Monday, March 18, 2019

Who do you think you are?

Okay, it's is another philosophical question. I admit I don't really know who I am. I thought I did for years, but I kept surprising myself. It's part of the aging process. Enlightenment comes when you realize you don't know anything, including yourself.

Part of it is that the self we grow up believing in is, according to Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, is an illusion. Of course, so is everything else. If you accept that, then you have to wrap your illusionary brain around both creating the illusion and being the illusion.

Sometimes I think I'm pretty deep. Other times I worry that I'm just a windbag. I just came out of a business meeting with a consultant. At times I imaged I was witty and engaging. Everyone laughed at my jokes, nodded and took notes. But stepping out of myself, I realize they pretty much do all those things because I am the client. Inside they were probably thinking about what they were going to have for lunch.

Part of my anxiety about finding out who I am or who I am not is that I'd find out that I am no one. But if I engage in a bit of Zen word play, finding out you are no "one" could mean that you are many.

What's that? You heard the sound of one hand clapping? I did too. And it usually only happens when I show people the face I had before I was born.

It was 20 years ago, today...

I spent my 41st birthday in New Orleans, by myself. It was an odd time in my life. I'd weathered the milestone of turning 40 and wasn't quite sure what to make of things. I didn't have a relationship. I was on a career path I wasn't sure I wanted to be on. I felt lost.

I'd been to New Orleans three times. Two of the three was just to board a cruise ship bound for Cozomel. The other time was to attend a conference. I'd never really explored the city. So I decided to book a week in the French Quarter. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne which ironically turns out to be just a block away from the Dauphine Orleans which I stayed at a few weeks ago.

I had no real itinerary. I knew I wanted to see what St. Patrick's Day was like in New Orleans. Other than that, I had no plan. And that is how I discovered that no plan is sometimes the best plan.

Every day I'd sleep in. Then I'd set out and just walk. Most times I'd head for Royal Street and enjoy the street musicians. Then I'd usually end up in Jackson Square. That's where I spotted the photo above of a street busker. I found out later that the performer was Amanda Palmer. Palmer was the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist/composer of the duo The Dresden Dolls. But she'd started out as a street performer in San Francisco and New Orleans. I only found out that the performer was Palmer years later when I saw her on a TED talk about connections.

That kind of sums up the trip. I walked. I ate great food. I watched the St. Patrick's Day parade. I turned 41 and celebrated alone on the balcony of a restaurant on Bourbon Street. It was one of the most memorable unmemorable trips I've ever taken.

Now, 20-years later, it is my birthday and I am turning 61. I am married now. I have two children. I stayed on the same career path and can glimpse retirement down the road (but still several years away). But sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was strolling up Royal Street enjoying those unscripted moments of my life.

After all, they led me to where I am now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blogging like it's 2006

As I stare forlornly at my blog stats, I regularly see posts I wrote back in 2006 being viewed now, thirteen years after they were written. And as I reread them, I can't help but think they were pretty darned good. I think 2006 was my peak year as a blogger. Which is pretty sad considering I was not quite two years into this medium that was relatively new at the time.

I suppose part of it was that it was a new type of writing and I was still having fun exploring the options. And I hadn't been blogging long enough to have started repeating myself. I had, however, been alive long enough to start repeating myself.

As much as I'd like to believe that I blog for myself and don't need an audience, in 2006 I had an active group of people who regularly read and commented on my blog. Their positive feedback did influence my writing at the time.

For whatever reason, all of the people in my blog community at the time moved on, dropped out, or found other outlets to amuse themselves. It's not like there were thousands of people who read my blog anyway. I think at the time there were maybe ten regulars at the most. So it's not like I ever went viral or was discovered.

This was before social media really overshadowed everything, too. In retrospect, I never really rose to any degree of success as a blogger. So I can't really lament languishing in relative obscurity now.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one with a lampshade on my head at a pity party.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Me, myself and eye

Everything I've been listening to philosopher Alan Watts say about reality and enlightenment pretty much nixes a sense of self and individual existence. This adds to my confusion about figuring out who I am and puts a dead end sign on my road to self discovery.

I don't pretend to totally understand what Watts is explaining. He tends to use a lot of Greek and other ancient language words that he spells out in his lectures (as if spelling them will make them any more comprehensible). I tend to listen to Watts lectures during my morning commute on the train. And I am usually half asleep while I listen to them.

Not that being fully awake would matter (in a literal, not a spiritual sense). Most of what I glean from Watts' explanations is that most of us mistakenly assume we are separate from the world around us. Watts conjectures that we are all connected to everything. So there isn't any "you" or "I."

That is the hardest part for "me" to accept. Because I have struggled my entire life with feeling pretty much alone trying to figure out what I am doing here.

I can't say that what Watts is saying is new to me. I have been fascinated for years with the concept that time isn't really linear. Our mistake is connecting a non-existent past with a non-existent future. In doing so, we ignore the infinite now. But it is hard to comprehend an infinite now because it seems impossible to pinpoint when now is. Because the moment you utter the words now, it has slipped into a seemingly non-existent past to make room for the new now.

I'll catch that tail some day.

