Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

9/19/2003

Dragonflies

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 10:43 am

There was a swarm of dragonflies in front of my house the other night when I came home from work. They stayed on the east side of the house and were there for at least an hour. I couldn’t tell if they had found a different swarm of tasty bugs to eat or if they were attracted to my house for other reasons. Maybe it was an omen.

If you dream that a dragonfly lands on your body then you will have excellent news from someone far away from home. If you see a dead dragonfly, then the news will be bad. A dragonfly perched gracefully on some other object shows that you will soon be having guests that may be hard to get rid of. The Dream Dictionary

The problem is that it wasn’t a dream. The dragonflies were real and staying in my front yard. They didn’t land on my body. They didn’t die. They didn’t even perch on anything. They flew wildly and actively. There were no birds feeding on them. I couldn’t even tell if they were feeding on anything.

Dragonflies symbolize illusion, dreams, change, enlightenment, irresponsibility, unreliability, weakness, instability, swiftness, dreams and seeing the truth. They are messengers of the elemental world and the god/esses. They are connected to Summer. Wyldkat’s Pagan Place

So dragonflies can symbolize just about anything according to the Pagan world. It could be that the gods had a message for me and I missed out. It could be that the dragonflies were there to herald the end of the blistering summer that we suffered from all season. It could be that they were scolding me because of my irresponsible, unreliable, weak and unstable ways. Or they could be trying to tell me to keep dreaming, to be enlightened, to seek the truth and embrace change. With such a variety of meanings attributed to such a lively and active insect, I’m bound to find meaning there somewhere.

Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world?Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which you need to change. Native American Animal Omens

According to Native American mythology, the dragonfly beckons me to seek out the parts of my habits that I need to change. With that many dragonflies in one small area, I must need changing badly. How would they know? Sure, they’re helpful insects that eat the pests like mosquitoes and their evil West Nile Virus. That doesn’t give them the knowledge to discern which of my habits are helpful and which are damaging. Those damn dragonflies, how dare they judge my lifestyle?!

I trust that everything happens for a reason, even when we’re not wise enough to see it. Oprah Winfrey (1954 – ), O Magazine

So what does it mean? A strange and large swarm of dragonflies came to visit my home. I ran into the house and called my husband to see them. Neither one of us had seen that many dragonflies in one spot that didn’t include a body of water. The neighbors went about their business and were completely oblivious to our visitors. We watched their seemingly erratic movement for about a half hour before we had to leave for an appointment. We didn’t see them arrive and we didn’t see them leave, but we enjoyed them for that brief moment while they were there.

Maybe that’s what it means. Stop. Look. Bring your loved ones. Enjoy us while we’re here because we won’t be here forever. Take the time to watch us. Pay no attention to the people who are too blind to see us. Don’t worry about where we came from or where we will go. Just drink us in while the summer evening is still warm. Soon it will be cold and we will all die, so look at us now.

9/24/2003

Meditation

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 12:51 pm

Last Saturday, I went to a meditation group. A beloved friend of mine is starting this group and she wanted people there that knew her and could give her some moral support. I was happy to attend just to help her, but I wasn’t really feeling like a meditation class would help me at all.

All my experiences with meditation fall into two categories. Sometimes I spend the entire time saying, “Stop thinking about things! Concentrate on your breath. In – Out – In I wonder what I should have for dinner. Stop thinking about things!” to myself. The other times, I fall asleep. Reaching that bliss of observing without judgment and concentrating on my body has been elusive. I usually find the most peace when I’m writing my journal or singing healing songs to myself. But I was there to be moral support for her. It didn’t matter whether I was successful at meditation or not. I was just there to help her out.

Not merely an absence of noise, Real Silence begins when a reasonable being withdraws from the noise in order to find peace and order in his inner sanctuary. Peter Minard

She opened the class, we introduced ourselves and she gave us some basic instruction. She told us that we would meditate for fifteen minutes, discuss our observations, meditate for fifteen more minutes and close the class. While we were meditating, we were supposed to be thinking of the word, Maitri, which is a Pali word for loving-kindness. If we get distracted by sounds, feelings from our bodies, or thoughts we are supposed to notice them and send them a bit of loving-kindness while we go back to concentrating on breathing out.

During the first fifteen minutes, my thoughts kept returning to the fact that we are going to have to discuss our observations. My mind kept preparing opening words for the upcoming speech. But, hey, I’m just here for moral support. It doesn’t matter if my speech is good. Just forget it. Loving-kindness and back to my breathing. I found myself thinking about the food I had eaten just before the class: smokehouse almonds and an apple, yum! But hey, I’m just here for moral support. I don’t need to think about breakfast. Loving-kindness and breathe out. I had a glimpse of a vision of a sci-fi scenario in which rooms of people are meditating together to stave off the invasion of the baddies. Loving-kindness and breathe out. When is the gong going to strike? Has it been fifteen minutes. This feels just like when I had to stay still during prayer at church when I was a kid. That was hard. Loving-kindness and breath some more. Gong.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

It felt like a long time, that first fifteen minutes, but not once did I scold myself for not meditating correctly. I didn’t swear. I didn’t curse. I was only there to be a support for my friend, so it didn’t matter if I meditated correctly. I was only there to help her, so I just needed to be quiet and calm for fifteen minutes.

Almost everyone spoke of their observances while meditating. I found that even among the experienced, their thoughts would wander. For some, it was a new experience to be in a group and they felt a special energy that was lacking when they meditated alone. That went right past me. If there was special energy in the room, it eluded me. Others were struggling with their thoughts as much as I did. We started the second fifteen minutes.

This time, I was able to go several seconds of just noticing my breath before my mind rushed in. It was so much easier. I had that dizzy feeling that comes to me when our Reverend is truly inspiring. It wasn’t there the whole time, but I had a glimpse of peace, which is more than I’ve ever experienced while meditating. Once again, it didn’t matter if I did it right because I was just there for moral support, and paradoxically, it helped me meditate better than I ever had before.

There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

When searching for peace, I still think that the best method for me is to go to the keyboard and write a few pages of my random and disturbing thoughts. No matter how disturbing they may be, they seem less so when they are on the computer screen, flickering ethereally. There are times, however, when journal writing isn’t enough. There are even times when not even singing healing songs is enough. When that’s the case, now I can fall back on a weekly meditation group. Of course, I’ll attend every week for moral support, so it won’t matter if I do it wrong.

10/6/2003

That Special Car

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:46 am

My schedule is regular. I work 8 am to 5 pm every Monday through Friday. When we are slow, I get every other Friday off. I drive the same route to work every day. I’ve heard that when I’m feeling like I’m in a rut that I should drive to work via a different route, but I’m loathe to do it. I have found the most efficient route and I am reluctant to vary it, even for variety.

Oregano is the spice of life. Henry J. Tillman

I used to see the car every morning. On the intersection of 1500 South and 500 West in Woods Cross, I wait every morning to turn left. The car would be heading south on 500 West right through the light. It was one of the cars that needed to get out of my way before I could turn, but it was special.

I drive a lime green New Beetle right now, but this car is a different hue of green. This special car is almost a neon green. It is not a color that occurs in nature except in the deepest ocean. The furtive and luminescent fish that don this color hide from us, so we are surprised when we see that color and it doesn’t hide. That car never hid. It brazenly drove right past me every day.

Then something changed. For the last couple of months, I haven’t seen that special car in the morning. I don’t know if I have been coming a millisecond too late or if it has been leaving a millisecond earlier, but I haven’t seen it. My incredible sense of self worth decided that the driver of the car was purposely trying to miss me. Two green cars with hues just different enough to clash. The driver was avoiding me. Paranoia strikes.

Even paranoids have real enemies. Delmore Schwartz

The other day, I left work later than I normally do. It was my turn to be heading south on 500 West and that special car was heading north. Seeing it was like being greeted by an old friend. After months of being missing in action, my buddy had resurfaced. I felt like waving to the stranger behind the wheel.

I left ten minutes later than normal. The difference of ten minutes was the only distinction. How many people do we see every day that we would miss if we arrived to work ten minutes earlier? How many people do we miss seeing because we don’t stay late at work? Whether we notice it or not, we see the same people every day.

Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you? Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), Leaves of Grass

Even though we don’t speak to them, they are our brothers in arms. They are struggling with the same traffic jams. They are faced with the same snow storms and blinding sunshine. They are groping with the same burdens of life, work and death. It will probably be months before I see that special car again. I’ve never talked to the person behind the wheel, but I still consider him my friend. That’s why I’ll be driving the same route to work tomorrow. Variety be damned.

10/18/2003

Learning to Bark

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 7:06 pm

Feline: that’s always how they describe females. I don’t know if it’s because the words feline and female are so similar, but it is prevalent in our language. When she gossips, she is catty. When we fight, it’s a cat fight. I don’t think it’s because of Batman and Catwoman. I think it preceded that. I can’t prove it, but I think we were considered feline in nature far before Robin ever explored the Batcave.

I’ve never understood women. I know men always talk about how they never understand women. Is it blasphemy to be a woman and say the same thing? In my world, when there is a disagreement, the first person to strike started the fight. If you start a fight, you damn well better be able to finish it. Whoever is still standing after the dust clears wins. Simple.

I’ve always followed my father’s advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble. John Wayne (1907 – 1979)

In the female world, that sort of mentality doesn’t work. There is no physical fighting as far as I can tell. Maybe they’re all scared that the men would come running to watch the cat fight. Instead of deciding by feats of strength, there is a strange sort of speech that happens. “Why would you wear those pants?” In the correct voice, that phrase scares me a lot more than a fist aimed at my face. It took me an awful long time to learn how to say, “Because I like them,” in the correct tone of voice that says, “Do you want to make something out of it?!”

Just today, I realized that women aren’t feline in nature. They are pack animals. They are canine. All of us associate men with pack animals, but it has taken me all this time to realize that women are too. It makes sense. We are the same species, after all.

Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman. Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850), Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845

There is always an Alpha Female. She’s not always the prettiest or the smartest. She’s the bitchiest. I finally learned that if I just let her be the Alpha Female, life is so much easier. I have no trouble with idiot girls being the Alpha Female. I never wanted to compete for the males. All the idiot girls can have all the males, for all I care. It doesn’t matter to me.

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969), speech to the Republican National Committee, January 31, 1958

If I wanted to compete, though. What would I do? Learning how to say, “Because I like them,” was a start. Now I just need to learn how to bark the loudest in female-speak.

10/20/2003

Prison

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 4:56 am

Sometimes I get tired. I’m not talking “sleep all day” tired. I’m not talking “admitted to the hospital for exhaustion” tired. I’m talking “disappeared for two weeks without a word” tired. Sometimes I want to leave. Sometimes I want to disappear.

When my friend gets tired, she fantasizes about having to go to the hospital. When she had her children, she had to stay in the hospital, which was the best experience for her. There were people there to make sure she was comfortable and healthy. The only thing that was expected of her was sleep, rest and relaxation. After living the life of a single mother of three, I can understand why she would fantasize about that.

