Friday, April 29, 2005

The Meaning of True Love

The meaning of True Love - you heard it here first!

Love is not, as some say, the meaning of life - no, "The Meaning of LIFE"! Coming SOON to "A Better Nation" !

Love is not mere sentiment or sacrifice or salvation. Love is not even (merely) grand adoration. It is not a gift, and no one owes it to us. Likewise, we don't owe love, though it is very good if loving and being good at loving and getting better at loving is one of your top goals in life.

But no, you see, when asked about the "meaning of life" or asked, "what are your top goals for life," most of us don't jump to say "the mastery of love."

Love is a feeling, though that feeling is often only one sort of love, one facet of love. Love is a process, an act, a determination, a focus, a skill. And most of the experts on love say that, indeed, it is a rare skill.

True love, I think, is an intimate and intense form of altruism. It is a focused yet encompassing awareness and acceptance of, first, our own lives and then the lives of others and of life and of existence. We really do have to practice some pretty dedicated self-awareness and self-acceptance to get there, to love, to love as dynamic destination and mature course.

I have had many great friends in my life - a life, I think, particularly rich with friends, extroverted as I am, a wily hunter and gatherer of people and life's feast. But few have really taught me much about love, either intentionally or unintentionally. And perhaps I have only imparted progress in the realm of love to only a few.

But several of my friends lately have been teaching me a lot about love. And it is interesting to see how personal love can be - meaning how different this supposedly universal thing is. The goals may be similar - attention, compassion, quality time, acceptance, romantic feelings, 'til death do we part loyalty - but our paths vary.

One's sacrifice is another's coersion. One's gift is another's debt. One's quiet time is another's avoidance. One's fumbling is another's warning sign. We try, we try, and it is hard to do, to want and to try to be at once so sentimental, so attentive and attached and yet also respectful, liberating and detached. We humans are such complex creatures, and we do some amazing things.

I do know this: in part, love means wanting the best for another person, a concept, principle, animal or thing - and not necessarily at all what you think is best but what can be learned is best over the course of much time and consideration. Love's answers don't come easily or quickly. It is a path that requires such patience most Americans (and others, to be sure) mistake and rush the process and get off track. And True Love escapes them.

And I know this: love mixed with animosity or a struggle for power or loyalty is desire mixed with fear - fear of various factors, including the investment of love itself, since love is an investment (not for the bitterly cynical, snide or ironic, another way love is often at odds with American society).

We talk about True Love. What is the difference between True Love (capital T, capital L) and regular, lower case love (romantic fancies, infatuations, lusts, instinctual desires - you know the gamut of lower case loves)?

True Love lies closer to our ideals of love, our ideals FOR love, including some ultimate altruism, sacrifice and even heroism. In that its ACTIONS (our loving actions) match its feelings AND its virtues, True Love is heroic.

And what are the essential ingredients of True Love? How do we know when we are there, when we are giving the really good stuff?

Besides the extra added ingredients we might call "baggage" (some of the above - the quests for positive strokes, power, loyalty, sex, winning) or ego/id things (ditto) or "identity/personality" which both personalize and so confound love - and yes, help to convey and to express it, there are two ingredients that I think are the measure.

It is a long road to these things. It starts lower case and moves, if it is your hobby and your passion, with practice and even expertise, toward the capital T, capital L.

There is nothing first in love, since it usually takes a lot (years) of trials and errors in unlove or "alove" to get to the threshhold of True Love. So even though I say "first of all" as regards the first, I should say "eventually" - not "finally" or "at last" - since the road in love doesn't really end here, it only begins here.

The essential ingredients, the meaning, the measure:

Acceptance, first of all.

And above all: peace.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

When it comes to one world, one REAL worlder

Part Three in a three part series on our borders and immigration:

SO... as not to seem toooooo naive, and as a cultural historian, I'd have to say I agree with Governor Lamm's premise that rapid change, too much diversity and divisiveness are a threat to having a healthy, rather stable culture. And I even agree that there may be more to lose than to gain with a lenient immigration policing or policy.

The "melting pot" is a sometimes attractive myth, but it is an ideal that may itself be naive. We are melting, alright, but it's not always a good thing. Diversity can lead to dynamism, but it can also lead to divisiveness and the lowering of our best national values and virtues. For example: would we rather defend higher education for all or cheap labor, and can we really have both well?

I am not convinced that, in the REAL WORLD, we are going to get either extreme - a sealed border or a "Star Trek" universe. I am not, as I write this, hopeful enough to think people/humans can, on average and at large, be educated "well enough" to go so against the grain of human nature - to more often and in more complicated ways put the "common good" above what they perceive to be the immediate or short term gain. Gain usually beats good.

We certainly seem to be stuck with some crude forms of tribalism, patriotism, religious competition and Big Time Nationalism for the foreseeable future - meaning, probably for centuries to come - well beyond our lifetimes, at least.

But in the meantime, let me say this: I don't want regressive values from ANY ethnic group or cultural faction to dominate this culture to its own (and the world's) detriment. And that goes for ALL regressive groups - whether hispanic or anglo, Euro or Gen X, itinerate or corporate, mafia or "Mr. President."

We need Progress with a capital P to lessen our glut and get out of this rut, and I for one sure don't currently see many signs of hope. I mean, hey, I think the Good Ol' RICH White Boys running the show now are driving the rest of us into the ground, so I am particular about where I place my rather flustered and - I am sorry to say - feeble hopes.

So after three long blog posts on the subject, I remain in the camp that this is extremely complicated and potentially too contentious to "solve" here and now - without a revolutionary shift in this country's attitude toward and whole-hearted support of superior educational standards, goals and expectations. Maybe we're just limited by our IQs and, at the same time, dumbed down by the boob tube and boobs of every sort, one even called "Mr. President."

And so I say, sort of hopeful and cynical at the same time, I remain a Real Worlder, after all.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

One world, no borders?

More on immigration and culture - Part Two of a three part series:

I think it is inevitable that the human species will only improve its lot - and life on this planet - if it gives up some of its diversity, divisiveness, nationalism and religious/regional/tribal sentiments to get along, prosper and survive - to create a
longer-term, sustainable "globalism."

Otherwise, simply put, all hell will break loose, a la an environmental and political Armageddon - the "cliff" our churning horses of the apocalypse are galloping toward.

