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