Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dreams Are Not About Being Sensible

Today I almost let someone take my dream, but I snatched it back.
They brandished words that left me small, and I almost decided that I didn't deserve my dream. Then I realized that dreams are not about being sensible and accepting your limitations.
Dreams are what help you  to soar, even when it looks like you are falling.

*

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Solstice: Behind the Scenes

You may have thought that winter solstice was all about the tilt of the earth's axis and the length of the day, etc. You would be wrong. It is about depression.
Toward the end of the year, the sun sinks, sinks toward the horizon and spends more and more time by itself, sulking in front of the TV in its jammies, a glass of whiskey in its hand. Then it drags itself up every morning, groggy and hung over. Some mornings it doesn't even brush its teeth.
That's why we have those end-of-year rituals: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's Eve. Office parties, gift buying and baking. Putting up trees indoors. It's to say: Come on, sun! Come out and have a bit of fun! You'll feel better, we promise! We have cookies! And listen to that determinedly cheerful music! Life couldn't be that bad, could it?
There ya go!
And we get the sun propped up. The fresh air and camaraderie do it good.
It forgets about its funk, then gets perkier and perkier until about the 20th of June, when, after a manic blitz of late nights and early rising (It's getting so much done! Having so much fun!), it starts to burn out. By November it is exhausted and overwhelmed, and so there we go again.

*

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Santa and His Blues Band

The holidays have begun in my new neighborhood, and it's like Vegas on every block.
We have creches and menorahs, of course, because you get those everywhere, and fairy lights and twinkly icicles dangling from rain gutters.
There are candy canes, snowflakes, nutcrackers, ginger bread houses, trees bound up like hostages in strings of lights.
A dinosaur in a fur-trimmed shirt. Polar bears, oxen, a walrus. Deer, elk, elves. A giant arrow-shaped tree on the roof of one house, possibly disrupting air traffic.
Santa in a helicopter. Santa popping in and out of a chimney. Santa and his blues band (who knew he had time for hobbies?).
All of it blinding, glaring, blinking. And it is wonderful!
Is this what Christmas is all about? Yes it is, if Christmas is about joy. Because every night when I pull into my neighborhood after work I shake my head and laugh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hero

In their deepest heart, everybody wants to be a hero, and they're pretty sure it has something to do with wealth and fame and power.
So we have a lot of people chasing those things.
But heroism has nothing to do with wealth and fame and power. It's about transcendence. It's about overcoming circumstances. It's about bringing hope or peace or joy to an imperfect, sometimes painful world, whatever your station in life and whatever your trials.

And compared to that, wealth and fame and power are a piece of cake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Should Have Been Afraid

Two hundred yards from the summit of Grizzly Peak, I drank in the view. A wonderland of lush emerald green nestled in the valley below, dotted with flashing lakes and fortified with turrets of granite. If I squinted, I could imagine the ruins of an ancient, magical kingdom. A place that I alone had discovered.
Mountainsides swept up into rocky grey peaks patchworked with snow fields. All was silent, save the whistle of a marmot.
Tears came to my eyes. It had been too long. I had let the city and my job take away what was most precious to me. Now it was August, and it was the first time I'd been above timberline in a year. How could I have let that happen?
The usual afternoon storm marched down the valley, a roiling wall of purple cloud. The wind picked up. Directly overhead it was still clear, but I heard a distant rumble of thunder and smelled moisture in the air.
I figured the worst part about lightning was the thunder. When it sneaks up on you and goes: BOOM! and sets your eardrums ringing and knees trembling. "Ha!" It says, "Made you flinch!"
I was a tiny animal in a sea of rocky peaks. There was no reason for the lightning to single me out.
Taking out my phone I filmed the horizon: "Magnificent storm coming in from the west there." I panned to the summit. "I'll be back down to the saddle before it catches up to me." I turned the phone's camera toward my face. In the video I'm wearing something between a grin and a grimace. My lungs had that high-altitude burn, and my heart hammered in my chest, both  with the exertion and the game of racing the storm.
You can hear the click of my walking stick on scree, and then-- zzzt! the video ends.
 It turns out I should have been afraid of lightning.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Like Picking at Scabs

Like picking at scabs, we obsess about our losses, shames, traumas and outrages. Why do we do that?
What makes us pull off the scab, baring the wound again? Do we prefer the pain?
Maybe we do. Maybe it makes us feel important.

And we forget that everyone has been wounded a little by life, but some of us choose to heal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

At-Home Archeology

Scrubbing the floor of our new house, I pulled out the drawer below the oven, and ack! I found...well, I found a lot of stuff.
Let me be clear: our new home is lovely, and the previous owners vacuumed and polished, but there are some places you just don't check when you are packing boxes in the middle of the night with the moving van parked in the driveway.
So there I am on the first day in my new house. Clorox and bucket in hand, I pull out the oven drawer all the way out, and underneath, there are...toys! A four-inch deep cache of them, all the colors of the rainbow. A record of one family's growth from binkies and tiny bibs through the alphabet fridge magnet phase and culminating in action figures, Legos and beads. All of it cemented together with kitchen ooze, and with one ancient waffle balanced on top.
How did that happen?
First theory: Mom used the oven drawer for emergency junk storage when company was on the way (guests never look there). Over the years, junk spilled over the sides and settled underneath, never to be seen again.
Theory two: Little Johnny discovered as a toddler that stuff disappeared forever when he slid it under the oven or dropped it down the side. As a bonus, it drove Mom crazy! Picture him looking on smugly as Mom explained to little Jane: "Your brother says that he does not have your My Little Pony comb, so stop crying, dammit, and your purple plastic horse is just going to have to have tangled acrylic hair."
Anyways, these are just theories.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of us have these kinds of caches, and not just accidental ones. We build them on purpose in garages and closets, kitchen drawers, sheds, shoe boxes and crawl spaces. Sometimes we call them "mementoes".
Cleaning my previous house before the move, I found a lot of junk: trunks full of the stuff that my husband and I couldn't bear to part with. I will move them to the new house and stack them up.
And one day some poor person will find it all and go: ack!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Failure Makes Better Heroes