But being a rather hopeful yet cynical one worlder, I would want the most humane, altruistic and cooperative cultures to lead the way and assume leadership powers. Thus, I would rather put my stock in the EU model and multilateral cooperation, as opposed to imperial unilateralism and gated countries. So, with all of its growing pains, the United Nations is a beacon of hope for the future of quality living for BILLIONS on this planet. We owe it to the downtrodden and dispossessed to strengthen the UN and spread the political might and enforcement of its good will.

We need something pretty damned idealistic - to band together as one species and promote human rights and progressive, rational, secular education. It is (old saw for me) competing faiths and fears that make such a mess of things.

As for my position, yes, I think we are eventually headed toward more ("more" I say, not the ideal, nothing pollyanna here, I say) of the "One Worlder" situation/ideal. But in the meantime, we do need what we might call "sustainable" border controls. We can't openly admit a flood of immigrants, begotten legally or illegally. We can't comfortably or reliably afford or absorb even the flood we have now. Our jobs and land of opportunity are not infinite and are in many ways meeting some of their functional limits now. Sure, some of these immigrants are hard workers and valuable residents, and potentially valuable citizens, but we need to be careful with the various stressors on our culture, including cheap labor and a burgeoning population; there are many cultural and related economic/infrastructural impacts involved.

The Sierra Club has been arguing this for several years. How do we protect the environment if we in any way encourage or even ALLOW the population of the United States to climb precipitously beyond 300-350 million? More?? Yikes! (The US population was, I believe, about 160 million when I was born in 1957, no so long ago, really.)

And how does the planet protect the environment with SIX billion people? Apparently, it can't - not well enough. We struggle mightily, and still despair and destruction run rampant. So let's focus on fixing this thing.

So I am for controlling the rate, yes - and I would like to say that, I do agree with Governor Lamm and some of his contentious claims in "How to Destroy America" - too much diversity and division too fast harms a culture, any culture. The rate is key. So I am against making permanent or more widespread the insitution of billingual education. I am, indeed for more "One Worlder" policies such as making one language the official language of the world, just as Latin is the accepted universal language for scientific notations. And I am for the eventual introduction of a world currency as well. I think that is already happening with the trading of gold and US dollars, Yen and other rather stable and valuable currencies - and of course with the introduction of the Euro. When we agree to share the most basic tools of life - language and money/a monetary system/links - I think we will make some great strides in truly cooperative and truly planetary progress.

This is, to some extent, the sappy "Star Trek" model of the future - in which we deal with all sorts of diversity far and wide, but most everybody we meet can speak at least some of the same language and have at least a rough awareness of commonly held views of morals, mores and values - how to make things good, more equal, "and with justice for ALL."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Seal the borders, seal our fate?

Seal the borders, seal our fate?

Or: The big picture on human migrations and immigration to the United States in particular - Part One of a three part series.

In mid-October, 2003, former Colorado governor Richard Lamm gave a hard, harsh and compelling speech about how rampant immigration could destroy America - or at least drastically alter the status quo of this or any country or culture. You can find many references to Lamm's speech googling Lamm "how to destroy America". In my local ideas and issues salon, the essence of Lamm's argument is being debated anew. For all it seems to be a contentious topic; for some racist, for some job-based or economic, for others anecdotal and sentimental, reaching back to colonial times. But the causes, the story and the consequences of human migrations go much farther back - to the very roots of human nature. The crux of the argument is that now, since Malthus and the invention of the environmental movement (which of course centers around human needs and capabilities), those roots of our natures must contend with globalization and a more sophisticated understanding of natural resources, ecology and the limits to growth.

I appreciate the feelings of those who remain sentimental about this "great nation of ours" being a beacon of hope and prosperity. It truly IS astonishing how much wealth this country has generated in just over a century, from its colonial economy in the wake of the Civil War to its rise to Superpower and empire status in the wake of World War I and ever since.

Yes, in our legions of gas guzzlers and few and far between leafy green hybrids, from our spread out suburbs and ranchettes to our offices and ball games and big box stores, we're on a roll. From our plush, lumbar-tweaked seats with six speaker stereo sound, it might seem like a smooth ride, but it's a rocky road. The headlights are flickering, the shocks are worn, and the gas tank has a mixture of American and foreign oil and blood in it. To boot, this Big Empire Mobile is one of those super pricey fancy models that costs a fortune to fix. And the occupants have got a bad case of affluenza - our garages are full, our cash is tight, and our credit cards for this bounteous road trip to god-blessed American Freedonia are melting....

It is human nature (has been throughout history) that people have migrated/flocked/stampeded toward wealth and "beacons of hope" by whatever means they can. It's also human nature that good and not so good people make the journey.

Some of us have personal stories to tell regarding foreign friends, colleagues and employees. But I think the story deserves a bigger picture perspective as well.

Diversity is good but not often at the cost of divisiveness. "The melting pot" might be good for a myth, but it's no way to run a country or a culture when internal factions battle against one another - and when regressive values overwhelm genuine progress. We're a bunch of back seat drivers while the constant crunches of capital investment, resource depletion, profit and population run us into the ground.

What is the big picture on human migration - and migrations to the United States in particular?

The big picture is that we are consuming as much or more than we are producing, and since Americans now consume 25% of the world's energy resources, I'd have to say there are far too many Americans already - far too many living and aspiring to such a selfish, consumptive lifestyle. (And as for our numbers, it already seems vastly overcrowded to me; there are just about twice as many American residents now as when I was born, and I am still in my 40s. You might say 'good thing I don't live in a
more crowded country - but crowding anywhere is a problem for the crowded, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the middle class, the rich - everyone.)

We need better educated more altruistic people. We need far fewer pregnancies. We need resources and economies and HEALTH sustainable for centuries to come. So what can we do to encourage people (men and women) to tread lightly, MUCH more lightly?

Reach out. Raise women's rights, their power and hopes to measure their lives by something besides or beyond motherhood (and the same goes for men and fatherhood). Educate people where they live so that there are more beacons of hope closer to home - in more poor and clamoring bergs far and wide. Otherwise, where does this cycle of migration end? When things crumble or crash, and we don't want that.

This "beacon of hope" called America is really just a house of cards as it is - leveraged on resources and rates of consumption we can't sustain or even unabashedly defend. There is no really genuine beacon of hope until the whole planet becomes a
beacon of hope. The human race has to be swayed to behaving more altruistically (not just in sentiment but in actions - environmentalists who commute in gas guzzlers aren't helping). And we all know how strong a force human nature is, which means
education is key, in that it is the only thing empowering enough to counteract the superstitions, selfishness and sentiment ingrained in human nature which have gotten us into this predicament up to now.

