Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Knew Someone Who Knew Someone

On the first of this month, I received an email from my friend Kate. She was upset over the death of her friend Brad, an activist who had been murdered by a paramilitary group in Oaxaca, Mexico. Brad traveled around the world for Indymedia documenting political and social struggle in areas ignored by the mainstream media. He was on the lines of a teacher's strike in Oaxaca when the military opened fire, and was killed by a single shot to his abdomen.

Kate had included a picture of Brad with her email and after clicking on the file, I thought "My God, he looks familiar. I think I met him." I got my current apartment through Kate. There was a birthday party for her the last December she lived here...three years ago? Four? (At what point did time begin moving so quickly?) Anyway, it was at this party that I met Brad. I had a nice conversation with several people there but can't recall if he was one of them. It may just be that his presence was noticable whether you spoke with him or not. He was tall and lanky and cheerful.

The cover story of the Village Voice this week is about Brad's death. Appearantly he was well known enough and his work was respected enough within progressive circles that his death has been quite a shock to that community. I emailed Kate to warn her that she might want to avoid the Voice this week. Losing someone you cared about is difficult enough without having to be reminded of their death every time you pass a newstand. I also understand that grief, despite how it feels at the time, is not eternal and told her I would save a copy of the issue for her. It is something that she may want one day and this is a case where reading paper is more satisfying than reading online.

The cover of the issue is a painting of Brad but you don't have to be a lapsed Catholic to recognise it's also a Christ image. I put it on the pile of things "to be read" in my kitchen, but I find it too eerie and heartbreaking to have the paper facing up in the same room where Brad relaxed and laughed with friends just a few years ago. I turned the paper over and lit a candle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nature or Nurture?

I am definitely my mother's son. The email she sent me yesterday on election day concluded:

Please God, Rick Santorum will not only lose, but he will fall off a twenty story building tomorrow. I'll keep you informed.


I should point out that if Santorum had fallen off a twenty story building, I would have heard about it on the news, although it is nice that my mother planned to let me know. However, re-reading that passage, it sounds vaguely like she's ordered a hit on the man. If she had, well, I would be the proudest son in the world.

Ah yes. I drank in Santorum's defeat like a fine wine. Literally. When it was announced that he had lost I grabbed an open bottle of wine from the table and took a satisfying swig, too happy to wait to pour it in a glass. My friend Karl (Heitmueller, not Rove) had had a get-together to watch the election returns and finish off the booze and candy left over from Halloween. Heading over, I expected a glum night, convinced that Republicans were going to steal the election. I've never been so happy to be wrong. When I got home I flipped from channel to channel, staying up late to wallow in the Democrats' victory. Plus David Cross was on the Carson Daly show. He was funny.

When I went to vote yesterday I got bounced from polling place to polling place. This didn't seem the product of a sinister conspiracy so much as basic human incompetence. Riding the subway to work afterwards, I read the following passage and it seemed appropriate for election day and what some people think this country should be like:

Cargo cults have have sprung up again and again in the Pacific. During World War II, American forces arrived at the island of Tana to recruit a thousand men to help build an airfield and army base on neighboring Efate Island. When the workers returned with tales of white and black men who had possessions beyond the dreams of the people of Tana, the whole society was thrown into turmoil. The islanders, many of whom had earlier been converted to Christianity by British missionaries, stopped going to church and began to build landing strips, warehouses and radio masts out of bamboo, in the belief that if it worked on Efate for the Americans,it would work for them on Tana. Carved figurines of American warplanes, helmets and rifles were made from bamboo and used as religious icons. Islanders began to march in parades with USA painted, carved or tattooed on their chests and backs. John Frum emerged as the name of their Messiah, although there are no records of an American soldier with that name.

When the last American GI left at the end of the war, the islanders predicted John Frum's return. The movement continued to flourish and on 15 February 1957, an American flag was raised in Sulphur Bay to declare the religion of John Frum. It is on this date every year that John Frum Day is celebrated. They believe that John Frum is waiting in the volcano Yasur with his warriors to deliver his cargo to the people of Tana. During the festivities the elders march in an imitation army, a kind of military drill mixed with traditional dancing. Some carry imitation rifles made of bamboo and wear American army memorabilia such as caps, T-shirt and coats. They believe that their annual rituals will draw the god John Frum down from the volcano and deliver the cargo of prosperity to all of the islanders.

--from Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett

Monday, November 06, 2006


So yesterday I stopped by the gallery to pick up the painting I bought while drunk. [As recounted in this entry]. It goes without saying that I was a little concerned. What if the painting was not quite as impressive as it had seemed on that night several weeks ago? I had thought of going to the gallery to look at it with clear eyes, but decided I would just leave well enough alone. If the painting sucked then I would deal with it when the day came. Well, that day was yesterday and...the painting is even better than I remembered. My first emotion was a sense of relief, which was rapidly followed by the sense of pleasure created just by looking at it. So...whew! Dodged that aesthetic bullet.

I know I don't post here that often. Unlike others with online journals, I don't think of these entries as a private diary made public so much as I think of them as pr or intentionally public dispatches. In other words, I never for a minute fool myself into thinking that what I write is private or personal no matter who reads this site. So when I post here, it is something that I want to share. "Don't mind sharing" might be the more accurate way to put it. This tends to limit the number of things I offer for public consumption, even if my public loves me.

However, it looks like I will be posting a little less this month, if that is possible. Most of my free time will be spent trying to write a novel. My friend Kate talked me into participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). It is a group that tries to inspire people to write a short novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. The idea is: just write. You have to get in the habit of producing (at least 1,666 words per day, but who gets a chance to write every day?) without worrying about whether it's as good as your favorite author or what people will think of it. Assume no-one will ever read it and just write.

As someone who doesn't do anything unless he has a deadline looming, it is ideal. Unfortunately, why the group picked November of all months, I'll never understand. In addition to having one less day than most other months, it also contains Thanksgiving, which eliminates several days for anyone who travels or has other obligations. But if you keep waiting for the perfect time to write, you may never actually write.

I need some sort of deadline to get most anything done. But paradoxically, whenever I have something I feel like I have to do, I'll avoid it as long as humanly possible. Hence, the length of this entry when I should be working on my novel. Hence, the fact that this weekend I cleaned the apartment, ironed my shirts and finally sealed the cracks along the floors and floorboards that were letting in cold air.

So even if I don't finish my novel by the end of this month, at least all my other chores will be completed. I should point out that my word count is currently at 4,277, whereas my 16 year old nephew TJ is at 6,540.

And no. No-one gets to read the novel when it is finished.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

And Why Am I Doing This?

A pattern has emerged. Twice this week, in the early hours of the morning, during the weird state between sleep and wakefulness, I have found myself trying to create sentences that don't contain the letter e. I have no idea why this is happening. I'm not perturbed with any of the people I know whose names begin with the letter e (my sister Erin, my nephew Eric). It's such a truly odd event that it really makes me contemplate how our brains work and why they sometimes don't seem to, or seem to have a mind of their own. Really. Of all the things to do before begrudgingly getting out of bed and getting ready for work, why craft sentences that ban one letter? I should point out that I never get very far in these sentences before I hit a point where the only word that will suffice is one that contains the dreaded letter. Then I get frustrated and start again.

There was a writer, George Perec, who wrote an entire novel A Void that does not contain the letter e. Perec believed in art as a sort of game. He would create arbitrary and difficult rules for his work, thinking that the true creative act came from working within the confines of these rules. After completing A Void, Perec did the only thing a true smart ass could: he wrote an entire short story in which the only vowel used is e. That's right: a coherent (thought that word didn't appear) short story without the letters a, i, o, or u.

Is it difficult to do?

To fashion a thought that says what you want to say but not tripping up on your individual ban of an important, if not mandatory, bit of information -- this is not child's play. If it wasn't difficult, I would float through many additional hours in my own land of nod during past mornings. But no. A task that cuts through sloppy thoughts, its origin in play, soon slips into compulsion and the gifts of your night's forty winks quickly vanish as said compulsion is paramount. So I'll stop now, a happy solution that acquits your's truly of this limiting task and may spawn much calm...until my alarm clock rings.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Shopping While Under The Influence

Soooo...I bought a painting last week while drunk.

Not drunk, exactly, but I had a couple of beers with dinner. Because I don't imbibe much anymore, my tolerance is low (something friends have been saying about me for years). In any case, I woke up Saturday morning with a headache and then slowly remembered "Oh yeah. I bought a painting last night."

