Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year, Apparently New Social Media Activity

For the past year, I’ve been participating in the #365Grateful project on Instagram. The premise was that, everyday, I posted a picture of something that I was grateful for. My subjects ranged from animals (lots and lots and lots of cats), hikes, babies, gardening, books, nature, food, old pictures of me and my family and friends, and random moments of goodness throughout my day. It was fun for a while and it certainly helped to make 2014 a hell of a lot more tolerable and uplifting than the previous four years.

Unfortunately, over the past month, it’s gotten to be a bit of a chore. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I was just fucking over the whole thing. It was quite nice for a while but it definitely ran its course. Throughout 2014, I noticed a couple friends had featured “100 Days of Happiness” posts, and I was fairly jealous with how much smaller their timeframe was. Being stuck with the same idea for a year was certainly an inspiring challenge, but it’s not something I want to do again. This also taught me that I have way too much willpower for my own good. So, from here on out, I’ll be doing different “100 Days” campaigns.

I’d like to continue to use Instagram as a tool to inspire and motivate me, and I feel that different campaigns throughout the year focusing on varying subjects will keep me engaged. It’ll also allow me to flex my photographic and creative muscles in different capacities.

My first campaign will be #100DaysOfPresence.

Like most people, my mind tends to race. And by race, I mean it makes Nascar look like a toddler’s dump-trucks. It will go from one thought to the next with blinding speed. One minute, I’m thinking of Burger King’s Oreo Pie and the next, I’m wondering what reviews of the new Smash Bros. games are like. The most ridiculous part is that I can’t even recall the train of thought that led my brain from pies to Pokémon beating the shit out of each other on a stage from Zelda.

I could really use a few moments of calm throughout my day. Not that my days are crazy by any means. I’m actually fairly certain that my days are more relaxing than about 75% of Americans because I’m already pretty decent at reducing stress and seeing the bigger picture of things. However, it will be nice to focus more on breathing, the body, and just being instead of awkward moments form fifteen years ago or constantly reworking potential blog posts that I never finish (except for this one, yay!).

#100DaysOfPresence will force me to create a healthy new habit while also (hopefully) making for some interesting pictures. I will post pictures of one moment per day when I experienced presence. The picture will be about a moment when I took a moment to just be.

I’m probably not going to be posting these to Facebook too often, though, as I regularly felt like I was clogging up peoples’ newsfeed with unnecessary pictures. I’m also fairly certain that I’m going to be spending less time on Facebook overall starting on the 1st. It seems to have lost its utility for me. These days, I find much more inspiring and enlightening information via Twitter, so I’ll be posting there more predominantly in the coming weeks. Feel free to follow me there. I’m sure I'll occasionally post to Facebook, though.

Here's to 2015! May it suck considerably less than 2014, which sucked way fucking less than 2013. Happy New Year, everyone!

PS: thanks to my friend E for introducing me to #365Grateful in the first place!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dark Infinity

This story owes its existence to Yann Tiersen's new album, Infinity, which served as both soundtrack and inspiration:

Dark Infinity

Sound rushed over me and consumed me. Specifically, the sound of waves. I woke up on a beach with warm water being pulled in and out underneath me. The waves were only a couple of inches tall, and they crashed into the side of my body with a pleasant sensation. Through a groggy fog, I became aware of a thought that wondered how I hadn’t drowned.

I slowly stood up and brushed some sand off of my pants and shirt, though removing it all would have beeen entirely Sisyphean. In one of my pants pockets, I found a collection of heavy rocks. It was night, but thanks to the almost-full moon that peaked through the clouds above, I was able to see a fair amount of my surroundings. The water, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know if it was a lake or a sea or an ocean, stretched out in front of me until infinity, culminating into a black line on the horizon that my mind imagined. To my left and right sides, the shoreline went on for what looked like miles. It, too, stretched beyond the limits of my current perception. Since nothing of note besides vastness took place in front or on the sides of me, I turned around to see what happened to be behind.

The moment I spun around, light and airy circus music began to play, which seemed all too convenient as a brightly-lit carousel suddenly illuminated itself atop a hill nearby. It spun and spun with no riders, all light and magic with only a highly-confused audience. I merely observed it until it and the music stopped. As soon as it stopped moving, its lights blinked out of existence and it returned to the inky night from which it came. I could no longer see it or the hill it sat on.

Playful mechanical sounds started emanating close to where I saw the carousel, and suddenly, another lit hill exploded into my perception. It was filled with dozens of mechanical animals and creatures who made music together. Small red-eyed monkeys played cymbals, bears beat their drum sets, a horse in a ranger hat played a guitar, and a feminine unicorn plucked a golden harp. Together, their sounds created an excited and playful symphony of child-like emotion and sensation. It seemed I was being presented with a show, albeit a strange and slightly sinister one.

The animals had their fill and disappeared once they stopped playing, much like the carousel. I stood waiting for another hill to present itself with a new musical and mechanical wonder, but one never came. Further up, the beach eventually turned into a grassy meadow, and so I wandered in that direction on a small stone path lit by the moonlight. As I walked, I heard sorrowful horns play in the distance with low and long notes that hung in the humid air like dreadful shadows.

The meadow was large and I could just make out the edge of a forest that seemed to surround me. From within the trees, someone spoke to me in a terse, echoey voice that seemed to be warning me of something. The words were there, but they were spliced up into incomprehensible pieces that I couldn’t understand. Not so much a different language, but more of a recorded voice that was chopped to bits and reassembled into something darker and foreboding.

