Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Mote in God's Eye

If life is about the experience, what happens when the experience ends? Where does all the information that was our life, our loves, our tragedies and drama, go? Is it all just a grand experiment, set in motion by the supreme clockmaker? Or does it have meaning? I prefer to believe it does- but that is merely a preference. What underlying principles really guide our lives...and to what end?

I once read a book which explained it this way;  picture a puzzle, a mosaic really, with thousands of beautiful dizzying pieces fit together just so. That mosaic is you- and while it seems fixed in stone, in truth the puzzle is constantly changing- its colors lighting or dimming; the action scenes constantly changing. But then, like a game of Perfection, you die. The puzzle breaks out of its frame, pieces tumbling everywhere...until they reassemble themselves again in a new frame. It’s still you...only not. It's something, someone new. The older I get the more I begin to believe that this is the nature of God. With each experience, we create a new picture of a life, one solitary life out of the countless billions- but each one is real and a piece of God- our experiences dumping data into a heavenly database somewhere that will eventually reveal in all its glory what it means to be God and human. If God is anywhere, s/he is in us- in each of our experiences. S/he is accumulating knowledge about the human condition in the only way possible- by living it. And when we come to the end of time, perhaps we will have a clearer picture of our place in Existence and we will truly know God- because s/he is us.

I truly cannot believe in a God who doesn’t know us- experiences all of our pain, and the depths of our love, and yet chooses not to acknowledge us. I don’t believe that such a God exists. I believe that God is love to the uttermost- beyond human capability to encompass...but not to know. Humans know how to love... we just forget. And that too is part of being God- who cannot forget our experiences and pain...but we can, and we can then go on to re-discover love and joy, while leaving the weakness of pain behind. We are constantly learning about pain and about love- and how to overcome the one, and embrace more of the other. Perhaps we will really know the day when God is manifest in all of us only when we no longer fear pain, and by fearing it, attract it to us. One day, maybe we will be able to leave it utterly behind.

I believe that God has no expectations for me- only love - so why do I sometimes, still , feel unloved? Because I choose to. To forget that you are loved is a crippling weakness. But we do it all the time. It makes us feel weak, and insignificant and not responsible . It lessons one burden, while adding thousands of others. To be loved, is to know that you are in a relationship – and you must acknowledge the other parties who are involved. To feel unloved is the ultimate in selfishness, egotism- it means you can continue to believe that there is no one outside yourself, no one more important than yourself, no one you must sacrifice yourself for. But while this might spare you some hurt, you will still feel the sadness, guilt or responsibility of not caring for others.

 It is hard for a human to not love something. It takes continual effort- because we are made to love..and to be loved. To paraphrase from the novel The Shack- a bird is a bird, whether on the ground or in the sky. Certainly, being grounded changes a bird’s perspective. But that doesn’t change the bird’s innate ability to fly. We have a purpose, whether we fulfill it or not. Environment doesn’t change the truth of a thing.

Intention is all and we were intended to love.

If we look to the God in every person, we will first see, always, a frail, tired, human being. And we will believe that we have failed to see God, and we will stop looking for God in others and in ourselves. But s/he is there, and that fragile human being is their true face- behind which hides a speck of eternity. It is a subtle shine; not blazing, but a glimmer. A gathering of distant lights, which seen from a great enough distance is a beacon in a dark universe, against which we were meant to shine. To look into a human heart is like looking into a hallway of mirrors- the human reflects God, who reflects the human and so on. As angry and confused a puzzle piece as I may be, I am still part of a whole- a piece of God, completing a masterpiece. And if I look deep enough into another human being, I can see myself, and ourselves and the beautiful picture we make together, if only through a mirror, darkly. And I can love them.

The ability to be loved is not unique to humans. The ability to give love is not what makes us special either. What makes humans unique? Not much- except the tendency to throw love away. While more can always be created, it makes that which already exists no less precious. If you would covet anything, covet love. It is the only thing you can covet that will not harm you in the long run. While I am small, I am precious, and I do not go unseen. If I am only one mote in a million in God’s eye- still, I am one in a million and I am known.

