Monday, January 31, 2011

Music Video Monday: The Bangles



This week's music video selection is dedicated to the working class people of Egypt who are protesting against the corrupt government of Hosni Mubarak. The man has been in power since the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was considered a highly admired leader in the Middle East. Thirty years of rule have not improved the country, as unemployment remains high and the threat of fundamentalist Muslims imposing a strict theocratic government is a major concern for not only Israel and the United States, but also for any tourist who dreams of visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. It'll be interesting to watch the developments. I'm just stunned that this has occurred shortly after the uprising in Tunisia. A revolt is brewing in the Arab world. Will it spread to Syria, Jordan, and the Arabian Peninsula (where the sheikdoms and corrupt House of Saud reign supreme)?

In 1992, I experienced a dream come true when my ship, the USS Orion made a port visit to Alexandria, Egypt. The first night on liberty, I spent three hours walking around Alexandria with an Egyptian guide taking my friend and I around to get what I wanted to buy (an Islamic prayer carpet, an Arab robe, Egyptian slippers, brass statues of King Tut and other Egyptian figures, and papyrus paintings). The following day, I was scheduled to go on the tour to see the Pyramids, which I had dreamed about seeing for more than ten years, when my father was sent by the U.S. Air Force to Egypt for some military exercise.

Because of the high waves and choppy water, it was dangerous to ride the liberty boat from the pier in Alexandria to the anchored ship. There were no life jackets available for people on the liberty boat and the Navy still had nightmares about the drowning of sailors on a capsized liberty boat in Haifa, Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, so the captain made a command decision to cancel the rest of our port visit in Egypt. The decision pretty much killed morale on the ship for several weeks. It was one of the most depressing moments of my life: to come so close to the Pyramids and be filled with excitement that I would finally see these magnificent marvels of human creation...only to have it yanked away. It took a long time for me to get over that disappointment.

Later that summer, news reports focused on fundamentalists in Egypt shooting at tourists. Algeria was already under siege at that time when the secular government did not recognize the election results that would bring to power the very group of Islamic fundamentalists who would take away people's freedoms. It was not safe to be European or American in Algeria or Egypt.

Though I was in Europe for two more summers, the replacement ship, the USS SIMON LAKE, did not make a port visit to Egypt. I got to see Gibraltar (and take a day trip to Tangiers, Morocco) with that ship and missed out on the ship's port visit to Turkey and Israel (two other places I wanted to see). It all worked out, though, because my supervisors authorized me to vacation in South Africa in 1994, which was the trip of a lifetime for me.

After coming so close to see the Pyramids but having my liberty yanked away by the ship's captain (I don't blame him though, because it was a scary liberty boat ride in the choppy waters of the Mediterranean without lifevests), I never regained my childhood excitement over seeing the Pyramids. On my list of ten places I want to see most, Egypt would not make my list. There are many other places that resonate with me more, including seeing Paris for the 7th time / France for the 14th time.

At any rate, I support the people of Egypt to have a government that is more responsible to the people...so long as they don't vote in the fundamentalists who have stated that they want to destroy the Pyramids and all traces of the ancient Egyptian culture (which shows how stupid they truly are, because Egypt without its historical artifacts from the great ancient civilization would be more like Libya: a big sandbox not worth visiting). As John Lennon might say to them: Power to the People!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Manifesting Story


On Wednesday night, I finally got to meet the new housemate and have a conversation with him. I'm amazed how well this turned out...the search for a new housemate. Last November, the homeowner seemed to like the young couple that was going to be moving in (the lady who claimed to have no life other than with her chihuahua). I had mixed feelings about that and wished that they wouldn't move in (having a romantic couple living in the house seemed like it would be awkward and I had a sense that the lady might have drama queen tendencies). I was relieved when the homeowner decided to not let them move in after a background check revealed that the lady's boyfriend had a few arrests on his record involving armed robbery with a gun. Whew! I felt like we dodged a bullet there, figuratively and literally.

In the search for a roommate, I saw an ad on craigslist (those who are looking to rent a room) where the guy seeking a room seemed cool and had a chocolate labrador retriever that would be moving with him. I had forwarded this ad to the homeowner, not knowing that the guy who wrote the ad actually responded to the homeowner's ad on craigslist that a room was available for rent. It gets stranger! The new housemate is either separated from his wife or going through a divorce, and he owns a house in Beaverton (on the west side of Portland) that he is renting out to some other people. He needed a room to rent. The homeowner had gotten a divorce in the past year and decided to rent out the rooms in his townhome while he lives with his girlfriend in Beaverton. Isn't that strange? Two people who own their own homes but electing to rent them out to other people to pay their mortgages, while renting a room in someone else's place.

When I made the decision last July to not renew my lease on the downtown studio apartment and take a chance on the roommate thing for the first time in a decade, part of this decision was the idea that I might meet some interesting people with the potential for friendships to emerge out of the arrangement. Thus, compatability was important. To my dismay, the first housemate I dealt with was an anti-social food thief and alcoholic. Though he could be nice, he was very strange and hard to get a handle on. I never felt comfortable with him in the house and really hoped that he would decide to move out. In November, his decision to smoke marijuana with his pothead alternative / "goth" type of friends meant an eviction notice by the homeowner. I was ecstatic about the news. Good riddance!

For almost a month, I basically had a whole townhouse to myself and I loved it! It has been a dream of mine to live in a townhouse since 2000. For some reason, I like them and prefer them over a stand-alone home (especially if the architectural style is appealing). There were many townhomes in the Washington, D.C. area, where I first fell in love with them. The other thing I had hoped for was to live with a housemate who owned a dog: preferrably a golden retriever or a labrador retriever (my favourite breeds of dog). After I had accepted the offer to move in, I had found another ad with a guy looking for someone to rent a spare bedroom in his house and he had a golden retriever.

So now, it looks like I manifested the kind of roommate I wanted. The confirmation is that this new housemate is a Mormon from Idaho (near the Utah border), so we have the heritage bond. Though I generally get along with Mormons, I've also had some intense conflicts with Mormons (particularly at my last job with the two Mormon ladies who made my workspace a living hell). The determining factor in compatability seems to fall towards politics. Its not a shocker to anyone that the five closest friendships I've made during BYU's Washington Seminar a decade ago were all Mormons who are Democrats / liberal. So, that was another bit of info that I learned from this new housemate. He is a liberal, which means he is a free thinking Mormon (the vast majority of Mormons are Republican. I'd put that number above 85% of the membership being Republican, 10% independent, 5% Democratic). I think we'll get along just fine.

The new housemate's chocolate labrador retriever is five years old, weighs at least 100 pounds (perhaps 120?), is friendly, and is named Winston. As in Churchill. I think an English Bulldog would be worthy of such a name, but Winston it is. Now, I get the benefit of sharing a living space with my favourite breed of dog with none of the responsibilities! Perfect for me.

As I think about the whole "Law of Attraction" thing, I really am surprised how things have turned out. I've gotten exactly what I wanted for a home life. Hopefully a good friendship will grow out of this living arrangement, for when we inevitably move into new situations when the time comes. This housemate definitely seems more conversational and social than the other housemate, who mostly keeps to himself in his bedroom. No one seems to use the downstairs living area like I do. Maybe it will get some use now.

So, if I can manifest an ideal job and an ideal living situation, what's next? Well, the next two items on my list are a lady love and a literary agent and publisher for my novel. I really want to be in a relationship before this year ends. I'm damn ready for one and all of its challenges. At the last World Affairs Council discussion group I went to a week ago, there is a pretty Russian lady who has been coming fairly regularly lately. I got a chance to talk with her a bit more last time and she vaguely reminds me of Christine. I have to keep reminding myself that she is not Christine, though, and deserves to be known for who she is without my projections. What I'm looking for most of all is kindness, the quality I have learned from Christine that I find most attractive in a lady. Intelligence is the next quality on my list and I know that this Russian lady has that well covered. Hopefully, she'll keep coming to these biweekly discussion groups so that I can ask her out to see a movie at the Portland International Film Festival (she hadn't seen the excellent Russian film Hipsters, which I considered the best film I saw in 2010).

Here's to more experiences with manifesting the things I truly want in my life to appear this year. Its likely to be much easier to accomplish simply because I'm not in a negative work environment and hating my job. I'm still filled with joy that I get to work in a cool place, listening to all kinds of diverse music (I have been listening to a lot of country music CDs this week due to the way the product flows, as country music CDs are a major seller for the company). To keep up with the goal of my manifesting experiences, I'm reading a few books about the topic as well. Life is good.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The President's Speech Will Leave You...Sputnik?

