Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sand Empires

I appreciate people who are willing to draw a line in the sand. We should all stand for something. Having strong convictions is to take pride in life. But it's important to clarify weather we're making a stance for life or for simple pride.

It's easy to rail against our political system. The more conservative among us good-ole-days the 50's, while the more left-leaning groups romanticize Europe - but neither of these examples are without their own unique set of flaws.

Many of our friends are taking a stance this election. We feel disenfranchised. Our vote and voice don't seem to matter. Every year it's the same 'ole two party option. Taking a stance is a good thing. But if you're drawing a line in the sand for this November's presidential elections, chances are you've missed your mile-marker by, like, acres.

Drawing a line in the sand for the general elections and going for a third party vote at the last minute is like doing a handful of pushups then demanding a spot in the Supebowl.

There are a million ways to get involved in our political system. I, for example, was among the original co-founding group that formed the Iranian-American Democrats of San Diego, back when the Iranian-American community was mostly Republican. (My claim to fame was coming up with the name, mostly, but that was about it.) It's boring shit. You might be given a clipboard or you might work a call-center or your brother might be the first president of the club which leads to the county chair remembering you if only for your funny name. Hypothetically speaking.

You can get involved in community organization. You can start attending weekly meet-ups. You can volunteer for your third party of choice. You can (gasp) run for a local office. You can start a newsletter or a podcast. You can make money and host political fundraisers for candidates you like.

The coming four years are gonna suck regardless. An ugly dam has burst onto our society and it's going to get worse before it gets better. If I was a betting man though, I'd bet we're not gonna have a nuclear holocaust if Trump wins. But the amount of shit he'd get us into would be no picnic either.

You absolutely should draw a line in the sand. The problem is that by voting third party or simply not voting, that's not sand you're attempting to draw a line in - it's concrete. The time to make a stand for this round is long past.

I'll be voting for Hillary. I don't buy into the "this election is too important" line. They've all been important. Everything we've been through has gotten us to this point. Our apathy for the past two decades led us to exactly this mess.

This is politics. There has never been, nor ever will be, a world or society without some sort of political maneuvering to be made. If you don't like it, get involved at the factory, not at the grocery store. Because, after all, it is our damn factory.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quitting Smoking

As of this most recent Burn night, September 3, it has been one year since my last cigarette. 

Many people in my life never even knew I was a smoker. I was never a heavy one. Never was one of those people that needed to step outside, alone in the cold to light one up. It was mostly social. Mostly. 

Sitting at a cafe after a long day, with a coffee and a Sherman MCD was pure heaven. Lighting one up over drinks with friends was even better.

I was smoking the most when I was 19 and working as an insurance agent. Was totally miserable about life, my body and my future. That was the only time in my life where I NEEDED to take a break from work to puff on some Dunhills. 

For most of my life, Sherman MCDs have been my brand. The higher quality tobacco and cleaner taste perhaps kept me from full on nicotine addiction. Or maybe I had it and didn't know it. Either way, I remember the moment I realized it's really time to quit. It was on a Wednesday morning run at November Project. I'd been running more on my own with the intention of not being the very last person in the pack anymore. That's all I wanted at first. But then I got a little better at moving my body. Better than I ever thought possible. And then it hit me: I'm running up a hill and I find my body still having enough stamina to keep going... But my lungs were quitting on me. 

I smoked maybe a half a pack per week. I realized the lacking lung capacity was not about the handful of cigarettes but due to the decade-plus accumulation of filling my lungs with smoke. So I decided I'd either quit after Burning Man 2015 or YOUtopia 2015. 

But then Burn night came in 2015 and Black Rock City was so bloody dusty that every cigarette was like smoking half the playa. I remember taking a puff, looking at the cig and thinking, "nah... I'm done." Gave the rest of my pack to some friends.

A week went by and I ended up at a party. Everyone stepped outside for cigarettes. I followed. This was the real test. I hung out. A cig was offered and I politely declined. It wasn't that big a deal. 

Then another week. Then another week. 

My cardio got better. My meditation got better. I'd watch friends falling apart from hangovers and coughing up a lung while I woke up refreshed and with renewed energy. 

It's been hilariously easy. I'd made the resolution to populate this new chapter of my life with more activity. I decided I'd show my body how much I love it by honoring it and treating it with more kindness. And my body rewarded me at Burning Man 2016 in glorious ways. I danced for hours. I walked like a damn machine from one end of the city to the other. I felt powerful and beautiful. Here was this thing, my body, which had been such a burden to me for most of my life... This Burn was about really appreciating this wonderful blessing that is my body.

