The Expedient Means of Oz

totoL. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books, dabbled in Theosophy, a religion invented as a kind of bridge between what the world was starting to discover about Eastern religions like Buddhism, and the Christianity that was the prevalent religion of America at the time – the late 1800’s. This is a bridge that Ralph Waldo Emerson and others earlier in the century had started to build between Eastern and Western religions with Transcendentalism. In fact, in 1844 the first English translation of the Buddha’s highest teaching, The Lotus Sutra, was included in The Dial, a publication of the New England Transcendentalists.

One of the enduring delights of L. Frank Baum’s story, The Wizard of Oz, is the reversals that the plot consistently turns on. If you squint hard enough, you can almost see the faint outlines of Buddhist philosophy. Dorothy’s Kansas home is unmoored by a tornado landing in a strange place, Oz. When Dorothy lands, Glenda the good witch, a positive force of the universe, appears and points out that her house fell on and killed an evil force in the universe, the wicked witch of the east. (“When great evil occurs, great good follows.1”)

Glenda bestows Dorothy with the witch’s magical ruby slippers. To get the answers she thinks she needs to get home, Dorothy is told of an expedient means, the wizard of Oz, who is all knowing and will be able to tell her the answers.

What are expedient means? Webster says an expedient is something fit and suitable for the purpose. In Buddhism, an expedient means is simply a method skillfully devised and employed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas to lead people to their enlightenment.

Dorothy starts her journey down the yellow brick road to seek the wizard and on the way, she finds other creatures who complain that they don’t have the answers to solve their karmic problems—a lion without courage, a tin man without a heart, a scarecrow without a brain. Together they decide that the wizard must have the answers and journey to see him.

When they arrive and are faced with the wizard, he is larger, scarier and more Godlike than anything they can imagine. The wizard tells them he will help them when they have proven themselves by bringing him the wicked witch’s broomstick. They take on this quest, and survive the dangers of the witch’s magic and her minions of flying monkeys and guards, vanquishing the wicked witch in the process.

But when they return to the wizard with their prize, he seems just as scary and frightening (and ultimately useless to give them the answers they seek) as before. Until the only being in their group who is not cowed by this wizard, Toto, Dorothy’s little dog, discovers a man behind a curtain and once he is discovered to BE the wizard everything calms down.

Unmasked, the wizard, a little man from Kansas, feels he owes them something, so he gives them each something that bestows the things they say they want on them, proving to the audience that they had the thing they sought inside themselves all along, they just didn’t acknowledge it. He awards the scarecrow a diploma, the lion a medal and the tin man a testimonial and states that where he comes from these things are given to men who have no more brains, courage or heart than they have.

The wizard has a hot air balloon which he has been saving to get himself and now Dorothy back to Kansas, but Toto jumps out at the last minute and Dorothy is left in Oz without a way home.  Glenda comforts Dorothy and reveals that Dorothy has always had the power to return home but that she had to learn it for herself. Dorothy says that she has learned never to go further than her own backyard to look for her heart’s desire.  She had the answer with her all along. (“Never seek enlightenment outside of yourself.”2) She clicks the heels of her ruby slippers and says there’s no place like home and she is home.

Dorothy could have gone home from Oz any time she wanted, all she had to do was click her heels. But instead she needed an expedient means to become aware of the wisdom she already possessed.

The original Buddha taught his followers about expedient means by teaching this parable from the Lotus Sutra. A father’s children are sick and beg their father to cure them. He offers them medicine, but because the poison of sickness has entered their minds, they will not take it. “It’s no good,” they say. So he tells them, “I am old and the time of my death is near. I’m going on a trip, but I’ll leave you the medicine, just in case you change your mind.” He leaves, then sends a messenger to tell them he has died. The children, hearing this, grieve and feel like orphans. “If only our father were here, he would tell us to take this medicine. We should have listened to him.” They take the medicine and are healed. The father, hearing they are cured, returns home and greets them. His “death” was an expedient means–a  method skillfully devised to lead people to their enlightenment.

Our egos and arrogance consistently stop us from seeing what is good for us. Without an expedient means, we don’t seem able to accept the wisdom we need to be healthy and happy. The children thought they needed their father’s wisdom to take the medicine. Dorothy and friends thought they needed the wizard to provide the answers. They thought their enlightenment was outside of themselves but it was inside all the time.

Never seek enlightenment outside of yourself. Trust yourself that you have the answers. Don’t blame or point at others for the answers, look into your own soul. At the crucial moment don’t forget the promises you have made. Obstacles that you come upon are expedient means and show that you are doing it right, not a sign that you are in the wrong. Never give up, even if you want to and the flying monkeys are on your tail. The best and most satisfying victories come from the most difficult journeys down the yellow brick road.

