Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How Animals Talk


I met some very cuddly horses this week, and it got me thinking about their body language. Check out this TED video on Animal Communication.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What You Really Want to Know About Acupuncture


Who came up with the idea of acupuncture? Were they nuts or what?
It was conceived by intuition and refined over a couple thousand years. "Ha!" you might be thinking, "That is a total non-answer." Maybe not, though, because a lot of great things have come about that way (and I'm sure some really bad things, too). Sometimes you just get an urge to do something stupid and it all works out for the best. Imagine the first person to ski, or to eat lobster, or to bring a wolf pup home as a pet.
Or maybe Grandma tumbled out of the family cave and landed on a cactus, and to save her pride she insisted that she had done it on purpose. Maybe after her grandchildren pulled all the prickers out of her backside she thought, "That's funny, I feel young again." You never know.

Does it hurt?
No, it feels like a mild sunburn.

Why does it help?
They say it's about redirecting energy although it's possible that it's a placebo. If so, it still works, though, so there's really no downside.

*

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Sense of Being Stared At

Everybody knows that staring is rude, but we sometimes do it anyway when someone truly fascinates us. But why is staring rude? Why are we unsettled when someone focuses too much attention on us? And why do our hackles raise ever so slightly when we feel a stranger staring at us, particularly in a seedy neighborhood?
And when we do surreptitiously stare at someone, why is it that so often they turn and look around as though they can sense it?
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake conducted scientific studies proving that we can all sense when we're being stared at. Not all the time, but often. Our bodies know it: our skin crawls.
That is because silent, focused attention is what a predator gives to its prey, before the attack.
The sense of being stared at is the sense of being hunted.
If you have spent time in the wild with animals, you may have noticed that if you focus breathlessly on them, the herd scatters, the bear rears up on its hind legs, the bird flits away.
But if you can make the proximity of that creature less important for you, if you can avert your eyes and let its presence be at the periphery of your attention rather than the focus, the animal settles and may accept your presence with equanimity.
Less focus means less threat.
*

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Work Magic

"Look at me," the neighbor's golden retriever wags. "Aren't I wonderful?"
Yes, you are.
The dog has charm to spare. Beautiful and glossy and upbeat, he prances around wagging at people, other dogs, even squirrels. He's not particular. Confident in their admiration, he grins and waves around a conversation starter: a pull-toy or a gutter downspout.
This is how he casts his spell.
I know a charming man, too. He is almost as good-looking as the dog, and twice as smart.  People are drawn to his twinkly eyes and ready smile. He always says the right thing. He is famous for daring deeds and strength and skill. He is kind to everyone, even when they make asses of themselves trying to impress him. He makes them feel like sucking up is the right thing to do. Honorable, even.
The dog and the man have a lot in common: good looks and confidence in their appeal, and they give you something interesting to talk about. They are charming.
Charm draws people to you. It also makes them want to give you things like hugs and cookies and big money sponsorship deals.
Charm works on more than just people. It works on everything in the universe. Things could go one way or another, but they just seem to go your way. You don't have to beg. You don't have to threaten. You just smile and wag and nobody even gets mad about the chewed-up gutter downspout.
The term "charm" seems to imply trickery, but that's not how it works. Charm's true power is in its innocence. You just happen to be in love with yourself, and who could resist that?

*

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Bot Fly Larva

You know how sometimes you have a pimple or a boil or a bug bite (you're not sure what it is), but you know that it's no big deal and it will go away because you bathe regularly and live in a place like Colorado, an arid place where the bugs are pretty tame? We don't even have that many mosquitoes. It's not like Africa or Panama, where worms burrow into your skin and start eating you from the inside-out. Or so you thought.
Because it could be a bot fly larva. It turns out they live in Colorado, too. Apparently, this is not a new thing.
Knowing what a bot fly looks like won't save you. They have other insects infest you for them while they fly around looking innocent. Bot flies stash their eggs under the armpits of ordinary house flies. I'm not sure whether they do this by force or by trickery. Maybe it's like when a stranger at the airport asks to stash their socks in your carry-on.
Then the house fly circles over and lands on somebody nice and warm. Usually it's a deer or a rabbit. In my case it was a poodle. But it could be you.
Immediately, the bot fly egg hatches and drops off. It's called a larva now, and it has teeth! It chews its way under your skin, where it feeds on your fat and pus (yes, pus. After all, it is uncomfortable, but you thought it was just a regular bug bite).
So the larva grows up cradled in the warmth of your skin, munching on you and getting fat, and every once in a while it shifts position, sending electric shocks through you, and...what the hell??
So you go to the doctor, who squeezes your (now enormous) pimple/boil/bug bite, and out, out comes...no, not pus. It is a fat, inch-long, fanged bot fly larva.
Remember that movie Dune? It's like that, but smaller and in your skin.
Not that you should be paranoid or anything.

