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Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Open Letter to a Higher Power

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To whom it may concern:

Adoring life, it’s fitting to remind oneself that it’s all worth it. As I peruse this big bad beautiful world from my lowly perch, I’m compelled to hand out a heavy dose of grazie. It’s hard to rate life, because it is what it is, yet at the same time it’s more than we have any right to expect.

Thank you for the richness of aesthetics, much of which we take for granted. A simple delicate cloud wisp in the sky, that remarkable canvas that’s painted over daily. Simple, yet divinely awe-inspiring.

Thank you for the world of art, where we explore the outer reaches of our selves and discover more than we presumed.

Thank you for colors themselves. For green in particular, and how comforting it feels to look at lush grass and thick bunches of trees. For the fiery orange horizon at sunset. For dense, shiny brown hair that glistens. For the elegant skin which houses our being, for white on black in the starry night, for light blue frilly dresses. For a gallant purple tint which is somewhat of an afterthought, but pleases in its own way.

Thank you for a wide array of spectacular, blossoming flowers, which would have no earthly business being in a purely naturalistic existence for anyone to enjoy in such a manner.

Grateful for all the times you subtly intervene, and for all the times you don’t. For letting us stumble and meeting pain face to face, and realizing that it’s not permanent. For falling down and being lifted up again. For crying out of agony, and then crying for utter joy. For smiles that brighten all existence and permeate our memories when all else is stripped away.

Thank you for putting me in circumstances you did. Someone knew what was needed better than I, and it couldn’t have been picked out better myself. In fact, I sadly would have missed a lot of unsuspecting pathways. I’ve learned incessantly to defer in these matters. Second-guessing universal authorities is so unbecoming of us, after all.

I’m thankful for doubt and confusion during mortality, to incite me to work harder to find answers, and to also realize that many things aren’t meant to be understood as it’s going on. You better believe that I do, however, want someday to be right on the front row when this is all explained though. And I’m buying that ticket right now.

Thanks for the imperfections, letting us know that life can still be great despite bumps along the way, that a painting can have flaws and still be immaculate. For measuring by effort and desire, instead of by abilities and outcomes.

Thank you for such penetrating music, that winds its way into our very core and speaks to that inner being in its own melodic fashion. Life is a long song, and let’s all join in. Thank you for poetic verse and the people who know how to create it most eloquently. They decorate the language and enrich our communication. Thank you for putting the likes of Shakespeare in a place for him to emerge as he did, and make literature all the better.

Thank you for precious babies, who bring heaven with them down to earth, and emanate this aura so we can’t help but be mesmerized by its effects. Thank you for innocent little children, whose wonder is contagious. For their boundless drive, their striving to learn, their unqualified genuineness, their patently cute faces, their soft cheeks, and for how they look when napping.

Thank you for smells, which bring such pleasing sensations into our minds, developing a mood or triggering our memories in vivid detail.

Thank you for our ability to reason, to analyze, to use intuition, to make judgments, to have preferences and tastes. To be able to process mathematically, logically, intellectually, instinctively, emotionally and spiritually.

Thank you for the vast array of foods, and all the ways they can be prepared. For bacon, no doubt. For succulently ripened summer peaches drenched voluptuously in milk and sugar, just begging to be consumed. For wondrous melted cheese on any respectable entrée. And to the entire delightful realm of cheesedom. For jerky. For smoked salmon. For homemade bread and luscious butter. Ahhhhh! For grilled chicken that sings to our palates. For cashews. For blackberries picked fresh off the bush. For cinnamon rolls. For glorious unnamed spices that make our taste buds dance the marimba. And for chocolate… Mm-mmm. Chocolate, that is the clincher. You really outdid yourself there. Additionally, someone wise once said that ice cream was your apology for cold, and if that’s true, apology accepted.

Thank you for that blissfully refreshing respite known as sleep, at night or as cozy, heavy-breathing napfests. To escape for a time into dreamland and let go, floating in slow motion at the end of a suspended rope where no care can go or wish to subsist, all the while making perfect, lovely sense.

Thank you for sight itself, for which many other things would not be possible. To look even upon a pile of garbage is actually a wonderful thing in its own right.

Thank you for the touch of a hand to heal, the irreplaceable nonverbal tactile assurance that helps you know that everything is going be fine. A stroke on the cheek. A pat on the back. A head on the shoulder.

Thank you for comforting voices, for soft whispers, for soothing laughs. For lilts in speech, for accents, for manners of elocution, for the signature sound left by each individual. For idiosyncrasies, for unique attributes, for personalities.