A friend of a friend used to order from during his benders. A box of books would mysteriously arrive, usually during mid-week. "I don't remember ordering this" he'd think. "I want it, but I didn't order it." Then he would check his history at amazon and discover that an order was placed from his computer in the wee hours of a Saturday or Sunday morning, a time that he had no recollection of.

On my way home after dinner last week, I stopped in a neighborhood art gallery which was having an opening. This was probably a mistake. It wasn't an impulse buy: I recall taking time to decide between two paintings as to which one I liked better. I chatted with the gallery owner, who was carrying her newborn at the time. I asked her if I should negotiate the price with the baby. A dumb joke, but she laughed. She complimented my taste (cause that's what gallery owners do) and introduced me to the artist who I suspect was drunk, too.

Happily, the painting isn't expensive and I can afford it. To the best of my recollection, it's a good painting although I am a little nervous about picking it up the first week of November. I'm afraid my reaction might be "what did I see in this?"

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Stained Man

From the comment section of the previous post:

Number 2 Sister said...
What the hell is with this new subtitle --"Refutation and Overthrow of Falsely So-Called Knowledge" ?! Sounds kind of arrogant. If I didnt' know "The Hanged Man" was you, I'd keep right on surfing after seeing that subtitle.

I was really partial to the former subtitle that referred to spilling things on yourself. It was humorous. It was humble. It was true.
(factoid for anyone not related to us: All of the Hughes progeny spill on themselves. It makes our wedding dinners easy to find in over booked hotels. Just look for the room full of people with stained shirts and you're there.)

Oh believe me, I'm still spilling things on myself. In fact, just last week I was talking to a co-worker about something work-related. When I finished, she nodded her head and then pointed to my chest: I had slopped red marinara sauce on my white shirt. I responded the only sensible way. I yelled "Goddammit!" and got some club soda.

The new subtitle is not my original. I stole it, word for word, from the title of a five-volume book by Irenaeus, the second century Christian philosopher. "Refutation" was his interpretation of the four gospels, and was influential on the council at Nicea when they decided what beliefs would make up the Catholic (ie "universal") Christian Church. In the early years of Christianity, there were many sects, each with varying interpretations of Christ's words and actions. Irenaeus sought to establish an orthodox system of beliefs, and made plain that those who strayed from these beliefs were heretics. So if the title sounds arrogant, well, take it up with Irenaeus.

Personally, I thought it was funny. In these days when language is used to completely confuse and obscure (ie - "The Clean Air Act" which actually increases the number of pollutants allowed in the atmosphere) something about the strength and the directness of the words amused me, not to mention how completely inappropriate they were for this website.

I never intended the subtitles to be permanent, so I'll probably be changing it soon.

Fun with SpellCheck: For "Irenaeus," "ironies" was suggested, and the "Nicean" Council should actually be the "Nice" Council.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Little Life Lessons from Turner Classic Movies

The following descriptions of what's playing on Turner Classic Movies this month actually provide some truisms about life.

"A young doctor tries to keep a neurotic beauty from being committed."

"After marrying a drunken playboy, a young girl tries to capture his heart while he's sober."

"A society woman courts heartache when she falls in lover with her chauffeur."

"A ruthless financier will stop at nothing to control a 100-story office building."

"A father's blind devotion turns his son into a lying cad."

"A failure in the U.S. defense system threatens to start World War III."

"A hat-check girl gets rich quick when she saves a millionaire's life."

"A possessive son's efforts to keep his mother from remarrying threaten to destroy his family."

"A plain young woman's money makes her prey to fortune hunters."

"A scarred veteran and a homely woman are transformed by love."

"A young priest revitalizes a failing parish and brings new life to the elder priest."

"An ambitious duke uses his executioner henchman to kill his way to the crown."

"A detective tries to solve a murder in a house full of suspects."

"When she's branded as a 'bad girl' a troubled teen fights for her parents' approval."

"A good girl raises her popularity when pretends to be bad."

"A young girl dreams of winning acceptance from a gang of surfers."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Here's Gin In Your Eye...

In the comments section of the "Unfortunate Trend" post, Erin said:
I think it's nice that you ran into two exes and neither one of them yelled at you are threw a drink in your face.*

No, no, never had a girl throw a drink in my face -- never dated Bette Davis. I did, however, have a guy throw a drink in my face once. Not coincidentally, he did great impressions of Bette Davis, both pre- and post-stroke.

In my early twenties I had gone to visit college friends who happened to have HBO (a luxury in those lean years, but no, that's not why I went to visit them). While there, we watched several episodes of "Kids In The Hall" and was I surprised to discover how funny the show was. I had previously seen an episode on a "free-HBO" weekend, and thought they kinda blew -- nothing worse than comedy that tries too hard. But I liked what I saw on second exposure.

Shortly after, I was at a party and regaling my friends Ben and Cindy with my badly-remembered renditions of the skits I had seen. I was telling them about "Running Faggot," which featured a catchy song about a folk-hero homosexual who dressed like Davy Crokett and ran from town to town, solving the frontierspeople's problems ("He stopped the carnage / by gettin' folks a talkin' / 'stead just a sqawkin'/ sqawkin' and a gawkin'" and "See the faggot / he feed a puppy"). However, I was singing this song within earshot of my friend Will, who was gay and expressed his displeasure with my cavalier use of the word "faggot" by throwing his Tanqueray and tonic in my face. "Oops," he said. "I guess my hand just slipped."

While wiping the gin from my face, I tried explaining to Will that the song came from a skit I had seen on tv, and that he would probably love the show too, etc etc. He wasn't having any of it. It didn't help my cause that Ben and Cindy found the slapstick of my getting doused funnier than any of the skits they were hearing about second-hand. I was eventually vindicated: Will did become a big fan of "Kids In The Hall" when he saw them.

I could be wrong, but I don't think there's anyone whose first impulse would be to throw a drink in my face -- a fact I would like worked into my eulogy, if possible.

*I recognise the use of "are" in this sentence is a typo, unless my sister has begun speaking like a pirate. Ahhh...and wouldn't that be great?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Recent Readings

Two passages I liked from my recent reading. One short, one long. One sacred, one enjoyably profane.

"During the summer of 1585, [King Henry III of France]'s mother, Catherine de Medicis, a brilliant diplomat despite being in her sixty-seventh year and riddled with syphilis..."
The Pope and The Heretic* by Michael White, pg 83

" of the Buddha's disciples went to him and asked to be shown Heaven. The Buddha said, "If you want to see Heaven, you will have to see Hell first." The disciple agreed. The Buddha took them to Hell, when an enormous banquet table was set up, piled high with fabulously delicious food. Unfortunately, all of the diners had, instead of hands, enormously long forks on the end of their wrists, and they kept trying to get the food into their mouths, but could not reach them. They wailed and gnashed their teeth in misery. The Buddha then took his disciple to Heaven. Heaven was exactly the same situation -- diners at a sumptuous banquet table, with long forks on their wrists instead of hands. The only difference was that, in Heaven, everyone was feeding each other."
2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck, pg 330-1

*No, it's not a romance novel.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Unfortunate Trend

The same thing has happened to me the past two Fridays. I went to an event to see/show support for a friend...and ran into a girl I used to date but don't anymore (different girls women each night).

Seeing them wasn't unpleasant. I even had a nice talk this past Friday. However, I just want to say that this is a trend that I would like to end. Right now.

That's all.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another Look At The Horrific World of Our Ancestors

A time of interspecies cooperation amongst our inferiors, unnatural mutations, breaking wind instruments and well-meaning ginks who don't write as often as they should.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Emails From 5 Years Ao

From: j h []
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 2:20 PM
Subject: I'm fine

Just wanted to let people know that I'm fine. I was sleeping in my bed when the planes hit the towers, and I was watching on tv when they collapsed. There's a "profit" outside my window yelling something about "everybody go home" and something about "booty," and I can hear the jet fighters fly overhead.

Now I'm gonna go give blood.


From: "Troy and Andrea Collins"
To: "j h"
Subject: Re: i'm fine
Hi, Glad you are fine.

I knew you guys were okey dokey cause I had emailed Stacey from work. I had told her I was trying to think were you all would be at that time o the morning.

we got sent home from work, I think because our building is next to the courthouse, which shut down and posted guards.

