Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Necessity of Meaning

I’m the sole arbiter of meaning in my life.  My life is meaningful because I get out of bed each morning and choose it be so. That doesn’t mean it’s simple.  Choice is important, but my choices still leave a lot unaccounted for. Creating meaning is hard work and some days I lose the battle for meaning and fall into a dark existential slump.  If I wish to face the stark reality of probability life is contingent and mindless contingency is no flatterer of human ego.  Reality: there may be no special plan for me. I still affirm life.
The universe or God may not give two-shits that I exist. Maybe there is no sentience outside of us little marginally self-aware beings - two-legged, four-legged, winged, finned and tentacled, and the universe just happens to exist for reasons we can’t quite grapple with yet or ever. We may never know. Just because we feel that there must be a reason for “all of this” doesn’t mean there is. It doesn’t mean there isn’t either.  I choose to see a reason. Therefore I need to create meaning. If that seems artificial to you I don’t know what to tell you.
I’m a human being. I see patterns and assume intelligence is behind them. I see significance in correlatable, but random events. My self-importance spurs me to believe that I’m the center of the universe even as I recognize the egoism of that belief. Logic and reason is great and beautiful. I choose to live by what I call the light of reason as often as it is humanly possible for a man of my limited intellect.  I still need the daemons and the ghosts of my ancestors whirling around me in the midst of the night watch. I have to believe that there is a power greater than myself watching over me even if that isn’t true…most likely not true at all.
I’m also a being of great emotions. Logic and critical thinking are not always enough. I need magic and miracles: give me liturgy, psalms, poetry and great works of art and literature. Encode the working of my subconscious in archetypes and psychodrama. I love symbols. Give me Christ on a cracker – literally – and a small sip of wine.  I love scripture.  I love sacrament. Some days I choose mysticism over logic. The pull of the irrational unknown is unbearable at times.
Perhaps, these yearnings are simply the testament to the power of indoctrination. The Jesuits had a motto that read, give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man. I was indoctrinated young with catechism classes starting in kindergarten.  Indoctrination is not necessarily brainwashing if you teach critical thinking skills. Dogmatic thinking seems rather dangerous to me. I struggle against this perverse, soul killing rigidity within myself daily  I can’t shake this feeling that the world is being stomped to death under the jackboots of “isms” and “ologies” including the ones I hold dear – maybe, especially the ones I hold dear because these are the ones that I might be able to do something about.
I understand the principal that says that what I deem significant or portentous is often just the current direction of my attention. I always think of the very first brand new car I bought – a red Nissan Sentra. I’d never noticed Sentras before, but suddenly everyone was driving them.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An Agnostic "Faithing" Enterprise

The problem with discussing ideas of faith is that the word itself seems horribly disfigured by its association with rigidly fundamentalist religious beliefs.  I’m a natural born skeptic and I take an agnostic worldview. Some days I lean heavily on the atheistic side and others I tend toward a vaguely theistic.  Wherever, I happen to be – just ask what day of the week it is – my view is colored by a delusional sense of pantheism that pushes me to leap, whirl and sing psalms like a tone deaf cantor. I refuse any sense of stalwartly unmovable materialism.

 I suffer depression and anxiety and at the same time I find a deep joy in being alive.  I will be reduced to ashes soon enough. I might as well see how the adventure turns out.  Yes, I might be a nuttier than a fruitcake – there are no clichés when dealing with my mental health – but, faith is the way I cultivate hope that all of “this” actually means something and that even though the future is largely uncertain and unknowable the experience is worth it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Life just assaults you that way sometimes

Socrates added a tablespoon of heavy cream to his bowl of oatmeal. The warm mush was already overburdened with brown sugar and blueberries. He loved a warm breakfast that assaulted his tongue with the duality of the sweet and sour of sugar and berry. The erstwhile philosopher brought a heavily loaded tablespoon to his mouth, blew on it gingerly and slowly slurped the mush off.

“Oh my fucking god,” he said. “I love a big bowl of Quaker Oats in the morning.”

He loaded up his spoon and repeated his breakfast orgy.

“I could happily spend the rest of my life being a Quaker.”

Br. Ezra shook his head. “You realize that the Religious Society of Friends had nothing to do with Quaker Oats. It was a marketing gimmick designed to make people trust the cereal and think it wholesome.

