Short Stories and Creative Nonfiction Essays

Friday, May 29, 2020




DIVISIVENESS and ANGER

As if Internet trolls were not nasty enough, we now have the Karens of the world demanding to speak to the manager whenever her latte is not hot enough, or too hot, or lacks the double counterclockwise pirouette of gluten free whipped cream pointing to the south-southwest that she very clearly ordered. Entitlement has never been more on display. The Internet has wasted no time correlating it with racial inequality, coining the terms ‘white privilege’ and #Livingwhileblack. It would appear everyone is outraged, all the time. Social media has become the perfect void into which to hurl insults, knowing there will be no repercussions. In the short term, anyway. This mentality is akin to flipping off the motorist who just cut you off on the freeway; he or she is surely not a neighbor you will have to face anytime soon. The ease with which many vent their rage at strangers—or outrage, as the case may be—signals a disturbing disconnect. A rejection of our interconnectedness and reliance on one another at best, the complete erosion of humanity and community at worst. Though we do have laws to keep order, they are far from foolproof at regulating human behavior; life is full of cooperation, all day, every day. But it seems to be a lost art. Many feel they have no obligation to regulate or curb their behavior (or cell phone conversation, for that matter) to accommodate others, an inclination once known as being considerate. The pervasive incapacity to make concessions is the very definition of entitlement. We all have the ‘right’ to do what we want, when we want, without considering the other. After all, this is America!
My recent essays on divisiveness have focused on the theme of changing the world from the inside out, the various ways in which we can deliberately mold our view of the world and how we operate in it, thereby healing the collective by extension. In them, I’ve identified a number of phenomena that fuel the current vitriol many find so distasteful, and what we could do to better understand them in order to train our thoughts and feelings, to self-create in defiance of the status quo. However, thus far I have overlooked and failed to address the obvious: anger. There seems to be a low-level anxiety that festers as rage, then explodes as anger in the form of road rage, school shootings, online bullying, riots, social media outrage, vitriolic political debate and even hate speech. Seems too much to tackle outwardly; better to go within. This article is not a course on anger management. Rather, I will make the case that society’s pervasive anger is the expression of a constant low-level anxiety, well cultivated and based in fear. Institutionalized fear peddled by none other than our very leaders and proffered the media. I am far from a conspiracy theorist; I regularly reject notions that Big Brother has a twisty mustache and pets his lapdog in a swiveling chair in the sky. The machinations of culture are just how things logically panned out, given human nature and the dialectic of history. Still, we can rise above them. We can choose our future.
More importantly, in the spirit of this collection, I am going to focus not on saving the world by solving a laundry list of societal ills, but how we can all become friends with the role of anger in our own lives. No one is exempt; we all have it. We each simply express it according to our respective personality type—our disposition and temperament. In accordance with what society or one’s immediate environment permits and what we’ve unconsciously learned by example, whether it gets results or not. Anger is crucial to our survival. The fight-or-flight instinct as a stress response is innate; its conversion into stress that we then carry around may not be. The idea of cellular emotional memory, or the ’pain body’ in certain circles, may be part and parcel of the human experience. But honoring it with a knee-jerk reaction in lieu of tempering it via our conscious observer may be a habit we could evolve out of. A deeper understanding of relationships between stored trauma, sadness and anxiety, and the mechanics by which they convert to anger is warranted. Several clinically agreed upon ‘types’ of anger (or more accurately, modes of expression) will make clear that no one is exempt from anger; it is simply easier to point to when overt. Other types go unnamed and unrecognized, but may well be at the root of much of the strife.
Anger is the flipside of sadness and disappointment. The theme of a great deal of my fiction is that of overcoming disillusionment. In a way, the word is just a synonym for sadness, that which accompanies all loss and the disappointment we feel when the world turns out not to be the place we once imagined. I personally don’t give much airtime to ‘grievances;’ doing so rarely serves any purpose. My sole mantra these days is ‘I would pray things come to pass just as they are,’ and ‘Today, Let me see in the world what I wish to see.’ Still, I have eyes and ears. I catch wind of the conditions and circumstances that have folks so unsettled at this seemingly unprecedented moment in history. In the way of perfect poetry—pathetic fallacy at its best, the potentially anxiety-producing sounds of unrest waft to my window as I type. It started with those in Italy who began to sing from balcony windows to combat isolation and forge solidarity and unity. They lifted their voice in song and spirits synchronized along with the sound vibrations. Here in LA, the joining together of strangers’ voices became a nightly howling at the moon, to honor and commemorate those healthcare workers who are sacrificing for the safety of all. Still, I can’t help but notice, as news outlets have noted, that the cathartic ritual is more and more a venting of frustration and rage and pent up energy, of grief, fear and anger. The chorus is the opposite of harmonious; it is discordant and ominous and—hostile, interspersed with ear splitting and constant police whistle blows that would qualify as noise pollution in any other context. The effect is nothing short of apocalyptic.
Yet more poetic, while I compile my thoughts on this topic and formulate them into the essay you hold in your hand, peaceful protests across the country are devolving one by one into riots, due to the latest high-profile incident of police brutality.

Cultural rage: Are things really worse than ever, or does it just seem like it?

