Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

Here we are again, at the end of yet another year. A time for reflection about all the events that happened during this rotation around the sun. What I will remember most about this year in the world of entertainment is that it is without a doubt THE WORST YEAR FOR MOVIES in my lifetime. All year, I kept waiting for a slew of movies that I wanted to see, like in years past, when I have more films on my "to see list" than I have time or money to see. This year, the number of movies I wanted to see was manageable, though many months went by before a movie was released that I actually wanted to see. At least some of them, I was able to see for free: Extraordinary Measures, the Green Zone, the Karate Kid, and Dinner for Schmucks. In fact, Dinner for Schmucks is far and away the worst movie I saw all year, which is a shame because Paul Rudd is such a likable actor.

Because a lot of the movies I saw this year weren't memorable, I have no clue who I would select for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, so those categories don't appear on this year's list. Without further delay, here are the books, phrases, TV shows, music and movies that made my BEST list...


Best Book

The Politician by Andrew Young

No other book riveted me as much as this insight into the nightmarish job of working for a politician who kept making demands of his loyal political aide that went far beyond the realm of professionalism. I recently found a used copy of Game Change, about the 2008 election, at the main library and bought it. As I skimmed through it, I came across a passage where someone on the Edwards campaign had said of aide Andrew Young: "If John asked Andrew to wipe his ass, he would say, 'What kind of toilet paper?'" Ouch. Anyhow, The Politician definitely cured me from ever wanting to serve as a political aide, the job I had considered among my top dream jobs (just behind "published novelist").

For 2011, I have a number of political books (and non-political) to read, due to gifts from friends and ones I picked up in used book sales recently or at a book signing: Divided We Stand (about the 2000 election), Game Change, Going Rogue (that's right, I finally found a used copy of Palin's ghostwritten novel), Decision Points (a gift from a friend of mine in Atlanta), To Kill a Mockingbird (the first book I had read in school that really interested me), The Law of Attraction, The Art of Nonconformity, Beyond the Secret, and Career Renegade.


Best Thing I Did All Year:

San Francisco vacation / hiking the Golden Gate Bridge

Nothing nourishes my soul as much as traveling does. Especially ones of a longer distance. Unlike a lot of people I know who prefer to get to their destination as soon as they can, I've long been a "journey" person. There is something spiritually deep about seeing as much scenery as possible. I love it. When I had a car, I actually preferred longer drives (over 8 hours) because I had so many cassette tapes I wanted to listen to during my journey and three 60 or 90 minute cassette tapes were usually inadequate for me!

What the trip to San Francisco did for me, besides meeting the husband and children of one of my favourite college friends, was relax me and answer a question in the back of my mind. In 2006, I had planned to move to San Francisco, but switched to Portland out of a fear of running out of money in America's most expensive city before I landed a job. Four years later, I wanted to see if I still had a dream to live in San Francisco. As much as I loved walking around the city, admiring the architecture and the steep hills, I have to say that I really felt deep within my soul that I had made the right decision in moving to Portland four years ago. There is no regret about making that switch. It was settled.

My absolute favourite thing that I did on this trip was walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I had wanted to do on my last trip to this city in 2004 but the weather was not good then. It was a long walk, but well worth it. I even got a kick out of calling my former supervisor while I was in the middle of the bridge and threatening to jump (a joke for old time's sake). My sense of humour dies hard! I was in no danger of jumping, because I was intensely happy for the first time in four years. Yep, the vacation to San Francisco was definitely the smartest decision of the year for me.

Best Celebrity Crush:

Joan from Mad Men

What can I say about Joan (played by Christina Hendricks)? She is the 21st century version of Ginger from Gilligan's Island. The way she speaks, the way she walks, her clothing styles, and her mannerisms all exude feminine seduction appeal. I had wondered if there was a real woman out there who embodies the "je ne sais quoi" quality of Joan, and lo and behold, at my work there is a young lady who kind of resembles her! Mark that down as another example on my checklist of manifesting a dream job.

Best Quote:

"I don't think about Sarah Palin" -- President Obama to Barbara Walter

Need I say more? Its advice we should all take in 2011 when Republicans candidates start announcing their exploratory committees for the 2012 campaign. The runner up quote of the year is by the frustrated airline passenger who told a TSA Agent: "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested!" It would have likely have been my favourite quote if had used another word than "junk." I'm not a guy who disparages the most important body part for a man. Mine is not "junk." If he really feels that way about his, there are surgeons standing by that will take care of that for him!

Best Song / Best Music Video:

"Greatest Day" by Take That

Even though this song was released as a single in the United Kingdom in November 2008, it was never released in the United States and thus, never charted nor played on American radio. That's a shame because the melody and message sure beats anything that has played on the radio for the past two years! I discovered this song on YouTube in August and was immediately taken in by it. When I went to visit a lady who claims to have the ability to tap into people's "akashic records", one of the things she told me was that I needed to have a new song for myself. For the past decade, I had adopted U2's "Stuck in a Moment that You Can't Get Out Of It" (mostly because it is purely brilliant in its melody, arrangement, and lyrics) as a personal anthem. No wonder why I was "stuck" in a job I hated for so long. As much as I love that song, I really needed a new song to motivate me in the morning, and I found it with "Greatest Day." I love how the song builds its melody. The intensity just grows and grows until it "explodes" with a force of positive energy vibrational blast.

Once I discovered the song, I made a point to listen to it several times a day, and when I didn't have access to YouTube, I would sing the lines in my head: "This could be the greatest day of our lives..." That line has magical qualities, because it presents an openness to possibility. If you wake up each morning and listen to the song as an invocation to the coming day, you will walk out of the house in an expectant mood, open to whatever comes into your awareness. This song is the front-runner to be played at my wedding someday (December 22, 2012 is my target date. Bride to be announced once I meet her and develop a serious relationship). In the meantime, this song is my "official song of the new decade."

Best Album / Best Album Cover Design:

Human by Johnny Clegg

Since discovering the music of South Africa's pride and joy Johnny Clegg in 1990, no other musician has touched my soul as deeply or for such a long period as him. This CD is his first North American release since 1993's Heat, Dust and Dreams. I had to find alternative means to acquire the three CDs and one remix album that were released in Europe and Africa in the years in between. One thing that has been true for me is that each year that he has released a new album (1990, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2010), it has been quite a good year for me. I await his new releases with a kind of heightened anticipation that few other musicians receive (U2, Madonna, Keb Mo, and Enya are the others), yet Clegg has never let me down. His talent is amazing and his sound is completely distinct. When he experimented on his 2002 album with the kind of electronica that Madonna, Cher, and Chris Brown are known for, it was refreshing at the time but had a short shelf life. I simply cannot get enough of his classic sound: the mixture of western rock with African tribal rhythms and his signature "hum-oh-hum" chanting.

I reviewed this album earlier on my blog. Check it out if you want to read more about what I think of it. Simply put, no other album touched my soul this year as much as Johnny Clegg's. In 2011, he will go on his first tour of North America since 2004. I can't wait. Let's see if I can manage to get backstage for the third time.

Best Television Series:

Mad Men

Although I have not seen Season 4 (I will when it is released on DVD) yet, the cliff hanger at the end of Season 3 had me considering getting cable just to watch this show. There is no other television show quite like it. Don Draper is the most charismatic character on any series at the moment and in Season 3, it was great to see his reaction when his wife Betty finally confronted him about the past that he had hid from her for so long. The scene where they have their first honest conversation with one another is just impressive beyond words. This is compelling drama at its finest. The acting is top tier, the storylines and script truly riviting.

Other shows I watch include: Entourage, Eureka, and Brothers and Sisters. I will finally watch the remake of the V series, now that season one is on DVD. I also want to see what all the hype about Glee is about. I only saw one episode on Hulu and I can understand its appeal. So many of my friends on Facebook really love this show, so I'm curious to see more. But, it would be fluff next to the high quality that is Mad Men. I'm so enthralled with Mad Men that I'm contemplating using it as the theme for my Christmas newsletter in 2011 as well as my birthday celebration theme in Las Vegas next year. And now that I have met my new office's equivalent of the Joan character, it will be quite easy for me to imagine that the company I work for is a real-life Sterling Cooper firm. At my last job, one of the things that annoyed me this year was that someone had complained about my Mad Men calendar and I had to take it down. My guess is that some obese lady at the office felt inferior when she saw a photo of the gorgeous Joan and complained to a manager. I also learned that no one at that office even heard of the show Mad Men. Doesn't surprise me. The series is far too intelligent, stylish, and high-quality for the likes of the low class people who populate that office environment.