I am not sure that we can educate enough of the human race well enough to accomplish good things for all, but I do think that, besides the dark path of creating an Aryan race with fascist control, truly populist political empowerment for a more educated and altruistic (more socially cooperative, less competitive and selfish) populace
is the only hopeful path we have, and that is my beacon of hope - if I have a beacon of hope - above and beyond the short term attractions and economic lucre of any nation. We can't create new 'lands of opportunity' forever or even for much longer, it seems.

Seal the borders or not, but our fate - the fate of human health and happiness - won't be even close to sealed until we can sway or deflect human nature enough to get the whole planet on a much better track - new and improved. It's high time!

We need a healthy, restored and sustainable planet, and our hope for that needs to not be overly anecdotal or sentimental. Our hope needs to be rational and supportable. Sustenance is the key to a wise future.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The demigods of OIL

CRAWFORD, Tex, April 25: Today, less than 200 miles northeast of where I live, President Bush played appreciative host to Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Before the crown prince even arrived, Bush said the purpose of his Texas hospitality was to remind the prince that "A high oil price will damage markets, and he [the crown prince] knows that." The crown prince arrived, saying nothing to the press, and everything was a smiling handshake before the cameras, a closed door deal without the cameras or reporters.

Can anybody say "shades of 'Farenheit 9/11?'"

In his infamous film of 2004, Michael Moore had the gumption to show us clip after clip of Bush family and administration operatives shaking hands with Saudi leaders to seal the deals on a generation's worth of oil alliances - hundreds of billions in profit for those involved, tens of thousands of lives, a whole heating up world in the balance. Never has the web of one American family shaken so many Saudi hands.

It gets better (or worse - joke's on who?): in a photo accompanying the stories of today's meeting, it looks like Mr. Bush is actually strolling among the bluebonnets HOLDING hands with the shrouded sheik; no wonder the president admitted he had a "close personal relationship" with the prince.

For a bunch of supposedly public officials, there sure is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when the Saudis come to town. Last night in Dallas (hometown of his old alma mater and billion dollar baby, the hallowed and highly profitable Halliburton), Vice President Dick Cheney met with the crown prince, I'm sure to give him the pre-show lowdown in more measured and insinuating English. Mr. Cheney must really be pulling the strings, just as Mr. Moore implied, the wizard behind the curtain. Cheney was probably more than the warm up show; he probably set the ground rules for politically positive but congenial talks on how each country's movers and shakers stand to profit billions more in the next few years, with higher demand, higher production and, oh yes, higher prices. Bush can say, 'We're doing all we can to get you cheap gas - we're leaning on our Arab friends, and we're leaning on Congress to pass my ridiculously advantageous energy bill.'

Oil makes the world go round and round in the circle game, heated to a constant simmer if not a boil, a la Iraq, boiling over because of some imperialistic ambitions closely tied to the crude stuff.

More than anything else these days, it seems the human addiction for oil/fossil fuels/petroleum energy makes the billions burn in the movers and shakers pockets.

The bluebonnets were beautiful, and I'm sure that Bush ranch bar-b-que was top notch, oh so carefully seasoned to a sheik's taste.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day


The Earth, the only planet we'll ever touch, gets its day today, one out of 365. The presidents get a day, the veterans get a day, Columbus gets a day, St. Patrick gets a day, the Earth gets a day. So it goes.

I planted a tree today, a special tree, a Lacey Oak native to my cranny of the planet, so it won't need extra water or special care in the years to come. Plant native! And yes, planting a tree seems the most apropos small symbolic act one can create on Earth Day. But friends, we need a lot more than symbols. Not driving or shopping today or this weekend would also be a good symbolic gesture, though driving and shopping a lot less week to week and month to month would be a better gesture, more than merely symbolic. Flying a lot less, owning less, buying less, investing less... All that new shiny stuff soon becomes the old (and even not so old) and starts to collect dust and begin its inevitable trek towards the landfill.

Everything we see is headed to the landfill, sooner or later - even us. Wal-Mart and the other warehousey "big box" stores are like big staging areas for the landfill. Most of that stuff for sale at "low, LOW prices" now will end up in trash heaps in the blink of a cosmic eye, say two to twenty years. Where are the TV set, the toaster oven and the CAR you owned twenty years ago? Where is the computer you used ten years ago? Where are the hundred or so pounds of trash you generated last week?

Sure, some of us recycle. I myself and a few friends I know are rather fanatical recyclers. We take righteous pride in our recycling efforts - even if we have to drive it somewhere to unload those bottles and cans. We feel morally superior sorting that stuff so we don't have to have quite so many nightmares thinking of OUR refuse mounded up to the sky.

I have long made it a habit to pick up others' recyclables as well, when I walk to the store, when I jog around the neighborhood. I've done it for years.

But here it is Earth Day, when even those who don't suffer such righteous rituals want to feel good about "giving something back to the Earth." So hoards of us will drive to plant sales and nature centers and parks to fly kites and buy balloons and sheepishly act as if we might consider joining the Sierra Club - or renewing our lapsed memberships.

Earth Day, certainly a great idea, and an idea so big it's STILL a drop in the bucket. Why, we'd have to change human nature itself to treat a lot more days like they were really days we'd spend "treading lightly," trading what we voracious humans WANT for what the Earth really needs, which is for us to stop having more than a few carefully chosen children and living well (and more peaceably) without using up half the stuff we collectively use up now.

But then again, as they say, "every little bit helps." That may sound trite, and you might like to think that no little bit you can do is worth it, but it is worth it - every little bit.

So maybe do a little bit more than a little bit. It's the only planet you've got, and like it or not, deep down, some of your own self-respect is tied to how well you treat your home.

Is treading lightly, for REAL, of any REAL interest to you? Or is it just a sappy sentiment relegated to symbolic days like Earth Day?

The simplest answer to all this?

Rest. Relax. Sit outside. Look around. Walk. Walk for transportation. Or ride a bike. That's the ticket. Walk or bike whenever you can. And sit a spell.

Thanks to those who do.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!


Who's reading what?

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the
Country and did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy provided, of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

12. None of these are read by the guy who is running the country into the ground.


And so it goes....

