Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Corners of My Mind

I think it should evident to anyone who visits here that I love to write. Not only do I love it, but it's one of those things I'm rather good at. I published my first poem when I was still in grade school and completed my first screenplay during high school. I was a feature columnist on two college newspapers and I've published e-zines for years.

However, as I continue the process of culling through my belongings, I'm really beginning to wish I didn't write so damn much!! It really slows down the process having to read every piece of paper to decide if I really need to hang on to it or not. For years, I simply refused to throw any of my writings away. Who knows when a new inspiration would strike?

However, I'm getting much better at chucking things. The recycled paper pile is larger than the "hold onto it" pile. It just amazes me how much worthless dribble I've held onto for decades.

The only positive for having kept all these manuscripts, poems, screenplays, plays, songs and unintelligible scraps of paper is that it provides me with a window into the chronology of my emotional life -- good thing since I can't remember most of it. I've found several bits of writing that I haven't laid eyes on in, maybe, 25 years.

If nothing else, it's provided a brief reminder how angst filled my youth was.

The Whole Nine Yards

A long list of things to do during the day can seem overwhelming, and lead to procrastination. The sage starts with the easiest or most immediate task, and nibbles away at the list until complete.
~ Today's Daily Quote from The TaoWoods Center ~

At times, modern life can seem overwhelming. For far too many people, the daily schedule is so crammed packed full of responsibilities, deadlines and expectations that they never know if they are coming or going. Looking at the entirety of the activities at hand can be quite daunting and cause many of us to simply want to throw up our hands or lapse into a fetal position.

I learned early in life the benefit of taking a big project and breaking it down into small attainable goals (though I certainly must relearn this lesson often). Like many youth of my day, I earned money mowing lawns. Several of the yards in my care were rather large. If I looked at each lawn in its entirety, I too often found it was difficult to motivate myself to commence the process. I could think of a thousand fun things I'd rather do!

So, I would draw sectors of each yard in my mind. I played a little game with myself. I'd say, "Once I complete this sector, I'll take a break and go get some lemonade." In most cases, however, once the sector was completed, I'd immediately move to the next one. I would follow this tact until the whole job was finished.

In my early twenties, I drove alone across the country from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Bend, Oregon. It was a trip of over 2,000 miles. Utilizing this same pattern, I made the trip in under 3 days.

At the outset, the length of the trip seemed very intimidating -- particularly since I'm not the adventurous sort (remember, I like sameness and repetition, not change). Using my road map, I plotted sectors along the route. Some sectors were for extended breaks and others were for overnight stops.

But a funny thing happened once I got on the road. I ended up not following my plot lines at all. Each time I made it to a marker, I'd think to myself, "Okay, I'm still feeling fresh, I think I can drive another 100 miles". So, I'd drive that 100 miles and then drive another 100 miles. Before I knew it, the long trip was completed.

Just within the past week, I played this same tune again. I've been busy doing the proverbial spring cleaning (even though it is technically summer now!) :-) Rather than being intimidated by the enormity of my project, I broke down the tasks by room and, sometimes, by various sections in a room. Within a short period of time, I realized I had completely reorganized the entire upstairs!

Each time I have a big project I try to follow this tact. At the outset, the same as most people, I tend to look at the immense work involved and procrastinate. At some point, I realize that the tasks must be done and that's when I begin breaking things down into more readily attainable components.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Picking Sides

Had a nice talk with my dad today. As is not atypical, the conversation soon turned to a discussion of books and authors. My dad recommended two books on topics related to the American West and, when I couldn't find either via our library system's online catalog, he said he'd locate his copies and mail them to me. Cool! I'm related to a library!! :D)

One of the books focuses on an obsession shared by the two of us -- George Armstrong Custer and the so-called Last Stand. My father remarked that the particular book in question was written by an historian without an agenda. We agreed that most books on this subject are written by folks who either are ardent Custer defenders or just as ardent Custer detractors.

While I look forward to receiving my shipment of books, I will state that I don't necessarily agree with me pa about the objectivity of the author he mentioned. While this author may have begun his research with no axe to grind, it's hard for me to believe that he didn't choose one side or the other once the research was completed.

Have you ever watched a political debate or sporting event? If you watch from start to finish, somewhere along the way you choose which person or team you favor, even if ever so slightly. Me thinks if a person REALLY didn't care one way or the other, you wouldn't watch it to begin with.

From my perspective, there's absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a particular side, so long as you don't prance around acting as if you're completely objective.

Sagacious U

My mother used to say, "If you put your mind to it, you can become anything you want". To a point, that statement is true. If provided with the needed resources and opportunities, most people can become doctors, lawyers, academics, air traffic controllers, etc., etc. Yes, if a person desires to become an expert in almost any field, they can achieve success IF they discipline themselves to do the necessary work to make it happen.

There's only one exception I can think of -- No amount of training or study will make any of us a wise person, a sage.

I don't know about you, but I've known quite a few geniuses in my day who seemed bereft of even a lick of commonsense. Such a person could dazzle you with all kinds of complicated calculus and theoretical formulations, yet, at the same time, make some of the dumbest everyday decisions imaginable.

Obviously, IQ and wisdom don't necessarily go hand in hand. This certainly is not to suggest that smarts don't make wisdom possible, but book smarts and life smarts are two completely different animals.

Further, none of us can really plot out a course to wisdom. In fact, I dare say, if a person sets wisdom as their goal, they probably will never find it!! Wisdom is borne when we least expect it. We tend to gain more of it when we screw up. Unfortunately, if we decide to screw up in order to gain valuable wisdom, it will probably evade us completely.

As Lao Tzu pointed out on more than one occasion, the truly wise person isn't even aware of his/her own wisdom. Such a person is too busy living their life than to stop and pin a label on themselves. Such a person knows that, if a person trumpets their supposed wisdom to others, then that person isn't half as wise as she/he thinks.

When we get down to brass tacks, the wisdom label is something that is bestowed on a person by others and that label will dematerialize the moment the supposed wise person becomes full of themselves. So, if you want to be wise, don't try to be and maybe -- just maybe -- you will be.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Manufacturing Dependency

My father and I share a love for the history of the American West during the 1800s. When I finished reading, "Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend", I recommended the book to him. He enjoyed it as much as I did. I'm now reading a book, "Across the Wide Missouri", that dad recommended to me.

This book, written way back in 1947, focuses on the fur trade in the central and northwest areas of an ever expanding America. It details the various mountain men who served as the trappers and the economic interests behind them (that led to many areas of the west being stripped of their rich animal diversity due to over trapping). It also talks a lot about the various Indian nations and their relations -- both positive and negative -- with these encroaching white economic interests.

Early in the book, one paragraph really jumped out at me.
The first step in the white man's exploitation of the Indian, and it was the inevitably fatal step, was to raise his standard of living. From the moment when the Indians first encountered manufactured goods they became increasingly dependent on them. Everything in their way of life now pivoted on the acquisition of goods. (p. 12)
As I mulled over these three sentences, it began to dawn on me that the author had unwittingly highlighted one of the great downfalls of all humankind, not just Indians on the American continent. While manufactured goods certainly make our lives easier and more comfortable, almost every society on the face of the earth has become a dependent slave to convenience (even including the Pirahãs of the Amazon rainforest). If some cataclysmic event were to occur and manufacturing plants the world over were destroyed, most modern men and women wouldn't know what to do with themselves!

We have each become so dependent on consumer goods that we've lost the ability to embrace what the natural world has to offer and, as Dick Proenneke pointed out, far too many people don't even know how to make things with their own two hands!

But it's simply not just consumer goods that we've become dependent on. Religion, nationalism and various political ideologies serve as a crutch that far too many people believe they need to stand up straight in this world. Remove these crutches and people lose their own self-identities!

Behind this manufacturing process, as always, is economics. Whether we're talking about electric hand mixers, mass-produced moccasins or Christianity, there is a segment of the population that pushes these things on others as a method of fattening their pocketbooks. When we get right down to it, that's what manufacturing dependency is all about -- creating the need in the masses to purchase whatever it is that you're selling.

