Monday, February 27, 2006

Rhetoric

The rain is pouring, the frogs are singing their little hearts out and all seems right with the world at this very moment, in this one place. I know there are serious problems in the world and even in our own country, but in this now - my now - all is well. If someone would have told me ten years ago, one year, one month or even a week ago that I would be feeling at peace and harmony with the world right now, listening to the frogs and the rain, I probably would not have believed it. Not that it would be so inconceivable – these things happen far more frequently for me of late – just that in the realm of realistic possibilities for this moment, why this?

And the answer is…? I haven’t a clue. This is what happened. It is as it should be, for if it weren’t, something else would be happening. It may or may not be of the same peaceful nature; it may or may not have been… It doesn’t matter. Whatever is served up is right on time and exactly proper. So, is this moment predestined?

Yes – no - maybe. The answer depends on, to a certain extent, one’s belief system. Are we self determined, masters of our own destiny, limited only by our fortitude, our confidence and our will power? Or is there a spiritual component to life? Is sentience a quality of spiritual beings? Is the road for our lives laid out like rails or can we choose only among a limited number of paths? Is it possibly some kind of combination; a veritable mixing of the oil-and-water nature of self-determination and predestination?

Rhetorical? Perhaps not. Perception is key. The hopelessness I battled with for so long revolved around these questions. I was searching for the answers never really believing they could be answered to my satisfaction. I could not conceive of any “proof” that I could possibly accept. I thought I was an atheist, but that would mean my lot in life was of my choosing. I couldn’t accept the notion of predestination because it left me wondering what the point could possibly be. I needed some sort of proof, yet my view of life was being dictated by beliefs that had no evidence to support them either.

My perception was skewed to say the least. I was trying to force the square peg of my black-and-white beliefs into the round hole that is life. The answer, for me, is not predestination, but it is also not entirely self-determination. I have free will, no doubt about it. I exercised it without limit for a very long time. I know where it got me. I also believe that there are a set of universal principles in the world. A rev limiter on self will, if you will. These guideposts are there to direct; they help to guide one to a peaceful and harmonious destiny – not a pre-destiny.

These principles have been described in many ways at many times and in many languages. They are ideals that exist independently of cultural and geographical separation. They are the likes of: Honesty, integrity, responsibility, acceptance, love, selflessness, and many more. Once realigned with these powers, allowing them to dictate the next direction I took, my life – or rather, my perception of life, changed.

And it is so regardless of the specific circumstances I may be surrounded by. Indeed, life did not change, my role in it did. My appreciation for the ordinary, the mundane, the chores and even the difficulties of everyday life does not reflect any change in those things. It is all about perception. It is the “half-full, half-empty” paradigm. Those questions are therefore not so rhetorical after all. And there is no right or wrong answer. To me, it doesn’t matter how peace comes, what matters is that it does. My words here are an attempt to open the mind to the realm of possibilities that may seam foreign, as they did to me – but have meant so much.

Even those who do not practice “right living” know what it is. We know right from wrong. I believe we are born with it - but I'm willing to concede it is learned. Again, it matters not - these principles have put me on the path to peace and gratitude. I have seen it in countless others. For me, I just had to find a way to do it. For that, I had to have something to believe in .

Peace.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nature's Orchestra


Frogs! I just love ‘em. Really, I do. No, I’m not a frog fanatic with frog sculptures and pictures and stuffed animal frogs scattered about. Nor do I have any desire to eat them even if they do taste like chicken. And I don’t own any pet frogs. However…

There seam to be a number of them that are quite fond of me and my hospitality. They appear to have adopted me and they apparently feel quite at home here. As the sun sets every evening, a cacophony of croaking escalates into a soothing symphony that can be heard three houses away. It really is quite impressive – by the sound of it, there must be hundreds, but the number is probably much lower.

I moved into this home last June. In front of the house, just outside my office window and next to the front door is a decorative pond with electrically pumped brook babblings. It has a little cascading waterfall when I turn it on (which is rare). Sometime in the late summer or early fall, as if by magic, tadpoles appeared in my pond. This, I thought, is so cool! I discovered that the local Petsmart actually had tadpole food. In fact, they had two kinds, snacks and treats. Crazy!

So of course I buy the food and give them some according to the directions. They get bigger and bigger and soon they sprout little hind legs. I keep feeding them (they eat a lot and there are a lot of them) and I’m careful not to add any of the algaecides to the water (or any other chemicals) that may harm them. As careful as I was, their numbers kept on decreasing and it didn’t appear, judging by the ones that were left, that they had hopped off on their own.

Soon enough, they were all gone. Thinking my tadpoles didn’t have the genetic “right stuff” or that maybe some other predator may have got to them, I added the algaecide to kill off the growth that had begun to take over the pond. It worked and the pond was clear in no time. Funny thing though – I didn’t see any evidence of any tadpoles – dead or alive.

Fall turned to winter, the temperature dropped and the rain came. The New Year arrived right on schedule and with it, the croaking of just a couple of frogs. It is not unusual to see or hear critters in this area of Sacramento County. We are not far from the American River and there are numerous creeks and streams flowing nearby. In fact, there is a flock of wild turkeys meandering through the neighborhood on a frequent basis. Hearing a frog croaking here and there is not all that unusual.