Thank you for opposites. For coldness so we can appreciate the warmth. For heat so we can appreciate the coolness. For darkness so we can appreciate the light. For anger so we can appreciate the kindness. For sharks so we can appreciate the dolphin, for pigs so we can appreciate the gazelle. For chaos so we can appreciate the calm. For fear so we can appreciate security. For illness so we can appreciate health. For loneliness so we can appreciate companionship. For exhaustion so we can appreciation rest. And for the rascals so we can appreciate the genuine articles.

Thank you for giving me arms and legs to ambulate and let me interact with the world. For being able to move and feel motion, to sense progression and arrival to a goal.

Thank you for the grace of a horse running in a field, for migrating ducks speckled across the vast atmosphere, for the splendor of a sandy beachfront setting with cascading waves kissing the shore, for waterfalls, for sparkling, stunning, scintillating rainbows, for varied gems and precious metals, for water, for air, for breath.

Thank you for the excitement of surprises. For the variety in life. For life’s seasonal miracles… the solemnity of a fall morning, a gentle summer breeze in the shade, or snowflakes silently making their descent to the whitened ground below.

Thank you for giving us each an intricate mind, with the curious potential to ponder past its limits, with the ability to simultaneously consider the cosmos as well as the atomic scale, and then the deep philosophies regarding the very essence of being.

For the mystery of time, of gravity, and of the DNA imprint. For the thousands of ways to have a hobby. For endorphins in copious quantities. For inside jokes and their accompanying smirks. For three-year-olds falling asleep in your arms.

Thank you for the pitter-patter of rain, the most blissful and cleansing of all weather, as a rainy day is that occasion when the soul can expand to join with the sky. To be drenched in the profound ecstasy of wet.

Thank you for the pastoral nature of baseball, the grace of its movements, its majestic parks, for the sound of wood on horsehide, for mammoth drives into the nether regions. For having a catch.

Thank you for chess, which managed to avoid the extraneous human machinations and remain pure.

Thank you for the wonderful aspect of funniness, which can tickle us into submission and help us internalize that in life, though ultimately serious, can be garnered plentiful instances of mirth to temper any festering doldrums through using that glorious sixth sense of humor.

For wiggle room, gray areas, uncertainty, ambiguity, limbo, fogginess, margins, and cushions.

For challenges, for tests of will, for struggles, for hard work, for lofty aims to shoot for. For energy, for inspiration, for motivation, for comfort, for peace.

Thank you for putting me in this time, this place, and amongst all these flawed individuals with whom I fit in so perfectly. Our stewardships are curious things as they all intertwine. Thank you for those you can trust and depend on as if they were your own self. These are without price and defy description, truly encompassing all that is.

Thank you for the strong bonds of family, who bring us greater identity, who can be there when all else is lost, and who can transcend distractions of the world and the bands of death.

Thank you lastly for love, a manifestation of the infinite worth of souls and of the incomprehensible glory of life which you have made and have chosen to share with us.

Miracles? What miracles? This is all commonplace, right? I digress, and look up for direction.

I spell out the words upon each movement. My life — it’s my thanks, and every breath I live it is to further express it.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Don't Knock it Till You've Rung the Bell

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(Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the content of this blog post. Some guy in New Jersey has graciously taken it upon himself to assume all liabilities and serve prison time for me. In exchange, I housesit his cat every other weekend.)

Digging deep into the recesses of sociological intrigue, a strong argument is made that etiquette is no more than common sense that sometimes gets out of hand. After cutting the cord, we find that we can figure out etiquette on our own. Plus, it's generally advisable not to trust any systems which end in -ette anyway. Wiser people learned that nugget a handful of centuries ago. -ette, coming from the latin root of "to adorn; fabricate," spells trouble for most any word it accentuates.

That is all to say in a most roundabout way that prescribed handbooks written by people named Manners won't add insight to inquiries such as this, and might even bring with them a level bias tinged with excessive sophistication, rendering the effects too great to be meaningful. So, like a good feline knows, it's just better to start from scratch and use the noggin you were entrusted with.

What has piqued my curiosity in this case is the optimal number of knocks at someone's doorstep. Dylan penned his own personal take, and gave it the knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door, although that may have simply been out of convenience for meter and verse. He was known to be a stickler about that too. Some people, what are you going to do with them?

The scholar will take note that Dylan also asked the perennial question of how many times, and like any good poet, he concluded that the answer was blowin' in the wind, so we'll have to look a little harder to uncover something more concise.

At the outset, it's apropos to mention that if you're one of those select people who bangs loudly on a door seven or eight times, you've really got to seek help. You're not the brute squad. It's not necessary to cave in my walls to get me to come to the door. Memo: We hear you. The people down the street hear you. Saskatchewan hears you. Not to mention you woke up all my termites. Ease up a little, eh?

