I shall wear my trousers rolled

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I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. That’s how depression feels. T.S. Eliot may have been depressed.

I have a coworker who used to be my boss. He’s got an aggressive, confrontational style of communicating. He takes every opportunity to bully me.

I am an introvert, with a strong non-violent, passive streak. This guy brings out the worst in me: passive aggression. He is down in the boxing ring with his gloves on, waiting to throw a punch, when he suddenly realizes I am in the control booth, and I turned off all the lights.

Working with people like my ex-boss is draining. I suppose they are inevitable in every environment. My current boss suggests that I take some assertiveness training. I will.

I found out today that my eyesight is getting worse because of cataracts. They have not formed, but they are in the stages of forming. My prescription for reading glasses more than doubled. I used to have perfect vision at long range, so there is no need for bifocals yet. I guess I will have to undergo Lasik, or else wear glasses for the rest of my life. Part of it is just a symptom of getting old. Some of it is medication and being overweight.

“I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear my trousers rolled.” T.S. Eliot

Slumming with the Kooks and Crackpots

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I started gravitating towards the family religion last year. The religion is known by a lot of different names, but I prefer to call it “psychic stuff.” I grew up around it. My mother wrote a book called Psychic Dangers when I was 11 years old. She interviewed a lot of psychics, and then “picked up a bad entity.” She was in a panic, fearing for not just herself, but my stepfather and me, too.

After tearing the manuscript into pieces, my mother then asked us all to join her while she drove down to the Vallejo Marina, at the mouth of the Napa River. She put the torn manuscript into a garbage bag, added a few bricks, tied it shut, then threw it into the water. The bag burst open, scattering the pieces of paper all through the Marina. They floated mockingly on the surface of the water like a thousand white lily pads. Frightened, my mother herded us back into the rust bucket and drove us back to the trailer.

When Mom later discovered Tibetan Buddhism, it was a relief. I used to get punished for “giving off bad vibes,” but now I was just asked to sit quietly, which was easy, especially when the WWF was on cable. So when psychics and channelers and Reiki Grand Masters paraded back into my life last year, I maintained a healthy skepticism.

I was feeling like crap, so I figured it would be a good idea to listen to the free psychic shows on the Internet. They did help, particularly the shows that included a guided meditation. While listening, I noticed a lot of unspoken memes that were reverberating across the crackpotsphere. Here are some observations:

1. All angels speak with an Indian accent
2. There was “a cosmic shift” in 2012, according to younger psychics.
3. Older psychics maintain that the shift happened in the 1970s.
4. We are “currently living in the fifth dimension,” and “science has shown it to be true.”
5. Reality appears to many people as a grid.
6. The grid contains “sacred geometry”
7. Powerful practitioners can transfer a grid across time and space via the telephone or the Internet.
8. Many people came to psychic stuff after reaching a spiritual bottom in the Entertainment industry.
9. The Christ Consciousness IS the 5th Dimension. Science has not backed up this assertion.
10. If the current psychic stuff movement were organized, it would be presided over by Esther Hicks, and Abraham the Angel.

The deities and the days of the week

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When I first started learning Spanish, I noticed that the days of the week seemed to be related to Roman or Greek gods, which were also planets.  In English, our days of the week are named after Norse Gods, but many of them are analogous.  For instance, Jueves in Spanish is for Jove/Jupiter, while Thursday is for Thor.  Both of them own the thunderbolt, and are considered the HGIC in their respective faiths.  It continued in French, and then, to my utter astonishment, in Japanese!

Monday=Lunes=Lundi=Getsuyobi=Moon Day. When I learned Italian, Lunedi was added to the mix.

Friday (Freyja day)=viernes=vendredi=kinyobi=venerdi=Venus day.  Freyja is the Norse goddess of beauty, love, sexuality, etc.  Just like Venus.

I asked my Japanese teacher why the days of the week were named after the same planets as they are in the Romance languages, and she just smiled and said, “because we know this too.”  Before contact with the Western world, they used numbered days based on a lunar calendar.  If I were a linguist, I would write my thesis on how the names of planets came to be associated with names of days in cultures that are linguistically unrelated.

Then I learned Portuguese.  How very odd.  They use numbers instead of planets/gods.  Monday is segunda-feira (second day) Friday is sesta-feira (sixth day).  The seventh day is Sabado (Sabbath, as in all Romance languages).  When I told my Spanish speaking husband about this, he shook his head in disbelief.  He can’t deal with the fact that Rio is pronounced HEE-yoo in Portuguese.  The days of the week are just further examples to him of how backwards and incorrect the language must be.  Some day I know he will study the language, and then it will all make sense.

I believe the Portuguese, and by extension, the Brazilians, are rebels.  They do what they want, say what they want, and don’t need gods to tell them what day it is.  It’s a good thing to think about on Mardi Gras/Carnival.  This is their last burst of chaotic anarchy before they succumb to the Saturnine discipline of Lent.