Soon enough, the chorus grew and grew and continued to grow. There are times when I can almost feel it. Furthermore, they have taken up residence in and around my now algae-free pond! It was apparent where they were early on, but I could never “catch” them in the act. Every time I went out the front door they went silent. Eventually they got used to my presence and just ignored me.

But I still could not see them. I was baffled. How hard could it be to see this big old loud frog croaking the night away? Finally, I caught one. Well I didn’t actually “catch” it, but I saw it dart off a rock and into the pond to swim under another rock. It was about the size of a nickel. I thought that it must be just a youngster – that the big daddies were too clever to come out of hiding.

Over the next few days I saw some more. The situation was always similar to that first one - small, nickel size frogs. I still couldn’t figure out where all these big old frogs were hiding. Just a couple days ago it hit me: Those were the big old frogs making all that racket! There must be a bunch of nickel size frogs with silver dollar sized lungs (or whatever it is frogs have). Best yet… they were my tadpoles! Most of them apparently and every night they sing me a melody that is never the same but always familiar. It is strangely soothing – almost like being in tune with something much larger than myself.

I guess those tadpoles had to come from somewhere – I can’t wait for next year’s litter (or whatever it is that frogs have). Coincedentally enough, I have no bugs around the front of my house - I've got friends higher on the food chain!

Mr. Clemons


Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.

Mark Twain

1835 - 1910

Friday, February 24, 2006

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Thank you for standing by me no matter what - even when things weren't looking so good.
I Love You,
Michael

A Kinder, Gentler Blog

I am feeling a little anxiety today. Actually, it has been building for the last week or so. I have not been my usual happy, go-lucky self and I think it’s high time I realigned with the powers that be and get re-centered. My last two essays (Nothing Personal & Sentenced to Die) have been somewhat critical if not downright negative and that’s not really what I’m all about nor is it what I prefer to write about. I am therefore recommitting myself to using this space for radiating positive energy into the world.

It has taken a few days to realize what has been happening. Like so many epiphanies, it came to me all at once, but while doing things my way for several days, the evidence has been building. All of a sudden – BAMM – there it is. I am not so “enlightened” that these brilliant flashes of the obvious happen instantaneously. I still have to bump my head, stub my toe and spill my coffee before I realize that things are not quite right. Eventually the unnoticed uneasiness becomes apparent thus enabling the introspection necessary to redirect. It was on my way to school this morning that this lightning bolt hit. I knew what was wrong and what to do about it.

I write for several reasons. Probably the most important is self-awareness. It is how I think best – slowly. When I’m in my head, my thoughts flow so fast that any analysis and refinement is near impossible. Clarity comes when I write. The next two most important reasons are of equal importance and in a way interdependent upon each other. I have a desire – a need to make a difference. To do this, I must write to be read. If no one reads what I write, then I am only writing for myself. There may be a wee bit of ego involved, but at the end of the day if I haven’t touched anyone, I’m just taking up space.

Although there is a place in my repertoire for political opinion – indeed, opinion in general, it is difficult to express my opinion without rejecting an opposing one. Opinion is confrontational by nature. Introspection, inspiration, life in general is universal. It is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with an opinion; it is a matter of identification. One may not understand or relate with my experiences or outlooks, but it is not in dispute as to whether or not I do.

It has been my experience that many life experiences are related, even those that initially appear to be completely different. The underlying emotions, the feelings… the lessons or wisdom that result, though unique in one sense, are universal in another. Many of my past posts are quotes from both ancient and living visionaries that speak of wisdom to which I can relate. Based on the comments I receive on these posts and comments on my own introspective writing, I get the vibe that there is something there. That somehow, maybe – just maybe, what I say and relay may be making a difference in someone’s life.

Although my hit counter has been averaging the same number of visits to my blog, the comments left behind have dropped off considerably. I am being read, but I am not really stirring any thought. My opinion pieces, though I believe them to be well thought out and eloquently delivered, will have to find a new home. They will no longer reside here. This is not a place for negativity, no matter how well written. This is not to say that certain problems will not be presented - they will. They may be personal as well as political, but they will not be just dropped here and left. They will only be presented as an example of how life can be trying, but with a positive outlook we can and do persevere. And it’ll be ok. Nothing is the end of the world, not on this blog anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bumper Sticker

I saw this great bumper sticker in a garage in downtown Sacramento:

DEMOCRACY IS NOT
A SPECTATOR SPORT

Truer words never written.

~Mike

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sentenced to Die

Michael Anthony Morales narrowly averted death yesterday as the courts, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the public at large wrestle yet again with the ramifications, constitutional and otherwise, of the death penalty. The family of Terri Lynn Winchell, who Morales tortured, raped and murdered has been waiting for justice for 25 years. Those opposed to the death penalty have been actively protesting – again - citing the standard array of rationale for opposition; and those in support – likewise. This would have been the third execution in California in as many months. For the moment at least, it will have to wait.

My purpose here is not to come out for or against the death sentence, although I do have an opinion and it will be revealed. My angle, rather, is to examine what this ongoing debate is doing to us. The victim’s family is going through nothing that I could even begin to conceive. The press is swarming and the state is reeling. Morales? He’s still locked up and will never see the light of day. His life has been at least temporarily spared. But what about the rest of us?