“The journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes 12 days. If you travel for eleven but stop with only one day remaining, how can you admire the moon over the capital. “ Pg. 1027 Writings of Nichiren Daishonin

1) The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, pg 1119.
2) “If you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching.” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Pg 3

 

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For post-media arousal issues. Taken as directed will increase the flaccidity in your bloodstream and get you down off that 24/7 news cycle ledge. Quiets world-is-ending syndrome and turns apocalypse into apocalypso. First jams, then transforms all news signals into nursery rhymes. Warning: The London Bridge is not falling down.

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I’m living my best life with Zuckerberg. I feel so connected. I feel so depressed. I feel like I’m missing out on life. Everyone else is having so much fun. Chill out and take another Zuckerberg. None of these feelings will go away, but you won’t care because Karen has a new kitten.

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Isn’t it about time to ask your doctor about Time? Time delivers neuron clock abductors to your pre-frontal cortex inhibiting sequential relations and creating a time/space pharmacokinetic fantasia.  Not to be used in tandem with any other lifetime. May be used as a predictor of sunrise. Side effects include: late for work, don’t-give-a-shit-ism, I would have liked to be there but I had my own party going on, deadlines are for losers, and mudbaths.  Dosage: as much as you can take and get away with.

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My Hotel

skyscraper hotelI have had the opportunity recently to be a guest in a big, impersonal skyscraper hotel and I have to say that it has left me a little cold. Why do we put up with this kind of hostelry? And why does it absolutely HAVE to be so impersonal?

The lobby is muted tones and big, modern design, uncomfortable chairs. It could be the offices of Architectural Digest; it looks way more comfortable in a magazine than it actually is. At the elevator banks, you punch in your floor number and a read-out tells you which elevator will take you there. Inside the elevator, no floor numbers. Whoa! What if the elevator forgets? No human can take you where you want to go.

My room is like the Great Plains as a design statement. Nothing at all remarkable. If I decide to look out the window, I have a beautiful view of other tall hotels nearby and how empty and impersonal they are. Far in the distance, on the ground floor of an impersonal office building, I see a Subway sandwich shop. No one goes in or out, but at least the neon sign is on.

Do we really require this kind of distance from the world at large when we stay in a hotel? Not in MY hotel.

My hotel would not have pictures of sleek modern buildings on the walls. We separate ourselves too much from what makes us great. Are riches and luxury interconnected with not participating in the human experience with other people? Is that what we really want? I don’t think so.

My hotel would have beautifully taken art photos of the chamber maid who will clean your room after you are through. As well as pictures of her home.  In fact, the coffee machine in your room is compliments of her, she has the nice one the hotel bought in her house, and you have a photo of it by your old-fashioned coffee maker, which is reliable and probably makes better coffee than hers.

By the TV there is a button you push to have face time with a person in a homeless shelter on the other side of town. You get to know someone who is homeless, tell them you have some leftovers in the hotel room fridge and to come on over and watch a movie on demand. Have they seen Coco?

The hotel fridge is behind the usual modern dresser like thing, but it was bought at a yard sale and refurbished by inmates who have a knack with old refrigerators. It still has the dent in the side where Flo tried to hammer the door open, after Larry had secretly screwed it shut. It retains those screw holes too. But the inmates have featured these things and in fact painted them red, white and blue–because as you know inmates are so patriotic–and the whole thing could go on a pedestal at MOMA with a little sign about the inmates’ life and not be out of place.

There would be other design touches that made you feel like you are not in an episode of Star Trek. Like an old telephone from 1934 (no one uses hotel phones these days anyway, so does it matter than it doesn’t work?), a bed quilt made by Grandma and a video of her telling you how she made it that plays all day, including the ending where she tucks you in.

In the wellness fitness center and pool on the 42nd floor, instead of an enormous porcelain tile mural of the skyline, which is just a repeat of what you can get when you look out the window, there is a huge porcelain tile mural of Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 to protest British rule. You can see the number of people who support him, the righteous indignation in their eyes and the ability of humans to be ordinary and superhuman at the same time. That will inspire your next treadmill session.

And on the sound system, to keep the rhythm of your aerobics strong, not Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” but King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech with a saucy bass track underneath it.

At the fancy hotel restaurant, we would have businessman breakfasts, but instead of $7 cups of tea, no refills, and cottage cheese “caprese” salad with 10g of fat, 34% protein and 10 grams of carbohydrates for $16, our Executive Chef better known as “Mom” would sit down at your table with her electric skillet and make you blueberry pancakes and pork sausage.