Every triumph is born from defeat. Without the adversity, it wouldn't be a triumph. It would just be...business as usual. That is why we don't throng to the theater to see happy people stroll placidly through their days. These people may have qualities worth emulating, but there's not  much to learn from them.


 How do you imitate someone who never screws up? Someone with no angst? Someone who has never fallen apart? I guess we could just be perfect all the time. But usually that translates into pretending to be perfect while living a lie.


No, the most important lesson we  need to learn is recovery: How to keep our hopes up when everything falls to pieces. How to forgive. And how to remake ourselves after we have been broken.

That is why failures make better heroes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yes, I am a Horrible Person


I passed a sorority house wreathed in smoke on my way to the bus stop after work. My first worry was not for the welfare of all those bouncy young girls.

I thought, "Oh, damn, now the fire trucks are going to cause a traffic jam and my bus will be late." Then I told myself that I am a horrible person. Sorority girls are people too, after all. What if someone died? Then how would I feel?

But then I realized they were just having a barbeque.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sun, Halo, Crown


Halos have been around since way before Christ. We can find them all through the history of art: Ancient Egyptian gods have orbs above their heads. Mythical Greek figures have rays shooting out of their skulls. Buddha has a disk. Hindu gods have flames.

Originally a symbol of the sun, the source of all life, by extension the halo represents power, enlightenment, godliness.

Enter the crown.

Now humans have always loved extraordinary hats, but the crown is not just a hat. Only certain people can afford gemstone-encrusted gilded headgear. It is the ultimate status symbol.

The problem is, while a crown captures the sun's shininess it doesn't confer the sun's essence, its life-giving power. The halo of the monarch is counterfeit.

We can find true power in our connection to and love of all things. It is a glow, but not a glow we see. It is the glow in our hearts when we are at peace. Some people catch a flicker once in a while. Some never feel it at all, but they try to capture it in shiny things like iPhones, diamond rings or casinos.

The true glow, the true halo, always comes from within.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

And The Sky Rolls Open




If you can look at the sky, deep on a dark moonless night, you may see the layers upon layers of stars, tiny pinpricks an aeon away, and yet huger than anything we can fathom: Sun upon sun. Galaxies of worlds. Destruction. Rebirth. Expanding and spinning out into--what? more of the same?

Then turn it inside out. And imagine that is what our world looks like from the inside, from the tiny, tiny.

And then you might decide that looking at the night sky is like seeing reality for the first time. The pale blue bowl turned upside-down over our heads in the daytime is an illusion. We are not contained. At dusk, when the sky rolls open like a giant garage door, we can see that we are actually free.

What if we floated up, up, into the vastness? Too scary? Yes, I know. But what if we let our minds rise up? What if we set aside the illusions, the assumptions by which we conduct our lives and just fly around a little out there?

And then, when we come back, maybe we can fly a little here. Fly deeper into the true nature of things. Question more. And then, when we are weary and overwhelmed, return to the nice tidy smallness, the predictability of our everyday world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Success Trap


We tell children that their inborn enthusiasm and joy are wrong. Stop goofing off, we say. Study harder! Excel! Don't make a fool of yourself! We teach them these things because we want them to succeed. We think that success requires striving, and if you're happy, you must be slacking off.

But a lot of what we teach isn't true, and those of us who are still following those rules as adults, still living our lives in fear of judgment and striving, striving, are dead inside.

We should teach children what we know in our hearts is true: It's impossible to be perfect, so give yourself a break. Do what excites you. Laughter is good. And some people will hate you no matter what.

That way, they won't have to live in fear until they're forty, like we did before we finally realized what's important.

Hard work is good. So are accomplishment and belonging. But what is not important is living up to someone else's standards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stories that Heal



"We can change the body and the world by telling a better story. And as every child knows, the animals can help us find and make the stories that heal."

-Robert Moss, The Boy Who Died and Came Back

Friday, September 12, 2014

Synchronicity is Coincidence You Can't Ignore


Synchronicity is coincidence that you can't ignore. It is like discovering evidence of a long-ago life: a tooth, a shard of pottery, a falling-down wall. And from those scraps, those ruins, you assemble a story. The story may be meaningful only to you, but it may be the answer to an important question you never knew to ask.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Introducing the Moose-Click App for Happy Thoughts

The Moose-Click app debuts today. My brother Eric designed it for me (thank you!).
Click on Moose the Dog (in the column to the right) for an encouraging thought. Click as many times as you like. Every minute it produces something new.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Planning is Memory in Reverse


For the most part, we run our lives in forward gear, or at least we think we do. We're thinking ahead. We're planning. But we also have these memories of things that came before. We spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror. And that's okay.

