A blog about nothing.

Monday, November 30, 2015

BUDDHA KNOWS (YOUR PAIN)



Bo knows. If you are unfamiliar with this expression you weren't alive in the late 1980s, or if you were alive you were either comatose or still suckling your mother's teat. And if the super-athlete Bo Jackson knows a lot, then Buddha, the sage whose name means "Enlightened One" knows a lot more. Because six years performing austerities in the forest culminating in 49 days meditating on Ultimate Reality makes a person an expert on just about everything. Modern medicine, on the other hand, doesn't know diddly-squat. Not when it comes to mental illness. Researchers at UCLA have recently declared a war on depression. By throwing billions of dollars at what has become (globally, and in America especially) an epidemic, scientists hope to uncover the elusive cause and cure of the disorder (sadness) which, unbeknownst to them, Buddha figured out twenty-five centuries ago. There are nearly 500 million Buddhists who can attest to this. Few of them live in America. Which is sad, because if more people knew of Buddha's teachings, scientists especially, this war need not be waged, lots of money could be saved. And people would not be so sad. The search for a quick-fix wonder drug to cure an overmedicated America can only lead to a dead end. It is not some other (drug, doctor) that will save us. It is our selves. Just ask Buddha, who knows your pain.

It is easy to understand the desire to rid the world of what has become an epic malady. Depression affects more than 350 million people, making it the single most common cause of disability worldwide. Sadness, which frequently manifests during the college years, is implicated in more suicides than war, natural disasters and murder combined. Less than half of depressed individuals seek treatment. And only half of those who do get treated obtain any benefit. Globally, depression takes a devastating economic toll, in a recent year resulting in $116 billion in medical and long-term care costs in the U.S. alone.

UCLA should be applauded for trying to do something about this international crisis, but the approach leaves something to be desired. Yes, they have the requisite expert leader in psychiatrist Nelson B. Freimer, the professor leading the interdisciplinary team that over the next decade will attempt a greater understanding of the cause and cure for this disturbed mood state. Because, according to Freimer, "we don't understand depression well." Researchers believe that there is a strong genetic link to depression, which is often activated when a person experiences a stressful event. To test this hypothesis, genomes of 100,000 people will be sequenced; cutting-edge clinical and basic science research will be conducted; conversations will be had. Hormones will be studied. Neuromodulators levels will be assessed, as well as nerve cells and supporting networks in a coordinated effort involving science, engineering, economics, public health and policy, as well as business, arts and humanities. If this sounds fancy, it fits its fancy name, and has the price tag to boot.

Call me cynical, but I do not believe that throwing billions at a multi-billion dollar problem is the way to make it go away. Because we have done this before, and with little to show for the effort. In 1971 president Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer and announced his goal to cure the disease by the nation's bicentennial in 1976. Here we are nearly 40 years and more than 100 billion dollars later, and the National Institutes of Health reports that the cumulative adult death rate from cancer has improved by less than 5%. That's hardly a cure. And considering that the death rate for heart disease over this time period has improved by more than 60%, it's hardly even a step in the direction of a cure. This brings to mind Einstein's definition of insanity, which is doing something over and expecting a different result.

READ MORE HERE

Sunday, November 29, 2015

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?

One of my favorite films came is Slumdog Millionaire. The movie came out in 2008, won the Oscar for Best Picture, and is very appropriately titled. It's about a slumdog, in this case a kid who grew up on the streets of India, who is given the chance to appear in front of millions on a Jeopardy-type TV show (actually it is more like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) where he is asked a bunch of really tough questions whose answers hardly anyone knows. Somehow the little street urchin manages to give the correct response to all of them, winning millions in the process while of course being chased by bad guys. As if winning the show weren't drama enough. It is after all a Hollywood movie. Or is it Bollywood? It has elements of both, and more confusing still it is a British film!

How does uneducated Jamal Malik, the 18-year-old prodigy, accomplish this amazing feat? How does he hit a home run, sweep the show clean, do the impossible? Suspicious minds want to know. He recounts his personal history, and it becomes clear that the very unique experiences that constitute the facts of his life provided him with all the right answers. Life provided the Jamal with the material, and he got the message. The universe was his university.

But it was not enough to be physically present at the events that made up his childhood. He needed also to be aware, to witness, to remember. How often is this not the case in daily life? We have a conversation and forget what we just discussed. We forget where we put the keys. Crueler writers than I would accuse the average person of sleep-walking through life, of being an automaton, living on automatic pilot, functioning like a zombie. But there is a remedy if you are a member of the walking dead. All it takes is to be present. Life provides a host of details, physical, verbal, emotional, nuances and ambiguities, which add to its tapestry, and which if we mind, are mindful of, make life so much more interesting and enjoyable.

Science seems to bear this out. This month's Scientific American recaps 170 years of ground-breaking discoveries in physics, math, technology, industry and evolution. Among the major achievements that we humans have been bequeathed are those of quantum mechanics. In 1979 the scientist Bernard d'Espagnat posited that objects cannot exist unless they can be grasped by human consciousness. So if you aren't aware of something, it is as if it never happened. If Malik had not been mentally present in the slums of his youth, the events that turned into right answers and made him a fortune would never have registered in his mind. They would have been as good as nothing, as useless too. You carry with you the key to life, since without a you to witness something, nothing can be said to take place.

So I try to be aware, and I notice that when I do I can, for example, run the same 5-mile route from and to my front door and never see the same thing twice, or in quite the same way. Each time I remark a different tree, a new crack in the road, I spot a someone I've never seen before walking her dog, or at least never noticed her until I do. The road is the same, but the journey is always different.

Alert awareness may not win you a million bucks, but it is a lot of fun. 

SHADES OF GRAY


So my friends tell me they are worried about their son. Ashton, who is 5, wants to be a police officer when he grows up. A desire they are eager to dispel, owing to the danger of the profession, and the atrocities perpetrated by members in its ranks. My question: What has been Ashton's exposure to cops? Does he see them on TV or in the movies? Perhaps you have friends in the force? Because a child does not formulate an aspiration out of thin air. It has surely come from somewhere. His father, Sean, said that whenever they hear sirens, Ashton inquires as to their purpose and Sean's response is, "Those are policemen going to get the bad guys." (Which I'm sure he says with pride. Since Sean says everything with pride. He is like Donald Trump that way. No wonder he is a Republican.) And voila! What child wouldn't want to spend his life hunting down bad guys!

