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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Godly Wonder



I’m high! I’m drunk with beauty! I’m over the moon!

This morning I took a three-hour walk in the park. It is the Friday before the New York City Marathon, and people are everywhere, speaking every language on the planet, excited to be in one another’s company. Read More 
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The Wisdom to Know the Difference

“So how do you know the difference between going with the flow and letting yourself drown?” writes author Eileen Flanagan in her new book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, Sept. 2009). “One answer is to see if what is flowing within you matches the direction of the current around you. You have to pay attention to the cards you are being dealt.”

There are so many good things in this book that I almost don’t know where to begin. But perhaps the best thing is the topic.

Last year, after about 25 years of researching self-change modalities, as both a seeker and a journalist, I wrote an article about the necessity of interrupting the embedded neuronal patterns behind our self-sabotaging behaviors and beliefs. In the introduction to the article, I referred to the power of the Zen master’s thwack, and the editor of the magazine that published the piece decided to use “Thwack” as the title, along with an illustration of a therapist about to throttle an unsuspecting man with a rolling pin. Although it made a snappy and commercial cover line, this title inadvertently portrayed as acceptable what I believe is most dangerous about the new confrontational methods of change and many of the groups that practice them. The trouble with thwacking is that if it’s done by anyone who is not a Zen master or an experienced healer, and if it is delivered without a sense of nuance, devoid of love and compassion, and if the thwack is dealt to a person who is not ready to receive it, it is brutality. And it can even re-traumatize a person rather than help.  Read More 
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Science and Good Intentions


I suddenly realized that my unemployed lulls are a great time to read the “I’m-gonna-read-that-someday” pile. Here are a couple of interesting facts from two sources in that pile: Read More 
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The Moth Radio Hour


Since I finished writing a new novel, I’ve been down. It’s the contraction that inevitably follows the expansion of creative emission, I tell myself. Or maybe it’s the fact that my agent says that nobody’s buying fiction, no matter how good or well-written or funny it is. Or maybe it’s the purple vertical pinstripe that appeared this morning on my computer monitor, that I’m told is the beginning of a pinstripe cancer that will render my screen unreadable. Whatever it is, I am down and depressed and feel like wallowing. “Why?” I rail at the universe, sounding like a middle-aged Nancy Kerrigan. And that’s when the Moth Radio Hour comes on. Read More 
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A New Way to Discuss Health-Care Reform

“Body movements affect emotional processes. For example, adopting the facial expressions of specific emotions (even via unobtrusive manipulations) affects emotional judgments and memories,” says a study in the August 25th volume of Psychological Science. So here is me, writing this blog:
(picture of a funny looking smiling girl, which keeps disappearing)

The study goes on to say that lying down makes you react less angrily  Read More 
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Itty Bitty Matters


There are three pertinent pieces of background to this story:
(1) I am allergic to tomato plants;

(2) It takes approximately 500 years for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill;

(3) Anything that demonstrates a determination to stay alive is an object of my admiration.
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Speechless


I just learned about a new service that advertises: “Create the Illusion of Communication!”

This phone company will connect your call straight to somebody’s voicemail, bypassing all human contact. A good thing?

What have we become? What are we becoming? What are we doing in this twittering illusion of FB’ing, MySp’ing,blogging connection? Time for contemplation…

* * *

Addendum, a day later:

A good thing to do whilst contemplating connection is is to give blood. I just came back from a reunion with the lady who took my first blood, Nilsa (see Fierce Giving, Jan. 8 blog). The banks are low in the summer, so for real connection, you can give your life force: NYBloodcenter.orgRead More 
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MOONWALK ONE: a Visionary’s Film about Leaving Mother Earth — 40 Years Later






Theo Kamecke lives alone in and on five acres of breathtaking art in the Catskill Mountains. The man simply must create art — whether it’s a garden, a home furnished with handmade everything, a meal for guests, or a log bench overlooking a roaring, foaming brook so powerful that it could sweep you to your death in a nanosecond.





