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Brother from another mother.

Hallelujah! The culmination of the American trance dance of materialism has passed once again. The story of the arrival of the big JC, iconic emissary of a loving god, can be conveniently stored away in a manger with the wise men and the peaceful creatures of the barnyard with the odd camel or two thrown in for good measure.

Ever notice that East meets West is a theme there too?

We're all free to return to our daily lives coveting our neighbors' toys, sinning at the office, practicing mindless conflicts on the freeway and projecting evil out onto the blank screen of all "those others" who have interrupted our tidy, abundant, complicated lives with their neediness, suffering and despair.

I celebrated winter Solstice, which is my traditional observation for the season and offered prayers for peace, joy and love for all the cantankerous tribes of monkeys here on earth. Thrown in a few cranberry dishes for good measure, a bit of wild rice and sweet potatoes and skipped the egg nog, which to my taste isn't fit for consumption, even when adding rum to kill the taste.

At the end of the year my family celebrates by going to the movies. Being briefly absorbed into other lives and stories, albeit fictional, gives us fodder for contemplation and discussion of larger themes and different perspectives.

Three of the films echoed a dilemma around connecting with "others". According to most mythologies, we are all little bits of one bigger creation. So what makes connecting to the whole so difficult? The central characters found themselves adrift in alien cultures, searching for connection. (If you'd like to follow along in more detail, see "Up in the Air", "District 9" and "Avatar".)   

In the first film, the leading man sought redemption in the narcissistic chimera of adolescent sexual fantasy and returned unchanged to his work in the corporate death mines. That was my take anyway. Perhaps there was transformation in his experience of connection, but the film refused to offer that conclusion. He remained up in the air as far as I can tell.

The second film forged the metaphor of connection all the way through a rather grisly transmogrification. A spiritual awakening through the death of the body and rebirth into an alien culture, which accurately recreated the vicious dehumanization of the majority of immigrant populations around the world.

Post transformation, the leading man attempted to bridge symbolically between these worlds and wasn't particularly successful in his efforts to establish a connection. Another reflection that most immigrant populations experience a similar disconnection from their former lives.

In the last film, not to be a spoiler, the leading man found connection through integration with nature. A satisfying transformation for this celebrant of the feminine face of creation. Apparently colonization doesn't make the script for the 21st century? Makes sense given that tromping around the home world killing other cultures is an apt description of the Western charter of the 20th. Let's see, how well did that work out?  Note that the hero experienced transmogrification as well.

Is it so hard to apply our imagination to the life of the "other" that we fail to connect their struggle with our own face of alienation in the bathroom mirror each morning? Is a father's love for his son somehow less for his language or place of birth?

In an age of abundance, accessibility of creativity and genuine efforts to reach beyond our own biases and filters, why does connection to the whole still elude us?

Thinking about it, maybe the year end is a great time to consider getting up close and personal with our own connections.

Who do you call tribe? What are the common myths and metaphors that you accept as reality? And how do you make enemies of the "other"?

At the end of the twentieth century, the United States - conflicted hero or bully in the school yard depending on your politics -  had "conquered" the world and was reaping a bounty of resentment from our neighbors.

Perhaps the twenty first century will ask us to rethink our conquering ways and envision rejoining the global village in a new way? I can only hope this involves flying around on dragons.

Think about it.

After all, who is the "other" anyway?


The Greatness of a Nation

The sound of the ocean, the silence of a spiderweb casually decked with diamonds of dew, intermittent and perfect, nothing symmetrical, yet the order of things point to beauty without a signpost or trail head.

Thinking about nature and patience. Grounding and animals. House plants and cats, palm trees and oceans. Waiting for inspiration to arrive as if delayed by the fog, my cat keeps me company, reminding me he's been fed but not adored in the last five minutes.

Preoccupied with my thoughts, we hug and purr. Rocking in the chair, scratching the litter off his foot so he doesn't track it around the house or lick it off later. He's okay with my kissing his head until he isn't.

I just stopped reading "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer.

I can't say I finished it. I just couldn't take it anymore. Picking it up to confirm the spelling of his name, and flipping it open, the litany of horror rolls off the page.

If nature and animals and being alive all delicately balance each other, how have we come to such a terrible place?

We got ourselves into this mess one bad decision at a time.

So much changed after the second world war. The industry of death envisioned and created during the war needed a new market and agriculture had plenty of upside.  So we started pumping poison into the earth, air and water to destroy the pests that attacked the plants. Then we started arming the seeds genetically to defend themselves.

Coincidentally those same "killer" seeds can't reproduce, so every year the farmers have to purchase more seed. And should any non- patented seeds cross pollinate in the wind with patented seeds? You'll find yourself in court for stealing.

