Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thank Goodness I'm Not Happy

            If I were happy I'd be miserable.  At this moment in time there is so much suffering on display that if I were happy I'd go nuts with some variation of Survivor's Guilt.  Call it Thriver's Guilt.  It wouldn't be right to be prosperous or to have a great job and a great relationship.  No one else does.  Why should I?
            Fortunately, I'm not very happy.  I mean, I'm not miserable, and that may pass these days for having it Really Great.  I can hear people saying, "Hey, he's not miserable.  That lucky son of a bitch."
            Happiness is like fancy dog food.  It isn't as good as the advertisements say it is.  It isn't made as purely as its makers would have us believe.  Happiness is kind of a gritty mix of stuff: there's some chicken but it's all dried out.  There's filler like bone meal and chemical junk like polysorbate hydro-whamazone.  Modern happiness, hooray!  Not miserable.  That's about as good as it gets.  If you're happy, if you think you've got it all, you're living in a dream world.
If you happen to belong to the one percent of people who have a filthy amount of money, you're not happy either.  Admit it.  Greed is not a happy thing.
            The plain fact is that when other people are so unhappy in such large numbers, it makes personal happiness pretty damn near impossible.
            I'm seventy, a classic baby boomer, ex-hippie artist without a dime to my name.  All the boomers who went to college, got their degrees and made a lot of money...well, whaddya know, they've lost all their money!  They're in psychological shock.  I'm just cruising along, business as usual, living from week to week.  Being broke is normal.  I don't have to weep for everything I've lost.  I never had a house to foreclose, never owned property to lose.
            I have a wonderful relationship but both my wife and I are caught in the medical insurance labyrinth that has become the great booby trap of modern times.
            People of my age group have idiosyncratic health problems.  Baby Boom-itis consists of odd diseases like neuropathy, fibromyalgia, bone spurs, hammer toes and a raft of weird afflictions that have no diagnosis.  They're stress related.  I may be generalizing but it seems that each of us experienced some kind of nightmare between twenty five and fifty.  We had an abusive relationship, an addiction, a horrible divorce, a near-fatal disease, a damaged child or the traumatic loss of a loved one.
            Along the way we became dependent upon prescription drugs or require dialysis or some essential procedure and thus became shackled to the medical system.  Each of us is like half  a pair of Siamese twins.  The other twin, joined at our livers, is a tottering and expensive insurance structure that is arbitrary and beyond comprehension.  
            I call it Insurance That is Not Insurance.  It's Trapdoor Insurance.  You stand at the pharmacist's window, expecting a prescription that will be covered by Medi-hooligan Insurance Corp.  Last month it cost you fifteen dollars.  But oh...
you've reached your maximum expenditure, or haven't spent your minimum, or
dropped through a donut hole and what do you know?  This month the same prescription is four hundred dollars! Floof!  Trapdoor opens!  Next?
           I'm not miserable but I have a sour stomach. I'm incredibly frustrated that no one reads my work.  I'm not happy, so there is that consolation.  I don't have to feel guilty or heedless of other peoples' ratcheting credit card debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy or divorce. 
            All these petty personal bitchings are insignificant compared to the looming Earth-catastrophe that has everyone stashing giant cans of Costco tuna fish in their garages.  Global warming, or, as I like to call it, Warble Gloaming, will fix everything.  In fifty years all of our naive concepts of happiness may have changed drastically.  In fifty years happiness might be a cup of clean water.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Yoga Has Saved My Life

   I'd be dead without yoga.  I'm sure of it.  I've lived a life of risk-taking, I've imbibed a lot of drugs, a lot of toxins.  Somehow I was able to maintain a practice in the middle of the Dark Night of my soul.  I held to the yoga, and the yoga rewarded me by enabling me to survive without major illness.  No HIV, no Hep C.  I'm a baby boomer.  I don't think I'm alone in saying that aging came as a great shock.  Yoga has been precious in helping me cope with the phenomena of aging.
I'm limber and though I might wake up in the morning and walk like Frankenstein for a while, I don't have any onset of arthritis. I owe a debt of gratitude to yoga and I want to convey this most basic of lessons.