It’s been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We have all heard the phrase ‘we must remember history lest it repeat itself,’ and ‘everything is cyclical.’ In fashion, twenty-year cycles are said to exist. My personal theory is that nostalgia compels those running the show at any given time to harken back to youth and reintroduce everything from penny loafers to flipped-up collars. And heaven knows in the ‘new millennium,’ anything goes; we borrow from all eras. Many point to Socrates’s lamentations about the spoiled ‘youth of today’ several thousand years ago as evidence human nature is slow to change, if it’s even capable. The moral dilemmas of the human condition incarnated in Greek myths later became those of the Greek tragedies that informed Shakespeare and evolved into the Western screenwriting principles behind the latest Harry Potter sequel or the five-hundredth installment of the Warner Brothers’ Spiderman franchise. I personally draw correlations between pendulum swings—the emergence from the Bronze Age into the more humanistic period of Greek Classicism mirrors the emergence from the Dark Ages into the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The legendary decadence of the roaring twenties could be compared to that of the eighties, the moralistic prudence of the thirties and its prohibition, to that of the conservative fifties in all its conformity. Today’s hipsters believe they invented freethinking, living ‘off the grid,’ and saying F-you to the man, when in fact the hippies arguably did it better two generations earlier and the bohemians long before that! 
In this spirit, it’s entirely possible that it has always seemed like the end of the world—that the locusts, meteors and pestilence of the apocalypse are always right around the bend. Everything from the Mayan calendar and Nostradamus’s predictions to the prophecies of Revelations and the cottage industry that was Y2K have promised our demise. My oldest sister was conceived in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, when Castro had nuclear warheads pointed directly at us. My mother swears the night she told my father she did not want to bring a child into a world plagued with such turmoil was the night my sister was conceived; someone upstairs knew better. I was born in 1968, a moment rife with activism, political unrest and polarization, assassinations and radical change on the horizon. Many claim America lost its innocence with the assassination of JFK; for me the milestone of 9/11 was that wakeup call. Though Vietnam, known as ‘the first televised war,’ continued to rage during my childhood, my mother was smart enough not to turn on network news during dinner, in order to preserve a sense of security for her children. So the ongoing war was little more than an abstraction, beyond the occasional veterans we glimpsed who were treated by society as if they themselves had started the war. Further, nothing ever happened on our soil. So it was a false sense of security that was shattered in an instant with the downing of the twin towers before our very eyes on 9/11.
So why might it always seem like the end times, thanks to the doom speakers among us? To frame it in a positive light, it could be that the human compulsion to forge a sense of urgency is founded in a desire for positive change. We all know folks who wait until their deathbed to get ‘good with god’ in the final hour. If we had a limited number of days left to redeem ourselves, humanity, too, might be on its best behavior. The threat of fire and brimstone the Catholic Church proffers arguably represents the same ultimatum. At risk of understating the matter, many resist the call to change. It is well known we only transform through conflict resolution; in this way, global or even regional strife is a harbinger of further evolution. In my own life, the big, bad world without has always reflected the one within. There have been startling parallels between my own stages of evolution and what is reflected in world events. Despite the parallels, it is not the world around us that changes so much as the eyes through which we view it.
During the current health crisis that is the Covid-19 Pandemic, those who whine about the inconvenience of social distancing or having to wear a mask in public must be reminded that former generations have been through far worse. The concessions our grandparents had to make during the great depression dwarf any minor blow to modern convenience, the bread lines in which they were forced to stand dwarfing those in front of Trader Joe’s. The worldwide death toll of our current pandemic is a tiny fraction of the 50 million estimated casualties of the Spanish Flu. 
In high school during the ‘80s, my sophomore English teacher required that each student turn in a poetry notebook at the end of the semester. In reviewing them, she commented to the class that in all her decades of teaching, she’d never seen so many poems to do with nuclear war. How could this be? In previous decades families installed bomb shelters in their own backyards and watched countless propaganda films about what to do in case of a nuclear attack, all comical for their omission of the most blatantly obvious directive: kiss your ass goodbye. Perhaps my peers and I were experiencing a delayed reaction, giving ourselves permission to express what our parents could not—the low level anxiety of simply existing. The Cold War had come to a head in the late ‘80s. The toppling of the Berlin Wall was the climax of great tension, the undercurrent of unrest that always forges change.
This moment feels eerily similar. Leaving the Christian-Muslim clash out of the equation, political revolution has been widespread. The masses are fed up with the old guard. Oligarchies and dictators have been ousted in every corner of the globe, corrupt dynasties overturned and decimated. Unfortunately, the regimes that have taken their place are often more oppressive. But change is certainly afoot, whether viewed as progressive or regressive. Regardless of political leanings, the sentiment that things are more contentious than ever is hard to argue against. Due in part to the immediacy of the internet, I myself have commented that never before has terrorism been so brazen that one could Google and watch a beheading in thirty seconds with a few clicks, or a London citizen being butchered in broad daylight before a throng of onlookers. The images are hard to unsee.
It started post 9/11. Or maybe long before, but the impasse certainly kicked panic into high gear: each day, the Homeland Security Advisory System, commonly called the ‘terror alert scale,’ used color-coded levels to tell the public just how panicked they should be each day. Our administration, at the time, touted a policy of ‘never letting the terrorists get us down’ by stripping us of the personal liberty and freedom that defines our country. But it could be argued that a scale feuling panic and anxiety on the daily constitutes the very definition of terror effectively induced. Extremists like filmmaker Michael Moore would say that the measure was part of a conditioning process to rile anti-Muslim sentiment and justify the coming ‘War on Terror.’ And the measures ushered in by the Patriot Act only continued the tradition. Regardless of political leanings, I think we all can agree a climate of fear was created. And, I would argue, a culture of fear.
Since, incidents of road rage, school shootings, police brutality, and political clashes have only increased. What did they think was going to happen?  Simply put, anger gives people a sense of control. When we are gripped by fear and anxiety, especially unexamined, our bodies resort to the fight or flight response. Anger feels better than fear, in that taking action is always preferable to falling victim. A large scale manifestation of this phenomenon would be the civil unrest directed at injustice; without it society would fall victim to apathy and complacency. An active response allows for a reclaiming of power. And anger is a step up from both depression and anxiety, vibrationally speaking. The thing is, the young adults of today have grown up knowing nothing different, with no awareness of the (clearly tenuous and fragile) peace of mind and security of a world before 9/11.
It could be argued that the armor of a preemptively jaded worldview is synonymous with adolescence, but it seems younger generations have taken the practice to the extreme. Millennials and Gen Zers have known nothing other than this low-level anxiety, this state of fear proffered by nothing less than the government itself. It is only compounded by the habituation to violence normalized by interactive video games, the availability of potentially disturbing images and ideas the internet offers them, minus the context and life experience to assimilate it, and the growing isolation and erosion of social skills ushered in by technology. Taken together, it is no surprise that bullying and online trolling has been on the rise. That, and our attention to it.
All of us likely have our respective views on the various causes of perceived social ills. Personally, I have no desire to spend my time diagnosing some laundry list of grievances and waxing moralistic about them. Partially, because doing so can feel overwhelming at best, futile at worst. But more importantly, it’s about airtime. It is my contention, and the premise of this essay collection, that we have the power within to change the world at large. Rather than attempting to put a Band-Aid on the world’s perceived shortcomings, I would like to investigate what each of us can do to change the way we view the world without, and how we operate in it. How tuning out the noise and rising to our potential—being our best selves—within our immediate grass roots circles, might be an end in itself.  In theory, as idealistic as it sounds, if we all took this approach the macro would reflect our efforts and society would shift.

Fear as Anger
So, what to do about this low-level anxiety that becomes festering rage and fuels the cultural divisiveness that is the chasm between us? How does it translate into road rage, into the meanness and vitriol of online trolling many find so unsavory? What about the proffering of fear by demagogues who know the best way to control the populace is by keeping them in a state of perpetual fear? Firstly, as has been stated, fear and anxiety are easily transmuted into anger. Turning a passive state of fear into an active expression of overt anger gives us a sense of control. And the ego likes that. But fear is not the only emotion that transmutes into anger:

Sadness as Anger      
We’ve already considered that sadness accompanies all loss. But what is the role of disappointment, or disillusionment? Throughout life, it is indeed human to process disappointment through mourning—mourning illusions or expectations or shattered ideals. A buildup of disappointments can often create a sense of futility in which many stop reaching for their goals or aspirations and succumb to entropy. But it is also said that ‘hope springs eternal.’ Not only in our youth, but in our own hearts at any stage of life, every day. This understanding is why we are inspired by storytelling, especially by those stories that illustrate redemption. Screenwriting is said to be the art of playing on an audience’s hopes and fears—the hope that the protagonist (with whom the audience identifies) will reach her goal, the fear that she will not and the antagonistic force will have its way. The fear that the bad guy may prevail or evil may triumph over good. Understanding the mechanics of the human heart in this respect might be nothing less than panacea…imagine if we all promised ourselves to look for the ray of sunshine at tunnel’s end, to return to innocence by renewing hope! And in our own lives, in case the prospect is altogether new, it may be worthwhile to examine how, in our own lives, we might unconsciously be transmuting sadness into frustration, irritability, and outright anger.