Oddly, I felt no fear, only a faint curiosity. I didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, but my current circumstances were certainly beyond eerie. I still had no idea how I came to be where I was. My mind moved from darting thought to fleeting feeling as I continued my slow saunter up the stone path. The moon, much like the hills from before, instantly disappeared and left me in the dark, despite the fact that it was nowhere near the horizon when I last saw it. It was as if someone flicked a switch and turned off the moon. This seemed to be the most reasonable theory as then, in the next moment, close to where the moon had last been, a hazy sun appeared in what was now a bright blue sky. My eyes had issues adjusting to the change in light, and so I stopped walking and closed my eyes until I felt they had reacquainted themselves to the staggering brightness.

I was correct about there being a forest nearby. It stood in front of me and to my sides. It formed a wide and curved entrance into its depths, which seemed welcoming in the sunlight. I could still hear the sound of the waves washing up along the shore behind me. The forest, while mostly green and verdant, also had intricate crystal trees that swayed in the slight breeze, much like their traditional counterparts. These trees were all sorts of soft colors. Light yellows and blues mixed with light pinks and purples throughout every tree, and they crunched and clinked like glass when the wind blew through them. I approached one, touched it, and found it to be quite warm, warmer than the air. I could hear quiet music coursing through it and so I put my ear up to its trunk. The sound continued unabated, quiet, clanky, and melodic, as if some creature below the tree were playing its roots like a xylophone. I moved to another tree and found the same song rising from its roots. I wondered if all of these crystal trees were being played in the same way by the same creature below the soft and loamy dirt. The song then changed to a steady beat of the same tone. Perhaps the creature wanted to tell me that my time as its listener had ended.

My stone path continued into the forest and I followed it in between the living and crystalline trees. The next sound to find my ears was a woman’s voice, heavily accented, describing a nearby scene:

“In the forest, there was a house, inside the house, there was a table. On the table, there was a coat. In the coat, there was a pocket. Inside the pocket, there was a stone. Inside the stone, there was a key.”

The recording of the voice played on repeat. I walked into a house that was just off the path and found an old, worn coat sitting on a small wooden table. I picked up the coat and felt inside one of the large pockets and, expectedly, found a heavy stone. I removed the stone from its pocket and put it into pockets of my own.

The windows inside the house were all open and I could hear the wind picking up outside the small shelter. I left the house and closed the door behind me. In the sky, the sun began to flicker. This worried me as there were no other light sources around. It blinked, stretched, and distorted itself. I wondered if the sky were a hologram or maybe a massive screen.

It darkened to dusk. Dark grayish green and purple clouds stretched across the sky. There was no sun or moon to be seen. I continued on my stone path.

Far away birds chirped and sang, which warmed my heart as this was the first natural sound I had heard besides the wind and the waves. They sang their good-night song and I wondered if their delightful voices came from actual birds at all. Since they sounded so distant, I knew I wouldn’t see any of these birds anytime soon.

I kept walking through the dusk. It grew no darker or lighter and remained a strained gray.

I heard a spotlight turn on and a large light illuminated a clearing in the woods nearby where two children danced in a circle, holding hands. A chorus sang out softly, “keep us warm and see us through the night. Don’t be scared. Just hold my hand.” The children danced and danced in a circle with contented smiles, completely unaware of my existence. As I walked closer to them, the voice transitioned into a sad violin and the spotlight shut off, sending the dancing children back into a veiled darkness. I called out to them, but no one responded.

After a little while longer, the path ended at a precipitous cliff with a woman facing away from me. Dressed in a simple white dress, she stared straight ahead into the clouds above the high cliff. I realized I could hear the crash of the waves below, but this time, they sounded much stronger. Much angrier, and much more hungry. It wasn’t cold, but snow began to fall. The woman looked up into the sky. I assume she pondered the snowflakes. She then stepped forward and disappeared over the cliff, as calmly as possible.

I ran forward trying to rescue her, but ice had formed on the path. I slipped, fell, and quickly careened towards the cliff myself. I flailed wildly, trying to grab onto anything nearby in a vain attempt to save myself. The plants recoiled into the ground to avoid my touch, guaranteeing my quick descent. The wind turned into a gale and blew me over the edge.

In no time, I was in icy cold water. The woman was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t move. I descended into dark infinity.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Things to Come

I've spent the better part of three years trying to find a job that brings me happiness and peace of mind. Of course, I've come nowhere close. A little more than a month ago, while my previous job was coming to an end and I was looking forward to moving back to DC to find another job, I was struck by the thought, "what would getting a job in my field really bring me?"

My internal dialogue (the telltale sign of a true madman) continued:

"Well I need money. I would be able to afford nice things, too, which I haven't been able to do for quite some time," I reasoned.

"Would having those nice things really bring you happiness? You were so excited for that new phone last year and now you spend at least half an hour a day yelling at it," the wiser me replied.

"Okay, maybe not."

"Plus," the wiser me continued, "you claim to want to reduce inequality throughout the world and all those nice things you want only reinforce inequality. Most products are made in factories in developing nations by struggling people working in horrible conditions and for next to nothing in terms of wages. They're then sold to people in developed countries who have to struggle just to make ends meet to afford these products. The only people truly benefitting from this whole system are the uber-rich and from what we've seen on TV and with limited interaction we've had with this class, they're certainly not happy either. Look at the Housewives of Whatever County: what a collection of miserable assholes. So this entire system based on producing, owning, and profiting off of nice things is bringing absolutely no one true happiness or peace."

"Fair enough. But money is kind of essential. My current life isn't exactly sustainable. I need to be able to afford a place to live, and a car if I don't live in a big city, and stuff to put into that apartment or house."

"Would any of that bring true, lasting happiness?"

"I suppose not. Okay, so I don't truly need any 'stuff.' But a job, especially working in a nonprofit, would allow me to make a positive difference in the world," I countered.