It's a tried and true formula because it works and it works too damn well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ups 'N Downs

I've been in somewhat of a melancholy mood as of late. I suppose writing and thinking of lost love, my grandparent's estate sale, the death of my dear 'ol ma and other assorted mileposts along my route just have put me in sort of a dark yin mood. But hey, all of us know ups and downs, joys and suffering. It's part of the ride we're each on.

Because I like to add even more pain to my blue moods, I utilized Google maps to take a look at an aerial photo of my grandparent's old place on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Back in the 1930s, when this man-made lake was being formed out of the Ouachita River, my grandpa -- being the shrewd businessman that he was -- purchased an entire finger of land which would soon become sought after lakefront property. Over the years, he sold it off lot by lot and pocketed a pretty penny for his foresight.

By the time I came along, only about one-fifth of the original mass of land was left. It included my grandparent's house, about 2 acres of adjacent land and another small parcel with a small cabin that included a downstairs open patio area that was called the crow's nest. (The cabin burned down at some point during my childhood.) The final bit of the property was now owned by my Great Uncle George and his wife, Hope -- my grandmother's twin sister.

Some of my fondest (yet vague) memories are of my days spent at grandma and grandpa's. Though by many standards their spread was not large, it was plenty big enough for me. I literally spent hours in their small forest communing with nature. I also have fond images of lazy evenings on the back porch listening to the waves of the lake lapping against the seawall.

Looking down on the area now via Google Maps, it makes me want to scream! My grandparent's house has been razed and Jerry's Point (the area of land just east of the house) has been cleared of its forest and replaced by a gaudy house and a manicured lawn. The dock and boat house both have been removed. The old time charm of my youth is gone. The only vestige that remains is the main street that bisects the area -- Sparling Road (named after my grandparents).

I mentioned to my wife that I sure wish we could win hundreds of millions of dollars in the lottery -- it might help just a scintilla if we actually bought a ticket! I told her that, if money was no object, I would march down to Arkansas tomorrow to buy off all those interlopers. I'd raze each house, so I could put things back to the way they are supposed to be!!!

But alas, reality interrupted my dream. Not only are we not stinking rich, but it would be impossible to recreate the genuine feel, sights, sounds and smells of the house and property that now only exist in photos and my memory. It was what it was when it was, but it no longer exists and it's not coming back.

That's why I'm blue.

Tinkering Under the Hood

We've clearly established that I don't like change in my personal routines. However, balanced with this need for sameness is another need to stay current or up to date. So, despite the fact I like my blog template the way it is, I've been experimenting with the new Blogger layout and widget system.

As with all things me, this hasn't proved to be an idle diversion. I worked on it yesterday for something like 8 straight hours and I don't know how many aggregate hours all told!! Part of the reason it is taking me so long is that I know just enough html and css to make me dangerous, but not enough truly to know what I'm doing. :>) So, I've relied on the tried and true method of trial and error with a heavy emphasis on the latter.

The first thing I had to do -- because I like sameness -- was to locate a 3-column Sand Dollar template that was coded in terms of widgets. That took quite awhile. The first two I found on the web simply would not allow me to change the background color from white to what it is now (a sort of peachy cream color). After a good 2 or 3 hours of frustration, I finally found one that I could work with.

The next several hours were spent on trying to get the new template to look as much as possible like this current one. I succeeded in most areas, but I'm still hung up on a few others. For example, try as I might I can't seem to figure out how to decrease the point size of the section headers in the left and right columns. I've tried modifying the sidebar variants in the css, but none of these tweaks seem to affect anything.

Another thing I haven't figured out how to accomplish is the manner in which to place the little yin yang symbol with the title of each post -- ya know, the Taoist theme here.

The upshot of all this is that, if I can solve these dilemmas and a few other small ones, I will attempt a changeover. I don't think I will do it though if I can't figure out the category header issue because the headers right now are just too darn large and it makes the blog look out of proportion.

If you'd like to take a look at my little experiment, go here. If you have some possible suggestions as to how to remedy my concerns, by all means, leave a comment on this blog or send me an email offline.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Such a Jumbled & Tangled Web

It's been said that the most direct path between two points is a straight line. While this may indeed be sage advice, the lines in our brains are anything but straight! They curve around like a cloverleaf expressway. Some lines intersect others in places in which intersection seems implausible. They curve, bend and twist to the point that our minds look like a jumbled and tangled web of thoughts, beliefs, conceptions, premises, opinions and ideas -- a labyrinth within its own multi-layered labyrinth.

This post was spurred by a discussion on political philosophy over at Always Already. In my brief comment, I admitted that I possess a glaring contradiction within me. In terms of political philosophy, I'm an avowed socialist. However, within the confines of my neurological being, I'm patently anti-social!

On the face of it, these two aspects of me seem wholly incompatible. Socialists embrace the concepts of community and cooperation, while the anti-social person embraces isolation and being left to their own devices. A socialist is more apt to find worth in change and fluidity, while the anti-social personality finds security in the status quo and rigidity. So, it would seem that my innermost core is being pulled in opposite directions simultaneously.

The difference in these two perspectives is that they are confined to different spheres of what we call the self. My socialist tendencies are part of my cognitive and intellectual framework. The anti-social aspects are part of my neurological and emotive being. Consequently, the former applies to my thinking in terms of the world at large, while the latter more specifically governs my specific actions and behaviors.

This sort of dichotomy certainly is not personal to me alone. I often marvel at the direct contradictions inherent in the lifestyles of many fundamental Christians. On one hand, they will tell you that their very lives are lived in devotion to this fellow called Jesus. They study his life and hang on his every word. Yet, their overt behavior and the policies they support seem to fly in the face of this devotion.

According to their own religious narrative, this Jesus dude was known to consort with prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors and gentiles -- the dregs of his society. He welcomed all into his tent and all that he asked for was for them to be open to the kingdom of his father.

Contrast this to the lifestyle choices of many contemporary conservative Christians. They live in gated communities, belong to exclusive country clubs and support policies that discriminate against the very same kinds of people that their savior welcomed with open arms. Want to talk about contradictions?

Another current example that quickly comes to mind concerns all these "free market" disciples begging for government handouts. For decades, they've run around proclaiming the mantra that each person must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps plus there's no such thing as a free lunch. They've stridently opposed welfare, medicaid and the minimum wage because, they contend, that the system is kept in balance by the vaunted "invisible hand" of the market.

Yet, the moment they encounter the slightest amount of turbulence or see storm clouds gathering on the horizon, the "invisible hand" argument evaporates into thin air. They insist that OTHERS must pull up THEIR bootstraps and a free lunch is just what the doctor ordered!

Returning now to my own personal contradictions -- some of which are just exasperating as the two cited above -- I find that these strange dichotomies often frustrate the hell out of me, especially those that juxtapose my intellectual self versus my Asperger's self!

As I've mentioned before, it's quite vexing to understand your own pathologies without having much of an ability to alter them. As I've illustrated on this blog again and again, I can analyze my quirky disposition up one side and down the other. I can easily tease out the psychological and sociological implications. Yet, for all my intellectual prowess in this area, the behavioral patterns themselves remain unchanged.

It's sort of like these two parts of my being are standing on a spot looking at an agreed upon destination far off in the distance. My intellectual self immediately gets to work on plotting out the most direct and safest course to reach the objective. This part of me looks at the lay of the land, geographic obstacles and takes the specifics of the ecosystem and climate into account. When all the available information has been gathered and analyzed thoroughly, a line is plotted on the map.

With the intellectual self taking the lead, we start off on the journey. Moments later, however the intellectual self notices that the neurological self has already veered off course. Here's what the intellectual self has to say:
You're going the wrong way, you stupid moron! Come here, look at the map. If you keep heading that direction, you're going to run straight into a thicket of brambles. It's a wide thicket and, to get through it, you will have to suffer all sorts of cuts and abrasions. I'm not even sure it's possible to penetrate.

If, by chance, you somehow claw your way through, the moment you step out of the thicket there's a drop off of over 500 feet. You'll go tumbling into a raging river strewn with huge boulders and logs. Chances are that you won't even survive the fall.

Even if you somehow manage to survive all of this, the only place to pull yourself out of the river is in a field of quicksand. So please, pay attention. F-o-l-l-o-w me.
The neurological self nods its head and then charges straight into the thicket of brambles, falls headfirst into the raging river and climbs out only to get stuck in the quicksand.