I guess some guys are thinking about booty even during terrorist attacks.

mrs collins

From: j h []
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 2:29 PM
To: Burk, Kris
Subject: RE: I'm fine

I don't think the awfulness of the situation has fully hit me yet. In my neighborhood, it's a beautiful Fall day, and that goddamn kid is riding his noisy motorscooter like always.

Then I watch tv, and it's like I'm watching someplace far away, instead of a couple of miles away.

You be careful--DC is as much a target as NYC...


Subject: RE: I'm fine
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 14:39:21 -0400
From: "Burk, Kris"
To: "j h"

I know. It hit me pretty hard when I heard about it on the way in but then I didn't really let all of the horror in. I couldn't look at any of the photage until around noon. I'm also worried about what comes next.

I'm a kind of afraid to go home. Jeff says there are jet fighters flying around there, too. He's not as nervous for some reason.

And it's such a beautiful day.

Is the prophet the one riding around on the noisy scooter?

Yes, go give blood. Take a book. They told us here not to go until tomorrow because they are so backed up.

You be careful, too. And keep in touch.



--- Troy and Andrea Collins wrote:

Glad to hear you were asleep for it all, I was especially worried about Stacey.
We haven't heard from her since this morning. I guess Andrea emailed her right
after it happened and she said she wasn't sure when she would be able to leave.
I'm assuming she's in the process of trying to get home right about now.

If you hear anything let us know.



j h wrote:

I talked to her on the phone this afternoon. Her office was evacuated, and she had to walk home across the 59th Street Bridge. Feelin' groovy, indeed.

But she is okay. She went to hang out at a friend's house (in Brooklyn, a few blocks from Stacey's apartment) tonight.


Forwarded Message
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:48:40 EDT
Subject: Re: World Trade Center

Iva, Bobbi, Juleann--we are fine, sort of. I'm sure Pete told you his whole story, closing the bridge, etc. Justin had the horrific event of walking south on 6th Ave.(in the Times Sq. area) from his office to his apt. when the second tower collapsed. Everything around him stopped, cars banged into each other. The people in the cars got out, people walking just stopped and stared, crying. And over all, just perfect silence. Nobody could say a word. Lines 30-40 deep at the pay phone he passed.

Justin's roommates work in the financial district. One escped form Building Seven (that later collapsed) and had to run down from almost the top floor. Another (Blake) arrived home competely debris covered from the collapse of the towers. Blake had a friend on the 103 floor of one the towers. He had to run through a fire to get out. He is hospitalized, but will be okay. These guys will never be the same.

Heather's concern is for her students, many of whom have parents in the financial district. She was very upset both times we talked to her. I'll talk to her tonight, so I'll let you know what happened.

Bye for now,
Love, Ronnie

Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 11:16:20 EDT
Subject: Re: Thank God

Dear John,
Take a good book and shut out the world as much as you can while in the park. I have been following the news too, and the way the New Yorkers have responded is truly magnificent. This city where people say that no one gives a damn about others, this city whose image is (or was) so bad that there are people who are "afraid" to visit, has put a whole new face to the world. It has shown the world that people are people; they care deeply about others, even if they don't know them personally, and they will go out of their way to help in any way that is possible. God bless New York and its people.

TJ's first question when he hopped off the school bus was, "Is Uncle John all right?"

For myself, I could not help but remember the St. Patrick's Day parade. All those "bonny" lads marching along; I wonder how many of those faces will be absent next year. To say it is tragic is to understate.

Well, enough of my ruminations. Do be careful, my love, and I will talk with you later on.


Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 19:04:16 -0400
From: "Troy and Andrea Collins"
CC: "Stacey Stambaugh" , "Ron Leik" , "John Hanlon" , "Cindee Rehm"
Subject: Re: Folks, Critters 'n' Varmints

K -

After quite a bit of domestic yard work chain sawing old, uprooted bushes into pieces and then doing some sanding/primering to my fragile old automobile ... I find my tender little fingers tired after my full work day and then some, but I felt the need to respond to your
email anyway.

First off, in general, I just want to say I agree whole heartedly with you, but of course.

It's been very interesting (read : scary) watching my red blooded co-workers get increasingly incensed by this thing as each day passes. Sometimes they partially listen to me when I try to explain to them the complexity of the situation at hand, like how this is the sort of event the rest of the world has been dealing with for years, and now it's just our turn to deal with it. Albeit naturally, on a hell of a lot larger scale (talk about baptism by fire), and with trying to find and deal with an amorphous and almost invisible enemy. (I spent three hours last night online reading about Bin Laden, quite unbelievable. I knew a little bit before, but man are we in for a difficult time)

Their response is usually something along the lines of hoping to see the entire Middle East on fire, "kill them all, then they won't have nothin' to fight about anymore", yes, that's right : Jews, Muslims, Niggers, you name it send 'em all over there and then kill 'em all. I even heard one guy talking about wishing they'd send Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton over ... and use all the countries' welfare money to rebuild New York ?!?!?!?

I'm not even quite sure how it is their brains function sometimes. If at all.

But I digress ...

Yes, Bush looks completely emotionless. Like a fucking robot even. I can't even figure out if he's annoyed that it's interfering with his formerly uneventful presidency or if this is some sort of "I'm gonna' finish this one for my Pa" type scenario. I can't seem to figure
out, or even develop a gut reaction as to whether or not he's going to blow it and just do a half assed job like big daddy did, or if he's going to start WWIII ...

His recent comments lead me to believe that we might be in for some really serious shit.
I certainly hope not, but all signs point to a major event. I think he might over step his bounds to try and make a point, and that's where it could all go wrong.

Although they did after all attack NY and DC, and that shit only happens in the movies ...

Not in real life.

Everything is so very different now.

I still have trouble believing it, it still seems so surreal.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

If Hieronymous Bosch Was God...

This is what our world would look like. Instead, they are just visions from penny postcards created by our fucked up ancestors.

Yes, I was bored at work today.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Now I'm a New Yorker

The old saw is that you're not a New Yorker until you've lived in the city for ten years. My anniversary passed last November 1st, while I was on a train from Naples to Venice.

The most obvious change is my impatience with the slow moving people on the subway platforms in the morning. Jesus, why can't some people move? Thank God I don't drive.

But last week I received the strongest symbol of my new persona. I had an anxiety dream about not being able to get a cab when I needed one.

It's official. I am now a New Yorker.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Turkey Club = Gift From God

I've started going to church again. Yes, I can hear all my non-believer friends (who are legion) groan, roll their eyes and shake their heads. Okay, I can't hear them roll their eyes or shake their heads, but you get the idea. I remember once when my friend Bob was talking about a poll that revealed most Americans believe in God. He was offering the poll's results as proof of how alienated he and his friends are from the mainstream. "I don't know anyone who believes in God" he concluded. I sheepishly (though not in the "Lord is my Shepard" sense) raised my hand. I explained that my belief varies from day to day. Monday; peaceful existentialist. Tuesday: hopeful mystic. Solomon Grundy has nothing on me.

My return to church is not due to a spiritual reawakening but rather to a matter of honor. I am my nephew Eric's godfather, which, in the Catholic Church, isn't just an honorary title but a commitment. I agreed (without knowing it at the time) that I would bring up Eric in the Catholic faith should anything happen to his mother or father. Since Eric's mother and father are both alive, this is a fairly easy obligation. The only time it is a problem is when Eric is of age to receive any of the sacraments. Then his Godfather is expected to be a Catholic In Good Standing, complete with a letter from a priest testifying to the fact.* When Eric was to be baptised, I had to go to the priest at the groovy multi-faith center at American University (where I was in grad school) and ask him to write a letter on my behalf. Basically I lied. When he mentioned that he didn't recognise me from services, I assured him that I was a faithful member of the parish. He wrote the letter, and proof that I was a true Catholic, I felt very guilty about it after the fact.

Within a year or two, Eric will be Confirmed in the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith. As his godfather, I hope to "stand" for him, and towards that end, I have begun going to church again to establish my Catholic credentials. I just don't feel like lying to a priest again.

I found a church in my neighborhood that has English-language Mass on Sunday's, albeit with an accent I can't quite place. I've gone the last few weeks and while it's not as satisfying as the church in Spanish Harlem (which had a congregation of Hispanic families that would pack the hall, overseen by a fiesty Irish priest who made a point of commemorating the 20th anniversary of AIDS and its victims, as well as writing angry letters to city councilmen about the rat problem in Spanish Harlem), it is not as soul-draining as the church I grew up in. I like it. It's peaceful...and while I was walking to church this past Sunday, I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk! Proof that the Lord rewards those who honor Him/Her. After mass, I rewarded myself with a turkey club at a local diner. God it was good.