On Tuesday evening, President Obama carried out his annual responsibility as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution: addressing both bodies of Congress on the State of the Union. Its a tradition that I have come to cherish, since the George Herbert Walker Bush presidency. And yes, I endured each one of George Walker Bush's infuriating State of the Union Addresses, with all his squinting and smirks to convey a sincerity behind his cynical words. Progressive websites offered drinking games or bingo cards to play along, which made Bush's annual lies to the American public "endurable."

I don't have a transcript of Obama's 2011 Address to Congress, so I can't pick out specific things that he said for commentary. I'm going purely by memory and what stands out the most was his mention that we are now in our "Sputnik moment." What does that mean exactly? Obviously, the Soviet Union's launch of the first satellite in October 1957 had spooked the American psyche to prompt President Eisenhower to emphasize math and science education in schools and for President Kennedy to dare the country to put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

With the 50th anniversary of Sputnik come and gone, why are we still spooked by it? It seems like every president since Eisenhower has emphasized science and math in our education system, but let's get real, here. In American schools, the social scene holds a huge sway on the students. Our corporate-controlled media encourages and supports shallow thinking in our citizenry, with an emphasis on pop culture stuff (a shallow person like Sarah Palin would not be famous in a country that valued intelligence and competence, where celebrity is not worshipped by the masses). Math and science carries the taint of "nerd-dom." When I was in high school in the 1980s, the math and science wizards were generally foreigners, particularly from Asian countries (a cliche that is actually true). The American students often cruelly made fun of the Vietnamese student with a calculator and a genius for solving complex equations. It should not surprise anyone that India and China does not seem to have a problem inspiring students there to pursue math and science knowledge. We are on the losing end of the curve. Is there a way for President Obama to make math and science cool and popular with our students? I doubt that. Its simply another president stating the obvious, but nothing will change.

Overall, though, I thought President Obama's address was really good. He certainly sets the table for the upcoming reelection campaign. There are many things he said which he can use on the campaign trail against Republicans if they try to repeat the mistakes of the Gingrich era of Republican malfeasance. I especially loved it when Obama said that he was willing to improve his Health Care Reform Act, but not see it repealed. It definitely needs to be improved upon.

I also liked that Obama wants to streamline government agencies and eliminate redundancies, which he illustrated by mentioning the strange absurdities regarding my favourite food item: Salmon! One department regulates salmon in freshwater while another regulates the fish in salt water. Then he cracked a joke: "I heard it gets more complicated when its smoked." Ah, smoked salmon! Is there anything more delicious than that?

The best moment of all was when Obama laid down the challenge: improving America's standing in the world of global economics and creating more jobs to employ the unemployed is more important than next year's election. American voters were not smart when they returned the Republicans to power in the House of Representatives, because by doing that, they guaranteed that partisan bickering and dithering would continue through the 2012 elections. Electing the opposition party that has a not-so-secret agenda of making Obama's presidency a failure was just stupid for anyone who cares about an economic turn-around and job growth. The smartest option was to give the Democrats two more years to make changes to improve our country. The Democratic Party has a vested interest in seeing President Obama succeed and when Obama's presidency succeeds, that means America is succeeding. Its simple logic. Never underestimate America's willingness to screw themselves over to benefit the wealthy, though! (Yes, I am an American citizen, but I am often confounded by my fellow citizens' preference for shallow thinking and celebration of ignorance while voting against their own economic self interest).

President Obama gave a laundry list of what he hopes to achieve in the next couple years, and some of it might've been too ambitious. His main focus for the next two years can be boiled down to three items: Jobs, jobs, JOBS!!! President Clinton loves to brag that his administration saw the creation of 22 million new jobs (though I wonder how many of those were "service industry / retail" jobs that paid minimum wage and no benefits). Hopefully, though, Obama means what he says when he wants to close all the tax loopholes and government subsidies of the oil industry. If a corporation is earning profits, then it should not be subsidized at all. I understand subsidizing the airline and rail industries, because they keep travel affordable for Americans, but when oil companies are posting record profits and paying CEOs millions in bonuses, its time to crack down.

The State of the Union is often seen as the President's wishlist to Congress playing Santa Claus. However, now that we have the Grinches back in control of the gavel, I doubt we are going to get much out of this Congress. I'm expecting a repeat of the Clinton / Gingrich battles of 1995-1996. We've seen hints of it already: Boehner and his cronies want to cut funding for NPR, PBS, and NEA...as if these public goods were really as big a drain on our budget as our overbloated defense spending. That's where the biggest cuts need to come from first, which means a withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm finally at the point where I am ready to see troops out of Afghanistan (officially our longest war now). It was an expensive endeavour that contributed to our financial crisis.

All in all, a good State of the Union Address. I missed seeing Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the president. However, seeing if Boehner is going to cry or adjusting my TV's colour setting so that his "tan" can actually look natural makes for a fun viewing. I also liked seeing that members of Congress had a bi-partisan date, and wearing a black and white ribbon in honour of their colleague, Congresswoman Giffords, who is still recovering in an Arizona hospital. It was funny to see a dour-looking Senator John Kerry, who sat with his good buddy Senator John McCain (who actually gave Obama a standing ovation when the president promised to veto any bill that had earmarks attached). This bi-partisan seating arrangement is a great idea and goes a long way in lessening the partisanship that has run amuck in the past couple decades. Though it made for a subdued general vibe, I think this should also become tradition instead of having the parties seated on separated sides.

Another tradition I love is the opposition party's response to the president's address. This has become a way for the party out of the White House to showcase an up-and-coming politician. A couple years ago, the much hyped Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave the response, which was widely panned and likely hurt his chances for the president (I haven't heard his named talked about as much since the response he gave in 2009). Last year, I think the governor of Virginia gave the response, but I don't remember much about it other than he spoke from the Virginia legislature. This year, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been given the honours. He is talked about as a future presidential candidate and I was impressed by his interview on The Charlie Rose Show last year. He is definitely one to watch, though his response was disappointing and based on some editorials I've read, it looks like it is also widely panned as pessimistic and dour, while repeating the old Republican standby: only tax cuts to the wealthy will save our country! Um, we actually tried that numerous times since Reagan and how many times do we have to injure ourselves economically before we learn the truth: trickle down economics DOES NOT WORK!!! There's a reason why George Herbert Walker Bush had called it "voodoo economics" when he was running for the GOP nomination for president in 1980.

Congressman Paul Ryan might be a nice guy and pretty wonky for a Republican, but he has a difficult road to the White House if he continues in Congress. It is virtually impossible for a member of the House of Representatives to become president. One of the factors against them is that they run for reelection every election cycle, so they would have to risk their future by making a presidential run (meaning that they can't run for both President and Congress at the same time). Since FDR, our presidents have either been Governors, Senators, Vice Presidents, or Generals. Too many politicians who make a career out of Congress have stuck with the safe reelection rather than risk unemployment for the hard to get "brass ring" of the presidency. Perhaps next year, Senator Scott Brown will be given his chance to offer the Republican response. He is the one I believe is being groomed to be our next Republican president (in 2016). Perhaps he will select Paul Ryan as a running mate when that chance comes.

Until then, my advice to Congressman Ryan: don't quit your day job! As I watched his response, I kept thinking two things: I would not buy a used car from this guy; and "Where were you in 2001 through 2003 when YOUR President Bush ran up our deficits and squandered the surplus he inherited?!?" Republicans have no credibility lecturing our country on the dangers of our national debt. I heard no such Republican opposition when Vice President Cheney said a decade ago, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." I guess deficits DO matter when there's a black Democrat in the WHITE House!

To add to the hilarity that is the Republican Party these days, Teabagger Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota offered her own response to the President's Address. This apparently has made some GOP officials livid, but good for her. I'm totally into the Civil War within the Republican Party and the embarrassment that is the Teabagger movement, which prides itself on ignorance, fundamentalist Christianity, and historical revisionism. Its a reactionary movement against our country's evolution towards multiculturalism.

There's talk that Bachmann is interested in running for president in 2012. God, I hope so! Her typically asinine comments are hilarious, even though I find her to be more dangerous than Sarah Palin. While Palin's dysfunction and petty, high school "mean girl" mindset ultimately hurts her public image with most Americans, Bachmann seems to be far more competent and less prone to personal drama. She's a hard core fundamentalist who would love to see America become a theocracy. Her latest display of ignorance was a speech she had made where she claimed that our Founding Fathers fought hard to end slavery!!! Really? That's news to me, as well as historians. Thomas Jefferson actually did write a condemnation of slavery into the Declaration of Independence, but it was taken out by the Continental Congress because the Southern Colonies would not sign it and they wanted all 13 colonies on board for this act of treason against King George III. The slavery issue kept getting passed from president to president until Lincoln was forced to deal with it once and for all. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as EVERYONE KNOWS, owned slaves. They didn't free some of their slaves until they died. How could a member of Congress get history wrong?