Best Actress:

Naomi Watts, Fair Game

Australian actress Naomi Watts took on the role of real life Valerie Plame in the film adaptation of the outed CIA-operative's book by the same name. She plays a tough lady whose job is to monitor the activities of terrorists around the world. To be good in such a job, you can't be a nervous little Nellie, afraid of one's own shadow. When she tries to enlist an Iraqi woman to get information on Saddam's nuclear program from a brother who worked in the Ba'athist government, the distrustful lady asks Plame how she keeps her lies straight or how she can live with herself for telling lies all the time. Plame's response is: "By remembering the reason for the lie." I thought that was a very profound answer. Its the principle behind the idea: what would you do if you were hiding a Jewish family and Nazis came to your door asking if there were any Jews in your house? According to losing Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, she would tell the truth (which would get them all killed) because her God apparently does not tolerate any kind of lie, even ones that save lives.

Another impressive part in the film is when Plame tells her husband, Joseph Wilson, that she had always been strong and was the only student in her training class who did not have a breaking point. But the personal attacks leveled against her by the Bush Administration, essentially ruining her career (CIA agents are expected to be anonymous because once it becomes public knowledge, their effectiveness in their jobs is non-existent), pushed her to the breaking point.

Its simply great to see such a smart, tough role for a lady. I doubt that Sarah Palin would be as tough as Valerie Plame. I didn't know much about Plame before this film, but I'm a huge fan now. Watts better get an Oscar nomination for this.

Best Actor:

Sean Penn, Fair Game

In the past decade, Sean Penn is on a roll with the choices he has made. He had played a mentally handicapped man in I Am Sam, he won his first Best Actor Oscar for his chilling role in Mystic River, he directed the film version of Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild, he won his second Best Actor Oscar playing openly gay City Councilman Harvey Milk, he traveled to Iraq on the eve of war and to Haiti this year where his unflattering comments about Wyclef Jean might have killed that rap / hip hop singer's chances to become Haiti's president, and now he plays Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who decides to wage a one man war against the Bush Administration after they trashed his and his wife's reputation to change the story about their lies about Saddam's non-existent nuclear weapons program.

I had met the real Ambassador Joseph Wilson in 1997 when I did my two week Reservist Duty at Vaihingen, Germany where he was in his last week as a liaison for the military command. I also met him in May 2008 when he spoke at Portland State University on behalf of the Hillary for President campaign. I've also seen him interviewed on enough shows, so when Sean Penn channels him, he truly becomes Joseph Wilson. Its quite the contrast between Harvey Milk and Joseph Wilson. Only a truly great actor can pull off playing different real-life characters and make you forget the actor beneath (Tom Cruise doesn't really have the ability to disappear into the role. Whenever I see a Tom Cruise movie, I never forget that I'm watching Tom Cruise in a Samurai costume or Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform). Penn convinced me that he was Harvey Milk and that he was Joseph Wilson.

What I love about this role and the film is that Joseph Wilson represents the rare breed of individual. When wronged, he's not afraid of the consequences for telling the truth, no matter how difficult people in power will make things for him. This year is remarkable in that we had two pretty big "Fuck You's" to the Bush Administration: the Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame battle with the Bush Administration over the lies regarding yellow-cake uranium from Niger and the Pat Tillman documentary about a truly great American hero that the Bush Administration tried to misrepresent in death to cover up the tragedy of a friendly fire casualty. Simply put, the Bush regime "misunderestimated" Joseph Wilson and the Tillman Family. They will not sit down and shut up. Their tenacity in asking the tough questions to a lying regime is the true mark of the kind of heroes we should emulate and admire.

I don't think Sean Penn will get a nomination for this film, though. The criticism I read in a few film reviews stated that because Penn's politics are similar to Joseph Wilson's, it hardly seems like he's acting. That's hogwash, though. Penn truly does resemble Wilson in how he looked in the role and the way he speaks. However, having won two Academy Awards in the past decade, I agree that another actor deserves the honours next year.

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan, Inception

This director has an impressive track record: Memento, The Prestige, two of the best Batman films ever made, and in the year of sucky movies he released this decade's answer to The Matrix, the most thought-provoking film of the past decade: Inception. The film was incredibly complex and layered. I did not find it difficult to follow as some filmgoers did, but I guess its because I have long had the ability to think on different levels. In a word, he has created one of the most intelligent movies I've ever seen. I love movies that challenge your thinking, rather than the ones where you can actually feel your brain cells dying as you watch the dreck (which would be Dinner for Schmucks this year or any Jack Black movie).

Would this film have gotten made if Nolan hadn't raked in the dough with his mega-hit The Dark Knight? When a director's film becomes a huge, profitable success, they will find their dream pet projects greenlighted. Steven Spielberg is rumoured to have a "one for the studio, one for me" kind of arrangement (for every crowd-pleaser like Jurassic Park, he makes a Schindler's List). Director Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) should follow that kind of policy instead of making strange movies that are guaranteed to not find an audience.

With Nolan's track record, I will likely see anything he makes. I can't wait for his Shadow of the Bat, the next installment in the Batman saga. I also hope that he continues to look for great material to turn into intelligent films for audiences tired of the dumbing down of movies. As Inception proved this past summer, when a film appeals to an audience's intelligence, people will go see it in theaters and have intelligent conversations afterwards to discuss what they experienced.

No other director this year deserves the honours of Best Director than Christopher Nolan. Here's to a long career of interesting film selections. Please do not let ego destroy your talent, the way it happened for M. Night Shyamalan, whose films I will no longer pay to see. Keep making smart choices and audiences will show up, especially if we have another dismal movie year like 2010 when the audiences were hungry for a great movie experience such as Inception.

Best Motion Picture of 2010:

Hipsters

I saw this Russian film at the Portland International Film Festival earlier this year and it has maintained its hold on my psyche like no other movie in 2010. It was difficult to name one film as my absolute favourite since I also loved Fair Game and Inception. However, the reason why I place Hipsters at the top is because this movie presents a great truth about human nature. The movie is about a group of Russian teens in the 1950s Soviet Union when communism was an oppressively conformist society. In their rebellion, these teens wore colourful clothing (against the drab gray that everyone seems to prefer) and called each other by English version nicknames. Guys combed their hair in fancy pompadours that would make Elvis envious. Their fit of rebellion includes sneaking into dance halls to let loose in swing dancing and western pop music, evading the prying eyes of the Communist Youth League.

The movie is a musical, in the Russian language and won the Russian equivalent of Oscar last year for Best Picture. The movie never found a distributer in the United States, which is a shame, and even worse, its still not available on DVD. I so want this movie in my collection. The message is powerful. It was hilarious to see the Communist Youth officers accuse the hipster youth of being "capitalists" and decadent. Sound familiar? Take the most rabidly conservative American who thinks that any criticism of U.S. foreign policy is an indication that you are an unpatriotic "commie." As one who has been called "commie" by many conservatives all my life, I can relate well to these Soviet "hipsters" who were also ostrasized from the conservatives in their society. That's the nature of humanity. Most people are sheep and conform to the standard propaganda of their culture. Those who fall outside of the culture are accused of being "the other", which happens to be the main rival. Thus Bohemians like me get called a "commie" and hipsters like them get called a "capitalist." The truth is that people like me and people like them are beyond nationalistic categories. In fact, we would find a common solidarity in each other. We would all be hipsters, ostrasized from our respective closed-minded and conformist societies.

I so love this film (and the songs in Russian) that it has the potential to be on my Top 25 Favourite films of all time (I haven't made an actual list beyond the Top Ten). The message is so accurate and true and the film absolutely nails it with the ending, where the people on the streets of Moscow timelapse from the conformist gray of the 1950s to the multi-cultural diversity of Russia today. The Hipsters of the 1950s faced a lot of scrutiny and personal risk, but their nonviolent cultural revolution blazed the trail for the independent and free Russia that today's youth probably take for granted. As a generationalist, I feel a strong kinship for anyone my age who grew up in the drab conformity and confinement of communist Eastern Europe, because that political system collapsed around the time we came of age. I often wonder what it would have been like if I had been born in that society (without changing the year I was born). Hipsters gives me a glimpse of who I might've been.

I really hope that this movie will be released on DVD (so far, its only available under a different region code, making it inoperable on an American DVD player, and its only available in Russian without English subtitles). This is about as perfect as a movie can get and thus deserves to be recognized as the best movie that I saw in 2010.