This affords a lesson in child psychology. Ashton's desire stems from two things. First, his unrealistic view of what cops do. Second, his desire to please his father. Due to his father's description of how officers of the law spend their days, Ashton takes cops to be “real-life superheroes.” Because isn't that how superheroes like X-Men, Spiderman, etc. occupy their time? They fight bad guys for a living. The truth however, as adults know, is that many cops are themselves bad guys - corrupt, unjust, beating the innocent, seizing the drugs for themselves, and filling out forms.

If Sean breaks down the police profession as it really is, if he opens his sons eyes in his own inimitable way to the ambiguity of law enforcement (an ambiguity which exists in all professions except perhaps that of superhero); if he disillusions his boy of his belief that cops are all good, instead explaining that the men in black are corrupt and flawed just like the rest of us, that they expose themselves to death on a daily basis, he will likely see this desire wane, because what kid wants to grow up to be a bad guy, what child in his right mind wants to risk his life! Or for that matter do paperwork!

With cops as with anything, nothing is black and white, despite what the colors on a squad car may advertise. An easier approach would be for Sean to show his boy film footage of the Rodney King beating. Or he can nothing and hope his son grows out of this phase on his own. Kids usually do. I used to want to be an actor.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ADVENTURES IN SITTING


Thanksgiving is a holiday associated in most people's minds with stuffing oneself on such delicacies as turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce and, well, stuffing. But what goes unrecognized is the amount of time we spend sitting. There is the commute to whosever's house serves as the site of our festivities, the sitting in front of the TV to watch football, dinner itself, after-dinner conversation, and the car-ride home. Relaxing or exhausting? It depends on your definitions of these terms.

This past Turkey Day, my pal Michael invited me to his sister-in-law's for dinner. I met him at his house at 3 to find him still in the shower, so I sat at the table talking with his mom for an hour till he and his wife and son were ready. Then we drove to Hollywood to drop off an employee, then back to the West Side where the hostess lives. I resumed my sitting position, this time on the sofa, where I chatted with Mike's sister and parents-in-law until it was time to eat. Dinner was served at 8, dessert at 9, and we remained at the table till around 11 discussing myriad topics.

In the end I had spent an 8-hour day on my rump, and when I got up to go home my body felt so beat up, it was as if I had just spent as many hours running through the trails at elevation. I kid you not. My back was tight, my hip hurt, my feet were swollen, I had to focus to keep from nodding off. My body has felt less worn after spending 5.5 hours running 33 miles at 5000-plus feet above sea level. And I didn't even have any turkey or wine! Just water and salad for me, thanks very much, because had I been in a food coma as well as suffer the postural pounding, they'd have needed to have wheeled me home in a stretcher.

The funny thing was that nobody else's body seemed to be so sore afterwards. Maybe I'm sensitive, or just used to moving around a lot. Michael's mom at least spends 10 hours a day at a desk, so doing the same over the holidays is nothing. The lucky one was Mike's kid, Ashton, who at all of 5 years old spent the evening horsing around, playing with the dogs, performing karate, and climbing all over his grandpa, when he wasn't punching his father in the johnson for taking away his iPad. I don't even know that Ashton ate, because at that age, we practically have to be force-fed don't we? 

Of course sitting isn't all that bad, at least not for the soul. Running in the hills may be less exhausting on the body for the athlete I believe myself to be, but slogging along the trail all by one's lonesome can get just that, lonely. The solitary pursuits are salutary, to be sure, but how nice it is to share special occasions with company.

And there were antics, arguments, jokes, anecdotes, shared at the dinner table among strangers (at least strangers to me) that made the night more than worth my while, despite the ongoing leg pain. In fact, I'd do it again like tomorrow. But next time we convene and break bread, I'll spend some part of the evening on the floor with the kid. And drinking wine. Because oh, how my aching back could use a stiff one right about now!

And by evening's end these strangers had become my friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AN OPEN LETTER TO WHOEVER THE HELL BLOODY CARES

I've had about as much as any sane man can take. I might as well speak my mind before somebody gets killed. The tabloids are misrepresenting me. Making me out to be the bad guy. Yes, I slept with the nanny. Yes, I got caught. And yes, this had something to do with the breakup of my marriage. But really, the relationship was already if not dead then on life support. My wife and I were only nominally together, for the sake of the kids! But I couldn't watch my life explode from the outside. I needed to do something.

If I had to designate a date, I'd say that the relationship ended around the time I became known as Mr. Gwen Stefani. This began years ago. The process was slow and insidious. I was once a famous rock star, and a decent actor to boot. I strummed my guitar before thousands of adoring females at Woodstock, and crooned "Glycerine," a song that is not about soap. In my days as a thespian I appeared alongside Keanu in a movie that wasn't all that bad. But then my wife took over. Women these days. It is a time of neo-feminism. They think they can do it all, and they end up doing none of it very well. I said it, so sue me! Her own musical career flourished as mine floundered, and then that gig as the reality TV host, while trying to raise our three children. Kids alone are a full-time job, woman! No wonder we needed a nanny. 

It was my wife who did the hiring. She chose a woman who looked the spitting image of how she used to look in her younger days, I never knew why. Perhaps so our kids would think there mom never left while she was away gaining acclaim. And her and that country star, I knew it all along. All the subtle and not-so-subtle flirting that took place on stage, plain as day, and for millions of viewers at home to see! It was surely no coincidence that his marriage ended a month before my wife filed for divorce. I'm not saying they had it all planned, but things do look awfully fishy. 

So I did what needed to be done. She was fucking around on me, or at least flirting with the idea, so I'd do the same to her. And with the nanny it couldn't have been any easier. She slept across the hall, for Godsakes. Here I had taken a cue from other celebrities - Schwarzenegger, Affleck and others. There are others. Believe me. And now I spend my days walking the streets of Bel-Air, pushing a stroller, trying to look the part of suburban dad. And the days go by. How did I get here? I am 50 years old. I have not seen or spoken to Mindy in weeks. Mindy is the sitter. Excuse me, nanny. I am alone except for the kids I get to see part time. My band recently got together again after years of soloing it and did the requisite touring, put out the new videos. But it just wasn't the same as back in the day. Can you say getting too old for this shit?

Apparently Gwen doesn't feel that way. Taking a cue from Angie, she runs around like three women in one body, but one-fifth the size. She's shriveling away each day like a Garner. What happens to these women? Don't they know that getting waif thin in their 40s just ages them? Dries them up like prunes. And all the time on the road has taken its toll on her looks, given her lines, faded her skin, I've told her this more than once. Who knows, maybe I drove her into the arms of another. Women want to be cherished. But I was just fed up.