We feel free when we escape — even if it be but from the frying pan to the fire. Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983)

Me, I used to fantasize about going to prison. I imagined it was a quiet place where I could write a book. If it was good enough for Dostoevsky, then it should be good enough for me. I would be able to write as much as I wanted without thinking about work or home or family. I could just be alone and write. Even Oscar Wilde was able to write his work, De Profundis, while he was in prison. They would only allow him one piece of paper at a time and only allow him to write for a small amount of time each day. Even if they did that to me, I could still contemplate during the other hours of the day. Sure, I had heard the rumors about prison, but that was just for men, right?

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Bible, John 8:32

Then I learned the truth. “Oh it’s horrible! There is never a moment of quiet. It’s noisy all the time. You can’t even sleep.” That phrase alone was enough to cease my fantasies about prison. Four sentences from a friend of a convicted felon was enough to clear that idea from my imagination. Constant noise: isn’t that one of the definitions of hell? Then I find that for women it’s just as bad as it is for men. There are threats of beatings and rape all the time. There is no escape from the fellow prisoners or the guards. There is no safety. Instead of the quiet respite with time to write, it is a never-ending struggle to stay alive and untainted.

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives. William James (1842 – 1910)

Fantasizing about being admitted to the hospital or being sent to prison is unhealthy. The mind will bring about whatever you focus on. If we had continued on our paths, she would have been terminally ill and I would have been unjustly imprisoned (I would never knowingly commit a crime). Instead of focusing on prison, I started focusing on what I wanted to do in prison, which was to write every day. After a few years of actually doing that and hiding my work in a drawer, here I am. Writing every day and sharing it with the world.

I must admit that I still fantasize about disappearing when I’m tired, though. Now I imagine myself in a posh hotel in New Orleans. That’s much better than prison, don’t you think?

10/26/2003

Pack Up Your Sorrows

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 3:27 pm

If you’ve been paying attention, you would know that my choir is performing today. Even though I had a huge Halloween party the night before, I’m “Up and At ‘Em” today to sing. The song we are performing is “No Man Is An Island” and I’ve had the hardest time with it. It’s not the vocal range. The first soprano part is very high and I have to stretch to make one note and hold it, but that’s only one note of many.

Q: Why are Unitarians such bad hymn singers? A: We’re too busy reading a line or two ahead to see if we agree with it. UUC Home Page, Unitarian Humor, May 1998

True to form, the part of the song that I’m having trouble with is one line from the song, “Each man’s grief is my own.” I don’t experience this with people other than my closest of friends and family. I have plenty of empathy for the good things, but for the bad things, I separate myself from the pain. I don’t really feel that connected to humanity.

I am a rock. I am an island. And the rock feels no pain And an island never cries. Simon & Garfunkel, I Am A Rock, 1966

Sometimes I would rather live in the “I Am An Island” world instead of the “No Man Is An Island” world. Simon and Garfunkel had it right. “Each man’s grief is my own,” just doesn’t ring true for me. People try to spread their grief on me all the time. They tell me their sad stories in an effort to relieve some of their pain and I’m sure it works for them to some extent, but their stories rarely grieve me. I usually just listen with anticipation, hoping I can cull them for something interesting to think about and move on. Their grief isn’t my own, it’s my fodder.

If somehow you could pack up your sorrows And give them all to me. You would lose them, I know how to use them. Give them all to me. Tom Paxton, Pack Up Your Sorrows, 1966

I’m more like the song that Peter, Paul and Mary recorded called Pack Up Your Sorrows. “You would lose them, I know how to use them.” That’s more like me, a peppy little ditty about taking the grief of others and transforming it into energy. I prefer that song. Why aren’t we singing that in choir? I’m not in charge, that’s why. Singing in a choir isn’t about being the one in charge. Ironically, when you’re in charge of the choir, you don’t get to sing.

Think of me today. I will hit that note and hold it. I know this because I’ve practiced alone all week. Singing in the choir isn’t about singing alone. It’s about singing together. Just know, however, that while I’m singing “No Man Is An Island” I will be thinking about Peter Paul and Mary.

10/27/2003

My Friend I Can Call Up

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:17 am

“My friend called me at 3:30 this morning because she couldn’t sleep. I met her at the gym.” When I heard her say that, my first instinct was, “That inconsiderate bitch.” I imagined receiving that call, groggy and panicked, to find out that my friend was just calling to tell me she was awake. That vision was immediately replaced with the more common experience of being awake in the middle of the night. If I wake up at 3:30 a.m., I’m up for the day. Nothing I can do will get me back to sleep. Many nights, I have lain in bed, with no one to talk to and no hope of sleep. I never even considered calling a friend. I don’t even have a friend I would feel comfortable calling at 3:30 a.m., not even my beloved sister. A wave of jealousy swept over me. I don’t have a friend I can call at 3:30 a.m. Then the quote came to me.

It’s the friends you can call up at four a.m. that matter. Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992)

I remembered typing it in. Even though it was a reliable source, I wondered if the quote was real. She was an old-time movie star. The studio could have released some cool quote for her to promote her popularity. They did it for Samuel Goldwyn. Half the things he said he didn’t say. Maybe the quote was from a movie and she was the character. That would be a misquote and it should go to the screenwriter. With all the worry about the attribute, I had forgotten about the quote.

I guess that’s a lie. I forgot about the quote until it sped at me like a bullet. She has a friend who she can call at four a.m. and I don’t. I felt the wound as vividly as if the quote had been a real bullet instead of a simile. I am still feeling the blood rushing from my head to the site of injury. I don’t have a friend I can call at four a.m.

It’s not something I want from everyone. If it’s reciprocal, my friend will sometimes call me at four a.m., which is damn hard to deal with. If someone wakes me up at that time of the night, there is no going back to sleep. There is no sleeping pill that will help me sleep and allow me to wake up perky and happy a mere two hours after taking it. It’s too early to feel rested and too late to go back to sleep.

No, I want only one or maybe two people who might wake me up in the middle of the night. This person must be chosen carefully. She is special. That’s why she’s the one that matters. Maybe I’ll call my sister today and see if she wants to be my friend I can call at four a.m.

10/30/2003

Nemesis

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:25 am

I had a really strange dream before I woke up the other morning. I worked at a law firm instead of an electrical engineering firm. We were trying to negotiate a dispute with another law firm. The opposing counsel was at our office building and they were causing a bunch of trouble. No matter which lawyer our company sent in, they were delaying and refusing to negotiate. They had sent in a lot of the lawyers and our people were sick of it. The opposing counsel had seven lawyers there, working on the lawsuit.

He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.             Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Things were going poorly, so they sent me in to procrastinate while they regrouped. I was a secretary there just like I’m a secretary in real life, but the opposing counsel didn’t know this. When I walked in, I took the notes from all the of our lawyers. While I was doing this, I noticed that the opposing lawyers weren’t even working on the paperwork for the deal that we were negotiating. They were working for another client instead of even trying to negotiate this deal. For some reason, they were stalling. I read them the riot act. I asked them if it was an ethics violation to double bill. I took away their folders and piled them on a different table. Once I got our notes collected, our lawyers dismissed and their other work piled on the table, I thought that we could talk about the issue at hand. Instead, the leader of the opposing counsel started interviewing me like I was a potential employee.   Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.             Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849), “Eleonora”

At that moment, I realized that they were just stalling so they could recruit from our office. They were trying to hire away our best lawyers. She interviewed me, asked who my immediate supervisor was and who worked for him. While I had been gathering the notes from our team, I noticed that one of our lawyers was looking for a job elsewhere, so I told the opposing partner that I worked with her. When she offered me a job, I told her that I had made a personal commitment to myself to stay at this law firm for two years and that there was no way that I would go against a commitment like that. She seemed to like me even more at that point and was wanting to interview more of our lawyers.

Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.             William Dement

Then I took control. I told them that no one was going to leave this room until we came to a decision on this issue. There would be no more interviewing to recruit our lawyers. No one would be allowed to take any calls. No one would even be allowed to go to the bathroom, including me. There was a plant in the conference room that they could pee in and if this goes too long, even I would use it and let the smell convince them to get to an agreement. At that point, my immediate supervisor, the lawyer for whom I worked, knocked on the door. I told him that no one was allowed to leave this room once they came in, so if he needed to use the restroom, he better do it now. I guarded the door and confiscated a cell phone before I woke up.

Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don’t.             Brett Butler, ‘Knee Deep in Paradise’

While I was getting tough with the opposing counsel, I realized how much I missed being able to be a complete and utter bitch when I was a real estate agent. I really used that job to get out a lot of aggression. Now that I work at a nice and civilized engineering firm, I have no use for those tough girl talents. I know that Dilbert’s engineering firm has Alice, who can swear like a carpenter, but we don’t have that here and we really don’t need it. Instead, I spend weeks and even months without having to turn into the vocal equivalent of Xena. I haven’t been in a position in which I had to beat anyone into submission with my words for so long and I didn’t even realize that I missed it.

Idle hands are the devil’s tools.             English Idiom, GoEnglish.com   Just thinking about it right now, I really miss it. I feel a real desire to get “medieval  on your ass.” I don’t have a nemesis and there is no one in my life anymore that has caused me harm. I tell you, this is how evil begins. Imagine this villain at her lovely engineering firm. She used to be in an environment where she had to fight to survive, and now she is living a life of ease and grace. After so many years of hardship and struggle, this life seems foreign and boring. She had worked so hard to achieve this life, but she found it a tad unfulfilling.  Then there is the fateful meeting with the nemesis. Something clicks on that day and she devotes her life to evil.

Everybody needs a nemesis. Sherlock Homes had his Dr. Moriarty, Mountain Dew has its Mello Yellow, even Maggie has that baby with the one eyebrow.             Lisa Simpson, Springfield Weekly

I can only hope that I never meet my nemesis. Things are so nice and calm where I work that I could be drawn to pure evil right now. I guess that’s why I’m keeping busy with the weblog and the quotations site. I want to prevent my hands becoming tools for evil. If I keep busy of my own accord, then I will never have to let the tough girl free and unleash her power on my nemesis.

11/1/2003

Memory Morphing

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:40 am

I knew about it. I admit it. I know that memory can be changed. There was a Psychology class broadcast on a local PBS station. I liked to watch it, even though I wasn’t taking the class. They had an entire episode based on the fact that memory is fallible. They showed on film an experiment in which the subjects observed a “crime” and were asked to describe the “perpetrator.” When the people were interviewed together and a plant suggested things that weren’t true, the subjects would “remember” the false facts. They were willing to swear under oath to these false facts. It taught me that eye witnesses are worthless.