The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.
~Teresa of Avila 

* Photo courtesy of the European Homepage for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope
For more glorious images click here

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turning Japanese....I Really (Don't) Think So

It has been 6 months, 28 days and 7 hours since I moved abroad. And in that time I have learned many things.


1. Don't walk on tatami mats with bare feet..or shoes...or slippers-which I promptly forgot last night while at an enkai- a formal farewell party, where, because I was a receptionist, I was forced to walk around the restaurant in bare feet all night..when I wasn't sitting seiza to hide my feet. (Swollen ankles, and knees, anyone?)

2. Using chopsticks is easy..unless you're drunk or in a crowd. I wasn't drunk, but was surrounded by native eaters- needless to say my chopsticks skills went to shit. Oh, I also learned that sushi is considered finger food- so you don't have to use chopsticks- but only after nearly losing a maki roll down the side of my skirt.

3. "O Genki desu ka?"- which means "are you healthy (well)?" can constitute a whole conversation if you are unable to converse fluently in Japanese. This represents an attempt to speak, which is all that is needed before you pass over the sake.

At times, living abroad has made me feel more alive, more vibrant...and more alone than at any
other time in my life. While siting in a crowd of people, you realize that you don't know what's going on...and then realize that it's pretty much been that way your whole life.The language barrier is no excuse- people everywhere are simply un-understandable. (yeah, I said it. wanna make something of it?) It has given me plenty of time to think my own thoughts, and realize how brilliant, petty, sarcastic or self serving they really are. In many ways, it has been a retreat from the “real” world where I barely had time to hear my thoughts, let alone organize them or more radically...change them. A stranger in a strange land, quickly learns that the “natural” laws and customs he lives his life by, are in fact anything other than “laws”. If he is a smart stranger, he quickly learns to “do as the Romans do” and rub blue mud in his belly to match the other savages. I am not a smart stranger. I persist in sticking out in noncomformity- a feat which escaped me entirely at home, where I was far more likely to fade in to the wall paper. I guess I don’t match the wall paper here. (Ever seen a five foot something black woman in a kimono?)

So what’s a girl to do? “Be aggressive, be, be agressive!”- “perky cheerleader voice”

Be aggressive? Yeah, be aggressive. Learn the local customs, be fascinated by the culture, and whenever you don’t fit in, grin. Hell, you won’t ever fit in anyway- so break the rules, lie and say you didn’t know, and have fun while doing it. Remembering that I am as much of a local curiosity as the local temple shrine allows me a whole lot of leeway to be awkward and floundering in a society that is best known for its attention to detail and efficiency. But this isn’t just for living abroad. Remembering that I am unique in this society and at home, will allow me to stretch even more on my return. Every awkward situation I find myself in here, I’ve been in before.

1. Awkward conversations? Check

2.Long, boring parties where you don't know anyone? Check

3. Strange guys who sit waaay too close? Check

Whether at home or abroad, being self conscious is a matter of the mind. The only solution is to go on the defensive. Look people in the eyes, and know “This is your world. Everybody else is just a squirrel trying to find a nut.” (Don’t get it? Find a friend and ask them to explain it. I’m on a roll here.) Finding your place in the world is hard, because it depends on the acceptance of the people around you. Making your place in the world depends on satisfying no one but yourself.

Don’t know what’s going on around you? If you’re interested, dive right in. If you’re not, keep on walking. Your inner and outer world are for your edification...and amusement. No one elses.You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Like blue mud? Bring it on! But if not, say no thanks. Make the world give way before you- make your own rules, and live by them. Make yourself happy... and feel at home wherever you go.