Hope 2011 will have a great selection of movies, albums, songs, and books. This is also the year that I would love to finally land a literary agent and have my novel find a publisher for a nice sum of money. I'd love to see my Navy novel not only on bookstore display tables, but also a film version playing at a theater near you and good enough to be nominated for Oscar. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blessed Birthday


Its amazing to reflect that a year ago on my birthday, I had gone to the New Renaissance Bookstore for the special end of year drumming circle. It was an interesting experience and one of those unique experiences I like trying out every year. I also had a motive in trying out this form of catharsis, as I really was depressed about not meeting my goal of landing a new job in 2009. I did not want to spend another birthday at that place and I hated that management would never let me have the day off. They don't allow vacations by any staff member in the month of December, though they have allowed employees who have a birthday in the other months to have their birthdays off. I believed that this inability to make exceptions for those who have December birthdays is truly one of the worst aspects of working at that place. While I'm usually not one to expect my birthday off, in recent years, it got to the point where I simply did not want to be in that negative energy office on the most sacred day of the year for me. Yeah, I admit it. I do consider December 30th to be the best day of the year. Everyone should view their birthdays as a sacred day and treat it accordingly!

At that little drumming circle, I must have pounded out all my stress and frustrations about my job and life really good, because I got exactly what I wanted in 2010. That was a powerful ritual! However, I don't know if that was entirely the reason why this year turned out the way I had hoped for years 2007 through 2009. I did a number of little things to signal my intention to the universe that I needed a job change more than anything else this year. I certainly did not want to face yet another birthday at that place.

Today, I did work at my new job. I was happy to, because I have a lot of work to fix due to the incompetence or indifference of my predecessor (whose name was Nick Diaz. I knew someone by that name in high school). At work, it also happened to be one lady's last day (she worked there for four years and is moving on to a new job in downtown Portland). That means that they had a light lunch for everyone. The payroll lady outed my birthday by telling me (in front of everyone), "I don't want you to think that we're doing this every year on your birthday!" I told her that I wasn't expecting anything. I just had the fortunate luck to start work in December, when people brought in Christmas treats practically every day. Also, I've noticed every year for a few years now that "the universe conspires to give me a gift" on my birthday. This year, it happened to be a free lunch at work.

On my way to work, I was thinking about a little ritual I had decided to try at midnight on New Year's a year ago. I had written on pieces of paper EVERYTHING I wanted out of my life, then I burned them (in a tin can that once held popcorn sold by my former place of employment). The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING I had burned on those slips of paper is completely out of my life!!! I have nothing to desire out of my life this year. Now, I want things in my life (namely a relationship with a spiritually-minded lady who has been searching for a guy like me for years and a literary agent to get my Navy novel into a nice bidding war between two publishing houses). So, what's the opposite of a burning ritual? A planting ritual? I find it slightly humourous that I now live in a townhouse with a patio and a barbecue grill in which to burn slips of paper safely, yet I have nothing that I want out of my life. Last year's ritual turned out to be a major success!

The other new things I tried last New Year's was giving my year a theme ("New Year, New Decade, New Experiences, New Career") and that turned out to be a success! The vision boards have not come to fruition...yet. I'm still keeping them and will make one for 2011. I'm also giving myself a new theme as well as a theme song. I'll reveal those on New Year's Day.

After work, I went to New Renaissance Bookstore (just like last year) but this time, I wanted to buy a Sacred Journeys journal, which I had used in 2009. I didn't buy one last year and ended up regretting it. This is the ultimate journal / time planner. I will be more diligent about keeping up with it this year. There are pages for writing goals on the various aspects of life (such as relationships, career, finances, travel, personal). Pages to write down goals and opportunities, as well as gratitude lists. Its just an awesome journal to use over the year. I think I'm moving away from the complete blank books where I can write as much as I can for pages on end. I just don't have enough time for that kind of journaling and I have a lot of writing goals for 2011.

What I learned most this year is that making little changes and keeping at them does indeed have a cumulative effect that can alter one's year. I don't know why I found success in 2010 and not in 2007, 2008, or 2009. But, I'm glad that something changed for me this year. I'm especially grateful that I can finally close the chapter on the longest job search of my life (it officially began in mid-January 2007) and shift my intense energy focus on new endeavours (primarly a love relationship with a woman I hope will lead to marriage by December 2012). I will be using the principles I learned from reading the Law of Attraction series of books by Jerry and Esther Hicks. After what I experienced in the past four years, I am completely convinced that life boils down to a matter of energy. It was hard to find a job that matches close to what my experience and interests are when I was energetically drained by working 40 hours a week in that negative energy environment. When I look back on my life at what I was able to "manifest" for myself, I always got what my soul wanted and needed when I was feeling great (buoyant, happy, radiant, ecstatic). That was never going to happen so long as there were several employees who likely had jealousy issues and wanted me to be as miserable as they are. So, I take all that occurred as a gift. I needed a period of unemployment to return my energy level back to the natural state (happy and enthused about life) before I would be able to attract an opportunity into my experience.

As I was getting ready to leave work, my supervisor came by my cubicle and apologized for being distracted by a mini-crisis that she needed to take care of. Then, what she said next completely floored me. She said, "I wanted to let you know that I am not a micromanager. I hate micromanaging people." I don't know what prompted that revelation, but after she said it, I swear that I heard bells ringing in my head. As I learned from watching many DVDs of the Law of Attraction series, all experience is to help us understand contrast. If we don't like our experience, we need to focus on what we DO want. Thus, I learned from my last job that I hated sharing an office space with miserable people and I hated being micromanaged by a control freak, especially when the control freak had a major family crisis every single month in the three years that I worked for her. Now, I have my own cubicle, which I plan to fill with positive energy vibrations that will make everyone walking by take notice and maybe even comment on it. I also noticed that people who have their own office tend to like staying in them for much of the day. This means that my supervisor isn't going to hover over my cubicle all the time, bossing me around. So far, I've been able to direct my own work for the past two weeks once I understood the basic part of the job. She gives me a couple hours of training every day, as well.

For those who may not know about what music means to me, the best analogy I can think of is this: there are many people in Portland who smoke marijuana (without a medical license authorizing the legal use of such chemical) because they want to feel exactly the way I feel when I hear a great piece of music (a great song, an irresistible melody, a brilliant album). Ever since childhood, I have had the strange ability to "lose myself" in a song and just feel the intensity of it. I think a part of the reason why I've never taken any illegal drugs is because I knew that music could always take me to "that place of bliss" that everyone seems to want to get to through the use of drugs. Nothing else makes me feel completely "blissed out" or "in the zone" or "ecstatically high" like music does. That is why this job has been a pleasant surprise for me. In fact, if the government agencies I had applied to call for an interview, I'm going to decline and say that I have found a job that I'm content with for now. I really want to focus on other things, now that I can put an end to the job search. It is my hope that working every day doing my independent research without the supervisor breathing down my back, while listening to the incredibly diverse music distributed by the company, that I will be able to maintain and even build my positive energy vibration to the point where I can attract the other major items on my list: love and a literary agent.

The picture above is of me as a baby (not sure how old I was...a couple months, perhaps?). I'm one year from forty and I'm excited about the possibility of making 2011 the best year of my life.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Have Faith

On one of my Facebook friends' wall, the fellow church member (whom I defriended because of his violation of a core value of friendship) has been arguing with folks about "faith." He sees it as a bad thing and claims to only live life by "reason." If an idea lacks proof, he will reject it. He seems to think this makes him smarter than those who don't live by that very strict standard, but I think its only a reflection of what I already know about him: he has major obsessive-compulsive control issues. In the four years that I've known him and have had numerous dialogues with, he consistently comes across as egotistical and narcissistic. In fact, as I reflect upon all the people I've met in my life, this guy would be the most narcissistic person I've ever met. He claims to be all about freedom, and that taxes and the government it funds is a "violation" of his freedom. In my worldview, countries without a system of taxes are places that no one would want to live in by choice. I view taxes as "the price we pay to live in civilized society." He sees it as EVIL and a violation of his "human rights."

Whatever.

In the debates regarding faith, I find that a life without faith is not a very good one. What is faith, though? According to one dictionary definition, its a "belief in something without proof." To reject any idea or belief in which you cannot scientifically prove is "true" is the equivalent of self-mutilation and why would anyone want to do that? I know from personal experience that often times, we are "tested" and in our test we have a chance to expand beyond our comfort zone. For those who are bold, taking a "leap of faith" is often the step required in order to transcend our reality. We can't get to the next step in our personal / evolutionary development without taking that "leap of faith." To take away faith, then, is to live a life of safety, without risk, and therefore, ultimately boring and unsatisfying.

I've thought about why a person would reject faith in favour of a life strictly adhering to scientific proof / evidence. It could be that with all the competing ideas out there, his choice is "self-protection" from being deceived or conned. I've known a lot of people who have rejected religion because of this cynical need to protect oneself from being conned or deceived by those who "have faith." There are bad religions out there, of course (my brother has fell into such a group). But to reject all because of the bad ones is a poor excuse and intellectually lazy.