In his barn-size studio, Theo makes sculptures, wall pieces, and functional art objects from the collection of electronic circuit boards he began accumulating forty years ago for no reason other than he thought they were beautiful. With patterns that look like hieroglyphs and names like Nefertiti and Isis and Manifest Destiny, his child-size treasure chests and majestic pyramids, cabinets and jukeboxes, tables and wall plaques feel simultaneously ancient, familiar, and futuristic (see TheoKamecke.com). “I like to understand how things work,” he says, to explain what drives him.  Read More 

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A Time of Innocence … Walter Cronkite ... and Technology

Photo by Albert Dorr; © Terry Dorr

 

 

May 1959. The Barbie doll had just debuted; so had Sleeping Beauty; and Alaska had become our forty-ninth state. People left their doors unlocked; nobody's parents had gotten divorced yet; and every evening Walter Cronkite delivered news that I and the other eight-year-olds in this photo didn't understand, but we knew from the sound of his voice that all was well and nobody murdered Presidents because grown-ups were good and knew everything.

 

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The Pleasure of a Good Upset

I’m upset (that’s a lie, but it’s a good opening line). I’m not really upset, but if I were upset, I’d be upset that it’s blog time and I have absolutely nothing to say. Ergo, here is an old column I wrote several years ago for UPI. It’s a piece that seemed to either help or annoy an awful lot of people. Read at your own risk. Read More 
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Inspiration Stew: The Recipe

There is a new trend in business. It’s a sometimes-desperate scramble to pinpoint the latest trends in order to be on the forefront, the cutting edge, the winning team … in order to make lots and lots of money. But there may be a problem with this. There may be a problem because what appears to be one of the newest and most widespread trends (harnessed with awe-inspiring efficiency by the Obama campaign) is for individuals and small groups of passionate people to do good deeds with no concern for financial returns.

“We set up tables with cookies and candy in the park and give out Smile cards,” explained Shephali Patel, a 30-year-old volunteer with the Smile Card project. She is one of 20,000 volunteers who have been playing a form of global altruistic tag: You do a selfless “Radical Act of Kindness,” then leave a card encouraging the recipient to do something nice for someone else and pass the card along.

And this was just one of the examples of easy-to-do selfless service actions discussed at last night’s second meeting of an organization called Stay Inspired (see March 30th blog) held at Gallery 138 in New York City, where about 40 people gathered to eat good food and share ideas about how to remain inspired during hard times. Read More 
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A Sublime Evening in Central Park

“Hallelujah!” shouted a man after the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, played with simultaneous passion and heartbreaking sweetness by Lara St. John.

Hundreds of us felt the same as we listened, spellbound, to the first of this season’s free concerts at the Naumburg Bandshell, arguably the heart center of New York City’s Central Park. As dusk gave way to night, the violins soared and so did two ducks, taking in the concert from their bird’s eye view. The audience swayed, breathing in Linden tree perfume as sweet as 104 years of truly free music — the gift of a haberdasher turned banker named Elkan Naumburg who began financing the concerts in 1905, and, in 1923, created the present-day bandshell with its perfect, unamplified acoustics.

I arrived at the bandshell with my little dog, Maya, at about 7:20. The concert began at 7:30. There was no admission charge, no line to pass through. There was nobody who said, “You can’t bring a dog to this concert.” The bandshell is a place where all beings are free to assemble. I took a chair. Maya took another. People smiled at us. There were free programs and even free CDs for children at intermission. The musicians, too, were free. They played with relaxed arms, standing and swaying like one body in the cool breeze. Maya laid her head on the leg of the man beside her, and without looking at her, he submitted to her love.

As night fell, flutist Andrea Griminelli explained to the audience that Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor was very long, so it might be best if we held our applause until the last movement … and then he demonstrated our cue.

The final piece was sublime — The Knights orchestra along with virtuoso siblings Lara and Scott St. John playing Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor — closing the first evening of the oldest continuous free outdoor concert series in the United States.