Types of Anger
Society easily recognizes and demonizes overt behavioral or verbal expressions of anger, known clinically as aggression or volatile and retaliatory anger. At worst, overt expressions of anger can escalate to physical altercation or bodily harm. At best, they represent poor communication skills counterproductive to interpersonal relationships. However, less overt forms of anger such as passive aggression, chronic internalized anger, or even rumination can be just as damaging to both subject and object. Justifiable anger or righteous indignation, conversely, is sometimes revered by society and viewed as crucial for change in the form of civil unrest. We like it in our lawyers, politicians and activists, especially when it benefits our objectives and serves us. But most of the time, we point the finger at overt anger because it’s something consensus can agree is ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unacceptable.’ The designation is arbitrary and absurd, much like the designation of certain words as ‘profane.’ Regardless of intent, these special, often percussive words represent ‘crossing the line.’
Imagine for a moment a scenario in which passive-aggressive behavior is subconsciously unleashed in the context of a relationship. The passive-aggressive party gives the cold shoulder, ignoring his or her partner for a good week other than to issue the occasional sarcastic remark, while instigating at every turn and being needlessly contrarian. If the recipient of the passive-aggressive behavior snaps and exhibits any reaction that remotely borders on aggression, he or she is deemed the ‘bad guy.’ Across the board. The scenario is old as time, and the passive-aggressive among us bank on it subconsciously, perfecting the manipulation of appearances as an art form. The philosophical question becomes: which form of anger—the passive-aggressive or overt (direct) is more destructive to a relationship? Which is the greater offense? We’ve touched on the idea of justifiable anger, the kind we insist on in our politicians and activists. But the clincher is, even if nine of ten people would agree we are justified, we get to choose whether or not we are offended. Nothing is offensive unless we give it the power to be. With mind and ego running the show, the inclination to become Karen and take a stand of ‘outrage,’ remains unexamined and instinctual.
The ego has a strong need to win arguments, to be ‘right’ at all costs. This phenomenon is arguably at the root of most conflict. Beyond the need to protect ego lies the idea that most human suffering is rooted in the resistance of ‘what is.’ Circumstances and conditions are neutral; our overactive minds label them offensive, outrageous or unacceptable. Once we give up our resistance to ‘what is’ in any moment, we reclaim our power to choose how we feel. With surrender comes the melting away of tension, leaving room for wellbeing and inner peace.
Justifiable and righteous anger may well have their place. But as an alternative to misplacing aggression, when channeled productively anger is known as ‘assertive anger,’ the kind we want our lawyer to wield in court. Rage against the machine fuels the civil unrest that precedes social reform, activism, rebellion or revolution. When diplomacy fails, pacifists step aside and let the more militant among us get the job done. But how do we determine if our own expressions of anger are justifiable or righteous? Ego often compels us, after the fact, to rationalize our own expressions of anger as such, in order to remain in the ‘right.’
Take it from one who refrains from assigning value judgments like positive or negative on emotions, as one who resists operating on the ‘pleasure principle,’ who has long subscribed to Thomas Moore’s suggestion that we ‘embrace our shadow’ and instead touts the balance of both yin and yang in maintaining balance, the bottom line is this: we know how a vibration feels in our body, whether or not it is poison. Every cell of our body knows whether or not we carry emotional stress. In many rehabilitation programs, the determining factor of whether or not one identifies as an addict—of anything from alcohol or cocaine to sex—is whether the behavior interrupts daily functioning. Whether it is counterproductive or stands in the way of our goals for ourselves. Similarly, we must assess whether our relationships or goals are suffering due our habitual mode of expressing anger.
I have a hunch all of us could benefit from looking into the clinical research on anger—the various forms it takes and styles of expressing it. In this way, we might let ourselves off the hook a bit knowing how universal and valuable anger can be, but we might also learn compassion for those who express it differently than we do. This kind of perspective and insight could save a relationship.

Learning to Let Go
In ‘The Laws of Spirit,’ Dan Millman uses models from nature to illustrate spiritual principles humanity might benefit from—the present moment awareness of a lounging cat or the stalwart balance of an egret standing on one foot in a windstorm. A bird might lash out to protect his brood. But very quickly he brusquely shakes his wings and moves on, as if to shed the residual energy we humans are more apt to carry as emotional stress. Many of us, rather than allowing ourselves a brief outburst of fight or flight response as a protective measure, do anything but move on. We brood, hold grudges, perseverate or beat ourselves up about our reaction, turning the frustration inward. Pride compels us to replay the tapes, imagining what we might have said or done differently. When carried forward, the emotional stress can become chronic anger, manifesting as rumination (negative self-messaging) which in turn manifests as self-destructive behavior or physical ailment. Many autoimmune disorders result from inflammation said to be linked to emotional stress. 
In the context of cultural divisiveness, I would posit that the inability to find socially acceptable or productive ways of managing and channeling anger correlates with an overall erosion of social skills. Not so much decorum, but communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. It may be too easy to blame the usual suspect—technology (the ever-present smartphone or device to divert us from interacting with the flesh and blood before us at Starbucks or the bus stop.) The dinosaurs of my generation and my parents’ are quick to point the finger at those who have not known a world before phones were surgically attached to ears right there in the delivery room. But the lamentations of stilted social skills come from Millennials and GenZers themselves. Having taught college for 20 years, I take my cues from students’ testimonials about their own feelings of isolation, not knowing how to simply smile at someone across the room or (even more terrifying) approach and attempt to engage them in conversation. It is well known that a good question (forget about pickup lines for the moment) can engage a new acquaintance, but far more effective at creating rapport and affinity are body language and non-verbal communication. Study after study reveals that verbal exchange is secondary to other cues like facial mirroring, which only result from regular interaction.
And yet again, Covid-19 has us rethinking all our presumptions; this pandemic seems to thrive on irony. As much as the dinosaurs among us have blamed technology for the erosion of humanity and social skills, when a tiny virus came along and forced us to separate, that very technology became our sole mode of connection! Similarly, for the past decade it has traditionally been frowned upon to ask for either a paper or plastic bag in the grocery store. Now thanks to the aforementioned virus that has unraveled so much of society, bringing one’s own germ-infested bag into the store is out of the question. Up is down, down is up.
 Technology is not going anywhere, and the convenience it provides is indisputable; I am reminded of the fact each time a Google search yields, in seconds, accurate information I need that would have taken an hour to find in the local library, sorting through microfiche. Still, while evolving with technology, returning cultural value to face-to-face social interaction, the village, the marketplace, community and interconnectedness seems a logical remedy for divisiveness. Not to mention the fact that brick and mortar outlets would stop going bankrupt daily due to online Amazon orders delivered by drones or driverless cars. By placing value back on quality human interaction, communication skills, conflict resolution skills and anger management skills would surely benefit. More would be capable of ‘passing the talking stick’ when differences arise rather than going straight for the jugular. The prospect might lead to less bullying in schools for our children and less of it online for even us dinosaurs to fall victim to and adopt.
Rodney King said it best: ‘Can we all (just) get along?’
Differences, even cultural divides, have always existed and always will; subsurface range has fueled all social reform. But it is a common sentiment that toxicity in daily life has never been more pervasive. The problem is a multi-headed beast, but overarching all may well be the low-level anxiety that transmutes into anger, individually and societally, and the lack of social skills to manage it when it rears its ugly head. The former, curbing the anxiety, might require saying no to the man by changing the channel, turning off the news, choosing what we give airtime to. Refusing to elect fear mongers with a divide-and-conquer mentality and not tolerating the peddling of fear from our media outlets. The latter might be remedied by simply placing value back upon face-to-face interaction while resisting a cultural addiction to the dopamine flow that comes with clicks and ‘likes’—the one Mark Zuckerberg so depends on. We can be smarter. The current state of affairs that has forced us into solitude may be the perfect opportunity to wean ourselves off our bad habits and addictions. The question is, will we take it?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020