One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.
Rita Mae Brown

What it should have taught me is that MY memory is worthless. Gerald Zaltman and Elizabeth Loftus are memory researchers and they are showing the world how this bug in our psyche can be hacked by advertisers. Did you lose your second daughter for three hours at Disneyland? Were you filled with panic and dread? Did the ice cream taste as good as it smelled? Did you feel ripped off because you overpaid for those Mickey Mouse ears for the second daughter after you found her? Did she cry because the only character she could find was Pluto? After you see the specially tailored commercial that tells you to “Remember The Magic” all you will remember is the Mickey-Mouse-Eared second daughter hugging Mickey Mouse. All of the rest will fade into the background.

Frank – There was another time though that I was running down a hillside covered with flowers, and there was a beautiful girl, like 15, with pigtails and she was waiting for me, and her parents didn’t know she had snuck out of the house . . .
Ghost of Christmas Past – You are so pathetic! You are so pathetic! That was the Little House on the Prairie.
Frank – Was it the Homecoming episode of Little House?
Ghost of Christmas Past – Yes, it was the Homecoming episode of Little House. Let’s face it Frank, garden slugs got more out of life than you did.

Michael O’Donoghue, Scrooged, 1988

All of it makes me want to turn off my television and hide. How can I trust my memories of Disneyland if they are going to bombard me with images of the “perfect holiday” that will alter my recollections? It brings reminiscing to a whole new level. My family argues about the past all the time. Maybe it’s because all of us are mixing reality up with commercials. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we didn’t lose Stacey at Disneyland. Maybe that was the amusement park episode of the Brady Bunch.

11/4/2003

Cognitive Dissonance

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:16 am

I’ve heard the Buddhist version: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering. I’ve heard the Christian version: If you took your pain, formed it in a shape of a cross, placed it in a pile with the pain of all others, and were given the chance to choose any cross, you would choose your own. I’ve heard it so many times that you would think that I know it by now, but it’s still a concept that I cannot grasp.   Those whole girls
Hurl down words
Run in packs
With bloom to spare
            Suzanne Vega, Those Whole Girls, 1990

I see those whole girls and I want to trade. They are smiling and laughing. They have blonde hair and blonde children. They have tiny giggles and tiny asses. They seem perfect. Even though I know the truth, I still wish for a trade. I try to remember what they had to do to trade places in that Freaky Friday movie. I try to remember what magic they used in that Vice Versa movie with Judge Reinhold. What magic is it, because I could use some right now. I don’t care what Republican problems might be running in their pretty little heads, but whatever they are, they can’t compare. Whatever is troubling that perky nose can’t be as bad as what I’m going through sometimes.

I think they moved out to the suburbs
And now they’re blonde, bland, middle-class Republican wives.
            Everclear, Volvo Driving Soccer Mom, 2002

Cognitive Dissonance is the act of believing two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time. I learned the concept when I was getting my teaching degree. For example, you could ask a child, “Do rocks float on water?” The child would probably say, “No.” Then you could show her a pumice stone and demonstrate that it can float. For a split second, the child will be in cognitive dissonance. She will believe both concepts: “rocks don’t float” and “I saw a rock that floated.” You can tell she is learning when you ask the question again and she answers, “Some rocks float and some don’t.”

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.             George Orwell, 1984, 1949

I’ve been in cognitive dissonance for an awfully long time now and it’s a painful place to be. I find myself thinking and believing contradictory things like “That bitch’s got it easy” and “She’s in pain. Just look at her.” Both concepts live eagerly in my mind. It doesn’t matter which one comes to mind first. They don’t cancel each other out. Intellectually, I know they should, but they don’t.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six — in all honesty I don’t know.’

‘Better,’ said O’Brien.
              George Orwell, 1984, 1949

The Buddhist philosophy tells me that I should follow the Eightfold Path to ease suffering. Instead of thinking of the ease or pain of others, I need to control my mind and acts in the proper way. An eightfold path is so complicated. I’m like a duck and I can only keep track of a limited number of ducklings. Eight is too many.

Wouldn’t it be good to be in your shoes
Even if it was for just one day.
And wouldn’t it be good if we could wish ourselves away.
            Nik Kershaw, Wouldn’t It Be Good

The Christian philosophy tells me to bear my cross and depend on God to help me carry it. Since I have absolutely no faith in a higher power, I end up just bearing my cross alone in this world. That blonde’s life looks better and better to me and I wonder what it would be like to taste her life for awhile. She’s probably hurting?

11/6/2003

Soap and Water

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 3:40 pm

What is it about being in a warm shower that brings me back from the dead? I wake up at the same time every morning without an alarm clock. If I get to bed at the right time, I’m awake the next morning at six am whether I need to work or not. This is the ability of a morning person, an internal clock that snaps my eyes open at the correct time every day.

Soap and water
Take the day from my hands.
            Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

Open eyes doesn’t necessarily mean that I am ready for the day, however. It means I am conscious enough to put on some clothes or drag myself to the shower. Therein lies the most important decision of my day. If I choose the clothes, I will never enter the land of the living. I will merely be the lifeless corpse of a woman, doomed to wander the day in a haze. If I choose the shower, I am awoken from the zombie spell of the evening before.

So, what is it about the act of showering that brings me out of the haze? Maybe it’s the ritual. Hang up the robe, place the bath mat on the floor, turn on the water, adjust the temperature, step into the shower, and allow the water to cover my hair, my face, my body. I do it all in the same order every morning. Every other day, I put my hair in a shower cap worthy of the funniest sitcom sketch. My hair will dry up and fall out of my head if I wash more often than that. Otherwise, the ritual is the same every morning. If I get mixed up and my ritual is disturbed, I will forget something. It’s guaranteed. Even on the days when I forget the ritual, I still feel refreshed and ready for the day. No, it’s not the ritual that brings me back to life.

Soap and water
Hang my heart on the line.
Scour it down in a wind of sand
Bleach it clean to a vinegar shine
.             Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

Maybe it’s the spiritual act of cleansing. The soap and water cleanse my body, making it ready for the day. Maybe the act is more than physical. Maybe the soap and water cleanse my soul for the day. On the days when I don’t cleanse my soul, I am still a member of the undead? That’s total crap. If the act of stepping into the shower cleansed my soul, wouldn’t I feel the burden of my past sins and transgressions leave me? Would these errors in judgment still haunt me if my soul was cleansed every day? No, that can’t be it. My daily baptism is not a spiritual one.

The Vulcan inside me is smacking me upside the head right now. The reason that I feel so much more invigorated after a shower can be entirely explained by the difference in body temperature. When I disrobe, I feel cold. When I step into the shower, the warm water increases my body temperature. When I turn off the shower and towel off, the evaporation of the water makes me cold again. Finally, I bundle back up in my terry cloth robe and I feel warm again. That many temperature changes in such a short amount of time is enough to wake anyone from the dead.

Soap and water
wash the year from my life.
Straighten all that is trampled and torn.
            Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

The Klingon inside me so much wants to believe in cleansing rituals and spirituality. The image of a baptism still hold promise for me, despite my lack of faith in a higher power. The idea that ritual can bring me from the land of dead is a desire for all of us. If only funerals worked in that manner. If only we could perform the ritual perfectly, our loved ones would return to us. If only prayer worked in that manner. If only we could sit quietly, God would appear to speak to us. No matter how much my inner Klingon has prayed, Kahless has never appeared to her.

11/12/2003

Holy Texts (Part One)

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:51 am

I’ve been out of town for over a week. I pre-wrote some weblog entries so that you would have something to read while I was sleeping in hotel rooms, traversing smoky casinos and enjoying the music. I listened to Paul Van Dyk play his greatest works and debut his new album at the nightclub at the Luxor hotel. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel sing together again in a huge coliseum of fans at the MGM Grand hotel. And I listened to the timpani of hotel casino guests enjoying the freedom of Sin City.

The wages of sin are unreported.  - Unknown

I’ve started a new tradition on this trip. In every hotel room, I’ve hidden a dollar in the Gideon Bible. I’m not a believer. I don’t think the Bible is any more important than any other text that has survived for two thousand years. The works of the ancient Egyptians, Confucius, and the Greek philosophers are equally sacred to me. These works of antiquity aren’t provided for solace in hotels, however. The Bible is.

When he left, two books were missing from his bookshelf.  - David Duncan, The Time Machine screenplay, 1960

The first time I saw the movie for The Time Machine, I immediately thought that one of the books would be the Bible. I was a child raised in the Jehovah Witness faith. The idea that the Time Traveler would go to Paradise without the Bible wasn’t even considered. The only question was, “What was the other book he brought?” Now that my faith in God has flown from me along with the Tooth Fairy and Democracy, I am surprised that he only took two books.

What books would you have taken?  - David Duncan, The Time Machine screenplay, 1960

To rebuild the world, what science books would I bring? To survive in Paradise, what texts would I carry? To educate a world of simpletons, what holy writ would I include? Would I even want to bring anything from the past? If he had truly found Paradise and Utopia, would our thoughts just contaminate it? How could I return with only two books? How could I return with any?

All week I have been placing dollar bills in hotel room Bibles. I have opened the book at random, found a quote about gifts, inheritance, charity, chance or money and underlined it. It is no longer a holy text to me, yet I started this tradition. I classify myself as an atheist who struggles with superstition. In a faith that defines itself by its lack of faith, I am crying out for Holy Texts. All I can hear, however, is the clatter of slot machines.

11/13/2003

Holy Texts (Part Two)

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:47 am

I was in the ninth grade when the concept was introduced to me. Mr. Godfrey used Illusions, by Richard Bach, to teach us. In Salt Lake City, the primarily Mormon culture didn’t like their fourteen-year-old children taught by Mr. Godfrey. He told their innocent children that there was a world outside of the LDS Temple and that there were holy works outside of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  None of what the parents were worried about was new to me. I had lost my faith in God two years earlier and I was a lonely atheist among believers.

I noticed something strange about the book. “The pages don’t have numbers on them, Don.” “No,” he said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.”  - Richard Bach, Illusions

The Master had a special book. All you had to do was think about your problem, open it up randomly, and your answer would be on that page. I was so jealous of him. I vividly remembered when that was true for me. I had the Bible. If there was a problem in my life, all I had to do was resort to the Bible. All the answers to all my questions were there for me. God could direct me through the Bible. Since I had lost my faith in a higher power, I found that the direction of my life was entirely up to me. That’s damn scary when you’re an adult, much more so when you’re twelve.

“A magic book!” “No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?”  - Richard Bach, Illusions

Now, Mr. Godfrey wanted me to believe that I cold take any book and find the answers to my problems on a random page. I was a good student: I practiced. My teenaged angst was decided by the random pages. The Yellow Pages, the current sci-fi and the math text book were randomly consulted to solve my young issues. Amazingly, my problems were solved. Since that day, random books and passages have come to me in times of need and they bear my burdens.

I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way.  Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond.  You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again.  I have tried that book for years– generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco–and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad– Robinson Crusoe.  When I want advice– Robinson Crusoe.  In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much– Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh.  I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain.  - Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868

Why? How? What the !*@#? How can a logical human being believe this crap? I classify myself as an atheist who struggles with superstition, but this act of consulting random passages is not considered superstitious in my philosophy. The human mind is incredibly good at recognizing patterns. We search them out. We see pictures in clouds and guidance in the Yellow Pages. Evolution carefully selected the humans that were better at recognizing the pattern of the tiger in the grass. The side effect of this is that I can meditate on my problem, open a random book and my mind will find an answer there. Because we can see the tiger in the grass, we can also see angels anywhere.