You know, at times, I almost wish I had been born fully autistic. Because my cognitive abilities would be severely impaired and compromised, I wouldn't be able fully to comprehend the various predicaments I habitually find myself in. It's not that I necessarily wouldn't encase myself in these same kinds of contradictions, it's more than I wouldn't possess the intellectual capabilities to recognize them for what they are. :)

But, as Popeye once mused, "I yam what I yam" -- a most jumbled and tangled web.

A Matter of Timing

Effort alone is not enough. The sage understands that your efforts must be directed toward options available, and must be applied at the right time in order to achieve success.
~ Today's Daily Quote from The TaoWoods Center ~

Today's Taoist message really speaks to me as I seem to be an individual who tends to do the right thing -- most usually -- at the wrong time. I constantly seem to arrive far too early in the process or far too late in the game. Had I preformed my right action at the right time, there's a very good chance my efforts would have a modicum of success. Unfortunately, when one is out of step with the rest of the world, good timing seems evasive.

I'm sure that part of the problem owes to my Asperger's. Being unable to decipher social clues and markers makes it very difficult to ascertain when the time is right. However, I think a larger role is played by luck (even though I don't really believe in that concept). Circumstances -- often ones beyond my control -- congeal at just the precise moment to make a right time-right moment the wrong time-wrong moment.

Here's one example. In the late 1980s, I decided it was high time to find a new vocation. I did an analysis of my strengths and weaknesses. I looked at my collegiate record for elective classes I had performed well in and interested me. I soon discovered that politics and philosophy fit the bill.

I thought for awhile about what a person could do for a job as a political philosopher. I studied the labor trends in my sector of the country and soon discovered that community college teaching held promise. The projections showed that this segment of the labor force would be increasing in the near future.

So, I set out to find a smallish university (as you know by now, I HATE crowds) that offered a degree in some form of political philosophy. I soon centered on two: Pittsburg State University (PSU) in Pittsburg, KS and New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) in Las Vegas, NM.

Of the two, PSU had a program more to my liking. The official degree would be an MS in Social Sciences with a political philosophy emphasis. At NMHU, the degree would be in public affairs, but I could use my electives to strengthen the philosophy aspect. I thought it would prove beneficial for me to obtain a broader degree because it should mean that I could teach several courses across the social sciences spectrum since I already held a BA in sociology (plus a second BA in journalism).

After debating back and forth, I settled on PSU, mainly because my mother had been diagnosed with cancer and southeastern Kansas was far closer to central Arkansas than the more mountainous and beautiful northeastern New Mexico.

Regardless of my initial reasoning, PSU was a good choice for me. During the second year, I became a Graduate Teaching Assistant and established some fairly good relationships with the social services faculty.

But a funny thing happened to the labor market during my two year tenure at PSU. At about the time I enrolled in my first class, major universities began their academic purges. Schools were trying mightily to cut costs and began to figure out that adjunct professors were a far cheaper bargain for introductory courses than full-fledged professors. So, a great many of the large and mid-sized universities and colleges decided to follow the corporate model by laying off and outright firing legions of Ph.D. professors which thereby changed the entire dynamics of the available labor pool for community college teaching positions.

Before I set off on this trek, all one needed to get hired at a community college was a Master's degree. To be certain, possessing a doctorate improved your chances by tenfold, but most PH.D. holders weren't so interested in the much lower pay scale. By the time I graduated, there were scores of unemployed university professors now willing to work at lowly community colleges. I made this painful discovery as I hit the interview trail and kept missing out on jobs that were going to men and women with a higher degree and prior experience.

In fact, at many community colleges, announcements started REQUIRING a Ph.D. to even apply. I certainly don't blame them because there were so many highly educated (yet unemployed) people to choose from. Holding a simple Master's, all of a sudden, didn't cut it any more for too many schools.

If I had begun my switch in vocation only one year earlier, I would have graduated the year before the almighty glut and my chances for securing a job somewhere would have been enhanced immensely. With one year of experience under my belt, I would have been in a far better position to compete for employment the next year.

But alas, I made the right move at the wrong time and suffered the consequences. Unable to find work as a community college teacher, I worked a spell as a Mitigation Investigator with my dad's law firm and later took a job as a deejay with a local radio station for minimum wage.

Beyond Mere Sense

At some point in everyone's life, the question of purpose arises. Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Some folks ask this question only once or a few scant times; others ask it far more frequently. But it's the kind of foundational question that dogs the human species.

Some people find their underlying purpose in parenting. The process of creating new life and preparing this life for the adventures of the future is, I've heard, a very satisfying reason to be.

Some people find their underlying purpose through their job or vocation. Providing services or products that benefit others is viewed as a satisfying activity.

Some people find their underlying purpose in the arts. Creating a picture, sculpture or song that has not previously existed provides the creator with a sense of wonder and attainment.

But what of the person who does not parent, hold a job nor is artistic? Someone like yours truly? This question of purpose sometimes tugs at me. I don't have that sense to fall back on as some many of my contemporaries do. My life is one borne of patterns and rituals that often don't include much of anyone outside of my immediate family.

The only answer that I have arrived at is that the purpose of my life -- in fact, the purpose of ANY life -- is to be. While the alternatives listed above may provide others with a sense of purpose, each cannot be carried beyond this life. In other words, being a parent or holding an important job fades away into nothingness once all is said and done.

The person who amasses a great fortune cannot take it with them to whatever the next realm may be -- if there even is a next realm. The feelings engendered by any good works or thoughts we accomplish in this life will also be left at the station.

In fact, I dare guess, the only thing we can take as a saddlebag on our continued journey is the life force itself -- even the sense of our own singular being will be stripped away. We will each be naked in the most elemental understanding of nakedness.

In the end, this question of purpose is a question that need not be asked for the answer is ever elusive. Whatever reason we can provide is but a pale facsimile to what lies beyond our meager comprehension.

We are and there's no better answer than that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beyond the Headlines

The blogosphere and the web, in general, is abuzz after the recent deaths of celebrities Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Because entertainment celebrities appear bigger than life, their demise also seems bigger than death. Though few of us ever personally met any of these three names, we feel as if we knew them because we watched each from the comfort of our dens or bedrooms.

It's a fact of life that, each and every day, thousands of babies are born and thousands of people die. Most of these events aren't the fodder of the internet nor the news media. They are just as joyous or painful, nonetheless.

While the three aforementioned individuals are dominating the headlines, here are some other people who died within the past day or so (found via a simple search of Google News).

Anne Roberts Nelson -- A CBS Television Executive
Frank J. Low -- One of the fathers of Infrared Astronomy
Kyarke Lah -- a 6 year old boy who drowned in Minnesota
Unnamed Woman -- New Jerseys 5th fatal victim of Swine Flu
Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald -- known for treating her own breast cancer while in Antarctica
L. Cornell Lederman -- died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident

This list could go on and on and on. It's simply a reminder to each of us that, while celebrities garner the headlines, the reality of losing a loved one happens every second of every day. Death is a fact of life.

My heart goes out to anyone and everyone who has had to face tragedy today (death or otherwise). Sooner or later, it's something we all must face.

The Bane

You know, over the course of the past several months, I've pretty much laid open my bare soul in this virtual medium. Coming to grips with Asperger's Syndrome has been the motivation behind my personal expose'. When I began this process back in early November, my thinking was that in getting this information down on virtual paper, it would help me to see certain patterns and to be able to thwart their replication in the future.

But our best laid plans don't always go the way we first think. I've come to realize that no amount of disclosure and analysis will do the trick. In real time life, I simply can't see the same patterns emerging. I don't recognize the telltale signs laid before me. This is not to say that I don't notice my oddities as they happen, but I rarely see that each is a mere piece in the overarching puzzle called Trey.

This is the peculiar bane for those of us with Asperger's Syndrome. While a strictly autistic person has limitations in cognitive abilities, our cognitive faculties work just fine, thank you. What this means is that we can understand our strange personality traits and mannerisms in rational and clinical ways, but we're damned to do much of anything about them!

In my particular case, owing to my most rational mind, it takes me years and years to notice what was obvious to everyone else from the beginning. Because of my obsessive-compulsive nature, once the realization comes to fruition, I analyze the situation from top to bottom and down one side and up the other. Yet, all this analysis and understanding doesn't seem to help one iota as I continue to engage the social world. I still react and relate in the same ways I always have to the great bewilderment of those I come in contact with.