*

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yes, I am a Superhero

In the open space where I walk the dogs daily, a Rubbermaid bin is hidden in the tall grass behind a tree. I am sure it is meth lab waste, because what else would it be? Geez, it's not like I'm leaping to conclusions.
Surely it is a sign that our neighborhood is falling into ruin. Evil forces are at work. Somebody must take action. Should I call the police?
Weeks pass. Sun and rain and wildlife do their work. Pieces of bin scatter along the path.
I picture dangerous chemicals leeching into the creek. Children poisoned. Something must be done, but that will require planning. And safety goggles, probably. More weeks pass. I do nothing, and am racked with guilt.
Until one day like any other I decide that I can't take it any more. Tying up the dogs, I step off the path. I creep toward the shattered box. The forest holds its breath. I put thoughts of nerve damage out of mind. Will there be needles? Broken glass?
I am willing to face danger to do good. Like a superhero, except that my wardrobe is more T.J. Maxx than Cirque du Soleil. I really build myself up.
And when I part the branches I find the remnants of the bin and...wait a minute...a bird house? Splintered walls, gingerbread trim, tiny shingles smashed into the grass. And an empty bird seed bag.
So much for heroics.

*

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How to Prove You're a Scaredy-Cat

It's hip to be scared these days, and I don't blame you for wanting to get in on the trend, so I've got some suggestions. If you want to look weak and terrified, there are several things you can do:
1. Harden your heart. Remember, you are too weak to help others. Instead, sneer at their misfortunes. This will make the superiority of your position obvious.
2. Control, control, control. It is important to control everyone around you, because if you can't be happy, they shouldn't either.
3. You've got to pack heat. Nothing says, "I'm about to pee my pants" like a gun in your hip holster at the grocery store.
4. Shoot at shadows in the dark. Most likely they are your family members, but you've got a reputation to uphold and that is more important.
5. Be as rude as you can in hopes that strangers will go away. They are probably scary and mean, and that should make you tremble.
6. Put up a big fence and signs that say "Keep Out". This makes your home easier to identify.
7. Paranoia is a must-have, but you should know that already. Start looking for threats! Especially beware of anyone who laughs. They are probably laughing at you.
If all of this seems too exhausting, maybe you're not as fearful as you thought. Maybe you are actually powerful.
Bummer for you, because you're never going to fit in.
*

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Make a Difference

So you want to change the world? Okay, here are some thoughts.
You may think that you need to develop a new weight-loss drug or overthrow the government or make a killing on the stock market. Please don't. Big plans aren't always good plans.
Instead, think about how to contribute.
Do you have ideas for making it better, or are you just angry?
If you have a rant, keep it to yourself. If you have a solution, start telling people.
Contributing means trying to build something sustainable.
It means integrity, compassion, generosity and kindness.
It means trying not to make things worse than they are.
How about starting small? You can smile at your neighbor, pick up litter, cook someone a meal. You can give people the benefit of the doubt. Open a door for a stranger. Thank the bus driver.
You can take responsibility for your actions.
Tell your friends when they've lost perspective.
You can state your truth even when everyone around you might disagree.
You can try to be the person you wish you were.
You may not think you are important enough to make a difference, but that's not true. Every day, in everything you do, you have a chance to make the world a better place.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bad Luck