Friend Phil from Eugene sent me this. I'm sure it's going around the web, but perhaps you lucky few saw it here first. Reminds me of those slogans about not letting a C student run your country, C-/D more like it. But then maybe it's those A and B students pulling his strings. AND most of the voters are there with him, not reading the newspaper, either. If it ain't on TV, it ain't news. Too bad the best and the brightest aren't rising to the top - blame the boob tube voters? And while we're at it, why is it Texas seems to breed so many of these smarmy "all hat no cattle" types putting a muzzle on freedom (and high-minded statesmanship) far and wide? Seems this nation is confusing being brave with being a bully. If we've got the urge to put another Texan in office, at least let's make it Molly Ivins. (Thanks, darlin'...)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Trickster

Most of us kinda dumb ourselves down to be silly or funny. And sometimes we just downright dig down and grovel in sarcasm. We get absurb like a beer ad a lot more than we wryly rise the occasion a la Oscar Wilde.

Oh, to be ourselves, uninhibited and imminently quotable! Alas, what rare and charmed company we would be!

It's hard to be witty and zingy, a la the high road, taking things for a turn with an original twist. It's a fairly rare trait in life, to be "the life of the party," without being, at the same time, too full of oneself, too redundant, too insulting or clickish.

to be continued...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Coming Up....

More blog posts to come:

*** "Speaking of the OILigarchy" (it's the Bush and Cheney Show)

*** "The Meaning of Life" (no, I won't bite off more than I can chew)

*** "How to tread lightly" (nothing heavy-handed there)

*** "Some of my favorite words" (got some pet words of your own?)

*** MORE!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Taxation & "Texas Tea"

"And up from the ground came a bubbling crude... black gold... Texas tea..."

First thing you know ol' Jeb's a millionaire and Poppy and sonny George, too, without much merit or even sweat - just the real back door gold - CONNECTIONS, payoffs, shelters and bailouts, all the way from the Permian Basin to the CIA to the White House. (George, since when is buying a baseball team and the land for a new stadium by imminent domain a viable bailout for the rest of us broke folk?) Seems the 'gumment' likes little oil companies gone bust a lot more than it like most anybody else gone bust. Gotta hock the family farm if it's sorghum or corn or cantaloupes, but if it's oil, why by golly, surely there's a tax shelter for you....

And there's the rub these days. Dwight Eisenhower warned us about all this over 40 years ago: beware the military-industrial machine. Makes me smile to be reminded that a kindly old-fashioned Republican said that, when at last he dared to speak the truth (on his way out of public office in his farewell address just before the dashing, daring and ill-fated John Kennedy swept the "best and brightest" into Washington. And it seems most every administration since has further muddied the waters, crossing the bounds between public and private, thinking that what's good for GM and IBM and Dow and Exxon is good for the country.

Well, two generations later, we're really in a mess, leveraged to the hilt and pushing the empire to new bounds - with pipeline dreams from Alaska to Azerbaijan.

The bottom line is: once again, like New England's tea drinkers of yore, we're getting taxation without representation. Sure, we've got the vote (speaking of muddied waters INDEED), but it's really the corporations and their elected scoundrels who have the representation. Why buy a few votes illegally when you can legally buy a lobbyist? Why grovel in the trenches of populist democracy when you can enjoy canap├ęs in the hollowed halls of the Lobbytocracy?

Let's face it: ours is not really a civilly/citizen-driven democracy. It's a capital/company/corporation-driven empire. We the people are getting short shrift and a big bill. And while we're at it, we're not getting a healthy (read: truly populist and representative) democracy so much as a high and mighty oligarchy - make that "OILigarchy", why don't you?

Would any healthy nation really want to borrow that much money to run this show? Apparently, healthy or not, the powers that be are going for it while they still can, selling us a "Beverly Hillbillies" bill of goods. Guess we can't all afford (and don't deserve) the fancy tax shelters on which the lives of the rich and famous depend. They're getting Hollywood while we're getting horse hockey.

Me, I'm thinking the future looks a lot less like "90210" and a lot more like Arkansas and "Dukes of Hazzard."

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Ides of April: the tax plan cometh

So there's this rumor in the news that many of you have been burning your candles (and math/tax form-challenged brains) at both ends trying to figure what you owe federal government as today's deadline approaches. The lines at the post office will be as long as at Christmas time, though most of us won't be receiving fun gifts out of all this harried slipping of envelopes into slots. Where are the smiles and good cheer?

Some (including Senator Hillary Clinton) are proposing that national election day be made a holiday every two or four years. There'd be a lot fewer excuses for not voting, or you could moan and groan about not having anything to do all day but shop - and start the Christmas season even earlier, weeks before the day after Thanksgiving.

Speaking of moaning and groaning, maybe they should make the Ides of April if not a national holiday then at least a National Day of Mourning. Of course our freely elected officials (freely elected at great expense, by the way) and wise leaders (as well as all the paper pushers and job protectors at the IRS) would like for you to think of this tithing as your patriotic honor and duty - the price you pay for freedom, interstate highways, the EPA, the NEA, the NPS, Homeland Security, religiously-influenced foreign aid, and a Really Kick Ass Military Machine that does us proud all around the world 24/7. Why, without the forking over of these taxes, we just wouldn't be the empire we are.

Some countries, it should be said, pay even more in taxes, based on their GDP and cost of living and all that. But let's face it: most of the citizens in those higher paying countries are getting a LOT more in goods and services (unless you love buying hundred million dollar helicopters and billion dollar bombers). It's almost as if it were Christmas for the citizens of other countries - they get carte blanche health care, fairly priceless if you ask me. Sure, there may be bureaucratic waste and political corruption in some o' them "ferner" countries, too, but is it as massive and as harmful to the whole planet as our's is? Those more peaceable people get good roads, too, and day care, and a heads up on Kyoto and head to toe health coverage and even a discreet (or, OK, not so discreet) police presence - AND they don't have to watch their pricey military hardware and stouter citizens get blown up in the streets of Baltimore, Bakersfield, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and, oh yes, Baghdad.

Just gotta say it: the people of Sweden and Switzerland and yes, even France (where Freedom Fries are "pommes frites"), get more peace and more civilization for their money than we do. They have some crazy drivers too, but their murderers just can't hold a candle to ours. And yes, their road signs might look strange, and their bathrooms may be found lacking, but they don't act as if they own the world - as if so many other countries are nothing but fodder for the empire. I think we ought to be taxed on our inhumility and inhumanity, while we're at it.

