Thanks, Body!

I went jogging again today. My running schedule could best be described as…sporadic. I’m talking leap year frequency here. Running isn’t my least favorite thing to do, but I can certainly find more fulfilling things to spend my time on. It did remind me that I have a body that can do things, though. In fact, as I get older (such a disgusting phrase), I notice a changing relationship with my body and fitness in general. Naturally, we all age and in the process we have to renegotiate our physical embodiment and the transformations entailed, that makes sense, but what I was not expecting were these complex feelings about it! Feelings in general give me the pee shivers (if you don’t know what that means, here’s a NBC news article about it…yeah that NBC…this is journalism in the 21st century: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/body-odd/pee-shivers-you-know-youre-curious-f688401) and I try to keep things emotionally as close to neutral as possible. Still aging is a complex intersection of factors that, at times, is fascinating, but is often just horrible and an unending reminder of one’s human frailty. Every disaster scenario you’ve heard from your parents and the other aged folk in your life is true…well, kind of.

I won’t bore the tens of people who read this blog with a lengthy register of my ailments, but what I will say is that the older I get, the longer that list gets. There’s nothing really seriously wrong with me in any incapacitating sense, which is great, but it seems like the things that are a bit wonky stay a lot longer these days or just don’t leave at all. That’s a marked difference from only  a few years ago when I seemed to be able to recover from even the most debaucherous of weekends within hours. Nowadays, even moderate libation lingers, sludging my body’s ability to function as a productive human well past the following Tuesday! Also, just daily wear and tear on the joints seems to turn into some sort of internal war between the north (my mind: youthful, plucky, witty) and the south (the rest of me…which is losing badly and which will most certainly NOT rise again!). Of course I overdramatize here for effect, but not by much!

Yet, and perhaps more importantly, there is also a new kind of appreciation that I’ve gained for this shell. It’s the only one I’m ever going to have, and that’s hit home with me in more than just an intellectual way lately. As I’m not a total idiot, I certainly was aware that we all grow older and that we have to take care of our bodies for reasons of health and longevity, but what I hadn’t considered was that despite my post-humanist fantasies, I probably won’t live to see the technology that will allow us to really regenerate or upload ourselves. That’s a pity. But, as mentioned, this realization has led me to see my body in a more forgiving way, in a more humane way. Before, my body was something for getting me places, or lifting something, it was functional and built-for-purpose and I honestly hadn’t really thought of it as an integral part of my identity. Now, I’m coming to the understanding that I’m going to have to live with this thing forever. The more I spend time with that though, the more I actually respect my body and the good work it has done for me over the years, and continues to do. Slowly, I’m learning that just as I’d be first in line to voice my support for the preservation of some object of significant historic cultural heritage, I have to become just that vocal of an advocate for my own body — both as a physical presence in material time/space terms, but also as a concept in my mind.

For much of my life, I’ve focused on artistic or academic enrichment and through the luxury of good health, and first world living, was able to effectively ignore the very thing that shows up for me in the world. I’d always been envious of those really sporty people who seemed to get a kick out of physical fitness and all their talk of endorphin highs and such. I never have that! It’s not that I’m sport averse, but I’m only good at two of them, and as I can be quite competitive, those are the only two I stand a chance at winning in and will therefore participate in. I don’t feel better after working out, playing tennis or jogging. Definitely worse. I do quite like winning though. Therefore, I’ve decided to celebrate even minor wins in my journey with my body. I’m going to cultivate compassion and genuine admiration for every way in which my body continues to serve me. I’m going to remember all the climbed steps, the daring jumps, and close calls that my body has absorbed like a champ the next time I start feeling like Tin Man, and rather than curse the pain or make some deprecating remark, say thanks instead.