Questions regarding morality, constitutionality and deterrence abound. A society that values both liberty and security is seemingly at odds when it comes to appropriate punishment in regards to violent offenders and the rights granted to them under our system of laws. We want justice - no question about it, but how to exact it remains one of a few passionately debated topics of the political, social and moral landscape today. A hot button issue to be sure.

And so the beat goes on. Every time a condemned murderer’s number comes up, the furor reignites. The arguments change little. The proponents argue that capital punishment represents justice, a deterrent and security. Opponents remain steadfast that it is not any more a deterrent and grants just as much security as life without parole and that killing a murderer is tantamount to “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Proponents claim that death in the humane fashion of the execution is better than the victim was granted. Those opposed claim that execution represents “cruel or unusual punishment.” Not much has changed of late.

In this particular case, the execution has been delayed due to the possibility raised by the defendant's attorneys and decided by the courts that the current method of lethal injection represents a potential violation of the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Yet the delays, the uncertainty and the legal wrangling must surely be cruel in their own right. Morales was minutes away from his execution twice yesterday. In my mind, simply knowing the time, place and manner of my death, never mind the uncertainty of a last minute appeal would meet the criteria set down by the Eighth Amendment.

Then there is the family of the murdered teen. What have they done to be worthy of the same anguish? Some have argued that the finality of a sentence such as life without parole would be the closure a family needs to put this behind them. How arrogant! Who can claim to be able to speak for those who have lost a loved one to a hideous murderer such as Morales? Even those that have had like experiences have differing views on what closure looks like, if at all possible. And not all victims are pro capital punishment. In this case, there is no question as to Morales’ guilt; the law allows the penalty of death and Morales has earned this judgment in a fair trial. Yet opponents to the death penalty have been able to use Morales as a legal guinea pig to delay the adjudicated outcome for over 20 years.

Here’s where I come down on this issue. I am opposed to the capital punishment, as it stands, not because of moralistic issues, not over concerns of guilt or innocence (in this case at least) and not because of potential Eighth Amendment violations. I can’t know if it represents closure for the families, (although this legal foot-dragging certainly is extending their pain), I can’t say if the possibility of death prevents murders and I doubt that killing killers makes us any more secure. I am opposed to it because every time the day approaches that one of these monsters is scheduled to meet his maker, we go through this all over again.

I don’t care if lethal injection is cruel or unusual. It is certainly more humane than he deserves. I don’t care if Morales is put to death or not. Either way his life is and has been over. What I care about is that this process takes years and years and years and when, finally, it looks like the end is near, one more “newsworthy” delay occurs and we get to do it all over again. To those that think Morales got off, that he got himself a lucky break because he gets to live another day – well, I don’t call that living. To those that think the country is somehow a better place because the moral high road prevailed, ask Winchell’s family what they think about that. I’ll tell you what I think: Do it or don’t. Kill him or lock him up forever. I don’t care how and I don’t care if it hurts for a few seconds. Finish it and be done.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Plain Talk


If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.


Andy Rooney

1919 -

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Newhart Remembers


SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Comedian Bob Newhart documented his career in a lecture punctuated by video clips at the Memorial Auditorium Wednesday night.

The lecture was the fourth of seven in the inaugural season of the Sacramento Speaker Series which hosts speakers “that represent a wide variety of subjects ranging from world affairs, politics, business & economics to the arts, entertainment and the environment,” according to the series’ web site.

Newhart chronicled his career starting with his departure from accounting to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

“I figured I’d give it a year, and if it didn’t work out I could say that I gave it my best try,” Newhart said. “A year turned in to two, then three, then four.”

He received his first big break when a friend in his native Chicago who was a local DJ persuaded Newhart to send a tape to some Warner Brother’s producers he knew.

Newhart entertained the series subscribers with anecdotes and memories combined with clips from his television appearances including his two hit TV series and one of his many appearances on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

Following the lecture was a question and answer period featuring the audience’s written questions for Newhart as presented by KFBK radio afternoon news anchor Kitty O’Neil.

“Comics say funny things, comedians say things that are funny,” Newhart said when asked about the difference.

When asked whom he thought was the most influential comedian of our time, Newhart responded without hesitation: Richard Pryor.

“If you can get past the language to the substance,” Newhart said, “he was a comedic genius.”

Although Newhart has no intention of retiring, he did say that another TV series would not be part of his future. “I had my time,” he said.

The Sacramento Speaker Series continues on March 15 with Jean-Michel Cousteau followed by Leslie Stahl, co-editor of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes on April 12.

Subscriptions for the remainder of the lectures are available on the Sacramento Speaker Series web site, www.sacramentospeakers.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ancient Wisdom III




Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.


Buddha

563 - 483 BC

Monday, February 13, 2006

Priorities

I am finding myself with an acute shortage of time. I started this blog for a variety of reasons, one of which was to fill some of my free time in between semesters at school. It has turned out to be so much more than that. This space has, in a very real sense, become a daily ritual – almost, but not quite – an obsession. It’s not just sharing my thoughts through my writing, but also experiencing other’s through theirs. The exchange of ideas, sentiments and feelings has been nothing short of inspirational. It has also been eye opening in that there is an abundance of excellent thinkers and writers.

