slid it over so that it nestled with the ketchup and sugar packets.

“But if you’re not religious, what motivates you?
“I’ve always known that the best way to earn money is to give people what they want at a reasonable price.”
“You make it sound so simple.” 
Becca shrugged one shoulder, but didn’t enlighten him.
“What kind of products and services do you offer?”
“Most of the things people buy are substitutes for what they really want, Will.   For example, a man buys a sports car because he wants virility.  Or a woman buys a dress because she wants to be beautiful.  I sell what people really want, without being coy about it. I sell sex, youth, beauty, wealth, love, comfort, direction, hope—“
“You sell hope?”
“Yes.  That’s one of my most successful product lines.  We have the more traditional products like talismans, inspirational posters, fortune-telling. Of course, there’s the new Hope Diamond jewelry line, which is merchandised alongside the Hope perfume.  Initial sales are very impressive.  And then, there are crossover products. For example, beauty products can take the form of herbal remedies, diet pills, anti-aging creams and  pheromone-enhancing perfumes, just to name a few.”


“You seem to have such a deep understanding of human nature. Do you have a background in psychology?"

“God, no.  What would I want that for?"

The waiter came back again. Will picked up his notebook to clear the way for a burger half-buried in potato wedges.

“One thing I’ve always believed,” Becca continued, “ is that people don’t need to talk about their problems.  They need them fixed.  Why would I waste years of someone’s life on ‘Counseling’ when I can sell them exactly what they need right now?"

“Of all the things people come to you for, what do people need the most?”

“People want a lot: They want to be rich and powerful and thin and beautiful and happy.  They want love and friendship and self-confidence and respect.  But mostly, I’d have to say, everyone needs to be told what to do.”