And instead of giant flat-screen televisions with your choice of ESPN, CNN or local morning news on the wall to help your indigestion, there would be windows on the day-care center we share the premises with. If businessmen want to let their minds wander away from their breakfast meetings, instead of “the News” which they already get in myriad ways on myriad devices, they can watch the machinations of non-device play, the ingenuity of the little boy who builds blocks only so he can knock them down, and the tears when one of them accidentally falls on a little girl. These are the tragedies they should be digesting, not those other ones which make them think, liberal or conservative, that the world is falling apart and forces them to bring their most positive life condition, their reminder that they love their family, and their basic good nature to fend off the bad news. Let them think instead about the little girl who was crying one minute and jumping on a hobby horse the next.

And, in the lobby, since bunnies in nursing homes have been so successful in bringing people together and raising their life conditions and empathy, bunnies.  What businessman can turn his cold heart to the raping, pillaging, merger and acquisition of American business when bunnies are excreting little greasy pellets on his shoes?

The rooms, floors, restaurants and banquet rooms aren’t named for fancy cities, or monuments but have actual names and paraphernalia from Ma’s Old Garage, Gramps’ Back Room and Don’t Look in Here.

In the bathroom, nothing need change. Everyone wants a nice clean towel, a warm shower, a germ-free environment. But the mirror isn’t one of those that magnifies your face so you can tweeze giant nose hairs, it actually makes you smaller and puts you in context with other people. Go ahead. You’re lonely, away from home. Choose your context. It can be your family–download old family photos to the mirror technology and it will place you in the middle of friends and family who are having fun—or see what you look like as an agent of change in a meeting of lawyers, doctors or indian chiefs; or you can go historical and take selfies with pre-installed historical figures – only the heroes – Winston Churchill, Harriet Tubman, Honest Abe.

My hotel would have a selection of great arts performances on its TV and that’s all. No Rachel Maddow soliciting our worst and most sentimental righteousness, suffering with us over legislation that is going nowhere because gun victims can’t vote, no Sean Hannity acting bullishly like he is making complete sense and building a case for the fact that humans should have eleven  fingers, to the cheers of the nine fingered crowd.

My hotel is unique, but it doesn’t have to be. You the consumer, can simply ask for these things. You have the power. Lie. Tell the Marriott that the Hilton has better Grandma tuck-in videos than they do. Fill out the survey form at the Hilton saying that the Marriott has a super secret weapon – a March of Salt mural — and where is theirs?

Because to be honest, I don’t want to go into the hotel business, I just want hotels to be more humanistic.

 

 

The Seven Dogly Sins

IMG_1557

By Charlo

Greed: Some mystical, invisible force drew us to the Snowball of Pee. It is an oddly shaped monument eroded by the warm urine of a thousand dogs that have carved its coldness. It is fascinating how the bouquet of different urine deposits co-mingle in a blend of aromas. I give it four stars, just above the Styrofoam Dish of Ancient Refritos, but of course beneath the splendor of the Frozen Pancake of Throw-up.

Pride: I anoint holy places in the neighborhood by raising a leg to them, whether the tank is full or not. Only I may anoint. In fact, if there is pee there already, it is incumbent upon me to over-pee that pee. Mine must be the last pee standing. Christina’s broken cement wall with the forsythia bushes growing out of it is one of the most sacred. Priestly pee here is necessary for growth. Other spiritual/anthropological sites that depend on me are the short decorative pine encircled by paving stones in front of Rosa and Fernando’s house (sorry Rosa, but God has asked that this pine remain short), The Burd Street Pooping Grounds (a festive field of bird and dog doo just waiting to be consecrated by the King)  and Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s decorative pebble planter (each smooth stone must be first sniffed, then adored, pooped or peed upon and so redeemed–it is a lifetime of work).

Sloth: Yes, and plenty of it. That’s right! Who are you kidding? This is what it means to be a canine. Have you ever slept in a fur dish surround for 24 hours, snoring in the sun, next to the heater, on a cold day? Indescribably delicious.

Wrath: That son-of-a-bitch postman tries to enter our house every effing day! But I stop him cold at the door and he hasn’t entered the house once! Not once! And yet, the next day, there he is, trying it again!  God I hate him. His kind is lower than a flea’s anus.

Gluttony: Feeeeeeeeeed me. It’s cold out there. My paws can’t reach the microwave. But they can reach your shins, you bastard. You! I’m talking to you! That’s your job! I didn’t just eat. That was ten minutes ago. What are you crazy? So, I found a microscopic potato chip crumb behind the pantry. So what?! You call that food? Food is a giant buffalo rib sandwich. Food is what’s on your plate. I’ll eat anything. Whatever you have. You took from me the ability to hunt it myself or dig in the garbage for it, so feed me, asshole!  Feed me. Feed me. Help me. Feeeeeeeeed me!

