Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Inner Children, Inner Wolves

When the whole "Twilight" phenomenon first blew up two years ago, my inner teen girl demanded to have her curiosity satisfied, so I started reading the novels. (However, my midlife curmudgeonly skinflint man has so far refused to pay full price to see the films, so I've only been catching them as they become available on video-on-demand.)

Since I'm naturally drawn to the warm, passionate, earthy and familial, I aligned myself with "Team Jacob" in the ongoing war of who was better for Bella. Edward and the Cullens are gracious, sacrificial, giving, and noble, but they struck me as too perfect, too formal, too rich and too cold. The pack of shapeshifters on the otherhand were rowdy, playful, fierce, passionate, dedicated and rooted in nature and the environment. If I had been Bella, I'd have run to them and stayed. "Edward who? We don't need no stinkin' Edward."

But of course, that is not what Stephenie Meyer had in mind. Breaking Dawn finally came out in paperback recently, and armed with a deep discount* coupon from a bookstore chain, I bought the book and tore through it this past weekend. Now, having come to the end of the saga, I can say I'm with:

Team Leah

[Spoiler alert: while not a full exposition, there are enough hints here to ruin it for those who haven't read all the novels. You've been warned.]

It's quite simple, really. Leah Clearwater is the one 'good guy' whose heartbreak and longings weren't wrapped up nicely at the end. Although she is powerful and determined, she remains heartbroken and a little bit bitter. She gets no mate, no knight-in-shining-armor to ease her essential loneliness. She finds purpose as a beta to Jacob's alpha, but she remains unmated. (Even Leah's fully human mother ends up with Bella's fully human father by the end.) She soldiers on, because it gives her purpose and it's the right thing to do. But she doesn't get any reward for soldiering on other than that purpose. In the end, of the 'wolves' in the story, she's the loneliest, the closest to being a 'lone wolf.'

I feel her pain.

Whatever you think of the "Twilight" oeuvre, I have to hand it to Stephenie Meyers for creating a new mytho-fictional universe. She took the vampire-werewolf tropes in some new directions, and while her morality and fatalism seem a little heavy-handed at times, no one can argue that they haven't impacted our cultural data set. Team Edward and Team Jacob will be duking it out for sometime yet, but Team Leah and I will watch and shake our heads, and go about our business.

*The midlife curmudgeonly skinflint man had to have his needs met again, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Decline and Fall

This morning, I noticed that the little screens in the elevators in my office building were displaying the same 5 pieces of trivia they'd been displaying for all of last week. They used to change the trivia, not to mention weather reports, stock reports, etc., every hour at least. I turned to a co-worker and said, "This is what the decline and fall of an empire looks like. The little things at the edges crumble to dust first."

This decline and fall has been going on since not long after I was born. The economic elites were so frightened at the prospect of the disadvantaged in our country gaining more power and influence that they decided they would rather see the country crumble to ruins. And why not? If they themselves get to keep their wealth and power, why not let the country slide toward decay (if not actively push it along). So infrastructure, education, democratic engagement are all failing at an increasing level, and we cannot expect the economic elites to step up and lead us out of the mess.

Frankly, I do not know what to do. If there is one thing I've learned in life, it is not to count on the good sense of my fellow human beings. We seem to have a knack for aiming for the low side of mediocrity. The continued decline of the US empire will take years, I suspect. Still, if I get an opportunity to leave and go someplace better (and take Manu with me) I think I'd take it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thinking about Making Curried Vegetables and Other Stuff

I think for me, the stages of encountering "the new" follow along these lines: 1) euphoria; 2) terror; and 3) mundanity. Sometimes #'s 1 and 2 switch places. I've slid past the terror at the realization of my aloneness and freedom in the universe, and now am on to thinking, "well, maybe I could make some curried vegetables this weekend." Somehow, this is progress has been very similar to one summed up by Douglas Adams:
It said: "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.

"For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?"

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chapter 35.

Despite my official agnosticism and adherence to no specific religion or philosophy, I do find a lot of wisdom out there to draw from. Taoism, in its most philosophical form, is very useful to me. It has been mischaracterized as "go with the flow" but I believe a more accurate description of the Taoist way is "learning to surf the flow." Logs that go with the flow of a river get caught up on rocks; kayakers endeavor not to do the same.

Other philosophical streams I draw from include Stoicism, Existentialism, Soto Zen and ethical studies. I view the texts and thoughts available to me from the subject areas not as maps for going forward; instead they are like those like those guides showing me how to recognize different species of trees or birds, as I pick my own path forward.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baba Ghanouj and Soto Zen

Tuesday evening I made some really good baba ghanouj, and made enough for me to make three meals off of it. It was simple enough (eggplant, oil, salt, tahini, lime juice) and patience while the eggplant cooked was the main ingredient. Certainly I'll make more soon. Baba ghanouj is filling and tasty.

I've been reading some pages of three different books lately. One of them is Brad Warner's Sit Down and Shut Up, which is now one of my new favorite books on Zen. He writes out of his history both with Zen and with punk rock, and he has a sense of humor that can at times be a little dorky, but over all serves to leaven his texts so that the heavy and the mundane don't turn the casual reader away. (By the way, Noah Levine approaches Theravada from a punk background, too, but in my opinion his prose comes across more militant and angry than Warner's.) This is his second book; I've read his first one, and I liked it. He's just published his fourth book, but I haven't yet looked closely at either that or his third book.