Damn, we Americans (not all of us by any means but, hell, enough of us to really count) have gone astray. So much of what we pay seems to mingle with lobbyists' cash (and very attractive presents, nicely wrapped up for your perhaps not so duly elected officials). There must be a lot of money laundering going on to turn the tide of all that dirty laundry.

Americans pay enough in taxes to deserve better than they are getting. We deserve a long term economic system that's more than a house of cards, based on snagging a bunch of cheap clothes and appliances. We deserve a more peaceable planet. We deserve development that promotes rather than demotes community and caring among our citizens - so that our neighbors aren't strangers. We deserve to have our majority views and values upheld in Washington - whether it be protecting our water or our air our childrens' educational quality or our national lands and parks. We are getting ripped off - and still feel the hunger to consume so much we're ravaging the planet far beyond our borders. And most disastrously, we are paying people to kill other people. And so our taxes aren't just an inconvenience and something to bitch and moan about on petty levels alone, thinking we deserve, what, to keep every dime we make? BUT - and this is a big BUT - taxes are, at heart, a moral issue.

No wonder so many are so frustrated paying their federal income taxes. They know how little control they have over all those billions and trillions. And it scares them that it seems our greedy and imperialistic government seems to take about as much fiscal responsibility as those of us who live high on the hog thanks to credit cards - truly a house of cards that comes tumbling down.

So here's my tax plan (yes, the tax plan cometh): let each taxpayer delegate about 10-15% of his or her taxes, at their own discretion, to the program or programs of their choice. Cool! We'd be involved again! We'd have a say, not about every dime, but about some of them - at least one in ten. Now that would be democracy - and putting your money where your mouth is. Alternatively - and as opposed to most liberals - I favor a national sales tax. Such a tax could be tweaked to tax some necessities not at all and other things, widely regarded as wasteful luxuries (Hummers, yaghts, vacation houses, $60,000 wedding rings) at a higher rate. Many say a national sales tax would be regressive, meaning it would hurt the poor more. Nonesense. It could be made to be a lot more fair than all the hoodwinking going on in accountants offices these past few weeks. The rich couldn't dodge it, and it would be up to the rest of us to be sure they paid the brunt of the burden - yes, that IS how it is supposed to work. The rich should help the rest of us - help us or rot in hell, since supposedly being helpful is an "American value." Let's test that value, starting at the TOP.

I say we treat taxes in a democratic way, where the people do feel ethically and morally involved and invested in the system and its consequences. Make taxes a moral and popularly determined contribution to our so-called freedom. Everything is a moral and/or ethical choice, including whatever anyone has told us and taught us is our duty, our patriotic duty. We owe our nation some things much more important than money. We owe our voices, standing for what is valorous and virtuous.

Taking the high ground is not easy, and it has nothing to do with violence, whether at home or anywhere in the world. Our republic is ripe for some truly democratic reforms, and those can only come from us, the people, the citizens.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Be the Fool

I once saw Debra Winger wearing a button that said, "I want it all." And then of course there is that old saying, "variety is the spice of life."

Most of us settle for a lot less variety than others - FEW of us really want it all. In fact, we feel overwhelmed, in some ways, with as much as we already have - since it seems what we have is not really part of the "all" we imagine we want. And then we settle for being spectators rather than players; apparently, our senses of guilt and the need to work in servitude are stronger than our more childlike and "young at heart" urges to enjoy and to play. We give up or miss out on simple pleasures to grind away in more complicated and painful plans. Maybe it's our confused egos or our grown up distrusts of joy and enjoyment.

And we Americans seem especially inept at pursuing real pleasure - we belittle it or marginalize it, treating pleasure as if it were some sort of fetish with a tinge of the dark side. Thus, we are famous for turning play and games into sports and grueling competitions, just as we turn innocent and natural sensuality into prurient and even evil seXXX. Compared to many cultures, we Americans are workaholics who barely know what to do with two weeks vacation (so we cut it up into days and hours) - much less the month to six weeks of vacation other adults in other high-tech countries so protect and enjoy.

Why is it so many of us grown ups seem to fear the vast array of pleasures in this life? No wonder we're overly medicating. It's not that we're overly pontificating. Pleasure can be but doesn't have to be a thinking person's sport. It can be the poor players, as well, the one fretting and strutting from day to day. But it takes bravery to seize a day, much less life - carpe diem, carpe vita. Who taught us to fear life and "appearances" so? Who said we ought to envy being proper more than we beg for passion?

Most of us let several things get in the way of living a life defined by ambition, newness, and variety - fears large and small, the urge to conform or be conventional (which comes from a lack of original thought or neuroses or BOTH), the desire to appear responsible, the urge to be consistent.

We might imagine lots of things but don't really pursue manifesting what we imagine. We leave our fantasies on the cutting room floor, so much so that our finished movies are often so much more mundane than they otherwise might have been.

We worry about seeming foolish or contradictory. Why take ourselves so seriously unless we really have something serious to do? And even then, self-deprecating humor seems a most precious salve. Clowns win hearts and minds. And contradictions reveal complexity and actually seem very real. If we consider or edit ourselves too carefully, what do we seem? Overly careful, cautious, afraid.

Why not, instead, go for it?! Let our minds wander and wonder and jump into the deep end AND the shallow end? Taste the fresh water and the brine. Don't set out to slay all of your fears. Display your fears. Wanna "be real"? GET real!

Once, a dear old mentor of mine said that one of my gifts was that I wasn't tied down like other people - not tethered, not settled, much less "settled down." He said I was, in a word, "uninhibited." Of course, in many ways, I am inhibited. I do like to take serious things seriously and earnestly, and I love to make sense or at least try so doggedly to make my own feeble attempts at making some rather sturdy sense. But I also see the Peter Pan in me that wants PLAY to be nearly as big a part of life now as it was when I was ten or 25.

And let's not forget: play is one of the most basic of human pleasures. How do you take others making fun of you and laughing not just with you but also at you? That's the test of play. Can you take their curve balls and toss them back overhanded with a bounce shot from between your legs while crouched upside down?

Seem foolish today, and grin about it. Brave the heat and spontaniety of your sass and your opinions and your sense of the ridiculous and that loveliest of all wry treasures - irony. Gotta LOVE irony! Push irony. Give in to and revel in the inconsistencies of life and thus it's myriad petty messes and major disasters, its funny tears and sad laughter.