I will never be Japanese, or popular or anything other than sarcastic, sharp tongued, and biting. Thank God- because after all... the world needs me just the way I am. ; >

“They remember me as this shy girl sitting under the table.
 But they obviously didn't know what was going on in my head.”
 Izabella Scorupco quotes (Polish Actress, b.1970) *

Now you do! "wink"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Funny Valentine

It’s funny how attached we get to ideas. Like the idea that on Valentine’s day we are supposed to acknowledge the people we love with grandiose gestures and semi-tasteless food. (Surf and turf special at Ryan’s anyone?) Instead of spending the whole year showing our dedication, we splash it all over on one day, and then forget about it. And those who don’t celebrate it, complain about it- but they aren’t any more loving any other time of the year either. It’s funny- ever since I can remember I have wanted only to spend a holiday with someone I loved- one special New Year’s Eve, one special Valentines-something... anything. And as each holiday approached I would be more and more anxious because I didn’t have someone to spend it with. I have never spent Valentine’s with someone I love. This year, far away from home, I forgot about Valentine’s day. Hence the lateness of this post.
[Ed. Note- you were lazy.]
 (Author’s note: I was trying to be ironic.)
[Ed. Note-see previous]
(Author’s note: Ok, yes, yes I was.)

Ahem, I forgot about Valentine’s day this year. I forgot, because for once, there was no media pressure to be with someone you love. There was no social pressure to not be alone. Valentine’s day is different around the world. Here in Japan, women give giri chocco or “obligation” chocolate to men- bosses, male friends, etc. If they actually like you, they may give “love” chocolate- homemade, as opposed to the store crap they gave to their office mates. (oops, I mean pre-made, non crap chocolate... oh forget it, it’s totally crap. ) The point is- it’s a gesture of appreciation. In a society where everyone, works to keep the community in harmony, it's expected that you give. So people do. (Note, by the way, I said women give men. Women get presents on White Day in return in Japan- so all those complaining about giving expensive gifts to women and getting nothing in return- stuff it. And any one who mentions BJ day is just tacky. [don’t know what BJ day is? –look it up, I just said it was tacky.]) So, people are expected to give, and they do. Is that such a bad idea? People are expected to show that they appreciate you and what you do for them- sounds good to me. But maybe we should seriously consider not bitching about Valentines and just making it a daily expectation that we will be kinder and more considerate to others. I know I would be willing to by a card and some flowers for the guy who opens doors for me, or gives me that taxi instead of stealing it, or just adds extra foam to my cafĂ© latte. No one has to do it, but a little civility certainly makes the world more....civil. A nicer place to live and love in. Maybe a whole new line of greeting cards is just waiting to be sold.

“Thanks for not being an ass in the DMV line. I appreciated it.”

“Thanks for disciplining your kid in the grocery store,
and not letting her throw a tantrum on the floor.
Best Wishes.”

“Thanks for not being the Eeyore coworker
no one wants to hang out with
because you complain about everything.
You rock!”

“I just want to say.... You don’t suck.
Thanks for being you!”*

*Call me, Hallmark!

Ok, maybe not my best work. But the general principle is still a good one. Appreciate each other every day. Know that the someone special you’ve been hoping to spend that special day with is already here, and so is the day. Enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with having chocolate for a special occasion- and every day is a special occasion. If you’re complaining about love, you’re not being loving. Shut your mouth and open your heart and things will change. Give somebody a little love every day- and not “obligation” love, but the real thing. And don’t forget-be sure to give some to yourself.

I forgot Valentine’s day this year, but I wasn’t forgotten. Thanks to everyone who sent me a little bit of love, when I wasn’t looking. I just want to say....

“You don’t suck.
In fact, you totally rock.
Thanks for being you!”*

*see, it could work!

Happy (post) V-day, everyone

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Laugh and the World Laughs With You, Cry and You Cry Alone, Tell the World to F*ck Off, and You're A Rock Star

He who dies with the most toys, still dies. 
He who dies with the most friends, lives forever.

