Saturday, March 15, 2003


OK. So here it is. Early forties, lost a great job ten years ago and have not been able to find as good a one since then. Been getting jobs at one third the salary, or freelancing, or “making do”. Alot of under the radar stuff, nothing “career”, just getting by. Live alone, not married, no children. Have a nice apartment, but am in constant danger of losing it if I don’t land a good paying job soon. No health insurance, and that is a concern. No benefits, no IRA, no savings at all for the future. I’ve lived simply, not doing much for the last ten years. But is this really the way to live?? It can't be!!

I’ve looked into the MLM stuff, it does not work for me (a PhD friend of mine tried it and it didn’t work for him, either, so I don’t feel so bad). I’ve done the minimum wage thing, and it does not pay the bills (it actually costs me money to do those jobs). Market is bad for looking for work right now, the competition is fierce. And a lot of politics involved. Not on merit, on who you know. Nothing new there, I guess. Not whining about it, (although I am), just putting it down on paper so I can see it.

I’ve kept sending out resumes. I’ve looked into entrepreneurial opportunities (they cost too much money that I don’t have, and franchising is not what it used to be, witness McDonalds!). Been reading history, and business books (I have a degree in Management, and I like to keep up). And here is what I have found. Most turn-of-the-century fortunes were built on the backs of others (which is why we had all that labor unrest at the turn of the century, why there was a strong socialist movement in the teens and twenties, why there is the huge difference in salaries between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Right off the bat I can tell you I don’t want to make money by hurting someone else, cheating someone else, or killing someone else. So I am not Robber Baron material.

I have a couple of friends who are in the finance biz and they have made millions of dollars. Mostly in Mergers and Acquisitions (bought companies, sold them for their parts and made money, you remember), and lots of workers lost their jobs. Call it economic Darwinism, but the effects still suck. The kicker is that even with their millions, my friends still have to work. To keep it up, you know. So it’s not a cure-all. You have to keep doing it, and now it is getting harder and harder to do. So I’m not a Kravitz (or a Boesky or Milken. If it involves other people losing money or jobs, I don’t want to do it.). I realized capitalism was about making money, not about ethics, particularly. Scary thought.

Then back in the eighties the PC revolution started, and to their credit, people like Jobs, and Gates and Ellison made themselves as well as alot of their workers rich. The middle class expanded. Others got into the game, and we all know what happened to that bubble. All sorts of people desperate to be part of the passive moneymaking stock market jumped in, prices soared, millions were made on paper, and when it burst, private investors, institutions and companies were bankrupt or near bankrupt. I still think it is harder to fall than to work slowly up the ladder. Just my opinion.

Then the economic boom went bust. And 9/11 happened. And then this weird jingoistic whirlwind of hate. Sure Saddam is grotesque. Sure Bin Laden is a sociopath with billions and bent on our destruction. But is the only solution forgetting everything we stand for and go fight a war? Particularly now, when we can’t pay for it? Now, when a large chunk of the rest of the world is against it? The picture keeps getting bleaker and blacker. I love my country, but sometimes the actions of these men in power do not reflect who I am or what I stand for. And they don’t do my economic situation any good either. That's OK. Part of living in a democracy.

Who said we had to be the world’s police force? And why is it so hard for the military-industrial complex to give up the reins and form a global police force along the lines of NATO? Silly me!! They don’t want to share!

Fear. Fear of change. We humans do that (change) slowly. We have not had time to assimilate all the changes that have happened in the last 100 years. We need to think about this. About who we are and what we want to do. How we want to relate to to others on a personal, social, political and global level. And we must start telling our leaders what we want, instead of being led by the nose into another war.

I’ll find my way. One way or another, I’ll find it. And I’ll keep thinking about what we are all going through and writing about it. And with the grace of God I will live through this.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

My first real blog. This is great! In keeping with my transparency theme, this is me, unfettered by convention, appearance or job description…. In cyberspace who needs it… we can interact with just ideas. Don’t feel funny at the lack of points of reference. You’ll get used to it.

But since I have no shape or history in cyberspace, just my words, a disclaimer is needed. Mine will take the form of a recollected conversation I had with a friend that asked me why oriental thought sometimes seemed so elliptical, why sometimes it seemed to contradict itself. (He was learning a martial art at the time, and referring to Lao Tzu’s teachings). This has bearing on my work, because it deals with the ephemeral and ever changing quality of the written or spoken word.