Think a lot more. Just don't think too much. Whatever that means.

Tease the blatant nuances. Tiptoe out onto a limb. Test the infinite limits. Turn your most serious patter into a strain of absurdity. Ah yes, be the Fool, the clever, the cantankerous, even the curmudgeonly Fool. But do it with some sass, some class, and a dash of classlessness, even if you think you're gonna look like you've fallen on your... donkey.

[This post is relevant to "A Better Nation" as this blog morphs and wanders, as it introduces less political and more personal matters - and as it heads into terrain where it will - YES - seemingly contradict itself. But that's OK. It is LIFE - and liveliness - we are trying to discover and convey, not, in most cases, a serious philosophy that has to hold a bucket of distilled water. Better to ride the rapids and drink the rain. Onward, dear readers!]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Misery & Beauty

All the answers soon : )

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Perfect Moments

Often, we are discouraged or feel we've gotten a raw deal because we don't get everything we want. We don't get stellar years, the best careers, the freshest start, the most loving heart, amazing weeks or even many really sublime hours.

What we've got to hope for, aim for and CREATE are perfect moments. What we find then is that a string of just a few perfect moments all of a sudden becomes a great hour and even an astonishing and supremely pleasing day - even a day of a lifetime.

So look to create some perfect moments now and then, and as you head toward and depart from those moments, the seeming "perfection" will grow and linger.

TIP: Often, those perfect moments come from trying to do fairly simple things in fresh settings while taking your time and paying lots of attention. So take your time, and more really fine - maybe "perfect" - moments will come.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Breaking a boycott

The story on Tuesday [or whenever the hell I feel like it]... Hang in [there, for a _long_ time - no, not really, breaking news soon - the pope is still dead - you heard it here first]....

Friday, April 08, 2005

Channeling Barry...

Uh, yeah, babe, talkin' to you deep dowwwn and lowwwww,

low slow and go,

know what I mean now,

don't you know, girl...

Mr. Walker, Mr. White -
ain't no difference
late at night.


Is the pope still dead?

[Thursday's post delayed for technical reasons, inserted here...]

I haven't seen a TV in over two weeks, and I have barely listened to the news lately - since so little real "news" is being reported.

Seems people are pretty bored hearing about armed skirmishes and suicide bombers and helicopter crashes. And it seems Reagan's week-long ride into that California sunset was just a small potatoes warm up for this week of world wide fare thee wells.

I realize that the pope did some good for people, but this sort of overwhelming unity for the Catholic church just can't be a good thing.

Since when do the flags of U.S. government buildings (and somehow perversely "pc" businesses) go to half mast for a Polish religious leader?

The beauty of the irony, it seems to me, is that the pope was adamently opposed to many of this nation's policies and actions - especially abroad - and rightly so. He was not lenient about the death penalty or imperialist wars such as ours, and he warned against the abusive tendencies of our arrogant brand of capitalism - as potentially (and potently) harmful as authoritarian communism, he professed. So those flags are bowing down to one of our most renowned, bravely spoken and powerful critics. So are we sort of thanking him for leaving the world stage, the bully pulpit in Rome?

Or is it that now that he's dead, it seems if we just fall all over ourselves wishing him farewell enough, we'll win him over? He'll look down on us approvingly from behind the pearly gates?

Such ad nauseum falderall, through rose-colored glasses (sacramental wine glasses, sideways), discounts and perhaps even disrespects the pope's carefully aimed criticism of us.

We weren't worthy, and it seems we feel we still aren't.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sacrament or sentiment?

Yes, folks, it's the "Week of the Pope" here at A Better Nation, brought to you by ACME Wafers & Wine, with their special stupifying agents. Yes, the Week of the Pope And Other Idols & Very Retro Religious Rites, where we continue to delve into the deep, dark mysteries of shallow piety and humankind's confused and downright confounded quest to achieve some sense of self-importance and personal ecstacy. Our own lives, which we work to make conventional and in some ways anonymous, must be rather boring. We still seem to crave demigods of the silver screen and the silver-lined heavens. Madonna and the pope, J Lo and Martha, what a country, what a world.

Neither the bible nor Jesus [see my "Resurrecting Jesus" post the Monday after Easter] were much for idolatry, and some conservative followers still show admirable disdain for idolizing objects and even people as having heavenly powers. But isn't this a blitz of idolatry? It seems many are wanting to associate more with the pope's fame than with his political and spiritual views. (Personally, I appreciated his papal disgust with capital punishment and war, political hypocricy and runaway capitalism, and I am glad he had some say in helping bring democracy and human rights to various pockets of humanity here and there. But I still think he was in so many ways an advocate of regressive values, especially for science and for women - and thus for rational thought and for "human" rights, which must necessarily give women equal rights, even if our roles in most cultures are not equal - that is a different story.)

Yes, it's true, we humans are essentially (and it seems inescapably) irrational creatures. We'd like to think that most of what we do is based on reason or sense or even common sense, but alas, common sense is not common and never has been.

That's why philosophy seems so rarified and detached from "life as we know it." Philosophy intends to place complicated structures on life and human existence, combinations of relative perspective and objective reason. Few people get into that line of work, and most of the others don't even consider it work, much less real work. Nope, even closer to us common folk, philosophy and the wisdom reason requires are considered rather obsolete and even dilletantish obscurities.

We think we're planning ahead. We think we're getting our ducks in a row. Then some desire takes over, and we buy something we can't afford or have an extramarital affair. The big things in life are irrational. They're not carefully thought out. They're the objects of our innermost and interminable desires.

But the question of The Week is: should we continue to encourage, celebrate and even glorify the irrational? Why not let the irrational be without all this fawning attention and instead raise up to pillars on high our wisest mortals, our wisest leaders, our most virtuous souls? Maybe it has to do with how easily faked out we are. So many of us are so gullible, so drawn to, so swayed by the rituals and passions and petty, goofy ecstacies of others. Principle and virtue just aren't as easy or as accessible as all this circus, induced as it is by our fears of guilt and death.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Beatifying a dead pope

The lathered up media and statesmen, along with millions of other suckers, want to gain brownie points in the wake of the pope's death. With all this headline news, it's sort of like beating a dead horse - or dead pope. Really, how dare three U.S. presidents get in on the glorify the pope bandwagon when three U.S. presidents might not attend the funeral of a great statesman such as Gorbechev. And what about "separation of church and state" when the current Secretary of State (Ms. Rice) attends the pope's funeral as well? It is as if, with all the light of science and reason, we are still playing charades with much darker and less enlightened ages.