I don't believe it was a mistake, though. I think it reveals the kind of sinister historical revisionism that the rightwing operates under. The use of propaganda hardly ever reflects reality and propagandists count on the ignorance of the populace to accept their version of history, which serves an ulterior motive. The deification of our Founding Fathers is typical of conservatives, though. Friedrich Nietzsche, a political philosopher wrongly blamed for inspiring the Nazi Party's ideology, wrote quite brilliantly about the human tendency to deify our ancestors to the point where we feel so indebted and unworthy of their sacrifice that we require blood sacrifices and the scapegoating of unpopular groups to appease our ancestors for our flaws in being unable to live up to their perfection. This is a condemnation of religion as well as politics.

Perhaps Bachmann can take a moment out of her busy day blowing hot air on Capitol Hill and walking down to the Tidal Basin and step inside the Jefferson Memorial to read one of the inscriptions on the wall. If I remember correctly, one of the inscriptions was what Jefferson had written about how we would not expect a man to wear the same coat he wore as a boy, thus future Americans have the right to determine the government they want without a need to feel tied to those Americans who are no longer living. The point is that we are the government and we have the ability to decide for ourselves what we want. It is no betrayal of the Founding Fathers's vision to pass Universal Health Care for all citizens. If Bachmann is truly so committed to the original vision, she should give up her seat in Congress and refuse to vote. After all, women weren't allowed to vote or serve public office when our country was founded and for more than a century later.

I did watch Bachmann's performance for her teabagger supporters. I was wrong about her. Who said that she was just another pretty face with no substance beyond the surface? I don't find her the least bit attractive. As a liberal Democrat, I will admit that I do find Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell to be physically attractive (though not intellectually attractive), but with Bachmann, I don't get it. I think she would've made an excellent Magda Goebbels.

If Republicans want credibility on fiscal matters, they have to admit this one thing: President George W. Bush was the one whose policies put our country in the position it has found itself in for the past couple of years and that they will hold him accountable for his crimes against the American people by making him stand trial for treason. Anything short of this is insincere. After all, Republicans had no problem hanging President Jimmy Carter's failed presidency around every Democrat's neck for a dozen years. If Bush was a Democrat, his economic policies would be widely panned and discredited by Republicans for the next generation. But when conservative economic policies fail, its always because "true conservative economics have never been tried." Yeah, right. It doesn't take a genius to do the "fuzzy math" of what happens when a president gives two big tax cuts that effectively transfer money from the middle class into the wealthy class's bank accounts and launches two expensive wars on credit from Chinese bankers. Our Sputnik Moment? More like a Sputtering Moment.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spiritual Metaphors Disguised in Sci-Fi Films

This past weekend, I watched a double feature of Cocoon and Cocoon: The Return. I haven't seen either film in a long time. Its probably been about a decade since I had seen the first one and more than twenty years when I saw the sequel (which I only watched once and forgot what it was about). For those who have not seen this mid-1980s science fiction film, its about a group of senior citizens living in retirement in St. Petersburg, Florida. The male buddies sneak off to an unused private indoor swimming pool for their daily aquatic exercise. One day, they discover strange pods in the water, but don't let it deter them from their fun. What they discover is that they have renewed energy. They had discovered what Ponce de Leon had searched for all those centuries ago: the fountain of youth!

The secret is in those pods, which were fished out of the ocean and kept in the swimming pool for storage until all the pods are rescued so that the Antereans (sp?) can rendezvous with their spacecraft to return to their world, a place where no one ever grows old, gets sick, or dies. Does that sound like a place you heard about? Even more, when these people take off their human skin suit, instead of snarling lizards of another science fiction series from the same decade, they reveal beings of light with the ability to fly. Does this resonate with anyone? It should! This is why I consider Cocoon to be one of the most spiritual films ever made. Ignore the convenient science fiction disguise. Sometimes, its far easier for a story teller to get one's message across by disguising the true message in a package that the receiver will find more acceptable.

This film addresses the issue of aging and the "fear" of death / mortality that many people have, especially as they near the end of their lives. If some being of light came to you and offered you eternal life, would you take it?

After I watched both films, I posted a comment on my Facebook page about it. I did not know if it would garner a response, but I was really surprised when the older brother of my best friend used the opportunity to be obnoxious with his atheism. Its comments like the one he made that makes me very glad that his younger brother was the one I became friends with in the seventh grade. Nicholas is a perfect diplomat, as he never seems to get drawn into passionate debate, at least not from what I've ever seen. However, his older brother and I seem to have a genetic disposition for spirited debate over spiritual topics, even though we share a strong dislike of authoritarian / fundamentalist religions.

I guess the obnoxious atheist couldn't resist when I had mention that one scene from Cocoon in particular resonated deeply with me because I had an experience that was very similar to the one Steve Guttenberg's character experienced in the swimming pool. Yes, I'm talking exactly about THAT SCENE!!!

What scene is that? Kitty, the gorgeous alien lady, tells Steve that she wants to share with him a part of herself as they do with one another on Anterea. The audience thinks its an alien version of sex and it really is. But its also something more. Its a visual representation of what a true enlightenment experience feels like. When Steve is hit with the ball of light, he experiences a pleasure so intense that probably a regular human sexual orgasm does not even compare. After he is hit with the light and adjusts to its energy, he laughs and the audience can see that he is blissed out like he's high on drugs or something.

The feeling he has is what I experienced for two weeks in August 2001 when I had my "enlightenment experience." I had never had such an intense feeling of pleasure in my life before or since that date. It was so intense, that I really thought my body wasn't going to handle it. I remembered what some professors at BYU had said about how a person had to be "translated" or "transfigured" when they had direct experiences with the divine, because the human body is incapable of handling the intensity of God's love. As they had said, a direct encounter with God would kill you. I laughed it off back then when I was a student, hearing what I thought was just more Mormon propaganda. But, having had my experience in August 2001, I believe that they know what they were talking about. I won't claim that I had an "encounter" with God, but I definitely believe that I had a significant spiritual experience. This is not to convince anyone else that they need to believe me, because my experience was mine alone and meant for me. Whether you believe me or not does not matter. I only write this to explain that some of the images shown in films are truer than many people might believe.

When I had this intense spiritual experience, where I was blissed out for over two weeks (the events of 9/11 pretty much knocked me back to the real world), I understood a lot of things about my own life, about my past life, and about the universality of religious thought. In fact, when I had my experience, I understood right away that many people seek this feeling through drugs, but drugs will never bring you there. Plus, drugs have side effects, whereas my experience did not. During this experience, I did feel "at one" with the entire universe and love was the only absolute truth. That's why to this day, whenever I hear an evangelical Christian preach any kind of hatred for groups that don't share their small minded bigotry, I know that they have not had this experience that I have had. In fact, the only people who seem to talk about how to have the kind of experience I have had are the Buddhists. Nothing I experienced would shock a devout Buddhist. The other thought I had during this experience is that EVERYONE should experience this. There would be no more war if people could feel what I felt during those two weeks. You really do feel an intense love for all humanity. Yes, even for people like Dick Cheney and Adolf Hitler.

When I shared some of this on my Facebook wall, the obnoxious atheist did the usual atheist thing in trying to explain away my experience as a drug induced high or some food I ate or alcohol I drank or even some kind of rearrangement of my brain's chemistry. I wasn't surprised by that response because it was the closed-mindedness of atheists that pushed me away from my "atheist phase" as a young man. I had experienced several strange coincidences as a young man (from 1991 through 1994) that defied statistical odds. I've always been an open-minded person whose ruling philosophy is "possibility." I may or may not believe an idea, but I will usually give it a try in my mind to "see how it fits." In this manner, I have imagined what my life might look like if I were Mormon or Jehovah's Witness or Catholic or Muslim or Hindu. I love ideas and have to be exposed to new ideas on a near daily basis. Its a problem I have with relating to people who prefer to indoctrinate themselves with the same information over and over. I can't do that because I get bored. In fact, even though I enjoy my new job at the moment, if I'm still working there in three years, I will grow bored and need a new challenge. I'm glad that my mind works this way, though, because it is well suited towards a writing career and the need to create different stories / characters / situations.

Why did I experience this amazing personal spiritual enlightenment? I had just endured a year in hell, sharing a cubicle with a fundamentalist Christian woman who was one of the most willfully ignorant people I had ever met. It was a culture shock to hear her ignorant comments on a daily basis. If not for her, I probably would have stayed with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations because my supervisor liked me and wanted to give me a job with greater responsibilities that eventually came with a pay raise. The job I was hired to do, though, did not require the two of us, so I did an intense job search to not much success. I was also living at home, which was not healthy either. All of this was in the aftermath of my awesomely great Washington Seminar experience. It was difficult to go from a peak life experience to a deep valley within the space of a single year.