Lessons One Through Omega.
            The breath is a circle.  People tend to think of their own breath (when they think of it at all) as an in/out process.  Wrong.  The breath is a circle, it's a microcosm of the Great Circle of life.
            The secret of good breathing is to use the muscles between the navel and the pubis.  There's your handle.  Use those muscles to push out the breath, really empty your lungs.  Do it once or twice.  Consciously move the handle back towards your spine as you exhale.  Use it to completely empty your lungs.  When you've expelled all your air, relax those muscles. let them spring out. Give yourself a pot belly.  You don't need extraordinary effort, but if you push gently outward, the air will naturally rush in to fill the deepest parts of your lungs.  Then it's a matter of drawing the air up, up, watch your ribcage expand and then finally raise your shoulders to give your lungs that one extra bit of air. 
            Then you go back the way you came.  Let your shoulders relax, let your ribcage contract until you are finally at the bottom of the breath.  Then use the lower abdomen to push out the last bit of air.
            That's it.
            I use two basic breath procedures.  I've just described the Deep Breath, or Slow Breath.  You can take half a minute, a minute or more, just to complete one cycle.  The longer you practice this technique, the longer your breath becomes.  I
know adepts of the Slow Breath who take hours on each breath.  They greet one another with a ritual: May your breath last a month.  To which the other yogi responds, May your breath last a year.
            The other breath I practice is Easy Breath.  There's no effort at all.  I just sit, let my body relax, let my lungs operate automatically.  I see the center of my body, those vital muscles beneath my navel, as the control panel.  Everything radiates from the Center, from the Breath Handle of my body.  It's very relaxing and enjoyable. 
            I like to work with the Slow Breath for a time, getting myself focused.  Practicing Slow Breath is a great way to quiet the mind.  When I sit down to
do this practice, my mind is going yakkety yakkety yak.  It's full of plans, speculations, fantasies, fears, all the stuff of daily life.
            Fuggettaboutit!  The first Slow Breath helps me shed a great load.  The second takes me farther.  I feel the mundane prattling of my mind diminish.  If I have the patience to practice three Slow Breaths, I find myself greatly soothed.  If I'm really on a roll, I'll do more, I'll do five or six.  Then all I need is to do is go Whooosh!  I let it all out, and go to Easy Breath. 
            That's it.  That's my yoga lesson number one.  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Reach

 I was using my flash to defeat the backlight at a child's dedication ceremony.  I saw this scene in front of me and quickly turned off the flash because I knew I would get pure silhouette. It was a lucky shot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Poodle's Progress: Doing It Doggie Style