The circuit is now complete. When I left you, I was but a learner. Now I am the master.  - George Lucas, Star Wars screenplay, 1979

The circuit is now complete. When I spurned the Bible at age twelve, I was but a learner. Now I can return to it as a master instead of a slave. Maybe it didn’t matter which two books the Time Traveler took with him to Paradise. There are only two books in most hotel rooms: The Bible and the Yellow Pages. Both of them have equal ability to inspire and console. Maybe I should have started the tradition of leaving a dollar bill in both.

11/23/2003

Atheist

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:05 am

The word itself is a void. It defines what I DON”T believe. I guess as an atheist, I get to decide what I DO believe. I believe in the randomness of numbers. I believe that the human mind has inherently evolved the ability to find order in chaos. Furthermore, this order that is formed from the chaos is of particular interest to that mind. What some would call divination, I am more likely to call interpretation. Sometimes two humans who have spent quite a bit of time with each other can interpret the randomness of life in the same manner, causing a belief in omens and other supernatural phenomena.

That is why the occult can scare and tantalize people. Sitting at a table across from a tarot card reader, is really an exercise for your mind to find the tidbits of interest from the plethora of information that is given you in a half hour’s time. Most humans don’t realize how much can be said in the span of thirty minutes, but because I regularly transcribe recordings of meetings, I am fully aware of the huge amount of information that can be passed in that short amount of time. A tarot card reader gives you a large amount of information, and your mind organizes the significant statements and forgets the insignificant ones. You’re scared to death because a complete stranger could give you such good advice about an issue that was never even discussed and a fear and belief in the occult perpetuates. The same could be said for bishop interviews.

My Favorite Methods for Gathering Randomness

The Magic 8 Ball: There is a website that walks you through a dissection of a Magic 8 Ball, which is fairly interesting, but the most important thing I learned from it was that the answers are not particularly even. The distribution of answers is as follows: Positive 50%, Negative 25% and Undecided 25%. I started asking questions in which the answer I want would have to be negative, just so that when I get the answer I want, I can really “believe” it. The importance of this is that I finally realize the answer I want, when before I asked the Magic 8 Ball, I may have been undecided.

Tarot Cards: The pre-assigned meanings attached to Tarot cards provide the human mind with enough room for interpretation of any human condition. I find that it is best just to shuffle up your own deck rather than see someone who reads them for you because that person may not give all the interpretations for the cards that are possible and your mind might need something else for the calming or deciding effect to take place.

The Movement of Birds: This is an old gypsy custom. Assigning meaning to the flight of birds and flocks has been a method of divination for longer than I know. The traditional meaning is birds to your right are “good” and birds to your left are “bad.” Birds that fly from your left to your right indicate a bad situation turning good and vice versa. The beauty of this method of gathering randomness is that flocks of birds rarely fly in sync. There are always a few stragglers left behind on the “good” side that the human mind can notice and find hope in. It’s more about being aware of what your mind notices than about the flight patterns of starlings on a spring morning.

MusicMatch’s Auto-DJ: Since music speaks to me louder than words, I have become particularly attached to this form of divination. MusicMatch is a shareware program that will read music from CD’s and store it in any form you wish on your computer’s hard drive. I have almost every piece of music that I own on my computer’s hard drive, now. The Auto-DJ feature will randomly choose music for me for a user-specified amount of time. I can narrow the choice by stipulating a genre or artist, but I like the joy of letting it choose for me almost completely randomly (sometimes I need to hear Sleigh Ride, even if it’s March, because, to me, it’s a song more about friends and fun than about Christmas). The interpretation comes when I assign meaning to particular songs. Many times, I have found that my mind really needed to hear a particular song or even just a particular line in the lyrics and ignored almost everything else that was chosen. The solace comes from hearing the order that the mind needs in the chaos of the Auto-DJ.

In closing, I want to clarify that I have no belief in the occult or supernatural occurrences. I have a strong and fanatical belief, however, in the ability of the mind to interpret meaning from seemingly meaningless things. I spoke before about how much can be said in a thirty-minute time frame, but there are times when our thoughts run faster in our heads than even speech could express. At these times, it helps to slow down, concentrate on random numbers and be aware of what our minds find significant in this randomness.

11/24/2003

Why The Ten Commandments Make Sense To Me

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:25 am
  1.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me: Make up your mind what you believe and stick to it, dammit.
    
  2.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image: Don’t put your emotions into symbols. It makes you vulnerable when the symbols are mocked or betrayed.
    
  3.  Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain: I have two words for you, baby: Anger Management
    
  4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You need to rest. Recognize that need and the benefits that can be derived from it.
    
  5.  Honor thy father and mother: They gave birth to you and you owe them your life.
    
  6.  Thou shalt not kill: Killing another human being diminishes the tribe. Plus, it would really suck if it happened to you.
    
  7.  Thou shalt not commit adultery: Before there were DNA tests, this made a lot more sense. Now, it’s just a politeness thing.
    
  8.  Thou shalt not steal: This is another example of doing unto others as you would want done to you.
    
  9.  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor: Lying is harmful to you just as much as it is to those who hear your lie. Living a false life is damaging to your self-esteem and the relationships around you.
    
  10. Thou shalt not covet: Concentrating on what you do not have is detrimental to your happiness. So much of contentment is found by concentrating on what you do have.

This analysis may seem simple and maybe even flippant, but I’ve found that much of morality is natural law rather than imposed law.

11/26/2003

Meditating at the Gym

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:10 am

I know it’s weird. How many times have you walked into a gym and seen people sitting in the lotus position, meditating silently? Uh?never. I realize it’s weird. That’s why I find a quiet corner to do it. That’s why I hide behind the pillar or in the dark spinning room. I can understand how strange it may appear.

Why do I do it? I’m new to meditation and I’m not going to go around spouting about how helpful it is. I’m not the type of person who can tell you about all the added benefits of “quiet time.” Meditation is difficult for me. I understand the need for giving my thoughts a rest, but quieting my mind and taking fifteen minutes to think about nothing is incredibly difficult for me. Why would I do it in a noisy gym?

I’ve found meditating in a group to be easier. It’s easier to quiet my mind and it’s easier to feel those elusive moments of calm in a group. I can hear all of you reproach me with a collective, “Duh! Of course it’s easier to meditate while there are a bunch of people meditating around you.” The strange thing is that I find it just as easy when there are a bunch of people exercising around me, thus the gym meditations.

I hide behind the pillar in the cardio room, sitting on one of the mats intended for stretching. Sure, I stretch, but I set my watch for my fifteen minutes and clear my mind while I wait for the chime. I find it so much easier to clear my mind with the white noise of the treadmills and the stair-steppers around me.

I always imagined that people who meditate are in some other realm. I thought that they were asleep, but in a different world than the dream world. It’s not like that at all. Instead of being “out of it” I feel hyper-aware. It’s like that point when I’m trying not to fall asleep and everything seems to be coming at me quickly. Noises are louder. After a few minutes meditating, I can hear the conversations of the weightlifters all the way downstairs, not to mention the breathing of every person on the cardio machines.

I don’t know what it is that makes meditating at the gym better than doing it alone at home. Maybe it’s that “being in the moment” thing. When we are meditating, we are supposed to be in the moment. I spend so much time in fantasy land that I find “living in the moment” really hard to do in my real life. Of course, it’s really easy to do when I’m exercising. All I can do is concentrate on my muscles. Just keep moving, just keep moving, just keep moving. That’s all I can think about when I exercise at the correct level. Maybe that’s it. All of those people are living in the moment more than they probably do the rest of the day. Maybe that’s why some marathon runners call running their religion.

12/1/2003

Weaving in the Ends

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:29 am

I think that a cyclical hobby is helpful for creativity. Crochet is one of the hobbies that I enjoy, especially at this time of the year. It feels good to snuggle up with a huge afghan that I am working on. In the summer, it doesn’t feel so good to have the huge thing covering me, but in the winter, it is really comforting.

A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away.  - Phyllis Mcginley

Afghans aren’t the only projects that I crochet. I like to work on sweaters also. With sweaters, however, there is so much work putting them together. It’s really easy to crochet all the little parts of the sweater, but putting them together is much less pleasant. I have all the pieces of a sweater ready to be put together in my closet right now. They have been waiting for over a month for me to complete them. Even now, I’m much less excited about finishing the sweater than crocheting the parts.

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.  - Henry Ford (1863 – 1947)

My absolute least favorite part of crocheting is weaving in the ends. You have to do it with sweaters and afghans. There is no ball of yarn big enough to crochet an afghan. Ok, that’s probably a lie. There is probably a “Biggest Ball of Yarn in Minnesota” that could crochet an afghan, but I suspect that it would have spots where it was tied together, too. Weaving in the ends is a necessary part of the process. Having pieces of yarn sticking out of your work not only looks sloppy, it invites fraying.

There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.  - Robert Byrne

It’s like I enjoy working on it much more than finishing it. Most of the time I have little joy in the finished project. If the sweater fits and looks nice, I’ll wear it. If not, it goes to the Salvation Army. Most of the time, I give the afghans away. After I’ve finished cuddling with them while creating them, there is another waiting to be created. All the joy in crocheting for me is working with the needle: the systematic movement of the stitches and the feel of the yarn sliding through my fingers. The rest is just paperwork.

12/3/2003

The Darkness

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:36 am

I’ve been fearing Old Cowboy Winter this year. It’s the darkness I fear, not out of some primitive fear of monsters and bogeymen. No, what I fear is very real. I’m scared of being sad. Not the normal sad that comes from negative events in our lives, but truly sad. The kind of sad that has you sitting on the edge of the bed in the morning, just convincing yourself to get going.

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.  - Homer (800 BC – 700 BC), The Odyssey

Oh, they have lots of words for it, but I don’t like any of them. Depression is my least favorite. Depression has been classified as a disease and it makes it seem like something that you just have to live with for the rest of your life, like sciatica. “Don’t mind the tears, it’s just my depression.” Depression also implies medication. “Just take this pill and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t want to live my life all drugged up one quarter of the year. There has to be another way. I don’t classify it as a chronic condition for myself. I just get sad in the dark.

[Sleep is] the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.  - Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632)

What if it didn’t have to be that way? Maybe I’m not sad, maybe I’m tired. I heard someone say that the days get dark earlier to remind us to rest. Maybe spring, summer and fall were so full of activity and excitement that I need to rest. Maybe the winter season, with all of its celebrations are enough to make me need a rest. Maybe I’m like a bear and I need to hibernate for a season instead of struggle against it. That is how I am going to deal with Old Cowboy Winter this year. I’m going to sleep with him.