We brought poison to the altar of productivity and sacrificed our place in the natural order of the world. The greatest hubris of humanity is our insistence that we are the conquerors of all we survey and that mother nature is ultimately destined to be our bitch.

Manipulating the genes of the seeds proved fantastically profitable for the companies that "invented" the seeds and they now own the grain markets. Our government hands them millions of dollars every year in subsidies to poison our food supply, but that's another post.

The supply of food quintupled and poisoned food supplies were cheap.

It was just a logical step to begin "enhancing the productivity" of animals.

Voila. Factory farming.

And animals - breathing, living, creatures of heart, muscle, bone and brains - became "units of production."

We comfort ourselves with the fact that monkeys are omnivores. Even cannibals in the right circumstances. So killing and eating meat isn't the surprise.

There is a context of eating animals, a culture, a history; when access to larger amounts of protein secured health and reflected greater prosperity. While my ancestors grew taller and stronger for raising a pig and eating it, how does that relate to buying bacon from a factory farm with 30,000 hogs on it?

It's the factory part that is horrifying.

The inhumanity of spreadsheets and science that denatures life in the name of profits.

How can I knowingly participate in a market based on the standardization of animal cruelty?

According to Mr. Foer, 99% of animals raised for food are factory creations. Genetic mutants with short, incredibly brutal lives, ending inhumanely at the hands of monkeys who lose their own sanity on the killing floors.

The Von's truck rolls past with pictures of sandwiches on the side. Images from the book flood my mind. How those animals lived and died.

Here's what one of my teachers had to say on the subject.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”   Mahatma Gandhi



Guaranteed stress relief - just in time for the holidays!

The most important thing I've ever learned about the holidays? Ironically, the single most valuable lesson that repeats and repeats itself every day.

Lowering my expectations is the royal road to contentment, peace and joy.

This has been a hard learned lesson as I seem to have been born with towering expectations.  And what better time to practice the gift of lowering my expectations than the holidays?

I've frequently said that Norman Rockwell did us all a hard turn when he created that idyllic image of the happy extended family around the holiday table. Failing to live up to that ideal, my disappointment grew.

I believed that Mr. Rockwell's painting represented an achievable state of family connection and celebration. Lowering my expectations meant letting go of what I imagined the holidays should look like and substituting this odd phrase in it's place.

"It is what it is."

Simply releasing my expectations signifies an acceptance of what is actually happening in the moment.

So, imagine the irony when I read the title of Mr. Rockwell's painting?

"Freedom from Want."  

From my perspective, Mr. Rockwell's image represented what I deeply wanted yet frequently missed due to my expectations. (He had completely other ideas in mind if you're interested. Four Freedoms )

Okay, the holiday tables were always filled with food, which is no small thing to take for granted. In some homes this was not the case. I'm grateful that my expectations were never disappointed by dinner being scarce. (On further reflection, I realize that a big part of my attachment to cooking is to avoid being disappointed with dinner!)

More frequently my disappointments revolved around the monkeys at the table. They seemed to be suffering in large and small ways, tired and distracted, filled with unmet expectations about where they were and where they should or rather would be.

Wasn't this supposed to be a celebration of love and hope? So why was everyone drinking so much?  Always worried about survival in some regard - about the economy, health care, aging parents, rebellious teens, the war in fill-in-the-blank.

Not so funny. That last sentence could probably be true for every generation.

If the circumstances of our lives don't change that much - we're born, grow up, love some people, hate some people, get some stuff, love some more people, forgive some people, lose some stuff, and then die - can accepting our circumstances make us that much happier?

In the word of a modern sage, "Duh."

As you find yourself wrapped up in the onslaught of expectations and the possible disappointment of holiday happenings, consider letting go.

Does your experience meet your expectations? Whether it does or doesn't, it is what it is.

As the next few weeks unfold, consider allowing all the parades and tantrums, spectacles and misunderstandings, to simply be what they are.

Passing images on a screen, moments of life unfolding, without resisting or clinging.

It is what it is.


Just doing my job.

I've worn glasses since the third grade. With two older brothers, I was frequently teased with the refrain "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses", which given my interest in eventually being passed at, was wickedly on target. Ah, brothers. (Little did I know at the time that in fact boys take passes at anything that moves, but that's another post.)

To adjust, I focused my emerging sense of okay-ness on what genetics had delivered by celebrating the compensatory prize of well shaped, evenly spaced and at times beautiful, teeth. I rationalized that while my eyes had been focused on the near side of life, my teeth were designed to bare my true standard to the outside world. Convenient that smiling is something I truly enjoy, particularly for no good reason.