As I tried to explain to this guy, faith is Christopher Columbus deciding to sail west to find a new passage to India when the prevailing view of his day was that there was a point on the planet where his ship would fall off the edge of the world because they believed the world was flat like a table. Columbus had NO PROOF that the world was round, yet he made that voyage and several more, proving the naysayers wrong. That's what faith is! I also told this guy another example of faith. The founder of Facebook created a social networking website that he had no forehand knowledge or evidence that he would be successful. If he was like this church member atheist and waited until he had "evidence" or "proof" that his idea would guarantee success, he would've never gotten started on his idea and likely someone else would have created a similar concept and become Time's Person of 2010. Creating Facebook was a leap of faith.

In the final example I used to explain faith, imagine a young African American politician who was only elected to national office a few years earlier having the audacity to make a run for the presidency. That took an incredible leap of faith! If Barack Obama was like this church member atheist, he would've waited until he had "evidence" that a presidential campaign would be successful and we would all be living in President Hillary Rodham Clinton's America. It took an incredible leap of faith for a guy whose middle name happens to be the same as a brutal dictator's last name, and whose last name happens to rhyme with the first name of the most notorious terrorist in history. My point is that faith can move mountains and what is life without taking those kinds of risks? Living by a strict adherence to facts and evidence and proof is no way to live life.

I speak from personal experience. As a young man, in fact, at age 17, I suffered my first crisis of faith and declared myself an "atheist", having been inspired by my favourite teacher in high school who was the first atheist I had ever met. I went through my "atheist period" until I had the strangest coincidence of my life in the spring of 1993 (I had written about this before on my blog, so I won't repeat myself again. It was the incident of crossing paths with a former classmate from Logan Fontanelle Junior High School at the the U.S. Naval hospital in Naples, Italy eight years later). In fact, I had a number of interesting coincidences between 1991 and 1994, to the point where I could no longer deny the fact that we live in a spiritually-operated universe rather than a strict scientific materialism universe. I have to go by my personal experience, even when I can offer no proof that would satisfy scientists and skeptics. Then again, I don't have to prove to anyone but myself that my experiences are real.

When I described the strange phenomenon of how my current job matches everything I had requested of God / The Universe over the past four years, I was stunned when a former church member questioned if God was even real. Whether God is an anthropomorphic being or a creative energy field does not really matter in my opinion (I prefer the anthropomorphic being model, myself), but ever since my series of coincidences as a young man, I have never doubted that we live in a spiritually-directed universe (rather than an atheistic materialist universe). Since January 2007, I have experienced the ups and downs of the most intense and longest duration "dark night of the soul" periods of my life. In fact, my "faith" in God collapsed completely in December last year. I've had to completely rebuild my faith in God this year, but by year's end, I'm experiencing the high of finally achieving the goal I had set for myself at the start of 2007: to land a job in an organization where I can see career potential and where my experiences / interests / skills / work ethic is a perfect fit for the organization and job. Bingo! Mission accomplished.

I have no doubt whatsoever that I "manifested" this new job out of my desires of what an ideal job looks like for me. It fits me in a way no other job I've had before has ever been able to do. My supervisor has said a few things to me about the job that confirm for me that this is the right one for me at this time. I totally accept that I may outgrow this job in a couple years. Right now, though, I walked into a mess because my predecessors were sloppy and lazy, and it has cost songwriters/song publishers tens of thousands of dollars in royalty payments. Once the mess is cleaned up (I actually love cleaning up someone else's administrative messes because it allows me to learn much faster on the job when I can see what mistakes were made, where they were made, and why), I will set up a smoother-run system and if another job opportunity presents itself in the next year or two (either within the company or elsewhere), I want to leave behind an easy-to-comprehend system that anyone can pick up on day one and run with it.

I also consider this job a "good karma" job that fulfills the Buddhist Eightfold Path principle of "Right Livelihood." Based on my work ethic and highly competent, stickler for detail personality, songwriters / song publishers are going to get their royalty checks on time and for the correct amount. As an aspiring published novelist, I completely understand the importance of royalty checks!

Another aspect of this job that I really love is that I have my own cubicle. I don't have to share a personal workspace with another person for once. Now, I can fill my cubicle space with nothing but good energy vibrations that my soul emits through the course of the workday. I don't have to worry about a negative-minded person with control issues affecting my workspace with their toxic energy. If my last job taught me anything at all, its that one needs to be in a positive energy environment in order to manifest one's deepest desires into reality. That's why I could never attract a new job while I was working in that negative energy environment. So much of my day was spent protecting myself from the energy drains of the negative people I worked around. It took about two months for me to be rid of the negative energy of my last job. The reason why I know this is because October was the first month in over four years when I felt consistently happy each day for an entire month. Other boosts to my personal energy vibration was the Amtrak vacation and visiting a good college friend as well as enjoying the process of unemployment (or as I call it "FUNemployment"). By the end of two months, I no longer had nightmares about my prior place of employment. I felt "completely clear" (I didn't need a Scientologist to declare me "thetan-free" / "clear"). And with that, this company and I were finally able to find each other.

If I lived by a strict standard of reason, evidence, and proof, then I would naturally have been pessimistic about the job search. The facts, as I learned in various articles and job search workshops, are: December is the least likeliest month to find a job, the unemployment rate is still around 10% in Oregon, many companies prefer to hire those who are currently employed, you need to be pro-active in your job search, landing a job through Craigslist is virtually impossible, keeping your Facebook account on private settings will have employers wondering what you are hiding, and sending a Thank You card after your interview increases your chances of getting hired. All those are commonly held "facts" about the job search. And EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM did not apply in my case regarding the job offer I accepted. To me, it is just one more set of circumstances that prove to me that facts / evidence don't fit with my personal experience. There was something else going on with this job opportunity that broke out of the box of conventional thinking. I love that every "rule" regarding a successful search for a job did not apply in my case. I will remember this forever, especially when naysayers claim that I have little chance of having my novels published. I believe that I will be a published novelist in the next decade. So naysayers can just keep their badly informed opinions to themselves, because I have faith and confidence in my writing talents and personal desires.

These are the reasons why I am a firm believer in the importance of faith. Faith involves risk. Even in my darkest moments of despair, when I prayed to a God I thought was ignoring my cries for help, I always had faith that the end to my nightmare would eventually arrive. Granted, I wish it had happened much sooner, but we aren't the controllers of timing. I have faith that everything happens according to its own schedule and the best I can do while being patient is to engage in soul work, which I've done for the past four years. Though I hated the place I worked at for the past four years and have little respect for the managers who run that place with their incompetence, immorality, and deceit, I can attest that I have been through hell and survived. I am a better person for having gone through the fires of hell and despair. Now I am ready for the next set of challenges.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All Glocks Down

The person who owns the townhome that I rent a bedroom in had informed me on Monday evening that the couple who was planning to move into the house this coming weekend actually will not be now, after giving them the house key once they paid the deposit. He had received the background check on the guy and it was not good. In July and August 2009, he had three convictions for armed robbery. Yikes! I was stunned. So was the homeowner. The guy didn't look like a violent criminal. He was quiet and let his girlfriend do most of the talking. Both are in school to be a medical technician, which they are supposed to finish early next year.

I'm very grateful for the background check. You just never know about people!!! The funny thing is that I was worried about the lady. She was a yakker and indicated that she had no life other than pampering her chihuahua. To me, that was a HUGE red flag. I would not date a woman who claims to have no interest other than her dog. As I told friends of mine, "I'd never allow a dog to rule my life. Especially not a chihuahua!" Dogs are pack animals and are supposed to view you as the Alpha Male and FOLLOW YOU. If you pamper the dog, it'll end up thinking its a human and start acting like a spoiled little bitch. Someday, when I have a dog, my dog is going to know that I am its Lord and Master. I will not be ruled by an animal.

The homeowner suspected that the lady might be a "drama queen." She had requested to move into the house in early December due to "issues with her current landlord." She didn't say what those issues were. The last thing I wanted was a "drama queen", if she was one. The thing the homeowner does not know, however, is if the lady knew that her boyfriend has a police record. If he kept it from her, she's in for a rude awakening! So, its back to the search for a third roommate. Hopefully, the homeowner won't select a couple this time. I think three people living in this space is plenty enough.

In other news, my brother came over to the place for Christmas. Strangely enough, he did not even ask about Christine. I was shocked. I kind of expected him to ask and it would not have been a big deal this year. Last year, the wounds were too fresh. This year, I'm completely healed.

The unfortunate thing about my brother is that he seems to have a new "craze" every time I see him. Now, his big thing is training for a Triathlon. Someone must have put it into his head. He always has a tendency to overcompensate for his handicap. Its not enough to train for a 5K or a 10K, or to be a cycling enthusiast, but now he wants to compete in the Hawaiian Ironman competition! The ultimate in athleticism. Since I've known my brother all my life, I know why he wants to do this. He has always tried very hard to prove to others (and to himself) that he does not have a physical handicap, so he seeks out the most extreme feats of athleticism even though he is slower than everyone else. It is sad to witness this mind with a strong will, inable to accept the limits of a handicapped body. My wish for him is to focus on what he is good at (artwork) and forget about the neverending desire to prove to others that his body is "normal." If he spent most of his free time on his artwork, he could make a good side career displaying them in independent coffee houses or art galleries in Portland and maybe get his name out there.