The universe wants something from me: I'm just not sure what it is yet. That is what I think as I scan the campground, the one by the gas station.
At the campsite next to mine a group of men have just strung up a banner that says "Guys Camp", and they have unloaded approximately ten cases of beer onto their picnic table. You might think that I could go someplace else, but I lost control of the situation a long time ago.
While I was trying to get to the mountains there were all these delays: a family crisis, a trip to the emergency vet, that problem with the computer. The computer should have been the easy one, but that was where things really fell apart.
You know how sometimes while you're keeping a responsible, detached eye on the crisis part of your life you end up having a tantrum about something unrelated? Okay, I'm talking about me. Maybe you don't do that. My meltdowns usually involve electronics.
Now, I am aware that I have a high-voltage temper, and that when I get upset the forest falls silent and strangers cross to the other side of the road. The other thing that happens is that electronics go on the fritz. It's like they do it on purpose just to taunt me.
All of a sudden, overwhelm sneaks in the back door. I know that yelling at computers doesn't help. As a matter of fact, it always makes things worse. I do it anyway.
The cats hide. The dogs try to climb into my lap. I take a time-out, lying on the floor. The camera and computer decide to cooperate, somewhat. I get the job done, more or less.
Shopping for camping supplies (and beer, of course, because I deserve it), I check my bank balance and it says zero (ATM's are not immune to my electricity).
The sun is on the down side of its arc.
Finally, finally, I throw camping gear into the car. Yes, I throw it. And I whistle for the dog that doesn't have a cone on her head and we roar off to the gas station where (I swear I am not making this up) they are out of gas.
But that's okay, I think, because I have a quarter tank, so I'll drive up into the mountains first  and then fill up.
And later that afternoon at the last Kum-N-Go before the Continental Divide, the gas refuses to go into the tank. It simply overflows onto the side of the car. I check the fuel type, adjust the positioning of the nozzle. I try a different pump. You might think I'd never pumped gas before. You might think the tank is already full. Alas, no. Why is this happening to me, I think? Do gas pumps count as electronics? I'm calm now, I think. Well, calmer.
So now I have--maybe--enough gas to get home. I can either give up on my camping trip and return home to the continuing family crisis and the dog with the cone on her head and my lovely husband who will be happy to see me or I can camp by the gas station. Yes, there's a campground. I's not like I pitch my tent in the parking lot. I am stubborn so I choose option two.
So there I am, hunkered down by the gas station. It rains. Then it thunder-hails. And while I am in the outhouse, the dog chews a hole in the tent the size of a basketball.
But it's all good. I spoon with the dog. I have beer. I am in the mountains.
In the morning I crawl out of my tent, stretch and yawn. My attitude has improved. This could be an adventure! Standing by the picnic table, I think, perhaps I'm here to meets someone who will share with me their vast wisdom. A few cars drive by without stopping. Oh, well.
No use waiting around for my adventure. The way things have been going, it's unavoidable. So I go for a hike and drink a beer and stare into space. And nothing happens. I don't meet anyone or rescue any orphans or have any epiphanies.
As an adventure, it's kind of lame, honestly, but it's pleasant. It's okay.
Is the universe trying to tell me to go home and wade into that family crisis? No. I refuse. Is it saving me from death or dismemberment on the high mountain pass where I had planned to camp?
I'm not sure, but I stubbornly stay there for three days, then  load up my dog and my camping gear. The gas pump works just fine on the way back to the city. My husband and cone-head dog greet me cheerfully. Apparently I wasn't needed at home.
Days later I am still obsessing, because there has got to be a reason for all of this, right? I scan the news. I Google "accident", "psychopath" and "death". And then I find it: a woman was killed by lightning, hiking a trail that I might have hiked, if I'd had my way. In an alternate reality it could have been me. But it wasn't. And isn't that a little over-dramatic? Like thousands of other people enjoying the mountains that day, I probably would have been just fine.
So that leaves me back where I started: still looking for a reason.
*

