adam yauch + a humble reminder

Hearing the news of Adam Yauch’s death hit me in an unexpected way today. Seeing a facebook post that read “RIP MCA” led me to investigate and sure enough the twitter and tumblr-sphere were alive with RIP’s and condolences. I would say my fan cred lies in that grey area between die-hard and clueless, probably just like most people within my age demographic. I know all their hits and most serve as anthems for one life phase or other. The Beasties were a staple of suburban teenage-dom and discovering them was a rite of passage for any white kid trying to make amends with their rebellious streak. I remember thinking the music video for “Sabotage” was brilliant because it was a music video but it also pretended to look like a movie (how clever!), and it was campy, self-aware and bad-ass. I think that was the first video my friends and I recreated once we got our grubby little hands on a video camera, donning hipster moustaches before they were a thing. Anyway, having one of your adolescent idols pass away is inevitable and not all that uncommon. I remember the day Kurt Cobain died. I cried, and for months was scribbling “K.C.R.I.P.” on all my notebooks. The sadness and disillusionment with life came with the teenaged territory and we wallowed in our esteemed rockstars’ woes. Meanwhile we saved our lunch money for concert tickets and used our creative energy to make fashion statements out of safety pins and try not to care too much when our purple hair dye washed out and made it look grey.

So what does this have to do with the Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch’s death? The Beasties were different. They were positive and empowered. They were smart and worldly. Admittedly they had their misguided attempts in the world of role-model-dom, but they weren’t famous for their struggles. They were famous for being fucking rad, knowing how to party and having sick rhymes. And just like they didn’t live for their struggles, Adam didn’t die by his. He died from something that can happen to any of us. He died from something that happens to distant relatives and friends from high school’s parents. Or our heroes.

Obviously I’m not the same age as Adam, but sometimes sharing an imagined identity forms a much stronger connection than how long you’ve been alive. I can relate way more with the Beasties and their frame of mind than I can with a lot of people who share my graduation date or who watched the same after-school specials. I feel deeply saddened by his death. I feel humbled by the reality that no amount of external anything - fame, fortune, friendship or fly beats - can keep us from the inevitable. Adam’s death is a reminder of that; that thing we all know, but conveniently avoid as we put things off or fail to tell our fellow humans we love them. I hope he was able to be with the people he loved during his final days, and reflected on his life believing he’d done alright. I truly believe we all do our best, but allowing ourselves to embrace that truth can be the hardest of all. In the end, we all just gotta fight… for our right… well, you know. Peace and love in the next world Adam.


mad(der) world

Since my last post, I’ve had some time to think, reflect and gather more data about what went down Wednesday evening. Obviously my knowledge is still extremely limited, as is the nature of communication and media, but some new insight (from thoughtful friends and various blogs and publications) have helped me build a fuller picture of the situation. Unfortunately, it’s only added fuel to my fire (if you’ll pardon the metaphor), sparking further questions into the nature of humanity and how it is we can ever live in a civilized world. Apparently the atrocities were not the sole effect of too much alcohol, testosterone and broken dreams. People, some might say “anarchists” (though premeditated violence and looting doesn’t quite match my understanding of anarchism) had designs on the city before the game had even begun. Some of the rioters were known to have wreaked havoc during other events, like the Olympics and the G-20 Summit in Toronto. However, in this scenario, the authorities had no warning, no apparent reason to hire extra security and protection. In hindsight, perhaps a little naive, but I think it’s safe to say the whole city was a little high off the possibility of the Stanley Cup win and the pre-fab community that emerged as a result. That fact that “professional rioters,” if you will, instigated the violence is understandably easier to swallow than thinking Vancouver hockey fans are just incredibly poor losers. However, it is a slippery slope to point the finger at a small group and blame the rest on “mob mentality.” As most people would agree, there are such humans who live to destroy. For whatever reason, their psychodynamic has led them to derive pleasure out of performing destructive acts and they proactively seek out such experiences. These are the people we see in horror movies, behind bars, or read about in psychology textbooks. These people are a threat to society and the safety of other individuals, there is no doubt about that. However, we also have this other contingent: people who are, by most accounts, well-meaning, law-abiding, good-natured citizens. These people don’t stand out as being violent or aggressive, perhaps even less so than someone who expresses their anger openly. But under certain circumstances, these people are willing to completely defy all their usual rules and give total control over to their emotions. I’m sure I’m going to get shit for this, but I believe these people are more dangerous than the so-called anarchists. I say this because they are invisible. They are not stating any adverse principles or ideals, they are not rejecting the status quo, they are accepting it, playing along, until someone gives them permission, and then they’re completely unpredictable.