He told me that what he likes about training for the Triathlon is that it helps him "manage his time" better, which I thought was a joke. He was supposed to be at my place at 2 p.m. on Christmas day but did not show until 4:30 p.m. He is always late for everything and I've learned long ago never to rely on him for anything. He's not dependable at all. He didn't even show up for our sister's high school graduation and my parents worried that he wouldn't come home for the wedding. One does not need to train for a Triathlon to manage time. Just buy a day keeper and a watch and strive to keep to a schedule.

Perhaps the most alarming thing I learned about my brother, though, is the real reason why he lost his nice apartment earlier this year. He claims that he had a stalker who hung around his apartment complex and put a gun to his head and demanded his money. When I asked how much money he lost to this guy, he hesitated before saying, "several thousand." SEVERAL THOUSAND?!? With my brother's stories, I never know what to believe, because they are so bizarre. He has such a strange cast of characters in his life and its never a surprise that he always wants to befriend my friends (like best friends Nathan and Nicholas, as well as Christine). I'm very cautious about who I let into my life. My brother, unfortunately lacks two qualities that I possess. He's needy and dependent upon others. This makes him vulnerable to any con artist and thief who comes along. My brother is incredibly naive and trusting. He seems to have no "Spidey sense" warning him of dangerous situations. Even more alarming, the evangelical church he attends told him that God will not protect him from bad things unless he pays the church tithings!!!

I told him that God does not care about money at all. Churches that guilt-trip members into paying tithings by promising blessings or wealth in return should be a warning sign to him. I told him that when we were baptized into the church our family belongs to, we had a confirmation prayer a week later and I remember a little bit about the confirmation prayer. It was a prayer of protection. I've been in enough scary situations throughout my life where I do feel as though I have been protected more than others in similar situations might be. I'm a believer in covenants and God continues to hold me to the "covenant" I had made as an 8 year old to live a life of non-violence. I will not touch a gun under any circumstances (thus why it is funny for my friends to hear me joke about "going postal"...because everyone who knows me knows that I'm the least likely guy to ever go postal).

Its hard to make sense of my brother's story. My guess is that he does what he always does. In his neediness and low standards for friendships, he allows himself to be taken into the "friendship" of some disreputable character with ulterior motives. Once the "friendship" was established, the "friend" hit my brother up for money. My brother has always been too casual about his financial business. He'll tell person after person how much he makes, when he gets paid, how much he'll get back from taxes, and what he plans to buy. A few years ago, he expressed shock when I told him that the subject of money never comes up among my circle of friends. He did not understand this and thought it was a sign of "shame" on my part. I told him that the reason why money does not come up in conversation with my friends is because we value each other to the point where money is not relevant to our friendship. I know my three closest friends all make more money than I do and I am happy for them in their success, but that's not why I'm friends with them.

When I was in the Navy, I remember being annoyed by the certain (low) class of sailors where money was the focal point of conversations. Guys would pester me about borrowing money and I never fell into that trap. I'd give a lecture: "Its not my fault that you spent all your money getting drunk on payday! At least you don't have to worry about being homeless or starving to death in the Navy!" Other people's financial problems are not my burden to carry.

I know that it pains our mother that my brother is such a sucker for every con artist known to man. If someone has a get rich quick scheme, my brother will give his entire paycheck over just to get into the scheme. He doesn't realize that he's being a sucker and its painful. It frustrates me that my brother seems incapable of learning from his mistakes. He keeps falling for the same con artists all the time. Perhaps that's part of his defective mind, the inability to learn from one's mistakes. However, it has done some good, because I've always been the kind of person who prefers to learn from other people's mistakes so I don't have to make them. I've learned a lot about human nature watching how people treat my brother. I wish he had genuine friends like I do. The ones in his life all seem to want something from him: money or his church membership (which also includes money for tithing).

So, this guy who took him for thousands of dollars is supposedly in jail with a "stalking order" against him in case he ever approaches my brother again. When I hear stories of my brother's life, I keep thinking how incredibly blessed I am. It sucks that he had to be born brain-damaged. I've often wished for his sake (as well as mine) that he would've been born normal and if I envy my best friends for anything, its the fact that they have normal brothers who they can have intelligent conversations with. I have to settle for listening to horror stories of how people treat my brother, or childish jokes (that a 5th grader would tell people), or obvious questions (for example, seeing a framed photo of our parents on our wall, he'll ask, "Is that our parents?").

I have to settle for the knowledge that some day, in the spiritual realm, I will finally meet the soul who chose to be born in a handicapped body / mind and be amazed at what an incredible soul he is to live a lifetime in such circumstances. I'll probably learn that I wasn't such a great brother to him, but its hard when I don't know what to do. It pains me to see him allow himself to be taken advantaged of by huckster after huckster, all because he's so needy for a genuine friend who wants nothing from him but enjoying their time together. I'm also wracked by guilt that I have such an incredibly blessed life compared to him. All I can say is, reincarnation better be true for his sake, so he can have a future lifetime where he is incredibly blessed and able to accomplish more things in life.

On New Year's Eve, we're supposed to go see Tron in 3-D, though back in January, he was a no-show to Avatar in 3-D. We'll see if he bothers to show up. I'll be ticked if he doesn't and I already bought tickets, because I'd rather see something else. I'm only going to see Tron because this is the kind of film my brother likes and I heard that it was made for 3-D (I even heard that its much better than Avatar was in 3-D, which I have a hard time believing).

One more thing...at work earlier today, my supervisor told me that they have a hard time filling the position that I'm working in now. I was stunned. Really?!? I seem to have the right traits, interest, and aptitude for the job. Its actually perfect for a person like me (who loves correcting mistakes and making sure all the small details match). The thought that came to mind when the supervisor told me was, "Why couldn't we have discovered each other four years earlier?" We would've saved each other a lot of grief! The mess I inherited wouldn't have been allowed to happen (the predecessors got sloppy with their paperwork / computerwork) and I would not have experienced the most miserable working environment of my life. Oh well, at least we found each other before it was too late for the both of us. Here's to fixing all the problems and helping the company grow in more and more success. Yes, I definitely can see career potential here...though my free times will be spent writing all the novel ideas I want to see become reality in the next decade, with a hope that I can switch to a full time career as a published (and best selling) novelist. At least I'm energized by my work and the music I get to listen to at work.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Music Video Monday: Best and Worst of 2010



Here we are on the Last Monday of 2010. For my Music Video Monday feature, I have decided to honour both the Best and the Worst music video I have seen this year. First, for the best, it naturally goes to "Greatest Day" by Take That. Though the song was released as a single in the United Kingdom in November 2008, it was never released in the United States. I'm sure if I had heard the song in 2008, it would have been my favourite that year because of the election of Barack Obama as president being the greatest day of that year.

This year, I decided to watch some Take That videos on YouTube and discovered this song and was immediately struck by the powerful lyrics / message, as well as being impressed by the simplicity of the video: the four bandmates are on top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles awaiting the sunset, when the magic comes alive in the air. The video has such a golden glow to it and it was great to see the group of guys all grown up (we're about the same age and I feel like I "know" them since I became a fan of their music during my younger days in La Maddalena, when their songs were played in bars all across the Mediterranean resort towns).

"Greatest Day" has special resonance to me as well, because I would sing that song in my head each morning as I went to work in August and September. I was so determined that I would find a job that would get me out of that negative environment that I used this song as my invocation to yet another stressful day dealing with a control-freak. Here we are at year's end, and I've had many "greatest days". I decided to adopt it as my anthem of the new decade, to get rid of my anthem of the previous decade (U2's "Stuck in a Moment That You Can't Get Out of It").

Enjoy!



For the worst video, I have to go with Katy Perry's "California Gurls." I love the song, as it has that addictive allure that makes it a popular summer hit. It was inescapable this year. However, the video was a bit much. When I watch that video, I keep thinking of it as a "Diabetic wonderland"! Her candyland dream world is too much visual stimuli and induces the equivalent of a "sugar shock" to your eyes. Even worse is her Fembot rip-off near the end when she sprays the army of Gummi Bears with her breast-guns. Cheesy! Those Gummi Bears are the best thing about the video!

Speaking of rip-offs, a close runner up for worst music video of the year is Lady Gaga's "Alejandro." She channels Madonna with her homoerotic, sado-maschistic insult to religion and the military. Plus, Lady Gaga is butt ugly in the video. The song is pretty good, though. This song deserves the Worst Video of the Year distinction, but I have to go with Katy Perry's diabetic wonderland for the dishonours.