In any event, I learned that while trips to the eye doctor were relatively painless, the upkeep of my smile had a different burden. I quickly determined that with a small daily contribution to the care of my teeth, the relationship with my dentist remained brief and harmonious. In the interests of avoiding sharp, stabbing or god forbid drilling pain of any kind, I became a disciple of flossing and brushing.

As the technology evolved, my cleaning arsenal shifted from manual to electric. A new brush came into my life through the miracle of Costco, where you can purchase two or twenty of anything, for what appears to be a greatly reduced per unit price. This is how the new electric tooth brush came into my life.

And in fact, it is significantly better. The mechanism doesn't duplicate the automated brushing function, up and down, side to side. The little rubber head wraps around the tooth and gums and gives the area a thorough but gentle scrubbing. You slowly move the brush head through your mouth and clean one tooth at a time.

I had to look no further than the box to understand how this leap in performance had been invented.

"Dentist inspired cupping action."

It took a little while for this so sink in, since at first I was mostly laughing. First I repeated the phrase in an excited, radio announcer, sales voice. After exhausting those riffs, I tried it with a Barry White interjection of baby talking sexy come on. Laughing and laughing.

What poor marketing person came up with that phrase?

Had dentists been cupping my teeth all the time and I didn't even know it? Was it included in the price of the cleaning? Had my dentist actually inspired others to cupping actions? Yes, there is absolutely a joke there.

Were dental students inspired by cupping actions as their motivation to enter the profession? Did the dental hygiene industry come to this inspiration together, or was there a leader who brought the innovation from the laboratory to the market? A dedicated researcher in a lab coat, working long hours, sacrificing family picnics and outings to the zoo, ultimately to be rewarded with finding the holy grail of cupping action.

Or was it market driven? Then the box might have said "Customer inspired cupping action", if marketing had any ethics at all about accurate attributions. But you don't end up in marketing if you're too concerned with accuracy or validity. So, there might have been a focus group that mused about the importance of surrounding the tooth with little rubber scrubbers, but the attribution had more credibility coming from a professional source.

Once the dentist has inspired cupping action, did he continue to live by the code? Was there a shrine to the dentist who originally inspired cupping? If I looked in the dentist's office, would I see the cups now that I was looking? Or was it only something that the dentist could see when he was inspired?

At the annual convention were there white papers on inspiring others to cupping? Or did the manufacturers present a variety of dentist inspired products, and cupping was voted to be the best? This made me think about what dentists' dream and are there other inspirations yet to come?

Think about it. "Dentist inspired cupping action." Bigger than anything else on the box. Including the product name or manufacturer. And darned if it doesn't work.

Today's inspiration was a silly phrase on a box and a quote "We never realize what an impact we have 'by just doing our job.'" Sara F. MSW.

Even though you might not be a dentist, could just doing your job inspire some cupping action today?


What doesn't kill you.

It's my birthday this week, and that means I am preparing for the annual recitation of all those cliches about getting older. Ever wonder why there are so many jokes? Because laughter is the only way to mask the humiliation and horror of surviving the advancing signs of decrepitude.

And the unfairly certain process of watching every single thing you loved and took for granted slipping away, either from view, since your eye sight is going, or actually from the room, since your friends and loved ones usually have one foot on a banana peel as well.

What no one ever jokes about is what makes getting older fun. That's because we're trying to compensate for being older than we ever imagined we'd be. Plus, memory isn't the strongest kitten in the basket at this point, so I'm not sure I'd remember if an old geezer ever told me what was good about adult diapers, hearing aids and hip replacements.

At this point, one of the best aspects about getting older is giving advice. Not that anyone is asking or listening for that matter, but just because you've survived so many stupid mistakes, you have a very long list of "exactly how is that supposed to work out" to draw from. The majority of my most whopping mistakes, (since I survived, maybe experiences?), were before the Internet existed.  This gives them a certain plausibility as to "of course I couldn't look it up on the Internet, so that's why I went through that situation bass-ackwards."

All that experience means you get to say things like, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Accent this cliche with twinkly eyes and a sly, Cheshire catlike smile. What you absolutely won't mention is that a) it really, really sucked at the time, b) it hurt like hell and c) having it kill you was not a viable option, but had it been, you seriously would have considered it.

Also you can rename screw-ups "lessons" if you can believably pretend that you actually learned something in the process. From the right angle, what appears as wisdom now is probably more like well healed scars.

But what if the Internet had existed?