I think it’s good for all of us to consider our boundaries, our ethics, and what we think is right. There is so much we do without even thinking, just because our parents said, or society says, or because it’s always been that way. But when those structures aren’t there, it’s easy to get disoriented; unfamiliar territory and intense emotional charge can create a lot of distress. I tend to think events like this are the result of a culturally accepted lack of thinking, lack of evaluation, lack of ethics and, again, lack of love. Not to get all hippie dippie, but if you think about a time you felt intense love, maybe with a loved one or after a beautiful film, do you think you could then go out and throw a newspaper dispenser through a store window? I couldn’t. Only with feelings of intense despair, fear and desperation could I imagine doing such an act. It’s like they say about pit bulls, they’re not inherently mean dogs, but their owners train them to be vicious. Well we need to train ourselves to not be vicious, we need to train ourselves to love. We need to embrace our fears; not run away from our negative emotions, but rather understand them. Otherwise we’ll end up with a society plagued with of well-meaning, but under the right circumstances willing to destroy everything they’ve built, individuals. It sort of reminds me of a child who destroys his own lego castle because he doesn’t get his way. Perhaps that’s the most apropos metaphor of all because at the end of the day, I think we all have a lot of growing up to do.


On a separate note, if you can identify anyone in this video, please let me know.

mad world

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine in Vancouver. No, that’s a lie. After I hung up the phone, before I sat down at my computer, I wept. The events that took place after last night’s hockey game have left many in shock and despair, myself included. I feel shaken and disturbed by the gravity of the violence, but most of all, I feel humbled. We like to consider ourselves civilized. We walk around and talk as if we’ve evolved past our most primitive instincts, and yet it is clear we have not. You can put shoes and lipstick on a lion, but it does not make her any less vicious. It is in a lion’s nature to be violent and fight for survival. Humans also have the capacity to be violent and at some point it did help us survive as a species. However, we have also developed this incredible gift called intellect. This gift allows us to save food for the winter, to work together and share resources and, arguably, it allows us to love. We have this incredible ability to project into another person’s experience, to imagine their struggle as our own, to empathize and want to help them—these are uniquely human qualities. In my opinion, they are what make us human. When we suppress this nature, when we indulge in fear and anger, I'm not sure I know what we are. We certainly aren’t embracing our humanity, but I'm not sure I'd say we’re animals either. An animals’ intent is pure, they are simply doing what they need to do to survive. We, on the other hand, have the luxury of living with the fruits of intellect: technology, science and entertainment. We no longer need to live in fear of being eaten by a lion in the middle of the night. We no longer need to kill a boar with our bare hands. In fact, most modern citizens couldn't bring themselves to do such an act. So if we have this beautiful capacity for compassion, what does it mean when we don’t use it? Or beyond that, when we destroy it? It would be arrogant for me to blame the rioters. I can’t say I don’t feel angry, but mostly I feel a deep sadness. To imagine seeing the world in my own image and wanting to destroy it so desperately and passionately must be a painful existence. To live a life with that much repressed anger and aggression is almost beyond my comprehension, but still I try to understand. It’s not a simple problem; certainly not one with any easy solutions. But in order to understand it, we must not isolate the so-called perpetrators. There are the people enacting the violence outwardly and then there is a society that supports repression and socially acceptable violence. Our media is infested with violence, and I don’t mean reports on murders. I mean gossip, dishonorable discourse and objectification. On some level, I am embarrassed at how shocked I am. Why should I be? The signs of our deluded sense of civilization are everywhere. We are constantly being told we’re not good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, rich enough, whatever enough—we are essentially fed fear. Then we are taught to be tough, to control our emotions, to be polite, follow the rules, but at what cost? Sure, we have a false sense of predictability, but as we now see that only holds so much weight. If we’re taught never to question and understand ourselves, how can we know what to do when we feel deep feelings of loss, isolation and despair? It may seem trivial (and on some level it is) to get worked up over a hockey game, but to many it’s so much more than that—it’s a sense of community, of belonging, identity and power. When you mix the fear of losing those things with effects of alcohol, you get a recipe for primitive angst. Not to mention, a sprinkle of unexpressed and misunderstood male hormones.