Because planning and memory are the same thing, really. They are two modes of creation.

With our imaginations, we can think of things that haven't even happened. We can create a whole new world. And we can make some of those things come true.

Memories are creative, too. We have a tendency to think that memories are different, that they actually happened, they're verifiable. But it's really not that simple. We remember certain things and forget others. We discount those memories that don't fit with our worldview.

So really, memory is planning in reverse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It Could be a Genie. Or Not.


For five years, the same piece of trash has sat in my neighbors’ front yard. A bottle. And it’s not a classy bottle, either, like Sapphire Gin or Enjoli Perfume. No. It’s hard to tell because it’s so dirty, but I think it’s fuel additive or brake fluid. Something automotive.

They must know about it. They mow the lawn. The bushes are trimmed, the fence is new, the windows shiny.

Every day, surely, they walk out to the curb to check the mailbox for bills or tax refunds or Valupak coupons, and surely, they see the grimy bottle nestled in the bush at the base of the post. And then they refrain from picking it up.

I itch to make it tidy.

But then I remember the time I found a quartz crystal the size of a mouse at the base of a tree by the road. It must be a sign, I thought! It must be there just for me! So I brought it home. My friends were disgusted. Someone left it there for a reason, they said. It’s a shrine, or an offering or something.

I didn’t care. I put it on my patio. It looked really awesome there. And then, for the next three months until I took that crystal back where I found it, everything in my life…sucked.

So I kind of learned my lesson: don’t mess with stuff. Don’t assume.

A fuel additive bottle seems an unlikely shrine, however, so what else could it be? The possibilities are limited. I have compiled a list:

1.      A genie lives in the bottle. It’s the kind of genie who grants wishes sporadically and always has a sarcastic comment. He smells. He never changes out of his velour pajamas. But he’s useful, so they keep him nearby, but not too close.

2.      Secret messages. In the middle of the night on a new moon, the accomplice creeps out of the darkness to fish slips of paper from the bottle which direct his role in the coming depravity.

3.      A portlock. If you grasp the grimy bottle and say the magic word, it whisks you off to a faraway land where everyone understands how such things work. It is the kind of place with friendly dragons, and all the colors are much richer than in the real world, and people participate in valiant quests that make their lives meaningful.

4.      Sentimental value. “Yes!” she replies to his mumbled proposal, just as he reaches to pick up the piece of litter. He stands, brushing off his knee, and overcome with relief, he says, “Let us keep this here as a symbol of our love.” Secretly, however, he’s superstitious. He’s afraid that if he picks up that grotty bottle now she will realize that he’s not good enough for her and change her mind.

Or not.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Memory is Story

Every memory is a story, and by that I mean a fiction. But fiction has its own truth, which is deeper and more useful than mere facts.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Self-loathing


Self-loathing always means one thing: your beliefs are at odds with your behavior.

And the cure (not an easy one, but simple) is to change either your behavior or your belief.

Sometimes it’s not obvious whether it is your behavior or your belief that is suspect.

It’s not even always clear what underlying belief is causing your misery.

But asking questions is the place to start.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dog Bone Rescue





Moose was possibly the smartest dog that ever lived. Not in the obedient kind of way, but in the way of finding loopholes in the rules, general mischief making, and her extraordinary autonomy. She made me laugh every day of her life.

She was tuned into the universe in a way that I never would be, and I accepted that her wisdom was greater than mine in certain things. Here is an example:

One Saturday afternoon Moose demands a walk. It isn’t her regular time, but she scratches at the door and paces and fixes me with a very stern look.

So, what do I do? I clip on her leash to see what this is all about.

Moose tows me downstairs and out of the apartment building, tows me to the park. Focused and looking neither right nor left, she pulls me down the path and into a street that we may never have walked before.

With no hesitation at all, she gallops onto the front lawn of the third house, plucks up a giant bone from the grass and charges around the corner, still towing me like a water skier.

The bone is enormous. It is half a cow’s leg, and it juts out on both sides of Moose's mouth, hoof dangling. It is a prize. Her tail is high.

Moose pauses at a bush, glances up and down the street, then digs a shallow hole. In goes the bone. With her nose, she covers it lightly with pine needles and dirt.

Mission accomplished. We start home.

Back in the park, halfway home, I meet another woman coming the opposite way with two dogs. I don’t recognize her, but the dogs greet each other like old friends, so we pause to chat.

“You wouldn’t believe what my dog just did,” I say, and launch into an account of the bone retrieval.

“That’s funny,” she cuts in, and then she tells me her half of the story:

She gave her dogs a bone that day. A big bone. The dogs were overjoyed. They were supposed to gnaw it in the back yard, but they kept dragging it through their dog door, parading it around the house and getting beefy drool all over the carpet. Exasperated, the woman repossessed the bone and chucked it onto the front lawn, where the dogs couldn’t reach it.

That happened about the same time Moose demanded her walk.

We glance down at the three dogs, all wagging and smiling. Happy. Self-satisfied, even.

And it dawns on us: the bone has been relocated exactly according to plan.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Extra Senses


Imagine you hug your mother. You talk to her, look her over and smell her shampoo. It's more satisfying than a phone call, right? But if you’re trying to avoid her, like if you owe her money, for example, you might want to just text.