12/5/2003

Buddha Six-Pack

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:41 am

“How much for this one, with his hands in the air?”
“That’s three dollars. If you buy the set, it’s ten dollars.”
“How many are in the set?”
“Six Buddhas.”
“I’ll buy the set.”

Mike gave the young man a ten dollar bill. The day is good. We got six Buddhas for ten dollars. That’s $1.66 a Buddha. Enlightenment for a buck sixty-six.

If only it was that easy. Spend three dollars, get enlightened. Spend ten dollars and get even more enlightened. If only one could buy enlightenment or peace, for that matter. Instead, peace is free for all who are willing to follow the path of peace. Enlightenment is free for all who follow the path of enlightenment. If only we could buy it, it would be so much easier than following the path.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Bible, King James Version, Exodus 20:3

Instead of practicing my meditation as regularly as I should, I buy a little Buddha (six, actually) and hope peace and enlightenment will be mine. It’s idolatry, plain and simple. There is something to be said for symbols that can remind us of our duties and devotions, but it also makes us vulnerable. My little Buddha makes me vulnerable instead of strong.

I felt the stab of pain. It was the night of 9-11 and CNN reported that the people in the streets of Pakistan were celebrating our loss. I saw the faces of rejoicing men burning my flag. It felt like a rage within me welling up and it made my eyes fill with tears of anger. How could they rejoice at our pain?

Of course, my paranoia instantly kicked in. I don’t trust CNN. I always feel like Winston in George Orwell’s 1984. The person who controls the news controls the world. So they showed me some people rejoicing. That could be old footage for all I know. The pain and the rage subsided, but it was a vicious taste of the vulnerability of idolatry.

Here I am, looking at my Buddha with his hands turned up toward the sky. He reminds me to meditate. He reminds me to place my mind in a peaceful calm. If I continue to use him to remind me of these things, he will become a true idol to me. If I continue to do them on my own, I will have enlightenment without the benefits and vulnerability of idolatry. And I thought I was getting such a good deal.

12/7/2003

Goddess

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 2:47 pm

I am sitting at the Barnes and Noble by my house. I’m facing the magazine section. A couple of minutes ago, I came to the realization that we live in a culture that worships women. Every magazine in the Women’s Interest section is covered with a picture of a beautiful woman. Half the magazines in all the other sections are also covered with pictures of women. As a woman, I must admit that my eyes is also drawn to the magazines with the pictures of women as opposed to all others. Even the computer gamer mags have digitized women on their covers. We are bombarded with visions of women all day long.

The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.  - Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890)

This realization was so striking to me that I felt the immediate need to write it down. I went to the blank journals section here, grabbed a book and started writing. I haven’t even paid for it yet, but I had to get this observation down on paper before it slipped out of my mind. The Palm would have been too slow. Graffiti is faster than trying to type on a tiny keyboard, but it’s still slower than pen and paper. No, what hit me in the eyes was too important to try to fuss with Graffiti. It even feels too important for writing. Maybe I should carry around a tape recorder. Of course it seems that eloquence comes out of my fingers much better than it comes out of my mouth. It’s almost like writing is a physical activity of my hands more than an intellectual one.

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.  - Edwin Schlossberg

Anyway, I’ve lived in a society that has told me that women are downtrodden. When I was a child, women burned their bras on the nightly news before my eyes. I didn’t quite understand what the undergarments signified to them. They had never been a symbol of anything to me except being a grownup woman. I definitely wanted to be a grownup woman.

Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.  - Margaret Atwood (1939 – ), Cat’s Eye, 1988

Now, I’ve been smacked in the face with the realization that my world isn’t what people have told me it was. I actually live in a world that worships women like goddesses. Jennifer Lopez is the focus of the J-Lo/Ben Affleck obsession. Oprah Winfrey mentions a book on her television show and it’s an instant best seller. Martha Stewart goes to jail for insider training while all the male insider traders silently go to jail without notice or press.

Sooner or later, man has always had to decide whether he worships his own power or the power of God.  - A. J. Toynbee

When I was exercising at the gym the other day, I scanned the five televisions in front of me. BET had Ashanti singing and slapping her boyfriend. MTV had the girls from The Real World competing in some artificial log roll. VH1 was ridiculing the fashion of women on the red carpet. CNN’s female anchor told me that fifty percent of the upper management was female. Spike TV, “Television for Men”, was playing Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker was believing Deanna Troi’s intuitive instincts about a visitor to the Enterprise. Even “TV for Men” was worshiping women. I’m sure Oxygen and Lifetime were devoted to women instead of the male worship that logic would suggest.

I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.  - Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

How does all of this affect me? I am female. I am the goddess of this culture. Do I feel like a goddess? Hell no. How could I possibly live up to that expectation? In a society that worships women as goddesses, how does a woman live? Should I expect adoration?

12/11/2003

Taste

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:27 am

Last Saturday when I was worried about the company Christmas party, but before I lost my coat at Fashion Place mall, I presented my first idea in the meditation class. I chose taste because it was the easiest for me. I am well acquainted with my sense of taste. We are the best of friends and the worst of enemies.

You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.  - Ronald Reagan (1911 – ), quoted in Observer, March 29 1981

Lorna set up the little table just like normal with the Buddhas and candle. I added a huge selection of different flavored mints to it. Every flavor of Altoid that has been released was present, along with Tic Tacs, Smints and a few others brands I didn’t recognize or even remember. I realized that I should have test run this idea before running the class on it because I had no idea how long a mint would last in a person’s mouth.

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.  - Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

We started by bowing to the Buddha in all of us and got right down to the business of eating. The first meditation was fifteen minutes, just like always. I chose the ginger Altoid, which was a good idea at first, but there was a point in which I just wanted the thing out of my mouth because it was burning me too much. I didn’t think that ginger could make my tongue feel so hot.

Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.  - Excerpt from the notebooks of Lazarus Long, from Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love”

I could only taste the mint on the tip and sides of my tongue, so I moved the mint around quite a bit. Other than that, I left it unmolested. No biting. It was incredibly hard not to chomp the mint, especially when it was paper thin and threatening to cut my palate. I resisted, though, and I felt it disintegrate between my tongue and teeth in a final flaming burst. I let my mouth rest from the hot ginger. I wasn’t ready for another mint to touch my tongue yet.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.  - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 – 1826), The Physiology of Taste, 1825

I was surprised at the chime announcing the end of the fifteen minutes. That one mint lasted almost the entire time. The most amazing thing is that the focus of my attention was entirely on my mouth the entire fifteen minutes. The taste of the mint, keeping it safe from crunching, the burning sensation in my mouth and the feeling of its final disintegration kept my attention fully in the moment. It was one of my most successful meditation sessions ever.

I volunteered to teach these classes because I wanted to experience them myself. I hope everyone else enjoys them as much as I am going to.

12/15/2003

One-Time Friends

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:42 am

I’ve had some really good friends in my life. When I was a child, I assumed that I would be friends with them forever. I still cling to them. I have their addresses. I know where they are and what they are going through in their lives. I try to see them every once and awhile. I try calling. I try emailing them. All of this never quite feels like it did when we were friends.

Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.  - Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986)

I feel guilty that I don’t really need to see them anymore. I’m not in their lives as much as I used to be. Thinking about the daunting task of Christmas cards, brings to mind how many people used to be in my life that I haven’t heard from. Do I send them a card? Did they send me one last year? Do they even care? Do I?

There isn’t much better in this life than finding a way to spend a few hours in conversation with people you respect and love. You have to carve this time out of your life because you aren’t really living without it.  - Real Live Preacher, RealLivePreacher.com Weblog, August 27, 2003

Last week, when I was driving home, I decided that it’s ok. It’s ok that they’re not in my life anymore. It’s ok that I don’t need them anymore. It’s ok that they don’t need me anymore. We were friends for awhile, but now we are separate. We have no shared experiences beyond that brief moment in the past and not being friends anymore is just fine. I don’t have to send them a Christmas card. I don’t have to expend energy to try to rekindle what we once had.

True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self, and in the next from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.  - Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719), The Spectator, March 17, 1911

I’m getting only enough Christmas cards this year to send to the people who are still actively in my life. If I don’t hurry, they will be New Year’s cards. To all the others, I still miss what we once had. Have a wonderful life and if you miss me, drop me a line.

12/18/2003

Starlings

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 11:52 am

The swarm of starlings was resting on the Bud Light/Jazz Billboard last night during my commute home. They looked like thick black lines under the picture and along the top. I saw a couple of small flocks of starlings join them. The black line was upset for a second, but room was made for them and the line was reestablished, thicker and fuller than before. “They must live there,” I thought to myself.

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!  - William Blake

The traffic was stopped cold. We were merging onto I-80 from I-15 North. Others were merging onto I-80 from I-15 South. Even more were coming from the 201. Of all those cars and all those faces, I didn’t see one looking at the birds. A huge flock of at least one thousand birds was less than 50 yards away from them and they were oblivious. In every car I looked, I saw quiet and neutral faces looking ahead.

There’s no present. There’s only the immediate future and the recent past.  - George Carlin (1937 – )

Am I alone in this world? It seems that so many people around me are not present. They are not in the room with me. They are in the past, thinking about what happened yesterday or fifteen years ago. They are in the future, thinking about what will happen on Christmas or when they finally meet the right person. They are five hundred miles away, thinking about power lines that don’t even exist yet. They are anywhere but here, with me.

I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.  - Herb Caen

I must admit that I’m the same. I think about yesterday, tomorrow and far away. It’s when I’m completely here and now that I realize how far away everyone else is. Is it possible to be here and now all the time? When I’m writing this, am I here? Am I across the world in Denmark and Australia, where you are, reading this? Why is it that I’m only here and now when I see birds swarming?

12/20/2003

Touch

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:16 am

Today is the third entry in my Senses series in our meditation class, but I never told you how last week’s class went. Last week we concentrated on our sense of touch. I brought many interesting things to place in your hand while meditating. Stacey brought some pine cones and cornstarch. I brought some crocheted test swatches, an interesting carved rock, modeling clay, lentils and horse chestnuts. Mike was nice enough to go out in the cold and the dark to gather the horse chestnuts from the snowy ground for me. He also brought back some chestnuts that didn’t reach maturity.

Age is no guarantee of maturity.  - Lawana Blackwell, The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter, 1998

Before chestnuts reach maturity, they are housed in a spiky shell. It looks like the end of a mace or spiked flail. Nature’s battle axe against hungry birds, the shell over the horse chestnut is quite sharp. I brought them to the meditation just for fun. I didn’t think that anyone would choose them for their meditation item.

Choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you.  - Lord Chesterfield (1694 – 1773)

Eddie did. She could have cuddled with a little square of crocheted yarn. Let a magic pine cone take her on a journey. She could have rested her hand in a bowl of lentils and felt their slick skins slide past her skin and yet somehow still support it. Instead, she chose the spiky and painful little balls of the undeveloped horse chestnut. I was eager to hear her speak after the meditation. She did not disappoint.   When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.  - Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)

After a while holding the sharp ball, she realized that it was like the painful times in our lives. If she was careful and held it gently, the ball didn’t hurt her, it merely kept its presence known in her hand. During the painful times of our lives, we need to hold ourselves and our loved ones gently. If we treat ourselves with kindness and care during these times, life will be less painful. Thank you, Eddie.