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Lip Veil


Years after the ordeal of the lip veil I wish I had a picture, but at the time I was too embarrassed. You see, I needed a lip veil because my lips fell off. I'll bet you're wondering how that could happen. Well, it's complicated. Before I explain, let me ease your mind: they grew back, eventually.
It starts with a hike in the Alaskan wilderness. The trail is overgrown with cow parsnip, a plant with flowers the size of dinner plates. They're so pretty, you'd never expect them to be poisonous.
My hands swish through the vegetation. Of course I don't think about it. I am looking at the view, well, what I can see through the cow parsnip.
Back at camp that night, I feel rain on the backs of my hands. The funny thing is, it's not raining.
And then the backs of my hands grow hot and (this is where things go horribly wrong), I bring them to my lips to cool them.
After that, my hands break out in tiny blisters, which swell and merge into bigger blisters.
In the morning, the same thing happens to my lips.
We are days from the nearest town. It's a little uncomfortable, but I'll manage.
Then it gets worse. The blisters burst and my raw lips ooze with pus. They are sticky and the gentlest touch cuts like a razor.
Talking, smiling, eating, drinking: all very difficult. When I close my mouth, the pus glues my lips together. Unsticking them tears off the skin in chunks like bloody little bricks. I carry on, mouth agape like a fish. I'm disgusted with myself. Also, it hurts.
I smear my lips with antibiotic ointment from our meager first aid kit, and to keep myself from swallowing the ointment I stick a hunk of gauze to each lip. No, I don't need tape. The pus and blood and Neosporin and chunks of lip harden into the gauze, holding it in place.
So I have a lip veil, and nobody has to see what I look like under my epidermis, and I can close my mouth.
Now, out in the wilds of Alaska, people are short on words, and plus, they've seen weirder things than a woman in a lip veil. After all, Alaska is where you go to escape mainstream society, so there's a certain amount of tolerance about these things.
A couple of days later, we stumble upon a general store at the intersection of two dirt roads where I purchase a drinking straw to help get liquids past my burning lips. Glory be! I can't smile, but I'm happy. The proprietor of this lonely outpost looks me in the eye and says, "Bunged your lip, eh?"
"Ungh," I reply through the lip veil. He nods, satisfied.
And I am grateful that I don't have to explain.

*

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meow-Fest

Meow-Fest is a celebration of all things Meow, and usually begins at about four a.m. Ostensibly, it's about food, specifically about a lack of kibble in the bowl on the shelf. To bring attention to the enormity of the problem, the empty bowl is flung from the shelf. Preferably it makes a loud clang.
Putting kibble in the bowl doesn't always fix the problem (We could have starved! We might have died! We deserve better treatment!). But a chest cuddle and some ear rubs might help, unless it does not seem repentant enough.
In that case Meow-Fest escalates to Phase III: The Biting of Body Parts. It could be your toe, peeking out from under the covers (Gotcha!) or maybe your scalp (Feels scary? Well, now you know how I felt when I almost starved this morning!).
Meow Fest ends as you're slumped blearily over your morning coffee. The cat is now sleeping on your pillow.
*

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Neighborhood Watch

The first time I saw him, we had just closed on our new (to us) house--hadn't even moved in yet, and this skittish middle-aged man walked past my streaky new bay window in a halter top. His sneakers were spray painted blue. And was that a skirt or just a T-shirt tied at his waist? It was a little bit ambiguous. 
And I had that sinking feeling. 
This new neighborhood was supposed to be friendly. No gunshots in the night. No SWAT teams swooping in, and definitely No Crazy Neighbors. 
So much for that. 
We couldn't back out of the new house deal, but maybe this was an anomaly. 
Sigh. That afternoon he walked past three more times. 
Over the next week I saw him regularly. And since he seemed to be there to stay, I toyed with positivity. He was a charming feature of my new neighborhood, along with the house painted aqua blue and the classic cars with flat tires melting into driveways, and the little neighbor girl driving her tiny pink Jeep in the street. 
And when I thought about it I realized that he was providing an important service for free. In wealthy neighborhoods, you see, they actually pay creepy guys to go on patrol. The only real difference between my guy and theirs was the way he was outfitted. Instead of strange but harmless halter top things, their creepy guys wore pseudo police uniforms and carried guns. To my mind, that made their guys much more dubious. 
So I dubbed our guy "Neighborhood Watch". 
I started to wave when he came by, and eventually he got over his fear of me and waved back. 
He continued to loop past our house, month after month, stopping home to change his outfit between laps. Sometimes he wears two hats. Sometimes, a backless T-shirt/dress. 
Forcing myself to embrace him was a good decision. I've come to think of him less as a threat and more as an ally. After all, if any sinister strangers come to our neighborhood, he's sure to notice, and when we go on vacation we feel secure knowing that our house is being watched. 
It's been six months and I've become fond of Neighborhood Watch. As a matter of fact, I think that if he stopped walking by every day I'd miss him. 
*

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You Don't Have to Fight Any More