For example, I visit my local library quite frequently. I've become rather friendly with the staff and one library assistant, in particular. For months, she would be the first one to greet me and this would generally lead to a conversation -- often an odd conversation, but a conversation no less.

Over the past two weeks, this dynamic has changed completely. When I enter the library now, even when she's the only one at the front desk, she doesn't look at me nor will she speak to me. One day I had to stand at the desk for 2 or 3 minutes until somebody else came to help me.

It's becoming rather obvious that I've done or said something that she deemed offensive. For the life of me, I have no clue what it could be. I don't remember anything of significance transpiring the last time we shared a conversation. I don't recall her acting hurt, mad or befuddled. It just seemed like every other run-of-the-mill conversation.

So anyway, my purpose for laying open my soul here on my blog has changed. I no longer do it in the hope that it will assist me in future forays with the social environment because I now realize how pointless that aim is. I have and will continue to share these experiences and insights for two reasons.

First, there are a lot of other aspies out there and I simply want them to know they are not alone. I've learned a lot by visiting aspie websites and blogs; I want to return the favor.

Secondly, by explaining in great detail my strange take on the world, it is my hope that you neurotypicals out there will come to have a better understanding of what it's like to live with atypical brain wiring. If you currently know someone with Asperger's or you come in contact with one of us in the future, my hope is that the information presented here will engender a measure of greater understanding and tolerance.

A Pattern Emerges

In my post from Sunday, "Lost Love (Sigh)", I briefly discussed finding an old "Dear John" letter from my first true love (dated 1979). As we age, almost all of us skip down memory lane a time or two. However, because I'm obsessive-compulsive, I couldn't simply look at the letter and think about it for a little while, then move on to other things. Oh no! Not me. I've probably read this same letter 20 times and I've spent the better part of the last 4 1/2 days brooding about it.

As I described in the earlier post, I now realize what brought about the unhappy ending! At the time, however, I was absolutely clueless. My beloved patiently explained to me her reasoning, but it simply didn't compute in my strange brain wiring. I vaguely remember leaving her house completely dumbfounded as to how such a beautiful relationship -- at least, in my mind -- had so rapidly and forcefully gone south.

Of course, this beautiful image didn't actually exist. I'm sure there were signs along the way that indicated that this relationship was headed for a fall, but, as we know, inferences are not my strong suit! I merely looked at the surface and that surface appeared smooth and placid.

As I've contemplated this episode in my life, it has slowly dawned on me that it represents a template for each and every romantic relationship I've ever had. The ones that eventually ended were each ended by the other party. It's not that I might not agree with the final outcome, but ending a relationship is a big change in routine and I don't deal well with such changes. So, even when I was very unhappy, I still clung to the partnership because it was the then accepted norm.

At the outset of each coupling, I think I was a grand boyfriend (albeit an exceedingly strange one). I continued to be a generally great guy UNTIL the inevitable moment when the relationship began to change.

As with all things, change is the only constant. When you have two people in a committed relationship, this marriage of two entities into one will naturally cause changes in not only the sum but each part. Each person grows within themselves as a direct result of the closeness and impact of the other.

While I can easily type these words on my keyboard and I can rationally acknowledge their existence and primacy, my Asperger's-infused brain starts to short-circuit when, often subconsciously, the changes start to become evident. Because of my overarching need for sameness, I try to keep the relationship from oozing out of the established parameters.

Of course, the more one tries to force something into a preconceived slot, the more it continues to change -- often in very detrimental ways! Far worse, when that thing you're trying to force into the slot is another person, she is going to become angry, resentful, hurt, and bewildered. Any chance of saving the relationship is fairly well thwarted at that point.

And so, this represents my pattern. During the first 1 - 3 years, while the patterns themselves are being established, I function relatively well in the relationship. However, once the patterns are cemented in my mind, the moment they begin to alter is when I start having issues. To combat the insecurity I feel from the changes, I try to force the changes back towards my perceived norm. The more I try to exert a measure of control -- generally without me realizing it -- the more my partner begins to have second thoughts. Eventually, my significant other asks herself, "Who needs this?"

The only reason that Della & I broke this pattern is solely because of Della, not me. The same pattern emerged in our relationship. We went through a real rocky period for 2 or 3 years. During that time, we had 2 trial separations.

Fortunately for me, Della grew up in a family in which the women cater to the men (not that I approve of this dynamic, mind you). In part, because of this model of socialization between the sexes, Della was willing to stick it out a little longer. In addition, because we have always been best friends, I'd like to believe that Della was able to see the kind and gentle part of me through the hubris of my Asperger's-affected brain.

It is because she was willing to wait it out that we were able to establish new patterns which allowed us to weather my storm. I'm not saying that things have been hunky dory perfect since that point, but we've made a lot of accommodations with each other that has allowed our relationship to stand the test of time.

This is not to suggest in any way, shape or form that the fault for the demise of previous relationships was the fault of that first beloved (Maryse) or any other woman. Each relationship is different and I just happened to luck out with this last one. As I stated earlier, all the credit for this one goes to Della.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some Like It H-O-T

As I'm sure even the casual reader understands, I tend to be rather obsessed with numbers and one set of numbers that seems to fascinate me to no end concerns those having to do with weather! (I actually read recently that a fixation on weather is common to many aspies.) So, as is typical for yours truly, I've been watching the national weather maps today.

I've discovered that, with the exception of upper New England and much of the coastal west, all the rest of you in the continental US are suffering various degrees of a major heat wave. I've noted that the heat index is in the 100 - 110 degree range in places like Tulsa, Little Rock, Dallas, Shreveport and Jackson, MS.

It would seem that the majority of the nation is experiencing a yang weather pattern! But for every yang, there must be a yin and South Bend is claiming that title. Though our official high temperature was a rousing 64 degrees, it was very short lived. For most of the day, we've experienced heavy mist with the thermometer hovering in the mid to upper 50s (we've climbed to 57 right now).

Does this mean anything significant? Of course not! I'm simply preoccupied with numbers. That's all.

A Song on the Wing

A bird song flies unfettered over blue sky and green fields. The sage knows that as you gain understanding, your thoughts become more focused reaching outward everywhere to everyone.
~ Today's Daily Quote from The Taowoods Center ~

As I read the above quote, it dawned on me that a fundamentalist religious adherent would easily think today's message was an endorsement of proselytizing. Such individuals feel strong in their faith and desire to spread the "Good News" far and wide. So, one might think, he/she was like the aforementioned bird spreading the gospel "over blue sky and green fields".

However, as far as we know, bird songs don't contain lyrics! They aren't meant as a specific form of direct communication. It's more like spreading the notion of unmitigated existence and, possibly, the joy of being a creature on this earth.

More importantly, I don't think a bird is trying to sell anything and that's the very essence of proselytizing. The proselyte is trying to sell another person an idea about a way to view the world. And such individuals utilize all the tricks and the trade of salesmanship to try to make the sale.

Initially, most will attempt to highlight the positive benefits of purchasing their particular brand. You can make new friends. You can feel warm and secure in the arms of a new family. You will discover new meaning and a new purpose for your life. As an extra special bonus (AND at no extra charge), you get the supreme protector, someone who will watch out for you and listen to you whine about your sorry existence without looking down his nose at you.

If the unwitting shopper is still not sold on the product, then the proselyte brings out the heavy artillery. Do you want to go to hell? Heaven -- the surreal paradise -- is only reserved for the chosen few and those that don't buy the product I'm selling will be left out in the cold. Do you want to take that chance?

By alternating between the perceived positive and negative angles, the proselyte hopes to pressure the shopper into an impulse buy. The thinking here is that, if you can snag someone emotionally, more than half of the battle is won. If you can convince the person to come to your turf -- church, mosque, synagogue, gathering, revival -- you can overload their senses and secure the final sale.

This is so unlike a bird song. Birds often sing when no other bird is anywhere around. I don't think they are trying to convince another bird or anything else of a particular point of view. In human terms, they sing because they're happy. Plain and simple.