“Well, I’m not really a pacifist either,” Socrates replied. “Sometimes I think violence is a necessary catalyst to affect social change.”

Br. Ezra blinked rapidly like a punch drunk pugilist. Life just assaults you that way sometimes.

“I’m just saying is all.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Potato Theology: May the Tot of Gott of Be With You

Gott is tot is German for God is dead. It is not, as I previously thought, God is a tater tot. I would have been okay with that too. Who doesn’t enjoy a pile of warm, golden tots fresh out of the oven?  I think Jesus would have approved of tater tots.

If the Supreme Being were a tater tot or if the tot was, at least part of the Holy Trinity I would have enjoyed mass a whole lot more. Let’s say all things being equal that the tot was Jesus as the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity. We’d not want to equate it with the Holy Spirit. The Great Tot himself told his followers that mocking the Holy Spirit was the only sin that was unforgiveable.  Establishing the tot as the 3rd person of the trinity seems like mockery to me. The son of man was okay with a little good natured ribbing. The Holy Spirit is an invisible whiny bitch that runs home to tell daddy on you.

Now that this is settled we can extrapolate further that Jesus’ golden potato-ey goodness would have inspired this lapsed Catholic. Going to communion would truly be the high point of the liturgy, not just the magical, symbolic high point (please don’t get me started on the intellectual folly of transubstantiation).
“This is the crispy golden potato of Christ.”

“Ay-fucking-men Padre,” would be the response, “Pop that tasty tot in my mouth.”
I just texted a friend and asked her if she thought Jesus would have been a mayo or a ketchup man. Being a good Lutheran – also lapsed – from Middle America she prefers to keep her beliefs close to her chest so as to not offend.  I think Midwest Lutherans may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth. However, that was before they closed all the factories and sent jobs overseas.

“I think his preference would be mixed,” She said, “He’d not want to discriminate against any particular condiment.”

True methinks

“Jesus would also have no problem with same condiment marriage either,” I said.


Well…I’m not sure where he’d fall on Thousand Islands. That dressing has higher carb content from sugar than many other dressings and it also looks a little like barf.


As a senior in high school I worked the grill at a local fast food restaurant named Herfy’s. We were the home of the Herfy’s Hefty Burger and no Hefty burger was complete without our patented secret Herfy Sauce. Yup…you guessed it. Our secret sauce was mostly Thousand Islands which our commissary shipped to us in 2 gallon tubs.  No wonder I found 3 dead flies legs up on a stack of frozen patties on one of my last shifts.

I tend to be a Charles Darwin man, but the existence of the potato, natures most perfect root (not my favorite root, however. Wink...wink), might sway me toward intelligent design. I don’t want to be controversial though. Let’s end with a benediction.

“May the Tot of Gott be with you.”

“And also with you.”

“Go forth in peace my children.”

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Notes on Sobriety: The Humility of Step

Step 7, humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings, used to feel like a twig in the eye. Being an agnostic atheist in recovery each time the word “God” or one of the ineffable pronouns, such as “Him” was used I stopped listening. It drove me absolutely bat shit crazy. More than once I found myself reevaluating why I was in such a theistic recovery program. Wasn’t there another way?

However, I love the people in my home group. I love the care and concern that I’ve been given by others in program. I’ve ultimately decided to stick with it and let my friends have their god or higher power and remember to keep the focus of my recovery on me and not on what someone else believes. This is the basis of a sound recovery program.

I don’t come to these rooms to debate beliefs or discuss theology and philosophy. I come to AA and to AL-Anon to learn how to heal from the disease of alcoholism and to help others do the same. I come to share, listen and learn. I come to bear witness to the pain and the joy of the family of my choosing. Hopefully, as I apply the principals of this program in all my affairs the improvements in my own life and character will also benefit my family of origin. If it doesn’t than I have my own wellbeing and that is enough.

These days whenever I encounter the word god or one of the many pronouns associated with deity I just use it as a reminder that I don’t have all the answers. No matter how smart I am or smart I think I am, the latter being the case really, I still have limits to my knowledge, my understanding and my abilities.  I still need help and I need the love and care of other people too. Additionally others need my love and support. This is how we help each other.