I started by saying that words can be confusing, and sometimes misleading. They pass through our filters as we speak, and enter through your filters as you listen. But the best way to learn is to do it, whatever you are learning, yourself. So in the end, you are your own best teacher. Others are there to help guide you, but you must do the work of learning and experiencing it yourself.

Why are words so helpful and yet so elusive? I remember an exercise I had in a creative writing course. The teacher asked me to write down how to tie my shoe. As I started, I realized that tying my shoe was something I did every day, but had never put it into words. After attacking the problem for an hour, I came up with what seemed a good description of the process to me. But then the Teacher asked me to give my paper to the girl on my right and accept her paper and read it. I could not have tied my shoe with her instructions, and neither could she with mine. And I could see how hard it was to explain an everyday part of life in writing. So. Lesson number one: putting things into words is hard to do. And I was only trying to explain tying a shoe. Imagine how much harder it would be if I were trying to explain a bigger or more important act!

The teacher brought in a foreign student, who did not speak English, into the class. We were asked to explain to her how to tie a shoe, with just words. And here we hit a wall. And we learned the second lesson: It is hard to speak with others of the same language, but exponentially harder if you don’t have the same language. Here the importance of language was highlighted (being able to communicate), as well as its pitfalls (not having all the tools to communicate successfully). So. Use words reverently, respectfully and lovingly. Listen to feedback to make sure you are getting your point across. And accept that you may not be able to communicate some things. You may have to rely on your listener’s own experience to fill in the blanks.

You learn by doing. What do I mean? I remember when I first started learning piano. During the first few years, it was no fun to learn the chords, practice all those repetitive exercises, and learn to read notes on a piece of paper. But after a while, my eyes became accustomed to the task and my hands began to know the positions. At first it took me forever to learn a new piece, note by note, but as time progressed I developed a sense memory for each piece, to the point where I could play it in the dark. And my hands were moving as if by themselves. And I learned progressively more difficult pieces, which were ever more satisfying to play.

But there was always that point in which the playing became second nature to me, I was no longer concerned with the technique, so much as with expressing an emotion through my actions. This is the point old masters refer to as doing but not doing, for you are actually playing the piano, but you are no longer conscious of playing the piano. In martial arts, you get to a point where your body has learned the motions so well, you do it automatically. Look at anything by Bruce Lee (or now, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Li or any other renown martial artist) and you will see how effortless he makes it look. But don’t let that deceive you. It took him years of practice to become the athlete he was.

I remember sitting on a plane, going back to school, where I was to give a recital, and taking down the tray and playing the piece through. I even caught myself making mistakes, and having to start over and do it right. All without a piano: the sound was in my head!! I remember thinking “this must be how Beethoven felt in the end, when he could no longer hear!!” I did not think anything of this, until years later, when Amy Irving, in the movie The Competition, did the same thing, and I realized that this must be common to other musicians. How cool is that?

I no longer play the piano, but have found that typing on my keyboard is similar. I can now do it in total darkness, and almost always know when I have made a mistake before seeing it on my monitor.

So. A large part of learning has to do with physically learning the actions it takes to do what you want to do. It does not include words, necessarily. Ergo, the oriental emphasis on practice, exercise, and obedience. You don’t have to know exactly what you are doing to learn. The “Eureka” moment will come if you just keep at it.

But why be oblique about it? Why make it sound as an oracle that can be construed in more than one way? The third important factor is experience, the passage of time doing the work. That can’t be put into words either. With time you learn perspective. You accumulate knowledge and you can adapt to new situations. There is always another level of depth or complexity that you can reach. So what seems to be a riddle to a newcomer expresses the entirety of the thought to an experience practitioner.

It is only then after you have gone through the process of learning and experiencing things that you can write about them. And if you are good, and if there is a portion of the population that can relate to your experience, then you will be able to communicate well with them.

So. This is my disclaimer. Although words can sometimes confuse and obfuscate, I will reverently try to express my thoughts and feelings here. And I count on your indulgence and understanding to complete the circle of communication.

I know, I know, I am sending out this message into the ether, with no expectation of receiving an answer. But I choose to talk to you, the one reading this, and hopefully I will get through.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

What if...
Everyone was to be transparent, in their motives, their speech, their writing. If there was no lying, no cheating, no turpid social politics. If everything about you was up front and center, with no walls except your own boundaries. No judgements. Just truth. What would that world look like? How would we start it? Come with me and let's take a virtual (and real) journey through life on the up and up.
PS: Guayaba means Guava, the fruit, in Spanish. More on that later.