I don’t want to be forgiven

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The President is a good president by my standards. I am happy with many of the social changes that have taken place under his administration. I like that he recognizes poverty as a problem that must be addressed. I like the notion that as we do better, we owe it to our brothers and sisters less fortunate to help. I was once a beneficiary of welfare, both as a child through my mother, and later as an adult, when I was disabled for an extended period of time. I also like that he wants to make higher education available to everyone, just like it was when my folks were growing up in the post-war boom years. And he is right, student loans are crippling the students and preventing them from thriving, especially since the recession and the mass-migration of labor and service jobs offshore.

President Obama designed a student loan “debt forgiveness” program that looks very tempting to a new graduate. What? I can pay less on my loan and when I get to the end of a certain stretch of time (10 years for public servants, 20-30 years for others) then I don’t have to pay it back? Wow! I jumped right on that bandwagon in 2011 when I graduated from USC Marshall School of Business with a staggering amount of debt. I had assumed, as most MBA students would, that I would be earning 2-3 times what I was making at my current job. Right now, I am earning the same amount, and I am at the same job.

Here’s the problem with “forgiveness” – it’s taxable. That’s something that was NOT explained to me when I signed up originally. I got a really great low monthly payback rate, but the interest rate was such that I saw my loan grow from staggering to absurd in the course of one year. In that year, I got married. When I filed taxes the next year, the payback rate was suddenly more than my mortgage. This was because I filed jointly for the first time in my life. Yay! Gay Marriage! Boo! It didn’t help me out financially at all.

So here’s what I think. I see mortgage rates as low as 2.69% right now on the open market. My student loan debt is at 7%, which is slightly higher than some of my credit cards! President Obama, please drop the interest rate on my loan, and I will be happy to pay the whole thing off. My monthly payments would be manageable, and even if they weren’t, I would be able to send enough to keep the principal from growing.

Forgiveness is a virtue, like charity, faith, hope and love. Taxing forgiveness is a cardinal sin.

Why Sam Smith Is an Activist

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The 2015 Grammy Awards had a lot of moments. Some were cringeworthy, others delightful. For me the moment that stands above all others was when Sam Smith held up his Grammy, and said “This is the best night of my life,” then in a brave and steady voice, “Just a quick one — I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys!”

I grew up in a different era, when the Grammys were controlled by old people who would have censored such a moment. If Elton John stood up and openly proclaimed his love, his publicist would have fired him, and all of Hollywood would have turned their back on him. In an interview in a 1984 edition of The Face magazine, Grammy-winner George Michael insisted he was not gay, leading me to conclude that I must be the only gay person on Earth.

It was at that exact moment when Sam lifted the Grammy and spoke without fear that I realized we have finally arrived. Sam did not have to wait until his boy band broke up to confess his homosexuality. He did not have to pretend to be straight to sing songs that have garnered hundreds of millions of views on YouTube. He didn’t have to hold a dark secret behind his jewel-encrusted candelabra.

I hope Sam knows how his few words are like a tipping point to a revolution that began in Riots in the late 1960’s, a revolution that survived cocaine and disco, a revolution that grew into a deadly epidemic and endured. On February 8, 2015 the revolution ended. Sam stands on the shoulders of giants. I felt great relief in that moment.

Of course this revolution must now spread to distant nations, where Sam would be hanged or beheaded if he tried to perform there. It still needs to reach the dark corners of America and Europe where hatred is still encouraged and rewarded. But for this brilliant moment in time, the scale has tipped in our favor. The Hollywood Ouroboros has vomited its own tail, and allowed people to be who they really are. Here in California and in many civilized corners of the Earth, the media has not just accepted us; it has embraced us.

Just as an added bonus, my second favorite moment was when Taylor Swift said she was proud to call Sam Smith her friend. It made me wish I could be her friend, too. I guess I could follow her on Twitter. And tied for second place was a great moment when Mary J Blige finished singing a duet with Sam, and they embraced.

I know some haters are gonna hate, but to me, the embrace was a visual acknowledgement that the struggle for Civil Rights is a shared experience between our communities. [hater: No, it’s not! How can you say a lifestyle choice is the same as the color of your skin!] to the hater, I say, “how can you fail to see the tremendous common ground we share”?

From a spark that ignited into a raging fire when a brave drag queen threw a bottle at a New York City cop, we have seen the fires burn for almost half a century, waiting for the institutionalized violence and oppression to finally collapse. They came down at last, when a brave man held his Grammy high and toppled the walls.

Beware the Breast Robots

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Twitter is home to these semi-people with half-baked identities.  There will be a picture of an Emo guy named “@motivation_quotes” and his blurb says some variation of “I like leadership and self-motivational inquiries. Come and be my friend. Followback 100%”  The English is poor, and the sentiment is cloudy at best.