"All these nonprofits in DC and all the government offices require an insane amount of energy to run, thereby exacerbating the problem of climate change. You may feel as if you are doing great things in the short term, but in the long term, you are only damaging those whom you want to serve. Not to mention, having a job, even if it is one for a well-meaning nonprofit, only entangles you in the web of never ending consumption which we just identified as a system that perpetuates unhappiness in everyone involved."

"I can't just not have a job! How would I afford to eat?"

"Do something radical, like join a monastery."

"Well, shit."

Fast forward a few weeks to today and I may have found that radical thing. I decided not to move back to DC for a few reasons, primarily because things were already fighting me even before I got down there and the government shutdown really complicated my plans. I'm currently unemployed as I put in my notice at my previous job a month and a half before I was supposed to move and didn't feel much like staying once everything fell apart. I've applied to all of two jobs since I'm quite burned out on the whole job searching / résumé deal, but I've spent a lot of time reading in parks, which has been nice. Especially since I haven't had a proper vacation in years.

The other morning, I woke up and started reading a really inspiring article on Huffington Post about travel. I forgot the premise, exactly, because I was still a groggy and snotty mess from this sinus cold, but it's in my bookmarks! And I suppose the point of it was to inspire me to read similar blogs from people who left the rat race behind and somehow subside on travel (and apparently alcohol) alone.

It was not the first time I've researched this. Not by a long shot. And it wasn't even the first time I researched this because of an article I read on Huffington Post one morning. It was, however, the first time I was inspired by something like this and felt that I could actually do it. It seems these travel bloggers have created a very clever pyramid scheme of sorts that involves affiliate links, sponsors, clicks, and a bunch of other stuff. Each and every one of them specifically say that anyone can do it. I'm anyone, so I guess that means I can do it. All I have to do is work (yet another) crappy job so I can save up some money and then off I go! Possibly. In the spring.

My tentative plan is to start a travel blog based on volunteering in various assignments around the world. I want to make positive contributions to this planet and if I can't do by finding a stupid job, I'll do it this way. I'm planning on staying with an assignment for at least two months as that was a really good time to get the feel of a place while I traveled for grad school. "Slow travel" is better for the environment and would most likely lead to less burnout on my end, as well. Also, the most expensive part in this whole experiment will be the flights, so staying in a place for a longer period of time will help reduce costs and will allow me to travel longer.

The only thing I'm a little worried about is the fact that flying around a bunch of places is horrible for the environment, but I won't be flying too often compared to other travelers and I'm hoping to maybe plant a bunch of trees wherever I go to offset my carbon footprint.

Of course, I'm a bit worried about money, too. However, if I can monetize my travel blog in a similar way to these other bloggers, I shouldn't need more than $15,000 a year at most, especially if I will be volunteering mostly in developing countries. By not having a car, an apartment, or a bunch of other stuff, I will drastically cut down my expenses compared to most people my age, but I'll be able to do a bunch of amazing things while contributing to society and maybe learning a few useful skills along the way. I can make money through writing, selling some travel photography and possibly through teaching English if need be. A lot of the volunteer places I've seen provide housing, which will be a considerable help with expenses, and some even provide food. This could be a pretty cheap and yet absolutely amazing endeavor. I've already found some incredible volunteer opportunities that I can't wait to try, particularly volunteering with a Buddhist temple in Thailand that specializes in caring for tigers. The tiger temple would absolutely blow my freaking mind.

My car has conveniently given me a timeline of six months until I leave as it won't pass its next inspection in April. This will give me some time to prepare and save a few thousand more dollars to help fuel this trip, even if it's just for a year.

Transformative things are on their way and only because my twenties were such a miserable failure at being successful by Western standards. It's about time I stop playing by the rules set by Western society since they've failed so many people already, me very much included. I'm going to show myself and the world that happiness and peace are possible with very little money and no traditional "career." Fuck my twenties, fuck this shitty economy, and fuck rampant consumerism. Now that I know it's possible to turn my back on all this negative crap that brings no one peace or happiness, I fully intend to do so. I hope you stick around for the ride.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

If Buddha Were A Verb...

So I’m about to pick up everything again and move to DC, and for what? Because I want to find a job. I started thinking about this whole “needing a job” thing over the past week and a half or so, and I’m fairly surprised as to where my chain of thought has gone.


One thing I’ve come to understand this past week is that achieving a desire or goal only opens up the space for more desires. We’re conditioned to constantly march forward wanting new things instead of stopping to appreciate what we have. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone saying, "yes, I finally got the job (or car, or house, or spouse) that I want! Now I can give up on my quest for more, rest easily and enjoy life." If I got lucky enough to land the job I've been trying so hard to get for three years, would I be truly satisfied? Most likely not. Getting that job would bring more money, which means I'd finally be able to afford a new phone, a new car, travel, a TV, my own place, and so on and so forth, so I'd never be finished wanting. I'd just be working to buy more stuff which I'll eventually need to replace in a year or two anyway. Not to mention I’d probably want a promotion in two to three years, so this job that I’ve desperately wanted for so long wouldn’t bring any sort of lasting happiness at all. Even when it comes to less consumerist and materialistic things, I'd want a partner, then some kids, then good outcomes for the kids who I'd want to provide for, so even desires that aren't materialistic just bring more desire.

So what the fuck is the point of achieving a desire if doing so only brings more desires? It seems awfully fucking futile to me.

More and more, I feel that the only way to escape this society in which so much is wrong and unequal because everyone’s trying so damned hard to achieve their desires despite the obviously large amount of harm it’s doing to the planet is to completely turn my back on society as a whole. I don't want my work to go towards benefiting an evil corporation that exploits people for profit. I think I would rather work a menial job at a small nonprofit and live simply.