The SEEKER
a Mythic fiction novel

Amitayus has just learned he’s a demigod. He is torn—destined for Elysium but not sure that’s where he wants to end up. Life is here and now, feeling the sparks that dance between his fingertips and those of his beloved, Icarus. Even he’s said as much: ‘We must temper our quest for truth, lest our feet leave the earth and we find ourselves lost in the ethers for all eternity.’ Only an epic voyage of the Aegean, impeded by forces of nature at Zeus’s command and culminating at the foot of Mount Olympus itself, will reunite Amitayus with his divine heritage. The mythical home of the gods is not as he’s been told, revealing the true meaning in the hide and seek we play with Celestia, the mere glimpses of it that sustain mortals in their toil. Ultimately triumphing over fate through sheer will, Amitayus learns that Elysium can wait, but life on Earth is richer when seen through the eyes of divinity.

Set in Bronze Age Minoan culture, The Seeker tells the stories of its gods, goddesses, heroes and mortals through the lens of Greek Classicism, borrowing from both mythology and history. The power of this rich reservoir of archetypes, tropes and symbols lies in its succinct approximation of the human condition. We are all made of the same stuff, Amitayus learns—stardust. There is divinity in all of us…


Look for it soon! Excerpts below. To learn more, or read the full MS, Email me through this blog (see header.)


Full Synopsis/plot summary
The SEEKER


          
Amitayus is unaware of his divine heritage. He has but one foggy, time-shrouded memory of his mother: in it, she has lulled him to sleep with her lullaby on the volcanic shores of Milos. He wakes in time to see her poised on a swell of alabaster sand, gazing back at him. Her eyes are those of one on the brink of freedom, but they are mired with equal regret. She dashes beyond the bone white hillcrest and is gone.
When Amitayus is seventeen, Dianora’s lullaby comes to him on the breeze, overtaking the song of the sea. Amitayus fights his practical nature—he has no use for gods or goddesses or mortal heroes—knowing he must heed the mysterious call. He sets out on the Ziton, his father’s barge, vowing to sail the seven seas to find her. His route intersects with Icarus’s flight path from Knossos, and it is Amitayus who rescues a drowning Icarus from the sea when the boy plunges from glory. The two continue on as a team, scouring the Cyclades for any clue of Dianora’s whereabouts. They face great peril, learning the cruel king Minos has put a price on Icarus’s head and they are being tailed by Petrus Kyriacou, the most ruthless bounty hunter in the Greek isles. An oracle warns Amitayus his desire is misguided and goes against the gods. But faith compels him onward to face the forces of nature that conspire against them—raging tempests, tidal waves, a Mycenaean invasion and the eruption of Thera that will one day incinerate much of the Cyclades. As it turns out, Zeus himself is determined to thwart the boys’ mission, but not for the reason Amitayus thinks. The truth of his divine heritage discovered through great fortune and equal defeat—ultimately leading him to Mount Olympus itself—is revealed only through peril. Ultimately triumphing over disillusionment, Amitayus’s journey toward redemption is one we all share. He learns in the end that the wrath of the gods was but a series of tests, that he might prove his heroism and secure his place in Elysium. The thing is, he’s not sure that’s where he wants to end up.
Set in Bronze Age Minoan culture, The Seeker tells the stories of its gods, goddesses, heroes and mortals through the lens of Greek Classicism, borrowing from both mythology and history. The power of this rich reservoir of archetypes, tropes and symbols lies in its succinct approximation of the human condition. We are all made of the same stuff, Amitayus learns—stardust. There is divinity in all of us…


Look for it soon! Excerpts below. To learn more, or read the full MS, Email me through this blog (see header.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