And by the way, I’m may be gluttonous but I am nothing compared to that fat guy, Jones who lives down the street.  He’s manages a string of WalMarts so you can imagine that he’s into lots and lots of lots. He thinks BIG. For instance during a snowstorm, stay away from his house entirely. He lives on a street corner, so he has over salted both the Summit Street AND the Depew Ave sides of his sidewalk. It is a barren, Godforsaken stretch of ground that repels decent dogs and forces them to walk in the street. You could flavor a cattle carcass with what Mr. Jones has sown on his sidewalks in just one storm.

Lust: Males. Females. Legs. I’m a healthy middle-aged dog, we have our needs. Anyone who calls this a sin, I fear, is having no fun at all in this lifetime.

Envy: Please just let me be a human for five minutes.

The Three Enlightenments

Good Friends: My half brother, Charlie, is my best dog friend. He lives four doors down. Always when I see him, I wag my tail. I am just so happy! We circle each other and sniff butts. Sometimes when I am sniffing his butt he will lift his leg and pee on me. So I will do the same thing for him. Often we face off. That means lowering our heads toward the ground, ready to fight and then instead of fighting, we take turns doing complete aggressive 360 degree turns as fast as lightening. If you blink, you will miss the turn and think we are just facing off against each other again.  Sniffing his yard is unlike sniffing anywhere else. Wherever I go, even taking the leap by the garbage cans to the back yard, it all smells of him. Sometimes when I am at home, warm in my bed, I hear Charlie bark and I know he is there for me.

The Master: Her name is Maria and I always know where she is, and if I don’t, I find out. Once I have ascertained her place in the house, I am in good shape. Nothing be ill if she be well. She is my master, that is sacrosanct—a true thing.  Yes, I am nervous at times and maybe a pain in the ass. But I will serve her until the day I die and she knows it and I know it. This is enlightenment.

Seven Dogly Sins: Earthly desires are enlightenment. Because I am conscious of them, my sins are my enlightenment. They come with the whole package. Nothing will change that. It is my relationship to them that has changed. I acknowledge them now. Yes, there’s my envy again. I do want to be human, but I am a dog and a damn good one. And when envy creeps in, I bark louder, wag harder, cozy deeper into my absolute canine-ness than about any dog I know. I am still a dog, but an enlightened dog.

 

 

Faith is the New God

Gobekli

Engraving from Gobekli Tepe

In Yuval Harari’s masterful look at the history of the human race, Sapiens, he relates that 10,000 years ago the human race went from being hunter-gathers to farmers. During this Agricultural Revolution, Man domesticated a few key species of animals and plants and settled down to create home. The question is why did this happen. Scholars used to think that it was advances in Man’s intelligence at this time that made him able to decipher Nature’s secrets, enabling him to tame sheep and cultivate wheat, and abandon the more dangerous life of being hunter-gatherers. Harari calls this a “fantasy” and “history’s biggest fraud.”

Studies of ancient skeletons from this period show that humans paid dearly for the transition to a dependence on wheat. For instance, they moved from ten-hour work weeks to hunt and gather food, to forty to sixty-hour work weeks to grow it. And with this change came new obstacles–slipped discs, arthritis, hernias, worse diet, hunger and disease. Wheat demanded a lot – cleared fields, space, water, nutrients and a secured area, so that no pests or animals destroyed your crops.

With no evidence that humans became smarter at this time of their history, what could have made them discard a lifestyle where they worked less than ten hours a week for their food, had a healthy, varied diet, and the freedom to roam and live wherever they wanted?

One of Harari’s answers is survival of the species. You could now, under the best circumstances have lots of babies who also require lots of attention, have them in one place called home and keep them alive more easily rather than carry one or two around with you as you gathered and hunted.

Oh, and there’s one more reason Harari suggests why you might want to settle down to change your lifestyle and feed a lot of people in a consistent fashion.  God.

Of all the human genera–Homo Neanderthalis, Homo Erectus, etc.— Homo Sapiens were the most social of the human species, a community of gossips, of storytellers, of animals who liked to share consciousnesses. They not only survived but beat out the other species of humans because they had the ability to tell stories together, and create fictions that helped them thrive.

One of those fictions over the years is money. It has no inherent value, but because we all agree that it has value, the financial system works. Another is God. We could gather and tell stories about God or Gods,  why we we’re here and collectively believe in the same set of stories and characters.

For proof of this connection to God, Harari points out that the first wheat was domesticated in southwest Turkey within miles of the Gobekli Tepe. This is a monumental Stonehenge-like structure from the period seven thousand years before Stonehenge was created, covered with spectacular engravings. Large quantities of food were required to feed the many people it took to build and use these monumental structures. The structures, as far as we can tell, have no practical purpose, except for the worship of God or Gods.

Man has always wondered, has always needed to explain who he was as part of the universe, has always made up stories of why we are here. To do that, he has built many monuments to God(s).  The form God(s) have taken has changed with the culture, but the need for God(s) have remained constant. That’s a human need at our very base. Let’s call that need faith. Faith that Man fits into the universe and has reason to be here.