I have established written relationships with a number of my readers. I am committed to the daily reading of all the new entries of those on my link list as well as a number of others that I haven’t had the time to add yet. There are so many more I would like to read, if I only had the time. It is with great regret that I have come to the realization that I will have to limit the amount of time I am devoting to this passion. And it’s not just the writing; it’s the reading, the commenting, the responses and the overall interaction that has seriously improved my perspective in a number of areas. There are only, however, so many hours in the day.

My visits therefore will be of a limited duration, but at least still (hopefully) on a daily basis. Some of my upcoming posts will be some of the stories I am writing in school. I will be unashamedly plagiarizing myself! Since my classes consist entirely of government and journalism, you may expect these posts to reflect that curriculum. In government, I am taking constitutional law, California state politics and public opinion. In journalism, it’s news writing 1 & 2. I have received my beat assignment and submitted a few story ideas. Soon, some of these stories will be written, and I intend to share them here.

It is truly amazing that not long ago, I had no direction whatsoever in my life. Now, I have so much to do, things that I am passionate and excited about, that I am having trouble getting it all in. Perhaps I’m making up for lost time! I am certainly not complaining, I am at the height of my game and it’s only getting better, but priorities I never even dreamed of are now playing a role in my life. I have to make choices and while I want it all, I have all I need.

At least that much hasn’t changed.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Born To Be Wild


The weather in the Sacramento area has been unseasonably warm. For the past week, the temperature has been in the low to mid 70s. Not bad for the beginning of February. It is not uncommon or even all that unusual to have these winter “heat waves” in California, but it is not something that can be predicted. Therefore, it is important to take advantage of this weather when it presents itself – it won’t last.

I recently acquired the use of a 2001 Harley Davidson motorcycle. It’s not mine – yet, but I do have use of it. I have had a few motorcycles over the years, but from day one, I wanted a Harley. Ever since I knew what a motorcycle was, the one I wanted was a Harley. There’s something about their sound, their attitude… their aura that is different from every other motorcycle. Now that I can ride one at will, I know these weren’t just idle impressions; the substance of the experience more than exceeds the abstractions of the dream.

Grass Valley is a small town in the Sierra foothills, elevation about 2500 feet. Although it is fastest to get there by taking Interstate 80 most of the way, today’s trip was not about efficiency. I met a few friends (and friends of friends) in Sacramento at 9:00 this morning and we headed for the hills. Every one of us, 30+ total, were riding Harleys. It was indeed a thunderous procession. We rode at a leisurely pace, winding our way through the gently rolling hills, passing though shadows and sunlight feeling the alternating chill followed by the sun’s warmth. It was pure and unadulterated heaven.

There’s something about riding a motorcycle that is unlike any other form of travel. There is a solitude, a oneness that is with me even when surrounded by other bikes or traffic in general. It is the manifestation of the destination in the journey. When riding in a pack though, it’s sort of like a group singularity. We are alone with our machines and our thoughts en masse´. We all know the experience as an individual, personal one yet we are all experiencing it together. There’s really nothing else quite like it.

We had breakfast in Auburn (CA) and continued on the back roads into Grass Valley. Upon arrival, we dismounted and congregated with some other friends we arranged to meet there. After about an hour, we stoked our machines back to life and rode back to where we came from. There was no other purpose; it could have taken place anywhere. All we needed was some sunshine, a machine and each other – the rest took care of itself.

Today was a good day!

Ancient Wisdom II



There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.


Plato
427 - 347 BC

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Faith

Originally written on
August 23, 2005


If I only knew then what I know now… How many times have I lamented? I have often felt as though I have wasted the best years of my life. In my search for self, it seems as if most of my life I have been hopelessly lost. Although looking back I can see that the directions were relatively clear, somehow I missed these signs. Indeed, hindsight is always 20/20. I was blinded by ignorance and arrogance. A sense of entitlement persuaded me to believe that life would somehow present itself to me. It didn’t. In short, I felt like I had been ripped off. Life had dealt me a bad hand and no matter what I did or didn’t do, sooner or later everything always fell apart. I just didn’t get it.

In the past many years, I have felt like I was just going through the motions. Coasting through them actually. Oh sure, I had amassed much of what many people value in life. I even had varying, albeit limited degrees of professional success. I had a family and was “looking” good. Externally it appeared that I had the American Dream nailed down and boxed up. Nonetheless, I still had a void in my life that I could not identify and did not even recognize until after it was filled. Therefore, every time my life took an unexpected twist, I could not accurately assess and appraise it. I would instinctively react rather than proactively respond. In my narrow view, I was not to be held responsible in any way. I convinced myself that I was in fact blameless… and someone should be making it right.

Disconnected, discontented, dissatisfied, never grateful and always wanting – no, needing more. It was always there as far back as I can remember. I never felt as though I was getting life. I felt no sense of purpose. I was on the outside looking in. Despite doing (sort of) what I thought was expected of me, I always seemed to be left out. It was like some one just handed me this life but the directions were not included. I would like to say that I was searching for something, but in reality, I did not know that anything was missing. Yet at some level, I knew. I knew I never really had it all together. Many of these “feelings” could only be articulated after I had stumbled onto what I had been searching for. Only then was I was able to identify what I could not before explain. Therefore, in the same moment I figured out how I felt, I also determined the prime suspect (me) and that I was involved in the cover-up! I had screwed myself and then denied any involvement.