After an epic, multi-year battle with cancer, a friend of mine finally passed away last week.
She put up a good fight, but it was a fight she was never going to win. It was a fight to squeeze every minute, every hour out of a life that would be shorter than the average.
Nobody wanted her to die, of course. But as her body shut down, the simplest activities exhausted her. She couldn't eat. There were drugs--lots of drugs--to try to mitigate the pain. Her life consisted mainly of doctor's visits, each prognosis more alarming than the last.
People said, don't give up! I wanted to say, no, it's okay, you don't have to fight any more. But I didn't, because maybe my friend wanted to go down snarling and cursing.
She was so determined. She had defied expectations many times. She had survived again and again. And even though we all knew it was hopeless, there was still a kind of hope. Self-delusion, maybe.
But what is life without hope?
What is a life of pain and exhaustion?
What is the point at which  the suffering becomes too much? The point at which you decide to cast yourself into the other world or to give up and just fall? When is this cowardice and when is it noble or just plain sensible?
The answer might be in its affect on those we love.
Too many people use suicide as a weapon. It is the ultimate weapon, after all. Once you are dead nothing can hurt you, but the pain you cause to others may reverberate for years. It is a way to tell a loved one, "you are not good enough," and to drag a piece of their heart into the grave.
I do believe that every individual is the best judge of his or her pain. But when you have had enough, how do you express that to the ones who love you without wounding them more?
We have a duty, don't we, to complete our lives, to squeeze every lesson we can from them?
The problem is, we act as though death is avoidable, unnatural, shocking. We act as though cautious living, good medical care and helmets will save us all.
When someone close to us dies, we mourn. But we don't really mourn for the dead. They have crossed through. They are safe from pain and have no need of drugs or food or comfort. We mourn for ourselves, because we are left behind, lonely, afraid. We may have regrets that can never be made right.
It may feel like the world has gone wrong. But it is not the whole world that has tilted off its axis, just our view of the world: our plans and dreams, our hopes.
This is what we really lose.
So we go on with our lives, sadder for awhile, but knowing that we are still complete and that we still have work to do, lessons to learn. We make new plans, new hopes, new dreams, and we live them until the time (maybe near, maybe far) when we join our loved one in the place beyond suffering.
*

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Real Enemies

Villainous characters in real life (Is this stuff obvious to everyone?).
ZOMBIES: The masses of humanity who go through the motions of life without really living.
VAMPIRE: The charming boyfriend who sucks the life out of you.
TROLL: Bludgeons others for the pleasure of it, usually online.
WEREWOLF: You think there’re a friend until they turn on you and rip you to shreds.
POLTERGEIST: Teenager. Like, duh.
GHOST: The thing that you are refusing to see.
ALIEN ABDUCTION: No, I do not remember what I did last night, and here's why.
MASS MURDERER: This character plays himself, actually.
FAIRY: Miss perfect-body-matching-outfit at your health club. And she's probably rich and happy, too.
TIME BOMB: That big secret you were trying to keep.
CURSE: The legitimate fear that the dogged pursuit of your goal will destroy you.
DRAGON: Someone who collects antiques.
GOOD GUY: The guy you wish you were.
BAD GUY: You as a preschooler.

*

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Imperfection

(Warning: this piece uses the word "barf" twice. Oops, three times.)
As an annoyingly perfectionist little kid, I obsessed over my shortcomings, and went to great lengths to hide them (I probably wasn't fooling anyone). Flaws were mistakes, and mistakes were shameful. Hard work and constant self-improvement would win me the love and admiration of everyone, I was sure. I just had to keep pushing myself.  Not many children pull all-nighters in fifth grade, or obsess for years (okay, decades) about that mortifying day in kindergarten when they accidentally barfed on the little boy from down the street. All that hard work and self-flagellation, and I still didn't have any friends. So sad.
Many years passed, and the mistakes piled up. Eventually I could not function under their weight. So as an adult, I reformed. No, I did not finally achieve perfection. Or maybe I did, in a way.
I flirted with imperfection: arriving late, for example. Saying no. It felt dangerous and exhilarating. Gradually I realized that life did not have to be drudgery. I learned to smile. People seemed to kind of like the new me. Strange. I decided to embrace imperfection, to own it, to revel in it (okay, that's an exaggeration. Old habits die hard).
I reframed my idea of perfection, to think of myself not as imperfect but as fabulously flawed, like the antique with the crackled veneer or Johnny Cash, or the curry that looks like barf, but tastes delicious.
Am I only fooling myself? Maybe, but life sure is better this way.
*