Harari suggests that we are the only animal that went from a middle place on the food chain to the top in an extremely short period of time. Evolution had time to deal with other animals who ascended the food chain, to balance things out. With Man this evolution is currently behind and trying to catch up. That has added to our need for God(s). We are a little neurotic about whether we really belong here, on top of the food chain or not.

This same neuroses fueled the Scientific Revolution which started about 500 years ago. Now we weren’t just hunting for, or growing our own apples, we were asking why they fell to the ground. We went from thinking we knew everything to thinking we knew nothing and therefore questioning everything. Through this we have learned so much about our world, studied so much about our world and changed so much about our world.

But science is rudderless. And the basis for it is a lust for knowledge. We’ve made the causes to advance humanity since the Scientific Revolution, but haven’t really considered just how global were the effects of our actions: food chain neuroses.

So we race against time. We reverse engineer everything. We deny the overall causes we have made in the universe, even as Nature delivers the effects of those causes as a planet out of balance. We recycle and hope. And still protect our nest-eggs by buying stocks in conscious-less companies and build our houses on flood plains.

Our current lust for knowledge has so many times led us to think that we have outlived the need for faith. We think we live separate from nature. In the past, we committed ourselves to social structures and moral structures based on living with these stories of faith in an organized way. But now, we don’t need God, we say. That is an old- fashioned concept, we say.

Still, as a race, we seek for things that bring us together.  This need for faith that I propose is at the core of being human still creates amazing things communally–whether it is culture, tribe, village, town, city, nation, sports culture, brand culture.

Some admit to our need for faith, but say that it doesn’t matter what we believe in, as long as in our chosen groups we believe, and everyone else does too. That is how faith works.

This works for a while. But ultimately it is not very holistic and our place in the universe is lost. We can have faith that the Yankees are going to be great this year or that Chanel is a cool brand, but that doesn’t cut it when you get laid off or your girl friend walks out.

That’s why we’re in a sea change, right now. We are post Scientific Revolution. It is time to understand how our individual faith works and use it to become more responsible, to dialogue, to tell and gather around positive causes and stories

And we will know when we are on to something when each of us finds that “open space created by dialogue—whether conducted with our neighbors, with history, with the nature of the cosmos—that human wholeness can be sustained,” says SGI Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda. He goes on, “The closed silence of an autistic space can only become the site of spiritual suicide. We are not born human in any but a biological sense; we can only learn to know ourselves and others and thus be trained in the way of being human.”

As I said at the beginning of this essay, Harari’s book is masterful, but he has a very modern Achilles heel. He believes most deeply in his own intelligence. And once he follows that road alone, he ends up in a very dark alley. Without faith and human heart- to-heart connection, he fears everything the future could bring, and frightens himself and us with the twin Frankensteins of cloning and building technological human beings.

He forgets the human need for faith that raised a culture of worship from nothing in ancient Turkey, and so have many others.

What does that faith look like? Where do I go to get it? I don’t know. I met a Nichiren Buddhist 21 years ago and then married her. That’s who I got it from.

Nichiren Buddhism is just one cultural religious practice that can help. It talks about the enlightened nature of things — that everything has its dark side and its enlightened side. It says that everyone has the potential to be a Buddha—an enlightened human, but the struggle to do so is a consistent key to how we must live every day. It says that we are our environment (not that other guy), change ourselves and our environment changes. Then it gives us tools to train our humanity to go towards the light, on a daily, weekly, yearly, lifelong, culture-long, nation-long basis.

There are other moral-ethical-historical-religious structures, stories and principles that can help us get there. Pick one. Because the one thing we have proven time and again through the darkness of the human soul, is that we can’t do it alone. We need each other.

When our negative, secular culture wants to tell dystopian stories of our disasters and demise, our job is to tell and gather around positive causes and stories. Our job is to take actions to create positive culture. Our job is to remember that at the core of our human being is a need for Faith.

 

 

The Problem of Car Brakes

car brakeWhat’s wrong with car brakes these days? They are a pretty nifty invention that bring a car to a complete stop without hurting yourself or anyone else.  Plus, the car companies have made these cool red tail lights that inform the car behind you that the guy in front is applying the brakes so you’d better do the same.

Braking seems like a no-brainer. Thank goodness wiser heads prevail. This is America, and unless you were born yesterday, you’ve probably heard that car brakes hinder our freedom to crash.

The anti-braking lobby has made a point of using its money to inform every good citizen that our rights are being impinged upon. They have rewritten drivers ed textbooks and hired a new brand of teacher to train young drivers that crashing is fun (remember bumper cars?).

Meantime, the medical profession has become involved in this critical problem. Studies show that braking drivers are especially prone to a carpel tunnel-like syndrome affecting their ankles. Now social media regularly displays the perils of braking.