After a series of progressively more acute disruptions in my life (each followed with even greater denial), I came to a point where I had little choice but to take a new look at the world and my role in it. It was also during this period that I had ample time to do some serious soul-searching. A number of factors made this possible but suffice it to say that the uniquely personal set of circumstances necessary for me to look outside myself were present. I was humbled, if not downright humiliated, immobilized and incapacitated. I also had plenty of time and no choice but to wait. I was as low as I could go – lower; I didn’t want to go on. After I had endured more than I thought humanly possible, some basic truths began to become clear to me. Among the more poignant were that I am master of my fate and that there was more to life. Furthermore, I could not do it by myself yet no one could do it for me.

At first, this left me with an overwhelming sense of loss. Lost time. But was it, really? I mean, even though I had gained and lost a great many “things,” had I not still acquired them? My short-lived marriage notwithstanding, did I not still have a family? Although I could not claim to be the best father, did I not provide and care for my boys? Did I not have their love, unconditionally? Indeed, it was not in that moment of acceptance that my feeling of loss disappeared. I needed to recognize these truths, but that was not enough. It took some work… and some more time. Valuable time, more precious than I ever knew and none of it was wasted.

Although experience facilitates wisdom, it does not guarantee it. The potential wisdom gained from my experience is limited only by my perception. That wisdom, today, allows me to identify many of the signs I have missed in the past. And it allows me to apply those lessons missed in the here and now. That time I “wasted?” It was an investment. One that has been paying off like I struck gold. Nothing, absolutely nothing happened by chance. There were no accidents and way too many “coincidents” for it to be coincidental. Luck, bad or otherwise, had nothing to do with it. As the creator of my own destiny, my reality was chaos.

So how did I get from there to here (here defined as alive and very well)? That is the sixty four thousand dollar question. For me, I guess it took getting myself into such a pickle that I had to let go of my pride and set my ego aside. They had done me a disservice. I had become self-centered, self-seeking and selfish. It was high time to make some changes, for I was rapidly becoming everything that I loathed about people and, to some degree, humanity in general. I guess I had come to a point where I could no longer effectively deceive myself. I could not reconcile my intentions with my actions. My defense mechanism – denial – had completely failed me. I was left raw, vulnerable and lost.

Like many others (perhaps all others), I had always wondered whether there was “something else” out there. Whether it is some kind of spiritual power, cosmic force, God – something. I still don’t know for sure. No one can. Many, if not most, however, do believe there is. This is called faith. Faith is extremely powerful in it’s own right. Although science cannot prove (or disprove) the existence of some extra-dimensional power or being, it has documented how the belief can change everything. One needs only to look to the not-so-distant past to see how faith has dictated the course of history – for better and worse. The effects of faith are well documented in psychology, politics, diplomacy, war and peace, even science - everywhere. Our money is based on faith. Think about it. In all aspects of society, the moral matrix of human history has been influenced in no small way by faith.

Sincerity seems to be the key. I know how to deceive myself. I could proclaim a faith in say, karma (for example), and want to believe it. In fact, I could believe that I believed. But it turned out to be a convenient excuse to rebel when things did not go my way. It also provided a dandy justification to exact whatever justice I saw fit when “karma,” (or some other cosmic “equalizer”) by my assessment, fell short. And it was never my fault. Acceptance was not part of my vocabulary. Life was unfair.

Perhaps faith is a form of self-hypnosis. I will grant that my faith in a “higher power” may be misguided. That is to say that, although I believe it exists, I may be wrong. I don’t believe that, for if I did it would be impossible to have faith. I do, however, concede that the mechanics of the process could indeed be just that. Being of an analytical mindset, it is easy for me to point to science and say there is no proof. I just can’t believe it. The point is that the feeling of a void in my life had no logical explanation either. Perhaps there was some psychological condition or a neurological chemical imbalance… I don’t know. I do know that until I came to believe that there is some other wholly (if not holly) good force at my disposal, I could find no peace. The belief in an external “power” has to be sincere – so allowing this concession to others does not mean I accept it for myself. It only means I don’t have to defend my faith.

Some exceedingly strange things have happened in my life. Some were easily written off as coincidence, others were just too weird. Be that as it may, I now have a perspective that allows for another explanation. I have opened my mind to other possibilities and views that combine what I know of the scientific realm with a belief that, for all science is, it cannot satisfactorily explain many of my experiences. Yet, it falls neatly into a greater reality that is founded in a hauntingly familiar but unknown force. It is a concept that I fought against for a very long time.

What my faith is based on is not only impossible to relate here, it is also not important. It is constantly evolving. Suffice it to say that I believe there is “something else” and that science will never be able to verify its existence. I guess that makes me agnostic. Lack of “hard” evidence does not, however, influence my faith or lack thereof. The path my life has taken is proof enough… for me. What I can say without a doubt is that it is this belief that has turned my life around. It has given me the insight and retrospection that allowed me to convert my experience into wisdom. It has opened my mind. My serenity is real.