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Self-Motivation

I have a method for making myself do things that I don't really want to do: it involves white lies and bribery.
First, the White Lie: "This could be fun!"/ "We're almost there!"/ "Just one more page!" Note the exclamation points. Enthusiasm helps.
Phase Two is the reward: "Afterward, you can have ice cream/sit and stare into space/clean the bathroom (see how sometimes the reward itself is actually more work? It's a trick!).
This method works pretty well because: A) You don't usually know for sure that you're lying, and B) Ice cream is very motivating.
However, it can backfire if your lie is really outrageous or if you decide at the last minute that you don't deserve your reward. This is called being an asshole to yourself.
The trick is to be semi-upfront with yourself, and to keep those rewards coming. As a bonus, it makes you like yourself better, too.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Poodle Heroes, Joy Goggles, Meaning-Makers

Did you know that I write this blog on the bus? Now you know.
I've polished some of my better posts and compiled them into a little ebook called Poodle Heroes, Joy Goggles, Meaning-Makers. It's free (for now) at Smashwords.com.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Tornado

I am sorry to inform you that the tornado does not love you. It was never about your amazing connection or how you were special. You were not going to save him.
It was always about your trailer on the prairie and the roar and crash and the green sky and the sweetness of destruction. The tornado wasn’t thinking of you as he smashed your home to smithereens.
There’s no point in being mad at the tornado but there’s no point in loving him either.
This has happened before. It will happen again. But do not run out of the ruins of your home and spread your arms to the sky to shout, “Tornado, tornado, come back! I’m sorry that I caused this!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Despair

Despair is not just the opposite of joy. It's another way of seeing the same thing.
Despair is a sign that you are nearing that invisible barrier between meaning and joy, between the differentiated and undifferentiated.
Despair comes from trying to find meaning and failing. Joy comes from being in the moment without trying to define it or make a story about it. Joy is falling into the embrace of the universe.
Despair is deep water. You could tread water forever, or you could take a gulp of air, dive down, confront the terrors of the deep, then push off the sandy bottom and shoot back up to daylight. And when you flop, gasping, onto the beach, you will see the blue sky and feel the warm breezes anew, and they will seem wonderful as never before.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Destiny

Every soul has a destiny, which is a thing that wants to happen (but might not).
You go on your way, making decisions and following desires, unaware of your destiny, which is like a tiny seed in your chest, and if through great good luck or the workings of fate your destiny comes to pass, you will be like a fruit that plants its seed and grows into a tree.
A destiny has meaning and no-meaning. It's meaning may be known only to the universe, but as a guiding principle for a life it is meaningful. It is satisfying.
It's not the destination of the destiny that matters to the person living it. It is the journey, the transformation itself.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meaning is Not the Answer

If anything in the world catches your eye, it means that it makes you ask questions: who, what, where, when, why. And the answers to these questions are stories.
Meaning is story and story requires causality.
If someone says they are looking for the meaning of  life, they are mistaken. Meaning is something you create, and you can make meaning out of anything, no matter how trivial.
What they are really asking is: what is the thing that I sense behind the stories? What is the thing with no meaning?
The thing with the non-meaning is too large to define. It is terrifying in its slipperyness, its everything-ness. It will not be boxed up.
It scares us. But if we face it down (and by that I mean face down our terror of it). If we sit with it for awhile, we may find that it has no beef with us.
Maybe we fear that if the root of everything is meaningless, everything is therefore meaningless. We fear that the no thing, the non-meaning will invade us, and wring the meaning out of us, leaving us dry little husks.
In fact, it's the opposite.
Meaning is not the answer.
Meaning is separation, division. Meaning is always superficial. A costume for reality.
Meaning is not wrong. It's just small.
When you are asking for the meaning of life, as Joseph Campbell said, you are asking for the experience of being alive, of being so swept up in the moment that you have no doubts about your place in the world.
When you ask for the meaning of life, you are asking to forget all of your piddly little stories and just feel.
And what you will feel will be joy.
Have you ever noticed that during some of the most joyful moments of your life, you weren't doing anything important?
On the other hand, perhaps some of your life's wonderful milestones were plagued by pain and doubt and fear. Perhaps you thought: I'd better take pictures so that I can save this moment and later I will feel the joy.
Now you know why.
*