Really though, it’s just a rubber pedal. It’s not that big a deal, I say. And it would save lots of lives and lots of vehicles. You’d think that common sense might play a part. But, they say it’s both dangerous and un-American to touch that brake, so I’m staying away.

Maybe one day the pharmaceutical industry will develop a pill we can take for getting cars to stop patriotically.

Meanwhile, be careful out there.

Squeworld Domination

 

SquirrelThey don’t have bushy tails. They build square trees that are hard to chew. They have no fur covering and as a result have reverse engineered a heating system called global warming that they think will allow them never to have to wear coats again.

They know little. They have upset the balance of the universe. It’s time to thin the herd.

Start by finding one of their older square trees. The wood is aged, softer, uses less chemicals and is better tasting. Find a nice soft spot to start–under a gutter is perfect where the water has consistently soaked the wood–
and chew.

These vulnerable spots are surprisingly gourmet. Once inside the square tree, go straight for the attic. No microwaves. In fact, stay out of the kitchen entirely. There is more than enough to eat and enjoy in the attic: The Brothers Karamazov, 1979 Playboy Magazines, tax returns, doll clothes. When they decide to investigate, hide in the insulation and giggle. Their egos, which are as large as a Mercedes, will not be able to take it and they will storm out of the house and go to Boca Raton. Now you have them where you want them. Permanently out of town.

Another alternative is to chew off their thumbs. Yes, chew them off. This can be done quickly all throughout the summer months when they resort to sleeping in hammocks. Or if you organize a posse, a picnic ambush is not out of the question.

Opposable thumbs are the secret of their success, but also their downfall. Yes, they can grip cans of Progresso Chicken Sausage Gumbo soup, but they also use these stumpy digits to win at Candy Crush. God has given them vocal cords and excellent hand-eye coordination, yet they have been seduced into trying to communicate and change the world using only their thumbs.

Imagine how little exercise they get! Have you ever seen them skitter around a tree trunk chasing their friends by racing up the branches of one tree only to leap courageously onto the branch of a neighboring tree as it bounces but just holds you, being followed in a split second by two friends who are squealing with delight? Compare this to winning Candy Crush and tell me who is greater.

They have a complex wrongheaded idea of storing nuts for winter. I’m not the best animal to explain it, but it has something to do with closed end mutual funds.

They don’t believe in anything except carbohydrates and wifi. Taking advantage of their neuroses is easy.  Try dropping nut shells on their heads and see what fictions manifest. They are particularly good at making mountains out of molehills. They may collect the shell samples and send them to a lab to see if part of one of the moons of Saturn broke off and happened to land in their vicinity. They might think that their habit of having no good way of recycling Styrofoam turned Oxygen molecules into little white pills. They could think that your tree is raining cancerous growths and invent a shampoo to deal with it. Either way, you have diverted them from reality. Good work.

Next, steal their Citronella candle, then stand absolutely stock still and watch them freak out below, drowned in a sea of suffering. They are sure they had it yesterday. Who would steal a Citronella candle from the back porch deck? The guests are getting bitten by mosquitos and complaining. And they’re important guests! Business deals could be hatched here, but where’s the damn candle! Shit the steaks are burning.

They will not see you in their befuddlement even though you’re close by.  If we were compassionate towards this race we would scream, “it’s not about the candle!” but this wisdom is only apparent to you, me and the other rodents.

But the absolute best strategy is to leave them alone. Our best reality is super still–the joy of standing so still they could swear you’re a statue. But then your tail switches and your friend leaps off the porch rail from a standing position, and the world is a green paradise of having.  Their reality is want.

Besides, studies have shown that they like chocolate. In fact, three out of four would rather have chocolate than sex. So, if we pile our cocoa nuts right, with very little effort, we can rule the world.

Breaking the Shell

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Have you noticed that due to the times, or perhaps it’s the aging process, it is harder and harder to break the shell of the lesser self?

We want things the way we want them. We worked hard to get them that way, damnit. So why should we put up with anything less than ideal?

The lesser self is a needy bastard.

Let’s define our terms. The dictionary defines ‘lesser self’ as egotistical concerns and desires. Does that remind you of anyone?

That’s right, you. When you sat in your bedroom and binged on a whole bag of Twizzlers because your mother told you to clean your room. You were punishing her weren’t you? Take that mom! Let’s not talk about the fact that Mom, by this time, was having a good massage and lunch with a friend. You were going to eat until you got sick. That’ll show her.

Not.

Your lesser self is a closed circuit TV. It’s a feedback loop. It’s you, stuck in your shit and usually blaming it on everyone but yourself.

When the lesser self needs something it always looks outside itself for answers. Here are some telltale signs.

1) You use the strategy of the shopping mall instead of the strategy of your heart.