From a Taoist perspective, today's quote means nothing more than allowing your wisdom -- wisdom gained from the journey on your singular path -- to carry forth from your being like the song of a bird. It's not advertised as a way to sell an idea or anything else to another person. It's more a song of your contentment with life as it is.

This world could sure use a lot more joy and peace of mind in the air!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections From the Wilderness

Before the book about Dick Proenneke's life in the Alaskan wilderness goes back to the library today, I thought I'd share a comment he made in the second to the last chapter. It really resonates with me.
Needs? I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people. I don't understand economics, and I suppose the country would be in a real mess if people suddenly cut out a lot of things they don't need. I wonder how many things in the average American household could be eliminated if the question were asked, "Must I really have this?" I guess most of the extras are chalked up to comfort or saving time.

Behind Every Act

Contrary to what many may tell you, no one does anything without some motivation. The sage listens to the words, but pays equal attention to what is not said.
~ Today's Daily Quote from The TaoWoods Center ~

Whenever someone tells me something they said or did is not their will but the will of their deity or some external power/force, I laugh (though not always out loud). The very idea that a god or a devil makes us do things we have no say in is just plain silly. As today's quote highlights and the field of psychology confirms, everything we say and do comes from some sort of personal motivation.

Our emotions are complex entities that we -- only partially -- understand. Most of us have great difficulty plumbing the depths of the bare surface, our consciousness, and this meager understanding doesn't even scratch the slightest edge of our subconscious.

Every human being has needs, desires, wants and fantasies. The manner in which we act and behave is a constant drive to satisfy these elements. We could no more cast each aside as we could decide we don't need air to breathe nor food to eat.

Even when we act in a way that appears selfless, there is almost always a selfish motivation behind it. For example, when a soldier falls on a hang grenade to save his buddies in the field, he is satisfying his desire to protect others, even if it means sacrificing his own life in the process! When a person gives something away that he/she values or cherishes, this serves the personal motivation of wanting to be generous and, possibly, desiring the plaudits for being "selfless".

Often times, people will do things that seem rather extreme for the above reason. Each of us craves status or being well thought of by others and this even applies to non-social creatures such as myself. Part of our own self-identity comes from the idea of the person we see reflected in other people's eyes. So, most of us try to behave or act in ways that merit a positive reflection.

At Arm's Length

As with most things in my life, I find it difficult to do things half-ass or casually. So, for the last few days, I have thrown myself headfirst into spring cleaning. I go from room to room culling through and getting rid of all this crap I've collected over the years. It must be infectious because, even now, Della's into it!!

Actually, this is my third or fourth family downsizing in the past few years. The question ever on my mind is: What do we really need? If an item doesn't fill a definite need and it's not something of sentimental value, it gets chucked (i.e., recycled, donated or trashed -- in that order).

The first time I went through this I didn't get rid of very much stuff. As I've noted in this space before, since I don't connect with other human beings very well, I have a strong tendency to become attached to objects. The consequence of this personality trait is that I obsessively collect things and most of what I have obsessively collected throughout my life is meaningless junk!!

Yet, despite the fact that my most rational mind realizes most of my stuff is junk, my emotional self finds it hard to toss A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G away.

The beauty of going through this spring cleaning process over and over again is that it makes it less painful each time around. I'm actually now at the point that I kind of enjoy this feeling of "letting go". It's rather cathartic finally to be able to clear this clutter out once and for all.

We still have too much stuff around, but the amount has been greatly thinned. I'm hopeful that within another 2-3 years I'll be able to report that almost all of it is gone and we haven't replaced it with new junk -- which is always a worry. ;-)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Flee Flea

I've detailed in this space before several of my phobias. One of the major ones is the fear of poison. While the average American uses a cocktail of poisonous substances to do everything from clean mold off the shower stall to the use of pesticides in the yard to kill weeds, I tend to look for nontoxic methods. Initially, this had nothing to do with environmental awareness; it had everything to do with my fear that I would somehow poison myself!

One of the few routine poisons, that sometimes I actually choose to administer, is those between-the-shoulder flea killing preparations for my dogs. My local vet (wherever I've lived) has always told me that this stuff is relatively safe for both dogs and humans, provided the human -- me -- doesn't pour it directly on my Rice Krispies.

Regardless of this advice, I have to go through my own histrionics in order to complete this simple task. First, I place a pair of surgical gloves on my hands followed by a thicker pair of rubber gloves. Once the deed is finished, I have to figure out how to take the gloves off without allowing ANY of the outside surface to come in contact with my skin. If that wasn't enough, I must wash my hands several times, both with Lava soap and an antibacterial soap. Still, after following this step-by-step routine I will be convinced for several hours that I've slipped up and the poison will have somehow contacted my skin (which means I'm doomed).

Up until this morning, I considered my fear of these flea preparations to be somewhat irrational. However, according to The Daily Green, I've found that maybe said fears aren't irrational at all!!
Killing Fleas and Ticks May Be Harming Your Pet
By Dan Shapley

Flea and tick treatments for pets fall into that murky area in a lot of consumers' minds: We know the chemicals are designed to ward off or kill bugs ... but somehow we don't associate the products with the term "pesticides."

But the Environmental Protection Agency has received an increasing number of reports of pets having adverse reactions to "spot-on pesticide products" -- those between-the-shoulder liquid treatments designed to infuse the pet's skin with pest-fighting toxicity. Now the agency is taking a harder look at the potential toxicity of these products. "Adverse reactions reported range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures and, in some cases, the death of pets," the organization reports.

Previously, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported that people can be exposed to flea and tick pesticides at 1,000 times the recommended safe dosage just from petting a dog or cat that has been treated. (emphasis added)
And that's just from petting!! Imagine how much more toxic it would be if a person inadvertently got some on them by administering the goo in the first place!

I'd comment further, but I've got to go wash my hands again.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lost Love (Sigh)

For the past few days I've been cleaning. In the loosest of senses, I decided to apply a little feng shui to my specific living spaces. I've always been a very cluttered person with piles and stacks of things everywhere I look. Since I have to deal with chronic physical and neurological issues, I decided I would try to unclutter my space to promote a better flow of energy.

The thought here is that a better flow of energy in the space around me will help create a better flow of energy within me. I know that it's already worked somewhat as the first space I tackled was my bedroom and, now that the clutter has been removed, I have have awakened the past two mornings feeling a little more refreshed.

As I was sifting my way through the clutter in my bedroom, I came across a little satchel of old letters I hadn't eyed for many years. One of these letters was from my first serious relationship back in college. The young woman in question, Maryse (pronounced like Marcie), was outlining why she had decided to breakup with me.

At the time, this was a serious blow as we had become engaged a few months previous. I drove 400 miles to confront her in person. It was truly surreal in that she spent all her time crying and apologizing. I spent my time trying to comfort her even though one might have thought the roles should have been reversed.

Despite the fact that I was crushed by this sudden development, I don't think I ever shed one tear over the breakup. I find this to be very remarkable because I cry very easily and frequently, particularly when watching many of my favorite movies (e.g., Titanic, ET, The Wizard of Oz, etc.).

I suppose the chief reason I didn't become distraught is that -- somewhere within me -- I knew this would prove beneficial to both of us. For all her wonderful qualities, Maryse had begun dabbling in drugs and satanic worship. Both of these things were abhorrent to me! For my part, I was having a very difficult time navigating the social environment (my then unknown Asperger's) and this always seemed to irritate my far more social fiance. As she remarked to me one time, I seemed like such a neat person in private, but, when we went out in public, I always seemed to say or do really weird things.

Updated (6/23/09)
I sort of shortchanged above my role in the breakup and so I feel the need to set the record a little straighter.

In retrospect, one of the biggest factors involved in our parting of the ways was the fact that I had a great deal of difficulty as a young man dealing with the necessary changes in relationships. Because I crave pattern and routine, I latched onto the girl I first met and wanted her to stay the same -- not blossom as a young woman -- throughout our courtship.

When Maryse started to think new thoughts or behave in different ways, I didn't know how to handle it. So, I did what most Aspies do; I tried to get her to conform to the image in my mind and to stick to the routines already established.

Few of us like to be constrained, particularly not by someone who professes their love for us. So poor Maryse was forced to try to deal with the process of becoming her own person, while I was doing everything possible to keep her from becoming anything different than the young woman I originally fell in love with. Needless to say, it was a recipe for impending disaster!

