27 September 2005

Screw My Birthday Already, Okay?


I hear tell that the Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays. I'm thinking about becoming a Jehovah's Witness for exactly one day per year: June 27th. I hate my birthday for a myriad reasons, none of which is that I'm getting older. Quite frankly, one thing that I'm truly looking forward to is the day that I'm old enough not to give a rat's ass about anything except whether my oatmeal was hot enough or whether my pansies are blooming. I suppose that it's the proximity of death that makes me imagine that I should be that carefree at an advanced age, and am currently never-minding the fact that I'm probably looking right down the barrels of death every day just like everyone else is. Nevertheless, aging doesn't bother me. Birthdays - actually just my birthday - bothers me.

I was sounding off to my friend Matt about it because he's a big birthday-phobe as well. He hates the fact that it's a day for people to recognize you for no particular reason. He feels, as I do, that you should have done something worthy of recognition in order to be celebrated. The ironic thing is that both of us only feel that way about our own birthday, and not about the birthdays of others. Frankly, attention makes me uncomfortable. Not all attention, mind you, or I wouldn't be writing this to you on what amounts to a giant electronic graffiti wall where everyone can read it. Just that "birthday" kind of attention. Can't quite put my finger on it.

And then the author skips a groove -

But what I was saying about a blog-and-a-half ago, about artists and writers being necessarily nutso-ballo - here is the deal. I realized the other day that rumination is at the heart of every serious mental illness (disregarding those caused by brain malfunction, such as the schizophrenias). And when it comes to rumination, who has it in spades? You got it. Artists and writers. Both types must be able to seize upon an idea and not let it go, turning it over and over in the lathe of the mind until it becomes something meaningful that can be then transferred to another medium. That still does not mean that artists and writers are by necessity going to be nuts. It just means that rumination is a very potent thing, and must be harnessed in order to be used as a tool. Otherwise it can just run rampant and cause all sorts of fun things, like anxiety disorders and bipolarity. Rumination is also kin to obsession, which in small doses can go a long way to driving the "work" part of the creative process. I read today that artists and writers have to be both anal expulsive in order to free their creative process, and anal retentive in order to be able to finish things. That sounds to me like the perfect mental environment for someone who'd like to drive themselves totally nertz, but it does sound true enough given my experience.

And then the author skips back -

Okay, so there's the other thing about birthdays, which is that we all like to be reminded that we are loved or at least thought of fondly, and in the absence of that happening the rest of the year, we formalize an occasion to take care of that basic human need. It is ever so nice to be remembered on one's birthday, and such a drag when one is not. Maybe my big damn hangup is that I didn't have a ninth birthday and I just can't get over it. The day just went by unnoticed. It's very difficult for a child to articulate that he needs to be told that he's loved and appreciated when that's not something that is done. You don't just go around to people and say, "Hey, I'm feeling a little insecure and need to know that I'm liked. Could you throw me a birthday party?"

So what's the cure? Given that I can't go back and give myself a ninth birthday party, nor can I ask anyone to throw me one, the only answer is this: to overcome the need for that kind of validation - to feel okay without it. That's what maturing and being mentally well is after all, isn't it? It's the difference between wanting recognition, which is perfectly healthy, and needing recognition in order to function, which is neurotic. There has to be a way to accomplish that sort of mental self-sufficiency, even considering my history with birthdays. I suppose I should get about figuring out how it's done.

That's good. Now I have something to do, rather than something to ruminate on.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

26 September 2005

In The Mosh Pit With The Dalai Lama

Why is this man smiling? Click on his nose to find out! Posted by Picasa


I can promise you that this epistle will be short, disjointed, and altogether unsatisfying. (Funny, but that's the same way I used to preface evenings out with certain women.) The reasons for this are three in number: 1)A lot has happened since I last wrote, 2) I have a cold and am high on cold drugs, which is as high as I've been since I quit drinking five years ago, and finally 3) I have a cold and am high on cold drugs, which is as high as I've been since I quit drinking five years ago. Now then:

So, yeah, went to Tucson to see His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama at the TCC Arena last weekend. Weezer opened for him. I kid! Actually, it was something far cooler than Weezer. The chiefs of the Yuma tribe led the prayer to the four directions in thier native tongue. It is difficult as a writer to convey the awesome fullness and magnitude of such a simple yet ancient ritual, even when it's being recreated on stage in a thoroughly modern venue. So let's do it this way. Pretend that we're talking and I just said, "I said a prayer to the four directions with the Yuma chiefs", and then hear the sound of my voice die out, and listen to the silence that follows for a full fifteen minutes. That's about the best I can do.

The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, was not so much about reverence as light-heartedness, even to the point where I thought he might break into a vaudeville number. The guy was cutting it up practically the whole time. The highlights: A fly landed on his glasses during his talk, prompting him to start riffing on how bad he must smell because, well, he's a simple monk and he only has the one set of robes that he's been wearing for the past seven days. Later he acted out a story of a time when he was with a religious leader from Africa who got so cold during the conference that he passed out. His Holiness acted out the entire event, including wrapping his own robes around his head like a babushka.

So in short, it was a howling good time. But before the event started, as I was sitting in the mostly-empty arena, I had a strange sort of emotional experience, which I suppose one is wont to do when going on religious pilgramages such as these. I was sitting there in the cool, dark quiet, looking up at an enormous projection of a thangka of Avelokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, and I was suddenly filled with an incredible feeling of gratitude. The strange thing is, that it was gratitude for everything that had happened in my life, good or bad. It suddenly made me understand something that I've often said, which is that the events in your life don't matter, it's how you feel about them that determines your quality of life. And along with that, the sum of the quality of your life isn't determined by what happened to you while you were alive, it is how you felt about it and in turn how you acted on those feelings.

I've believed for some time that I could improve the quality of my life by moderating my interpretation of events, chiefly by getting rid of predilection to label them "good" or "bad". (AndI'm talking about events that concern me directly, and not world events which I have no control over. Gotta start somewhere, so why not in my own back yard?) Anwyay, not that I'm up for lama-hood or anything, but it reminds me of a bio of a lama that I read about who spent ten years in a cave and ate nothing but nettles. He knew he was "getting it" so to speak when he took a header out the doorway one day and banged his noggin on a rock, and instead of being caught up in the physical pain, was suddenly grateful for that opportunity for enlightenment. Incidentally, this lama sat two seats over from me when I went to see the Dalai Lama in San Francisco a couple of years back. I had no idea whatsoever to say to him after "namaste", because hey, what the hell do you say to someone like that? "How's that enlightenment thing working out for you? Got any good nettle recipes?"

So yeah, that was it. For a brief moment I got to see my entire past - which up to that point I had viewed as something to recover from - as a gift and an opportunity. I'm hoping that's something I'll be able to put to good use from here forward.

I suppose I could write more about it but I'm not gonna right now. I'm going to view my head cold as a wonderful opportunity to get a short preview of mahat samadhi through taking a wee nap.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.