That song is so catchy, though, that it has inspired quite a few spoofs. My favourite is "Provo, Utah Girls" by the Garrens Comedy Troupe. For those who don't know Mormon humour, I can attest that this song parody really got the dating culture of BYU down. When I was there, I was shocked by how boy crazy the Mormon girls were. They were the aggressors. For an All-American, clean cut Mormon male who served a mission, he basically had his pick of women. For those like me (racially mixed and non-Mormon), I was S.O.L. (lol!). Oh well. I appreciate the humour. Particularly the line: "She'd marry a tree so long as it served a mission!" Yep. That was the most important experience that a Mormon male had to possess to be considered marriage material. Mormons are brainwashed into thinking that following the same life script is vital in order to be a worthy member of the church and the society as a whole. Doesn't matter if a guy went into the military or served in the Peace Corps instead. A Mormon Mission experience was vital to the conformist culture of this church. One of the reasons why I love the church I grew up in: no one tells you how to live your life. You're accepted no matter what you decide for yourself.

So, if you want a glimpse of the crazy Mormon culture of BYU, please check out the video! I hope you can see the humour in it and appreciate what I endured during my college experience.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Magic of Michael is Back

A week ago, I decided to take a chance on the first of seven planned post-humous Michael Jackson albums. If he was still alive, I likely would not have bought it because I had a buying ban on Michael Jackson products since 1995 due to the devastating allegations that he molested a boy at his ranch. I didn't want to fund his lifestyle or give him a cent of my money. I would only buy used copies of his music. After his untimely demise last year, I lifted the buying ban. Of course now, his creditors, record company, and children will profit from the sales. Apparently, a lot of music fans had the same idea. Michael Jackson was the biggest selling music artist in 2009.

The first and subsequent listens of the new Michael album have been stunningly amazing! The thought that keeps coming to mind is: "Why didn't he release this album in 2008?" It might have well resurrected his career, negating the need for the crazy 50 concert dates at London's O2 Arena in 2009 through 2010. This CD has the freshest rhythms, thanks in part to collaborations with Akon, 50 Cent, and Lenny Kravitz, which is like the way Madonna colloborated with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and Kanye West on her 2008 album Hard Candy (which also had fresh beats). This album is Michael Jackson's equivalent of Hard Candy: a bid to make a musical icon relevant in today's urban, hip music market. And it succeeds in every way imagineable! His last release was Invincible in 2001, which I had borrowed from a co-worker to listen to and was not impressed. At that point, it seemed like his career was over. He was stuck in a 1980s time-warp, like he could not break free of his Bad days. Well, Michael is the comeback fans had been hoping for. Too bad Michael isn't around to enjoy what might have been one of the best comebacks in the history of popular music.

The lead song is also the lead single: "Hold My Hand" with Akon. When I first heard it, I thought it was merely okay. Better than last year's single "This Is It" but nothing to get excited about. However, it has grown on me and gives me chills when I listen to it. The official music video is a nice tribute to the King of Pop.

"Hollywood Tonight" is the second track on the CD and it has an urban beat. The song is about a 15 year old girl who hopes a Greyhound to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star. It opens with an Enigma-like chanting monk sound before getting into a fresh rhythm. This song has great energy.

"Keeping Your Head Up" is an inspirational ballad along the lines of "Man in the Mirror" with a great message to go along with the melody. This song would be perfect for every job seeker needing a boost as they start their day. If the lyrics and melody doesn't fill you with inspiration and confidence, nothing will!

"(I Like) The Way You Love Me" has an old-fashioned doo-wop feel to it and sounds like it was a song that did not make the final cut on 1982's Thriller album. Doesn't matter, because its here now and its another feel good love song as only Michael Jackson can sing it.

"Monster" is my favourite song on an album without a single "throwaway." In fact, if Michael Jackson was still alive to put his input on this album, I think he probably would have called this release Monster. Some might think its a "sequel" to "Thriller", but its actually about the paparazzi (or as I like to call them: papanazis). This song has the bounciest beats of any song I've ever heard Michael Jackson sing. I could listen to this one over and over (and I actually have!). Try sitting still while this song plays on a stereo with great speakers. What can I say, other than THIS SONG GOT BOUNCE!!! If you notice Michael's pattern for naming his albums, after 1979's Off the Wall, he picked one name titles, with each also having a song by the same name: Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, HIStory, and Invincible. So, since this is the only one word song on the album and it has the coolest beat, and plays off of "Thriller", I have little doubt that Michael wanted his next album to have this as the title song.

"Best of Joy" is a beautiful ballad and also the saddest because of its chorus, which Michael says, "I am forever, we are forever" (saddest because it reminds the listener that Michael is no longer in our realm but in the transcendant, "forever realm"). The message and melody also makes this one a perfect wedding song.

"Breaking News" is yet another Michael Jackson's response to the critical media who he feels tried to ruin his career. He refers to himself by name and unlike previous rants about his critics, this one actually has an alluring melody. I love the line "Why is it strange that I would fall in love?" and the way he sings that line.

"(I Can't Make It) Another Day" features Lenny Kravitz, which you can recognize by the Kravitz sound. Its probably my least favourite song on the album. I'm all about the sound over the lyrics, and while Kravitz does have a few songs I like, there's a lot I don't like.

"Behind the Mask" starts with a beautiful saxophone, which is always a good thing in my opinion (its my favourite instrument). Then the song moves into an interesting melody and sound that just emits a positive energy vibration. This is probably my second favourite song on the album, after "Monster."

"Much Too Soon" closes the album. If Michael Jackson was still alive to put his input into the album, I'm certain that he would have at least six more songs on the album, as he seems to like offering more than 14 tracks on an album. However, part of what makes an album a great listening experience is when all the songs are strong and could all become hit singles played on the radio. By limiting it to ten, the Jackson Estate has created a perfect album. However, they also get to slowly milk out his recorded songs over more albums if they simply go with ten songs per album (for a planned seven to be released one per year). This closing song is yet another beautiful ballad. The lyrics are interesting: "I hope to make a change now for the better. Never letting fate control my soul." Yes, he should have made a change before it was too late.

So, if you're not impressed by most of the music out there, you need to go out and get this album. This is Michael Jackson at his very best. The comeback album we've waited a long time to hear. Its definitely better than Bad and perhaps as good, if not better, than Dangerous, and certainly better than anything else since then. It'll be interesting to see if the next albums will be as good, or if they only took the ten best songs Jackson left behind and put them all on this one to create the strongest album that they possibly could. Mission accomplished. I expect that this one will receive a heavy rotation in my CD player all year long.

With money my parents gave me for Christmas, I actually decided to buy the rather pricey 25th anniversary edition of Thriller, with the cool, special effects cover design (as seen above) and remakes of some of his hits with current popular artists, such as Fergie, Akon, will.i.am, and Kanye West. I have been wanting this one for a few years now, but because of my buying ban on Michael Jackson products before he died, I never could find a used copy. I did find a used copy of Invincible, though, so I bought that just to give it another listen after nearly a decade when I dismissed it as a "widget" (one fan had used that term on the news in describing his disappointment in the album).

If that weren't enough, Blockbusters was selling copies of the This Is It concert rehearsal DVD for only $9.99, so I had to buy a copy as well. I guess you could say that this year is my Michael Jackson Christmas! I can't help it though, because I did not listen to his music after 1995, so his death inspired a revisit of his music and I had forgotten how good it makes one feel when listening to it. The guy is a genius, the likes of which we will never see again in our lifetime. Now, if they will only release the 1988 film Moonwalker, then we can finally complete our Michael Jackson collection.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!



Just wanted to wish my blog readers a Merry Christmas! For your amusement, check out the spoiled little brat who throws a temper tantrum because he got a book for Christmas. Granted, most children want toys and although I don't remember many of my childhood Christmases, I probably did not hide my disappointment to receive clothes for Christmas.

The video makes me wonder if George W. Bush behaved this way as a tyke. We know that he's not a big reader and he told Oprah in 2000 that his favourite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Gore's favourite was the French novel The Red and Black by Stendhal). As governor and president, he required all briefs to be a page long and we know that he liked short meetings and did not ask many questions to understand the issue (the way Clinton, Obama, or even his father were known to do). Watch...this kid is going to grow up to be a Republican politician in about thirty or forty years.