To find out if my new follower is for real, I go to his profile, where I see that he has tweeted 18 times and has 100,000 followers.  The 18 tweets all concern motivation and leadership.  “What the heck,” I think, “I’ll follow this guy.  He doesn’t seem to be noisy, after all, and he has great influence.”

This was my beginner’s understanding of how to build a network on Twitter.  What I didn’t realize was that his profile does not display how many RETWEETS he has done, which must number in the millions.  Every 5 seconds, another picture of a scantily clad woman originally tweeted by “@True_Romance” or “@Love_Tasty” appears retweeted by @motivational_quotes in my feed.  Once in a while, the bikini is missing due to “oops wardrobe malfunction.”  Some of the tweets are pictures of suicides.

These are the breast robots.  I have a suspicion what they are and why they are retweeting NC-17 obscenities. They represent all that is crass and unpleasant about this new electronic wonderland we have all chosen to inhabit.

Breast robots, as far as I can tell, are part of some murky and shady PR agency based in a not-quite-first-world nation.  They promise 75,000 followers and they do it with this mad babble, artificial identities, and probably a host of other unpleasant tactics that I have yet to discover.

Glory of glories, I discovered the “Mute” feature.  I get to keep following this nitwit and count him among my “followers” and he doesn’t unfollow me, because he doesn’t know I can’t see him.  Or her.

With the help of all the fantastic free features on SocialBro, I can get quick stats on who is following me that I am not following, the reverse, the reciprocal follows, the recent unfollows…so I can clean up my following.

In truth, I think only a half dozen strangers have reached out to me who I would even consider real human beings with shared interests.  I am always helpful to these real people.  I go to their YouTube page and like their video.  I go to their gig on Fiverr and “check it out.”  I don’t befriend any of these strangers on Facebook.  They could suddenly turn into breast robots and then my social network would be tainted.

Only about 5% of my friends are on Twitter.  They are great. We cheer one another on, we retweet, we favorite, and we exchange abbreviated sentences.  All of these friends are female, and oddly they don’t know what I am talking about when I mention the breast robots.  Apparently this only happens to males.  Even males like me who follow a couple of really hot gay porn stars just to keep up with their (ahem) acting careers.

The twitterverse is a massive collection of false identities and robo-posters, with a few real people sprinkled in between.  And, lest I forget, it’s really fun, too!

Sense Memory, Sense Emotion

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Smell is the sense that has the deepest and least conscious connection to memory, followed by taste. When we smell the perfume that our grandmother wore, we find ourselves thinking about her without really knowing why. For some reason, when the memory comes about below our consciousness, it has a tendency to drag a lot of emotions along with it, whether happy, angry, sad, or something in between.

Dogs have a sense of smell many times more powerful than that of humans. This led me to wonder if they have the same ability to recall emotions and even communicate by scent.

Our dog Patsy has specific spots in the neighborhood where she will sniff and pee with great predictability. She also has a schedule worked out, where she gets very stubborn about which walk we need to take that day in order for her to check her pee-mail.

My husband and I joke about it, because we both have noticed it. “She’s plotting the canine revolution with her co-conspirators.”

There is a type of grass that grows in just a few places in the neighborhood. When the grass matures, it sends up little helicopter-shaped stalks. For some reason, when little Patsy comes across that grass, she becomes obsessed. She sniffs and sniffs, grows excited, rubs her face in it, then tries to roll her entire body in it. Clearly, the grass means something to her.

I had a few theories. I thought maybe the grass has healing properties when rubbed on her skin, and our little Patsy is a shaman (or would that be shadog?)

Today, I had a deeper theory that probably attaches way too many human emotions to a canine, but it is the one I like best.

We got Patsy at the pound. When they picked her up on the street, she weighed so little that they actually told us she was a chihuahua. She is a beagle or something much heavier. She starved on the streets of Lincoln Heights for a few months, and it clearly traumatized her in lots of ways. She is extremely territorial with her food. She won’t go near water. She is obsessed with food at every waking hour. She even wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night to demand a treat – which she never gets because that is one behavior I dare not reinforce.

She is very happy with her family of people. She loves to be close to us. I am sure she lives a good life. But we cannot remove the traumatic stress from her memory. She is permanently affected by the months of starvation and street life.

So here’s my theory. I think that her mother used to nurse her in a field of that helicopter grass. It grows everywhere in that part of town. Smelling the grass brings her back to a time before she experienced want, pain, and constant hunger. It was a time when she felt safe, satisfied, and loved – without a memory of something terrible weighing on her.

It’s a pretty far-fetched theory, but I prefer it to other explanations.