Now, that would be the end of my "do well and you will be rewarded" theory, but tonight, while I was walking home, two girls asked if I would help carry their heavy tv up two flights of stairs to their apartment. I said sure. We then had to wait for them to ask another unsuspecting guy walking down the street. She had asked some guy sitting on the stairs to his apartment building, but unconvincingly said that his back couldn't take carrying a tv up a flight of stairs. I suspect the real reason is the he was an asshole. Even if he had carried the tv upstairs, his striped rugby shirt (which no man should wear once they're old enough to attend a prom) would have signaled him an asshole. Happily, a pleasant gentleman soon wandered down the street, and before long, he and I were soon lugging the tv up to a second floor apartment.

I think one of the main reasons I was so willing to help out was that I was once in a similar situation. When I bought my present tv (flat screen, beautiful image, heavy as lead), one of my neighbors (who I didn't know) volunteered to help me carry it up to my third floor apartment. So it was the golden rule in reverse: do unto others as others have done unto you.

After lugging the tv upstairs, one of the girls thanked my and pressed $20 in my hand. Despite my protests, she insisted I take the money for helping out. I fough the temptation to wave it in front of the face of the stair-sitting, rugby-shirt wearing asshole. Instead I reflected on what seems to be a new spiritual law: Do the right thing for other people, without any expectation of reward, and you'll get $20!

And to think some of my friends don't believe...

*Happily, stigmata is no longer a requirement.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Immortality Is Mine

That's a panel from my friend Bob's new book Recess Pieces which you can buy here. I'm mighty flattered to have a character named after me, although the character based on Bob gets to ogle a dirty magazine and is later kissed by a girl, whereas I get beaten up by the school bully. Hmmmm...

Recess Pieces is best described as Little Rascals meets Dawn of the Dead, or Peanuts trapped in an old EC horror comic. Bob got the idea during a conversation he and I were having, talking about how contemporary horror movies are just a series of elaborate set pieces demonstrating clever ways to kill people. The audience is primed to enjoy the victims' deaths rather than feel any empathy or horror. The real subversive horror movie would make you care about the victims so that when they died, you would feel sick. "Yeah" Bob said. "It would have to be about monsters threatening someone that no-one wants to see hurt, like little kids and puppies." You could almost hear the click go off in his head. "Yeah...monsters attacking little kids and puppies..."

So it's been cool watching the book grow from his initial idea. Every time I went to his apartment, Bob would have new pages done and I got to see the story shift from nostalgia about the horrors of grade school to real horror at a grade school. Now it's a book. A pretty gory book, I should point out. Zombies eat people, and that entales lots of entrails.

Why a boy scout? Well, I was late meeting Bob for dinner once because I was literally helping an old lady cross the street. I was walking through the East Village, she asked for help and I was happy to oblige. However, it took her so long to cross the street (I have never seen an upright person move so slow) that I was noticably late for dinner. Bob had mentioned that he was going to name one of the kids in the book after me. When I told him why I was late, he said "Then your character will be a boy scout!"

Congratulations, Bob. Looking forward to a sequel.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Subway Anomaly

While riding the packed L train last week, I noticed a guy wearing a ball cap that depicted a stick figure with cartoony large hands and feet. "Big hands...big feet...You do the math!" it said above the stick figure. After rolling my eyes, I noticed that the man wearing the cap didn't have particularly large hands - in fact, his hands were on the average to small size. So what exactly is his hat trying to tell us?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Coney Island

Coney Island, land of abundance where nothing is real, except for the condom that I found floating on the surface as I got out of the water. I'm pretty sure that was real. It was not one of mine.

Many Homers, lots of Patricks. We saw a cop eating three hamburgers, one after the other. We saw not one but two little girls who got separated from their guardians. Giant hamburgers, "alive" chimps, Miss Coney Island under glass who, for a quarter, will dance to "If I Fell" by the Beatles, and a display where past and present mingle and olde-timey beach goers ride swings, cheerfully oblivious to a human sponge on his back, staring at the sky.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


A thunderstorm last Friday seems to have knocked out my internet connection at home. Through process of elimination I am slowly figuring out the source of the problem and hopefully how to fix it. (The ethernet connection on either my computer or my cable modem is fried - I just have to determine which one). I mentioned this to my friend Karl, bemoaning the fact that I can't get online at home.

"Well, let's see," he said. "You only update your blog once a month or so..."

Alright, alright. What can I say? I'm someone who's quite content keeping his thoughts in his head rather than on display for the whole world to see. Right now I'm reading 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck, which uses the fact that all Mayan calendars end with the year 2012 (which means that, you know, the world might end then) as a starting point (as opposed to end point) to consider crop circles, ufo culture, quantum physics, shamans, evolving human consciousness, etc etc. I'm enjoying the book a great deal, but who can I talk to about it? All my friends are committed rational materialist existentialist non-believing skeptics. I, however, don't need to believe in something in order to enjoy playing with it in my head.

I definitely have a Stoner's Consciousness: an interest in ideas for their own sake, particularly the "oh, wow!" effect of contemplating something new. This is as opposed to a Teacher's Consciousness (value ideas because you can share them with others and help them) or that of a Politician (use ideas so you can tell others what to do) or Businessman (use ideas to make money!).

Those who can only see ideas as a resource to exploit annoy me. To wit: the skits on Kanye West's College Dropout album mock those who pursue knowledge for its own sake rather than as a way to get rich. Granted, skits on hip hop records always suck (OutKast and Dr. Octogon being the exceptions) and Kanye is trying to prove (and prove and prove and prove) that his dropping out was the right decision. But his skits are so obnoxious, and just plain wrong, that I had to copy the disc, edit it and burn a copy sans skits if I ever wanted to listen to it again.

Something else that annoys me is boredom, which probably explains my interest in ideas, not matter how outlandish or far-fetched they may seem. So long as I am not bored. Which also explains why I miss have internet access at home.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On Good Authority

Holy Christ, I am so unbelievably bored at work right now that I am seriously considering filing. That's how slow it is. I've read all the internet I can stand, so without anything else to do, I thought I'd share the below with you. Apologies extended to those who have already heard this story.

When I was flying home from Texas recently, our plane hit some powerful turbulence. I've been on bumpy flights before - I remember a flight through a storm in which the sound of thunder played percussive counterpoint to the score of passengers throwing up. But this was different. This was the kind of turbulence you see in movies or tv shows. The plane shook, then dropped about five feet. People screamed, stuff flew off the beverage cart. The plane continued to shake. It's a bit like an earthquake: it's not the unexpected rumble that's unsettling. It's the fact that it doesn't stop.

I was sitting in the window seat of the last row. The rest of the row was taken up by a family: father and son next to me, mother and two daughters across the aisle. When the shaking began, the son made a worried noise and turned to his father, who told him with a calm and matter of fact tone of voice "It's okay. Don't worry. It's okay." He turned to his daughters and said the same thing. Hearing him say this immediately calmed me, too. I thought "Yeah it's scary, but I can deal with it."

I'm not someone who inherently respects or trusts authority. Part of this may come from growing up during the Viet Nam war. Part of it may be my loner nature, and part of it comes from being a recovering cynic and smart-ass. I decided a long time ago that the rules an authority gives you are for their benefit, not your's. Once the shaking stopped, I found it funny that an authority figure saying that everything was okay was what I wanted and needed, even though I knew he was no better informed about our situation than I was. But he was right. His role of "opinion leader" completely changed how I felt about the plane's rocking. It kept me from going into full Jerry Lewis mode.

I was glad he was there. As a "thank you" I gave his kid my Skittles.

Gosh I hope the above posting is grammatically correct! Okay, maybe my recovery from being a smart ass will have to be a one-day-at-a-time proposition.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Enron Founder Ken Lay Dead of Heart Attack

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Enron Corp. founder and chief executive Ken Lay, who was convicted in May for his role in the in the Houston-based company's downfall, died of a heart attack on Wednesday at his vacation home in Colorado.

"Ken Lay passed away early this morning in Aspen," Lay family spokeswoman Kelly Kimberly said in a statement.

Lay, 64, was awaiting sentencing later this year and was expected to face a lengthy prison term for his convictions in the Enron collapse.