Throughout the past 30 years, I've thought of Maryse frequently. Before the final few months, we had enjoyed a very fun and close relationship. I often wonder what changed everything. But I don't dwell on it. I don't wish to rewind the clock to set things right. I don't wish that we had weathered our storm and stayed together. (If that had happened, there would be no Della in my life and I'm very blessed to have been Della's husband for nearly 25 years!)

While that episode in my life was extremely painful, it helped to shape the man I am today. I learned firsthand what it means to love someone with all your heart and to have that person love you as strongly, then one day, the love is gone.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reflections on "One Man's Wilderness"

Last Sunday I mentioned I was reading "One Man's Wilderness", a book about the life of Dick Proenneke who lived for the better part of 30 years alone in the Alaskan wilderness. I just finished the book today and highly recommend it to anyone who is an advocate for the environment and/or self-reliance.

The book appeals to me because I tend to be a solitary spirit. While most people would go sheer stir crazy being basically alone for months on end, I think I would relish the time spent away from the likes of social society. So, for me, there's a certain amount of romantic splendor in the idea of going it on my own.

Had I read this book when it first came out in 1973, I might have even entertained the notion that it was something I might be able to do. However, here in my more mature years, I realize that, while the experience resonates with me deeply, I have never been equipped with the necessary skill sets nor the self-confidence to pull off such a stunt. Here are three reasons why.

Lack of Building Skills
Proenneke built almost everything around him. He built a house, an outhouse, a woodshed and a cache. He made all his own furniture. He fashioned bowls and spoons. I mean, really, the guy was utterly amazing in this regard and he chronicles almost every construction project.

For the life of me, I seem incapable of cutting a piece of wood straight. I can make all the necessary calculations and measure my line from every angle, but when I'm done sawing, it's never squared off. It's always slightly at an angle. The same goes for nails. It's a very rare occurrence when I can hammer one in straight!

Since Dick lived in an area that typically got down to 20 -50 degrees below zero and it was imperative to have tight fitting lodging to ward off the cold, it's really obvious that I would freeze to death because my lodging would be anything BUT snug. There would be gaps all over the place which would not seal out the cold at all.

The Basic Diet
For the most part, Proenneke ate A LOT of meat. Some of this fare was flown in. Some he scavenged and some he killed himself. Besides the prevalence of meat, he gathered a lot of wild fruits to supplement his diet.

I, of course, don't eat meat being that I'm a vegetarian. That would create an immediate problem. I also don't hunt and can't even imagine killing a ram or caribou. And I'm not very adept at plant identification either. So, I would not be likely to go into the hills to pick berries as I would be fearful that the one's I picked would be poisonous!

The only reason Proenneke was able to pull this off is because he had a deep self-confidence in his mental and physical abilities. No problem seemed to phase him. He always seemed able to figure out how to make something work or to discard what wasn't working and to hatch a new strategy.

I think I could come close to matching him in mental confidence, but nowhere near his level of physical confidence. Because of my fibromyalgia and congenital issues, I have next to no confidence whatsoever in my physical abilities. Because of this lack, I certainly couldn't have done all the trekking he did because I would be fearful of running into a predator and being eaten.

Needless to say, I enjoyed his experiences and reflections VICARIOUSLY. That's about as close as I will ever get to the wilds of Alaska.

A Virtual Conversation

I spend a good deal of each day reading blogs. I also spend a certain amount of time writing things for my blog, but not near as much time as I spend reading the thoughts of others. As I travel around the blogosphere, I've come to realize that blogs often are an attempt to start a conversation. Of course, it certainly helps if other people read your blog, lest the conversation be with yourself alone! :-)

So often, out in the real world of social endeavors, many of us find it difficult to initiate dialog. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, the weird and/or arcane topics I'd like to discuss with people are usually nonstarters as far as idle conversation goes. Most people aren't interested in exploring the philosophy of Taoism or Spinoza and my weak attempts to engender such interest usually fail. So, I'll make an offhanded comment that typically dies right there on the vine.

But here, in this virtual medium, I can attempt to start a conversation with you -- my readers -- on any topic that suits my fancy. Some of these topics may strike a chord with you and a conversation, however long or brief, transpires. No, it's not the same as a face-to-face conversation, but it's something.

I don't think I'm alone in such attempts. Much of the stuff you post on your blogs fits the same bill -- you're reaching out to try to initiate a conversation with YOUR readers.

While I'm pleased as punch that we have this medium, it also makes me a tad bit sad. For folks like me -- people who are not social, in nature -- it has provided a wonderful outlet and the opportunity to engage with people we would not have otherwise. But, for the rest of you, it is a rather sad commentary about the state of the world.

People need and want to connect with others, but far too many people become so self-absorbed in this fast-paced alienating world that it's often difficult for even social creatures to connect. Conversation become superficial and serious discussions are placed on a back burner. Into this void, many people take to blogging as a way to release the philosophical yearnings buried deep within that have no bona fide outlet in the outside world.

Even if your blog is about nothing more than the routine and seemingly mundane aspects of your life, your philosophy of life shines through.

When Crap Hits the Fan

Yesterday we received another of these endless reports of a new food being infected with E. coli. Ever since 1982 when E. coli was first detected, we've been treated to a stream of such reports. This time around the culprit appears to be Nestle Toll House cookie dough. What in the hell is going on here?

According to the CDC, many forms of E. coli "cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short. " STEC is most commonly found in the intestines "of ruminant animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk." The organism doesn't make the animal sick, but, if it comes in contact with humans, that's another story entirely!

So, if E. coli is found in these intestinal tracks, how then does it infect such things as lettuce, spinach, sprouts and cookie dough? My guess is through the advent of infected manure. You see, our food and safety regs in this country leave a lot to be desired. The cattle industry (where most of the E. coli originates) has a powerful lobby and they don't like having too many constraints placed on them. Hey, it cuts into their profit margin!

During the butchering process, they might be a little lax in their approach and, before you know it, we have infected manure. The unsuspecting farmer buys the infected manure and uses it on his crops or handles the manure and doesn't wash up properly and cross-contamination is born.

There are two solutions to this widening problem. First, there should be greater health and safety safeguards at rendering plants. We also need more inspectors and they need to show up unannounced -- too often they let folks know they're coming far in advance. When companies are found in violation of the regs, hefty fines need to be levied.

Of course, as an activist vegetarian, I prefer option #2 -- ban the use of animal manure altogether! Unfortunately, since our world is filled with meat-eaters, I don't think this will happen anytime soon.

Friday, June 19, 2009

All the Yin Yang Day

If a person fills their gas tank with bad gas, no one is surprised when the car breaks down. If a person fills their piggy bank with pieces of lint, no one is surprised when it turns out the lint isn't worth much. And if a person eats the wrong kinds and quantities of food, no one is very surprised when that person complains of a tummy ache or worse.

The old adage -- you are what you eat -- is very true! The authors of "The Tao of Food" take this thought a bit further by classifying different foods by their yin and yang qualities.
The notion that foods can be defined as predominantly yin or yang is very old, but it is important to remember that in a Taoist approach to cooking and food we seek to find balance. If you eat predominantly yin foods your body will be capable of producing only yin energy -- darker, slower-moving, and colder. If you predominantly eat yang foods you will produce only yang energy -- faster, hotter, and much more energetic.
So, how do you know what foods are yin or yang? According to the authors, here's a general sketch.
  • If it grows in the air and sunshine it is probably yang;
  • If it grows in the earth or darkness it is probably yin;
  • If it is salty it is yang; if it is sweet it is yin;
  • If it is lean it is yang; If it is fatty it is yin;
  • If it is rich in sodium it is yang;
  • If it is rich in potassium it is yin.
While most foods feature predominantly one quality or the other, there are a few foods -- beans, grains and pulses -- that strike a happy balance and should be included in a person's daily diet.

As a vegetarian, it looks like I fall squarely in the yin camp. In terms of this methodology, there are few yang foods I eat. The only two yang foods that I partake of occasionally are hard cheese and eggs.