The proof in my life is abundant. It is obvious in the here and now but it is also apparent in the re-assessment of my life – my past. And this only serves to bolster my belief. It allows me to feel an incredible level of peace. All the time. I used to feel anywhere from “ is this all there is?” to “ I deserve more!” Now I am always grateful. I used to be in it for what I could get, now I’m all about what I can do to help. I used to hear, now I listen. Semantics? Perhaps, but these simple philosophical about faces have made a huge difference in my life, all of it. Sincerely.

The past is just that. It is gone, done with, over. As far as I know, I cannot go back and do it again. I can, however, relive it. How I choose to do this is everything. Time is a funny thing. In some respects, I do know then what I know now. That is, I can view the past in the light of what I have gained from it, or I can sum it up as a colossal waste of time. My choice determines my past – right now. The quality of my future is also determined right now, in this moment. There is only now, once it’s past it is gone.

Today I make the most of it. I do the work necessary to stay in the moment, no matter what that moment brings. It is all there is. It is easy for me to get lost in the past. The “if only’s” and “I should have’s” are only useful as they apply to what’s coming up, in the next moment ... in how I respond. I have faith that all will be OK in the end. It always is. No matter how much I felt the world was against me, no matter how many times I felt my life was worthless, no matter how many times I just wanted it to be over, I made it through. And it was OK. Sincere belief in a higher power – a power that is at my side, one that I can tap into for guidance and strength – is the piece of the puzzle that was missing. I don’t have to feel that despair anymore.

It was not until I was able to gain the perspective, the peace, the acceptance… the faith that I was missing that I was able to put forth the effort to get to where I wanted to be. In a huge way, it is that very effort that got me there. “There” isn’t a place but a process. I could not “beam” myself there. Money wasn’t the answer either - there are no shortcuts. As hard as I tried to circumvent the journey for the destination, it was not until I embraced the journey that I found it was the destination. There is no “there.” Furthermore, I have found that I can only plan the action, never the results. It is the means – not the ends - that counts.

What about all this “insight?” Well first of all, I should say that it is hardly original. It’s all been said in a thousand different ways in a thousand different times throughout history. I am saying it again, now, because this is how I finally “got” it. It’s how I understand it today. Now I can see how it all makes some sense. Perhaps my words will help another fill in some blanks just as the writings of others have contributed to my own understanding. Ultimately, I have found that life is not only not fair; it’s not supposed to be. I can accept that and more importantly, I can work with it. I am now content with the very same world that was just recently making my life miserable.

So I should be perfect then. After all I’ve learned – all the mistakes I’ve made, my enlightenment, I should be a veritable saint. Sorry to burst that bubble, but no. True, I have attained a great deal of wisdom (at least compared to the recent past) and my intentions have always been good, but I still fall short. I am human. There are major differences between this recent “awakening,” if you will, and before. One is that my intentions now include the action of following it through. Then I try to do it to the best of my ability. And I stay positive. I don’t always succeed, but my efforts are sincere. Additionally, I am far more aware of when I fall short. Self-honesty, therefore, is far more prominent in my daily life. Perhaps most importantly, I am constantly grateful for this moment. And I believe that there is a powerful force “out there.” It is there for us all if we believe it is. This is a precious time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mrs. President?


In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I'm keeping a chart.

Hillary Clinton

On Call

It’s 4:39 a.m. I didn’t make it to bed last night. I woke up a few minutes ago to the TV on the Science Channel and every light in the house on. Before me was the Supreme Court case of Valley Forge College v. Americans United. I had made it through a couple of pages of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion before I dropped off. Riveting. It must have been a little before 11:00 p.m. last night. I’m usually up past midnight and wake up at either 6:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. depending on what day it is. Apparently, I could use more sleep.

It has been a long time since I slept on the couch. I never have to; it is only by choice or (like last night) happenstance. It used to be, for a significant period of time, that the couch was my bed. My lot in life has improved considerably since those not so distant days past. I have a bed, and I am extremely fond of it. I don’t have to share it, nor can I be kicked out of it. It’s king-sized, pillow-topped and has it’s own room – bathroom and closet attached. We get along famously.

Studying Supreme Court cases for my Constitutional law class is like reading anything else in legalese – boring. However, I was only half-facetious when I described the afore mentioned case as riveting. Constitutional law is. Really. This particular case has to do with the establishment clause of the First Amendment. It is commonly referred to as “the separation of church and state,” although the Constitution never uses that phrase.

My purpose here is not to go into the details of the case (perhaps another time) or express my opinion on what the framers intended with the establishment clause or even the First Amendment in general. (5:05 a.m. – I won’t be going back to bed, today is a 6:30 a.m. wake-up day). My purpose is to write about what I woke up thinking about – which is writing. Yes… I woke up thinking about writing.

It seems like I’m always thinking. I try to quiet my mind – to meditate on a semi-regular basis and I have been able to benefit from it. However, when I’m not sleeping or meditating, the wheels are always turning. That is not to say that I am thinking of anything particularly profound, about anything worth writing about, but those special moments do come. Quite often at the most inopportune times, like now. I’d rather be sleeping.

