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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

The Unbearable Sweetness of Being Human

I’ve been kind of blue this week. Actually, that’s inaccurate. I’ve been red — beet red with eyelids that look like obese shellfish — but blue is more descriptive of my mood. A red mood sounds angry. I haven’t felt angry. I just enjoy vision. Apparently swelling up like a prizefighter after a really bad night plus a nasty rash is my new reaction to tree pollen. Although I could barely open my eyes, I decided it was a good time for reading, and my friend Liz from the greenhouse had recommended Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Read More 
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Where on Earth Is Humanity Going?

I’ve been thinking a lot about who we are as a species this week. Endless days of rain and unemployment have that effect on me. The last time it rained this way, I went to the American Museum of Natural History where I stared for a long time at this lovely 3.6 million-year old Tanzanian couple out for a stroll and frozen in time in the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. At the end of the exhibit, there’s a plaque on the wall that says:

ARE HUMANS STILL EVOLVING?
In this era of global travel and interconnected societies, we no longer have small, isolated populations evolving in different directions, as was the case earlier in human evolution, helping to drive the emergence of new species. The human genome continues to change in minor ways, but under present conditions a new human species more than likely will not emerge. Read More 
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Tulips and a Request for a Slight Alteration

“Here’s the thing,” I seem to be saying. “I really like flowers, but my eyes no longer open enough to fully enjoy their colorful fluorescence because of my gravity-challenged brows. And I think, doctor, I sincerely believe that I should be given an eye job for medicinal purposes — fully paid for by insurance, of course. Don’t you agree? Read More 
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The Yoga of Beautiful Jewelry

The first thing I notice about the woman crossing the hill to me in Central Park is color. Sizzling grey-blue jacket, violet scarf, purple something else topped by a mane of chestnut hair shining golden in the sunlight, penetrating green eyes flecked with something that stops you dead and demands attention. Her colors are so radiant that it isn’t until we are face to face that I realize I know her.

Mikelle Terson was my aerobics teacher about 20 years ago. I remember the colors even then: after an hour of sweating, she led a cool-down visualization of kaleidoscopic golden light, wafts of green, and cool blue pools of peace. Read More 
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The Holy Quiet of Edgar Sawtelle

After 38 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list and much discussion at Oprah’s Book Club, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle hardly needs more talk. So the end. No more words. No more discussion about this remarkable epic.

However, there’s something else. Something even more remarkable to discuss. It has to do with how many people are choosing to read this 562-page novel. In this day of multi-tasking, twittering, and twaddling, millions of people are setting aside days on end to disappear into the holy quiet birthed by this story. Read More 
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Tierney Sutton’s DESIRE

Teachers of self-actualization often use an exercise where you stare into another person’s eyes for a long time. If you’re not used to it, your eyeballs can go spastic. If you’re practiced at the exercise, all kinds of things can happen: Sometimes the person in front of you morphs. Their face literally changes so that it becomes like watching a special effects movie.

Listening to jazz singer Tierney Sutton’s new CD, Desire, is something like this.  Read More 
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Leonard Cohen: The Secret to Life's Great Questions

Leonard Cohen has always known the answer to life's great questions, and now he shares it: eight syllables. Listen to his concert at NPR. It just went up on the site today. Wear earphones. Lie down on something soft. Close your eyes. Listen hard. Listen soft. Feel the unspeakable! Laugh. Cry. Everything’s there. I promise.











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Why I Didn’t Write the Great American Novel Last Week

I would have. Really. I have a great idea and I even started on it about a month ago after I got canned from my job. (Please don’t tell the Unemployment Office, because they might dock me for self-employment.) I wrote a few pages on the computer, but then the sound of the fan — that relentless mechanical shriek — made me stop. Then I wrote some pages longhand, but I ended up with so many cross-outs and arrows that I couldn’t read it.

Then there was the man in my bathroom. Just try doing your morning ablutions with a tile guy three inches away renovating the apartment on the other side of your wall. Bathroom rituals and writing go hand in hand, so no way could I write the great American novel last week.  Read More 
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Evan Handler: It's Only Temporary

As managing editor for a national magazine (a job that was downsized away just in time for Christmas), I looked at a lot of books for possible excerpting. Not long ago I received one that claimed that the nature of the Spirit is not fearful, confused, resentful, weak, or overwhelmed, but instead it is powerful, vital, fearless, content, and compassionate. That sounds awfully nice, but I found myself wondering how the author knew this. He started out by saying that, per Genesis, we are created in the image of God. Well, my image and the images of everyone I have ever met (including a whole slew of spiritual teachers) include fear, confusion, anger, etc. So why aren’t those qualities as much a part of our essential nature as all the blissful stuff?