I’m also now questioning the point of working for any nonprofit at this point, which is what I’ve wanted to do for years. I don’t think I am interested in a fantastic career because careers are fleeting and rarely make people truly happy. Not to mention, careers just end up damaging someone else, no matter what it is. If I were to work for a nonprofit, I’d still need nice clothes (which would be made by kids in Asia or South America who work twelve hour days), I’d need to use technology for the job (so a phone and computer would have to come from some kids in Asia, too), my apartment and my office would both contribute to climate change pretty severely and climate change will most likely affect the poorest people on Earth first. Despite all this, would my meager work at the nonprofit be a net gain for the planet? The more I think about it, the more I think my answer is ‘no.”

I also question the work of most nonprofits when overpopulation is such a huge issue that no one is talking about. Sure, we can alleviate poverty and hunger, improve the rate of infant mortality and access to immunizations and better health care, but all this just means more people to feed and more people to employ. The Earth truly can’t handle this, so what’s the point of bringing all of these people into a global economy based on power and plunder if they’re just going to be a miserable middle class cog like I currently am who will only end up contributing to climate change in the long run?

It truly is a terrible thought, but we simply cannot afford to bring 7 billion people into the middle class. If everyone on earth were all of a sudden able to afford an American middle class lifestyle, the ecosystem would collapse.  7 billion people driving cars, building houses and walking around with their eyes glued to their phones would result in catastrophe. This "middle class" deal only works because billions of people are left foraging for scraps throughout the world. They live on pennies and dollars a day, connected to this system of exploitation only because they're a warm body and those of us with money need shiny new things. This isn't okay and at one point, it's going to have to stop. I’m left wondering how can we do anything if almost everything we do, from the littlest of tasks like doing laundry, harms others due to the effects of climate change? Interconnectivity is apparently a bitch.

There’s gotta be a better way to bring these people out of misery and into some semblance of security and comfort. I’d say “happiness,” but who in our country or society is truly happy? We’re all left wanting a bunch of shit, whether it be immaterial or material, and once we obtain it, we want just end up wanting more shit because that’s what we’re trained to do as consumers. If money and a whole bunch of expensive things were really able to bring happiness, I think the Real Housewives of wherever would be a hell of a lot less bitchy. But all these reality TV shows based on the lives of rich people show is how truly fucking awful and miserable the 1% seems to be. So why in god’s name do we aspire to be rich in this country when it just means more problems?


Plus I can't help but notice that a deep -- and very large -- part of me recognizes that the "American Dream" of a stable middle class lifestyle is unsustainable for this planet environmentally and economically. It is incredibly selfish of me to want a new phone, a new car and a house because all of these things are both destructive to the environment and rely on an exploitative system of capitalism. Is it fair that I can afford an iPhone when the person who slaved in a factory to make it can barely afford to feed themselves? All this technology is made by super poor people to sell to middle class people who are only a few steps away from being poor, all so that the rich can live in comfortable, gated communities. And if this is the situation, which I really think it is, then I really don't want a new iPhone because it won't bring me or the people who made it for me any sort of lasting happiness or peace. None of us are happy about this current set up, so why do we continue it? Plus, that the materials that go into creating said iPhone require damaging the earth through mining and manufacturing, and the carbon involved in the whole assembly and shipping process is probably pretty hefty.

So here I am, contemplating the most basic assumptions of American society in a way that only a severely underemployed twenty (almost thirty) something can. Many of my fellow citizens haven't had to confront this kind of thinking before, or were at least able to keep it at the fringes of their mind because they had comfort and security, but that isn't the case for most of us anymore.

I've had similar thoughts before, and they're all very Buddhist. But I've always been able to ignore them so I could pursue my next goal. However, I'm very quickly running out of ideas and I'm getting pretty damned sick of having to invent new goals so often. And now that I see how purposeless goals and desires are, I just don't see much of a point in continuing this struggle.

And because I'm me, I can't divorce my experience or my thoughts from the politics of the bigger picture. The 1%, the ruling class, the haves, they all depend on our continued participation in this imaginary and exploitative system. Our current form of capitalism thrives on our insecurities and our unhappiness. Despite billions of dollars spent on advertising, obtaining the newest toy, or anything else for that matter, rarely results in adding to our sense of inner peace or long term happiness. Once we get it, do we really feel any sort of lasting satisfaction? I know if I were to run out and get a new iPhone tomorrow, the newness would wear off within a week, so why do we all drive ourselves so crazy over these things?

The fact that we're conditioned to want the latest and the greatest objects doesn't help this problem, either. This is all done to make sure we keep working so that we can make more money to buy something new and exciting and all this does is retain the current political and economic status quo. The rich stay rich because the poor spend their money on things created by the rich.


So if getting a job at a nonprofit would only bring more desires, would my time be better spent setting an example as a monk or someone who turned their back on this system and now lives very simply? All I hear is about how dreadful the economy is, how jobs might be returning, but they’re paying much less than they did five years ago. It seems we’ll be lucky to find any job that keeps up slightly above the poverty level and if that’s the case, I’d just rather not participate in this absolutely shitty economy at all.

I had a thought last week that I think I'd be very happy (or at least more at peace) living in a tiny shack with a huge garden and some books and a bike. Fuck an important career, a nice car, a nice house, etc. I honestly think I'd be happier with that than an apartment in DC because I’d always be looking to improve the apartment in one way or another. If I continued to get better jobs with more money, I’d want to move into nicer places, too. However, if I force myself to live simply in a small, cheap place with meager features, I don’t think I’d want to constantly improve it.

Right now, all I want to do is just take my toys and go home, except I don't know what my toys are or what home would entail. Immersion into a Buddhist monastery perhaps? I'm pretty much of the mind that Buddha got it right, but how many people in the history of humanity and monasticism have achieved Enlightenment? The Buddha also didn't believe that an ascetic or monastic lifestyle were necessary to reach Nirvana. He didn't achieve his lofty status until he left being a monk behind.

