Monthly Archives: May 2012

Re-evaluate

OK. I think it’s time to admit that my original goal of 365 words everyday was a bit more ambitious than I thought. It’s at least a bit too ambitious for me to fulfill at the present time. But that’s OK; It is said that pilots are constantly altering their course in order to keep themselves on track. If it’s OK for pilots to do this then I think it’s OK for me as well. And so it’s time for me to re-evaluate. In light of this, I am going to slightly alter my goal and this blogs title. I am still going to write 365 words each day for 365 days but I am no longer going to try and force these days to be consecutive. As Richard Dreyfus told Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”…Baby Steps.

Yes, I know this is a bit of a cop out on my end but I have good reason. The purpose in starting this blog was to get me into the habit of writing and to generate and focus my ideas so that I will have the ability to write more interesting material on a regular basis. And you know what? So far the plan has worked very well. I just don’t want to get into my old familiar habit of beating myself up when I don’t reach the goal on a daily basis. This usually leads to me getting frustrated and giving up. I refuse to do that this time. 

The other reason I am altering the goal is you, the reader. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy day in order to peruse some random rant from this twisted little head of mine. I want to make that time worthwhile so that you’ll come back again and again. So if you promise to keep coming back, I promise to make it worth your while. Is that a fair deal?

Cheers,

Mikael

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Lewis Hooper-Running

Lewis Hooper stared intently into the abyss that he perceived his life to be. His soul yearned to be extraordinary, bigger than life itself. He ravenously devoured books in hope that some grander purpose could be found within their pages. Hooper wrote poetry, prose, and songs that he would earnestly play on his acoustic guitar. This was an attempt to exorcise his inner demons. He often clambered to the mountaintops just to get a glimpse of the impossible. He was a man in constant motion. In his 40 short years, Hooper had seen and lived in more places than most folks would ever see in the space of three lifetimes.

During his stint in the Rockies, Hooper had spent his spring and summer months riding his 1978 Honda to one of a hundred mountain trailheads. He would then run the ragged single-track trails for hours. There was an inner peace in those surroundings that could clear his thoughts and temporarily calm his focus. Throughout the harsher winter months when the trails were covered with snow, he had spent his time sliding down the side of a mountain. He bitterly hated the cold but the rush of adrenaline from those black diamond slopes would always whip his focus back into shape.

Hooper should have been the happiest man alive. His trouble however, was that he just couldn’t settle into this easily captured state of bliss. Deep within his soul was a perpetual fear of stagnation. Triumph for Hooper was always alluded to but never quite attained. His perception was that he had never succeeded in any of his endeavors. Perhaps the problem was more that his definition of success had just never been articulated. He could envision his ends but the means he could never grasp. His span of attention was just too short.

The act of running generally does not require definition. It is simply the rapid forward movement of muscle, tissue, bones and blood. It is not this movement that requires definition; it is rather the intent behind the movement that seeks clarification. In search of this elusive answer Hooper often asks of himself: are you running toward something or are you running away?

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Media Induced Sea Change

Modern mass media is by its very nature ubiquitous. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, 24 hour news outlets, mobile worldwide news, Google, Yahoo, and even Internet Shopping sites such as e-bay have disintegrated borders and shortened the distance between peoples and cultures all over the globe. I can now easily purchase coffee from Turkey, musical instruments from Japan, and prayer books from Tibet with just the move of my mouse and a few short key strokes. In fact I’m boiling bosanska kahva in my cezve while playing Buddhist prayers on my Shamisen as I type this blog. (OK, not really, but I could be.)

This very day Egypt had its very first democratic election in history. Arguably this sea change in the political structure of the Egyptian government would not have happened without the aid of media “weapons” such as Facebook and Twitter. The resistance movement in Egypt literally mobilized through the use of these social networking sites. The Egyptian Government was certainly aware of this threat when, according to Britain’s Daily Mail, the government allegedly shut down Facebook, Twitter and Youtube feeds in a bid to disrupt the protestors organizational power in the midst of the January 2011 coup d’état. (Daily Mail, 2011). Thankfully their disruptions didn’t work. It’s amazing that a handful of angry but determined Egyptians with cellphones can achieve in a matter of days what the US military might hasn’t yet achieved in over 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. (But that’s a whole other blog.)

In these modern times the influence of media penetrates almost every culture. This shift is changing the societal structure of most, if not all, of these cultures. I have mixed emotions about this change. On one hand I think it’s wonderful that oppressed peoples are able to take their lives into their own hands, immobilize and change their government with relatively little bloodshed. On the other hand it breaks my heart to see Starbucks and McDonalds popping up on Afghan streets and putting local tradesmen out of business. I have to stop and wonder exactly who is this change good for?

Perhaps that barista in Kabul will sell my new Shamizen solo cd from his Starbucks counter?

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Scars

Wow, I really don’t feel like writing tonight. The imac is acting up and so I am typing on this stupid little netbook. My sociology assignment is late, and I really do not have the ability to focus very well at the moment. I guess this is the time when my resolve is truly tested. It had to happen eventually didn’t it? I really shouldn’t complain. If I am counting correctly I started this blog 17 days ago and have only missed one day. 16 days multiplied by 365 words per day equals 5,840 words. That’s not bad for a guy who hates writing. I also believe that all 5,840 words were somewhat interesting and free of useless filler….until now.

Ugh, there are exactly two years in my life where I actively kept a journal. There were two journals to be exact; one per year. Did you notice that pesky little word “were” in that last sentence? That’s what the “ugh” was for at the beginning of this paragraph. Unfortunately those two journals I mentioned are long gone. Tossed out and sent to the garbage dump in a moment of lapsed reasoning. What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on those journals again. It’s difficult enough re-constructing the many lives which I have lived, but to know that I had a full two years documented religiously is just killing me.