Sight, sound, smell and touch (let's set aside taste for now): Every sense adds more information, and more information helps connection. So in this way, connection is communication. With fewer senses involved, communication is harder. There is more room for error, for disconnection.

Over and above those first four senses, which I think of as our ordinary senses, we have our Extra Senses. Yes, like extra sensory. They’re not going to sound all that glamorous at first, but bear with me.

Attention. Paying attention sure does help. Have you ever tuned someone out while they spoke to you? I do it all the time. I should probably work on that.

Familiarity. With friends and family, we don’t have to explain everything. We can communicate in short hand. Sometimes even in grunts.

Place. There’s a reason you kept driving past your crush’s house in high school. It’s the same reason we want to see our friend’s new apartment and go back to visit the lands of our ancestors. It helps us to understand subtle things. And that understanding makes us feel closer.

Time. The past fades as we move through our lives. The future is hazy. The present is more accessible, and so are those who share our time.

Affinity. Sometimes you just GET someone. You’re on the fast track to connection. You share interests or values or personality traits. Maybe you’re genetically related. Maybe you’re just fooling yourself, especially if they’re charming and good looking, but that’s a whole other topic.

Now here’s where the Extra Senses get exciting. If every one of them contributes to connection, then each of them, alone, can be the basis for connection.

And connection is communication.

So, theoretically, if two of us share just one Extra Sense, we can communicate. Not as successfully, perhaps, as with our ordinary senses, but enough, if we really try, to be almost magical.

P.S.- I left out taste on purpose. It brought up disturbing images of cannibalism.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An Axiom Worthy of a Tattoo


Don’t Panic: It's an Axiom Worthy of a Tattoo

But what is panic? What’s going on when we scream at the paramedics as they try to strap us to the gurney or snipe at the Target cashier for being too slow or decide to kill our spouse for the insurance money to pay the bookies (just being theoretical here)? We are rightfully ashamed of these moments, because what’s going on is more than just a loss of critical thinking.

We’ve decided that we’re trapped, and that we might as well make everything much worse, because at least then we’re doing something.

Panic rails against what we don’t want, rather than focusing on what we do want. And it’s not always about the big stuff. We all panic every day in subtler ways: We seethe with righteous rage at those other assholes. We cut people off in rush hour traffic. We tear up the bills instead of paying them.

I know, in the short run a tantrum is so much more exhilarating, which is why it’s so hard to resist. But if we take a moment to breathe, we might see a way out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Awe


"According to psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity or might. It's the experience of confronting something greater than yourself. Awe expands one's frame of reference and drives self-transcendence. It encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked by everything from great works of art or music to religious transformations, from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery." 
From Contagious: why things catch on, by Jonah Berger

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Striving and Rest

A life should be made of periods of striving and periods of rest and comfort. Comfort lets us know that we have achieved something. Striving gives us something to live for.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Junk Shop: A Dog Memoir


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 until 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 curled up as small as I could and tried to wrap myself in my tail. It just reached the tip of my nose, but it was something.

People came and went. They 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, as 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," said the gruff old dog, "and I don't have a chance.  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.

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 pay attention.

The other dogs gossiped. Rumors went up and down the line. They talked, and I listened, trying to glean what I could about the Facts of Life. Nobody talked about the Room You Never Leave, but we all knew it was there.

Instead, we talked about the families we would have one day. Yards with fluffy green grass. Days spent hunting squirrels and chasing balls. Legendary holiday meals. Walks and children and lazy evenings cuddling by the fire. The Good Life.

I was young and ambitious, and I wanted it all.

But the number one thing, the foundation for the Good Life, was a person with Heart.

We can all sense Heart, but sometimes we get distracted by other things, surface things, like a nice belly rub. Just because someone gives you a belly rub doesn't mean they're committed. Just because they say kind words, it doesn't mean they feel them. Just because they want you really badly because you're so cute, doesn't mean they will remember you when it's cold outside, when you're old and farty, when they get married.

A person with Heart will love you forever.

I had no experience of the Outside World, but I listened and I learned, and I knew that I must choose carefully.

I had seen the other dogs lose their heads over a person, and I had seen how it ruined things. People didn't like barking and slobbering and whining and jumping up. They wanted a dog with dignity.

I imagined myself making a careful choice. Weighing my options. Offering a dignified paw, perhaps, to seal the deal. But it didn't happen like that for me.

Instead, it was like falling in love. Like falling down a flight of stairs. Like a car wreck.

The metal door swung open at the end of the line, and before I even saw his ball cap or his gentle smile, I felt his Heart, beating in my chest.

And everything I had learned went out the window.

A yelp escaped my throat as I joined the growing chorus: "Pick me! Pick me!"

Slowly, slowly, his feet came into sight. My gate swung open and I leapt into his arms. My bladder emptied down the front of his shirt.

I licked his face and his teeth, and even got a swipe at his tongue before he spluttered and pushed me away. "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. As he walked away, I remembered my dignity, and I sat at the wire gate, vibrating with yearning, and willed him to bring me home.

He was the one for me. He just didn't know it yet. The next day after kibble-time I sat at my gate, staring down the concrete aisle toward the door. My heart and my will sent hooks out into the world, and I reeled him back to me. I could feel his Heart, out there somewhere.

And I drifted into a trance.