It seems like my favorite Buddhist writers come from Soto Zen (Warner, Steve Hagen, Shunryu Suzuki). Soto Zen to me appears to be the most no-nonsense version, not even promising any kind of enlightenment other than the simplicity of one going through one's day. Since I was raised on, and have burnt out on, false promises, a bare bones philosophy and praxis makes the most sense to me. I think I would do well to make myself sit regularly.

I have no idea how much I will be out and about this weekend. With the teaparty zombie hordes coming to town, I feel I would be safer staying at home and waiting them out. Still since I live nearest to the green line, and the teapartiers have been warned to avoid the green line, I think I'll be okay if I stay in my neighborhood. Besides I'm more concerned about my own potential anger upon encountering them than I am of what they might possibly do to me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good Friends, Good Food and Good Beer

Yesterday I enjoyed an excellent evening, meeting F at Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights for dinner. The beer selection was superb, and the food truly delicious. In most restaurants, there is one or two token vegetarian dishes so the token vegetarian can have a night out with his more omnivorous friends. Otherwise, you'll find a restaurant wholly dedicated to veganism. Meridian Pint, on the otherhand, had a selection of well-made vegan dishes as well as food for the omnivores. And Monday evenings feature the "Meatless Monday" specials. So F and I split an appetizer of tempura with a pungent sauce (it had anise seeds floating in it – yum!). He had chicken with mashed potatoes, and I had the seitan and vegetable kabobs over couscous.

I enjoyed catching up with F. We hadn't visited with each other since the party he hosted on his birthday. That was an epic party, but there were so many guests he and I really didn't get to visit with each other then. Last night I fear I gave him an earful about work worries, family worries and existential worries. Thankfully, F is an exemplary listener.

Meridian Pint was booming for a monday night, so I have high hopes for their continued success. There were many people there at a rally for our current mayor, but most of them were downstairs. The bulk of the people upstairs were there to hang out or to have some quality food. I can't wait to go back and try some of their other dishes. The vegan three bean quesadillas sound especially intriguing.

While we were sitting there, our mutual friend S walked past the window and waved at us; he was taking his dog out for walkies. After dinner we crossed the street to the dog park and had a nice conversation with S and his dog. The air was cool and comfortable after all the heat and humidity we've had lately. Truly an enjoyable evening.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Things I Have Enjoyed

A brief list of things I have enjoyed in the past (in no particular order):

1. Skateboarding (1987-1990)

2. Hiking (1970-present)

3. Co-facilitating a LGBT youth support group (1993-1994)

4. Reading (1968-present)

5. Being part of a couple (1997-2001)

6. Biking (1968-2005)

7. Being in higher education institutions (1979-1984, 1989-1991, and 2006-2008)

8. Making music (1973-1978)

9. Keeping a journal (1983-present)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sorry, Jesus Ain't Takin' the Wheel

The big question confronting me now: who do I want to be? What behaviors and attitudes do I value, what behaviors and attitudes do I deplore, and what do I do to exhibit the former and eschew the latter?

I was raised by drama-filled fundamentalist Christians. When the going got tough, they ran to God for answers and aid. You've heard the saying, "Let go and let God." Or as Carrie Underwood sings, "Jesus, take the wheel." I no longer have the comfort of abandoning responsibility like that. If I want to do well, I must endeavor to assume responsibility for everything that is within my power to be responsible for, and to accept with detachment all that isn't. No longer can I simply intone, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Rather, if I want to do well, I must endeavor to maintain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to choose to change (and work at the changes) the things I can change, and constantly to weigh and discern what I can change and what I cannot. It is on me, and I would do well no longer to slough it off.

At this time I can think of three sources for knowledge and wisdom regarding how I want to live my life. The first is my own life and my own history. What do I like about myself? What good have I done in the past? What have I enjoyed doing? What mistakes have I made that I can learn from?

The second are 'heroes', exemplars I admire for one or more qualities. What are those qualities I admire? How did they deal with the vicissitudes of their individual circumstances? What were their pitfalls, and how could they have avoided them?

The third are books of philosophy, ethics and psychology. What wisdom do they contain about how to live well? What is the best way to be a good person in the world, and still maintain my integrity and individuality? What are some insights into human psychology to help me avoid maladaptive behavior patterns?

Instead of looking outside myself for divine intervention and inspiration, I want to look around myself and within myself for wisdom on how to live.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Just Don't Know

Age is just a number. Yes, but human minds latch onto symbols, metaphors, markers and shiny things, and then work with those to try and make meaning in our existences. In just under six months I will have marked off fifty years of existence on this earth. My life to this point hasn't been a big failure, but it hasn't been an unalloyed success either. (Of course there are no unalloyed successes, but my alloys have partook pretty heavily of base metals up to now, it seems.)

I want the next few years of my life to involve a lot of conscious meaning-making. I have come to see that I cannot expect meaning to fall from the sky into my lap. It will not hit me over the head like a holy pillow. I must grow up and make my own meaning for my own life.

I do not know whether or not there is a deity or a plane of existence beyond this one. I have no proof nor incontrovertible evidence. I also have no proof or incontrovertible evidence these things do not exist either. I could spend the rest of my days speculating one way or the other, but it would only be speculation, and nothing more. The truth is I do not know. I admit I am agnostic.

Therefore meaning making falls on my shoulders (as I believe it falls on each individual human beings shoulders, whether he or she admits it or not, and whether he or she embraces it or not). I have to choose the ethics I want to live by, and the meaning I want to make in my life.