CREATIVITY and HEALING

             I recently posted an essay titled HEALING DIVISIVENESS from Within, about the various ways we might begin to bridge the cultural divide that has only widened with social distancing. Starting with the ‘man in the mirror,’ or doing as Ghandi encouraged and ‘being the change we wish to see in the world,’ society might then, the article suggests, collectively benefit on the macro level. What I found in putting my thoughts on the subject together, is that an entire book could potentially be written addressing each of the various factors I identified. I decided to distill each into a manageable, bite-sized morsel for consumption, for the A.D.D. sufferers among us.
            I’ve always found the Internet (and social media in particular) to be a succinct illustration of how synchronicity operates, a microcosm of our interconnectedness. And sharing the essay confirmed it—not ten minutes after posting it, a dear friend reached out saying it had really spoken to her. Only moments previous to its appearing in her feed, she’d found herself suckered into the very kind of heated debate at the root of the vitriol the article sought to remedy. Ironically, (given that my friend and I share many mutual friends from our hometown) I’d myself caught wind of the venomous comment thread that had riled her. Somehow, I’d managed to resist temptation and scroll on, while she was regretting taking the bait. No doubt about it—she’d been triggered. During our conversation about it, a topic came up that had not made its way into my essay on the matter of divisiveness: among the fueling factors I chose to parse, I’d overlooked the role of Creativity. Or more accurately, the absence of it.
            I’ve identified as an artist as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil; it’s entirely possible I came out of the womb with one in my hand. Having chosen the arts and entertainment as a career path, I’ve been surrounded by creative types my entire adult life. The household I grew up in encouraged creative expression above all else—spilling glue on the dining room table was not only overlooked; it was encouraged. Between my time in the film industry and the twenty years I’ve spent teaching at a design college, I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by inspiring souls with a well-honed craft and a desire to connect their voice to a need we all share—that of fulfilling a purpose. These luminaries have given themselves permission to contribute to the whole of humanity.
            There are infinite voices many must silence, or at least drown out, in order to give themselves permission to indulge any pursuit society has deemed impractical or (word of the day) ‘unessential.’ (Side note: the view of it as such is predominantly western, rather new historically speaking, and distinctly American.) Among the voices many have to squelch are those of an educational system that devalues the arts and throws money at team sports, (more essential how?) and the voices of perfectionism or the fear of rejection one might be exposed to after expressing oneself. Further compounding the issue, alive and well is the myth that the catharsis of expression is self-serving, a sentiment most often accompanied by the prudent western value placed on suffering in lieu of fulfillment, ‘hard’ work over inspired work. The list of discouraging voices is endless. And blissfully, thanks in part to the household in which I grew up—I heard few of them, or at least had the ears to tune them out.
            For that reason, I can be a bit na├»ve about the depth to which the very same creative impulse I abided, when unfulfilled, can wreak destruction. Sure, I can recognize the buried dream in the eyes of a cynic. We can all smell the bitterness of a crushed pipe dream a mile away. We might even be able to connect an individual’s critical nature back to a history of having himself been criticized or discouraged. Personally, I am hyper-aware of stilted relationships with creativity—the degree of generosity with which one supports others’ endeavors or withholds approval. In case criticism and discouragement are not extreme enough to qualify as ‘destructive,’ let me offer this:  there is a reason that Hitler, a frustrated painter, wasted no time in burning the art. Enough said. In the extreme, when one procrastinates or resists working through their blocks (or voices, in this less-than-perfect analogy) it takes its toll on the body. Perhaps because I have made a career of playing coach or even cheerleader for creative expression in my teaching, I cannot count the times a loved one or acquaintance suffering from an ailment has confided to me “I just know it’s because I have no creative outlet.”
            For the purposes of this essay, suffice it to say creativity is an innate human drive—the need to forge permanence or leave a mark. It should be said that this applies not only to the arts we recognize as such, but to engineering and architecture and technology, innovating and inventing and gardening and problem solving. The creative process is at work all around us every day. I regularly refer to the creative drive and creative process as my religion. For one, it could be argued that the very universe we live in was manifest through the ultimate creative process. The leap from wave to particle. Every one of us came into this world following the same stages of creation as a universe, those shared with the seven accepted models of the creative process: conception, germination, and birth. The life force that is consciousness was invisible before manifesting physically as the world we know; all man’s creations begin as abstract concepts that are made concrete in the perceptual realm. There is creativity at work all day, everyday, wherever we look. One could argue it is synonymous with life.
            So what is the role of the creative impulse, fulfilled or unfulfilled, in cultural divisiveness? Consider a school of thought that exists in many circles: that which stops growing begins to die. It’s also been said that at all times, if one is not engaged in the act of creation, he or she is engaged in destruction. Overt destruction, or just as frequently, self-destruction. This is arguably the basis of expressive arts therapy, especially in underprivileged communities or as a key component in rehabilitation.
            Admittedly, the aforementioned friend who introduced the idea of a stilted relationship with creativity into the premise of my article, was simply including it among a list of other factors that, very understandably, had led to her own current state of irritability. She lamented being triggered so easily and was searching for reasons. Having said that, my choice to address it in this context is not simply in order to suggest that we’d all be in a better mood if we had an outlet. It’s true that being deeply engaged in any creative process can be meditative, leading to inner stillness and wellbeing. However, I am hinting at something much larger:
            If we can agree, for our purposes, that whatever is not creating is destroying (however extreme and diametric the suggestion) it is not a huge leap to consider that we create our thoughts. The thought forms we craft (or blindly adopt by default) have a direct, though reciprocal, relationship on our feelings. Together, the two constitute what many call our vibration—the one we send out into the universe to manifest as our reality. If I have not lost you, consider that creativity well may be an end in itself. That however it is we manifest our interior vibration in the exterior world (and there are countless mechanistic ways) the lens we wear at the very least determines how we view the world and what we expect from it. Many of us beat the drum of old narratives that have come to define us, thereby limiting our potential—the world’s potential. Many repeat stories of the past to explain a current state of dissatisfaction, citing a laundry list of conditions and circumstances that have stood in the way of manifesting their desires. Their happiness. Culture at large is no different; its mantras and narratives—its very history—can stand in the way of its forward march toward realizing human potential. Facts and conditions and probabilities are observed, then transmuted into tropes, conventional wisdoms, paradigms and thought forms. Collectively, they constitute the status quo we are inculcated with via social conditioning. The most seemingly benign colloquialism can be laden with counterproductive stereotypes and prejudice. Norms, mores and ethics are culturally relative, of course, varying from one house to the next and from one generation to the next. Baby boomers raised by a generation who'd suffered world War Two and the Great Depression know  moderation and prudence well. Myself quite unfamiliar with the materialistic mindset so ingrained in many cultures, I was beyond shocked when a student of mine repeated the conventional wisdom her mother had shared with her repeatedly with regard to marrying for love or money: 'It's better to cry behind the wheel of a BMW than to smile in the back seat of a jalope.'   
            Some personality types reject social conditioning from day one. The freethinkers among us (sometimes rebels without a cause) defy and question at every turn. But to others, the idea we can manifest deliberately with our thoughts—get our hands in the clay of life—is altogether new. Long before Covid-19, many of us sensed some kind of apocalypse on the horizon—be it a nuclear apocalypse, cyber war, or your standard Zombie apocalypse. And the creativists in my circle have said with every breath, ‘creativity alone will be our salvation.’ Not only in the ability to rub two sticks together to create fire, but in its capacity to shift paradigms and replace obsolete thought forms. The real apocalypse, arguably, is an ideological one.
            By all accounts, there is a pervasive sentiment that push has come to shove and we are being called to action. Many are being forced to analyze societal ills in light of the need for change, or find their own purposeful contribution to needed change. Here’s how creative manifestation, getting our collective hands in the clay of our thoughts, can play a part. The frequency of a problem is far from that of its solution. This is why, when we lose our keys, they refuse to show up until they are good and ready. Let me explain—if the voice in our head repeats over and over again that the keys are ‘lost,’ that narrative becomes a lens that blinds us to seeing the elusive set of keys, or to be specific, blocks our subconscious—which knows exactly where we left the damn things—from yielding the information. The moment we move on to something else and stop perseverating, the damn things appear. We’ve all been there. Similarly, that celebrity’s name that is right on the tip of our tongue—you know, the one that was in that one movie—but whose name refuses to yield itself, will come to us in the dead of night. When it’s no good to anyone. It is then our subconscious is free, disentangled from the mantra that has been circulating as a literal neural circuit—or rut, as the case may be.
            In this way, moving forward is the answer to escaping all ruts—even huge, cultural ruts—moving toward inspired action, rather than beating the drum of a problem, be it racial inequality, sexism, the war on drugs or the evils of the opposing political party. You get the idea. Moving forward and taking steps toward a solution, taking inspired action, is the ultimate creative act. Keeping our brains plastic and forging knew neural circuits are self-creation at its best. And acting on creative impulses, otherwise known as inspiration, is precisely what redeems us from forces of gravity, inertia and and entropy. It is what leads us toward a more vital force: momentum.
            If we all reconciled our respective relationships with the creative impulse, exercised our own powers of creativity daily, and took the time to question our purpose and how we might be called to fulfill it, humanity would surely benefit, collectively. As our individual thought forms evolve (or re-create themselves) by extension, so do society’s paradigms and those of the critical mass. The path toward doing so might look different for each one of us; the role our ‘voice’ is meant to fulfill depends upon our respective skill sets, agency, and current circumstances. The role of creative expression might shift or evolve over time depending on our stage in life. But at any moment, the prospect might just be worth investigating!