2) You start every sentence with, “Please oh please oh please God, if you do this one thing for me I’ll be forever grateful.”

3) You decide the answer to life is Twinkies.

4) You call your guru on Monday, your mother on Tues, your shrink on Wed., your zen meditation master on Thursday, and then say screw it and visit your bartender (or local pusher) on Friday and stay drunk (or high) the rest of the weekend.

5) You think you see the devil in everyone but yourself.

6) You run faster and faster to succeed and find yourself more and more lost.

7) You tell off someone you love because you know they’re right.

8) You elect Obama so you can hope for a better world, but you are still an asshole to the people around you.

9) You elect Trump so you can get a better job instead of sending out applications.

Your greater self on the other hand is simply the world’s biggest umbrella. You put it up and it is WAY bigger than you are. There is PLENTY of room under your umbrella for your family (even the ones you haven’t spoken to in awhile), your boss, your mechanic, the doctor’s assistant, half the town! It is an expansion of your life to its interconnectivity with the universe.

When your lesser self thinks “why is the world so selfish and cut up?” That is your most opportune moment to put your greater self to work. YOU are the missing link that will right it.

Which is why my greater self is working on a new screenplay.

The Value Games is set in a dystopian future and concerns a girl/woman played by Anne Hathaway who must win a competition to find value in everything. One of her main competitors is Katniss played by Jennifer Lawrence, who loses in the final round by telling Anne to go fuck herself when Anne catches her trying to shoot Zooey Deschanel with a barbed contract clause. Katniss wins the battle but loses the war when they sign Ivanka Trump for Hunger Games 6.

In The Value Games  world it takes your heart and humility to accomplish anything. Those with brains, ego and arrogance need not apply. And when they do, Anne tells them, one at a time, how to spell douchebag. Nicely though, because Anne wins by creating value, and most of them spell douchebag without the ‘e’.

Anne’s final battle is with Donald Trump who tests her patience and the dictum “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” She tries to find value there, desperate to create good, but all she finds is dollar bills; even when he strips to his jockeys, which he does for a dick-raising contest with Caitlin Jenner. The Don wins the battle by using rolled up real estate sales contracts secured with Tiffany stick pins to shoot spitballs through, but loses the war because his heart is a lump of gold plated snot.

The book ends with Anne whispering the secret of her beautiful heart to a green hobbit child who is about to go on the great journey of life without diapers, but we can’t hear what she says because we have to find out on our own.

 

Thumbing It

thumb-typingI am sitting here in Extremely Short Burst Activity Land (ESBAL) jabbing both thumbs continuously at my little iPhone, shooting out this message to you. I excel in short burst activities because they are easy–you have a sense of accomplishment and you can exercise your thumbs.

One of the first business seminars I ever attended taught me that your life can be eaten up by short burst activities. You think you are accomplishing all manner of great things and you are actually doing little more than sending emojis to your pet. Your overall goals are obfuscated in the mad but happily satisfying dust cloud of activity you are in.Their advice, in 1976, was to take the long view. Set achievable goals and then break down big activities into enough do-able short burst activities so that there is a mind behind your project, not just adrenaline. I don’t think they had any idea just how trapped in ESBAL we would be in 2017.

Yet, my jabs are the way I feel this morning–erratically anxious about the world and my place in it–and happy to translate that into punctuated thumb jabs. I used to be old school and wrote in a journal book with a pen, no less, and often had a hard time reading what I wrote because I always wrote on the bus and let’s be honest, our infrastructure isn’t what it used to be. Now I can read what I write as long as I can understand spellcheck speak. For instance I just jabbed out, “Now I van ride when I eriyf.”

Isn’t spellcheck wonderful? Do they even call it spellcheck any more? Or have they renamed it something catchier like Icorrect or ffydj fudge?

Do you think my thoughts would flow better if I just took out my old pen and let this blog roar out from its tip; stretch my whole arm and wrist and really write, instead of hunching my shoulders and using the tiny brain I have at the tips of my thumbs?

Let’s try. I’m putting my phone away. I’m taking out my pen. I’m writing. (Later retyped because this blog site doesn’t accept cursive.)

I’m writing! I’m actually writing with a pen! I’m still on the bus! I’m still writing! And this is pretty hurky jerky. On the other hand it at least is one long connected thing; not put together from my typewriter head, or a thumb jab, letter by letter.  With this handwriting, my letters and words literally flow together. The ink feels a bit magical like this wise liquid which someone has engineered to come out of the tip of this pen. And I have to say that the feeling of its flowing while I manipulate it is pleasurable.