Because really, I'm just not cut out for marriage. It's unnatural. This from a guy who had a half-decade long relationship with another dude. If you listen to Boy George. So I get to be the posterboy for infidelity. Mr. Bad Guy. Even though my wife started cheating first, and worked it so she is happily in a relationship with the man who cuckolded me after he is made to look like the lovable sweetheart with a broken heart after his wife divorced him - for cuckholding me. Ludicrous! Doesn't the reading public put it all together? Can't anybody see what's going on here? Or are we in high school all over again? I never should have left England.

And another thing: Banging the sitter for 3 years? Still attracted to Gwen, only if she's younger and not her? Let me remind you that it was only after Shelton's divorce was finalized that Gwen announced she was leaving me. So she could be with him - publically. They had been together long before then, I'm pretty sure of it. After all, The Voice is in its ninth season. But the two only began working together in 2014, you say. Minor detail. There are ways around this. Love conquers all. Etc. And did you see them lip sync on The Tonight Show? The way she gazed into his eyes when she mouthed the words, "I want to share all my love with you?" Appaling! Playing giddy teenager for half America while her two toddlers sat at home with their daddy wondering why mommy was making goo goo eyes at the burly guy with the bad hair. Kids get it. They see through the bologna. And so daddy is speechless. Because what is a man to say to such a point-blank question without lying and manage to retain some speck of self-respect! And this Shelton character is a younger man (though he has more gray than me); he is more virile (or at least taller). Seven years age difference between the two is her robbing the cradle! My wife should be ashamed. I counter that Mindy is over a decade younger than me. Two words: I win!

The tabloids say former Ms. Shelton (nee Miranda Lambert) wants to meet with me to determine when exactly our respective exes started seeing each other. At least someone else is on to it. She feels as though we both are made out to be cheaters for the benefit of our erstwhile partners. Too true. Strange how the nanny scandal broke when it happened so long ago. Also true. She is "shocked that their relationship could take off so quickly." Powerful PR people in their corner, is all I can say. Because all the fingers of blame are on me, hooking up with the nanny even when my wife was pregnant. Which by the way, isn't true. I stopped hitting that way back, just don't quote me on that. Still, Miranda hasn't called. And so I wait here by the phone, or drop it in the stroller when I manage to remember.

Oh, what am I saying. I have it all wrong. It is all my fault. Yes, I began seeing the sitter long before I suspected Gwen of fancying this other man. And perhaps it was three years ago, as the tabloids insist. Because she had already taken my dignity. By this time I had been relegated to kept man status, Mr. Gwen Stefani, my own successes forgotten. I had become Mr. Mom! Gwen did her best, I'll give her that. She carried my children, perpetuated my name, and was a loving and dutiful wife and mother most of the time. But she spread herself too thin. How long can a person keep up their juggling act? Kids don't raise themselves. For this there are nannies. But it wasn't always this way. I miss my mommy.

The talk shows want to know why did I behave as irresponsibly as I have. Simple: Because I could. That is our only freedom in life, to be capricious. Read Dostoyevsky. "Man [prefers] to act as he [chooses] and not in the least as his reason and advantage [dictate] it." I am a man, and I chose to think with my dick. I chose to say fuck you to my wife and the guy she's flirting with, fuck you to my bandmates who call me Mr. Gwendolyn, fuck you to the fans who have forgotten about me, and more than anything fuck the nanny. Literally! 

I am not an automaton. I am a man. And I can do as I damn well please. So what if I must begin again at the bottom, single, scorned and ridiculed. I have climbed out of anonymity before, I will do it again. Because I love building a successful life, and am good at it, but what fun is there in living in it? "The only goal to which we all strive is the unending process of attaining, not in the thing attained." To put it bluntly. Wife, kids, career, and something on the side. I had it all. And I will have it again, with her or with another. Because that is the essence of life! Yes it smarts to suffer, but it benefits a person just as greatly as the decades of being perfectly at ease. Perhaps more. And now that I have crawled out of my hole of comfort, I am free.

And Gwen if you're listening, I know you were devastated on finding those iPad correspondences between me and your stand-in, this after you had treated Mindy as a little sister and taken her under your wing. What can I say, the male ego is such a fragile thing. And we are working against millions of years of biology. Man used to mate with many women. To have another woman raise his kids tricks his biology into thinking she is their mother, and by extension his wife, so convincingly that he wishes to mate with her. As did Mindy and I. There, I said it. We mated. Just like what you are doing with this Blake character. But you should have seen this coming. All the signs were there. My relationship with Pearl Lowe, and my "goddaughter" Daisy who was later revealed to be my own flesh and blood? And this Blake guy is a big drinker. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won't. Don't forget I was the one who said it first.

Oh, what's the use? To use an expression you Americans will understand, I have fallen and I can't get up! Help me. I am tired of toting the stroller around all by my lonesome. Though I must say I get a lot of looks, mostly from married women, but still. I read recently that Gwen wishes the whole divorce never happened. Nowadays I get all my information from the tabloids because she won't speak to me. I feel the same. I wish I could press rewind on the tape of life and do it all over, right this time. It wasn't supposed to be like this. But I can't tell her how sorry I am since she won't speak to me. Which is why I'm writing this.

I need to hire another nanny. Maybe a large Filipino male, with an ingratiating manner and a sweet face. Who is gay. That way I won't have to worry about him hooking up with the future ex Mrs. Rossdale, to get me back. Because who knows, maybe my future former love will once again be Gwendolyn. Snoop recently remarried his ex-wife. They have three kids, just like us. If he made it out of the dog house, maybe I can too. Baby come back to me? If you don't, I'm better off alone.

I wonder if this is what a mid-life crisis feels like. I just hope the nanny goes easy on me in her autobiography.



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DREAD OF DEATH, LIGHT OF TRUTH

The psychiatrist Carl Jung once noted that in all of his patients age 40 or older the dread of death was at the root of all psychosis and mental illness. A person's suffering, whatever its shape, form or apparent cause, had fear as its father.

A similar view is expressed in the following passage: "In all stages of the evolution of religious thought in India the description of the ultimate goal of the higher path of religious effort carried with it the dread of extinction of the individual after death." (The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 1)

In other words the onward journey to the pure realm of infinity, which has for so long been the goal of the spiritual aspirant, is nothing but a funeral procession to the cemetery, where the individual travels alone, ultimately to become dust and perish, and to lose everything.

If this is the case, why embark on the path? Why not just enjoy life, since death is the ultimate fate awaiting us all?