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American Theocracy

Having grown up in America, there are some things, sometimes seemingly bizarre things, that just don’t seem that strange to me. There’s a lot, due to levels of exposure, that we are normalized to and therefore don’t really think much about (e.g. cheese in a spray can, mundane and senseless violence, systemic racism, sexism and discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity, Spam, huge automobiles, etc.). For example, if one is lucky enough to have the time and means to travel, one quickly finds that a lot of people across the globe drink. Naturally, a lot of people drink in the USA too, but not with the same sense of disregard and ease with which it’s carried out in other countries. In Germany, where I currently live, nobody thinks twice when seeing someone walking down the street with an open beer bottle. Also, age restricted drinking regulations are quite relaxed in most places in Europe, and it still boggles my mind that at 18 years old in the USA one is allowed to vote at the federal level, fight and die in war, or buy a house, but has to wait until 21 to have a beer!?! Again, growing up, while I may have heard the occasional moan about the silliness of the consumption laws, nobody seemed to care too much and just got on with things, that was our normal. Traveling and living outside of the country has provided me with perspectives on many aspects of American life that are normalized, but which are far from normal (whatever normal means). The role of religion in American life is another phenomenon that, from a distance, seems odd and increasingly more dangerous; and especially so considering our current abomination, I mean, administration.

Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast (I have no idea what a prayer breakfast is and I personally can’t think of two more diametric activities, but you know, to each his own I guess), held on February 2, 2017, stated that he wanted to, “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Now, I’m all in favor of all citizens everywhere utilizing and upholding free speech and am happy to offer my support to ensure that free speech is maintained and propagated for the betterment of democracy however, there’s a chilling implication in Trump’s vow — to do away with the Johnson Amendment is to give free rein to religious fanatics, of which we have always had a surplus. The Johnson Amendment is a very narrow-scope limitation of the rights of religious figures and organizations to involve themselves directly in political activities due to their tax exempt status. Effectively, it strengthens the constitutional separation between church and state, and should it really be dissolved or repealed, the United States will undoubtedly atrophy into a full theocracy within 48 hours. You can count on it!

Again, if you have grown up and lived your whole life in the United States, it may seem perfectly normal to you that there are multi-million dollar earning mega-churches that scatter the country, evangelists with their own TV shows displaying prayer hotlines at only three cents a minute, pastors with staffs larger than the student bodies at some county high schools, and faith-based merchandising deals worth millions of dollars. For most of the world though, that’s a shock! Giving these people, who are running financial empires, free range to involve themselves in the legislative process, given their access to money and influence over large swathes of the population, is perilous at best and damning at worst. It is no secret that these people think of the United States as a “christian” nation despite the clearly secular ideals laid out in our constitution. It is not news that many of those who voted for Trump feel that he is quite literally a godsend. It is not by mere chance that on every coin and bill in circulation the name of god is evoked: In God We Trust. Ambiguous, but a big fat toe in the door on the way to an established state religion.

It was not always this way however, the de facto motto until 1956 was E pluribus unum – out of many, one. Personally, I prefer the latter as I find if more definitive of the American experience. The current motto is exclusive and seems to ignore that there are non-theistic citizens as well, and really, shouldn’t a motto be something that speaks for all of us? Doing away with the Johnson Amendment would be exponentially graver than simply printing a motto on government documents, it would amount to the introduction of a new oligarchy of faith the likes of which the world has only a few remaining examples, chiefly among them; Iran. Could it be that one of the driving factors behind the right’s continual antagonizing of Iran, is that the ayatollahs have achieved what the fundamentalist christian right has failed to reach in the USA? I suspect there is nothing more desirable to a great number of Americans than the notion that their country become an officially christian nation and that their faith be offered precedence in matters both spiritual and temporal. If this happens, democracy is dead. Already we see the extreme push by faith groups to influence elected officials (desperate for votes to maintain their positions and power), and limit the individual rights of marginalized and at risk sectors of the population such as women, LGBTQIA2+, non-religious and non-theistic citizens, and others who do not fit into the constraints of religious life.

Evangelical christians make up 26.3% of the USA and amongst evangelicals, 81% voted for Trump. These kinds of numbers translate into massive political power and influence and ensuring that religious figures, of any faith, are not allowed to simply march into the political arena without any checks or balances, is exactly what legislation like the Johnson Amendment is designed to do. I encourage those of all faiths, and none, to do whatever is legally necessary to ensure that protections like those built into the Johnson Amendment are not allowed to be flippantly brushed away. This post is not meant to be a jab at evangelicals, or christians, or anyone else, but simply a worrying observation on the part of a single citizen. Good luck.

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Everyday Adventure?!?