A rumor came down the line: he was back. All of us were on high alert. The door swung open and the other dogs erupted: "Pick me!" they chorused.

My body vibrated with the effort to stay still.

He squatted down and stuck his fingers through the wire. "You want to go home with me?" he asked.

"Yes!" I yodeled, and toppled over backward.

As I followed him into the Outside World, I staggered to stay ahead of my thrashing tail. It banged rhythmically on the check-out desk. Its arc was so wide, it whipped me in the ribs and knocked pamphlets from a table.

My tail and I dragged him through the glass doors to open sky and an explosion of scents. People and movement everywhere! So this was the fabled Outside World! I decided immediately that I loved it.

"Hold your horses!" He said, hauling me out of the path of a moving car. "Sorry!" he waved as it roared away.

He introduced me to his wife, who was a blur of pleasure and warmth. Their name was Metcalfe, but to me they would always be He and She.

The world was huge even before we got into his car and drove. More of it unfolded, sniff by sniff out the open window.

In the car, I noticed that She had the most glorious tail coming right out of her head. It was too wonderful to ignore, so 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.
To learn more of Sophie's story, download Junk Shop: A Dog Memoir. It's free for a limited time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Meaning of Life


There is no "meaning of life" built into the structure of our world. But the fact that you look so often for the meaning of things is not a tragedy.

It is a hunger that can spur you to your highest purpose.

You are a meaning-maker.

It is what you were made for. Your entire purpose as a human being is to create meaning out of chaos, and if you shirk this sacred responsibility, if you sit there waiting for the television to tell you what to do, then basically you are just killing time until you die.

But if you make creation your passion and purpose, you will make your meaning, and you will fulfill your destiny.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Saving Face

"Conflict at work is often due to a person's feeling defensive out of a fear of losing face. To prove himself he sets certain goals for how others should treat him, and then expects rigidly that others will fulfill those expectations. This rarely happens as planned, however, because others also have an agenda for their own rigid goals to be achieved." Flow,  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Confidence





We're all idiots, one way or another. As Socrates said, the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing. Although this may be true, doubting yourself won't get you far in life. In fact, it might keep you from accomplishing anything at all.

Confidence, though...that will carry you through, even if you're dumber than average.

You have to be cocky enough to be wrong, mess up, make a fool of yourself, then leap up and go at it again. Because everybody who tries anything makes mistakes. The confident ones recover, however, while those of us who can't accept our shortcomings are mumbling and rocking in the corner.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Glide Gently Into the Waves

Flying above 30,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, I spied a line of debris, perhaps a mile wide, stretching to the horizon. It was sandwiched between two ocean currents that skewed in different directions.
Below me, multicolored dots and splinters of wood heaved gently in the swell. How big were they? Big enough to see from 30,000 feet.
How far had all that debris travelled? Was it born from a single hurricane, or did it accumulate gradually, one dropped Dasani bottle at a time?
What creatures called that place home and thrived in its shadows? And how many were entombed there, tangled and bloated?
If my plane fell from the sky and I were to glide gently down and splash into the water, could I build a raft from garbage and float safely to shore?
Or would I be smashed in the churning debris and eaten by sharks before I could climb aboard?
These are the things I think about.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When Adversity Threatens to Paralyze Us

“When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces. When every aspiration is frustrated, a person still must seek a meaningful goal around which to organize the self. Then, even though that person is objectively a slave, subjectively he is free.”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Flow

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Emotional Contagion


Have you ever noticed how on your down days, your really crappy days, things start spinning out of control? The checkout clerk is rude and the other drivers cut you off and your co-worker makes the remark that comes like a guided missile? I've noticed that.

And maybe I'm not very good at hiding my feelings, but also maybe my feelings aren't just about me.

They are about energy. And energy is everything.

No, really. Everything.

If we could see the world through energy goggles, we would see that everything is made of the same tiny stuff, zooming and jiggling. We are not as self-contained as we would like to think.

And when someone is negative we want to punish them because their energy messes with ours.

When we can dredge up some positive energy, it is exactly as contagious, but with the opposite effect. If we all started with just one smile, one phone call, one thank you, just think what we could do.

We could change the world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Place-ness


Some places have a definite feeling of “place-ness”, which means that when you are there, you feel like you’re Someplace: Famous monuments. Exotic ports. Grandma’s house. When you are there, you know where you are.

But place-ness in not just about popularity or familiarity. It’s about feelings, which vary between people and over time. It’s elusive. Today’s Center of the World might be tomorrow’s Nowhere.

When I was a fifteen, my dreams and aspirations revolved around malls: home of Cinnabon and the Guess Store and the multiplex. Malls, which were situated in a glamorous suburb where the houses were new and shiny (and matching!).

Then, over the years, the place-ness of that suburb wore off, presumably not just for me. And the shop fronts were vacant and the houses got shabby. And living in that once-shiny land feels like being left behind.

It's not all bad, however, because we do have The Dump. Sure, its stinks. Torn plastic flutters in the wind. It’s full to the dirty horizon with all the stuff that no one wants. But the wonder of the dump is its big machines, trundling over the wreckage, shuffling it to and fro. Machines of power and purpose. Machines that are yellow and really...cute.

You could say my world-view has changed.
A visit to The Dump makes me feel alive. More than an echoing mall, anyway. The Dump, you see, has become a Place.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Storyteller Hero


I saw a dog on a motorcycle once, a chow-chow, perched backwards behind the driver wearing Oakley sunglasses. On the highway.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Much stranger. Because the purpose of fiction is to make sense out of truth.