The soul is complete in itself, within and without. It is spirit, standing outside of space, and immortal, as it is out of time. What dies is its form of manifestation (the body). And with the body dies the mind, so at death, just as in deep sleep, the soul has no cognizance of itself, having no perceiving apparatus by which to obtain such knowledge. The soul passes beyond all duality (subject and object; phenomenal universe perceived  by a perceiver) and cannot be represented in the current terms of thought, precisely because it is beyond thought. It then becomes the whole, infinity, complete in and of itself, beyond which nothing exists. Imagine describing color to a blind person, or what it is like to live on land to a fish. There is no frame of reference in which to comprehend the infinite. You can only experience it by silent concentration, going beyond thought, "free from form and formlessness, happiness and suffering," in the Buddha's terms.

But this explanation did not satisfy all aspirants living in Buddha's time, who still conceived of Nirvana as an extinction and a void. Years later the sage Shankara would emerge to reform and distill Buddha's message. The soul, Shankara said, is the same as God, it is divine in its essence. It is therefore self-illumined, unlimited and ever free. When you remove the mind with its limitations by dispelling ignorance, you go beyond the unreal to the Real, separateness ceases, and the individual relinquishes personal identity.

This is a sort of extinction, yes. But the sense of personality is bondage. Universality is freedom. To be God is not to be regarded as the  loss of individuality; it is not extinction but the expansion of one's individuality into the infinitude of the Divine. So you are always God, but in ignorance truth is screened from you. Once the light of awareness shines through, you realize you always were free, nothing new happens.

The death of the personality is not that because how can something that is unreal be said to ever have existed. What you are is universal.

Monday, November 23, 2015

DON'T CUT OUT, CROWD OUT


Much of human evolution was characterized by food scarcity. In the prehistoric past, our ancestors had to cover miles on foot in search of fruit trees, leafy greens, perhaps the occasional dead carcass. Then we developed tools, killed animals for food, domesticated them for their milk, then followed the mass production of grains via the agricultural evolution and the mass consumption of animals via the industrial age. Fast forward to the present and now it is not scarcity that is the problem but just the opposite. We live amidst plenty. The struggle is to avoid consuming too much. Everywhere you turn, vending machine, food truck, cafeteria, market, fast-food joint, etc. cheap calories beckon. And too often, most answer the call and we wear it around our ever-increasing waistlines.

My friend Mike typifies this struggle. A married father of a six-year-old he finds himself approaching middle age, working harder to build his nest egg and therefore working out less. Less physical activity combined with eating more of what his son eats (the calorie bombs every child cherishes) equals weight gain. Mike struggles to keep his weight below 200 lbs. He is six feet tall. I tell him about my friend Pete, also six feet tall, who when we used to train at Gold's Gym back in high school fought to keep his weight above 200 lbs. The fight was a pleasant one, involving many bodybuilder's breakfasts (half a roasted chicken with a side of yams and maybe some egg whites), but Pete spent the better part of his twenties avoiding a scrawny appearance - and the two decades since trying to keep under this arbitrary mark, which is to say trying to undo all those feasts of yesteryear.

I could also tell Michael that my mom spent most of her life trying to keep her weight below 120 lbs on her 5'4 frame; and now at 70, and with cancer, she can hardly eat enough to avoid falling below 115. What comes around goes around, what ebbs will later flow, circle of life, or is it cycle? Whatever.

Mike says carbs are the culprit. Particularly bread. As of today I am cutting out all bread and pasta, he tells me two weeks ago. I suppress a grin. Such exclusionary tactics, the domain of many diet books, never work. Nobody wants to feel deprived. I suspected he would lose a few pounds in the first week only to gain it back with interest once his willpower faltered. For as they say, the flesh is so weak. And this is exactly what happened. He is now bulkier than ever. The no bread rule went down the drain after watching his son pack down pizza one too many times without himself partaking. Besides, there's no one to impress. His wife loves him just the way he is. Now there is simply a little more of him to love. But still, he would like to be able to take his shirt off once and a while and not feel self-conscious.

So I tell him this: Don't cut out, crowd out.

Eat more of the things you enjoy that also happen to be good for you, and you will have less room for the things which make you fat. Instead of no white bread, say I will eat 6 bananas today, or 6 white potatoes, and only then have as much bread as you wish. You'll be too full to get there. If nut butters are your fix, choose raw unsalted whole nuts, which aren't digested as fully, over Skippy, and you will see that you can eat just as much if not more and still lose weight. Then go a step further and start with an avocado a day and perhaps 2 tbsp. of chia or flax seeds; then, having kept fat cravings at bay, your yen for nuts will wane. If dairy is your weakness, substitute 4 oz of tofu, seasoned to your heart's content, then move to yogurt, cheese or butter. If you eat too much animal protein, assign yourself a daily quota of 1 can of beans before you reach for chicken or beef or pork or fish. You will eat less "naughty" foods not by depriving yourself but by first filling up your stomach with healthier alternatives. Because nature abhors a vacuum and nobody likes to feel deprived, and we all love pizza. Some cravings will never go away.

THE 3 BIGGEST HEALTH RISKS


Gotta love those friendly neighbors. Love to hate them is more like it. This one neighbor, a cute little man who lives up the street, is always telling me to put on some damn shoes, probably because the only time I see him is while I happen to be running without shoes. It's murder on your joints, he says. All that pounding. Do you know how much damage you're doing to your body? Applebaum is a retired doctor, as if that qualifies him to discourse on exercise dynamics.

I could argue that all my running-related injuries, plantar fasciitis and hip bursitis and runner's knee, happened before I began running barefoot - the broken foot I suffered came courtesy of the sidewalk, which is 10 times harder than asphalt, proving in this case that the pavement was my enemy - that I have run half marathons and marathons without shoes faster than I have run them with, and more importantly, that running "unshod" is so much fun. I'm a doctor too, which qualifies me to pontificate on the subject just as much, or as little, or not at all.

One person who is qualified to discuss proper footwear or lack thereof is Daniel Lieberman. He's a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard who is the author of a book called The Story of the Human Body. Humans are designed to run barefoot, he says. For most of the millions of years of evolution, we covered 5 to 10 miles a day, every day, on foot. And these feet of our ancestors were bare. This was before Nike, or for that matter Birkenstocks. To prove his point Lieberman himself runs 30 to 50 miles each week and walks an additional 2 miles per day. Some of these miles he runs barefoot, that is when the Cambridge weather is amenable, a penchant that his earned him his fair share of looks on the Harvard Campus, and maybe a few chastisements. Harvard is full of know-it-alls like the good Dr. Applebaum.

