Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's Cool to be Conscious

I keep misreading my blog title as "It's Cool to be Couscous." I suppose one could also say it's Rockin' to be Rice or Bitchin' to be Basmati, but being conscious and awake is my goal every present moment. It's too cold being comatose. I'd rather dance through the flames of life, than lay down and surrender to age and aches. I could have entitled this post "The Post Holiday Blues," but I'm not falling for that again. Besides we still have New Year's to get through. "Get through" makes it sound like a jail sentence, but it's just work.

Couscous is not Concious

This Friday -- New Year's Day -- we will have our annual 20%-Off-Everything-in-the-Store!! sale. It's just a ploy to get customers in the store, but it sometimes works. Bookstores cannot really afford to have sales, because we barely make a profit to begin with. Even Amazon has yet to make a profit, but their aim is not to sell books -- their aim is to crush any and all competition, and profit from your personal data simultaneously.

All is not lost. The days have started to get longer, although the sun still refuses to shine. Bastard. There was some snow spitting out of the clouds yesterday, accompanying the cold rain. I had no confidence that it would stick. A snowy blanket over the neighborhood would sooth and calm me. The world would seem cleaner and quieter for a brief time, and then -- like anything worthwhile -- it melts away, leaving behind mud and grime. Spring is at least three or four moons away, and even then it is sometimes too shy to reveal itself until May or June.

I've heard tell that adventure is not all it's cracked up to be. This is probably the same source that says rich people have the same problems as everybody else. Adventure is in the whip of the beholder, I suppose. For some people, just being a husband and father is adventure enough. Others want to hit it big in Vegas and paint the town red, or maybe burnt sienna. Stepping out is never advised. One must eliminate desire and any hankering for the danger. A life of quiet desperation is the overarching theme of modern man.

As I get older, I start to feel the ache of all those lost adventures. I've put my whip and fedora away, in exchange for a book and an armchair. But my mind is still is still trekking over hill and dale, and even moving through dimensions. I have a wonderful son, who not only fills my life with parental adventure, but he reminds me of my priorities in life. No skipping off to the casino with the rent money. No shaking my booty with the straw-haired widow next door until the cows come home.

So far I've avoided the dreaded cold that is currently moving through our family. Maybe it's my dietary regimen of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or the fact that I walk to and from work every day.  I've seen the ghost of the sun through the clouds the last few days, but maybe we need some kind of sunshine seance to bring that nuclear furnace back into our good graces. Sunshine cures everything, well...except maybe skin cancer.

Sunshine, peeking through the tree tops.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Getting Into the Spirit of Things

My son Justin is such a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary Seattle winter. He's polite and empathetic to others. He's very funny and witty. He's my gift three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, like Christmas in July and Halloween candy at suppertime. He lost two baby teeth last night! I don't think he has any left to lose. He turns ten-years-old in a month, and he is already standing tall at five feet and two inches. He's had a great year at school. Now that he's matured a little, no one is clamoring to put him on ADD meds. Really people! Let boys be boys and kids be kids!

We had a great weekend celebrating the holidays in our small father and son fashion. Friday night we watched "Miracle on 34th Street"; the original with a very young Natalie Wood and the ever-vivacious Maureen O'Hara as the moppet's mother. Edmund Gwen is Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus and steals every scene he is in. Justin was recounting his favorite scenes and characters to me the next day. He is always sure to point out the bad guy in every film, or ask, "is that the bad guy?" if he's not sure. I prefer it when it's not so clear -- more like real life -- but it can be confusing to a young person.

Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwen in "Miracle on 34th Street"
On Saturday night, we watched "A Christmas Carol." It was a TV movie version from 1999, starring Patrick Stewart as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit. The part of fragile Tiny Tim is played by Lavar Burton sans visor. (Star Trek humor) He also commented the the actor playing the ghost of Christmas past looked transgender. It was Joel Grey. Justin was surprised that it was more of a ghost story than a Christmas story, and at the end, he asked if the appearance of the spirits had all been a dream. They do leave that aspect open in the film, and I said, "Dream or not, it was powerful enough to make him change."

I think, as human beings, we love stories, in which the main character undergoes some sort of transformation, usually from bad-mannered to benevolent, poor to rich, or downtrodden to being on top of the world. We admire these types of stories, because we ourselves find it difficult to change, especially in such a drastic fashion as Mr. Scrooge. Change usually happens in baby steps, although a horrendous tragedy can transform someone overnight, aging them a couple of decades. Being set in one's ways is not just a saying. Our habits and personalities are practically set in stone by the time we're adults. That's why chemicals are often used nudge neurotransmitters in the right direction.