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

      For several years, I have toyed with writing a book on 'Healing Divisiveness,' or some variation on the theme. But hosting few convictions, zero answers, and a healthy resistance to stating anything remotely definitive, I've managed to jot down little more than outlines, the  beginnings of essays meant to become chapters, and the like. Whenever I've tried to write anything remotely academic or prescriptive in the past, I've always gotten bored (read:wanted to slit my wrists or jump out the nearest window) and gone back to my first love: narrative.
This time around was no different. 
       So far, I have resisted attaching any significance to what some are calling the 'new normal,' as ushered in by the #Coronaapocalypse. I have heard many speculate about the shift that will take place societally, but I have reserved a 'wait-and-see' attitude. However, today, a confluence of factors inspired a few ideas which I thought I'd share as #foodforthought or, to some, maybe even #inspiration! It loosely fits into the theme of my pipe dream, the aforementioned book that will likely never be completed. Enjoy!


DIVISIVENESS
Healing a Fractured World From Within

            Divisiveness seems to be the word of the day. Most evident in the political arena, differing ideologies in recent years (or platforms, as the case may be) have led to nothing short of an impasse. Or more accurately, one standoff after another. Threats of a government shutdown blend seamlessly one into the next. No longer tempered by the lost art of rational discourse, these conflicts fester as seismic rage, revealing cultural fractures in a myriad of other areas—tiny fissures that have widened to rival the Grand Canyon, no bridge in sight. Each political party points the finger at the other for the current state of affairs, each administration blaming the last. Talking heads posit that the incorrigible conduct of our leaders began with Newt Gingritch or the Whitewater Investigation, or the spawning of Nancy Pelosi by aliens, with the inception of CNN or Fox News or mention of cigars and presidential penises being slathered across national headlines. If our representatives have lost the ability to see eye-to-eye or even cooperate, how can we be expected to?
            I have always subscribed to the idea that change begins within. Michael Jackson suggested we all start with The Man In the Mirror to effect change. Mahatma Ghandi wisely counseled us to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’ We all know Ghandi is beyond reproach, in the way of Mother Theresa and Meryl Streep; the three can do no wrong. They are not just pillars, but—dare I say—a collective holy trinity of wisdom. And impeccable acting technique. Put clinically, the micro affects the macro when it comes to cultural change and paradigm shift.
            The recent health crisis known as Covid-19, or conversely, quarantine, lockdown, or #Coronaapocalypse—take your pick—has served as a Rorschach test for the masses. Just yesterday, I spotted a post in my Facebook feed which managed, beyond reason, to make Q-Tips a political hot button while also linking protective face coverings (from medical grade K95s to your run of the mill stoner bandana) to racial profiling. Each added stressor to daily life seems to reawaken a sleeping giant, signaling not progress or even a pendulum swing, but outright regression. There are myriad aspects to the bobbing corpse of cultural strife, and an equal number of conversations to be had. Many are speculating about the significance of this moment in time, the challenges this pandemic poses worldwide. They predict the ‘big shift’ that will result, the social and cultural evolution that will take place. Hence the Rorschach test analogy. Personally, my own life challenges of late have preemptively forged a broadened perspective, one that has compelled me to resist projecting any significance on this impasse. Or in the spirit of this essay, the crisis/opportunity it represents. J Without a grain of cynicism, I have heard myself say, ‘I have a wait-and-see attitude; folks are pretty slow to change. As is society.’ If that sounds grim, let me add that I one hundred percent believe as Dr. King did: that although the arc of the moral universe is long, it does bend toward justice. I regularly point out the ways in which we are evolving as a species, however slowly. I am also enjoying the reduced traffic, better air quality, lower crime rates and (almost) reasonable rents in L.A. that have resulted from said pandemic, but these shifts are regional and far from permanent.
            What has occurred to me in all of this is what I find most prescient, and what inspires the premise of this article. My entire adult life has been devoted to my craft—that of being an artist and a writer. Though no true artist or author wishes to identify an agenda, I did realize in my twenties that the umbrella informing all my work, regardless of concept or theme, was a desire to simply open eyes, hearts or minds. To many things—the multiple levels beyond the surface of any given moment, our interconnectedness, the metaphysical or spiritual aspect of biological life. But beyond those objectives, another aspect driving my work occurred to me in witnessing various reactions to the isolation demanded by this moment in time: my entire life I’ve touted the value of introspection and self-reflection. Some have called the current lockdown ‘an introvert’s dream.’ Guilty as charged. Being a freelancer who works from home anyway, and having been in self-imposed isolation due to the aforementioned health challenges, I have heard myself jest that very little has changed in my life, other than the ability to score toilet paper without resorting to the black market.
            Ironically, the social distancing now required by law has forced many to slow down. This, in turn, has forced them to spend time with their own thoughts. For some, this means a return to their true essence or childhood self; to others, it means anxiety, panic and outright terror. ‘Doers’ are confronted with guilt for not accomplishing enough, for being self-indulgent or lazy. Speaking for myself, I can’t help but see this moment as an opportunity for individuals to get to know cobwebby corners of their minds, to witness their own thoughts and feelings without diversion. The requisite contemplation is an opportunity to separate mind chatter from spirit and parse ego-driven, mind-dominated thought forms from a pure state of being. Or better yet—to appreciate the flutter of a leaf and the dapple of light that’s landed on it, or the simple sounds of silence. How could the resulting stillness (otherwise known as wellbeing or inner peace) not collectively impact the world on a macro level? At the risk of quoting a 1970s Ginsu knife commercial, don’t answer yet; it’s rhetorical.
            Many of the aforementioned divides could be bridged in society if we took the opportunity to do so—this opportunity. This moment of silence and stillness. Yes, the bridge begins with the person in the mirror and theoretically extends to tropes, collective thought forms and paradigms—even institutionalized dogmas on a mass level. Among the mental divides one could pinpoint that fuel cultural strife: the obvious political divide (Democrat vs. Republican,) the liberal versus conservative mindset, the debate between science and religion (which I correlate to underlying Empirical or Rational worldviews, respectively) and Western Medicine versus Eastern, (which correlate, arguably, with mechanistic or holistic models.) Then there’s the culturally pervasive divide between masculine and feminine in all aspects of society, from the conceptual to the practical, informing the current shift from an oppressive model of misogynistic patriarchy toward gender equality. There’s the right brain sensibility versus left, ageism versus youthism (or ‘Boomers versus Millennials’) capitalism versus socialism, all begging to be reconciled. These examples of opposing forces do not constitute a laundry list of grievances or even societal ills, but they are the tip of an iceberg. And now the clincher: they’re also illusions.
            The thing is, everything’s in the semantics. The ideas are diametrically opposed due primarily to the insufficiency of language and a lack of perspective.