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Summer Comes

It's April now, snowing every day. It was warm for awhile, then--bam! Winter slapped us in the face. Even the dogs don't want to go outside.
Yet we know we're making progress toward spring. Any day, the dog poo will melt out of the lawn. We'll be riding bicycles, scratching bug bites, going camping.
If I didn't know this I'd be depressed. I'd think, ugh, there's no reason to buy sandals. It will be snowy and cold for the rest of my life.
We try so hard to build something from the chaos of our lives. And we wait, wait, for our dreams to come true, our work to pay off. Then, just when destiny starts to unfold there's a disheartening set-back.
We could think: it's just not meant to be. I have failed forever. But that would be a cop out.
It doesn't happen all at once, and some days are warmer than others. But summer comes.

*

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Can Fly (Sort of)

In my dreams I can fly.
I leap into the air, spread my arms and circle above all those other suckers as they look on with concern.
You can't fly if you're not willing to leap.
Here's how it works: At first, you're plummeting: Oh, shit! Big mistake! Call 9-1-1! And then you think, well, I might be able to handle this.
So you flap wildly and wobble and plunge, and then you glide a little, and one day you realize: I am soaring!
And then you hit the power lines, but that's a different story.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Life's Simple Pleasures

Life's Simple Pleasures
·         Wagging tails
·         The warm glow after a good meal
·         Hugs
·         Clean sheets
·         The call of a red-winged black bird
·         The smell of rain
·         A purring cat on your chest
·         The world spread out below you
·         Thunder-hail
·         Hot sunshine through the car window on a cold, cold day
·         A smile from a stranger
·         A beer after a job well done
·         Chocolate volcano cake
·         Coasting on a bicycle
·         Lush carpet under bare feet
·         Looking forward to the next chapter
·         Jumping on a trampoline
·         Running like a deer through the woods
·         A clean toilet seat
·         Body surfing
·         Water so clear you can see the fishes
·         Comfortable shoes that also look nice
·         Snowflakes floating out of a pink night sky
·         Being nuzzled awake
·         Fixing it instead of buying a new one
·         Old jeans that fit perfectly but haven't started to fall apart
·         Sunrise on the winter solstice
·         A hot shower
·         Autumn leaves up to your ankles
·         Being watched by ravens
·         Turning off the television
·         Drum solos
·         A Kleenex when you need one
·         Morning glories
·         Dreams of flying
·         A new trail
·         Wagging tails
·         Fiesta music in the distance
·         The smell of burning wood

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Portals to New Dimensions

The world is full of portals. It's just that you don't see them if you're not looking. They're the doors no one opens, the stairs no one follows. They're the graffiti no one reads. The hidden cave. The crawl space. The ledge halfway up the cliff. It's the Ethiopian deli with darkened windows, the sewer, the electrical panel, the thicket of bushes just off the path. It's the stranger you look in the eye.
Any of those places can take you on an adventure. They can take you to danger, to wonder. They can lead you to discover parts of yourself you've never known. But you have to look and then you have to really see, and then you have to make the effort. Not just stick your head in, but crawl through, part the branches, get a ladder.
And when you feel that shiver, don't turn back. That is the feeling of being alive.
You can exist on the surface of the world or you can go inside of things, and in the places hidden right in front of your face, you will find the best part of you: the part that still plays, still questions, still explores.
That part is an adventurer. Not just another zombie on the sidewalk, but someone who is alive and open and a little bit nervous, but also curious, because anything, absolutely anything, could happen next.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Monsters

What is a monster? It's powerful and ugly. We know it's there but have never seen it. It's hiding under the bed. It guards the cave of treasure. It lurks in the depths, it attacks from the heavens.
It's whatever mask your fear wears.
The monster can be more frightening than the reality, but it can also be more palatable. The important thing is that it disguises your fear either from yourself or from others.
And when the mask slips, oops, all of your deepest fears are visible. All of your vulnerabilities.
So which would you rather have? A monster or your soul laid bare?
Yeah, me too. The monster is our friend.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Priority Mail Stickers