These stressful events forced me to reexamine my life and question everything. In my search for answers, I stumbled upon numerology as well as finally give in to the voice in my head that kept telling me since the early 1990s to "Read Jack Kerouac, read Jack Kerouac!" I guess all those factors came to a head in a perfect storm of amazing spiritual experience. I can assure you that I did no drugs, drank no alcohol, nor ate nothing out of the ordinary. I simply followed the voice of my conscience and allowed my mind to be open for any guidance. During those two weeks of ecstatic bliss, I even managed to get a new job (ironic in retrospect that it was for the organization that would end up robbing me of the past nine years of my life, bringing me to the worst misery of my life). Though I regretted leaving D.C. in July 2000, had I not had the cumulative experiences that led to the event of August 2001, I might not have gotten to experience one of the most amazing, blissful moments of my life. Would I trade that experience for choosing to stay in D.C. in July 2000? No way. Considering that I have never had nor have I since experienced such intensive spiritual euphoric bliss before this amazing two weeks in August 2001, I would not trade it for anything. Here I am, almost a decade later, still wanting to experience that again. I can achieve momentary levels of bliss through meditation, but it pales in intensity and duration. I have no doubt that being in that moment is a powerful magnet to draw good things into my life (the job offer I had received during that period did result in a few good friendships and experiences).

A friend of mine (the one I had visited in San Francisco last Halloween to Election Day) had posed a question on her Facebook wall: Would you rather have a life where everything is mundane and blah, but you never feel pain, hurt, disappointment, depression or to have a passionate life that includes moments of deep pain, hurt, disappointment, and depression. There's no question...a passionate life with all of its joys and pains is the only way to live. What my intense spiritual experience has taught me is that it is possible to attain such euphoric bliss where you feel at one with the entire universe for a sustainable period, and to feel it with such an intensity that even a sexual orgasm pales in comparison. So, no trade for me. I'll take the momentary good with all of the bad.

In the picture above, Steve Guttenberg is staring at the ball of light, seeming a tad bit worried about being hit with it. Had he known the intensity he would feel upon being hit with it, though, I don't think he would be dodging it when it flies wildly around the pool room. It is awesome that there is a scene in a Hollywood movie that gives a perfect visual example of what a spiritual enlightenment experience looks and feels like.

What the obnoxious atheist wrote on my Facebook wall is worth posting here. We had "argued" about spirituality. I was stunned to hear his standard. I understand that he does not believe in an afterlife. However, he won't even consider the possibility that there are things that happen in our world that science cannot explain. Yet, after I had written "We'll see who's laughing in the afterlife" (an admitted obnoxious statement, as well, but he egged it on), he responded with: "If you're right, though, then I get a bonus after death (unless god or whatever is wrathful, vengeful and petty). If I'm right, then you have spent your life studying a fairytale and anticipating a glorious afterlife with a conclusion that one might characterize as sad."

I was stunned that he compared my spiritual study to a "fairy tale" and that it was somehow "sad" to waste one's life in the pursuit of knowledge regarding possible life after death. Yes, for the atheist, the discovery that the soul has survived the death of the human body would be a joyous occasion. Nothing can be worse than a complete non-existence for the rest of eternity (though we would not know we did not exist anymore). Its this argument that atheists use to claim that people have created a mythology about an afterlife to conquer the fear of death and non-existence. Fine, we'll take that for argument's sake. However, if non-existence awaits our death, is it truly a waste of time to have spent years studying spiritual topics? Have my years of reading many, many spiritual books been a waste of time? Is it "sad" that I have spent my money and time on these pursuits? I don't think so. Atheists have no idea the joy that inspiration gives me. Little by little, I am becoming the person I envision for myself. These spiritual books that I read fill me with love and inspiration, offering techniques to try out in life. I can testify that somehow, it all works out. So no, what is "sad" to me is someone who would discount the coincidences, synchronicities, and serendipities of their lives. Spirituality adds a depth to life that strict materialism cannot touch.

If anything, this interesting debate between an atheist materialist and a universal spiritualist makes me appreciate that at least my best friend is not obnoxious, though we never really had an intense spiritual discussion. It might be interesting to see these two brothers have a discussion about spirituality. Yeah, I might pay money to see something like that. Then again, they might actually agree, so end of discussion.

No one should accept another person's experience as fact. The whole point of spirituality is to experience it for yourself. Reading other people's experiences is only meant to inspire people that such experiences are possible and worth having. Its a pity for those who are too closed-minded to seek out these experiences for themselves. But, I'd never trade my life experiences for that of a hardcore atheist. I like my Forrest Gump life very much, painful experiences and all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The King Will Leave You Speechless

On Friday after work, I was in the mood to go see a movie at the theater but was torn between two that I wanted to see: Sofia Coppola's look at the lonely life of a movie star living at the Chateau Marmont (Somewhere) or a film about the last King of England, who had a major speech impediment (The King's Speech). My heart was with Somewhere, but several people I respect have raved raved RAVED about The King's Speech that it actually swayed me into seeing this film. I can always watch Somewhere this coming Friday after work.

I know very little about the British Royal family. I'm not really into the monarchy (blame my deeply embedded American roots...supposedly, one of my ancestors is Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland--one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence against King George III). The only members of the Royal family that I liked were Lady Diana Spencer the Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother, but both have passed on. In 2006, the excellent film The Queen made me look at Queen Elizabeth II in a better light. Now comes a film about her father, Prince Albert, who takes the name George VI when he assumed the title and responsibility of King after his wreckless older brother Edward was forced to abdicate the throne for marrying a twice divorced American commoner.

When I heard the premise of the movie, I was baffled that someone would see filmworthy potential in such a topic (Prince Albert has a stuttering problem, which is no good for a modern day monarch in an era where world war looks inevitable). The story of his brother falling for an American divorcee seemed far more film-worthy. A part of me wonders if this film is prepping us for King William, since Prince Charles (next in line to the throne) has married the unpopular divorcee Camilla Parker Bowles, who supposedly has the title: "Princess Consort." I personally think the monarchy should be abolished after Queen Elizabeth II passes on, but the Brits love their traditions and hopefully they'll have the good sense to bypass Prince Charles and make William the King.

The King's Speech has a high calibre cast: Colin Firth as the stuttering prince, Helena Bonham Carter as his devoted and tenacious wife Elizabeth, Geoffrey Rush as the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, and Guy Pearce as the dashing elder Prince Edward (who goes by David). There is no other candidate worthy of the Best Actor Oscar this year as much as Colin Firth. He deserves this award, hands down.

What I loved about this film is that Albert and Elizabeth approach his problem as a purely mechanical issue. His mouth isn't working as it should and they seek out the best speech therapists to help him correct his problem. When a mouth full of marbles doesn't work, Elizabeth seeks out an unconventional speech therapist that someone had recommended. This is where Lionel Logue comes in. He claims that stammering / stuttering is a psychological disorder rooted somewhere in childhood. He tries to get the prince to open up about his past, but that's considered improper according to the decorum of royal / commoner relations. This poses a big problem in their working relationship. How does the speech therapist get the Prince to dig deep within his past to find out where the speech impediment originated?

Well...go see the movie if you want to find out how! That's all I'm writing about the movie. What really captivated me the most is that I'm in full agreement that many of the afflictions that we have are rooted within our psyche. Most people don't want to delve deep within to find the source of whatever phobias they have. They'd rather keep the phobia rather than do the inner work to find out why they have the fear. When we learn more of the Prince's past, it is a bit heartbreaking.

While there might be many people who dream about being royalty (all those little girls with their "princess fantasies"), this film shows just how lonely life for a royal family member truly is. They may have prestige, wealth, and the ability to attract attention whenever they want or even when they don't, but they don't have freedom. They are bound by traditions, decorum, formalities, and rules. Who in their right minds wants that?!? This movie makes me want to learn more about Queen Elizabeth II's parents, especially since her father is considered to be a great inspiration for the resistence movement during the Second World War with his powerful speeches.

Because I think Colin Firth's performance as Prince Albert / King George VI is just awesomely dynamic, I may have to amend my Best of 2010 list once again by replacing Sean Penn's portrayal as Joseph Wilson with Colin Firth. It truly is one of the most remarkable performances I've ever seen on film. If Firth does not win Best Actor this year, I think we should riot. It's that good, members of the Academy! So vote accordingly or else Sarah Palin will put you in her crosshairs!

Seriously, if you want to see a good biopic about a man with a very human problem despite his privileged background and how he tries to overcome this, this is the one to watch. I'm also hoping that the film will be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and if The Social Network is also nominated, I hope that the members of the Academy will be smarter than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which named the Facebook movie over The King's Speech as their choice for Best Dramatic Motion Picture for 2010. The King's Speech is Oscar-calibre all the way.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Music Video Monday: Portlandia



The Independent Film Channel debuted a new series, Portlandia, starring Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen. A friend of mine in San Francisco saw this video and asked me if it was true about Portland. I had seen the clip before and laughed out loud. Like all satire, the funny comes from being an exaggeration of basic truths. However, this music video doesn't really exaggerate Portland by much. This city is pretty much as Fred says. My favourite line in the song is: "Portland exists in an alternative universe, where Gore won and Bush never happened!"