So why did I so rashly throw those journals out? To put it simply they were documentation of a life that I told myself I would rather have forgotten. Oh the foolishness of youth. I have since come to know that every slice of life in which we partake creates a great pie chart of who we are and how we got to where we now stand. Perhaps John Rzeznik said this more eloquently when he stated that “scars are tattoos with better stories.” We may not like some of the stories which those scars tell but if we look close enough we will see that each one of them taught us an important lesson.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of and hide our scars from the world. We should celebrate and flaunt them whenever possible.

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Weltschmerz and Anomie

She looks into her darkened glass, to the edge of the earth,

And monitors the landscape to find out what she’s worth.

A hole has opened up inside her which the bottle can no longer fill.

The time has come to cut this thread, and hang her heart onto something new.

In his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck introduced me to a term coined by German author Jean Paul. Weltschmerz is a term derived from the Germanic words Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain). Steinbeck defined Weltschmerz as “An ache of apprehension that is like a sick thought; the world sadness that rises into the soul like a gas and spreads despair so that you probe for the offending event and can find none.” I suspect that Weltschmerz is something that affects every human being at one time or another.

Some of us allow Weltschmerz to grow into something sociologist Emile Durkheim termed as Anomie. This is a condition in which human desires are left unchecked and unbounded. The condition often leads to depression and suicide. Basically the affected individual “aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing.” Sound familiar? Having boundless desire is a beautiful part of human nature. However, if not harnessed to a goal or plan, our desire is a sure recipe for disaster.

It seems to me that the best way to avoid Anomie would be to realize who we are and why we are here. That’s often not an easy question to answer. In search for the answer some people turn to religion. Others turn to drugs, television, sex, or adventure. We’re all searching for something bigger than ourselves. But do we really need to look outside of ourselves or do we just need to learn to manage our own expectations?

You may not be the next Jimi Hendrix, John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, or Albert Einstein. You probably won’t cure cancer or create world peace but you still have something worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. No one knows your abilities and limitations better than you know yourself. Grab a hold on that knowledge.

Perhaps the time has come to cut this thread, and hang your heart onto something new.

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Feeling Guilty

I’m lying in bed feeling guilty that I didn’t blog today. I’m sure that nobody out there in blog world is going to notice but I will. And so to make up for my transgression I am attempting to blog from my iPhone. I just know I’m going to regret this. My laptop is only 20 or 30 steps away but the door is closed and the bed is comfy.

This getting obsessed and staying obsessed thing is carrying me away. But isn’t that the whole point of obsession? It’s creating a new habit. It’s my atheistic version of believing in something greater than me. I guess we do all need to worship at one altar or another after all.

In Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury writes: “It doesn’t matter what you do…so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that looks like you after you take your hands away,” I think that this is what seeking obsession is about for me. It’s about leaving a piece of me behind after I’ve gone away. I don’t know who I’m leaving my signature for. Is it for my kids? Is it for my wife or for my grand-kids? Perhaps it’s nothing more than selfishness on my part but I do think it’s bigger than that. I desperately wish that my parents had left more of themselves in written or recorded form. The recordings that I have of dad and I playing guitar have an uncanny ability to take me back to when he was here. You just can’t put a price on something like that. I wish that I had more.

I know that I will leave this world and my body, spirit, and mind will return to the earth from whence it came. When that time comes I want to make damned sure I’ve left something of my voice behind. Ray Kurzweil will live his wrinkled, shriveled, and frozen body. I’ll just leave my words and my music. That will suffice. I don’t want to live forever but I want my voice to permeate for a little while after I’m gone.

Is that too much to ask?

(Disclaimer: this blog has been edited from its original iphone generated version in order to maintain the integrity of this blog. Ain’t no word count function on the iphone!)

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Lessons from Mom and Dr. Zhivago

“It’s only in mediocre books that people are divided into two camps and have nothing to do with each other.” From Dr Zhivago

My mother and I used to have horrific arguments about politics and religion. She blamed the problems of the world on the evil left. I, in turn, would blame those same problems on the evil right. Despite mom’s valiant efforts to raise me as a good, conservative christian boy, I had chosen to follow my own path. I had become a good, liberal, atheist man. She knew that she had helped me to achieve the “good” part but the remaining “liberal” and “atheist” parts were a constant source of bewilderment for her. In her mind one could not be both good and liberal at the same time. And yet here I was openly defying that belief. She survived this dichotomy with a mixture of denial, prayer, and hope.

The arguments between mom and I escalated once I moved to Europe and began to see the world in a much broader light than I had before. Despite her frustration with me mom always found a way to show her unconditional love. That love would come in the form of a “care package” arriving on my door-step on a monthly basis. The package would always contain food items not available in Europe. I’d open the package rabidly in search of Oreo cookies, Twizzlers, Dorito’s and, my favorite, Heinz 57 sauce. I would always find nestled among these culinary delights the latest literary offering from the likes of Goldwater, Kirk, Limbaugh, or some other conservative writer. I would respond in turn by sending mom Cadbury’s chocolate, Hobnob cookies and salt and vinegar potato chips, accompanied by books from my favorite liberals including Chomsky, Zinn, or Wolf.

We would both read our gifted books and then argue over our findings. Usually the only thing we could agree upon was the love between us. In the end our politics and religion could not divide us. This taught me that salvation would not come from either the left or from the right. It will come only from those of us who are willing to meet in the middle. 

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