And to think that all this might have been destroyed. The story of the bandshell’s survival is the story of a seven-year David and Goliath battle. In 1993, Christopher London, the great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, took on the Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department, foiling their attempts to demolish the bandshell. The agencies’ reasons for the destruction were many and ran from the bizarre (unamplified music was outmoded) to the more bizarre (an antipathy to freedom of assembly; no good could come from just anybody — even homeless people — sitting down to enjoy music).

Last night, hundreds of us not only sat down, but we did so amiably with only the trees and the cityscape against the moonlit heavens as housing. And after the concert, hundreds of us rose en masse, still savoring the music, and strolled home peacefully. This is freedom. Now why is that so scary?

The next concerts will take place Tuesdays, July 7, 21, and August 4. For more information, go to NaumburgConcerts.org. Read More 
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Thoughts on Tomatoes, Lousy Posture, and the Alexander Technique

It’s another soggy day in New York City, so it seems appropriate to talk about my posture. I have lousy posture. I slump with my chin out and up like a turtle and, since I’m very flexible, I have a tendency to sit with pretzel legs. I also have a big, ugly lump on the back of my neck which has alternately been explained as a sign that my spiritual center is connected or that I have an energy block. I believe it’s due to my lousy posture.

Because it is raining today and I’m having such a difficult time remembering to sit upright, it seems appropriate to also complain about my allergies. I recently discovered that I am allergic to my tomato plants. Not the tomatoes, but the Deadly Nightshade leaves that smell so good but make my eyelids swell like over-sized shrimp. My tomato plants live on my neighbor, Nurse Mia’s, terrace because my building superintendent kicked them off our roof. Nurse Mia is the one who diagnosed my tomato plant allergy, so the last time I pruned, I suited up with swimming goggles, a surgical mask, and latex gloves. Read More 
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Socialized Medicine, Compassion, and Life — Oh No!

Last night I watched Sicko, Michael Moore’s documentary about our health-care system. A guy at the grassroots Health Care Organizing Kickoff meeting last weekend referenced it a few times, and since I missed it when it was in theaters, I got it at the New York Public Library. This required asking for it, receiving an email when it arrived at my local branch, strolling over, showing my library card, and walking out without paying any money. This is because the public library is a government-funded social program, allowing even unemployed people like me access to free information. It seems to work awfully well.

A block up from my library is my local fire department. They are a government-funded social program that seems to work awfully well.

Last weekend, a guy on my block had a very loud party late at night. I dialed 311 and a courteous government-paid employee took my noise complaint and dispatched a member of our socialized law enforcement department to quell the din. It worked awfully well.

I’d thought Sicko was going to be a diatribe about our lousy heath-care-if-you-can-afford-it system, and I was quite surprised to see that the majority of the film showed compassionate doctors and satisfied patients in France and the UK and Canada. When asked how much money care cost, they either laughed or looked befuddled and then responded, with polite horror, that they wouldn’t want to work or live in a system that allowed people to die if they couldn’t afford to pay.

Although it seems like yesterday, many years ago my beloved hometown switched from subway tokens to Metrocards. Lots of New Yorkers said that the change was too big; it wouldn’t work. We survived it quite well. Read More 
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American Idol and Our Shame of Being Human




I didn’t watch American Idol this season, so I didn’t understand my friend’s feelings when she first emailed and then phoned about her despair that a young singer named Adam Lambert hadn’t won the competition. She described the moment when the public declared another singer (Kris Allen) the winner as “being hit by a wrecking ball.” She understood neither her despair nor her compulsion to listen to an online recording of Lambert singing “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from Brigadoon (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe).

My friend is a mature woman — a sixty-year-old psychologist, to be precise. She is not a person who normally cares about pop singing competitions or even watches them. But something had compelled her to turn on American Idol, and when she heard the voice of Adam Lambert, she was transformed. Read More 
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