Last week, The Oregonian newspaper actually featured a lengthy front page article on this show and even our invisible mayor weighed in on the show. While Portland loves any and every opportunity to be a film locale for television shows (such as Leverage) and movies (Extraordinary Measures was the last major film that featured Portland), there is a worry that this show, Portlandia, will inspire even more young people to move here without a job. The most recent unemmployment numbers came out and its still hovering around 10%. The line in the song that causes the most worry for the City Government is "Portland is where young people go to retire." There are supposedly a lot of "trust fund babies" living in Portland, but that's okay because they are unlikely competing for the few jobs that other people are applying to. If one is independently wealthy and does not need a job to sustain oneself, then Portland is a great place to live.

So, if you are one of those people thinking about moving to Portland, I beg you to reconsider. I was one of those who made the move in 2006 and to my disappointment, it is very difficult to find a good paying job here. This is a city of low wages (for many people, except those who work in city government). Had I stayed in Atlanta and looked for a better job in Atlanta, I might have saved myself a lot of financial grief. Portland has a reputation for being a difficult place to make good money. I don't know why that is. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would not have made the move. The financial burden is simply not worth it.

The city is great, though. The vibe of this place is surreal. The city's official population is around 500,000 while the metro area has 1.8 million people, if I'm not mistaken. Despite being a city, it still feels like a small town. You never know who you're going to run into when you're out and about. I love that aspect of the city. There's a community spirit. While Portland has earned a reputation for being a liberal, politically correct, activist, politically aware, vegan / vegetarian-friendly, "people's republic", there is still a large population of ignorant rednecks, who live in the outer neighbourhoods of the city limits. Since moving out to these parts, I have noticed a HUGE cultural difference between the inner neighbourhoods of Portland versus the outer ones. Remember, not every Portland resident is a Jon Stewart-watching, vegetarian, environmentalist who rides a bicycle to work everyday. This city is also known for giving America Tonya Harding, the trailer trash who managed to skate her way to the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer after her husband and his goons clubbed rival Nancy Kerrigan in her knees during a national championships. There are plenty of low class types like her in this city, like those who throw chunks of ice at pedestrians from their trucks.

Is the "Dream of the 90s" still alive in Portland? Well, the 90s were not as unique a decade as the 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s, or even 40s. Its hard to pinpoint a specific style or music sound that epitomizes the decade. It was an individualistic decade and really, there isn't much that sets the 90s apart from the 2000s. If by the 90s we mean the individualistic style that emerged and mix of musical genres (grunge, hip hop, rap, and pop), then I suppose that yes, the dream of the 90s truly is alive and well in Portland. Please, come visit. But don't stay.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Flashback Friday: Law of Attraction

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how one lady who is a member of the same church as my family and is a long time family friend, whose spiritual views have evolved similar to my own, yet she still feels the need to give me unsoliticited spiritual advice as though she knows more about spirituality than I do. It is a pet peeve of mine when people give unsolicited advice, because when I need advice, I know who to go to for certain advice. Truth be told, only my parents have the right to give unsolicited advice. I'm certainly NOT going to accept unsolicited advice from a person whose life is what I consider to be a big mess. Her life is her own and I have no idea if she is happy with it or not, but from my standpoint, I would not want that life for myself so of course her unsolicited advice is going to lack credibility and rub me the wrong way.

There are actually four people whose lives represent a kind of success I hope to find in my own in this next decade:

Nicholas -- A Lt. Colonel in the USAF whom I met in the 7th grade and has been my best friend in the years since.

Nathan -- A Chief Petty Officer in the USN, a fellow church member, and my other best friend since we met in 1994.

Matthew -- A Journalism Professor at a university in Kentucky, whom I met at BYU and became roommates with during our Washington Seminar experience in 2000.

Jenet -- A church member I met in D.C. in 2000 who lived her dream to work in Eastern Europe. She's now back in D.C. and hoping to become a Foreign Service Officer overseas. She was the one who told me not to leave D.C. a decade ago and I wonder just how differently my life might look had I listened to her advice.

All four of these friends live interesting lives, which includes foreign travel, pursuing their passions, finding the love of their lives, home ownership, and not being particularly religious. At least not in the preachy, "I know best" kind of way like some other people I know. I'm a smart boy. When in need of advice, I look towards people with credibility. Those offering unsolicited advice generally need to give themselves advice and follow it first before telling other people what to do. It may just actually work!

What is "Law of Attraction"? The way I described it to someone a few weeks ago (who majored in psychology and plans to get a master's in it so he can become a counselor / psychologist / life coach), its basically the belief that everything you have in your life is a reflection of your inner thought patterns. Or as Qui-Gon Ginn told Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, "Your focus determines your reality."

I first learned about this spiritual principle in 2006 when I was new in Portland and attended a few lectures at the New Renaissance Bookshop (a New Age bookstore). Though I was exposed to the idea for a few years prior to this, it was the first time I actually heard a name or term attached to it. Its interesting that I only came across information regarding this principle back in 2006, but it was around the time that The Secret was gaining traction. The DVD and book exploded in public consciousness when Oprah Winfrey featured it on her show and gave one of the best endorsements ever when she said something along the lines of: "I didn't even know this was such a big 'secret' because this has been my life for as long as I can remember!" With that, sales exploded and people were talking about it. It became the fad du jour.

When I finally saw the documentary, I was alarmed. Though it offered some great ideas, I found it to be far too reductionist / simplistic, and most alarming of all: materialistic to its core as well as dangerous. For example, one part that offended me was that the someone in the documentary had said that if you don't want to get fat, don't look at fat people or talk to them! That seemed like cruel advice, but how would it work if the person was gouging themselves on food night and day and not exercising? No, if you don't want to get fat, eat moderate portions of food and get regular exercise. Not looking at fat people or not talking with them doesn't guarantee anything except that you're a shallow asshole and a snob.

I learned that there were two versions of The Secret. The original one included extensive interviews with Jerry and Esther Hicks while the one most people saw did not have those two individuals because there was some kind of falling out between the Australian lady who made the video and the couple who have talked about Law of Attraction through a non-physical entity named Abraham since the 1980s. I also learned that the Australian lady who made The Secret also tried to stiff the person who filmed the documentary out of some money she owed him. It sounded like the lady was greedy and the whole thing was a scheme to line her pockets (a New Age spiritualist version of Sarah Palin!). When I learned that Jerry and Esther Hicks were edited out of the newer and more mass produced version of The Secret, I became curious and started renting their DVDs from the New Renaissance Bookshop.

All I can say is WOW!!! I really love the way Esther Hicks speaks on the topic in DVD after DVD. I have failed to find anything wrong with what she is saying. She seems very sweet, kind, authentic, and has a great sense of humour. Her explanations for the Law of Attraction have nothing to do with the shallow materialism offered by The Secret. Instead, its more about experience. The way she puts it (she supposedly channels information from the non-physical entity known as Abraham), we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We came from "Source Energy" (the spiritual realm) where everything is perfect and our whole point of life on earth is to experience contrast. There is no true evil, though evil things happen. What we experience is to determine where we go from that point on. When we experience things we don't like, we get clarity about what we want. This process is continual and ongoing. It never ends until we return to Source Energy.

So, if the lady who created The Secret was going to remove Jerry and Esther Hicks from her documentary for whatever reason (the Hicks have spoken about their involvement with the project and why they were removed, though I forget the reason), I have to say that if you want to learn more about Law of Attraction, skip The Secret and check out the DVDs or the video clips on YouTube of the Hicks (just search by "Abraham / Hicks" and you should get a whole bunch of listings on YouTube). Esther has spoken on a wide variety of topics and I have failed to find a single flaw in anything she has said (and believe me, I tend to scrutinize all new ideas I'm exposed to because I hate being conned more than anything).

Last December, the Borders bookstore was closing downtown so they had a sale on all their books and other products. I decided to help lighten their load by buying a book I had seen for a year or two but never bought: Beyond the Secret by Lisa Love. I have been reading it this month and I also recommend this book over The Secret. Apparently, Lisa Love had read The Secret and was also put off by the book. So much so that she wrote one of her own to kind of "set the record straight." In her view (which is similar to my view), The Secret promotes a materialistic, selfish way of living in the world. Its not about having things and acquiring things. Its about living in such a way that you are fulfilled at a deeper level of being. Your focus should be on attracting quality, with desires that emanate from the soul level of being, not the ego level of being. If you want a Jaguar, you have to ask yourself if you really want one because you like it or because you want to impress other people into thinking that you are rich and worth knowing. It requires a high degree of self honesty, as I know quite a few people who delude themselves into thinking that they really want a luxury sports car for themselves and not for sending messages to everyone who sees them in it.