Take a lesson from the Seven Principles of Highly Effective People-only not. I recently found a great website called the “Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun”- just when I needed it. While life abroad is by its nature challenging, that does not mean it's all fun and games. Flouting the rules of another culture is a good way to gain first hand experience with the local prison system. (Remind me to tell you later about my visit with the Japanese po-po on a lonely road at one in the morning. No, not now-later!) Since I can't flout any local rules, which is, face it, half the fun in living in another culture, I had to find a way to have fun without getting arrested, eating myself into a coma or terrorizing small children- which extremely limited my options, since two of those three things I am extremely good at. But, thank goodness for friends who are extremely dedicated to getting me to make a fool of myself-- all for my own good, of course. In the course of my time abroad I have been coerced into dancing on a mountain, lying to innocent bar owners for free drinks, going up a mountain - in the dark, and staring at statues of kappas (little river spirits) who were, to say the least, grossly endowed. Oh, and I got to throw beans at my co-teacher during Setsubon- (I'll explain later. No, really, I will…later.) Fun is where you make it - and is extremely important for our health and well being. The ability to play, to laugh, and to enjoy life is a privilege....and a right. But there have been many times in my life, when I have felt like I didn't deserve to have fun- or when I wanted to, didn't know how. To be liberated requires that we not care about image- a paradoxical situation that can be strangling for many, since we are trained by the media, and society to care about our images, almost from birth. How else will you know the playas from the preps, the stoners from the emos? Even those who ostentatiously ignore it, are still paying attention-otherwise, how would they know which trend to disdain next?
To play like a kid again is something that most of us will never have - we have too many worries, concerns, and fears. (Oh, it's just me, is it? Whaaatever, people. I know better.) One of my greatest memories is of biking up and down my street one golden summer for hours. Nothing to do, no deadlines, no chores. (Ok- it felt kind of boring at the time, but God, what I would give to have that day back now. Wrote a poem about it. Like to hear it? Heah it goes. –anybody here an “In Living Color” fan? No? “sigh”)
At any rate, being able to play is not about being childish, so much as being able to be innocent (and if you think all children are innocent, let me introduce you to a couple of my former students- woo!)
To play tag and be able to participate in life without a goal, which means no winners….or losers. To move freely without rules- or at least rules that can be changed to fit the game, rather than being completely rigid. (Ever try playing street ball with two players…or fifteen?) To be with other human beings without judgment- other than, “It’s my turn!”or “You’re out!” Remember when we used to let the little kids, the dog, the cat, and the kid with the limp play wherever they wanted- without having to be told we should be “inclusive” or be politically correct about it? (I’m gonna get busted for comparing the kid with the limp to the cat, aren’t I?)
Play is the highest accomplishment we, as humans, can achieve. Because when we are playing we don’t hurt anyone, including ourselves- we make others happy, including ourselves. We breathe deeply, and smile fully, and we don’t think-we just are. Learn to play today- play with your kids, kittens, on the slide, on the swings, with your partner (there is nothing so fun and  loving as actually playing with someone you love in bed- not sex, just pillow fighting, tickling, giggling..after that, sex is just the icing on the cake.)
Laugh. Play hard, and often, with everyone you can. Tell the world you've "gone fishin" and won't be back until you catch the big one. Blow soap bubbles, fly kites, and kick your feet in the sand. Do all that and more....and when you come to the end of the line, you’ll be able to say with a smile “I win.”

" Unless each day can be looked back upon by an individual as one in which he has had some fun, some joy, some real satisfaction, that day is a loss."

Check out The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun for a good time!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Take My Advice or DIY: How to Live Life and Influence People

Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.
Dance like it hurts. Love like you need money. Work when people are watching."