I really have no idea what to do with myself. I'm giving DC a year and if I don't feel happy, peaceful or content, or if I can't make peace with these ridiculous thoughts, I'm throwing my hands up in the air and joining a fucking monastery because this whole society just isn't doing it for me on any level anymore.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Orangest Flowers of Orange and the King to No One But Himself

Somewhere far from here,
Where bright green weeds grow high along the roadsides
And the moon hangs overhead during lazy summer afternoons,
A king plants his flowers.
He does it in mind for someone special,
A little girl who could use a lot of cheering up.
He owns a small house with a white picket fence
And is no king to anyone but himself,
Which probably means that he is no king.
Do not tell him that.
The king saunters along, sewing small seeds as he goes.
A willy nilly toss here, a deliberate drop there,
He plants his flowers.
Impatient as most kings are, he wills the seeds to crack open
Once they've been buried by earth.
The little plants wriggle and writhe as they wake from their dormancy below the ground,
Following the demands of their planter,
The king.
They slowly spout,
Each one,
As they stretch themselves out beneath the midday sun.
Little green stems begin to grow, reaching for the wispy clouds drowsily passing by above,
Their grasp missing the frozen droplets suspended in the sky by a few thousand miles.
The king observes his tiny verdant minions and his stout little frame jumps for joy,
His small plump hands wave with glee.
Even the orange bushy hairs on his head smile.
Well, they would if they only had mouths and muscles.
The king to no one but himself is pleased with his day's hard work
Of throwing and willing
And sits down on the ground,
Careful to avoid any toddler plants
But happily crushes an ant with his hefty and tiny bottom.
Ants carried off his daughter one day
And he has never seen her since.
Ants and the king are not the best of friends.
The plants continue to grow and grow
Until they reach a respectable height
Where they decide to bloom.
On each stem,
There is first a small bud.
Then there is a big bud.
Then the bud opens up and spits out what could be a flower
To the sound of "ptheh."
As soon as the flower bursts into existence,
Its taste for the color orange is well known.
Each flower has five long droopy petals,
One for each of the king's daughters.
The fist for the daughter who was carried off by gnomes.
The second for the daughter who was carried off by ants.
The third for the daughter who choked on a crumb of bread.
The fourth for the daughter who was carried off by hummingbirds.
And the fifth is for the daughter who,
Is currently too terrified to leave the house.
A great father does not a king automatically make.
The flowers twist a little before turning to face the sun.
They sing to the sun the king's praises, for he brought them to life.
Their songs dance through the sky, happily finding their way upward,
Filling the clouds with joy along the way.
The king is pleased, though he cannot hear the songs of the flowers,
As their voices are so quaint and soft, due to not having the proper vocal chords.
In fact, he is so filled with happiness and self-esteem that he can do nothing else
But loll off into an afternoon nap.
The flowers continue their songs next to the napping
But highly content
And they sing with every piece of chlorophyll in their body.
They sing towards the sun with such will that they begin to uproot themselves.
Roots slowly rise from the ground,
Tickling their way through the soil.
Once all of the roots find themselves above the dirt,
The flowers realize that they have just given themselves legs.
Dozens of soft, spindly legs.
Each flower dances a short dance.
Some even link leaves and dance in small circles together,
But the dancing doesn't last long.
The flowers see the king,
Fast asleep,
And decide to surprise him.
They quickly scuttle off towards his house, their roots leaving thin trails in the grass and dirt.
Hundreds of orange flowers amass outside of the house,
Their stems and leaves bristling with excitement,
Their roots bouncing slightly up and down.
They find their way in through an open window,
Carefully wiping the dirt off their roots on the windowsill before entering.
They are respectful flowers.
The flowers begin to explore each room.
The largest room has some plain chairs and a bookshelf only one-quarter full.
The kitchen is average and small with some average wooden bowls on an average wooden table.
Certainly no trappings for a king and his family,
Of course,
This is no ordinary king.
This king's sheer ordinariness is precisely what makes him,
As a king,
Completely unordinary.
Behind the extraordinary king's average kitchen,
There is a staircase which leads to a small hallway surrounded by smaller bedrooms upstairs.
One bedroom door is slightly ajar
And out of the crack floats soft snoring.
Every flower slowly walks in.
Quickly, they fill the room
And surround a small bed,
Upon which naps a small girl in an orange dress.
Off in the distance,
There is a faint squawk of a crow.
The flowers take no note of it,
As they haven't any ears,
Though the girl hears it,
But only in her dreams.
There, she is playing with a giant fluffy teddy bear in red pants in a field.
The teddy bear wears a straw hat.
Also, the teddy bear is so tall that atop his hat atop his head sits a crow,
Who is so far away that his squawk is barely heard.
The real squawk, however,
Happens not on a straw hat on the head of a giant, fluffy teddy bear whose puffy privates are appropriately covered,
But in a tall tree right above the napping king.
He hears it
And it stirs him.
He wakes, groggily.
First he notices the flowers are gone,
His entire afternoon's work suddenly missing.
Next he sees the lines in the grass and the dirt,
And the direction they appear to move in:
They move along some small hills,
And surely come to a startling conclusion at the base of an open window in front of his home.
Back in his daughter's room,
A few flowers lightly rub some pollen beneath the small nose of the little girl,
To ensure she continues her slumber.
Across the field,
The king then sees dozens of orange flowers,
Stems and roots and all,
Pouring out of a window on the second floor.
The stream of bright orange and green continues to flow from the window to the ground outside,
As the king's little legs carry him slowly over the hills.
No matter how fast he pumps his plump legs,
He has no hope of catching the light and agile flowers,
Who are currently carrying his resting daughter out her window,
Over the waterfall of flowers,
And down onto a soft bed of petals and stamens on the green grass below.
The flowers scuttle off with his daughter and the king follows after them at a pace which is terribly quick for him, but incredibly slow for the flowers.
They bring her to the tallest hill in the field and begin digging with their roots.
Hundreds of flowers help to move the ground to create a pleasant bed of dirt and soil for the daughter of the king.
The king continues his pursuit,
But is a couple of hills away before he spots the flowers again.
He rushes over to the flowered hill,
But all he sees is a mass of orange flowers with five petals,
Rooted firmly in the ground.
No sign of his daughter,
No sign of will or thought or consciousness on the part of the flowers.
But just because the king can't see it, doesn't mean it's not true.
With the king back among them,
The flowers sing a song,
Explaining to the king that his daughter will provide them with more than adequate nutrition.
Far more than enough to make their petals and flowers so beautiful
That they will be the talk of the countryside for generations to come.
That is,
If all the flowers don't consume the children of the countryside first.
A population not decimated by carnivorous flowers is necessary for gossip.
Once again,
The king cannot hear the song of the flowers
And in his rage,
He violently pulls a flower from the dirt,
As if it were but a mere weed.
The flowers begin to cry in pain,
Shocked at the barbaric actions of the king,
The man who brought them to life.
Their cries float to the skies,
Unheard by the king,
But heard by the clouds,
Who react in anger.
Their mood and color darken,
Their rage flashes in bright sharp lights throughout the sky
Until finally,
The sorrow for the flowers overcomes the clouds,
And they begin to cry.
The dark sky opens up
And a deluge of rain comes forth,
Soaking the flowers and the king.
Despondent and lost,
The king wanders back to his home,
Where he decides that his next daughter will be trained in the arts of self-defense
And will always carry a garden hoe