I've often thought that if I were able to view myself in a totally objective fashion I would be shocked and stunned, because the real me would not match my perceived image of myself. Then there is that whole ever-shifting fragility of being thing. There are certainly times when I find it difficult to keep myself together, and that's when I take a walk in the moonlight and connect with my real self, without the trappings of media, politics, judgements, mistakes and wrongful boasts. Sometimes I forget my original face, and forget that I am created of love too.

I am also made of bits of ancient stars, and together all those bits wish you Happy Holidays!
Stay safe and sane.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Picked the Wrong Week

I never thought of myself as someone, who was seasonally depressed. It’s easy to see why people fall into a deeper emotional hole during the holiday season, particularly in Seattle, where night falls at 4pm and lately it hasn’t been much lighter during the day. I used to avoid the consumer madness and holiday induced depression by going camping on Christmas. Ever since I’ve been working in retail (custom picture framing, bookselling…) it is verboten to take time off during the holidays. I took a sick day Monday, and the response was a muttered shit.

Since I’ve been in retail I’ve missed most of the fun leading up to Christmas, because I was too busy working. Now my job is where I get the most of my holiday cheer, i.e. Christmas music, happy shoppers, a sense of togetherness. Recently I found myself getting choked up, while shelving in the S’s, because I could hear the Christmas music emanating from the cafĂ© at the back of the bookstore. They are under strict orders to play holiday music through New Year’s Day.

Many of you may remember “Airplane,” that classic comedy from 1980, with those great one-liners by Lloyd Bridges: “I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.” Well, I can similarly state that I picked the wrong week to run out of anti-depressants. I always think when I’m getting low on my little pink and white pills that a day or two without them is no big deal, but apparently that is not so, especially less than two weeks before Christmas. After calling in sick yesterday, I stayed in bed all day, perfecting my mopey mode. I’m two steps away from shuffling around in a bathrobe, unshaven and shopworn, and mumbling communist aphorisms.

Being a divorced parent comes with a bucket of stress, so it’s never easy during the Christmas season. A lot of divorced families compete, trying to out-gift each other, smothering their kids with useless toys and not enough love. Here at my religious household, we do not celebrate Christmas. Not even a pathetic Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I have strung a row of multi-colored lights across one of my bookcases, and when I light it, I actually feel a little flutter of warmth inside.


Last week my son informed me that he would rather not come to my house at Christmas, since we don't celebrate, which to him means no gifts. I always buy him a few gifts, even though that's not what the season is about to me. He's asked for a Lego set, which sounds like fun to me too! I've also promised to install his basketball hoop before spring.. Promises. Promises. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I might receive a surprise bonus this Christmas, which would enable me to fix my desktop computer, in addition to some other repairs and necessities in my life...like socks and underwear. 

Well, since my midnight snack last night was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I think I'll head down to Bagel Oasis for lunch. There seems to be a brief respite between rainstorms, so I should have a dry walk down the hill to the bookstore. Now that I've restocked my anti-depressants, I should be able to skip to work with a song in my heart, and an angst-free head. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Shock to the System

I cannot fathom the mindset of a couple, who drop off their six month old daughter with her grandmother and then attend the company holiday party. Hubby and wife then depart only to return to the party to slaughter 14 people, and injuring at least seventy more. Now when mom drops off her baby with grandma for the day, grandma will have to ask, "Will you be early, or are you killing your co-workers today?" What could possibly motivate both husband and wife (husband was born in America) to stock up on armaments, strap on bulletproof vests, climb into their black SUV and then proceed to commit one of the most heinous crimes in recent U.S. history?

Terrorism is just a label. Of course, we're all terrorized now. Anybody can buy a gun, order ammunition online, pick up assault rifles at a convention, and it's all legal. The illegal part is what you as the consumer decide to do with your arsenal of deadly weapons. Did someone laugh at you instead of with you at work recently? Maybe you have a firm belief that you can blow yourself into a million meaty bits, taking out dozens with you, and end up in Allahland with 72 virgins. That means another 72 fresh virgins, waiting around for every deadly Tom, Dick and Akbar to show up at their door, reassembled and reanimated after their suicide attack to get their lovin'.

The fourteen victims of the shooting in San Bernardino last week.
The gun argument is a no-brainer to me and unfortunately, it seems that those without brains are winning the argument. The young married couple, who splashed the headlines with the most recent bloodbath on U.S. soil, got all of their weapons and armaments legally. Yet, we have pasty chicken hawks in charge of the deciding gun laws. The insane are now definitely running the asylum.