Hope your day is happy and bright, filled with love, hope, and peace. Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Woman's Version of a Mid Life Crisis


A couple weekends ago, I finally watched Eat, Pray, Love. I had wanted to see this movie in theaters, but I consider it a date movie and I was in a self-imposed dating ban for this year (partly to heal from the sadness I feel about losing Christine to another guy and partly because I wanted to focus all my energies on finding a new place to work). I know that some guys consider this a "chick flick" or worse (such as one friend who calls this movie "gay"), but under my definition, a "chick flick" tends to be highly saturated in sentimentality (such as any film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel or The Notebook), a female dominated cast (Sex and the City, Steel Magnolias), period costume dramas (Little Women, Howard's End), or romantic fantasy (the Twilight series). A "date movie" is a movie I'd love to see with a lady, usually what I would consider a happy medium between the kind of films that predominately appeal to women and the kinds that generally appeal to men. Also, a "date movie" is one that I consider a conversation-starter for afterwards.

I know a lot of guys who classify all films that do not have gratuitous violence, action sequences, or steamy sex as "chick flicks", which I think is unfair. But its also "narrow-minded" because there exists a happy medium. Eat, Pray, Love is such a film. What's not to like? It stars Julia Roberts in a role that she excels at, the setting takes you around the world, and it even has a good dose of spirituality...or about as much as a mainstream, major Hollywood studio would allow. I admit that I'm at a loss to understand why one of my friends thinks this movie is "gay." A "gay movie" in my definition would be along the lines of The Birdcage, Brokeback Mountain, and To Wong Foo. I guess for a misogynist, seeing a movie with a female main character and how she flees from relationships is not interesting, because misogynists only view women as sexual playthings rather than equal to men and offering interesting ideas and experiences to learn from.

This movie interested me for the same reasons that the films Under the Tuscan Sun and My Life in Ruins appealled to me. These three films could start a sub-genre: women in mid-life crises. Compared to men in mid-life crises, I think women do mid-life crises better. With men in middle age, the standard cliche is that he trades in his wife for a younger model (someone young enough to be his daughter), buys a sports car convertible, and basically acts like a teenager again. Its all impulsive without any kind of introspection. The emerging trend for women in mid-life crises is that they run off to a foreign country to "find themselves" through the challenges of adapting to a different culture and finding new friends through the language barriers. Why is this a better way of handling mid-life than the male version? Because with men in mid-life, its completely selfish. Tossing aside a longstanding relationship with the woman who bore your children so you can act like a hormonal teenager with a hot, young woman again is pathetic (think John Edwards). The female version is about moving out of one's comfort zone and learning how to adapt to a new culture and meeting new people. The male version is self-destructive, with a lot of bad karma thrown in (any time one's actions harm other people, that is a negative karmic imprint on one's soul). The female version is expansive, evolutionary, and building trans-cultural relationships.
In this movie version of a popular book club selection, Julia Roberts plays a middle aged lady who feels like she is married to a stranger. She just doesn't "feel it" anymore, though truth be told, she probably should have done the running off to live in a few foreign countries for a year as a younger person. A lot of the criticisms for this movie was aimed at the character Elizabeth because she was so selfish to walk away from a marriage in which her husband did not want to grant a divorce. Some of this decision centered on Elizabeth's soul-level desire to travel (she had a dream career as a travel writer for a magazine) instead of having a baby. With friends around her having children, she never felt such a desire for herself. This is interesting, because the women I seem to naturally gravitate towards in terms of attraction have all indicated that they do not want children, which is a shame because I definitely want a couple children myself. I can't imagine not having a few. Children are the ultimate test of how you are as a human being and they force you to be consistent and live what you say. If I dated a lady and she expressed a hesitation or disinterest in having children, that would be a major strike against her for my future interest. A lot of people might have doubts or disagreements on issues, yet get married thinking that the other person will change and come around to their viewpoint. I wouldn't be willing to risk such a chance on a core issue.

Thus, I understand the predicament. Elizabeth thought she might want to have children by the time she hit her 30s, but the desire never came. Instead, she felt a passion each time her magazine sent her on assignments around the world. Her husband was just shit out of luck. She wanted a divorce at all costs, including giving up her rights to everything and accepting 100% of the blame. She wanted her freedom badly enough. The weird thing, though, is that while merely separated from her husband, she jumped into another relationship with a man. Doing so could only put doubts about her credibility in the minds of lawyers and judges. But as she says in the film, she had been in one relationship after another since the age of 15, without a break. I know a lot of females like this. They never seem to be single for long because there are always guys waiting in the wings for when the relationship doesn't work out. Its annoying. I want to meet a lady who is available when I'm available, who is not afraid of being alone for a year or more while she works on her self-improvement goals. Hopping from one relationship after another is not a good thing. I knew this much when I tried dating soon after I had "the talk" with Christine that made me realize that nothing was going to change her love and desire to be with her European boyfriend. The next lady I went out on a date with, all I could think about was how she was not Christine, and that was unfair to her. Now that I'm over Christine, I am ready to date again (I'm hoping it will be the lady I met at the discussion group who just returned to Portland after living in Senegal for a year or two).

Once Elizabeth gets her freedom, she decides to spend four months in Italy learning all about their sensual way of living (the "eat" portion). The scenes in Italy and the food were absolutely wonderful. It made me miss Italy, which is where I really learned how to enjoy living life to the fullest (I was the rare enlisted sailor who never complained about living in remote La Maddalena. I shared the same sensibilities as the chief petty officers and officers that it was the Navy's best kept secret in terms of duty stations). After that, Elizabeth goes to India to spend four months on a Hindu ashram learning all about devotion. I loved that the film showed exactly how meditation works in the beginning (we're constantly bombarded with thoughts and have to learn how to quiet our minds so we can hear the still, small voice that guides us where our souls want us to be). I also loved the references to Ganesh, the Hindu god that is symbolized by the elephant and represents "the remover of all things." The scene in which a painted elephant greets Elizabeth was highly symbolic, though I think most American filmgoers probably did not catch it. After that occurred, Elizabeth was ready for the final phase of her journey, Indonesia, where she eventually finds balance between life's pleasures and one's devotion.

When people complain that the main character is so self-indulgent, I just have to say, "Duh!" I mean she does travel to three countries that start with the letter "I" to find herself! That may just be coincidence, but there are no real coincidences. There is meaning and a rhyme to life.
I've known about the book since January 2008, when a friend of mine told me that she was reading it. I thought about reading it, but always decided against it because the last thing I wanted to read was a book by a neurotic woman and her self-indulgence. I could wait for the movie, and I did. While I generally prefer to read the book first, then watch the movie (in part to see how well the movie lives up to my inner picture as I had read the book. So far, only two films managed to live up to my inner image as I read the books: Cold Mountain and Memoirs of a Geisha).

This movie, however, left me wanting more (which is generally a good thing). I wanted to learn more about her spiritual ideas and experiences that the movie only hinted at. Thus, I bought a used copy of the book and am reading it now. At first, I was annoyed by her writing because she tells the reader what she plans on telling throughout the book, as well as saying what she's not going to tell (namely, why she married her husband and what were the reasons that lead to her desire to get a divorce). Her writing style is not my favourite, I must say. But, its still nice to read more in depth that a two hour movie cannot really show.

One thing that really struck out from the book was her perfect description of being infatuated with someone. I think this is the reason why I have some trouble with the whole "dating game", because I'm far more cautious and don't trust initial attractions. For me, I have to get to know a person over time and when I do, the love definitely grows (or doesn't) as I see more aspects of the other person (for example, the more I hung out with Christine, the more I grew to love her. She showed all the qualities that I have been looking for in a wife. Yes, I was attracted to her from the first moment we met, but I developed a friendship with her first).

I believe too many people in search of love fall into the same traps as Elizabeth. They don't know what true love is (which is the feeling you have for the other person when they are puking their guts out into the toilet, or when they are sick in bed and need you to take care of them). Infatuation gives you a hint because it starts in "I", meaning that its all ego-based. Here's what Elizabeth wrote about her infatuation with David, the guy she immediately hooked up with after separating (but not yet divorced) from her husband:
"The fact is, I had become addicted to David (in my defense, he had fostered this, being something of a 'man-fatale'), and now that his attention was wavering, I was suffering the easily foreseeable consequences. Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared to admit that you wanted--an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore--despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time. Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you. He looks at you like you're someone he's never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. This irony is, you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You're a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.

So that's it. You have now reached infatuation's final destination--the complete and merciless devaluation of self."

Am I the only human who prefers to approach love from a logical perspective? The idea of losing myself in another person is scary. There is nothing wrong with love and devotion, for a person with a strong loyalty gene like myself is geared / wired towards a healthy, long-term relationship / marriage. What is wrong with two emotionally healthy adults being devoted to one another, feeling the passion for one another, but not getting addicted to having the other person's attention 100% of the time? I know some people who can't seem to function when they aren't around their significant other. For me, I have a lot of personal projects, books to read, groups I like to participate in. Of course, I'll have to sacrifice a few of these to make time for a relationship, but if my lady love had a business trip somewhere for a week, I would not be at a loss on what to do with myself, because I have plenty of things to keep me occupied in creative ways. I guess I just don't get people's infatuated obsessions with other people. No wonder why so many end up divorced. They burned too hot, too fast that the fire goes out...and I'd rather burn slow and long because marriage is a marathon of decades, not a sprint of several months or a couple of years.