Monday, January 28, 2013

Humanity is to Tall Termites as Earth is to a Titan Tree.

Huh. I seem to have logically proven that we were designed to destroy the planet and thereby ourselves.

I figure I’ll save everyone the time of reading this by stating my thesis outright: logically, I have proven that, as creatures of this planet being subject to its rules of life and biology, we were predestined to destroy it. If one believes that life was consciously created by some sort of god-like being, then we are merely serving our purpose by contributing to the destruction of this planet and any benevolent act to try to save it goes against what we were apparently created to do.


The Earth was destined to get to this point: polluted, filthy, war-torn, ravaged and dying a very slow and painful death from the inside out. And we were designed to bring it there.

The primary purpose of any living organism is to survive, and not only to survive, but to reproduce to ensure the survival of not only itself, but of the species. This, taken to its logical end, means unbounded and unbridled population growth and similar levels of resource exploitation to obtain this. Sure, the planet had some checks to try to keep any species from becoming too prolific like disease and larger and larger predators, but one species was bound to come along and break all the chains that held it back from expanding too much too quickly. Our planet is simply too fertile and lush to have not created a species as powerful as us.

Arguably, something set up a set of rules on our planet (or Universe, if you want to go out that far), pressed play, sat back and stayed silent while this experiment of life has worked its way out. Whether that something was mere random chance, a universal consciousness, god, aliens, or god-like aliens, we currently don’t know and humans, in our current form, may never know simply because it looks like we’re not meant to have the tools we currently posses for that much longer. All of the scramble to unravel the mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything might all be washed away in a giant tidal wave, or eradicated by a zombie apocalypse much sooner rather than later.

It seems, though, that the rules of Life, The Universe and Everything, at least here on planet Earth, dictate that a dominant and intelligent species will, regardless of intentions, pillage and destroy the planet simply because of the laws of biology and evolution in their current state. Reproduction, survival of the fittest and consumption as the most basic instincts of our bodies essentially mean that, without any predators, we will continue to expand until we exhaust our planet. Human population growth in the past few centuries has been staggering and we only seem to be getting more and more prolific. It would be dangerously naive to assume that humans can continue this exponential growth without disastrous consequences for our environment. Where the hell will we fit four billion more people? We’re going to tip the scales towards catastrophe pretty quickly as there simply aren’t enough resources for all of humanity. We’re going to destroy ourselves and we’re going to take the entire planet down with us.

If you believe that all of this is merely the structure of life and that life is simply the product of chance, then that’s fine. But if you have any gnostic, spiritual or religious tendencies, then this theory creates a bit of a problem. It means that God, Nature with a capital n, Aliens, or whatever, created us with the intention of us getting to this point of calamity and most likely past it. Our creator knew we could destroy ourselves and our planet with wild abandon. Simply put, we were wired for self-destruction.


In the Astronomy class I took as an undergrad, out of the many fascinating things I learned, one small idea in particular stood out to me: we, and all living things, are merely slaves to DNA. Our DNA is what drives us to survive and is what ultimately drives us to reproduce, only to ensure that more and more complicated strands of DNA are created and sustained. At its most basic level, life seems to be solely about the replication of DNA and we, as inhabiters of living bodies, are subject to this.

I suppose the frightening part to this is that I’m starting to notice that our emotions, for all their complications, are simply body-based reactions to external stimuli designed to ensure our survival and, in the end, the planet’s and our destruction.  The first point is that we are nothing more than animals. Regardless of whether or not you believe in a soul, at our basest level, we are creatures of this planet, created on this planet and subject to the rules of this planet. And as described previously, the most basic rules of life and being an organism on Earth include striving for survival and reproduction. If one observes animal behavior, most of it hinges on obtaining food and water or obtaining the best possible mate.