           Watching dogs mate isn't my favorite activity.  But this was MY dog mating, my Bear, the surprise doggie love of my life.  We acquired Bear in a last-second rescue from a puppy mill.  I've told that story elsewhere.
            Sometimes Fox (that's my wife) takes Bear to the grocery, all five pounds of him, snugged in a sling. Fox was putting milk into her basket when she was approached by a husky woman in her late forties. 
            "He's male?" the woman asked, putting her face near to Bear so she could see his eyes.  She smiled and made kissy sounds.  Bear calmly returned her gaze. 
             Fox nodded.
            "Tell me he's still intact, please!", the woman implored.  " I have a female poodle just his size and I would love to put them together.  What do you think?"
            Fox thought it would be nice to have a companion for Bear, so one thing led to another which led to this:  I was to supervise the mating of Bear with Snickers.  Fox was out of  town when Snickers came into heat.  The phone rang, the heat was on and I was designated the Master of Ceremonies. 
            Bear stands five inches from the ground at the shoulders.  He would never win a blue ribbon or Best Of anything unless it was a dog show run by old beatniks on Quaaludes.
            It's strangely deceiving to describe Bear as tiny.  He has short legs and a round powerful torso.  If I had four of him they could pull a sled through the snow.
               There was a knock at the door.  I pulled the screen back to open.  "Here she is, " said Tammy, and dropped a gangly brown creature at my feet. 
            There was no ceremony, no meeting and greeting as  Snickers' owner left her bitch with me." I'll see you tomorrow night around five" she said.  "Good luck." 
            Snickers and Bear had a whiff of each other and without foreplay or so much as a hello, Snickers lifted her tail and accepted Bear's pursuit.
            It was clear from the outset that we had a problem.  Snickers stood eight inches tall at the shoulder.  Bear looked like a sixth grader dancing with a girl who towers over him. 
            So far Bear had been a masturbator.  He loyally and monogamously humped a stuffed toy dog named Greta.  He got it right; he knew Greta's business end.  He pulled at her ear, beat her up a little bit, jumped and humped for a while before dismounting.  Greta was the perfect size and she obeyed implicitly.  Bear would beat her up again, hop on and hump some more.  Bear's humping was so enthusiastic that he literally launched himself into the air.  All four feet left the ground as he banged away.
            When we watched, discreetly, we had to turn away lest our laughter disturb the little guy. He was very dedicated in his amatory exercises with the inert Greta.  It was no laughing matter for Bear.
            Snickers was not Greta.   She was alive. She moved.  She wagged her tail in the air, and the fug of pheromones filled the room with flirty invitation.  Snickers wasn't much to look at.  She was a stringy toy poodle, dark brown, with a long pointed nose.  She growled but we were told in advance that growling was her only means of vocal expression.  There was no explanation why this was so.  It was a simple fact.  It made Snickers seem as if she had a grievance with the world.
            Wonderful.  Bear didn't care.  Bear had the whiff and was panting as he followed Snickers around the small front room of our RV.  I must remind you, we live in an RV.  There wasn't any hiding place, no love nest or cozy nook for the two to go off and get acquainted.  That isn't the way dog mating works.  The act of copulation must be witnessed.  And, hopefully, repeated as often as possible. 
            Snickers' business end was a little bit too high for Bear.  He was game, oh yes.  He got up on his hind legs and tried to mount the tall girl.  Snickers kept walking in figure eights.  I had the feeling she'd done this before.  In fact, Snickers was a bit long in the tooth.  Snickers was pushing the dog equivalent of forty.  We hadn't known any of this.  Our deal was simple.  We would get one puppy from the litter. 
            Bear tried grabbing her around the waist with his front legs.  Snickers kept her tail up and her parts ready for action, but she wasn't helping poor Bear.  She kept walking figure eights, up and down, round and round.  She dragged the grappling Bear along with her, growling all the way.   
            Bear tried jumping.  He hopped on Snickers' back but the angle was all wrong.  He slid back to the ground without gaining purchase.
            I felt awful for Bear.  His eyes held a bewildered sorrow.  His tongue hung out and vibrated in rhythm with his panting.  He tried grabbing one of Snicker's hind legs and climbing.  Snickers walked around the room with Bear attached to her svelte but aging body.  I tried not to laugh.  I have learned that Bear is capable of suffering acute embarrassment.
            Is that a stretch for you?  That dogs can be embarassed?  I've learned that animals have complex emotional lives.  The best I can do is try to understand their feelings.
            Bear was caught between humiliation and lust.  In the hierarchy of instinct, lust wins out.  Bear wasn't going to quit until he reached his goal.
            I think Bear felt a little better when I behaved foolishly.  I tried to help by putting phone books under his legs.  I was crawling around thrusting books, cushions and boxes to elevate Bear to the action position, but of course nothing helped because the two dogs were in constant motion and weren't about to stop and think things through. 
            It just didn't work.  Now and then Snickers would turn her head to look at Bear and growl.  That was the only sound she knew how to make.  Growl.  I might have hoped for a more supportive partner for my boy, but fate had brought the couple together and fate would determine the outcome.
            I sat at my computer while all this strenuous activity went on under and around my chair.  Bear's energy was faltering.  I was beginning to worry about him.
I tried to encourage him to take a break and drink some water.  No deal.  He had been following and trying to mount Snickers for three hours and he wasn't about to quit. 
            That bitch was in HEAT!
             I was thinking about ways to end the situation.  I was afraid Bear was dehydrating.  The only way I had to separate the dogs was to close the door that
enclosed the RV's bathroom and bedroom.  I looked down from my chair and noticed that Bear had adopted a new strategy.  He was hopping from foot to foot.  His front paws were on Snicker's flanks and she was still ceaselessly moving.  I wanted to scream at her, Stand still for god's sake!
            Bear's hippity hop from foot to foot had the effect of getting him some altitude.  I don't know how he worked it out but the next thing I knew the two dogs were locked together.
            Nature, clever nature, had designed the female dog's parts to close down on the male's penis and trap it there.  Snickers was still moving in her relentless figure eights but now Bear was being dragged along, fumbling over his own paws.
            Snickers growled.  Bear looked up at me in utter bewilderment.  His tongue hung halfway down his chest, his mouth dripped saliva.  He managed to get himself onto Snicker's back so he could match her strides with his rear legs.  I know he felt
ridiculous.  Now and then he would lose his rhythm and drop into an ungainly sprawl.  He was dragged on his back, on his side, as he struggled to achieve a position that gave him a modicum of dignity.
            When Tammy arrived for Snickers around five the next day, the pair had successfully copulated twice.  The second time was easier.  Bear used his alternate leg hippity hop move and was trapped by Snickers for another ride around the RV.
            I could swear, when the whole thing was finished, that Bear's eyes pleaded with me to get him neutered as soon as possible.  
            "If this is dog sex, I don't want anything to do with it."
            Snickers' litter consisted of two pups, a male and a female.  The girl pup,
named Kioni, was twice the size of the boy pup, Gabriel.  We didn't want a female,
so runty little Gabe became a member of our family.
            At first we thought he might be a special needs dog.  That, however, is the next story.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Life Lesson: The Moral Quality Of Intelligence