Ultimately, Step 7 is really about an ongoing character refinement that underpins my entire process of recovery – humility.  It doesn’t matter where the answers to my problem or the help I need comes from. It just matters that help comes.  Before this realization I was often like the man in the old joke that waited for god to save him from drowning in the flood. He ultimately died because he refused the help that came in the form of a log, canoe, row boat etc.  Qualifying what acceptable sources of help are may blind me to the generosity of others and the legitimate help that is being offered to me in the here and now. I can apply the slogan, “keep an open mind,” without succumbing to credulity – a fear that is often the basis of my intellectual arrogance.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Language as A Way of Life

I’m a “yes, but” kind of guy. No matter how great an idea is I will find the downside to it pretty quickly, especially if there is a good chance that I may possess a talent or some experience that would lend well to it.

Todd, have you ever thought of being a professional writer?

Yes, but my grammar and spelling leaves a little to be desired.

That’s what spell check, dictionaries, style manuals and editors are for. You can even take an adult education class at the local learning annex.
Yes, but It’s really hard to get a break and you need an agent to be really successful.

So, self publish

Yes, but while that is pretty easy you still have to promote it to get sales. What good is publishing if nobody wants to read it?

Well, how does anybody know they want to read it if you won’t publish it and try to put it out there?

And so on and so on.

When I’m honest with myself (and you) I’ll admit that I like writing…love it, actually. It’s hard work. My self-doubt, depression and anxiety get the better of me a lot. Then there is the matter of my toddler sized attention span. I get bored of my projects very quickly and move on to the next one so that all I have at the end of each year is several unfinished projects and no actual progress.

Well, why don’t you just pick one and focus on it? Set a goal to finish just one of those projects this year.

Yes, but you seem to be forgetting about my toddler sized attention span

I admit that I live in fear where my creativity is concerned. My risk taking threshold is not very high and putting my work “out there,” exposing my thoughts is scary. I strut about with my chest out pretending that I have a thick skin. I talk gruffly to those who disagree with me. I’m a tempestuous warrior man.

I wrestle bears and alligators. I fashion my clothes and boots from their skins. I am a post modern Ernest Hemingway, a hard drinking war correspondent who runs with the bulls and goes on safari when peace breaks out. I’m the only one who believes this façade, of course. My friends and family see me for who I am, a sensitive creative person who is afraid of criticism. Throw the first punch is my M.O.

A creative person’s work is an extension of themselves; their inner being brought out into the daylight. A rejection of our work can be mortal. It, at least, can feel that way. What we do is so subjective at times others don’t always understand it. That’s not their fault. My job as a writer is to use my word’s to communicate. Yet, the rejection wounds all the same. Maybe even more so because I know that I have failed.

However, do I edit and re-craft? No, not usually. That’s the difference between true writers and those of us who just use words. Real writers crawl back to their computers and their notebooks and craft and reshape their work. They experiment and play with it trying to see what they can eke out of the symbolic nature of language.  For the artist who writes it is the process that matters not the necessarily the opinions of critics and readers, although they love acclaim and adulation as much as the rest of us. However, it is their relationship to the language, both real time and archetypal that becomes their way of life.

  All I can do is remember the words of an English teacher who, after reading some immature poetry drafts, said, “The problem with your writing is that you have nothing to say.”

She offered no further encouragement or advice. I was crushed and heartbroken. 12 years later the sting of that criticism felt as real as a slap in the face that just happened. I hadn’t written a word except to make a grocery list or take down a message for my roommate. It would be another 10 years before I would buy a notebook and start keeping a journal.

As for Hemmingway,

Hemmingway was miserable; spent his life in depressed misery and eventually blew his brains out. So maybe this isn’t the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro I want to climb. According to a Zen Master, whose name escapes me, there are many ways to climb Mt. Fuji, but the view is the still the same from the summit. So maybe there is more than one way to enjoy what I love. That is, if put my self-doubt aside long enough to try it…maybe even tame my toddler sized attention span and complete one of my many works in progress. I just have to find my way up the mountain.

  So how do I go from being a hack that just uses words to being an artist of the written word?

I don’t know exactly.