I have stopped weeping now. The act of writing has helped to some extent, though the more I contemplate it, the more I realize how complex an issue it really is. It is easy to find reasons or explanations and it feels good to believe it could be that simple, but it’s not. To truly understand why violence and destruction exists, we need to close our textbooks, abandon our theories, and look inside. It exists in all of us, in different ways, in different forms, and to deny it is to stifle our only chance at evolving through it. Judging those with less emotional maturity, less emotional resources, and less intellectual vision is not the answer. Uncovering those parts of ourselves and learning to love is.

As for my friend in Vancouver, her car got trashed and torched. Her computer, wallet and the clothes inside were burned to a crisp. She and others have been collecting photos of the culprits doing the act, including one of a girl flashing the peace sign in front of the burning vehicle. I feel sad for my friend and her loss, but I know she’ll be okay. I know she will learn from it and work to build her emotional fortitude because of it. I’m not so sure what will happen to the people in the photos though. I can only hope they will also learn from this experience, that the weight of their acts will awaken their conscience. I also hope the weight of these acts will awaken consciousness in all of us. We are not as civilized as we think, and we need to grow up, otherwise we’ll end up destroying ourselves.

bad news bears

Word of advice: decide within your family (ahead of time) what constitutes "bad news." My mom called me today while I was working at a friend's house. I answered the second time. It's unusual for her to call during the day since she's a teacher and typically gives me shit for making her look bad when her phone rings in class. I asked if it was lunch time and she sort of mumbled. There was something a bit off in her tone - either she was waiting to tell me something I didn't want to hear or she was having a momentary lapse in sanity and thought I was five years old again. I asked if everything was okay and she said no.

I don't remember if it was her who suggested it or me, but I said I'd call her when I got home; I only had a few things to finish up and didn't live too far. I told myself I was fine. And I was, except for the feelings that rose like smoke signal from my gut. I couldn't help it. I imagined what I was going to do when she told me something had happened to my dad. Who would I call? Where would I go? Would I get on a plane? Could I finish my work? I imagined how hard I would cry and my vision immediately blurred. But wait, they don't even speak, how would she know if something happened to him? The last time he was in the hospital, they called me directly. So was it my brother? He recently dislocated his shoulder, maybe he'd injured himself again. Oh god. I think of all the tough things I can handle in life, something happening to my brother just isn't among them. So my fears got the best of my brain and stopped those synapses in their tracks. Maybe it was my cousin. But why wouldn't she just tell me? I tried to snap out of it. I told myself to enjoy these last few moments of ignorance. The sky was beautiful, the trees were reflecting light off their melting branches. But just as soon as I would take a deep breath, another smoke signal would set off and collect like a fog in my mind. I tried to find a cheery song on the radio. It only made me want to push John Mayer down some stairs.

I started dialing before I even got up my steps, timing it so I had just enough time to open the door and take off my boots before I'd hear the news... It was Leeloo, my cat. I started to laugh and cry at the same time. I couldn't tell if I was actually feeling anything for poor Leeloo because I was so relieved I wouldn't be attending any funerals in the near future. Leeloo has pretty much been my mom's cat for the last seven years, so it's no surprise she'd project great upset at her loss. The darn thing barely said hello to me when I'd visit, yet she slept on my mom's head every night. I'll miss her though, most especially next time I go home to visit and won't see her hopping sideways down the stairs to greet me.