Fifty years ago, the U.S. flogged the Russians for having a godless state, but that is actually our ideal as well - perhaps not a godless culture (we have some freedoms left, after all) but a godless government. We need that and should defend it even in such times as this.

More soon, including the connection to the media-driven sentiment surrounding Terry Shaivo's demise. But in the meantime, remember that polls show the public is not in favor of such life-sustaining shenanigans as occurred surrounding her hospital bed. And now the pope is being treated as a fallen god, even though he was merely a compromised hero to some.

Monday, April 04, 2005

US sucks up to pope's death

What the heck is this? This morning I asked myself why are all these flags half mast?

I looked up today and saw flags at half mast all over town, even at several post offices, the county courthouse, and city hall (in a smallish Texas town far from Warsaw and Rome but maybe too close to those bastions of backwardness, San Antonio and Mexico). I assumed the worst - that the flags were flying thusly for a recently deceased religious figure. So I marched in to City Hall to ask if indeed the flags were flying at half mast for the pope. Yes, indeed, the receptionist said resolutely and with a little glimmer of disdain, and my friends and I rolled our eyes and walked out revelling in the absurdity of it all.

Since when does this country, as a nation, cling to the robe tails of the Catholic church or any other religion? Are we so flimsy as a species, so sentimental, or at odds in this discouragingly fragile world that we need showings of such unity, orchestrated by a supposedly secular government? Are we mistaking what's best for our future with sentiment for the smoke and mirrors of the past?

Do Mr. Bush and the Washington God hounds really feel such a need to close ranks with the Vatican? Choir boys all around? Smarmy hypocricy loves company? Old time religion's right, and We the Modern Rule of Law and Reason People are wrong?

Are the ruling elites feigning such mourning really so eager to play more to the sentiment of "salvation" than the substance of, say, science? Seems the elegant notion of seperation between church and state is tossed out with the sacremental wafers and bathwater. This is a big planet of nations and billions we're trying to make better here, not an Edenish cartoon garden of good and evil. Pulpiteers, grow up.

When is the last time the United States flew its flags in such unison for a foreigner, for a person not a statesman, not a public servant? (Or have we confused the definition of what a public servant is? Not sure? Try to get your own say so heard at the Vatican - its one of the ultimate secret societies - like the Elks and the Moose, wrought with holy this and thats, antiquated and downright silly ceremonies, smoke and mirrors. It's not like the pope was an FDR, a Churchill, an Eisenhower or a Mao. No, he was starched and pressed and nearly deified to serve a very particular and apparently opionated "God," the guy upstairs who might feel even more inclined to smight us all down were it not for the rarified delicacies and eccentricities of the uppity ups ensconced in guilted rooms around St. Peter's square, proclaiming some decent human compassion along with some very backward tirads against the wisdom of our better angels - like family planning, reason, religious and political transparency, even common sense (not common among the priests so many suffer to admire).

Is the pope - pardon me - WAS the pope American?

Is/WAS he a secular figure, a leader of state?

No, he was (and the next one will surely be) a sentimental leader of glamorously celebrated yet washed up rituals and superstitions. He was an elegant hack of pre-rational thought - which shows how easily hundreds of millions, if not billions, can be fooled - into mistaking elegance and pomp and circumstance and "high office" for objective, long term wisdom. I can respect some aspects of John Paul II's life and message, absolutely. He was in some ways a "modern" pope, a progressive pope. But overall, the regressiveness of Catholicism would hold any power player back from participating in the 20th or 21st centuries.

Why are we (the flag masters) showing such reverence and sentiment for the passing of a dinosaur, no matter how elegant or seemingly heroic or even amiable? Catholicism is not about being "of" the people; it is about being above the people. It is an unctious umbrella meant to shield ignorant cowards from the bright and shining rays of the secular Sun, around which, by the way, the Earth revolves - not the other way around.

It is as if all those flags are glorifying a cheerleader of the Adam and Eve Flat Earth theory.

I was sort of ok with this passing of an era until the flags seemed to mock the shallow veil of secular rule in my own country (extending the buffoonish "born again" antics and hypocritical (and selfishly short-sighted)veil of "faith" of our own president). The more secular, the better, I say. We need to reinforce the secular to protect freedom. I'm not sure that such strong sentiment for heavenly sent smoke and mirrors is a good thing, much less the most humane thing. But it seems such sentiment is, woe is me, very human.

Friday, April 01, 2005

As Lucinda sings, a swansong, of sorts


"Baby, sweet baby, I wanna feel your breath
Even though you like to flirt with death..."

-- Lucinda Williams, from "Essence"

Well, that is the question, isn't it, "to be or not to be?" And while we're at it, Albert Camus said that the most important question is whether or not to kill yourself.

Seems as a good a time as any. I've done my homework - seen some of the really good 'offing oneself' scenes in movies (the first that comes to mind is in "The Royal Tenenbaums"), and I've even read up on the subject (the first reading that comes to mind is "Night Falls Fast, an elaborate consideration of the S word - good elegies, if not good omens, for today, this ill-fated Friday.

For years, I've had this running joke with friends about doing it. I say something like, "OK, that's it, I'm going to the Wal-Mart parking lot." Yes, the Wal-Mart parking lot, that's my place of choice. Nothing so mundane as the house or the garage or a cheap motel in some tawdry burg. No, and certainly not a lovely or romantic setting like the Empire State Building or that Number One spot for committing the dastardly deed in this great and trauma-stricken country of ours - the Golden Gate Bridge. How could somebody jump off the Golden Gate Bridge? Gosh, the view alone would keep me alive and in love with being alive. I'd want to get out of the chilly breeze and back to a great dinner in Chinatown or along Columbus Ave, followed by a few hours purusing the books (and the clientele) at City Lights Books.

And yes, that "Wal-Mart parking lot" line has been good for a lot of laughs, though I guess (?) I'm serious now, that is serious enough. Yes, we can be earnest and sentimental and scared shitless and still go bonkers silly about the specter of that S thing, "ending it all." Gotta laugh, too, since DEATH - either others' or visions of our own - is that most potent of all elixirs, reminding us that life is finite and valuable and that we own it and do not innately or even morally owe it to someone else. If it weren't so valuable, we wouldn't be so miserable - or sentimental about losing it. So no wonder some can come to feel that mere survival is not necessarily winning - that staying alive or being kept alive is not necessarily the same thing as being "saved." So for surprisingly many (especially young and middle-aged and old), there comes a day...