12/28/2003

Tactile Learning

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:31 am

There is some learning that is entirely by touch. This last month, I learned this first hand. About a month ago, I spilled soap onto the counter in the women’s bathroom. I reached over and my thumb barely hit the button and my hand was in the wrong position to catch it, so the soap hit the counter in a messy glob.

Before you start scolding me, I assure you that I cleaned it up. There are only three women working in my office. It’s not like I could tell Prim that Oksana did it. They would know that it was me who made the mess, so I cleaned up after myself. That’s all beside the point, anyway.

The point is: there is some learning that is entirely tactile. Unbeknownst to me, the old soap dispenser was removed from the wall and a new one was put in its place. There is a mark on the wall where the old one used to be. The paint is a different color and a bit of the wall came off with the old dispenser, leaving the brown paper from the drywall. Well, because the new one is shaped differently, it isn’t exactly in the place of the old one. It’s ever so slightly higher and it is slimmer in form. Thus, my thumb almost missed the button and my hand wasn’t correctly placed to catch the soap.

I didn’t know that I knew where the soap dispenser was solely by touch. I never go “feeling around” for the soap. I just put my hand there and caught it every time. There must have been a time when I was a new employee and I didn’t know where the soap was and had to “look” for it, but that time was long ago. Now, my hand reaches for it and I don’t even notice when the dispenser changes unless it is so drastic that I end up missing the globule. I believe that they could put a huge sign on the dispenser saying, “Do Not Use! Acid!” and I would still unconsciously squirt the acid into my hand. No matter how large or red the letters were, I wouldn’t see them because I get my soap with my sense of touch instead of sight.

It’s a month later. I use the women’s room without any soap mishaps. Just the other day, I noticed that my hand reached to the exactly correct spot to dispense the soap and I caught it without spilling a drop. I guess it takes about a month to learn something by touch. I didn’t even know I could learn things that way. How long until I know everything about myself? Will I ever?

1/1/2004

Resolutions

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:26 am

I’m not big on resolutions. I tend to change my life during Lent instead of at the first of the year. By the time I choose my life changing behavior, everyone else has given up on theirs. I’m a pretty consistent person, so I’m the one that notices that things are a hell of a lot busier at my gym at this time of the year. I just grit my teeth and hold on until mid-February when things get back to normal.

I am constantly in a state of resolution. I don’t sit down and think about how to change my life at the first of the year because I do that every day. I am constantly monitoring myself and trying to correct my foibles. New Year’s Day has no hold on me. It’s just like all the other days of the year.

I’m wondering if that habit is healthy for me. I am ever-critical of my behavior. Instead of looking for the good in my personality and actions, I am always looking for the evil to stamp it out. The thought of looking for the good within myself and reinforcing it, doesn’t sound right to me. Sure, if I were perfect, I could look for the good and keep it up, but that sounds like a maintenance activity instead of an advancing one. I want to make myself a better person every day. Isn’t looking for the evil within the way to do that?

All over the nation, people are shunning cigarettes and Twinkies. A lock went on the liquor cabinet and last night was the last one night stand, really. Maybe we should be looking at it differently. Maybe we should be deciding the positive things we want to do instead of the negative things that we don’t.

“I will chew sugarless gum and find friends who have healthy habits.”

“I will eat healthy food at regular intervals throughout the day so that I won’t starve myself.”

“I will write in my journal every time I feel the need for a drink. I will work through my emotions.”

“I will treat myself as a holy temple. Only those who are worthy are allowed into my life.”

Some of these resolutions were mine long ago and have become second nature to me. I no longer crave cigarettes. Others came naturally to me. I’ve never had a one night stand. I am a goddess worthy of only the best. I don’t know when I decided that, but it happened sometime in high school before I ever got a chance to test it. Others, I’m still working on. Eating healthy may be a lifelong struggle for me, but I work on it every day. New Year’s is just another day in a long line of days spent working on making my life better.

1/26/2004

Along Came Polly

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 12:26 pm

I haven’t seen the movie. Quite frankly, I’ve given up on Ben Stiller. When I realized half-way through Zoolander that I didn’t care how the movie ended, I officially gave up on Ben Stiller. I remember loving Reality Bites and loving it even more when I found out that Ben had originally wrote it so Winona didn’t choose either of the guys. Since then, I’ve only been vaguely entertained. I must admit that the gasoline fight in Zoolander was funny, but that was only a few minutes of a long and arduous movie. I’m tempted, though. I like the idea of watching a wild and irrepressible Jennifer Aniston spice up an uptight Ben Stiller’s life.

Karen she’s my boss at the shoe store.
We sell to the rich on Madison Avenue.
 - Jill Sobule, Karen By Night

Fiction is filled with stories of irrepressible people who help uptight people live a fuller life. It must be a basic human fantasy. I have seen all gender variations. Irrepressible women help uptight men. Strong and virile men help buttoned-up women. I believe it is a classic story that appeals to all of us. The problem with that idea is that there is no woman who is so totally irrepressible all the time. There is no man who is so strong that he can fully change the life of a woman who is set in her ways. It is a desire of the irrepressible to give a little spice to the life of the uptight. It is a desire of the buttoned-up to let their hair down for one virile night. It is a fantasy, but it doesn’t really work in real life.

Karen by night
We imagine she must lead a very dull life
With just a cat and a book by her side
We know her by day but we don’t know
Karen by night
 - Jill Sobule, Karen By Night

Those who are uptight, are uptight because they like their lives. If they didn’t, they would change them. Those who are irrepressible can’t be bothered wasting their time with boring stiffies. It just doesn’t work in real life, yet it appeals to us. No matter how exciting our lives might be, we imagine that they might be spiced up somehow by a wild uninhibited person. If only I had a wild person in my life, then I would be able to enjoy myself. No matter how boring our lives may seem, we imagine that we can help someone else have some fun with us. If only that person would loosen up, we could have some fun.

Karen by night
The leather comes out under the moonlight
Takes off her Chanel and hops on her bike
Looking like young Marlon Brando
Karen by night
 - Jill Sobule, Karen By Night

The whole idea is a desire for fun and enjoyment. I’ve seen it so many times. I try to buy fun. “If only I had a hot tub, then I could have fun.” I try to run away to it. “If only I could go to Hawaii, then I could have fun.” I do everything, but actually allow myself to have fun. I have to drive at least an hour and a half away before I will allow myself to enjoy life. The irrepressible person fantasy is the same as the hot tub fantasy. If only I had an irrepressible person in my life, then I could have fun. The uptight victim fantasy is the same as the Hawaii fantasy. If only that guy would loosen up, then we could have fun.

Wish I could be more like
Karen by night
 - Jill Sobule, Karen By Night

It doesn’t have to be that way. The only thing that we need to do to have fun is do the things that we love to do. That’s it. No fancy hot tubs. No fancy trips to Hawaii. No other people. We can have fun at home with some crayons and a blank sheet of paper. We can have fun at work with a little bit of idle chatter. We can have fun anywhere by just turning inward and thinking happy thoughts. It is so simple and so hard. I really wish that I could be more like Karen by night. Work hard and well during the day and party hard and well at night. Next morning, show up, fresh as a daisy.

1/30/2004

Idolatry

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:49 am

Since you said that you’re an atheist, I brought you this.

Faisal handed me a small figurine.

“What is it? Oh, look! It’s a little Jesus. Thank you! “

I got it in the mail.

We look at the box it came in. I realize I was wrong.

“It’s not Jesus. It’s Saint Jude. He’s the patron saint of lost causes. If you have something that you’ve given up hope on, you’re supposed to pray to him and then you’re supposed to give money to this hospital.”

I know more of the story, but I didn’t tell him. Faisal is from Pakistan. He doesn’t care about Danny Thomas and his tear jerking story about trying to make it in the acting world. He just saw a Christian thing in his mail and thought that it would bother me because I told him I was an atheist.

“Thank you, I’ll put St. Jude right here next to my Buddha.”

There is the flame of the Holy Ghost above his head and he’s holding a gold disk. I have no lost causes right now. Sure, I’ve given up on that peace on earth thing, but I never really believed in it in the first place. For peace on earth to be complete, I would have to vanquish the violence within myself. I wouldn’t really call peace on earth a cause, just a hope.

I find it strange that the Catholic Church has so many saints. I understand how they came about. Many of the saints have a one-to-one correspondence to the Pagan gods that they replaced. It made Christianity easier for the Pagans to swallow. Well, that and the fact that the Roman Empire was breathing down their necks. I understand how they came about, I just don’t understand how modern day Catholics can pray to saints.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Isn’t that what the commandment says? What are the saints but another set of gods to worship? How can a person follow the ten commandments and pray to saints without feeling like a hypocrite? How does that logic warp in the mind of the faithful?

If only. If only I could believe in God, then I could be guaranteed a route to salvation. It’s such a pretty story. I just wish it were true. Instead, I look at my Buddha and St. Jude next to each other under my monitor. I can kiss my fingers and touch his hand. I can rub his belly. Neither one makes me feel any closer to God or Enlightenment, yet I see the faithful perform these rituals. They seem comforting to them. I guess if I want comfort, I need to give it to myself and quit trying to find an outside source.

2/4/2004

Super Bowl

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:30 am

It passed me right by this year. Sure, I knew it was happening. I knew who was playing, but I didn’t spend one second watching it or the spectacularly naked half-time show. I just don’t really consider football all that important. If I were married to someone who thought it was important, I might deign to watch the Super Bowl, but Mike is just as apathetic about the spectacle as I am. We visited Kristen in the hospital instead.

All that the engineers could talk about in the office was Janet’s right breast. Oh yeah, and the game was good too. There was a farting horse and a streaker, but none of that compares to Janet’s right breast. Do you think it was planned? They want me to answer and all I can say after seeing the pictures is, “Duh!” Of course it was planned. Women don’t wear star shaped pasties under their clothes unless they plan to reveal their goods. Not even Janet Jackson. Sorry, boys.

By the way, that kiss with Madonna, Britney and Christina was planned too. Sorry to bust the bubble. The art of choreography doesn’t really allow for impromptu kisses to look that smooth and polished. Want to eat your heart out? They probably had to kiss each other many times during the practices in order to get it right and on the beat.

It seems like so many of us live through the television that we forget that life is messy. Anyone who has actually ripped off the clothing of a lover knows that clothing never conveniently rips showing only one breast. Anyone who has ever tried to give someone a surprise kiss knows that foreheads bump, teeth click and sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes they turn their head and all you get is a mouthful of hair. No matter what the romance novels or porn movies say, life is messy.