I prefer a notion of spirit with a small “s.” This spirit lives inside all of us, and it is beautifully described in a book called It’s Only Temporary (Riverhead, 2008) by actor/author Evan Handler. A chapter titled “I Don’t Know” states our plight so nakedly:
“I am fascinated by our conundrum as humans living on planet Earth,” writes Handler. “I’ve said to friends, probably more times than they’ve wanted to hear, ‘We live in outer space. Do you know that? Can you believe it? We live in outer space.’ It’s a crucial thing to remind myself, because it justifies and enhances my choice to remain committed to philosophical non-commitment. We do not know where we live. We have no idea of our own address. . . . we have no idea what substance contains us, where it came from or where it’s headed, if it has a purpose or what it might be, how it started, or how long it will last.” Read More 
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Why Michelle Obama Would Like My Ladybug Boots

Michelle Obama would like my ladybug boots because their pop-up insect eyes make everybody smile and they were not very expensive, which is probably why they split this morning, rendering them dead.



So this is not only a fashion blog on fun rubber boots, but it is a eulogy for the same.

I loved my ladybug boots. I bought them to cover a story in Vermont during peak mud season. When my contact there warned me to bring mud boots, I rushed to my local Tiptop store looking for the cheapest ones they had. When I spied these, I smiled.

“Do you have those in adult sizes?” I asked the shoe guy.

“Those are adult sizes!” he told me, annoyed.

“Ah,” I answered, surveying the other pair in green frog. “Have you been selling a lot of these?”

The Tiptop man shrugged. He was clearly in a very bad mood, so I helped myself, paid for my boots, and left.  Read More 
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Psychic Messages?

Sometimes the messages I receive are really straightforward — like my dog vaulting out of bed at 4 a.m. this morning and demanding we go for an emergency poop.

Sometimes they’re questionable — in the form of sudden information that fills my cranium about something I have no way of knowing.

Sometimes they’re nothing spooky at all. Really just the product of observation — like the character Patrick Jane explains in the TV series, The Mentalist. I love that show. In this New Age carnival we’re in, it seems like everybody wants to declare their extra-sensory perceptions, and most of the time I think there’s nothing psychic about knowing stuff. It’s just a matter of watching and listening.  Read More 
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How to Get Fat and Sound Evolved Even if You’re Not


Knock, knock.

Who's there?

It's the self-proclaimed "head honcho" of a company called KnockKnock.biz that has created, among other things, "The Self-Hurt Series" of books (How to Traumatize Your Children, How to Get Fat, How to Have an Ill-Behaved Dog, etc.), The Savvy Convert's Guide to Choosing a Religion ("Get the Best Faith for Your Buck! 99 Religions to Choose From!"), and a self-diagnosis guide for hypochondriacs titled The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. In the tradition of all great tricksters and contrarians, Jen Bilik has approached self-help and spiritual seeking by turning everything on its head — creating a body of work that is not only laugh-out-loud hilarious, but so thoroughly and seriously researched that if you simply do its opposite, you may end up healthy, happy, and very well-informed.

"I am a pricker of sacred cows," says Bilik, who actually loves self-help books and is committed to a path of self-awareness. "But so much in this arena is so earnest! And there's a lot of Kool-Aid drinking going on. I believe that the dark side of self-help is that it makes us feel like we're supposed to be perfect: If we read this book and we're told how not to obsess, how to love ourselves and our bodies, if we're told those things and they don't result in lasting change, we feel guilty. I feel like it's the corollary to women's beauty magazines which set a standard that none of us can attain. The self-help standard is perfect balance and happiness."

Along with a team of researchers and editors, Bilik decided to deal with the inevitability of mistakes by instructing us how to consciously make them: "If you want a child who can't do anything for him or herself and will have to depend on you into his or her fifties, how do you get there? We'll tell you!" she says with a grin.

Who buys this stuff?

Says Bilik, "I believe it's the same people who buy self-help books. People who are tired of feeling like they have to be perfect. People who have senses of humor about their core endeavors. It's also an acceptance of the truth." She reaches for a box. "My therapist loves these," she says, handing it to me: Therapy Flashcards: 60 cards for maximum psychobabble that promise to make you "sound evolved even if you're not."











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magicJack and Happy-Go-Lucky

“Do you have some kind of really cheap service where I can pay for incoming calls only?” I queried the friendly Verizon customer service woman after holding for a quarter of an hour. She seemed perplexed and said there was no such option, and had I not found my exorbitantly expensive unlimited plan, plus 3-way calling, unuseful? (All right, she didn’t phrase it exactly that way.)

Because I felt as if she was really interested, I explained that I’d been downsized out of a job being the hub of a virtual office, and I no longer required such services, plus which, I’d now purchased a magicJack at my local Radio Shack.  Read More 
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