I'm in the middle. That's my bro and sis.

            When I was a kid I knew that I was smarter than other kids.  My grades weren't good.  I was a bored student who squeaked by with C's and a few B's without exerting an  ounce of effort.
            I just knew.  I was different.  I had complex thoughts going on in my head.
I was interested in different things than other kids.
            I first realized this at about the age of seven.  I hated school but when I came home I read the entire set of World Book encyclopedias from A to Z.  By the time I was eleven my interest in music confirmed my suspicions that other kids weren't quite as deep as I was.
            I had joined the Capitol Record Club because that label had Miles Davis' Birth Of The Cool LP.  They had Stan Kenton's Orchestra.  After that, their jazz catalog grew a bit slim, so I fleshed out the required number of purchases with some Nancy Wilson and then quit.
            That poor kid, I now think, sitting in his basement room, the room built by his dad to keep him and his mom apart.  They were like flint and tinder.  Mom hated music, loathed it.  The eleven year old kid hunched close to his blue and white Zenith stereo automatic record player and absorbed The Birth Of The Cool note for note.  He memorized everything and tried playing along on his trumpet.  He was learning to master intricate bop melodies like Budo and Boplicity.  They were difficult, but he kept practicing until he could play in perfect unison with the recording.
            As I got into adolescence I thought it might be comforting to join Mensa.  I would find people like me.  Mensa administered their IQ test and I scored an impressive number.  I was accepted.  I quit after the first meeting.  It was so boring it was like watching steel expand in sunlight.
            I had a strange misunderstanding about the moral quality of intelligence.  I thought that intelligence also made people good.  It wasn't until I was sixteen that I lost that mistaken conviction.  I was in New York City chasing jazz musicians and trying to get into bands that were way WAY over my head.  In the process I managed to be around a few great and famous jazz musicians.  They had to be intelligent, they were geniuses. 
            Several of them were very wicked..  I saw one of them beat his girlfriend and that was a fundamental shock.  My whole worldview had to be re-arranged.
            Well.  If there are evil intelligent people we're in big trouble, aren't we?
            All of my subsequent experience has borne out this observation.  The world is loaded with people carrying around high powered minds, and using those minds to damage other people and wreak havoc upon the planet.
            I thought intelligence was a gift.  I overheard teachers talking to my parents, calling me a "gifted child".  This label was then followed with another phrase which seemed to be glued onto the first two words; "who's not living up to his potential."
            I was following my own path, that's all.  I treated my mind like a gift and I thought god had made me intelligent for a reason.  I also thought that imagination automatically came with intelligence, and I was wrong about that, too.
            Eventually I concluded that there were different kinds of intelligence and that my kind was one kind and there were other kinds that people had, like scientists and bridge builders and soldiers.  There were all kinds of intelligence.
            I will never get over my shock that being intelligent didn't automatically make a person virtuous.

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