Lieberman insists that a lack of regular vigorous physical activity "is one of the most fundamental causes of so many diseases," leading to inadequate muscle, heart, bone and circulatory development and osteoporosis, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. By contrast to our superathlete ancestors, the modern individual is a schlub. The biggest health risks are three things we all do every day: reading, sitting, and - surprise! - wearing shoes. Too much sitting causes back pain. Too much attention to small fonts on your computer screen, especially at a young age, causes myopia. And enclosed, cushioned shoes, the type I see Dr. Applebaum prancing around in, that is when he is not sitting in his car, leads to foot problems including bunions, fungus and plantar fasciitis. So the next time I see the good doctor I might chastise him for not running barefoot. Or for reading to much (he wears glasses); or for driving his car everywhere when he could try riding a bike. Because if you point one finger at another, three point back at you.

Not that he'll change, mind you You can't teach an old dog new tricks, especially if he's a know-it-all.

ALIENS IN OUR MIDST

While riding my bike through the hills yesterday I happened upon an alien. She was inside a house, unassumingly watering an orchid placed on the coffee table by the window. We exchanged glances and a friendly nod as I moved on. It was not my first alien sighting. Actually they are becoming more frequent, as in several sightings per day. I see them when I run, I see them when I bike, I see them driving and shopping and eating and talking. Aliens are everywhere!!!

Now, by alien I don't mean undocumented immigrant, though in the hills of Bel-Air there are many of these types. These "aliens" do the gardening, and the babysitting, and the roofing, housekeeping, and the watering of lilies. Because lilies need love too! (Not too much, I've come to find. Just a few ounces of water once a week, be sure not to overwater, and keep out of direct sunlight.) The alien in question did not have dark skin, a squat build and wiry hair, like so many of the Central-, South-, and Mexican-American aliens Donald Trump wants to oust from this country. Quite the opposite. My alien was pale, one would almost say ashen, with an expressionless face perhaps courtesy of Botox, a small mouth and undeveloped jaw, and huge black eyes. At least her big dark Jackie O sunglasses gave that impression. For all I know her thin, straight brown hair cut in a bob with bangs just above her eyes was wig. In short, the alien I saw looked very much like what is reported in UFO sightings. Alien as in extraterrestrial. 




Wearing a wig, like I said, and with sunglasses for large round stony black eyes. And with boobs too, because she was female. But the rest of her body looked similar to how aliens are often depicted. Her slender limbs without any muscle tone, if perhaps a bigger belly, courtesy of fast food. Nutrient poor calorie rich food will do that to a person. Eat enough of it and you lose weight where you want it, and gain it where you don't.

It is amazing how many of these aliens I see walking around in plain daylight - and more often in the shade. Many of the males of the race are indeed bald, though they sport a horse-shoe shaped plot of closely-cropped hair. Some shave it altogether. But the males are equally as ashen (perhaps it is for this reason that the aliens are often called "grays"), and just as sensitive to sunlight. Many members of the species, both male and female, sport the dark sunglasses. The males may be brawnier in the arms and legs, but like the females they have the paunch about their wastes, a fanny-pack of flesh. This life-form has not been seen on Earth until very recently. It is very much a 21st century phenomenon. And now these individuals are running rampant, especially in big American cities. Is it invasion of the body snatchers or what?


The bigger question is this: Is the appearance of a new life form on Earth also evidence of life elsewhere in the universe?

Consider: Our sun is one star among 100 billion in the Milky Way galaxy, which is one among 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Given this, scientists say that the likelihood that there are other planets able to support life, indeed that intelligent life already exists somewhere "out there" in the vast regions of the galaxy, is very high. Carl Sagan, noted astronomer and author of Cosmos, believed that without question we are not alone in the universe. It is only a matter of time (and technological advancements) before they contact us, or we them.

And indeed many of us have experienced UFO sightings or alien visitations, or heard of these sightings or visitations/abductions from friends or family members. In 2014 alone there were over 6,500 such sightings in the U.S. alone, and these figures are rising. Who exactly are these aliens and where do they come from?

One of the less common speculations is that these alien visitors are us. The aliens are humans, visiting our planet, from the future. Either from another planet that we have presumably colonized, or from Earth, by means of a time machine or wormhole or some portal into the present. And why not? This theory, the us as them theory, as I call it, as opposed to the us versus them premise Hollywood likes to make money off in its War of the Worlds and Independence Day-ish blockbusters, may even be used to explain the origin of intelligent life on Earth.

Take Arthur C. Clarke's monumental sci-fi story, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Way back when there were only apes inhabiting our planet, the story goes, there appeared a monolith that revealed the secrets of the future and helped them evolve and advance. How did intelligent life spring up on this planet? Answer: we had help. Some even hold that hundreds of thousands of years ago, around the time that prehistoric humans  began resembling recent versions, space colonizers visited our developing planet and mated with the apes, which may explain some strains of DNA that only certain segments of the population possess. For more on the variant strains, give a Google to Rh antigen, Australian aborigines, etc.

It could be that there is one master race, the original progenitor, which originated somewhere in the universe, perhaps even here on our very own Earth. This first race then evolved and developed the technology to colonize the universe and travel through time and occasionally comes back to terra firma, home base, to check on how we're doing, perhaps even give us a nudge in the direction of evolution a la 2001, or steer us away from harm (nuclear war, climate devastation). If this theory, that aliens are future humans paying the 21st century Earth-dwellers a visit, it is easy to understand why they are portrayed as looking the way they do, because we are fast turning into them. One word: lifestyle.

Take the ashen skin. It is easy enough to explain why our pigment is changing, as more and more humans, fearing sun damage, slather themselves with sunblock, protective layers of clothing and hats, or stay out of the sun altogether.

And dark glasses, to protect sun-sensitive eyes. Possibly these glasses have a prescription, since all the time we spend in front of screens - handheld devices, computers, TV - produces a great strain on the eyes and causes unprecedented rates of impaired vision (myopia). One could envision a future in which these prescriptive glasses with dark lenses are implanted into the head. Why not? We already are talking about inserting our devices beneath our skin, or walking around with virtual reality headsets, so as to always be "plugged in."

Bald heads. The increasing consumption of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) in high fat animal products is causing unprecedented rates of hair loss in not just men but also in women. Like body hair, which has decreased over the centuries as clothes took the place of animal fur which had replaced nakedness, head hair will soon be an anachronism, giving way as it already is to sun-protective hats and even wigs. Our alien ancestors/descendants seem to have made peace with their bald pates. Perhaps they are less vain, or more practical. Wigs and hats do itch!