            Socrates introduced what is now known as the ‘Socratic method.’ He found that if enough questions were asked, any definitive statement could be disproven. Example: the sky is not in fact blue; it appears so but only at certain times of day and subject to conditions like lighting and atmosphere. An apple is not always an apple: sometimes it’s a seed, or in complete decay. All its particles are subject to what is known as flux, or time and circumstance. Similarly, one could say that all accepted empirical fact is based solely on consensus. The former concepts were philosophical. But modern quantum mechanics confirms the role of the observer in all perception. Without an observer, waves do not fix as particles but remain in the field of pure potential. The narrow margin of perception that allows for consensus in human perception counts a very specific chemical balance among its requirements. If that precise balance of neural transmitters, peptides or hormones is off one iota, a wall can breathe or a shelf of yogurt in the supermarket can appear to extend to eternity, each stack of plastic containers arranged in perfect pyramids as far as the eye can see. Anyone who’s done shrooms or acid knows that. (Side note: author does not recommend dropping acid in a supermarket.)
            Humans rely, arguably, on five senses (though science is beginning to acknowledge more than the traditional five) for our brains to filter, process and interpret stimuli. However, if a fly with five eyes comprised of millions of photoreceptors enters a room, it will experience the environment very differently from you or I—with a nearly 360 degree cone of vision. If a dolphin enters the room (never mind how) it will rely, among other senses, on sonar to orient itself—a sense we humans don’t even possess.
            None of this is controversial or debatable (unless you are Socrates or generally an instigator) but in case you fail to connect the dots or see how any of this applies to the cultural divide, let me spell it out: the role of perception is paramount. Reality is subjective. So why would abstract concepts (morals, ethics, codes, ideas, values) be any different than the realm of the tangible? When asked to recount a purse snatching, every member of a test pool invariably describes the assailant as wearing a hat or pair of Vans Slip-ons of a different color than those reported by the other subjects. This fact is the reason I spend sleepless nights dreading the moment I am asked to participate in a police lineup. Similarly, I cannot imagine for one moment taking on the responsibility of being a judge, so sure of—well, anything definitive—as to have a hand in another’s fate. The play and film ‘Doubt’ beautifully and succinctly illustrate the hubris behind such confidence. In the context of cultural divisiveness, recognizing the role of perspective, across the board, is but one factor that could prove key to bridging it. Incidentally, another bi-product of broadened perspective is compassion. If only more of us practiced it.
            The second factor we could all consider in order to synthesize seemingly opposing ideas is this: they are really only diametrically opposed due to what I call the Grand Illusion: the human compulsion to create opposites. This ‘black-and-white’ mindset is most dominant in Western culture: the drive to label everything as good, bad, right or wrong, from one’s sexual orientation to, well…a Q-Tip. To attribute good or evil, to apply wings or horns. Perhaps we could all benefit from a more eastern understanding that the Yin cannot exist without the Yang, the darkness without the light. That balance and harmony are innate when both are assigned value. That everything in life is neutral except our response to it; every crisis is an opportunity in disguise.
            The Kybalion, based on Hermetic principles that predate Christ, speaks of gamuts. Rather than polar opposites, most concepts can be thought to exist on a continuum with extremes. Though the extremes are on opposite ends of a conceptual stick, they are not mutually exclusive. When it comes to any aspect of the human condition, like the gamut from love to fear, compassion to intolerance, or intellectualism to emotionality, most of us have experienced the full range at one time or another. Much as the body seeks homeostasis, the mind seeks balance. And we know when we are out of whack.  Both ends of any mental stick exist in all of us; I would posit that this reservoir of shared experience is innate to our humanity. The ability to tap into it explains Meryl Streep, for one.
            The third phenomenon we might be wise to rise above, culturally speaking, is that of confirmation bias. It is as pervasive as gravity, and potentially just as dangerous.. Like gravity, its tug on humanity is as old as time. In the fourth century BC, Thucydides wrote of treason during the Pelopponesian war: ‘... for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.’ Simply put, confirmation bias is the sociological principle that people tend to look for, interpret, favor and recall that which confirms existing beliefs and prejudices. Imagine a sixteen year-old who throughout childhood has heard his father complaining about ‘those damn Asian drivers,’ or ‘women drivers,’ and internalized the stereotype. When he gets his license and is first cut off on the freeway, he will speed up to see what an idiot looks like. If the driver happens to be Asian, or female, he will file it with his current worldview, bias effectively confirmed. If the driver is neither Asian nor female, the moment will be forgotten. Confirmation bias manifests in many ways, from ‘cherry picking’ data to rhetoric to the editorial choice of what to give mental ‘airtime’ to. It is most often subconscious. But practiced demagogues expertly wield their understanding of its effect; in fact, they rely on it to manipulate the masses. It is a common sentiment that most are on ‘autopilot.’ Rather than developing a MetaSelf, exercising the ‘conscious observer’ that witnesses thoughts and trains them to be more productive, they remain preoccupied with the almighty dollar, keeping up w/the Jones’s, shopping at Sephora and injecting Sculptra into one or more body parts to get more ‘likes’ on Instagram.
            A meme that got my attention recently stated: I have configured the parental control settings on my parents’ TV to disallow Fox News, and I truly believe this is what will save the world. I got a good laugh out of it, but also recognized its ring of truth. We are all guilty of submerging ourselves in propaganda that confirms our biases, or otherwise limiting our bubble to likeminded individuals. I am admittedly more likely to watch CNN or MSNBC than Fox News. I do believe that (conspiracy theories and ‘fake news’ aside) the truth is largely available to the masses. But it requires sifting through all reliable outlets, from MSNBC and CNN through Network News and Fox News to Al Jazeera, and judiciously distilling the information. In my twenties, before I was TOFTS and had more patience, I regularly tuned into the Rush Limbaugh show to remain abreast of all mindsets, with some innate understanding that I should resist settling into an echo chamber. That, or I was simply a glutton for punishment.
            The fourth factor worth investigating (if I were in the business of persuading) would be the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. When confronted with new information that contradicts or conflicts with old beliefs, we experience tension. This anxiety accounts for the digging in of heels, the refuge we take in the all-too-easy shelter of confirmation bias, and nothing less than shouting matches in the halls of the Capitol building. It is simply ego (synonymous with both mind-dominance and pride, arguably) that drives us to protect our ideas and beliefs at all costs—to be right. But the rare, evolved individual recognizes that all tension is an opportunity for learning and growth once resolved. Conflicting ideas become synthesized according to Hegel’s model of dialectic: thesis, antithesis and finally synthesis. Such a process can be seen as vital to all growth or evolution on both the micro and macro levels. In storytelling—a basic human drive, the theme imparted is categorically a product of conflict resolution. This innate understanding may be what drives a cultural addiction to drama, explaining the horrible turn of events that is reality television. And yet, if tension and conflict are the gateway to growth and evolution, where lies the problem with divisiveness? There may be no problem at all; discourse and conversation drive social reform. All mindsets play a part, from those of militant activists to pacifists, from those who work ‘with the system’ to those who fight it. But it’s clear most of us would prefer to see the progress enacted with a bit more civility. While understanding the role of ‘righteous indignation’ and ‘rage against the machine,’ we could begin to return to a climate where new ideas are not threatening and healthy discourse is a virtue.