But what I find genuinely interesting about this approach is what the authors have to say about the ill effects of eating a predominantly yin diet. When I look at my psychological and physical issues, it's damn eerie how accurate their description is.
If you eat only heavily yin-enriched foods you will find your system becomes extremely cold and this will cause ill health. You will also find yourself becoming more and more distant from reality. The nature of yin is space. The nature of yang is time. Yin food will encourage a remoteness from everyday life...Too much yin makes us "spacey" so we will continue to seek foods that encourage fear and worry...
So, maybe it would do me some good to go out and order a Big Mac! It just might, but I'm not going to do it. The path I've chosen is vegetarianism -- most Taoists are carnivores -- and I simply can't fathom the thought of ever eating meat again. It's been nearly 25 years since I ate meat regularly and I have no interest whatsoever in turning back the clock.

I guess the best I can do is increase my intake of grains, beans and rice. Hmm. I think I'll go eat another bowl of cereal. :D)

Going With the Flow

When we moved into our current abode, I was really happy. The house we owned in Salem, OR was very small -- about 750 square feet. Our house here in South Bend -- if the area of the basement is included -- is about twice that size. Since we have lots of animals (3 cats and 2 big dogs), the increased space means we aren't tripping over them with every step.

We also have an upstairs, unlike in Salem where everything was situated on one floor. The upstairs is my domain. One bedroom is...well...my bedroom. The other is my office. I have sufficient closet space and a great view of the Willapa River just before it empties into the bay. My domain would be picture perfect except for one thing; both bathrooms are downstairs!

Initially, this caused a bit of a problem. Sometimes the call of nature comes quickly in the middle of the night. There I would be. Sleeping soundly. All of a sudden, I am struck by an urgent need to strain the potato and there is no porcelain to point Percy at. So, I bounce up from my sleeping mat and pray that I can hold my water as I stumble down the staircase.

One particular night I almost watered the tomatoes in mid flight. I thought to myself, "Gosh, there must be a better way to shake hands with an old friend". And then it hit me. I needed to learn truly to go with the flow.

I purchased one of those hand-held, plastic urinals and the problem of pumping the ship was solved. Simply and neatly.

Taoists Everywhere

I just discovered something that I think is really cool. There are over 10,000 people on blogger who have tagged their profile with the word, "Taoism". Look, I realize that, in the overall scheme of things, that's not really an eye-popping number, but it still impresses me, nonetheless.

Heck, if you look for the profile tag "Christianity", there are over 46,000 of 'em. That's about 4 1/2 times more. But, when you consider the prevalence of Christianity in western society versus the lack of prevalence of Taoism, I actually find it quite amazing that the gap between the two isn't really that wide.

So, does that mean Taoism is surging across the globe? Probably not, but then, who knows?

Guess What? It's Still Broken!

After spending the last few weeks listening to the president and congressional leaders blather about how they've taken the necessary steps to fix our woeful economic system, I've got some news for them -- it's still broken! Price gouging has not abated, unelected individuals continue to manipulate the system and there doesn't seem to be any meaningful oversight at all. In essence, it's business as usual.

I'm sure you've noticed -- as I certainly have -- that gas prices at the pump have surged over the past six weeks. Well, you might respond, it's summer and people are traveling more. It's natural for gas prices to spike during this season.

And I would agree with you, except for one little fact -- According to Bloomberg, "Petroleum products demand in the U.S., the world’s largest energy user, fell 6 percent over the past four weeks to June 12 from a year ago".

This is not the way that Adam Smith described the workings of capitalism. When demand goes up, so do prices because, after awhile, the demand itself limits the supply. Conversely, when demand goes down, so too do prices because you have a glut of the supply. So, if the demand for gas is down, why are prices going up?

The wonderful people at Bloomberg provide the answer: "Investors have pushed oil higher by buying contracts as an inflation hedge to offset a decline in the dollar." In other words, speculators (those trying to make a quick buck) are manipulating the process just like they did with the housing market. It's the same old shtick as before.

And, according to the article cited, many analysts expect the price to increase even more by year's end! Consequently, as we enter autumn -- a time when the numbers of travelers falls off significantly -- even though demand will decrease, prices are expected to increase.

Isn't that just peachy?!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three Cheers for Dementia!

Continuing on with my current train of thought, I want to talk a bit more about the Taoist and Buddhist ideal of shedding one's "self" to allow the active forces of the universe to permeate our being. From this perspective, our self is an illusion and the one thing that keeps us from nirvana or fully knowing Tao. So, it would seem to me that such people would wholly embrace the advent of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

According to the Alzheimer Association, this disease is "the most common form of dementia, a general term for the loss of memory and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life...Alzheimer's destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life."

People who are afflicted with Alzheimer's and other severe forms of dementia gradually lose the concept of self to the point that they no longer know who they are. Not only that, they also don't know who you are or how to do routine things like getting dressed or how to brush their teeth.

Yet, I know of no church, gathering or nonprofit group that advocates that people should try to catch Alzheimer's! Even further, I know of some people who promote this idea of losing the self who also state unequivocally that, if they were to be struck by a disabling disease such as this, they would hope that someone would simply shoot them so they wouldn't have to suffer or cause angst for their family.

This leads me to ask, why? Alzheimer's is the embodiment of what you've preached, why wouldn't you embrace it with both hands?

Of course, I believe the answer can be found in the difference between theory and practice. Losing one's self is an abstract concept; Alzheimer's is a blood and guts real experience. When the theoretical point becomes a painful reality, it loses a great deal of its appeal!

Live Your Own Life

There are many people in this world who won't act -- yea or nay -- until they've consulted the good book. Depending upon their religious or philosophical moorings, the "good book" may mean the Koran, Bible, Torah, Tao Te Ching or numerous other texts. Such people ask themselves, "What would Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tzu, etc. do in this particular situation?"

My response to this type of question is: Who the hell cares? You are not Jesus and I'm not Lao Tzu! What they did and thought may have been right for them in a particular situation, but each individual AND individual situation is different. So, what may be a proper act for one scenario may be altogether different for a current scenario.

There is nothing wrong with seeking out guidance, whether it be from Aunt Zelda or the words of the Buddha. People who don't learn from the experiences and thoughts of others are apt to run smack dab into brick walls over and over again. But guidance should not be understood to be a blueprint or road map. All guidance can do for a person is help GUIDE them in a general way. The specifics are up to each of us to determine.

When I read the Tao Te Ching or the book of Chuang Tzu, I often find that the words of these legendary sages helps me to gain new insight into the facets of my own reality. I often times feel inspired to look at any given situation anew. But how I behave or act is up to me.

We each need to live our own lives and take responsibility for the actions we've wrought.

Over and Over Again

I've recently read on a few blogs this idea that, once any given blogger starts to repeat him or herself, it's near time to hang it up. I suppose the thinking here is that the information and opinions presented on a blog should always be new and cutting edge.

I will grant that, if any blogger simply repeats the same prose post after post, the whole process would become monotonous and, in time, no one would probably read it. But beyond that, life itself is an exercise in repetition.

Every breath we take is a repetition of the one before. Every morning that we get up or every night that we go to bed is a repetition from the previous day. Most of the conversations that we share with our partner, family, friends and co-workers are not altogether unlike previous conversations. Even the thoughts we think in our little noggins often are thoughts we've thought before.

If we take this one step further, all knowledge and thought already exists in the universe. When each of us conceives a new formulation of an idea, we're simply borrowing it from the universal cerebral library. Chances are that the very same book has been checked out millions of time before!

Therefore, it's natural that what we write on our blogs will be repetitive. There are only so many ideas and concepts out there. If we decided that our blog would only present original ideas, then no blogs (conversations or thoughts too) would exist. We would sit cross-legged each day in a state of blankness.

There is one more important aspect to consider. Every second of our existence we're obtaining new (to us) sensations, experience and information. These various elements congeal in this thing we call the self. So, while our lives are filled with repetitive acts, each one can be somewhat new as we add this fresh criteria to the mix. When we discuss a certain idea or point, we're apt to add a new ingredient to our formulation.

In the end, if you expect to find new and unbridled text on this blog, you ain't going to find it. While I cover a wide range of subjects and topics, all of them are merely reformulations of what I've stated before. In essence, each word I peck out on this keyboard is both old and new.

And it will always be this way.