Envy is a very good example of how our emotions are designed to ensure survival and proliferation. It’s an emotion particularly designed to feed our desire for dominance in society. If someone has something we want, we become envious because that something guarantees that person higher societal status. However, societal norms keep us from behaving in outlandish ways to acquire whatever we’re after. If we were left to our own barbaric desires, we would steal whatever they had. Or, at worst, we would kill the owner to obtain it. As animals, having high status assists us in obtaining the best possible mate, which, of course, ensures the continued survival of the fittest.

We experience envy because someone who has something we don’t threatens our ability to obtain the best mate. This is likely because the person who has what we’re envious of will get the better guy or girl, possibly leaving us with someone inferior. Nice cars, lots of money, and a big house don’t necessarily guarantee success in finding a mate, but I don’t think anyone will argue that they help.

The need for sex is something that is hard-wired into every animal capable of it, and the primary biological reason is to bring about more life. Once again, we just find ourselves committed to slavery by our DNA as the price for inhabiting these mortal forms. Love is just an extension of this need to reproduce, as well. We feel it so strongly because, short of eating, sex is a one of the most important biological tasks, at least according to our DNA. Perhaps we are wired to feel love so strongly as motivation to reproduce. I suppose, then, It could be argued as well that we care so much about our kids because we’re designed to, and we’re just playing out that role embedded in our code.

Really, so much of what we do is just animal and ape-like behavior but with more advanced tools in a more complex society. We can pinpoint typical dog, cat, and other animal behavior, and we attribute much of their actions to their species, but if that’s the case for so many creatures, why not us, too? Sure, we’re a bit more advanced than them intellectually, but we’re still animals.

But, I guess realizing and understanding that emotions are predetermined reactions hardwired into us through our DNA helps one to be freed from the roller-coaster ride that is emotionality. Once one recognizes that our emotions were evolved in our bodies for the purpose of survival and obtaining reproduction, they have less of a sting than they used to and aren’t able to control us as easily. Maybe if everyone understood why we feel what we feel, we’d all be a hell of a lot less emotional.


Here’s one thing we rarely hear when talking about climate change: the Earth, ultimately, will be fine whether or not we solve this problem.  It’s going to get a hell of a lot sicker before it gets better, but it will recover, and the recovery may take millions and millions of years.

This has been something I’ve been fighting with since I got home from Beijing. What most people are concerned about when they speak about stopping global warming is really the survival of humanity. We worry about our lives, the lives of our children, grandchildren and if we’re really forward thinking, maybe our great-grandkids, too. Rarely is the actual health of the planet truly involved, and when it is, it’s only a desire to retain the Earth as we currently know it. I personally would hate to see the beautiful biodiversity on our planet wrecked because of our selfish actions, but knowing this is the outcome of my current lifestyle doesn’t stop me from eating meat, driving a car and pursuing my dreams. I don’t think anyone will dramatically alter their lifestyle until some major catastrophic event happens, but we’ve seen so many of these crazy climactic changes happen over the past few years. Katrina should have been a turning point. The major wildfires and droughts we’ve been experiencing should be turning points. Hurricane Sandy should have been a turning point. But none of them have been, and they have all been fairly major events. I suppose it will take the loss of a major U.S. city populated mainly by rich white people to possibly force us to ever change. And at that point, maybe we’ll start to see these major storms and climate changes as immune responses of the Earth as a colossal organism to try to rid itself of a disease, infection, or sickness. 

We are, at worst, a pretty major flu that the Earth is experiencing. Who knows, maybe our purpose is to help strengthen the immune system of our planet, much like exposure to bacteria and germs strengthens our immune systems. Perhaps we were created to doom the Earth because the Earth is some sort of galactic villain at heart, vibrating on a level of consciousness and awareness that we can’t perceive. Maybe we were created, in our greed and arrogance, to kill a greedy and arrogant superbeing.  Or, maybe, we were created by evil aliens to kill a benevolent superbeing. Speculation is fun.

I think we’re beginning to understand that we are just mere cells in a giant body. Who knows, our cells might be aware of our consciousness, but to our current state of understanding, they’re just teensy little creatures living and dying in us until they get out of hand and kill us one way or another. As above, so below, and such. Just as cells are created, do their jobs, reproduce and die so that we might continue on, we are doing the same exact process for the giant organism on which we live, which happens to be a giant blue and green ball floating through space.

One could argue that all of us trying to save the world are doing the exact opposite of what being an organism on planet Earth seems to be all about: consuming anything and everything and reproducing as much as possible. Those of us working to save humanity and the planet look to be preventing what might need to happen: humanity and the current state of the Earth, through climate change caused by free market economics, unrestrained population growth, religious fundamentalism, and other factors, seem to be meant to destroy ourselves and our planet.

And, of course, once our Sun decides to go supernova, all of the greenhouse gases we’ve released and toxins we put in our soil and gun laws we’ve implemented won’t matter a damned bit because our little planet will be fantastically destroyed, hopefully in something as awesomely fun to watch as a Roland Emmerich destruction scene.

So, global warming looks to be predestined if you believe that the creator of life was a conscious being. I suppose that the question is, then, do we willingly and knowingly destroy most of the biodiversity on our planet because we are merely fulfilling DNA’s apparent extended purpose or do we rise above our most basic urges? Then again, perhaps a more pertinent question would be: do we assume, in probable arrogance, that we know better than whatever created us and buck our apparent purpose as the dominant species of this planet by trying to be some benevolent force that attempts to heal and cooperate rather than destroy and compete?


While writing this, I did think a few times about how cynical it seems; that we’re nothing more than tall termites whose purpose is to consume, reproduce and ruin.  Maybe, instead, we were wired to have this insatiable desire to eat, destroy and propagate so we could rise above it.  Maybe whatever it was that created us created us with the intent to destroy everything in our path to see if we can overcome our most basic urges and until we begin listening to our better angels, we won’t be able to contact aliens or meet with god or move into the next evolution of consciousness or whatever the case may be. Perhaps being hard-wired for extermination means that we were created with the test built in us.