The lack of muscle tone observed in alien visitors and an ever-increasing swath of the modern population seems like an evolutionary step, or a devolutionary step, if you ask anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, PhD, who blames technology. Only 20% of the population gets the 150 minutes of recommended vigorous exercise per week. The majority spends most of the day sitting in front of screens. Our sedentary lifestyle is turning the superathlete hunter-gatherer of 10,000 years ago into a pudgy, spindly uncoordinated weakling, with thin arms, a pear-shaped torso, and flabby jowls. But with a big head, because all that time with technology may increase IQ. A few points in intelligence is a hefty price to pay for sitting around all day getting sick and fat. On pseudo-food, I might add. Calorie-rich, nutrient-poor burgers and pizzas which hardly require any chewing (thus the underdeveloped jaws) and whose simple sugars lead to the development of dental caries. Which would explain why most aliens are reported not to have any teeth!

Not to mention the weak jaws and chins so characteristic of the oncoming alien race. Our ancestors the hominins, particularly those members of the genus Australopithecus, developed massive jaws and well-developed chewing muscles in response to the need to gorge huge quantities of fibrous fruit, in addition to the tubers, roots and stems that abounded in the forests of Africa. Nowadays the highly processed mush that's for dinner doesn't require masticating muscles at all, much less teeth! We'll probably all be sipping our protein sludge concoctions through straws, and soon. Some already do!

As for the wee bitty noses aliens seem to be sporting alongside many of our contemporaries, I haven't thought up a convincing explanation. Rhinoplasty, perhaps. Nose jobs are pretty popular.
So this woman I saw in her expensive house wearing her dark, loose-fitting clothing watering her exotic plant with her thin lips and small jaw and expression-less ashen face is perhaps closer to the human of the future than I who like to sunbathe and sweat and eat raw vegetables perhaps am. But it's a future that is encroaching upon us, and it seems inevitable. (Unless you predict nuclear holocaust to take us back to square one, in which case all bets are off. But our alien do-gooders are supposed to come and ward that off, to save us from ourselves, aren't they?)

In such a future, spent indoors, tethered to a screen, eating highly processed pseudo-food, my "type," like the pre-industrial hunter-gatherer and the pre-agricultural farmer, has goon extinct. Which is okay, because the future in which we look like aliens is a future I'd prefer not to be around to experience.

But you gotta admit, the body-snatching theory has its appeal. If instead of viewing yourself as Mr./Ms. So-and-so with such-and-such a job and family and social network, you identified with the humanoid progenitor that has taken over your body for the benefit of mankind, if as said member of the master race you lovingly embraced the entire planet as home to one big family, the world would be a much better place - if bald and slack-jawed.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE


Roses are red, violets are blue
Sugar is sweet, 'tis true
But flowers galore, a whole candy store
Cannot contend with a friend like you.

Like you, whose comeliness o'erwhelms
All that's beneath the sky
Sugar tastes sour, bright leaves of spring flowers
Grow pale and fade by the light of your eyes.

In you, the rain and shine combine
You giggle, and sometimes at the same time, you cry
But your sweet smile, your laugh of a child
Wipe away all trace of tears gone by.

How I've wished for a friend like you
Ask and thou shalt receive
Throughout life's terrain, our friendship shall reign
Try and we shall succeed.

This poem's a rose, I picked it for you
With a bow and a kiss upon your fair brow
If ever we part, you reside in my heart
True friendship for you is my vow.

As sure as roses are red, and violets are blue
As sugar is sweet and diamonds, so few
As two's the sum of one plus one
So certain's my love for you.

My Forever Friend.

THE TREE OF LIFE


My love is like an apple tree
That's sprung from summer's seed
My heart is like its ruby fruit
That buds to be plucked free.

By your sight's light my heart grows ripe
Your glance my branches warms
With your caress my leaves are dressed
And with your kiss I'm formed

Formed by the Lord to shun the fruit
Which to good and bad gives life
Though life's hours are oft-times sour
With me, more sweet than strife.

Pluck me, touch me, eat me freely
Each bite vies to reach inside
The more you taste the more awaits
In feeding you, I fulfillment find.

I, your tree of love divine
I, your tree of life
You, the apple of my eye
You, my darling wife.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

THE LOVER'S PLEA



Come live with me and be my Sweet
Together we'll Love's pleasures greet
Through sands of time, in rain or shine
If this, my plea, thy mind may please.

We'll rise at dawn to sing a song
A song of praise to hail the day
To our song's sound I'll spin you round
Your grace displayed in golden rays.

Into green fields that blossoms yield
Doves leave their nests to crown your head
To sea we're borne, where on the shore
Your garland of seashells I'll thread.

Then will we raise a place to stay
A retreat that our each need may meet
Stone by stone we will build our home
To breed our company to keep.

We'll lay us down on sacred ground
And gaze as night takes place of day
Our lips will touch, our faces flush
As our bodies exchange embrace.

As eyelids close, and breathing slows
As sleep conveys our seasoned legs
Our minds will fly, our spirits rise
To dream of all we've made today.

A day in life, our Day of Life
The bride of my day-life are you
Come live with me and be my Sweet
And we will prove these pleasures true.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE KING


There once was a great king. A conqueror of countless countries, the protector of many people. Schooled in philosophy and skilled in combat, he was bold of body and mighty of mind. Virtuous was he, and conscious of his vices, which, though few, he kept in check, for he was their master, not their slave. He was magnanimous with his minions, good and kind. As a rival he was valiant and fierce, and as a ruler gentle and just: for above all else the king had a good heart.

One day in the twilight of his reign, while engaging in open discourse with his subjects (as was often the case) the king was asked a very curious question. He was asked if, at any time during his reign, he ever felt fear. The king was silent for a moment before responding: "Since succeeding my father, himself a laudable leader, to the throne when I was twenty-five," he said, "I have fought many a bloody battle, some of which nearly cost me my life. In battle I faced many a fierce foe, and witnessed terrible tragedies. Yet never during my fifty-year time as king, have I felt fear."

No one dared to doubt the veracity of the king's words, yet in their hearts many wondered how this could be. "After all, he is human just like the rest of us, and every human being is bound, at least once in his life, to be afraid."

Sensing the general disbelief, the king went on: "I have never felt fear in facing these foes because none of them matched the power of the one who came before, the one I fought prior to taking the throne, the only one I ever feared."