Still, as I mourn the loss of my little friend, and feel for my mom as she adapts to a quieter household, I learned something very valuable today: We are f-ing crazy, and it's always better to know the truth than to entertain our fear-fueled fantasies. To be honest, I remember thinking of it as a small challenge when she said she had bad news. I pretty much always want to know things right away - I want to open presents before Christmas, I want to know what people are saying when they're whispering, I just like to know. So I thought I was doing the responsible thing. And maybe I was. It's just so fascinating how our  fears can so quickly take over when we think something's wrong. How from one moment to the next, the slightest hint of vulnerability can turn the world into a scary place. I don't know, maybe I'm too dramatic, maybe it's an actor thing, or maybe I'm actually really lucky to have had the opportunity to feel those things without them happening in real life. Maybe if we used our minds to build compassion that way, it wouldn't be so scary when it actually happened. Maybe, just maybe, we'd even make better decisions in the present.

I don't know, it's just a thought, but I think I'll go call my dad and my brother now.

rest in peace

Throughout my life, I've had a lot of experience with good old-fashioned road trips. My mom grew up in a quaint little ski town about ten hours outside of Vancouver. Every holiday we’d pack our sedan with blankets, pillows, snacks and game boys, and cruise from morning ‘til night. These days, the distances I travel are much shorter, but they usually involve at least a few hours of driving on the highway. During these excursions, I’ve become increasingly familiar with the rest stops along the way—the particular restaurants or gift shops they host, the cleanliness or convenience of the bathrooms, even some of the people who work at them. I used to consider these mandatory interruptions a major inconvenience, but I’ve since come to appreciate the humanity inherent in these iconic landmarks of the modern age. First of all, they don’t discriminate. Whether you’re traveling by limousine, pick-up truck, or semi trailer, chances are you’re going to have to use the facilities at some point in your travels. (If not, I’m afraid to ask the alternative.) Our most basic needs are exposed in a way we usually try to deny or just plain ignore. In order to survive, we all need food, water, and a way to dispose of these substances once they’ve been processed. It uncovers certain unifying qualities of the human experience, qualities we tend to want to overlook, especially in a culture driven by convenience and consumption. But after you’ve been driving in a car for hours, a cemetery of coffee cups and water bottles littering the floor, a rest stop is a saving grace like no other. I might even be so bold as to call this a universal human experience: Next rest stop—two miles. YES!


A rest stop is a place where every single patron shares a common bond—every single person has a destination and where they are in that moment is not it. There’s a transient quality that is neither masked nor mourned. Everyone is en route, stopping only momentarily to rest, refuel or relieve oneself. There is no pretense, no posturing, the mission is simple and we’re all in it together. At least that’s how I feel when I give a knowing nod to the woman in the bathroom mirror before continuing on my merry way. It’s like being part of a community with no solid identity, only the communal value of getting somewhere else, comfortably.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we have drive-through rest stops, some way we could complete our bodily chores without even exiting our vehicles. Yes, the image it evokes is slightly grotesque, but surely stranger things have been invented, and accepted. But if it were that way, I think I would miss the connection that happens when you share a sink with a fellow traveler, resigned to the reality of your travel rituals and relishing in the opportunity to stretch your legs and get a fresh cup of coffee. It can be a welcome relief from the isolating act of driving, a reminder that a world exists beyond your driver’s seat view.

I suppose the objectification of the rest stop experience is an easy metaphor. We’re continuously finding ways to make things more streamlined, more efficient and less effort. But is this necessarily good? I drove back from Comic-Con a couple years ago with Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan. Naturally, we had to stop at a gas station to fuel up and, you know, do the opposite of that. There was one dingy bathroom around the back of the store. I waited in the small line, a couple people in front of me and a few behind—children twisted around the railing as their parents straightened in a bored summer haze—but when Eddie came out of the bathroom, I could feel their eyes get bigger. One person recognized him, nudging the other, and so on...

By the time we pulled out of the gas station, I could see a few heads peering around the wall, pointing in curiosity and awe. Now, this would probably appear benign to most people, probably even to Eddie himself, but I can’t help but feel it’s important. It’s important to embrace our human qualities, share our common struggles and not try to avoid these experiences that make us uniquely human—and part of the greatest emergent property of all: humanity. So whenever you’re at a rest stop, whether literally or metaphorically, try to embrace that experience, maybe even enjoy it; after all, the world would be a pretty shitty place without it. ;)