Hey, makes as much sense as anything else, right? The best advice I’ve ever been given has come from books, not people. That’s right. I learned about sex from Danielle Steele books, and romance from Piers Anthony, a fantasy writer. Title? The Color of Her Panties- 1992. (“rolling eyes” Oh, don’t look so shocked!) It’s a magical fantasy book about a boy and girl who fall in love in another world where magic really exists- particularly the magical ability of the sight of girl panties to freeze a guy’s brains. See- real life advice right there in fantasy writing. All Steele ever taught me was to expect massive orgasms whenever grotesquely over-muscled men swept me into their arms. Since this has never happened, I conclude that so-called “romance” books have no basis in reality. Oh, and also the sky is blue. (Talk about obvious generalities.) Still, it did teach me what to look for in the guy I really wanted- honesty, desire, and love. Even if it was overblown chick lit, it still told me I deserved a hero. Books, music, movies-media in general, have taught me some of the greatest and most necessary lessons I’ve ever learned. In good books, the hero isn’t just the muscle head- sometimes he’s the villain,the guy who does all the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s all about perspective. The blues taught me about how love can break a heart, without me having to experiment with my own. Movies made me feel swept up in emotion and action- a feeling I have had less luck re-enacting in my own life. (Which is why movie tickets are still a large part of my monthly budget.) Romances told me stories of smart, beautiful women and the smart, handsome men who loved them. Fantasy taught me to dream- and that evil can always- must always- be defeated, no matter the cost. Poetry showed me the beauty of other people’s thoughts and encouraged me to think my own unique ones-- and share them. I honestly believe that I am a better, more moral person than I might otherwise have been because of what I was exposed to as a child. This is one of the reasons I became a librarian, and a teacher (there are other more unsavory ones, but I won't get into those here)- and tried to be a good role model (mostly by hiding every one of my “normal activities from my students and acting like an ice queen-then I realized it was better they learn from my mistakes than make dangerous new ones of their own. I shared some stories and heard some hair raising ones in return. Oh parents, parents, you know not what your kids do!)
I wanted to give them the advice that had made a difference in my life, and hoped that they would use in turn to become better people. And like all good advice it came out sounding like a sound bite- and like all good advizees(sp?), few of them listened. But the few who did, I steadfastly believe, are better for it.

 Advice, cliches, and truisms are all encapsulated wisdom- but few are the wise and many are the ignorant who all believe that they deserve equal (and in the case of politicians-more than equal) say. I don’t want to "word" the world to death. I just want a few wise people in charge to make sure it goes on. ( And make sure those old people’s homes are in good shape when I come to my gum-smacking years.) So a little real advice for the few who are readers ( and therefore, probably don't need it. Oh, well.)

 Live life, 
read lots, 
eat well, 
love better,
 smile often, 
sleep late, 
but don’t miss sunrises or sunsets, 
play with butterflies, kids and kittens, 
and when in the mood with each other.
 Keep your powder dry, and your horse too 
and always check the chamber of a gun. 
Laugh easily, forgive easily, but don’t forget; 
a snake with its head cut off can still bite.
 Enjoy nature, but respect it.
 Enjoy women (and men), but respect them. 
Love all who will let you and even those who won’t – 
they need it more than you think… and so do you. 
Live well, die well, but not before your time. 
 And don’t forget your sunscreen or a towel.*

And even though I know you don’t hear me now, 
like all mothers,
 literal and metaphorical-
believe me
 you really will thank me for it later.

*Thanks to Douglas Adams!

For some good advice I wish I had gotten in high school- check out Advice to Live By on Youtube
(Yeah, I probably still wouldn't have listened. C'est la vie!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Greatest of These Is Love

“Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self –seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It protects always, trust always, hopes always, perseveres always.”

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

God’struth - love is pushy, bossy, cruel.

You can’t slap it away or turn your back.

it buzzes in your ears,

and if you land a hit,

you find your hands covered in a stinking residue.

It won’t wash away.

Love is envious- a greedy bitch who needs an audience-

even if it’s one lonely clapper in the stands- the one who lingers on

long after every one else is gone.

Love boasts- I came, I saw, I conquered

and in the dust that remains,

your remains have been trodden.

The dust cloaks my throat,

jus gi’ me a cool drink of water befo I dieee

Love is rude,

smack talkin,

lip tossing,

hip throwing them bows- hit you dead center,

white hot lightning in your bones

turns you to dust

Love rages,

destroys your peace,

Kali dancing, flays your skin,

leaving you exposed

Love leaves its mark both hidden and not,

 the knot in your tongue, in your heart, in your throat

If you choke on love, will you rise again?

It’s such a heavy weight

Love lies  in other’s eyes

It looks so real but so does fool’s gold

Are you such a fool to believe?

Love leaves you bare,

hopes exposed to jeers ,

trust – broken shards beneath your knees,

will you crawl?