First of all, background checks in the form of Facebook. This would have saved me a ton of learning experiences in pretty much all of my relationships. If my ex-boyfriends only had posts from other single women who wrote pithy remarks like "that's so hot" on his wall, I might have guessed that he was a player.

Or if he consistently posted about his awesome streak in Vegas, featured ads for bail bonds men, strip clubs, get rich quick schemes or sleazy attorneys. Pretty much anything in multi-level marketing would be a non-starter with the classic suggestion that I could "make crazy amounts of money TODAY by doing nothing". Who cares if he had such a beautiful mind?

On the other end of the spectrum would have been those guys whose mother was posting sweet notes like "remember to floss" on his page and tagging him in baby pictures. Although I might not have even considered dating him to begin with since his cell phone ring would have been something from Mamma Mia.

Wait, no cell phones either!

This was the dark ages - hang on - before youtube, iPhones, Facebook, MySpace, Google or even Tivo. Actually back then television was a substitute for the Internet since I learned a lot about relationships from watching all those commercials in the 70's. My dream date would wear Brute, know the hustle and drive an American muscle car.  It was even before blow dryers. Which was why I never achieved a truly awesome shag like Farrah's.

Thinking about it, I might have ignored all the warning signs and leapt right in anyway. Since my Facepage would have had some pretty damning links as well. Pictures of me with my cats, clips of me lip synching to the Beatle's, a "Keep on Truckin'" fan badge, links to astrology websites and ads for macrame plant holders and hydroponic kits for basement gardens.

Maybe all those lessons had to happen anyway?  Since I can't rewrite history, today I'm choosing to think about the difference between acceptance and resignation. Let's just say the first one is more aligned with gratitude and I'm all about that.

At my age, even being able to think about it is a pretty great thing.


Filtering through the spice cabinet.

I love the taste of cumin. I could eat cumin on just about anything. Apparently it's been in the monkey cupboard for around 5,000 years. Here's a simple list of all the benefits, if you're interested in feeding yourself a little cumin today.

Big benefits, little seed.

Somewhere I read the scent of cumin is also associated with love, peace and general good times, which is why they pipe it into the air ducts in the casinos.  What happens in Vegas smells a bit like cumin perhaps?

Not everyone loves cumin. Some would say it tastes like dirty socks, has been known to associate with spices from low circumstances and in general doesn't have the integrity of parsley or thyme. Certainly sage is much more familiar, but for my money, I'll take cumin any day. (To my knowledge there have been no folk ballads written about it, which could be part of cumin's problem.)

As I could be called a cumin lover, this makes me think about values. And how could anyone not love cumin?

Say for example your values are based on what's happened in the past. You're all about the perpetuation of traditions. The lament "it just isn't the same" is a frequent part of your vocabulary and everything was better before. If your family never ate cumin, grandpa never heard of cumin and great grandpa would be immediately suspicious, you seriously wonder why would anybody want to eat cumin?

Your world is all about trying to preserve stability and the sanctity of the way things have always been done. Today is a continuation of the past and tradition is the banner you're waving. If needed it makes a handy lance as well, should anyone suggest a change. Remember the past! And do not change the recipe.

If you're more in your head, you might insist on the continuous process of discovery and improvement. Cumin alone itself is fine, but could it be better when cooked up with carrots? Or paired with fennel and coriander? What does the current recipe lack? Spices are only one continuum of exploration and there are so many elements to add and subtract for a better experience. You're busy thinking about how many recipes there are for cumin and looking for patterns?

What if your values demand a context, a feeling quality, a madeline effect if you will? You place great value on nuances, sensitive to the subtle hints of something larger at work. Who have you shared cumin with, and what did it mean to you? Will harmony be preserved or disrupted if cumin is included? What's the deeper meaning of cumin in our lives? You once wrote a poem for the national cumin festival about how the spice changed your life.

Or might you first think what cumin can do for you?  Can you find an advantage by liking cumin or is it better to dislike it? Cumin itself isn't really the point, right?  Is there an upside opportunity here? Could you corner the cumin market?

You're always looking to win the game, so is cumin the best possible hand to hold? If there's no game to be played, how boring! Let's move on, make something happen, go do something! Why worry about a spice that isn't moving the game along?

Our values shape not only what's important to us, but what we see. This sheds light onto the myth of objectivity.

We don't accurately "see" anything because of all the filters of perception that are layered between us and the object we think we're viewing.

Do you ever think about your perspective? Ever wondered if how you see the world is just a matter of opinion? And what about the 6 billion or so other points of view?

I'm thinking that communication is a miracle. And finding agreement on anything remotely complex requires the ability to see not only my own filters in action, but to imagine the filters of everyone else operating at full tilt.

Could a little cumin help you see more clearly?