And, isn’t that the joy of it? Life is messy. I want to jump into life with both feet and roll around in the mud. I want to run haphazardly through life, allowing the sweat to get into my eyes, stinging and burning. I want to allow life into my bed vomiting itself all over my warm flannel sheets. That’s the beauty of life because for as many times as life sends you vomit, it could have sent you ecstasy. That’s the crap shoot that we are all willing to take. Sure, you ripped the shirt in such an awkward way that it just looked malevolent instead of passionate. Sure, you leaned over for a kiss and all you caught was brown, curly hair smelling of shampoo and hairspray. Life is messy, live it up!

2/5/2004

Perfect

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:32 am

I got a portable CD player for Christmas from Mike. It plays CDs and MP3s. I have really enjoyed using it at the gym. If I’m wearing my headphones, I don’t have to communicate with any of the people there if I don’t want to. Wearing headphones is like a cloaking device for everyone else. If some weirdo talks to me and I don’t want to deal with him, I can just pretend not to hear.

Of course, I can also just slip into another world when I’m exercising with music. A single CD isn’t quite enough when I’m exercising, which is why I’m glad that this player works with MP3s also. I just made myself a MP3 CD that holds all of my new albums. Beyonce, both Outkast albums, Pink’s new cut, John Mayer and Now 14. I have hours of music on one CD, so I don’t have to change during a workout, or even during the week. It’s not as good as my computer at home that has every album I ever owned on it, but it’s good enough for the gym.

Good enough is such a new idea for me. Good enough always has been promoted to me as the worst of mediocrity. Mr. Leonhardt at K-Mart used to say, “Good enough is not good enough.” Since my K-Mart days, I’ve always scorned good enough. Only perfect would do for me and only perfect would do for whomever I was working for. Only perfection was good enough.

This, my friends, is the first step toward insanity. I drove myself crazy trying to be perfect. No matter how good I was, I never thought it was good enough. Perfection is a demon that I have been fighting since I recognized it as such a couple of years ago. Perfection is an addiction that is never satiated, no matter how much I eat at its table. When I purge it from one aspect of my life, it surfaces in another.

So, this CD/MP3 player isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for the gym. I may not be perfect, but I’m good enough for now. I’ll always work on myself to get better, but until then, I can be happy with my strengths and abilities as they are. It’s hard being human.

2/6/2004

Waiting for the Deep-Fried Pop Tart

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:32 am

He told me that he would rather have a deep-fried Pop Tart. He was joking, but the request was so obscure, it has stayed within my mind like a visual aid to help me remember something. I had offered him a citrus fruit, but he shook his head. Now, the Deep-Fried Pop Tart is lodged in my brain like a popcorn kernel, aching and inaccessible.

It has to be the kind of thing that is only good when it’s fresh. Deep-fried, two days old and out of the fridge just sounds disgusting. Let’s face it. Fresh and glistening with hot oil, draining on the paper underneath it sounds disgusting too. He would rather have a deep-fried Pop Tart than my juicy clementine. Easy to peel. No pits.

Isn’t that human nature? Instead of enjoying the fruit in front of us, we hold out. We hold out for the impossible. We hold out for the intangible goodness of the Deep-Fried Pop Tart. We don’t even know what it will taste like, but it must be better than a silly little bite of citrus.

What about me? What am I denying myself right now because I’m waiting for the Deep-Fried Pop Tart? What have I put on hold because I’m waiting until I’m thin, rich or ready for it? What about you? What are you waiting for? I want to grab that fruit and tear into its skin. You don’t even need a finger nail to peel it, just gently tug at its orange rind and it will release itself to you.

2/15/2004

Work for Spiritual Growth

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:36 am

It has been said that repetitive activities are springboards for spiritual growth. When your hands are busy cleaning, your mind can relax and move to a higher plain. When your feet are pounding on the pavement on your daily run, your mind is lulled into a state of consciousness conducive to thought. When your fingers are crocheting the same stitches on the afghan, your mind can focus on more pressing matters in your life. I believe this is true because I have experienced it first hand.

That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art.  - John A. Locke

Repetitive activities are friends of mine. Placing labels on tabs. Punching paper with holes. Folding ledger size paper to fit in letter size binders. All of these activities are welcome to me. As a secretary, I would be lying if I said they were interesting and fun, but they are welcome, nonetheless. They are an opportunity to give my mind a rest and move it into the realm of “zoning out.”

Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.  - Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

I can enjoy repetition. It’s mind-numbing boredom that I have yet to conquer. When there is nothing for me to do but answer the telephone when it rings, I feel myself wanting to claw the walls. This is how a secretary’s life is. Sometimes it’s busy and there is too much for me to do. Sometimes it’s slow and I search my brain for something to keep me busy.

Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.  - Voltaire (1694 – 1778), Candide, 1759

A true monastic would be able to find God in the boredom. Why is it that I can allow my mind to achieve a higher level when I’m folding paper, but not when I am at rest? There is nothing to do but sit and think. Why is it that I am better able to think when I have a cyclic activity for my hands? It makes no sense to me. I should be able to relax and “zone out” easier when I have nothing to distract me. It’s a mystery of the human mind.

2/18/2004

The Homeless Guy on 1-80 (Part 1 of 2)

Filed under: Kathleen Bennett,Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Cory and Kathleen moved to San Francisco so long ago that I couldn’t tell you when it was. Let’s see if I can pin it down. They moved after the release of the Bare Naked Ladies first album because I remember sitting in their basement apartment in West Valley singing, “If I had a million dollars?” They moved before the release of Mike’s first book because I remember bringing a copy of his book all the way to San Francisco for them. So, sometime between July 28, 1992 and November 1995. That’s the best estimate that I can give you.

I remember the first time Mike and I visited them in their San Francisco apartment. They lived on Shrader Street, which was just two blocks from the Golden Gate Park and four blocks away from the corner of Haight and Ashbury. My parents weren’t hippies. They were very square, but even my mom believes that everyone should make a pilgrimage to the corner of Haight and Ashbury. I have actually gotten a parking place there. I would have taken a picture, but it was a rental car.

After only a few months living there, they had sold their VW bus. It was too hard to find a parking place and the public transportation was amazing. For the truly awkward treks, they bought a motorcycle, but mostly, they walked everywhere. While we were there, they expected us to walk everywhere, too. I was appalled.

It wasn’t the physical activity that appalled me. Even though I was severely obese at the time, I wasn’t going to let my fat get in the way. I was appalled at the homeless and pierced youth on the streets asking me for money. I was scared that they would attack me. I was pissed that they spent at least twenty dollars apiece for each of their multiple piercings. Why would they ask me for money if they had enough for a pierced tongue, two eyebrow piercings and that stupid thing right above their chin?

Kathleen and Cory couldn’t see them anymore. By then, she was stone thin, training for a bike race that spanned from San Francisco to Los Angeles. She hadn’t shaved her head yet, but Cory had. “It helps if you look like you belong here. You guys look like tourists.” I nodded my head. Damn straight. I AM a tourist. When do I get to see that wharf thing that everyone thinks is so great? I didn’t say it out loud, but I’m sure that my face told them exactly what I was thinking. I’m just that kind of person.

I remember Kathleen trying to comfort me. “I don’t give them any money. I used to when I first moved here, but they just remembered me and bugged me every day. Now, they’re just part of the city? you know?I see them every day so I’m used to them.” What she was trying to explain to me was so complex that I couldn’t have possibly understood it at the time, even if she had been able to find the right words. “I’m used to them” is about the closest she came to this feeling.

2/19/2004

The Homeless Guy on 1-80 (Part 2 of 2)

Filed under: Kathleen Bennett,Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Mike and I moved to Sugarhouse last July. Sugarhouse isn’t as urban as the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, but it’s very similar. It’s the closest thing that Salt Lake City has to The Haight. We live within walking distance of over fifteen restaurants and as many stores. When the weather isn’t below fifty or above one hundred degrees outside, Mike and I walk everywhere.

The homeless have been kicked out of the metropolitan areas of Salt Lake. It happened a few years before the Olympics, but just because they can’t sleep in Pioneer Park anymore doesn’t mean that they left our town. No, they moved to Sugarhouse. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the homeless from the hippies. Point of reference: the homeless usually hold up a cardboard sign and the hippies are usually carrying a paper bag from Wild Oats. Don’t give hippies money. They just get pissed.

Life is different now that I walk everywhere. I see things that I would have never seen if I had been driving. I find things on the ground. I dodge dirty snow and dog shit. I look the homeless and the hippies in the face instead of zipping past them. I see all of this on a regular basis.

There’s a homeless guy on the corner of 7th East and I-80. I see him every day. He’s tall and thin. He wears a crocheted blue cap. He didn’t used to wear the cap. It was bright blue the first day I saw him wearing it. Since then, it has grayed in color. I suspect that it  eventually will be the same gray that everything that survives a Utah winter becomes. The other day, I gave him money. I don’t know why.

I was in my car and he was crossing the street. I’m usually on the right lane, waiting for the light and he is usually on the left side of the street. This time, he was crossing, so I beeped my horn. He thought that I was beeping for him to get out of the way, so he jumped. It was only after I was able to get the window down that he realized that I was trying to give him money. “God Bless.” I didn’t bother to tell him I was an atheist. I just took the blessing and left when the light turned green.

Now comes the awkward explanation. Now I try to put into words what Kathleen was unable to describe to me so long ago. That clumsy grappling for words to describe what it feels like to live in Sugarhouse. What it feels like to see that blue crocheted cap every day. What it feels like to walk on 21st South past the other homeless. What it feels like to mingle among the hippies and the yuppies and even the puppies. Dogs and humans and dirty snow the color of coal. All of it is mine. The dirt, the sky, the homeless, the home bound, the stores, the parks, the vacant lots, the vacant real estate, the vacant stares: all of it is mine.

I am filled by it all and all of it surrounds me. My day isn’t the same if the guy in the blue cap isn’t there. My day isn’t the same if my walk is missing the slight tremor of fear when I walk past the tattoo parlor. “I’m used to them” isn’t enough. They are part of me and I am part of them. Even if I never speak. Even if I never pass a dime. Even if I walk quickly with a light step. They are mine and I am theirs and we belong to this land.

2/22/2004

The Travesty of Being Alone

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

She said it with so much self-assurance that I almost agreed with her, “He might be obsessed with work right now, but when he finds that Special Someone, it will be different.” I almost nodded, but I caught myself. There a split second there when I could have turned back. I could have politely nodded and let her believe herself, but something within me wanted to tell the truth. I wanted her to know that there was more than one way to live a life.

“Do you think? I don’t. He seems really happy with his life right now. You know, it’s possible to be alone and be happy.”

“He dates.”

“Yeah, but I think he’s happy with his life. It’s not like he’s incomplete without that Special Someone.”