the first rule of being vegan

I don't exactly walk around preaching veganism, or making a big deal about it. If it comes up over a meal, so be it, and I'm more than happy to answer questions about my choices or things I've learned in the process. I've had some interesting experiences as a result - people reacting funny or connecting with other vegans - but ultimately it's taught me a lot about mindfulness. We all eventually come to realize that life doesn't come with a rule book (D'oh!). Most of us write our own or spend our lives searching for some philosophy we can stomach. Still, rules don't generally jive with the ebb and flow of life. Life is dynamic; rules are rigid and static. So while I set certain ethical guidelines for myself to follow, it takes constant evaluation and consideration to know if what I'm doing is best. And in the end, you never really know, you can just guess and hope that not too much harm was done in the creation of your grand experiment.

When people challenge me on my dietary boundaries, I encourage it with curiosity. Is honey vegan? I don't know. Most people would say no, but I don't have any data to support cruelty to bees (it's what they do, no? make honey?) or that it's bad for the environment or that the industry is corrupt. If I learned about some horrible part of the honey-making process, I'd stop eating it. The point isn't to make yourself a slave, or a victim. The point is to make decisions in your life that uphold what's important to you and that help you fall asleep at night with a smile on your face.

The reason I'm talking about being vegan is because it's something pretty common that I think is often misunderstood. I feel like it exemplifies an oversimplification of ethics that is so prevalent in our culture. People deem things "good" or "bad" with no evaluation, and then they build up a bunch of fears and rules around it. Choosing to not eat animal products is a step in the right direction, sure, but it by no means makes you an ethical or "good" person. I've seen animal activists act extremely violently and even, sadly, destroy their own message through their anti-humanitarian behavior.

In veganism, as in life, things aren't black or white. There are always questions and considerations and my hope is that these continue on beyond the adoption of some trendy label. In promoting veganism, I would like to promote thinking and evaluation above any sort of special treatment of animals. Because I believe if we thought more, considered more, and connected to our true nature and values, we would treat animals better anyway. I mean, why not?

So... the first rule of being vegan? Don't make it a rule.

Merry Christmas to the Ground!!!

Christmas shopping is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities for me, but this year I had a hilarious experience as I attempted to avoid complete Scrooge status. It unfolded like an after-school-special: too good, and too absurd, to be true. It started when I heard some guy talking on the radio about the Stanley Cup. I just happened on it after all the usual channels were playing garbage (and I don’t mean the band). The guy was the author of a new book detailing the adventures and exploits of hockey’s coveted prize, along with its faithful handlers. Apparently every player of the winning team gets to spend twenty-four hours with the cup, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter what they want to do with it. All I can say is, if that thing could talk... But anyway, I immediately thought of a good friend of mine who I would endearingly label a “sports junkie.” I met up with him at a sports bar once and when we left, we got into his car only to listen to the game on the radio all the way home... Where he proceeded to turn on the television... Well, you get the idea. So naturally, I thought the book would be perfect! And it was just a few days before Christmas! Score! Needless to say, I was disheartened to learn it was completely sold out at both Barnes & Noble AND Borders--it was even out of stock on Amazon! I didn’t know that was even possible! Cut to December 23rd, I was driving past a little local bookstore. On a whim, I decided to go in and check. You never know, right? Stranger things have happened. So I ran in. It was five minutes before they closed. They didn’t have the book. The guy informed me that even the distributors were out, so he didn’t know when they’d be getting them in. Then he asked if I’d tried their other store. I told him I hadn’t. So he gave them a call and, to my joy and disbelief, they had it! To be more specific, they had one copy. So I gave him my name and went on my merry way. I had it all planned out. The next day was Christmas Eve and I would stop by a couple stores to get some goodies for friends, pick up some food for dinner that night, then get to the bookstore before it closed and pick up the holy grail of gifts. I got to the store in plenty of time. I gave the guy behind the counter my name and he dipped under the counter to grab the book. It was to good to be true. Everything was working out perfectly. I proceeded to tell the guy how hard it was to find and how I couldn’t believe my luck. He shrugged a little and raised his eye-brows in rapport. I told him I would just grab it because I wanted to look around for a bit. He said they had a special place behind the counter and I could just pick it up when I was ready. Seemed logical enough, so I looked around for about ten minutes. Nothing jumped out at me, so I headed to the counter and asked for my book. That’s when the slow motion kicked in. He looked on the counter then under, his eyes getting wider with each glance, until his eyes finally met mine. He didn’t know where it was. He looked horrified, like a kid who came home from the playground, only to find his mom saying, “Where’s your little sister?” It was pretty entertaining actually. I don’t even think there was one moment where I felt angry or upset, I was laughing too hard on the inside. Murphy’s law was at it again. He went all over the place looking for it, but ultimately gave up and deduced he had mixed it with another pile of books and put it in the previous customer’s bag-which only sweetens the story really. It’s not like someone came along and bought it. Someone was going to open their bag and find a book they didn’t buy and didn’t even want. I tried to convince myself they might see the mistake and bring it back to the store, but no such luck. So to that customer: Merry Christmas!!! As for my friend the sports fan, he got a hilarious story instead. Oh, and an empty amazon box containing a picture of the book.