The Ideal

When visiting this blog, you will often find me quoting the ancient Taoist sages like Lao Tzu. If you visit a blog focused on one of the three Abrahanic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- you will find quotes from the Torah, Bible and Koran, respectively. Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon or Wiccan blogs follow this very same tact by quoting their seminal texts.

Whether dealing with a religion or a philosophy, almost all the major thought/belief systems impart a similar message in their own terminology and jargon. That message is to subsume oneself by tapping into the flow of a deity, energy and/or power. Some try to achieve this perfect state through prayer, while others pursue it through meditation.

Since this is a Taoist blog, I'm going to approach this topic from the Taoist perspective.

Lao Tzu counsels us to empty ourselves into the vastness of Tao. He urges us to act by not acting consciously (wu wei) and to move with the flow of the universe. This is good advice, but I believe too many people err by taking this idea too literally. What Lao Tzu and others are referring to is an ideal; it's not something any of us can thoroughly attain in this lifetime.

From my perspective, it is humanly impossible to empty ourselves completely. While I believe that it's dubious, at best, that any person can empty their conscious mind for any sufficient length of time, even if I was to grant this was conceivable, it still doesn't address our subconscious.

A person's subconscious is like a subterranean stream. It flows and we know not where. Often, our actions, thoughts and behaviors are guided more by the subconscious than the conscious mind. Consequently, even if a person is able to blot away their conscious self in meditation, the subconscious self continues to direct our being.

It's the very same problem Christians run into when praying to the father. One has no way of knowing if the essence of their god is an actual other entity or merely the person's subconscious speaking through an imagined presence of another being.

I'm NOT suggesting that people shouldn't meditate to accept the flow of Tao or religious folks shouldn't pray to their deity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking an ideal. But a lot of the self-criticism and self-loathing I see in my fellow humans springs from the fact that they get down on themselves for not grasping the ideal in it's totality -- for not measuring up to an unrealistic concept of perfection.

To be human is to have a concept of self. That sense of self will always serve as an impenetrable boundary between the ideal and the reality of our earthly existence. We should try, whenever possible, to mitigate this sense of self to tap into the flow of Tao, but we shouldn't beat ourselves up when our efforts of mitigation take us only go so far.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm Simply Not Interested

If you have a blog, I'm sure you receive requests for reciprocating links and/or display ads. I receive two or three such requests per month. I realize there's a good chance many of these are computer-generated and are sent to a mass list. Some of them, though, appear to be written by an actual human being.

Just so you know, here's my basic rule: If you're selling something, I'm simply not interested. I didn't get into blogging as a money-making venture. If you look at this blog, you'll see there are no ads on it now and there won't be any in the future. So, sending me an email requesting that I place an ad or even a link to your money-making venture is a nonstarter in my book.

Look, I don't have a problem with anyone else choosing to feature such ads or links. In my view, it's your blog and you can do what you want with it. But this is my blog and my basic rule stands.

Conversely, if you have a blog about Taoism, Buddhism, free thinking, Asperger's Syndrome or something of that ilk, then that's a completely different matter. In most cases, I'll be tickled pink to add your link to one of the sections in the right column.

Things Are a Little "Buggy"

My wife and I work hard to try to make our home and yard as nontoxic as possible. Look in our cabinets and you won't find any caustic chemicals, bug sprays or the like. Yet, for all our efforts, it now seems like it's all in vain. If a family who lived in this house 20 years ago used pesticides, there's a really good chance they're still here!!
Even If You Don't Use Pesticides, Your Home May Harbor Them
Study: Pesticides used to kill ants, cockroaches, fleas, ticks lice, and other lawn, garden and home pests can still be found in U.S. kitchens decades after they were used. Children and pets are the most likely to be exposed.

Two new reports out this week provide two more good reasons to avoid using pesticides whenever possible.

The first found that pesticides linger in living spaces long after they've been used to kill roaches, ants, wasps, fleas and ticks or other pests in the home, lawn and garden. The Environmental Protection Agency study was published in Environmental Science & Technology (and summarized nicely by Environmental Health News).

About 165 pesticide compounds are probable or possible carcinogens, according to the EPA, and a recent study linked pesticide exposure during pregnancy to leukemia. Other pesticides may mimic hormones and affect early childhood development, reproduction and other diseases. Pesticides have been linked to everything from Parkinson's disease to obesity, and they often stay on the market long after independent scientists raise serious concerns about their safety.

The results were sobering: Most U.S. kitchen floors are laced with pesticides -- several known to be toxic and several that were banned decades ago. The most commonly found pesticides are listed here in order of the most to least common:

* Permethrin (an insecticide found in some head lice treatments, pet flea and tick products and other insect repellents) was found in 89% of homes tested.

* Chlorpyrifos (an insecticide sold for decades for home use as Dursban until 2001) was found in 78% of homes.

* Chlordane (an insecticide banned in 1984, but used for decades on home lawns and gardens before that) was found in 74% of homes.

* Piperonyl butoxide (a chemical used with pyrethrin and similar pesticides to kill wasps, ants, fleas and ticks, lice and other pests) was found in 52% of homes.

* Cypermethrin (an insecticide found in some Raid products and other ant and roach killers) was found in 46% of homes.

* DDT (an insecticide banned in 1972 but used widely to kill mosquitoes and other insects for decades before then) was found in 42% of homes. (DDE, a breakdown product of DDT was found in 33% of homes.)

* Fipronil (an insecticide found in some Frontline, TopChoice, Over'n Out! and Maxforce products) was found in 40% of homes.

* Diazinon (an insecticide used widely to kill ants, roaches and other pests, as well as lawn and garden pests, until household use was banned in 2004) was found in 35% of homes.

The results suggest a couple important things: One, that current homeowners don't have complete control over the contaminants in their homes, given that these pesticides linger for decades in indoor spaces; and two, that children and pets are most likely to be exposed to these chemicals, given that they crawl around on the floor and are more likely to ingest dust from the floor.

For nontoxic alternatives to pest control, try this "least toxic" pest control database from Beyond Pesticides.

Not Walking the Talk

Do you remember the mantra of the Republican Party in the mid 1990s? Led by Rep. Newt Gingrich who called it a "moral imperative", balancing the budget was the battle cry. For what seemed like month after month, every other word that came out of the mouths of conservatives somehow was connected with balancing the budget. If we didn't balance it, they cried, America would be destroyed.

And so, then-President Bill Clinton not only balanced the budget, but his administration produced a huge surplus by beginning the evisceration of this nation's social safety net.

Yet a funny thing happened a few years later. A Republican became president and, all of a sudden, balancing the budget was no longer important to his party cohorts. It wasn't important to the new president either. He ran up a humongous deficit and left office with a federal budget that was severely UN-balanced.

Over the past year, the roles have flip-flopped. While Bush was still in office, the Democrats complained loudly about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wiretapping and other nefarious spying activities plus the less than transparent manner in which the Republican administration ran the White House. You couldn't pick up a newspaper or flip on the TV without one of them screaming to the high heavens.

Yet, a funny thing has happened this year. A Democrat became president and, all of a sudden, these once-important issues no longer seem that important to his party cohorts. These issues also don't seem that important to the new president as he has continued many of the same policies he and his fellow party members criticized the former administration about.

You see, much of politics concerns the art of the charade. Politicians stand up to rail against certain policies and strategies. They act as if they are morally opposed to them when, in fact, they really aren't. No, their indignation rarely has anything to do with the policies themselves; what they truly see red over is the fact that the other party gets to employ them!

When the other team acts a particular way, your team cries foul. When your team behaves in the same manner, you're quick to provide an endless stream of rationalizations, justifications and mitigating factors. In essence, you refuse to walk your talk.

And let's be perfectly honest, this problem doesn't pertain solely to politicians. We're all guilty of it to a certain extent. We're each willing to give ourselves, our friends and our family the benefit of the doubt, but we aren't as willing to extend this same courtesy to others outside of our circle.

If a co-worker tells a little white lie, we know in our heart of hearts that they are behaving in this way to score brownie points or to undermine us in the eyes of our superiors. However, when the shoe is on the other foot and you or I is the one engaged in a little fibbing, that's totally different! We have our reasons!!

In the end though, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and people who talk the talk should walk the walk. If not, what's the point?