My theory about emotions and love being strictly ways that DNA guarantees further propagation is limited. It could be that we were wired to have sex and reproduction be such important impulses so that we would be forced to experience love because apparently love is the guiding force behind the Universe according to so many religions and spiritual doctrines. I sat down with my cat last night and realized that my theory doesn’t account for the love we have for pets. Obviously, the model is imperfect and I can’t speak to the ultimate purpose of these incredibly long chain of events. If I could, I would be very rich. Very rich, indeed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Chicken Dance at Denny's: The Lowest Point in My Life ... So Far.

This week, in an attempt to make a shit ton of money really fast, I took a job as a server at a new Denny's restaurant that opens in a couple of weeks. So far, it just might be the worst thing I've ever done. They're training all the servers in a giant group, and for the most part, it's a complete shit show. But all you really need to know right now is that if I were to arrive late to training, I would have to perform the Chicken Dance. Understandably, this has thoroughly terrified me enough to leave early all week. Today, however, was an exception.

Unfortunately, I left a couple minutes late this afternoon because I was desperately applying to jobs with the federal government in an attempt to escape from whatever circle of hell this is. On the drive in, I knew that if I were to arrive late, the Chicken Dance would of course be my punishment. I had some time for my imagination to take over and I imagined myself arriving late and the trainers would single me out in front of everyone to do the Chicken Dance. I imagined myself replying with, "yanno, I don't need this job that badly, so I'm just gonna head out. I hope your store does well and I wish you all the best of luck," and I would turn in my apron and walk out with my dignity partially in tact. Thankfully, I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, so all of my fretting and imaginative scenarios were for naught. Or so I believed.

After sitting down, the trainers gleefully awaited for people to arrive late like hungry vultures with name badges. After a few kids arrived late and were found to have had valid excuses, the trainers announced, "since no one was late we all get to do the Chicken Dance!" Because it is apparently "fun." They actually said this. Twice, maybe three times. "It's fun!" I suppose one person's idea of fun is another person's idea of a torturous hell. The Chicken Dance is my torturous hell.

Everyone began looking around in disbelief and horror. I thought to myself, "surely, woman, you jest!" except it was more like, "holy fuck, they've got to fucking be kidding, this isn't fucking fair, what the fuck can I do to get myself the fuck out of here right the fuck now?"

The trainers pulled up a video on youtube and began to play it. It was, in fact, the Chicken Dance. This was actually happening.

They then began to dance. Their fingers flapped, their arms waved, and their asses twisted to the floor in a paralyzing display of brazen shamelessness, which, remember, was supposed to be "fun!" I looked on in terror. For the first thirty seconds, which felt like hours, let me tell you, no one danced but the trainers. We all stood there with our arms at our sides, mouths agape at what was occurring before us. It was gruesome, a veritable blood bath. They noticed this and called us out on it. No one moved. We were all too terrified. All of us were thinking, and some of us were vocalizing, that this wasn't part of the fucking deal. We arrive on time, we avoid the Chicken Dance. We arrive late, we are punished. Severely. That was the agreement, yet the trainers continued to flap away.

In my mind, I had rehearsed arriving late like a douche and deserved to have to do the Chicken Dance. That I was prepared for. I was not prepared for this curve ball of awful, not to mention I had just gotten boxed in by the I'm-Too-Excited-About-Denny's trainer woman from Texas. She waved and flapped and twisted right next to me while threatening us with a four hour training on the Chicken Dance if we didn't join in. There was nothing I could do and nowhere else to go.

I begrudgingly began to dance.

At this point, we had successfully managed to kill a minute and a half of the video, but there was still a minute left to dance. So I waved and flapped and twisted while my heart broke and I died a little inside. Okay, maybe a lot. I watched the progress timer bar on the video inch its way across the screen in a slow march to death and ached for it to mercifully go faster. The girl next to me danced because it spread like a virus. There were, however, stragglers on the outside of the group who had more dignity than me and refused to dance at all. They were too-cool-for-school teenage girls. I envied their tenacity and ability to buck authority even in the most pressing of circumstances.

It was easily the most awkward two minutes and forty-three seconds of my life. A 28 year old world traveler with management experience who not only graduated with a master's degree, but is also a published academic author, was forced to perform the Chicken Dance at a Denny's in front of high school girls. I can't even begin to describe how I felt afterwards. The two most accurate words are "horrified" (I typed horrified, horror, horrible, and other variants at least eight times in this blog. Thank god for thesauruses) and "shamed," though they obviously don't do my experience yellow-feathered justice.

They rewarded those prisoners who dutifully followed orders in what I felt was a lavish gesture of generosity, probably due to the sudden onset of Stockholm Syndrome. And what was my reward? A light up Denny's pen.

I sat down a defeated man. Any pride or self confidence I may have had prior to arriving at Denny's tonight has now been stampeded by dancing chickens in Denny's aprons. I will have nightmares of those three minutes for the rest of my life. As I sat down, my face was bright red and I was sweating from such unprecedented levels of embarrassment. When the dust settled, I thought, "that's it. That was the worst moment of my life. I've officially hit rock bottom."

Throughout the rest of the training, which involved terrible slideshow presentations, I kept thinking to myself, "life can't possibly get worse than this." But no, now I think it can. They could've forced me to do the Chicken Dance naked covered in Denny's whipped cream while singing a Nickelback song. So, while this was single-handedly the most embarrassing experience of my life, I at least have something to look forward to.

Addendum: I have decided that if I ever write any sort of autobiography or memoirs at some point in my life, this chapter will be known as Moons Over My Humiliation. Bam.