Energy in, energy out. What we put into our bodies has deep meaning. It is not a curse to have to avoid that last slice of pizza. We show our body that we love and appreciate it by being selective with what we put inside ourselves (oh grow up, whoever is snickering back there!). 

It doesn't bother me in the least when someone else lights up around me. We can make a decision. We can choose not to whine about it. We can replace the habits that no longer serve us with new ones that do. 

But man... It did make me look kinda cool in photos. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Already Successful AF

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882) 
American Essayist & Poet

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


People get really riled up about selfies. Every other week, there is some new study going viral about how it promotes narcissism. In Sugar Land, TX, there might be an angry mob on its way to set fire to city hall because they recently installed a public art piece depicting a couple of friends taking a selfie. When people talk about people taking selfies, they snarl. 

I'd like to submit the following... 

This is how people used to do photos before digital photography became an option: 
Step 1) Person A decides they would like a photo of themselves in front of a particular backdrop
Step 2) Person A asks person B to take said photo
Step 3) Person B takes one or multiple photos
Step 4) Person A takes photos to develop
Step 5) Person A picks up photos from development
Step 6) Person A decides which photo shows them in the best light and shares with friends via photo album, stuffing away all the less desirable images in a shoe box

Then came digital photography... 
Step 1) Person A decides they would like a photo of themselves in front of a particular backdrop
Step 2) Person A asks person B to take said photo
Step 3) Person B takes one or multiple photos
Step 4) Person A deletes all the less desirable photos and keeps the best one and shares with friends 

Then came the flip screen option on our phones... 
Step 1) Person A decides they would like a photo of themselves in front of a particular backdrop
Step 2) Person A takes the damn photo 
Step 3) Person A shares the damn photo

All we're doing here is deleting the middle-men, folks. 


And this, by the way, is where ALL technology is always going: We're finding ways to get from point A to point B faster. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Was in Love With a Dream of You

I was in love with a dream of you
You with fantasies of what I might've been
A tango of chess and combat
A trace of hope
I came crawling back at thousand times just to dangle a blink of honesty over your head
Are you there?
Are you there?
Do you watch from a distance like me?
It isn't fair

I was in love with a dream of you
You with fantasies of what I might've been
We danced a dance
Dances end
"Things sometimes end," you said to me

It wasn't fair
What I asked of you
It wasn't fair
Not your burden to bare
Nor mine, your cross

Friday, June 3, 2016

Spiritual Procrastination

I read this section of The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda today that is so timely and relevant to the thoughts I've been having...

"You have the vanity to believe that you live in two worlds, but that is only your vanity. There is but one single world for us. We are men, and must follow the world of men contentedly."

Spirit may give us peace, clarity, joy, insight into ourselves... But it will not tell us what we 'should' do with our lives. It is our journey and God, frankly, doesn't give a crap.

Our desires, wants and dreams are creations of our own ego. We feel a calling to a destiny but, as beautiful and necessary to the human experience as that calling is, it is still a human creation.

Many of us have, at times, found ourselves spending arguably too much human time exploring the beyond, seeking answers. We find ourselves at an impasse in life or otherwise lost, unable to make decisions about our next step. We avoid making decisions because we do not want to accept the possible less-than-ideal consequences that may come of said decisions. So we spend more and more time looking to the beyond, as if some answer will reveal itself about what we should do with our human journeys.

Let's call it Spiritual Procrastination.

Spirit is not an other. God is another angle of humanity. Spirituality and Science are not at odds; they are simply different languages of interpreting and/or measuring this funny thing we call "reality."

So, no: the universe aint gonna clear the way for us. The way belongs to us. We still need to pull the trigger. We still need to make decisions. The freedom to face-plant after an ill-advised chess move is at the core of what it is to be human.

Spirit doesn't care if you should quit your job or buy that house. Spirit's only contribution to our lives is to motivate us (by way of connecting us via the oneness of consciousness) to live in a state of loving kindness. All the cool human shit that happens (like success in business or a sign pointing us to the perfect house) are simply side effects of staying true to our highest selves.

All that said... I am Spiritually Procrastinating like a mother#amp;amp;@er right now! Working through it though! Just give me a month or two. I swear.
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Saturday, May 28, 2016

What Goes up

I have yet to face a challenge the answer to which has not been awareness.

As we navigate this thing we call reality, it serves us well to occasionally stop, take a moment and ask ourselves the following question: "Am I seeing the forest or am I looking at the trees?"