It'll be interesting to read this book and see what other spiritual insights she offers. I hope it will be a deep and satisfying book. And who knows? Maybe a nice, young lady will see me reading it on the bus and be struck by a guy who's not afraid to read a "chick lit" book in public, and thus strike up a conversation with me. That would be an awesome way to meet my wife!
After I read this book, I think I will have to read the male version (a satire): Drink, Play, Fuck. That ought to be interesting (and likely vulgar). At least the title is accurate in describing the typical male code of behaviour when it comes to dealing with mid-life existential angst. In the "battle of the sexes", though, I'm going to have to side with the females on this one and say that running off to a foreign country for a year is preferable to trading in one's spouse for a younger model and buying a sports car convertible. There's no soul growth in that old cliche, and as John Edwards can tell anyone, such indulgence only ruined everything he once valued in life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Christmas 1990 Newsletter

As promised, the following represents a Christmas newsletter my 18 year old self might have written if I had sent out Christmas newsletters that year. I have been sending out Christmas cards since I learned how to write letters (early 1980s), but I only started keeping a list of the cards that I mailed and received each year in 1987. I still have a list of every year since then in my Christmas cards binder (this binder includes the annual list of people, a copy of every newsletter, and a copy of every card from a boxed set--not ones I bought individually).

I had an aversion to writing an annual newsletter because my parents kind of said that they were "brag sheets", as they have gotten newsletters every year from people and some seem to present their families as "perfect." I only wrote one in 1999 as a time saving gesture since I was in the middle of college papers and studying for finals during my last semester at BYU. Before that year, I hand wrote updates on card after card to friends. My list of receipients have ranged from 30 on the low end to 80 on the high end (in 2000). I try to stay within 50 people each year. My policy is that I add a few each year and drop those I had not heard from sometime in the course of the past two years. In fact, if I won the lottery and the press asked me a question about how I would respond to people claiming to be my long lost cousin, my response would be: "If I have not received a letter, personal email, Christmas or birthday card, or gift from you in the past two years, don't bother contacting me now. I am generous and I know exactly who I intend to share my good fortune with."

My Christmas newsletter has evolved over the years. In 2001, I added a song lyric that has become a regular part of the newsletter. In 2005, I added a name (The Carillon Scholar). In some, I've had black and white photos on the paper (I love the coloured photos in newsletters that other people send to me. I'm so "low tech", though). For a couple years now, I thought of writing Christmas newsletters for the years I missed, particularly the years 1990 through 1998. They make a great summary of my year and its fun to read back over them every year as I prepare to write the next edition. So, without further delay, here is how my 18 year old self might have written one for Christmas 1990. Though I only added a title and song lyric to later editions, I will keep that tradition for the following one. Enjoy!

The Carillon Scholar

Christmas 1990

"The West is sleeping in a fragile freedom,
Forgotten is the price that was paid
Ten thousand years of marching through a veil of tears
To break a few links in these chains.

These things come to us by way of much pain
Don't let us slip back into the dark
On a visible but distant shore, a new image of man
The shape of his own future, now in his own hands..."

Johnny Clegg and Savuka, "One (Hu)Man, One Vote"

Hello and Merry Christmas! I have decided to mark my entry into adulthood by indulging in the much beloved tradition of the annual Christmas newsletter.

This year has been the most eventful of my life so far, mostly because I graduated high school on June 6th. After an impatient spring, in which I experienced all the symptoms of "Senioritis", I was happy to wear the green graduation cap and gown of Clarkston High School and receive my diploma without tripping on the stage in front of everyone. To maintain my individualistic nonconformity, I wore my black Converse hightops with the Batman symbol imprinted all over them. I hadn't planned on wearing them until a classmate begged me not to embarrass the class by wearing them. Thanks for the awesome idea! All throughout my Senior year, classmates called me "Batman" because of those shoes. The class song was "Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)" by Quincy Jones (with vocals by Tevin Campbell) and our class motto was a rather lame "If we can't find the road to success, we'll build one!"

The biggest surprise was the mini-family reunion centered around my brother's and my graduation. My grandparents from Atchison KS brought along cousin Brandy and my Great Uncle Jim and Great Aunt Effie came down from Minnesota. A few church members also attended, along with my parents and sister. After the ceremony, my parents had a surprise party at the house with more gifts than at Christmas. An open house was held on Sunday, with more guests and their good wishes. I was truly surprised because my dad had said that the only gift I was getting for graduation was a copy of my church's specially made triple combination scriptures. Even more surprising, my favourite teacher Mr. Malone gave me a graduation gift: a Carpe Diem t-shirt, which meant a lot to me because if you saw Dead Poets Society last year, Malone's personality, beliefs, and teaching style is a lot like John Keating (Robin Williams' character). It was great being a student in Malone's government class this last year of high school and I will cherish that memory for as long as I live.

The day after my graduation, I woke up not knowing what to do with my life. I was burned out on more school, so college will wait. My dad was planning to charge rent in the fall. I used some of my graduation money to go to the music store and decided to take a risk on a special promotion of the album Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World by South African multi-racial band Johnny Clegg and Savuka. On first listen, I was HOOKED! I had never heard anything like this album before and I have become a serious fan! In fact, I attended their concert in October with a lady I know at work who is also a big fan of their music. We had a great time.

The other big event of my year is that about two weeks after graduating from high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy. This was a decision long time in coming, probably starting with my birth. As my dad loved to tell others throughout my life, when I was born in a U.S. Navy hospital in Taiwan, the Navy doctor tattoo'd on my rear end "Property of U.S. Navy -- Return When 18." I actually believed that joke for years. My mom said that I listened too much to my dad sometimes. They didn't actually expect me to join the Navy. That was the only branch I considered when I decided that I needed an adventure in my life before I am ready for more school. The day long ordeal at MEPS sealed the deal. After going through all the tests and experiencing "hurry up and wait", I decided that I would have wasted a perfectly good day if I walked away without signing papers and being sworn the oath.

However, I was not ready for Basic Training just yet. I wanted as much time between my enlistment and shipping off, so I made the date with destiny in May 1991. This will give me plenty of time to get in shape, physically and mentally. As part of my mental training, I have been reading books about life on aircraft carriers, letters from Vietnam era soldiers to loved ones back home, and watching the hilarious film Biloxi Blues. I want to make sure that I can handle anything the Company Commander might order me to do. I'm also hoping that the Navy will send me to Hawaii for my duty station. California is my second choice. I wouldn't mind being stationed in Washington state, either. Not sure when we will get our assignments, though. I do know that I am signed up to become a Yeoman. Whatever that is! I picked it because I liked the name. All I know is that it will be a desk job and involve processing paperwork.

The third biggest event for me this year was a family vacation to the Florida panhandle. My brother went to Spectacular in Lamoni, Iowa, which is a church-sponsored event for older teens centered around a lot of sports. I wasn't interested in a playing sports all week long when I could be in Florida with my family. It was memorable in a few ways. Our VW van broke down just north of Panama City. This required dad to rent a car while our van was getting fixed. Since our van does not have air condition and the rental car did, this turned out to be a blessing. We camped out on an Army resort near Destin, Florida. It was a relaxing vacation, with days on the beach, going to SeaWorld where I got to touch a dolphin, browsing in the various "Neon freon" souvenir shops (every store along the main strip seems to sell airbrushed neon t-shirts), and crab fishing on the pier. I became friends with another high school graduate, military brat who also enlisted in the military this past summer. While in Florida, Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait almost ended our vacation early, as my dad had to call in to work every day just in case he needed to return. Fortunately, though, he was allowed to stay on vacation, which might be the last vacation I spend with my family.

In sad news, my maternal grandmother passed away in the fall. My mother had not seen her mother since 1975, on our last family vacation to Thailand. I was hoping to someday meet the grandmother I never knew. She was known as a kind and spiritually wise woman.

This fall, I have been working at Lionel Playworld, which has proven stressful at times, especially as the holiday season approaches. However, we have a great group of regular employees, who make it fun to work there for the most part. The off duty police officers who work as security guards in the evening have taken to calling me a "Commie" for my liberal political views. I don't mind though, and I was especially excited to vote for the first time, even though it was just for local races and not the presidential one.

I hope that you all have a very Merry Christmas and may 1991 be a great year for us all (well, except for Saddam Hussein, that is). I know that I'm excited about the new adventure that awaits me in May!

"Saint" Nicholas