The post office is up to no good. I bet you didn't know that. You thought it was just about strong legs and polyester uniforms. Maybe you pictured postal carriers striding through the neighborhood, stuffing wedding invitations into mail boxes, petting dogs, waving at old ladies. You may have thought they were harmless, like the Girl Scouts.
First of all, the Girl Scouts aren't as benign as you think. You think you want those cookies? No, it's fear that makes you buy those cookies.
The Post Office is even more insidious.
Take a look around. No, really look at your local light poles, electrical transformers and the backs of No Parking signs. Have you noticed all of those stickers? They usually have graffiti scrawled on them: illegible words or primitive drawings. You might see them and chuckle, kids and their stickers, but you don't think about it again, and besides you can't read that funny writing anyway.
Look higher. Look at the tops of the stickers. Almost always, they say: USPS Priority Mail.
Why Priority Mail stickers verses, for example, Easter Seals return address labels or "Hello, My Name Is..." badges?
I'll tell you why: It's because the Postal Service is a gang.
Think Hell's Angels, but with more power, more prestige and more members. They deliver your Cialis, your porn, your potato canons. All of the illicit stuff people order online.
But UPS and Fedex are cutting into their business so the Postal Service needs to mark its territory, scare away the competition.
You ever wonder why postal trucks have the steering wheel on the wrong side? It's so the driver's gun hand is free for shooting out the window. Deadly in a drive-by.
Just saying.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Marching Band Tragedy

There is a trumpet under the rock. A crumpled, sad, very dirty trumpet. Or maybe a bugle. And the rock is really more of a boulder. But the important thing is that it is under the boulder. Mostly under the boulder, anyway, as though it has tried to dig itself out.
I imagine a horrible accident: trumpet lying on the grass. Boy in military-esque marching costume earnestly chatting up the girl with the French horn... The landscaper's Bobcat trundling up the sidewalk with the boulder in the bucket. The horn lies helpless, crying silently for its owner: "Turn around! Save me!" But it needs lips and lungs to come alive, and so, ironically, cannot make a sound.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to be a Hero, Continued

Let's say you've reached the pinnacle of enlightenment. You're a Capital-H Hero and you've suffered and learned and risen above it all. Now you have to figure out how to put your impressive credentials to work.
You might think you would belong in the White House or the Vatican or at least Harvard Business School, but you'd be wrong, because you would start thinking of yourself as a Leader and you would develop a plan  to whip the world into shape.
It seems like a good idea at first, but here's so much to fix! People can't do anything right, so you introduce helpful rules for their own good: Eggs must be cooked hard. Scented laundry detergent is outlawed. Never use the word "moist". It is offensive. Why would any right-thinking person disagree?  Then things start to get out of hand.
Half the world wants to put you in jail. The other half wants to shoot you. If they do, then all that hard work and suffering and wisdom will have been for nothing.
The best way to remain uncorrupted and avoid assassination is to hide in a trailer in the desert or become a homeless person. At the very least, you need to refrain from pointing out everybody else's flaws. You should not do lecture tours or build a mega-church.
So, what's the point, you ask? Why would I want to undergo all this suffering just so that I can become homeless? No thanks.
Fair enough. I see your point. But I have found the Loopholes.
Loopholes, halleluiah! you say.  Life was looking really grim there for a minute.
Yes, sorry about that. I got carried away with the mythic stuff. Let's talk about your hero's journey now, in real life. The one that you've already started without realizing.
Your hero's journey is about turning pain into treasure. Everyone has pain of some kind. You can let it be meaningless suffering or you can turn it into a journey of the soul. A journey from which you return with something wonderful.
Your hero's journey may take you to distant places, but it is primarily an inner journey.
You might bring a vision of great beauty and light, wisdom that benefits all of mankind, something world-redeeming.
But you could also return with donuts (which, depending on who you talk to, is even better). The heart of heroism is giving, in whatever form you can.
The value in conquering cancer, sobering up, slaving all those long hours for the 7% bonus or finally mastering the intricacies of the TV remote is in sharing what you've brought back: strength, coping strategies, money, the ability to watch an entire season of "Dogs With Jobs" in one sitting. You have the potential to bestow priceless treasures. Why hoard them?
Each of us is an aspect of the whole of humanity, inextricable and essential and perfect in our imperfection. Each of us is connected to all others and everything we do affects others. Therefore you really don't have to do much to make an impression, do you?
Plug along. Do your best. Instead of getting discouraged, rest for a moment, give yourself a pat on the head, then dive into life again. And tell yourself this is not a crisis, not a tragedy. This is an Adventure.

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