To manifest what your heart truly desires, it does take a lot of work and self honesty. As I look back on my life, I can tell you what I have manifested for myself. It works even if you don't believe in the principle or read about it. It works because the Universe conspires to make your dreams into reality. It is true that your focus determines your reality. The following represents what I have managed to manifest into my life. First will be the date when I had the original thought and then what it is, followed by when it happened. Just to get an idea of what I have managed to attract for myself and how long it sometimes takes.

1978 -- Dreamed about living in Germany someday
1985-1988 -- Lived in Germany as a teenager

1986 -- Dreamed of being a foreign exchange student with a French family
1992 -- Met two different French families and got to stay with them for several days each, in a suburb of Paris and in Bretagne (I did this in 1992, 1994, and 1997).

Early 1980s -- Dreamed of seeing Paris
1985, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997 -- Visited Paris

1984-1985 -- Dreamed of visiting Loch Ness, Scotland
1987 -- Visited Loch Ness, Scotland (saw no monster, and I stared and stared, hoping to see Nessie!)

1985-1989 -- Wanted to work for a boss like David Addison (played by Bruce Willis on Moonlighting)
2002-2005 -- Worked for a supervisor who had a similar personality to David Addison and really was a joy to work for. I wish I had a supervisor like that still!

1986 / 1988 -- Wanted to live on an aircraft carrier
1994-1996 -- Lived and worked on an aircraft carrier

1987 -- Dreamed about visiting the main islands in the Mediterranean: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily
1991-1994 -- Stationed in Sardinia and was able to visit Corsica several times and Sicily once

1989 -- Dreamed of seeing Prague, Budapest, and Berlin
1992 -- Visited Budapest
1993 -- Visited Prague
1997 -- Visited Berlin

1990 -- Dreamed of visiting South Africa
1994 -- Visited South Africa

1990 -- Wanted to meet singer Johnny Clegg
1994, 1996, 2004 -- Met Johnny Clegg

1990 -- Hoped to get stationed in Hawaii with the Navy
1997 -- Spent the best Christmas ever in Hawaii

1990-1991 -- Dreamed about owning a Geo Metro hatchback
1994-1996 -- Owned a Geo Metro hatchback

1992-1993 -- Dreamed about working in a Gore Administration
2000 -- Interned for Vice President Gore for a semester

All My Life -- Wanted a friend who was like a real brother to me
1993 -- Wanted a true friend in the Navy who shared my values
1994 -- Met Nathan, a fellow church member who was in the Navy and we had met a decade earlier when my parents invited his parents over for dinner after church. He has been the brother I never had and always wanted and we share similar personal values

1996-1999 -- Dreamed of being a cast member of MTV's The Real World
2000 -- BYU's Washington Seminar replicated the experience I was looking for, without the intrusive cameras. My soul knew that I really wanted to live with a close knit group of people for a short time as we experienced Washington, D.C. and became friends / had conflicts / reached understanding. It was probably better than anything MTV might've given me.

1994 -- Dreamed about owning a Saturn sedan
1996-2002 -- Owned a Saturn SL1 sedan (which fit all my requirements when I was looking: sunroof, stick shift, cassette/stereo, air conditioned, under $8,000)

1995 -- Dreamed of living and working in Washington, D.C.
1998 -- Dreamed about living in a studio apartment in D.C.
2000 -- Lived in D.C. for seven months
2006-2010 -- Lived in a studio apartment in Portland OR

1999 -- Dreamed of living in Portland OR
2006 -- Moved to Portland OR

1998-1999 -- Wanted just one Mormon friend at BYU who would not make issue of my being a non-Mormon
2000 -- Roommate Matt defended me from criticisms of his fellow Mormons about my not joining their religion and in a memory book I had put together, he wrote that I was the person he admired the most because I managed to keep my faith at BYU. He was the first person I had met who did not seek to convert me at BYU and for that, he will always be one of my favourite people I've ever met in life.

1998-1999 -- Dreamed of having my own apartment, with no roommates to deal with
2001-2010 -- Lived in my own apartments (two in Atlanta, one in Portland). Loved it!

2000 -- Dreamed about living in a townhouse
2010-current -- Moved into a townhouse, though its a housemate scenario and in a neighbourhood I don't particularly care for. I'd love to find a Loft condo to live in next. That's my other dream dwelling place.

2002 -- Dreamed of being part of a Young Adult group with the church
2006-current -- Part of a Young Adult group in the Pacific Northwest that has exceeded my expectations on what a group could be.

2007-2010 -- Dreamed of a job where I had some degree of independence, no micromanager hovering around me, few phone calls, independent work, an office with gender balance / racial diversity / more people my age, a place that matched my skills and experience with the actual work that needs to be done.
2010 -- Was hired by a company offering exactly what I have been looking for, with the added bonus that I get exposed to great music I will likely never hear on the radio or elsewhere.

Those are just some of the things I can think of off the top of my head that I have been able to see come into reality in my own life. Its not a complete picture, though and there are several things that have not come true yet that I still want to see happen soon. Namely: in 1983, I had two big dreams that year: to visit Australia someday and to become a published novelist. Those are still among the biggest dreams that have yet to appear in my life.

Another big thing I'm working on this year is that I also want to attract into my life the woman I want to marry by the end of 2012. I have a vague sense of what I hope she will be, which is not good enough. I have to be specific and allow the universe to bring us together. Basically, I like a lady who is well traveled, educated / intelligent, fascinated by ideas, spiritually open minded, lean or average (not overweight/obese), interesting life experiences, mature about what love is (not the clingy aspect of needing attention all the time or drama that feeds an emotional imbalance), and has a great personal style (she can look good in anything from a sari to a traditional Chinese dress to a European style to a casual jeans and sweatshirt). Since I find a wide range of ladies to be attractive, it does not matter what race she is, though I do find racial mixtures to be very attractive (particularly the ones where you can't tell if she's African American or Hispanic or Middle Eastern or Mediterranean or Polynesian or Asian or white). I know that she exists somewhere and is looking for a guy like me. May we find each other early in this year (if we have not already met).

The above picture represents my view of "heaven." Some books recommend that when you meditate, you should have a mental image of your ideal paradise so that you can go there and be transported into your soul much quicker. The scene above represents the ideal I hope to inhabit someday in the spiritual realm. I love the idea of the over the water bungalows in a coral reef on a tropical island, with my own pod of dolphins swimming around the cove. I'm free of mosquitos and other insects, as I lay on a hammock and ponder the life I had just lived on earth and the successes and failures that I managed to experience.

Here's to greater success with the Law of Attraction this year. Remember...don't tell other people how to live their lives. Focus on what YOU want to attract into your life and trust that others are doing the same with theirs. Only the person knows deep in his or her core what their dream life looks like. We cannot be experts in someone else's life and if we focus on someone else's life too much, we are neglecting our own.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Anniversary Day

Today is a big anniversary day. January 20th. Inauguration Day in certain years. This year marks the second anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration. The tenth anniversary of George W. Bush's Supreme Court mandated installment in office. The thirtieth anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration. And most importantly of all, the FIFTIETH anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration, who will be remembered for three things: his brilliant handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, his tragic assassination in Dallas, and his beautiful and inspiring inauguration speech. I have a copy on parchment paper and framed. This inaugural address is among the top three best ever (Lincoln's second inaugural address and one of FDR's are the other two). The document still inspires idealists to this day. Someday when people in the future compare the two party dynasties, one might say that while Kennedy inspired people to serve, dream big, and have an idealistic view of the world, Bush only inspired cynicism, distrust, and opposition worldwide. Which person would you rather be when facing God for judgment at the end of your life on earth?

If that weren't enough, Sargent Shriver passed away this week. He is the father of Maria Shriver (and father-in-law to Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger). His wife Eunice was one of John F. Kennedy's sisters and founded the Special Olympics. Shriver was asked by President Kennedy to be the first director of the Peace Corps, another Kennedy legacy. In 1972, Shriver was asked to replace Thomas Eagleton as the Vice Presidential candidate to George McGovern after the press revealled that Eagleton had undergone shock treatment for some psychological disorder. Shriver picked an interesting time to return to the spiritual realm. I guess he wanted to congratulate JFK on the 50th anniversary as well as to reunite with his wife Eunice, who had died shortly before her brother Ted passed away. The old generation of Kennedys are disappearing.