One of the little bits of literary trivia that I have reminds me that Shaw didn’t begin writing until he was around the age of 40 (If I remember correctly). I’ll be 47 in 27 days. What if I pick up one of my works in progress and see what happens?

Friday, August 02, 2013

Leave My Brown Bag Lunch Alone

I’ve been a card carrying, bleeding heart liberal for almost 30 years and Washington state politics sometimes embarrasses me.  Today, I’m specifically referring to a memo from the City of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights that is seeking to ban the use of words/terms such as citizen and brown bag. This follows on the heels from the state level where words such as penmanship can’t be used anymore.  Note: Manhole is still allowed (Yes, this is a true story).

I also support the ACLU because civil rights violations are serious business to me. But, is this really the best use of tax payer time and money? I believe that a degree of civility and respect in the way we communicate is valuable and frankly necessary of all reasonable people. Unfortunately, this is PC gone retarded. Although, retarded is on the list of socially unacceptable words now too...AS IT SHOULD BE, I would add.

Speaking of the “R” word: will the non-profit organization ARC (Association of Retarded Citizens) need to change its name? It uses two banned words, retarded and citizen. As for the lunch bags in my pantry they don’t seem to be particularly offended by a reference to their bag color or ethnicity. Although, the hunter green lunch bags are concerned they may offend yuppies named Hunter. But, their parents should have thought of that before naming their child something ridiculous such as Hunter.

Leave my brown bag lunches out of it. They never did anything to you. Perhaps, the term “brown bag” has an ignoble beginning once used to express hostility to the ethnicity of certain people as one official interviewed suggested, but it doesn’t mean that anymore.  Language does change. Frankly, brown bag seems more of a slam to working class Joes versus the white collar executives who dined out at lunch. Wait a minute…now I’m offended. A pay raise will be more than enough to make me forgive this slight. Make it quick so we can avoid an expensive and unnecessary lawsuit.

Political correctness has always bothered me. It seems more liberal dogmatism, a government overreach into the personal lives of the public or public employees (I almost used the word citizen here) than a beneficial way to foster mutual respect and decency among the citizenry (aww, fuck it). I would never condone the use of racial slurs and other vulgarities uttered against people in public or our media and never from our elected officials.  However, I do think we can take things too far.

The problem with efforts to eliminate all potentially offensive words from our language is that you also potentially create a tangle of civil rights issues. The very least it does is add additional angry voices to the already angry conservatives who despise liberals to begin with. Not that I care that conservatives hate me on principle for being liberal.

Where does my civil liberty regarding speech end in deference to a greater public good? Vulgar, offensive language and even hate speech doesn’t seem a crime to me. If criminal actions follow, then the person committing the crimes should be held accountable for their crimes, but not the language. Civil liberty and democracies are not for pansies.

Reasonable people don’t use offensive words when talking to other people. When they do, they do the reasonable thing which is, apologize and find a better way to communicate. The unreasonable people…well…hater’s gonna hate. You can’t legislate and regulate their hate away. Hate simmers like an unattended pot. Eventually, you get a hardened, charred mess stuck to the bottom or much worse, a fire. Acrimony doesn’t go away simply because your sensitive ears are protected from hearing it.

The power behind offensive language is never centered on the person or persons using it. The power rests solely on how those who hear it respond. As I said above, it is never right to use terms that malign a person’s ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Referring to citizenship or calling a person a citizen is a legal designation and if you find not being a citizen or being called a citizen offensive, you may not have enough important matters to occupy your time. Frankly, eliminating citizen seems a tactic to center much needed immigration reform on issues of ethnicity rather than on what is reasonable or just. Go get a haircut and a job you damn hippies.

Finally, as a private citizen of the United States I’m going to continue eating my brown bag lunches, watch out for open manhole covers when walking down the street and work on improving my dismal penmanship. Additionally, I will go on attempting to be kind and respectful to my fellow human beings regardless of the color of their skin, sexual orientation or their citizenship status. I don’t need a lexicon of approved language to do this.  I’m a human being and am always working to improve myself.

Years ago when I was at loose ends my dad encouraged me to seek employment in civil service. Thank god I ignored that suggestion…those poor bastards.BTW – Your blue jeans called. They would like you to stop describing them as blue, because they aren’t really depressed more than the average pants.