The purpose of the knock is to alert the inhabitants of a home that someone is at the door and wishes to come in. It is not, however, to scare the inhabitants clean out of their scivvies. Highly audible and rapid knocks are rather intimidating to dwellers who otherwise feel safe within the confines of their home. When you go and play the bongos with their front door, you're encroaching on their space, and so any intrusion should be done more respectfully and discreetly.

Naturally, soft taps will not get the job done. And one or two knocks would be too easily confused with other sounds. You can't believe in knock-knock jokes to provide the answers either. Those jokes are so unrealistic to begin with. I'm skeptical that they truly tested the two-knock procedure, and it hasn't been peer reviewed.

Instead, it's the successive distinctive sounds that will announce your arrival. We can find a balance. Too many an eager salesperson ruins the sale before the door is ever opened because their adrenaline taken out on your knobholder makes it sound like there's about to be a drug bust. Anything with more than five knocks should be followed by "You're under arrest."

I think we can narrow it down further and reach an ideal amount of knocks. The question is thus: at what point does the human psyche cross over from "Oh, there's someone here" to "Who's that maniacal banshee on my porch?" I would suggest that even five raps on the door is excessive. That fifth knock sounds too much like you're playing Chicago's 25 Or 6 To 4, at which point it becomes so derivative. A knock that isn't original isn't really a knock.

Perhaps we need to consult the Book of Armaments for further enlightenment...

Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9 to 21...
‘First shalt thou approach the Holy Door. Then, shalt thou count to three. No more. No less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then waitest thou for thy host to respond.’

So it almost sounds like Armaments is alluding to something somewhere in the realm of three, if I'm not mistaken. It may require a more detailed interpretation before we fully uncover it though. But that would be simple yet effective. A truly minimalist approach. No need to expend more energy than a triad of taps.

I understand there will be many progressives out there who will insist that anything less than four knocks would be insufficient. I'm not here to argue with these people. They have their own radical worldview, and we'll just have to disagree to agree on this matter.

The best salespeople have always realized that a three-knock method causes curiosity in the listener, and then they want to know what comes next. But with four or more knocks, they've already heard everything they need to hear. This lesson has been continually taught in the school of hard knocks, but we find that not everyone learns it.

Even more sadly, many people have taken the big bad wolf story way too seriously, feeling compelled to act out childhood fairy tales. If they would only remember that knocking louder and longer doesn't increase the chances you'll be invited inside. The point of diminishing returns seems to be at about the sixth repetitious knock. And highly audible knocks can make people more fearful of answering the door. Peak performance is a three-pronged approach, though. Four puts an unneeded exclamation on it, and five will get the RIAA lawyers after you for infringement.

The prudent will play it safe and stick to the basics. We complicate so many things in life, and this is just one more indication of that phenomenon. Resist door rage, and go for the trifecta. You'll notice a change in your demeanor, and the people you visit will appreciate you more for it. Be three dimensional for once. You may find it suits you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

James and the Giant Teach

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OBAMA: As each of you are finding your seats, I’d like to welcome you to the first annual Foot-in-Mouth Beer Summit at the White House, because as we know, beer washes away all our troubles, and we’ve got a lot to wash away here. Sgt. Crowley, if you could take this seat on my right and Professor Gates, if you wouldn’t mind sitting across from me so that we don’t get one race all on one side of the table, that would be lovely. Also joining us is my esteemed vice president from the great state of Delaware, the venerable Joseph R. Biden.

BIDEN: Welcome, gentlemen. We’re glad you could join us. There’s nothing too important on the nation’s agenda that can’t be pushed back another day for a friendly photo-op between rivaling colleagues who hate each other’s guts with a passion. Prof. Gates, this strategic move should jettison your publishing career greatly, I would assume. And Sgt. Crowley, at least you get your 15 minutes of fame. Suck it all in, my friend.

CROWLEY: Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best.

OBAMA: I’d like to introduce our two parties… I’m previously acquainted with Prof. Gates from my days at Harvard. Prof. Gates, this is Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge Police Dept.

GATES: Pleased to make your acquaintance. Hope I’m not causing too much of a commotion for you here. I can whisper if it makes you more comfortable.

CROWLEY: Good to meet you, Mr. Gates. And you look different without the cuffs, I might add.

OBAMA: All right… gentlemen, we’d like each of you to order beers from overseas suppliers, which will hopefully serve to spur foreign trade. Choose very wisely, as this will affect market trends for years to come. No pressure... Mr. Crowley, what can we get you?

CROWLEY: I endorse Blue Moon. I mean, I’ll have a Blue Moon.

OBAMA: Mr. Gates?

GATES: I have a deal with Red Stripe.

OBAMA: Excellent. And Joe?