Each of us is building a story every moment of our lives. But sometimes the narrative breaks down. Something horrible happens. Something inexplicable. Or we wish we could scrap it all and start over.

Now, if you are a really skilled storyteller, maybe you can integrate it all: the pain and the joy and the "what the hell?". You can see the connections between all things. And that should make you a kind of hero.

Because the world needs good stories, more than anything. More than food. Because nothing is pointless if you have meaning.

And with stories your suffering is not in vain. And your trials will strengthen you. And your path leads somewhere.

And we can lift ourselves up with stories.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Shop Dog


The Shop smelled of broken dreams and lost love and mice and wet shoes, and all of it was fuzzy with dust.

As Virgil watched, almost smiling, I wobbled around, familiarizing myself with the layout. Under the racks and behind the bookcases and into the deserted corners.

I heaved my front end up onto boxes to sniff at the cardboard flaps and stuck my head into the bathroom that smelled of urine and followed a spider along the base of the wall, sniffing, sniffing, until it reared up in annoyance.

I got on my belly and wormed under the sales counter with the dropped change and lost receipts and balls of hair. And then I got stuck. Virgil tipped the counter up on two legs as I scrambled out, sneezing. Everything in the case shifted six inches to the front, and stayed that way.

I found sweaty old clothes hanging from pipes in the ceiling and cut glass candle sticks and board games in broken boxes and photos of someone's ancestors and jars of marbles and half-empty cardboard cartons spilling their contents onto the concrete in places where the linoleum had worn away. There were cases full of sparkly jewelry and broken meat grinders. Anything you could possibly want, you could find in our shop.

Overall, it was satisfactory. There and then, I embraced my new career as a Shop Dog.

Every night we watched television together, and every day we hobbled down the stairs to the Shop. Virgil read novels that smelled like autumn leaves. I lay on my bed behind the counter, or under the army surplus rack, and watched.

It wasn't  just a junk shop. People called it that because we weren't much for cleaning and things were organized according to whether Virgil Got Around To It.

But it was a lot more than a junk shop. A person looking at it with eyes of wonder would have seen a place of possibilities. Anything could be there. Everything was there. Everything in the whole world. I know, you think I'm exaggerating because you only look with your eyes. You glance over something, and you think you know it.

Well, it's not looking that will help, anyway. It's seeing. And seeing isn't only with your eyes.

You know they train dogs to be "seeing eyes", which is kind of ironic, considering our vision is, well, mediocre. But the thing is, dogs don't see with their eyes. We see with our hearts. We see with smell and sound and feel. We know all the scents on the wind, the tension in the air. We see what you're thinking. We hear what you don't say. We touch you with our eyes. We make things happen by wanting.

Dogs operate in a connected universe. People, not so. Even when you think you can see, you're blind: The Orphans of the Universe.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Incubating Evil

"Evil exists in everyone as a shadow, for the very reason that the world is in everyone. Being raised as a good person is a counter to the shadow of evil, of course...But if you are fortunate enough to have made choices on the good side of the equation, you must still acknowledge that the shadow exists in you somewhere...
Conditions That Release Shadow Energies:
Removing a sense of responsibility
Anonymity
Dehumanizing environments
Peer examples of bad behavior
Passive bystanders
Rigid levels of power
Prevailing chaos and disorder
Lack of meaning
Implicit permission to do harm
'Us-versus-them' mentality
Isolation
Lack of accountability"
Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mannequin Exploitation


The other day, I was at Macy's to use the restroom when I passed by a passel of mannequins and noticed something: they have no toes.

And then I looked a little closer and realized that's the least of their problems. They had been decapitated. Limbs amputated. Poles up their behinds. All of them were distressingly emaciated, and it wasn't clear whether it was due to disease or famine.

And then it dawned on me what's happening: exploitation. Like the handlers of Indian street children, retailers are disfiguring their mannequins to induce our pity, to try to wrench a little more cash from us.

So let's all band together to stop the cycle of exploitation. Do not give your money to retailers. Support reputable charities instead.

Because, yes, on the surface these mannequins are attractive and confident, but what good is beauty without a head?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Abandoned Hotel


Fourth of July, 1971. Margaret had convinced her distracted parents that she was babysitting all weekend. They didn’t know she was dating a college boy. They certainly didn't know she was going camping with him and his friends.

She and Joe and Ron and Rich loaded up Joe's International with hot dogs, big jugs of Gallo wine and blankets, planning to drive up to Long Shot, to build a bonfire, to sleep under the stars.

Margaret had been to Long Shot before then, of course, with her parents, when she was younger. Her father had pointed out the abandoned Long Shot Hotel, and had told stories of their ancestors, of greed and intrigue, of a cavern of wonders and a golden bear lost in the tunnels under the old hotel.

"Look!" Margaret exclaimed, as she rode through the remains of the town with Joe, Ron and Rich. "That's the Long Shot Hotel!"

It was a derelict stone building with broken windows. The door hung from its hinges. Nailed to the sagging door was a sign: "For Sale-- Price Reduced."

"Oh, it's for sale!" she exclaimed.

The boys whooped with laughter. Joe had to pull over so he wouldn't crash.

