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Monday, April 27, 2015

WHY REALITY ROCKS!

A few years ago, two of my very best friends in the world came for a “sleepover date” for my birthday.  Now, the fact that we are all in our 40’s should not discourage you; we can stay up too late doing silly and meaningless things with the most misdirected teenagers!  We indulged in the usual overeating and YouTube saturation…after which we moved on to the endless hilarity of what we later termed Reality Rocks. 

Have you ever been in a cutesy gift shop that sells rocks (or stones) of various sizes with inspirational sayings on them?  Believe”… “Dream”… “Hope” … “Faith”...  Well, we decided there was an untapped market for rocks (or stones) with slightly more realistic advice:  Deny” … “Wallow” … “Covet” … “Retaliate”.  We literally spent hours coming up with these, writing them on some river rocks I inexplicably had lying around the house and laughing to kill ourselves.   We felt there was a desperate retail need for REALITY rocks.

Reality gets a bad rap because it is full of all sorts of unsavory things like betrayal, embarrassment, disappointment, death and taxes.  We tend to think in extremely negative terms about reality, reserving our believe-dream-hope-faith experiences for special occasions or as pie-in-the-sky aspirations.  But reality is much more well-rounded than that; also more ambiguous. 

We can have an absolutely shitty day that turns into our most entertaining story EVER and we can have a long wished for dream-come-true that leaves us feeling flat.   Reality never looks like a Pottery Barn catalogue—it is messy, lived in, cluttered and riotous.  Reality is also the most flexible commodity on the planet…it shifts and changes as you do.  Be careful what you wish for and even more so what you believe.
“Believe” on the other hand, gets much more credit as a good thing than it deserves!  Believe as an inspirational catchphrase is quite suspect, because I know an awful lot of people who believe really horrible things…most of which I have never experienced evidence of in my “reality”.  From self-doubting beliefs to fear-based world views, these beliefs drive behaviors that make them come true. 

What you believe determines much of what you do, and what you do creates your life experiences.  Like the hypochondriac who actually contracts that weird, rare disease they feared, our beliefs work like a magic wand attracting evidence of what we think is true.  Our belief in our own inadequacy can keep us from achieving our dreams; our beliefs about the inadequacy of others can deprive us of community and intimacy.  Belief is a double edged sword and you must always be aware of how you are wielding it.

Reality knows no absolutes.  Nothing is definitively good or bad, no rule is so exacting that there are no exceptions, no truth is so profound that it doesn’t contain the essence of some banal lie.  Reality is our clay, to be molded and formed to our satisfaction…when that clay solidifies, we can name it good or we can wet it down and start all over again. 

Reality has the potential for endless reinvention because it is never done, never over.  You can try on as many hats as you like in your relationships, your career and your emotions.  You can fail, you can succeed, you can grow, you can contract and reality will just go with your flow and keep on keepin’ on.  “Change your mind, change your life” is not just motivational jargon—it is an invitation to try on as many “realities” as you can imagine.

Life is wonderful when you are in the mood to believe, dream, hope and have faith, but life can also be a great deal of fun when you make your mind up to deny, wallow, covet and retaliate.  There is a duality that exists that must be given its due:  you cannot have light without dark.  And if you are not capable of coveting something, for example, chances are pretty good you cannot attain it, either.   

Reality gives us the greatest gift of all…an understanding that imperfection is the norm, and we are officially off the hook.  When we give up on the empty ideals of the Pottery-Barn-catalogue, we begin to forgive ourselves for not meeting the standard that only existed in our heads anyway.  Self-trust begins to overtake self-doubt in that lifelong race as we no longer need to be perfect, we only need to be real. 

Really hopeful, really screwed up, really capable, really unsure of what comes next…but also really sure that whatever it is, we are up for it.  Because Reality Rocks!  And so do we.

 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

WHY I AM GREEN! (And the Republican Candidates Make Me See Red)


Have you ever heard the expression “a stitch in time saves nine”?   How about “Trust in God, but tie up your camels”?  Or “better safe than sorry”?  We humans have a hilarious abundance of phrases that mean the same thing—when in doubt, we should err on the side of caution.  See, there’s another one! 