I think I am less adamant in ink, need less acknowledgement, because the pleasure of the page permanently accepting this change in its chemistry, wrought by me, is acknowledgement all by itself.  Also there is permanence. This hard copy page has been changed forever. I even feel less short bursty. I look out the window. The river is beautiful. The ice is breaking up and there’s a blue greenness at the base of each ice flow that has not yet risen to its crusty white top. With a pen I have time to notice these things. Somehow, I notice less when my thumbs are leading the way.

Jeez. I’m going to have to re-type all of this from my sometimes illegible journal page.

We’ve crossed the bridge, we’re two minutes from the train now. Better put the journal and pen back in my backpack for the ride. But what a nice respite. Dreamy. In the flow.

Almost there, but my phone beckons. My thumbs itch.

I long to be tapping. As if my thumbs were in charge.

Damn it to hell! Let’s face it, we’re all thumbs.

lsiheno9fnei. hardisordifronchicex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Day and other Words that Turn

noisemakers

Happy New Year.

Well, maybe this year, we should work on something more realistic. How about, Happy New Day?

Not that I don’t expect you to have a great year. It’s just ‘Happy New Year’ is biting off a whole lot more than anyone can reasonably chew at one time. As Jonathan Larsen reminded us, there are 525,600 minutes in a year. There are going to be good minutes and bad minutes. Let’s face it. That’s life. If you get all Pollyanna and try to take on the whole year at once by pasting the word ‘happy’ on it, you are 1) being unrealistic, 2) will be disappointed, and 3) need to keep smoking that stuff for the next 364 straight days to actualize, and frankly I wouldn’t advise it.

Then there’s this problem that by saying, feeling, resolving, and determining Happy New Year on January 1 that you feel you must be happy for a whole year or that the year will naturally be filled with constant joy. And that resolve lasts until the first obstacle approaches which is usually 9am on Jan. 1, when you have to get out of bed because you promised your mother you’d walk the dog since she’s away and if he doesn’t get walked by 9 he has a habit of peeing on the clean laundry in the laundry basket.

Health clubs love January 1 and 2, and sometimes the Happy New Year effect lasts until January 3 or 4.  All these people come streaming in to join and pay the annual fee, and the clubs smile and welcome them, knowing that they won’t see 99 per cent of them again, until next January. Happy New Year.

Or you could have the opposite problem. I have a friend whose mother damns the past and by extension, the future. This morning she’ll write her new message to put on her refrigerator as a reminder, “2016, worst year ever” and take down the old one, “2015, worst year ever.”

Someone said to me last night, “I hope this new year is better,” as if a unit of time were responsible for him having a good or bad year. The only person, place or thing responsible for whether you have a good or bad year is you. If something you think is bad happens to you on the first day of 2017, and you turn around and blame the year (and then by extension somehow curse the other 364 days of your beautiful life that is trying to blossom every day), then you’ve just lost a year!

And when that bad thing happens, because let’s face it, things you deem as bad will happen, then the opportunity for challenge and redemption from that bad thing is also being tarnished. “Oh shit, it’s just a bad year all around,” you might say.

Words matter. So when you fling them around, thinking they’re not important, don’t act surprised when the chickens come home to roost.  Words are the reality you are committing to, whether you know they are lies at the time, or not. They change reality. Look at fake news.

So here’s another one: The Pursuit of Happiness

No wonder we’re so miserable! 241 years later Americans are running around like chickens with their heads cut off pursuing happiness. You can see it in the arrogant way we chase the dollar.

Thomas Jefferson was a smart guy. Why didn’t he use his own inner wisdom to make the Declaration of Independence read: “…life and the liberty to find the happiness within”? Then all this ridiculous, ambitious, American “pursuing” would be nullified and we would do what we must – look within for our answers; for that is the only place where our real happiness lies. Imagine a government that was actually created to protect the unalienable rights of helping human beings find the happiness within? Yikes! That would be a different animal from the one we have entirely.

And while we’re talking animals, let’s talk about this one from those early Bible superstars Adam and Eve: “…dominion over the animals.” Here’s another instance where one word in the wrong place has had disastrous effects.

Over? Really? What arrogance! No wonder the planet is in such a mess. This change in the bible story that occurred by those in charge of putting the Bible together in 200 AD was a kind of Dick Cheney sort of thing. (Remember the Clear Skies Act of 2003 which actually loosened controls for pollution?) It was there, it was easy. It was fun to play with words. Animals are stupid and had no vote. So why not make the story that God said we had “dominion over”, instead of the way it originally read “dominion with” the animals.

‘With’! Like share the planet with them for christ sake! Like it’s not all for you. What were you thinking? You have to share! There’s a Native American reservation in Montana where great money, effort and expense have been summoned to build bridges over the highways for heavily travelled animal trails. Like that!

Think about the words we live with. Think about the words we take for granted. Then don’t always take them for granted. 2017 just might be a good year to examine everything. And I mean everything!

Share. Think. Live tougher. Respect. Repeat.

Happy New Day!