I should have kept my mouth shut. I could tell that she didn’t believe me and there was no point in arguing about it. Plus, I didn’t want to launch into a discussion with her about physical needs versus emotional ones. I am in Utah, after all. The only physical need that is spoken about in polite conversation is eating. There is lots of talk about chocolate and ice cream in Utah. Sometimes I like to imagine that they are talking about sex instead, but they look at me funny when I laugh at inappropriate times. I digress.

In this state, it seems that being alone is a travesty. If you are not married, you should have a girlfriend, and if you don’t have a girlfriend, you should be actively dating. All of these “shoulds” are discussed as if they are fact, but I’ve come to the knowledge that they are not. It’s possible to be completely content with your life and be alone.

I’m not talking about “Alone and Looking” or “Alone and Grieving a Loss” or even “Alone and Just Busy Right Now.” I’m talking about “Alone and Happy Very Much, Thank You.” I’m talking about “Alone and Please Don’t Fix Me Up With Anyone.” I’m talking about “Alone and Yes, You’re Very Beautiful, but No Thank You.” It’s possible to live there and be happy and content, but this society will have me believe that it’s not true.

I blame Socrates. Wasn’t it him that said that we are just seeking our other half? If lovers are merely seeking their other half, it implies that we are incomplete unless we find someone to love. Sure that’s great for our genes and the propagation of the species, but as a self-actualized human, I find the concept demeaning.

I refuse to believe that I am only half a person. After over thirteen years of intimate contact with Michael, I know that he is a whole person all by himself. The two of us together make something better than we could be individually, but we are not two halves. That idea diminishes what we have created together.

So, here I am, wanting to explain all of this to her. I want to tell her that her life is great for her, but his life is great for him. There are as many ways to lead a happy life as there are humans on this planet. There is no single road to happiness and I find it offensive that she would try to force him to walk down her path, when his is leading to the same place.

I look at my little Buddha and St. Jude. Buddha is smiling at me, “Let her believe she knows the only path. It makes her happy to think that she knows the one truth.” St. Jude is staring straight ahead with the flame of the Holy Ghost above his head, “What are you looking at me for? I never got married.”

2/23/2004

Sense of Wonder

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 11:05 am

It’s clear now, but when I drove to work, it was foggy. I felt a little betrayed by the ice on my windshield this morning. After two days in Las Vegas, I had completely forgotten winter. It’s unseasonably warm, yet I want more.

I drive past several refineries on my way to work every morning. Sometimes they burn. Sometimes, they seem dormant except for the smoke billowing out of a couple of stacks. Today, in the fog, the burn was almost magic. The metal column was completely obscured by the fog and all I could see was the huge flame, floating in the air above the refinery.

Burning bushes and the Holy Spirit came to mind. “This must be how the early saints felt, seeing a huge flame in the sky, beckoning,” I thought to myself. Of course, there were no refineries to trick the saints into thinking they saw the fire of God. No, refineries are a modern experience that have nothing to do with saints or gods or monsters.

I was still groggy from the long drive home from Vegas yesterday, so the flame seemed more significant than it should have. It’s funny how a trick of the weather can create a sense of wonder in the ordinary. I wonder if it had been foggy when Moses found the burning bush.

2/24/2004

Akhenaten

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

His face sits on my desk at work. The Magic 8 Ball, Akhenaten, Buddha, St. Jude, my Get Fuzzy Calendar and a little box of tea are the complete personal effects on my desk. Buddha and St. Jude get top billing in most of my stories because they reside right under my monitor. I turn to them when I need advice.

Akhenaten, however, is so old that I never turn to him for advice. He serves as a reminder to me. His thin and stretched face lifelessly stares back at me. He was the first man in documented history to believe in One God. Sure, the Bible thumpers out there will point to Abraham or even Adam, but show me a picture of those blokes.

He reformed the entire religious structure of Egypt. Everyone was worshipping the One God, Aten, during his reign. His reforms were short-lived and reverted back to polytheism soon after his death. I never ask him for advice. I want to make a change that lasts far after my death. Akhenaten had no credibility in that area.

Why do I keep him on my desk? I bought his likeness from a shop at the Luxor hotel in Vegas. It’s a reproduction of one of the desecrated monuments found in a garbage heap thousands of years after his death. What we know about him is so limited and everyone has a theory. His likeness is deformed because of Froehlich’s Syndrome, or is it Marfan’s Syndrome? He was murdered for his religious reforms, or did he die of these diseases? He was the first pharaoh to be depicted in art as he was, or was it an artistic stylization? I don’t care about that stuff.

I keep him on my desk because he reminds me of the happy times with Mike when we first started going to Las Vegas for the computer conventions. He reminds me of Comdex 1992. He reminds me of InterOp. He reminds me of Mike’s first book signing. He reminds me of a time when the computer industry felt like it was the answer to everything. It was our One God for a few shining years and I’m mourning the loss of it.

So, a 3500-year old pharaoh reminds me of the time in my life when I worshipped the One God, The Computer. Just like Egypt after Akhenaten’s death, I feel myself reverting back to my old ways. There is no God. All the gods are false and all we have is our intellect and bestiality to protect us from the elements and each other. He is a reminder of a time when I put my faith in something other than myself. He is a warning and I never turn to him for advice. The Magic 8 Ball gives me better answers anyway.

2/25/2004

Lent

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Being a non-Mormon child in Utah usually means that you are friends with the Catholics. So many of the LDS children are told that they cannot associate with the world, that many of my friends at one time or another, told me that they could not play with me anymore because I wasn’t Mormon. The friends that never abandoned me were my Catholic friends.

That being said, you can understand how I would learn about Lent. From Ash Wednesday (Hey, you’ve got some black stuff on your forehead?) to Easter, my devoutly Catholic friends would give up something important to them. I don’t know when I started participating in this activity, but as a teen, I gave up things like chocolate and Twinkies. After some maturation, I realized that I could control my body and started to think of more challenging behaviors to sacrifice at Lent. Since my late teens, I have chosen thought patterns to control. For example, giving up thinking about Brad Pitt as a sex object, quit obsessing about the faults of my immediate supervisor at work, or stop fantasizing about winning the lottery.

Now, I see myself as the logical atheist that I am and yet I still give up something every year for Lent. I am still learning to control my mind, so I still give up a damaging thought pattern. This ritual never really had a religious significance to me, so I never really felt like I was doing this for a higher power, yet I still participate. Why?

At forty days, Lent is a conveniently lengthy time to break a bad habit. There are adults who still stop smoking or quit drinking coffee for Lent. After abstaining from something for forty days, it is substantially easier to resist it for the rest of my life. Having a period of time devoted each year for working to make myself a better person is incredibly beneficial. Choosing only one character flaw, and working on it continuously for forty days is the perfect way to perfect myself. The Catholic religion has stumbled upon a personal development plan that actually works. Why aren’t all of us observing Lent?

Because it’s hard. It’s so much easier to say to myself, “I’m not going to fantasize about winning the lottery.” It’s a hell of a lot harder to control my mind every time I see a Publisher’s Clearing House commercial. During this time of thought control, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to decide the positive thoughts that I want to place in my mind instead. Lent is easier when I say, “Every time I catch myself thinking about winning the lottery, I’m going to concentrate on ways to be more frugal with the money I already have, ways to earn more money in my spare time, or ways to cut my expenses.” That way, I have many other things to think of instead of obsessing over something that is statistically unlikely. I’ve found ways to make Lent easier for myself, but in all truthfulness, self-development is difficult, and that is why Lent is not a popular ritual, even among Catholics.

Wish me luck!

2/26/2004

Bleed

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I think we were talking about bungee jumping. I don’t quite remember what started the conversation, actually. This weekend, Stacey, Dan, Mike and I drove down to Las Vegas and there was a lot of talking. I remember vividly what Mike said, “Someday in the future, people will pay money to be hit in the head with a hammer.” It was such a vivid idea that it has stuck in my mind since he said it last weekend.

He was trying to say that it was silly that people do such crazy things for a thrill. Oh, I remember. Stacey had been talking about the bobsled ride that she took with her friends up in Park City. It was a 5G curvy trip down the mountain that lasted only about a minute and a half. It’s the same trip that the Olympic Bobsled Team takes, but slower. It was sheer hell and she’ll never do it again. After describing this to us, Mike made his graphic comment about hammers. Somehow, I understand the concept of thrill. I tried to explain it to him.

When everything feels like the movies Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive.  - Goo Goo Dolls, Iris, 1998

Sometimes I feel so empty. I feel like I’m going through this life in a fog. I feel like I’m going through life with blinders on. Doing something thrilling is like taking off those blinders. For a brief second, it feels like I am awake and alive. Of course, I’m not much of a risk taker. I don’t bungee jump, ride motorcycles, or even ski. Going for the thrill proves that you’re alive only because it brings you so close to death. I understand the concept, I just don’t participate.

It’s like I’m walking around with a blindfold on.  It’s like if someone would just rip it off, I could see.  I could make some sense of my life.  - Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Dinner at Seven-Thirty, 1994

Instead, I shock myself out of the fog with my imagination. I can step into a fantasy world and imagine a completely different world for myself. A five minute sojourn into fantasyland is enough to bring me back to reality with the true sense of being alive. That’s probably why I enjoy writing so much. It’s like I’m in another world while I’m writing, even if the other world was just last weekend when we were talking in the restaurant.

3/2/2004

Home Vibe

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

My home vibe is a lot different than my work vibe. At work, I have Akhenaten, the Magic 8 Ball, tea, Buddha and St. Jude. That’s it. At home, I have so much little meaningful clutter that I couldn’t list it all here. On my monitor alone, there is a post-it with an address for the son of a friend, my library card number, an origami star from Mike, Kokopelli, and a female fertility goddess candleholder. That’s just on my monitor.

Two fertility gods on my monitor at home, whereas at work I have a corpulent laughing man and a celibate saint. What is going on? It’s not like Kokopelli and the unnamed goddess would offend anyone. I guess the fertility gods are where they belong, at home, instead of where they don’t belong. It’s just so different to write at home. I forgot how often I ask my little Buddha for advice.

There is a little Buddha here, too. You forget. I got them in a six-pack. I have one at work, one on my desk, one under the wire tree my father made, one sitting on the window sill and two were given away for Christmas. The Buddha on my desk is sitting. His chubby legs can barely get around his fat tummy. He has a lot of advice for me.

“Quit analyzing things so much. Go to your meditation class. Practice your meditation during the week. Talk to those fertility gods. They know a lot of cool stuff, too. Exercise more, you’ve got a race coming up, silly girl. Light more candles and quit worrying about burning the house down.”

Of course, he says it all with the biggest smile on his face. He’s not nagging me. He just has something to say every time I turn to him for advice. If I didn’t have to look at him, he wouldn’t bother me with the advice.

Ok, I just rearranged everything at my desk. The fertility gods are off my monitor and residing just below the screen on the desk. Buddha came down from the top shelf and he sits between them, separating the feminine from the trickster. The carved stone that is supposed to hold incense, but has only been used for touching is near them. The origami star fills out the menagerie. Now, I have my army of advisors just like at work, even if they are a different troupe.

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