I don’t know if this happens to others, but when I get to thinking about something, and that thread leads somewhere, I start to get excited. I can either follow it to see where it leads, or forget about it forever. Some of my best stuff will never be translated into writing. I didn’t get it down, and even if I could remember it, it’ll never be the same as in that moment of discovery. If I can get to a keyboard (which usually means dragging my butt out of a nice, warm, pillow-topped, king-sized bed), I get to explore the world that my mind has just discovered. If I fight it, it becomes just another background insight, it fades into the subconscious and it’s pretty much gone.

It is interesting that these flashes of brilliance often come at times when I would honestly rather be doing something other than writing – usually sleeping. It is not unusual that my mind is so preoccupied with an idea that it keeps me up even when I am dead tired. Yet I fight it. I stay in bed and try to go to sleep. Once in a while I get up and write, knowing that I may be rolling into a two, three or more hour endeavor. I just never know where it may take me.

I keep a notebook and a pen in my nightstand next to my bed. I used to jot my ideas down to get them out of my head so that I can come back to them later. I’d love to be able to say that it works; that I can relax enough to go to sleep and that the next day I pick it up and play it through. I have yet to read what I wrote and even with the notebook within reach, I still fight it.

5:42 a.m. The upshot of all of this is simply this: I am basically on call 24/7. I chose a profession (or it chose me) that is not the nine to five grind. I write to a deadline, I write when news happens and I have to write when the motivation is there – even if that means waking up at 4:30 a.m. with my mind chewing on some thought that is begging to be unraveled. This is what I signed up for; this is what I do.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Confusius say...

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.


Confucius

551 BC - 479 BC

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wordsmiths


I can’t do impressions. Nor can I speak in an Australian, Indian, Spanish or any other foreign accent. Where some seem to have a natural talent for changing the inflection in their speech, I find it near impossible. Perhaps a great deal of practice may render an impression or accent passable. I do not believe that I have the natural ability to render, to imitate or to acquiesce. The same goes for drawing, painting, music and a host of other “arts.” I am seemingly incapable of adopting a set “style.” I can’t do it “just like this,” or that.

I read a wide variety of non-fiction. On occasion I’ll read fiction – sometimes under the pretense of non-fiction, but fiction all the same. I prefer, however, reality. I am a reality reader. It is not surprising, therefore, that I write about reality – exclusively. Whether it is opinion, journalism, experience, observation or (forgive me) memoir, it is always and at once about one thing: The truth.

I have been writing on and off for most of my life, usually only when necessary, never really just for the sake of writing. I never much cared for creative writing because the assumption (perhaps only mine) was that it should be fiction. I never heard of creative non-fiction and although I accept the genre today, it still feels a little like an oxymoron. I write from experience; I write what feels right; I write the way I talk and the way I think – when I’m writing.

I don’t have a “style” of writing. Well, if I do, it’s uniquely my own. Perhaps more to the point, I can no more adopt a different style than I can draw a picture of a seascape or speak in a foreign accent. My mind doesn’t work that way, I don’t know why. Philip Larkin, as related by V. A. Naipaul in her essay “On Being a Writer” thought that form and content were indivisible. Naipaul adds:

Literature is not like music; it isn’t for the young; there are no prodigies in writing. The knowledge or experience a writer seeks to transmit is social or sentimental; it takes time, it can take much of a man’s life, to process that experience, to understand what he has been through; and it takes great care and tact, then, for the nature of the experience not to be lost. Not to be diluted by wrong forms. The other man’s forms served the other man’s thoughts.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I also couldn’t have said it the same way even if I wanted to. It says what I think, but not how I think it – or how I would write it. I was not able to express myself via the written or, for that matter, the spoken word as clearly 20 years ago. I did not have a social context in which to frame my thoughts, my words. I did not have the experience, the good, the bad or the ugly. Not surprisingly, I had little desire to write.

I write everything in the same “style.” From research papers to essays to technical manuals or personal letters and email, it’s the same flow. Every college research paper I have ever written came back with remarks such as “interesting style” or “very entertaining” and sometimes “refreshing” – and usually an “A.” One might venture that it is somewhat risky writing such works as near narratives – that I am somehow courageous or bold or… stupid taking such chances. The truth is that I have no choice – it’s how I write, it’s authentic and it’s me.

George Orwell surmises in his 1953 essay “Why I Write” that there are four great motives for writing that exist in differing degrees in every writer and will vary from time to time in any one writer. He lists first sheer egoism and explains “Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.” I don’t know that I want to be grouped with all these professions, but I get what he means.

Although I will begrudgingly concede that ego is an excellent motivator, it is, for me, a secondary force; a background urge that pushes me towards the only perfectionism I have ever known. It is not like me to be persnickety about anything – good enough usually is. But it’s not like that when it comes to my writing. I’m obsessive about getting it just right. It’s not just about correct grammar and spelling, but pulling all the words together into one cohesive unit where every word, every phrase and every comma is indispensable. I don’t always succeed, especially in my own eyes. Recognition that feeds the ego, especially in these moments of self-doubt, keeps me motivated.