The point being, one thing anyone who can read or hear and/or has been living on this planet should NOT be in doubt about is global climate change.   The inevitable conclusion of having ANY information at all is that we must do something about pollution, like, yesterday.  Or even better, twenty years ago!  Where is the “way back” machine when you need it? 
Hey, you say, I recycle!  And buy “Energy Star” appliances when my old ones crap out!  I am doing my part!  And you are.  But unfortunately not only do you have to do YOUR part, but a probably a couple dozen OTHER people’s parts too, because Houston, we have a problem.  And the problem is, we have politicians and others who want to run our country committed to promoting the lie that climate change is not happening or, if it is, it is not because of our excessive consuming of fossil fuels and lack of government regulations on the big time polluters. 

Obviously this is on my mind because we are in the midst of yet another presidential campaign, with the usual parade of comedians and charlatans running for leader of the free world.  And that just covers Hillary Clinton. Ha.  But one thing Hillary’s got that neither of the Republican frontrunners have is a belief in reality. 

On the other hand we’ve got Donald “Climate change is an expensive hoax” Trump and Ted “There has been no global warming in the last 15 years” Cruz.  Ted Cruz went to Princeton, people.  Yikes.  The only Republican candidate who is taking a pro-active stance about our environment is John Kasich—and he has no chance of winning the nomination. 
I may disagree with you about everything else on the planet, but if we can agree about the planet, we are on solid footing.  Because protecting the planet means not only protecting ourselves and our future and the future of our children’s children, it also means not bowing to the special interests, the big corporations which view pollution as both necessary and intrinsic to their fat bottom lines; it means standing up for what is right for EVERYBODY, even if they can’t see it or won’t admit it. 

One thing former Republican candidate Jeb “I’m not a scientist” Bush and I have in common is that I am not a scientist either.  But as our current President has pointed out, you don’t have to be a scientist yourself in order to understand the wisdom coming out of NASA, NOAA and our major universities:  there is over a 95% consensus that climate change is happening and our behaviors are the direct cause. 

To put that in perspective, 95% is also the scientific consensus number on whether or not smoking cigarettes contributes to health problems.  AHEM.  The Koch brothers, our country’s very own Goofus and Gallant (plus a Goofus, minus the Gallant) spent over 100 million on the last mid-term elections to back candidates opposed to environmental regulations with great success.  If you think they did that because they are great guys with your best interests at heart…well, I have bridge to sell you. 
And look:  I realize the candidates are trying to “win” and that history has proven that their voting base prefers a guy who pretends what is happening is not really happening.  Just ask John Kasich.  Or ask former Republican congressman Bob Inglis how embracing climate change affected his (last and final) campaign.  But what is happening is happening.  And unless we start cooperating on how to fix what is happening, nobody will be a scientist anymore, not just me and Jeb Bush.  Because we need a viable planet to live on to become scientists.

So keep on recycling, buy some of those energy efficient lightbulbs and conserve water.  But much more than any of this, be careful where you cast your vote.  Think long and hard about the kind of belief system you want running your country.  Understand the consequences of choosing the interests of big business over the interests of our planet.  Choose carefully, because sooner or later your life may depend on it.  And if not yours, the lives of your children.

There is another expression, penny wise and pound foolish.  And that is what we all are if we don’t prioritize saving our planet over saving corporations money and over all other things NOW.  Because the time is long past when we should have come together for the purpose of a better life for all.  Maybe safeguarding our environment will mean that people like the Koch brothers don’t necessarily have 100 million lying around to throw at political campaigns, and how can that be a bad thing?  Without our planet they could have all the money anyone could ever dream of, but they’ll have no place to spend it…


Unless hell takes travelers checks.  Oh—and Happy Earth Day, btw!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

WHY INDIANA WANTS ME! (Lord, I Can't Go Back There)

I know it’s not becoming to brag, but Indiana wants me!   You may wonder what makes me so special and I’ll tell it “straight” up—I am a heterosexual in a heterosexual relationship!  YAY ME!!!  In fact, a very dear friend of mine once called me “pathologically heterosexual”, which means I am SO straight, it’s like an illness.  Yeah, I don’t think he meant it as a compliment either.  Bygones.  Another thing Indiana covets about the great and wonderful me is that I am a Christian!!!  At least in the sense that I go to a church that practices the teachings of Christ like “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.  We do NOT practice the teachings of Christ where he says “Go into business to provide a service for money but then deny that service to paying customers because you believe I might disapprove of them”.  I think that must be a read-between-the-lines lesson, because I can’t find it in any bible I’ve ever seen.  I know that Jesus never addressed homosexuality according to any of his biographers, so if he had a problem with it, we’ll never know.   We do know that Jesus hung out with a lot of people who would be considered “immoral” even by today’s standards, but he never made any of them pizza, so there might be a solid argument to be had there.  However, he did actually say, “Judge not lest ye be judged” and that seems pretty clear, at least to me.