Love is the only thing we yearn for endlessly,

‘cause love makes fools of us all

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dream Deferred or Dream A Little Dream Of Me

When I was young I used to dream about boys. (Oh, stop it. So did you...or maybe not? Ooh, tell Aunt Dee all!) Ahem, I used to dream about boys- my first kiss, my wedding, my first house. Somehow I skipped all of the relationship stuff in between the kiss and the wedding, and the house. And too often, the dream guy in my dream was either faceless, or some celebrity... and once, Will Smith. (That’s right, Will Smith. Look at that man and tell me the Fresh Prince didn’t grow up fiiine!) But I never dreamed about boys I knew and I never dreamed about what a real relationship, let alone marriage would be like. When you’re young they sell you dreams about happy endings- (Oh, who’s they? You know, the ubiquitous “they”- corporations, advertising execs, Disney.) You sing songs about how “One day, your prince will come.” It wasn’t until I got to high school that I learned what kissing really entails, and what comes after-(first of all, did anyone of us really like the idea of French kissing when we first heard it? Or saw it? Remember that couple in the corner whose tongues were constantly in each other’s mouths? Ewww. But, to be honest, still somewhat fascinating- in a can’t help staring at a car accident kind of way. ) Anyway, first comes the kiss, then comes...well, what follows naturally. (You out there, Mom? No? Okay. ) Sex. Sex, sex, sex. There. I said it. (Still no Mom, right? ) While I didn’t indulge in high school, I certainly got an education about sex- mainly because that’s what high school is for after all. To get information about the opposite sex. We’re not there to get an actual education- My god! I mean, have you been in a high school recently- or ever? These are not institutions, in the main, which are dedicated to the uplifting of the human race. They are in fact, well kept (well, some of them- get me started on that rant later) prisons where hormonally crazed wild animals roam the halls. You can force them to sit in little desks for certain measured periods of time, but no longer. Or they erupt. In some cases, literally. (Don’t ask me about my teenage years- suffice to say I am still traumatized, and scarred. Proactive didn’t exist yet, and the Jheri curl was in. ‘Nuff said.) A person doesn’t learn about love in high school. They learn to lie, to be sneaky- they learn lust, and if they’re not smart (or don’t have smart, and caring parents) they learn regret. In high school my dreams weren’t about love or princes, my dream wedding, my first child. And they haven’t really gotten back to that yet. Intellectually, I know that I want children, that I want a happy marriage, and a happy life. But the truth is I don’t know how that works. I don’t know many happily married couples, so no role models. I don’t know many guys- so no princes. I taught high school, for goodness sakes- so definitely don’t know many happy kids. And if you don’t know it, haven’t seen it- how can you dream about it? I want to see couples who have been married for fifty years. I want to see a man look at his wife in awe- the same way he did when he met her, wooed her, and won her- I want to see that look on his face that says he still can’t believe how lucky he is. I want someone to look at me that way. I want to not have to look at other people’s kids (who, face it , just aren’t that cute. Really) , but have my own perfect, little angels- you know, the kids who are so beautiful, it makes you feel like someone’s squeezing your heart when you look at them, and know that they’re mine. I want a little contentment. I want the perfect wedding and the perfect marriage. (And I really want the right wedding dress. I know, so superficial. But it’s your wedding dress! You only get one- well, you used to only get one. Nowadays....) I want the dream I had when I was twelve- when my prince showed up in my dreams with flowers, and a soft kiss on the cheek. When he held my hand, and that was enough to make me tremble. When I still believed that there was a, the “One”- and I didn’t have to be anything special in order to get him. I didn’t have to chase him, email him, search E-harmony for him or beg friends to set me up with him. (Note- this is for emphasis- I have not and never will ask a friend to set me up. That’s just pathetic. Unless…unless you know someone really nice. Then…I guess it might be alright. Just note- I didn’t ask. You offered. ) I want to go back to dreams where my prince came to me and held my hand and I knew that as long as I had been dreaming about him, he had been dreaming and waiting for me. Maybe it’s time to go back to sleep, back to dreams, and away from soft core porn on Cinemax (no, I do not watch Cinemax, Mom!) – back to romance and away booty calls, and “hook ups”. ( And no, no hook ups either, Mom. Sheesh) Maybe I’ll go back to bed for a little while, and try to find that one dream where someone wonderful took my hand... and never let go. Good night, goodnight sweet prince....I’ll see you in my dreams... I hope.

Check out this sweet video of Dream A Little Dream by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Now that's love. *sighhh*


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