Also on this day are two personal anniversaries of my own. Fifteen years ago, it was my last day in the Navy. The photo above was taken on that final morning. I had changed into my uniform and crawled back into my rack so that a shipmate could take my picture to mark the occasion. My last few weeks in the Navy were very busy because the ship was being deployed on its second 6-months duty at sea (the whole Med Cruise and Persian Gulf thing). I was the supply petty officer for Admin Department. The Admin Officer wanted new chairs for all the offices in Admin Department. It must have been around fifty chairs or so. Strangely enough, he wanted chairs with wheels on them. I asked if he was certain about it because this is not a good chair to have on a ship. Once, I was in the office when a computer slid straight off the desk and I was unable to catch it in time before it hit the deck. But, if the Admin Officer wanted chairs with wheels, then dammit, we were getting chairs with wheels!

One day, I was called to sign for the chairs, which came in boxes. I signed for them and when I opened one of the boxes, I was stunned to see that the chair had pink cloth, instead of the black that I ordered. The plastic parts of the chair were black, but the cloth parts were pink. I panicked. I called the company but they refused to except returns. We were stuck with it. I checked the numbers and realized that I had gotten one of the numbers wrong on a multi-digit code. Because of one little mistake, Admin Department of the USS George Washington ended up with pink chairs! It became a joke in Admin. Guys thought I did it on purpose as a big "fuck you!" to the Navy. Yeah, I hated the Navy at that point and was glad to get out, but I'm big on competence and doing a great job no matter my personal feelings. It bothered me to make this uncorrectable mistake. To this day, I check and double check and sometimes triple check my numbers (which is why my current place of employment are liking me).

On the last full working day in the Navy, I had to make a supply run in my own car (a two door Geo Metro hatchback). I wonder how many people would do such a thing on their last day. Yet, I did. I had a small working party to unload my car of the supplies Admin Department needed for deployment. It was a bittersweet moment. The last thing I did for the ship. On the last day, it was purely check-out processing, picking up the final checks (I sold back my unused leave, which allowed me to make the final payment on my car and the rest I had planned to use for a trip to Australia), turning over my ID card, and driving away. It was sad to turn in my ID card as I left the ship for the last time. I did my proper salute to the flag and walked down the plank to the pier. The day I had long looked for had finally arrived. Into a new freedom.

Had I known the difficult road the next fifteen years would be, would I have made the same choice? If I had reenlisted, I would've gotten a shore assignment and I wanted to work in Washington, D.C. The Pentagon was a likely choice, but I made my demands for reenlistment unrealistic because I didn't want to be tempted to reenlist. I had wanted to be assigned to the White House. My goal was to work for Vice President Gore. I had no idea at the time that I would intern in the White House four years later and end up being one of Gore's intern. Interesting how things worked out.

In March, I will celebrate my 20th anniversary of entering the Navy, which means that had I stayed Navy, I could've retired this year! One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to get out was that I wanted to go to college and then get a job in the Gore Administration. I also wanted my Navy novel written and published. Had I known that all I would experience was a four month internship, I might not have made the choice to get out. If heaven allows the option of seeing how the other choices might have panned out, I plan to see what might have happened if I had stayed Navy (the other path not taken that I'm interested in seeing would be what might have happened if I had stayed in D.C. in 2000).

On that last day, I took my checks to the bank and deposited the money as well as make the last payment on my car. I now owned it...and when a careless driver totalled my car in an accident four months later, I would unravel into one of the most depressing moment of my life (I laugh now when I think about how devastated I was to lose that car). I spent a few days staying with a church family (the ones who introduced me to one of my best friends, Nathan) and made final visits to various friends as well as a quick trip to Williamsburg before driving back to Atlanta to begin my new life. 1996 began with so much promise, but by year's end, it had become the worst year of my life (it still holds that record). Ironically, I still consider 1991 to be the greatest year of my life and that was the year I entered the Navy. I love that juxtaposition.

So, fifteen years ago, I made the choice to give up the safe security of the Navy for the unknown civilian world. The Admin Officer (who I thought was a major asshole) tried to scare me into reenlisting. He knew that I loved to travel, so he told me that I would likely not travel as much outside of the Navy. He was wrong on that account. In 1997 alone, I had travelled through 12 timezones (half the distance around the world!)...from Berlin to Honolulu. I've been to many places in the fifteen years since, though I have not seen Australia or New Zealand like I had intended for myself. Still on my list.

The other thing the Admin Officer said to me was that the only jobs out there was flipping burgers at McDonalds. I had to laugh. I have never worked at a fast food restaurant. Not ever. Not during my teen years. Not now. Though I still haven't been making the income I desire (I can't seem to break out of a certain amount, which frustrates me because a college degree was supposed to put me into a higher income bracket), I have not had to work at the truly low wage nightmare jobs. True, I probably would have been better off financially had I stayed Navy, but it would mean giving up every friendship I had made since this day in 1996. Would I trade my friends and experiences for a Navy career?

Had I stayed Navy, I'm sure a part of me would have wondered what being a full time college student would've been like, or if I had written and published my Navy novel. Still waiting on my dream career, that pays the wages I deserve. Life is a series of trade-offs, but I think leaving the Navy when I did, though difficult my life has been since, was the right decision. My only goals for myself in the Navy was to experience life on an aircraft carrier, getting an honorable discharge, and making it to E-5 (Petty Officer Second Class). As George W. Bush likes to say: "Mission accomplished!" There was nothing else for me to really experience in the Navy. I had done everything I wanted to do and then some. Onto the next set of experiences.

The other anniversary of this day is not a good one. Five years ago, I came home from work planning to mark the ten year anniversary of getting out of the Navy with a private ritual (involving candles, a journal, and meditation) when my mother called with some bad news. I had feared that another family member had passed away (we had a string of them in the past decade, after my having lived more than 30 years without a death in the family). I figured that it was one of the older family members, but it was actually my 20 year old cousin, Michael. He had killed himself. I was stunned, because I was planning to call him the next day. I had felt an urge to call him a few days previously, but I couldn't find his cell phone number so I planned to look over the weekend to give him a call. Was that urge a spiritual prompting? I believe it was. Especially when I learned later that Michael had desperately called a few people at church for advice or help and he was ignored. Would my phone call have made a difference? Maybe.

Michael is one of the most popular members of the family. He has a lovable personality that everyone adores. He's just a sweet kid (though with a temper). What prompted him to take his own life? Well, its complicated and we'll never really get closure on it. The events that pushed him into taking his own life were minor. He certainly could have endured it and his family would not have loved him any less. We figure that there might have been shame involved, because he might have felt that he let the people he loved down. It is the worst news anyone can get, especially his parents.

In the years since, though, I have seen his father change in ways I didn't think possible. His father is the youngest of five boys (my dad is son #2) that my grandparents had. My uncle is ten years and ten days older than me, so he was kind of like an older brother to me. In the aftermath of Michael's death, my uncle and aunt adopted a baby from Guatemala, who has become the light of the family. She even brought much joy into my grandfather's life during his last years (after his wife had passed away in 2005). My uncle and aunt have been to Guatemala countless times, doing missionary work. I never would have pegged my uncle as a traveler to the developing world. He has lived in Atchison, Kansas all of his life (the only one of the five boys who has done so). Its amazing to see what grief can do to those left behind. No matter what, though, the pain never heals. The sadness never goes away. No parent wants to lose a child. It seems to be the cruelest pain of all.

So, on this day, I'm always feeling a mix of emotions. It was meant to be a happy anniversary, as I reflect on my decision to leave the Navy and what I've done in the years since, but my cousin made it also a day of sadness and reflection on the loss of a great family member who I was looking forward to see how his life would turn out. We'll never know, of course. But had he stuck through his personal crisis, we wouldn't have little Marisol in our family now. Strange that joy can emerge from great sorrow. Rest in Peace, sweet Michael. You are not forgotten!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gumption

On Friday evening, I had just missed the bus on the third segment of my daily commute and the next one wasn't due for thirty minutes, so I decided to walk the ten minutes back to the townhouse I live in.

The road, Powell, is a two lane major highway that is heavily trafficked. Unfortunately, there are no sidewalks, so this meant walking along the road and sometimes on the muddy ground next to the road. My back was to the cars, as I walked the same side of the street as cars going in the same direction I was heading.

At one point, I heard something shatter on the pavement. When I saw that it was a block of ice, I looked to see where it came from. On the street on my left, a pick-up truck had stopped (which is dangerous to do when there's no turn lane, stop sign, or traffic light). Another block of ice was thrown my way and missed. The truck sped off like the cowards that they are. I wasn't hit at all, which prompted me to immediately thank my daimon spirit guide (or "guardian angel" in common parlance). I believe that I'm well protected, as I have witnessed this time and time again in dangerous situations I've been in. Even though I wasn't hit, I was stunned that someone would stop driving down the road to throw blocks of ice at a pedestrian. I did nothing to deserve such treatment. I was simply trying to get home sooner than waiting for the bus. In my hands, I was carrying a plastic container I had just bought at Target, with the other stuff I bought inside the container. I did not want to make that walk, but I didn't want to wait 30 minutes when it only takes ten minutes to walk that stretch of road.