Lay and former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling were convicted of fraud and conspiracy for hiding the financial ruin at Enron, which collapsed into bankruptcy in December 2001.

I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.
I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.
I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.
I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.
I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.
I must not take pleasure in the misfortune of other's.

...God, this is killing me.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Everyone Gets A Trophy" Day!

This past weekend I was in Lancaster, PA, as a stopover on my way to a wedding in Baltimore. While in Lancaster, my friends Andrea and Troy took me to an exhibit of work by local artists -- any work submitted was accepted so long as you paid the entry fee. This meant the quality of work displayed varied greatly, tottering between good and bad like a child walking in her mother's high heels. There was also work so "interesting" that it completely transcended notions of "good" or "bad."

In addition to the work itself, the titles the artists chose were an indication of how seriously they wanted to be taken seriously. My favorites are below. I should point out that just because something had a bad title doesn't mean it was bad art, although the odds are pretty good.

All titles are genuine. I am not making any of these up.

1. The Apparatus of Self-Evidant Truths
2. Flash Bulb Girl Daydreams About Her Boyfriend
3. The Sacrifice of Rationality Commodified
4. Angela's Favorite Past Time
5. Walk Towards The Light
6. Hands of War
7. Transcendental Tulip
8. May The Gourd Bless You
9. "Sam Sara," Attached to Illusion and Delusion, He Sees Not The Light
10. Clowns On Parade

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Giant Presidents' Heads

Taken while on a recent trip to Houston, TX. Photos courtesy of Kris Burk.

You'll notice that Lincoln is missing the top of his head. I don't know if there are plans to add an enormous stove-pipe hat, or if it's supposed to be post-assassination.

Also: my sense of history isn't the best in the world, but I don't rememeber President Phone-Head. But the other giant president heads seem to respect him.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Goodbye To (Almost) All That

Despite some of the requests in the previous posting's "Comments" section, I don't think I'll be sending too many drunk emails in the future. No, I'm not giving up email. I think I'm gonna phase out the other thing. The drunk thing.

I wasn't drinking a lot. Just a beer or two each day, either with dinner or in a bar on the way home from work. In addition to the inner glow that a nice drink provides, I enjoy pub culture. Relaxing with a book and a beer in a dim, cool bar, waited on by a bartender who is pleasant but keeps a respectful distance...each day I anticipated the pleasure of not doing anything. Of course, this period of "not doing anything" would pretty much stretch out until I went to bed because after getting home after a beer or two, I didn't feel like doing anything. Look at a book (as opposed to reading), maybe. Watch some tv, definitely. Anything constructive? Nah. Maybe tomorrow.

But the big surprise came one Sunday morning. There was a Saturday in which I didn't have any beer or wine. This occurred by happenstance rather than by design. I was working on something, didn't feel like drinking, and when it came dinner time, I just had water with my meal. No plan, no big deal. But when I got up the next morning...I felt great. Rather than my usual groggy creaky morning self, I felt bright, rested, and awake.

"Uh-oh" I thought, remembering a friend who had quit drinking. One of her reasons was that she was tired of feeling like shit every morning. I decided to test that theory so I didn't have anything to drink that day...and felt good when I woke up the next morning. "Oh damn" I thought.

So I've reduced my alcohol intake to social occasions only and find myself surprised at how little I miss it. When I walk past a former favorite haunt, I think "I don't want to feel crappy tomorrow" and keep going. It's kinda like Indian food. I used to love Indian food and ate it at least once a week. However, every time I had Indian food I would wake up late at night with a stomachache that rolled between nausea, bloating and cramps. So Indian food is now a rare treat, enjoyed only in careful portions. It is no longer a consistent part of my life. Same with alcohol. Out of curiosity, this past Sunday I had dinner at Mug's Ale House and had two and a half pints of one of their delicious specialty ales. Guess what? I felt crappy the next morning.

I write the above knowing that I'm going out with friends tomorrow, will be out with co-workers on Thursday, and have a wedding this weekend. Despite all that, I feel a small change has come. I'm also aware that if I do send another drunken email, everyone will think "Oh no, John has fallen off his (training) wagon!" Not at all. In the end, I suppose that if I want to send entertaining mass emails, I will have to find another way other than getting drunk.

I'll probably drop acid instead.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Last Week's Drunk Email...

is this week's journal entry.

I've actually been pretty good about not emailing while drunk, although last week I fell off the wagon. Since my friends like to post my drunk emails on their websites (ahem!), I've decided I might as well just post it here.

I do not think that this will become a regular feature.

Yeah so it's only 8:36 but appearantly I'm drunk already and when I was at the bar tonight having Sierra Nevada Scotch Ale (Yumm!) and a grilled chicken sandwhich I thought it had been a long time since I had sent a drunken email probably because I only do that when a celebrity has died and none have died recently although God knows I've been doing my evey-other-nightly-voodoo dance PRAYING for the death of GeorgeDonaldCondaleezaDick and why haven't they died already but then the scotch ale hits and I have this moment where everything comes together and I actually understand how the personal, the biological, the sociological and the aesthetic all fit together in one central structure that makes sense (and is fun!) but is also mystical in a way but as soon as I try to explain it I start tripping over words and the meaning and sense evaporate...

I feel like at this point I should mention (like Isabella Rossilini in "Blue Velvet"): "I'm not insane. I know the difference between right and wrong." Which reminds me: I saw a fun/heartbreaking short movie written by Isabella and directed by Guy Maddin called "My Father is 100 Years Old" about Isabella's father, Roberto Rossilini. The movie is worth seeing for Isabella imitating Daryl Zanuck and the fact that her father is represented by a big bloated belly. But the ending is heartbreaking: Isabella (playing herself) hugging her father's bloated stomache and saying "I don't know if you were a genius, Dad, but I love you."

Has everyone heard the new Neko Case record? It's good, but it should be 10 minutes longer - it never quite bulids to a climax the the way it should, yet is a sold pleasure throughout.

Cheers everyone. I'm not a bad person.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

happy easter

[picture removed as requested]

(if you celebrate that kinda thing)

In case anyone is wondering, the picture used for the logo for the 40 Days of Lent postings (below) was taken in the Prado Museum in Madrid. All major museums have their less favored sections, rooms with beautiful collections that just aren't as popular with the public. The Metropolitan has several areas that would be highlights at almost any other museum, but are sparsely attended. The Islamic tile room, and recreation of a Japanese garden and a high ceilinged room full of Buddha statues come to mind.

Similarly, the basement of the Prado contains the cafeteria and three small rooms filled with beautiful objects, including a mosaic of Christ at Gethsemane. This isn't a painting, but a mosiac made up of small marble and stone shaped and fitted together. Even more incredible was the fact that it was about 12" x 12" - those were mighty small pieces of stone. The entire piece glowed beneath the lights.

Enjoy the holiday Sunday, everyone.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part Three

Feets, Get Movin'!

God, I wish I had thought of this, but sadly, I did not. Special thanks to Carol Sulcoski for bringing to my attention the Ten Plagues of Egypt Footware Collection.

Friday, April 14, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part Two

A Good Friday

I went to get my hair cut at the Beehive Salon today, which despite the name, does not specialize in beehive hairdos. Even though I was 15 minutes late, they still kept my appointment. The Beehive is in my neighborhood, but I still managed to get lost. I had consulted mapquest and thought I detected a shortcut - God, was I wrong. Another reason I was late was because I had run into Chris, a friend of a friend. I had told him about someone I knew who recently had her car towed because she misread the street signs. Chris told me about the time that "Law and Order" needed the space his car was in, so they towed it and reparked it a block or two away. It took Chris almost a week to find the car.

At the Beehive, I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Clare there, getting her hair done in the chair next to mine. My preference for no-one I know being witness to my tardiness was outweighed by the pleasure of seeing her. Leaving the salon, I saw a crowd and police cars with their flashers on a few blocks away. It was a Good Friday processional, complete with a band playing funeral music, a kid dressed as Jesus who was having trouble with his crown of thorns and more fortunate kids who got to dress as centurions.

Originally this posting was going to be about "I wish I had my camera with me." But as I was writing, I heard the funeral music outside. I grabbed my camera (as always, thanks to Fenway Partners for the camera) and my keys (surprised that I had the presence of mind to take my keys) and went outside to take a few shots. A good Friday.