High profile mass murders like the recent incident in San Bernardino, make people confused and angry. Even I start having thoughts such as, Maybe we should drag the shooters' bodies through the streets, like they do in the Middle East. I don't even have to go deep down to know that more gunfire, and explosions are not the answer unless the answer you're looking for is more death. We've glorified murder and guns for a long time here in Corporate America. From cowboys and Indians to cops and robbers, it's always good guys vs. bad guys until the dust settles and we all wake up with blood on our hands.

I am heartbroken and sick for the shooting victims and their families, but let's also keep in mind that about one hundred people die every day in car accidents. That means nearly twenty-thousand people will lose their lives in vehicular collisions before Santa has a chance to fill their stockings with candy or coal, depending on their behavior throughout the year. Approximately 1500 people die every day from heart disease. The numbers are slightly lower for cancer patients. Suicides account for a just over a hundred deaths nationwide on a daily basis. That's another twenty-thousand human beings that are going to end their lives before being able to open their presents, or take the obligatory phone call from mom and dad. No more holidays. No more weekends. No more breaths, or heartbeats, or thoughts of tomorrow.

I cannot imagine the pain one must be under to be able to slide the cold barrel of a pistol into their mouth and squeeze their thumb one last time, ejecting their brains onto the wall for loved ones to clean up. Pain is contagious and sometimes is used as a weapon against others. Their is no sensible reason for a young couple to enter a building during the middle of a workday and start killing people with cold precision and forethought. Motives mean nothing to the families of the victims. Whatever impetus brought about this bloody massacre is insane and insoluble.

There are not many bright sides on these dark rainy days lately. I am always happy to be the father of my wonderful son, and I yearn for his presence when he's not around. I cherish my intellectual curiosity and overall skepticism.  I greatly value my compassion and empathy for others, even though being more nonchalant would be less emotionally burdensome. Human thought has been so destructive over time, especially when the more harmful thoughts are transformed into action. 

Let's try to dig beneath the veneer of this holiday season and find the love we have for ourselves and others. Let's share our smile today. We are all human beings, frail and fearful. We need to love and support each other, or we're merely bystanders, fiddling about while the world burns down. Religion is not needed to love and cherish our fellow human beings, just empathy and a listening ear.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Mouthful of Moral Ambiguity

A sunny, but chilly afternoon. The internet is abuzz with news of more shootings, and moral judgements. Always with the moral judgements. The internet with its vague air of anonymity, has made it much easier for people to be judgmental and dogmatic, because they can spew their ignorant vitriol without ever having to leave their room and mom's apron strings. They don't have to actually engage in the world. I get claustrophobic after a few hours online. Too many opinions and not enough factual data.

Certain murders are high profile and get lots of media attention. These are usually mass shootings, serial killers or something else that makes it noteworthy, like a live on camera murder. We all like to think that humans are better than that. If you murder someone, you must be some kind of moral aberration, thinking that society's morals don't apply to you, but the truth is much uglier. As cynical as it sounds, we have no higher purpose. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it does not bend toward justice. (Sorry MLK.)

The onlookers, milling about at a lynching, snacks and smiles can be seen. How many Christians are in the crowd?

We -- as a nation -- thought we were growing beyond racism and bigotry, but then we elected a black president and the haters came out of the woodwork like it's a termite's holiday. One of those haters, a Herr Trump, is leading the republican party. A psychotic self-confessed savior ("No more baby parts") went into a women's health clinic, and killed three people, including a police office, who was also a co-pastor at his church. The republicans see no need to condemn these heinous act, and their silence is sounds like support to their constituents. 

We are not too far away from starting to see modern pictures like the one above, with the violent rhetoric of the right, and insane Canadians like Ted Cruz, saying the most violent crimes are committed by Democrats. Trump is rallying the anti-Muslims, and the anti-immigrants, even though we're theoretically a country composed of immigrants. Tell that to the Native Americans. 

I'll leave you with a few choice quotes from one of the best books I read in 2015, Straw Dogs by British Philosopher John Gray:
“Genocide is as human as art or prayer.”
“Values are only human needs...turned into abstractions.”
“Morality is a sickness peculiar to humans.”
“Humans think they are free, conscious beings when in truth they are deluded animals.”
The above quotes may sound dark and cynical, but the reality of life is randomness and chaos. All the more reason to treat others as you would prefer to be treated. Some call this the "Golden Rule" and believe that it came from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, but that's not quite the truth.