In spite of my totally awesome heterosexuality, I do not feel very Christian when I hear stories about people using Christ as an excuse to exclude others.  The Westboro Baptists make me most especially peevish, and not just because they called my alma mater “an ivy league whorehouse with a gay agenda”.    I also feel judgmental about the people who donated money to that pizza parlor for refusing to cater gay weddings; but on the other hand, a fool and his money can be good friends to have under any circumstances.  My brother and I want to take advantage of the situation (hey, everybody is doing it!) by setting up a GoFundMe! account to support us in our total bigotry towards bigots!  Or our alternative plan is host a big gay pizza party wedding in Indiana so that we can meet Zach Braff and Donald Faison (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/zach-braff-gay-pizza_n_7010510.html)!  WE LOVE SCRUBS!!!  My favorite headline so far is the woman who wanted to explain why she WOULD serve an adulterer but would not serve a gay couple.  I didn’t need to read the actual article to know that what she didn't say is “Because adultery is a chosen behavior and I support freedom of choice!”  Ha.
This reminds me of the time I (didn’t) refuse to serve an adulterer but still got to speak my piece:  I had a retail job in my 20’s where I was commissioned to sell very high end chocolate.  Like, $40 a pound chocolate.  25 years ago.  DO THE MATH.  Anyhow, I was working the hectic days leading up to Valentine’s when a well-dressed man requested TWO boxes of chocolate, one for his wife and one for his mistress.  Without a flicker of change to my expression, I explained to him that a half pound box was $20, a full pound box was $40 but he could put together his own assortment for the same price.  He shrugged and said, “So give me a half pound box for my wife and a full pound for the mistress.”  My response:  “NO.  Buy 2 half pounds or 2 full pounds, I don’t care; but I won’t sell you 2 different sized boxes.”  At this point my boss, who was an excellent candidate for a coronary under the best of circumstances, started making his way over to intervene.  But when the man said, “Okay…I’ll take two full pound boxes”, my boss suddenly disappeared.  That is called upselling for a cause, my friends!

It is good to have a cause; it is helpful to have a strong belief system and moral compass to guide you through the ups and downs of this thing called life.  However, discrimination by any other name is just as uncool—or as my #onetruelove Stephen King put it, “You can frost a dog turd, but it’s still a dog turd.”  The people who claim they are acting on behalf of an invisible deity in the sky might as well be saying “The devil made me do it” because it is an abdication of personal responsibility, pure and simple.  Whatever your deeply held personal belief about homosexuality may be, at the end of the day they are still your neighbors.  And Jesus is 100% clear on how we should treat our neighbors—we love them as ourselves.  And I don’t know about you, but I LOVE pizza!  This means I wish pizza for everybody, no exclusions.  If you, like me, are a bad Christian who judges people for withholding the services they went into business to provide for the public from people they deem unworthy, go to this website:  http://www.gofundme.com/pizza4equality  You can put your money where your judgmental mouth is and donate to help LGBT homeless youth.  I feel certain Indiana is chock full of judgmental, bad Christians just like you and I.  And fingers crossed at least some of them are planning that big, gay pizza party wedding because I am all about Zach Braff and Donald Faison throwing up pies!

Friday, April 3, 2015

WHY HE IS RISEN! (Relax; I'm talking about Michael Myers)

How do I love the zombie related holidays??? Halloween, Day of the Dead, Easter…let me count the ways!  Speaking of the magical bunny that travels the globe to deliver high fructose corn syrup and plastic eggs full of silly putty to deserving children (what do the bad ones get?  Heroin and razor blades?) the genre of risen-from-the-dead in film has its own unique lore and whimsy.  And just like on Good Friday, there is great comfort to be had in knowing that a world exists in which no one is ever really dead for sure.  You can get stabbed in the neck with a badass knitting needle, gouged in the eye with a wire hanger, shot multiple times and fall backwards off a second story balcony and live to tell the tale!