I couldn't figure out why the little kid in white had fake blood running down his head. He couldn't be any of the apostles; none of them made the long walk to Calvary. Then it struck me: he's the replacement Jesus in case the other Jesus gets tired. The runner-up. The Vice-Saviour. The pinch Messiah. It all makes sense now

Monday, April 10, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part One

The Alpha

This is a photograph of my first memory.

My first memory is when this picture ws taken. I remember my mother placing me in the tub between my two sisters. I remember my confusion - this had never happened before. I remember putting the washcloth in my mouth and sucking water off of it. I remember Ann laughing, and my mother's joy, standing above us, and the flash of light coming from her head.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Forty

The Omega

Today's quote from the Bible:

I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
- John 17:3-5

To which I might add: I have family in town today, and family is important to me, so I won't have a chance to write a relevent final post. The Forty Days of Lent are over. Now begins the addendums and apocryphal postings...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Nine

Uh-oh, I Think I'm Getting Stigmata

No joke. Consider the undoctored photo of my left foot, taken just hours ago...

(a close up)

I have a feeling this was caused by my Lenten postings, and has nothing to do with the fact that I was moving furniture this morning and had a tendency to set my cd shelves on my foot. In all honesty, I should point out that that is not a halo around my foot, but the reflection of the camera's flash.

Speaking of undoctored photos, the following is of a highway sign on the Williamsburg bridge. It made me laugh.

Today's reading fom the Faithful Words Promise Box:
They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
- Daniel 12:3

Friday, April 07, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Eight

So Easter is this Sunday?

No. Even though that will be exactly 40 days after Ash Wednesday, Easter is actually the following Sunday, April 16th. Lent officially ends on sundown on Holy Thursday. You're also not supposed to count the four Sundays during Lent as being part of the season. This explains why by my online journal's count, Lent is almost over, but by the RC Church's estimation, it's another week to go.

I said I would post every day for Lent, meaning 40 entries online. Do I want to follow the letter of the law and finish posting on Sunday or the spirit of the law and continue until Holy Thursday? Foolish question. I will finish this Sunday, but will post addendums till Thursday on days that I have something to say. A wise solution I think, and I didn't have to threaten to cut any babies in half.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
- Acts 12:22

Thursday, April 06, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Seven

Where's Jesus Part II
Streets of New York Edition

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Six

Where I'm At

My friend Carol wrote in Day Thirty-Five's comments:
...I am always fascinated and respectful of people who are willing to try to hang in there notwithstanding questions and criticisms of their birth religion. Our friend Molly is like that; although she shares our difficulties with Catholicism, she's grappled with those questions and arrived at different conclusions. I respect her for that even though I just can't get to the same place.

I am in a different place from both Carol and Molly. I don't consider myself Catholic except as an identity that says more about my history and upbringing than it does about my current beliefs, but I would never convert to another religion. Of all the religious or philosophical systems I've studied, I would say Buddhism is the best. "Best" as in most useful in helping you live a good and rewarding life, and "best" at understanding what human life is really like. However, I don't consider myself a Buddhist. When I stopped being a practising Catholic, I decided I would never call myself any "thing" again. As I mentioned before, when I call myself "Catholic" it's about how I was brought up and what I was conditioned to believe.

When I had to go to church, I hated the weirdness and supernatural ideas of Catholicism. I wanted answers and sense from religion. I didn't want the mystery or "it's a matter of faith". I resented money being spent on decorating churches that could have been given to the poor. I wanted people to think for themselves rather than listen to a priest. Essentially I wanted to be a Protestant. Now I'm 180 degrees from where I once was. I don't go to church, but I love the craziness of the Catholic religion and am thankful that it is part of my heritage and my psyche. The weeping statues, bread that turns into flesh, scary demons that need exercising, a Virgin Mother who likes to visit Europe, babies floating around in Limbo...Catholic craziness is what gave me my imagination, and for that, I am thankful. (I'm a little less thankful for the terrifying nightmares it gave me as a child.) Falling away from the church gave me the desire to study other religions and an interest in their craziness. Just as Mr. Contrary experienced a spiritual awakening when he rejected the notion of soul and embraced materialism (see Day Thirty-One), he learns to appreciate the uniqueness of the Catholic church only when he is no longer a member.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Five

The Trouble With Islam

As I mentioned on Day Nineteen, I've been reading Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam, which was sent to me by Carol Sulcoski. (Thank you, Carol). Manji was raised as a Muslim but had questions which iniitally sprung from the woman's second class status in Islam but soon led her to question many facets of her faith. This tale of heretic youth is a familiar one to those who grow apart from their religion. There are two kinds of non-believers: those for whom the end of faith is the end of the story and those for whom doubts are just the beginning of a lifetime of rearching, soul searching and unanswered questions. I can identify with Manji's movement from "but why..." to "why do people believe this" to "I don't think I can accept this." It also reminds me of the funny Philip Roth story about a little boy who climbs on the roof of his Hebew school and refuses to come down until the rabbi agrees to consider the possibility (not the fact, but just the possibility) that Jesus was the messiah.

Manji's questing has lead her to several ideas about what the trouble with Islam is. In essence, the religion is a closed system, still following rules and beliefs developed over 1000 years ago. Every religion has its orthodox or fundamentalist wing; only in Islam is fundamentalism the mainstream of the religion. Not only is Islam ruled by a book said to be the sacred word of God, but accounts of the Mohammad and his followers founding of the religion, are considered beyond doubt or questioning. Imagine if Christians could not only not challenge the New Testament as the word of God, but couldn't discuss how the book came together. Manji sees Islam in need of a reformation, similar to what Judaism and Christianity went through hundreds of years ago. It is time for Islam to catch up. Such change will not come from countries like Saudi Arabia, countries ruled by those who have no need or interest in social or spiritual progress. Instead, Manji sees the hope of Islam's future coming from Asian countries with large Muslim populations and less repressive governments.

The Trouble With Islam did give me some hope for progress in the Islamic world, whereas before I had none. Reading the Koran has been a rather disheartening experience, in that verses dedicated to justice, love, and treating others fairly are sometimes followed by a section preaching distrust of non-Muslims or oppression of women. I know the Bible has some hateful passages, too, but in the West there is a tradition of questioning the Bible and studying it as a text that reflects the age in which it was created. One can only hope as the world continues to shrink that Islam will go through a similar process.

For those who are interested, Irshad Manji's website is

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
- Luke 12:15

Monday, April 03, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Four

More Hindu Gods and Goddesses and one old vaudeville joke

Kali was created when the Divine Mother sent her energy or lifeforce to combat demonic forces that had conquered earth, the astral plane and the heavens. These forces were aligned with the sun and the moon. Kali is similar to Shiva in that she is Destruction. She is also the goddess of Time and Death. She creates fear in those who fear death and are too attached to life, whereas she aids those who no longer fear death.

Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of food and cooking. Annapurna is empowered with the ability to supply food to an unlimited amount of people. Annapurna is an incarnation of the Hindu Goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva. Temple art in India often depicts Lord Shiva with his begging bowl (skull), asking Annapurna to provide him food that gives the energy to achieve knowledge and enlightenment. As such, Annapurna also symbolizes the divine aspect of nourishing care.

Body resembles a man’s, but he has an elephant’s head. He’s not an animal, or a human being, but a Hindu deity. Before you pray or worship, you invoke Ganesh. In this way, he is similar to Papa Legba in voodoo ceremonies. He is the gatekeeper, and the god that you must appease before you can access the other deities.

By paying respect to an elephant-headed god, you are willingly leaving behind the rational world for the spiritual, and you are also learning to accept people for who they are rather than what they look like.

Nothing much. Vishnu with you?

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER.
- Psalm 23:6

Sunday, April 02, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Three

Personal Icons

Personal family icons I've always found interesting:

1. My Aunt Juleann had once gotten a "I donated blood today," complete with smiling blood drop, from the Red Cross for giving blood. Without really thinking about it, she came home and stuck the sticker on, yes, a picture of Jesus, who also donated blood, although in a more painful fashion. The sticker remained on the picture of the Lord for years.