It seems like every other day there is some new quick-blurb article going viral in which some half-assed understanding of a complex scientific study is dumbed down into a Twitter-ready headline. These headlines are designed specifically to pull you in. To seduce your mouse and fingers into a harem of click-bate. This is fine for entertainment value but these headlines, blurbs and articles are preying our our very human instinct to look at the trees. They're designed to distract you from seeing the forrest.

We can understand the trees. We can climb them and take a nap under them. We can touch them. But the forrest is vast and in order to see it we must stop and take that moment we keep avoiding. Life has patterns and predictable variables. We've even had success in predicting the future using math. A common pattern in reality that I've noticed is this: The faster something changes, the faster it has the potential to change right back.

I like looking for patterns. It's what drives my art and it is why I believe artists and scientists enjoy each other's company. We, students of both disciplines, enjoy dissecting reality; we just use different tools and languages. I remember clearly the very first time I became aware of the "fast come & fast go" pattern. It was the mid-2000s and I was active in my college fraternity. Living in a house with a bunch of guys and a layer of testosterone you could cut through with a knife can make for the perfect laboratory setting of a control group for an amateur psychologist.

I don't know who introduced the idea of taking Creatine into the group but, within a semester, every other brother of Gamma Phi Epsilon was woking out with the fitness-aide. That summer, everyone was freaking huge. It felt like overnight I was surrounded by various Hulks doing keg stands. I don't know who stopped taking it first but, by Christmas, everyone had shrunk down into nerdy Bruce Banner.

I've been at war with obesity my whole life. Thanks to some less than ideal rolls of genetic dice, my body fights me when I try to get active and my metabolism shuts down when I look at a slice of pizza from across the room. Science has arguably not found a strong enough explanation for why our bodies try to race back to our higher weight after we loose a bunch of pounds. If you've ever tried a fad diet, you're all to familiar with the disappointment of watching the scale inch back up after a few weeks of glorious progress. This is why nutrition and fitness experts encourage us to lose no more than a couple of pounds a week. They've known of this pattern for quite some time. They've looked at the forrest.

But I continue to find this pattern to be true in all aspects of life. So much so that if a fairy godmother (or a powerful Hollywood producer) was to offer me overnight fame and fortune, I would respectfully decline. Reality seems to look for a quick way to crash that overnight empire. Justin Bieber, the perfect example of overnight fame, seems to be walking a never-ending tightrope of self-implosion. Another popular example of this in the entertainment industry is the story of writer/director, Troy Duffy.

What goes up, must come down. The further you throw the ball into the heavens, the longer it will take to return to Earth.

Now I'm sure that for every example I give, we can find a counter. But as I said, this is a general pattern I've noticed. When taking a moment to look at the forrest, this is how it looks to me. And that is the reason I cherish the long, hard road it has been to get to where I am. It is the same reason I am grateful for the future. Small, incremental change. Patience. One foot in front of the other.

My friend, Mike Sager, is a writer with a thousand and one stories about his adventures as a journalist working for the likes of Esquire, GQ and The Washington Post. There was this story he told me that I think about almost every day. There was an interview subject (Marlon Brando?) whom he was trying to track down. Story was that the subject had retreated to the mountains so there Mike finds himself, climbing a damn mountain to interview this guy. I'm sure I'm butchering this story but those details aren't important. The takeaway was this: Most of the time Mike spent climbing this mountain, he was looking at his feet, watching with care where he was stepping next in order to avoid a fatal tumble to his doom. Every once in a while, he would stop and look up. He would gaze upon this incredible vista, the sun and sky painting the horizon with all the glorious colors of God's canvas. Mike would look at the forrest for a few moments in awe and then return to the trees, the rocks and steps just beyond his own feet. He stopped every so often to see how far he'd come, but the majority of the journey was spent watching his own feet.

It's not black and white. None of life is. I, dear reader, have zero desire to convince you that my general observations of life are indisputable facts. I share this with you, in part, so that perhaps my experience may inspire one or two of you to push past some bolder you may have stumbled across on your journey. But mostly because putting my journey to words is my own tool for seeing the forrest. After writing this piece, I'll be back to looking at the trees. I have a photo assignment I need to finish by Monday.

Fret not if you've been working on your craft, project, business or art for two years and haven't made it as far as you'd like. The longer it takes, the deeper your roots go into the ground. The older the tree, the hard it is to cut it down and the deeper it's ancient foundations go into the earth. It's okay if things take a long time. They should. There's a stronger chance the changes we work towards will be longer lasting.

A tree is easier to cut down than an entire forrest.