Oh yes, it's the Wal-Mart parking lot for me, not a pretty place (with that great big ull blue and gray, gray, gray cinder block fortress of cheap goods looming in the background with sundry traffic and weary looking shoppers milling about pushing carts of said goods), but a place to which I might like to ascribe some negative vibes - and national news headlines - yes, dammit, slam it to Wal-Mart, and make their public relations department scramble. (All this, you understand, without hurting anybody else, of course - LET ME BE CLEAR. I am NOT talking about any sort of indiscriminant shooting spree here, American style. No, no, committing the Big S is VERY discriminant, perhaps crazy, perhaps insane or at least psychotic - and some would say very selfish - but I would have to say it seems, for all of its drama and profundity and mystique, the most discriminant of all major crimes, discriminate with extreme prejudice.

But then is it a "crime" at all? If we feel it is really so "selfish," then aren't we implicitly laying claim, at least in part, to another person's life? There is a lot of talk about that, always, and this week, there is even talk about the laws of this nation being a crime themselves, regarding our rights to our own lives and how we end them. Sometimes we can't do it for ourselves, but does that mean we should not have some say (before we're stricken)? And who should have the second greatest say? I'd say the spouse, for sure, no matter what.

What finer day for all this than today? I think today's the day, and for some, it is and will be (there are some considering and commiting suicide right now). Let's learn their stories too and absorb the necessary power of this act. Can I say it? Yes. Suicide is one of the greatest tools for reminding ourselves and others that we own our own lives. Our lives are ours. They belong to us, for better or worse, and sometimes, no one else can say what is "better" and what is "worse." The power to have utter despair or sickness and agony is within all of us, though some more than others. Some of us are oh SO sensitive to the pain and the anguish and the suffering, whether near or far, whether our own or not. Let's not sentimentalize it too much, but it's there. And it often seems our dread of such an end keeps us from seeing clearly the trials and travails, travesties and tragedies of others as they themselves might have seen them. Suicide seems to remind of our mortal conundrum - that we are in control and not in control, that we might strive so mightily or messily to gain control only to lose control. And then let's remember that suicide (and choosing our deaths to any extent we do) is not about losing control but, at last, taking control unto ourselves.

So today. But I don't just want to do it in the parking lot of my local Wal-Mart. Even that seems a little too mundane. No, better the hometown of Wal-Mart or maybe even corporate headquarters, and then there are those other corporate headquarters that might conjure just the right spin on poetic justice - the headquarters of the bombs and weapons makers, the warrior planes and ships makers, maybe Exxon/Mobil or Halliburton or Dow - or even near the offices of those who lobby for lots of industrial emissions and the clear cutting of forests, the ruin of a people, a populace or a planet. Oh my, now the choices are many. Freedom reigns. Guess I'd better start driving - and make this drive and my destination (my ultimate destination) count and count for good.

And so, as Lucinda sings and as Wal-Mart weeps and expresses its carefully worded corporate sorrow, waiting for Godot and not, I go, with my bittersweet swansong, of sorts, feeling it's time to get beyond merely flirting.

It's time to go.

Postscript, RIP: Alas, bittersweet as things may be, as torrid and tragic, life persists and is so much sweeter than this, and it is the first of April. And so, dear readers who have come this far with me (thanks to YOU!!!), I'm not heading to Wal-Mart for ANYTHING any time soon. So long as I can type and have such fun with the light and dark of words, and especially if I can figure out how to make love last. (Tom Robbins said the most important question is: "Who knows how to make love stay?" And I'd agree. Pursue that, and life is yours.)

And so, cheers today... and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

The Post Trip Blues [Wednesday's post, revised and reinserted here]

In 1976, the day after I graduated from high school, I flew from DFW to Eugene, Oregon, to join a group of 14 to ride my bicycle across the U.S. from Reedsport, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, the inaugural year of the Trans America Bicycle Trail - well over 4000 miles. The 14 of us stuck it out all together for 82 days. At the end, in Yorktown, my mom sent me a postal gram that said something like, 'Congratulations on accomplishing such an amazing feat - and on being married to 13 other people for such a long tour. This is a very large thing, and sometimes, in life, it is very difficult after something so big to figure out what to do next. It may take some time, but I am sure you will think of something."

I led my first tour ten years later and since then have led over 130 bicycle tours, ranging from three days to three weeks in length, with as many as 62 participants and as few as four. It seems at some point after every tour I've led, there comes a time for what I call the "post trip blues." Yes, sort of like the post partum blues, since birthing and raising a tour group from beginning to end has some real sense of deep and intense dedication and responsibility - and emotional repercussions.

Some tours, I can get the PT blues even before the trip has ended, others the PT blues around about as soon as it ends. And with others there's a delay. The blues are delayed if there is something nearly as exciting (or distracting) happening right after the tour - a trip, guests stay over for more, whatever.

I'd burned out on this roller coaster ride over the 20 years since I started. The last few years, I've led very few tours and, sorrowfully been "out of pocket" and wayward, even withdrawn, frustrating some very loyal fans of my tours. Until last week, it had been ten months since my last tour....

We need positive strokes and special salves to protect what we love, whether a thing, a person, an ideal, a project, a passion, or life's work. Even what we call "callings" can confound us so. As I said in "The fall from Sky High" (below), we sometimes (even often, it seems) come to feel as if our greatest loves are our bitterest pills. The labors of love, the labor pains of love can ache and groan and eat at us, last so long and even increase over time. Then come the blues, then comes burnout, something even the truest of loves can have a hard time avoiding.

The blues hit hardest when the gut gets punched by real life, punched by internal or external causes, your own moods, abilities, feelings of being stuck, the missing of the group dynamics and the insuing loneliness (especially from the socially "high" events where marvelous bonding and good times take place). But another way the blues can creep in is through the drift of life after an intense event - whether it's having a child or birthing a tour.

Fortunately, this round, the blues aren't too bad - spring has sprung a very springy spring-like thing, I've already ridden my bike more to boost those endorphins, done some outdoor work, and felt good about how things went, ready to look ahead. But the specter of the post trip blues is never entirely shakable, and I feel the downside behind the sun.