"Please tell us, dear king," the subjects asked of their sovereign, "who it was that made you fear."

The king went on: "In my princely days, I fought an enemy more savage than the cruelest warrior, more cunning than the serpent Satan himself. This enemy was shrewder than the keenest statesman, more dangerous than the deadliest disease. I could have fled, and almost did, but instead I faced this enemy of mine, and for years we waged a wrathful war fought to the death. And throughout I felt an unrelenting, almost unbearable fear."

"Surely you were the victor, for you said it was fatal, and you are here to speak about it."

"I was victorious, yet so was my enemy."

"How could your enemy win if he died?"

"He did not die. What died was the fear," the king replied. "One only fears what one does not know. In fighting bitterly, my foe and I came to know one another, and we came to respect, and I might even say, to love one another. We made our peace, and my inveterate adversary became my dearest friend, my only true friend. And we have lived together in harmony ever since."

These words caused quite a stir among the people, for though the king was friendly with all, he was known to have no friends. In the minds of his subjects arose the same question: "Who is the one that was once the king's feared foe only to become his faithful friend?"

The king's answer came as a surprise: "I am."

And he concluded with the words, "Here lies the path to self-knowledge and self-love: You must recognize the devil within, face him and fight," the king said. "And when you reconcile with your mind, when you make your master your ally, your fear will be gone forever."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

THE WRITING LIFE


Happy anniversary to me, happy anniversary to me...

It's been twenty years since I decided to become a writer, give or take. Actually my foray into fiction began with an aborted attempt at a novel when I was 21. That was back in '94, which would make this my 21st anniversary. So I've come of age. Not really. Twenty years, twenty one, who is counting years when the pages pile up so much faster!

That first novel was inspired by my relationship with then-girlfriend Isabella. We had met my senior year of high school and began dating in college. As part of the wooing process I promised to pen a novelized version of our courtship dating back to high school, with some dramatic twists for effect, and maybe some poetic embellishments. Not that her character needed many. Isabella was a foreign-born heir to a fortune with a wastrel father who had introduced his children to street drugs before they were old enough to see a PG movie unattended. I took a leave of absence from UCLA, where I was a third year undergraduate, major still undeclared, to watch our love bloom and hopefully to write about it. Ten pages into this romance novel I give the manuscript to Isabella who throws it back in my face.

"I do not like how my character is portrayed," she says. "Start over."

I never do. Instead I go back to school to finish my degree. BA, history, class of '95 thanks very much. I decided against an English major since English literature doesn't do it for me. I can't understand Shakespeare, and the thought of having to wade through Milton and Chaucer and Donne and whoever else's name appears in Norton's Anthology made my creativity shrivel to a stub. History was the quickest way to a college degree (read: to please my parents with a college degree) and so I took it. And history did involve writing numerous essays, so life wasn't entirely devoid of my passion.

But the business of pleasing others is exhausting and unsung, and after that failed first novel I began to wonder if fact-based fiction was for me. Or if Isabella was for me. Sure enough, we break up before the year is done, and afterwards my writing gets a second wind. I begin writing poetry, mostly about love. How many a poet heartbreak has inspired! And sometimes I write about sex. But mostly about love. Each poem was like a puzzle. The words were pieces (handpicked by me) which I then needed to fit together in such a way to conform to meter and rhyme scheme. If my poem made any sense that was icing on the cake. All great writers write for themselves. I wasn't great, but my efforts usually pleased me.

My love is like the grape-filled vine that grows stronger each day, began one poem. You turn the grapes into fine wine to chase my thirst away. Nice, right? Rather sing-songy, but nice.

After graduation I set about becoming a writer in earnest this time. This was the fall of '95. Twenty years it's been since then. I began by "career" by reading some Greek classics. Homer and the tragedians. Then I took a stab at reading the dictionary. You know, to familiarize myself with every word in the English language. Don't all writers do that? Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary became the tool of my trade. I didn't get very far. I think I made it midway through the letter A. To the word alcoholic, to be exact. And I was well on my way to becoming one. I couldn't bring myself to write a word of anything without first having half a bottle of red wine. You know, to get the creative juices flowing. A tequila shot followed by a beer became another favorite. Or a gin martini. (Three olives, dirty.) Most of what came out of my pen was a sort of slobbering on the page. So much for writing while shit-faced. But at least the pages were filling up. Longhand, journal writing mostly. About what I had planned for the day. We all must begin somewhere.

I made a second stab at that novel based on romance past, with Isabella and I becoming twins separated at birth who reunite in young adulthood and fall in love with each other only to learn that our love is forbidden both by God and by man. What can I say, I had been influenced by the Greek dramatists, who always have a reversal and recognition up their sleeve. Standard elements of the plot, these. Again I couldn't get past the first chapter.

So I filled my life up with distractions. I found a girlfriend, another former schoolmate. I got a job as a host at Arnold Schwarzenegger's restaurant in Venice Beach. And I turned my attention to screenwriting. Because hey, screenplays are only 90 pages, and on each page there's a lot of blank space. It's all dialogue, brother. Dialogue can't be so hard. I mean, I've been talking most of my life, right? And so I tried writing a screenplay. About twins. One good, one evil. And the end of the world. The plan was to use my connection at the restaurant to get the script to Arnold, who would play both parts. If only he'd read it. If only I could finish it! Again I shelved the unfinished work. Starting a script easy. Finishing one, not so much.

Spring gives way to summer, and I need to cleanse my life. So the gal pal and I part ways, and I quit my job so I can devote myself full-time to writing. I move out of the house to get away from my two rambunctious brothers and take up residence in a guest room with three even more rambunctious friends. Around this time my brother is diagnosed with cancer, which only fans my flame. I figure if Justin can get blind-sided by terminal illness, so can anyone, so can I, and if I don't know how many days left on this Earth remain to me, I better enjoy the ones I have. So no more planning for a long life with a spouse and 2.4 kids. No more procrastinating. Now is the time to finish what I start. And so I rework my screenplay, change the title, alter the plot, and with the help of a buddy of mine get it into the hands of Arnold's agent. Nothing comes of it. Though the following year a movie does come out with my screenplay's title (Armageddon), but the plots are dissimilar. And two years after this Arnold appears in a movie about the end of the world (End of Days), but it wasn't my idea. The film involved the devil, a character I hadn't thought to include in my apocalyptic scenario. Woulda coulda shoulda.