But Margaret knew: Long Shot, Colorado was a magical place. It was just a matter of looking at it the right way.

When Margaret asked Joe to go back so she could get a better look, Ron groaned and Rich said, "I'd rather get a camping spot before the good ones are gone."

They'd had a late start. He was right.

Joe, the diplomat, said, "We can check it out some other time."

So they drove onto a rough spur road and parked by a fire ring filled with ash and burned trash, with the smell of pine and the chill of high altitude in the air. There was a little creek that trickled through the grass and a view of a high peak through a gap in the trees.

They built a huge bonfire, sat on logs in their bell-bottom jeans, passing around the Gallo wine jug and philosophizing. They speared hot dogs on sticks and blistered them in the fire.

A raindrop splashed onto Margaret's head, then another. They sizzled as they landed in the fire pit.

The friends laughed and covered their heads with a blanket. Drank more wine. The tiny creek swelled and a huge puddle crept toward them, threatening to drown the fire.

"I know," said Margaret. "Let's go back to Long Shot and wait out the storm in the old hotel." And it seemed like a fine idea to the rest of them.

Laughing, they tossed their gear into the truck. They sloshed down the road, which ran with water, to the hotel.

The young men dodged up the steps to the overhanging entryway but Margaret took a moment to gather handfuls of glowing red firecracker penstemon from the clump of weeds by the front steps, to spin in the rain, letting it soak her face and run into her mouth, to squint up at the surrounding peaks.

The boys teased and chided her. When she finally came inside, soaked and shivering, Joe threw a blanket over her shoulders and drew her into a warm hug.

The four of them strolled through the echoing lobby, crunching on glass and garbage.

From the lobby, Margaret and Joe wandered back into a kitchen with marble counters and sinks like bathtubs and pantries with thick wooden doors. High in the walls, small windows were darkened with grime. Through a door to the side, a debris-covered stairway led down to ground level.

At the back of the kitchen another stairway led to the basement. Joe hung back as Margaret peered into the darkness, wishing she had a flashlight.

"There's nothing down there," said Joe.

Margaret tore her gaze away from it. "No," she said. "Everything is down there. I'll bet that's where the cave is."

Joe was about to ask what she meant when they heard a commotion above. They sprinted back to the lobby shouting, "What's wrong? Ron? Rich?"

"Hey, check this out!" Ron shouted down from the second floor, and they trooped up the wide marble staircase to the ballroom, where the light was better, coming through the windows. There was upended furniture strewn around the room. Hanging from the ceiling was a cobwebbed crystal chandelier, and at the far end of the room, an ostentatious mirrored bar, barely touched by time. Above the bar a life-sized naked woman was painted onto the plaster.

The four of them stood speechless.

"This is the grooviest thing I have ever seen," said Ron.

But it was more than groovy. It was miraculous, overwhelming.

A tear slipped down Margaret's face and she wiped it away, embarrassed. She had been waiting all her life to come to this place. Yes, Great-grandpa Gundy's golden bear, was there, somewhere, waiting for her, but it was more than that. It was destiny.

"Can you feel it?" Margaret asked at last.
Ron and Rich looked away, but she knew they could feel it, too. Joe gazed into her eyes, and it seemed like in that moment they were two eagles, talons gripped together, falling from the sky.

This is an excerpt from Down the Throat of the Mountain.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Find Joy


There's a hierarchy of happiness, and at the top is joy. The reason joy reigns supreme is that it comes from within and is independent of circumstances.

Fun and happiness are excellent, but pursuing them as ends in themselves can ultimately leave us hollow. Because what we really need to lead our most fulfilling lives is a sense of meaning.

That's all good and well. Thank you very much, you might say. But when you're in the depths of despair, joy is like another planet.

The easy solution to despair is to eat chocolate lava cake or buy a sweater that is both cuddly and stylish or book a long weekend at the hot springs. You should do all of these things. They will help a bit. They will get you headed in the right direction.

Sometimes you arrive at joy: boom! And you see everything through joy goggles and it is all shiny and perfect, and you're like: How did I get here? And then you lose it in a flash the next time somebody gives you the finger in traffic or the veterinarian calls with the test results. And, once again, it feels like there's no point to anything.

So how do you travel to Joy?

There is a way, but it's not easy. As a matter of fact, it's terrifying!

It requires you to embrace uncertainty. Here's how:

VULNERABILITY. Let your guard down. Express your feelings. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Be wrong sometimes. Make a fool of yourself. And when everyone else starts laughing at you, join in.

LIVE IN THE NOW. Give up control. This is scary, but since you can't control everything, you might as well trust that it will turn out okay in the end. You will spare yourself a lot of angst in the interim. If everything does fall apart, trust that you can deal with it when it happens. Accept what is, rather than trying to box it all up tidily. Take a cosmic view. Have faith. Try to stop thinking for a few seconds at a time. Just try.

LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE. Every emotion is a choice. Instead of complaining, look for the positive alternative. Let go of your painful stories and worries: recognize that they are not necessarily true. Take the severance package and run with it.

BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. Free yourself from expectations. Stop comparing yourself to others. Figure out what you want from life, who you want to be, and go for it. Never look at Facebook.

Find your PURPOSE. Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed. Create. Grow and expand. Work toward something: a degree, a new home, raising kids. Whatever it is, it has to be hard.