Please note, the clerk was incredibly apologetic and kind. He gave me a gift certificate and phoned me as soon as the book came in. And my friend says it’s a great read! Highly recommended!!!


A week has already come and gone, but I’m still all smiles when I think about my recent trip to Chicago for Cyphan. Such an excited and welcome bunch, and a really well organized convention all round. I’m pretty sure everyone in attendance came away with some fond memories, some new friends and probably some fun new toys. I didn’t get a chance to look around too much, but the dealers room had some really neat things - I even borrowed some steampunk goggles from Julie (she'd bought them for her son, hope he didn't mind). They also hired a professional crew to come in and recreate the Star Wars Cantina - seemed to help all the storm troopers feel right at home. One of the highlights was a somewhat random and serendipitous occurrence... With everyone in full costume and full swing the night of the Browncoat Bash, there happened to be a wedding reception down the hall in one of the other banquet rooms; all ties, updos and fancy dresses. As it turned out, however, the bride and groom were huge Star Wars fans, so they boldly requested that the gaggle of Storm Troopers, Sand People, and even Darth Vader escort them down the aisle. Amazing right? All can say is I wish I could have seen the looks on their grandparents’ faces as they entered the room under the glow of light sabers. I can’t even imagine how awesome that must have been, especially for the bride and groom. Definitely not your typical wedding album. Even though I couldn’t see, the roar and applause echoed down the hall and turned my anticipatory giddiness into the embodiment of: “That was f’ing awesome.” So yeah, that was cool. What was also cool was the enthusiasm of all the people dressed in costumes (I know some of them are not comfortable, but they're a dedicated crew). One guy dressed up as Civil War Royalty held my tea for me while I took pictures, and he held it with such regal authority, I started to feel bad, like he was above such a chore. Luckily there were some lowly deckhands around to ask for future favors :) Anyway, here are some fun photos from the con. I hope more of you can make it out next year. And if you have any more photos, please post ‘em, either here or on my facebook fan page.

check out kitty zombie's site: body of a killer. mind of a puppy. sweetest and most playful zombie you'll ever meet. and the guy inside is just as sweet...

i was admiring some photos i'd seen of his character, a really beautiful photo essay of him with a little girl. so he later presented me with my own print... and even signed it. i just love it. thanks again kitty!

check out Joan Varitek's website, she's super talented. i was lucky enough to get my own print of this one too. thanks Frank!

before I left on Sunday, my dear friend and fellow Sci Fi veteran, Julie Caitlin Brown, ventured into Chicago for a "taste." Literally, we went to this massive event called "the taste of chicago" where local restaurants set up booths and sell you their token dishes. There wasn't a huge selection for me, being vegan, but I managed to find some yummy veggie tacos and watermelon ice. We were melting in the heat, but at least got to see a few sites.