When my mother died, I inherited a box of her towels and bed-linens. When I opened the box, I smelled her. It brought back many pleasant memories of her. So I’d like to think that Patsy has the same trigger for sense memory. I didn’t bother going to Google to find out the real reason why dogs roll in grass. I prefer my explanation, so I will stick with it.

Stay Focused

While enjoying an iced coffee at the Los Feliz branch of a gigantic corporate coffee provider, I spoke to my spouse about the dangers of doing too many things. I fancied myself a renaissance man in my youth, and so I wrote a novel, made a movie, formed a band and released an album, all the while slaving away at a variety of jobs in the hopes that someday my talent would be recognized and I could stop working and focus on my art.

Flash forward 15 years. I have not been “discovered.” My novel has not been picked up by a publisher, nor has the sequel. The band broke up and our album is not selling on iTunes. My movie didn’t get bought by WalMart so I only made enough to pay the lawyers for the frivolous lawsuit brought on by a ( no longer) cherished friend. I went to business school to see how to monetize my intellectual property, and had nearly every last ounce of creativity beaten out of me. I remain a husk, a hollow shell of my former self.

Drained of my energy, looking back on the whole process, I have decided that I fell prey to the lure of doing too many things. If I had remained focused on my corporate jobs, I may have done very well in that world. If I had allowed myself to be branded a writer, I might have written dozens of novels by now, one of which would be sure to have caught a publisher’s eye. I didn’t even mention the two screenplays I wrote when I first moved to Hollywood. They remain buried at the back of my bottom file drawer.

Film was a tricky and expensive art form. I still don’t know if I could have persevered as a director, producer, editor and marketer. There was too much business and not enough art. Music is the most beautiful of the art forms I embraced. Our little band made music that prompted small children to spontaneously break free from the arms of their mothers and dance with joy. That was a confirmation that we were definitely doing something good. It was also the most positive collaborative experience of my life. I detested being part of a “team” in the traditional sense, but belonging to a band was very rewarding.

But I did not stay focused on music, either. I went to business school. It was 180 degrees in a different direction.

Today I spent most of the day in bed. I missed going to a singing, and I missed going to a meeting at the Society of Friends. I did not sing or play an instrument. I did not work on my new novel. I definitely did not make a movie, and I didn’t check my work emails. I had plans to work in the garden, but I slept through them.

Paralysis set in. I was tugged in too many directions at once. This is the danger of sacrificing focus for the lure of doing too many things. My advice to the young poet – whatever your poetry might be, do not drop it in pursuit of a new form of poetry. Spend every available ounce of your energy focused on your art, and do not stray. Believe in what you are doing at the expense of other shiny new things. There are no guarantees that you will become a celebrated artist. If you divvy up your creative energy in parcels for different forms of art, it does not increase your odds of success. Stay focused until you have found success, and only then may you pursue whatever else tugs at your heart.

Doubling up on those Pomodoros

Well, this seems true to me– the Daugeim group conducted a study that shows that the most productive workers spent an average of 52 minutes focused on a task, with 17 minute breaks. It sounds like smokers are the ideal worker!

I am constantly annoyed when the Pomodoro timer goes off at 25 minutes. I am going to reprogram it to do this 52 minute stretch with 17 minute breaks to see if it helps with my productivity.

Read the article here
New research reveals exactly how much downtime you should be taking. http://www.fastcompany.com/3035605/how-reinstating-recess-can-make-us-better-as-grownups-too by @WriteLisaEvans via @FastCompany

The New Silk Road

He who controls the spice controls the universe! – Frank Herbert, Dune

The Alibaba IPO is moments away as I write this…in fact, I may be able to cite the opening price before I am done typing. It is a good moment to pause and reflect on the nature of trade. In my childhood, it was a point of pride that our automobiles were built in America. Now it is nearly impossible to buy a part made outside of China. In 25 years, China has grown to become the world’s factory. A business that doesn’t take advantage of global prices in parts and labor is destined to fail. And now Alibaba, the B2B equivalent of Amazon, is going public.

Alibaba has empowered ‘the little guy’ to take part in the global merchant trade. Instead of buying from American wholesalers, the small business can get its merchandise directly from China, without having to build a factory there. The merchandise gets added to containers that make their way to ports and onto ships sailing in every direction. The American silk road traverses the Pacific Ocean, landing primarily in Los Angeles, the busiest port in the nation. But the road goes in all directions…unlike the Silk Road and the Spice Trail. The 21st century has witnessed the birth of a new kind of road…made of fiber optic cable and copper wire in one direction, and water in the other. Just as all roads once led to Rome, now all cash flows to China!

The latest indication is 88-90 dollars per share for the Alibaba IPO, which means that the company will raise well over 200 billion dollars some time today. The outflow of capital continues…the US is about to hit their credit limit. Made in America labels are going the way of the pay phone. These are truly interesting times.

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