TAKE RISKS. Everything worth doing is scary. What's the worst thing that could happen if you fail? If it's not bound to be fatal, why not give it a try?

CONTRIBUTE. Get outside of yourself. Help others. Make the world a better place in your small way. Pick up garbage in the park.

LOVE  and allow yourself to be loved. Connect on a genuine level. Let someone see the real you, flaws and all. Adopt the sad one-eyed pit bull at the Humane Society and walk him twice a day. Tell your neighbors he's a lab cross.

Okay, there's your map. Now get moving. If you get there before me, send back some travel tips, will you?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Everywhen


"In the Everywhen (so thousands of cultures have taught) human wayfinders can travel freely through all time and space, gathering information, communicating with far-distant people and other creatures, previewing future experiences, and learning essential information for navigating through life. Perhaps this universal belief in a metaphysical world is evidence of something real, though it could be simply a manifestation of the enormous potential of the human brain. After all, neurologists tell us that there are more potential neuron connections in your brain than there are atoms in the universe. Whatever it is, the Everywhen is worth visiting."
-Martha Beck, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Woman with Many Bandages


My commute to work is very far, and passes a refinery, a garbage transfer station and a sewage plant. Ten miles of road are under construction. The other drivers are excitable. Often, they crash. The road is strewn with wreckage.

On the worst days, the ones with the weather and the traffic and the forty-five minutes on the on-ramp, I sometimes feel a teensy bit sorry for myself. Just a little bit. Before I suck it up, of course.

Once a week, I ride the bus, which is good for many reasons, but turns my three hour commute into four. On the bus, I see the same woman every week. She sits in front of me with a knit cap on her bald head, picking at the bandages on all ten fingers. She rides the bus all the way to the airport, even farther than me.

Today, I glimpsed a medic alert bracelet on her translucent arm, and I wondered, is she flying home from chemotherapy? Is she scared? Does she wish that someone would gently hold her hand?

And it made my commute seem so trivial.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Miracles are the Only Reality


Every question has a surface answer and a deep answer, and the deep answer is: we don't really know. Certainty, my friends, is for children. Mysteries and miracles are the building blocks of everything ordinary.

Miracles? Really?

Oh, yeah. They are everywhere.

For example, why do we exist? What is our spirit? And who is the observer in all of us with the constant commentary and the snide remarks? If the observer isn't participating and only observing, what is it doing in our heads?

We use cell phones all the time, but how do they work? Signals, you say? What are they? And why do they exist? Were our prehumanoid ancestors all plugged into the network, without the need for telephones?

How do you explain herd behavior, flocks wheeling as one, and the ridiculous fads you (yes, you) followed in high school?

How can the universe end? How can it begin? How can it fail to end or begin? How do we know there's infinity if we can't count it?

How do birds migrate thousands of miles without eating or resting? How do they know where to go?

How is it that wind is made of nothing, yet a tornado can destroy an entire town?

Why are you here, now, reading this? Of all the possibilities, in all the choices you have made, what led you to this moment and not another?

And that is only the beginning.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Down the Throat of the Mountain


June seventeenth, 2013 was the day Janie Gundy's life ended and purgatory began, but she didn't know the half of it when she shook off the waiter, fighting tears, and ran blindly into the night...

So begins Down the Throat of the Mountain, which is now available online, and can be downloaded in pretty much any ebook format (like Kindle, Nook and iPad. You can read it on your computer.You can even put it on your fancy cell phone if you really want to, but I'm not saying that's a great idea.). It's available through Smashwords, Apple ibookstore, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Flipkart (India) and the Diesel ebook store. Right now, it's free in all of those places. It's also available through the many different worldwide versions of Amazon.com for $2.99 or the equivalent in local currency. Wow, pretty overwhelming, huh? I bet you want to get in on the excitement, be the first on your block to read it! Right???

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Worst Writer in the World


Down the Throat of the Mountain, one of my novels, is coming online soon...Sorry, I almost threw up, thinking about it. Why all the anxiety, you ask? Because people will make clever and cutting remarks about my writing, and I will be ashamed. My friends might decide (in a secret meeting, perhaps) that I am a self-deluded asshole. Because my writing is so bad, I could die alone and unloved.

But what if I am not the worst writer in the world? What if I'm not even in the running?

A little research shows that there's a lot of bad writing out there. There are even contests: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, for example, awards the opening sentence for "the worst of all possible novels."

From 1995-98, the Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest  judged scholarly books and articles. This honor was only bestowed upon the nation's leading academics. That is because it takes brains to write a sentence that leaves the reader feeling overwhelmed, confused, and a bit queasy, all at the same time.

The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award is kind of self-explanatory. Past winners include Norman Mailer and John Updike, proving, once again, that you have to be good to be bad. This is a relief, because I'm not half as good as they are. And thus by extension, I can't be half as bad, either.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Victory Dog Breath



My pets aren't lazy. They just meditate a lot. They spend hours in wordless stillness, completely present in every moment, undistracted by past or future.
We do yoga together, the pets and I. Actually, they teach more than they participate. Mostly, they curl up on the mat doing their "ujayi" (victory) breath while I wobble around trying not to fall on them.
Sometimes they lick my feet, which if you've never experienced it, I highly recommend. No, it's not gross. It's not like having my feet licked by strangers. That would be weird.
Perhaps they lick my feet to encourage me, because, after all, they are my little yogis.