Alright, that's all folks! Have a happy 4th a July!!!

the limits of language

I recently spent some time in a country whose native tongue was distinctly different than my own.  Though I conversed comfortably in English with most people and felt only slightly left out when they’d engage in more familiar or urgent conversations in the melodious tones of Spanish, I also found myself in situations where I needed to communicate desires or fill uncomfortable silences in a forced and foreign dialect.  Now, I wasn’t completely at a loss, I had traveled through Central America as a teenager, learned French as a child (a language similar in structure), and even taken a year of Spanish at university.  Still, it had been many years, leaving most of my verbs not conjugated and the gender of inanimate objects offensively misdirected.  But once I let go of my self-sabotaging inhibitions and allowed myself to flounder, fail and genuinely f- up, I had an experience of myself I rarely have speaking English. For one, I realized how dependent I am on my well-stocked library of words and phrases when expressing myself or, most commonly, bailing myself out of awkward situations (though often it's what gets me into them in the first place, but that's another story).  At first I felt like I couldn’t “be” myself because I was lacking the proper expressions to effectively communicate.  Of course, this wasn't true.  Not only because we all have different meanings and attachments to words regardless of the language anyway, but also because a label is strictly that, a label - it can never actually be the thing itself.  I am not my expression, it is merely an effect of me.  And there is no way to transmit my thoughts and feelings beyond another's ability to relate them to his or her own experience.  (At least not yet, but if George Lucas has any say...)  What I realized is this desire to be correct and precise, coupled with an equally pressing need to sound smart and well read, actually limited me from expressing genuinely and relating on a more human level.

Growing up with an English teacher for a mother and a preoccupation with being "right," it’s no trying task to see why I might end up with these beliefs; why the words “irregardless” and “disingenuine” are like nails on a chalkboard, or why I have an uncontrollable impulse to circle spelling mistakes on take-out menus.  For these reasons, I think my undeniable limitations in Spanish turned into an unexpected gift.  My tool box was so sparse, I was forced to use what I had in creative ways, think more simply about what I had to communicate, and even uncover tools I didn’t know I had.  It’s amazing how the art of hand gesturing and animal sounds can really drive a point home.  For the most part, I felt more expressive, more playful, more connected, and more curious.  To understand people, I had to be present and pay close attention.  Speaking English, it’s easy to feel like I know everything, just because I can designate a label and make logical distinctions, but in a place where my labels cease to function, I am forced to re-examine the essence of my experience.  I can only imagine what it must be like for a child to discover the world in this way, through multiple languages.  It seems there would be more freedom to explore, without rigid labels and cultural constraints.  I may not be able to start over, but I can certainly add to my repertoire and push the boundaries of my conditioned definitions.  Entonces, *in most exaggerated Midwestern accent* donde esta la biblioteca?  ;-)  (ah, the universal language of emoticons, where were you when I needed you?)

and let's not forget the universal language of the advertising...


His Holiness and His Humble Heart

"My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference."-- Dalai Lama

dalai Recently I had the rare privilege of meeting His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and listening to his public address on “Compassionate Ethics in Difficult Times.”  The significance and meaning of such an honor is still settling in, but I would like to express a few thoughts on my experience in the meantime.   Obviously, I was incredibly moved and left with many a concept to ponder, but as I listened to him speak, I saw a man who not only has a remarkable understanding of the human condition and capacity for compassion, but who embraces every atom of this experience we call being human. His humbleness and his ability to express a genuine love for all human beings is awe-inspiring.

Despite my uncanny ability to feel undeniably average in every way, I still find it a challenge to relate to those I perceive as not like me.  And yet here is a person who has experienced the most horrific of hardships, who has had the responsibility of running a nation under attack since the age of sixteen, who was forced to flee his country and live in exile since the age of twenty four, and here he sits, joyful as can be, empathizing with the woes of our daily lives and teaching values of kindness and compassion.  If anyone should have the right to judge our superficial struggles and first world “suffering,” surely he has the authority to do so.  But no, he seems to understand the true essence of human existence, seeing beyond the content of our individual confusions with reality, and to the essential nature of what unites us all.  After all, we are all doing the best we can within the context within which we were born; and within the reality we continue to co-create.  So as I continue to digest the complexity in his heart-felt words, I take comfort in the simplicity of his so-called “religion of kindness.”  For it is easy to talk in new age idioms about being present, unattached or non-violent, but to truly connect with our deepest selves and see all others as expressions of our shared humanity, now that is something to strive for.