Orwell continues; the other three motives are: Esthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. The first, true for me in terms of flow and continuity, is the craft of the wordsmith. The second only drives me in terms of my own history and the last is, for now, my calling. Ultimately, although perhaps not as much currently, egoism directed me to the road I now travel. If it were not for certain individuals taking an interest in what I had to say, professionals with no axe to grind and no reason to be “nice,” my ego would have sent me packing.

Joan Dideon says in her essay (the title of which she freely admits she stole from George Orwell), “Why I Write:”

All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. … Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.


Again, although I would not have said it this way, this is also my truth. We have walked the same path. It seemed as if everything I was, I wasn’t. It left me disconnected, discontented and disillusioned. Is this all there is?? There was a tempest spinning out of control in my head and the way to quell it was to write. At first writing alone was not enough. Although it did provide a measure of relief, the big payoff came from recognition.

At the moment, this very moment with these very words, my primary reason for writing is clarification. It seems to me that if I write enough, I’ll get it. I’ll get life. Having said that, the motivation that is my ego has not gone away. First, it won’t let me rest until this is proofed, tweaked and polished. Then… I post it for the world to see. Can I change the world, give it greater and deeper understanding to all who read my prose? That would be nice, but I’d settle if you just liked it!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ancient Wisdom


It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

Epicurus
341 - 271 BC

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SOTU


I didn’t see all of the State of the Union address last night. I saw the beginning, a few moments here and there, and the very end. It wasn’t because I couldn’t stand it, it wasn’t because it was oh so very predictable (it was), but rather because I was very tired and ended up falling asleep. Yes, it was that riveting. It did, however, give me an opportunity to do something entirely different – read it.

I saw enough to get the feeling for the atmosphere, the pomp and the enthusiasm that accompanies such an event. I will say that based on what I saw and media response that there should be little surprise about the quality of the delivery or the writing. It was polished, practiced and nailed. But although it earned high marks in form, it offered little of substance. So, lets get right down to it:

In the very first paragraph, the president acknowledges the passing of Coretta Scott King. By happy coincidence, she died earlier in the day and the president’s speechwriters quickly and skillfully wrote her passing into the address. “So what’s wrong with that?” one may ask. Nothing… unless, it is used to avoid a touchy subject that has been forced to the forefront, one that surfaced with the rising floodwaters of Katrina. Skipping, for now, the near first half of the speech, let’s talk about Katrina. The president did, way out at the end of the speech, in two measly paragraphs.

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency -- and stays at it until they're back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity. (Applause.)


No mention of the racial inequity, no mention of the bumbling of FEMA and others and no regard to the reality that those hurt the worst were largely not white. Those left to fend for themselves were ignored perhaps not because of their color, but it is also true that vast majority of those left behind were of color. Although it is true that much of the formerly legal, overt discrimination has been eliminated, I think that if Mrs. King were there she would be the first to tell us that institutionalized, covert racism is alive and well. It is ironic that I have spent more words on Katrina (never mind racism) right here than the president did in his entire 5,000 plus word address.

Almost half of the address was spent on the “war on terrorism” and the establishing of democracy in Iraq. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I saw what amounts to the resurgence of a pejorative label that has not been used since the days before WWII. He used it throughout his speech not only in regards to the Middle East, but towards those opposing free trade, immigration, the war and of course, the spreading of democracy/freedom. Opposition in any to all of these areas will garner one the label isolationist.

I won’t spend much energy talking about the Middle East save this: We are at war. Regardless of the information or lack thereof, regardless of any maliciousness or just shear stupidity, and even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were purposely duped for the personal gain of a few, I feel it would not be a good idea to bale on Iraq now. In his defense, the president did allot one sentence to the mistakes made in Iraq. “Along the way, we have benefitted (sic) from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties.” Well, sort of.

He defended domestic wiretapping by invoking the ever-popular 9/11 defense. He called for making the patriot act permanent. He called for making the tax cut permanent. “Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending.” said the president. He plans to ”reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.” He was not specific.

He went on through a laundry list of “keeping America competitive” proposals that may indeed produce results, if ever enacted. Like his Social Security reform plan, these proposals will not succeed if they have no basis in logic, do not have the support of congress and smack of the corruptive influence of special interests that is embedded in Washington. Bush on the recent scandals? “A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust. (Applause.) Honorable people in both parties are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington -- I support your efforts. Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility -- and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray. (Applause.)” That’s it. You didn’t really expect anymore, did you?

He finishes with the litany of “a hopeful America” statements. These are the social ideals he would like to be associated with. Proposals for programs like “No Child Left Behind” get inserted here. It is where you’ll find the two Katrina paragraphs. It is full of notable progress in fighting disease such as HIV/AIDS and that ethical standards in medicine should ban “ human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.” Human-animal hybrids??

In conclusion, he indirectly compared himself and our issues to the likes of Lincoln and the Civil War, to Dr. Martin Luther King and the battle for equality and to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and WWII. I think he may be a bit premature. The State of the Union has been better, it’s been worse. The president’s numbers will likely go up not because of any change in this state, but because of the effective rallying cry from our leader. It’s part of his job – the one part that he’s pretty good at.

The Good Old Days...

Republicans have been accused of abandoning the poor. It's the other way around. They never vote for us.

Dan Quayle



Tomorrow's post...

Commentary on the SOTU address.

~Mike