Monday, March 04, 2019

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

I just got back from a business trip to one of my favorite cities, New Orleans. I've visited the city seven times in the past 20-some years. And although it has a reputation of being haunted, I have never seen a ghost there. I have seen some scary people there. And I've seem some people who seem haunted. But no spirits.

When I booked the Dauphine Orleans for this trip, it was said to be haunted. It was the site of a former brothel and was said to be haunted by some of the women who worked there. There was also supposed to be a civil war soldier who appeared now an then. But with the exception of a lot of screaming coming from the streets outside my balcony windows (it was Mardi Gras time), I didn't hear or see anything remotely supernatural.

I have pretty much given up on believing in ghosts anyway. I've stayed at many supposedly haunted hotels including the Del Coronado in San Diego, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the Geiser Grand in Oregon, Thornewood Castle in Washington and the Bourbon Orleans and the Chateau La Moyne in New Orleans. All were supposed to have ghosts. And all of them snubbed me. Though the Geiser Grand felt haunted.

I shouldn't be surprised. All of the Alan Watts philosophy lectures I've been listening to speak to death as just a respite between living. The concept of a soul trapped between living and dying doesn't really make sense.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

If you meet the Buddha by the side of the Information Highway....

I am still listening to Alan Watts' lectures on YouTube every morning while I wait for the train. And while I still have very little clue as to what he is talking about, I sense that it is very profound.

I do like that Watts seems to constantly remind us that the truth is that there is no truth. He repeats things like, "trying to bite our own teeth" or "using a flame to set fire to itself." He also pretty much takes a dump on religion.

But I could just be reading things into what he is saying. We all hear what we want to hear even if we don't know what we want to hear.

Watts does talk a great deal about our desire to hold onto our sense of self and how futile that is. He does allude to the fact that death is simply a respite from living (or something like that). And he implies that everything is an illusion. He also points out that everything exists because it's opposite exists (i.e. you can't have good without evil because you wouldn't know what it was without its opposite).

So Watts does keep you chasing your own tail a great deal. But I like that. It somehow helps me to know that there is no concrete truth and that we are better off just living than worrying about dying.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Snow way

The Puget Sound region is slowly recovering from a series of snow storms that dumped close to a foot of snow in an area that rarely gets any. And these storms hit in February with spring visible on the horizon.

I don't like snow. I don't like being cold. I don't like not being able to leave my house. I don't like having to shovel snow and clear patches of my lawn so the dog can poop. I don't like having to walk through snow drifts to get to the train station to get to work and then wonder if I'm going to get home again. I don't like getting two phone calls, a text and an e-mail from my kid's school district telling me school has been cancelled.

I live in the Puget Sound region partially because it rarely snows. So having to endure almost a week of this crap has made me think that moving to Costa Rica may not be a bad idea.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Last Laugh

I watched a bad movie (The Last Laugh) the other night on Netflix starring a 75-year old Chevy Chase playing an even older ex-manager of comedians including one played by 71-year old Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss looks like he is 85. It was your typical coming of old-age film that tries to instill faith that we still have it in us as we age. Chevy Chase hooks up with Andie MacDowell playing a swinging artist who had attended Woodstock. Thing is, actress MacDowell is the same age as me.

The film was pretty depressing. For one, it's audience demographic are people my age who know who the hell Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfus and Andie MacDowell are and remembers what they looked like in their younger days.

I suppose I could start posting positive posts about how aging isn't really so bad. The thing is, there isn't a lot positive to say about aging except that you aren't led around by raging hormones anymore. I suppose that is something.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

And then, then...

"Then" by definition is what comes after now. And I've already established that it is always "now," so you can really never reach "then." So why do we even have a word for it (then, not "it")?

 And yes, I am still listening to Alan Watts. I have to tell you, though, his speaking style is a bit annoying. He pauses a great deal while he speaks which makes me check my phone to see if I lost my signal. But "then" he finishes his sentence.

But I digress. Though I noticed that "then" is used a great deal to describe a sequence of past events. This butts heads with the notion that there is no past, either, just the now. So "then" can't cut break no matter what it describes.

In Mel Gibson's film, Braveheart, William Wallace asks the parents of a young woman he is interested in whether he can go for a horseback ride with her. The reply was "No the now." At the time, I thought it was just a Scottish thing. But "now" I think the scriptwriter may have been slipping in some philosophy. You be the judge:

I think this YouTube clip illustrates just how irritating being in the now all the time is.

But "then" I could be wrong.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Now, now...

So I continue to listen to Philosopher Alan Watts into the new year. And I realize that I have heard everything he has said about living in the now many, many times. But I doubt I have ever really "heard" it.

I wonder if my parents ever thought about their place in the universe and the questions of why we are here. My mother bought firmly into the myth of her religion and clutched to it right up until her death. And from what I witnessed of her death, her faith didn't offer much comfort in her final moments.

I never discussed anything philosophical with my father. He did seem focused on his here and now which ping ponged between discovering lost treasures in ghost towns and cheering on the Boise State Bronco football team. Though I imagine both fixations didn't really involve the now. He set his sights on a hidden treasure that perhaps he imagined would change his life of barely scrapping by financially. I can only guess as to why he was fixated on the Boise Broncos. He'd been a janitor at a dorm at Boise State that housed many football players. So my negative self imagined they became the sons he wished he had.