What is adventure? Can we really find it in our everyday lives? I’m not so sure. I know we’re encouraged to try to find new ways of doing things and to go outside of our comfort zones, but that’s a real challenge when you’re trying to do your job, be a fairly decent friend/partner/citizen, and mind those carbs! Most people are just trying to get through each day, and it doesn’t really seem that there’s much opportunity to mix things up. This is of course why one should cultivate hobbies, but who has the time? I find that in order to write, which is the thing I enjoy more than anything, I have to neglect EVERYTHING else. Sure I can take a new way home, or try out a new restaurant, but that’s not really an adventure to me. The chance to see something unexpected can always present itself, but not when you know your city like the back of your hand…well, not usually, anyway. Therefore, like many others, I try to be adventurous in my writing and to take chances and try new things, but as anyone who has ever written anything substantial will tell you– it’s hell! It’s also heaven when it’s going well, which in my case is less than ten percent of the time.

Every writer or poet will attest that the greatest hurdle is doing the work. In my head, I have countless novels and at least two volumes of poetry going at any given time. In reality, I have two unfinished novels, two unfinished plays, and a single volume of poetry that grows slower than stone. There’s just some block in getting words on paper that happens for reasons unknown. Seeing the words on paper, at least in my case, often makes them seem trite, contrived, or just stupid.  Poetry is especially perilous for me. Just when I think I’ve found the perfect turn of phrase, it slips my mind before I can get to pen and paper. At least twice a week, I get a flash of word-magic, in of all places, the shower. How the hell am I supposed to write something down in the shower? I’ve been advised to bring a recorder with me, but I’d have to leave it on the entire time of the shower outside on the shelf because I’m not even sure the one I have is waterproof (and don’t want to find out) and besides, what kind of creep records himself having a shower and occasionally screaming out lyrical phrases? I do have neighbors.

Adventure has always been a catalyst for me. The moment I have no idea what I’m doing in the rest of my life, the creativity churns and effortless words flow from my pen, or from my busily typing fingers. Going to an exhibition, a concert, or some other creative interjection can sometimes coax it out of me, and in my opinion those are all small adventures that break up the routine of daily life…but I can’t really go to one every single day. Well, maybe I could, but again, who has the time when there’s reality to navigate!? Ultimately, life gets in the way of my creativity. I sincerely believe this is the crux of why so many writers go bonkers. In order to write, one has to have experiences and live life, but ALSO in order to write, one needs time for the ideas to formalize in the mind and get sieved through the mesh of the writer’s voice. This is not something in which I’m alone, one can find countless interviews and lectures by writers describing why they can’t write online. I should know, because I’ve watched/listened to them all while not writing.

I suppose that each writer has to find their own solution to this particular conundrum; alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, religion, food, giving up on life, etc. This blog is meant to be one of my means of just getting words out, not judging them, and letting them live once they’ve made it into the world. So far, it’s been good practice, but I find myself procrastinating and second-guessing what I write here. Still, I don’t believe in writer’s block…just in writer’s break. It would seem that sometimes one’s creativity needs to zone out, too…in fact, quite often. Hopefully, when it returns from its adventure, it is well rested and ready to do some work!

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Why am I sitting on the floor!? What the hell are you wearing!?

Although I was raised within a religiously pluralistic albeit heavily Protestant Christian influenced home, our religious convictions of any sort were merely nominal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There is much to laud in the sort of secular strains of religious adherence found, at least among a share of the mainstream, in most religious traditions. I guess people like to stick to the more digestible main concepts and don’t really need the meta-analysis of something which they see as abstractly integral to their lives. Abstraction is after all a sign of maturity of conceptual enhancement and exploration and that’s a great thing! But for whatever reason, Christianity never really spoke to me save for a very brief period, whereupon reflection, I can honestly say I was mimicking those around me and probably looking for a kind of acceptance that I was unable to find elsewhere. Anyway, that didn’t really last long and while I hold no contempt toward Christianity whatsoever, I also don’t feel any spiritual or moral affinity to it. That’s not to say however, that it doesn’t hold a great deal of meaning and value for believers, but only that it doesn’t speak to me personally. I am not here to talk anyone out of their religion or to insult anyone’s spiritual beliefs. Evaluating those who are believers negatively or writing them off as mindless drones, I’d say, is a misjudgment and an unfair one at that.