2. People often put important slips of paper or family photographs in mirror frames. In addition to the photos of her children as toddlers and her husband as a young man, my mother always had pictures of two men on her dresser mirror. One was of Jesus, of course, pre-crucifixion and with an inner glow and beautiful auburn hair. The other picture was of...Mr. Peanut. I've often thought that the combination of the two would be my mother's ideal man: spiritual, self-sacrificing, compassionate yet debonair and perhaps just a little decadent. Not to mention the whole "body of Christ, shed for you" would - yum! - taste like peanuts.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
- Proverbs 27:1

Saturday, April 01, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Two

The Hindu Holy Trinity

Within the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Brahma grew in a lotus out of the navel of the sleeping Vishnu. This means the creator grew out of the preserver. A contradiction, I know, but what can you do? The daily alternation of light and dark is attributed to the activity of Brahma, which reminds me: tomorrow is daylight savings time. Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour.

In order to create the world and produce the human race, Brahma made a goddess out of himself. One half was woman and the other half was man. Brahma called the woman Gayatri, but she also became known by many other names such as Saraswati.

Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation. Vishnu is the embodiment of mercy and goodness, the self-existent, all-pervading power that preserves the universe and maintains the cosmic order Dharma (rules of existence, the basic “is” of what is).

Vishnu is often represented resting on the coiled serpent Shesha, with Vishnu's consort Lakshmi massaging his feet (aaaaah!). Vishnu never sleeps (ew!) and is the deity of Shanti, the peaceful mood. Vishnu does not however tolerate Ego.

Shiva is the destroyer of the world, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of the shedding of old habits. Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse. Another contradiction, yes, but I am happy for Mrs. Shiva. Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas. The vehicle of Shiva is the white bull called Nandi (the joyful). He is often seated on a tiger skin or wears a tiger skin, with the tiger representing the mind.

Shiva’s dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation. I like the idea of the apocalypse as a form of dance rather than plagues and demons tormenting people. This doesn’t mean I necessarily want to see such a dance, however.

Friday, March 31, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-One

The Other Hand

After having had the revelation I wrote about on Day Thirty, I was left with a feeling of "now what?" Sink into despair? Plunge into decadence? Oddly enough, backa**ward person that I am*, the idea that there may be no God made me want to be a better person. Walking around I would watch people, thinking of them, of us, as being equally doomed. All their concerns and little struggles aren't getting them anywhere in this world or the next. A curious thing happened: contemplating this fragile life, watching how busy everyone seemed, making time until they end up in a grave, I could feel a lightness, a warmth within. Seeing existence this way made me happier, more content than sitting in a church ever did. I was filled with a compassion for all living creatures that the best sermons could not install in me. I was edging towards bliss.

The entire experience struck me as funny. Rejecting spirituality and focusing only on the material world, I could feel my soul soar. The sensation didn't last. Like Icarus we do have to eventually come back down to earth. But it was enough.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
- Phil. 3:7

*It's no accident that this site is named after someone who's upside down.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty

Atheist Day!
The Numbers, or Why I Don't Believe On The Days I Don't Believe

Back on Day Seven, I wrote:
My friend Bob once said "I read a poll that shows most Americans believe in God. That just shows how out of mainstream culture I am, because I don't know anyone who does." I sheepishly (and not in the "The Lord Is My Shepard" sense) raised my hand and explained that my belief pretty much depends on what day it is. If there is a God, I think it supersedes our puny earthling attempts to comprehend It, and I don't think It is actively involved in our affairs at all. But that's all for another posting, another day.

Every believer has their moments of doubt. But revelation came for me when I was reading some statistics about the standard of living of people on Earth. There were just some simple numbers but they changed everything for me (some stats I found online are below). The large number of people suffering becomes an abstraction and makes the mind shut down. Despite the luck I've had in this life, despite the weird experiences I've had that make me think that there's something beyond us, I just can't reconcile the concept of a God with the suffering that several hundred million people endure every day. This isn't a situation that started yesterday, but has pretty much been a fact of life on this planet from the start. From the dawn of time, suffering has been the rule, peace has been the exception.

I can remember in school Mr. Kurpis explaining the Judeo-Christian concept of one God as "omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent." "And omni-benevolent" he would add. Okay: all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present and all-good...wait a minute. I just can not accept a supreme being as "all-good" that lets so much of his creation suffer. Not suffer in the way of "I'm so upset - Jimmy didn't ask me to the prom!" or even "what do you mean I've lost everything?" But I mean ongoing torment without respite. Perhaps there is a Prime Cause, and It may know everything, have ultimate control and be everywhere. But I don't think It is too concerned with how human beings feel. More numbers: three out of four isn't bad.

Any being that permits ongoing suffering on such a scale does not deserve worship. People have filled countless books trying to reconcile the contradiction of a good God who permits so much bad. I have a simple explanation and it's only two words.

No God.

World Hunger facts (outside the U.S.)
852 million people are hungry

Developing nations
815 million people are undernourished
1.2 billion people live on less than $1/day
153 million children under age 5 are underweight
11 million children under age 5 die every year, over half of hunger-related causes
1 in 6 people is hungry
1 in 4 people lacks safe drinking water

Industrialized/developed nations
9 million people are undernourished

Transitional nations
28 million people are undernourished

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.
- Psalm 6:9

(It looks like the Promise Box is a little bit of a smart a**)
Appearantly SpellCheck was designed by Republicans. "Undernourished" wasn't recognised. Suggested replacement? "Underemployed."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Nine

Thwacked with the Buddha Stick

Several years ago, I went to a Buddhist center in Manhattan. The center was open to the public for meditation on Thursday nights in exchange for a small donation. My meditative practise was a little "off," shall we say, meaning I hadn't been doing it at all. I figured going to the center would get me back on track.

As with most things in my life, I thought about learning to meditate for a while (several years) before I actually did it. I learned at a TM center while in grad school down in DC. I had expected it to be an earth-shattering (or at least John-shattering) experience, but it was not. The sensation was familiar to me: calm, slightly groggy, less chatter in my head. My main memory is when my instructor mentioned those who are enlightened and I asked if she was. Appearantly, this is a spiritual faux pas. My instructor curtly informed me that "we do not ask about the state of other people's enlightenment." Oops.

As I mentioned, despite the sense of calm it gave me, after several years my practise had dwindled. It just never seemed like was enough time in the day. You wake up, and at first you're too sleepy to do it. Then you have to get to work. You shouldn't do it shortly after eating, and you shouldn't do it right before going to bed. When I was a student I could schedule meditation without any trouble, but once I joined the working world, it was difficult.

So I went to a Buddhist center. Now, TM is different from Buddhist meditation, but only in that you are focusing on a word (a mantra) instead of a breath, candle or riddle. Buddhist meditation also requires a certain posture, whereas TM just requests that you are comfortable, preferrably sitting. At the center we sat crosslegged, shoes off, listening to a brief lecture about Buddha, the soul, meditating, blah blah blah (this is not my mantra but it might as well be) . The procedure for the night was explained to us: we'd go to a room, a bell would sound, monks would enter the room, meditation would begin, try not to make any noise. Oh yes: there is a tradition in Buddhist monastaries to hit those meditating with a paddle or stick, the pain serves to induce the meditator to deeper practise. "But I understand that some of you are new and that some Americans don't like being hit. So I ask that when the gong sounds, anyone who is would like to be hit, please raise their hand."

We entered the room and I began focusing my attention on my breath. Eyes closed I heard the monks enter. I didn't feel ready for any spiritual hazing, so when the gong sounded, I kept both hands in my lap. Each THWACK! was so loud, they echoed and filled the small room in a way that the gong could not. I remembered the times as a child when I would be in trouble and those agonizing seconds before punishment (either physical or verbal) was meted out. THWACK! You couldn't help but jump a little at the sound and wait in suspense for the next beat. They could see that my hands were in my lap, right? My hands are in my lap, aren't they? Oh yeah, there they are. The last THWACK! was administered and we continued to meditate. The noise focused my attention on my breath in a way that just sitting in the room had not.

After the session, we were putting our shoes on in the foyer. The big topic of conversation was the stick. Did you get hit? You did? It was so loud. I couldn't believe it! One guy said it hurt more than he expected. H knew it was gonna hurt, but it really stung. I can't believe how loud it was, was all I could say.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
His delight is in the law of the Lord; nd in his law doeth he meditate day and night.
- Psalm 1:2

(Finally the Faithful Words Promise Box has something to do with the topic of the day, or at least uses one of the words of the topic of the day.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Eight

This made me laugh out loud. In case you can't read it, the packaging say "He who may not be shown." It's almost like buying someone a pet rock, except that I guess a pet rock would refer to Peter, the rock on which Christ said he would build His church.