Photo by Patrick Dodson / Albany Student Press

The World Ethical Foundations Consortium

in the stars

i'm not sure if anyone can relate to this, but sometimes i feel like getting up in the morning is like confronting mount everest - i used to compare this feeling to being covered by the x-ray blanket at the dentist; or sometimes i simply question my direction and the choices i've made in my life so far.  you with me?  and while i think introspection is important and imperative to the evolution of humanity, I think it's a fine line between mindful contemplation and living in the past...  but then i'll have an experience that changes my perception of everything.  if i subscribed to astrological beliefs, i would say the stars are aligned in these moments.  such experiences come in all forms - having a chance encounter with an old friend; reading a book that feels as if it were written to me, for me and only me; absorbing an awe inspiring view of the ocean; having an accident that provokes an evaluation of priorities; watching a film that challenges my beliefs about the world; witnessing the struggle of another and the will exerted in pushing through adversity...  these are but a few examples of things that inspire me. as often as i can, i seek to see and understand the essence of everything that exists in my world.  i think part of understanding ourselves is considering our environment and how we relate to every little detail.  i also believe it is possible to find beauty and magnificence in even the most seemingly benign image, object or act.  and then there are times when i am completely caught off guard by what moves me.  it could the innocence i see in a small boy walking self-consciously, hands shoved in pockets, imitating an oblivious father.  it could be the generosity of a stranger offering their spot in the grocery line, or the humility i feel when i stub my own toe.  it is my impression that it is these simple things that we often overlook that can give us the most insight into what it means to be human.  one such experience occurred recently as i was reading through my fan mail.  [on a side note i would like to apologize to those whose mail i have not yet responded to, i know there are many - i have been occupied with myriad travels and work commitments, but i assure you that your letters are read and greatly appreciated.]  i'm not sure whether it was the accumulation of the correspondence or something about the particular letter i was reading, but i felt a shock of recognition of how we participate in each other's lives to such an explicit degree, and often without any awareness of it.  it's incredible to me that i can do what i love to do and have an impact that reaches across countries, cultures and social demographics.  it's something i've been thinking about a lot lately and part of the reason why it's important to me to express the intricacy of my values and not just those you see on tv.

"A wider of more altruistic attitude is very relevant in today's world.  If we look at the situation from various angles, such as the complexity and inter-connectedness of the nature of modern existence, then we will gradually notice a change in our outlook, so that when we say 'others' and when we think of others, we will no longer dismiss them as something that is irrelevant to us.  We will no longer feel indifferent."— from The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom

the world


no but seriously

if you woke up tomorrow and found out you had 24 hours to live, what would you do?  who would you see?  what would you eat?  where would you go? 


i sometimes wonder if we even so much as asked ourselves these questions, how our lives might be different; how we might make different choices or use our resources differently.  to say that it's a lack of awareness that plagues our technologically advanced society seems somewhat irresponsible.  we live in a world where we can communicate to people across the world in seconds.  we are aware more than ever of the troubles and travails of the modern world and yet we hide behind the luxuries of convenience and comfort.   for the most part, it appears people are motivated by the fear of not having what they want, as if they would somehow be less without their belongings, their status, or their illusion of control.  it is my belief that it is not a lack of resources that is at the root cause of problems we face in the world today, but a lack of integrity and critical thought.  even so called 'causes' that so righteously espouse a better way of life are focusing on effects and not causes.  you've heard the old adage about teaching a man to fish.  well nevermind fishing, people need to learn how to think!  it's unfortunate that possessing a brain does not seem to assume its use.  nor does possessing life seem to assume valuing it.  if this were true, do you think we would be killing each other over land, money, power, convenience, jealousy, petty thievery or any other myriad reasons people are dying every day?  i can think of no civilized justification for violence, yet nor do i pretend to not participate in the system that supports it.  i think that to assume that because you've never held a weapon, that you are not responsible for the violence and injustice that occurs in our world, in our society and in our thoughts, is a confusion.  a very dangerous and destructive confusion.  because then who is responsible?  who is at the helm if you will?  if each of us as individuals turns a blind eye on our participation in the whole, there is no integrity and there is no humanity. 

Albert Einstein said it beautifully when he said:
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

i think it is essential, in order for human evolution to continue, that the citizens of this global community begin to evaluate what's really important in life and in living.  what do you value and why?  and are these values being expressed in everything that you do?