In the eighth grade, a teacher of mine was going to throw out a whole box of damaged-beyond-repair or blighted books, but he offered to let me have a look through them first and keep whatever, if anything, I found interesting. I’ve always been a bibliophile and there’s something about throwing away books that just punches me right in the gut. I dove in and discovered a tiny little book, more oblong than the others and with a stylized picture of a lotus flower on the front. I can’t exactly recall the title, but it was something along the lines of, Buddha’s Instruction Book or Buddha’s Book of Proverbs that caught my eye. I liked it initially for its aesthetics, and put it into my bag. Score!

That evening, I read the entire book (admittedly quite easy considering each page had only one proverb printed on it and it couldn’t have been more than 40 pages in total). I was enthralled, and so began my fascination with Buddhism. The notion that liberation (not salvation) is the aim of life and that the individual can free themselves by observing, training, and accepting their own mind, was just as radical and exciting to me then as it is now years later. There are countless resources on-line where one can learn about the life and teachings of the Buddha, and I’ve never been one for proselytizing, so sharing the revelations on the mind that the Buddha taught is not the aim of this post. Rather, I want to talk about why despite my deep appreciation for, and connection to, this great spiritual tradition, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist.  Maybe there will be some others who can relate, maybe there will be some Buddhists who will be able to delve into my issues and offer something profound, maybe not. Maybe some of the things that keep me personally away from formally becoming a Buddhist, are purely individual and maybe even a bit silly! I’m okay with all of that.

First, I hate sitting on the floor. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this and thought anything of it, but Buddhists love sitting on the floor. They LOVE it! Every dharma talk I’ve ever been too, every meditation group I’ve visited (and there have been plenty), has taken place on the floor. Sure there are usually a couple of folks with mobility issues sitting in chairs, but you’d better believe the chair people always get put on the fringe. I didn’t grow up in a culture in which sitting on the floor was common beyond story-time at school. Floors are cold, often dirty, they vibrate when loud vehicles pass, and they’re generally not padded (although there are sometimes these meditation cushions one can use if one can figure out how to meditate while trying not to fall off of Mt. Cushion). Not a fan!

I also don’t like that everyone looks like they’re either at yoga class or popping out to the bodega to continue last night’s house party. Though I can live with and accept the proclivity for casual clothing in nearly every aspect of daily life, what I like about many mainstream Christian churches is that people still dress for the occasion. Clearly, the way one dresses is not important in terms of deep spiritual actualization, but bare feet and yoga pants put me off. The notion that one’s meditation practice is equivalent to going out for a jog around the block, or spending a comfy day in bed catching up on some sincerely fulfilling reading/Netflix, is simplistic and lazy. I need a sportswear-free zone to get into spirituality. When people do dress up, it’s often culturally inappropriate. It’s both annoying and insensitive for westerners to facsimile culturally specific clothing just to look like old-school, hardcore dharma bums! Once, I went to a zen meditation evening and one of the very welcoming, very middle-class, very white officiates was in a full on kimono! A for real, actual kimono! Done.

Like I mentioned, these are just a couple of my personal turn-offs concerning joining a Buddhist community. I’m sure I’m missing the point; that’s nothing new!  But, these sorts of details are important to me! My dream is that we can eventually blend our western culture and aesthetic influences into a form of Buddhism that contextualizes the teachings in a format and environment that makes sense to us. That was kind of what the Buddha was going for after all, right?

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Girls, Miss Sandra & Candy

My best friends are women, and while that’s incidental perhaps, I tend to think that it can be traced, at least subconsciously,  to my deep appreciation of the female experience. As a cis queer white male, I think it’s important for me to ensure that I’m getting lots of perspectives from people who aren’t living the particular intersectional experience that I am. I attempt to learn what I can from the variety of women around me. I wouldn’t say that these women encapsulate all women, (who possibly does?) but they are the women I know.  I couldn’t have asked for better teachers, really. Not that it’s their job to teach me anything, but still, I’ll take what I can get. Almost every single woman I’ve known has given me, in one form or another, a masterclass on what it means to live that particularized reality called WOMAN. I believe it has made me a kinder, more insightful, and stronger man. I try to let the women in my life know that I love them. I hope they feel appreciated, heard, and maybe even proud of what they have helped to make me.