I started two entries today and got stuck with each of them. I will work on them later and post them this week. I thought the above toy does fit in with one of the essays which is a further consideration of word versus image in religion.

A friend just called about having dinner together - Praise the Lord! But first:

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
Thou art coming to a King
Large petitions thou must bring
for His love and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

Monday, March 27, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Seven

Good for the Soul

I haven't been to confession in years decades. As a child, the logic of the ritual escaped me. You could do the most heinous things but as long as you were sorry, confessed and did penance, the sin was forgiven by God. It seemed a little too easy. Although I couldn't figure out why, something didn't feel right. I didn't like the idea that people could get away with the bad things they did, especially mean older kids in the neighborhood. I wanted them held accountable.

I can remember waiting in line outside the confessional for what seemed like hours. Appearantly those ahead of me in line had a lot to confess - was that the norm? I didn't have so much to say and felt bad. Some cursing, some disobeying my parents: I would be in and out of the confessional in no time flat. It was embarassing. So, in order to spend more time in the confessional, I would make up sins to confess. Nothing outlandish: I never copped to a murder. But I would admit sins I figured other kids my age would have: stealing, skipping church on a Sunday, etc. Then the final sin I would confess would be lying, figuring that would include the lying I had done in the confessional.

I stopped going to confession not because of any conflict I had with the church, but because of my faulty memory. My last time in confession, I began the creed the ends the ritual...and realized I couldn't remember the words. The priest feed me a couple of lines which I repeated but then I would fall silent. Unlike my sins, I knew I couldn't make up the closing prayer. So my penance was: learn the creed before I go to confession. I haven't learned the prayer and I've never been back to confession.

Just one more reason I'll see you all in Hell!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Six


I was at Kinsale Tavern last night eating a delicious chicken curry (over a bed half of which was rice and the other half french fries) and reading The Trouble With Islam by Irshad Manji. I certainly didn't think anyone is the pub would have a problem with what I was reading. I'm sure if anyone found out, I would have been treated to a half hour beer-breathed lecture on how evil the Arabs are. But no one asked. The games were on - soccer, basketball and hockey all represented on the pubs' various screens.

While traveling on the subway, an older man got on who was wearing one of those muslim-style small knitted caps. I wasn't in the mood for an argument or any attention at all, so I strategically place my hand over the book's title on the spine and continued reading. I remeber once, several years ago when I had Elaine Pagels' The Origin of Satan on the subway and someone asked me what I was reading. When I showed him the cover, he said disdainfully "why would somebody write something like that?" I didn't feel like explaining to him that it was a scholarly reading of the four gospels, tracing how anti-semitism corresponds to when the books were written and the early Christian sects were trying to separate themselves from the Jewish powers that be. He obviously thought it was either a cheesy horror novel or a born again tract (which is a horror of an other kind).

I've mentioned before how informative I've found Manji's book, but one section in particular stuck out last night. Manji has been invited to visit Israel, no small honor considering she is a Muslim woman. However, despite being an invited guest, there are conflicts and arguments at every site she wants to visit. While visiting the Al-Aksa mosque, an old man blocks her path and prevents her from entering even though she has permission and is there with a guide. Only when she demonstrates proper knowledge of the Koran does the old man relent..."with one last condition. While inside the mosque, he says, I must relinquish my camera because photographing any creature who has a soul promotes idolatry." (Italics mine.)

What is it about the image that bothers people so? Yesterday on this site I wrote about the different versions of the Ten Commandments and that the Catholic version doesn't include a law against graven images, which both the Judaic and Protestant versions forbid. According to Islamic law, you are not allowed to make pictures of any of God's creations. Why? I understand the historical context for these laws. The Jews and the Muslims were reacting against pagan idolatry. Protestants were reacting against the Catholic church. But there seems to be a distrust of images, a discomfort with the power of images.

Several years ago, I began (but haven't finished) Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Based on studies that show words and images being processed by different parts of the brain (simplifying for the sake of argument: words are the domain to the left half of the brain, the seat of reason, logic, linear thinking, cause and effect, stereotyped as "male" values. Images belong to the right side of the brain, along with intuition, holistic thought, associative thinking, all considered "female" traits.), Schlain examines how literacy changes societies. As writing becomes more important within society, the left half of the brain dominates and its associated attributes become the "norm," whereas the values of the right half of the brain are mistrusted or dismissed. Schlain's book is speculative - there's no way to "prove" what his thesis, but he provides enough examples to make a compelling case. (Oy, does he provide examples! That's why I'm not finished with it yet).

But it has had an effect on how I see things. This notion that images are "bad" fascinates me. This wariness is not restricted to patriarchal religions, either. One of the most famous and influential essays about cinema is Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey argues that the inventions and products of a patriarchal society will be phallocentric and see "male" values as the norm. She applies this idea to cinema, saying it is a vehicle for the male gaze, that gaze mainly concerned with women as objects of desire. For examples, she looks at the cinema of Hitchcock. How could she not? His movies were often about looking and watching, and featured a male character's desires. Even his name is phallocentric.

Mulvey has since qualified her argument, saying she was more interested in working out her thoughts in essay form than in writing a manifesto. But a manifesto it has become and with it, a suspicion of images and their "power." Except that this suspicion comes from progressive feminist writers rather than patriarchal religious leaders.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Five


Guess who might be in trouble? I was looking for biblical quotes to take out of context and mock and ran across the following:

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD. – Leviticus 19:28

I've never cut myself over the dead or due to great angst, and printing any marks upon me? Oh...yeah...tattoos. Uhm, yeah, I got one of those. It's of the same tarot card this journal is named after. Yes, it looks great.

The above passage is why tattoos are taboo if you're a jew, which sounds like something Dr. Seuss might have written. (If you do go to the link, make sure you check out the Tattoos May be Addicting article).

Of course, it gets worse. There was the short-lived fad in college for tackling your friends, holding them down and writing "TURD" on their forehead in big letters. There was the time my sister Julie brought her newborn son TJ to the house, and I drew a smiley face on his belly and then discovered we couldn't remove the smiley face. I thought I was safe because I wasn't using a permanent marker, but as it turns out, regular ball point pens are also pretty permanent on human skin. I remember the confused look on TJ's face as his mother and I kept rubbing his belly trying to get the ink off. "I really don't want to get a divorce when my husband sees you drew on his son, John" was how my sister admonished me.

Trying to calm the "Uh-oh" sensation, I thought I would review the 10 Commandments to see how I'm doing. As this website points out, there are actually multiple versions of the commandments. Even more surprising? The simplest and most direct version of the commandments is the Catholic version. Imagine that. The church that has a ritual for everything, is ruled by an intricate hierarchy and follows the most twisted logic to justify its faith has managed to whittle down the decalogue into easy to remember topic sentences. Also of interest is that the Judaic and Protestant versions have a separate law against graven images which the Catholics do not. This is apparent to anyone who studies art history and is one of the best things about the Catholic church. To make up for this missing law, the Catholic decalogue adds "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife" -- thy neighbor's wife being just one item on the other versions' Do Not Covet" list (along with his ass -ha ha ha). I can remember as a child thinking it was redundant. Isn't "do not covet thy neighbor's wife" the same as "do not commit adultery?" I suppose one is a sin of thought whereas the other is a sin of action. Still, it's nice to see ladies considered as distinct from goods.

So which commandments have I broken?

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
I can honestly say I've never worshipped any other gods. But accepting the God of Old and New Testaments? That depends on what day it is and what my mood is.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Oh, I've done this.

3. Remember thou keep the Sabbath Day.
I don't do this.

4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.
I would have to say I've honored my mother and father.

5. Thou shalt not kill.
I have not killed anything. (Vegetarians, I know what you're saying and you can shut up.)

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Not married so this one isn't a problem.

7. Thou shalt not steal.
Yeah, I guess I've stolen, if you define "stealing" as "taking something you haven't paid for and doesn't belong to you."

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
I can't recall every lying about someone. When you're able to speak the truth in such a way that you can make your low opinion of someone obvious, why bother lying about them?

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.
Yeah, I've done this. (I don't mean "neighbour" literally. As much as I like Barb Wilson, no coveting was going on there.)

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods.
Yeah, I do this.

I'm 50/50 as far as the commandments are concernced. Conclusion: some time in Purgatory for this boy. On the other hand, while looking for fun scripture, I ran across the following:

The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! - Luke 7:34

Jesus, a gluttonous man and a winebibber?

Maybe I'm more like Christ than I thought...