Not that Michael Myers is the chatty type.  He is a man of action!  A man, not unlike Jesus, of reanimation!  A man, also not unlike Jesus, with morals and values that he wants to share with the world!  That is the other comforting thing about horror films—they have rules of conduct that can ensure your salvation.  Horror films and religion have a lot more in common than you might suspect, so let’s go there, shall we?

First off, the most obvious parallel is that both horror films and religion aim to scare you.  Don’t agree?  Most religions rely on the acceptance of an invisible entity that will punish you if you displease it or don’t follow its rules…hey, that sounds like the basic premise of a lot of great horror!  The Changeling, The Haunting, Burnt Offerings…invisible entities that punish you if you don’t follow the rules are scary as hell!  Both religions and fright flicks are also heavy into the mythology that there are evil spirits (devils or Satan) that are out to trick you, whether by possession or temptation, into breaking the rules so that you will be punished by spending eternity in their company. 

On this topic, The Exorcist is one of my top ten films EVER!!!  Also:  total horseshit.  I don’t believe in the devil, or a version of God who lets the (imaginary) devil screw with his constituents, BUT it is fun and scary to pretend, right?  Another thing is that both horror films and religions want your MONEY.  Although the horror films only require the one time admission fee.  There is no promise that giving EXTRA money to the horror film industry will get you any kind of protection from God, or even the Weinsteins.
Some religions promise you eternal life; Jehovah’s witnesses even think the saved will be resurrected after Armageddon, which seems frightening to me.  Zombies also have eternal “life”, but it doesn’t look like it's much fun.  I think living forever sounds horrible, but I must be a minority.  Michael Myers clearly agrees, however, because each time he resurrects he comes back more vindictive than ever!   

Even Jesus only hung around for a few days, and that was to prove a point.  Speaking of Jesus, his “frenemy” doubting Thomas would TOTALLY be the first to go in a classic horror scenario.  “I don’t believe Jesus came back from the dead, I want proof, I want to put my hands into his wounds myself…”  WHAM!  In the horror film version of that story, Jesus would cram his fingers into gory wounds, pierce his hands with nails for irony and say something like, “Do you doubt now, Thomas?”  Thomas would slump to the ground, dead.  And Jesus would kill the rest of the disciples for very good moral reasons, I’m sure.

Horror films and religion both posit that the good ones are “saved”.  How do you know if you are a good one?  Premarital sex, drugs and being unkind to the less fortunate get you a one way ticket to hell in either.  The meek shall inherit the earth!  And live to be the “final girl” in horror. 

It is usually a girl that makes it to the end of any good horror film because let’s face it, a boy who doesn’t drink, have sex or bully is really just a loser, and nobody want to watch a loser for 90 minutes.  Virginal girls seem to have superpowers (like giving birth to Jesus!!!) while virginal boys seem like they might need a diaper change and a good burping.  And woe to him that tries to lure our goody girl heroine to any immoral behaviors!  Lucky thing Ben Tramer was never able to make good on the plan to take Laurie to the dance in Halloween.  Dodged a bullet there, Ben.  Metaphorically, of course…Michael Myers kills people with his super strong bare hands.  And Ben bites it in Halloween II, so that’s where impure thoughts will get you.
So if you, like me, enjoy being scared, you can curl up on the couch with your Netflix account…or go to church!  If you like to listen to people telling you stories about a mysterious, unseen entity that enacts its own brand of justice on a hapless world, you should totally check out John Houseman’s opening monologue from The Fog.  Or, you know, go to church. 

If you like the idea that sex outside of marriage is bad and you should be punished for having it, you should go see the super scary film It Follows.  Or church again. 

If you like the concept of people coming back from the dead, pretty much any film by George Romero will work…or Easter mass!  Happy Easter, btw!  Enjoy your jellybeans and the only benevolent zombie aside from Ed at the end of Shaun of the Dead.  Great flick for laughs AND scares, if you are in the market.  Last thing religion and horror films have in common—get a good one, and it can be a real life saver.  I feel totally prepared for both the possibility of an afterlife AND a zombie apocalypse.  How can that be a bad thing?