There is a learning curve to this writing thing, I find. The more you do, the better you get. So several screenplays follow in swift succession. I experiment with genres. Comedy. Fantasy. Horror. Independent. Erotica. I vary the lengths of scripts and the time it takes to write them. I use a legal pad for one, a word processor for the next. I write a movie in three weeks. Nothing happens with any of them. So I turn my attention back to the novel. I take a pleasure trip to Brazil, have a lot of fantastic experiences, decide I must write a novel based on these experiences, so I rent a room in Rio and do just that. Finally I finish my novel, even get it into the hands of a few literary agents, and to this day the manuscript gathers dust on my shelf. Writing is the easy part. It's selling what you write that's not that exactly. And I'm not much for networking. Instead I write and live, live and write. I become a student of life, thrusting myself into every situation I can find. Traveling, doing drugs, working odd-jobs, relating to people, in bars, chat rooms, parks and pubs. In markets, bookstores, in video stores and on subways. Because it's all just material. So is the booze that goes down my throat in ever-increasing amounts. But boozing comes with the territory, right? Caution to the wind, fly by the seat of the pants is the life of the writer. Hemingway. Joyce. Fitzgerald. Bukowski. Faulkner. Kerouac. Capote. Poe. Williams. O. Henry. Chandler. Thomas and Thompson. Lushes the lot of them. All men. And now me. You know what they say about perseverance. Do it or die trying, and writing was killing me!

I get a job teaching high school, and get serious with another girl. I read tons, novels mostly, but also screenplays. And I actually make it through the dictionary. American Heritage. One thousand pages. Six pages a day took me about nine months. To the dictionary I add a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary as part of my armamentarium. I experiment with all forms of prose. The short story, novella. Essays. Letters. Other novels and screenplays follow. Topsy Turvy becomes a Hollywood hit two years after I write a screenplay bearing the same name. Only the movie bears no resemblance to my own work. Is this as close to success as I am destined to get, seeing my title on the screen, but not my name or content? Too bad titles can't be copyrighted or I'd have a nest egg by now. And I watch as a friend of a friend writes a spec screenplay that sells for a million dollars and is a commercial and critical success, then he goes on to write another blockbuster before getting a chance to direct. But his dad was a megastar, so he had an in, and the film he directed was a major flop. There's always a catch.

But I know better than to compare myself to anyone but myself. And at least my work is becoming less autobiographical, which writing classes the world over call progress. I attend screenwriting seminars. Enroll in a novel workshop. Read more how-to books on writing. Refresh my grammar. The books teach me one thing: "those who can't do, teach." What about those who can't teach? After nearly nine years of trying to make it as a writer, I grow tired and disenchanted. So I quit my job as a teacher and go back to school, this time as a medical student. For a couple years I forget about writing altogether.

But during clinical rotations involving twelve-hour days doing grunt-work at the hospital, my creativity withered and I found myself going crazy. The hospital grind can be soul-killing to the artistically-bent. And so again I picked up the pen. And for minutes here, an hour there, between assisting in gall bladder surgeries and seeing patients, at dawn and after I got home from work, and sometimes in the wee hours of the night, I'd write. Two novellas came out of med school. One about a murder on a reality TV show, the other about a middle-aged man with writer's block. Neither sold.

When I graduated I finished a book based on my brother's life. I asked the question, What would have needed to happen for Justin to have been cured of cancer? Answer: He would have needed to fall in love. And so I wrote a love story. I promised myself that if The Invincible Man didn't sell I'd give up writing fiction altogether. It didn't sell. I guess the ending wasn't happy enough. Friends called the book depressing. But is life really about happy endings? Maybe that's why we read fiction. But I prefer realism. In real-life Justin died. In the novel he survives, but has to live without the love of the girl who made life worth fighting for. So I self-publish the thing, which has become the fate of so many of my books. That was four years ago, and four copies have sold. Better than none.

In medical residency I transitioned to nonfiction, writing a book on nutrition. This was also a form of autobiography since nutritional medicine was my specialty. Leaving medicine after a year I continued to churn out essays at a break-neck speed. I needed the money, and each 500-word article I wrote paid only $25. I probably made $7500 before calling it quits. That's a lot of essays. At the time I was dating a girl in the film industry who encouraged me to once again "be creative," so I wrote some more fiction which now takes up more space on my shelves.

Recently a friend and I were talking about my literary efforts. "Imagine if someone gave you the opportunity to become pregnant and see the infant to term," I told her; "you'd grow fat and nauseated, suffer hemorrhoids and varicose veins and all the other inconveniences of pregnancy, including mood swings and bladder dysfunction, and after nine months of suffering through this, all in the name of love, you give birth to a still-born child. Would you choose to become pregnant?" Of course not, my friend said. And she is not alone. Sure, pregnancy is an experience, and as part of the process leading to viable life, to an adorable little cherub that you get to coddle and cuddle and usher into the world where that little person grows up and makes her name, hell yes pregnancy is worth bearing, and labor too. Call them necessary evils, because they lead to the boon of life. But if every pregnancy resulted in a dead child, most people would refuse to conceive or have their sanity questioned.

My writing efforts have been analogous to churning out stillbirths. I birth one corpse after another. My manuscripts sit on my shelves or get stored on my hard drive, only to be forgotten. And revisiting what I have written is like visiting my dead baby's grave. I place a (figurative) flower atop my (brain)child, perhaps shed a tear, and say: Ah, would that my little ones have lived! Do you find this depressing? Realism often is.

And yet I continue to write, and my efforts continue to far outdistance my success. And it's been twenty years. Or twenty-one, if you're counting. Twenty or twenty-one years, and counting. In all: 13 screenplays, 6 novels, 3 novellas, and an assortment of other "stuff" (poems, short stories, parables, treatises, pamphlets, essays and posts). All merely my resume to a job that ain't hiring, at least not me. Not so far.


So why do I keep on? Is it out of habit? Do I arrive enjoyment from sitting for hours at my desk eyes fixed on a screen while my fingers frenetically peck away, putting dreams into words in search of an audience yet to materialize? Not sure. Maybe I derive some twisted pleasure from the process of my pregnancy. Call me crazy. But it's the longest relationship I've ever had. And overall there's more good to the writing habit than bad. If I could say the same about a person I'd probably be hitched with 2.4 kids.

And so I write on, an hour a day on most days, sometimes more, so much more. Because I don't have to, and even when I do, what does it really matter anyway, so no pressure. I wonder if I really even want success, or would writing then become a chore? And so I am content for now to visit my stillborns at the stillborn cemetery of my shelves, to do it or die trying. At least I gave up drinking.