BIDEN: I don’t want to turn into a Kennedy, so just give me a near beer… you sorry bunch of excuses for alcoholics. I hope your livers rot while you play out your final years in an old folks home regretting you ever imbibed.

OBAMA: OK, and for me, I’d like a Bud Light, so as not to give the impression that I overindulge. As we know, drinking light is drinking responsibly. Mr. Press Secretary, could you get those from the Presidential Wet Bar? Thank you ever so kindly.

OBAMA: Now, there’s been a lot of furor over this incident you two were involved in, and the subsequent comments. It seems we’ve all gotten ourselves in a little bit of a mess here, and coming together will hopefully serve to heal the wounds that it’s opened. Are there any questions up front?

CROWLEY: Mr. President, if I may, why did you say I behaved stupidly, and you haven’t apologized for saying that?

OBAMA: Now, Sgt. Crowley… you must realize that my comments were somehow improperly calibrated.

CROWLEY: Tell me when you’re going to use English here, sir.

BIDEN: Don’t get uptight there, little man. I snuff you under my thumb if I choose to.

GATES: And that’s racist, implying the President doesn’t speak English.

OBAMA: To clarify, I didn’t mean stupidly in the sense of someone being stupid, or even behaving stupid, but of encroaching ever-so-lightly upon the stupid milieu, if you will. Also notice that I said the department ‘acted’ stupidly. I meant they were acting out a role, but it wasn’t in their true character.

CROWLEY: What does any of that mean?

OBAMA: Never you mind. Let’s just absorb the aura of it and not make it any more specific than it needs to be. It was nothing personal against you, James.

CROWLEY: Even though I’m the one who arrested him.

OBAMA: Yes, but it was the police collective who acted within the realm of stupidity, not you in particular. There were a lot of officers involved in the stupidness. I didn’t want to make this about one person. I just wanted to take a jab at law enforcement officials in general. Can’t you see the difference? Maybe if you’d gone to Harvard like us, you’d understand.

CROWLEY: I think I may need another beer.

GATES: Notice who’s drinking the most here. Just an observation.

OBAMA: So James, if I may be so bold to ask, what were you thinking when you arrested this man?

CROWLEY: I was simply going according to standard procedure, sir. It had nothing to do with his race.

OBAMA: Yeah, but don’t you see all the flap this caused? Next time, could you please tone it down? Understand that he’s my friend, sergeant. It makes me look bad when my friends get into trouble all the time. I do have friends who are good citizens, and I’m trying my darnedest to locate them.

CROWLEY: Sir, if I may, the situation was escalated by Mr. Gates’ tirade. Don’t you think he is the one who should have toned it down?

GATES: I’m a Harvard professor, son. I have more citations than you could ever hope to sneeze at.

OBAMA: Now, now, gentlemen... Let’s keep this civil.

GATES: The Civil War was about slavery.

OBAMA: How am I supposed to convince this country that I can bring people together if I can’t smooth over a situation with a couple of chums sharing an adult beverage? Now, to be sure, there were overreactions in this whole incident.

CROWLEY: That’s the closest you’ll come to saying your friend was out of line. For heaven sakes, he said ‘yo mama’ to me... What if I said ‘yo mama’ to you?

OBAMA: Now, Mr. Crowley, don’t irritate me.

BIDEN: We could sweep you across the floor faster than a Swiffer.

OBAMA: All right, the media is watching us closely. Let’s do something cordial, maybe bringing our mugs together for a toast.

BIDEN: To alabaster marigolds in the springtime... May we and they blossom in harmonized convergence... Ah, nothing like marigolds. (sighs)

OBAMA: Joe, don’t you have a briefing to go to, or to get your cholesterol checked?

BIDEN: I don’t think so, why? Is today Thursday again? Dang, I hate when that happens.

OBAMA: All right, everybody chuckle like we’re getting along famously.

ALL: (laughs)

GATES: What a bunch of crock.

OBAMA: Hey, Joe, we look pretty cool with our shirt sleeves rolled up, don’t you think? We look like regular guys...

BIDEN: I like it. We’re real dudes, if you ask me. I think this will help us get the listless barefoot walker on the beach vote in 2012. Brilliant move, sir.

CROWLEY: Hey, did you notice our beers are called different colors?

GATES: That’s racist.

CROWLEY: Oh yeah? Hey, anybody in Cambridge want to break into his home now, he ain’t there, and his keys are under the plant on the porch. Take everything you want. The police will probably show up in, oh, a couple hours or so. No big rush.

GATES: Why, you ignorant...

(The cameras are cut as Gates and Crowley wrestle each other to the ground, their chairs toppling on the White House lawn, a moment to be later characterized as 'agreeing to disagree.')

OBAMA: OK, this is over now. Thank you all for coming, and mending the tension between us all in a truly teaching moment...

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