We hear a lot about how damn hard it is for women to get ahead, or to be leaders in any given industry, or to balance the demands of being a woman and having a career/family/life. I believe every single word of it. I’m still mourning the fact that I don’t get to watch HRC, the most qualified and savvy candidate to run for president in the history of the USA, shake hands with the world’s diplomats, navigate and direct national policy, or lead. If there was ever any evidence needed to support the notion of phallogocentrism (and we all know there wasn’t), November 8, 2016 is pretty blaring, flame-shooting proof.

Today, I’m going to use this platform to celebrate women. Not the women directly in my own life, that’d be too personal, and I’m sure they wouldn’t enjoy me blasting them on my blog. Rather, I’m dedicating this entry to the appreciation and respect of three contemporary, relevant, celebrity women who have contributed to my current (and still evolving) understanding of womanhood. Girls writer, director, actor: Lena Dunham,  multitalented comedic mystic, radio personality, and actor: Sandra Bernhard, and the up-and-coming rapper/singer and occasional Grimes video muse: Brooke Candy.

To be perfectly honest, I watch Girls just as much to see Andrew Rannels in his undies as I do to see what Dunham’s cast of girls is going to…become. Becoming is, in my opinion, the greatest take-away from this show. Dunham’s writing is unashamedly de nos jours and rightly so. She doesn’t attempt to prematurely grow her characters up simply to inject high-brow drama into a scene. The girls are on their way, still fucking up and trying again, and again. Hannah (Dunham’s character), complains endlessly and never seems to be able to understand that not all scores are going to be leveled (although I see this shifting a bit in the final season). She seems to have an intuitive sense that the world is incredibly unfair, yet a defiant impulse to control every detail of what becomes of her story. As a writer, Dunham has been criticized for not including more diverse characters into her show, a criticism which she has accepted as valid and has tried to address. She is learning to become, and while I know that experience first hand from the male perspective, it’s extremely eye-opening to see even a scripted version of what that might be like for a female. Dunham makes mistakes, just like her character, except on a much more public stage. She apologizes when necessary, clarifies when needed, and continues her confession of the zeitgeist, and all of us are better for it. Evolution.  https://t.co/VeIjrJv88o

Before I get too deep into the reasons why I think Sandra Bernhard  is the most overlooked female comedic actress in all of Hollywood, I should probably just let it be known that she is one of my ultimate crushes. I fully concede that my opinion of her as a woman may come with ulterior motives. Watching her on Letterman and Arsenio Hall growing up was everything I needed to survive. Bernhard does not demure. For me, her stand-up specials are where she really shines, but her film and TV roles also never fail to impress. She often plays neurotics, pushy broads, and “alternative” types (whatever that should mean), yet she never plays them with the inbuilt excuses we are so used to seeing from other comedic women. Bernhard does not apologize! She is in your face and that’s just where she wants to be. She’s in your bed and that’s just where she wants to be. She’s in your head and that’s really just where she wants to be. Unlike many of her contemporaries she doesn’t have to turn a loaded joke on herself to be funny. With Miss Sandra the joke is on you, if you’re smart enough to get it! This woman needs a show to star in NOW! Bernhard epitomizes an uncompromising feminine intellect that is not above cutting you to the core. Power. http://www.sandrabernhard.com/

Finally, Brooke Candy has been on the precipice of a break-through multiple times throughout the last few years. Various less-interesting, less-skilled, and less-determined names have come and gone in the interim, but I truly believe that now is her time. Her record, Daddy Issues is to be released this spring. We had a sneak peek back in February already when the video for Living Out Loud, a track featuring Sia, came out. It avoids the hyper-sexualized lyrics and strongly rap influenced vibe of her earlier work. Whether this highlights Candy’s evolution as an artist or an attempt at trying to ensure mainstream appeal is unclear, but either way it’s something new for a female artist and I suspect that’s what attracted Sia to the project. What I personally find most refreshing about her version of womanhood, is that it involves its own gaze. Candy doesn’t just present her art, she watches you evaluating it, chin protruding in an unspoken “And!?” This artist calls our bluff and in so doing, encapsulates both the millennial’s frustration and hope. Brooke Candy is the best we have to offer, and that’s a very good thing. No fear. http://www.brookecandyofficial.com/

Women are talking. Are you listening?

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