I decided to post my experience on Facebook and I was stunned when a church member friend of my family back in Georgia seemed to blame me for "attracting" this treatment by "rednecks" in pick up trucks. The one complaint I have about where I live is that it is in a very low class neighbourhood. There are pockets of nice homes, surrounded by the cliche of redneck living (run down homes, rusted old cars serving as lawn ornaments, people with missing teeth, tattered clothing, ignorant speech, the smell of cigarette smoke everywhere). This is a cultural shock to me from downtown Portland. Its like stepping into a world inhabited by Jerry Springer guests!

Anyhow, the family friend has come to believe in Law of Attraction and wanted me to see the possibility that my subconscious might have attracted the very type of person I dislike (its true that I have never liked rednecks and ignorant people. Why would I? They have been very abusive to not only me or my brother, but to anyone who is not as ignorant and pasty white as they are). While I believe in Law of Attraction, I don't believe that everything that happens to a person is a reflection of some subconscious attraction. We still live in a world of free will and people aren't just playing roles by some hidden hand. Had I waited for the bus, would this event have even happened? What is my take-home lesson of this event? I'm not sure, but my feeling after it happened was that I feel sorry for those individuals in the pick up truck who must be hating life so much that they have to seek out convenient scapegoats to inflict their pain upon. I actually even felt strong enough about the situation to pray for them.

A debate ensued on Facebook, with my friends coming to my defense, which truly warmed my heart. I have great friends who stick up for me and I appreciate it. One thing that I learned about this church lady friend of my family a decade ago is that she has shown herself not to be a true friend to me. When I was in a dark time during the end of my internship in D.C. and working in a job I hated, she never displayed any empathy for me but seemed to prefer to blame me for whatever was wrong in my life, which shocked me because I was the empathetic ear for her when she complained about her ex-husband and the divorce in the late 1990s. I felt like I was only used for my empathy and she couldn't bother to return the favour when I needed a sympathetic friend. So, I moved on to other friends and moved away, not keeping in touch with her like I do with the friends I've come to cherish over the years.

What is a true friend? Well, part of friendship to me is loyalty. This doesn't mean that I agree with my friends on every opinion or issue or that I would be blind if they did something that brought problems upon themselves. I'll give an honest opinion if they want it. However, I view friendships as sacred that I would never blame my friends when something bad happens to them. I would never claim to know that their soul must have "invited" that experience. Perhaps it might be true or it might not. We really don't know for certain, so its best to just be the sympathetic comforter that people expect their friends to be during such moments. This lady proved once again that she is not a true friend. It was just one more opportunity to impose her spiritual beliefs on me, which is a continuous pattern that I have noticed.

I had met this lady in 1996, when I was shortly out of the Navy. My parents had invited her along with her children and parents over to eat at our house. Somehow, I had mentioned that I did not believe that Satan existed (we were probably talking about the previous fall's church retreat where some church members blamed a ferocious storm on Satan while I saw the storm as a force of nature that simply awed me with its power). Later, perhaps a few days or weeks afterwards, I had received a lengthy letter from this lady trying to convince me why Satan exists! I laughed when I finished reading the letter because I was stunned by the amount of time she took away from her parental responsibilities to write a lengthy letter to a guy she just met and trying to convince me that SATAN exists! What was wrong with that picture?!? I love my mom's viewpoint on Satan: "When you focus on God, your back is turned to Satan." The point is that if you only focus on God, who cares if Satan exists or not?

In 2001, when I tried to share details of the incredible spiritual experience I had and the past life experiences that correlated to my current life, she was dismissive of it because reincarnation was not possible. Even though I was not convinced of reincarnation until 1998, I was always open to the idea of it being true since I was in elementary school. The subject intrigued me enough to read up on it and ponder the possibilities. The shocker of shockers is that this lady now believes in reincarnation! After trying to discount my amazing spiritual experience in 2001! I bet she doesn't even believe in Satan anymore either.

Now, she claims to be an expert on Law of Attraction, to the point where she feels she has the right to give me "spiritual advice" about my personal experiences! Imagine the audacity of it all. The truth is, though, that she does not know me well enough to qualify as credible, especially when I know details about her life, which I believe she should focus on rather than trying to fix what she thinks does not work in my own life. I think I have a better success rate at manifesting the things I've wanted to experience in life than she does, so she's in no place to offer unsolicited spiritual advice. Its even more incredulous that she would offer spiritual advice to a person whose spiritual views she has come to believe as her own through her own spiritual development. In a spiritual sense, we agree on much but in a friendship sense, I have a hard time thinking of her as a true friend. Here's why...

With me, I don't require friends to believe the same as me. I actually like having a diverse group of friends who believe different things. What I don't like, though, are ideologues / fanatics. I used to think that I had a great diverse group of friends, but a trip to Utah in 2007 to visit three of my Mormon friends and to visit my alma mater for the first time since I left the school for the Washington Seminar, I learned otherwise. Even though my Mormon friends really believe that their church is true and we disagree on the church history due to our different heritage, the books I saw on the shelves of all three of my friends houses revealled similar tastes in literature and subject matter. Though we might be different spiritually, we still value education, tolerance, progressive politics, and living a quality life. That means we are in the same "class", what some social scientists call "the creative class" or "the educated class." None of my friends, for instance, find someone like Glenn Beck credible on anything, yet this lady does. I consider it a "cultural divide" that is unlikely to be bridged. Thus, it gave me great pleasure when one of my Mormon friends actually defended me from this lady's view that I had subconsciously invited rednecks to throw blocks of ice at me. Imagine that...a Mormon is defending me against a fellow Community of Christ member! I love this irony.

Another shock was that one of my favourite cousins defended me as well. Her father is the black sheep of the family (with his Republican, fundamentalist Christian views). My mom thinks of my dad's brother as a real life version of Clark Griswold's redneck brother in Christmas Vacation. Its funny to hear my mom point that out when we had watched that movie. That this guy's daughter could grow up under his oppressive and strict religious rules (he banned any movie that featured anything that contained horns, because it signified Satan. This meant that a film like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was out because of Darth Maul, who was in the film for all of what, ten minutes?) and grow into this liberal, tolerant, open minded person just amazes me. Since she lives around rednecks in the Midwest, she sees the hate and violence that these people inflict on any person who happens onto their turf.

When I attended church on Sunday, the evangelist shared an experience he had last summer. He's an African American convert to the church and just an awesome guy. He shared that he was riding his bicycle on a beautiful summer day and just loving life when he felt something hit him. It was a Big Gulp cup filled with some kind of drink. The car drove past him and someone had leaned out the window and called him the "N-word." He said that his first reaction was that he didn't do anything to deserve that treatment. So he began to wonder what it says about a person who would do such a thing to a random stranger.

I was stunned to hear him share that experience just two days after having the same experience! I'm not the only one! But I was walking at 9:30 at night. It was interesting that we had the same thoughts after it happened. Most importantly, though, he was loving life and enjoying a beautiful day and riding a bicycle when this ugliness happened. When I was walking down Powell street on Friday night, my thoughts were on the ideas presented in the book that I'm reading: Beyond the Secret, which is a more spiritually accurate book written in response to the shallow materialism of The Secret. In fact, this book even states that you cannot attribute every event to being a Law of Attraction event, because we still live in a world of diversity and there are evil people who target anyone convenient or vulnerable. Its typical of conservatives, though, to "blame the victim." If you got shot, its your fault. If someone hates you, you must have done something to deserve it.

The point of this post is not to villainize someone (because despite this heated difference of opinion and my strong dislike for unsolicited advice from unqualified people, I think of this lady as "church family" with some interesting experiences in her own right) but to share my experience and thoughts about the kind of disrespect I received from a person who has no right to judge my spiritual views in regards to my own life. I am a better interpreter of my experience than this person would be, because I haven't really shared my life with her in the past decade as I have with people I consider my genuine and loyal friends. I've stated before and many of my friends understand this, I consider myself to be a true life Forrest Gump. What I love about that film and character is that he might be a simple man, but he has lived an extraordinary life that most people don't live. I'm reminded all the time that I'm no one important, yet my life experiences have taken me on board a submarine and an aircraft carrier, all over Europe, to South Africa and Asia, inside the White House and the U.S. Capitol building, meeting many of the famous people I've been wanting to meet, and becoming friends with some of the most awesome people ever. I have no complaints. I must be doing something right with my life to experience everything that I have.

The word "gumption" is defined as: "initiative, resourcefulness, courage, spunk, guts, common sense, shrewdness." I'll take it. I'll live the life I choose in the manner I see fit and people who want to second-guess and blame for the ugliness other people display, well go on ahead. If people focused on what they want their life to look like instead of worrying about other people's life experiences, they too will have amazing life experiences. I'm not willing to trade lives because I think I got a good deal going on.