             I am constantly inspired by those individuals who take any opportunity to broaden their perspective, to expand their minds. Those intellectually curious seekers who have made a commitment not to be taxed by life or amass grievances, but to ever evolve. My peers often commiserate we were raised by a generation who had little capacity to ‘learn from’ their children. It is much more common now for new ideas (or those that each new generation believe they invented but which have been around since the dawn of time) to be adopted by older generations in their cutting edge form. It’s been said that beliefs are nothing more than ‘thoughts we keep thinking.’ In this way, our worldviews can be seen as jigsaw puzzles, one belief interlocked and fitted with dozens of others. Or better yet, as giant tapestries woven from many threads of belief. The thing is, it’s never finished. And we are our own weavers.
            The fifth or final factor that could have an impact on narrowing the chasm would be what I call airtime. Returning to the example I cited earlier, that of the politicized Q-Tip and the face-mask-as-racial-profiling post seen on Facebook. It came from the usual suspect—one of many who seem intent to prove with every post—or virtual online breath, if you will—that the world is a shitty place. We’re talking everything from the last asinine thing an orange dictator might have uttered to a bloody dog being dragged across coarse asphalt. We’ve all experienced it—that image we can’t scroll fast enough to avoid, and then can never unsee. This type is not an Internet ‘troll,’ per se, but may suffer from extremely poor judgment. In defense of the ‘world-shittiness’ purveyors of social media, I will say many of them likely believe they are using the platform to expose or draw attention to underrepresented causes. However, a case could be made that they are, in fact, perpetuating them. Beyond the conversation to do with the ‘proper forum’ for such, there is the question of efficacy. We’ve all heard of the phenomenon of ‘copycat’ high speed chases and even school shootings. Another example from the lexicon of cultural milestones might be the failed War on Drugs of the '80s. The Romeo and Juliet effect is alive and well in modern culture. Due to the Law of Attraction, ‘energy flows where attention goes.’ Or put another way, what we put our attention on manifests. This is true for individuals, and societally via all forms of media. Consider the idea that the frequency of a problem is far from that of its solution. There just might be immeasurable value in fighting for rather than fighting against. Beating old, tired drums effects only perpetuation, whereas taking inspired action to move toward a solution can change the world.
            It’s been said many of us are a walking grievances looking for a cause. And the current climate rewards the mentality. A climate of victimization and blaming has taken the place of the virtue of overcoming and emerging victorious despite circumstances. Personally, I recognize that all approaches work together, in order to keep everything in check, that all mindsets and approaches to effecting change have value. I really do say ‘Amen’ to all of it. Still, I can’t help but theorize that by recognizing our human compulsion to file mental grievances, my hunch is that progress would accelerate exponentially.
             In this author’s estimation, by practicing judicious, convergent thinking, understanding perspective (also known as compassion,) exercising brain plasticity and rejecting the temptations of confirmation bias, many imaginary divides could be bridged. If more individuals adopted free-thinking in favor of the base drive to 'belong' or identify with a group at the expense of the 'other,' there would be fewer casualties. There would be no need to forge a common enemy. Evolutionary theory posits that any social phenomenon that has persisted over time serves the propagation of the species in some way. But there is catch-up time. As we evolve, obsolete institutions take their time falling by the wayside. Example: canine teeth. We can be smarter than our biology, and some would say that capacity is synonymous with being human.  If more individuals graduated from unproductive habits of thought that no longer serve them, once critical mass was reached, paradigms on the macro scale would follow suit. Sort of like ‘herd immunity’ from outdated thought forms. This is the way of dialectic.
            Undoubtedly, the argument could be made that most cannot rise above their temperament or disposition. That DNA dictates a structural mindset, worldview, or ‘personality type’ that is set in stone. To this way of thinking, individuals appear to be bound by DNA to a type A or a Type B personality, to a distinct Enneagran profile, to their astrological sign by the stars or to their introverted nature by Carl Jung himself. But back to semantics. Each seemingly rigid chart can simply be thought of as a language—a way of looking at things; we are all complex amalgams of universal traits dictated by countless as yet mysterious factors. Further, epigenetics has told us for decades now that even DNA is malleable, more like clay than marble. We are all familiar with the shared role of nature and nurture on influencing genetic expression. Modern epigenetics indicates that every gene on one’s DNA strand can be expressed or repressed—squelched—depending on the methyl groups formed. These methyl groups are the malleable part, shaped by environment, habits, practices, diet and exercise regimes and…the chemicals regulated via our thought process. It is up to us whether those habits of thought are productive or destructive. The methyl groups we craft throughout life, like clay, those that express or squelch traits on our DNA strand, are what we pass on to our children in the moment of conception. Perhaps more inspiring is knowing we have an influence on the environment in which those children are raised—the values, morals, ethics, thought forms and principles they are exposed to. The implications are endless, especially in the intangible realm. Simple beliefs—about aging or love or money or how we culturally define success—are repeated by those who have observed the status quo, and thereby perpetuated as tropes, colloquialisms and limiting beliefs. By freeing ourselves from often-misguided sentiments, conventional wisdoms and understandings to which the mainstream has resigned, can we begin to create new paradigms. This is how we inch closer to our true human potential.
            The characterization that many in society are comfortable with diversion is not a moralistic ‘call to action’ for humanity to reject materialism and superficiality and return to intrinsic values (though that would be nice.) Rather, it’s a gentle offering of perspective—one way to look at things. And this stolen, unforeseen moment of enforced isolation is the perfect opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. If we all recognized when we were on ‘autopilot,’ we might catch ourselves trapped in rut, a comfortable ‘habit of thought.’ We all have them! Most destructive thought patterns are actual neural circuits that can be disentangled. Not necessarily through hard work—mantras, positive affirmations taped to a mirror, or chanting while throwing a dead chicken over one shoulder. But by simply clearing the mind. It is during moments of quiet contemplation that our neural connections disentangle, leaving room for new, better thought forms. It would seem this is an elaborate sales pitch for the practice of meditation; it is not. Some quiet their minds by engaging in a sport like running; it is then that alpha waves replace reverie, or mental chatter, in the brain. Others achieve the same diminishment of linear thought while singing or playing guitar, allowing vibration to resonate through every cell of their bodies. I have been surrounded by fellow artists for decades; I count us fortunate for having had the opportunity to engage in the creative process regularly. When drawing or painting (from the model, a still life, or when plein aire painting on location) linear thought subsides and restorative alpha waves take over. Though I am a big fan of the creative process as personal catharsis and its larger impact on humanity, one need not have a studied craft to find the space where stillness, wellbeing and inner peace reside; anyone can indulge a stolen moment of what so sorely lacks in contemporary life: silence. Anyone—even those buried in diapers and chasing toddlers about can steal a moment here or there to align with their core essence, absent mind and ego. And in the end, self-care can only benefit those we serve. We simply have more to offer when we are in alignment. There is immeasurable value in the simple act of watching that subtle, nearly imperceptible flutter of a leaf, the dance of golden dapples of light thereupon, or simply listening to the subtle breeze—even if it stirs outside a dirty, snot-smudged window.

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